“Why then are you trying to bend God to your will?”

“All the ways of the Lord are mercy and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and will.”

We have here a tremendous statement on the subject of faithfulness and mercy. Mercy is mentioned because it is not our deserts but his own goodness that God regards. He forgives us all our sins and promises us eternal life. But it also speaks of faithfulness, because God never fails to honor his promises.

Acknowledging this to be so, let us practice these virtues ourselves in our present circumstances. Just as God has shown us his mercy and faithfulness—his mercy by forgiving our sins and his faithfulness by keeping his promises—so we too should practice mercy and faithfulness in our own lives. Would you be so unjust as to expect God to be unjust too? Let us show mercy to the sick and needy, even our enemies, and practice faithfulness by refraining from sin.

Never let us add sin to sin, because whoever presumes too much on God’s mercy has secretly consented to the suggestion that he can cause God to be unjust. Such a person imagines that even if he persists in sin and refuses to give up his wrongdoing, God will still come and give him a place among his obedient servants. Would this be justice, for God to assign an obstinate sinner like you the same place as those who have turned their backs on sin? Would you be so unjust as to expect God to be unjust too?

Why then are you trying to bend God to your will? Bend yourself, rather, to his. Yet how many people do, in fact, bend their wills to God’s? Only those few of whom it is said: “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved.”

It is with good reason that scripture asks: Who will seek God’s mercy and faithfulness for his own sake? What precisely does for his own sake mean? Surely it would have been enough to say Who will seek without adding for his own sake. The answer is that many people seek to discover God’s mercy and faithfulness from the sacred books, and yet, when their learning is done, they live for their own sakes and not for God’s. They are intent on their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. They preach mercy and faithfulness without practicing them. Their preaching proves that they know their subject, for they would not preach without knowledge.

But it is a different matter in the case of someone who loves God and Christ. When such a person preaches God’s mercy and faithfulness, he seeks to make them known for God’s sake, not his own. This means that he is not out to gain temporal benefits from his preaching; his desire is to help Christ’s members, that is, those who believe in him, by faithfully sharing with them the knowledge he himself possesses, so that the living may no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for all.

St Augustine of Hippo

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“God is absolute in the intimacy of its own being for self, and absolving in the releasing of creation that is the love of finitude of agapeic origination”

Is this the place to start: God as being, perhaps as over-being? I would visit the philoso­pher Paul Weiss in his old age, and coming in the door he would ask me, almost shouting: “How do you get from being to God?” A very good question, not an easy question, not one to be directly answered, as if there were a univocal path from one to the other.

Is God, or is God not? If God is, what is this “is”? What is it to say: God is? Nothing, it seems, more than an indeterminacy. We seem to be told (almost) nothing. What (or who) is God who is? Immediately we run into the difficulty that our sense of “what” is determi­nate. The origin is not a determinate being but rather gives them to be as being at all. If there is something idiotic about being there at all, does this mean a kind of hyperidiocy to the “being” of God? It seems we cannot say what God is, if “what” is a determinate charac­ter­ization or essence. Can we even ask then what God is?

The question generates different responses, but two are noteworthy. On the one hand, God is said to be Being Itself. Thus Aquinas: verum ipsum esse. The name God is said to give in Exodus is seen as religiously converging with what metaphysics reasons out of God as Being. On the other hand, it will be said God is no being, we must rethink God without being. For instance, the Heideggerian ontological difference is appropriated and radical­ized such that not only is Being different to beings, but God is neither Being itself nor a being (Marion?). This venerable response especially wants to take into account reverence for the excess of the origin: God will always be other, epekeina tes ousias, like Plato’s Good, and perhaps even further beyond, like Plotinus’s One epekeina nous kai episteme. Hyperessential: beyond essence, and the “to be.”

The rationale is clear with both these options. God’s difference is acknowledged, but as we must avoid univocity with the first, we risk equivocation with the second. In the first case, some community of God with the beings that are is at least implied in calling God Being itself, tempting one to enclose God and beings in one ontological totality, which then might seem to be the truer name for the ultimate. The difference of God would be compro­mised, and God as Being domesticated in terms of God’s necessary place in the one totality which is the whole of beings. Of course, this univocity of being is not the only possibility; the analogical conception is obviously relevant, for this clearly wants to keep open the space of transcendence, even while not blocking some relativity to the immanence of creation. The doctrine of analogy complexly qualifies the “is” of being with the “as” of similitude, such that the temptations to univocal reduction or assimilation are noted, guarded against, and transcended. It calls attention to the participation of finite beings in being, a participation first made possible as a gift of the origin, a participation pointing to both the intimacy of the origin and also to an asymmetry, since the gift is exceeded by the giver. There is something abso­lute in the asymmetry: if God is as unconditional in self, God also is as absolving, in letting the finite creation be as irreducibly other. God is abso­lute in the intimacy of its own being for self, and absolving in the releasing of creation that is the love of finitude of agapeic origination. God’s agapeic giving releases the creation into being its own open whole, and hence not just a part of a more inclusive totality. In this respect, the analogical “as” points us towards a metaxological understanding.

Relative to the second option, God’s very otherness tempts us to see the Being of the divine as not Being, but other than Being. The reasoning has its points of persuasiveness. The origin cannot be reduced to what it originates, and hence is always over and above. It is no thing, and hence a name for God might be Nothing, and perhaps God has no proper name. The point is not a merely empty nothing, but an originative nothing that is creative of the finite beings. Since we cannot think this in terms proportionate to finite beings, it is better to exceed or transcend the language of beings.

William Desmond

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What is Orthodox Hell?

What is the Orthodox doctrine of hell? I honestly do not know. I do know what many Orthodox have taught about hell during the past hundred years or so, and I know some­thing about what the Church Fathers taught about it during the first millennium of the Church’s history; but I cannot tell you what the Orthodox Church authoritatively and irreformably teaches about hell, beyond the fact that it is a horrifying possibility and therefore a destiny best avoided. As the Orthodox Church sings at the Saturday Vespers of the Sunday of the Last Judgment:

When the thrones are set in place and the books are opened, then God will take His place on the judgment-seat.
What a fearful sight! 
As the angels stand in awe and the river of fire flows by:
What shall we do, who are already condemned by our many sins, as we hear Christ call the righteous to His Father’s Kingdom, and send the wicked to eternal damnation? Who among us can bear that terrible verdict?
 Hasten to us, Lover of mankind and King of the universe: 
Grant us the grace of repentance before the end and have mercy on us!

The hymns of the Sunday of the Last Judgment might seem to give the definitive word, yet they, like the Scriptures, need to be interpreted in light of Pascha and the totality of the Holy Tradition.

My inability to present a definitive answer to the question “What does the Orthodox Church authoritatively and irreformably teach about hell?” is partly determined by the fact that a huge portion of the Eastern theological patrimony has never been translated into English. I read neither Greek, Russian, Romanian, Serbian, or Syriac. I suspect that my position is not that different from most other English-speaking Orthodox believers, including the clergy. The fact that so much theological reflection is inaccessible to us puts us at significant disadvantage. This doesn’t mean that the ordinary American parish priest does not believe that he knows what the authoritative Orthodox understanding of hell is. Quite the contrary. Over the past century a  com­pelling, construal of hell and perdition has been received as the Orthodox posi­tion; and this construal, we are often told, is dramati­cally different from what is taught in Catholicism and Protes­tantism. Archimandrite [now Bishop] Irenei Steenberg has described this view as “hell is heaven experienced differ­ently.” God does not retribu­tively punish the damned, nor does he separate himself from them. He continuously pours oug his uncreated Light upon all humanity, yet because the lost have rejected the divine mercy and love, they experience the Light as torment. God does not actively inflict anguish and pain at the Last Judgment; rather, he allows the damned to experience the suffering they have freely and irreversibly chosen. Hell is hatred of Love and refusal of communion. This view may be found in the writings of John Romanides, George Metallinos, Hierotheos Vlachos, Dumitru Staniloae, Vladimir Lossky, and Jean-Claude Larchet. Differences exist between these theologians, but they are united in pushing retributive considerations to the back­ground and emphasizing perdition as self-damnation. For popular presentations see “The River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros; A Study of Hell by Nick Aiello; “Heaven and Hell in the Afterlife” by Peter Chopelas; “Hell and God’s Love” by Eric Simpson; and “Why We Need Hell” by Frederica Mathewes-Green. The “hell is heaven experienced differently” view can perhaps be traced back to St Maximus the Confessor and St John of Damascus; yet as Steenberg notes, questions can be raised whether it represents the consensual teaching of the Church Fathers: “this view has little to no grounding in either the Scriptural or patristic heritage of the Church, and in fact that heritage very regularly makes assertions that wholly deny the possibility of this view.” At the very least, we may say that the Tradition presents us with a diversity of testimonies that resist easy harmo­nization (see the patristic citations I compiled ten years ago).

Unfortunately, it is not an easy matter for an English-speaking non-scholar to assess the patristic roots of the “hell is heaven experienced differently” thesis. Search high and low but you will not find a comprehensive, detailed, and in-depth scholarly discussion of the eschatology of the Church Fathers, much less of the two-thousand-year old Eastern tradi­tion—at least not in English. I find this surprising. We can find extensive discussion of what the New Testament teaches about hell, especially by Protestant scholars, and we can find extensive discussion about what the Catholic Church dogmatically teaches about hell by Catholic theologians; but when one turns to the Church Fathers (excepting Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, and St Augustine of Hippo), we hit a wall. J. N. D. Kelly devotes a couple of pages to hell and judgment in his book Early Christian Doctrines. Jaroslav Pelikan’s first volume of The Christian Tradition is even less helpful. The best survey in English of the eschatological beliefs of the Church Fathers is The Hope of the Early Church by Brian E. Daley. Anyone who wishes to research the subject at hand should probably begin with this title. Daley’s book makes clear the diversity of beliefs about hell and damnation that existed among the Fathers. One can certainly distinguish a difference in approach between the Greek and Latin traditions; but it would be a mistake to push the contrast too far. Exclud­ing those who taught some form of universal salvation, both Greek and Latin Fathers affirm that the chastisements of hell are divinely appointed and everlasting in duration. The Latins tend to emphasize the retributive dimension, but this dimension is certainly not absent in the Eastern Fathers. St John Chrysostom, one of the Three Holy Hierarchs, is particularly vivid:

It is a sea of fire—not a sea of the kind or dimensions we know here, but much larger and fiercer, with waves made of fire, fire of a strange and fearsome kind. There is a great abyss there, in fact, of terrible flames, and one can see fire rushing about on all sides like some wild animal. … There will be no one who can resist, no one who can escape: Christ’s gentle, peaceful face will be nowhere to be seen. But as those sentenced to work the mines are given over to rough men and see no more of their families, but only their taskmasters, so it will be there—or not simply so, but much worse. For here on can appeal to the Emperor for clemency, and have the prisoner released—but there, never. They will not be released, but will remain roasting and in such agony as cannot be expressed. (Homilies on Matthew 43[44].4)

And again:

For when you hear of fire, do not suppose the fire in that world to be like this: for fire in this world burns up and makes away with anything which it takes hold of; but that fire is continually burning those who have once been seized by it, and never ceases: therefore also is it called unquenchable. For those also who have sinned must put on immortality, not for honour, but to have a constant supply of material for that punishment to work upon; and how terrible this is, speech could never depict, but from the experience of little things it is possible to form some slight notion of these great ones. For if you should ever be in a bath which has been heated more than it ought to be, think then, I pray you, on the fire of hell: or again if you are ever inflamed by some severe fever transfer your thoughts to that flame, and then you will be able clearly to discern the difference. For if a bath and a fever so afflict and distress us, what will our condition be when we have fallen into that river of fire which winds in front of the terrible judgment-seat. Then we shall gnash our teeth under the suffering of our labours and intolerable pains: but there will be no one to succour us: yea we shall groan mightily, as the flame is applied more severely to us, but we shall see no one save those who are being punished with us, and great desolation. And how should any one describe the terrors arising to our souls from the darkness? For just as that fire has no consuming power so neither has it any power of giving light: for otherwise there would not be darkness. The dismay pro­duced in us then by this, and the trembling and the great astonishment can be sufficiently realized in that day only. For in that world many and various kinds of torment and torrents of punishment are poured in upon the soul from every side. And if any one should ask, and how can the soul bear up against such a multitude of punishments and continue being chastised through interminable ages, let him consider what happens in this world, how many have often borne up against a long and severe disease. And if they have died, this has happened not because the soul was con­sumed but because the body was exhausted, so that had the latter not broken down, the soul would not have ceased being tormented. When then we have received an incorruptible and inconsumable body there is nothing to prevent the punishment being indefinitely extended. For here indeed it is impossible that the two things should coexist. I mean severity of punish­ment and permanence of being, but the one contends with the other, because the nature of the body is perishable and cannot bear the concur­rence of both: but when the imperishable state has supervened, there would be an end of this strife, and both these terrible things will keep their hold upon us for infinite time with much force.

Let us not then so dispose ourselves now as if the excessive power of the tortures were destructive of the soul: for even the body will not be able to experience this at that time, but will abide together with the soul, in a state of eternal punishment, and there will not be any end to look to beyond this. How much luxury then, and how much time will you weigh in the balance against this punishment and vengeance? Do you propose a period of a hundred years or twice as long? And what is this compared with the endless ages? For what the dream of a single day is in the midst of a whole lifetime, that the enjoyment of things here is as contrasted with the state of things to come. Is there then any one who, for the sake of seeing a good dream, would elect to be perpetually punished? Who is so senseless as to have recourse to this kind of retribution? (Ad Theod. 1.10)

Jonathan Edwards, stand aside! The Eastern Church can boast a fire-and-brimstone preacher as terrifying as you! Perhaps one might explain such passages as rhetorical enthusiasm; but still, it’s hard to see how they express a hell that is “heaven experienced differently.” Whatever the fire of hell may be, it is retributive, punitive, tormenting, destructive, and everlasting. “It is impossible,” St John insists, “that punishment and Gehenna should not exist” (In 1 Thes 8.4). In this world divine punishment is intended for our correction; in the next world, for vengeance (In Rom. Hom. 3.1). The damned are forever punished by God because they deserve to be punished. St John Chrysostom is not St Isaac the Syrian. The teaching of the Golden Mouth is important, as it provides weighty counter-evidence to the popular Orthodox view. I am unaware of a scholarly work that explore’s Chrysostom’s view of perdition in-depth, but do take a look at the chapters on judgment and hell in The Mystery of Death by Nikolaos P. Vassiliadis.

The Latin and Greek Fathers are largely united on the retributive nature of hell: God justly punishes the reprobate. A minority report does exist, however—represented by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Ambrose of Milan, St Isaac of Nineveh. Accor­ding to this report, God punishes principally to teach, correct, convert, purify. When this purpose cannot be achieved, the infliction of suffering serves no further purpose—hence the incoherence and pointlessness of everlasting divine retribution (see Ilaria Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis; John Sachs, “Apocatastasis in Patristic Theology“; also see the now dated Universalism The Prevailing Doctrine of The Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years by J. W. Hanson). Tragically, the retributive views of Augustine in the West and the Emperor Justinian in the East pre­vailed, and the minority report was filed away. The emergence in Orthodoxy of the “hell is heaven experienced differently” doctrine might be seen as the report’s partial recovery. Doctrine develops and is still developing.

The question of differences between the Greek and Latin Fathers raises an interesting dogmatic question: If the Latin Fathers are in fact Church Fathers, by what authority do we dismiss their views about perdition whenever they happen to differ with Eastern Fathers? Does East always trump West?

But can we not at least agree that the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553) dogmatically defined the eternity of hell and rejected all forms of universalism? My quick answer is no, but rather than rehearsing the arguments, I refer you to “Apocatastasis: The Heresy that Never Was” and “The Dogmatic Status of Apokatastasis.” Let’s just say that because of the significant differences between the condemned universalism of the sixth-century Origen­ists and the universalism of St Gregory Nyssen and St Isaac the Syrian, the question of duration is still open. Met Hilarion Alfeyev submits that an Orthodox formulation of apocatastasis may still be legitimately advanced:

There is also an Orthodox understanding of the apokatastasis, as well as a notion of the non-eternity of hell. Neither has ever been condemned by the Church and both are deeply rooted in the experience of the Paschal mystery of Christ’s victory over the powers of darkness. (The Mystery of Faith, p. 217; also see Andrew Louth, “Eastern Orthodox Eschatology“)

Is there a binding and irreformable dogma of hell in the Eastern Church? A diversity of beliefs about the last judgment and perdition existed in the patristic period, and this diversity continues to the present: eternal retribution, eternal self-damnation, and aeonic purgation. The Orthodox Church has yet to speak its definitive word.

(6 May 2013; rev.)

(cont)

 

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“The friendship of the ‘beyond, above’ with the ‘in the midst’ is at issue in turning to God and mysticism”

The pure trust, the true “yes” lies buried deep in the determinacies of finite life. It surfaces episodically through life, coming through and receding, on and off, visiting and gypsy, like a wayward love. One cannot just will it, though one must be willing. This is the willingness before will. But one can woo it. The devotion of the mystic, and the discipline, witness the courtship of this woo.

We misunderstand God’s transcendence beyond the whole if we dualistically oppose it to divine immanence in the finite whole. The “meta” is not only “beyond, above,” but also “in the midst.” The friendship of the “beyond, above” with the “in the midst” is at issue in turning to God and mysticism. This is again an extraordinarily plurivocal matter. Not only is it difficult to pin mysticism down definitively with univocally fixed markers, it shows a fluid latitude of variability, depending on different traditions shaping its expression, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, archaic religions. We come once more to the idiocy of the divine, the intimacy. At the beginning the Tao is said to be as an unborn baby, but as we move through the middle, in the end we are to become as the child again, and speak its sacred “yes,” whether, say, with Jesus or Nietzsche we need not now say. We pass from idiocy to idiocy. At the beginning of our quest, idiocy is not dissolved but rather intensified towards the end, especially with respect to the absolute singularity of the God who is not the whole. Our passage through life takes firm form, but our passing makes fluid again the forms, and the abiding porosity prior to form and beyond form offers again its never closed off chance: chance of ultimate communication between us and the ultimate. Mysticism has to do with the chance of the divine woo.

The woo is furthered through meditative practices, contemplative prayer, the retraction of untoward attachments. Drugs, we know, can artificially induce a sense of intimacy with the porosity, (en)force a chemical patience, making the doors of perception seem purged. The body being bruised to pleasure the porosity, this is not the patience of the true “yes.” The porosity too must be purged. Breathing with measure – this can help begin the emptying of mind of determinate contents. Sensory deprivation: closing the eyes, retracting into floating darkness – this awakens the idiotic prior to the aesthetic. Woo: we close our eyes on darkness when we kiss or are kissed. (Mystic comes from muein. Muein: to shut the eyes, to stop the mouth.) There can be mystical tinges to certain intense physical activities: dervish dances; long-distance running – not alone the body, but the soul too might get its second wind – breaking through the barrier of pain into another zone, effortless in full effort, calm in absorbed agitation, beyond suffering in suffering.

William Desmond

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God, Analogy, and the Metaphysics of Participation

by Robert Fortuin

There’s an interesting post over at Tom Belt’s Open Orthodoxy blog—“Lost in Translation” (part 1 and part 2)—which developed into a conversation about a conversation. The post and the subsequent comments concern a topic of great importance. It is difficult to respond in a comment section beyond a few hastily put together sentences (and without the column width of replies to narrow to an inch—why? are we out of space??) so I thought it would be better to create a slightly more substantial contribution here (thank you Fr Kimel!). Let me briefly summarize the problematic of “Lost in Translation.”

Tom’s post presents a dialogue between himself and interlocutor “Webster” (who subse­quently outed himself as Jeff, ha!) about what precisely is conveyed when we speak about God. How does theological language capture meaning? Can we claim to know anything at all about God, and if we can, then how do we come about such knowledge? The problem that confronts us is that the God of theism classically conceived is not an ordinary subject, a discrete object which can be defined, measured, conceptualized. God cannot be classified to belong to any genera. Yet to truly communicate, for words to convey meaning and value, we need to do just this—to define, measure, and compare, and thereby to communicate mean­ing and value. Jeff’s complaint is that analogy makes meaning so slippery that no explaining power is left in the words Tom uses to explicate meaning in regards to God. God “cares about” and “loves” people, but evidently not in the way we are ordinarily use these words (hence Tom’s use of quotation marks). But what then DO these words mean then? The objection Jeff raises strikes at the heart of analogy’s claim as to its ability to establish true knowledge about God. No trivial matter.

A secondary issue was raised by Tom as to how one goes about establishing meaning by way of analogy. Asks Tom, “What are the actual steps one takes to establish (for us creatures) the meaning of a term like “person” or “love” within a larger infinite distance?” The chief prob­lem here is the issue of the ‘always larger dissimilarity’ by which any likeness is to be held in check. To state it in the words of the Fourth Lateran Council, “between creator and creature there can be noted no similarity so great that a greater dissimilarity cannot be seen between them.” This appears to denote that the greater (infinite no less!) unlikeness cancels out any notion of likeness. Silence is the only appropriate stance—under the immense weight of the infinite interval of dissimilarity our ability to affirm cataphatically has collapsed to ruin. Was this the beginning of an incipient nihilism, a consequence of what the likes of Aquinas and the bishops of the Lateran council meant by analogy?

Such a conclusion would only hold if the doctrine of analogy is taken out of its metaphysical context, and if analogy is understood to be primarily a method to provide us with knowledge about God. As important as theological language theory may be (and it is, don’t get me wrong), it is far too often imagined to be a discipline which creates its own picture of reality. But it makes a lot more sense to consider language as dependent upon and proceeding from metaphysics: that is to say that the question of the possibility of meaning depends in large on the nature of reality envisioned. Theological language of analogical predication can only function correctly insofar it is considered in the light of metaphysics, in particular a meta­physics of participation.

To that end here are few of the main tenets of the metaphysic of participation that must be brought to bear in any consideration of analogy, and in order to understand how and why analogy functions as a pillar of classical theism. Time does not permit to develop supporting arguments, so these will be presented in the form of assertions:

  • Effect resembles its cause. The effect bears real similarity to its cause. The resemblance is real, however present in the creature proper to its mode as contingent, derivative, and finite. The created is like its creator, and not conversely.
  • Existence and essence coincide in God who is self-existing and self-sufficient. Because existence and essence are identical in God, the divine perfections are not possessed. God does not have love, he is love.
  • By way of perfections observed in creation (however fragmented and limited), perfections can be affirmed of God.
  • While finite beings have real perfections in limited ways, the perfections exist super-eminently (formerly and eminently) in God. The presence of the perfections in creation, however real, are dissimilar to the perfections affirmed in God according to the mode they are attributed. The dissimilarity is in the mode, or manner, by which perfections are attributed, proper to God and creature respectively. This is the res/modus distinction.
  • Analogy functions not as a way to provide knowledge, but as a way to describe how we have the knowledge already apprehended. To address Jeff’s concern about the meaning of words in analogous predication, we can affirm that God is (super eminently) love by the love observed in the creature.
  • The analogy is an ontological analogy, an analogy of being, and not merely nor primarily a linguistic device.
  • The analogization consists in the difference of being between God and creature, not between God and creature under a shared category of being. This is, in short, the meaning of the difference between Being and beings.

Tom proposes to begin with a univocal meaning of ‘love’ and then to qualify it by saying the essential meaning we associate with the term is infinitely, perfectly, transcendentally actual in God. My reply is that we begin with love not understood univocally (as both Tom and Jeff suggest) but analogously as follows: love as we know it is truly similar to God’s love (effect resembles its cause) but it is dissimilar in the manner it is attributed to God and to us (the res/modus distinction). For to God love is attributed super-eminently: God does not participate in nor acquire love—God is love. Yet it remains that the love we know is like God’s love (literally so, Aquinas posits); however, we possess love by participation in God: contingently, derivatively and in measure and degree. While perfections obtain to God literally, they are applied analogously rather than univocally due to the modal disjunction between God and creation. The distinction between the perfec­tion attributed and the manner the perfection is attributed (perfectio significata vs modus significandi) proper to God and creature respectively, means that the dissimilarity does not cancel out the similarity. The likeness of the res signified persists in the mode it is signified. In this way of analogy classic theism stays clear of the equivocation suggested by John Stuart Mill, “To say that God’s goodness may be different in kind from man’s goodness, what is it but saying, with a slight change of phraseology, that God may possibly not be good?”

God’s act of being is the plentitude of the good fully actualized, a foretaste of which we encounter in the good of creation. Creation’s teleos (perfection) is its perfection in the Good.

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Origen on Adam and Eve

De unione ecclesiarum

Origen, De Principiis, iv. 16 = Philocalia Origenis, p. 24. (Translation, with original text on facing side, in H. M. Gwatkin, Selections from Early Christian Writers, London 1897, pp. 136-139.)

What intelligent person would fancy, for instance, that a first, second, and third day, evening and morning, took place without sun, moon, and stars; and the first, as we call it, without even a heaven? Who would be so childish as to suppose that God after the manner of a human gardener planted a garden in Eden towards the east, and made therein a tree, visible and sensible, so that one could get the power of living by the bodily eating of its fruit with the teeth; or again, could partake of good and evil by feeding on what came from that other tree? If God is said to walk at eventide in the garden, and Adam…

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“Only Christians have a true sense of values; their joys and sorrows are not the same as other people’s”

Only Christians have a true sense of values; their joys and sorrows are not the same as other people’s. The sight of a wounded boxer wearing a victor’s crown would make someone ignorant of the games think only of the boxer’s wounds and how painful they must be. Such a person would know nothing of the happiness the crown gives. And it is the same when people see the things we suffer without knowing why we do so. It naturally seems to them to be suffering pure and simple. They see us struggling and facing danger, but beyond their vision are the rewards, the crowns of victory—all we hope to gain through the contest!

When Paul said, “We possess nothing, and yet we have everything,” what did he mean by “everything?” Wealth of both the earthly and the spiritual order. Did he not possess every earthly gift when whole cities received him as an angel, when people were ready to pluck out their eyes for him, or bare their necks to the sword? But if you would think of spiritual blessings, you will see that it was in these above all that he was rich. The King of the universe and Lord of angels loved him so much that he shared his secrets with him. Did he not surpass all others in wealth then? Did he not possess all things? Had it been otherwise, demons would not have been subject to him, nor sickness and suffering put to flight by his presence.

We too, then, when we suffer anything for Christ’s sake, should do so not only with courage, but even with joy. If we have to go hungry, let us be glad as if we were at a banquet. If we are insulted, let us be elated as though we had been showered with praises. If we lose all we possess, let us consider ourselves the gainers. If we provide for the poor, let us regard ourselves as the recipients. Anyone who does not give in this way will find it difficult to give at all. So when you wish to distribute alms, do not think only of what you are giving away; think rather of what you are gaining, for your gain will exceed your loss.

And not only in the matter of almsgiving, but also with every virtue you practice: do not think of the painful effort involved, but of the sweetness of the reward; and above all remember that your struggles are for the sake of our Lord Jesus. Then you will easily rise above them, and live out your whole lifetime in happiness; for nothing brings more happiness than a good conscience.

St John Chrysostom

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