Book Review: Thinking Orthodox

 

“What truly makes Orthodox Christianity different? Is it simply that we do not have a pope? That we preserve ancient liturgical forms and rituals? That married men can be priests?
The question does not lend itself to a simple answer because the reality is complex. In fact, the essence of Orthodox uniqueness lies far beyond these fundamentals… It is hidden, subtle, deeper than the outward forms, customs, or specific theological beliefs that manifest the divergence. The Orthodox phronema (“mentality,” “stance,” or “approach”) is the foundation of Orthodox Christianity. It is usually unexpressed and unexamined, and rarely discussed, but it affects not simply what we believe and why but — above all else — how we think.”⁠1

It needs to be said at the outset that Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind, by Dr. Eugenia Constantinou, is not exactly a book of Orthodox theology (though it contains much). It might be described as a book about Orthodox theology. But it is better described as a book about how to begin to think and understand like an Orthodox Christian, and so to understand Orthodox theology, while avoiding traps, heresies, and dangers along the way.  

The book is guide to understanding how the very culture we live in is imbued with a mindset (a phronema, to use the Greek idiom the author introduces) and spirit that is very often hostile to, or at least at odds with Orthodox Christianity. Even Western Christianity, in both its Catholic and Protestent forms, has a very different mindset. In this the book is a valuable guide for converts, inquirers, and even cradle-Orthodox who may not be aware how different that understanding is. But the book is of great value even for non-Orthodox Christians, for much of it is a guide for our times, where Christianity is in retreat, and where the internet can deceive us all into thinking ourselves experts after half an hour on Wikipedia, or lure us towards extremists and zealots who seek division. Much of Dr. Constantinou’s book should indeed be read by all Christians who could find themselves arguing theology with strangers through a keyboard.

Perhaps you have had the experience of hiking in the woods, or navigating at sea or in a complex network of swamps and streams. It’s not good to have a map with you if you do not know how to use the map, and how to use a compass. And neither the map nor the compass will be of any use if you cannot determine where you even are on that map, or to gauge if you have the right map in the first place. And you had better know where you should be heading too or it’s all a hopeless endeavor. If someone has given you a false map and bad directions, and pointed you towards a swamp instead of the welcoming lodge that is your real goal, are you wise or experienced enough to avoid the deceptions?

If the path to following Christ is a narrow road in a wide and often treacherous land, then Orthodox theology is something of a map of what parts are known, and what roads are surest. One might say Dr. Constantinou is helping the reader to understand the key to the wider map, and how to know whether the map one has is even valid, for the best map would only make sense to one who already understood what it meant. And yet, as the author notes early on, those who avoid “dabbling in theology” while living with the right phronema, often more readily stay on the right path in faith and piety because they are rightly oriented.  

I am more educated than my ancestors, but I am certain that my mother and grandmothers far surpassed me in piety, devotion, faith, and wisdom. Our culture is coarse. The fear of God is absent from public discourse.⁠2  

So what is an Orthodox phronema – an Orthodox mindset – in the first place? How does it differ from, and indeed often conflict with a Western phronema? Dr. Constantinou uses the early chapters to first explain the concept of phronema – it is a Greek idiom which, at the basic level, is a mindset or way of thinking, but this is somewhat incomplete for we do not simply think, we also act. Moreover, we act and think and emote in patterns and routines that can run so deep that we could not adequately state why we are doing these things, or even be aware of them unless faced with others whose phronema is at odds with our own. And we all have a phronema in which our nationality, family history (for good or ill), schooling, and faith are layered and mixed – think of how you and siblings or close cousins more readily share an intimate understanding of each other than with outsiders, and how, when traveling abroad, you can often recognize others from “back home” just by comportment and body language, before any word is ever spoken. This is all part of our phronema – it shapes our thinking and reasoning, and sets our unspoken biases towards certain answers before we even begin to form the questions.

An Orthodox Christian phronema will differ, at times markedly, from a western Christian one. In fact, Dr. Constantinou often describes the Orthodox phronema in ways similar to how Orthodox Christians discuss God: apophatically – that is in the negative, what something is not. At times she clarifies by saying it is like a middle way, avoiding extremes, and avoiding being boxed in by definitions or by overly rigid ecclesial structures and hierarchies. Aside from the Nicene Creed, there are no other confessions or statements of faith beyond what is expressed in the liturgies and the Bible itself. There is no unitary catechism either. 

The Orthodox Church does not offer exact definitions and explanations for theological mysteries. The Orthodox Church has always preferred apophatic theology, that is, expressing what God is not, since God is beyond description. Orthodox theologians know what they can speak of or write about what they must not. They consistently cite the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Church Fathers, the holy canons, and the decisions of the ecumenical councils. All these are important aspects of Tradition and as such carry authority. This, in itself, creates our phronema. Since Orthodoxy does not routinely generate official and contemporary authoritative definitions and statements, Orthodox theologians turn again and again to the ancient.

Even when more recent luminaries are recognized as Fathers, such as St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1909), they are read, cited, and acknowledged as Fathers because they faithfully reflected the thought of earlier Fathers and did not deviate from the Tradition.⁠3

The Orthodox Church also avoids reliance on deductive reasoning, for human reason is faulty, and God is beyond the capacity for human understanding. Applying logic too rigidly, using purely human rationality, puts God in a box. This is at the root of the break between the Orthodox and Roman Catholicism. But by the same token, in avoiding extremes the Orthodox phronema rejects untested “new” revelations and claims of spiritual ecstasy, or independent claims to spiritual authority in the interpretation of scripture and dogma, which is at the heart of the impasse with the various Protestant denominations. All of these matters are discussed in great detail the first part of the book, as is much more besides – more than could be reasonably covered in a review. But any reader will be well rewarded as Dr. Constantinou guides them along, discussing how the Orthodox understand scripture, tradition, and what it really means to live as an Orthodox Christian in the Church. And it is in that ongoing life of prayer, liturgy, askesis, feasts, and fasts that one ultimately acquires the mature phronema.

Having educated the reader on what it means to have an Orthodox phronema in the first half of the book, Dr. Constantinou turns to what is in many respects a harder matter in the second part. Orthodox Christians are a small minority in the American religious landscape – so small, in fact, that in many surveys of Christian denominations, the Orthodox may not even get a mention. This means that an Orthodox Christian may often find that he must explain himself, yet he will quickly find himself fielding questions, or responding to prejudices, that are difficult to address as the basis is radically different. And of course, the online world (where you are in fact reading this) provides no end of temptation. Put simply, in very little time at all, one can find oneself in the position of playing the theologian, and this is perilous. Not only does one run the risk of being wrong, but of misleading others, or being drawn into unnecessary fights.

However, as noted earlier, this section, in particular, is valuable for anyone drawn into online arguments, be they Orthodox or not. Dr. Constantinou draws on advice going back to the earliest days of Christianity, on the wisdom of entering arguments where one’s knowledge or training are lacking, or where one’s motivations for arguing are suspect, or where even having the argument is unnecessary or dangerous. All too often, in reading these sections, I found myself personally embarrassed as I well recognized my own mistakes. The author recounts online and in-classroom arguments of her own to illustrate her points, and this advice is no mere abstraction – it comes from hard experience, and applies just as well to arguing over practically any subject. There are many pitfalls to avoid.

Who is this book ultimately for? For Orthodox converts and inquirers, Thinking Orthodox is a gentle but firm guide into understanding why older ways of thinking need to be changed to better enter into the life of the Church. For cradle Orthodox, the book puts into words why so often the rest of the world, and even the rest of the Christian world, finds Orthodoxy difficult to understand. For non-Orthodox Christians, the book likewise illuminates why theological arguments that seem airtight are still utterly unconvincing to the Orthodox, or are perhaps even ignored as arguing about the wrong things. And for anyone who finds themselves arguing online, particularly on theology, the entire second part of the book is an encouragement, a chastisement, and a guide all at once. The book is well ordered and organized, and easy to read, but it is challenging and not to be read lightly.


Nota Bene: Ancient Faith Publishing provided me a copy of this book for review.

Constantinou, Eugenia Scarvelis, Ph. D. Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind. Ancient Faith Publishing, Chesterton, IN, 2020.

ISBN: 978-1-944967-70-3. 

Available at: http://store.ancientfaith.com


1 Page 15. Emphasis my own.

2 Page 21.

3 PP. 61-62

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. HeavyWater Member
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    The Orthodox Church also avoids reliance on deductive reasoning, for human reason is faulty, and God is beyond the capacity for human understanding. Applying logic too rigidly, using purely human rationality, puts God in a box. This is at the root of the break between the Orthodox and Roman Catholicism. But by the same token, in avoiding extremes the Orthodox phronema rejects untested “new” revelations and claims of spiritual ecstasy, or independent claims to spiritual authority in the interpretation of scripture and dogma, which is at the heart of the impasse with the various Protestant denominations.

    Humility, the willingness to admit that one is very capable of being in error, seems to be of prime importance.  How to use our imperfect reasoning and sensory capabilities is the key question, isn’t it?

    I am currently reading about the varieties of Christian belief.  Different denominations declaring different books as part of the canon or as apocryphal, different interpretations of the trinity (or even rejections of the trinity concept), different views regarding birth control, salvation by faith alone and on it goes.

    • #1
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    SkipSul: The Orthodox Church also avoids reliance on deductive reasoning

    How about inductive reasoning?

    I would not be able to find the exact quote, but C.S. Lewis once said something about the theological knowledge that has been handed down to us as being experimental (experiential?) knowledge. That sounds kinda inductive.

    • #2
  3. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    SkipSul: The Orthodox Church also avoids reliance on deductive reasoning

    How about inductive reasoning?

    I would not be able to find the exact quote, but C.S. Lewis once said something about the theological knowledge that has been handed down to us as being experimental (experiential?) knowledge. That sounds kinda inductive.

    To a point, but going too far there runs into different problems.  You end up with people, with very vivid imaginations, speculating on what they do not know.  We have to be very careful and stick to what we know, and what we can verify, and what is vouched for in tradition.  Pretty well all theological knowledge is ultimately experiential at its root – and everything that gets said about the experiences is trying to make sense of them.

    • #3
  4. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    Humility, the willingness to admit that one is very capable of being in error, seems to be of prime importance. How to use our imperfect reasoning and sensory capabilities is the key question, isn’t it?

    That’s one of the warnings of the book.  We have to hew carefully to what has been revealed, and what that means without pushing it too far.

    • #4
  5. Brian Wolf Coolidge
    Brian Wolf
    @BrianWolf

    This is one that needs to go on my reading list….

    • #5
  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I know this qualifies as a “duh”, but until SkipSul started this series, I didn’t realize the degree to which the Orthodox and Roman churches not only disagree about interpretation of their shared history, but over a millennia have grown to think differently in some key respects that makes exact translation and analogies difficult. Skip’s statement, a few posts ago, that the Orthodox agree there are certainly saints, but that seen through Orthodox eyes, there’s no valid theological justification for Rome-style selection and recognition of them. 

     

    • #6
  7. HeavyWater Member
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    As I see it, quite a bit hinges on whether one believes in a Literal Adam.  Why?  Well, St. Paul refers to Adam in Romans 5:12-14

    Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

    and in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23

    20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23

    If one believes there was no literal Adam, then one is likely to interpret the writings of St. Paul quite differently.

    • #7
  8. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    I know this qualifies as a “duh”, but until SkipSul started this series, I didn’t realize the degree to which the Orthodox and Roman churches not only disagree about interpretation of their shared history, but over a millennia have grown to think differently in some key respects that makes exact translation and analogies difficult. Skip’s statement, a few posts ago, that the Orthodox agree there are certainly saints, but that seen through Orthodox eyes, there’s no valid theological justification for Rome-style selection and recognition of them.

     

    There are many Orthodox theologians and historians who argue that the break, which is infamously pinned on the 1054 excommunication of the Patriarch of Constantinople, had ample predecessors in prior centuries, which showed that East and West were moving apart for a very long time.  The historian John Strickland argued, in The Age of Paradise (reviewed by me last year), that Charlemagne’s rather authoritarian treatment of Rome, and his attempt to force doctrinal changes, caused a significant break in how Rome saw itself, with Rome asserting theological authority it had never dared to claim before. 

    Dr. Constantinou puts the origin of the schism far earlier, laying its foundations on Augustine for introducing a novel conception of sin and redemption that was foreign and at odds with the East, and with Apostolic teachings – a break that took centuries to come to fruition as Augustine spoke no Greek, and his Latin writings were not translated into Greek for centuries afterward, while many of the Greek, Syriac, Coptic, and other early church writings likewise never made it into Latin.  She is hardly alone in arguing this, though this view is not universal among the Orthodox.  Still, Augustine has had a singular influence on Latin theology, and hence on the Protestant theology that rebelled from Rome but shared the same foundations, and you cannot point to any one theologian in the East who has had such ubiquitous influence – Orthodox theology, like Orthodox ecclesial hierarchy, is decentralized and conciliar.  These very different approaches set East and West in different directions, with different theologies, from a very early time.  Much is still held in common, but much else differs substantially.

    And this is seen, as you note, with saints.  There is no Magisterium, nor anything like it in Orthodoxy – the people themselves know the saints already, and eventually the bishops come around.  There is also no mechanism for pronouncing new doctrines or dogmas.  Even Canon Laws, which are a set of discipline and governance rules accumulated through various church councils, are not exactly authoritative (being consulted, but not rigidly followed), especially since some conflict with each other outrightly, while others simply are not applicable to modern times.

    • #8
  9. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    As I see it, quite a bit hinges on whether one believes in a Literal Adam. Why? Well, St. Paul refers to Adam in Romans 5:12-14

    Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

    and in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23

    20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23

    If there believes there was no literal Adam, then one is likely to interpret the writings of St. Paul quite differently.

    This illustrates Dr. Constantinou’s point that very often the rest of the Christian world is arguing over things, like the literal existence of a single Adam, that the Orthodox world views entirely differently.  Asking whether Adam actually existed, and then hinging minute interpretations of Pauline letters on that question, is just not something done.  It is quite possible to discuss an actual Adam for one purpose, and then also discuss Adam as an archetype in a different context, and as a prefigurement later.  To read Paul’s letters with such an eye to detail is to rend them apart.  As I heard one theologian put it recently – would you read something like Lord of the Rings this way, picking apart verses and deconstructing the text?  Of course not, you’d destroy it (as deconstructionists and postmodernists have done).  It’s just not done.

    • #9
  10. HeavyWater Member
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    This illustrates Dr. Constantinou’s point that very often the rest of the Christian world is arguing over things, like the literal existence of a single Adam, that the Orthodox world views entirely differently. Asking whether Adam actually existed, and then hinging minute interpretations of Pauline letters on that question, is just not something done. It is quite possible to discuss an actual Adam for one purpose, and then also discuss Adam as an archetype in a different context, and as a prefigurement later. To read Paul’s letters with such an eye to detail is to rend them apart. As I heard one theologian put it recently – would you read something like Lord of the Rings this way, picking apart verses and deconstructing the text? Of course not, you’d destroy it (as deconstructionists and postmodernists have done). It’s just not done.

    I suppose one possible response would be that either God did create Adam and then created Eve from Adam’s rib or that the Garden of Eden story is just a story, one designed to teach a larger lesson, but non-historical.

    Yes.  I have read the writings of some Protestants who argue that to be a Christian one must believe in a literal Adam.  The argument is that if there was no literal Adam there was no reason for Jesus’s atonement.  Further, this argument would be that if St. Paul was wrong about Adam, what else was he wrong about?

    It sounds like Eastern Orthodox Christianity is very experiential and non-literal.  I can see the advantages of this approach.

    Still, every now and then, when someone is reading the Bible, one is likely to wonder, “Did this event actually happen or is this just a story designed to entertain or educate?”  This is the approach that many New Testament scholars take also.  They might wonder if there really was a Joseph of Arimathea or if Jesus really did give his disciples a different message than the one he gave to “the crowd” or if Jesus really did have a discussion with Pontius Pilate as mentioned in the gospel of John.

    • #10
  11. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    It sounds like Eastern Orthodox Christianity is very experiential and non-literal. I can see the advantages of this approach.

    It’s both, actually, but even here the term “literal” has a very different meaning.

    • #11
  12. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    A sidenote: I’ve seen discussions of Judaism on Ricochet (and elsewhere) that miss a similar point: Everybody knows that there’s no such thing as a “Pope of the Jews”, but many don’t seem to get that there’s no such thing as a Jewish Vatican either; there is no one central organized process or clearing house for re-evaluating history or doctrine. So when people (here or elsewhere) say, “Sure, most Jews take a liberal stance on homosexuality and abortion…but the real Jews think just like we do”, they don’t get that this is a distinction in their own heads, that few actually existing Jews recognize. 

    And sometimes, of course, it goes the other way. I’ve had Jewish friends ask, “If Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t represent the Baptists, why don’t the other Baptists shut it down?” Because Baptists are not Catholics, and churches are not franchises. 

    • #12
  13. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    A sidenote: I’ve seen discussions of Judaism on Ricochet (and elsewhere) that miss a similar point: Everybody knows that there’s no such thing as a “Pope of the Jews”, but many don’t seem to get that there’s no such thing as a Jewish Vatican either; there is no one central organized process or clearing house for re-evaluating history or doctrine. So when people (here or elsewhere) say, “Sure, most Jews take a liberal stance on homosexuality and abortion…but the real Jews think just like we do”, they don’t get that this is a distinction in their own heads, that few actually existing Jews recognize.

    And sometimes, of course, it goes the other way. I’ve had Jewish friends ask, “If Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t represent the Baptists, why don’t the other Baptists shut it down?” Because Baptists are not Catholics, and churches are not franchises.

    I’m now picturing an alternate universe with a Jewish Pope and a Jewish Vatican on the Temple Mount.  Only instead of a papal mitre he’s wearing a giant black fedora.

    • #13
  14. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    And sometimes, of course, it goes the other way. I’ve had Jewish friends ask, “If Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t represent the Baptists, why don’t the other Baptists shut it down?” Because Baptists are not Catholics, and churches are not franchises. 

    Except when they are. The Hillsong chain coming immediately to mind. But Protestantism means you can find an example of any governance structure you can imagine, with more denominations than McDonald’s has hamburger sales.

    • #14
  15. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    And sometimes, of course, it goes the other way. I’ve had Jewish friends ask, “If Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t represent the Baptists, why don’t the other Baptists shut it down?” Because Baptists are not Catholics, and churches are not franchises.

    Except when they are. The Hillsong chain coming immediately to mind. But Protestantism means you can find an example of any governance structure you can imagine, with more denominations than McDonald’s has hamburger sales.

    And splinters over disagreements.

    There’s a church I know well, due to family, that was formed by a group who splintered off another church over governance, doctrinal, and personal issues.  Their pastor died from COVID.  In trying to select a new pastor, they are already forming up into factions, and could well come to blows.  One of the pastoral candidates is acting as though he is owed the role because he was “in on the ground floor” of the original splinter group, and has been gossiping about the other candidate, who is a relative newcomer.  In that situation, with that sort of hostility, a fracture is practically guaranteed because if the older one is denied he’ll leave and take loyalists with him, and if he gets it he’ll drive out the other candidate, along with those families who find the fracas unconscionable and dishonorable.

    • #15
  16. HeavyWater Member
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    And splinters over disagreements.

    There’s a church I know well, due to family, that was formed by a group who splintered off another church over governance, doctrinal, and personal issues. Their pastor died from COVID. In trying to select a new pastor, they are already forming up into factions, and could well come to blows. One of the pastoral candidates is acting as though he is owed the role because he was “in on the ground floor” of the original splinter group, and has been gossiping about the other candidate, who is a relative newcomer. In that situation, with that sort of hostility, a fracture is practically guaranteed because if the older one is denied he’ll leave and take loyalists with him, and if he gets it he’ll drive out the other candidate, along with those families who find the fracas unconscionable and dishonorable.

    “Many of those, however, who profess to believe in Christ, hold conflicting opinions not only on small and trivial questions, but also on some that are great and important.” – Origen 

    • #16
  17. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    And splinters over disagreements.

    There’s a church I know well, due to family, that was formed by a group who splintered off another church over governance, doctrinal, and personal issues. Their pastor died from COVID. In trying to select a new pastor, they are already forming up into factions, and could well come to blows. One of the pastoral candidates is acting as though he is owed the role because he was “in on the ground floor” of the original splinter group, and has been gossiping about the other candidate, who is a relative newcomer. In that situation, with that sort of hostility, a fracture is practically guaranteed because if the older one is denied he’ll leave and take loyalists with him, and if he gets it he’ll drive out the other candidate, along with those families who find the fracas unconscionable and dishonorable.

    “Many of those, however, who profess to believe in Christ, hold conflicting opinions not only on small and trivial questions, but also on some that are great and important.” – Origen

    But do consider the source. As a young teen with a devout Christian father, when his father was hauled away for being Christian Origen, about 14, wanted to race after him to share his father’s imprisonment. Mom hid his clothes and so he demurred rather than seem immodest. Frustrated with his sinful sex organ, he cut it off, and was shocked when the church disciplined him for maiming himself. And he expressed heretical views on the pre-existence of souls and reincarnation. He also flirted with universalism, but much of that may have been exaggerated by his students.

    • #17
  18. HeavyWater Member
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    “Many of those, however, who profess to believe in Christ, hold conflicting opinions not only on small and trivial questions, but also on some that are great and important.” – Origen

    But do consider the source. As a young teen with a devout Christian father, when his father was hauled away for being Christian Origen, about 14, wanted to race after him to share his father’s imprisonment. Mom hid his clothes and so he demurred rather than seem immodest. Frustrated with his sinful sex organ, he cut it off, and was shocked when the church disciplined him for maiming himself. And he expressed heretical views on the pre-existence of souls and reincarnation. He also flirted with universalism, but much of that may have been exaggerated by his students.

    Good point.  But it is interesting to do a survey of Christian theology over the last, say, 1850 years.  

    St. Augustine saw Christ’s temporary blinding of Paul and knocking him to the ground as Scriptural warrant for physical violence against the spiritually wayward (Acts 9:1-8).  Augustine believed that force and fear were valuable tools in reclaiming those who had fallen away from the faith:

    For many have found advantage (as we have proved, and are daily proving by actual experiment), in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word.  [Augustine to Boniface (Letter 185)]

    St. Thomas Aquinas believed that the spiritually wayward should be executed after a third instance of heretical belief.  [Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II.Q11.A3-A4]

    God is the Lord of death and life, for by His decree both the sinful and the righteous die.  Hence, he who at God’s command kills an innocent man does not sin, as neither does God Whose behest he executes: indeed, his obedience to God’s commands is a proof that he fears Him. [Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II.Q64.A6]

    However, there were many Christian believers who were ahead of their time.  Gerbert of Aurillac (Pope Sylvester II) was very much opposed to capital punishment.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux supported the 2nd Crusade but denounced his fellow Christians for their maltreatment of Jews.  

    • #18
  19. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Sisyphus (View Comment):
    But do consider the source. As a young teen with a devout Christian father, when his father was hauled away for being Christian Origen, about 14, wanted to race after him to share his father’s imprisonment. Mom hid his clothes and so he demurred rather than seem immodest. Frustrated with his sinful sex organ, he cut it off, and was shocked when the church disciplined him for maiming himself. And he expressed heretical views on the pre-existence of souls and reincarnation. He also flirted with universalism, but much of that may have been exaggerated by his students.

    Origen is a tricky one.  The self-maiming is, as I understand it, something else that may have been added to his story after his death.  And he was not condemned as heretical until (I think) 250 years after his death.

    That being said, he, like St. Gregory of Nyssa later, had leaned towards universal salvation, and that, combined with his preaching on the pre-existence of souls, and where his students later followed, was what got him finally condemned. 

    To his credit, he was tortured by the Romans for his faith, and wrote reams and reams of works that proved formative to the Alexandrian schools, and his Against Celsus, a refutation of an anti-Christian polemic, is still often cited as a both a critical apologetic, and a historic snapshot of what the earliest Christians taught publicly that got Celsus worked up enough to condemn (Celsus’s original work does not survive in whole, only in what was quoted by Origen and others).

    To this day there are Orthodox theologians ranging from those who admire Origen, all the way to those who swear him off entirely.

    • #19
  20. Sisyphus Member
    Sisyphus
    @Sisyphus

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Sisyphus (View Comment):
    But do consider the source. As a young teen with a devout Christian father, when his father was hauled away for being Christian Origen, about 14, wanted to race after him to share his father’s imprisonment. Mom hid his clothes and so he demurred rather than seem immodest. Frustrated with his sinful sex organ, he cut it off, and was shocked when the church disciplined him for maiming himself. And he expressed heretical views on the pre-existence of souls and reincarnation. He also flirted with universalism, but much of that may have been exaggerated by his students.

    Origen is a tricky one. The self-maiming is, as I understand it, something else that may have been added to his story after his death. And he was not condemned as heretical until (I think) 250 years after his death.

    That being said, he, like St. Gregory of Nyssa later, had leaned towards universal salvation, and that, combined with his preaching on the pre-existence of souls, and where his students later followed, was what got him finally condemned.

    To his credit, he was tortured by the Romans for his faith, and wrote reams and reams of works that proved formative to the Alexandrian schools, and his Against Celsus, a refutation of an anti-Christian polemic, is still often cited as a both a critical apologetic, and a historic snapshot of what the earliest Christians taught publicly that got Celsus worked up enough to condemn (Celsus’s original work does not survive in whole, only in what was quoted by Origen and others).

    To this day there are Orthodox theologians ranging from those who admire Origen, all the way to those who swear him off entirely.

    He was by far the most prolific writer of Christian tracts in his day. I am more convinced on the self-neutering, but open to contrary evidence. A friend who taught Origen at university has never cast doubt on the story, quite the opposite. It is a useful curative for the odd novitiate who wants to take the better to pluck out your sinful eye stuff too literally. There are scandalous bits to the biographies of many of the early fathers. Tertullian, the Father of Latin Thrology, goes with a Montanist sect that uses cheese instead of wine in communion and has female priests. Imagine the scandal.

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  21. SkipSul Member
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Sisyphus (View Comment):
    He was by far the most prolific writer of Christian tracts in his day. I am more convinced on the self-neutering, but open to contrary evidence. A friend who taught Origen at university has never cast doubt on the story, quite the opposite. It is a useful curative for the odd novitiate who wants to take the better to pluck out your sinful eye stuff too literally. There are scandalous bits to the biographies of many of the early fathers. Tertullian, the Father of Latin Thrology, goes with a Montanist sect that uses cheese instead of wine in communion and has female priests. Imagine the scandal.

    Yeah.  There are good reasons why Tertulian and Origen aren’t in any lists of saints.  

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