Posted on: March 5th, 2007 The Genesis of Western Nihilism

As I have delved into Orthodox writings (Zizioulsas, Bradshaw, Ware, Schmemann, Louth, Yannaras, etc.) over the past few weeks I have noticed that almost all of these authors interact with modern western continental philosophy, particularly Heidegger and the existentialists, who passionately languished and mourned over the nihilistic culture of modern western Europe (even, perhaps, while embracing it at the same time). Incidentally, Andrew Louth interacts briefly with Derrida (and Jean-Luc Marion) in his introduction to the Yannaras book mentioned below).

Heidegger, who considered Neitzche stunningly prophetic in his proclamation of the "death of God" as the result of a long decline in the history of western metaphysics, saw this western trajectory culminating in what he termed "onto-theology."

Christos Yannaras describes Neitzche’s proclamation of the death of God as "a negation that cancels all ‘intellectual idols’ of God, without offering any truths in their place." (On the Absence and Unkowability of God, p 22) What the death of god (I use the lowercase "g" intentionally, following the likes of N.T. Wright) attempts to do, says Yannaras, Eastern apophatic theology succeeds in doing, in a way which is utterly faithful to the one true God revealed in history, in Jesus Christ, and in Holy Scripture.

Assuming, as I do, that onto-theology (and "the death of God") is an accurate description of our idolatrous tendency to turn the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ into a philosophical concept (remember that the earliest Christians’ refusal to lump their Lord in with the other cultural theoi of the day won them the label "atheists"), where did this trajectory to nihilism begin? What is its genesis?

For Yannaras, Radical Orthodoxy (Milbank, et al), and (I would imagine) Andrew Louth the origins of onto-theology lie in the ninth through the fourteenth centuries (Yannaras refers to "the radical distortion of Aristotelian epistemology by scholastism"), culminating in such thinkers as Duns Scotus and William of Ocham.

David Bradshaw, however, in his Aristotle East and West, wants to locate the West’s nihilistic origins as early as Augustine himself, at least in latent form. The Bishop of Hippo, argues Bradshaw, "identified God with being itself, ipsum esse," (p xi).

Powerand ed by Qumana

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