Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

30 April 2006

Obituaries

Two 20th-century giants are gone, one a Canadian by birth: John Kenneth Galbraith dies at 97; the other a Canadian by adoption: Renowned urban writer Jane Jacobs dies. Here's more on the latter from a New York perspective: Jane Jacobs, 1916–2006.

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27 April 2006

Overdue reform

It's about time: Tories offer plan for fixed election dates.

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26 April 2006

Garden of Eden in Cyprus region?

When my father was a small child, he used to think that the biblical Garden of Eden was located in his grandfather's orchard in their village in the Karpass peninsula of Cyprus. As it turns out, there is an obscure religious cult of American origin that appears to believe something strikingly similar: Science and Evolution in the Urantia Book: Locating the Garden of Eden.

Incidentally, I have recently revised and upgraded my Cyprus page, adding information about its long and fascinating history, as well as the governments in the divided island state. I will likely be making further incremental changes with time.

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Pantagruellian puerility

Curious, isn't it, that attempting to dialogue with Pantagruellians is rather akin to arguing with a 13-year-old. Well, all right. Let's give it a try: So's your old man! Your mother wears army boots! Ah, that felt good. Nice to get that off my chest. Now back to marking exams.

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23 April 2006

Pascha, encore une fois

Χριστός ανέστη! Αληθώς ανέστη! Orthodox celebrate Easter.

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21 April 2006

Trouble down the road

This local story has hit the national and international news: Standoff at Caledonia. Though this is only half an hour away from us, the one side-effect we've experienced in Hamilton is heavier traffic, as vehicles appear to be making a detour north to avoid the trouble spot. Now the protest is spreading to other parts of the country. Pray for a peaceful resolution and a restoration of order.

Later: Robert Sheppard offers analysis for the CBC: Inside native politics: the dispute within the dispute in the Six Nations standoff.

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Long may she reign

Her Majesty the Queen
AP Photo


Best wishes are due to the Queen on her 80th birthday.

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20 April 2006

Healthy eating

It seems that the Orthodox diet is better than the Calvinist diet for keeping one's wits. I might also add that it tastes better. Concerning the Reformation's generally deleterious impact on cuisine, see this: Koyzis' Law: 'Eet smakelijk'.

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19 April 2006

Why I am not. . . a 'pantagruellian'

Bertrand Russell once told the world why he was not a Christian. Now Daniel Knauss tells us why he is not a neocalvinist. Knauss is one of the angry young men at the New Pantagruel, a two-year-old web journal dedicated to the proposition that one can find one's place in the public square simply by moving to Kansas. As I understand it, Knauss' objection is twofold: (1) that neocalvinists from Dooyeweerd to Francis Schaeffer to Nancy Pearcey have mounted "facile critiques" of "various -isms, whole groups of people, historical eras, key figures and bodies of thought"; and (2) that neocalvinsts have unduly neglected ecclesiology, including the sacraments and catechizing of the young. Both points are worthy of response.

First things first. When I first came into contact with Dooyeweerd's thought some three decades ago, I did not initially see an obvious connection with Schaeffer, who appeared to have a marked predilection for making sweeping judgements in precisely the manner Knauss criticizes. Years later I became aware that there was indeed a connection, but an indirect one at best via Hans Rookmaaker, the art historian at the Free University of Amsterdam. As far as I can tell, Schaeffer did not bother to delve beneath Rookmaaker to grapple directly with Dooyeweerd's or even Kuyper's writings. Pearcey, on the other hand, does know Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, in addition to Schaeffer, to whose legacy she is unswervingly loyal. The difficulty with Pearcey is that, following Schaeffer, she tries to bring together two mutually incompatible apologetics. I will admit, of course, that neocalvinism is as diverse a movement as any other (including perhaps "pantagruellianism"), but I doubt anyone would view either Schaeffer or Pearcey as the most obvious exemplars, given their admitted eclecticism.

As for Knauss himself, I do not know to what extent he is behind the shape-shifting Fr. Gassalasca Jape, the collective personification of tNP. But given the protean priest's unsophisticated understanding of liberalism and his tendency to throw the oxymoron "liberal order" indiscriminately at whatever he dislikes in the larger society, Knauss might wish to rethink who is doing the facile critiquing. Then again, Knauss could be playing his part in the ongoing animation of Fr. Jape while not necessarily accepting japian views for himself. And, if so, then he deserves accolades for play-acting, if nothing else.

Concerning Knauss' second point, he is definitely on to something and I can agree with him up to a point. I recall in the late 1970s knowing a young married couple in Toronto both of whom had studied at the Institute for Christian Studies. Neither was attending church at that point and, furthermore, didn't really see why doing so was all that important. If all of life is religion, then won't the living of all of life religiously suffice in itself? I disagreed with them privately, but was reluctant to speak my mind for fear of endangering our friendship.

However, my own experience was quite the opposite of this couple. In fact, a reading of Dooyeweerd opened up to me the question of ecclesiology in a way that it had not been before. Prior to that point, I was largely content to locate myself within free-church/parachurch evangelicalism, even if I was uneasy with many of its manifestations. Yet, though I came to recognize and accept the legitimacy of the distinction between the church as an institution and the church as corpus Christi, which is manifested in a variety of institutions, this did not by any means lead me to deprecate the former. Far from it. In fact, there were four consequences for me:

(1) As I came to understand the Kuyperian notion of sphere sovereignty, or what I call the pluriformity of authority in my forthcoming book, I came to embrace a strong conception of the authority of the institutional church, as opposed to the voluntaristic notion current in much of contemporary evangelicalism.

(2) This moved me away from a congregational church polity, whose proponents too easily touted its "democratic" character, towards embracing what might be called a "thicker" ecclesiology. (At the same time, I could not bring myself to reject my fellow Christians who could not embrace a thick ecclesiology yet were taken with the christian worldview propounded by Kuyper and his followers. If Knauss wishes to fault me for this, he is welcome to do so.)

(3) An understanding of the importance of the institutional church moved me to look at some of the earliest postbiblical christian writings, including that little collection known as the Apostolic Fathers, as well as the writings of Augustine and others.

(4) It prompted in me an ongoing sense of pain over the fragmentation of the institutional church, something which Herman Bavinck, for example, too easily accepted as an example of legitimate pluriformity. So, yes, neocalvinism has something of a mixed record in the area of ecclesiology. Here is where Knauss is correct, in my view.

Yet this is hardly a reason to reject neocalvinism, any more than the mixed record of Christians in general is reason to reject Christianity. Perhaps my colleague and co-conspirator, Gideon Strauss, should consider devoting an issue of Comment to precisely this question: What is to be done . . . about ecclesiology? After that, I might reorient the topic slightly to ask the following: What is to be done . . . about the church's liturgy? I will return to the latter question at some point, because I believe it's more important than many Christians — especially evangelicals — seem to think.

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17 April 2006

Easter: what's in a name?

My friend John Loukidelis' comment on yesterday's post prompted me to recall something I wrote back around 1990 but never published. Here it is immediately below:

In most western languages the word for the day which we English-speakers know as Easter derives from the Hebrew pesach, or passover, usually by way of its Aramaic equivalent, pascha. Only in German (which calls it Ostern) and English is the Paschal feast called by a name sounding more like a direction on a compass than a christian holiday. Where does our word Easter come from?

When I first planned to write on this subject, I intended to argue that we Anglo-Saxons should adopt "Pascha" in place of "Easter." I still think it would not be a bad idea. In fact in some nonstandard English dialects it is already known as Pace or Pasch, and in Old Scots (the language of Robert Burns and Auld Lang Syne) as Pasche or Pash.

At first glance the origin of "Easter" looks suspect. There is a long tradition, going back to the early English church historian, the Venerable Bede (673-735), that "Easter" derives from Eastre, pagan goddess of spring and of the dawn. Although most Christians are probably aware that many of the days and seasons of the church calendar were taken over and adapted by the early Christians from their pagan neighbours, many will find it offensive to think that the day itself could still bear the name of a false deity. English-speaking Christians might well look with some envy on their fellow believers whose languages give the day of Christ's victory over death a name with more obviously biblical and christian roots.

For example, in most of the Romance and Germanic languages, as well as in Greek, the name for this day is some variation of pascha. Many of the Slavic and Baltic languages appropriately call it the Great Day or Great Night. And some of the Finno-Ugric languages (for example, Estonian and Hungarian) call it the Feast of Meat, a reference to the end of the long Lenten fast. (Perhaps it also refers to the tradition that at least on Easter all Christians were expected to receive the elements of the Lord's Supper — that is, the body and blood of Christ — even if they had abstained during the rest of the year.)

In English we are stuck with the apparently tainted "Easter." But twentieth-century scholarship has called into question Bede's interpretation. There is still no general agreement on the origin of the word, but it has been suggested that it may come, not from the name of a goddess, but from eostarun, the Old High German word for the dawn itself. (Our word "east" obviously has similar origins.) In fact there are some remarkable similarities between the words for "resurrection", "Easter" and "dawn" in several Indo-European languages. The common meaning underlying these words is a "rising" of some sort.

If our own word Easter originally meant sunrise, then perhaps it was fittingly applied to the Rising of the Son of God from the dead by our Teutonic forebears. And if this is so, then it seems that we English-speakers do after all have a most appropriate name for the feast of Christ's Resurrection.

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Sex and housing costs

Is there a causal connection between zoning and environmental regulations on the one hand and late marriages and sexual immorality on the other? Jennifer Roback Morse thinks so and offers a policy alternative. If we really do have to choose between saving the earth and encouraging chastity in the young, then I somehow doubt that Morse will succeed in bringing many people on side of her agenda.

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16 April 2006

Pascha


Monastery of Chora,
Constantinople



IF CHRIST AROSE

If Christ arose and put an end
To evil's sway, can I depend
On Love's true life to set aright
A life once lived by human might,
Or must I yet alone contend?

But if he did indeed ascend
From hellish depths, I cannot rend
Myself from him, nor quench the light,
If Christ arose.

I could not on my own intend
To live anew, or hope to mend
My errant ways; but in my plight
His life will shine amid the night,
And darkness shall no more impend,
If Christ arose.

© David T. Koyzis 1990

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12 April 2006

Europe's future

I have recently read George Weigel's The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, which is something of a meditation on the future of the old Continent in the wake of the secularizing trends of the past two centuries. Although its format — excessively short chapters in which ideas are introduced but not adequately explored in depth — is mildly off-putting, it is a good read for a rainy sunday afternoon at home. I would thus recommend it as such. For a review of Weigel's book, read Brian M. Carney's article in Opinion Journal. Then, after you've read Weigel's somewhat bleak portrait, read this article by Matthew W. Maguire: Is Paris Turning? Some Unexpected Signs of Christian Vitality in Post-Christian Europe. Europe may no longer be wholly christian — or even very christian — but the gospel's witness is still present, thanks be to God.

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11 April 2006

Refusing half a loaf

I know little of Mr. Nicos Rolandis, who was once Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in the government of Cyprus, but I am coming to respect his opinions. Unlike many of his compatriots, he seems to understand that politics is the art of the possible and that, in the interest of conciliating diversity, as Bernard Crick famously described the political art, it may be necessary to scale back one's claims on the political authorities. Here Rolandis recites a litany of missed opportunities to return Varoshia to its inhabitants: The sad lady of the sea. And here he argues that history may one day judge Greek Cypriots to have "used improvement after improvement to destroy their cause": The twilight zone. Too bad Rolandis is not president of the republic.

Varoshia, Famagusta
Koyzis family archives

The abandoned city of Varoshia,
a ghost town since 1974,
as seen from the north

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God's politics down under

Jim Wallis is in Australia to spread the message of his book, God's Politics. For an assessment of this book, read this.

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10 April 2006

Russian church takes on liberalism

Igor Torbakov reports on the Tenth World Council of Russian People, and particularly on the role of the Russian Orthodox Church: RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CHALLENGES "WESTERN" CONCEPT OF HUMAN RIGHTS. Torbakov charges the church with reviving the old threefold creed of Tsar Nicholas I: Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality. This is from his report:

The Council's participants forcefully denounced a "distorted vision of human rights" that they claim has become prevalent in the West. Two aspects of the Western liberal concept seem to be particularly alien to Orthodox beliefs. First, the Council blasted the idea of "moral autonomy." The modern understanding of human rights postulates that an individual's moral autonomy can be limited only by the autonomy of other individuals: there is no supreme authority that can help distinguish between good and evil. Such a vision is unacceptable to the Russian Orthodox Church, which holds that turning the sovereignty and rights of a separate individual into an absolute value without the counterbalance of moral responsibility will lead to the demise of modern civilization.

The second controversial aspect of the European liberal model, according to Russian Orthodoxy, is its assertion that an individual's rights are superior to the interests of any collectivity. "There are values that are no less important than human rights," defiantly declares the statement adopted by the Council. "These are faith, ethics, [national] sacraments, Fatherland."

Not having seen a translation of the new Declaration of Human Dignity and Rights adopted by the Council, I cannot say whether Torbakov's fears are justified. However, if this report is at all accurate in its account of the two points mentioned above, then I admit to agreeing with these points, at least on the surface. On "moral autonomy," there are plenty of westerners who would resonate with the Council's expressed opposition, including Christians, observant Jews and professed communitarians. Neocalvinists would be numbered amongst the Christians in this group.

As for the second point, I too would oppose the notion that individual rights automatically trump the rights of communities. This is the crux of my disagreement with Michael Ignatieff's professed individualism. However, I would want to know whether the Declaration understands that in a healthy society the responsible agents, including communities, are always pluriform and ought not to be viewed as so many arms of the "Fatherland" or the national state. I would also wish to determine whether it makes a place for a legitimate sphere of individual responsibility. If it does not, then it may be guilty of tossing out the good with the bad in its efforts to combat liberalism.

Indeed, because the Russian Orthodox Church is well known to favour official restrictions on the work of Catholic and protestant churches within its "canonical territory," there is reason to suspect that the Declaration does not make a ringing endorsement of religious freedom. But until an English translation is published, we will not know this for certain.

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09 April 2006

Palm Sunday


Theresa Koyzis


"Blessed is he who comes in the
name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest"
(Matthew 21:9).

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07 April 2006

Michael-mania kicks into high gear

It's official: Ignatieff announces leadership bid.

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06 April 2006

An interview

Peter C. Newman interviews Michael Ignatieff for Macleans. Thanks to Eric Hogeterp for calling attention to this.

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Peter and the Wolf


Theresa Koyzis


Ever since her elementary school put on a production of Peter and the Wolf last spring, Theresa has enjoyed listening to Sergei Prokofiev's famous musical children's story. Here is her rendition of the characters, listed clockwise from the centre: the wolf, the hunters, Grandfather, Peter (with rope for capturing the wolf), the cat, the bird, the duck and the narrator.

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Call off the hounds

University of Texas zoologist Eric Pianka does not want to see 90 percent of humanity wiped out by the ebola virus. Oh good. I guess that means that the late Pope John Paul II's warnings about a culture of death were an example of, um, overkill. Thanks to the Acton Institute for alerting us to this.

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05 April 2006

Cere on Ignatieff

It seems McGill University's Daniel Cere has come to the same conclusion about Michael Ignatieff as yours truly, as indicated here: Not much new in Ignatieff's vision of liberalism, which is in fact virtually identical to that of the late Pierre Trudeau. Cere writes:

[F]or Mr. Ignatieff the basic institutions of civil society - family and religion - present serious threats to human freedom. His brand of liberalism tears down the firewall between the state and civil society. "Rights," Mr. Ignatieff argues, "are meaningful only if they confer entitlements and immunities on individuals; they are worth having only if they can be enforced against institutions like the family, the state and the church." Rights are to be used as swords against core spheres of civil society, not shields to protect them.

But here's the rub. Who gets to wield this powerful sword of rights against family and religion? Who else, but the righteous Liberal state through its courts and legislatures? In short, individuals are to be liberated by the coercive power of the state. The aggressive implications of this approach are outlined in Mr. Ignatieff's discussion of family culture in "The Rights Revolution," part of the Massey Lectures series. Mr. Ignatieff argues that we need to bring "rights talk" into the bedrooms of the nation. Rights, he insists, must be used to re-engineer society's most basic social relationships between women and men, parents and children.

This brand of liberalism wants to use the state to impose its own social vision on society: to create a society composed of autonomous individuals, freely forging, dissolving and reforging their relationships. In this view, the state must be constantly working to weaken those civil society institutions that get in the way of this free-wheeling individualism.

Although I cannot share Cere's apparent enthusiasm for John Locke and John Rawls, I believe he is correct to alert Canadians to the possible negative ramifications of an Ignatieff premiership.

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Throne Speech

The 39th Parliament was convened monday and yesterday Governor General Michaëlle Jean read the Speech from the Throne, a transcript of which can be found here. Peter Milliken is once again Speaker of the House of Commons.

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04 April 2006

Ignatieff on the French Revolution

The following is taken from Michael Ignatieff's The Rights Revolution (p. 127):

The elements that hold a country like Canada together run deeper than rights: the land, shared memory, shared opportunity, and shared hope. Yet [Edmund] Burke and his fellow conservatives underestimated the power of rights as a source of legitimacy and cohesion in modern societies, just as they sentimentalized the legitimacy of the ancien régime. The ancient and immemorial tissue of connections was insufficient to keep the France of the ancien régime together, and the democratic republic that succeeded it, which was based on consent and contract, has endured for two hundred years.

House of Anansi has a reputation for rushing into print the CBC Massey Lectures before the authors have had sufficient opportunity to rethink what they've said. One hopes that, if he had had more time to revise his own lectures, Ignatieff would have seen the absurdity of that last sentence and deleted it. Far from having a two-centuries-old democratic republic, France in the wake of the French Revolution experienced five republics, a reign of terror, two empires, two restored monarchies, the Paris Commune and the pro-nazi Vichy régime. If Ignatieff wants to defend a contractarian account of political authority, he needs to come up with a better example than France.

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03 April 2006

Lapin on authority

Does the tendency to obey authority make people prey to totalitarian misrule? Many believe this to be the case, and Stanley Milgram's Yale University experiments nearly half a century ago have reinforced this notion. However, Rabbi Daniel Lapin makes an intriguing argument that the Nuremberg Trials, which were undertaken to bring Germany's nazi rulers to justice, had the unintended consequence of eroding respect for authority throughout the western world: Purim 2006 -- Not All Authority is Bad.

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Tooley on 'peacemaking'

Here is Mark Tooley on the Christian Peacemaking Teams (CPT), three of whose members were recently rescued after months in captivity: "Christian" Group Bites the Hand that Rescues It. Of particular interest is Tooley's analysis of the difference between the historic peace churches, including the Mennonites, Brethren and Quakers, all of whom recognized the "civil state’s responsibility for military defense," and the contemporary disciples of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, who are less willing to admit the legitimacy of the state's possession of the coercive power of the sword.

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Today's Byzcal Canadian challenge

The challenge is to come up with a story, book or magazine title with political significance. Here are three:

  • Little Red Riding Association - girl saves grandmother from wolf, runs for Liberal nomination in her constituency.

  • Jack and the (Has-)Beens Talk - NDP leader Layton converses with McDonough and McLaughlin.

  • Harper's Bizarre - monthly publication of opposition parties


  • Go ahead. Give it a try.

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    02 April 2006

    Refugees' plight ignored by world

    At least since my own relatives became refugees in 1974, I have had considerable sympathy with Palestinians who lost their homes and homeland with the birth of Israel in the former British mandate. However, there is little global awareness of the nearly one million middle eastern Jews, who were forced to leave their own countries behind after 1948. Now these below-the-radar-screen refugees are taking their case to the European Union. Will EU pressure force Arab governments to reinstate their citizenships and return their properties to them? I wouldn't count on it.

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    Academic revival?

    In 1995, while my then future wife was teaching at Wheaton College near Chicago, a revival occurred amongst the student body. In the online edition of Comment, Geneva College graduate Keith Martel examines the Marks of academic revival. Writes Martel:

    If, as [Charles Grandison] Finney asserts, revival is obedience unto God, then campus revival would be composed of the renewed pursuit of traditional disciplines. But the primary thrust should be distinctly marked by a passionate pursuit of living fully in the roles and vocations to which we are called—as students, as professors, and as staff workers. To truly "wake up and live" on the college campus would see Christian students, faculty and staff chasing after university life, together. It would consist of students taking their studies seriously in a transformational way, and faculty members seeing their teaching as a holy calling from the Lord of education Himself. These things would be pursued as spiritual disciplines. Instead of skipping classes to take part in prayer meetings, students might even skip their fellowship groups to create and craft serious scholarly work that exemplified and added to the Kingdom of God.

    Very nice indeed. Pray that such academic revival might come to Redeemer University College and similar institutions.

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    01 April 2006

    An ancient heritage desecrated

    For anyone with roots in the northern part of Cyprus, the following article from the Assyrian International News Agency makes for depressing reading: Cyprus: Portrait of a Christianity Obliterated.


    Koyzis family archives

    A once predominantly
    Greek Orthodox village in north Cyprus

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