Fr Richard Price Discusses the Ecumenical Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon

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How Did the Eastern Bishops of the First Millennium View the Papal Claims?

Roman Catholic historian Fr Richard Price is probably the leading living authority on the Great Ecumenical Councils. His translations of the extant acts of the councils—specifi­cally, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Constantinople II, and Nicaea II (as well as the 649 Lateran Synod)—are immeasurably valuable contributions to modern scholarship.

Over the past year, the folks at Reason and Theology have invited Fr Price to discuss the councils. During two of the interviews he was asked how the Eastern bishops viewed papal supremacy. The blogger at Orthodoxidation has summarized his responses and provided the relevant video clips:

Summary:

  1. The East did not recognize nor “believe” papal infallibility nor papal supremacy. The East did want to maintain good relations with Old Rome.
  2. The East regarded the Bishop of Rome as a “senior bishop” out of respect for his office.
  3. The East did not require papal ratification for Ecumenical Synods, nor did the East believe that any Ecumenical Synods required affirmation by the Bishop of Rome to be validated. The East wanted Old Rome’s approval so that decrees could be merely “circulated in the West” by Old Rome–to be of one mind.
  4. The East believed the Emperor called Ecumenical Synods and instituted their decrees as law, as “God’s co-ruler” and as the “Guardian of the Church.”
  5. The Eastern provinces did not recognize Old Rome’s jurisdiction.

You can watch the video clips here: https://orthodoxidation.com/the-east-rejected-papal-claims-fr-richard-price-on-reason-theology/

I have closed the combox, given the contentious nature of the subject. I’m too old for flame wars. 😎

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To Infinity and Beyond: Desire and Deification in the One-Storey Universe

In this final installment of my reflections upon You Are Gods, we come to the fourth, final, and most contentious highlight of the book:

4) Human beings are necessarily ordered to deification in Jesus Christ by virtue of their creation as rational beings.

In 1946 Henri de Lubac unleashed a theological revolution in mid-20th century Catholicism by asserting that humanity is created with an absolute and unconditional desire for the beatific vision. He maintained this position over the decades, though conceding the possibility that God could have created human nature solely determined by a natural end. In You Are Gods, David Bentley Hart advances the argument that de Lubac did not, and per­haps could not, advance: in every possible world, humanity naturally seeks communion with God. Such is what it means to be a rational spirit.

I begin with Hart’s elegant chapter on Nicholas of Cusa, “The Treasure of Delight: Nicholas of Cusa on Infinite Desire.” In this chapter Hart exegetes Cusanus’s remarkable little book The Vision of God, composed as a prayer to the LORD. Cusanus makes the following claims:

God is Absolute Infinity and therefore incomprehensible, transcending all finite conceptuality.

O Lord God, Helper of those who seek You, I see You in the garden of Paradise, and I do not know what I see, because I see no visible thing. I know only the following: viz., that I know that I do not know—and never can know—what I see. Moreover, I do not know how to name You, because I do not know what You are. And if someone tells me that You are named by this or that name, then by virtue of the fact that he names, I know that [this] is not Your name. For the limit of every mode of signification that belongs to names is the wall beyond which I see You. And if anyone expresses any concept whereby [allegedly] You can be conceived, I know that this concept is not a concept of You; for every concept reaches its limit at the wall of Paradise. . . . Hence, when I am very highly elevated, I see that You are Infinity. (§13)

To be illimited is to exceed all boundaries, but to be without boundaries is to be inherently unknowable, as St Gregory of Nyssa perceived in the fourth century.

♦ God is his own infinite end.

You, my God, are Absolute Infinity, which I see to be an Infinite End. But I cannot apprehend how it is that an end is an End without an end. You, 0 God, are Your own end, because You are whatever You have. If You have an end, You are an end. Therefore, You are an Infinite End, because You are Your own end, since Your end is Your essence. The essence of end is not limited by, or ended in, something other than end but by and in itself. Therefore, the End which is its own end is infinite; and every end which is not its own end is a finite end. Because, O Lord, You are the End that delimits all things, You are an End of which there is no end; and thus You are an End without an end—i.e., an Infinite End. (§13)

Only the infinite God is his own end; contingent beings are ordered to their Creator as their final end. Yet the final end for both is identical.

♦ The cosmos is theophany, the self-manifestation of the Holy Trinity in a finite mode.

The theme is theophany is somewhat hidden in The Vision of God, veiled under the language of enfolding and unfolding, yet it must be noted as a presupposition of Cusanus’s under­stand­ing of the desire for the Infinite. As in Dionysius the Areopagite, the created order bespeaks and sacramentally presences its Creator:

Trusting in Your help, 0 Lord, I turn once again in order to find You beyond the wall of the coincidence of enfolding and unfolding. And when at one and the same time I go in and out through the door of Your Word and Concept, I find most sweet nourishment. When I find You to be a power that enfolds all things, I go in. When I find You to be a power that unfolds, I go out. When I find You to be a power that both enfolds and unfolds, I both go in and go out. From creatures I go in unto You, who are Creator—go in from the effects unto the Cause. I go out from You, who are Creator—go out from the Cause unto the effects. I both go in and go out when I see that going out is going in and that, likewise, going in is going out. . . . For creation’s going out from You is creation’s going in unto You; and unfolding is enfolding. (§11)

As Nancy Shaffer, née Hudson, explains: “God enfolds the created order in himself and unfolds or self-manifests in the world. Accordingly, creation is not a fabricated object apart and against God, but is intimately related to the divine. He offers an understanding of the created order that gives each created thing its own unique self-identity, makes it a perfect reflection of the divine, claims the being of God as its own being, and provides it a place in a united cosmos (a universe).”1 I quote from another of Cusanus’s works, On Learned Ignorance, in which he boldly speaks of the universe, and every being within it, as a “finite infinity” and “created god”:

Who could understand the following? how all things are the image of that one, infinite Form and are different contingently—as if a created thing were a god manqué, just as an accident is a substance manqué, and a woman is a man manqué. For the Infinite Form is received only finitely, so that every created thing is, as it were, a finite infinity or a created god, so that it exists in the way in which this can best occur. [Everything is] as if the Creator had said, “Let it be made,” and as if because a God (who is eternity itself) could not be made, there was made that which could be made: viz., something as much like God as possible. (II.104)

Underlying humanity’s desire to know finite beings is a primordial and innate desire to know Absolute Infinity.

We arrive at the heart of Hart’s essay on Nicholas of Cusa. I quote the entirety of chapter 16 of The Vision of God because it is so darn rich and illuminating, as well as crucial to understanding Hart’s philosophy of desire and knowing:

Unless God were infinite, He would not be the end of desire. Fire does not cease from its flame and neither does the burning love which is directed toward You, O God. You are the Form of everything desirable; You are the Truth which is desired in every desire. Hence, because from Your melli­fluous gift I have begun to taste of Your incomprehensible sweetness, which becomes more pleasing to me the more infinite it appears to be, I see the following: that the reason You, O God, are unknown to all creatures is so that amid this most sacred ignorance creatures may be more content, as if [they were situated] amid a countless and inexhaustible treasure. For one who finds a treasure of such kind that he knows it to be altogether uncountable and infinite is filled with much greater joy than is one who finds a countable and finite treasure. Hence, this most sacred ignorance of Your greatness is a most delectable feast for my intellect—especially since I find such a treasure in my own field, so that it is a treasure which belongs to me.

O Fount of riches! You will both to be comprehended by my possessing You and to remain incomprehensible and infinite. For You are a treasure of delights, whose termination no one can desire. How could the appetite desire to cease being? For whether the will desires to exist or not to exist, the appetite cannot cease from desiring but is directed toward infinity. You descend, O Lord, in order to be comprehended; and You remain uncount­able and infinite. And unless You remained infinite, You would not be the End of desire. You, then, continue to be infinite in order to be the End of all desire. For intellectual desire does not aim at that which can be greater and more desirable but at that which cannot be greater and more desirable. Now, everything that is less than infinite can be greater. Therefore, the End of desire is infinite.

You, then, O God, are Infinity itself, which alone I desire in every desire. I can approach unto a knowledge of Your Infinity no more closely than to know that Your Infinity is infinite. Therefore, the more incomprehensible I compre­hend You-my-God to be, the more I attain unto You, because the more I attain the End of my desire. Therefore, I cast aside anything occurring to me that purports to show that You are comprehensible, because it misleads me. My desire, wherein You shine forth, leads me to You, because it casts aside all finite and comprehensible things. For in these things it cannot find rest; for it is led unto You by You Yourself. But You are Beginning without a beginning and End without an end. Therefore, my desire is led by the Eternal Beginning—from which it has the fact that it is desire—unto the End without an end. And this End is infinite.

I, an insignificant human being, would not be content with You my God if I knew You to be comprehensible. The reason is that I am led by You unto You Yourself, who are incomprehensible and infinite. Lord my God, I see You by means of a certain mental rapture. For if the capacity of sight is not filled up by seeing nor that of the ear by hearing, then even less that of the intellect by understanding. Therefore, it is not the case that that which the intellect understands is that which fully satisfies the intellect, i.e., is the intellect’s end. On the other hand, that which the intellect does not at all understand cannot fully satisfy it, either. Rather, [it is fully satisfied] only [by] that which it understands by not understanding. For an intelligible object that is known by the intellect does not fully satisfy the intellect—and neither does an intelligible object that is not at all known by the intellect. Rather, the intellect can be fully satisfied only by an intelligible object which it knows to be so intelligible that this object can never fully be understood. By comparison, a man who has an insatiable hunger is not fully satisfied by a snack which he can eat. Nor is he fully satisfied by food that does not reach him but only by food which does reach him and, though eaten continually, can never all be eaten up, since it is such that it is not diminished by being eaten, since it is infinite. (§16)

Unlike Aristotle and the medieval scholastics, especially those in the natura pura tradition, Nicholas refuses to limit natural desire to the natural world. God is the “Truth which is desired in every desire.” The intellect cannot find final satisfaction in the apprehension of finite reality. It suffers, we suffer, from an abiding disquietude. Fulfill one quest and soon another beckons. We strive to know more and more, to know more than we can know. The rational thirst for the infinite is insatiable; it cannot be quenched by the things of this world. Ultimately it must transcend the finite to apprehend the transcendent One who images himself in the finite, to gaze beyond the wall of Paradise. “You, then, O God, are Infinity itself, which alone I desire in every desire.” Human beings are drawn to Absolute Infinity precisely because it cannot be comprehended. “You, then, continue to be infinite in order to be the End of all desire.”

But not only does humanity desire the supernatural end which awakens desire; but, as Hart elaborates, the infinite horizon to which we are oriented enables us to know finite realities and recognize them as incapable of satisfying desire:

Nicholas recognizes from the first that nothing could actually prompt an appetite for the infinite that is truly capable of drawing us toward finite ends except a real intelligible horizon of rational longing, against which the intellect can measure and evaluate any finite object of desire. Every limited terminus of rational desire, then, is recognizable to the intellect only and precisely as a contraction and mediation of that formally limitless terminus. And so Nicholas sees this exquisite state of elated frustration as nothing less than the original intentionality of spirit toward God’s revelation of himself in all things, an openness of spiritual creatures to all things, through which all things are reciprocally opened up to spiritual creatures. God’s “facies absoluta“—his absolute face or aspect—is the “natural face of every nature,” the “art and knowledge of everything knowable,” and so the “absoluta entitas omnis esse,” the “absolute entity of all Being.” He is the face of all faces, already seen in every face or aspect of any creature, albeit in a veiled and symbolic manner; he is the infinite treasure of delight glimpsed within every delight, manifesting himself in all that is and by every possible means of attracting the rational will to himself. . . . We receive the world, therefore, and the world is available to our spiritual overtures, entirely on account of this prior infinite appetite for an infinite end, this desire to know the infinite in a real “infinite mode”: that of incomprehensible immediacy, unknowing knowledge. We are capable of knowing any­thing at all only because the primordial orienta­tion of our nature is the longing to know God as God, to see him as he is, rather than as some limited essence. For that vision to be achieved, however, all finite concepts must be surpassed by the intellect as it ascends to a more direct apprehension. That hunger for the infinite as infinite, which can never come to rest in any finite nature, is also the only possible ground of the mind’s capacity for finite realities as objects of rational knowledge or desire. But for our inextinguish­able intentionality toward the “face of all faces,” no face would ever appear to us.2

Note the bolded sentence. In one form or another, we meet this provocative thesis throughout You Are Gods, as well as in Hart’s previous writings: we only know finite reality because human rationality is oriented to deifying union with the transcendent Creator.3 “A finite intention of intellect and will,” Hart comments, “is possible only as the effect of a prior infinite intentionality.”4 Or as I might put it: we want to know anything and everything because God has planted deep in the heart of every human being (and every angel) the appetence to know him as Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Only in him will we find our rest in ecstatic epektasis.

In his Confessions, St Augustine of Hippo famously prays: “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (1.1.5). Hart echoes this prayer in this lovely passage:

Another way of saying this, perhaps, is that our natural and irrepressible desire to know the truth of anything and everything is the desire to “see face to face” and thus to “know fully,” just as we are “fully known” (1 Corin­thians 13:12), and so “to see him as he is” (1 John 3:12). It is the longing to arrive at that place where knowing and the known perfectly coincide, where mind and being achieve so perfect a transparency one to the other that they constitute a single act. The rational will, therefore, can rest content only in that infinite divine simplicity where being and knowing are one event, perfected in the repletion of love.5

In light of the ongoing debate concerning the natural desire for God, I submit the following as the most philosophically radical passage in You Are Gods:

Not even God could create a rational nature not called to deification, any more than he could create a square circle; to have received that call is precisely what it is to be a rational being. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a spiritual creature can possess no purely natural end at all, not even as a penultimate station along the way, and certainly none to which a super­nat­ural end is merely contingently or gratuitously superadded. Quite the con­trary: a spiritual creature is capable of a rational desire for a natural end only within the embrace of a prior supernatural longing, and hence a spiri­tual creature appropriates any given natural good not merely as an end in itself, but as more originally an expression of the supernatural Good. A finite intention of intellect and will is possible only as the effect of a prior infinite intentionality. Any intellectual predilection toward a merely immediate terminus of longing can be nothing other than a mediating modality and local contraction of a total spiritual volition toward the divine. One cannot contemplate a flower, watch a play, or pluck a strawberry from a punnet without being situated within an irrefrangible intentional continuum that extends all the way to God in his fullness.6

Why does Hart believe that human beings necessarily possess an absolute and uncondi­tional appetence for the divine? Because we are rational spirits, created in the image of God. Only because we ordered to Absolute Reality are we able to know the world in which we live. And for the same reason, and no less radically: only because we are ordered to the Absolute Good are we able to purposively act within the world:

The rational will, when freely moved, is always purposive; it acts always toward an end: conceived, perceived, imagined, hoped for, resolved upon. Its every movement is already, necessarily, an act of recognition, judgment, evaluation, and decision, and is therefore also a tacit or explicit reference to a larger, more transcendent realm of values, meanings, and rational longings. Desire and knowledge are always, in a single impulse, directed to some purpose present to the mind, even if only vaguely. Any act lacking such purposiveness is by definition not an act of rational freedom. There are, moreover, only two possible ways of pursuing a purpose: either as an end in itself or as a provisional end pursued for the sake of an end beyond itself. But no finite object or purpose can wholly attract the rational will in the latter way, and no finite thing is desirable in the former. A finite object may, in relative terms, constitute a more compelling end that makes a less compelling end nonetheless instrumentally desirable, but it can never constitute an end in itself. It too requires an end beyond itself to be compelling in any measure; it too can evoke desire only on account of some yet higher, more primordial, more general disposition of reason’s appetites. If not for some always more original orientation toward an always more final end, the will would never act in regard to finite objects at all. Even what pleases us most immediately can be intentionally desired only within the context of a rational longing for the Good in its own fullness.7

I find Hart’s argument compelling; but I am neither metaphysician nor phenomenologist. Will other philosophers, or at least theistic philosophers, be equally persuaded? The jury is out. As one of my seminary professors liked to quip, “Interesting, if true.”

The rationale behind Hart’s emphatic rejection of the natura pura hypothesis should now be clear. The creation of intellectual beings necessarily implies a supernatural end. To divorce human nature from such an end, even hypothetically, is to imagine a nonhuman, nonspiri­tual entity incapable of rational thought and purposive action. What then would be the point? Surely none worthy of the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

I cannot resist circling back to Cusanus in order to share with you yet another of Hart’s lovely reflections:

For Nicholas, the very structure of all finite rational desire is nothing other than a created participation in the infinite movement of the divine life: the Father knowing himself perfectly in his Logos, such that his being and his knowing are one and the same reality, consummated in the love of the Spirit. And the radical implication of this way of seeing things is that the immanent telos of God’s own life and the transcendent telos of the life of a spiritual creature are, formally and finally, one and the same telos: the divine essence, understood as the perfect repletion of God’s life of love and knowledge. As God is God in the eternal and eternally accomplished movement of God to God, so we are gods in the process of becoming God solely by virtue of always existing within that movement, proceeding from the same source and toward the same end; we do so in the mode of finitude, contingency, and successiveness, and so are not God in se; but teleolog­ically we are nothing but God. There is no “place” other than “in him” where a spiritual creature can live and move and have its being and so seek its ultimate end—which is to say, the fullness of reality that God is. In fact, it might not be wrong to say that, for Nicholas, the difference between God and spiritual creatures is in some sense ontologically modal: it is the difference, that is, between the infinite simplicity of divine being, on the one hand, in whom there is a perfect identity of knower and known or of essence and existence (this latter is not Nicholas’s terminology, of course) and the finite dynamism of created being, which directly participates in that divine reality but only under the form of a perpetual synthesis of knowing and being known.8

Hart has been recently accused of advocating a heretical form of pantheism.9 The above passage puts the allegation to the lie. He clearly maintains the distinction between the uncreated God, for whom essence and existence are identical, and created gods, who are freely and gratuitously summoned into existence from out of nothing to participate in the infinite plenitude of the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we must label Hart’s position, I propose “non-dualist classical theism.”10

“Is it not written in your Law,” Jesus asks the Pharisees, “‘I have said you are gods?'” (John 10:34). And does not the Apostle Paul promise that God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28)? In the God-Man and by the Holy Spirit, we are gods-in-the making and therefore will be and indeed are God. I admit that this phrasing is bold and unexpected and vulnerable to misunderstanding. I probably would not speak this way from the pulpit. Too much explanation is needed, and one can hardly ask parishioners to digest Hart’s book. Far less confusing is the biblical language of (a) adoption as sons in the Son (Gal 4:4-7) and (b) partaking in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The challenge is to read and preach these two two texts together. When we do, we may find ourselves very close to Hart’s position. Is this not what theosis ultimately means, to become gods in God and thus to be God? Recall Hart’s fourth and fifth premises, stated in the introduction:

God became human so that humans should become God. Only the God who is always already human can become human. Only a humanity that is always already divine can become God.

God is all that is. Whatever is not God exists as becoming divine, and as such is God in the mode of what is other than God. But God is not “the other” of anything.11

Consider: God is not an other over against his creation. We of course think and speak about him as a being, as does Holy Scripture. We tell stories about him. We imagine him living somewhere we know not where. Yet Christian theology has never been completely comfortable with this way of thinking. God is beyond being, Dionysius the Areopagite declares; God is Being, St Thomas Aquinas asserts. In either case, what does this mean for us? Following in the tradition of Thomas, Robert Barron states: “Creatures do not so much have a relationship to God; they are a relationship to God.”12 Christian liturgy stipulates that our conversation with God occurs within the triadic Godhead: we pray to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. In God we live and move and have our being. So far so good. But Hart goes on to say that God is all that exists. What the heck does that mean? Don’t we exist? Aren’t we something? Yes but in a mode of radical contingency and dependency. We are a blink of an eye from the abyss. Only God exists in himself; only God is his own end. As for everything else, they exist in the mode of becoming divine and therefore “is God in the mode of what is other than God.” It sounds like nonsense (and a Thomist would no doubt agree), yet what sounds like nonsense in one philosophical tradition makes paradoxical sense in the tradition of Dionysius, Eriugena, and Cusanus.13 Hart’s point is rigorously metaphysical. God plus the world does not equal two. “Take away God from the creation,” Nicholas writes, “and nothing remains” (Ignorance 2.110).

Here I direct the reader to the difficult final chapter of You Are Gods, “The Chiasmus: the Created Supernatural and the Natural Divine.” In this essay Hart succinctly lays out his metaphysics of uncreated and created being and the logic of divine transcendence and the deification of the not-God:

To say that God is but also shall be “all in all” is to say that his eternal act of being God includes within itself his act of being God within the not-God. No dimension of the divine fullness can be lacking, even the dimension of that fullness expressing itself “beyond” itself. The creation, redemption, and deification of rational creation, the restoration and transfiguration of material creation, the whole of God’s action within created time—all of it is the created expression of the uncreated in its transcendence even of the division between transcendent and immanent. This is the necessary amphibology of the One: possessing as it must all possibility as actuality in perfect simplicity, it contains within the inner actuality of the divine plenitude even the possibility of creation’s relation to its creator as wholly other.14

The logic is challenging and difficult, as is its conclusion. To be ordered to God as our final end, which is his end, is to be God. Clearly Hart is not speaking nonsense, nor is he speak­ing heresy. He is pointing us to the eschatological mystery of uncreated and created divin­ity. The now standard Orthodox construal of theosis as participation in the divine energeiai, which are God yet not God in the simplicity of the divine essence, approaches Hart’s view—yet differences remain.15 Both formulations seek to affirm maximal deification of the human being in the incarnate Word; both seek to affirm maximal participation and union in the infinite life of the Trinity. Both would agree with the teaching of St Maximus the Confessor: “All that God is, except for an identity in being, one becomes when one is deified by grace.”16 Perhaps the key difference is how Hart thinks the creatio ex nihilo within the eternal self-knowing of the Father and the Word in the Spirit. “Surely the temporal is, from the perspective of the finite, contingent,” he elucidates. “But, from the perspective of the eternal life of God, God’s manifestation of himself to himself is never without his manifestation in creation, and so creation is eternally present within the eternal act whereby God is God.”17 Hart thus maintains a clear distinction between the eternal generation of the Son and Spirit by the Father and the eternal creation of the world from nothing by through the Son in the Spirit. Once this is clearly seen, it is but a small step to affirm that the not-God, namely the finite universe, must be God by virtue of the divine simplicity. The Palamite distinction between the divine essence and energies would thus seem to be unnecessary, at least within Hartian metaphysics. In other words, the Palamite account of deification is insufficiently grounded in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

I must ponder all of this further. I hope that philosophers and theologians will invest the serious work needed to comprehend and where necessary critique the metaphysical vision Hart has offered to the Church.

And I invite you, the reader, to ponder the wondrous, breathtaking destiny of humanity—to become gods in God. This is the inextinguishable desire that lies deep in our souls.

Footnotes

[1] Nancy S. Hudson, “Divine Immanence: Nicholas of Cusa’s Understanding of Theophany,” Journal of Theological Studies, 56 (2005): 455; also see her book Becoming God (2007), chap. 2.

[2] David Bentley Hart, You Are Gods (2022), pp. 24-25; emphasis mine.

[3] See, e.g., David B. Hart, The Experience of God (2013), part two; and his Notre Dame paper “Mind, Soul, World” (2016).

[4] Hart, p. 13.

[5] Hart, p. 30.

[6] Ibid., pp. 12-13. I do concede that other “most radical,” and perhaps even more radical, claims can be found in You Are Gods, especially in the final chapter.

[7] Ibid., pp. 13-14.

[8] Ibid., pp. 30-31; emphasis mine. “Grace and nature remain continuous for Cusanus. . . . In De filiatione dei Cusanus explicitly declares the human spirit to contain a divine seed that allows it to grow into full conformity with God’s Son. The soul’s natural aspirations remain unfulfilled until she reaches this theosis which allows her to partake in God’s own nature.” André Dupré, “The Mystical Theology of De Visione Dei,” in Eros and Eris (1992), p. 107.

[9] See, e.g., Edward Feser’s online review of You Are Gods: “David Bentley Hart’s Post-Christian Pantheism,” Public Discourse (31 March 2022).

[10] Cf. David B. Burrell, “Creatio ex Nihilo Recovered,” Modern Theology, 29 (2013). The term panentheism also comes to mind to describe DBH’s understanding of divinity, but heck, everyone today wants to be a panentheist.

[11] Hart, pp. xviii.

[12] Robert Barron, Catholicism (2014), p. 76.

[13] See, e.g., Dermot Moran, “Pantheism from John Scottus Eriugena to Nicholas of Cusa,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 64 (1990): 131-151. Consider the following passage from Cusanus:

Each of the blessed, while the truth of each’s being is preserved, exists in Christ Jesus as Christ and through him in God as God, and God, remaining the absolute maximum, exists in Christ Jesus as Jesus and through him in all things as all things. (Ignorance 3.12.261)

[14] Ibid., p. 118.

[15] Cf. Kallistos Ware, “God Immanent yet Transcendent: The Divine Energies According to Saint Gregory Palamas,” in In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being (2004): 157-168.

[16] Maximus, Amb. 41.5. This oft-quoted sentence appears to be succinct paraphrase of the original text, which is why it’s oft-quoted. Also see Artemije Radosavljević, “Deification as the End and Fulfillment of Salvation According to St. Maximos the Confessor.”

[17] Hart, p. 104

(Return to first article)

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The Natural Desire for God: Pope Pius XII, Henri de Lubac, and David Bentley Hart

How can a conscious spirit be anything other
than an absolute desire for God?
~ Henri de Lubac ~

In 1950 Pope Pius XII published his encyclical Humani generis. The encyclical summons theologians to faithfully defend the Catholic faith, as articulated by the teaching office of the Church, and to eschew novelty. Among the many concerns and false teachings named by the Pope, he specifically targets theologians who teach that rational beings are necessarily ordered to a supernatural end:

Others destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create inteltual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision. (§26)

It has long been thought that the Pope had Henri de Lubac and his controversial book Surnaturel in mind. Nicholas Lombardo explains:

With a single sentence, Pius XII was widely seen to have settled the question for Catholic theologians. By affirming that God could indeed create intel­lec­tual beings but not order them to the beatific vision, his intervention seemed to censure a critical assumption on which all de Lubac’s arguments rested. For if a natural desire for the supernatural were common to all intellectual beings, as Henri de Lubac had maintained in Surnaturel (and defended as the authentic interpretation of Thomas Aquinas), then God could not fail to order them to the beatific vision, because not ordering them would frustrate the natures he had given them, and thus, implicitly, contradict his own wisdom and goodness. By denying the consequent (modus tollens), Pius XII had denied the antecedent. The antecedent was not even named. There was no need. It was obvious to anyone who had been paying attention.1

Ironically, the one person who did not believe that the papal rebuke intended de Lubac was de Lubac himself: “I have read nothing in it, doctrinally, that affects me.”2 Lombardo argues that a close parsing of the encyclical, considered within the wider medieval and modern discussion of the issue, confirms de Lubac’s opinion. If the Pope intended to condemn the views expressed in Surnaturel, he needed to be more specific.3

Given that Surnaturel is unavailable in English translation, it’s difficult for a nonacademic like myself to verify precisely what de Lubac maintained regarding the natural desire for the beatific vision and the duplex ordo. The secondary studies I have read describe the French theologian as asserting an absolute and unconditional desire for God as myste­ri­ously innate to human nature.4 In his later writings, de Lubac concedes the possibility of the natura pura hypothesis, though insisting that in the revealed economy of salvation, all human beings are in fact created to a supernatural end:

It is said that a universe might have existed in which man, though without necessarily excluding any other desire, would have his rational ambitions limited to some lower, purely human, beatitude. Certainly I do not deny it. But having said that, one is obliged to admit—indeed one is automatically affirming—that in our world as it is this is not the case: in fact the “ambi­tions” of man as he is cannot be limited in this way. Further, the word “ambitions” is no longer the right one, nor, as one must see even more clearly, is the word “limits.” In me, a real and personal human being, in my concrete nature—that nature I have in common with all real men, to judge by what my faith teaches me, and regardless of what is or is not revealed to me either by reflective analysis or by reasoning—the “desire to see God” cannot be permanently frustrated without an essential suffering. To deny this is to undermine my entire Credo. For is not this, in effect, the definition of the “pain of the damned”? And consequently—at least in appearance—a good and just God could hardly frustrate me, unless I, through my own fault, turn away from him by choice. The infinite importance of the desire implanted in me by my Creator is what constitutes the infinite importance of the drama of human existence. It matters little that, in the actual circum­stances of that existence, immersed as I am in material things, and unaware of myself, this desire is not objectively recognized in its full reality and force: It will inevitably be so the day I at last see my nature as what it fundamentally is—if it is ever to appear to me in this way. “Certainly it is not now that reason dissimulates truth, or that the soul declines the view of reason, disconnected from corporeal limbs and drawn into itself.” For this desire is not some “accident” in me. It does not result from some peculiarity, possibly alterable, of my individual being, or from some historical contin­gency whose effects are more or less transitory. A fortiori it does not in any sense depend upon my deliberate will. It is in me as a result of my belong­ing to humanity as it is, that humanity which is, as we say, “called.” For God’s call is constitutive. My finality, which is expressed by this desire, is inscribed upon my very being as it has been put into this universe by God. And, by God’s will, I now have no other genuine end, no end really assigned to my nature or presented for my free acceptance under any guise, except that of “seeing God.”5

De Lubac distinguishes between two fundamental blessings, a twofold gift: the blessing of creation and the blessing of participation in the divine life of the Trinity. The first is expressed in the statement “God has given me being” and the second in the statement “God has imprinted upon my being a supernatural finality.” Both blessings are gratui­tously bestowed, but the latter is “in no way bound to the gift of being; it expresses the basic difference between my natural being and my supernatural finality, in other words, between my creatureliness and my divine sonship.”5 Yet having uttered both statements, de Lubac reminds us of their inadequacy, given the creatio ex nihilo. Both presuppose a “fictitious subject” which disappears upon analysis. There is no “me” that receives either being or finality, as if my “me” exists prior to the gifting. Our finitude forces us to speak this way, yet it cannot be literally true. The analogy of gift breaks down at this point. De Lubac quotes François Fénelon:

There was nothing in me that preceded all his gifts, nothing able to receive them. The first of his gifts on which all the others rest, is what I call myself; he gave me that self: I owe him not only all that I have, but also all that I am. O incomprehensible gift, which our poor language expresses in a moment, but which the human mind will never arrive at understanding in all its depth! This God who made me has given me myself to myself; the self I love so much is simply a present of his goodness. . . . Without him I would not be myself; without him I should have neither the self to love, nor the love wherewith I love that self, nor the will that loves it, nor the mind that knows it. All is a gift: he who receives the gift is himself the first gift he receives.7

In any case, by acknowledging the possibility that God might have created a universe in which human beings are ordered solely to a natural beatitude, de Lubac evades the censure of Pope Pius VII.

The Second Vatican Council appears to have embraced a position similar to de Lubac:

For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery. (Gaudium et spes I.1.22; emphasis mine)

The above statement can certainly be interpreted in a way that does not deny the duplex ordo thesis that humanity is given two distinct ends, natural and supernatural; yet many post-Vatican II theologians have interpreted it as a vindication of de Lubac, and this would seem to be confirmed by two statements in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

God himself, in creating man in his own image, has written upon his heart the desire to see him. Even if this desire is often ignored, God never ceases to draw man to himself because only in God will he find and live the fullness of truth and happiness for which he never stops searching. By nature and by vocation, therefore, man is a religious being, capable of entering into communion with God. This intimate and vital bond with God confers on man his fundamental dignity. (§2)

The greatest desire of the human person is to see God. “I want to see God” is the cry of our whole being. We realize our true and full happiness in the vision and beatitude of the One who created us out of love and draws us to himself with infinite love. (§533)

But perhaps this is all moot. Catholic theologians will no doubt continue to debate the matter until Christ returns in glory. As for Orthodox theologians, I expect that most, if not all, would support the above statements from Gaudium et spes and the Compendium. After all, what more needs to be said? In the words of St Maximus the Confessor:

God, who created all nature with wisdom and secretly planted in each intelligent being knowledge of Himself as its first power, like a munificent Lord gave also to us men a natural desire and longing for him. Impelled by it we are led to search out the truth, wisdom, and order, manifest harmoniously in all creation, aspiring through them to attain Him by whose grace we achieved the desire.8

You are no doubt wondering why I began this piece with a discussion of Pope Pius XVII’s condemnation of those who maintain that “God . . . cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision.” Answer: because David Bentley Hart asserts the exact position denounced by the Pope!

Footnotes

[1] Nicholas E. Lombardo, “What God Cannot Do: Divine Power, the Gratuity of Grace, and Henri De Lubac,” Modern Theology, 37/1 (2021): 114-138.

[2] Quoted by Lombardo, ibid.

[3] But if not de Lubac, to whom was the Pope referring?

[4] See Philip J. Donnelly, “The Supernatural,” The Review of Politics 10/2 (April 1948): 226-232; Alexander S. Rosenthal, “The Problem of the Desiderium Naturale in the Thomistic Tradition,” Verbum, 6/2 (2004): 335-344; Nicholas Healy, “Henri de Lubac on Nature and Grace,” Communio 35 (2008): 535-564; Jacob W. Wood, “Henri de Lubac, Humani Generis, and the Natural Desire for a Supernatural End,” Nova et Vetera, 15/4 (2017): 1209-1241.

[5] Hans de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural, pp. 54-55.

[6] Ibid., p. 76.

[7] Ibid., pp. 77-78. See John Milbank’s analysis of the giftedness of the natural desire for God in The Suspended Middle,  2nd ed. (2014), pp. 43-52.

[8] Maximus the Confessor, Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice, Fifth Century 100, in The Philokalia, II:284.

(Go to “To Infinity and Beyond”)

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“Jesus Christ is God’s unbreakable pledge that he will save and renew his creation”

If Jesus Christ is, as we believe him to be, none other than God him­self incarnate among us at work for us and for our salva­tion, then Jesus Christ, who is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, is God’s unbreakable pledge that he will save and renew his creation, finally making all things new. If in Jesus Christ God has taken up our creaturely human­ity into union with himself once and for all, then God can no more let us go to ruin and destruction than he can undo the Incarnation, go back upon His Word enacted in the cruci­fix­ion and resurrec­tion of Jesus Christ or contradict the Love which God himself eternally is, and which he has irreversibly incarnated in our human existence and des­tiny in Jesus Christ. That is the crucial point upon which Jesus Christ insisted when he declared that there is an identity of Word and Act between himself and God the Father, and went on to tell us that God has put everything into his hands, and no one can snatch us out of his grasp. That is surely a mighty Word of Christ to us today, when we seem to see human life and existence fragmenting and disintegrating all round us, and we quail in our innermost beings at the thought of fearful things that may overtake the life and destiny of mankind on earth. Let us put in the centre of all that the Word of Christ which cannot fail or pass away, for it is the Word of God eternal. Christ will bring about what he has promised, for his Word cannot pass away.

Thomas F. Torrance

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A Matter of Taste: A Review of You Are Gods

by Brian C. Moore, Ph. D.

First off, I should begin by disabusing readers: this is not strictly a book review. I don’t really write book reviews. I am too given to confession, to wandering off the straight path, to expounding views initiated by what the author has said or not said, simply starting another subject entirely because of some idiosyncratic association that popped into my fool head. “You need an editor,” a Jesuit once said when I showed him something I had scribbled. “But that’s how I write,” I answered. Anyway, I started out at a piece somewhat resembling a review and those bits will show, good bones, perhaps, but this is not a book review and I don’t want to trick anyone into spending time hoping to find one. Rather, this is chimerical, a centaur, riffs on agreement, some definite rebuke and wrath, I enjoyed that bit, mostly a running engagement with the reported ponderings of David Bentley Hart who I have fictionalized, but all writings are fiction. (I am not even the author of these words, that fellow is a mystery, even to me.) So I began by looking at one book, but then the fifth essay or chapter in the first opus caused me to want to study that other text, Tradition and Apocalypse, and unwilling to write separate articles and unable to comfortably combine them, I have produced this uncomfortable mash, though I like it well enough, and I have warned you so continue at your own peril.

About thirty years ago, more now, how sad, I wrote a fairly wretched, but nonetheless interesting screenplay with my late friend, Wayne Brunson Bryant. We had no idea what we were doing and I have lost the single hard copy of our efforts at some point in the intervening years. Yet that story had staying power and became a sort of invisible reposi­tory for ideas and learning hoarded and then gazed upon like a jackdaw amazed by all the shiny things. I turned it into a very long novel that I tweak now and again. One day providence may see it to print. Shortly, I shall share a brief selection, but here, I only wish to note the opening epigraph that has long stood over the face of its journey. It is a quote from Adrienne von Speyr, the mystic friend and guide to Hans Urs von Balthasar:

Perhaps, however, the decisive thing has always lain in what is hidden, and it is necessary to dismantle one’s judgments and to reassemble everything anew from the standpoint of the hidden.

It seems to me this rather cryptic advice serves both my story and Hart’s vision. And despite our differences, there is essential agreement on the primacy of the eschatological, and the need for creative fidelity to a mysterious consummation that is best approached in art and dogmas understood not as satisfied intellectual possession, fundamentalist idols that stifle life, but as terse symbols that nurture wondrous anticipation of infinite, joyous revelation.

After reading David Bentley Hart’s You Are Gods, a friend of mine asked if there was any substantial difference for Hart between classic Christianity and Neo-Platonism. I was tempted to say that Neo-Platonism is probably preferable to his prickly sensibility, enjoy­ing a relative absence of American sympathizers. Behind that question is the concern that Hart has reduced what is revelatory to metaphysics, perhaps. And then there is the sense, one sees this in queries and aggressive debate ostensibly about apologetics, that Hart has replaced salvation with syllogism, that his universalism is just so much logical surmise and not so much valid scriptural exegesis or existential attention to the drama of individual human lives. While at a superficial level, wariness before the synthetic splendor of Hart’s vision is understandable, partly because it requires a kind of aesthetic taste for wisdom hardly nourished in the common ethos—though that has probably always been true, and there are places where I think his assertions questionable—the overall momentum of the text is best indicated in the final chapter that ultimately articulates ecstatic wonder before the infinite largesse of Triune plenitude. One is invited to reflect upon the metaphysical implications of revelation which hearken to the deepest secret of our created and uncreated existence. The mystery of that dual assertion baffles the univocal imagination, summoning nocturnal depths to unsettle shrewd calculation limited by solar certitudes. Taken as a whole, You Are Gods is by turns bold, incisive, exasperating, ultimately a penetrating exposition of the manner in which the primal root of nature, time, and grace is the eschaton that alone bestows meaning and coherence to dynamisms of heart and mind summoned from the nothing as agapeic gift.

A number of the essays in this collection began as speeches for differing venues and I rather suppose the original occasion and nature of audience remains as coloration, the particular proclivities of the first listeners inviting rhetoric likely condign to prevailing attitudes. The penultimate essay began as a contribution to a Festschrift in honor of Cyril O’Regan, the last Hart describes as a kind of contrapuntal argument, “clumsily fugal”—though this description is possibly the charming deflection of a savant somewhat disin­genuously lowering expectation before unfolding a remarkably plangent music of the soul. There might be a rough tectonic in the organization of occasional pieces. In any event, I shall take them in serial order and treat them as if there were something of an embedded narrative. Spurious or not, it yields an interesting tale. The Muse is often exquisite, though I am not sure how far I trust the bard. Under the guise of forthright, robust impoliteness, rudeness absolved by the spirit of H. L. Mencken, there is equivocity, melancholy, a performance more gripped by shadows than the flourish of apocalyptic promise belies.

* * *

Chapter one, “Waking the Gods,” opens with a perfectly charming bit of humor that seems to me distinctly English in its ethos: “It is a source of constant vexation to me, as I am sure it must be to all of us, that philosophical theology pays such scant attention to root vegeta­bles.” A voice sweetly comic, eccentric, kindly perceptive, I would that it were more dominant in Hart’s repertoire. Rather quickly, Hart calls upon one of his consistent villains, manual Thomism, whose zombie-like reprise among traditionalist Catholic circles engenders Hart’s trenchant response. Now, I was raised on the neo-Thomism of Maritain and Gilson, as well as the lucid exposition of Josef Pieper. I remain fond of the personalist inflected philosophy of Norris Clarke; Thomistically inspired is the term Clarke favors. Oliva Blanchette and David Burrell articulate versions of Thomism that are synthetically open, instantiations of inquiry carried by an active wisdom tradition that readers should not reductively equate with the incoherent and impoverished concept of pure nature. In any event, it is always charitable and simply just to take the best exemplars of a tradition as paradigmatic rather than to concentrate on the execrable, regardless of the relative number of adherents. Hart does not speculate upon why the pernicious variant of manualist theology should have become appealing to certain Catholics beyond a rebarbative aspect of the American temperament that refuses to allow a properly dead ideological attachment to fade into seemly oblivion. Indeed, the pure nature thesis is simply a wretched, insecure, miserly concoction that hardly defends the honor of God which is putatively the reason behind its revival amongst a peculiar set of pious intellectuals. Frankly, anyone passionately attached to pure nature is also likely to manifest a character and sensibility combative, reactionary, and far from the serene mystery of divine largesse. The irony is that a deeply flawed understanding of Triune economy results in an effort to secure the giftedness of grace in a manner that utterly misses the mark on the essential nature of the passio essendi. Hart astutely notes a particular error: “A final cause must be logically implicit in the potency it actuates, true, but not necessarily as some wholly inherent and autonomous power of expression.” Hence, the friendship of God that imparts gracious assistance should not be interpreted as proof against theosis as the natural end for human being. One discerns a recurring duplicity in many dualisms: the very attempt to radically isolate the supernatural from nature turns out to be the flip side of the immanent frame that evinces contemptuous neuralgia for transcendence. Charles Taylor’s buffered selves of modernity, Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe who delights in self-sufficient autonomy, characterize the pure nature asserted by a hapless, misguided enclave of the faithful.

Like the modern cosmologists who can only think along a univocal plane and never properly entertain the nothing, those learned folks who plump for pure nature also do not think through the implications of creatio ex nihilo. Hart clarifies the issue. The need for impregnable barriers between nature and grace forgets the coming from nothing. “Finite existence itself is always already nothing but the gracious effect of God calling creatures to himself out of nothingness.” Only the dim could proclaim “rivalries of agency” when the strivings of the creature are not properly construed as forms of competitive freedom, but rather energies of becoming that emerge from the mystery of Being as essentially gift bestowed by the gracious Father. And so, as Hart acknowledges, one can think a sense in which God owes his creatures grace, but only as demand incumbent upon the original gift of creation. Elemental desire remains an obligation that ultimately redounds upon his own Goodness. The core assertion that is given several iterations in the essay is the affirmation of the infinite horizon which alone permits intelligible, rational desire to be rational. “Any intellectual predilection toward a merely immediate terminus of longing can be nothing other than a mediating modality and local contraction of a total spiritual volition towards the divine.” Hart’s penetrating phenomenology of desire illuminates a metaphysical structure that necessarily bears upon judgment and interpretation. As Christos Yannaras remarks, every creaturely encounter is a divine love letter. Intentionality is never a passive happening. Or again, as D. C. Schindler has spelled out, reason is inherently ecstatic. Hart is not an isolated maverick when he notes that “rational experience, from the first, is a movement of rapture, of ecstasy toward ends that must be understood . . . as nothing less than the perfections of being,” a surprising conclusion to those placidly attached to a proud and lonely modernity scornful of the supposedly superstitious theophany of ancient civilizations. A. N. Whitehead years ago denounced the prescribed methods and declared precision of those methods as essentially fraudulent. A false twin, made in the image of those manufacturing such facts, no longer possessed genuine contact with nature. Hart says as much. “For spiritual creatures, nature is experienced as nature only by way of a more original apprehension of the supernatural.” Though all this, as William Desmond has recognized, requires the intimacy of an idiot wisdom to become existentially compelling. The obtuse are seemingly ever unfree to imagine desire otherwise, expounding nihilist fabrications as blunt realism.

While one can take this initial essay as mainly a response to the surprising resurgence of the manualist revival, the rest of the chapter opens up beyond a narrowly confined parti­san error towards ways of thinking that touch upon Christology, theological anthropology, and the reciprocal mirroring of the human and the divine. A significant premise—“what­ever is wholly extrinsic to the creature’s nature must remain extrinsic forever”—seems nearly tautological, for surely transformation entirely absent interior bases is rightly described more as destruction of the prior being and replacement with another nature rather than change that occurs to perduring uniqueness. (This is the point of the initial quixotic meditation on rabbits and turnips.) And so, Hart is correct to call out notions of “obediential potential” as magical incantation meant to obscure illicit metaphysical propositions, though the consequences are not abstruse. Think for a moment of popular eschatology that ponders without horror the abandonment of an entire cosmos to nihilating forces so long as one may serenely contemplate the rescue of the elect destined for a new creation blithely free of history’s torment. The incorporation of atomism and individualist egotism into soteriology is rendered spuriously cogent by the insidious abstraction of pure nature. I am curious how many readers shall see the inherent provocation in Hart’s proclamation of logical non-sense. Yet the astonishing consequence of Hart’s insight is nothing short of the recognition that the supposedly foolish economy of the childlike kingdom runs right through all our deliberative wanderings, the Ariadne’s thread of the natural will forever drawing the limited calculations of finite being towards an ineffable, eternal culmination of flourishing joy and unending adventure. Follow that insight far enough and you shall find yourself rebel against financiers, bankers, the advertising gods, all those pledged to an economy that renders God otiose to natural human desire. And then all those political plans dependent on considerations heedless of the infinite plenitude appear deeply inadequate, even false idols. Strangely, the advocates of pure nature find themselves aligned with the scribes of the immanent frame, the gratuity of extrinsic grace secret allies to the purely mundane powers. It is the theology of the archons of this world who so circumspectly seek to prevail upon the divine to remain chaste of the creation. They never see that the ardent heart of humanity is graceful cardiognosis. The Incarnate Child carries the hidden cosmic seed that replaces rationalist stones and nihilist pretensions with reverence and love for all life.

* * *

In the next brief chapter, “The Treasure of Delight,” Hart reprises consideration of the infinities of desire in a Cusan key, though he begins with advertence to that lyrical pessimist Leopardi whose Zibaldone observes the common human destination of desire: disappointment. The aim of our longing ever exceeds the separate or accumulative intensity of our pleasures. “The nullity of everything” covers the world in a languor of dust. While acknowledging the evident cogency in Leopardi’s phenomenology of despair, Hart diagnoses metaphysical contradiction in its presuppositions. Leopardi presumes that infinite intention might arise spontaneously from finite physical causes. And yet, the insatiable yearning for limitless, perfect delight rendered visible by the very disappointment Leopardi records makes no sense were we truly creatures confined to finite, material causality. “An intention without a final intentional horizon can be experienced neither as fulfilled nor as unfulfilled.” Leopardi may anticipate Lacan where desire is perversely deferred indefinitely, each chosen object doomed to reveal its mediation of a transcendental source that never appears. And of course, no one can gainsay the existential reality of all this. The world is not enough, even James Bond comes to recognize that.

The same reality, the one we all share, though with varying degrees of flight, some far gone into the opium dens of virtuality, draws forth a quite different response in Nicolas of Cusa. Juxtaposing Leopardi and Cusa is the sort of thing a poet sees, I think. And while soon enough I shall level my own criticisms of Hart, I must say that many of his most assiduous critics seem to me lacking in stylistic finesse, that sense for the real that requires intuition beyond syllogism and geometric correctness. And so, nothing has changed. Human beings still find desire frustrated. Unhappiness, as Péguy noted in “the secret of forty,” remains the human predicament. But for Cusa, following insight discoverable in Plotinus and Gregory of Nyssa, everything has changed. The very presence of disappointment radiates the whence from which all creatures sojourn. The infinite which was equated with chaos, the unintelligible enemy of form and beauty for pagan antiquity, refuses our finite antinomies, our agonic certitudes ever ready to sacrifice irreplaceable singularity to purchase a lease on momentary order, ephemeral political quiescence. Cusa proclaims the coincidence of opposites. The infinite is perfect plenitude, dynamic peace, overcoming both the sleepiness of our surfeit and the desperation of our want. Indomitable longing reveals the horizon of the infinite that alone makes intelligible the distinct desires of our quotidian lives. Ecstasy is not reserved for the rare occasion of mystic vision, but the recurring foundation of ordinary human experience even when we fail to attend to the implications of our desiring.

There is, if you will, recognition that being is enchanted. Our dull trudging through time is passage from symbol to symbol, tracing in our joys and sorrows, squabbles, hijinks, and crimes, temporal chiaroscuro that whispers the divine secret. “He is the face of all faces, already seen in every face or aspect of any creature, albeit in a veiled and symbolic manner.” Just here, Hart warns that “all of this may at times strike us as more rhapsodic than precise, but it should not.” Charles Williams oft reminds us that it is hell that is inaccurate.Hart touches upon Jean Luc Marion’s “saturated phenomena” to clarify confusions. Marion’s anxiety is on behalf of the given object. He fears that hubris of the transcendental subject shall render the overwhelming dimensions of gifted Being opaque, replacing the mysterious real with shallow conceptual idols. To avoid danger, Marion asserts the limited scope of intentionality that must come up short against the immensity of the given. Thus, Marion attempts to protect the iconic from rationalist claims of mastery. Yet his phenomenological project suffers from fundamental misapprehension. Nicholas of Cusa had already anticipated his objection. “The seeing I direct at God is not a visible seeing, but is rather a seeing of the invisible in the visible.” Hart notes that the Cusan formula relies upon the opposite conclusion from Marion’s conjecture. Awareness of mystery is called forth by the hidden; that which does not appear or perhaps better, that which remains unseen even as it is seen. Being summons us as the music of silence, the invisible abundance that bursts forth in image.

Symbol is borne by the relative weakness of intuition before intentionality tethered to the aniconic infinite. The reverent surprise of awe that Marion prizes only occurs because of the deficit in being that points beyond itself. Apart from the excess of intention, one would never experience wonder. Ironically, Marion’s protective schema feeds the very complacency of spiritual poverty he wishes to dispel. Though, of course, as Hart recognizes, in terms of our psychological experience, everyone knows what Marion is talking about. Reducing the radiant penumbra of spirit to the limits of personality, the surplus of meaning that summons one to new eyes is really a sign of distance between one’s deliberative ego that ruminates upon a world of choices and the underlying heart that desires the one thing necessary. The mundane ego that believes it is creating from nothing asserts nihilist powers to resist and refuse created natures, but like Kantian autonomy, embraces a negative freedom shorn of the plenitude of gift that alone perfects liberty. The latter ultimately can only admit a procedural reason where what is real is limited to point masses, vectors, the cunning calculations of statistical probabilities and quantified facts. The evocative symbolic is no longer treated as requiring ascesis from the malformation of delusive psychologies, the reading of the world—a hard text, says Waldo Williams, an aspiration to divine intimacy. Now it is gratuity added on to brute fact: meaning is transient, relative, nothing inscribed in the heart of things. Christ or nothing.

* * *

“That Judgment Whereby You Judge” has the subtitle of beauty and discernment. The general argument is quite sound. I agree with Hart’s assertion that ethics and aesthetics ought to converge in ways modernity has eschewed. And here, if I may, I include the promised brief excerpt from the mammoth unpublished novel of mine that pertains:

There is something naively brash about the futurists and proponents of fascism in the early twentieth century. Like the bombastic cheerfulness of a brass band, there was a monstrous insensitivity in its celebration of heroic strength. The fascist aesthetic was incurably adolescent, a teen-aged boy incapable of discerning the nuanced enchantment of the passing, irrecoverable moment. Its predilection for the gigantic and the narcissistically monumental overcompensated for soul so tiny it was thinned to the vanishing point. The compelling beauty discernable in the weak and disfigured requires visionary capacities beyond its preference for the obvious multiplied by the megalomania of the triumph of power. Where Velázquez catches the surprising glory in the anguished countenance of a court dwarf condemned to jig and banter for a living, the poorly developed consciousness can only see titillation or revulsion in the face of the grotesque. The harvest of bad art proves the interior convertibility of the transcendentals, the way beauty and the good corrupt into kitsch and spoliation of the innocent. Victory for titanic will is precisely the suffering of the unique reduced to abstract numbers and dead bodies thrown into mass graves. Though Nietzsche was correct that the judo of ressentiment perpetrated by the victim can equally distort, become an indulgence in vitriolic hatred for the oppressor that also forgets complexity, the profound integrity of art that insists on forgiveness as prerequisite to accurate vision.

The intended relevance of the above shall presently announce itself.

Hart alludes to the well-known quip of Horace “de gustibus non est disputandum“—though not without adding that the admonition is pragmatic rather than a retreat from the ethical claims of beauty. The philistine who prefers pictures of dogs playing poker to Monet is simply inured from the persuasive powers and moral claims of the aesthetic. Hart willingly admits that the refinement of taste is often not worth the candle of trouble involved. Paris was right to choose Aphrodite. And then a second anecdote: the presentation of a famous courtesan before the court of Athenian elders. The glimpse of Phryne’s unveiled beauty carefully related as “entering a brief flourish of ecdysiasm into evidence.” Now this may be an especially circumspect rhetoric and I am far from an advocate of astringent prose. I abjure the plain style. Nonetheless, I half suspect that the entire production of Hart’s original speech grew, like a pearl from the initiating speck of sand, from that single word, ecdysiasm. It is such an ornamental bit of erudition, one might be forgiven a glance in the direction of Hemingway who otherwise I have little time for. And just after this display, Hart places the lucid articulation of the play’s moral, as it were. “Taste is not an unimportant thing. In any of us, it indicates how we are disposed to take reality in, how we are likely to recognize what is truly valuable or venerable or what is not, and how our desires are ordered or disordered.”

Yes, quite. So one might be tempted to take the juxtaposition of the prior indulgence of highly artificial language to the point of nearly hilarious euphemism with the central assertion of the essay as wry irony, a kind of hyperbolic winking; or perhaps not. It’s hard to gauge the effect of words on a particular audience, and presumably Hart knew his listeners. In any event, lest one consider all this a genuflection towards a coterie of privileged aesthetes, we are quickly advised: “Good taste is not always sophisticated; in fact, at its purest, it is remarkably innocent, guileless, even childlike.” And certainly, Christ’s criteria for entering the kingdom pledges the truth of it, though it remains yet a question of judgment that each of us must approach with humility. And here, I think Hart fails his own principles. His penchant for vituperative excess by his own lights is participation in the holy rage of the gospel. I don’t demur entirely, but there is also a perduring affection for literary forebears that foster indulgence of choleric contempt for those who are deemed lacking. Some unwashed and forgotten are readily made citizens of eschatological joy, whilst others are relegated to outer darkness, reprobate, stinking of vulgarity incapable of civilized taste. Certainly, Hart is secure in anchoring his Christian aesthetics. “In John’s gospel, one’s failure to recognize Christ as the true face of the Father, the one who comes from above, is one’s damnation, here and now.” And then, the Synoptics provide the extension into the Christological breadth of creation: “In Mathew’s, one’s failure to recognize the face of Christ—and therefore the face of God—in the abject and the oppressed, the suffering and the disenfranchised, is the revelation that one has chosen hell as one’s home.” And then immediately afterwards, Hart adverts to the southern border of the United States and quickly enumerates an adjectival barrage of invective regarding Donald Trump who is “foul, degenerate, vicious, contemptible, worthless, brutishly stupid,” a “sociopath and dropsical orange goblin,” rather like a gigantic, deranged oompa loompa. But Hart has not yet done with this delirious condemnation of the archons of the world. He soon includes all those fellow citizens who gave their allegiance to the regime—they are “deluded and blasphemous” to call themselves Christians for surely they are “children of the devil.” I have, in fact, given a mere sampling of the luxurious growth of denunciation which marks this lush peroration. After which, having established his Christian prophetic zeal, Hart returns to his somewhat less irascible topic with the risible conclusion, probably intended as proper wit, “But I am beginning to digress.”

Well, one is hardly able to enter into dialogue with a fellow so convinced of his own righteous acumen, nor is it solicited. One agrees or finds oneself condemned a devil. I surmise that even agreeing with the subject of Hart’s condemnation whilst rhetorically suggesting that the issue of borders might be muddied by existential complexities is damning. Whether or not Hart is willing to countenance that political associations more amenable to his taste might be equally accused of harboring creatures that slither out of a spiritual sewer, I suspect his rigorous certitude of judgment will somehow find extenuating circumstances that allow reason to exonerate the accused. The motivation of those who differ with his opinions is certainly capable of coherent defense despite his trenchant rhetoric and unstinting vehemence. Hart frequently casts a skeptical and irritated eye when the other side expresses strong moral indignation. Then, apparently, one is confronted with gullible consumers of misinformation. When traditional America worries that their children are being indoctrinated with Critical Race theory and complains that they are threatened with classification as domestic terrorists, one is confidently informed that such matters have no effect on curricula, being merely the occasion of abstruse discussion confined to harmless graduate seminars (this was actually an explanation offered by his brother). Conservatives who attempt to legally forestall the coerced importation of transgender teaching to prepubescent children should not be equated with repugnant intolerance. Dismay over theapprobation of abortion in society falsely conflated with concern for women and freedom is dismissed by those embarrassed by the worship of Moloch in their chosen candidates as something rarely affected by, say, what a President supports or does not support. The legal killing of millions of unborn is somehow not a Holocaust that ought to be reckoned the responsibility of those who advocate for facilitating its legal practice. Those who protest the callous murder of children in the womb, who express horror over the loss of innocence in the culture, who refuse the celebration of behavior that would have been considered perverse in nearly all ancient civilizations are branded Nazi without a sliver of shame. Perhaps Walmart shoppers are not celebrated philosophers or articulate essayists, yet they may rightly know in their bones that something wicked has come upon them. But these sorts are not granted the childlike taste for goodness; they don’t vote the correct party. In the end, this is an utterly arrogant prejudice, unkind, false, and meretricious, writing off whole cloth many persons who may have benefitted from Hart’s genuine insights were he capable of refraining from outrageous simplification selectively applied more in keeping with blind ideology than the complex vision of charity.

* * *

Yet one ought not to let the excesses of Hart’s political rhetoric detract from a genuinely important focus on beauty—a recurring theme in Christian thought, though recessed enough in the last century to spur Hans Urs von Balthasar to come to its defense. (In any event, beauty is no longer summarily ignored or confined to the Kantian sublime. It is even often recognized as a sort of signature for all the transcendentalswhere beauty in its imperious mystery is acknowledged, the possibility of wonder and childlike humility returns.) And surely, Hart is correct to assert the eye of charity as the lucid vision of holiness. The aesthetics of the Triduum invoke a breadth and depth that is literally immersed in eternal surprise. The astonishing beauty of Christ is both the light of Mount Tabor and the leper’s kiss, so one must be prepared for the difficult topsy-turvy hilarity that is the joyous dance of the saints. One must also account for an irreducible distance between the dead quality of positivist facts and the life-giving creativity of divine gift that is the subject of the provocative fourth essay, “Pia Fraus: Our words and God’s truth.”

It is a small piece, but in some ways the most alluring and congenial to my own enterprise as writer and thinker. It begins with the equivocities: “there are many kinds of silence. There is a silence of intolerable absence and one of overwhelming presence, a silence of unspeakable remoteness and one of ineffable intimacy. . . ” which then urges caution, for all the great religious traditions assert that God is not silent. At the moment, I think this is rather counter-cultural. We are so immersed in the noise and chatter of the Ethernet, the instant reporting of global happening, the marketing of every passing emotive inflection in so-called influencers, a kind of gnostic horror is invited before the tawdry show of malice, ignorance, and sheer triviality that proliferate like poisonous parasites of being. The practice of the desert fathers appears as antidote. One must listen with the subtle, spiritual ear from whence the mystery of the cosmos is illuminated. The silence is plenitude beyond all speech, a warning against those who would idolatrously possess the divine as exhaustive disclosure, a kind of fundamentalist answer book that renders further experience redundant. The Word is always also deed, Event, infinite surplus. The need to distinguish between empty facts and substantial fictions is brought to the fore. Hart asks “what precisely does it mean always to tell the truth in a world that strives to resist the divine presence?” Separation between facts and truth may be necessary when “the facts of history” might be distortions of original gift, umbratile forms of what may be termed “ontological falsehood.”

One might suggest that the genuine business of the Church is to continually tell the story of the goodness of Creation against the many rival versions that come to us as evil dreams in history. What’s most interesting about the convergence of the aesthetic and the ethical in light of Christian revelation is the manner in which the eschatological founds the temporal. If being is always a summoned gift, it is never a neutral surd given; being is named destiny, so freedom is not reduced to a quantitative deliberation between options, nor the spontaneous movement of the will apart from some deep connatural apperception of the intelligible Good. History is the slow becoming, the paradox of approach to what truly begins as assent at the end. We are only here because we participate in the amen of eternity. Yet the unseen criterion of perfection judges the shadow world; the fact is not decisive. The assertions of the ego, the claims to liberty as nihilist power, do not constitute a self-validating metaphysical warrant, no matter how loudly proclaimed by social media and institutions dedicated to education. The Ministry of Truth is not the prophetic witness of God’s grandeur. On the contrary, such claims are ersatz, a sham freedom that posits the fact of historical action as ultimate when the source and end of liberty is elsewhere. “Vengeance is mine.” But what this means is the prerogative of the holy: God is not limited by the consequences of your earthly horrors. It is not justice to allow falsehood to prevail. The serene bliss of divine favor is never hemmed in by creaturely obsessions or the knotted mess of human dereliction. The Cross descends into all our flight, our morbid inertias, the striving that fails honor, unwise, ungrateful, without the grace of natural affection, everything sullied and dim and grotesquely puffed up is burned away into nothing by the purifying blaze of love.

Hart concentrates the issue by putting in question forms of ethical purism that deny any licit occasion where it would be good to lie. He cites the oft engaged example of the Nazi who comes to the door inquiring whether or not one knows where Jews may be hiding. Aquinas and Augustine are determined by criteria as adamantine and unbending as the categorical imperative, righteously affirming that God will be unhappy if you fib. I recollect exhortations on this particular virtue where the potential for martyrdom is lauded as an opportunity if conviction is troubled by any apparent absurdity in the command. Abraham and Isaac are also sometimes brought forth as exemplary. Hart opines that no one really believes this. “Only in a world where prudence is never required, because contradictions cannot arise between what we ought to desire and what the world really is” would it be possible to consider the unblinking report of any state of affairs as “a moral good in and of itself.” There is no world where a saint rightly congratulates himself for having ratted out Anne Frank. Perhaps what is indicated is that truth is more mysterious, requiring a wisdom unbound from the limits of mere positivist accounting. It is natural to think of deception with regards to genocidal murderers as both evidently right and primarily an action designed to protect the innocent from brutal evil. The hypothetical scenarios set up to question notions of rigid, uncompromising truth telling generally present starkly drawn circumstances where wicked intent and innocent victim belie complicating ambiguities. The temptation is to forget what a saint must not forget—that the wicked are also brother and sister in need of mercy and healing care.

The natural spiritedness of soul stirred to anger before injustice wishes to crush the wicked. The vindication of the Jews and mass slaughter of their enemies, seventy five thousands and more at the end of the book of Esther, is the sort of providential turn of fortunes readily taken as moral approval of violent retribution. The Cross may answer differently. And then, one discerns another reason to prefer fiction to factual declarations—it is indeed a kindness to one ensconced in evil if they are prevented from engaging in further evil by a fortuitous tale. Consideration of both parties is important, because otherwise it is easy to slip into a religious ethics where one’s duty is only to the elect, where deception need not worry about any consequences borne by the deceived. If forgiveness is seeing with the eye of God, then it is judging in light of who your brother and sister already is in the heart of love’s candor. This is frankly a nearly impossible thing. Think not of the worst villainy, but of common every day exasperation with misaligned temperaments, ordinary suffering of habitual irritations. The urgency of divine bliss performs a standard of justice different than mere journalist verification of facts. I am not saying the facts are unimportant, but part of their importance lies in the inextricable weaving of tares and wheat. It is only in the night of Holy Saturday that the shattering breaks the clay idols of our vanity; only in the darkness of invisible charity that bitterness and wormwood are conquered and one begins to hear the true names, Christophoric, theandric, shorn of death and putrefying wickedness. From our existential situatedness, the best you may be able to accomplish is to glimpse that reality which must appear more fiction than fact. Forgiveness is the eschatological truth of persons, the fore given announced by fictions, the storytelling of those who speak with tongues of fire. The saint is a storyteller of eschatological dimensions. Forgiveness is to participate in passio essendi, the gift of the Origin that flows with the last of the wine.

* * *

The penultimate essay, “Geist’s Kaleidoscope,” ostensibly a scholarly discussion regarding certain assumptions in the work of Cyril O’Regan, is more an example of Kierkegaardian indirection. I won’t go into the details of Hart’s historical analysis. Suffice to say, he persuasively argues that ancient Gnosticism is not a suitable choice as template for late modern German idealism. More specifically, Hegel’s enterprise follows a quite different imaginary and speculative ethos. Insofar as O’Regan and others have positioned Hegel as a modern exponent of Gnosticism, they have chosen more according to the fabulous invention of figures like Neander and Baur than anything consistent with the thoughts of actual Gnostics. All that is important for historical accuracy, but does not radically touch perhaps on our existential lives. And yet, this is a funny essay. It announces itself as one thing, but morphs into something other. It says that it is taking up a relatively enclosed space of scholarly debate, and then drifts almost imperceptibly at first into a questioning of much more fundamental assumptions. In the end, one is presented with a somewhat sideways wondering if O’Regan’s project is not indebted to deeply flawed notions of tradition and memory, and by implication, under the guise of erudite skepticism, the entire human quest for truth is subject to equivocations and uncertainties hardly to be made palatable through a pose of measured religious serenity thrown as palimpsest over a wryly contemplated bricolage of historical complexity and flux that never pauses to properly announce articulate ideological formations.

Indeed, it’s hard not to read this chapter as an occasional piece that truly contemplates the subject of Hart’s other book, Tradition and Apocalypse, to which I briefly turn. Surely Hart is correct in his critique of Newman and Blondel, two formidable Catholic thinkers. Hart aptly notes the suggestive value of Newman’s organic metaphors as a model of living tradition, while recognizing that they offer no help as a method for evaluating how historical phenemona might fit the pattern. The flaws in Newman’s argument predicated on an imaginary, compact completeness at a particular historical point of origin, the criteria of discernment based on clarity that could not precede the events that determined the eventual resolution of historical crises, all that is persuasively enumerated. Yet the feeling for natural teleology is ultimately right, though Hart inverts the magnetic north to the open future. The difficulty for Hart is that tradition as he conceives it is the provenance of poets. Baron Von Hügel wrote a multi-volume work on the mystic, Catherine of Genoa. He delineated an instance of a general problem. Catherine was brilliant, subtle, curator of exceptional insight. In order for her thoughts to be passed on, they were inevitably coarsened and simplified so that they might be accessible to ordinary folk. And probably most of her epigone did not even grasp how far they had strayed from inimitable excellence. Soon, rote catechetical exercises displaced existential creative wrestling with the angel, offering readymade answers for the perplexed, or for those who did not wish to be bothered with perplexity in the first place. The decadent scholasticism that followed Thomas Aquinas, largely reserved for the scholarly caste yet filtering down to pervasive, parochial attitudes, repeats the tedious lesson. The methods that appear to be teachable do not convey the living Spirit that blows where it will, but a praxis that intends to touch an entire community is likely to be disappointing. Mechanical repetition is prevalent in social life regardless of the particular venue. This is not to say that Hart’s explication of tradition is a purely rarified accomplishment. In reality, the outliers are the ones who frequently discern the wild path of the Spirit careening through the infinite abyss of God’s impenetrable light.I think of Hopkins, writing such rich, intricate, difficult art, poetry ahead of the sympathies or understanding of his generation. The Jesuits moved him from one dreary assignment to another, never appreciating the gift bestowed to them by the God they sought to serve. That excessive light is darkness to us. The soul reaches for less demanding trails of glory.

There is, of course, a certain intrinsic bias to this model of tradition. Hart announces such towards the end of Tradition and Apocalypse. “There is, simply said, a distinct element of the ungovernable and seditious within the Gospel’s power to persuade, one that we ignore at the cost of fundamentally misunderstanding its most essential character.” And while I agree with this, the ungovernable is also the caretaker of the past, the reverent bearer of what must not be lost. It’s too easy for Hart to discard all that as nostalgic resistance to eschatological glory. One can parse out multi-level criteria for how one intuits a match between the best contemporary orthodoxy, if it is cogent and not a time of crisis like the Arian controversy, and the “invisible” lure of the eschaton. Nonetheless, Hart goes out of his way to document the various contingencies and misreadings that contribute to, say, the modern Christian conception of Satan. He also minimizes any distance between the Genesis account of the Fall (a late interpretation in any event) and surrounding Mesopotamian myths, going so far as to accentuate the honesty of the serpent and the slapstick cowardice and injustice of the divinity. “Eat this fruit, for You are Gods.” Here’s a question: why should we accept any significant diabolic presence when it is the product of later permutations distant from the initial place in situ, as they say? If penal substitution and pure nature are obvious distortions, evincing a wider gap than that between Paul and what we know or surmise about the gnostics, why should we embrace later diabolic conceptions? If the place in history is not determinative—and clearly it isn’t, or one would not have moved on from the early subordinationist prejudice—and yet lateness or contemporary cogency also isn’t a trustworthy guide, then what does one have beyond the holistic aesthetic, moral, and metaphysical coherence exhibiting the greatest breadth and depth? And since that judgment is only going to be available to the gifted few, where does that leave the religious many? Stuck with inadequate traditions easily mocked by a savant like Hart? Then Jesus’ vociferous contempt for religious leaders that made prudential political calculations or theology that places various forms of ego driven ethical transactions above the shattering call of love may be invoked as precedent for telling the dim many just how diabolic they are.

In any event, the Fall is clearly central and if one were only drawing from Neo-Platonism, one could easily minimize that aspect to more or less an unavoidable price of finitude, though also mythologically posed as some sort of guilty defatigation from the One. The developed notion of the Fall involves separation, the atomizing of the self, and also epistemological and noetic consequences that make discernment more complex . . . what seems rational and logical within one “tradition” might not appear valid in another. There’s a problem with Hart’s proposed “neutral skeptical historicist.” I don’t believe in that kind of neutrality. It is an Enlightenment convention, but I think, as I have written before, Alasdair MacIntyre is perspicacious on these matters. Hart continually privileges his own proclivities as participating in the invisible lure of the eschaton, whilst admonishing any variety of traditionalist as pathologically nostalgic or a desperate crypto-nihilist. If all the conservatives in Alexandria were subordinationist and wrong, then maybe the future of Christianity will unsettle all your present treasured convictions—except for his, he’s pretty sure his anarcho-communist rebels are authentically following the gospel, partly because they are always on the side of change, so can never get caught loyally attached to something that later turns out unable to properly point to the infinite largesse. Hart is often a “heads I win, tails you lose” kinda fella.

The upshot of this finds expression in “The Chiasmus,” a declaration that often reaches a pitch of quite beautiful reflection on theosis and cosmic destiny in Christ. The conclusion, indeed, is an almost Pauline exclamation of Triune bliss, creaturely freedom as the divine expression of the Spirit. Hart reiterates the importance of divine simplicity, in which contradictions of finite, creaturely experience are transcended, and Fatherly care refuses to remark a difference between necessity and freedom. Moreover, Hart anticipates how death may further liberate the creature from the delusions of linear time. “The vocation of rational freedom is, so to speak, to gather up the sparks of the Shekinah that were lost in the breaking of the vessels, or to aid in the rescue of the lost Sophia.” There is a musical echo of hermetic Kabbalah, a genuinely winsome declaration of Hart’s syncretist vision. In all this, I find myself in complete agreement. However, in my view, none of this requires taking leave of an objective, historical ecclesia. Hart differentiates between multiple Christianities and other religious practices erroneously cast as false rivals. Of these other religions, Hart adverts to exemplars that he admires. Doubtless they have their own fundamentalisms and exasperating believers, but one would not quite get that sense from Hart. The divisions and plurality so extreme as to constitute different religions is concentrated in one direction of concern only. But should one primarily think of Christianity as an assemblage of customs and beliefs in flux carried not by a unified subject so much as a diversity of porous hermeneutical entities, altogether representing a fragment of history amidst a much broader universal story? Presuming that starting point, Hart attaches the visible church to an array of quite different religions—and as a whole, all the variants are but “a corporate and historical expression” of Christ’s kerygma, a mere subset of the much larger invisible church, “at once more original, more ultimate, and more comprehensive than the visible.” In one sense this is obvious and hardly controversial. The invisible church is then understood as coterminous with the renewed cosmos, capacious, embracing all of time, unencumbered perhaps with the doctrinal messiness and appalling histories that beset Christian communities. Yet I do not concede that one must accept this reading of Christianity or of ecclesial existence in order to venture the breadth of scope apprised for the invisible church. In Tradition and Apocalypse, Hart looks askance upon Justin Martyr. The spoils of Egypt are judged triumphalist, perhaps almost naively haughty, refusing the dignity of intrinsic rationale to other cultural and religious essays. If, for example, Platonism and Christianity came to be so fruitfully intertwined, it was because from the integrity of each one discovers a common final horizon that binds them beyond historical and temporal permutations.

I certainly do not think of Christianity as a cuckoo bird, illicitly claiming for nest a foreign home. One would not wish to deprive every culture and tradition its native genius or incommunicable uniqueness. Yet ultimately, I suppose, I must offend Hart’s delicate diplomacy. If Christ founds all of created time and if the Church is ontologically spousal, I do not see the need to step outside of the historical ecclesia to discover the abundant treasure of the other—though, of course, many might see this as imperial mastery and subjugation of colonized victims, part of what Hart sees as the unholy alliance of worldly empire and eschatological summons, the “catastrophe” of Christendom. While surely there are abundant examples of terrible crimes and ignorance in that history, I do not think it an utter wasteland. The Grand Inquisitor does not love Christ. Is this really true of the entirety of Christendom? Such suspicion draws upon metaphysics distant from Triune bliss and agapeic gift. I think, however, that the body of Christ, cosmic in scope, is still also the scriptures, the flesh cradled in Bethlehem, and the sacramental fruit of liturgy, the generous, ever expansive Eucharistic communion. The invisible Church is synonymous with the mystical breadth of the visible, the ontological and eschatological truth of the cosmos. As Rowan Williams writes:

The Church itself is not an alien collectivity with hostile designs upon individual liberty, nor yet an association of like-minded human egos, but ‘life itself.’ Its ethical and spiritual disciplines are not markers of identity for a specific human grouping but expressions of the ontological truth which it embodies.

And so ultimately, Christianity is not an eclectic array of diverse religions, but the unified life of perfected, ecclesial existence, and nothing less than the most comprehensive, holistic, subtle, beautiful, symphonically open, apophatically aware, epektasis towards infinite surprise and joy is proper to her. Anything else is a slander on the virginal purity of the Church in her truest form—and really, Hart should know this, for he clearly articulated the distance between positivist fact and God’s truth.

Naturally, when one encounters Christians with beliefs or mores one finds objectionable, it is a relief to be able to say that they are not co-religionists. One is not of that sort. It is also convenient. Clever and accomplished folks of other faiths or of no faith whatsoever cannot point to them and embarrass me. I can even take part in their satires and witty put downs of the benighted who claim Christ. And so, it is much easier to vent one’s vitriolic distaste for the despised other (if they are a despised one wishes to hold in contempt). There might, of course, be other despised one wishes to approve of and to throw in the face of the Pharisees. I am not, by the way, accusing Hart of hypocrisy here, or at least, if so, I share it. There are many forms of Christianity that I cannot stomach in the least. The kind that propagates like licentious bunnies on television, at its best, well-meaning, bland, soporific—I simply could never be a Christian if it meant finding all that intellectually, morally, and aesthetically humane. And yet I have a qualm: I am not quite comfortable saying they have no purchase on the face of Christ, no share in his Church. If I am asked to discover Christ in the vagrant, the criminal, the crazed and wandering tribes, is it right to deny Christ to these? And perhaps at minimum, one ought to avoid unnecessary offense and understand their confusion and hurt when one overtly denies them membership in the common life of Christ. It is one thing for Christ to say “depart from me, I never knew you,” and another for me to indulge rage. First, because the same Christ who denounces is the Christ of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the Christ who abandons no one, who follows every derelict sinner into every obscure and loathsome hell in order to rescue and return the lost to the amity of love; and second, because I am not Christ if I do not love, if my love has limits, if I cannot bring myself to include those I do not naturally care for. And to be honest, I am often not Christ. There are plenty of folks I simply hate because I find them disgusting, mean horrors, and lots of others who are banal, disagreeable, boring. I much prefer cats. But I assume I shall learn otherwise, that the eschaton shall broaden my imagination and grant the eye of love so that I can see all persons as they are in Christ.

So, granting that all created realities are also symbols, that the Kingdom is symbolon, always exceeded by its surplus, by the promise of ever greater surprise, revelation, the epektasis that is discovery, the desire coincident with plenitude that is never sated, does that imply that everything beautiful and winsome in the world is merely there to be exceeded? Is the cosmos worldly? Perhaps, if it is rooted in the no thing that is God, if its origin is the Triduum, if the “it is good” arrives from the “it is finished,” then there is always an illusory quality to the mundane tout court. Indeed, the entire economy of scarcity and competition, the zero-sum game assumed by the elder son in the parable of the Prodigal, all that is false, the image on the coin, the monetary valuation that forgets the primal gift. But then, perhaps, the so-called worldly powers may not only be cast as thuggish conservatives jealous to retain ersatz authority, or as mawkish, hidebound, pathologically nostalgic, or simply dim and unimaginative. As Plato understood, every form of polity has its corrupt defatigation. Aristocracy becomes a self-serving oligarchy, democracy devolves into demotic hedonism, supine fodder for the propaganda of the archons. The philosopher king, who cannot be found in the world in any event, is readily available as tyrant and demagogue. Even the refusal of any institutional governance may have its false double. The saint-rebel against worldly sorrows may find an imposter in other putative anarchies, where the dull, cowardly conservative is actually a lucid proponent of created realities and gifted natures contra a nest of vipers who mistake nihilist will-to-power for progressive liberation.

Hart often casts the primitive Christian communities as anarchic rebels against every form of mundane complacency which endures habitual abusive powers. Let us think about this. I am reminded of a lament remarked in Peter Brown’s book on the body and antiquity. The end of the long first blush of Christian expectation for the imminent parousia saw young men forsake the deserts, leave monastic isolation and contemplative prayer. They returned to the fields and towns to marry; and young women, too, left the virginal vocations and embraced the pain of childbirth. For really, this abjuration of private property, this communal being-with, if it was more than a proto-hippie commune, and that’s alright too if you like that way of companioning, it wasn’t sustainable as a global praxis. The church in Jerusalem was constantly begging funds from all those busy worldly brethren in other places who had not yet abandoned the pagan economy. Or maybe, one takes More’s Utopia not as satire, but a workable polity. Excess wealth is not good for the soul. I won’t argue with that. But do you want to read the domestic comedies of Jane Austen as merely a retreat from exemplary Christian life? Are the majority of human lives throughout the innumerable generations to be shunned as immune to transfiguration into eschatological glory because they fall outside monastic ideals, participate in familial privacy and property ownership? Of course not. Indeed, it’s evident to a moment’s reflection that many particular excellences require a polity different from the ideals of primitive Christian communities. Those communities are not to be faulted their zeal and expectation, but neither should those living beyond that initial breathless hope be considered unfortunate exemplars of less compelling living. Indeed, it would be wonderful to be able to live without soldiers and doctors and lawyers, to be deathless, to live utterly in the plenitude of eternal life. The witness of the earliest Christians may emulate that perfected unity—but it was not that unity and never could be, awaiting the eschaton with all its mysterious perfections as much as any other time or mode of organized human action. There’s a point at which valorizing the anarchic is more an existential gesture than a fully rational program for social order. It’s partly a protest against dust and human depravity, but like the little boy in Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon, it floats off above the Parisian folk and their petty, bourgeois fixations. Apart from the actual end of historical time, this is short hand for death. If Hart wishes us to embrace the valid spiritual and intellectual efforts of all those beyond narrow Christian forms, is this only for an elite of poets and sages? I prefer Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s notion of the entire humanity engaged in a mysterious action, each civilization playing a necessary part, though occluded from our timely calculations or knowledge. But surely Hart agrees with this wider panoramic vista, though he might have to accept that even empire may play a role that is not simply vicious.

But it’s likely a lot of this difference in sensibility is existential or temperamental. Certainly, when I was a lad, I was not keenly acquainting myself with the gospels in Koine Greek. Nor was a Cambridge education ever a likely destination. My parents divorced when I was young. I grew up in blue collar Buffalo where my grandfather worked first in a rubber mill and then in steel before the rust belt economy fell to pieces. The annual Easter showing of Cecile B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments was a favorite, the Technicolor melodrama, that alluring game of Hounds and Jackals, I loved it when Yul Brynner’s Ramses pronounced to the ravishing Anne Baxter, “His god is God.” My early attachment to Christ owed a fair amount to C. S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles and even a graphic novel version of the Bible. I cherished these images because through them I drew closer to the ultimacy of love that called to me. In Tradition and Apocalypse, Hart describes himself as a dispassionate seeker of truth, suggesting Hercule Poirot setting the little gray cells to work upon the quandary of reality. Or perhaps he means to imply a noble intellect radically at ease, able to shift from one paradigm to another with nerveless aplomb as the argument unfolds, free of allegiances that might sully the simple integrity of his search. If one day, Christ should turn out less convincing, so much the worse for the Galilean. Or it may be all that is a useful pose, a turn of the kaleidoscope, another performative mask pretending at DBH.

Posted in Book Reviews, Brian Moore, David B. Hart | 18 Comments

Natura Pura in the One-Storey Universe

I continue with theological highlights of David Hart’s essay “Waking the Gods,” included in his new book You Are Gods. If you have not yet read my article “The One-Storey Universe of David Bentley Hart,” you may find it helpful to read it first before continuing. Heck, just go ahead and read all the preceding articles in the series. It will only hurt for a moment.

Yet Another Theological Highlight

3) The hypothesis of pure nature is unnecessary to secure the gratuity of salvation.

Underlying the pure nature hypothesis is a properly evangelical concern to protect the gratuity of salvation. If the desire for the beatific vision is intrinsic to human nature, and if happiness and fulfillment is impossible apart from the satisfaction of this desire, then God owes the beatific vision to every human being he has brought into being, without excep­tion. Salvation would no longer then be a matter of unmerited grace, no longer a gift offered to undeserving sinners, but a debt to be settled.

Lawrence Feingold paraphrases an analogy offered by St Thomas Aquinas that helpfully illustrates the relationship between nature, gift, and telos:

The notions of debitum naturae and grace are illustrated by an analogy that St. Thomas gives of a king who freely wills to make someone a knight. On the basis of this prior free decision, the king is now “bound” to provide him with a horse, without which he cannot be a knight. However, he is not “bound” to give him a horse with a special excellence, or special arms or other marks of distinction, for without these things one can still be a knight. These additional gifts augment the well-being and excellence of the knighthood that has already been willed, but are not necessary for its coherent existence. Thus these additional gifts are given freely, over and above what is due.1

The analogy posits a distinction between that which a knight needs in order to be a knight, without which he cannot fulfill his vocation—and therefore is owed to him by the king—and the gifts the king might gratuitously bestow upon the knight which would strengthen and enhance his life as a knight but are not absolutely necessary to his identity and success.

Now apply this reasoning to the human being. Various faculties, powers, and elements essentially constitute human nature (e.g., body and soul, reason, etc.), without which one cannot be considered a human being. One might also argue that a proportionate natural end is essential to evoke and direct action; otherwise, life would be incoherent and meaningless. When we add together all of these elements, we have a state of pure nature. Charles Boyer explains: “It is a state in which man possesses all that belongs to his definition, everything necessary for the exercise of his faculties, everything required to live reasonably and reach a proportionate end.”2 Note that in this philosophical analysis, nothing is said of humanity’s ordination to union with the transcendent Creator. Human nature qua human nature, claims the Thomist, does not require the beatific vision for its integrity and fulfillment; consequently, the supernatural desire for deification does not belong to the definition of man. We can easily conceive of a possible world in which the natura pura human would be capable of enjoying a natural happiness, without regret, discontent, or a yearning for a transcendent more. In this possible world God would be obligated to provide all the resources necessary to attain humanity’s natural end but no more. We might even think of this possible world as akin to the limbus infantium of medieval Latin theology. Unbaptized infants cannot be admitted to the beatific vision because they lack sanctifying grace. While St Augustine forthrightly consigned these infants to hell, later theologians postulated a different destiny, namely, limbo. Thomas Aquinas conjectured that the infants in limbo do not suffer from the lack of the beatific vision because they are ignorant of their supernatural calling and therefore ignorant of what they have lost. That God should summon human beings to a supernatural finality—thereby eliciting a desire and thirst that can only be satiated by deifying union—must therefore be judged as above and beyond the call of divine duty. He does not owe the beatific vision to human beings because their nature is not intrinsically oriented to supernatural blessedness. Grace is extrinsic, but once given the supernatural desire for God becomes interior to the person.3 The divine summons to blessedness and the reciprocal desire go hand in hand. Feingold writes:

The perfection of grace and glory, however, falls into the category of perfections that are maximally fitting to man and immeasurably augment his “well-being,” but which are not such that the nature cannot exist coherently and properly without them. Therefore, St. Thomas concludes that grace and glory are not given to man as something due to him, but by “pure liberality.” It follows that predestination to grace and glory is not due to man, but is caused solely by God’s goodness.4

The final sentence is clarifying. Given the Thomist triple commitment to (1) predestination to blessedness, (2) the anti-Pelagian sola gratia combined with a construal of original sin as privation of sanctifying grace, and (3) the dogma of eternal perdition, it is necessary for the Thomist to be able to say that the non-elect are not owed eternal beatitude in Jesus Christ and therefore are not unjustly treated by their exclusion from God’s predestinating decree. Similarly the bestowal of supernatural finality too must be understood as a second (third, fourth . . .) expression of gratuitous grace in addition to the divine act of creation; otherwise, divine justice would owe all human beings the blessing of the vision of God. Within the Thomistic system, the natura pura hypothesis makes an odd kind of sense. Feingold writes:

The gratuitousness of the gift of grace and glory does not come solely from the divine or personal aspect of the gift, considered in itself, but from its relation to the recipient, to whom it is not due. This means that it is not called for by anything imprinted in our nature itself, or constituting our nature. In order for God’s self-giving to be truly gratuitous with respect to our nature, it must not come to us as the fulfillment of an innate and unconditional desire imprinted on our nature.5

Hart’s response to the Neo-Thomist position is simple, direct, emphatic: because of the Christological foundation of God’s one gratuitous act of creation–salvation–deification and the indivisibility of grace and nature in our one-storey universe, the imprinting upon human nature of an absolute appetence for the beatific vision does not establish a debt which God owes to humanity. It’s all grace, from beginning to end. The seeds of the Latin confusion, Hart suggests, were sown  by St Augustine with his contorted response to the challenges posed by the teachings of Pelagius:

Why should one assume that a wholly natural (which is also to say, wholly supernatural) progress into deification lies beyond the capacity of an unfallen rational creature? Why would one imagine that the capacity for the desire to see God is not also, apart from the unnatural limitations of sin and death, the natural capacity to achieve deification? Especially if one does not make the error of thinking that such an achievement must be either a work of grace or a work of nature, but realizes instead that such a distinction is a phantom of fallen consciousness? Even in this life, after all, something of the experience of real divinizing union with God can be vouchsafed to those who are devoted to the spiritual life—ἕνωσις, unio mystica, turiya, fanaa-fillah—and this evidently, however much a gift of grace, is also a real capacity of human nature when that nature is set free from the constraints of an unnatural limitation of consciousness. Every rational nature is already potentially infinite in its embrace of the divine nature, even if that potency can be actualized only as a kind of infinite epektasis.

In truth, this entire issue seems to pose a problem only if one is intent on maintaining precisely the kind of impermeable partition between nature and grace that a belief in creatio ex nihilo renders meaningless. Grace, to be grace, does not require a prior antithetical suppositum of something devoid of grace—pure nature or nature in itself—nor need it be a purely extrinsic gift at every level of its impartation; it need only be free in its entirety. Finite existence itself is always already nothing but the gracious effect of God calling creatures to himself out of nothingness. All those boring false dilemmas bedeviling Western theology since the Pelagian controversy—the causal priority we assign either to our own working out of salvation or to God working in us, either to God’s foreknowledge or to his sovereignty in election, either to the creature’s merit or to God’s, and so on—are simple category errors. Between the immanent and the transcendent, or the finite and the infinite, such rivalries of agency are not even cogently conceivable. An intrinsic rational desire for God would constitute a “right” to God’s grace only if our nature were our own achievement. Yes, in a sense God does manifestly owe his creatures grace, within the terms of the gift of creation; but that is a debt he owes ultimately only to his own goodness.6

Hart’s comment that the creatio ex nihilo renders a strict partition between grace and nature meaningless immediately generates the question “Why?” Recall premise #2 listed in the introduction to You Are Gods:

Nature stands in relation to supernature as (in Aristotelian terms) prime matter to form. Nature in itself has no real existence and can have none; it is entirely an ontological patiency before the formal causality of supernature, and only as grace can nature possess any actuality at all.7

Everything clear now? Probably not—most certainly not for me. Hart is directing our attention to the radical contingency of creatures. Considered in itself, a being exists only because God is continuously creating it. Summarizing the view of Aquinas, Steven Carroll and William Baldner comment: “The creature is always of itself literally nothing and therefore is in constant need of being created out of nothing.”8 I think this is what Hart has in mind. God does not first make a natural being and subsequently bestows grace upon it as a second gift. He simply creates an engraced being. The divine communication of grace, in other words, must be carefully distinguished from creaturely gifting within the created order, which presupposes already established recipients. As John Milbank puts it: “The creature as creature is not the recipient of a gift; it is itself this gift.”9 Further bestowals of grace might then be described as gifts to a gift.

Nor need we think that the desire for the beatific vision cannot be intrinsic to human nature because theosis requires supernatural assistance and gifting to achieve. All natural desires require their realization through powers and resources imparted by other beings and ultimately by the divine Creator. Potencies do not activate themselves.

A final cause must be logically implicit in the potency it actuates, true, but not necessarily as some wholly inherent and autonomous power of expres­sion. And there is no logical reason to claim that an end that can be achieved only by supernatural assistance is not, for that reason, a natural possibility. Indeed, if this were the case, the very concept of natural poten­tial would be meaningless, since any finite reality’s very existence is always already a possibility that has been enacted by a wholly supernatural gift of being. A potency can be thoroughly natural in itself even if proportioned to an end that the “whole power of nature” (as we know it, at least) cannot supply. There is no contradiction here. There would be a contradiction only if there were no reality at all corresponding to that natural potency, and so no real final cause implicit in it.10

Recall the magical transmutations of the rabbit. A rabbit, we learned, cannot be changed into a turnip or angel and still retain its identity because it lacks the potential to become either. If human beings can become gods, as the gospel assures us and our spiritual inclinations confirm, then this must mean that we are gods-in-the-making from the beginning of our existence: “Only a humanity that is always already divine can become God.”11 For this reason Feingold’s contention that the gratuitousness of God’s self-giving is compromised if it comes to us “as the fulfillment of an innate and unconditional desire imprinted on our nature” must be rejected. It presupposes a competitive disjunction between Deity and world that does not obtain. Grace only needs to be freely given to be grace. The natural desire for God is no less a divine gift than its transcendent fulfillment, nor is the gratuity of salvation jeopardized by the synergistic cooperation between uncreated and created agents, despite our inability to grasp the ineffable causal joint. “For all things come from thee, and of thy own have we given thee” (1 Chron 29:14).

It may be instructive to compare Hart’s statement that “in a sense God does manifestly owe his creatures grace, within the terms of the gift of creation” with the theological vision of the great 19th century storyteller and spiritual writer George MacDonald. In his unspo­ken sermon “The Voice of Job,” MacDonald develops the thesis that God does in fact have obligations toward his creatures; it this conviction, he proposes, that drives Job’s demand for an audience with the Almighty:

The grandeur of the poem is that Job pleads his cause with God against all the remonstrance of religious authority, recognizing no one but God, and justified therein. And the grandest of all is this, that he implies, if he does not actually say, that God owes something to his creature. This is the beginning of the greatest discovery of all—that God owes himself to the creature he has made in his image, for so he has made him incapable of living without him. This, his creatures’ highest claim upon him, is his divinest gift to them. For the fulfilling of this their claim he has sent his son, that he may himself, the father of him and of us, follow into our hearts. Perhaps the worst thing in a theology constructed out of man’s dull possible, and not out of the being and deeds and words of Jesus Christ, is the impression it conveys throughout that God acknowledges no such obligation. Are not we the clay, and he the potter? how can the clay claim from the potter? We are the clay, it is true, but his clay, but spiritual clay, live clay, with needs and desires—and rights; we are clay, but clay worth the Son of God’s dying for, that it might learn to consent to be shaped unto honour. We can have no merits—a merit is a thing impossible; but God has given us rights. Out of him we have nothing; but, created by him, come forth from him, we have even rights towards him—ah, never, never against him! his whole desire and labour is to make us capable of claiming, and induce us to claim of him the things whose rights he bestowed in creating us. No claim had we to be created: that involves an absurdity; but, being made, we have claims on him who made us: our needs are our claims. A man who will not provide for the hunger of his child, is condemned by the whole world.

Observe the flow of MacDonald’s logic. God has freely created human beings with needs and desires, the greatest being our need for God himself. These needs and desires, in turn, put the Creator in debt to us—not of course against his will but a debt freely and joyfully assumed by him in his making of rational beings. “There is no claim on God that springs from us: all is from him.” Not only has our heavenly Father given us the right to press our claims, but he wants us to do so boldly and persistently. (Luke 11:1-13; Matt 10:29-31; Luke 18:1-8). MacDonald’s language of rights and claims is striking and disorienting. Who are we to put God in the dock and demand an account­ing, yet is that not what Job is seeking, to have his day in court?

For MacDonald, God’s free creation of humanity implicitly contains the promise of his absolute commitment to our good and well-being, a promise made explicit in his self-revelation in Jesus Christ. We may be mere clay, but we are clay for whom God died. For this reason he has given us the right to call upon him to fulfill his promises and satisfy his debts. Like a loving father, God delights both in our faithful petitions and his fulfillment of them. The rights he bestows upon us are but expressions of his absolute and unconditional love: “All our rights are such as the bounty of love inconceivable has glorified our being with—bestowed for the one only purpose of giving the satisfaction.” The LORD‘s promises flow from his unflagging love and faithfulness. “God could not be satisfied with himself,” MacDonald explains, “without doing all that a God and Father could do for the creatures he had made—that is, without doing just what he has done, what he is doing, what he will do, to deliver his sons and daughters, and bring them home with rejoicing.” In God mercy and justice are one. MacDonald therefore dismisses all worries of presumptuousness, for it is our Father who invites us to presume:

It is terrible to represent God as unrelated to us in the way of appeal to his righteousness. How should he be righteous without owing us anything? How would there be any right for the judge of all the earth to do if he owed nothing? Verily he owes us nothing that he does not pay like a God; but it is of the devil to imagine imperfection and disgrace in obligation. So far is God from thinking so that in every act of his being he lays himself under obligation to his creatures. Oh, the grandeur of his goodness, and righteousness, and fearless unselfishness! When doubt and dread invade, and the voice of love in the soul is dumb, what can please the father of men better than to hear his child cry to him from whom he came, ‘Here I am, O God! Thou hast made me: give me that which thou hast made me needing.’ The child’s necessity, his weakness, his helplessness, are the strongest of all his claims. If I am a whale, I can claim a sea; if I am a sea, I claim room to roll, and break in waves after my kind; if I am a lion, I seek my meat from God; am I a child, this, beyond all other claims, I claim— that, if any of my needs are denied me, it shall be by the love of a father, who will let me see his face, and allow me to plead my cause before him. And this must be just what God desires! What would he have, but that his children should claim their father? To what end are all his dealings with them, all his sufferings with and for and in them, but that they should claim their birthright? Is not their birthright what he made them for, made in them when he made them? Is it not what he has been putting forth his energy to give them ever since first he began them to be—the divine nature, God himself?

As far as I know, MacDonald was unacquainted with both the Eastern tradition of dei­fi­cation and the Thomist hypothesis of natura pura. Regarding the former, perhaps he might have welcomed it, given his understanding of salvation as oneness with the Father. Regarding the latter, he would have dismissed it with the same scorn that he denounced the Calvinism in which he was raised. He would have immediately recognized that the scholastic distinctions intended to secure the gratuity of grace are but a smokescreen to hide the replacement of the God of infinite love with a Deity who arbitrarily elects some to eternal bliss while passing over the rest to their inevitable damnation (negative reproba­tion). The Father of Jesus Christ loves humanity with an absolute and unconditional love that intends the salvation of each person. We may speak of this love as grace, if we wish, but only as long as it signifies love-in-action. If it does not, then the concern to protect the gratuity of grace is but devotion to despotic omnipotence.

 

Footnotes

[1] Lawrence Feingold, The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters (2004), p. 226; the analogy is from Thomas’s discussion of predestination in Questiones Disputatae de Veritate 6.2.

[2] Quoted by Noel O’Sullivan, “Henri de Lubac’s Surnaturel: An Emerging Christology,” Irish Theological Quarterly, 72 (2007): 12.

[3] Feingold vigorously rejects the Lubacian charge that the Neo-Thomist position suffers from an extrinsicism that generates a two-tier relation between nature and grace: see Feingold, pp. 481-485.

[4] Feingold, p. 227.

[5] Ibid., p. 386; emphasis mine.

[6] David Bentley Hart, You Are Gods (2022), p. 9.

[7] Ibid., pp. xvii-xviii.

[8] Steven Carroll and William Baldner, Aquinas on Creation, (1997),  pp. 41-43; see my article “Creatures Are Nothing but Nothing.”

[9] John Milbank, The Suspended Middle, 2nd ed. (2014),  p. 48. Milbank continues: “The same consideration applies to a spiritual creature [angels and human beings]: as spirit he does not receive a gift; he is this gift of spirit” (p. 48).

[10] Hart, p. 8.

[11] Ibid., p. xviii. It is unclear to me how Eastern theologians will react to Hart’s formulation. They have their own concerns regarding the gratuity of deification. Compare this statement from St Maximus the Confessor:

Deification does not belong to what lies within our potentiality to bring about naturally, since it is not within our power. For no logos of that which transcends nature lies within nature. Therefore deification is not an accomplishment that belongs to our potentiality: we do not possess the potentiality for it by nature, but only through the divine power, since it is not a reward given to the saints in requital for righteous works, but is proof of the liberality of the Creator, making the lovers of the beautiful by adoption that which he has shown to be by nature. (Th. Pol. 1 [PG 91: 33A-36A]—quoted by Daniel Haynes, Grace and Metaphysics in Maximus Confessor [2012], p. 10.)

Also see Vladimir Lossky, “The Doctrine of Grace in the Orthodox Church,” St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 58:1 (2014): 69–86.

(Go to “The Natural Desire for God”)

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“Lords Coeval With Creation”

Lords coëval with creation,
Seraph, Cherub, Throne and Power,
Princedom, Virtue, Domination,
Hail the long-awaited hour!
Bruised in head, with broken pinion,
Trembling for his old dominion,
See the ancient dragon cower!
For the Prince of Heaven has risen,
Victor, from his shattered prison.

Loudly roaring from the regions
Where no sunbeam e’er was shed,
Rise and dance, ye ransomed legions
Of the cold and countless dead!
Gates of adamant are broken,
Words of conquering power are spoken
Through the God who died and bled:
Hell lies vacant, spoiled and cheated,
By the Lord of life defeated.

Bear, behemoth, bustard, camel,
Warthog, wombat, kangaroo,
Insect, reptile, fish and mammal,
Tree, flower, grass, and lichen too,
Rise and romp and ramp, awaking,
For the age-old curse is breaking.
All things shall be made anew;
Nature’s rich rejuvenation
Follows on Man’s liberation.

Eve’s and Adam’s son and daughter,
Sinful, weary, twisted, mired,
Pale with terror, thinned with slaughter,
Robbed of all your hearts desired,
Look! Rejoice! One born of woman,
Flesh and blood and bones all human,
One who wept and could be tired,
Risen from vilest death, has given
All who will the hope of Heaven.

C. S. Lewis

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