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Student Address at 81st Annual Commencement

Dia-logical Commencement

Edward Novis
May 25, 2013 

First and foremost, I’d like to thank the faculty and staff of GTU in general and the DSPT in particular for providing me with a delicious spread of truth. Really, a banquet of possibilities was laid out for me through the many of the schools at the GTU, as I have taken classes on neo-paganism, rabbinic magic, neuroscience, buddhism and postmodernity, theology of desire, Orthodox theology, and of course, none of this would have made sense without the history of philosophy provided at DSPT. Having gone through all that, now I am a master, now we are all masters, and we can begin to figure out how to co-create an eschatological kingdom on earth with God’s go help. In fact, this is absolutely necessary, as we watch the world fall off into oblivion. What is going on today? The Pope has declared a year of faith, Syria is in turmoil with two bishops held hostage, the kids on Telegraph Avenue sit on the side of the road cultivating an authenticity in contradistinction to the impersonal capitalism that has not only failed the 99% but enslaved the 1% by their greed, resources are being devoured at unsustainable speeds by short-sighted lust for novelty, and my favorite, graffiti is the undisputed leader of postmodern aesthetic sensibilities.  

2013 DSPT Commencement Student Address - Ed Novis So with all these thoughts floating around, I decided to use this commencement speech to reflect on how an engagement with philosophy and theology should lead to a form of pedagogy that has the potential to invigorate the world from the inside out. From this perspective, the DSPT has been the springboard from which we not only learn the necessary dogma of the Church, but most importantly, how to approach that dogma for the sake of deeply understanding its significance. In fact, the most relevant question for the world today is probably, and most simply, what is dogma to begin with? Coming from a completely secular household and growing up in the swirling chaos of post-Christian suburbia, I was among the throng who rejected Christianity prima facie. In the market place of ideas, Christianity was presented as merely one myth alongside the multitude of others and seemed to be the least satisfying of those myths. Its dogma was boring, a vapid moralism conjoined to a disheartening messiah preaching suffering. While its members insisted on the harsh dichotomy of salvation or damnation, I hummed Bad Religion’s classic song, “Do what you want:”

“Hey, I don’t know if the billions will survive
but I’ll believe in God when one and one are five
My moniker is man and I’m rotten to the core
I’ll tear down the building just to pass through the door
So do what you must, do all you can
Break all the rules and
God to the hell with superman
And die like a champion, yeah hey!”

   I was proud to be a reprobate.

   Well, that was in high school, and Bad Religion is still my favorite band; however, now, I pursued, and finally learned, the truth at the heart of the matter. In Olympia, WA in 2009, I learned the two things that would guide my studies here at the DSPT. My Orthodox priest told me that all of Christian dogma is summarized in the priestly hand blessing: 3 fingers out, 2 fingers crossed, the Trinity and two natures. Such is heaven. By maintaining a faithful focus on those two facts, everything else will fall into place, and it truly does. Meditating on the Incarnation and the Trinity, the Fathers of the Church were able to develop the world’s first particularist philosophy, developing the concept of the hypostasis which saves the particular human from dissolving into an abstract intellectual universal. The Trinity is the perfection of the intersubjective love community as three hypostases share their one substance. The Incarnation reveals that the hypostasis subtends nature and that the laws of nature are for the sake of that hypostasis. Furthermore, as the union of the human and divine natures, Christ provides the absolute teleological arrow that moves the finite human nature toward the infinite God. Triangulating these three points, Christianity provides a true vision of ecstasy, wherein the particular, remaining rooted in its own heart/mind/soul, strives to reach out toward another particular, simultaneously reaching into God’s infinity and attempting to create relational bonds with his/her neighbors that are as tight as those within the Trinity.  

   With this knowledge of theology, the question remains how to come down from the Holy Hill. Philosophy is the key. Beginning with “natural” human self-consciousness, an individual has the ability to know how to properly orient himself in every situation. On the universal axis, he can position himself within the hard sciences, deconstructing his body into physics, chemistry, and biology. Recognizing the subject at the helm of these physical processes, he can place himself within anthropology, economics, politics, aesthetics, and religion. Having dissolved himself into these structures, philosophical self-consciousness wraps back around, as the philosopher recognizes that the common human traits that he has discovered take on particular shades through his own history, movements, and context.

   Since most people, unfortunately, have not cultivated such deep levels of self-consciousness, the goal of the philosopher is to ignite the quest in others. This, of course, is not merely the shouting of truth claims in the face of passersby, but rather, infusing the will to question, the will to study into them, which ultimately opens the door to wonder. While most are relatively content to work themselves into exhaustion and then go to sleep, the philosopher’s duty is to wake the people up from their slumber so they can live full and thriving lives. The greatest shame in our modern society is how easily it has given up the philosophical life in favor of a materialistic reduction, a shadow of life. Paradoxically, even in their exhaustion the people cannot sleep, drowning in the mire of anxiety, which after all, is the result of a subject pushed to the limit of its finitude without the ability to find rest in the infinite. In this world of shadows, the philosopher is the natural light of the world.

   As the people begin to open themselves up to the wondrous complexity of the world, their minds descend deeper from the horizontal ‘hows’ to the vertical ‘whys’, and the world blossoms before them. What was once a grey world of monotonous repetition becomes a colorful pallet of vibrant life. Behind each thing in the world lurks a powerful reason guiding it forward, and ultimately, the reason for the reason emerges with its full actuality. This is the Logos, the electrical center of the world that shocks it into being. Every philosophical quest must end with the discovery of the Logos and the ability to articulate the discovery of that Logos; however, the articulation is less important than the discovery. As a caveat, it is important to note that this Logos is not the Derridean enemy that forecloses potential, but rather, the condition of the possibility of potentiality, the true actuality which precedes potentiality. Having made the discovery, and thereby, grasping it personally, the individual find his home, finds his reason for being.

   While such a powerful Logos was discovered by the Greeks, the Christian turn is the explicit realization of what was once implicit. The hidden Logos reveals itself, essentially turning itself inside out. What is at the center of creation has brought itself to the surface, giving itself fully to all. This reasonably completes the circuit of relationality. As humanity has been searching for its source by digging deep into the soil of the world, so the source springs up from the soil of the world to search for humanity. From this we learn the theological pedagogy- we must turn ourselves inside out for the sake of the other. First, we must dig philosophically to possess the truth. In the solid confidence of that truth, we twist out of ourselves to meet the other. In such authentic engagement, we do not meet the other as a missionary territory, waiting to be colonized with the flag of Christ driven through his head, but as a human being, immersed in loves and cares that ultimately participate in the truth. Once we have sincerely taken an interest in the cares of our neighbor and have begun to develop dialogue with him, then and only then do we have the humble privilege to try and reveal, with pathos and ethos, how his natural desires can be extended toward the infinite Godhead, and this, of course, is done first with deeds and then with words- like St. Francis, preach always, use words when necessary. So how should it work? People should be drawn to the church because of a quality lacking in the world, a joyous effervescent love that steadily burns even in the face of suffering. The public face of the church should be the most beautiful things we have to offer, something that Fr. Nicholi Loudovikos calls a Eucharistic ontology of dialogical reciprocity. The private space, meanwhile, is a warm love beyond words. When we are fortunate to make a friend in the world, our job is to bring that silent love, to make it present through the casual conversations that mark friends. Finally, if he is interested, he will approach you with questions. This is the bidirectional patrimony that the Church has to protect- not only facilitating the Logos’ movement into the world but also facilitating the world’s movement into the Logos. And, God willing, that will continue.