«CHRISTIAN ANTHROPOLOGY AND EASTERN-ORTHODOX (HESYCHAST) ASCETICISM I. Triple structure of Christian anthropology The situation of Christian ...»
Horujy Sergey S.
AND EASTERN-ORTHODOX (HESYCHAST) ASCETICISM
I. Triple structure of Christian anthropology
The situation of Christian anthropology is paradoxical. Christianity is profoundly
anthropological in its very essence, it is addressed personally to each human person, since the
Gospel of Christ is revelation about Man, that tells everyone about his own nature, destiny and salvation. But, in spite of this, in the vast and ramified corpus of the Christian teaching, anthropology, the teaching on Man, was usually not in the foreground and did not take central place. On the contrary, in the long history of the Christian world, the place of anthropology was always, until very recently, among secondary chapters and subjects of the Christian doctrine, and its contents used to be rather scarce and obsolete. Undoubtedly, this secondary, subordinated and underdeveloped position of Christian anthropology contributed greatly in the processes of secularization and mass leaving of the Church in the last centuries. Important role in these processes was played by the widely popular view, according to which Christianity and the Church are far distanced from the situation and needs of the ordinary man, and have too little to say to him, because the Christian doctrine is just some abstract discourse on God. For instance, when the famous Religious-Philosophical Renaissance was starting in the beginning of the 20th c. in Russia, leaders of this important movement criticized sharply all the edifice of the Christian theology and thought, stating that «Christianity did not discover what the Man is».
The answer to the paradox lies in the fact that anthropology in the standard sense of descriptive scientific knowledge about empiric man includes just a small and less important part of the whole anthropological message of Christianity. More important parts of this message are implicit: they are presented in the form and language, corresponding to other discourses, namely, theology (dogmatic theology, in the first place) and ascetics. These two discourses are created by Christianity itself and convey its basic and authentic elements, while the discourse of rational discursive science is not completely adequate for their expression. As
a result, Christian anthropology turns out to possess the following triple composition:
– anthropology in the narrow sense of scientific knowledge about empiric man;
– anthropology under the form of theology (mainly, dogmatic one);
– anthropology in the form of ascetics, in which composition the principal components are the last two ones.
Under the form of theology there are, first of all, encoded in this form ontological aspects of anthropology. Here a definite connection between anthropology and ontology is fixed up, and a definite ontological contents of the phenomenon and situation of Man is postulated. As is well-known, the dogmatic basis of Christianity is twofold, and respectively, the anthropology that is encoded in Christian dogmatics is also twofold, being distributed between Trinitarian and Christological theology. Trinitarian theology formulates Christian concept of being as Absolute Being inherent in Holy Trinity that is God, Who possesses three Persons or Hypostases, and one Substance or Ousia, common to all Hypostases. First of all, anthropological contents is concentrated here in the concept of Divine Hypostasis, which was one of the basic sources for the elaboration of the idea of human personality in European thought. Moreover, Divine Being includes immanent dimensions of love and communion, which are also heavily loaded with anthropological meanings and implications. As for Christological theology, it defines the nature and character of the fundamental God – Man relation, and in this case anthropological aspects and implications are even more profound.
Christological dogmas formulate and even detail, in which way man’s being and Divine being are connected, and tell about man’s destination and final destiny of Mankind.
Christian ascetics is basically a practical discipline or practical art, in which a Christian devotes himself completely to the task of realizing his spiritual destination, as it is opened to him by Christ. It is evident that ascetical works represent some specific anthropological strategies, and all the sphere of ascetics is a kind of practical anthropology. Its contents can be seen as a direct development of the anthropological contents of Christology: the latter postulates a certain connection between Man and God, in the person of Christ, while ascetics tries to put to practice Christological postulates, creating new radical strategies of human existence. In this way ascetics develops many efficient techniques and methods of man’s selfcontrol and self-transformations and makes many discoveries concerning all systems and levels of human organization. However, its rich and valuable fruits remain, as a rule, in the form of purely practical, operational instructions, and very nontrivial work is needed in order to disclose and articulate their theological and anthropological meaning.
Finally, the last component, Christian anthropology in the narrow sense, in the process of its formation during the first centuries of the Christian era, modeled its discourse and drew heavily its contents on natural philosophy of its time, Late Antiquity. Both basic anthropological treatises of the Patristic period, «On Human Arrangement» by St Gregory of Nyssa and «On Human Nature» by Nemesius of Emesa, bear a strong stamp of dualistic anthropology of Ancient Greece and all the Greco-Roman world. This anthropology considers Mind and Body as two opposite principles in human nature, standing in different relation to ideal being and having different destiny; and such view contradicts the anthropological positions of the Bible and New Testament, which are distinctly holistic, i.e. see human nature in its relation to God as one and not separated. As a result, this part of Christian anthropology suffered serious shortcomings. Not only it was preserving many obsolete views rooted in rudimentary anthropological knowledge of Late Antiquity, but moreover it deviated in many subjects from holistic Biblical anthropology to dualistic Greek anthropology.
Nevertheless, in the course of history, Christian anthropology was becoming more and more firmly identified with just the anthropology in the narrow sense; and the reasons for it are easy to see. Facts and principles of theology, and especially dogmatic theology are expressed in a specific language, which is very far from being the plain speech about human person and human existence. As for ascetics, its conclusions are also encoded into a highly specific, indirect and sometimes even esoteric discourse; moreover, all its sphere was usually treated as marginal and eccentric and paid very little attention. Thus both in ascetics and theology anthropological message is only implicit. One can say that we have here just cryptoanthropology, which demands some special hermeneutic and interpreting procedures to be decoded. In the old times, such decoding was performed easily and almost automatically by the consciousness of almost any Christian believer, to say nothing of trained theologians.
However, with the progress of secularization this decoding ability was getting more and more lost. This meant that mass consciousness, both Christian and secularized, was losing contact with the main part of the anthropological message of Christianity. The inevitable result of this was the mass dissatisfaction with this message, which we mentioned at the beginning. One can say that within the general crisis of Christianity, the separate, to some extent, crisis of Christian anthropology took place.
II. «Anthropologization of Theology»
as a Strategy of Meeting the Challenge of Modernity We shall not discuss the broad processes of secularization and de-Christianization of society, which took place all over the Christian world and developed gradually into deep crisis of Christianity as one of the world religions. Instead of this, we restrict our subject to Christian anthropology; and we find that at least in this particular field the crisis was followed by strong and rather successful efforts to withstand it. These efforts amounted to a remarkable renewal and creative development of Christian anthropology in 20th century.
In the first decades of this century Christian consciousness became gradually aware of the crisis in all its profundity and acuteness. This awareness emerged and developed in all the three branches of Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, quite independently. It gave birth to powerful processes of rethinking and reformulating the Christian doctrine and renewing the Church life. Both the course of these processes and their results were different in the three branches, but there were also important leading ideas and intuitions that were common to all. And in the first place among such common elements we should put the feeling that Christianity and Church should come up closer to problems of human person and human existence.
As we all know, Man is extremely many-sided, synthetic being, and his problems are extremely diverse. Hence this leading intuition could lead in quite different directions. One obvious direction was to put man’s social problems at the foreground, since social conflicts were at that period very sharp, and it was habitual to consider Man as a social being mainly and social aspects in his personality and life as predominant. The development in this direction was very active; it included creation of many new forms of social activity of the Church, ecclesiastic organizations and Christian initiative groups. Especially large-scale initiatives emerged within the Roman Catholic Church, such as the movement of «priestsworkers» in France in the 30s and 40s or «theology of liberation» in Latin America. All this large trend often called «Social Christianity» brought many practical fruits; but it also had its bounds. Spiritual and existential dimensions of Christian life were here shifted to the background and largely neglected, and theological reflection was restricted to a bare minimum.
Thus turning to human problems had to be realized also at more fundamental levels, not just social, but anthropological in the proper sense. This «anthropological turn» became probably the principal event in the history of Christian thought of the 20th century. Its leading idea was completely in accordance with our analysis in the first Section: it was understood that the anthropological message of Christian theology and doctrine has been lost, it was not seen and not perceived anymore by even educated Christians, to say nothing of non-educated.
And it was decided that the right way to change this situation lied in systematic work of making explicit, bringing to the foreground and formulating anew, in clear and intelligible language, all the diverse anthropological contents concealed in Scriptures, Church dogmas, works of Church Fathers, spiritual experience and all the rich Christian inheritance. By means of such work, all the Christian theology would be represented as an anthropological discourse, speech addressed to human person and telling about his/her nature and situation, destination and problems. Quite naturally, for this trend or, as a matter of fact, this program the slogan «Anthropologization of Theology» was coined, which became popular in the middle of the 20th c.
One can say that the anthropologization of theology became the dominant trend in both Protestant and Eastern-Orthodox theology of the 2nd half of the last century (while in RomanCatholic thought it did not gain such a prominent place). Of course, being an EasternOrthodox theologian, I will not describe here, in the Lutheran Seminary, achievements of the anthropological thought of modern Protestant theology (although the comparison of the two approaches to the task of the anthropologization would be very interesting and useful to both traditions). I will only mention briefly the principal landmarks and most important names.
By right, we should consider Soren Kierkegaard as the forerunner of the anthropological turn in Protestant theology. It is difficult to imagine a mind, more persistently concentrated on human person and his/her situation in being, as well as more skilled in the tireless disclosing of all the twists and deadlocks in person’s inner life and spiritual path; and what is most important, in all its winding constructions his thought never loses its genuine strive and orientation to Christ, remaining deeply Christian thought. But the decisive step, which opened widely the way to unimpeded anthropologization, has been made by Karl Barth, who propounded and elaborated in great detail the idea that Christian consciousness should learn to read Christology as anthropology – or, to put it, may be, more correctly – should be able to find full Christian anthropology in Christology. Next, very considerable progress in this way has been made by Rudolf Bultmann: his «existential interpretation» of the New Testament Revelation and then all basic concepts of Christian doctrine is, quite clearly, an anthropological interpretation at the same time; for instance, the state of faith is, according to this interpretation, the formation of a «new comprehension of the Self», that is radical transformation of human personality in its entirety. Moreover, Bultmann’s thought developed in close contact with Heidegger’s early philosophy, and due to this the all-embracing anthropological orientation of this philosophy as well as many of its basic anthropological ideas found their way into his theological work. Rich history of Protestant anthropology in the 20th c. includes many others valuable contributions, like those of Emil Brunner, Paul Tillich, Wolfhart Pannenberg e.a. The development of the anthropologization went on almost uninterruptedly, and quite recently Jürgen Moltmann and Johann Baptist Metz, whose political theology is anthropologically based and anthropologically oriented throughout, added the fresh impetus to this development with their concept of «anthropological revolution».