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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

David B Hart on thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers

Skimming Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart's recent book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, at Google books (it's here). Don't know if I'll buy it but I do like the way he writes. Here's just a bit from pp. 113-114 mentioning the angelic hierarchy that reminded me of Ignatius of Loyola's Two Standards .......


We today are probably somewhat prone to forget that, though the early Christians did indeed regard the gods of the pagan order as false gods, they did not necessarily understand this to mean simply that these gods were unreal; they understood it to mean that the gods were deceivers. Behind the pieties of the pagan world, Christians believed, lurked forces of great cruelty and guile: demons, malign elemental spirits, occult agencies masquerading as divinities, exploiting the human yearning for God, and working to thwart the designs of God, in order to bind humanity in slavery to darkness, ignorance, and death. And to renounce one's bonds to these beings was an act of cosmic rebellion, a declaration that one had been emancipated from (in the language of John's Gospel) "the prince of this world" or (in the somewhat more disturbing language of 2 Corinthians) "the god of this world". In this fallen state, the cosmos lies under the reign of evil (1 John 5:19), but Christ came to save the world, to lead "captivity captive" (Ephesians 4:8), and to overthrow the empire of those "thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers" (Corinthians 1:16, 1 Corinthians 2:8, Ephesians 1:21, 3:10) and "rulers on high" (Ephesians 6:12) that have imprisoned creation in corruption and evil. Again, given the perspective of our age, we can scarcely avoid reading such language as mythological, thus reducing its import from cosmic to more personal or political dimensions. In so doing, however, we fail to grasp the scandal and the exhilaration of early Christianity. These thrones and powers and principalities and so forth were not merely earthly princes or empires (though princes and empires served their ends); much less were they vague abstractions; they were, according to Jewish Apocalyptic tradition, the angelic governors of the nations, the celestial "archons," the often mutinous legions of the air, who -- though they might be worshipped as gods, and might in themselves be both mighty and dreadful -- were only creatures of the one true God. It was from the tyranny of these powers on high that Christ had come to set creation free. And so the life of faith was, for the early church, before all else, spiritual warfare, waged between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this fallen world, and every Christian on the day of his or her baptism had been conscripted into that struggle, on the side of Christ. From that point on, he or she was both a subject of and a co-heir to a "Kingdom not of this world," and henceforth no more than a resident alien in the "earthly city".

However greatly tempted we may be to view beliefs of this sort as either touchingly quaint or savagely superstitious (depending on the degree to which we deceive ourselves that our vision of reality surpasses all others in sanity), we should recall that, in late antiquity, practically no one doubted that there was a sacred order to the world, or that the social, the political, the cosmic, and the religious realms of human existence were always inextricably involved with one another ......



Blogger Liam said...

Muy cool.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Thanks for the heads-up about this one. I think I have to read it.

7:25 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, you guys. I don't always agree with David Hart but he's usually interesting.

11:47 AM  

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