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:: Wednesday, February 18, 2004 ::

Ontological Change and Iconography: A Debate with Josh

Josh, feisty as ever and always good for an intense discussion, takes issue with a recent post of mine. My response grew so long that I've turned it into a post. Feel free to chime in because much more could be said!

Josh writes, "Karl will probably retort that the Holy Spirit has inspired and guided EO icon painting..."

Yes, I will because that is our teaching. While you may find that ridiculous, how do *you* know that the Orthodox understanding is false or that God did not guide the Church in this area? Your assumptions are just as subjective and a priori accepted. I'd be more interested in why you think what I wrote was actually false.

"I might as well start making theological statements with my own blog as an authoritative source."

You can. As long as they accord and are consubstantial with the teachings and truth given to the Church by Christ, they will be correct and truthful. Do you read anything other than the Bible or what you would consider "authoritative"? Does truth exist at all in other cultures/religions/etc? Nothing in the icons contradicts the Gospel you know....unless of course you come at them from outside the very tradition both were birthed from.

"The fact that Easterns paint icons a certain way doesn't prove anything about God or heaven."

Nothing rational, logical, or human *proves* anything about the eternal at all. God is totally beyond all human reasoning. Creating irrefutable philosophical proofs isn't what the Faith is about and it isn't what icons are for. What icons (and everything created by humans) do is point to truth, guide us to the eternal, give us a way of communing with God that is, as the Fathers say, "proper to our created nature." (Remember St. John of Damascus-- "I do not worship matter, but the God who became matter for my sake...")

"How do you know which experience has divine authority?"

Because certain experiences, teachings, and ways of living produce holiness and Christ centeredness and others don't (or at least not as well). The track record of Orthodoxy is pretty darn impressive and can be personally experienced by those who choose it themselves. Which leads to your next question:

"Is ontological change possible?"

The fact that modern Christians seriously ask these kinds of questions is one of those foundational differences between Orthodox and heterodox: We really believe Jesus wasn't kidding when he said "be ye perfect" and we really believe St. Paul when he says "pray without ceasing." The very essence of what it means to be a Christian is about ontological change...this *is* the Good News of the Gospel.

"I've yet to meet a Christian who has ceased to be a created human..."

Me too. Being ontologically changed, becoming truly sanctified, makes one *more* human, not less. This is clearly the teaching of all the Fathers.

I wrote: "The ascetic life of the Church is the key to encouraging and cultivating the beauty of creation."

Josh responded: "No, certain events a short walk outside of Jerusalem about 2000 years ago are."

The ascetic, liturgical, iconographic, and sacramental way of life in the Orthodox Church is the way given to us by God that we participate and "remember" (literally in Greek, to make present again) these events *in our life now* ... Christianity isn't a history book or an intellectual game. Jesus living 2000 years ago doesn't do anything for me unless I am able to have Christ living in me today. The Church, as Christ's Body, is where Christianity becomes "relevant."

"Jesus did not found monasteries or institute fasts..."

"When you fast" is what Jesus said, not "if you decide to fast".... Fasting is a commandment of God, not a silly pious thing we do to pass the time. Jesus did not found monasteries you are correct. But his disciples and future followers did. They also founded hospitals and schools and I doubt very seriously that these are to be avoided simply because Christ himself didn't build them with his own hands during his earthly ministry!

"I don't care how Fatherly your Desert Father is, he doesn't have the authority to add to Christ's revelation."

How do you know they are adding? From our POV, they simply live out Christ's teachings. The saints incarnate them, as we are to do in our lives. "The fullness of the faith was once delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). The Church Fathers simply show us how to uncover this treasure.

Update: Tim writes, "Josh leans on scripture as an authoritative source and rejects the icons, but I'd say his concerns also apply to the scriptures."

Update 2: Josh attempts a rebuttal but, as Christopher Jones noted, doesn't do a very good job. More strawmen than I know what to do with! More on this later....

Update 3: I've offered a quick, 5 part response to Josh's first rebuttal in the comments section of that post.

Update 4: Josh has offered an 11 point summation of his position.

Update 5: Sockmonk critiques Josh's 11 point thesis.

Update 6: Thomas has a truly stunning post on "eschatological realism" that ties very nicely into this discussion about icons and gives, as Christopher Jones quotes, a "point of contact between the Lutheran vision and Orthodox Tradition."

:: Karl :: 11:12:00 AM [Link] ::

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