Tuesday, 26 March 2019

The all-round collapse of authority - When Christian churches paint themselves into a corner

Different Christian churches or denominations have a different 'bottom line' as regards authority - the source of truth; but all are vulnerable to corruption of that source. And indeed all the main denominations have indeed been corrupted in this way.

Eastern Orthodoxy relied on an unbroken transmission of oral, personal tradition from the times of the Church Fathers; but that has been broken - especially by the Russian Revolution. By the standards the church established for itself; what is broken cannot be restored. Modern Eastern Orthodoxy, in most of the world, is cut-off from its roots - the chain of master and apprentice, the unquestioned authority of spiritual fathers... these are gone.

The Roman Catholic church has developed a different model of authority based upon the figure of the Pope; from whom comes the authority of the church via the bishops whom he appoints. It is a top-down system. But when first the bishops, then the Pope, become corrupted by politics and other priorities; then corruption instead of holiness moves from the top down - and there is no (human) mechanism for correction.

The Protestant churches mostly based their authority on scripture, on the Bible; but did not tie authority to any specific translation or interpretation - the truth was supposed to shine-through any version. But there has been a massive proliferation of translations; many of them corrupted by worldly, sexual and political agendas. Scripture has lost its meaning, its cohesion, its dependability.


A cross-denominational source of authority is 'theology', broadly understood - reasoned discourse. The Roman Catholic church took this to the highest level with scholasticism and a special role of Thomas Aquinas - but this was no sooner achieved by Aquinas then demolished, confused, complicated and made incoherent by subsequent generations - and this has by now reached an extreme state.

In general, Theology has become became increasingly secular, academic and fashion-driven in its assumptions and methods - and is useless, indeed counter-productive, as a source of authority.

If there is supposed to be an 'expertise' in understanding scripture, church tradition, and the structure of religious authority - then this expertise points almost everywhere all at once.


My personal conclusion is that the serious Christian - here and now - is confronted by an already-existing system in which living from external authority of any kind and of all kinds has become an impossibility - however much we might want it.

The thing about religious authority is that it cannot be created consciously. Pascal saw this more than 400 years ago at the beginning of modernity.

Or: authority used to be implicit, spontaneous, taken-for granted. When authority became conscious and a matter of choice - then it ceased to be primary; and the conscious act of choice (and whatever guides that) became primary.


Authority can only be built onto authority - so we each must consciously find (because nothing could be more important) what we really, actually, in implicit practice, regard as true and real: and then built from that, and from nothing else.

No matter that this is not given us by The World; we can have faith that if we are honest and diligent in this quest, then our loving God will ensure that we will find what we need.

4 comments:

That One Guy said...

I would like to note that the unbroken tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy continued on Mount Athos, and in many other monastic centers.

Bruce Charlton said...

From a comment by DAVE:

"You could ... go back to the text of the Bible as written, without any Talmudic interpretation, but it would be like downgrading to an older version of your favorite software; you'd lose a lot of good stuff too. When the Bible was finalized in its present form, Christianity was still a persecuted minority sect, not an official state religion. Jesus gave no hint as to how a Christian emperor ought to rule over and protect his subject peoples, so the Christian Roman Empire and its Christian successor states fared poorly and lost most of their lands to Islam. It took the Middle Ages to re-shape Christianity into a viable state religion.

By all objective, Earth-bound measures, the high point of Christianity was the Anglicanism of 1660 to 1820, which gave birth to the British Empire and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions. Anglicanism raised its followers to utter world domination by correctly prescribing the roles of God, Church, King, Science, and Capital. Sadly, Anglicanism is dead now, and attempts to revive a dead religion tend only to create an undead religion.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dave - Christianity as a politically effective religion is a different matter - but surely the 1000 year exist6ence of the Byzantine Roman Empire at Constantinople was the most impressive?

But my point is not about politically effective religions.

The point is that without God, without anything acknowledged other than the material - we get *incoherence* of a more and more extreme kind - permeating whole societies from the individual, through all groups, to the collective.

This is not just weak, it is self-destroying.

Which is, of course - this this is demonic work - the whole idea.

Jack said...

This is, unfortunately, the conclusion I have come to as well, having examined the three main branches of Christianity for several years now. I find much to like in all of them, but as for each one's claim to be the one true Way, I cannot agree.

I am reminded of the position of the Anarch described by Ernst J√ľnger in his novel Eumeswil. “I am an anarch – not because I despise authority, but because I need it. Likewise, I am not a nonbeliever, but a man who demands something worth believing in.”

Regarding Theology, the Eastern Orthodox hold that Theology necessarily entails contemplation and prayer - it is not and cannot be just an activity of the discursive intellect, deducing the divine from syllogisms and propositions. From what I can tell, they alone preserve Plato's distinction between dianoia - discursive reason - and nous - intuitive mind.

Are you familiar with Valentin Tomberg, author of Meditations on the Tarot? He writes of the distinction between the Church of Peter, which is the visible church, and the Church of John, which is invisible. Does this distinction relate to your position at all?

I would like to say that I'm a relatively new reader of your blog, but I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts and analyses, and I'm grateful to you for sharing them.