The Risen Christ and the Language of God

Eclectic Orthodoxy

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews therefore said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:19-21).

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44).

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body”…

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On Charles Williams: ‘An effort to avoid Cant’

by David Llewellyn Dodds

Stephen Barber, ed., The Celian Moment and Other Essays by Charles Williams (Carterton, Oxon.: The Greystones Press Ltd, 2017) [xxviii + 132 pages]: paperback 12.99 pounds sterling. Humphrey Carpenter, author of The Inklings (1978), once told me something to the effect that he thought anything published by Charles Williams would be worth reading – I think in the context of all his book reviews and other short prose works. I have gone on agreeing, during the decades of reading him that followed. And Stephen Barber’s enjoyable and rewarding new selection offers the reader – whether unacquainted, familiar, or assiduous collector – something more deliberate and weighty than just ‘anything by Williams’, however attractive even that might have been. And his fine, deft 16-page introduction is so engaging you may not at first consciously reflect on the depths of its thought and erudition.

His book is described on the website of his Press as “The first collection of Williams’s literary essays for over fifty years”. The previous collection was by Williams’s friend, Anne Ridler, The Image of the City and Other Essays (London: OUP, 1958). It contains over 40 items, not only literary, filling 195 pages, and has an additional book(let)-length introductory essay of 63 pages which is probably still the single best general introduction to Williams. (It is available in paperback reprint for $18.95. Between these two, came Jared Lobdell’s more specialized, complete paperback collection of The Detective Fiction Reviews of Charles Williams, 1930-1935 [Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2003], still in print for $29.95.)

Mr. Barber’s book is complementary to Mrs. Ridler’s, with none of its ten essays included in the earlier collection. Only someone with access to a great library such as the Bodleian or the British Library and a copy of Lois Glenn’s Charles W.S. Williams: A Checklist (1975) in hand could readily duplicate reading most of the works collected here – though with much less ease and without the advantage of Mr. Barber’s wealth of lucid annotation. Two of the essays, however, are not listed in Dr. Glenn’s bibliography, the first because it was published as by Phyllis M. Jones, with Mr. Barber noting it bears “all the marks of Williams” and concluding, “it seems he ghosted this for her”. The last, not “about literature but the political situation” in late 1941, was only “unearthed in the course of research for his indispensible biography of Williams” by Professor Grevel Lindop.

Mr. Barber’s introductory essay, benefitting from this latest and fullest biography, complements the late Mrs. Ridler’s with the public cognizance of things she could not mention under the eye of Williams’s widow, Florence Conway Williams, nicknamed Michal. For, if his wife was in many ways as Beatrice to his Dante, Phyllis Jones was as ‘the Lady at the Window’, and not simply that.

That first “ghosted” essay, here entitled ‘The Office of Criticism’, is also the earliest included, and an excellent choice to let the reader plunge into the delights of Williams’s critical prose. It is also one of the five of the ten essays which are introductions to books. The third through the ninth essays are arranged “in chronological order of subject”: Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, John Webster (the playwright, not the scholar of things ‘occult’), G.M. Hopkins, Yeats, and T.S. Eliot. The introduction illuminates their contemporary critical contexts, not least with reference to two of Williams’s first three published books of literary criticism, Poetry at Present and especially The English Poetic Mind – happily both available in the Internet Archive, together with the third, Reason and Beauty in the Poetic Mind. The essay on Henry V is a superb complement to what is written in the latter two about Shakespeare. The Virgil one is splendid, too, and makes me, at least, wish someone would scan for the Internet Archive the retelling, The Story of the Aeneid, which it introduces. The richest is also the longest (pp. 39-68), the 1941 pamphlet, Religion and Love in Dante: The Theology of Romantic Love (also included in A.M. Hadfield’s 1990 edition of his early Outlines of Romantic Theology, available in paperback reprint for $18.95, and variously, second-hand). I was struck by its exposition of the imagination of love in intercession. “The New Life had been about the love of Dante for Beatrice, but the Comedy is about the love of Beatrice for Dante. She is made aware of his peril by the intervention, through St. Lucy, of the Mother of God; and she immediately acts. All that follows depends on her.” Perhaps the most curious one (but well worthwhile) is an late 17th-/18th-century-style four-sided dialogue on Eliot’s Four Quartets. (As an aside, the Inklings and this period provide a subject that would reward more attention in its own right.)

However, the title essay (from the text of which that title is plucked: a title we learn Williams had also contemplated using for a collection in 1935) may compete for ‘most curious’ in a different sense. It is the introduction to an anthology commissioned by Victor Gollancz, The New Book of English Verse, a deliberate complement to both the Oxford Book of English Verse and The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics, which had Lord David Cecil, Ernest de Selincourt, and E.M.W. Tillyard as “Associate Editors”. (Also published in the U.S. by Macmillan, it is one of Williams’s six editions of other people’s poetry, and, at 828 pages one of the longest of them, and seems a worthwhile book of its sort.) Mr. Barber notes, in general, “In a few places I have deleted a few sentences which refer to other parts of anthologies and collections not reprinted here.” But he does not disguise the practical elements, and, so, unavoidably partly miscellaneous character, of this essay.

With reference to the editorial decision-making involved in selection, Williams says, “The effort to correct the inevitable prejudice of single minds by an association of judgement is an effort to avoid Cant”. (One might see this as applying to Williams’s critical work in general, and his characterization of our exchanges as at once ‘hierarchical and republican’, where the greatest expert may learn from the insight of the humblest inquirer.) This launches a lively discourse on Cant as “the great and everlasting enemy of Poetry, and, like other lasting enemies of the Good, all but omnipotent” – which subsumes another on “the skeleton in man’s mind”, and leads to the statement that “the greatest moments of art are […] when we can certainly know that ceremony and intensity exist at once”. Attending to “certain moments of clarity” in this process in English verse down the ages, he says, “since Marlowe there is a sense in which the clarity of Restoration lyric is the most potential” and comes to deem this the “Celian moment […] which contains, almost equally, the actual and the potential”. The reader must be left to judge the persuasiveness of this intriguing analysis in his full working out of it in the further course of the essay.

Not unaided, however, as Mr. Barber has a very interesting discussion of it in terms of both a ‘Modernist’ poetics (comparing Pound, Joyce, and Eliot) and “a much older tradition of symbolism, one which goes back through the medievals to Plato.” But he also notes “that Celia was his pet name for Phyllis Jones”, saying “he is both concealing and revealing his devotion to her.” He goes on to elucidate an allusion to Shelley and a criticism by Lewis of the work alluded to, which he says “is also implicitly a criticism of Williams.”

In the course of doing so, he mentions that “Williams wrote to, and about, Phyllis Jones, a large body of private poems praising her in very similar terms.” This includes the Century of Poems for Celia, some of which are included in David Bratman’s edition of his public Oxford University Press staff entertainments, The Masques of Amen House (Mythopoeic Press, 2000), with more in the Rev. Dr. Gavin Ashenden’s Charles Williams: Alchemy and Integration (2008). There, it and they are discussed at length, together with this essay and the anthology it introduces, about which Williams says some astonishing things in a letter to Jones quoted in full. These include “there is hardly a page without some description of you”, and, “there is nothing of beauty or goodness or intelligence from beginning to end that does not mean to me something of you”. In He Came Down from Heaven (1938), Williams writes that it cannot “very easily be maintained that Dante was a striking example of New Testament monogamy, considering the extent to which his imagination concentrated itself on one woman while he was married to another” – about which I have elsewhere remarked, “Something like this, too, was (and for the reader, is) a practical problem in Williams’s life.”

And, it seems to me, emphatically (if by no means exclusively) so in this essay. The problem is, indeed, more complicated still, as the list of “names of many femininities” in songs leading up to ‘Celia’ not only include two other names associated with Jones, “Dianeme” (in an early unpublished poem-sequence) and “Chloe” (the character reflecting her in the novel, Many Dimensions), but two clearly associated with other young women, “Stella” and “Ianthe” (concerning whom, see Grevel Lindop’s biography, The Third Inkling: ‘Ianthe’ on pp. 219-20, 231, 236, and 238). Perhaps I’m over-reading, but such knowledge can cast a creepy-ominous shadow over things like the observation about Beatrice in the Dante pamphlet, fine in itself, that “whatever Dante’s need requires her to be, that, subject to God, she becomes.”

Differently curious (to take up that word again) is the short final essay, here, “Ourselves and the Revolution”, for a collection edited by C.A. Dawson, Russia and the West (1942). It would be interesting to know more about this collection, and, indeed, to be able to read all its entries, as we have recently been aided to do by Fr. Aidan with What the Cross Means to Me (1943). And I would love to get a good sense of its broader immediate context, after the end of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the beginning of the Anglo-Soviet alliance. For example, I’ve seen George Orwell quoted in his diary for 3 July 1941 saying, “One could not have a better example of the moral and emotional shallowness of our time, than the fact that we are now all more or less pro Stalin. This disgusting murderer is temporarily on our side, and so the purges, etc., are suddenly forgotten.” Yet in his 17 August 1941 ‘London Letter’ to the American Partisan Review, we find Orwell writing, “All the hideous controversies about the purges, the Five Year Plans, the Ukraine famine, etc., have simply passed over the average newspaper-reader’s head” and ending, “I never thought I should live to say ‘Good luck to Comrade Stalin’, but so I do.” In the same article, Orwell speaks of when “the Russian campaign is settled one way or the other, i.e. when Hitler is in Moscow or the Russians show signs of invading Europe”.

Williams clearly contemplates the second of these alternatives, referring to the “great thing that is, when this is written, still advancing across those plains and may (if it is ultimately victorious) advance a very great deal nearer”, and saying, of the thought of the English and Russian allies, “If the languages are still to be distinct and mutually incomprehensible I do not much doubt which will survive. It will not be ours.” These observations are framed by his saying, “The whole, and only, question is whether we can keep liberty and yet create security”, and, “Even between America and Russia the English may still have a place. But then we must mean both freedom and security; we must speak of tradition and of the Revolution; and we must speak freshly and credibly.”

The context of “security” here is his discussion of ‘insecurity’: “Insecurity means that you do not know how you are to pay for food and shelter, either for yourself or your family. It is, outside extreme physical pain, the worst experience of man”. If he boldly (and, to my mind, dubiously if not naively) says, “The new Government of Russia did its best to ensure that at least [man] should not be hungry. They created a totalitarian State for that purpose – whether they succeeded or not”, he also says, in recalling and generalizing his own experience, “One hung – a child – over the abyss of being ‘thrown on the streets’ […]: by the thin thread that might be cut […] even by the Revolution itself.” Part of the context, here, which it would be good to explore further, is indicated by the next sentence: “‘There are,’ said Chesterton long since, ‘three kinds of men in England – fools, knaves, and revolutionaries.'” How rooted is Williams in the appreciations of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc for ‘revolution’, with what personal differences? And how does he compare with Tolkien and Lewis in this, or something similar?

Williams says, “I have seen the Hammer and Sickle fly over Oxford” – much as Orwell notes, in his 1 January 1942 ‘London Letter’, “An enormous hammer and sickle flag flies daily over Selfridge’s, the biggest shop in London.” Stephen Barber notes that already in 1938 Williams “also brought his sympathy for the revolution to his poetry: in ‘The Calling of Arthur’, King Cradlemas has ‘tears for the poor’ but no help and the people ‘draw up the hammer and sickle’, the flag of the post-revolutionary Soviet Union. Williams’s willingness to accept an anachronism to make his point speaks for itself.” I think we can go a step further. Merlin, calling Arthur to become king, here, tells both that “mallet and scythe are silent; the children die” and that already “the south / is up with hammer and sickle”. Between these, he addresses Arthur as “spring moon”, and urges, “Draw now the tide, […] the people ebb, draw up the hammer and sickle”. In addition to Yevgeny Kamzolkin’s 1918 Soviet design, the hammer and sickle were variously in use in the 1930s – by the Nazis, too, for example, with perhaps their appearance (together with other gear) on some German banknotes from 1874 on, in the background. How much Williams knew of such varied uses, I do not know, but the coat of arms of the Austrian Republic since 1919 offers an interesting parallel to his poetic use – there, a republic, here, a national monarchy (within the Empire) retrieving the symbols from the totalitarians and restoring them as an image of proper ‘revolutionary’ attention to liberty and security.

If you want to whet your appetite, The Charles Williams Society website offers other fine examples of Stephen Barber’s work as well as of Williams’s (both in the “Quarterly Archives” and elsewhere). I wish it also offered a category for typos noted and corrected, especially when I read R. Prokop’s remark in an Amazon review of my edition of Williams’s Arthurian Poets. Lacking that, I note here the five I encountered in The Celian Moment: p. 10 “every poem included should he>be of poetic importance”; p. 14 “more than one or>of my courteous associates”; p. 52 “the lovers of their own selves, or even flee>the soul against itself”; p. 55 “novena>no-one speaks”; p. 69 “a patriotic play or>for the First Chorus knows”.

* * *

David Llewellyn Dodds, in addition to editing Charles Willliams’s Arthurian poetry, has edited the Arthurian poetry of John Masefield and served as President of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society and Curator/Warden of the old Lewis house, The Kilns. His most recent publication is “‘Tolkien’s Narnia’?: Lit., Lang., Saints, Tinfang, and a Mythology – or two – for Christmas” in Tolkien Among Scholars: Lembas Extra 2016 (Tolkien Society Unquendor). He is currently working on editions of Charles Williams’s early Arthurian Commonplace Book and previously unpublished cycle of Arthurian poems, The Advent of Galahad.

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Notes on Irenaeus

Readers of this blog will no doubt want to know what St Irenaeus thought about the Final Judgment. Here is a key passage:

And to as many as continue in their love towards God, does He grant communion with Him. But communion with God is life and light, and the enjoyment of all the benefits which He has in store. But on as many as, according to their own choice, depart from God, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death, and separation from light is darkness; and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits which He has in store. Those, therefore, who cast away by apostasy these forementioned things, being in fact destitute of all good, do experience every kind of punishment. God, however, does not punish them immediately of Himself, but that punishment falls upon them because they are destitute of all that is good. Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these is also eternal and never-ending. It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves, or have been blinded by others, are for ever deprived of the enjoyment of light. It is not, [however], that the light has inflicted upon them the penalty of blindness, but it is that the blindness itself has brought calamity upon them.

And therefore the Lord declared, “He that believeth in Me is not condemned,” that is, is not separated from God, for he is united to God through faith. On the other hand, He says, “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God;” that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord. “For this is the condemnation, that light is come into this world, and men have loved darkness rather than light. For every one who doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that he has wrought them in God.”

Inasmuch, then, as in this world some persons betake themselves to the light, and by faith unite themselves with God, but others shun the light, and separate themselves from God, the Word of God comes preparing a fit habitation for both. For those indeed who are in the light, that they may derive enjoyment from it, and from the good things contained in it; but for those in darkness, that they may partake in its calamities. And on this account He says, that those upon the right hand are called into the kingdom of heaven, but that those on the left He will send into eternal fire for they have deprived themselves of all good. (AH 5.27.2-3)

Note the key dynamic: those who freely separate themselves from God, who is life and light, enter into a condition of death. This is their divinely ordained punishment, yet not in the sense that God is imposing a punishment external to their sin. The sin itself, namely, separation from the Good, is the punishment. This separation brings with it all the consequences and calamities. St Irenaeus’ view is both similar and dissimilar to the river of fire construal of damnation now popular among the Orthodox. He agrees that the sinner damns himself and thus brings upon himself the consequential suffering. But whereas the river of fire exponent maintains that perditional suffering is due to an inability and refusal to enjoy the light and love that God perpetually shines upon all, Irenaeus locates the suffering in the alienation and darkness that has been chosen by the sinner, which God eternally ratifies: “But on as many as, according to their own choice, depart from God, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord”—not so much a contradiction but a difference in emphasis.

Irenaeus appears to affirm eternal damnation: “Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these is also eternal and never-ending.” One has to wonder what the original, now lost, Greek text said, but certainly the Latin translator appears to have read Irenaeus as affirming an infernalist position. On the other hand, Irenaeus has also been interpreted as advancing an annihilationist postion. Consider this passage:

For life does not arise from us, nor from our own nature; but it is bestowed according to the grace of God. And therefore he who shall preserve the life bestowed upon him, and give thanks to Him who imparted it, shall receive also length of days for ever and ever. But he who shall reject it, and prove himself ungrateful to his Maker, inasmuch as he has been created, and has not recognised Him who bestowed [the gift upon him], deprives himself of [the privilege of] continuance for ever and ever. And, for this reason, the Lord declared to those who showed themselves ungrateful towards Him: If you have not been faithful in that which is little, who will give you that which is great? indicating that those who, in this brief temporal life, have shown themselves ungrateful to Him who bestowed it, shall justly not receive from Him length of days for ever and ever. (AH 2.34.3)

Annihilation, i.e., return to nothingness, seems a reasonable inference, given the logic of Irenaeus’ understanding of damnation as self-exclusion from the Good.

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Notes on St Irenaeus

One might reasonably ask, if Adam and Eve were but children, emotionally and intellectually, how can they be blamed for their failure to see through the deceptions of the Deceiver? Why did the Father abandon them to Satan before they were equipped to stand against him? It seems all unfair, given the stakes involved. Yet St Irenaeus does not draw this conclusion. On the contrary, he affirms the divine wisdom in placing humanity in a condition of deliberation and contest, thus forcing men and women to become the kind of people who are capable of enjoying the vision of God:

On this account, too, did the Lord assert that the kingdom of heaven was the portion of “the violent;” and He says, “The violent take it by force;” that is, those who by strength and earnest striving are on the watch to snatch it away on the moment. On this account also Paul the Apostle says to the Corinthians, “Know ye not, that they who run in a racecourse, do all indeed run, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. Every one also who engages in the contest is temperate in all things: now these men [do it] that they may obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. But I so run, not as uncertainty; I fight, not as One beating the air; but I make my body livid, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when preaching to others, I may myself be rendered a castaway.” This able wrestler, therefore, exhorts us to the struggle for immortality, that we may be crowned, and may deem the crown precious, namely, that which is acquired by our struggle, but which does not encircle us of its own accord (sed non ultro coalitam). And the harder we strive, so much is it the more valuable; while so much the more valuable it is, so much the more should we esteem it. And indeed those things are not esteemed so highly which come spontaneously, as those which are reached by much anxious care. Since, then, this power has been conferred upon us, both the Lord has taught and the apostle has enjoined us the more to love God, that we may reach this [prize] for ourselves by striving after it. For otherwise, no doubt, this our good would be [virtually] irrational, because not the result of trial. Moreover, the faculty of seeing would not appear to be so desirable, unless we had known what a loss it were to be devoid of sight; and health, too, is rendered all the more estimable by an acquaintance with disease; light, also, by contrasting it with darkness; and life with death. Just in the same way is the heavenly kingdom honorable to those who have known the earthly one. But in proportion as it is more honorable, so much the more do we prize it; and if we have prized it more, we shall be the more glorious in the presence of God. The Lord has therefore endured all these things on our behalf, in order that we, having been instructed by means of them all, may be in all respects circumspect for the time to come, and that, having been rationally taught to love God, we may continue in His perfect love: for God has displayed long-suffering in the case of man’s apostasy; while man has been instructed by means of it, as also the prophet says, “Thine own apostasy shall heal thee;” God thus determining all things beforehand for the bringing of man to perfection, for his edification, and for the revelation of His dispensations, that goodness may both be made apparent, and righteousness perfected, and that the Church may be fashioned after the image of His Son, and that man may finally be brought to maturity at some future time, becoming ripe through such privileges to see and comprehend God. (AH 4.37.7)

If we had been originally created perfect, without the need for striving and struggle, then we would not appreciate the gift we have been given in Jesus Christ. Irenaeus is not thinking theoretically. He is reflecting precisely as a Christian who has received the gift of salvation and Spirit in the sacrament of Baptism.

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Notes on St Irenaeus

St Irenaeus is well known for his proposal that Adam fell from grace because of his immaturity. Like an innocent child, he was unprepared to deal with the seduction and lies of Satan. Though God had prepared for Adam a safe paradise in which to live and though the Word of God walked in the Garden and personally instructed him in goodness and justice, yet “the man was a little one, and his discretion still undeveloped, wherefore also he was easily misled by the deceiver” (AP 12). The Fall was thus virtually inevitable. Today we might say, “he was only human,” but in Irenaeus’ view he was not yet fully human, for he had not yet actualized his capacity for Spirit-filled life.

In light of Adam’s vulnerability to temptation, we might be tempted to blame God for the Fall. Not only must he have known, by his foreknowledge, that Adam would succumb to the words of the Deceiver, but in his wisdom he must have anticipated the likelihood that he would do so. Yet Irenaeus refuses to hold the Creator blameworthy:

If, however, any one say, “What then? Could not God have exhibited man as perfect from beginning?” let him know that, inasmuch as God is indeed always the same and unbegotten as respects Himself, all things are possible to Him. But created things must be inferior to Him who created them, from the very fact of their later origin; for it was not possible for things recently created to have been uncreated. But inasmuch as they are not uncreated, for this very reason do they come short of the perfect. Because, as these things are of later date, so are they infantile; so are they unaccustomed to, and unexercised in, perfect discipline. For as it certainly is in the power of a mother to give strong food to her infant, [but she does not do so], as the child is not yet able to receive more substantial nourishment; so also it was possible for God Himself to have made man perfect from the first, but man could not receive this [perfection], being as yet an infant. …

And on this account does Paul declare to the Corinthians, “I have fed you with milk, not with meat, for hitherto ye were not able to bear it.” That is, ye have indeed learned the advent of our Lord as a man; nevertheless, because of your infirmity, the Spirit of the Father has not as yet rested upon you. “For when envying and strife,” he says, “and dissensions are among you, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” That is, that the Spirit of the Father was not yet with them, on account of their imperfection and shortcomings of their walk in life. As, therefore, the apostle had the power to give them strong meat — for those upon whom the apostles laid hands received the Holy Spirit, who is the food of life [eternal] — but they were not capable of receiving it, because they had the sentient faculties of the soul still feeble and undisciplined in the practice of things pertaining to God; so, in like manner, God had power at the beginning to grant perfection to man; but as the latter was only recently created, he could not possibly have received it, or even if he had received it, could he have contained it, or containing it, could he have retained it. It was for this reason that the Son of God, although He was perfect, passed through the state of infancy in common with the rest of mankind, partaking of it thus not for His own benefit, but for that of the infantile stage of man’s existence, in order that man might be able to receive Him. There was nothing, therefore, impossible to and deficient in God, [implied in the fact] that man was not an uncreated being; but this merely applied to him who was lately created, [namely] man. (AH 4.38.1-2)

All thing are possible to God, yet it appears that there are some things not even God can unilaterally do—namely, he cannot give any man, not even the first man, the virtues he needs to successfully resist evil and grow in the Spirit. These he must acquire himself through struggle, discipline, and practice. At least I think that is what Irenaeus is suggesting.

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Creation, Theodicy, and the Problem of Evil

by Robert F. Fortuin

This essay sets forth the claim that the absolute freedom of God’s act of creation informs the nature and meaning of evil. Because God created the universe without prior constraint or necessity, His moral nature and the destiny of creation are inextricably related – creation will be completed in the eschaton, free from the grip of corruption at the last. The absolute freedom of divine creation denotes that evil is — and the completion of creation will reveal it to be — devoid of divine logos and justification.

Theodicy, and the problem of evil generally, appears by all accounts to be a very important subject as it concerns key concepts about the moral character of God. It also addresses very practical, existential concerns about the senselessness of violence, disease, pain, suffering and other such evils which are a universal reality. Is it possible to provide a rational account of such apparent cosmic absurdity and belief in God? It seems to be unavoidable that questions concerning sin, death and evil relate to and frame our understanding of divine goodness. If evil is of divine intent the claim ‘God is good’ cannot denote that God is goodness itself – the good as such by which all other goodness is measured. Yet much of the Christian tradition seems to lead one to believe there must be unknown (possibly malevo­lent) aspects to the ‘goodness’ of God complicit in his permission and use of evil – for how else are we to understand the perduring existence of pain and suffering in this life and extended without end into hell?1 Theodicy concerns itself with the divine will and its relation to human freedom: how do we perceive God’s intentionality in relation to creation? Is God’s power understood as a ‘zero-sum equation’ in which divine sovereignty necessarily constrains and detracts from creaturely freedom? To question a competitive view of liberty another way — does our freedom ‘to do otherwise’ constrain God’s purposes, into infinity holding out against God’s will? Perhaps divine power and human freedom should be understood, as do Sts Isaac of Nineveh and Gregory of Nyssa, along the lines of a compatibilist model in which divine and personal freedom are not mutually opposed whilst yet not implicating God with the machination of evil.2 Regardless how we answer these questions, and leaving aside methodological and epistemological concerns, theodicy as an exploration of the problem of evil, of God’s moral nature, and of the nature of creaturely freedom is a very important subject. For Christians the riddle of evil is a pressing theological pursuit to make sense of a world held in the grip of corruption whilst maintaining faith in a benevolent creator God. In the crucible of life where faith meets reality the meaning we ascribe to evil affirms the claims we make about the moral attributes of God. Theodicy then is far from a trivial and merely theoretical concern important only to the ivory towers of academia.

Although the term ‘theodicy’ is a relatively modern term (it was coined by the German rationalist philosopher Gottfried Leibniz around the year 1710), the problems it concerns certainly are not exclusive to modernity. We moderns are not the first to ponder the meaning and mystery of evil and death – this is an ancient conundrum having befuddled minds throughout the ages. Yet some notable modern theologians (chief among them Karl Barth) have argued that theodicy is neither a necessary, possible, nor legitimate concern. Human suffering, they claim, pales in comparison to the suffering God, the death of Christ making theodicy unnecessary. However, I believe the questions that theodicy seeks to address regarding human suffering caused by evil both legitimate, necessary and possible. That is not to say that problematic ways of using theodicy do not exist – for instance, theodicy to justify and rationalize evil, or to justify disbelief in God. Given these caveats the ‘theodic’ inquiry as to how faith in a benevolent and omnipotent God can be maintained given the fallen condition of the cosmos is a wholly valid and indeed a very necessary project. The timelessness of theodicy seems quite undeniable – the questions of the moral character of God and the existence of evil have occupied every generation since Adam’s account in the Garden of Eden, ‘The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat’ (Gen. 3:12). Surely ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, as the adage informs. The problem of evil not only spans across time but also across ideological and philosophical persuasions. That is to say that theodicy is not an exclusively religious problem, or a concern only for theists, for moral and natural evil does not discriminate. Regardless of one’s tradition, one’s creed (or lack of one) – without exception we are all confronted with the stark reality of violence, sickness, calamity, suffering, and death. The shadow world of corruption is so ubiquitous and pervasive that we can find it at work (let’s be honest) even within our persons. Here too we see that no one is exempt: moral corruption and physical death holds both theists and atheists equally to account, it does not discriminate. ‘That we shall die we know; ’tis but the time. And drawing days out, that men stand upon’, as Shakespeare put it eloquently.3

Many years ago, around the year 300 BC, the Greek philosopher Epicurus astutely summed up the intractable problem of evil in the form of a riddle:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?4

Even for a convinced philosophical materialist such as Epicurus the problem of evil was an inescapable question. Epicurus likely denied the existence of God based on the undeniable existence of evil – one way to solve the riddle is to eliminate God from the equation. For the theist denial of God is not considered a real solution to the problem (evil qua evil is left unexplained) and so the mystery of evil is especially intractable. We must admit that evil poses a particularly acute problem for those of us who insist on the goodness of God; a God who is infinite love, and Whose will is the only measure of His power. The task for theist then is not merely to make sense of the profound irrationality of evil (a formidable problem in itself); she must also reconcile the reality of evil with the omnipotence and benevolence of God. Why would an omnipotent God allow evil to flourish? What could possibly be the rationale — its logos — (logos in Greek not only means ‘word’, but also ‘reason’ or ‘rationale’ or ‘rational principle’) for God to cause or allow the abuse, torture and death of innocent, helpless infants? The fifth century Christian theologian Pseudo-Dionysius in his indispen­sable treatise Concerning the Divine Names accentuates the problem for the believer as follows: ‘Granted that the Beautiful and Good is something yearned for, wished for, and loved by all – how is it the multitude of demons has no wish for it? … If there is any Providence at all how can it be that there is evil, that it comes to be, that it is not done away with?’5 Dionysius underlines the problem — if God is good, beautiful, lovely, necessary for our existence and omnipotent — how then can we explain that God is in fact rejected; and to make matters worse, evil is permitted to grow and to fester? It would seem then that God cannot be all-good and all-powerful.

Dionysius brings us closer to what I would like to draw our attention to – the contribution that some of the early Church fathers bring to this question of the moral nature of God as it relates to the problem of evil. I can think of no Church Father whose writings are of greater importance and singular clarity on theodicy than St Gregory of Nyssa. This important fourth century bishop tirelessly worked toward the eventual victory of Nicene orthodoxy at the first council of Constantinople in the late 4th century. In some ways, he represents the theological vision of those who came before him, luminaries such as St Irenaeus of Lyon, St Athanasius, and St Basil the Great; however, in other ways Gregory towers over them in depth and eloquence, advancing theological insights by no small measure. Particularly of interest is Gregory’s splendid work On the Making of Man in which he presents a brilliant eschatological and anthropological vision. What is striking is that on Gregory’s account protology and eschatology comprise a single, unified vision – the beginning is explained, can only be understood, and is justified by the end. The cosmos has been truly created only when ‘the union of all things with the first good’ has been completed, when all at last in Christ, every single soul, is united to God.6 Cosmology then is not an isolated pre-occupation about how the physical universe came to be; rather, for Gregory the genesis of ‘the first things’ receives its true significance and meaning in its relation to the redemptive fulfillment in the completion of Judgment Day in the Eschaton. The God who creates, is the God who redeems, is the God who will be ‘All in all’ (1 Corinthians 15:28). It is perhaps not surprising then that for St Gregory the Christian doctrine of Creatio Ex Nihilo, God’s creation of everything out of nothing, holds the key to understanding God’s moral nature: for the logos — its rationale — of bringing everything into existence is its fulfillment in the life of God. It is in its end, from the vantage point of its completion,7 that creation’s original truth and meaning is revealed. For Gregory, God’s creative act is not merely an etiological inquiry, a study of causation and origins, but rather primarily an inquiry into the self-revelation of God as to what God is like – Genesis, Pascha (Easter), and the Last Judgment are a single revelatory act of God in whom God reveals himself to be the God who he really is. For God freely creates and does so ‘out of nothing’; He is creation’s First and Final Cause. This for Gregory holds the key to understanding the nature of evil and, I suggest, informs the antinomy of theodicy. The ancient Christian doctrine of Creatio Ex Nihilo denotes that God has no part in the violence and necessity of evil; and that evil, lacking its own hypostatic subsistence,8 is neither original nor anterior to creation and therefore will be in the end utterly annihilated. In the spirit of ecumenical dialogue,9 it is important to point out that the works of the early church fathers and the theology of Creatio Ex Nihilo are not exclusive to the Christian East nor exclusive to Eastern Orthodoxy. The early church fathers ‘belong’ to the undivided church and as such their theology is the common inheritance of all Christians. This shared tradition makes their voices even more important to contemporary considera­tions of theodicy, and it is imperative that patristic works be carefully considered as they are appropriated and brought into contemporary conversation. Over the centuries Eastern Orthodoxy in her praxis and theology has been keen to be attentive to the patristic witness and this I believe makes Orthodoxy’s contribution to the ongoing conversation (potentially) particularly rewarding.

Let us take a closer look at Creatio Ex Nihilo and how this pivotal early Christian doctrine (nearly universally accepted) may shed light on theodicy. One of the first things to note is that this doctrine, although not explicitly stated in the Bible, is logically coherent with New Testament revelation of the God who brings to new life that which has been demolished by death. It is the Paschal (Easter) account of the resurrection of Christ, the triumph of life over the non-being of sin and death, which forms the foundation to the theology of divine creation of all things out of nothing. As St Paul states in Romans 4:17 God is the One ‘who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.’ It is ‘the power of God, who raised him from the dead’ (Colossians 2:20), and ‘God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.’ (1 Cor. 6:14). In the resurrection, God brings into existence that which is not, that which has been subject to death’s destruction, by creating life through the summons of his power. This is the Easter triumph and promise: that God as creator of life is free and separated from, and thus not subject to the undoing of death. St John in the opening of his Gospel explicitly connects the creative, life-giving power of the resurrection with the creation of Genesis: ‘All things were made through him [Christ, the Logos], and without him was not anything made that was made.’ (John 1:3). In situating creation in and through Jesus the Logos, (who eternally exists with the Father) St John declares an atemporal theology of creation (this is another way of saying that time itself belongs to the created order, that time had a beginning). This atemporal theology of creation heralded a radical departure from reigning Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics. The first explicit use of Creatio Ex Nihilo on record is attributed to Theophilus of Antioch dated around the middle of the second century (around 150 AD, only a few short decades after John’s passing). Theophilus wrote his response to Greek philosophers who taught that the world is eternal and physical matter the source of evil. Theophilus countered that the cosmos had a beginning, the result of the atemporal creative act of God, who created everything freely by his own power and without need for pre-existing matter and without time. Contrary to the materialist philosophers the world came into being by the gratuitous outpouring of God and as such was created good and not naturally evil. Ex nihilo creation became a central feature of the patristic theology of divine transcendence, or what may be called a theology of alterity, of difference — the absolute ontological difference between God and the world. St Gregory of Nyssa formulated what he coined the ‘ultimate division of being’ — the infinite interval of difference between two fundamental modes of being: the Uncreate and the created.

Per this ultimate division, God’s existence is absolutely different from that of creaturely existence. God is the source of his own existence; He does not come into being, he does not progress from potentiality to actuality — for God is ‘always already’ perfect beyond every measure. He is without limit in will or power, without necessity, and without compulsion. God is infinite in His existence, immeasurably complete in knowledge, goodness, love, or any other divine attribute. God’s nature is simple and is without parts or fragments; He is therefore without extension in space and time. God is, in short, without need of anything or anyone: himself the only source and measure of all. For God to be, is to know, is to do – which is to say, that there is no difference between his existence (who God is, his act of being), and his essence or nature (what God is). For God to be is His nature. He is the ‘I Am that I Am’ of Exodus 3:14 and the ‘I AM’ of John 8:58; and ‘he who is’, ‘the being one,’ the ‘Ho ‘n’ (traditionally inscribed on Christ’s halo on many icons of Christ). Whatever God does he does in complete freedom, without necessity, ignorance or external restraints. God does not need the world to complete himself, for it can add nothing to God. In creating the cosmos — God summons non-being into existence ‘out of nothing’ freely and without need for it — an utterly unnecessary and gratuitous gift called forth from the abundant plenitude of God’s own life. Following Creatio Ex Nihilo God’s creative power then is a timeless act of love and disclosure: self-diffusive, self-donative, peaceful, and good. On this account, the creative act of calling forth the universe freely and out of nothing God reveals himself truly.

On the other side of the division of being is creaturely existence (which according to the fathers includes things seen and unseen, the entire created order). Creation is infinitely dissimilar to divinity in that it is not the source of its own life. It is derivative in nature, receiving its being by participation, wholly contingent in its dependency on the creative act of God. It is marked by becoming and imperfection, always in a state of change, moving from potentiality to actuality. It is incomplete, finite, composite, and limited in time and space. Created life is marked by a responsive openness, ever needful for that which it lacks, finding its subsistence and completion only in the God who has called it out of nothing. Creaturely existence is a sort of ‘in between’ or metaxu as the Greek fathers call it — a reality precari­ously held between being and non-being. God is the beginning and end of all things, and he alone is creation’s proper end and fulfillment.

The theology of divine transcendence and ex nihilo creation thus affirm a principle about the moral nature of God: namely that God has no part in the creation and machination of evil, the senselessness of suffering and death. God’s creative act is outside of time, whereas the advent of evil is situated within time, as a departure from its original goodness.10 According to the understanding that the universe came to be without divine constraint or need, evil is without original intent, being or necessity; God requires it not to accomplish his good purposes, for it plays no role in God’s revelation of himself and in his eternal intentions for creation.

What is striking is that for Gregory as for all the Nicene fathers of the Christian east and west the ontological difference between God and creation, God’s transcendence, is not understood in a contrastive or competitive manner. Because God is not part of creation, His presence, and power and agency is not at the expense or in competition with creaturely freedom. God, in other words is not an oppositional reality. Primary causality, God’s putting everything into motion and sustaining every moment, is not in conflict with secondary causality, creaturely intention and freedom. Rather God’s creative will enfolds and makes possible and sustains creaturely agency and freedom. This is quite significant for it indicates that divine transcen­dence grounds and is the condition for true creaturely freedom — God’s power is not one of domination and constraint. This is quite different from modern theologies in which God’s will and power are construed along the lines of predestination, determinism, and eternal damnation; a zero-sum equation in which God’s sovereignty and intention comes at the cost of creaturely freedom. The absurdity of such construals is demonstrated in that God is the ‘efficient cause of the sinful actions that he punishes!’11

But if God’s will is the ground for, sustains, makes possible and enfolds our will and freedom – how are we to understand the existence of evil and death? Does God will evil because He wills and sustains our freedom? On St Gregory’s understanding evil is the privation of good – it is devoid of hypostatic subsistence; a ‘non-being,’ as he calls it, that is parasitic in its dependence on the powers of created will. (This definition is another shared conviction between the Christian East and West – recall St Augustine’s evil as ‘privatio bonum‘ or the absence of good). Evil per Gregory has its ‘being in non-being’ whose ‘ousia [or nature] has its hypostasis not in being, but in not being good’ and ‘not as existing in itself but in the absence of the other.’ Evil does not have a true existence, and is thus not necessary to creation – it is neither original nor anterior to it; which is to say that it exists only as a scandalous rupture of goodness, situated historically in the metaxu, the ‘in between’ of created existence. Sin, on this account, is understood as an assertion of the nothingness from which it arose, and as such a departure from God’s intention for creation. Evil is not necessary, and not a necessary consequence of creation. Although God wills and sustains our freedom, He neither wishes for evil, nor predetermines or is frustrated by it. On this view, death is an anti-Christ, or an ‘anti-logos’ if you will, the enemy who is against Christ the Logos (who himself is the source of Life, the Logos of existence). We can think of death as a type of and resulting from ‘non-logos’ — an absurdity without logos, without rationale, without a rational principle, absent of the good, parasitic and lacking its own being. Evil is purely accidental, wholly unneccessary.12 Is there then a reasonable explanation to evil, some rational way that we can account and provide justification for it? Gregory answers this question with a resounding ‘no’: as the non-logos evil has no rational explanation; it cannot be justified, as it is entirely bereft of meaning and purpose. There is therefore no justifica­tion, no purpose whatsoever and no meaning for the innocent suffering and death of a child, for such malice is utterly without explanation and logos.

But in the irrationality of evil also lies our hope and the good news of the Easter tiding – because God freely created all things the meaning of creation (thus also its fulfillment) and the moral nature of God are inseparable. For St Gregory, this is a matter of theological coherence and consistency: evil is not original to creation for the good God freely created the cosmos from nothing but the divine will, and therefore evil and death and even Hell itself will come to an end. This means then, not only is evil not conditionally enfolded in God’s designs, it also is not the inevitable and necessary cost of creaturely free-will, the price of God’s self-revelation the unending suffering of souls in an eternal Hell. Eternal damnation has no place in the divine consummation of creation: every rational soul will find its proper end in God as her first and final cause. This, I should point out, is a marked contrast to St Augustine’s eschatological vision of two cities in which the most populous city is destined for eternal misery. The two cities are eternally locked having been sealed by God’s foreknowl­edge and predestination. Not so for St Gregory: an eternally persisting dualism — evil allowed to exist forever alongside the Good — has no part in his eschatological vision. Evil is not allowed to persist into eternity in the form of an eternal hell. In Gregory’s words, ‘evil does not extend to infinity, but is comprehended by necessary limits.’13 Perdition and suffering and torment of the damned — this too will come to end. Were evil to persist into infinity, it would denote that God is less than the Good, that the madness of evil somehow has the power to eternally change God. God is infinite love and creation is good, and therefore God loves all creation. For Gregory divine punishment is not retributive but reformatory and restorative in nature, for God aims for the good of all humanity. Hell will come to an end because divine restorative punishment will ultimately be successful; Hell will cease and God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor. 15:28).

Death itself will be annihilated, Hell and eternal torment will be no more.14 Only when all of creation finds its completion in God will the cosmos have been truly created. Humanity, the image of God, will have been truly created when ‘the complete whole of our race shall have been perfected from the first man to the last – some having at once in this life been cleansed from evil, others having afterwards … been healed by the Fire.’

O Death, where is your sting?
O Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages.15


References and Further Reading

Burrell, David. Faith and Freedom: An Interfaith Perspective. Blackwell Publishing, Malden MA. 2004
_____. Aquinas, God and Action. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, OR. 2016.
Davies, Brian. Reality of God and the Problem of Evil. Continuum, London. 2006
Hart, David Bentley. “God, Creation, and Evil.” Radical Orthodoxy. Vol. 3, No. 1, 2015.
_____. “Providence and Causality: On Divine Innocence,” in The Providence of God. Murphy & Ziegler 2009.
Ladner, Gerhard B. The Philosophical Anthropology of Saint Gregory of Nyssa. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library. 1956
Ludlow, Morwenna. Universal Salvation: Eschatology in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa and Karl Rahner. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 2000.
Mosshammer, Alden A. Non-Being and Evil in Gregory of Nyssa. Vigiliae Christianae. Brill Leiden. 1990.
Nyssa, Gregory of. Contra Eunomium, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
_____. On the Making of Man, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
_____. Contra Eunomium, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
_____. On the Soul and Resurrection, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
Robinette, Brian D. “The Difference Nothing Makes: Creatio Ex Nihilo, Resurrection, and Divine Gratuity.” Theological Studies V. 72. 2011
Sokolowski, Robert. The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology. Catholic University Press, 1995
Tanner, Kathryn. God and Creation in Christian Theology. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN. 1988.


[1] As I have argued elsewhere, the difficulty with carrying hell into infinity is staggering, theologically, philosophically, metaphysically: the sheer disproportion of temporal offense to infinite punishment; the absurdity of a never-ending good vs. evil dualism in which God remains powerless and frustrated (into infinity no less!) and in which creaturely free-will holds the ultimate power; the equivocal nonsense of punishment as torture forever perpetuated by a ‘good’ God; and the cost of His revelation the punishment of those chosen to unending perdition. For further reading on this subject I suggest David Bentley Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil.” Radical Orthodoxy. Vol. 3, No. 1, 2015.
[2] On the relation between first and secondary causality I recommend David Burrell’s Aquinas, God and Action. (Wipf & Stock, Eugene, 2016) and David Bentley Hart’s essay “Providence and Causality” in The Providence of God (Murphy & Ziegler 2009).
[3] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Act III, scene 1, line 99
[4] Lactantius attributes this passage to Epicurus in chapter 13 of De Ira Dei.
[5] Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names and The Mystical Theology. Tr. C.E.Rolt. SPCK: London, 1979. Chapter IV, Section 18, pp. 109-111. On the subject of the nature of evil the entire Chapter IV of The Divine Names is a must read.
[6] Gregory of Nyssa. On the Making of Man, NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. T & T Clark, Edinburgh.
[7] On the Nyssen’s account the universe in its current state is in a state of incompletion – it has not been fully created as of yet. For more the completion of creation as well as Gregory’s notion of a ‘double’ creation, see chapters 16-24 of On the Making of Man.
[8] ‘No evil exits in its own substance’ and ‘non-subsistent [anupartxos] nature of evil’. See Mosshammer, Non-Being and Evil in Gregory of Nyssa for an excellent exposition of Nyssa’s understanding of evil as non-being. Evil as non-being was a widely-held understanding among pro-Nicene fathers.
[9] This essay is an adaptation of a presentation made at the Ecumenical Patristics Seminar at the University of St Katherine (San Marcos, CA) in April 2017.
[10] Describing the fall of the angels, Dionysius comments that the departure from their original good state is a ‘warping, a declension from their right condition.’ The Divine Names, IV, section 23.
[11] David Bentley Hart, ‘Providence and Causality’, p. 50. Hart explicates the nature of divine/human relation of freedom and causality, along compatibilist lines. The chief weakness of analytical theologians espousing an incompatibilist view is the failure to understand divine transcendence; God is reduced to an agent among agents whose will detracts from creaturely freedom. On account of Alvin Plantinga, for instance, evil is necessary for the existence of free moral agents. It is not possible for God to create free human beings without also creating evil; freedom is defined in its opposition to the divine will. The logic of the incompatible model is demonstrated as follows, ‘Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…’ Divine causality detracts from secondary, creaturely causality. Evil for Plantinga thus becomes a divine necessity and implicitly becomes the author of evil. It is self-evident that such a take on the nature of evil, and the moral character of God, is radically at odds with patristics on the subject. Plantinga, Alvin (1974). The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 166-167.
[12] Dionysius The Divine Names IV Sec 32 ‘Unto evil we can attribute but an accidental kind of existence. It exists for the of something else, and is not self-originating. And hence our action appears to be right (for it has Good as its object) while yet it is not really right (because we mistake for good that which is not good).’
[13] Nyssa, On the Making of Man, Chapter 21, Sec. 2.
[14] The annihilation that Gregory refers to is the annihilation of hell itself, not the annihilation of people and creatures. That is to say that hell comes to an end because it is completely emptied out: it is marks the absolute end of death, suffering, pain, punishment. This position I hold to be the only one that is consistent with God’s unconditional love and the Paschal triumph wrought by Christ as attested to in the Gospels, the scriptures and the Orthodox tradition.
[15] Closing paragraph of the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom

Copyright © 2017 Robert F. Fortuin. All rights reserved.

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Robert F. Fortuin is Adjunct Professor of Orthodox Theology at St Katherine College in San Diego, California. He holds an MLitt Divinity from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and a BA in Religious Studies from Vanguard University. He is currently hacking away at the theology of Gregory of Nyssa for his PhD in Philosophical Theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

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Notes on St Irenaeus

One has to be impressed—at least I am—by St Irenaeus’s invocation of the Eucharist to support the catholic view of the Incarnation:

But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.” And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him? — even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones, — that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a corn of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father, who freely gives to this mortal immortality, and to this corruptible incorruption, because the strength of God is made perfect in weakness.  (AH 5.2.2-3)

A member of a Christian-gnostic community might not be impressed by this argument, but an orthodox Christian probably should be, as it appeals to the central and defining act of Christian worship. We know that God sanctifies the material because he gives to us the Body and Blood of Christ to us every Sunday. It’s all of a piece—the good world God has created, the assumption of human nature by the Son, the shedding of his blood on the Cross, the glorification of the body in the resurrection, the Holy Gifts, the recreation of the cosmos at the Second Coming.

(Go to next note)

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