The Fatherhood Chronicles LXXXIII

On Monasticism

The late M. Scott Peck, who died of cancer this past weekend, said about marriage that it is a monastery of two. If one has read the Rule of St. Benedict, one immediately can agree.

Our parish, well before it became Orthodox, once had a vowed community of celibate brothers. And given that we are largely a convert parish comprised of many former evangelical Protestants, it is probably not too remarkable that one often hears some of the men pining after monasticism. In fact, it has been but a few weeks ago that during coffee hour one parish member and myself asserted that if (or perhaps when) our life circumstances were to change and we found ourselves widowed and without children to raise and care for we would hi ourselves to a monastery and seek admittance.

Speaking for myself, such comments are temptations to sheer hubristic delusions, however sincere the longing. Fatherhood itself is its own rule, and marriage a most holy askesis. What St. Benedict says to his brothers is equally applicable to my own “little monastery”:

This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead what he judges better for someone else. . . . Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life. (Rule 72:1-7, 11-12)

No, it does no good to long for something imaginary when the reality is right here and right now. Behold, now is the day of salvation, now is the time of repentance.

[T]he Lord waits for us daily to translate into actions, as we should, his holy teachings. Therefore our life span has been lengthened by way of a truce that we may amend our misdeeds. (Rule Prologue 35-36)

And each day there is much I have to amend. It is a most daunting task, an unbearably great and weighty calling to be made both a husband and a father. In the one I am called to image the incarnate God, to offer my life as a sacrifice so as to present my wife and daughters to the Lord, holy and blameless. In the other I am called to image Him Who is the fount of divinity and of all Life. It is an ineffably fearsome thing and an unbearable joy. I can not do it. But he can energize such a reality in me.

We must, then, prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience to his instructions. What is not possible to us by nature, lest us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace. (Rule Prologue 40-41)

Fr. Seraphim (Rose) of Platina: On the Mind of the Fathers

“Spiritual life does not mean being in the clouds while saying the Jesus Prayer or going through the various motions. It means discovering the laws of this spiritual life as they apply to one’s own position, one’s situation. This comes over the years by attentive reading of the Holy Fathers with a notebook, writing down those passages which seem most significant to us, studying them, finding how they apply to us, and, if need be, revising earlier views of them as we get a little deeper into them, finding what one Father says about something, what a second Father says about the same thing, and so on. There is no encylopedia that will give you that. You cannot decide you want to find all about some one subject and begin reading the Holy Fathers. There are a few indexes in the writings of the Fathers, but you cannot simply go at spiritual life in that way. You have to go at it a little bit at a time, taking the teaching in as you are able to absorb it, going back over the same texts in later years, reabsorbing them, getting more, and gradually coming to find out how these spiritual texts apply to you. As a person does that, he discovers that every time he reads the same Holy Father he finds new things. He always goes deeper into it.”

Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, 466

The Fatherhood Chronicles LXXXII

Being Saved by My Wife and Daughters

I can’t believe it’s been a bit over two months since I last devoted any blog-attention to fatherhood–though appropriately the last Fatherhood Chronicle was a posting of some pictures of Delaina’s birth.

It has been clear to me again, recently–regrettably, I lose sight of this too often–that my salvation is going to happen through my marriage to Anna and my being father to Sofie and Delaina. Not in spite of it. It’s not as though there is my salvation, to which is appended these other relationships and roles. But rather in these very relationships and roles themselves is where I will find salvation. Christ saves me in them not out of them.

This is hard to remember when my helplessness gives rise to anger. I went through this with Sofie when she was but a couple or three months old. I’m going through it again. Delaina is not comforted by me. It is the feel, the smell, the sound of Anna that Delaina needs when she is fussy or distressed, and in which she finds comfort. Like Sofie, Delaina is having a tough time learning how to fall asleep (though unlike Sofie she is a better night sleeper). This means that on Monday nights, when Anna is out at her exercise class and I’m home with the girls, when Delaina hits bed time I’m dealing with a crying, and eventually angry, infant. That crying went on for forty-five minutes last week and half an hour this week.

It is an incredibly helpless feeling for a father, especially when he knows that momma would make all the difference in the world, but momma just ain’t home right now. In me, that helplessness nearly always creates anger. I find myself snapping short-temperedly at Sofie, who herself is distressed because her sister is crying. Last week we all ended up sitting in the rocker, Sofie on one knee giving her daddy “lubbies” (hugs), her head resting on my shoulder and my arm around her hugging her, and Delaina crooked in one arm. Sofie eventually fell asleep, as did Delaina in gently subsiding waves of crying. And even ol’ dad soon dozed, head back.

The entire scenario was one in which I had to consciously take hold of myself and resist the anger, battling against it. And in the subsequent calm of tired rest I was once again taught that vital and essential lesson: here in my arms is my salvation.

Jesus the Logician

Dallas Willard makes some extremely important points about Jesus the Logician.

Few today will have seen the words “Jesus” and “logician” put together to form a phrase or sentence, unless it would be to deny any connection between them at all. The phrase “Jesus the logician” is not ungrammatical, any more than is “Jesus the carpenter.” But it ‘feels’ upon first encounter to be something like a category mistake or error in logical type, such as “Purple is asleep,” or “More people live in the winter than in cities,” or “Do you walk to work or carry your lunch?”

Sort of brings to mind the presidential debates of the 2000 election season in which then-Governor Bush proclaimed Jesus as the philosopher who had the most impact on him.

There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by saying that it is an oxymoron. Today we automatically position him away from (or even in opposition to) the intellect and intellectual life. Almost no one would consider him to be a thinker, addressing the same issues as, say, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger or Wittgenstein, and with the same logical method.

This is most true in academic philosophy in the secular university (and, not infrequently true of the Christian seminary, too). Perhaps one might refer to him in a philosophy of religion class, but not in a logic or epistemology class, nor in an ethics class. Yet at least with regard to the latter, Jesus had some extremely critical ethical things to say.

Now this fact has important implications for how we today view his relationship to our world and our life–especially if our work happens to be that of art, thought, research or scholarship. How could he fit into such a line of work, and lead us in it, if he were logically obtuse? How could we be his disciples at our work, take him seriously as our teacher there, if when we enter our fields of technical or professional competence we must leave him at the door? Obviously some repositioning is in order, and it may be helped along simply by observing his use of logic and his obvious powers of logical thinking as manifested in the Gospels of the New Testament.

Is Jesus Lord or not? Do all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge inhere in him (Colossians 2:3) or not?

Willard answers in the affirmative.

Now when we speak of “Jesus the logician” we do not, of course, mean that he developed theories of logic, as did, for example, Aristotle and Frege. No doubt he could have, if he is who Christians have taken him to be. He could have provided a Begriffsschrift, or a Principia Mathematica, or alternative axiomatizations of Modal Logic, or various completeness or incompleteness proofs for various ‘languages’. (He is, presumably, responsible for the order that is represented through such efforts as these.)

He could have. Just as he could have handed Peter or John the formulas of Relativity Physics or the Plate Tectonic theory of the earth’s crust, etc. He certainly could, that is, if he is indeed the one Christians have traditionally taken him to be. But he did not do it, and for reasons which are bound to seem pretty obvious to anyone who stops to think about it. But that, in any case, is not my subject here. When I speak of “Jesus the logician” I refer to his use of logical insights: to his mastery and employment of logical principles in his work as a teacher and public figure.

So what is unique to Jesus’ use of logic?

Not only does Jesus not concentrate on logical theory, but he also does not spell out all the details of the logical structures he employs on particular occasions. His use of logic is always enthymemic, as is common to ordinary life and conversation. His points are, with respect to logical explicitness, understated and underdeveloped. The significance of the enthymeme is that it enlists the mind of the hearer or hearers from the inside, in a way that full and explicit statement of argument cannot do. Its rhetorical force is, accordingly, quite different from that of fully explicated argumentation, which tends to distance the hearer from the force of logic by locating it outside of his own mind.

Jesus’ aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles, but to achieve understanding or insight in his hearers. This understanding only comes from the inside, from the understandings one already has. It seems to “well up from within” one. Thus he does not follow the logical method one often sees in Plato’s dialogues, or the method that characterizes most teaching and writing today. That is, he does not try to make everything so explicit that the conclusion is forced down the throat of the hearer. Rather, he presents matters in such a way that those who wish to know can find their way to, can come to, the appropriate conclusion as something they have discovered–whether or not it is something they particularly care for.

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Yes, and no doubt Jesus understood that. And so he typically aims at real inward change of view that would enable his hearers to become significantly different as people through the workings of their own intellect. They will have, unless they are strongly resistant to the point of blindness, the famous “eureka” experience, not the experience of being outdone or beaten down. . . .

Today, by contrast, we commonly depend upon the emotional pull of stories and images to ‘move’ people. We fail to understand that, in the very nature of the human mind, emotion does not reliably generate belief or faith, if it generates it at all. Not even ‘seeing’ does, unless you know what you are seeing. It is understanding, insight, that generates belief. In vain do we try to change peoples’ heart or character by ‘moving’ them to do things in ways that bypass their understanding. . . .

Paying careful attention to how Jesus made use of logical thinking can strengthen our confidence in Jesus as master of the centers of intellect and creativity, and can encourage us to accept him as master in all of the areas of intellectual life in which we may participate. In those areas we can, then, be his disciples, not disciples of the current movements and glittering personalities who happen to dominate our field in human terms. Proper regard for him can also encourage us to follow his example as teachers in Christian contexts. We can learn from him to use logical reasoning at its best, as he works with us. When we teach what he taught in the manner he taught it, we will see his kind of result in the lives of those to whom we minister.

May we all, I especially, seek to emulate our Lord in our conversations and dialogues with others.

And how might we bring this about?

Here I have only been suggestive of a dimension of Jesus that is commonly overlooked. This is no thorough study of that dimension, but it deserves such study. It is one of major importance for a healthy faith in him. Especially today, when the authoritative institutions of our culture, the universities and the professions, omit him as a matter of course. Once one knows what to look for in the Gospels, however, one will easily see the thorough, careful and creative employment of logic throughout his teaching activity. Indeed, this employment must be identified and appreciated if what he is saying is to be understood. Only then can his intellectual brilliance be appreciated and he be respected as he deserves.

An excellent way of teaching in Christian schools would therefore be to require all students to do extensive logical analyses of Jesus’ discourses. This should go hand in with the other ways of studying his words, including devotional practices such as memorization or lectio divina, and the like. It would make a substantial contribution to the integration of faith and learning.

While such a concentration on logic may sound strange today, that is only a reflection on our current situation. It is quite at home in many of the liveliest ages of the church.

This certainly brings a new perspective to my teaching of logic on Thursday nights!

Be sure to read the entire article linked above.