It’s Lent, so let’s spend a little time away from politics. The Holy Fire, first published in 1957, when Eastern Orthodoxy had zero presence in the religious consciousness of most of America, is a beautifully-written popular history of ten towering eastern Fathers of the Church. Popular history in 1957 is not comparable to popular history in 2023, however, so this book reads like what might be an advanced college text today, if colleges studied anything worthwhile. Regardless, Payne’s book is an outstanding introduction to Orthodoxy in historical context, which is, no doubt, why St. Vladimir’s Press republished it.
If you know anything about Oliver Cromwell—and few do nowadays— you probably have an opinion about the man. Some vilify him; “A curse upon you, Oliver Cromwell, you who raped our Motherland,” the Irish rock band The Pogues sang. Others praise him as an enemy of arbitrary rule and a proto-republican. Ronald Hutton’s new biography of Cromwell’s early life and his climb to prominence makes no final judgment on the man, but it does offer a nuanced view of this complex historical figure. From Hutton’s excellent book we get not just history but the realization, in this desiccated age, that men such as Cromwell always emerge during great turmoil, rising as if from sown dragon’s teeth.
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be rich. I was not wealthy growing up, nor was anybody I knew. Today, however, as I state perhaps too often, I am rich. I bathe twice daily in French champagne and always cover my burgers in gold leaf. The problem is, as most everybody knows, that being rich sits very uneasily with Christian faith. At a minimum, being rich is a grave danger for a man’s soul. To gain insight into this problem, or maybe seeking reassurance, rather than rely on my personal interpretation of Scripture, which is worse than useless, I turned to one of the Fathers of the Church, Saint John Chrysostom.
Stephen Covey wrote a once-famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Six of the habits are forgettable, and should be forgotten. But the seventh—ah, that is everything! “Begin with the end in mind.” What is our end? That is easy—winning. What is the winning condition? It is the total, permanent defeat of the Left, of the ideology at the heart of the Enlightenment, with its two core principles of total emancipation from all bonds not continuously chosen, and of total forced equality of all people. When this defeat is accomplished, Right principles, those based in reality and recognizing the nature of man, his limitations, and his capabilities, can again become ascendant.
Christian nationalism is in the air. While that obscure term has been weaponized recently to whip up hate against Christians, it is a real thing, with many historical manifestations. For both Christianity and nationalism are excellent and awesome, and like the chocolate and peanut butter in Reese’s, they are even better together than alone. Still, the combination of state and religion has not always been well executed. It must be, however, for mankind to flourish, which is why one pillar of Foundationalism is establishing the proper balance in the society of the future. To this end, we can learn a lot from this history of the first thousand years of Christianity.
Myths about Christianity abound, and some myths even pass as common knowledge. One myth is that Christians, after Jesus Christ started a new religion, worshipped in a very simple manner, revolving around undeveloped doctrines of love and sharing. Only later, we are often told (by both devout Protestants and by unbelievers, advancing different agendas) was this plain worship larded up with new doctrines and liturgies, which are encrustations on true Christianity. Stephen De Young works hard to explode all parts of this myth, explaining in The Religion of the Apostles that the beliefs and worship of the first Christians were essentially identical to those written down some years later, and were not, in most important ways, new at all.
If, as Carl Schmitt asserted in Political Theology, “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts,” what does that imply for political forms? This book, written immediately after Political Theology, addresses that question. Schmitt analyzes a political form that originated as theological but has adopted many different secular roles—the Roman Catholic Church. I have to say that Roman Catholicism and Political Form, even by Schmittian standards, is a difficult read. Nonetheless, it rewards close attention and thought, because what Schmitt says is, as all things Schmitt are, surprisingly relevant to our situation today.
It has been a long time, a millennium and a half, since Ethiopia was a relevant player on the world stage. But I sometimes wonder if, as the present age grinds to its stupid end, the time of Ethiopia, with its ancient, self-confident Christian civilization, has come round again. Out of the corner of my mind’s eye, I see the Ethiopians sweeping northwards to dominate the Middle East, then replacing much of what is left of the decayed Europeans, perhaps linking up with their Orthodox brethren, expelling the Turks, and returning most of Eurasia to the Christian fold, igniting a new syncretic civilization. Probably not, but why not? That’s what we’re going to explore today.
Many, if not most, modern Christians are crypto-Marcionites. They resonate with the heresy that God, as revealed in the Old Testament, is different from God as revealed by Jesus Christ. Marcion (the second-century-A.D. originator of the heresy, an early form of Gnosticism) had to throw out the entire Old Testament and most of the New Testament to make this idea coherent. Moderns don’t bother with coherency; they simply erase or ignore much of what God does in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, because some of it is unpalatable to modern tastes. To correct this basic theological error, Father Stephen De Young, an Orthodox priest, is here to justify, or at least explain, the ways of God to man.
For twenty years, our rulers have propagandized us with two contradictory claims. First, that the West is locked in an existential conflict with Islam, justifying any spending, any killing, and any erasure of our ancient liberties. And second, that no Muslim, as a Muslim, is any threat to anybody whatsoever. Resolving the contradiction is not hard, but why bother, because what American cares about global Islam now? As the American empire collapses inward and America’s divisions are elucidated ever more clearly, our internal conflicts have superseded any conflict with Islam. Still, maybe conflict will return when the West is reborn, or replaced, and as always we can learn a lot from studying the past that may yet be useful in the future.