With reference to the Third Commandment, the original text reads as follows: “Thou shalt not take the name of Yahweh (thy God) in vain (saw), because Yahweh does not let go unpunished those who use His Name in vain”.In ancient times the Name was not a simple sign. The Name indicated the Substance of the person named forever, thus identifying him/her among the Many others.
It also separated him/her from Evil or, in any case, from the Indistinct.
It is also worth noting that, apart from the Decalogue of the burning bush, Yahweh is named only in a passage of Exodus (23:1), reading as follows “Thou shalt not utter a false report” (sema saw).
False oath was evidence that you should not “swear by a false god” (see Psalm 24:4; Hosea 10).
You should not call Him, He is always everywhere. If you call Him, it means you do not really believe in Him.
Again in the Leviticus, Yahweh stated “Thou shall not swear on my Name deceitfully”.
The Truth of the One is reflected naturally on the objective truth of the things about which men speak.
Furthermore saw is a word used by many prophets of Israel against the worship of idols.
Probably saw was originally the word used to identify the “evil magic”, which therefore had nothing to do with the evocation of God, the Lord of Good, who drove the evil out of the Pardes, the place where, in the End Times, the “second Adam” would return to Truth and Grace.
Based on “The Golden Legend” (Legenda Aurea) by the blessed Jacobus da Varagine – a collection of the legendary lives of the greatest Saints of the medieval Church, which was to revolutionize the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola – Piero della Francesca painted the “Legend of the True Cross” in the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo.
According to the tradition of Jacobus da Varagine, Adam asked his son Seth to go to the Garden, the Pardes, to get the oil of mercy to pass away serenely and attain Eternal Life.
Archangel Michael gave to Seth a twig of the Tree of Life, which Solomon found again while he had to build the First Temple.
The King of Israel did not manage to use the tree, which opposed and resisted his workers.
An initiatory theme, also considering to what extent the construction of the Temple and the search for the “password” count in the “primitive scene” of modern Freemasonry.
Furthermore the wooden beam on which Jesus Christ was crucified was buried by a Jew named Judah, who was later thrown into a pit by the Mother of Constantine to make him confess.
Finally workers decided to place the wood on a river, so as to make it a walkway – another obvious symbol.
After the Battle of the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius – in which the Holy Cross appeared together with the well-known message in hoc signo vinces – Constantine sent his mother to Jerusalem to search for the True Cross. St. Helena determined which cross was the true Cross of Christ by laying the wood on the coffin of a dead man, who was instantly brought back to life.
Here there is also the wisdom of Saint Paul, using and overthrowing the Pharisaic and later Cabbalist tradition: certainly, “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”, but this is precisely the reason why – as Saint Paul said in his Letter to the Galatians (3:13), “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” – in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith”.
This is what St. Paul said about “wood” and its infinite paradox.
Those who walk away will move close, those who come close will be pushed away.
A paradox of Faith that is inconceivable in Islam.
That is the paradox the Islamic theological world has not solved at all, namely the relationship between Evil and Faith.
In fact, if God is the One who orders, commands and decides everything, why does He commands evil and make it win over holiness?
Once again it is Job’s problem. Satan asked: “Doth Job fear God for nought?” (Job 1:9), but Job’s rebellion – which, in fact, creates modern civilization, is targeted against an anthropomorphic God, an Entity that is the projection of our fears and universal desires.
As Psalm 126:3 reads: “The Lord has done great things for us…”, but this must not be shown and His rationale is never the same as men’s.
Therefore, in Islamic theology, there is no way out of the separation between Good and Evil – just think of the absolute uniqueness and, hence, total unknowability of Allah that creates and destroys worlds we do not even know were possible.
Hence Evil is ubiquitous and, above all, unintelligible for human beings, who always interpret it incorrectly or, anyway, in an earthly way.
We revert once again to Job, who encountered the Face of God just when he opposed Him and precisely when God was openly an enemy to him – “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5).
“Do you believe in Me because I am powerful and simply because I am?”
Here is the great theological, political and sapiential limes breaking the continuity between Islam and the other monotheistic religions.
Once again this is the deep theological sense of contemporary jihad.
I can convince God I am right – I only need to interpret His words literally.
Not even the Quran has this logic.
Furthermore, also in Islam, the primary theological problem is the link between Faith and works, as in the Reformation.
Here the link is between Iman and Islam, namely inner faith and exterior practice.
In this case, however, it is the Prophet himself who, in the struggle against the Kharijites – the usual purist sect arising after any religious reform – theorized, in the Dicta, that also a conversion for evident fear was fine.
Hence we revert to jihad, the acceptance of any form of formal adaptation to the rule of the Sacred, which is never the Sacred.
“Have you opened His chest to see whether all that He was saying was true?” asked the Prophet Muhammad ironically. In the case of contemporary jihad, based on Islamic law, it is precisely the “holy war” that creates many problems.
As in the tradition of the True Cross, jihad is a war that must brought us back to the initial peace.
In fact, according to the Quran, imbalance is the natural trait of the visible world – and this imbalance is precisely represented by war, initial and legal violence.
Hence, the true translation of God’s warning on the Sinai – probably near the current wonderful St. Catherine’s Monastery – is more or less the following: “Do not use the Name of God bending it to your will and whim.”
This does not mean never name it, as is the case with the medieval esoteric sects, or to consider it an objective presence in everyday life – another anti-unitary heresy.
Job, however, could afford it, because he was looking for Him and loved Him, even in the fight against Him, but we certainly not.
In the transcendent original Tradition, Jehovah means “ever greater” – in fact, God is immeasurable because He always grows, while we cannot do other than stand still.
Just think about the revealing metaphor of yeast …
If we look at the traditions of monotheistic religions, born after the first rebellion of Abraham against his father’s idols, we realize that, in any case, Faiths and, above all, ethno-cultural identities must always be preserved.
Copts (10% of the Egyptian population) and, in Jordan and in the Palestinian Territories, the Syrian Christians spread across Turkey, Jordan and the Lebanon, not to mention the Syrian Orthodox Churches and the Syrian Catholic ones, as well as Maronites, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians.
Then Shiites – almost always believing in the Twelfth Imam, as in Iran – even though the Houthis in Yemen and in other Persian Gulf areas are supported by Iran, without theological preconceived ideas, in many regions of the Middle East.
There are also the Zaydis, again in Shiite areas, the Ishmaelites – linked to Agha Khan – as well as the Druids, heirs of Pythagoras, and many others.
Without the map of the religions in the Persian Gulf, nothing can be understood about its policy.
And it is worth reiterating that the sword jihad is a substantial anomaly, which – in fact – rooted itself into the Iraqi-Syrian system when it was convenient for Saudi Arabia and its allies.
As we previously said, identity is a primary criterion.
While there are currently global authorities capable of interpreting, selecting and reforming this huge melting pot of creeds, beliefs and ideas, we certainly cannot avoid thinking of the Catholic Church and the Slavic and Greek Orthodox.
Obviously we can no longer change the past, even though those who do so by profession are called “historians”, but today we can certainly create the present which can build a new future.
There is no need to cry over spilled milk – as Baudelaire said, “One can only forget about time by making use of it”.
Hence currently the real challenge will be freedom of religion and freedom of belief and opinion, in a world in which finally the present is free to build the future.
Obviously after the victory of Assad, as well as of Syrians and Russians in Syria.
Currently this is the real challenge and this holds true for Cardinal Parolin, who will pay a visit to Russia next August to speak with Patriarch Kirill and President Putin.
The correct strategic logic of Cardinal Parolin and Pope Francis is one only: to eliminate any pseudo-controversy with Islam and accept the support of Russia and its religious institutions to recreate the natural pluralistic equilibrium of Christian, Orthodox, Shiite and Sunni communities, as well as of many other faiths which, for the Church of Rome, must be rescued also – and above all – with the support of the Slavic and Greek Orthodox Church.
As early as 2013, Russia had already guaranteed its citizenship to 50,000 Christians in Qalamoun, and in August 2013 the Russian Church had donated 300,000 US dollars to the Patriarchate of Antioch.
The void left by France – ever more naively “secular” – has also left huge room for the Russian orthodoxy in the Greater Middle East.
In Syria 80% of Catholics and, however, Christians, were destroyed in their homes and in their cities.
This is the real acid test for evaluating ecumenism and, above all, the ability to defend Faith.
And today defending creeds also regards the passionate protection of the freedom of religion, the freedom from fear – which is always a bad advisor – and the freedom from the will of leaders.
No more subornation of the poor; enough with the offense to the “little ones”.
Sinite Parvulos …
This, too, must be a point of contact between Cardinal Parolin and his Russian counterparts, including Putin.
Hence it is here – and not in the baroque issue of the Holy Sites – which we can place the new relationship – that we hope will be very effective – between the brilliant Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Patriarch Kirill but, above all, with Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin.
However, let us revert to the Holy Theology that Cardinal Parolin knows better than me and many others.
Who is holy? The answer is simple and can be found in Leviticus 17-26, “You shall be holy, because I, the Lord, am holy who make you holy”.
While interpreting the Covenant between God and men, Jesus simply highlights what the Jews believe without thinking about it: but it is Incarnation which makes the Law effective (also in the legal sense) – and once again there is a contrast with Islamic theology.
If only a cultivated and wise dialogue between the Catholic theology and the Jewish theology could currently be achieved!
Much of the Middle East daily political problems would be solved in a moment.
The Son made flesh creates a filial relationship with the believers, namely he keeps and pursues the “royal law” (James 2:8), which is also the “perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25) – hence it is precisely Jesus who almost literarily fills the space of the future and hence the sense and meaning of the present.
Here, in a still new wisdom-based context for the two Churches, the East and the West, there will certainly be room for an initiatory and sapiential world, which has so far been able only to ensure pluralism – certainly a very noble aim which, however, from now on shall speak in re and not only about profane and pluralistic rules.
Therefore we must thank Cardinal Parolin, who will certainly be able to provide excellent theological, political and strategic substance to a relationship with the Patriarchate of Moscow that could become the true and only peace process in Syria and in the rest of the Middle East.
Putin’s post-Soviet world remains a work in progress, but Africa already looms
Russian civilisationalism is proving handy as President Vladimir Putin seeks to expand the imaginary boundaries of his Russian World, whose frontiers are defined by Russian speakers and adherents to Russian culture rather than international law and/or ethnicity.
Mr. Putin’s disruptive and expansive nationalist ideology has underpinned his aggressive
approach to Ukraine since 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the stoking of insurgencies in the east of the country. It also underwrites this month’s brief intervention in Kazakhstan, even if it was in contrast to Ukraine at the invitation of the Kazakh government.
Mr. Putin’s nationalist push in territories that were once part of the Soviet Union may be par for the course even if it threatens to rupture relations between Russia and the West and potentially spark a war. It helps Russia compensate for the strategic depth it lost with the demise of communism in Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
However, equally alarmingly, Mr. Putin appears to be putting building blocks in place that would justify expanding his Russian World in one form or another beyond the boundaries of the erstwhile Soviet Union.
In doing so, he demonstrates the utility of employing plausibly deniable mercenaries not only for military and geopolitical but also ideological purposes.
Standing first in line is the Central African Republic. A resource-rich but failed state that has seen its share of genocidal violence and is situated far from even the most expansive historical borders of the Russian empire, the republic could eventually qualify to be part of the Russian world, according to Mr. Putin’s linguistic and cultural criteria.
Small units of the Wagner Group, a private military company owned by one of Mr. Putin’s close associates, entered the Centra African Republic once departing French troops handed over to a United Nations peacekeeping force in 2016. Five years later, Wagner has rights to mine the country’s gold and diamond deposits.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Russian mercenary presence persuaded President Faustin-Archange Touadera that the African republic should embrace Russian culture.
As a result, university students have been obliged to follow Russian-language classes starting as undergraduates in their first year until their second year of post-graduate studies. The mandate followed the introduction of Russian in the republic’s secondary school curriculum in 2019.
Mr. Touadera is expected to ask Mr. Putin for Russian-language instructors during a forthcoming visit to Moscow to assist in the rollout.
Neighbouring Mali could be next in line to follow in Mr. Touadera’s footsteps.
Last month, units of the Wagner Group moved into the Sahel nation at the request of a government led by army generals who have engineered two coups in nine months. The generals face African and Western sanctions that could make incorporating what bits of the country they control into the Russian world an attractive proposition.
While it is unlikely that Mr. Putin would want to formally welcome sub-Saharan and Sahel states into his Russian world, it illustrates the pitfalls of a redefinition of internationally recognised borders as civilisational and fluid rather than national, fixed, and legally enshrined.
For now, African states do not fit Mr. Putin’s bill of one nation as applied to Ukraine or Belarus. However, using linguistics as a monkey wrench, he could, overtime or whenever convenient, claim them as part of the Russian world based on an acquired language and cultural affinity.
Mr. Putin’s definition of a Russian world further opens the door to a world in which the principle of might is right runs even more rampant with the removal of whatever flimsy guard rails existed.
To accommodate the notion of a Russian world, Russian leaders, going back more than a decade, have redefined Russian civilisation as multi-ethnic rather than ethically Russia.
The Central African Republic’s stress on Russian-language education constitutes the first indication in more than a decade that Mr. Putin and some of his foreign allies may expand the Russian world’s civilisational aspects beyond the erstwhile Soviet Union.
Some critics of Mr. Putin’s concept of a Russian world note that Western wars allegedly waged out of self-defense and concern for human rights were also about power and geopolitical advantage.
For example, pundit Peter Beinart notes that NATO-led wars in Serbia, Afghanistan, and Libya “also extended American power and smashed Russian allies at the point of a gun.”
The criticism doesn’t weaken the legitimacy of the US and Western rejection of Russian civilisationalism. However, it does undermine the United States’ ability to claim the moral high ground.
It further constrains Western efforts to prevent the emergence of a world in which violation rather than the inviolability of national borders become the accepted norm.
If Russian interventionism aims to change borders, US interventionism often sought to change regimes. That is one driver of vastly different perceptions of the US role in the world, including Russian distrust of the post-Soviet NATO drive into Eastern Europe and independent former Soviet states such as Ukraine.
“People with more experience of the dark side of American power—people whose families hail from Guatemala, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, or Mexico, where US guns have sabotaged democracy rather than defended it—might find it easier to understand Russian suspicions. But those Americans tend not to shape US policy towards places like Ukraine,” Mr. Beinart said.
Neighbours and Crises: New Challenges for Russia
Through all the discussions that accompanied the preparation of the Valdai Club report “Space Without Borders: Russia and Its Neighbours”, the most clear question was whether Russia should or should not avoid repeating the historical experience of relations with its near abroad. This experience, in the most general terms, is that after Russia pacifies its western border with its foreign policy, the Russian state inevitably must turn to issues related to the existence of its immediate neighbourhood. With a high degree of probability, it will be forced to turn to its centuries-old method for solving problems that arise there: expansion for the sake of ensuring security.
Now Russia’s near abroad consists of a community of independent states that cannot ensure their own security and survival by relying only on their own forces; we cannot be completely sure of their stability. From Estonia in the west to Kyrgyzstan in the east, the existence of these countries in a competitive international environment is ensured by their link with one of the nuclear superpowers. Moreover, such connections can only complement each other with great difficulty. As the recent developments in Kazakhstan have demonstrated, they are not limited to the threat of an external invasion; even internal circumstances can become deadly.
The dramatic events in that country were intensified by external interference from the geostrategic opponents of Russia, as well as international terrorists, but it would be disingenuous to argue that their most important causes are not exclusively internal and man-made. We cannot and should not judge whether the internal arrangements of our neighbours are good or bad, since we ourselves do not have ideal recipes or examples. However, when dealing with the consequences, it is rational to fear that their statehood will either be unable to survive, or that their existence will take place in forms that create dangers which Russia cannot ignore.
In turn, the events experienced now in relations between Russia and the West, if we resort to historical analogies, look like a redux of the Northern War. The Great Northern War arose at the beginning of the 18th century as the result of the restoration of Russia’s power capabilities; the West had made great progress in approaching the heart of its territory. Within the framework of this logic, victory, even tactical victory, in the most important (Western) direction will inevitably force Russia to turn to its borders. Moreover, the reasons for paying more attention to them are obvious. This will present Russia with the need to decide on how much it is willing to participate in the development of its neighbours.
The developments in Kazakhstan in early January 2022 showed the objective limits of the possibilities of building a European-style sovereign state amid new, historical, and completely different geopolitical circumstances. More or less all the countries of the space that surrounds Russia, from the Baltic to the Pamir, are unique experiments that arose amid the truly phenomenal orderliness of conditions after the end of the Cold War. In that historical era, the world really developed under conditions where a general confidence prevailed that the absolute dominance of one power and a group of its allies creates conditions for the survival of small and medium-sized states, even in the absence of objective reasons for this.
The idea of the “end of history” was so convincing that we could accept it as a structural factor, so powerful that it would allow us to overcome even the most severe objective circumstances.
The Cold War era created the experience of the emergence and development of new countries, which until quite recently had been European colonies. Despite the fact that there are a few “success stories” among the countries that emerged after 1945, few have been able to get out of the catch-up development paradigm. However, it was precisely 30 years ago that there really was a possibility that a unipolar world would be so stable that it would allow the experiment to come to fruition. The visible recipes of the new states being built were ideal from an abstract point of view, just as Victor Frankenstein was guided by a desire for the ideal.
Let us recall that the main idea of our report was that Russia needs to preserve the independence of the states surrounding it and direct all its efforts to ensure that they become effective powers, eager to survive. This desire for survival is seen as the main condition for rational behaviour, i.e. creating a foreign policy, which takes into account the geopolitical conditions and the power composition of Eurasia. In other words, we believe that Russia is interested in the experiment that emerged within the framework of the Liberal World Order taking place under new conditions, since its own development goals dictate that it avoid repeating its past experience of full control over its neighbours, with which it shares a single geopolitical space.
This idea, let’s not hide it, prompted quite convincing criticism, based on the belief that the modern world does not create conditions for the emergence of states where such an experience is absent in more or less convincing forms. For Russia, the challenge is that even if it is technically capable of ensuring the immediate security of its national territory, the spread of the “grey zone” around its borders will inevitably bring problems that the neighbours themselves are not able to solve.
The striking analogy proposed by one colleague was the “hallway of hell” that Russia may soon face on its southern borders, making us raise the question that the absence of topographic boundaries within this space makes it necessary to create artificial political or even civilisational lines, the protection of which in any case will be entrusted to the Russian soldier. This January we had the opportunity to look into this “hallway of hell”. There is no certainty that the instant collapse of a state close to Russia in the darkest periods of its political history should be viewed as a failure in development, rather than a systemic breakdown of the entire trajectory, inevitable because it took shape amid completely different conditions.
Therefore, now Russia should not try to understand what its further strategy might be; in any case, particular behaviour will be determined by circumstances. Our task is to explore the surrounding space in order to understand where Russia can stop if it does not want to resort to the historical paradigm of its behaviour. The developments in Kazakhstan, in their modern form, do not create any grounds for optimism or hopes for a return to an inertial path of development. Other states may follow Ukraine and Kazakhstan even if they now look quite confident. There are no guarantees — and it would be too great a luxury for Russia to accept such a fate.
This is primarily because the Russian state will inevitably face a choice between being ready for several decades of interaction with a huge “grey zone” along the perimeter of its borders and more energetic efforts to prevent its emergence. It is unlikely that Moscow would simply observe the processes taking place on its immediate periphery. This is not a hypothetical invasion of third forces — that does not pose any significant threat to Russia. The real challenge may be that in a few decades, or sooner, Moscow will have to take on an even greater responsibility, which Russia got rid of in 1991. Even now, there seems to be a reason to believe that thirty years of independence have made it possible to create elements of statehood that can be preserved and developed with the help of Russia.
from our partner RIAC
Do as You’re Told, Russia Tells the Neighborhood
The Kremlin has always argued that it has special interests and ties to what once constituted the Soviet space. Yet it struggled to produce a smooth mechanism for dealing with the neighborhood, where revolutionary movements toppled Soviet and post-Soviet era political elites. Popular movements in Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and most recently Kazakhstan have flowered and sometimes triumphed despite the Kremlin’s rage.
Russia’s responses have differed in each case, although it has tended to foster separatism in neighboring states to preclude their westward aspirations. As a policy, this was extreme and rarely generated support for its actions, even from allies and partners. The resultant tensions underlined the lack of legitimacy and generated acute fear even in friendlier states that Russia one day could turn against them.
But with the activation of the hitherto largely moribund six-nation Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Kazakhstan seems to be an entirely different matter. Here, for the first time since its Warsaw Pact invasions, Russia employed an element of multilateralism. This was designed to show that the intervention was an allied effort, though it was Russia that pulled the strings and contributed most of the military force.
CSTO activation is also about something else. It blurred the boundaries between Russia’s security and the security of neighboring states. President Vladimir Putin recently stated the situation in Kazakhstan concerned “us all,” thereby ditching the much-cherished “Westphalian principles” of non-intervention in the internal affairs of neighboring states. The decision was also warmly welcomed by China, another Westphalia enthusiast.
In many ways, Russia always wanted to imitate the US, which in its unipolar moment used military power to topple regimes (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and to restore sovereignty (in Kuwait.) Liberal internationalism with an emphasis on human rights allowed America and its allies to operate with a certain level of legitimacy and to assert (a not always accepted) moral imperative. Russia had no broader ideas to cite. Until now. Upholding security and supporting conservative regimes has now become an official foreign policy tool. Protests in Belarus and Kazakhstan helped the Kremlin streamline this vision.
Since Russia considers its neighbors unstable (something it often helps to bring about), the need for intervention when security is threatened will now serve as a new dogma, though this does not necessarily mean that CSTO will now exclusively serve as the spearhead of Russian interventionist policy in crises along its borders. On the contrary, Russia will try to retain maneuverability and versatility. The CSTO option will be one weapon in the Kremlin’s neighborhood pacification armory.
Another critical element is the notion of “limited sovereignty,” whereby Russia allows its neighbors to exercise only limited freedom in foreign policy. This is a logical corollary, since maneuverability in their relations with other countries might lead to what the Kremlin considers incorrect choices, like joining Western military or economic groupings.
More importantly, the events in Kazakhstan also showed that Russia is now officially intent on upholding the conservative-authoritarian regimes. This fits into a broader phenomenon of authoritarians helping other authoritarians. Russia is essentially exporting its own model abroad. The export includes essential military and economic help to shore up faltering regimes.
The result is a virtuous circle, in the Kremlin’s eyes. Not only can it crush less than friendly governments in its borderlands but it also wins extensive influence, including strategic and economic benefits. Take for instance Belarus, where with Russian help, the dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenka managed to maintain his position after 2020’s elections through brutality and vote-rigging. The end result is that the regime is ever-more beholden to Russia, abandoning remnants of its multi-vector foreign policy and being forced to make financial and economic concessions of defense and economics to its new master. Russia is pressing hard for a major new airbase.
A similar scenario is now opening up in Kazakhstan. The country which famously managed to strike a balance between Russia and China and even work with the US, while luring multiple foreign investors, will now have to accept a new relationship with Russia. It will be similar to Belarus, short of integration talks.
Russia fears crises, but it has also learned to exploit them. Its new approach is a very striking evolution from the manner in which it handled Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014, through the Belarus and Armenia-Azerbaijan crises in 2020 to the Kazakh uprising of 2022.
Russia has a new vision for its neighborhood. It is in essence a concept of hierarchical order with Russia at the top of the pyramid. The neighbors have to abide by the rules. Failure to do so would produce a concerted military response.
Author’s note: first published in cepa
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