A Followup Note on the Cross and the Sword in Ukraine

Web-logging about complex phenomena is always a fraught enterprise, particularly when no single blog post can hope to capture the density of religious and political life in Europe during the last century. Yesterday’s entry, “Comments on the Cross and the Sword in Ukraine,” may have left some readers with the (false) impression that the intersection of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) with national political life amounted to little more than the subservience of the UGCC to bald nationalistic interests. Nothing, I would argue, could be further from the truth. For while it is true that some segments of the UGCC became too involved in the affairs of Ukrainian nationalism at the expense of its God-ordained vocation, the sticky truth of the matter is that the UGCC, since the 18th Century at least, found itself placed in a complicated role of both forging a political living space for the faithful it served and putting itself in the service of saving souls.

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Comments on the Cross and the Sword in Ukraine

Anton Shekhovtsov’s chapter, “By Cross and Sword: ‘Clerical Fascism’ in Interwar Western Ukraine,” published in the illuminating, albeit imperfect, volume Clerical Fascism in Interwar Europe (Routledge 2008), adds needed depth to understanding the role of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) in building the Ukrainian state, or at least an iteration of the Ukrainian state which did not survive the Second World War. The term “clerical fascism,” as Shekhovstov notes at the outset, is problematic, though he manages to settle on the following working definition: “[A]n authoritarian socio-political current, which emerges within clergy holding nationalist views, legitimizing and supporting fascisticised politics as a means of creating a state, in which religion’s authority, once forfeit, is expected to be revived, bringing order and earthly salvation to the nation.” Whether this definition—which Shekhovstov refers to as a “heuristic construction”—properly encompasses the full range of Greek Catholic clerical involvement in early 20th C. Ukrainian political life is questionable. Even more questionable is whether it can be meaningfully applied to other religious and national contexts, though that query can be dealt with at another time. Even if Shekhovstov’s definition holds for some aspect of 1920s/30s Ukrainian national realities, it is not immediately clear what should be thought of such realities today.

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Integralism is Not an “Option”

The “Options” phenomenon is quite out of control, and even Rod Dreher, progenitor of the so-called Benedict Option, seems to recognize it. In a recent American Conservative blog post, “Benedict and the Omnibus of Options,” Dreher attempts to defend “his option” (which he ultimately credits to Alasdair MacIntyre) against the plethora of others floating around out there. Devastated though I was to see no mention of my own comprehensive list of “Options” in Dreher’s post, that devastation quickly gave way to confusion over what exactly the Benedict Option is other than a call for Christians to retreat, set-up shop away from the world at large, and wait for the present storm to blow over. If that is what the Benedict Option is at its core, then it is an option set-up for a select few persons who have the means to relocate from their current jobs and find (or invent) new ones. Not everyone writes for a mainline conservative magazine after all, and very few these days have the agrarian or artisan chops to make it in one of the communities Dreher idealizes as embodying the Benedict Option.

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Further Remarks on Integralism and Symphonia

Symphonia, as a theological-political concept, is practically dead in our times. Maybe, just maybe, a few glimmers exist in contemporary Russia, though a large body of critics, including political scientists and churchmen, think otherwise. What may look something like symphonia at first blush is merely a (post)modern form of caesaropapism, with the Russian Orthodox Church serving as the handmaid of the Russian state. The Moscow Patriarchate’s “Russian World” ecclesial ideology fits snugly with secular Russia’s larger international ambitions—ambitions that have made themselves violently felt in places like Georgia and Ukraine over the past several years. In other parts of the so-called Orthodox world nothing like sympahonia exists. It certainly does not exist in the Middle East nor in Greece, where the state finds its future crushed on the heel of the European Union while the Orthodox Church remains almost powerless to provide firm moral guidance under seemingly impossible conditions. Integralism, which has become a rallying cry for a small (but dedicated) band of Catholics, is certainly not dead, but it remains, at best, a theory and, at worst, a concept without teeth. There are more than a few of those floating around right now. May we forever be spared the suggestion of a coming “Integralist Option” or, for the symphonia crowd, a “Justinian Option.”

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An Opening Remark on Integralism and Symphonia

Yesterday on Twitter someone raised the question whether I now reject integralism in favor of symphonia. The reason behind this query is simple: I now dwell somewhere East of Rome. Superficially speaking (though hopefully not too superficially), I do not see integralism and symphonia as contradictory terms, at least not if this pithy definition of the latter holds: “A distinction is drawn between the imperial authority and the priesthood, the former being concerned with human affairs and the latter with things divine; the two are regarded as closely interdependent, but, at least in theory, neither is subordinated to the other” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, pg. 771). A slightly longer definition of integralism, one which I supplied in an article for The Josias, runs as follows:

Contrary to popular belief, Catholic integralism—or what I shall refer to simply as “integralism” for the duration of this essay—is not first and foremost a political program. For the integral understanding of Christianity begins first with the supernatural society established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, namely the Corpus Mysticum, the Holy Catholic Church, which transcends the temporal sphere and has for its end the salvation of souls. By carrying out its mission in the world, the Catholic Church possesses indirect power over the temporal sphere which is exercised for the good of souls. This indirect power in no way sullies the Church’s divine mission nor dilutes it by way of overextension since the civil authority retains at all times direct power over temporal matters.

Are there slight differences in emphasis? Perhaps. And has their respective concrete historical manifestations yielded distinct practical results–both good and ill? Absolutely. At this juncture in history it seems to be more imperative to look at their commonalities than fall into carping over trivial distinctions.

Integralism Visits First Things?

Today, over at First Things (FT), Brandon McGinley’s article “Liberal Limits—And Our Opportunity” represents another in a growing line of (mostly) Catholic commentary expressing exhaustion with liberalism. Now that same-sex marriage is perfectly legal and fresh attention is now being paid to stripping religious institutions of their tax-exempt status if they fail to fall in line, it is now a tad more respectable to suggest that the promise of liberalism was never more than a lie. Concepts like pluralism, relativism, and tolerance made for easy consumption when people—including many devoutly religious persons—believed their absence could only mean insularity, persecution, and hatred; now it’s starting to become clear that all three will be dealt out freely against any man, woman, or child who dares to speak ill of the Supreme Court’s attempt to do the impossible, namely redefine the meaning of marriage. Liberalism, according to McGinley, is giving way to a more destructive post-liberalism, but in the midst of this post-liberal chaos McGinley sees an opportunity. Here are his words:

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Options and Liberalism Again

I have written previously on the so-called “Benedict Option” and the difficulties it presents (see, e.g., here, here, and here). It appears that commenting on the “Benedict Option” — or any other “option” — is turning into a growth industry. A quick glance at Ethika Politika reveals several pieces on the topic, including Andrew Lynn’s “Saving the Benedict Option from Culture War Conservatism” and Jeff Guhin’s “No Benedict Option Without Benedictines.” The latter piece is rather pessimistic, declaring that not only is “liberalism is hard to shake” but that “[w]e are all liberals now.”

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