Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Polypraxy (too)

It looks like polydoxy is leading in the polls. But I'm still leaving the question open for further comment if you wish to weigh in.

David Creech and Jared Calaway have good points about practice - and polypraxy should be part of this new language.

Although some say that it is technically correct that the "doxys" are "belief" or "doctrine" oriented, the words are actually used in the literature to encompass the entire "lived" tradition being discussed, not just the doctrines but also what the doctrines mean in terms of practice. So I think that that polydoxy can be more inclusive, referencing not only what different Christians were saying theologically but what the implications of that theology was for their ritual behaviors and lifestyles.

I guess what I'm saying is that a religious tradition doesn't make a strict distinction between thinking and doing - they are intertwined. This distinction appears to be a western scholastic distinction. In fact, if you study eastern orthodoxy at all you will be immediately faced with the fact that "orthodoxy" is "a way of life" based on certain beliefs. Orthodoxy is defined by the tradition as "right belief" and "right glory" or "right worship." The Orthodox church today thinks that it is orthodox because it teaches true belief and right worship.

This understanding of the eastern Orthodox appears to me to be quite old. When the ancient Christians were concerned about "orthodoxy" they were concerned about correct doctrine because it led to correct practice (and thus salvation). That is what the fourth and fifth century Christological dispute was all about. It wasn't about whether or not Jesus had his own soul. It was about the eucharist - making sure that the body that was being eaten gave the faithful the right benefit. The argument that "won" was a compromise argument between the West and the Antiocheans, and it was the argument that Jesus had to have his own soul, because he has to be fully human in order for his bodily sacrifice to be vicarious for us when it is eaten at the altar.

3 comments:

Jared said...

I completely agree that separation of belief and practice is anachronistic, especially when considering that the earliest creeds came out of the ritual of baptism (and, as you point out, the Eucharist). That is why I offered and resisted the term "polypraxy" in same breath in your previous post. Perhaps "polydoxy" includes practice (and perhaps it is for you to define it that way, as the prerogative of the one offering the neologism), but it sounds like it privileges one to the expense of the other even though that may not be the intention.

My offered term, polymorphic, which is not a neologism, may be a bit generic without specific reference to religious concepts as "doxy" has, but by being generic, meaning "many forms," it does allow the flexibility of including and not dividing practice and belief. Moreover, given the connotation of constant change that the term "morph" has accrued, it can illustrate the fluidity of Christian "forms" in this time period.

April DeConick said...

I did consider polymorphic before I made my initial post. The trouble with that is the same trouble with using "Christianities." This just suggests that there are a variety of expressions, and nothing really "Christian," and nothing about their relationship to each other or self-identity. I have the same criticism of "Judaisms." Now we have all used this language of plurality (=Christianities/Judaisms) because we didn't have anything better. But it is not quite right. Who today would describe Christianity as Christianities, yet it is extremely diverse.

The situation in the second and third century is more nuanced. We have foundational Christian stories and traditions and hermeneutics that form the basis of the various expressions, and each of these expressions understand themselves to be the correct way, and they are competing with others by forming alliances and hierarchies and canons and new scriptures to own the day. So we have a situation of polydoxy.

Jared said...

So, what I am gathering is that polydoxy expresses the jostling for prominence and polemics that the more generally applicable term, polymorphic, does not.

Polymorphic probably would include a wider range of interactions rather than just polemical ones--and, in fact, not just among Christian forms, but Jewish, Christian, Greek, etc.--so the critique that there is nothing specifically "Christian" about it is right on, but perhaps that is why I like it.

But, if our goal is to describe specifically the interactions among Christians in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, perhaps what we see is "polyorthic," or "many correct ones."