The Patristic Doctrine of the Atonement

This lecture is very much worth your attention. Ben Myers criticism of Gustav Aulen’s presentation of Christus Victor is important, I think.

I wonder how Orthodox patristic scholars might respond to Dr Myer’s lecture.

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Searching for Our Human Face: The Loss of Innocence

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

“O nature, o nature. Why do you not deliver what you promised back then? Why do you deceive your children so?” (Giacomo Leopardi, “A Sylvia”; translation in Robert Pogue Harrison’s Juvenescence).

Who does not know the feeling conveyed in Leopardi’s complaint? It is the bitter shift between Blake’s First and Second Nurse’s Song. Wonder and anguish, these two experiences that drive the search for wisdom. Yet if wonder dominates natural childhood—it takes horrific evil to damage fundamental openness to reality, a predisposition to accept existence as good; age is frequently burdened with darkness, cares, sorrow. This is all quite banal. It is nonetheless true. “Life itself, lived in our damaged human nature, brings its own ‘penance’ . . . I tell you, whatever you do, you will have woe . . . This place is prison, this life is penance” (the italics are Julian’s words, Bauerschmidt, p. 104). The human thing remains exceedingly strange. Questioning, protesting where the rest of nature suffers, sometimes terribly, but without the anguish of wondering why. Protesting, even as humanity shows itself capable of such perverse cruelty, insipid thoughtlessness, vain self-congratulation, that it is easy to curse the whole lot and wish to be done with the loathsome business.

The traditional religious response has been to foresee an eschatological endpoint where a limit upon evil untraceable in ordinary time (“history is a slaughterboard,” notes Hegel) is suddenly declared; though one is treated not so much to a radical change as to an inversion of fortunes. The wicked, fully invested in promoting their own good through evil, are understandably abashed and miserable. Their good thing is over and now the downtrodden will rejoice. Esther saves the Jews, Haman and his ten sons are hanged, and then five hundred enemies are slain in Susa, the capital, then three hundred more, and in the provinces, for good measure, another seventy-five thousand who hated the Jews (Esther 9:11-16). However, in this ultimate condition, the fortunes are set eternally. Just as a matter of prudence, the righteous have shown themselves better at calculating what side the bread is buttered on. The wicked are dim, like those lottery winners who spend all their loot on cars and gaudy mansions before they inevitably bankrupt themselves.

This whole scenario is a wreckage of projected human egotism. It too easily divides what should not be divided and refuses to discern the mess of division in each human heart. I am drawing, I admit, in cartoonish outlines that caricature. My main interest is to accentuate how a vision of this sort of justice comes easily. It is obvious to a certain moral sense and just for that reason, I think it should be mistrusted. The need for the vindication of the relatively good and for the punishment of grave wickedness is not disputed. Yet to call this justice is “human, all too human.” “Merton says categorically that ‘To like bad sacred art, to feel that one is helped by it in prayer, can be a symptom of real spiritual disorders’” (Rowan Williams, A Silent Action, p. 36).

I suggest a connection between kitsch, bad liturgical art, judging badly, and naming wrongly.


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Juridical Purgatory and the Temporal Punishment of Sin

“The doctrine of purgatory,” writes Jerry Walls, “did not drop, fully formed, out of heaven, or hell, or for that matter out of somewhere in between” (Purgatory, p. 9). The history of the doctrine is complicated and cannot be rightly understood apart from the equally complicated history of the penitential practices of the Latin Church. If one is looking for an example of the “development of doctrine,” here it is.  In its medieval form purgatory became a point of contention between the Latin and Eastern Churches at the Council of Florence and then later between the Latin Church and the 16th century Reformers. What is perhaps less well known is the presence within Latin Catholicism of two distinguishable models of purgatory that have competed for dominance.

In his article “Outlines of the Doctrine of the Mystical Life,” published in 1916, Dom Savinien Louismet distinguishes between what he calls the popular understanding of purgatory and the theologically correct understanding:

There are two views about the state of a separate soul which has to undergo the punishment of Purgatory. The first view is that which finds favor with the popular mind; the second, that which is the expression of strict theological truth. The first view is equivalent to what we say of the sun when we speak of it as rising and setting and moving, according to the time of the year around us through all the signs of the zodiac; the other is equivalent to the bald statement that it is not the sun which moves, but that it is the whole world of planets which moves around the sun. … The popular mind about Purgatory is that one finishes there gradually to become pure, gradually to become a saint, whilst the truth is that one not a reprobate at the moment of death becomes a full-fledged saint the moment after, whatever be his debts to the divine justice, which indeed will have to be paid to the very last farthing. (American Catholic Quarterly Review 41 [1916]: 91)

Whereas Catholic imagination thinks of purgatory as a process of transformation, by which one who has not died in a state of mortal sin is gradually purified of all remaining sinful attachments, Catholic theology accurately states that “the truth is that on the one hand the tepid soul which is finally saved arrives at the end of her life undeveloped, but that the development after death is made in instanti and not progressively, whatever length of time that soul may have to abide in Purgatory” (p. 91). At the moment of the separation of body and soul, God reveals his divine goodness to the soul, thus eliciting from her “an act of perfect charity, which does away at once with all past blemishes of the soul” (p. 92). The soul is thus constituted “in full and absolute moral rectitude.” But if she is instantaneously made holy, why is she then detained in purgatory? Louismet answers: “Simply to pay the debts incurred during the days of her vanity. Can we not conceive the case of a personal friend of a King, loving his sovereign perfectly, and still more loved by his sovereign, and yet detained for some time far from him in order to purge in prison some previous condemnation, so that perfect justice be done? This, then, is how the case stands with the poor souls in Purgatory” (p. 92).

A few years later, Fr Maurice Francis Egan responded to Louismet’s formulation of instantaneous transformation and offered a defense of the medicinal-purification theory:

The object of the present article is to support the popular view so summarily dismissed by Dom Louismet, that Purgatory is a place of purification as well as of punishment: that the souls entering it, though they are God’s friends and lovers, are yet clogged and stained by the effects of their sins, and cannot attain to the embrace of Infinite Purity until they have been cleansed in the punitive fires. The distinction between the two theories is a sharp one. According to the one, the Holy Souls are, in themselves, perfectly fitted for the vision of God; they are kept back because of a debt which has to be paid to the last farthing. The other theory does not deny the debt and the payment, but it asserts that the payment is the means, the normal means, by which God cleanses their sores and gives them the perfect spiritual health which their future life with Him requires. (“The Two Theories of Purgatory,” Irish Theological Quarterly 17 [1922]: 24)

Egan cites the 16th century scholastic Francisco Suarez as the most prominent exponent of the retributive construal:

Suarez maintains that when a soul passes into eternity bearing upon it the guilt of unrepented venial sin, the ‘remains’ of mortal sins forgiven but not altogether purged, and imperfect or evil inclinations due to past sins, all these are completely obliterated by the act of divine love which that soul immediately elicits. Nothing remains except the reatus poenae, the debt of justice. (pp. 26-17)

Here is the purpose of purgatorial suffering, according to Suarez and Louismet—to make satisfaction for the temporal penalty of sin. These sufferings do not purify or heal; they are purely expiatory. Though the lost souls of purgatory exist in a state of grace—they are saved and have been perfected in sanctity—they must still endure the just punishment of their sins. Only after proper reparation has been freely offered will they be admitted by God to the Beatific Vision.

If your exposure to constructions of purgatory has been limited to C. S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, and post-Vatican II theologians, you may well be shaking your head at this point. I didn’t even know there was a satisfaction model of purgatory until I read Jerry Walls’s comparative analysis (Purgatory, chap. 3). Walls cites Fr Martin Jugie’s Purgatory and the Means to Avoid It as a modern example of the satisfaction model. So I ordered the book through interlibrary loan and quickly read through it.

Jugie begins with the Catholic Church’s magisterial teaching on the particular judgment. At the moment of death, the eternal destiny of the individual person is definitively decided: if the soul is entirely free of mortal and venial sin, having made sufficient penance for sins committed after baptism, it is immediately admitted to the Beatific Vision; if the soul is constituted in a state of enmity with God, it is condemned to eternal perdition; if the soul dies in a “state of grace and amity with God, but is as yet unworthy to be admitted to the Beatific Vision—either because of venial sin unrepented, or the lack of sufficient penance for both mortal and venial sins, or both—it must pass some time, long or short according to the amount of its debt, in an intermediate state between the state of beatitude and that of damnation” (p. 2).

Jugie thus identifies two reasons for admission to purgatory—inadequate repentance for specific venial sins and insufficient expiation for the temporal punishment of sins (or some combination of the two). The mention of inadequate repentance might seem to admit into purgatory a dimension of penitential process, but Jugie quickly scuttles this possibility. Brought into the presence of God, the soul immediately “strains towards Him with ardour and hates intensely all that displease Him” (p. 4). This perfect contrition eradicates all disordered dispositions and wipes out the guilt for venial sin. “It follows from all this,” Jugie goes on to explain,

that the principal—one might even say the unique—reason for the existence of Purgatory, is the temporary punishment due to sins committed after Baptism, since neither venial sin nor vicious inclination survives the first instant that follows death. Immediately on its entering Purgatory, the soul is perfectly holy, perfectly turned towards God, filled with the purest love. It has no means of bettering itself nor of progressing in virtue. That would be an impossibility after death, and it must suffer for love the just punishment, which its sins have merited. (p. 5)

So while it is not inaccurate to speak of the purgatorial state as purgatorial—it does, after all, accomplish the sanctifying transformation of the believer—it is best to focus on its expiatory function:

If the purification, properly so called, which one attributes to Purgatory, is realised from the first instant of its entry into that state, it follows that the rest of the time the soul spends there is consecrated to one single object—to expiation. Expiation is a debt for sins committed, which is paid by suffering; it is a reparation offered to the holiness and the justice of God, offended by sin. The payment of a debt does not merit a reward. The repairing of an injustice cannot bring with it any personal profit, for one merely rights a disturbed order of justice, at one’s own expense. This is exactly the situation of the souls in Purgatory. They are debtors, bound to reparation for sins they have themselves committed. The pains and sufferings which they endure do not procure for them any merit, any progress in charity or in virtue. All the profit they draw from them is the removal of the obstacle to their entry into Heaven. (pp. 8-9)

If sanctification is achieved at the moment of death, then the interpretation of purgatory as a progressive sanctification must be wrong—it contradicts, says Jugie, any “sane theology.” We must not project our schemas of spiritual growth in this life (purgative, illuminative, unitive) onto the the condition of those in purgatory. Jugie is emphatic and clear:

It is impossible to conceive how the soul, clothed with charity, should not from the moment of its separation from the body, utterly detest sin in all its forms. Divine love, in the soul separated from its body, takes on immediately all its efficacy and the fulness of its extension. It kills all that could turn the soul from God, and renders it perfectly pure. When Jesus could say of His Apostles in the Cenacle: “You are clean,” with how much stronger reason can the words be applied to the soul in Purgatory, utterly possessed by divine charity. (pp. 11-12).

As we have seen, following St. Thomas, the souls in Purgatory are instantly fully purified from venial sins not cleansed on earth, as well as from their evil inclinations and their disordered habits. They attain, from the first instant of their entry, that degree of perfection and sanctity which will be theirs for eternity and which will measure in heaven, the degree of their glory. No longer for them will there be an imperfection, any resistance to their being engulfed by the love of God, no longer any disorder. … Henceforth, perfect order reigns in them, for in nothing do they resist the divine wishes. All that now remains is for them to expiate their past sins, and doubtless one is at liberty to call this expiation a purification, in the broad sense of the word. But, in fact, they have no moral stain. All impurity has been removed by the consuming fire of divine love. (p. 64)

I confess that I was surprised by Jugie’s rejection of sanctification interpretations of purgatory, but I attribute my reaction to my relative ignorance of Counter-Reformation theology. Again Jugie: “The conception of Purgatory as having for its sole end the amelioration, the progressive purification of the subject, must therefore be regarded as false. Rather is it, before all else, a reparation for sin by a chastisement proportioned to its gravity” (p. 12). Jugie confidently asserts this as the authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

Given this juridical interpretation of purgatory, the medieval practice of indulgences makes perfect sense. He who has been offended by the the sins of his creatures, namely, the divine Creator, is free to remit the punishment incurred by offenders through authorized agents. Prayers for the poor souls also make perfect sense, as petitions addressed to the divine Judge for clemency.

But does juridical purgatory make sense according to the gospel?

As we will see in a future post, the once-dominant model of satisfaction has largely been supplanted in contemporary Catholic catechesis and theological reflection by a model of sanctification and progressive healing.


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Singing the Psalms

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Face-Timing with the Pope

Imagine my surprise last week when I received a FaceTime request from the Holy Father himself. He had hoped, he said, to fly down to Roanoke for a secret visit with his favorite blogger, but his unscheduled meeting with Kim Davis had thrown his itinerary completely out of whack. “What a waste of time that was,” he remarked. “She’s a loonie. I should have ignored my advisors and followed my heart.”

So instead we video-chatted for 20 minutes.  I cannot, of course, divulge the nature of our conversation … Oh heck, why not? The Patriarch of the West needed some advice on the 8th Ecumenical Council that he and Patriarch Bartholomew are secretly planning for 2017. It’s all hush-hush, so please don’t blab it around the web.

Pope Francis also gave me permission to share with my readers this papal selfie and words of encouragement.

Gotta run. It’s time for my weekly Skype with the Ecumenical Patriarch.

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Searching for Our Human Face: The Kiss of the Muse

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

In The Meaning of Life, S. L. Frank tersely sketches our lot as darkly as Hobbes: “ a narrow, boring, and banal existence tormented by need” (p. 2). Nikolai Berdyaev promptly names the condition and the antidote. “The everyday prose of life is not only the result of sin, it is sin: submission to its evil . . . Beauty is not only the aim of art—it is the aim of life” (The Meaning of the Creative Act, p. 246).

Dostoevsky’s pithy aphorism that “beauty will save the world” is often treated as a pretty, but enigmatic phrase, though it is actually a prophecy of the artistry of the Spirit. Sergius Bulgakov was certainly sensitive to this truth:

If, after Christ’s coming into the world, “the great Pan died” and all of nature changed, having become participant in Christ’s humanity, then humanity too changed, precisely in its naturalness. Humanity received new powers, new impulses for the establishment of the Kingdom of God not only within us but also in the midst of us, entos hemon, and this concerned all humanity, both that which belongs consciously to the Church and that which does not belong consciously to the Church (though somehow already belongs to it in re). (The Holy Grail and the Eucharist, p. 57)

I want to carefully unpack how I think we should understand Bulgakov here. In order to do this, we must recall again the continual birth of the intimate Self from the agapeic Father. The soul is not first a needy abyss, but a child of plenty. We forget this, because our beginnings in nature are so vulnerable and so commanded by the maw of need. This link to divine plenitude should be concentrated on the mysteries of creativity, for the new powers are forms of naming which are also for that reason forms of making.

The ancients were closer than many of us in recognizing in the muses the children of Zeus and mnemosyn, though we probably miss the import, for memory is itself something much more than patterns of past events scribbled into the tracery of the brain. But let that go. Rather, notice the strangeness of the artist’s work. This is how Josef Pieper describes it:

Any time the sound of true poetry reaches and moves the contemporary reader or listener, as with the work of Gottfried Benn or Franz Kafka or Georges Bernanos, he knows in that moment that, strictly speaking, it is not the Berlin dermatologist Dr. Benn or the two insurance agents Kafka and Bernanos who had such an effect on him . . . Who else is involved? To whom are we listening? (For the Love of Wisdom, p. 227)

Moreover, this is also the experience of the artist. One is raised above prosaic life and egoistic capacities. The ecstasy of inspiration can be interpreted as a Dionysian plunge that is either impersonal or grasped by the will to power as a method for asserting the individual against cosmic nothingness. Yet this pose is based upon “an exilic interiority, a fictive inwardness, where the creature can grasp itself as an isolated essence” (Hart, Beauty of the Infinite, p. 400). But as we have seen, the truth of interiority is that depths are not isolated. On the contrary, infinite inwardness is also a horizon of infinite breadth. It is the shallow, jejune psyche that thinks itself capable of that kind of fictive isolation. Paradoxically, in being raised above the quotidian self, the poet discovers a taste of true identity.

This is a particularly thorny enterprise to describe, partly because of the essential role of metaphysical relations in the constitution of a self. The person as a center of volition and knowing is never a pure, autonomous center of freedom, but a nurtured product of heteronomy. We come to awareness, desire, knowledge and love because our existence is gifted, our development nurtured, our very consciousness as personal called into being by God and the world. Without the world, we would not even acquire the reflectivity that indirectly shows the soul to itself. But this means that insight into the other is somehow also insight into oneself. Unique identity is distinguishable, but not separable from the truth of everyone and everything.

Implicit in these reflections is that a kind of minimal creativity is available in all our experiences, even the most ordinary. This is not the place to discuss the gulf of immense ignorance that persists in our capacity to explain how the physical firing of neurons can ever leap beyond an electrical circuit to become an act of knowing. Many are invested in sophistical hocus pocus designed to diminish the embarrassing lacunae in our explanations, that is to say, the gap that is equal to pretty much everything. Although it is often dismissed today as an untenable, even quaint hypothesis (when it is entertained at all, that is) I believe divine illumination remains valid. Every act of knowledge from the taste of pineapples to the crooked smile of a particular friend is ground in participation in the divine. “God is not only the ultimate reality that the intellect and the will seek but is also the primordial reality with which all of us are always engaged in every moment of consciousness, apart from which we have no experience of anything whatsoever” (Hart, The Experience of God, p. 10).

One can go further. Jean Borella claims that the affections of our hearts are always first a dynamic energy of divine life. Even a facile schoolboy crush has some umbratile relation to eternal immensities, divine delights. “Every act of love is a participation in the Trinitarian ecstasy. The being of the act participates, not the being of the acting subject. But how is this possible? . . . Every act of love is . . . by nature, supernatural” (The Secret of the Christian Way, p. 140). I know that this invites incredulity.

Grant, provisionally, that ordinary folk going about their ordinary lives, unbeknownst to themselves, are continually immersed in an experience that is held by a thread of grace to a reality more deeply pressed by the poet’s more conscious mode of activity. The act of the artist is conditioned by silence, by listening, by letting be. “The artist does not just superimpose a fixed form on sluggish matter, for at first neither he nor the matter is universally fixed or fully defined. Both come to definition in the act of origination itself . . . What is outward now shines with inwardness . . . ‘mine,’ yet not mine, intimate yet other. Against the dominating self, inspiration deconstructs the will to dominate otherness” (Desmond, Philosophy and Its Others, p. 92). Note that one is not dealing with foregone conclusions or with inert essences in which the encounter between others makes no constitutive difference. Obviously, one is far removed from the preoccupations of instrumental mind. Rather, the drama of meeting is also the possibility for discovery, for elucidation of a reality that arises from the occasion of encounter. Something new is made manifest for truth is both an event and a making.

And so, against the closure of the past or the treating of individuals as dead beings fated to a sameness that precludes genuine novelty, one must insist that a new word can be spoken. If it is new, it cannot be fully anticipated. That’s why the artist has to step back, be receptively still, pay attention. The artist fails insofar as he or she knows beforehand. Moreover, the artist’s work is a unique fusion of mutual synergies. The inspiration comes both from a primal divine source that is probably shared with the angelic powers, mediated through the unique logoi of the poet who is thereby able to realize more fully a singular vocation to particular, creative love. And love is made manifest by entering into intimacy with an outside other that now becomes both inside and outside. It is, of course, even more dizzyingly full of subtlety and counterpoint, for the other that is made known is not a passive object waiting to be named, but a spiritual being in its own right, speaking a winsome singularity through act, awaiting the response of a beloved capable of hearing and magnifying the name in songs of praise.

Something like this:

For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, with the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore-paws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For Sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For Seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For Eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For Tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin & glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.

And etc. – Christopher Smart, from Jubilate Agno, “My Cat Jeoffry”

(Go to “The Loss of Innocence”)

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“Bless the Lord, O my soul”

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