quinta-feira, 11 de maio de 2017

Perichoretic East and Aristotelian West (James L. Kelley)

This participatory union of Christ’s two natures (Christology), mirrored in the participation of God and man (soteriology), is analogous to the union of soul with body in man (anthropology). Man is not primarily a disembodied soul; rather he is wholly soul and wholly body. The Patristic writers in various places unambiguously affirm that the soul is what is invisible about the body, and the body is what is visible about the soul. The Incarnation of the Logos is participation par excellence; the Incarnation is the archetypal participation upon which all other instances of communion are predicated: man’s soul-body coherence; man’s communion with other humans; man’s interpenetration with the world of created beings; and man’s divinization, that is, his partaking in the very life of God. 

So, how and why did Western Christianity, which began with the same communal/participatory vision of God, man and cosmos as that of the Christian East, deviate from this once common path? Some modern Orthodox theologians who have tackled the question of the origin of the schism between the Christian West and the Christian East have singled out the teachings of Augustine of Hippo as the foundation of the deviation. Sherrard agrees that Augustine’s deficient teachings on sin and free will precluded a fully-fledged, Orthodox conception of Christology (and thus anthropology); he also cannot help but be aware of the crippling effects that the Augustinian formulation of “prevenient grace” has had upon the bishop of Hippo’s Western successors up to the present day [18]. However, the historical pivot point for Sherrard is the irruption of Aristotle’s philosophy into Western Christian theology in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Because scholastic theology explicitly replaced the original theological standard— that of personal experience of God in the liturgical and ascetical life of the Church —with a new criterion—that of Aristotle’s philosophy—the result was a drastic veering away from the Orthodox Catholic tradition that Sherrard feels was already becoming progressively attenuated in the West from the fourth century on [19].

A Tale of two Unities: Perichoretic East and Aristotelian West 

Since some may find much about which to quibble in Sherrard’s handling of figures such as Plato and Aristotle (namely, his seeming lack of nuance and his general unconcern for scholarly apparatus), it may be helpful to recall the words of the late Rick Roderick: “I don’t read Kant to find the truth; I read him to see what I can do with him.” Sherrard uses the classic texts of philosophy and theology in this sense; that is, his sole purpose in examining the writings of the great thinkers of the past was elucidation of what was for Sherrard the central metaphysical theme—the interrelation of God and creation. Needless to say, a reader not open to Sherrard’s overall aim (or at least open to trying to understand Sherrard’s overarching purpose) may feel that justice is not being done to such towering names as Heraclitus or Proclus. With this caveat in mind, we will proceed to outline Sherrard’s versions of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Thomism, our focus being the significance—in Sherrard’s eyes—of the “isms” involved for the crisis of Modernity and for its possible solution in Sacred Ecology.

 According to Plato, Forms exist in the intelligible realm, and can be participated in by humans whose purified souls have achieved a likeness to the intelligible. For Aristotle, by contrast, “forms” inhere within individual beings. The individual human being—and indeed, each and every being in the universe— is locked inside his or her essence in the Aristotelian scheme, seemingly cut off from other essences as essences. The idiosyncratic notion of “unity” that undergirds Aristotle’s “substantial form” is the key to understanding later Western developments. There is no place for a unity of concrete particulars for Aristotle, since unities are identified with individual beings’ goals or inner purposes: each existing thing has a telos that is its own destiny, its own set of potentialities that beckon to be actualized. 

Since Sherrard bases his theology, above all else, on the “union without confusion” of the divine and human natures “in the single, undivided person of Christ incarnate” [20], it is easy to understand why he objects so stridently to Aristotle’s pseudo-monadic notion of substantial unity. Aristotelian substances are unities because they are impressed with a single form that contains within itself— in potential—all future possibilities of development. As such, there can be no “composite substances” [21] Indeed, substances “cannot be shared or participated” [22].

 It should also come as no surprise that, considering Sherrard’s emphasis on communion and participation, Aristotle’s universe should appear to him a rather bleak house. The Logos cannot become Incarnate within its confines; Christ cannot become its inhominated savior, since two natures cannot interpenetrate in Aristotle’s universe without either 1) destroying the “lower” human nature, or 2) creating a freakish tertium quid, a demi-god who is neither God nor man, neither uncreated nor created [23]. What is more, God cannot be present in each created being’s logos; Christ cannot be the Logos to the logoi, to the uncreated “predeterminations” of all beings. The Stagirite’s universe, viewed through Sherrardian spectacles, is more infernal than cosmic, since each and every one of its constituent beings is bereft of anything like a common nature that would allow for methexis, for participation between, on the one hand, man and neighbor; and, on the other hand, between man and God.

Aquinas’s Children: Immortal Soul to Thinking Substance

 In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas sought to systematize Roman Catholic theology by reformulating its doctrines along Aristotelian lines. What resulted was nothing short of a theological revolution in Europe, a development that, for Sherrard, sealed the fate of the Western Church, and pointed inexorably toward today’s waking nightmare of “spiritual, mental, and cultural degradation” [24]. We already remarked above that Aristotle’s notion of substantial unity did not allow for a perichoretic Christology, wherein Christ’s human and divine natures are united without mixture or confusion in the one hypostasis of the Logos. In considering its further implications for ecology, Sherrard notes that Aquinas’s Aristotelian-inflected Christology can include no Logos-logoi component whereby “the divine can be actually present in all things without those things on that account losing their own substantial identity” [25]. As for the efficacy of the saving mission of Aquinas’s Christ, Sherrard voices concern that, for Thomas, the deification of Christ’s human nature does not seem to include the human counterpart—the deification of both man and the cosmos over which He is priest. Instead, the Incarnation is “something that occurred only in the unique case of the historical figure of Jesus” [26]. 

The full, disastrous import of Aquinas’s Aristotelianism is revealed in the Dominican’s anthropology. Sherrard’s Aquinas reduces man to a soul-body in which the former component’s knowledge is of the “purely rational” variety [27]. “Moreover, lacking any faculty through which he can know and experience things, including himself, as they are in God, man is forced to depend for his knowledge, including…spiritual knowledge, on sense perception” [28]. Aquinas is revealed as the forebear of Enlightenment rationalism once we boil his anthropology down to the following axiom: Thomist man is that animal that can acquire knowledge only through ratiocination based solely upon sensory data. Here the reader cannot help but detect tendencies toward over-generalization and overstatement in Sherrard's unflattering vignette of Aquinas' theology. In order to determine if any compensatory insight is offered in Sherrard's reading of the great Dominican, we turn to the staid Londoner's account of the Thomist “immortal soul.”

The Orthodox Christian tripartite anthropology of body-soul-nous is quashed by St. Thomas into a bipartite mind-body. In place of a Logos-nous as a principle of communion between soul and body, Aquinas posits the soul as the “unique substance of man[;] the indwelling principle of his unity as a composite being” [29]. However, Aristotle held that the soul is material, in that it exists only as the form of the matter that makes up a given being. Once the being dies, the form dissolves as the body of the individual decomposes. Thus, the Aristotelian framework to which Aquinas was bound called for a soul that was just as material, and hence just as corruptible, as flesh and blood. In order to affirm this Aristotelian notion of soul while yet denying that the soul is extinguished at death, Aquinas re-defined the human soul as a “self-subsistent spiritual substance, one that receives the act of being in itself, and so is by nature immaterial, incorruptible and immortal” [30]. The body does not have its own substantial reality, but exists merely because the real man, the immortal soul, possesses certain powers that can only be exerted somatically [31].

 But, Sherrard underlines, we must realize just how drastically Aquinas’s conception of the soul-body differs from the Orthodox view. For the Orthodox, man is a soulbody whose integrity even death cannot dissolve utterly; for the Aristotelian Aquinas, the soul transcends the body, though the soul has need of a body for its specific purposes, for the working out of its own inner “idea.” In Sherrard’s words: “…[W]hereas before St. Thomas it was possible to think of the soul as the most important part of man, after St. Thomas it was possible to think of man as complete without a body at all, because what the body contributes as an organic and material instrument is already present within the soul in a spiritual form and as a spiritual exigency” [32].

 Indeed, Aquinas’s soul-body lives a bizarre, two-tiered existence that might be termed Nestorian or Apollinarian, depending on one's vantage point. Considered apart from the body, this Thomistic soul contains within its totally transcendent, immaterial substance the reasons for its composition as a soul-body. The flesh-and-blood human body does not have reasons or energies of its own that require realization in order that its destiny or telos is met. Instead, “in the Thomistic view man is a function of the soul, not soul a function of man” [33]. For Aquinas, the structure of the soul is such that it needs a kind of material double to develop bodily capacities that mirror certain of its soul capacities. However, a kind of anthropological asymmetry is introduced by the Angelic Doctor, since the soul contains potencies that have no counterpart in the body: “For St. Thomas man qua man…does not have a nature: he only has a history. Man is but an accident, a phase, in the history of his soul” [34]. 

Though a bodily resurrection is insisted upon by St. Thomas, Sherrard remains concerned that Aquinas’s anthropology provides no compelling reason why the soul-body conjunction should continue after death. Thus, Sherrard blames Aquinas for the ghostly, disembodied soul that has peopled so many theological tomes since the Middle Ages. The development is complete once we reach Descartes, who reproduced the Thomistic parallelism of soul and body, but with an important twist: The odd stratification of energies within the soul—Aquinas’s flimsy justification for a body-soul nexus—is now gone. Sherrard notes with irony that Descartes leapfrogged over Aquinas only to recover a purer Aristotelian notion of essence. The Cartesian human soul has no need of a body at all, or of anything whatsoever exterior to itself. Here Sherrard’s analysis brings us full circle, Descartes’s res cogitans being a recapitulation of the Stagirite’s totally selfsufficient substance [35]. In fact, Descartes reduces the body to a kind of carnal puppet, “entirely without [the] spiritual or psychic forces or qualities” that are natural to the soul [36]. 

If space allowed, we could follow Sherrard's comments on Newton and Boyle, who are viewed as the flowers that bloomed from the Cartesian bud. Descartes’s notion of man’s body as “a hydraulic automaton” [37] pushed about by a thinking substance that can approach the cosmos only in a functionalist manner sets the stage for the Scientific Revolution, with its ominous cry “Let Newton Be!” and its exultant echo “Viva la revolution!”

From the essay Orthodox Theosophy and The Reign of Quantity by James L. Kelley 

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