Sunday, January 31, 2010

Schmemann on Fundamentalism and Secularism

In his essay, "Worship in a Secular Age," Father Alexander Schmemann traces the origin of secularism to a medieval Western theological error. In condemning Berengarius of Tours for his teaching that "because the presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements is 'mystical' or 'symbolic,' it is not real," the Lateran Council simply reversed the formula and proclaimed that because Christ's presence in the Eucharist is real, it is not mystical or symbolic. Both sides in the debate accepted the mutual exclusivity of verum and mystice, which undermined "the fundamental Christian understanding of creation in terms of its ontological sacramentality." Schmemann continues:

Let us not be mistaken, however. This Western theological framework was in fact accepted by the Orthodox East also, and since the end of the patristic age our theology has been indeed much more "Western" than "Eastern." If secularism can be properly termed a Western Heresy, the very fruit of the basic Western "deviation," our own scholastic theology has also been permeated with it for centuries, and this in spite of violent denunciations of Rome and papism. And it is indeed ironic, but not at all accidental, that psychologically the most "Western" among the Orthodox today are precisely the ultra-conservative "Super-Orthodox," whose whole frame of mind is legalistic and syllogistic on the one hand, and is made up, on the other hand, of those very "dichotomies" whose introduction into Christian thought is the "original sin" of the West. Once these dichotomies are accepted, it does not matter, theologically speaking, whether one "accepts" the world, as in the case of the Western enthusiast of "secular Christianity," or "rejects" it, as in the case of the "Super-Orthodox" prophet of apocalyptic doom. The optimistic positivism of the one, and the pessimistic negativism of the other are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. Both, by denying the world its natural "sacramentality" and radically opposing the "natural" to the "supernatural," make the world grace-proof, and ultimately lead to secularism.

From For the Life of the World, by Alexander Schmemann, pp. 128-130.


Trevor-Peter said...

Yeah, but where are your thoughts on the recent Schmemann lecture, etc.??? :-)

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