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We’re doing it wrong: our lines are converging in the wrong direction

It’s a question of re-orientation. Our attention, while we think we are attending to the will of God, is wholly centred on the world.


It is nagging me, this feeling that there is a strange and apparently disconnected series of things that somehow, when put all together, make a coherent hidden message. This isn’t blogging so much as “free associating”.

Some of these items might not seem connected. I feel like that character trope in thriller movies who goes mad pasting apparently unrelated news clippings to a wall and trying to connect them all with red string. Of your charity, bear with me while I toss up a few things here to see if there is a pattern.

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The video above is posted to an Orthodox YouTube channel. I haven’t been able to figure out who made it. It is very long for a YT vid, 3.5 hours. It isn’t really your ordinary sort of documentary. There is a voiceover, but it really isn’t anything like the sort of information-giving History Channel or BBC thing we’re used to seeing.

The script is more meditative reflections on mystical and ascetical theology and their expression in the traditions of Byzantine iconography and how they differ in purpose from Western art since the two diverged in the 12th century. I’m still distilling it.

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“Western fine art was dominated by centric perspective, the central so-called objective [perspective]…
“The perspective on icons and frescoes is quite different. They call it reverse or Byzantine perspective. It is an expanding perspective, meaning that the lines coming from the viewer are not converging toward an imaginary remote point but are expanding, diverging away from the viewer.
“Before an icon man is not the master and the virtual owner of the world but a participant in God’s creation.”

I have to admit to never really liking Byzantine icons as an art form.  I realised of course that there was a bunch I was missing, and that was mainly the point that it isn’t about whether I “like” them or not. Not having been raised in the Christian tradition that has them at the centre of the liturgical life I have always “preferred,” from an artistic point of view, the later Gothic and early Renaissance forms of sacred art, all of which grew out of the Byzantine traditions into a more humanistic, “empirical,” style. I haven’t changed my mind about this, but I think the ice is cracking, which is good. I was always a bit uncomfortable with my lack of affinity for this ancient and immensely important mystical and liturgical tradition.

There are glimpses here of the hidden meaning, the language quite at variance with the visual language of Western sacred art, that points to some great answer to all the troubles that plague us. Icons are mysticism; and that of an ancient type that can’t easily be expressed in Latin scholastic doctrinal language. But we’re not familiar in the west with this way of thought, or the Greek terminology used to describe it. It’s a different Christian world.

I haven’t finished digesting it, and I admit I didn’t understand a good deal of it and quite a bit of it seemed beautiful but very surprising. And of course we can’t learn everything from a film, even one that’s three and a half hours long. But something tells me there’s an answer here for a lot of our troubles, difficulties that have sprung up from our abandonment of these mysteries.

What has Catholicism really lost? The interior life. The pursuit of union with God that is natural, built-in, hard wired, to all human beings. We don’t want merely to be told true things about Christ. We want Christ Himself.

The other day a friend expressed a common difficulty; why do we believe that God loves us if He threatens us with eternal damnation if we disobey His commandments? Even if we did so without knowing anything about Him? The responses to this were long and involved a lot of complicated theological discussion, much of which seemed to me beside the point. Have we Westerners become bogged down by doctrinal formulas?

We are in the midst of this horrible civil war that has gone on throughout the lifetime of most of us, so the Latin Church has been preoccupied with doctrinal formulations, either denying or defending them. For those of us involved in this war, is there enough awareness of the danger of turning our fight into our worship? Of replacing the actual thing with the defence of the thing? Theology, apologetics, polemics… the Catholic Culture Wars are not God.

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“Icons show the man in the world already reshaped in the eschaton, in the events at the end of history when God will be all and will end all and nothing will be out of God in his light.”

And yet that war is at its worst right now and it seems an act of madness to take our eyes off it for a moment. So much more advanced is it than was even dreamed of by our parents’ generation. Each day some new horror springs out at us like a jump-scare in a movie.

Picking one at random: today news came forward of a Maltese priest who got onto a television programme and said that homosexuality is something desired by God. And the man charged by the pope with being the face of reform of the sexual abuse crisis said nothing against it, despite an uproar in that still-Catholic country.

Our friend Edward Pentin writes about it:

Father Kevin Schembri, a Maltese priest, on the television program Xarabank, on March 8…spoke approvingly of homosexuality as created by God and “part of his plan,” adding that God created people with “difference sexual orientations,” and that being homosexual “cannot be something bad, because he created it.”

Read about it here if you feel you must. But there is certainly nothing surprising if you have been paying attention at all. The real issue is not that this man is a priest and a heretic, but that the leader of the Church in that most ancient Christian land, his archbishop, has done nothing to correct it.

[The priest] is also the Defender of the Bond on the Metropolitan Tribunal and lecturer of canon law on the Faculty of Theology, and who was sent by the Archbishop himself, “Insisting that the public would want to hear what he has to say” (lovinmalta.com: “It Cannot Be Bad to be Gay, Says Priest on Xarabank: ‘Where There is Love and Sincerity, There is God’”). There is no question that the archbishop [Charles Scicluna], like practically every other priest in Malta, knew what Fr Kevin’s ideas and beliefs have always been.

It follows a kind of promise by the pope’s friend, Cardinal Marx, that the Catholic Church in Germany plans simply entirely to abandon Catholic moral teaching on sex, an outright declaration of schism and apostasy (and not his first). And still there is no response at all from Rome. And of course, we know there will not be.

During their March 11-14 spring assembly in Lingen, Germany, the German Bishops’ Conference discussed possible causes and reasons for the current clerical sex abuse crisis in Germany. Invited speakers raised the idea of ordaining the so-called viri probati (morally proven men), as well as accepting contraception, cohabitation, homosexual relationships, as well as gender theory.

The German bishops have now decided to further discuss these themes in a series of discussions which they call a “synodal path.”

[…]

In explaining the proposed topics that will be further discussed by the German bishops, Cardinal Marx pointed out three aspects: the question of power, of celibacy, and of the Church’s sexual morality.

…There is, he added, also “a need for discussion about the Catechism.”

There are few now who still bother to try to pretend that this has not been the plan from the start. At least that is a relief. We no longer have to smile and nod and pretend not know what we know, pretend to believe them or to play along with the ruse. This is what apostasy and schism look like.

What happens when people with power offer something a lot of people want; sexual license… One would think we’d be tired of it by now after 60+ years of indulgence and destruction, but the juggernaut continues to roll on, over the broken bodies of millions, over the broken souls of millions more…

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“Innocent communion is also not just a need that every man has, but it is as well an ability or a gift from God that man possesses. Man as a personal and iconic being in communion with other personal beings gives, presents himself to others and grows as a person within the community.
“It is indeed a valid objection that a simple set of people in one place do not make one community if they do not commune between each other, and if among them there is nothing similar, common, which brings them together.”

And the lack of the right direction, the lines converging on the world, converging on nothing, on death and the void, is destroying us. We have now so disordered our entire society that we literally can find no way to live in it. Our own civilisation is toxic to us.

A study published last week finds that U.S. teens and young adults in 2017 were more distressed, more likely to suffer from major depression, and more prone to suicide than their counterparts in the millennial generation were at the same age.

Researchers also found that between 2008 and 2017, Gen Z’s emotional distress and its propensity toward self-harm grew more than for any other generation of Americans during the same period. By 2017, just over 13% of Americans between the ages of 12 and 25 had symptoms consistent with an episode of major depression in the previous year — a 62% increase in eight years.

Between 2008 and 2017, suicides among young adults in age brackets between 18 and 25 grew by as much as 56%, and the rate at which these young people entertained thoughts of suicide rose by up to 68%. Suicide attempts rose 87% among 20- and 21-year-olds in that same period, and 108% among 22- and 23-year-olds.

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We are almost tormented by the questions: what should we do? What is our role, as individuals, as laymen, living our little lives out here in the world? And even if we have rejected that world, how do we live in its sphere without losing either our souls or our minds. We are like a people with no haven, buffeted on all sides, turned away from friendly doors.

“The basic trait of the language of the icon is that it is a language of prayer, and in its form it is hymnic and praising.
“By honouring the holy icons and by watching them man realises that [in] the theanthropic person of Jesus Christ the immaterial and the material world are indissoluble in unity, and clearly sees that Christ has united heaven and earth, and connected the spiritual and the invisible, with the visible and the tangible…”
He, [Christ] as a natural icon of God the Father, appeared in order to reestablish and spiritually reshape the fallen man who had been created in the image of God. In a word, holy icons revealed to us a mystery, and at the same time testify that the cause of why the Word of God incarnated is: our salvation.

 

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