Sunday, January 03, 2010

Eastern Orthodox Confusing Augustine with Gnostics

I notice that David at Pious Fabrication is accusing Calvinism of being Gnostic because it is Augustinian (link). David answers the question, "Is Augustinian theology Gnostic, then?" with "an emphatic YES!" While it seems that Jnorm888 at Ancient Christian Defender is happy about this unjustified claim (link), I presume others (particular those of our Roman Catholic friends who think they are more Augustinian than the Calvinists) are less happy about this sort of claim.

Unsurprisingly, David's argument contains shallow and frankly hollow criticisms of which the following is a typical example:
An example of such a flawed, Gnostic-tinged theology is Augustine's idea of predestination, that God had elected from eternity to save some while condemning the rest to damnation. Anyone familiar with Gnostic theology can see the influence of the Gnostic belief in the saved pneumatikoi versus the damned somatikoi.
This and the other argument employ filtering (aka confirmation bias) and treat any similarity no matter how superficial as evidence of influence. It is the same fallacy employed by Dan Barker in his debate with Dr. White in suggesting that mythology had some influence on the gospel accounts (catch a portion of that debate here).

There may be some similarity between the pneumatikoi and the spiritual (πνεύματος - pneumatos in Romans 8:6) and the somatikoi and the carnal (σαρκὸς - sarkos in Romans 8:6) such that the body (σῶμα - soma in Romans 8:10) is dead because of sin but the Spirit (πνεῦμα - pneuma in Romans 8:10) is life because of Christ. There may be some similarities, and it may even be that one is derived from the other. But the bare fact of some similarities (particular superficial similarities like the similarity between the fatalistic aspects to certain forms of Gnosticism and the predestination of Scripture/Augustinianism/Calvinism does not prove that one was derived from other.

-TurretinFan

20 comments:

Geoffrey Miller said...

Wait, Eastern Orthodox don't accept predestination? That's new to me. What do they make of Romans 9 or psalm 139? Should we label David or St. Paul as Gnostic?

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12378a.htm

Even the Eastern Church fathers testify against this person. And as an Eastern Catholic, I'm in a position to know.

Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200): This manner of speech may perhaps be plausible or persuasive to those who know not God, and who liken Him to needy human beings, and to those who cannot immediately and without assistance form anything, but require many instrumentalities to produce what they intend. But it will not be regarded as at all probable by those who know that God stands in need of nothing, and that He created and made all things by His Word, while He neither required angels to assist Him in the production of those things which are made, nor of any power greatly inferior to Himself, and ignorant of the Father, nor of any defect or ignorance, in order that he who should know Him might become man.8 But He Himself in Himself, after a fashion which we can neither describe nor conceive, predestinating all things, formed them as He pleased, bestowing harmony on all things, and assigning them their own place, and the beginning of their creation. In this way He conferred on spiritual things a spiritual and invisible nature, on super-celestial things a celestial, on angels an angelical, on animals an animal, on beings that swim a nature suited to the water, and on those that live on the land one fitted for the land—on all, in short, a nature suitable to the character of the life assigned them—while He formed all things that were made by His Word that never wearies. ANF: Vol. I, Against Heresies, Book 2:2:4.

Clement of Alexandria (150 - c. 215): From what has been said, then, it is my opinion that the true Church, that which is really ancient, is one, and that in it those who according to God’s purpose are just, are enrolled.186 For from the very reason that God is one, and the Lord one, that which is in the highest degree honourable is lauded in consequence of its singleness, being an imitation of the one first principle. In the nature of the One, then, is associated in a joint heritage the one Church, which they strive to cut asunder into many sects.

Therefore in substance and idea, in origin, in pre-eminence, we say that the ancient and Catholic Church is alone, collecting as it does into the unity of the one faith—which results from the peculiar Testaments, or rather the one Testament in different times by the will of the one God, through one Lord—those already ordained, whom God predestinated, knowing before the foundation of the world that they would be righteous. ANF: Vol. II, The Stromata, Book VII, Chapter XVII.

And check out this:

http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:U7MOlx7oBs4J:www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/AUGUSTIN.HTM+eastern+fathers+on+predestination&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari

Geoffrey Miller said...

What I've learned from my experience with Eastern Orthodox converts could be summed up in a proverb:

There is a man who reads much and knows little,
and there is a man who knows little and reads much.

The thing is, when a person discovers Eastern Orthodoxy, the joy and excitement is inexpressible. They dive in headfirst, intoxicated almost like in first love. There is a strong impulse to conform to a subculture that bashes everything about the West, even at the expense of the East, and the neophyte is only too glad to join in. His zeal knows no bounds, and he perceives his knowledge to be boundless as well.

A psychologist would be better equipped to speak about it, but in all converts from one religion or denomination to another, there is a tendency for a complete and irrational hatred of their past allegiances to develop. They associate everything wrong about themselves with their former Church, and lash out at folks who challenge their fantasy. The origins of this phenomenon are deep and mysterious.

I should know. Back in high school, I was torn between whether to convert to Catholicism or Orthodoxy. I eventually sided with Catholicism, since I could not flat out just reject Western theology (but I liked Eastern liturgy better, whence I went Maronite). Anyway, the point is, whenever I found myself in either camp, I hated the other's guts. And I above all was ashamed of the Baptist Church I grew up in. I viewed the whole body of Protestantism as something with no merit whatsoever, a most blatant and inexcusable folly. Thank God I finally realized all this was caricature and nonsense.

I got over myself and saw that Protestantism really does have compelling arguments in its favor. And many a greater and wiser man than myself has been persuaded by them.

Zeal is great, but it obscures knowledge. Five years after my conversion, I've begun to cool. I enjoy reading Luther and Calvin just as much as St. Ephrem or St. Basil. I know the weak-points of everybody's arguments, including my own (especially my own!) I'm not afraid to be wrong, and I don't get mad when people say my Church is the whore of Babylon or something. I actually get that they do it out of love, and heck, I did it too once, and who knows? It could be right. Just as long as charity and courtesy are observed, I appreciate folks voicing their concerns. That's how we grow spiritually, after all.

In light of the above, we should give the Eastern Orthodox guy, and people like him, a break. We were all like that at some point, after all.

I think, and most might agree, that it is best for newcomers to Christianity to observe a moratorium on engaging in theological debates for a few years. The initial zeal is better spent in prayer and acts of charity.

Rhology said...

I got over myself

Which most of the EO converts I've met have yet to do. Interesting thoughts, Geoffrey, but I must disagree about the moratorium on debating (especially since I'm debating Sola Scriptura at my blog with this very David right now, haha).

Geoffrey Miller said...

Well, debating of a sort. I mean, there is a good-spirited, light-hearted, informative kind, and that is good and well.

beowulf2k8 said...

In Gnosticism the Father, Christ and Holy Spirit constitute a God higher than YHWH and understood to be morally superior. In order to demonstrate that YHWH is evil they used the most radically unjust interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis, namely the Calvinist interpretation. In their system, the good Father sends Jesus to die an pay the ransom to the bloodthirsty YHWH thus appeasing him. In Augustinianism the Father becomes YHWH and all the same unjust actions remain as YHWH's actions. Basically, Augustine merely removed the Gnostic distinction between YHWH and the Father but kept their view of YHWH as an unjust being.

It can be trivially shown that this is the case by comparing Tertullian and Augustine on the parable of the utmost farthing. According to Tertullian the enemy is the Devil. According to Augustine the enemy is the Father. We find then, very simply, that Augustine's doctrine is Gnosticism with the distinction between the Father and YHWH removed. One could also interpret it as Tertullianic orthodoxy with the distinction between God and the Devil removed, but since Augustine did spend his early years as a Manichean that seems less likely to be an accurate description of how his abhorrent system actually arose.

Jnorm888 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jnorm888 said...

Jnorm888 said...
TF,

You should know me by now. The claim is not unjustified, and the Orthodox are not the only ones making this claim. You also have others saying this as well:
Augustine, Manichaeism and the Good

And he is not the only one.



Geoffrey Miller,

We believe in "Predestination", just not in the hard Augustinian "deterministic" sence.

Saint Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and many others believed, tought and advocated "free will", and therefore, they understood such things through "Foreknowledge" or through God's Omni-Science.


If you are truely a former Baptist that converted to the Uniates, then you out of all people should reject "christian determinism". How in the world can you be a Calvinist and an Eastern Catholic? Maybe you should "temporarily" stop reading Luther and Calvin, and focus more on developing an "Eastern" christian Phronema.

From your statements in the comment boxes, I can see that you are pretty wet behind the ears. Maybe you should of asked us what we were talking about or what we meant by what we said """first""" before making such statements here.

Also, there are alot of things that "YOU" can learn from other converts. I think you should stop speculating about us, and try to get to know us first. For most of what you said here is way off and pure ranting from ignorance.

Please get to know us, we will be more than happy to let you know why we are saying what we are saying, and I will be more than happy to help you see why the Fathers and nonfathers you quoted weren't saying the samething "Calvinism", "Jansenism", and "Hard Augustinianism" says about the issue of "predestination".

As a former protestant, I actually know what I am talking about when talking to protestants about this issue. If you are a former protestant yourself, then you should know that there is a difference between what John Calvin was saying about "election and predestination", and what alot of the Fathers and nonfathers before Saint Augustine was saying in regards to this issue.....let alone the various protestant differences between Calvinism and Arminiansim.....etc.

I am very dissapointed in what you had to say here. I have been reading the pre-nicene and nicene church fathers, nonfathers, schizmatics, and heretics off and on now for 12 or 13 years.

Geoffrey Miller, I would really like you to come and get to know us first, before making such careless statements about us and the ancient christians you quoted.




ICXC NIKA

Turretinfan said...

Nika,

I've already explained why it is unjustified. I'm glad you cleaned up that first comment with the revised version.

-TurretinFan

Jnorm888 said...

TF,

I disagree with your explaination. I didn't see it as sufficient enough nor persuasive, especially when you tried to compare this to what Dan Barker does. The two are no where near the same. One is obviously credible while the other is not.



NI
IC XC
KA

Turretinfan said...

I didn't just try to compare it, I did compare it. It's the same fallacy. And while Barker may be more obviously credible than you (he's in the Prometheus society after all), his personal credibility isn't really the issue. After all, sometimes very bright guys employ fallacies.

Jnorm888 said...

I could care less what society he is in, he is not a credible source. And I could care less about how smart you think he is. The things he say are more error prone and false than Dan Brown and Jack chick tracts combined.

I once had a college professor....who had a PHD by the way, tell me and the rest of the class that Jesus couldn't read and write. I argued with her in class, and so I could care less what society or academic badge one has when they say such silly and heretical stuff like that.

And the stuff that Barker is saying is pure fluff, compared to what we are saying in regards to Saint Augustine.







ICXC NIKA

Turretinfan said...

Comparing Augustine with the Gnostics is every whit as fluffy as Dan Barker's comparison of the Gospels to Homer's works. But thanks for stopping by.

-TurretinFan

Geoffrey Miller said...

"If you are truely a former Baptist that converted to the Uniates, then you out of all people should reject "christian determinism". How in the world can you be a Calvinist and an Eastern Catholic? Maybe you should "temporarily" stop reading Luther and Calvin, and focus more on developing an "Eastern" christian Phronema."

Of course I believe in free will, and also in predestination. Spare me the lectures about developing the proper "Phronema." You only use foreign words to sound superior. I made my case for how Eastern Orthodox converts act, and you eagerly set about proving it.

Geoffrey Miller said...

Oh, and calling us "Uniates" palpably drips with condescension. Go demonstrate the symptoms of spiritual superiority syndrome somewhere else.

Geoffrey Miller said...

"Also, there are alot of things that "YOU" can learn from other converts. I think you should stop speculating about us, and try to get to know us first. For most of what you said here is way off and pure ranting from ignorance."

Oh trust me, I got to know you all in depth, for over three years. I will refrain from stating bluntly my impression from the experience.

There were some roses among the thorns, but not many. And they were usually the less religious, paradoxically.

Geoffrey Miller said...

"As a former protestant, I actually know what I am talking about when talking to protestants about this issue. If you are a former protestant yourself, then you should know that there is a difference between what John Calvin was saying about "election and predestination", and what alot of the Fathers and nonfathers before Saint Augustine was saying in regards to this issue.....let alone the various protestant differences between Calvinism and Arminiansim.....etc."

Yes, but the differences lie mainly in reprobation, not election nor predestination.

Anyway, I hope my words don't rub you the wrong way, but you really ruffled my feathers.

Turretinfan said...

"Go demonstrate the symptoms of spiritual superiority syndrome somewhere else."

This is my blog - though I tend to agree that if folks can't place nice (as seen from my obviously biased perspective) they should just post their comments to their own blog.

-TurretinFan

Geoffrey Miller said...

"This is my blog - though I tend to agree that if folks can't place nice (as seen from my obviously biased perspective) they should just post their comments to their own blog."

Sorry about that. I forgot where I was my feathers were so ruffled. My sincerest apologies. My meaning was, if the poster in question were resolved only to condescend, then he or she should not speak to me.

Turretinfan said...

Understood. The apology was appreciated, but I hadn't meant to suggest you had done anything wrong - simply clarifying that while I agree with you in principle, I'm willing to let our friend who likes to sign off with the Christogram stay around here, assuming he has something interesting to say.

Geoffrey Miller said...

Jnorm888, I also wish to apologize to you for the prejudicial reaction to your post and the uninformed judgement of your character. I'm sorry.