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Ron Paul And The Orthodox

At the same time, however, there was always a very real danger of identifying – confusing, really – the state with the Kingdom of God. Indeed, the actual history of Roman Orthodox symphonia is a decidedly mixed bag. Our calendar is full of saints who suffered exile and even torture at the hands of the “most pious Christian Emperors” (Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Maximus to name but three). The point is that Orthodox Christians throughout history have lived all over the world under quite diverse political circumstances. While Byzantine symphonia holds an honored place within the history of the Church, one cannot claim with any theological seriousness that this is the only Orthodox political philosophy. ~Clark Carlton

Via Rod

Hold on a minute.  I’m grateful to Prof. Carlton for his advocacy on behalf of Ron Paul, I appreciated his column and I agree that Orthodox Christians are not obliged to endorse a political theology that was fully developed in the ninth century.  I heartily endorse his view that different national cultures are suited to different kinds of political constitutions.  Even if it were possible, an Orthodox monarchy here would be unworkable.  Nonetheless, there are a few problems with the above statement.  First, the idea of symphoneia is predicated on the assumption that the state, even when it is referred to as the “Christ-loving commonwealth,” is clearly distinct from the Church and that it is the Church that foreshadows, anticipates and announces the Kingdom of God here on earth.  Whenever there is a danger of  identifying the state with the Kingdom, this is a result of the breakdown of the proper balance between the state and the Church laid down in the classic expression of the theory of symphoneia in the Epanagoge.  Second, I agree that the practice of symphoneia was not always ideal with respect to the independence of the Church, but the emperors who exiled or brutalised or killed some of the holy Fathers were typically heretical.  St. Athanasios’ greatest quarrels were with the semi-Arian Constantius, though he did also fall out of favour with St. Constantine early on in his career on occasion.  The case of St. Maximos is the most straightforward of the three mentioned–his trial and exile were conducted by officials of Constans II, a monothelete emperor, although technically Maximos was tried on a secular charge of treason for allegedly aiding the Islamic invasion of North Africa (a charge that was never verified or documented).  The treatment of St. John Chrysostom, sent into exile in the Caucasus where he died, is something of an exception to the rule of how Orthodox bishops were treated in the empire.  His deposition and exile had as much to do with the wrangling for influence among the eastern patriarchal sees, particularly the disputes over the alleged Origenism of the Tall Brothers that Patriarch Theophilos stirred up, as it had to do with the empress Eudoxia or the imperial government. 

I am also on record doubting the distinction Prof. Carlton makes between the Lockean heritage and the Enlightenment heritage of the Continent, but I do agree that there is a sharp tension or even opposition between Lockean assumptions about man and society and those held by the Fathers.  I think Prof. Carlton and I are firmly in agreement in our shared Jeffersonianism and our view that limited government is most desirable from the perspective of a flourishing Orthodox Christianity in America.  It will probably drive some of my readers up the wall, but I fully agree with this statement:

The United States has certainly become a threat to our Orthodox brethren around the world. Witness the US-backed persecution of our brethren in Kosovo and Palestine. Certainly the Christians in Iraq are much worse off now than they were before the US invasion. Furthermore, if current policies continue in place, we will be headed for an inevitable confrontation with a resurgent Russia. Our children and grand-children may be in for another Cold War – only this time we may just be the Evil Empire.   

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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