Orthodox Survival Course, Class 37: The Great Stereopticon, Session 3, the Movies. Hollywood – Living the Dream

Class 37: The Great Stereopticon, Session 3, the Movies. Hollywood – Living the Dream

You can listen to a podcast of this lecture at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc-class-37

Introduction: Going through a pile of CD’s at home a few years ago, I found a collection of songs sung by Judy Garland, an American movie actress best known for her role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the one actress more than any other whose onscreen persona typified 20th century America’s image of “the girl next door.” The program notes summarized her biography and ended with the words, “She lived the dream we all want to live.” The curious thing is that the previous paragraph had ended with relating the circumstances of Garland’s death at age 47 from a drug overdose, and that the mini-biography had not omitted tragic details of her personal life from the time she became an “asset” of MGM as a young teenager: self-loathing, drug addiction, multiple failed marriages, and so forth. When one does a little further reading, one also finds adultery and abortion at an early age. We do not know if Judy Garland intended to kill herself the night she died – it seems to have been an unintentional overdose. But she certainly killed herself, first spiritually and finally physically, by the way she chose to live. But that’s all right. After all, she “lived the dream we all want to live.” What more could one want?

Recall the opening premise of this entire section of our course: The goal of the global elite is to create a new kind of human being, to “redefine what it means to be human.” Cinema, the defining art form of the 20th century, literally a “Great Stereopticon,” has by now so radically reshaped – that is, deformed – the average person’s idea of normality, of morality, of humanity, of the very purpose and meaning of life, that one could say that this goal of redefining humanity has more or less been accomplished in the minds of the overwhelming majority of people living in the “developed world.” To most of the people living around us, what goes on in movies or television shows or YouTube videos is the really real – it is more real and more interesting than their own lives, far more compelling than the true good of the people they claim they love. They may not like or agree with everything they see on the screen, but they cannot pull themselves away. It is a Fatal Attraction.

Cinema, of course, wields far more power than the newspapers or the radio. It retains the newspaper’s appeal of vulgarity and superficial thought masquerading as wisdom, and it retains the power of radio, the power of the spoken voice. It also projects the primordial power of theater, the Dionysian mystagogy we talked about last time. And, added to all this, taking the power of all of these things we’ve already talked about quantum leaps higher to a level never seen before, cinema overwhelms the mind with stunning, captivating and enthralling visual images, along with powerful music and sound effects. It constitutes a rich ensemble of so many different art forms, combined with so much power and effect, that one can say with great confidence that never before was there anything like this. And with few exceptions, the virtually irresistible might of this impossibly, heartbreakingly attractive thing, this pancratic psychological super-weapon that enslaves millions of souls over one weekend without anyone firing a shot – the power of this awesome thing has always been, and remains, for the most part, under the domination of men who hate God, hate Christ, hate the Church, hate us, and want to destroy us – men who serve the Devil as their god. If we don’t understand this, we don’t understand what the movie industry is all about.

At this point, I need to disclose something. Probably like most of you listening to me right now, I like movies, especially older movies with absolutely no computer generated graphics, and with good writing and good acting, and in particular cinematic presentations of intelligent stage dramas or screenplays based on great literature. But because I like it so much, because it leaves such a deep impression on me, I rarely indulge in it, and when I do, it is for the most part with a very short list of plays or movies that are fairly innocent, or, if they depict evil, render a genuinely moral judgment, and that I have watched repeatedly over many years, because I am really afraid to venture out and watch anything else. It is precisely because we like it so much, because it leaves such a deep impression on us, that we must be so careful.

My point in saying all this is that I am not standing on some Orthodox version of an Olympus of hopelessly untouchable perfection, hurling down thunderbolts and saying, “If you ever watch a movie, you are evil, and you are doomed!” That would be hypocritical, and, worse, it would be a mistake, because it would not motivate you to take realistic survival steps to deal with this powerful thing, and survival is what we are all about here. Let’s all recall that Orthodox spiritual life is about reality. We are supposed to be cleansing our minds and hearts of delusion and seeing things as they really are. How much time do we spend cleansing our minds of delusion, and how much time do we spend luxuriating in delusions? Yes, we are not consecrated hesychasts, and there is room for art in life, and great art can lift us above the banality of daily life and pierce our hearts with the joy of what is universally good, true, and beautiful. It can lead us to God. But how much theater, cinema, television, and so forth is really this kind of art? How much prayer and thought do we really put into discerning which selections of this mental food truly help us and our loved ones, which of them are at best a waste of time, and which are spiritually poisonous? Let’s be honest.

We could do an entire “Survival Course” just about movies. Maybe we should at some time in future. In this short lecture, I can only hope to cover a few sub-topics relating to cinema and offer a few practical suggestions. My approach in this lecture is to examine cinema in the “good old days” of the heyday of the “Silver Screen” and not address the problems with the medium that have developed since then. We might think that the problems with movies started with the cultural revolution of the 1960’s, when drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll took over American – and then world – culture, and that all the movies from the “good old days” are innocent, but this is not true. To understand any new historical development, including an art form, one must start at the beginning, and usually the dominant and permanent characteristics of any enduring historical reality are present at the beginning and easiest to observe at that point. We cannot begin to develop our Orthodox lens to understand cinema by starting with movies produced in this decade of the 21st century. They are too close to us, and the problems are both extreme and constantly changing. Our reaction would be just that – a reaction – to a kaleidoscopic and incomprehensible barrage of fragmentary impressions flung at us by extremely advanced media technology. Let’s go back in time to the 1920’s through the 1950’s and try to understand the underlying nature of cinema in order to create the understanding we need to deal with it as it exists today. I am going to talk about cinema from an American point of view, not only because I am in the United States and most of our audience are Americans, but also because cinema, like a lot of 20th century cultural movements, was basically cooked up in the laboratory of 20th century America and then spewed out to the rest of the world. Movie culture is the phony culture that replaced historic American culture and then became the world culture.

I. This really is the Great Stereopticon

Our guiding image of the “Great Stereopticon,” that apt expression borrowed from Richard Weaver, refers to the traveling “magic lantern” shows of 19th century America, in which a projectionist could transport simple, rural people to faraway times and places by the “magic” of colorful images thrown on a wall accompanied by a captivating story line. The cinema is, of course, the magic lantern “on steroids.” We are so jaded today with television, movies, and Internet video – YouTube and so forth at the touch of a finger on a personal “device” – we cannot imagine how overwhelmed people were in the 1920’s or 1930’s, sitting in a large, darkened auditorium and looking at a vast screen on which impossibly attractive – or impossibly repulsive – people far larger than life-size engaged in various adventures of violence and romance, or sang or told jokes. Probably the only way to understand how they felt is if you went off to a monastery for a year, a strict monastery that limited communications media to a telephone and a computer in the abbot’s office, and where all you did for weeks was pray, worship, do manual labor, read, have simple conversations, and deal with plants and animals. Then, when the year was up, you would come back to the “real” (i.e., unreal) world and go on a video binge, watching movies and TV shows on a giant screen all day on the very first day you came back. The shock would, perhaps, approximate what those people felt back when movies first came out. You would be overwhelmed; the attraction of the thing, no matter how much disgust you felt, would feel irresistible. You would realize, perhaps for the first time, how powerful it really is, and how its unreality posing as reality can so rapidly replace the real things in your mind and soul that you had acquired and treasured up during your year in the monastery. This is more or less what movies did to our forbears in the first half of the twentieth century. A false vision of life replaced the examples of normal life, much less the examples of a holy life, as their paradigm for how to think, talk, and behave.

II. Creating the New Normal

From its beginning, the movie industry set out to create a new self-image for the American people. Today, of course, what is presented as normal in the movies is often unbelievably bizarre, utterly inhuman, and overtly demonic, far beyond anything seen in the 1930’s. But the old movies did enormous damage to the American character from the beginning, by convincing ordinary people that their received way of life, based on church, family, ethnicity, and local community, was uninteresting and contemptible, and that to be “someone” they must start imitating the kind of character and the kind of society glorified on the screen. Sometimes the attack on traditional culture was overt. More often it was disguised: the “good old ways” are presented in a sentimental, superficial fashion that seems to praise them but subtly trivializes them, and the hero or heroine transcends the old life by breaking old ties and embarking on a new, more exciting way of life. There are numerous themes that we could explore here, but I’ll address three of them: big city life as the new normal, the revolution in domestic mores, and the fascination with criminality.

Until World War II, most Americans still lived in small towns or farming communities, and most lived as members of extended families and local cultures that were, by today’s standards, almost unbelievably homogeneous in race, language, and religion. Even in the big cities, immigrant communities lived in tight-knit neighborhoods conceived on a human scale, centered on family life and, most often, Roman Catholic parish institutions – church, school, and social organizations – designed to preserve both religious and ethnic identity.

If a visitor from “another planet,” as the expression goes, learned about 1930’s America only from watching movies, however, he would conclude that the paradigmatic American was a deracinated, lonely, irreligious, restless, iconoclastic, fast-talking, and fast-living denizen of New York or Chicago, and that his life consisted of the pursuit of money, power, and love affairs. He would deduce that nearly all American women are impossibly beautiful, that they all dress and comport themselves as prostitutes, and that they all smoke cigarettes. He would observe that the small town or the old ethnic neighborhood, and family life, when they are portrayed, are presented – even when they are depicted lovingly – as a situation to be escaped from or grown out of, in order to live the cosmopolitan life of the big city, and to live for oneself or for one’s romantic love interest.

I know that one can excessively idealize small town and rural life – of course they were never perfect in any nation, including Orthodox nations, because everyone is sinful. Real life is always beset by the passions of those who are living that life, and by the demons. We all know that. But it is also undeniable that God’s plan for the temporal social order, in order to make man’s eternal purpose more attainable for ordinary people, is based on the life of the nuclear and extended families, and of small, local, stable, communities of people sharing one faith, one language, one ethnicity, and one culture, who are born, live, and die in the same place, often on the same piece of land, even in the same house. This is just normal human life; this is what enables the stability and wholeness of the psyche that forms the best starting point for the life of the spirit. (The fact that my simply saying this in 2019 can get me accused – even, sad to say, by some Orthodox people – of intolerance, “racism,” and a variety of other ideological thought-crimes, shows how completely insane our life has become.)

This normal human life in the small town or on the farm is lived at a slow pace, and it does not encourage competition or aggression, and therefore it creates a patient, gentle character not inclined to arrogance or boasting, and generally open to the goodness of life. The cosmopolitan life, on the other hand, lived in an atmosphere of hurry and aggression, of endless competition, creates a nervous, unstable “smart aleck” character given to wisecracking remarks, arrogance, and cynicism. (We can see a comic caricature of this in the “Three Stooges” characters, for example.) In general, we can say that the big city life makes for a hardening and coarsening of character, even in people who intend to be moral and good. It lowers the tone of life and deflects man from his proper temporal purposes and, above all, from his eternal destiny.

But the small town American watching a movie in the 1930’s saw this lower, coarser kind of life presented as glamorous and desirable. It created in his mind a “new normal”. And along with the big city life presented as normal, came, of course, the sexual revolution. Even when an old fashioned romantic movie ends in a wedding, usually the hero and heroine have already behaved in ways that, to be polite, fall short of the standards of the Church. Also, the emphasis is not at all on marriage as a sacred or social institution involving duty and self-sacrifice, but on marriage as a form of romantic love affair with constant sexual overtones. This by itself, even if actual fornication or adultery are never condoned in a given story, is a fatal derogation from the traditional paradigm of marriage regarded primarily as the essential social institution, involving sacred social and intergenerational moral and legal obligations, not even to mention a derogation from the higher and distinctly ascetic demands of the Church’s sacramental marriage.

Getting back to poor Judy Garland: One of her lesser known movies presents a perfect stereotype for the purely romantic marriage as the cinematic norm. It’s called The Clock. Today it would be called a “chick flick,” and to our jaded 21st century sensibilities it could appear as hopelessly charming and innocent. It is not innocent, however; it is terrible. It depicts just about everything I’ve talked about: marriage seen almost entirely as a romantic adventure, the unnatural speed of city of life, deracination, a condescending sentimentalization of family life and religion, and so forth. You can read the plot summary at the Wikipedia article (yes, I think we can trust Wikipedia this far, to summarize absurd movie plots) at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Clock_(1945_film) .

So what do we see here? Two strangers (in New York, of course) meet and get married within 48 hours. There is a nod to family life – the milkman and his wife are a “normal” foil to the main characters’ fevered instability. There is a nod to “religion” – the heroine wants to kneel in a church and recite their vows again to “feel married.” The sentimental churchgoer who wants to feel good about enjoying the movie can say, “You see, those good old movies showed people who ‘believe in God’!” But obviously the movie presents an anarchic and dangerous understanding of marriage. The protagonists are completely severed from traditional loyalties and act as isolated individuals, little lost souls clinging to each other in the impersonal world of cosmopolitan modernity. They make this incredibly important decision based on sexual attraction and romantic emotion without any reference to their parents, to religious or social duty, or the long-term consequences of their decision. And this entire modern big city fairy tale also carries the sanction of the “Good War,” for by 1945 Americans have been brainwashed to believe that their country’s part in World War II was some kind of holy crusade, and, more importantly, that the social havoc created by the war and the new kind of society that emerged from it was also “holy,” was a progression to something higher and better than that Mom and Pop life before the great social experiment the war somehow justified. Before the war, a teenage Judy Garland, playing opposite Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy movies, typified the “girl next door” of small town life and loves. Now Judy – and America – have “grown up” in that great social engineering experiment known as World War II, and she is the girl next door no more, but the completely chimerical and insubstantial glamor girl of the “Greatest Generation” – someone who is attractive precisely because she is not familiar but foreign. The small town young woman says, “I want to be like that!” and the small town young man says, “I want a girl like that!” This is the generation that gave birth to and raised the Baby Boomers, my generation – arguably the most selfish and despicable generation in American history. Our parents, who were the young people watching The Clock in 1945 down at the main street movie theater, still believed in faithful love and marriage, and having children, and going to church, and being involved in a law-abiding community. But their image of all these things was profoundly deformed by Hollywood, and this false image seriously damaged their lives and affected how they reared their children.

Besides creating a false idea of family and marriage, Hollywood also glamorized criminal behavior. In his The Crisis of Our Age, Pitirim Sorokin points to the rise in the genre of crime literature – cops and robbers tales, detective stories, and so forth – as a mark of a corrupt, dying culture. Movies took this and ran with it. Even when the gangster characters played by James Cagney or Edgar G. Robinson “get what’s coming to them” in the end, they still seem somehow attractive in their very villainousness, they are more real, more alive, somehow, than one’s law abiding parents or teachers or pastor. The criminal subculture plays an inherent role in the very attractiveness of big city life – its fevered pace, the feeling of “living on the edge,” the seduction of danger.

We could go on and on, of course. Perhaps we should continue this subject of the movies in our next talk. But for now, what about some “survival tips”? Here is a short list.

1. Constantly remind yourself that movies are very powerful and, if you must watch them, be very careful about what you choose, and be very critical of what you see. An Orthodox Christian should never just run down to the video store or go to the theater to watch the latest offering “just because.”

2. Don’t immerse yourself in movie or TV culture. It should be an occasional diversion, not a daily aspect of life.

3. Dignified cinematic productions based on truly great literature or classic drama are to be preferred.

Let’s live real lives, and not try to “live the dream”!

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Orthodox Survival Course Class 36 – The Great Stereopticon: Preparing to Understand TV and Movies

You can listen to a podcast of this class at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/orthodox-survival-course-class-36

Introduction: We are going to continue painting our picture of the “Great Stereopticon” – the “media machine” that creates the false reality now believed by “mainstream” society, enabling the masses of people to be manipulated by the Antichrist global elite. We have discussed the newspapers and the radio; our remaining subjects within this sub-topic are the cinema, television, the Internet, video games, and “virtual reality” devices. But before we go on to examine these specific media, I would like to use this class to examine from an Orthodox standpoint the older art form of which cinema and television are a development, which is theater.

I. Preliminaries

I received some helpful responses this past week to our last class, two of which fill in some gaps in our knowledge about two things we talked about last week: Plato’s views on speech vs. writing, and Fr. Justin Popovich’s referring to Oswald Spengler about the future of Orthodoxy and civilization.

A) Plato’s views on speech and writing: You will recall that last week I spoke of Plato mentioning somewhere that speech was somehow more primordial and more sacred than writing, and that writing was invented because men had become less intelligent and less trustworthy. I brought this up in relation to the power of the radio, as a medium to broadcast the spoken word to vast multitudes of people, to society at large. Two of our fellow students wrote back to inform me that the passage I had in mind was in the dialogue Phaedrus.

One of these respondents wrote me very thoughtfully, at some length, to point out that Plato did not in fact have Socrates say what I thought he said – that writing was invented because men had become less honest and less intelligent – but rather that he simply articulated a critique of writing as less useful than speech for philosophical dialogue.

Even if we agree with this correction, however, my main purpose was not to be concerned about theories or myths about he origins of writing, but rather to point to the peculiar power speech has: we instinctively regard the spoken word as simultaneously more intimate and more sacred than the written word. If a stranger breaks a written contract, we have legal grounds against him, and we may be angry, but it does not damage us in the depths of the soul. If a friend breaks his word to us, however, we suffer a far deeper wound. I remember translating a speech of Cicero when I was in high school. It was a court case in which his client, a farmer, was suing a businessman who had reneged on an oral contract. Cicero likened his client to the homines antiqui, the “men of old” – or “old fashioned men” – who were both innocent and trustworthy, whose “word was their bond.” Operating on the level of the spoken word, on the handshake, indicates a relationship that is both more pure and simpler – more innocent – than that which depends on written agreements, which are made necessary by a degeneration of men into being both complicated and dishonest. This relates also to written political constitutions and the uncontrolled multiplication of written laws as opposed to operating on the basis of organic moral and legal traditions. The philosopher Isocrates says that the multiplication of laws always accompanies the degeneration of morals. This should be obvious.

Thus the power of the spoken word. As I said last week: the radio was so powerful because the “man behind the microphone” was no longer a stranger but a guest in your living room, a “friend of the family.” That was my main point. And today so many people have their favorite television or radio “talk show host,” and they take everything he says as a kind of sacred truth, and if you question him (or her), you are like a “heretic.” This stranger on the screen or coming over the airwaves is both an authority and a friend to them; or, rather, has greater authority because he is perceived as their friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance, in a way that a writer of an article or essay on the same topic is not.

B) Fr. Justin Popovich and Spengler: The same respondent, who in fact has read Spengler, informed me that nowhere in The Fall of the West does Oswald Spengler write that Orthodoxy is the future of Western civilization, as Fr. Justin Popovich seemed to think. He also pointed out to me that Orthodox Christians, for the most part, should not be spending time reading Spengler, and I agree, unless you are a specialist who has the responsibility, the time, and the training to go through stuff like this, understand what it is worth, and pull out what is useful. My respondent, however, did find a 1922 speech of Spengler’s which he believes is the source for Fr. Justin’s statement. Here Spengler says that Dostoevsky’s vision for the future of Russia – which, as we know, is informed by Orthodoxy and “Slavophilism” – will win out over Tolstoy’s secular, “Western” way of thinking. This may have led to someone telling Fr. Justin Popovich (who, I would conjecture, may never have actually read Spengler) something very general like “Spengler prophesied Orthodoxy as the future of Europe.”

The important thing here, however, is that, in a roundabout way, Spengler – as non-Christian as he was – had a real moment of insight here. He understood, from his own neopagan point of view, that the bland, insipid, bourgeois morality of Tolstoy – Christian morals without Christ – had no spiritual power, and that his “nice” world of “progressive Christianity” was passing away, never to return. Dostoevsky’s Orthodoxy, on the other hand, Spengler could respect, even if he did not believe in it, for, as a disciple of Goethe and Nietzsche, he had a pessimistic view of human nature and understood that only some kind of supernatural or mythic power could rescue man, through some kind of primordial process of destruction and rebirth. In other words, while Tolstoy is a dreamer, Dostoevsky is looking at things the way they are, looking evil in the face, and pointing out the truth: only God can save us.

II. Today’s Topic: The Power of Theater

As I mentioned in our last class, radio, cinema, and television carry with them the power of a much older art form, the theater. What is theater? I think that a reflection on this will form a useful introduction to our discussion of TV, the movies, and the Internet.

As I pointed out in our last class, the art of theater in our civilization, as we all know, has its origins in ancient Greece, and it was conceived of, produced as, and experienced as a sacred ritual. The great annual presentation of various dramas in Athens, at which playwrights vied for the laurels of best drama of that year, was called the Great (or City) Dionysia, for it was a festival in honor of the god Dionysus. This connection to Dionysus is, of course, essential for understanding what drama is. People in the ancient world did not dedicate specific activities to specific gods for no reason: the story of the god – his personality, his adventures, the role he plays in one’s life – reveals the nature of the activity dedicated to the god. In these great, classical art forms, there is always some logos, some reason behind what they are doing – it’s not “random.” So I shall recur to this connection with Dionysus as we go along.

The power of theater is not simply that it is “entertainment.” When people say, “Well that movie or play is ‘just entertainment,’ [ i.e., a way of distracting oneself and relaxing from the cares of life],” they are usually quite mistaken. The power of theater comes from its addressing very deep needs of the human soul, for transcendence, deliverance from destruction, and rebirth and immortality.

Transcendence – As I watch a play, I vicariously transcend my ordinary, day-to-day life and enter another world, a world of the imagination. Simply to call this “escape” or “escapism” is not adequate. Our hearts carry within us the memory of Paradise, of our prelapsarian state. Because of this, we have a restless, ineradicable need to go beyond our daily existence to something other that is more exciting or fulfilling or enriching. Of course, because of sin, this other is usually either mostly evil or at best mostly good but mixed with evil, because, apart from grace and revelation, apart from the life in the Church, when fallen man does transcend visible, physical reality, he is not entering Paradise or the realm of the good angels, but that part of the invisible universe ruled by the demons. This is why the more powerful an art form is, the more dangerous it is. It could be that in one’s life, great pagan literature or drama can be part of someone’s way to God, and that God’s grace shelters the person as he goes through this lower, demonic pseudo-transcendence on the way to true transcendence, which is salvation in Christ. But too often people get stuck in the demonic pseudo-transcendence, and they don’t want to leave that stage because it gratifies their passions while simultaneously feeling like something transcendent.

Deliverance from destruction – In the paradigmatic dramatic formula, a hero with many talents and virtues is nonetheless threatened with destruction because of his hubris, his pride in opposing Fate or the will of the gods. Sometimes the play ends with his destruction, but sometimes a deux ex machina, a god or a messenger from the gods, miraculously intervenes and he is saved. As I watch the play, I vicariously experience the hero’s great adventure of danger and deliverance, I can enjoy the excitement without actually facing the danger, and I am reassured that my own mistakes and sins need not destroy me – there is a power from above that can save me.

Rebirth and immortality – By vicariously going through the hero’s destruction and restoration, I have had, at least in my imagination, what is called a liminal experience – from the Latin limen or threshold, thus a “threshold experience.” I have to pass over this threshold of the ultimate, primordial, existential danger – death to my old life – in order to stay alive. I cannot go back to my old way of living, cannot return to the womb, so to speak. I can only go forward. As I imaginatively identify with the hero in the drama, I take the risk of facing death and destruction, I courageously cross the threshold with him, and with him I attain rebirth and a happy immortality.

Thus drama in its essence is an initiatory mystagogy. I am sure that by now, as you listen to this, you are saying, “It’s like Holy Week, isn’t it? Our Lord is the ultimate, the only real Hero, He goes through the threshold of death, and He conquers death and in His Person gives the human nature He shares with us final deliverance, rebirth, and immortality. ” That’s right: the pagan drama with its hero-figure – insofar as it reveals truth free from the twists and delusions thrown in by the demons – in parallel with the truly divine – and therefore completely trustworthy and non-demonic, un-deluded – revelation of the Old Testament – foreshadows the Real Thing, the Economy of the Incarnate Word, the Great Adventure of the world-saving exploit of the God-Man, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The differences are that Our Lord’s drama really happened, He is the real and true God Who became a Man, He did not need a deus ex machina but rather raised Himself by His own divine power, and that by being initiated into His death and resurrection, we receive real rebirth and immortality, not the imaginary rebirth and immortality of pagan initiation through dramatic theater or mystery rites like those at Eleusis and so forth.

Now let’s get back to Dionysus. Dionysus is the god of viticulture – the art of making wine – and therefore also of drinking wine. But he is much more than that. More than any other god of the ancient Greek religion, Dionysos represents – and, in the perceived experience of his followers, actually bestows – man’s power to transcend his mundane existence and attain a heroic, godlike status, either for good or for evil. Along with Demeter, the goddess of grain, and her mystery cult at Eleusis, Dionysos is the god that was closest to the real needs and real aspirations of ordinary people – their respective cults were the closest thing in the Greco-Roman world to our experience of Baptism and the Eucharist, to the sacramental life. Dionysos is the god who dies and rises again – he is torn to bits by the Titans but gets put back together again and comes to life, just as the vine in the fall seems to die, and it has to be pruned, but it comes back to life in the spring. Demeter’s daughter Persephone has to go down to Hades every fall but returns to the surface of the earth every spring. She also personifies the created world’s annual cycle of death and resurrection. And what two elemental foods are they associated with? Bread and wine – the offerings of Melchizedek that prefigure the True Offering of the Divine Liturgy.

Unlike Our Savior, however, the All-Good God-man Who really did die and really did come back to life by His own power, Dionysos has a dark side, and this dark side is not avoided but made explicit in his mythology and in his rites. Remember that apart from Divine Revelation, the human mind can only conceive of man’s fate as an eternal cycle of co-equal light and darkness, a dualism of good and evil. And, naturally, the demons reinforce this delusion. The dark side of Dionysos, is, of course, the base passions unleashed by drunkenness – sex, violence, the whole nine yards. It is pseudo-transcendence that feels good while you are doing it, but it always destroys you in the end. The Latin name of Dionysus is Bacchus, and thus our words “bacchanal” and “bacchanalian,” denoting disgusting orgies of drunkenness and illicit sexual behavior. Today we just call this the “party scene,” “partying.”

Like a lot of pagan and mythic heroes, Dionysus has “familiars,” little preternatural friends that he hangs out with and that project his power onto the people around him. Dionysus’s “little friends” are not nice people. They are the Maenads, wild women who go into a frenzy and tear men to pieces and eat their flesh. Not nice! It’s pretty easy to see how all of this can exercise a dark fascination, a “Fatal Attraction” on unwary souls, especially those unprotected by grace and by the Church’s teaching. They are simultaneously telling you, “Hey, you are special, you are transcending the humdrum daily life of all the ‘losers’ out there, ” and “By the way, you can be a transcendent superman and enjoy getting high on certain substances and having a lot of sexual pleasure” with wild women and so forth. Of course, there’s the price to pay at the end. It’s easy to see how this relates to our post ’60’s culture of “drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll.”

Now back to theater: So ancient Greek theater is a cult of Dionysus. The great dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides are, of course, not coarse or disgusting depictions of actual orgies and so forth. Such activities are considered obscene, in the original sense, things that are ob-scena – i.e, things that must be shielded from public view, literally “offstage.” One purpose of this great art was to sublimate man’s lower needs and integrate them into a philosophic and pious life of balance and moderation, of humble submission to the dictates of Fate, so that one does not fall prey to hubris. But, again, without grace, without Divine Revelation, without the Church, very few men could ever maintain this balance, and even when they did, it was not eternally salvific, but a temporary truce with the passions, which still resided within. And the vast majority of men will not take this philosophic route, anyway, but rather they fall prey to the dark side of the Dionysian mystery. Either way, apart from Christ, man’s condition is slavery to the power and the delusions of the demons.

So, at most, even the very best drama, the highest examples, say Aeschylus or Shakespeare, promise only a shadow, an intimation, of true salvation and eternal life. They offer only a partial and potentially confusing explanation of universal needs and universal sorrows and joys. But because the need for drama is hardwired into our minds, just by our being human, great drama is naturally attractive to better minds, and low, coarse drama is attractive to bestial minds, which are the majority, especially today. We need to practice great discretion in what examples of theater, as well as fiction writing and so forth, that we expose to Christian minds, and how we interpret them. Old Dionysos and his Maenads are waiting in the wings to grab hold of us. Let’s keep this in mind.

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Rector’s Message for April 2019

Yesterday I posted this message on our parish website, saint-irene.com

Come, ye faithful, and let us serve the Master eagerly, for He gives riches to His servants. Each of us according to the measure that we have received – let us increase the talent of grace. Let one gain wisdom through good deeds; let another celebrate the Liturgy with beauty; let another share his faith by preaching to the uninstructed; let another give his wealth to the poor. So shall we increase what is entrusted to us, and as faithful stewards of His grace we shall be counted worthy of the Master’s joy. Bestow this joy upon us, Christ our God, in Thy love for mankind. Matins Hymn for Holy Tuesday

The most beloved, much desired, and most holy days of the Christian year approach, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and each of us must ask, “What can I do for the Lord?” Our Lord, of course, does not need our prayers and good deeds, but He requires them of us for our sake, for our salvation. The beautiful thing is that each of us is given a “talent” from God, or many talents, perhaps. We all have the ability to contribute to the life of the Church through the various actions that express our Faith, including our presence at Divine Services, our prayers at home, helping with work around the church, visiting the sick and shut-ins, helping someone in need, our financial support to our parish, bringing a new person to Church, and in general re-ordering our priorities to make our daily lives more Church-centered.

Of course, we can and should be doing these things all year round. But Great Lent, and its goal, Great and Holy Week, are a special time to make the greatest effort to show our loyalty to Christ, Who was loyal to us even unto death on the Cross.

Ultimately, it is this loyalty that gains us entry to Paradise. We must hold fast until the very end of our lives on earth, and, despite our many failings and limitations, never turn away from Christ. As society goes farther and farther away from Christ and from Orthodoxy, this will naturally grow harder, but God will give abundant grace to those who remain steadfast. For those who have faith and place their hope in God, their inner joy actually grows and abounds precisely when their outward life grows more difficult.

This kind of joy is the paradoxical paschal joy,the bright sorrow which in this life was the spiritual state of the martyrs, confessors, and strugglers for the Faith, whose amazing lives fill the pages of our Synaxarion, the Prologue, and the service books. They were not made of a different flesh and blood than ours, but they made the good decision to remain steadfast and loyal to Christ even in the midst of the greatest difficulties, sorrows, and sufferings, and ultimately it was this which made them inheritors of His Kingdom.

May the remainder of this Great and Holy Fast of 2019 and the Great Holy Week of Christ’s Passion, be a productive training period for us in the practice of this loyalty, and may the Day of the Resurrection be a foretaste of our eternal joy.

Καλή Ανάσταση! A blessed Resurrection!


Living for the True God

This All-Holy Trinity we pious Orthodox Christians glorify and worship. He is the true God, and all other so-called gods are demons. And it is not we alone that believe, glorify, and worship the Holy Trinity, but angels, archangels, and all the heavenly hosts, as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the grains of the sand of the sea unceasingly praise in hymns and worship and glorify this All-Holy Trinity. Again, out of love for the Holy Trinity men and women as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the grains of the sand of the sea spilt their blood, and as many renounced the world and went to the deserts and led a life of spiritual endeavor, and still as many lived in the world with self-mastery and chastity, fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and other practices; and all went to Paradise and rejoice forever.

What does Christ tell us to do? To think of our sins, of death, of Hell, of Paradise, of our soul, which is more precious than the whole world, to eat and drink as much as is sufficient for us, similarly to have clothes that suffice, while the rest of our time we should spend for our soul, to render it a bride of Christ. Then we should be called men, and angels on earth. If, however, we concern ourselves with eating and drinking and sinning…we should not be called men but beasts. Therefore make your body a servant of the soul; then you may be called men.

– from the Teachings of S. Cosmas Aitolos

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 35 – The Great Stereopticon, Session 2 – the Radio

Class 35: The Great Stereopticon, Session 2 – the Radio

You can listen to a podcast of this class at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/orthodox-survival-course-class-35

Today we shall will continue to talk about the current, ongoing Luciferian project of the global elite, to “redefine” humanity, or, rather, to “create” a “new kind of human being” through various means, a deformed human being – a “zombie” – they can manipulate and control. We are now on the sub-topic of the communications media; in our last class, we discussed the newspapers, and today we shall speak about the radio.

I. Preliminaries

A. Survival Reality Check – Remember last week’s little to-do list (end of notes for Class 34)? How did you do? Let’s review them:

1. Limit your media. For example, turn all media devices off by 8 PM and read books until it’s time for your night prayers. That’s right: read books. They still exist! Get the family together and read to each other. Try it; you will like it.

2. Do not engage in constant chatter or arguments about the latest manufactured controversy dramatized in the media. We must develop a way of looking at life sub specie aeternitatis, from the viewpoint of eternity. The Orthodox mind sees everything in perspective, from the viewpoint of the entirety of history and with the purpose of history in mind, which is an eternal purpose. We always remember that the sovereign God is in charge, that He loves us, and that He is working out His purpose in history. This makes us serene and confident, so that we can take meaningful, conscious action and not just react to stimuli like Pavlov’s dogs. Remember that all of these daily “news dramas” are phony; they are the shadow puppet show that keeps you in the cave. Reality is much bigger.

3. Spend real time with the real people around you and do the limited real good you can do for them. The person next to you is so much more important than a politician or a movie star or a pro athlete or a TV commentator! Shut off the devices and talk. Get to know your neighbors. For that matter, get to know your family! Spend as much time in the real world as possible.

B. A great quote sent by a listener: I have been gratified recently by the response to my recent appeal to listeners to contribute to our effort, not only by their financial help, but also by their comments and contributions to our course content. In this regard: A long distance parishioner of mine just this week sent me this quote from Fr. Justin Popovich, which he saw on Facebook, in which Fr. Justin’s words dovetail perfectly with the Orthodox interpretation of the last thousand years of Western Christian history that we have been presenting in our course: “The melancholic Slav prophets alone foretold the fall of Europe (the West) before the First World War. After the war, even some Europeans (Westerners) began to be aware of this. The boldest and most frank of them was, undoubtedly, Spengler, who alarmed the world after the First World War with his book, Untergang des Abdenlandes (The Fall of the West). He shows, by all the means provided by European (Western) science, philosophy, politics, technology, art, and religion, that the West is falling to its destruction. It has, since the First World War, been in its death rattle. Western, or Faustian, culture, according to Spengler, began int he 10th century after Christ and is now decaying and falling apart, and will disappear completely by the end of the 22nd century. European (Western) culture concludes Spengler, will be succeeded by the culture of Dostoevsky, of Orthodoxy.” That’s all we have: I don’t know from which talk or article of Fr. Justin this is taken from, and I don’t know where to find this opinion in Spengler’s work, about Orthodox culture replacing Western European culture. If anyone can help me locate this quote in Fr. Justin Popovich’s work, and locate where Spengler says this in Fall of the West, I would appreciate it. But it is fascinating that Spengler would have had this opinion, which concurs, quite independently, with Sorokin’s model, which predicts that the current Sensate culture will end and be replaced by an Ideational culture, which, if it is to be Christian, could only be an Orthodox culture.

C. An addendum to Class 34 – A followup to our discussion about the newspaper. This week I was re-reading an article from the September 2018 issue of Chronicles magazine, entitled “The Battle for America’s Mind” by Pedro L. Gonzalez. His opening paragraph contains a fascinating insight:

Heralding the rise of the daily newspaper in 1831, French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine declared journalism would emerge as “the whole of human thought,” but that thought itself “will not have time to ripen into the form of a book.” The book, Lamartine proclaimed, “will arrive too late.”

So de Lamartine, writing precisely at the time when the newspaper was becoming the dominant medium for public discourse, is articulating three insights that dovetail perfectly with what we have been saying now in 2019:

1. The “whole of human thought” is now contained in journalism, which is the communications medium of politics. Remember the insight about political thought (Age of Revolution) replacing philosophical thought (Renaissance/Enlightenment) which replaced theological thought (Age of Faith). In the Age of Revolution, all thought is dominated by the political, and therefore the book is replaced by the newspaper, which is the medium of daily change, turmoil, incomplete information, careless opinions, and constant conflict.

2. This “whole of human thought” bounded – limited – now by politics and journalism is inherently incapable of maturation and synthesis into a coherent whole, which is what he meant by saying that it cannot “ripen into the form of a book.” It is a constant stream of “rough drafts” that don’t come together or get completed, but rather keep starting all over again in more and more, and more various ways. It is a centrifugal, fragmenting movement incapable of synthesis or maturity.

3. “…the book will arrive too late…” In other words, this Revolutionary form of human discourse will prevent a new synthesis, a new basis for human culture, being arrived at in time to prevent civilizational catastrophe. This was borne out in the 20th century.

Well, enough of the newspaper for now. Let us go on to another component of the “Great Stereopticon,” the radio.

II. The Great Stereopticon, Session 2 – The Magical Voice of the Radio

It is hard for us to imagine how astounding hearing someone’s voice over the radio for the first time must have been to our recent ancestors (my grandparents’ generation, most of whom were born in the 1890’s and attained adulthood in the WWI era). The telephone was amazing enough – the idea that once could transmit sound through wires. But to transmit sound for thousands of miles through the air. It really partakes of the quality of magic. It bespeaks an awesome power and commands authority in a way that even the mightiest newspaper cannot. It is a “quantum leap” up in the ability of those who “own the microphone” to dominate public opinion.

The “golden age” of radio was a short period – the 1920’s through the 1940’s – and gave way to the reign of television, which we could date roughly from 1950 to 2000. From the beginning, a very small group of people “owned the microphone.” The financial and industrial elite who controlled the economy and politics also controlled the media. There were few radio networks – some of whose names are still familiar today, such as NBC and CBS – they all told pretty much the same story about current events, and they formed a uniform mindset among their listeners. So the power of radio ratcheted up the power of the elite to control opinion, and this in turn prepared the masses of people for being influenced by the even greater power of television. Let’s look at some aspects of this:

A. The Power of Speech – Somewhere Plato says that writing was a step down in man’s intellectual and moral development – that the most ancient men were both more intelligent and more honest than those who came later, and that writing was a crutch they invented later, when they were neither as smart or as virtuous as their ancestors. (If someone could locate that in the Dialogues, I would appreciate it). We sense this instinctively: If you can trust someone’s spoken promise and don’t need a written contract, it’s because you think more highly of his morality. If someone knows the Bible and can recite it by heart in addition to being able to read it and write it, you think of him as someone who is functioning at a higher level, who owns the words that he is passing on to you. If I just tell you something and expect you to believe me, that indicates a closer bond, a higher level of trust. So speech is both more personal and more sacred than writing. And being personal, there is less distance. You can put a letter or an article away in a drawer and think about it, or forget about it. If someone is “in your face,” so to speak, you are more compelled to respond one way or the other. Any stranger can send a letter to your mailbox, but only a friend or relative or neighbor – someone you trust – is allowed to come onto your front porch or into your living room to sit down and talk to you.

So here I am, an ordinary person living in America, say, in the 1930’s, and suddenly Franklin Roosevelt – this famous, great man, admired by millions – is actually on my front porch or in my living room, by way of his wonderful voice, both wonderful because the man really is a great speaker, and because of the medium itself, which is simply magical. If I were just reading his speech printed in the newspaper, I could analyze it, think about, look at it from different angles, agree or disagree, maybe just ignore it. But here he is, the Great Man, and he has come to my home, to visit me! We have suddenly become, if not friends, then at least good enough acquaintances so that he is allowed to sit down with me and my family, in my home, and give me his opinion. (By the way, FDR did always begin his famous Fireside Chats with “My friends…”). Any guest no matter how humble, commands deference. And this guest is such an important person…I am very honored by his visit. How can I not be impressed by his words?

So, on the one hand, this radio technology creates a kind of “retro,” traditional feel, the human touch – We can just “talk to each other” rather than have to use the more formal medium of writing. This creates trust and personal warmth. The problem is that the trust and warmth are illusory, for there is not real friendship here; both because it’s a one-way street, and because the man behind the microphone only seems to be talking directly to me. He actually does not know me, and his goal is to persuade millions of people who actually don’t know him at all. The medium of writing, as Plato notes, was invented for a reason, that the later men were less trustworthy than the ancient men. But what if later, untrustworthy men – and very powerful ones – jumped over that defense mechanism of written communication and came at you directly, commanding the reverence due the spoken word?

Radio, then, greatly increased the power of the few to control the opinions of the many.

B. Advertising – If you have been watching the YouTube series on Edward Bernays (“Century of the Self”) which I mentioned in Class 33, you have been learning about the creation and growth of commercial advertising using 20th century technology. Of course, radio was a great “leap forward” over printed advertising, for some of the same reasons I have mentioned above in relation to politics. The man with a friendly, trusting voice comes magically over the airwaves into your home and says to buy this kind of laundry soap, and if you do, your wife will be happy, and your children will have cleaner clothes, and when you come home she will give you a big kiss and have your favorite dinner ready for you, and your home will be a better place, and so forth and so on. Why wouldn’t you trust the friendly man? And, of course, all the learning that went into developing radio advertising – script writing, acting, sound effects, and so forth – will later be applied to advertising using the even more powerful medium of television.

Let’s not forget: What we learn from studying Bernays is that, from the outset, the longterm purpose of advertising is not merely to sell soap – that is a short term goal. The longterm goal is to create masses of human beings who will respond to massively broadcast stimuli and then behave uniformly in a way desired by the people in power. The longterm goal is what is today called “full spectrum dominance” through social engineering. Advertising, which manipulates the subject by arousing desire or envy or fear – the lower passions – is a key element in this program.

Of course, print technology – newspapers, handbills, mailers, billboards, and so forth – also served, and still serve – as advertising technology. But the radio was a tremendous leap forward.

C. Radio as Theater – Radio, along with the cinema and television, carries with it the power of theater in a way completely unavailable to printed media. Think about it – what is more powerful, more compelling – to read the text of a play or to see it performed? Radio does not have the visual aspect, of course, but a great reader or actor or orator exerts tremendous power just using the voice. I am going to speak more about theater when we cover the topic of the cinema, but briefly now let’s recall that theater in our culture has its historical roots in the religion of the pagan Greeks. It is a religious activity: the actor steps out of his ordinary identity and takes on a transcendent vocation as a messenger from the gods teaching a moral lesson, examining a theme of universal significance, going through an existential crisis, either overcoming or being destroyed by some life or death problem that all men have in common. The resolution of the crisis presented, whether tragic or comic – i.e., whether there is a sad or a happy ending – takes on a canonical character, demands acceptance, becomes, as it were, a moral imperative. If are part of the audience, which is really a sacred congregation of initiates, and you reject the meaning of the play, you become a heretic, an outlaw from the moral community bound by its going through the initiatory experience of the drama just presented.

So theater is an initiatory ritual and we human beings are “hard-wired” for it. It’s in our cultural “DNA.” One way of looking at how radio – and even more powerfully, cinema and TV – affects people is that it draws them into some kind of drama, some kind of ritual experience of crisis, and then resolves their crisis, giving them a new life. It could be something absurdly trivial, like my wife’s laundry detergent making my white T-shirts gray, and the divine/magical hero – Mr. Soap Man on the radio – being the deus ex machina who solves our problem and enables us to live happily ever after. Or it could be a real-life, vast drama on a vast scale – the Japanese might be coming to bomb California tomorrow, and I must trust the divine figure of FDR to save me. Once I go through the crisis, “die” so to speak to my old life, and am “resurrected” by the resolution of my existential problem, I am a new person, bound to my “savior” – Mr. Soap Man or FDR or whoever. It would be heresy and apostasy to doubt them, to leave their fold.

More on theater in our later classes…Also music, which forms a large part of the power of radio as well as TV and cinema. (Today we just touched on the spoken word).

III. This Week’s Survival Tips

So how can we apply some of the things we’ve talked about today to our survival as Orthodox Christians. Here is a short list:

1. Remind ourselves of the sacredness of speech, of the power of the tongue to do good or evil. Re-read chapter three of the Epistle of St. James. Now think about how carelessly we listen to vast streams of chatter from the radio, Internet, TV, etc., and how much we imitate the emptiness and coarseness of this chatter in our own communications. Let us repent and turn to quietness, and when we speak, to employ speech that is elevated, thoughtful, and unhurried. Remember that Our Lord said that we will answer for every careless word.

2. As we do our daily Scripture reading, make it a practice always to read aloud. Reading Holy Scripture and other sacred reading aloud, as well as reading aloud the better and more refined kinds of secular literature, will train us in higher and better patterns of speech and thought, will help cure our misuse of the spoken word.

3. Turn off the radio during our driving time. Play sacred music or a good book. Or just pray. Don’t get sucked into the vortex of radio talk shows.


There are three ways you can help:

Send a direct gift via PayPal to my account at frstevenallen@gmail.com

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 16 – Art and Architecture of the Renaissance

You can hear a podcast of this class at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/class-16

At the end of our last class, I stated that in this session we would discuss the Art and Science of the Renaissance. I reconsidered, however, the best way to group and connect our topics, and tonight we shall talk only about the art and architecture of the Renaissance, and next time we’ll discuss science in connection with politics and economics, for the three are tied together in what one could call the “Project for the New Atlantis,” a concept I’ll explain then.

The Glorification of Corruptibility

The art of the Renaissance is at the same time justly famous for its enormous technical achievements while, sadly, it illustrates the central idea of the Renaissance, that European man had turned away from God to Man as the center of all things. There is a powerful image I recall from the writings of the famous art historian Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, a Platonist who was extremely critical of modern culture. He said that the art of the Renaissance was born in the charnel house (a great common tomb, a building where corpses were piled), and he meant it in two senses – that at this period artists started studying anatomy using dead bodies, and that the art portrayed only corruptible earthly nature, nothing spiritual. Superfcially it looks vitally alive, but in essence it’s dead, because it is strictly of this world. A very apt expression!

Painting – Perspective, Contemporaneity, Passion, Immodesty andFleshiness

Until recently, when Byzantine and medieval art have once more been appreciated by modern critics, it was common to hear that Christian iconography was”primitive” because it was two dimensional and “unnatural,” and that the Renaissance achievement of perspective, of the illusion of being three dimensional, was a great leap forward, was “progress,” because it made art “natural.” But if you think about it, you realize that Christian iconography is, in its philosophic stance, very natural, very realistic, in that it does not pretend not to be art. It is something very humble, no matter how technically perfect. It says, “Yes, I’m just an icon; I point to something beyond me. Don’t get caught up in illusions – go beyond this changing world and seek that which is the really real.”

What the technique of 3-D perspective does is actually give the illusion of the naturalworld, and it traps the viewer in itself, in what is really an unreal world. Perhaps you can imagine going into the picture and walking around in the world the artist has created, but this is purely imaginary and in essence delusional. The technique is very clever, as are many achievements of modern Western man, but it is a dead end. One could excuse using this kind of art for relaxation, perhaps, for “entertainment,” but it actually dominates the religious art of the period. It is the outward, artistic expression of the post-schism “spirituality” dominated by the imagination and various manufactured psychic states.

Another aspect of Renaissance painting that departs from the iconographic tradition is contemporaneity. Icons depict a timeless world; they point to eternity. The Renaissance painter takes great pains, on the contrary, to depict Biblical scenes and figures in the bustling, worldly society of his time, going to great lengths to insert countless details of costume, setting, and so forth that trap the viewer in 16th century Venice or Flanders. He uses specific personalities of his society as models – a cruel, avaricious cardinal to depict a Father of the Church, an immoral woman to depict a holy virgin martyr, and so forth. It is a glorification of his own time, his own society, which he sees as a wonderful period in history, a time of freedom from the old constraints and celebration of the worldly. He has reduced the eternal to the temporal.

While icons depict the Lord, the Mother of God, and the Saints as serene and without the disturbance of the passions, Renaissance painting, with great skill, depicts the most sacred fgures, even Christ Himself, exhibiting passion, in which is inherent changeability and corruptibility. Our Lord, of course, voluntarily took upon Himself our blameless passions, in order to suffer with us and ultimately die for us, though He was not of necessity subject to passions or to death. But He was always in control of the blameless passions and of death itself, their ever-calm and absolute Master. Countless Renaissance depictions of the Passion and Crucifixion show a corruptible, merely-human Christ in the helpless throes of pain and death. (One recalls the famous scene in Dostoevsky’s Idiot, in which Prince Myshkin shivers when he looks at a copy of Hans Holbein the Younger’s depiction of the dead Christ in the tomb, hanging in Rogozhin’s house, and says that a man could lose his faith looking at such a thing. The tortured murderer-to-be Rogozhin, a man dominated by his passions, says that he likes it!). In regard to the saints: The purpose of an icon of a saint is to depict him in his perfected, deifed state, above all earthly changes, feelings, desires, pleasures and pains, not in the throes of some unhealed sinful or even blameless passion. The Renaissance painters do not have this as their goal, but rather they prefer to show the saints as passionate and sensual people, like the powerful personalities they admire in their own dynamic society.

The “poster child” for Renaissance painting, the example that everyone is familiar with, is Michelangelo’s famous decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome. It is, of course, an amazing achievement, and it is also a glorification of the human body, depicting extremely fleshly characters in various stages of undress. The subjects are depicted as very fleshy, not ascetic, and immodestly dressed (or undressed!), and they symbolize the entire period’s turn to a kind of neopaganism. The fact that the subject matter is from the Bible does not make this “sacred art,” but rather compounds the sin involved in the enormous expenditure of human ingenuity, labor, and treasure on what is, after all, a celebration of the rejection of the Gospel in favor of worldliness and corruptibility.

Sculpture – The great sculpture of this period, with Michelangelo’s work, again, being the typical example, is a direct throwback to the pagan Greek glorification of the human form. Again, we have an enormous technical achievement in the service of worldliness. Michelangelo’s justly renowned Moses and David do not depict the sanctity, the otherworldliness, for which we revere these holy men who really existed, but rather depict a Moses and David that never existed – powerful mythological heroes, pagan demigods. Again, we have a pretense to naturalness, to conformity with the real, that actually is a form of plani/prelest – delusion.

Architecture – Part of the neoclassicism of the Renaissance is the return to classical architectural features, such as the triangular arch and the three orders of the Greek columns. Certainly these are not inherently anti-Christian or worldly, having been features of the earliest era of church building, examples of which we enjoyed in our earlier class, and these features in themselves do not violate the true principles of sacred art. But there is a specific building project of this period, you might say the building project of the post-schism Western church, that symbolizes the whole complex of problems we have been discussing in regard to the Renaissance: the new St. Peter’s in Rome.

St. Peter’s is not the cathedral of the pope as bishop of Rome. It is a martyrium, a pilgrimage shrine church built over the tomb of a saint, in this case, of course, the coryphaeus of the Apostles, St. Peter. St. Constantine built a beautiful basilica to serve as the saint’s martyrium, and over the centuries countless relics of the saints were translated there. Pope Julius II (the “warrior pope” who also sponsored the Sistine Chapel paintings) decided to tear down the old basilica and began a construction project that would take over a century to complete. Its financing through the sale of indulgences was one of the proximate causes of the Reformation (we’ll discuss that next time, when we talk about the origins of usury economics).

The resulting building, which was eventually a combination of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, is simply enormous. It remains the largest church building in the world, covering nearly six acres and accommodating 20,000 people, and its dome is still the highest in the world. The overall impression is one of vast power and insupportable, overwhelming weight. It is glorious, but it is of this world. It is the perfect symbol of the extreme ideology of papism, which sees the pope as the direct spiritual monarch and indirect temporal monarch of the world, truly a typos of the Antichrist.


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Send a direct gift via PayPal to my account at frstevenallen@gmail.com

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Buy my new book, The Eternal Sacrifice at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen. It is available both as a paperback and an ebook. If you have already purchased a copy, buy a few for gifts for your Orthodox friends or those interested in Orthodoxy. And pass the word on through your own social media. Those of you who know a pastor or church bookstore manager – give them a gift copy and encourage them to stock it! Just write me at frstevenallen@gmail.com to learn how.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 15 Addendum

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 15 – Overview of the Renaissance

You can listen to a podcast of this class at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/class-15

Corrigenda from Class 14: The Old Testament Theophanies, the Logoi

I need to correct two mistakes from our last class, one which I made spontaneously, in our discussion, and therefore is recorded only on the audio recording and is not in the notes, and the other, which is a mistake in the notes themselves. At one point, we were discussing the theophanies of God in the Old Testament, and I was listing some of them, “off the top of my head,” so to speak, and I mentioned, quite out of carelessness, the great miracle at the dividing of the Red Sea. Well, of course, that was not a theophany in the sense that the Burning Bush, or God showing Himself to Moses during the forty days he spent on Mt. Sinai. It was a created effect, a miracle in the physical, material world. It is a “theophany” in the sense that all of God’ creations manifest – reveal – something about God, but not in the sense of a direct perception of the divine energies by a saint who is in a state of theosis.

The other mistake was not accidental, due to my just rattling a “list” off spontaneously, but was due to a lack of a very important distinction in the notes. In the section on Nominalism, we discussed the true answer to the “problem of the universals,” which is called Moderate Realism. The lack of clarity in the notes gives rise to the mistaken notion that the universals – the shared natures of things of the same kind – are the same as the logoi, which are uncreated patterns of those things. But they are not the same. The universals are created natures. They really exist, and the mind can abstract from individual instances to perceive them, but they exist only in those individual instances. They are always “instantiated”; they don’t exist “out there somewhere.” We can perceive them, however, because our minds are created after the image of the divine Logos, in which – or, rather, in Whom – are all of the uncreated logoi, the divine patterns for all created natures. Our created minds perceive the created universals, because our minds are made after the image of the Uncreated Mind, as the universals are themselves made after the patterns of the uncreated logoi, which are energies, operations, of that Mind. A holy man who has arrived at the second stage of spiritual life, called theoria, begins also to see (which is what theorein means in Greek) the actual logoi, to perceive not simply the created natures but the divine meaning and purpose of those natures.

The Scholastic construct, which insists on Absolute Divine Simplicity, and therefore denies the essence/energy distinction in God, cannot make room for all this. As I explain in my revised notes for Class 14: “The Scholastics, with their beloved Absolute Divine Simplicity, have a hard time explaining why the universals are not created or eternal archetypes with an existence separate from individual created instances and from God, which would throw them back into some kind of Platonism or even (if the archetypes are uncreated) polytheism, or, if the universals really do belong in the mind of God considered as pure essence, are not therefore necessarily merely notions in our own minds, since all distinctions within the divine essence are notional, not real, and this throws them back into some kind of Nominalism. The Holy Fathers, by contrast, most notably St. Maximos the Confessor, can explain the universals, as being created natures made after the pattern of the uncreated logoi, which are uncreated energies of the Logos.”

I’m going to send out the revised Class 14 notes with the notes for tonight’s class. As we go along, I have to ask your patience with me for changing or correcting things now and then. Remember, I am another student learning with you; I am not a scholar with professional competence in any of the disciplines that apply to our study. I hope that our study together will inspire those who participate in our class, whether in person or long-distance, to read works by real historians and theologians who can explain these things with greater precision – and more authority – than I can. Here our purpose is to give an “amateur’s” overview of these very profound matters that form the content of our study.

Overview of the Renaissance

A. The transition from the Middle Ages: The descent from the Idealistic to the Sensate Culture

Our last class linked the High Middle Ages to the Renaissance by 1. Examining three mistakes of the Latin theology that made the Western church vulnerable to secular modes of thought and life, and 2. Examining the philosophical error of Nominalism, which changes man’s entire intellectual purpose from conforming his mind to the truth of the knowable natures of things to creating truth, or multiple truths, with his mind wandering in the endless examination and kaleidoscopically changing explanations of the practically infinite variety of individual phenomena.

The transition from the Orthodox period to the High Medieval period marked a lowering from an Ideational culture dominated by the spiritual life to an Idealistic culture dominated by the intellectual, or psychic, life. The transition from the High Middle Ages to the Renaissance marked a lowering from an Idealistic culture dominated by the intellectual life to a Sensate culture dominated by the carnal and material. The movement can be summarized as a downward movement thus: Spirit > Soul >Body. The first step was the truly catastrophic one, marked by separation from God. The second step was bound to occur, because once man separates his mind from grace and from authentic spiritual experience, he cannot maintain the superiority of mind, of soul, over body, no matter how hard he tries.

The ostensible cause for the Renaissance was the “rediscovery” of classical literature and the “rebirth” (thus “re-naissance”) of classical culture. But actually the new humanists mined the classical culture to give them ammunition in their revolt against the perfected God-centered worldview and complete wisdom of the Church. It was not a “return” to something higher, but a fall into something lower. The great minds of antiquity, leading up to the Birth of Christ, were looking forward to a revelation from the true God, to answer all of their unanswered questions, to give man a higher wisdom, which can only come from Above. God gave them the answer they were looking for, in Christ the Incarnate Wisdom of God. By going back and “reinventing the wheel,” returning to the “quest” of the pre-Christian thinkers, the Renaissance humanists are not gaining but losing wisdom.

B. The Bifurcation of European Life

When we say that Renaissance culture is neopagan, humanistic, man-centered, secular, carnal, etc, this is not to say that the Church or Christianity somehow disappeared. Some form of the outward historical, institutional church remains a dominant, or the dominant influence in all the Western European nations, and even after the Protestant Revolt against Rome, the papal church remains the central institution in “papist” countries and some form of national church remains in the Protestant countries. Just about everyone in these countries regards himself as a Christian, including the leading thinkers, artists, politicians, and businessmen. But at the same time there are enormous changes in philosophy, science, politics, economics, and art that create a Sensate culture that is Christian in name but worldly in its content. The elites, who set the pace for the rest of their national populations, are rushing headlong into all kinds of experimentation and innovation, and this comes into dynamic conflict, often, with church authority and with the simpler, believing people. But eventually the innovations win out, because there is no longer either the anchor in the true Faith or the unity of an integrated culture, for among the essential characteristics of Sensate culture are fragmentation and instability, as more and more disparate experiments in “creativity” multiply.

So with the Renaissance, Europe starts to lead a “double life,” Christian in identity but increasingly humanistic and pagan in its content, especially as lived by the elites – the nobility, clergy, intellectuals, and artists – and the growing merchant class, who gradually become part of the elites on the basis of their financial power. The tensions created by this double identity finally cannot be endured, and ultimately they give way to open Revolution against the Christian order of life, starting in 1789.

C. Topics

We shall organize our discussion of the Renaissance around the themes we find in the notes from Fr. Seraphim’s lectures – Fame, Superstition, the Protestant Reformation including Chiliasm), Science (including the “Copernican Revolution”), and Art – as well as some further topics I believe we need to round out our study: Politics and Economics.

I. Fame – the Cult of the Individual

This is the age when the center of man’s attention shifted from God to man, the age of Humanism. The motto of the Renaissance can be said to be that “man is the measure of all things.” What this meant, in real life, was that the ego is the center of everything, that a “great man” becomes great through achieving human fame. Fr. Seraphim quotes at length from a 19th century book on the Renaissance, by Jacob Burkhardt (see the second page of Lecture 3), in which the author dedicates a chapter to this subject of the modern idea of fame, which first arises in the Renaissance. Even Dante, who is thought of as the pre-eminent Christian poet, is said by Burkhardt to have striven “…for the poet’s garland with all the power of his soul. As a publicist and man of letters, he laid stress on the fact that what he did was new, and that he wished not only to be, but to be esteemed the first in his own walks.” Fr. Seraphim also quotes Burkhardt referring to another poet, Mussatus, who was “crowned poet” at Padua by the bishop (!), and who was “venerated” with a solemn procession on Christmas Day! This, of course, is just idolatry. It is obviously a precursor of the idolization of celebrities in our own time, a profoundly anti-Christian phenomenon.

Burkhardt, who was an agnostic, even says that there is something “demonic” about the lust for fame we see in political rivals of this time, who will do anything to make a name for themselves, even murder, because they are consumed by their passions. Of course, there have always been ambitious men who will commit sins to gain power. But in the Renaissance, we see the lust for glory and fame to be a dominant theme.

This self-centeredness affects philosophy as well. With Nominalism, we have the idea that you cannot really know the true natures of things – that we just give names to things. With the philosopher Descartes, who comes at the end of this period (he actually lived in the first half of the seventeenth century) we have a completely self-centered basis for philosophy: He sweeps aside all previous thought and all tradition, and he starts with himself: “I think, therefore I am.”

II. Superstition

The Renaissance is not some great age of “reason” after the “darkness” of an Age of Faith. The Middle Ages, so called, were the age of faith and reason. The Renaissance marks a tremendous turn to occultism, magic, astrology, alchemy, and superstition. This is the age of Nostradamus the astrological “prophet” and Paracelsus the alchemist, and of the eclecticism of Pico della Mirandola, who wanted to combine Christianity, Kabbalah, Platonism, and a whole host of contrary ideas and systems, including Magic, into some kind of universal religion. Really, it’s a time of Anything Goes.

Part of that “bifurcation” I mentioned earlier is that even (or especially!) the popes of this period often believed in astrology. Burkhardt, quoted by Fr. Seraphim, states that Julius II had the day for his coronation set by astrologers, that Leo X thought the flourishing state of astrology in his time to be a credit his pontificate, and that Paul III never held a consistory (meeting of the cardinals) without consulting his astrologers! There is a great deal of neo-paganism and occult practice going on behind the scenes among the highest church officials at this time. This is part of the cause of the great revolt against Rome called the Protestant Reformation.

III. The Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation

While the Protestant Reformers claimed that they wanted to “go back to the Bible” and create a purified Christianity, they themselves were typical of this age, in that they too stressed individualism – every believer with his own Bible deciding for himself what it meant. Of course, this led to the Protestant movement splitting into innumerable sects and the old unity of Christian Europe being shattered into many warring states in endless religious wars. Again, we see here characteristic traits of modernity: innovation, fragmentation, and instability.

The Protestants claimed to be reacting against the Humanism of the Renaissance and returning to a God-centered faith based on the Word of God, but actually their whole spirit was (and is) very humanistic. Fr. Seraphim rightly points out that “Both Humanism and Protestantism continue the work of Scholasticism and Francis of Assisi – the search to improve on Orthodoxy, to improve on Christianity as it had been handed down in the tradition. So they are continuing this work of Dostoevsky’s ‘Grand Inquisitor.’ Both Humanism and Protestantism are stages in the destruction of the Christian world-view. Later on there are more advanced stages.”

Fr. Seraphim’s notes go on at great length about some of the strangest manifestations of Protestantism, the chiliastic “kingdoms” set up by antichrist “messiah” figures who claimed to be setting up the Kingdom of God on earth, a “Reign of the Saints,” and who used terroristic methods of mass murder, confiscation of private property, etc. to achieve their ends. Fr. Seraphim is very concerned about chiliasm, because he rightly sees this as a key element of the spirit of our own times, which produced the “Soviet Paradise,” the “Thousand Year Reich,” and so forth, which are actually just preludes to something more horrible, the World Government of the Antichrist.

The Roman church reacted against the Reformation by cleaning their own house, so to speak. There were better, more sincere popes in the later 16th and early 17th centuries, and they tightened discipline, reined in the worst corruptions of the sale of indulgences and so forth. At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), they laid the groundwork for what came to be known as the “Tridentine Church” which lasted until the present post-Vatican II period. (But even this council was presided over by the superstitious Pope Paul III who consulted astrologers!). This period of the papal church is marked by extreme centralization of power and the zenith of the efficiency of church organization, which had always been a strong point of the Roman papacy. There was, of course, no return to Orthodoxy, but rather a hardening of the papal ideology in reaction to the chaos of Protestantism.

In our next class, we are going to discuss Science and Art in this period.


There are three ways you can help:

Send a direct gift via PayPal to my account at frstevenallen@gmail.com

If you want to receive a receipt at the end of the year for your taxes, send a check to St. Irene of Chrysovalantou Church, 745 Barclay Circle, Suite 355, Rochester Hills, MI 48307 USA, and earmark it “for Fr. Steven.”

Buy my new book, The Eternal Sacrifice at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen. It is available both as a paperback and an ebook. If you have already purchased a copy, buy a few for gifts for your Orthodox friends or those interested in Orthodoxy. And pass the word on through your own social media. Those of you who know a pastor or church bookstore manager – give them a gift copy and encourage them to stock it! Just write me at frstevenallen@gmail.com to learn how.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 34: The Great Stereopticon, Session 1

You listen to a podcast of this class at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/orthodox-survival-course-class-34

Now let us talk some more about this project we discussed in Class 33, to “redefine” humanity, or, rather, to “create” a “new kind of human being” through various means. In the next few classes, we will focus on the mental world created by the big monster called the communications media, that vast machine which Richard Weaver calls the “great stereopticon” in Ideas Have Consequences.

I. Some Preliminaries

Before our class proper, however, I’d like to deal with a few preliminaries. From here on out, we are probably going to be doing a little preliminary section at the beginning of some classes, for two reasons: One reason is to do a reality check, to ask ourselves if we have acted recently on what we have been learning. After all, a “survival” course only works if you act on your knowledge in order to survive! Since I like short lists, I’ll just ask one to three questions at the beginning of each class: Have we done such and such this past week to fight the spirit of the age and live as human beings and as Orthodox? For example, this week, referring to an image from the previous class I could ask, “Were you been attentive [the first week of Great Lent] and lived prayerfully, or have you just acted like a ‘zombie’?”

The other reason for preliminaries is to make corrections to things I’ve said earlier. This is a work in progress, and it is in a sense a team effort. We have some well-read listeners who will find mistakes or, at least, defects, in my presentations, and as they point things out, I want to correct or clarify what I’ve said, in order to give us the most complete picture possible.

One housekeeping task we have is to point out that the link I gave last week to Ideas Have Consequences is not a good one. Thanks to one of our listeners for the head’s up! Here is a link that works, to get you a PDF of the book easily: https://www.portalconservador.com/livros/Richard-Weaver-Ideas-Have-Consequences.pdf . I have also fixed the notes from Class 33 to provide this link instead of the other one.

One correction, or clarification, is in regard to Michael Hoffman’s views on usury. I’ve mentioned his book twice, I believe, including last week. A correspondent from Romania who has been following our course wrote to remind me that the Orthodox Church in the East did not absolutely forbid usury, which I believe I did point out. Hoffman is writing from the viewpoint of the Western Church, in which canon law, going back to its Orthodox period, always forbade usury absolutely. It is considered a malum in se, an evil in itself and never permissible to a Christian. In the East, the Church and the imperial government took the approach of controlling usury. In other words, “It is going to happen, even if we don’t like it, and therefore let us deal with it realistically while trying to keep it to a minimum.” My point in encouraging anyone to read Michael Hoffman’s book is not to form a party agitating for our synod or any Orthodox authority to excommunicate a layman who lends someone money at interest. My purpose was to introduce our listeners to the historical process by which the modern banks arose in Western Europe and later came to dominate the global economy and to enslave the formerly sovereign national governments.

Another clarification involves Richard Weaver’s view of the Scholastics. My son has been reading Ideas Have Consequences, and with his fresh eyes he saw, and pointed out to me, that Weaver himself regretted the Scholastics’ overemphasis on Aristotle, something I completely forgot and failed to point out. Despite his emphasis on the figure of the medieval scholar, Weaver does express admiration for the ascetic struggle of the monk and the exploit of the Christian warrior, two exemplars of Christian virtue from the Orthodox period of the Western Church. But without having the Orthodox viewpoint, he does not “connect all the dots” and conclude that what we need to do is get back to Orthodoxy, that the Orthodox Church has the answers. Weaver’s solution is that we need to balance Aristotle with Plato, which is typical of Western Christian intellectuals, who simplistically call the early Middle Ages “Platonic” and the High Middle Ages “Aristotelian.” Of course, we know that the answer is to return to the Fathers, who always knew – throughout late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and into modern times – exactly how to balance Plato and Aristotle, and how to keep them in their place.

This is a good time to remind everyone that I am not an academic or a scholar or a specialist by any means. Just think of me as the older student leading a study group. I am learning a lot of these things just one step ahead of you, struggling with them, and sharing some insights. But even though you and I are not scholars, we are human beings and Christians, and we cannot shirk the duty to form an integrated picture of the whole in order to make choices and act in the world on the basis of what we know to be the truth.We cannot wait until we get all the details straight, and, frankly, the specialists themselves will never get all the details straight, and they will argue about them till the end of the world, each man being convinced he knows better than the other man. For the details, for in-depth study of this or that, I can refer you to people who know more than I do about this or that. My task is to take what I can from these various smarter and more informed people and weave it together, on the basis of the Church’s tradition, into a comprehensive vision, to help us construct that Orthodox lens we have been talking about, a lens through which to view the world around us. And, as I wish never to cease reminding you (and myself!), this is not strictly an intellectual task. It is pre-eminently a spiritual task, performed in the setting of purification of our intellects through the grace-filled activity of Orthodox life, life in the Church. We must grow in virtue if we hope to grow in understanding. We must cleanse the mind of the effects of the passions if our mind is to function properly.

Another caveat I need to make is to point out that, like most of my fellow insular Anglo-Saxons, I have this problem of not being able to read or speak other languages fluently. Most of the historical and philosophical subjects we have been talking about have in fact been dealt with by authors coming from an Orthodox background, writing in Russian, Greek, Romanian, and so forth, and the great bulk of their work has not been translated into English. (I’m not breaking new ground – better minds have been thinking about these things!) But I cannot read them, and therefore I am confined to English language sources. When I refer to authors who are available in English, and they are not Orthodox, it is simply to gain the knowledge and valid insights they offer, and then fit this into the puzzle of the overall picture we are creating – not to accept any non-Orthodox opinions or adopt a non-Orthodox viewpoint. We do have the Scriptures, the Holy Fathers and a lot of recent Orthodox spiritual writings translated into English – we have the basic tools and components to build the foundation of our worldview, which is of course revealed truth and authentic spiritual life. But there is a tremendous dearth of historical and philosophical works in English – not to mention literary works – from the Orthodox viewpoint, though a great corpus of these works exists in other languages that can help us today, especially beginning from the 19th century, when Orthodox self-awareness is awakened in traditionalist intellectual circles, both in Russia and in the Balkans. Thus my method: I use whatever good materials I can find in English from outside Orthodoxy, accepting what is useful and rejecting what is not. St. Basil famously said that anything that is true belongs to the Church. That is certainly still true today.

We do have some good Anglophone Orthodox scholars today, who are reading texts in the original languages by 19th and 20th century native Orthodox historians, philosophers, novelists, and poets, and making known their insights in their own writing for their fellow English-speakers. I hope to introduce you to some of them as we go along.

All right, enough preliminaries. Let’s get started on the Great Stereopticon!

II. Other People Creating Our Perceptions – the “Great Stereopticon” and the “Great Stereoscope” of the Media Machine – Part A, “All the News Fit to Print” – the Newspapers

Again, I have a correction to make: I thought, as I said in the last class, that the “stereopticon” was something you put to your eyes, like a kaleidoscope or binoculars, but it isn’t – rather, a stereopticon is what was also called “the magic lantern,” an early kind of slide projector. Using two lenses, the magic lantern could dissolve from one image to another, in order to allow the projectionist to go seamlessly through a story of some kind. So it is the precursor of moving picture, of the cinema. What I thought Weaver meant is actually called not the stereopticon, but rather the stereoscope, like those little View-Masters we Baby Boomers had when we were children back in the 1950’s and ’60’s. The stereoscope is the precursor, then, of “virtual reality” devices, as the stereopticon is the precursor of cinema. Let’s use these two metaphors to understand what the people in charge of the media have done to us.

The magic lantern/stereopticon showman would make the circuit of small towns in 19th century America and set up shop, inviting everyone to this amazing experience totally unlike anything they had seen before. They would enter a darkened room, where the real world was shut out from view, and the magic lantern storyteller would project wonderful, vivid images of faraway places and people on the wall. For that magic hour or two, the farmer or small town shopkeeper would enter a magical world of excitement. It is hard for us, jaded by every kind of visual stimulus, to imagine how wonderful this was to them, how this amazing “new world” seemed better and more inviting than their everyday real world. But it was.

Of course, this image of simple people sitting in a dark chamber enthralled by images on a wall recalls the allegory of the cave in Plato’s Republic. As long as they were chained to their seats and facing the back of the cave, this dark cave was their whole world, and the people doing the shadow puppet play on the wall controlled their perception of reality. This is why Weaver chose the image of the stereopticon: the projectionist/storyteller controls the audience’s perception of reality. In the case of the great media powers – in Weaver’s time the publishing houses, newspaper magnates, movie studio owners, and the radio networks – the audience is not simply a few people in the room, but nearly everybody: all of organized society, the people at large, the body politic, the American people.

Let’s look first at the most “low tech” component of Weaver’s stereopticon: the newspaper. So here we are, back in 1948 when Weaver was writing Ideas Have Consequences. The “regular guy” gets up in the morning and reads his morning newspaper over breakfast, before going off to work. What is most important is not whether he agrees or disagrees with the stated opinions on the editorial page, where the newspaper is openly saying, “This is the opinion of our newspaper, and you may agree or disagree with us as you think best.” What is important is what is reported simply as “news,” as “objective information,” all of the “news fit to print,” as the “New York Times”claims proudly on the front page of every issue. The “regular guy” believes that “all the news fit to print” really does include everything of importance to him happening in the world today, but he does not realize that it is carefully chosen by the “New York Times” (or whoever) and insidiously written with unspoken assumptions and an unspoken purpose, in order to inculcate certain assumptions and reactions, to “hardwire” the reader, over time, with a certain mindset. The unsuspecting reader is guided carefully to learn about some things and not other things, and to think a certain way about the things he is allowed to know about. But he does not know he is being guided. He thinks he is simply “catching up on the latest news,” and since he wants to appear to his friends to be an informed, “with-it” guy, he diligently keeps reading the “news” and accepts it as reality. As we all know, unconscious assumptions are far more powerful than considered opinions, because they control us without our knowing we are being controlled. So Mr. Regular Guy newspaper reader is a prisoner in that dark cave of Plato’s Republic, but he does not know it.

To our young people today, of course, the print newspaper is in the same category as the wooly mammoth, a museum exhibit. But over the past 200 years, until the advent of the Internet – yes, even during the TV era – newspapers powerfully influenced public opinion. “The Washington Post,” for example, almost single-handedly brought down President Nixon in 1974, well into the TV era.

Another, far more important example, is that in the decade leading up to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, almost all of the newspapers in Russia were controlled by non-Russian non-Christians, who were attacking the Church and the Tsar daily, lying shamelessly about the conditions in the country, and promoting a spectrum of revolutionary ideas – all the way from liberal, Masonic republicanism to outright violent, Marxist anarchism based on mass murder. In reality, the vast majority of the people loved the established Orthodox order and had no desire to overthrow the Tsar or persecute the Church. And things were actually going well: By the beginning of 1917, Russia was in fact winning the war against the Germans and the Austrians, and food and supplies were more plentiful than at any time since the beginning of the war. But the educated city dwellers who lived in the centers of power, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and who read the newspapers to form their opinions, were convinced that the army and the country were in turmoil. Thus the newspapers confused and disoriented the leadership class, as well as influencing opinion abroad, and this greatly contributed to the circumstances that made possible the February 1917 overthrow of the Tsar and eventually to the 1917 October Revolution.

Examples like this could be multiplied over and over again.

Besides understanding the destruction wreaked by the propaganda content of newspapers, however, we should also look at the medium itself through our Orthodox lens and how it affects our minds. The very nature of a newspaper emphasizes constant feverish change, excites empty curiosity, and encourages everyone to hold violent and uninformed opinions which increase social discord and make the population easy to manipulate. Look at what a newspaper is: a sheaf of cheap paper you pick up on your front porch in the morning and toss in the garbage in the evening, containing a bunch of fragmentary, possibly false, data, along with brazen, shallow, and often outrageously idiotic opinions expressed at a low mental level. The mind formed by newspapers tends then, to a short attention span, shallowness of thought, feverish curiosity, and a coarse mode of spoken and written expression. It is easy to see how this militates against a healthy spiritual life, or even a healthy intellectual and emotional life. The Newspaper Mind is the diametrical opposite of the Attentive Mind described by the Holy Fathers as the normal mental state for a Christian.

Of course, in the present age of information overload through the Internet, this terrible assault on the mind has, as they say, “gone on steroids.” Instead of a limited dose of mental noise once per day from the newspaper, one gets addicted to “Tweets” and “Instagrams” and so forth all day long, flooding the mind with a constant stream of fragmentary, soul-numbing chaos. But the newspapers started it.

So how does one escape the Cave of the Newspaper Mind? What short list of practical suggestions can we take home from our class today? Obviously, we have to do our daily prayers, Scripture reading, and other spiritual reading. Let’s add a few more things to make a short list, say, a three point program:

1. Limit your media. For example, turn all media devices off by 8 PM and read books until it’s time for your night prayers. That’s right: read books. They still exist! Get the family together and read to each other. Try it; you will like it.

2. Do not engage in constant chatter or arguments about the latest manufactured controversy dramatized in the media. We must develop a way of looking at life sub specie aeternitatis, from the viewpoint of eternity. The Orthodox mind sees everything in perspective, from the viewpoint of the entirety of history and with the purpose of history in mind, which is an eternal purpose. We always remember that the sovereign God is in charge, that He loves us, and that He is working out His purpose in history. This makes us serene and confident, so that we can take meaningful, conscious action and not just react to stimuli like Pavlov’s dogs. Remember that all of these daily “news dramas” are phony; they are the shadow puppet show that keeps you in the cave. Reality is much bigger.

3. Spend real time with the real people around you and do the limited real good you can do for them. The person next to you is so much more important than a politician or a movie star or a pro athlete or a TV commentator! Shut off the devices and talk. Get to know your neighbors. For that matter, get to know your family! Spend as much time in the real world as possible.

May the Merciful and Man-befriending Lord, Who gave us this Great Lent of 2019 as the day of our salvation, grant us the grace to live in reality, to live in hope, and to do His holy will! Amen.


There are three ways you can help:

Send a direct gift via PayPal to my account at frstevenallen@gmail.com

If you want to receive a receipt at the end of the year for your taxes, send a check to St. Irene of Chrysovalantou Church, 745 Barclay Circle, Suite 355, Rochester Hills, MI 48307 USA, and earmark it “for Fr. Steven.”

Buy my new book, The Eternal Sacrifice at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen. It is available both as a paperback and an ebook. If you have already purchased a copy, buy a few for gifts for your Orthodox friends or those interested in Orthodoxy. And pass the word on through your own social media. Those of you who know a pastor or church bookstore manager – give them a gift copy and encourage them to stock it! Just write me at frstevenallen@gmail.com to learn how.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 14 – The Renaissance: Timeline Overview. Topic 1: Some Key Bad Ideas from the Start

You can listen to a podcast of this class at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/class-14

Class 14 – The Renaissance: Timeline Overview. Topic 1: Some Key Bad Ideas from the Start

Timeline Overview: Renaissance to Enlightenment to Revolution

Tonight we will begin our section on the Renaissance, which for convenience’s sake we will say lasts roughly from 1300 to 1600. Of course, many conventional timelines show the 14th and 15th centuries as the “late Middle Ages,” and there are reasons for this, especially if you are considering the British Isles, the Iberian Peninsula, and Scandinavia, which remained “medieval” in various ways longer than the dynamic Italian and French cultures, the seedbeds and exemplars of all future European development. But for our purposes, since we are working on acquiring an Orthodox overview of the vast sweep of Western culture, it is most useful to zero in on the 14th century, and on Italy, as the key period and key place marking the transition to the Renaissance.

In my earlier proposal for a syllabus of Part II of our course (see the end of the notes for Class 10), I put forward the Reformation and Counter-Reformation as separate topics, but after further reflection, I think we’ll treat them as sub-topics within the Renaissance period. As with our earlier sessions, I’m not sure how long we’ll take on the Renaissance: Remember, you are here with me in the initial formation of our course, and we are going to take things as they come and adjust as we see fit.

Though, as we said, the real transition in the West from Orthodoxy to something else really took place in the 12th to the 13th centuries, yet the consequences of this transition were probably not foreseen by the men who caused it, men who believed – tragically and mistakenly – that they were laying solid foundations for a “Thousand Year Reich,” so to speak, of a genuine Christian civilization under the benevolent rule of the Pope. But that was not in fact the result. In the Renaissance, we will see, with dismay, shockingly different “Consequences” of the “Ideas” of the Western High Middle Ages: the collapse of the delicate Idealistic (to use Sorokin’s term) synthesis of the High Middle Ages into an open, unapologetic, self-adulating, no holds-barred Sensate culture marked by anthropocentrism rather than theocentrism, the shift from Truth to Power as the driving force of culture and politics, Superstition replacing Faith and Reason, the glorification of carnal passions, the elevation of the individual and his quest for human glory, and the misdirection of Science from its ancient pursuit of truth in the service of man’s spiritual and intellectual telos – i.e., virtue – to the “progressive” pursuit of power over material phenomena, in the service of comfort, pleasure, and the manipulation of the masses of people by a self-serving oligarchy of occult “insiders,” with this vast technological enterprise being funded by the alchemy of a usury-based financial system. It is as if one of those vast yet delicate Gothic cathedrals, so heartbreakingly beautiful in its dynamic upward thrust to pierce the heavens, suddenly got dizzy, lost its dynamic balance and collapsed into a pile of rubble. Meanwhile, the un-dynamic and un-progressive older brother of the Gothic cathedral, that old-fashioned “boring” Byzantine church sitting solidly on the ground – i.e., the Orthodox civilization – still stands silent, still, and unchanged, “left behind” in the “march of progress,” quietly living on in the monasteries and agrarian societies in the vast backwaters at the eastern end of the Western world: the Ottoman Empire and Old Russia (i.e., Russia before Peter I).

The headlong, frenzied race into passion and fragmentation initiated by the Renaissance will be, as we will see, temporarily arrested by the attempt of the “Enlightenment” (roughly the 17th and 18th centuries) to create a new stasis by means of “reason,” but, being merely man-made, without spiritual truth and power, without repentance, still marked by great hubris, this brittle, make-believe “reasonable” world of Newtonian science and rationalist philosophy will be crushed into a thousand pieces by the demonic power of Revolution, beginning in 1789.

During these last two periods, of “Enlightenment” and Revolution, the Orthodox East will once again encounter and be greatly affected by Western European man, and the latter’s bad Ideas will begin to have Consequences for our fathers, as well. It is essential to our survival that we understand what then happened to the Orthodox, leading right up to our own time.

The Renaissance, Topic 1: Some Key Bad Ideas from the Start – Three Pancakes and Occam’s Razor

So we will see that bad ideas in High Middle Ages led to worse things in the Renaissance. I’d like to go back and review three key transitional ideas that we have alluded to or spoken about in passing, that led inevitably to the collapse of that delicate Idealistic structure of 13th century Western Christian culture into the fragmented free-for-all of the Renaissance. I call them the three “Pancakes,” because each one involves “pancaking” two realities into one, smashing together and confusing distinct realities.

Pancake 1 – Man: Reason and Nous, Soul and Spirit. The Scholastics, and what became “Roman Catholic” anthropology generally, do not distinguish carefully between the logos in man regarded as dianoia – the discursive, analytical intellect – and the logos regarded as nous – the synthetic, intuitive, and, properly speaking, spiritual intellect. They “pancake” them into one reality, “reason,” ratio or intellectus. Another word for one’s nous is pneuma– spirit – regarded as the highest faculty of the psyche, the soul, and with its own distinctive function, that is, to act in the invisible realm of the angelic universe through direct, undeluded and synthetic spiritual perceptions. From this point on, this intellectual confusion creates a bad theological method – that of dialectic, with primacy given to kataphasis instead of apophasis, and to the analytic over the synthetic and tradition-based method – as well as lack of spiritual discernment: the Western “saint” cannot distinguish between that which is merely of “the soul,” psychological, and that which is genuinely of “the spirit,” spiritual. By opening the door to endless dialectic and analysis, this confusion leads to theological unraveling. By opening to the door to endless delusory psychological experiences, this confusion leads to complete lack of spiritual discernment.

Pancake 2 – The Church: Organism and Organization. The full-blown papal ideology “pancakes’ the organism of the Church – Her life – into the organization of the Church – Her outward structures, with the latter controlling and dominating, or, in worst cases, substituting for the former. How do you know you are in the Church? Well, you are under the Pope. How do you know you won’t spend more time in Purgatory? Well, the Pope has granted you an indulgence. How do you know someone is really a saint? Well, the Roman Curia has gone through a specific legal process and declared it so. As we know, the Orthodox respect the ancient administrative structures, ancient sees, territorial synods, etc. (which is why we are fighting about them all the time!), but the Orthodox have never identified the structures with the Church. They are in service to the Church; they are not the Church. This confusion in the West will lead to the Church being cynically regarded as just another competitor for earthly power in the race to see who will create the new, “progressive” bright future of a New World Order, Heaven on Earth. In the Renaissance, we will see the spectacle of the popes marching at the head of armies to kill Christian men and sponsoring adventures in astrology, alchemy, and usury to bring about a “better life” on earth.

Pancake 3 – God: Absolute Divine Simplicity

We do not have time, given the broad scope of our course, to give adequate treatment to the so-called Palamite controversy of the 14th century, but we need to summarize at least the points that make up its outcome. Remember how we spoke earlier of Anselm of Bec and the famous slogan of his Proslogion: “fides quarens intellectum”. The idea here is that faith is a “leap in the dark” without evidence and without logic, and that we have to correct this defect in faith with the more sure knowledge coming from experience and reason. This, in germ, is the basic idea of the “Anti-Hesychasts” who opposed St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory summarized centuries of the teaching of the Orthodox Fathers when he taught that

1. Theology is grounded in the direct experience of the saints, whose nous has direct contact with the uncreated energies of God.

2. Therefore, a prerequisite assumption is that God’s essence and energies are distinct, because the nous must simultaneously experience God in reality, to avoid agnosticism, without experiencing the divine essence, which would result in pantheism.

3. This knowledge is more, not less, sure than the results of the empirical experience and analytical reasoning of the scientists and philosophers.

The “Latinophrones,” or “Anti-Hesychasts” taught the opposite, that theology is the result of applying philosophical reasoning to natural and supernatural revelation, that God is Absolutely Simple, actus purus – His essence and His energies are “pancaked” into absolute identity – and that scientific and philosophical knowledge is more certain than the knowledge gained from spiritual experience. This “leap” from trusting the Saints and Tradition to trusting “reason” will result in the humanism and worldliness that will characterize the Renaissance, which, we will see, will be an age not of reason but superstition, because…

…by undercutting the basis for undeceived spiritual knowledge, the Anti-Hesychasts undercut the basis for the functioning of reason itself, which is known to exist only by Divine Revelation. This is where the Scholastics parted ways with Orthodoxy. But at the same time, over in England, William of Ockham is parting ways with the Orthodox and the Scholastics, and the Great Race to the Bottom of Western thought is off and running!

Occam’s “Razor” and Nominalism – Finally, we are coming around to the great villain in Richard Weaver’s narrative of the fall of the West: Nominalism. And we have to agree with Weaver: It’s a huge problem. Like “Anti-Palamism,” Nominalism, though one finds it before in various authors, really “takes off” in the 14th century, with the teachings of an English Franciscan friar, William of Ockham (or “Occam”). While Anti-Palamism undercuts human knowledge indirectly, by undercutting the divine-human mechanism of Revelation, Nominalism undercuts the possibility of human knowledge directly, by denying the existence of the “universals.”

Occam’s “Razor” is the nickname for an epistemological axiom attributed to the friar William: ” Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity.” As a methodological assumption for scientific work, that’s a pretty good rule: Keep it simple; throw out whatever is actually extraneous to your hypothesis. The problem is that Occam, and later many other thinkers, applied this rule to the age-old “problem of the universals,” and came up with what came to be called “Nominalism,” that is, “Name-ism,” the idea that when we call two horses by the same name – horse – it’s not because there’s such a thing as horse-ness that the horses have in common, but simply because we noticed that these two things are kind of the same and so we’ll call them both “horse” for convenience.

So what is this “problem of the universals?” A “universal” is anything predicated of more than one individual: “Man,” for example, as predicated of Peter and Paul. The “problem” is this: Does the word “man” signify something that really exists or is it just a notion, a tag, we apply to the two individuals pragmatically, for convenience’s sake? Is there such a thing as human nature, or is that a notion, a linguistic convention we can change at will? Is there such a thing as a “nature” of anything? There are three possible answers:

Nominalism – Nominalism is the idea that the universals are just names (nomina) that we give to individual substances that seem to be kind of the same. There is no such “thing out there” as human nature, horse nature, house nature, star nature, etc.

Extreme Realism – Plato combats this idea, which obviously leads to skepticism, cynicism, and the abuse of power, and which he associates with Socrates’ opponents, the sophists, with a radically opposite idea: the universals are so real that they have a separate existence in the World of Forms (τα είδη). When we perceive “humanness,” our mind is experiencing anamnesis (remembering again) of the “true world” in which our souls pre-existed before being “imprisoned” in the flesh and the delusory world of matter. There is a soteriological problem here, however: When you leave the body and re-enter the world of the forms, how does your “humanness” encounter Humanness Itself and not get absorbed by it? Thus Platonic soteriology is ultimately not different from the Hindu idea of the absorption of the individual into the One.

Moderate Realism – this is the solution of Aristotle, which in modified form is taught by the Holy Fathers.. The universals do exist, but they exist only as instantiated in individual instances. “Humanness” does exist, but we see it only in examples like Peter and Paul, not in itself. But where did our minds get these ideas? Why are we able to perceive the universals? The answer is most beautiful and satisfying: Our minds are made according to the image of the Logos, the Primordial Word of the Primordial Mind, in which, according to His energies, are found the logoi, archetypes or patterns, of all created things. The universals are created natures made after the image of the logoi, and our mind, created after the image of the Logos, can naturally perceive them. When a Christian attains theoria (the second stage of spiritual life, in which the passions are healed and the mind perceives reality accurately), he starts to perceive the logoi of all things as well as the created natures made after the pattern of the logoi.

The Scholastics, with their beloved Absolute Divine Simplicity, have a hard time explaining why the universals are not created or eternal archetypes with an existence separate from individual created instances and from God, which would throw them back into some kind of Platonism or even (if the archetypes are uncreated) polytheism, or, if the universals really do belong in the mind of God considered as pure essence, are not therefore necessarily merely notions in our own minds, since all distinctions within the divine essence are notional, not real, and this throws them back into some kind of Nominalism. The Holy Fathers, by contrast, most notably St. Maximos the Confessor, can explain the universals, as being created natures made after the pattern of the uncreated logoi, which are uncreated energies of the Logos.

But both the Orthodox and the Scholastics oppose Nominalism.

We will see how the skepticism engendered by Nominalism will infect every aspect of religion, philosophy, politics, and culture in the Renaissance and succeeding ages. If you cannot know the natures of things as they really are, then real knowledge is impossible, and the pursuit of science is not to conform the mind to reality, and the passions to the mind, but to conform reality to the demands of the will dominated by the passions. This Satanic inversion is the basis of all modern culture, a sobering thought that should really motivate us to stay “out of the mainstream” and “off the radar screen,” and really stay close to the Church.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 13 – The Latin High Middle Ages: Politics and Chiliasm

You can listen to a podcast of this class at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/class-13

Class 13 – The Latin High Middle Ages: Politics and Chiliasm

I. Introduction: Tonight is the third session in our exploration of this key period of the Latin High Middle Ages, roughly the 12th and 13th centuries, the all-important epoch of profound changes in the Western Church that marked a definitive break with Orthodox spiritual life, theology, and culture. Following Fr. Seraphim Rose’s outline in Lecture 2 of his “Orthodox Survival Course,” we are covering six topics: Scholasticism, Romance, The New Concept of Sanctity, Sacred Art, Politics, and the chiliast teachings of Joachim of Flora. Tonight we will cover the last two topics, which are actually closely related, for the new concept of the pope as a kind of world ruler fits in neatly with the chiliast conception of establishing the kingdom of God on earth.

Providentially, I was recently re-acquainted with a curious book called The Keys of this Blood, written by a rather intriguing, not to say shady, character named Malachi Martin and published in 1990. I say “providentially,” because the subject and the argument of the book fit in quite well with our topics tonight. So by way of introduction, I’m going to discuss this very recent book, to confirm a point I’ve stressed many times, that the fundamental changes which took place in the Western church in the High Middle Ages have direct consequences for our own time.

The first few pages of the book are shocking, really, because the author assures us that one-world government is inevitable, and that it will be fully in control of us during the lifetime of anyone under forty years of age at the time of the book’s publication, that is, anyone born after 1950. The only question in the author’s mind is whether this one-world system will be dominated by Soviet communism, the Western “capitalist” establishment, or…the Vatican! In other words, as late as 1990, someone is floating the idea of a world government controlled by the pope of Rome as a realistic possibility. The book was published by a big name, “establishment” New York house (Simon and Schuster), and the author is not a naive or mentally unbalanced Catholic zealot or a marginal “conspiracy theorist,” not an “outsider,” but an “establishment” figure: He was a peritus (“expert”) at the Second Vatican Council, advising none other than Cardinal Bea, the chief architect of the Vatican’s radical change, in the 1960’s, in favor of Ecumenism and in favor of a conciliatory policy towards world Communism. Later Martin pretended to be converted to Catholic traditionalism and to oppose Vatican II, but as we can see from this book, he was a great promoter of John Paul II, the pope who did more to promote inter-religious syncretism – much less ecumenism – than any other single public figure in 20th century history. John Paul II took the ecumenist theory of Vatican II and “put it on steroids,” as the saying goes.

We know, also, that in the 1960’s Pope Paul VI appeared before the UN and praised them as the “hope of mankind,” etc., and that the supposed “conservative” Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical in which he called for a single global financial authority. And these were not isolated incidents, but part of a grand design, an overarching policy thought out and executed by the oldest intelligence and propaganda organization in the world, one that commands the allegiance of a billion people. The audacity – really shamelessness – of these modern popes in proposing such obvious Anti-Christ schemes is extreme, but it is not contradictory in essence to what the papacy has stood for, for many centuries: a single world commonwealth under the direct spiritual authority and the indirect temporal authority of the pope, who, as the substitute for Jesus Christ on earth, has the moral and legal right to govern the entire earth as Viceroy of Christ the King.

This ideology was born not recently, but a long time ago, in the period we have been discussing. Let’s take a look at it.

II. The High Medieval Papacy and the German Emperors: The Degeneration from Symphonia to Competition for Dominance

A. Prior Developments during the First Millennium: The fully blown papist ideology did not spring up suddenly of course; it did not come out of nowhere. I think we know pretty well the basics of the history of the disintegration of the Roman authority in the West, and how the papacy, the Western bishops, and the monasteries came to be the stabilizing and unifying spiritual, cultural, and even political influence during the turbulent period when the barbarian kingdoms were being converted to orthodox Christianity and becoming civilized, becoming “Romanized.” Their stepping into this vacuum of power, to become not only the unifying spiritual but also temporal influence on their society, was perfectly natural – actually necessary – given the circumstances, and surely in its original intention and many of its aspects it was a God-pleasing project, an accomplishment, over centuries, of vast dimensions, that is hard for us to conceive, and which we cannot but admire. A negative outcome, however, is that the Western Church, and especially the popes, were tempted to overemphasize the extent of their temporal powers at the cost of the God-pleasing symphonia of the powers of the imperium and sacerdotium. This unbalanced view bore bitter fruit later on.

In the 8th century we have the appearance of an extremely important document, a forgery, called “The Donation of Constantine,” a supposed decree of St. Constantine giving the pope the ownership of vast territories in the Roman empire. Though in the fifteenth century it was proved to be a forgery, the idea of the Roman emperor ceding his temporal power to the pope, not simply de facto by dint of circumstances, but as an ideological position sanctioned by the archetypal Christian ruler, became “hardwired” into the medieval Western Christian mindset.

Also in the 8th century we see the rise of the Carolingian Frankish power, culminating in the establishment of what comes to be called the “Holy Roman Empire” with the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day, 800. At first, these German emperors had a kind of “symphonic” relationship with the pope, more or less imitating the system in the Eastern Roman Empire, but this is not going to last.

In his lecture, Fr. Seraphim has this to say about the “Holy Roman Empire” of the Frankish kings: “…in the 800’s there was the rival empire of Charlemagne that was consciously set up as a rival. The Pope indeed chose Charlemagne over Irene the Easterner who was for the icons, and Charlemagne was against the icons, and also favored the Filioque. Already we see that this is very shaky. And this empire gave rise to what was called the Holy Roman Empire in the West. And Kireyevsky notes, ‘We have a Holy Russia because there are holy men in it, called because of holy men, but the Holy Roman Empire was holy in itself, not because there were holy men, holy emperors or holy men in it. It was called “holy” because the institution itself was conceived as being holy.’ And this is an attempt, which will come out very strongly later, at ‘sanctifying the world,’ in which an earthly institution becomes conceived as something holy.”

Something I would like to add is this: Remember that we discussed, in our earlier course on Orthodox political thought, and in our class earlier in this course on the Church and the State, that the Christian Empire is an icon that mediates the reality of the heavenly kingdom; it is not itself that kingdom. But the medieval popes and emperors have this project of creating a “holy society” on earth, which is analogous, in the political realm, to having statues instead of icons, to having saints and priests who are “other Christs,” not icons of Christ. The whole culture, being an “Idealistic” culture, to use Sorokin’s category, becomes opaque. It inspires you with the thought or feeling of the heavenly reality, but it does not mediate the reality, having become “something in itself.”

B. The Gregorian Reform – the Great Turning Point. Regardless of how one views the legitimacy of this new “Roman” empire in the West (and, of course, as the real successors to the Romans, we Orthodox have profound reservations in this regard), at least it provided a counterbalance to the papacy’s pretensions to temporal power. But in the 11th century – the century of the Schism – Pope Gregory VII definitively made the break with the tradition of symphonia to declare the papacy a power superior to that of the emperors, possessing even the power to depose emperors and kings. Until his time, bishops were chosen in a variety of ways – by local councils, popular election, appointment by local rulers, etc. – and the local dioceses were endowed with lands for their support by local rulers, independent of Rome’s approval. Gregory, however, in the course of what came to be called the Investiture Controversy, established that the popes had direct control over all episcopal appointments and the apportioning of Church lands, which represented an enormous transfer not only of spiritual but temporal power into the hands of the pope. Western Europe was transformed, by this change, into a vast fief of the pope, at least in theory, since, according to Gregory’s teaching, he had direct control over the bishops not only as spiritual but temporal lords, and indirect control over every temporal authority, including that of the emperor. The famous scene at Canossa, in January 1077, in which the Emperor Henry IV knelt in the snow for three days to beg the pope’s forgiveness for opposing him, is the symbolic moment of the triumph of this new ideology, one of the key turning points in world history.

C. The 1100’s and 1200’s – The temporal dominance of Western Europe by the pope, in practice, reached its height in the reign of Innocent III (+1216). From that time on, the “Holy Roman” Emperors and the rulers of the newly developing nation-states gradually became more powerful geopolitical rivals to the papacy. The sad thing is that the pope, while claiming to be, for all intents and purposes, God on earth, had simultaneously reduced himself to just another temporal prince in a nasty dogfight for temporal power with all the other temporal princes. As ruler of the Papal States, he employed his own military and diplomatic resources on the chessboard of international politics, right along with everyone else.

Despite the fact that, by the end of the 13th century, the papacy had less political clout than at the time of Innocent’s death, Pope Boniface VIII, at his enthronement in 1294 , declared himself “Caesar” as well as the successor of Peter. This claim – to the imperial as well as the priestly power – was not simply vanity or boasting, but an intentional and consistent statement of his beliefs, which are summarized in one of the key documents of papal ideology, his famous bull Unam Sanctam (1302), the text of which I’ve appended to these notes. In this document, he clearly states that the temporal authorities should be subject to, not in symphonia with, the spiritual authority, and that the highest spiritual authority, the Pope, can be judged by no one but God. The final words are famous: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” That kind of says it all.

III. The Chiliast Utopianism of Joachim of Flora

This claim to what is, essentially, world dominance by the pope, is, of course, a species of utopianism, a fanatical idea that if only everyone would just obey the pope – who is, after all, endowed with the plenary authority of God Incarnate – there would be peace on earth, universal justice, and so forth. A feverish kind of mass mindset that would foster acceptance of strange ideas like this among the ordinary people was created in the 13th century by a group of fanatic Franciscans called “the Spirituals,” who took the teachings of a late 12th century Cistercian abbot, Joachim of Flora (+1202), about a “new age of the Holy Spirit,” and spread them all over Europe. Joachim taught that the Old Testament Church of the patriarchs and prophets was the period of the Father, that the New Testament Church of the priests and monks, the Church of the first thousand years AD, was the period of the Son, and that soon there would be a third and final age of the Holy Spirit, in which everyone would be spiritual and would not need kings and priests and rules and asceticism, but everyone would simply pray and be holy and happy all the time, and share everything, and there would be no sin, and so forth. Now, of course, this is a kind of “Christian anarchy” that is the opposite of an organized “Holy Kingdom of God on Earth” ruled by the emperor or the pope, but the spirit is the same: “We are going to enjoy Christ’s Kingdom right here on earth by making a perfect society that ‘sanctifies the world.'” The two seemingly opposed ideas are both species of chiliasm.

Now the 13th century Franciscan “Spirituals” who spread Joachim’s ideas went far beyond him, as fanatic “groupies” of a spiritual teacher often do, and they got into trouble by identifying the Emperor Frederick II as the Antichrist, but when he died that did not faze them, and they said the world was going to end in 1260, but of course it didn’t, and so forth. They also spread forgeries which they ascribed to Joachim, and finally got into trouble with the head of their order, Bonaventure, and with the papacy. Ultimately not only their additions to Joachim’s teaching but also the teaching of Joachim himself was condemned by Pope Alexander IV in 1256, and the Franciscan authorities suppressed their movement. Yet, as the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia states, Joachim was still regarded informally as a beatus (a Blessed, though not a Saint), and he had his own feast day, on May 29th. You can read all about him in the Catholic Encyclopedia article at http://newadvent.org/cathen/08406c.htm.

(What is interesting for us as contemporary Orthodox is that a 20th century “Orthodox” thinker, Nicholas Berdyaev, had a theory very similar to Joachim’s, and this is discussed by Fr. Seraphim in Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future. The same bad ideas keep popping up – there is nothing new under the sun!)

IV. Summary: By the end of the period we’ve been discussing, by around the year 1300, we now have the full-blown papal claim to world dominance clashing directly with the claims of the “Holy Roman” [actually German] Emperors and also the rulers of the developing modern nation-states of Western Europe. The old concept of symphonia has been destroyed, and Europe will enter on a centuries-long drama of the political, diplomatic, and military adventures of the popes as rivals to the Western emperors and kings. Of course, this makes reconciliation with the Orthodox Eastern Church even more difficult, for in addition to all the theological, spiritual, and cultural differences, we now have a much different theory of how the Church is supposed to relate to the State. The “Church” has come to be identified entirely with the worldly organization under the popes, and its rulers claim to have direct spiritual authority and indirect political authority over the entire human race.

So the One-World-Government-Under-John-Paul-II-Idea in Malachi Martin’s 1990 book is really nothing new.

V. Appendix: “Unam Sanctam,” Pope Boniface VIII

“Unam Sanctam,” Bull of Pope Boniface VIII promulgated November 18, 1302

Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins, as the Spouse in the Canticles [Sgs 6:8] proclaims: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one. She is the only one, the chosen of her who bore her,‘ and she represents one sole mystical body whose Head is Christ and the head of Christ is God [1 Cor 11:3]. In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism [Eph 4:5]. There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide, i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed.

We venerate this Church as one, the Lord having said by the mouth of the prophet: ‘Deliver, O God, my soul from the sword and my only one from the hand of the dog.’ [Ps 21:20] He has prayed for his soul, that is for himself, heart and body; and this body, that is to say, the Church, He has called one because of the unity of the Spouse, of the faith, of the sacraments, and of the charity of the Church. This is the tunic of the Lord, the seamless tunic, which was not rent but which was cast by lot [Jn 19:23- 24]. Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter, since the Lord speaking to Peter Himself said: ‘Feed my sheep‘ [Jn 21:17], meaning, my sheep in general, not these, nor those in particular, whence we understand that He entrusted all to him [Peter]. Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not being the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John ‘there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.’ We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: ‘Behold, here are two swords‘ [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: ‘Put up thy sword into thy scabbard‘ [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter bythe Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: ‘There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God‘ [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: ‘Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms‘ and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: ‘The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man‘ [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven‘ etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

-see http://www.papalencyclicals.net/bon08/b8unam.htm

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