Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Metaphysics to Life

The roots of the obsession with historicity and empiricism present in western Christianity can be traced back to faulty assumptions. The division rest largely upon the acceptance or rejection of Hellenic categories of thought. For the west acceptance of Hellenic thought meant rejecting the essence and energy distinction as developed by the Church Fathers. God's activity is thus understood to be the same as His being. For God to be, is to act or will. His essence can be known and knowledge then becomes the pivot around which western Christianity has turned since St. Augustine.

The ramifications are huge when God's essence (God as He is to Himself independently of His self manifestation) is confused with His energy (activity).

Highlighting some the practical implications of differences between the eastern and western Christian traditions, David Bradshaw summarizes,

"The East has no concept of God. It views God not as an essence to be grasped intellectually, but as a personal reality known through His acts, and above all by oneself sharing in those acts...this understanding leads to a distinctive view of the role of asceticism and other spiritual practices. For the East these are viewed, not as a way of disciplining the body, but as contributing to an ongoing deification of the whole person, body as well as soul. A similar difference can be observed in regard to religious morality as a whole. For the East morality is not primarily a matter of conformance to law, nor (in a more Aristotelian vein) of achieving human excellence by acquiring the virtues. It is a matter of coming to know God by sharing in His acts and manifesting His Image."

From the Epilogue of Aristotle East and West - Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church there is no such need to "grasp God intellectually", no need to endlessly fret about historicity. (For some further thought on Christianity and history see Fr. Stephen's Time and History)

I will post some further material from David Bradshaw shortly.

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