Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A Rare Courage

It hardly needs saying that it is a very rare occurrence indeed when a member of the clergy club will stand up for a lay person who is being pilloried by other clergy.

The Rev'd Ann Fontaine is just such a person, and I am exceedingly grateful to her for standing up to the House of Bishops/Delegates listserve on my behalf:

"I think it is unfair of this list to discuss a person who does not have access to HOBD and of whom most of you have no knowledge.  All I know is that Maggie Ross/Martha Reeves is being accused with no recourse.  She has described her experience which none of us observed. I too like Tobias but that has nothing to do with this discussion. I also like and have learned much from Maggie.  This is such a classic pattern in the church -- we choose up sides and we really don't know what we are talking about.  And too often it is women who suffer from being called crazy, lying, and stupid when they speak their truth. I have seen this many times.

"So perhaps we can agree that solitaries can seek out bishops if they wish and otherwise be left to their solitude."

As long as Ann has opened up this can of worms, I will only say that the majority of the posts I saw, whatever their content, were written in the most unspeakable pompous style; even if I hadn't known I was dealing with clergy, I could have discerned it by the writing. They haven't a clue how they come across. Ordination is spiritual suicide, and the first thing to go is humanity.

On the other hand, there were one or two posts that shone with wisdom—the best one from—surprise, surprise—a layperson, and to them, and to Ann once again, my thanks.

Here is the post from the layman:

'But I would note that some of the deeper concerns Sr. Martha expresses echo those that the Eastern Orthodox express about the effects of the Enlightenment on Western Christianity.  In a nutshell:  the Enlightenment understanding of the mind or soul acknowledges sensation, emotion, and reason.  But the older Christian spiritual tradition also holds that there is an additional faculty of the soul, whose function is apprehension of God and the true natures of created things.  (In Greek, it is often referred to as nous, which is unfortunately often translated as "intellect".  The exercise of the faculty is called noesis.)  In his Orthodox Psychotherapy, Vlachos opines that the soul is only in order when nous is awakened and orders the other faculties, and that nous is activated only by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  It was thus darkened and atrophied as a result of the Fall.  The Holy Spirit descends in baptism and chrismation, but the work of dethroning the lower parts of the soul and cultivating noesis requires much prayer and vigilance. As Vlachos expresses it (and I take it this would be a common Eastern Orthodox viewpoint), the Enlightenment canonized a view of the soul that is completely oblivious to the highest part of the soul, and hence cultivating a Rationalist view of the person dethrones God in one's own soul by ignoring the nous and acting as though we were simply an amalgamation of beast and computer.

'I think this view goes hand in hand with the fact that monasticism is still at the heart of Eastern Orthodoxy, and often a monasticism much closer to that of the solitaries and skete-dwellers of the Desert, whose words form the heart of so much of the spiritual tradition in Christianity.  I cannot help but note that it was Bishop Athanasius who appealed to Anthony of the Desert for validation, and not the other way around.'


Anonymous The Rev'd. Susan Creighton, Anchorite said...

Rare courage, indeed.

Your comments, Maggie, as well as the posts from the Rev'd. Ann Fontaine, and the layman are heart-warming, and perhaps even more important, true!

The only thing I would add is that I think the loss of the awareness of the nous (or soul)happened long before the Enlightenment.

In the Orthodox/patristic tradition (see "The Philokalia" especially) our REASON—(dianoia) is but one operation of the Mind (Nous), the function of our mind that gathers information through our five bodily senses (even if amplified by telescopes and other technology!). This is the intellectual aspect of the mind (nous) that functions through discursive reason, produces thoughts, and—in a specialized sense—renders conscious the facts.

Unfortunately, as time passed, and this ancient Christian understanding moved westward and north-ward, translated from Greek to Latin, and through the great minds of Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (building on Aristotle) right on down through Descartes and the Enlightenment and Modernism (and now post-modernism!), Mind came to mean Reason—and no more. (By the time we reach the 20th and 21st Centuries, it is probably more accurate to say that ‘Mind’ has come to mean the emotions as well as Reason.) Thus the ancient word for Soul—Psyche—is now essentially limited to mean the personality.

But the Reason is not the totality of the Mind (Nous). The Patristic sources that have been maintained in Eastern Orthodoxy have always recognized that there was also an INTUITIVE function of the Mind (Nous). And it is this INTUITIVE function which is an operation of the Nous which gives direct apprehension of the Divine.

I also give a cheer for the observation that Bishop Athanasius (in the metropolis of Alexandria) appealed to St. Anthony (dwelling in solitude in a desert cave).

Indeed. Perhaps we can pray that the present episcopate might grow in humility, and be willing to consult the solitaries once in awhile (on a number of issues!) instead of trying to regulate and control what they do not understand or value!

5:32 pm, May 01, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Yes, Susan thank you.

I think I have pinpointed the moment when the shift occurred in the West—in the ninth century. Stay tuned! The book will be finished soon, I hope!

7:06 pm, May 01, 2012  

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