Gordon H. Clark (Presbyterian), interesting views on mysticism and reason

Discussion in 'Non-Anglican Discussion' started by Old Christendom, Mar 23, 2013.

  1. Old Christendom

    Old Christendom Well-Known Member

    Posts:
    490
    Likes Received:
    548
    Religion:
    Reformed
    "In the twentieth century the fundamentalists, in varying degrees, advocate a faith without reason. Although they stress Bible study more than the pietists and the anarchical prophets did, they frequently inveigh against philosophy and “mere” human reason. Even in doctrine they do not ordinarily go beyond half-a-dozen fundamental beliefs. Anything further is dry-as-dust theology. If it is inaccurate to categorize the positions of these groups as that of faith without reason, it is because the disparagement of the intellect always involves a certain amount of inconsistency. It takes a little intellectual argument to justify the disparagement. And particularly in the case of the fundamentalists with their zealous defense of a few doctrines, reason cannot be wholly abandoned. Some use and acknowledge more, some less. Such variation and inconsistency make it difficult accurately to classify all these groups under one heading. Nevertheless, the mystics (at least in what they consider most important), the pietists and fundamentalists, and still more another viewpoint to be mentioned in a moment have the common tendency of a faith without reason."

    ~ Gordon H. Clark. Religion, Reason and Revelation (Kindle Locations 1677-1687). The Trinity Foundation.


    "This other viewpoint, so popular and powerful at the present time, is often called by the name of Neo-orthodoxy. It is even more anti-rational or anti-intellectual than either pietism or fundamentalism. Its background and motivation are also different. Instead of being a dilution of original Protestantism as fundamentalism is, Neo-orthodoxy descends from post-Hegelian philosophy. To understand it, therefore, and to see where anti-intellectualism may lead one, it will be necessary briefly to trace certain strands of nineteenth-century thought, even though it is not all distinctly religious. In the previous chapter, the Renaissance attempt to justify knowledge without appeal to revelation has been quickly surveyed. The Rationalism of Descartes and Spinoza, British Empiricism, and Kant and Hegel have been adjudged failures. Though their brilliance evokes our admiration, their results cannot be accepted. The judgment that Hegel failed is not a biased judgment of a Christian whose ulterior motive is to defend revelation; it is also the judgment of those who were more eager to destroy Christianity than Hegel was."

    ~ Gordon H. Clark. Religion, Reason and Revelation (Kindle Locations 1688-1697). The Trinity Foundation.

    Gordon H. Clark was an adamant critic of esotericism and mysticism as ineffable nonsense. If God is basically unknowable then the result is skepticism and atheism, not faith. Clark was also a critic of theological liberalism and neo-orthodoxy for similar reasons. The neo-orthodox view that the Bible is not literally a direct revelation from God univocally but only contains the word of God by way of an analogy also leads to skepticism, not faith. Although he was Presbyterian, Clark taught at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia for a brief time in the 1940s.
     
    Scottish Knight, Incense and Toma like this.
  2. Toma

    Toma Well-Known Member Anglican

    Posts:
    1,419
    Likes Received:
    1,089
    Country:
    Canada
    Religion:
    Anglican
    Very important in this age of increased interest in eastern mysticism(s). Apophatic & Hesychastic theology are dangerous.
     
    Incense likes this.
  3. Incense

    Incense Active Member

    Posts:
    168
    Likes Received:
    218
    If God made the mind, then He can reveal Himself though it!
     
  4. Toma

    Toma Well-Known Member Anglican

    Posts:
    1,419
    Likes Received:
    1,089
    Country:
    Canada
    Religion:
    Anglican
    Incense, what a non-gnostic thing to say! I love it! :D
     
    Incense likes this.
  5. Simon Magus

    Simon Magus Member

    Posts:
    67
    Likes Received:
    56
    Hmm. A provocative OP, Old Christendom.

    I find it interesting that you quoted an author who damns "esotericism and mysticism as ineffable nonsense," but that you led off your Favorite Quotes thread with a terrific passage from Fritjof Schuon on truth. Schuon, however, was a confirmed mystic, and although he had a thorough knowledge of (and deep appreciation for) Christianity, he ultimately found his perfect religious affinity in Sufi Islam. He wrote a book called The Transcendent Unity of Religions, of which the title aptly describes his thesis. And yet, as the quote you provided demonstrates, he did not deny the concept of truth! He simply believed that you had to go further than just the surface area of a religion to find it: "faith without works is dead." Doctrine is valuable precisely because it points to a sublime and ineffable truth. God being infinite, he cannot be confined to finite words and concepts. As the Zen Buddhists are fond of saying, "woe to the one who mistakes the finger pointing at the moon for the moon." I don't think this notion is alien to Christianity; in its Christian form it can be found as early as Origen and Pseudo-Dionysus. Not sure what Gordon H. Clark made of them; perhaps if you take up Calvinism you necessarily have to shunt the mystical and Neoplatonist streams of Christianity off to the side?
     
    Old Christendom and Lowly Layman like this.
  6. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

    Posts:
    2,189
    Likes Received:
    1,939
    Interesting points, but I think Clint Eastwood was right when he said that a man has to know his limitations. Or as Richard Hooker put it:

    "Dangerous it were for the feeble brain of man to wade too far into the doings of the Most High; whom although to know be life, and joy to make mention of his name, yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we know him not as indeed he is, neither can know him; and our safest eloquence concerning him is our silence, when we confess without confession that his glory is inexplicable, his greatness above our capacity and reach." ~Richard Hooker
     
    Simon Magus and Toma like this.
  7. Simon Magus

    Simon Magus Member

    Posts:
    67
    Likes Received:
    56
    I would absolutely agree. But is revelation the same thing as mystical experience or the Beatific Vision? I would classify all three separately; I think they could even be ordered.
     
  8. Old Christendom

    Old Christendom Well-Known Member

    Posts:
    490
    Likes Received:
    548
    Religion:
    Reformed
    Ha! Thank you!

    I wouldn't say necessarily so but Reformed theology is not at all concerned with mysticism. I do think that a proper theology puts in check possible excesses of the mystical approach. To be honest, I myself tend to dislike mysticism but I don't write it off as heteredox. After all, there's a sound tradition of mysticism in the Church. What I can't really stand is modern charismaticism.

    As for quoting Schuon, I don't need to agree with everything an author thinks or believes in order to find something he said true or profitable. And I do find dervishes quite exquisite!
     
    Simon Magus likes this.
  9. Toma

    Toma Well-Known Member Anglican

    Posts:
    1,419
    Likes Received:
    1,089
    Country:
    Canada
    Religion:
    Anglican
    As far as I can see, mysticism is an attempt to live as if Heaven has already descended to earth. Many mystical eastern Christians refer to their Divine Liturgy as "heaven on earth". I think this attitude misses the fundamental point that the creation is in travail, groaning and awaiting Heaven and the Kingdom's fullness.

    We cannot bring heaven to earth, imitate it, or try to live it here. That sort of ascetic mysticism, prayer, and meditation is a fundamentally erroneous distraction from the true work of God, which is living & preaching the Gospel so that we can be accepted into God's presence at the end of time.
     
    Simon Magus likes this.
  10. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

    Posts:
    2,189
    Likes Received:
    1,939
    Our lord said the kingdom WAS both here and now, within us and around us.
     
    Incense and Toma like this.
  11. Toma

    Toma Well-Known Member Anglican

    Posts:
    1,419
    Likes Received:
    1,089
    Country:
    Canada
    Religion:
    Anglican
    Yes, but I am referring to the joy, rest, contemplation, and unmoving beatific vision once all things have come to an end, and the race is finished. It's no use trying to bring something to earth by your liturgy or hesychastic quietism, if it's only a thing which God Himself can fulfill at the end of time. :)
     
    Simon Magus likes this.
  12. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

    Posts:
    2,189
    Likes Received:
    1,939
    How about by our prayers?..."thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?
     
  13. Toma

    Toma Well-Known Member Anglican

    Posts:
    1,419
    Likes Received:
    1,089
    Country:
    Canada
    Religion:
    Anglican
    Note: Thy will be done - not "thy presence come". ;) Our meat should be the same as the Lord's: to do the will of Him that sent Christ. It is not God's will that we have long liturgies or meditate in quiet for hours, days, weeks, and months. The Gospel is about bringing the good news of God's faithfulness, His return to Zion, His mercy, His resurrection, and all things being fulfilled. We cannot proclaim that in mystical hesychasm or quietism.
     
  14. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

    Posts:
    2,189
    Likes Received:
    1,939
    God's presence isn't on earth? So much for omnipresence...oh wait, Jeremiah called and left you a message: "Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord." Jeremiah 23:23-24 ;)
     
    CWJ likes this.
  15. Simon Magus

    Simon Magus Member

    Posts:
    67
    Likes Received:
    56
    To be fair to the Eastern Christians, I'm not sure they mean to say the Divine Liturgy is literally "heaven on earth," but rather that it stands as the finest and most beautiful expression of heavenly mysteries. And, as the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, there's certainly an inescapable conclusion of the divine presence at Mass. And both the Latins and the Byzantines have long considered that the organic growth of the liturgy itself is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
     
  16. Toma

    Toma Well-Known Member Anglican

    Posts:
    1,419
    Likes Received:
    1,089
    Country:
    Canada
    Religion:
    Anglican
    You're really not seeing the point I'm trying to make. Maybe that's my own lack of clarity, though...

    I'm saying that sitting around being mystical is the same as acting as if the End of the Ages has already come, and we just need to contemplate God. It's a satanic distraction from the task at hand, in my opinion. The fact is that the Liturgy exists as the way to worship God, and to prepare us to go forth "in peace", as most liturgies conclude. :) We are a "mission people", or "kingdom people", as it were.

    Belly-button-gazing has no place in Christianity, and the moment it entered into the mystical tradition after Abba Anthony in the 4th century, things went sharply downhill. That mindset abandoned the cities to hedonism, and un-Christianly left them to rot while the monks ran into the desert to be "perfect". None of them seemed to realize that we are called to change the world as well as to pray - and to gather in souls, not fight demons in the desert. Sure, it isn't "epic" or dangerous or exciting, but it's Christ.
     
  17. Simon Magus

    Simon Magus Member

    Posts:
    67
    Likes Received:
    56
    And yet, the mystics have always tried to shy away from actually equating mystical experience with the Beatific Vision itself. You could almost assign three tiers to it: faith, mysticism, and the Beatific Vision. The difference between the faith and the Beatific Vision is encapsulated in St. Paul's line: "now we see though a glass darkly, but then, face to face." But St. Paul also gave the Church an expression that would be taken up by the mystics: "I live, yet not I, but Christ in me." So I think you could delineate between the three, and have it that mysticism (which is elusive and difficult to pin down) is neither one nor the other exactly.
     
    Toma likes this.
  18. Simon Magus

    Simon Magus Member

    Posts:
    67
    Likes Received:
    56
    Adolf von Harnack disagreed, and he probably would've said that you're putting the cart before the horse in your assessment. The growth of the monastic tradition in the fourth century was a reaction against a too-rapid and frequently insincere flow of conversions following the success of Constantine in establishing Christianity as a popular religion and offering the Church secular protections. In order to accomodate the growth, the Church felt obliged to relax some of her strictures and disciplines. This, in turn, alienated a whole class of principled Christians who viewed it as the Church selling out. Harnack believed that the monastics "were not only fleeing from the world in every sense of the word, they were fleeing from the worldly church."
     
  19. Toma

    Toma Well-Known Member Anglican

    Posts:
    1,419
    Likes Received:
    1,089
    Country:
    Canada
    Religion:
    Anglican
    Your quote from von Harnack clarifies the matter, actually. :) That's precisely what I have against the monastics who fled. It's not at all commendable to run from the very thing that Christ orders us to transform by our love.

    The fact that the Church became more worldly was actually more of a reason to stay in the cities: in order to combat the tendency! If the loyal Christians had failed, at least they would have died keeping the Gospel intact; allegorically, would you refuse to have a baby just because it might die in childbirth? The flight of "holy" Christians into the deserts only created the gulf between "secular" and "religious" Christians - that most pernicious divide that destroys the unity of the Body in theory & practice.

    Desert Fathers became mystical, had visions, and threw rational inquiry away. What good they might've done in Alexandria, where the anti-Chalcedonian school started to spread in the 5th century! If only the "holy" ones wouldn't have been hiding away in their caves and sketes. Schism might've been avoided.
     
  20. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

    Posts:
    2,189
    Likes Received:
    1,939
    Fair point....but consider the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42):

    38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

    39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word.

    40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

    41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

    42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.