I have invested quite a bit of thinking (this is the thirteenth post of this series) around the notion of philosophia as a way of life (with obvious reliance on Pierre Hadot’s works Philosophy as a Way of Life and What is Ancient Philosophy?), and of Christianity as a philosophia. That ancient philosophy understood itself differently from present day academic philosophy would seem to go without saying (though the implications of that assertion are surely much more controversial), and that several important second century Christian documents present Christianity as a philosophia, similar though superior to ancient philosophiai, ought also be relatively uncontroversial. But whether one ought to invest in advocacy of the notion of Christianity as a philosophia is surely less obvious. What is important is to simply live the Christian faith as it has been passed down from the incarnate ministry of our Lord to today.
That is to say, the imposition of the structures of ultimate principles (logoi), a distinctive discourse (dialogos), and soulish exercises (askeses) is the imposition of external classificatory categories and structures that it is not clear arise naturally from within Christianity itself. That is to say, while the Holy Trinity, the Divine Liturgy and prayer (logoi, dialogos, and askesis, respectively) are in themselves entirely Christian, the organization of these realities along the lines suggested above is arguably questionable. One could argue that these are Hadot’s own classification of aspects of ancient philosophical schools, which schools themselves might well not classify themselves in this way, and that further, to apply Hadot’s structures on Christianity via ancient philosophy is suspect at best.
But as a heuristic device, at very least, these categories and structures can prove helpful in reflecting on the Christian Faith and its practice, and I hope these reflections have made this evident.
As I hope I have demonstrated, there can be no compartmentalizing of the Christian Faith and life, for the divine call is total and radical, and in this way it brings wholeness and unity to otherwise fractured human existence. That is to say, the way of life, the philosophia that is Christianity cannot be added to one’s existence, as though a weekend hobby. It is, rather, the entirety of that which revolves around the Holy Trinity, the center of one’s existence.
There are at least two implications of this which ought be obvious. First, the organic wholeness of Christianity makes impossible any division away from the way of life transmitted without interruption from Pentecost as well any division within the way Christians have always lived. That is to say, there can be no spontaneous generation of the Christian philosophia. One cannot affirm the fundamental Christian realities or principles, nor can one study and imitate the unique Christian discourse and askeses, without taking on the Christian way of life from within that life Christians have practiced from the beginning. That is to say, Christianity cannot be franchised. One must become a part of the only philosophia that is Christianity if one is to truly have that way of life that is Christian. I will say it bluntly. The some purported twenty-odd thousand Protestant groups worldwide seek this very impossibility: to make the Church over from scratch as from theory. I know whence I speak, for my heritage churches’ raison d’etre was to “restore the New Testament Church in our day,” leap-frogging over some seventeen hundred years of the life of the Church to “start anew.” But this is little better than schism, well-intentioned though it be. There is only one New Testament Church, and true to Christ’s promise, it has never ceased to exist. This is the Church with the original and life-giving philosophia. All others, simply by virtue of failing to live the Christian way of life from within, ultimately create other philosophiai which are not that which comes from Christ in the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.
Nor can any of the fundamental structures which organize Christianity as a philosophia be isolated from or emphasized out of proportion to the rest. By this I mean that one cannot elevate the elements, say, of dialogos over those of askesis. Doctrine cannot replace practice. (Nor, for that matter, practice doctrine.) Having spent nearly my entire life as a Protestant (which, formally, I still am, though I have been pursuing Orthodoxy for three years and hope soon sacramentally to become Orthodox), I can tell you that while Protestantism arguably pursues the fundamental principles of the Christian Faith, in most instances various Protestant groups focus either on doctrine–and too often a particular doctrine derived apart from the mind of the Church–over the way of life that that doctrine entails, or they focus on practice over the living doctrine needed to justify and support those practices. What results is on the one hand a sort of neo-gnosticism, in which as long as one believes correctly (witness the various confessional documents and statements of faith of Protestant bodies and groups), one has done the primary thing necessary, and the practice of that doctrine, though not unimportant, is given much less focus. On the other hand there is the imposition of practices that are hardly conformed to historic Christianity, and are justified ad hoc either through the purported ends sought or achieved, or through a superficial prooftexting of Scripture and doctrine which deviates from the objective and historic Christian norm (witness many of the practices that go on in “discipling” ministries and charismatic groups).
Further, the way of life of the Christian Faith will necessarily and essentially put us in opposition to our non-Christian neighbor, our culture and society, and all that which opposes Christ. That is to say, by virtue of living the Christian Faith, we will have enemies, human and demonic. If there is one overriding rebellion of the ecumenical/interfaith movements against biblical and historic Christianity it is this: the Church has enemies. “Do not be surprised,” St. John tells us, “that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). This is the same St. John who says “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). And: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Indeed, St. John is merely being faithful to the Lord who Himself said:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:18-25)
Thus, as much as it offends the sensibilities of the world, even and especially the religious world that claims Christ’s name, Christians must be steadfast in maintaining their Lord’s exclusive claims: He is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6), and there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 5:12). Indeed, He who fills the universe has chosen to inhabit His unique dwelling place, the household of God, the Church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 1 Timothy 3:15).
This is not to say that there is no good at all in one’s non-Christian neighbor or in human society–for the Church has never believed that the image of God has been utterly destroyed in mankind–but it is to say that fragmented revelations of the divine image do not constitute the whole. Just because some religious teaching may participate in an incomplete way with the truth of which the Church is pillar and ground does not mean that such a religion or its teaching is Christian. It simply means that on this or another point which converges with the Christian Faith, Christians can affirm this specific teaching, while also obligating themselves to the clarity of love that reiterates Christ’s exclusive claims. But in affirming these fragmentary truths, we also affirm the fullness which the Church alone possesses.
None of these truths are comfortable, nor are they given to the making of social friendships. But that is the way of things in the life that is Christianity. That we find these truths uncomfortable ourselves, or find ourselves resistant to them, may only illustrate how far we are from the Christian philosophia. Please God that all of us may be more and more conformed to the life of Christ in His Church.
[The remainder of the posts in this series can be found here.]