Weekend think piece: Mark Silk on Augustine, 'economia,' repentance and Greece

Time for a "think piece" trip into the tmatt folder of GetReligion guilt. Two weekend birds with one shot, in other words.

As you would expect, in recent weeks I have had quite a few people ask me what I think of the Greek debt crisis and, in particular, whether I -- as an Eastern Orthodox layman -- see any religion "ghosts" hiding in this major global news story.

The short answer is "no." The longer answer is that I have sense -- in the muddy details of this crisis -- a kind of cultural clash between Greece and the European heartland, especially Germany. But what is the religious content there?

That's hard to nail down. I mean, the typical crisis report usually has a passage or two that sounds like this, drawn from a recent New York Times report:

Many Greeks have taken Germany’s resistance personally, plastering walls with posters and graffiti denouncing what they see as the rigidity of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. ...
What many outsiders view as the rigidity of Ms. Merkel and Mr. Schäuble is widely viewed within the country as the best way to resolve the Greek debt crisis and ensure the stability of the European currency used by 19 nations.
“There are clear rules, and anybody who doesn’t stick to the rules cannot be an example for others,” Julia Klöckner, a senior member of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said in an interview Thursday.

And so forth and so on. There isn't much Godtalk in that passage, is there?

Lo and behold, a recent Religion News Service commentary by Mark Silk -- "The moral theology of the Greek crisis" -- nailed down the vague ideas that I have had in recent weeks about this drama. This is short and I urge you to read it all. However, here are some key thoughts, digging into the idea of why Greeks seem to think that the "Eurocrats" want to sock it to them:

At its heart, the Greek crisis is about the moral economy, not the financial one. ... Behind the moral standoff is a difference in approaches to human error that has divided Eastern and Western Christianity for centuries. It’s the difference between the Orthodox idea of economia and the Augustinian conviction that either it’s right or God brings the hammer down.
Economia recognizes that while all warfare is bad, sometime people have to fight and then get to repent for it. Augustinianism sees wars as either just or unjust. Economia recognizes that while divorce is bad, sometimes a husband and wife have to split up and they then get to remarry (somberly, no more than twice) and remain Christians in good standing. Augustinianism says no to divorce, and no to communion for those who remarry.
Economia, in other words, is all about rules of mercy

As a priest hears a believer's confession, he may take the details of the case into account as he plots a path for the penitent to return to Holy Communion. But note the key word in there -- penitent.

You could make the case that, as a largely secularized society, many Greeks want to have their economia and eat it, too. They want to have the rules bent to help them, but without confessing their sins and preparing for some real penance to return to favor with God. Yes, it sort of hurts to put the European Union in the God slot in this equation, but you can see the point.

As I read this, I wondered it Silk was going to "go there" on that crucial theological idea.

Bravo! The last statement is this:

I’d say that the Eurocrats should be told that, even as they speak, Pope Francis is pushing his church to open its doors to the divorced and remarried. And the Greeks need a reminder that there’s no economia without repentance.

Bingo. Read it all!

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