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    Book Club: The Roots of American OrderChapter 7

    April 11, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    I thought about skipping my post on this chapter, since I missed it last week. I figured I’d keep up better if I simply posted quotes and moved on. But since Dana the Ultimate Bookclubber wasn’t afraid to delay a week, I thought I’d go ahead and try my hand and relaying some random thoughts that hit me as I re-read through my quotes and marginalia yesterday afternoon.

    Random Thought #1: Was Pico gnostic?
    I’ve put down Against the Protestant Gnostics for the duration of this book club. It’s a hard read for me, and I can’t read both at the same time, but that doesn’t keep me from suspecting gnosticism is under every rock and behind every tree.

    And I see it here, in regard to Pico. Here is the pertinent quote:

    Among Pico’s nine hundred questions were some propositions that hung close upon the brink of heresy. He thought that the secrets of the magicians could confirm the divinity of Christ, and that the Cabala of the medieval Jews…would sustain the Christian mysteries. Thus haranguing, reading, wandering, preaching, commencing a vast work to confute the enemies of Christianity, he spent his life, dying of a fever when barely thirty-one–though by that time he had abjured the world and the flesh, and planned to roam barefoot as an evangelist.

    I bolded my reasons for suspicion. In a broad, general sense, gnosticism is a type of hyper-spiritualism, which first creates a dualism between the physical and spiritual both inside man as well as in creation, and then elevates the spiritual above the physical. It tends to believe that special knowledge is either the source of salvation, or at the very least a means of elevating someone to “super-spiritual” status. This special knowledge is often referred to as “secret” or “mystery.”

    See why I wondered?

    Random Thought #2: Is my anthropology Reformed?
    Most of you probably remember my post Charlotte Mason, Total Depravity, and the Divine Image in which I, as you can probably deduce from the title, defended Charlotte Mason’s second principle of education by trying to balance the doctrine of total depravity with the doctrine of the imago dei.

    I felt like this sounded a LITTLE bit like myself:

    The man of the Middle Ages had been humble, conscious almost always of his fallen sinful nature, feeling himself watched by a wrathful God. Through pride fell the angels. But Pico and his brother-humanists declared that man was only a little lower than the angels, a being capable of descending to unclean depths, indeed, but also having it within his power to become godlike.

    I was thinking that perhaps the difference–though I can’t be sure with Pico as I’d never heard of him before–was that I merely meant that an unsaved person can express the divine image at times {because he bears it, after all}, not that he could be sanctified without first being justified, or that he could achieve literal “godlikeness” in any sense, especially a salvific one.

    I got the sense in this reading that Pico and his followers believed in a type of self-saving, achieved possibly through a growth in knowledge {Kirk specifically mentioned the ardent cultivation of the intellectual faculty}, which brings us full circle to the gnostic idea, actually.

    I do think that the Middle Ages focused a bit too much on the wrath of God, while neglecting His grace and kindness, or at least that is the impression I have gotten through my limited reading. And Pico wasn’t the first to state that man was created a “little lower than the angels”–the Psalmist was. But the humanists seemed to believe in a Tower of Babel sort of salvation–we will struggle upwards toward God {well, at Babel they wanted to make a name for themselves, but keep with me anyhow…}, whereas a proper doctrine would say that all of the goodnesses of which we may be capable are never enough to justify a man, for justification requires the blood of the Perfect.

    Something to think about.

    Theology seems to swing throughout history from an emphasis on total depravity to an emphasis on the divine image, when it seems to me that it is both together which give us via media for our anthropology.

    Random Thought #3: Hooker was right.
    In this regard, at least: that the Church could {should?} have both Scripture as well as Tradition as a source of authority, as long as Tradition never contradicted Scripture. Was it Kirk who Kelly brought up Chesterton’s comment on the democracy of the dead? Or did I read that somewhere else? No matter. Here is that phrase, in larger context:

    If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

    Over the last few years, my husband and I have reinstituted traditions of the Church which were never handed down to us. This actually began because one day, when we were first married, we walked over to the big, stone, downtown church a block from our house, and attended a Maunday Thursday service.

    We have never been the same.

    There was so much more depth there than we had ever experience in a simple weekday evening church service.

    Obviously, Scripture must reign supreme. But I have met folks who dismiss tradition because it is tradition, as if those in the past did not have something of value to give to their progeny, or as if Christians in the past had no idea about the “real” way to follow Christ. I suppose it could be said that we are learning to respect our elders.

    Random Thought #4: “Muddling through” is the way to get things done.
    Kirk says:

    “Muddling through,” it is said, has been England’s method for meeting public difficulties.

    This is basically been my method for dealing with toddlers and preschoolers. We do what is our duty in regard to discipline and training, we shower on the love, and we know that someday they will be older. They really do get potty trained, sleep through the night, learn to buckle themselves into the car, and even learn to read.

    I’m still waiting for that last one, but I have lots of faith.

    And that’s all.
    I’m plumb out of time. Discuss?

    Read More:
    Buy the book and join in the conversation
    More book club posts linked at Cindy’s blog

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  • Reply Cindy Rollins April 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I think the Bible does defend traditionalism when it says not to ‘remove the ancient landmarks.” I just finished Angels in the Architecture which nicely paralleled much of this.

    For years we were in a church which had a motto ‘no creed but Jesus.’ It seemed pretty hyper-spiritual at the time but I think Angels in the Architecture nicely deals with that.

    As to muddling, it’s the only way to fly.

  • Reply Kelly April 12, 2012 at 12:55 am

    I am wounded, Brandy. Cut to the quick. It was I who mentioned Chesterton and the democracy of the dead in the comments to the post below, and hast thou used me thus? No matter?

    Unless, of course, it was Kirk and I haven’t read that part yet, or someone else somewhere else and I haven’t been keeping up. Oh, well. No matter. πŸ˜‰

    Mystie, I tend to think of authority as saying “It would be best if you did,” most of the time, and “You must,” only rarely. But then I have a fairly limited idea of how much authority anyone may have over any other. I really don’t even command my children much after they get past, oh, early elementary age. I do expect them to respect my wisdom and my preferences, because I am The Mom, after all, and this is my house.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts April 12, 2012 at 3:28 am

      Ohmigosh Kelly! Sorry! You are right. It was thine own comment I was recalling. πŸ˜‰ That is what I get for not straightening out comments on one post before writing another!

      I will edit this post to reflect the Truth of Your Brilliance!

      Also: I like your definition of Authority because that was how I was thinking of it (not in those words exactly, but what you *meant*), especially Scripture which, obviously, commands. I guess I meant authority in terms of me being obligated to it in some way.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts April 12, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Okay, that is a valid point about tradition. I am still “muddling through” this issue, I suppose we could say. πŸ™‚

    I was thinking here of Andrew Kern’s comments that it is in tradition which has to defend itself, but those who wish to overturn it. And then he said that those who dismiss tradition out of hand were barbaric, and in context it made a lot of sense, though I can’t recall why right now. I guess I was thinking that “authority” in the sense that history in general has authority–so not authority on par with Scripture–which is to say that it is innocent until proven guilty or something like that.

    ps. Muddling definitely requires the taking of a long view…

  • Reply Mystie April 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Another muddler, here! πŸ™‚ I feel even more than ever like I’m just muddling through with toddler #4, both because of his temperament and because this time I have more responsibilities with olders to boot. And, I admit, I do sometimes heave a nervous sigh at the end of the day that there’ll be another set of long years of muddling from the beginning while moving the others on up, but I know it will be worth it in the end.

    On tradition: Can we say tradition has importance and weight without saying it has authority? I grant importance and weight; I agree we should honor it. I am not sure about going so far as to give it *authority*: that is, the grounds to say “we must.” And sometimes, at this point in history, differing streams of traditions contradict one another.

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