The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald

In his recent Notre Dame lecture on creatio ex nihilo and apokatastasis, David B. Hart mention those Church Fathers he regarded as the best guides to the interpretation of Holy Scripture regarding the Last Things—St Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, St Isaac the Syrian … and then he pauses for just a moment and concludes his list with … George MacDonald. The audience chuckled, yet I know that David was not joking. Few Christians have so profoundly apprehended the infinite depths of the love of our heavenly Father as MacDonald. To read him is to be taken into the life of the Holy Trinity—I have found him that rich and that spiritually powerful. C. S. Lewis wrote of MacDonald: “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”

MacDonald cannot be pigeonholed into one theological school or another. Raised in the Reformed tradition, he became increasingly horrified by the Calvinist doctrines of absolute election and limited atonement. In his first published novel, David Elginbrod, MacDonald tells the (possibly autobiographical) story of a young boy named Harry who listens to a homily on absolute predestination. Harry bursts into tears and runs out of the room exclaiming, “I don’t want God to love me, if he does not love everybody.” MacDonald would eventually come to reject Calvinism and embrace the universal love of an infinitely loving Father. His writings, both fiction and non-fiction, are penetrated by this love.

In his own Scottish Protestant way, MacDonald reminds me of St Isaac the Syrian. They are kindred spirits.

What is the best entrée to the eclectic theology of George MacDonald? Imaginative personalities might well find his fiction most accessible. Theological types like myself, however, like to have things spelled out more clearly. If you are like me, you will want to begin with his Unspoken Sermons. These homilies bring the reader into the heart of MacDonald’s vision. Yet they can be a challenge. Fortunately, a new book has come to the rescue: Consuming Fire: The Inexorable Power of God’s Love: A Devotional Version of Unspoken Sermons. The editor provides us with a daily meditation taken from the Unspoken Sermons, usually just one or two paragraphs long. All of the important themes of MacDonald’s spiritual theology are presented.

This might be the best way to approach George MacDonald—in a spirit of prayer and contemplation. I highly recommend Consuming Fire.

(100% of the royalties from the sales of Consuming Fire will be donated to the ALS Therapy Development Institute.)

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12 Responses to The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald

  1. Carol S. says:

    Thanks for posting the link. I bought and downloaded the Kindle version and will begin reading it in the morning!
    ~Carol S.~

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  2. Ryan says:

    Father Kimel, I notice that David B. Hart does not mention Clement of Alexandria. You don’t seem to talk much about him either, but from what I’ve read, he was a strong defender of Christian universalism. Some have even called him the first Christian philosopher.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Quite right. I try not to write too much about theologians I have not read (or read only very little). I just hate putting my ignorance on display for everyone to see. 🙂

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Of course, I suppose I put my ignorance on display every time I post a purportedly theological article. 🙂

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        • Ryan says:

          Some relevant quotes from Clement on universalism:

          “For all things are ordered both universally and in particular by the Lord of the universe, with a view to the salvation of the universe. * * * But needful corrections, by the goodness of the great, overseeing judge, through the attendant angels, through various prior judgments, through the final judgment, compel even those who have become more callous to repent.”

          “So he saves all; but some he converts by penalties, others who follow him of their own will, and in accordance with the worthiness of his honor, that every knee may be bent to him of celestial, terrestrial and infernal things (Phil. ii:10), that is angels, men, and souls who before his advent migrated from this mortal life.”

          “God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary (in Hades) leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of the sinner, (Ezek. xviii, 23, 32; xxxiii: II, etc.,) and especially since souls, although darkened by passions, when released from their bodies, are able to perceive more clearly because of their being no longer obstructed by the paltry flesh.”

          “He (God) chastises the disobedient, for chastisement (kolasis) is for the good and advantage of him who is punished, for it is the amendment of one who resists; I will not grant that he wishes to take vengeance. Vengeance (timoria) is a requital of evil sent for the interest of the avenger. He (God) would not desire to avenge himself on us who teaches us to pray for those who despitefully use us (Matt. v: 44).

          “If in this life there are so many ways for purification and repentance, how much more should there be after death! The purification of souls, when separated from the body, will be easier. We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer; to redeem, to rescue, to discipline, is his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life.”

          “And how is he Savior and Lord and not Savior and Lord of all? But he (Christ) is the Savior of those who have believed, because of their wishing to know, and of those who have not believed he is Lord, until by being brought to confess him they shall receive the proper and well-adapted blessing for themselves which comes by him.”

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Lewis’s MacDonald Anthology is arranged with one excerpt for every day of the year, for anyone who wants to read it in that way.

            Charles Williams made a wider-ranging, more calendar-related anthology, The New Christian Year, which included a fair number of selections from St. Clement:

            http://tomwills.typepad.com/thenewchristianyear/st_clement/

            It seems to me, you might have the basis for a St. Clement ‘diary’! (Lewis identifies which work each selection comes from – and Williams does, more or less: I’m always keen to have as much detail of reference as is possible, to ease looking up context, etc.!)

            Meanwhile, this new devotional MacDonald seems like a good addition and approach!

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      • Ryan says:

        A couple of quick quotes about Clement of Alexandria:

        “[Clement and Origen were] men eminent for their information in every department of literature and science.”– Socrates Scholasticus c. 380

        “Clement, a presbyter of Alexandria, in my judgment the most learned of men…[He has produced] notable volumes full of learning and eloquence using both Scripture and secular literature.” — St. Jerome

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  3. Ryan says:

    And he was a Saint in the Roman Catholic Church until the 17th century.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04045a.htm

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