Orthodox Survival Course
St. Irene Orthodox Church
Rochester Hills, Michigan
Class 10 – Review of Our Purpose, Models of History, Overview of Part II
The notes below are just a brief summary of everything that we talk about. For the most benefit, listen to the audio! The podcast of this session can be listened to at www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/class-10
A. Review of Our Purpose
Why is our class called “Orthodox Survival Course”? The reason is that, to survive in your situation, you must understand it, understand why things around you came to be the way they are, and therefore how to think about them and respond to them. We all have a lot of “data” coming our way – there is no shortage of “data.” What most Orthodox people lack is the right lens to view this data, the right framework or background in which to see it, the right model of reality within which one can understand it. This lens or model or framework is what we are calling our “Orthodox Worldview.”
An integral part of learning this worldview is learning an Orthodox philosophy of history, not simply the “data” of history – though one must have that, of course – but a unifying understanding of history, a comprehensive explanation that fits all of the pieces of the puzzle together in an Orthodox way.
In Lecture 1 of his “Survival Course,” Fr. Seraphim (Rose) points out that the Orthodox explanation of the world is the only philosophy that is not “sectarian.” Even if there are very few real Orthodox, they are not sectarians, because what makes a faith or philosophy truly universal, truly catholic in the original meaning of the word, is that it does not take a little piece of truth and reduce everything to that, and limit the understanding to a little clique of people “in the know,” but rather it embraces all of reality and gives it the right meaning, which is the same meaning for everyone.
Today we have a tiny elite who are “in the know” and impose a false reality on everyone through the giant brainwashing machine of the media and educational complex, and even though it is the “mainstream” view of reality, it is still “sectarian” in that it is reductionistic and its “true meaning” is really only known by the power elite. Then there are many, less powerful, but still powerful competing sectarian philosophies, religions, groups, etc., but, again, they all take a fragment of reality and then build a whole system based on that. The papists build their system on the pope, each Protestant sect on its preacher’s interpretation of the Bible, the Mormons on the Book of Mormon, the Jews on the Talmud, the Mohammedans on the Koran, etc. The numbers of people who believe in this or that worldview is not essential to evaluating its worth; what is essential is how much of the truth the worldview comprehends.
Orthodoxy is the catholic worldview, in that it truly comprehensive and universally available. It does not reduce reality to a fragment, and it is true for everyone, not just an elite. Whether people accept it or not is up to them, and at any given time, perhaps only a few accept it. But it is still the one completely true way of seeing things, and it is intended by God for everyone.
The goal of our course is to understand how the world around us got to be the way it is today, by using our truly catholic, Orthodox worldview to understand the history of the dominant culture of the past 500 years, which we will call roughly the “Western” culture, that is, the culture of Western Europe and the Anglo-sphere – Britain and her colonies. Though Orthodoxy is the truth, Orthodoxy as a world influence has been “sidelined” for a long time, and due to Western Europe’s dominant position in world affairs for many centuries, its aggressively secular worldview has become the “mainstream” philosophy of life for everyone. How did the Christians who were once our brothers – the Western Christians – become the vehicle for the dominance of materialism, secularism, and atheism in the world, at the same time considering themselves Christians (at least until recently)? To understand this will bring us a long way to understanding where we stand now in the story of world history, and what our duty is today as Orthodox, what we must do to serve God and save our souls in this present situation.
One caveat is that we must guard ourselves against thinking that as Orthodox we are exempt from the results of this millennial degeneration. We are not. Our faith is Orthodox – may God grant – but our way of life, unless we live in a very isolated situation, is powerfully influenced to conform to the secular values of the “Western” society to a greater or lesser extent. One benefit of our course is give us a starting point for changing our thinking and thus our behavior by helping us to see accurately and to be honest about the false ideas that we have inherited and that we believe without even realizing it.
The most powerful false ideas are precisely those which we have and do not know that we have. “Ideas have consequences,” “Our thoughts govern our lives…” This is a concept I think that all we know and accept by now. But we must now also do the hard work of uprooting the false ideas, the false thoughts, and accept the truth, and then do the even harder work of conforming our lives to the truth.
In Part I of our course, the first ten sessions, which we called The Church of the Romans, we reviewed the key attributes of the “Church of the First Millennium,” which still remains today and is, simply, the Orthodox Church of all times. Part II of our course, for which we have been preparing, and whose subject matter is the subject also of both Fr. Seraphim’s “Survival Course” and Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, is primarily an intellectual history of the second millennium of Western Christendom, which is really, from our Holy Fathers’ point of view, a tragic history of the degeneration of the true philosophy of Orthodoxy into progressively more fragmented and more misleading, false ideas. These false ideas in turn have generated bad customs, bad practices, bad culture, bad art, bad politics, and so forth and so on, until we have come to the situation we are in today, which just about everyone, whatever his beliefs, regards as apocalyptic – everyone senses, feels that we are on the edge of a knife, that things cannot go on as they are going now.
“It is later than we think.” So we have a certain urgency to understand our recent history in light of God’s holy truth, in light of Orthodoxy, conform our lives to this understanding, and try to use this understanding to help those around us, to build little “arks” to survive the “flood” to come, as we strive to remain in the Ark, the True Church. Part III of course will propose to offer practical consequences of the good ideas we will have learned in Parts I and II, positive steps to take to do God’s holy will to be like Noah and preserve our loved ones in the True Faith in the midst of the coming cataclysm. But now for Part II.
B. Models of History
Before going on to the outline of Part II of our course, I would like offer three linear “models” with which to understand history, which will help us to understand where most people today are “coming from,” as they say, and to help us also to understand how the Church’s “model” offers us the way out of the doomed way of life that the false models offer to people. Both Model 1 and Model 2 are essentially worldly and deterministic, though often their believers enforce them with fanatic, “religious” zeal. Only Model 3, the Scriptural-Patristic model, takes into account all of reality, both visible and invisible, and all of what man’s potentiality is, both for good and for evil.
Note that all three models are linear in some way, not cyclical. They posit a beginning and an end. Models 1 and 2 are basically heretical forms of the Christian historical view of reality – they propose a kind of beginning and an end of all things, and a form of “salvation.” But since they can’t offer a real explanation for beginnings and endings, or for salvation, since they are worldly and deterministic, they end up collapsing into a cyclical view, that “stuff happens” and then “happens all over again.”
I am going to attach to these notes some diagrams I drew to illustrate the three models, and I ask your indulgence for their crudeness – I am not a good artist, nor do I know how to use or even own any design software. But I think they will give you a decent idea of what I am talking about. I welcome expert assistance in producing better versions for future use!
Model 1 – The Progressive Model
This can also be called the “evolutionary” or “optimistic” model. Here everything starts with the original “blob” or Ur-stuff or whatever you want to call it, and evolves into higher and higher, better and better forms of everything, towards some “bright future.” It starts with an inorganic blob and “evolves” into the most advanced civilizations, etc, and then goes out into the planets and stars and colonizes them and so forth and so on indefinitely, into some kind of secular “eternity” that will never end. All the time “things are getting better and better every day in every way.” This is the dominant model of today’s power elite, or at least what they brainwash everyone else into believing, though they probably know it is ridiculous. Some main corollaries of this idea are
– The past is bad, the future is good, but the future is never here, so we have to keep “progressing.” Change is ceaseless. Stasis is impossible. Whatever we are thinking and doing today is always better than what people thought or did in the past. But we must think and do differently tomorrow than what we are thinking and doing today.
– The only virtue is to submit to the evolutionary process. The only vice is to oppose it. If you get in the way of “progress,” you are bad. If you cooperate with “progress,” you are good. If you do not believe in progress, you are either a heretic or mentally ill. Either way, you have to be “dealt with.”
There are two main variants of this model. One is deterministic and fatalistic, leaving no room for human decision or choice, such as in Hegelianism and Marxism. This is actually the more consistent. The other is the “liberal” model of humanist or “Christian” progressivism, which says that “do-gooders” have to work to advance the “march of history.” These people are superficially admirable, in a kind of Disney movie sort of way, but actually are very silly and deluded, and they usually make up the demographic of “useful idiots” that the real revolutionaries contemptuously do away with once they have served their purpose of demoralizing the real Christians, hollowing out the Christian institutions from the inside.
Model 2 – Inevitable Decline
This could also be called the “nostalgic” or “pessimistic” model. Here everything starts with an original Perfection, a Golden Age, from which everything subsequently declined, and this decline is, like “progress” in Model 1, inevitable. People are getting stupider and more evil all the time; morality, art, politics – all cultural manifestations – get lower and lower, and finally there is a Gotterdammerung, a final catastrophic destruction of everything.
This model appeals only to aristocratic and noble souls who are willing to fight on, knowing that they will be defeated in the end. Unlike progressivism, whose elite does not really believe in progress but only their own lust for power, and who use “progress” to delude the masses, “decline-ism” attracts a sincerely believing – and necessarily tiny – elite who don’t have Christian hope yet want to “do the right thing” anyway. The ethics of stoicism and some forms of existentialism fit in with this model. In this model, virtue consists in doing one’s duty in the face of final defeat. Only a small aristocracy trained to virtue understand this duty, and their happiness lies in doing it until the end. Vice is the normal state of the vast majority, who are hopelessly corrupt, and of the aristocrats who abandon their duty and join “the herd.”
Unlike the pedestrian, fatuous, and self-indulgent stupidity of progressivism, this view is noble and heroic – it invites the sympathy of better minds – but it is also not true.
Model 3 – Original Goodness, Sin, Temporal Decline, Eternal Triumph
This “model,” the view of history we find in the Bible and the Holy Fathers, is the only complete model, both because it takes into account the invisible as well as the visible realm, and because it offers the only satisfyingly comprehensive understanding – sympathetic but realistic – of man’s capacity for both good and evil. The first two models are this-worldly; they don’t admit any Divine Providence. The first model is stupidly optimistic about human goodness – whatever new nonsense human beings come up with “must” be good, and sin is an unknown concept. The second model is sadly pessimistic – man is just doomed, and that’s all there is to it. Only the third model offers the real solution to the whole thing – man was created good, fell, mixes evil with whatever good he does, can’t save himself, needs a Savior, has a Savior, and can overcome evil through the Savior’s grace. History is kind of up and down, with the outward tendency being mostly down, but inwardly often very triumphant, and ultimately, after things can’t possibly get any worse, God will triumph cosmically and eternally, or rather God has already triumphed *and* will triumph.
Only this model takes into account that the most important historical processes are invisible and inward, going on in the angelic universe, in which man is also a participant through the struggle within his own soul. Outward, temporal processes are but manifestations of this invisible and inward struggle.
As we go through the sad story of the second Christian millennium, we will always be trying to temper the sadness by seeing this period of decline in the context of God’s overall victory. All of our study should aim at giving us both realism – yes – but also – more importantly – hope. All things are under God’s Providence, and all things tend to His final victory.
C. Overview of Part II, the Decline of the West
It is hard for me to foresee how many classes this is going to take, and how many individual sessions we should devote to each historical period respectively. But here is a rough outline:
The Transition Period – the 12th – 13th centuries. This period demands very close study, and perhaps is the most important to understand, because it is the key period when Western Christianity really became something quite different, and when the whole mechanism of spiritual decline was launched. It is very important, in particular, that we accomplish this task well as an Orthodox “prelude” to Weaver’s otherwise excellent book, whose author mistakenly believed and taught that the process of decline began in the 14th century, with the assault on Scholasticism by Ockham. Key themes in this period include Scholasticism, romance, high papism as a form of chiliasm, and the changing view of sanctity.
The Renaissance – Though many regard the Middle Ages as ending roughly at 1500, the intellectual and spiritual roots of the Renaissance clearly go back to the 14th century, both in the Nominalism of Ockham and the Neo-Paganism of Early Renaissance Italy. So for our purposes we will call the “Renaissance” period roughly 1300 to 1600. But of course, there is a lot of overlap from the medieval period into the “Renaissance” and “Reformation,” and overlap of the “Renaissance” and “Reformation” periods into the Counter-Reformation and then the “Enlightenment.”
The Reformation – the Protestant Revolt against the papal church, which requires its own study as being simultaneous with but not identical to the “Renaissance.” 1500 – mid 1600’s.
The Counter-Reformation – Mid-1500’s till “Vatican II” – The reaction of the papal church and its faithful peoples to the Protestant Revolt. This will also include the Reaction against “Enlightenment” and the age of Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The “Enlightenment” – Mid-1600’s to 1789 – The period in which human reason and science are enshrined as supreme in man’s understanding of the universe and in his activities in the world.
The Age of Revolution – 1789 – Now. The current period of the open overthrow of the old Christian order of society.
Again, this is a rough outline. We will try to refine it and fill it out as we go along. At each stage, we will attempt not only to describe the errors of the period, but also what was still good about each period, and, most importantly, the Orthodox corrective to these errors.