Dominus Historiae: Conclusion

The younger Daniélou

Continuing my review of Jean Daniélou’s The Lord of History from here.

Before I get into the meat of this conclusion, comparing Daniélou’s views of history to those of other recent Christian thinkers, I would like to contrast him with someone whose views were opposite in just about every respect: his brother.

The spiritual trajectory of Jean Daniélou’s younger brother, Alain, was a great influence on Jean. The Daniélou family was, to put it mildly, religiously conflicted. Whereas Jean took the faith of his devout mother (while rejecting her harsh moral vision—she was considered a fanatic even among Catholics), Alain was closer to his radically anticlerical father, and in his teens repudiated Christianity altogether. Jean joined the Jesuit order at the age of twenty-four, with numerous academic honors behind and before him, but Alain was more interested in the arts, especially dance, photography, and music.

Alain was a homosexual, and identified as such from a young age. His first sexual experiences at university also marked a religious awakening; thereafter, he regarded his sexuality and spirituality as inextricable. Accompanied by a gay lover, Alain studied music and philosophy in India and eventually converted to Shaivite Hinduism. He believed that Shaivism represented a primitive, erotic, Dionysian spirituality that organized religions have by and large destroyed. He wrote prolifically, both as a polemical opponent of monotheism and a scholar of Indian history and religion.

Despite their deep differences, the famous brothers remained affectionate throughout their lives. They were, indeed, very different; Alain characterized Jean as “nervous, frail, and agitated,” whereas he regarded himself as “virile,” adventurous, and supremely confident. Alain further believed that the Catholic Church to which Jean was devoted had viciously suppressed the pure, original faith of Jesus; he seems to have regarded Catholicism as the most antihuman and masochistic institution on earth, despite his respect for certain Catholic mystics, not to mention his own brother, a cardinal.

When Jean died in a house of ill repute and the press was full of the scandal, Alain wrote a defense of his older brother, insisting that Jean’s character was saintly and humble and incapable of hypocrisy, and that Jean’s life was dedicated to the service of social outcasts (though Alain could not resist adding that he would have been very happy had his brother experienced the joys of sex before his death). Alain Daniélou continued to publish until his death in 1994 and remains esteemed in his field.

As fascinating as it would be to produce an extended comparison between the works of these brothers, I must restrict myself (partly through lack of adequate reading) to the themes raised by Jean in The Lord of History. First, however, it would be best to offer a more complete description of Alain’s position.

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Gregory of Nyssa’s On Virginity: Beauty Will Save the World

Continued from here.

According to Gregory of Nyssa, virginity is a sign to us of spiritual detachment, which is itself the restoration of the human creature to a state of order, purity, and peace. The goal of detachment is contemplation of the perfect and infinite beauty of God and participation in it.

Evangelicals are not known for their attention to beauty. The other transcendentals, truth and goodness, have a clear place, but at least on a popular level, beauty rarely seems to make an appearance. The reason for this lies to a certain extent in our Protestant heritage. The Reformers were eager to strip away the aura of mystery that seemed to give so much power to the priests. Beauty was regarded by many as suspicious and deceptive, and so it was divided from truth. Today we waver between iconoclasm and spectacle.

Gregory is one of the first and greatest theologians of divine beauty, and perhaps we may look to him to begin to recover a robust doctrine. To discuss the beauty of God is to enter into another theological conversation too vast for me, so I will content myself for the most part with describing Gregory’s use of the language of beauty, as Gregory invokes the very archetype words can never truly capture.

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Gregory of Nyssa’s On Virginity: Introduction

St. Gregory of Nyssa was until recently the least recognized of the three Great Cappadocian theologians. He was not a man of exceptional worldly learning and political acumen like his older brother Basil, nor was his theology as rigorously explored and influential as that of his friend Gregory of Nazianzus. Lately he has received more attention for his influence on the Christian mystical tradition, his total opposition to slavery, and his ambiguous leanings on apokatastasis. But Gregory was much more than these peculiarities.

Gregory came from a distinguished Cappadocian Christian family whose members included not only great scholars and rhetoricians, but saints and martyrs and proto-monks. He was a quiet man but a brilliant thinker, well-versed in Greek philosophy, staunch in his defense of the Nicene formulation of the Trinity. He was deeply influenced by Origen, but rejected heretical Origenism wherever its doctrines contradicted those of the church. His prose is simple and beautiful, typically shunning ornate formulas but showing great literary craft and a gift for analogy. During his lifetime he was widely honored by the orthodox as a champion of the faith; the Second Council of Nicaea (787) later called him “father of fathers.”

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In Horto Fragranti: On the Feast of the Transfiguration

Today, August 6, the western church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The eastern church will celebrate the same feast in thirteen days. In much of the east, including Georgia, custom dictates that growers of grapes and other fruits and vegetables present their harvest to be blessed on Transfiguration Day. Most of these grapes, which depending on their geography reach peak ripeness in August, will be turned into wine.

What does this custom, dating back to late antiquity, have to do with the transfiguration of Christ described by the synoptic gospels?

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In Horto Fragranti: Genesis 18

The title of this and future meditations on Scripture, In Horto Fragranti, means “in the fragrant garden” and refers to John of Damascus’s description of the Bible as a fragrant garden in which are the fountains of life.

In Genesis 18, Moses describes a meeting at the oaks of Mamre. Three “angels,” one of them the concealed Lord, pass near where Abraham, a wealthy nomadic chieftain, has pitched his tents. Abraham looks up and sees three travelers caught in the heat of the day, and urges them to partake of his hospitality before continuing on their way. They agree.

Abraham was recently circumcised in covenant with God. Thus Abraham legally and sacramentally committed himself and his descendants to God; he was reborn under a new name which God gave him, as God had given Adam his name. Now Abraham was consecrated as the father of many nations, biologically the father of Israel through Isaac, and spiritually the father of the Church through Christ. God has already made the shepherd-prince great promises.

Now the cosmic sovereign orchestrates a more intimate encounter than has yet taken place between himself and his new vassal. Food is of no material use to spiritual beings, let alone the transcendent Creator; yet the Lord consents to share bread, curds, milk, and the meat of a calf, and also to have his feet washed. (Years later, Christ returns the favor.)

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Weekly Miscellany IV: Spiritual Seeking

Weekly Miscellany IV: December 30, 2013–January 5, 2014

 

Readings

John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934)

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1880) FINISHED

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar” (1837) FINISHED

Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972)

Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain (1997)

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (1961)

Jose Manuel Prieto, Rex: A Novel (2009)

Robert C. Solomon, The Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy (2002)

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (2001) FINISHED

Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall (1928) FINISHED

Discussion

What do I really want? What am I really seeking?

Over time, the minute complexity of the problems that afflict one’s intellect and spirit begins to break down, and the entire region of the “unsolved” blurs into confusion. In this confusion, the answers grow more complex, but the questions begin to manifest in startling simplicity. If it feels at times that the edges of one’s map have begun to disintegrate, that the borders of ignorance where be only dragons draw ever closer to the heart of one’s philosophy, this contraction of knowledge is followed by a seeming expansion of spirit to incorporate not only those dragon-infested lands but the dragons themselves.

More prosaically, one is drawn from fearful awareness to acceptance. This acceptance is not passive. It does not incline one to stop questioning and seeking, but it is a happy and active embrace of mystery. I have realized the limitations of my intellect, the essential arrogance of ready pronouncements of understanding, and the importance of quiet, receptive contemplation. Macarius wrote, famously, “The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there…. There also is God.” Rather than merely the best system of doctrine, I seek a living theology, whereby I might descend into the heart, discern Christ, and sanctify it for his purposes. I do not claim to possess the whole map, or claim that the distant mountains are no different from the molehills on either side; I rejoice in the shade of the trees around me, in the shadow of the dim majestic shapes that falls on me every morning, until I am able to ascend to those mountains.

Given the near coextensivity of the sum of truth and my ignorance, it is necessary for me to intellectually reduce my spiritual questing to its essentials. Rather than fracturing my attention on hundreds of questions and conflicts, without knowing what end I have in mind; rather than wandering through the regions of a thousand philosophies, arbitrarily choosing between this table or that at which to sit and eat; it is necessary that I propose a fundamental question to direct my conduct. That question is, “What do I seek?”

My answer to this primal question is “Christ.” All else must be ordered that I may best discern him, follow after him, and become like to him.

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Weekly(ish) Miscellany III

Weekly(ish) Miscellany III: November 18-December 29, 2013

An Explanation

I got married November 30. Hopefully that statement adequately accounts for the long absence. I did most of the writing below prior to the wedding, but nothing was really finished, so I abandoned myself to the busyness of the season rather than try to post anything.

Key Scriptures under contemplation

Matthew 2

“Out of Egypt I called my son.” I spent some time contemplating this line this morning. The source of this prophecy is Hosea 11:1, which, rather than being an explicitly messianic passage, references Israel’s exodus from captivity as it glorifies God for his “tutorship” of his chosen nation, which has nevertheless proved obstinate and wayward. Matthew is clearly revealing Jesus as true Israel, the righteous child of God who fulfills Hosea 11 for being unlike the wandering son Israel described in that passage. The next recorded episode is his baptism (as the Red Sea crossing, the nation’s baptism, follows the exodus).

C. S. Lewis in God in the Dock (an excerpt of which was Saturday’s Advent reading) describes the Christ story as one of “descent and resurrection,” the Resurrection being simply the turning point in the larger story, in which humanity and all creation is retrieved from death, in which the finished work of man is exalted from the slime to which he had sunk. The briefly-described Egypt saga places Christ on this path of descent, continuing from the cosmic descent of his incarnation. Yet he descends that God the Father may call him out of the land of exile and captivity—and call him “my son.” Now that he has taken on Israel, Christ, the lamb, can take Israel and all humanity to the cross and fulfill Hosea 11:1 as Israel never could.

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