Christianity & “Contamination”

Arnold I. Davidson (U. Chicago), in his introduction to the thought of the magisterial intellectual historian Pierre Hadot, summarizes a major theme of Hadot’s thought as “contamination.” (Philosophy as a Way of Life 4). Contamination is the idea that, seemingly from the very beginning of Christian doctrine, any “pristine” forms of thought quickly – if not immediately – get synthesized and meshed with “non-Christian” ideas, from such various sources as Greek mystery religions, ancient mythologies, neoplatonic philosophy, etc.

Davidson points out that for schools of thought such as Aristotelianism, Platonism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism, this kind of “contamination” is a real problem.

But not so for Christianity, at least not in the same way. Why not? Because Christianity, from the very beginning, is always already contaminated. Just read Paul’s writings (and his life and times in Acts) in the NT. Christianity is already, just a couple of decades after the death of Christ, messily interacting with Judaism. And Paul opts, time and time again, for pragmatic ways and means: circumcising Timothy, taking on Jewish vows (in Acts, he does this not once but twice, the second time explicitly to show his Jewish detractors just how Jewish he is), etc. But, even prior to this, the Incarnation itself is already “contaminated.” God contaminates himself by taking on human flesh. Indeed, this kind of messiness is always already packed into the essence of the Christian religion.

Pluralistic diversity is at the very center and foundation of the Christian religion (not to mention the Christian God). May the denizens of pluralistic secularism come home to the true pluralistic community of the members of the body of Christ in the eucharistic community of the church.


Deacon’s Vows

This past Saturday I had the joy of attending an ordination service at (beautiful) Christ Cathedral in Houston, at which several good friends were ordained to the diaconate. (I myself am supposed to be ordained to the diaconate sometime this fall.)

There were several strking ocurrances during the service, but one of the most poignant for me was when Bishop Doyle asked each ordinand, one by one,

Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?

After which each individual ordinand responded,

I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.