Searching for Our Human Face: The Flourishing of Apokatastasis

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

There is a delicate balance in the life of faith; I think it’s fine to slip into doubt. There’s something desperate and willful in many of those who don’t—though I have personally rarely experienced grave doubt. I am more prone to anger with God—and with the pious—and the intellectual unbeliever. I am a great one for anger, and misery, and wrestling in the dark. When Robert Faggen asked the Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, if he thought God’s answer to Job from the whirlwind was adequate, Milosz replied, “It is not adequate. It is not adequate.” That sort of thing offends a certain piety, but I am all with Milosz. Milosz, who was a champion of trying to see the other with integrity and who with mischievous honor admitted his contradictions, which is to say, he was a rare honest man. He also didn’t try to prematurely eradicate them. Moralism is often impatient with such. It too easily thinks it comprehends the Good. Like the wheat and the tares, it requires a divine surgeon to properly judge and heal. Milosz was also a poet of reverence, which is not an attitude of ecclesial rectitude, but a way of loving and respecting reality. (Most of the poems I have quoted come from his compelling anthology, A Book of Luminous Things.)

It is my personal conviction (so of course, this is merely a theologoumenon one may discard in favor of the majority opinion of Holy Mother Church) that the Gospel is meant to assert a total victory, in which each and all, down to the least blade of grass, is loved into being and carried upon the Cross, destined in the Spirit to be made new. There is a saying of Gabriel Marcel from one of his plays. It’s stuck in my memory for decades: “To love a being . . . is to say you, you in particular, will never die.’ . . . To consent to the death of a being is in a sense to give him up to death.” I do not think God consents. I do not believe the victory of Christ is confined to the limits of earthly heroism. Freedom in its perfect flourishing is indistinguishable from apokastastasis. “When you have reached the end of the road of justice, then you will cleave to freedom in all things” (Isaac the Syrian.) Yet we are not past faith. I could, of course, be quite wrong, though I would then conclude that the Gospel was untrue. I wish that we, as a people, would listen more, believe intelligently—which means living with ambiguity and mystery and generous hope. I wish that we would imagine more, tell better jokes, and not give over the lust for life to the devil. It would be an immeasurable step forward if we began to understand the symbiosis between perfected freedom and universal compassion. This is not something that one can meaningfully assert or achieve by assent to a proposition. It will come, if it does, in the real encounters one is given, and in the voices one may be gifted to hear. And it will not be easy, but it will also not be hard.

The train moves through the Guadarrama
one night on the way to Madrid.
The moon and the fog create
high up a rainbow.
Oh April moon, so calm,
driving up the white clouds!

The mother holds her boy
sleeping on her lap.
The boy sleeps, and nevertheless
sees the green fields outside,
and trees lit up by the sun,
and the golden butterflies.

The mother, her forehead dark
Between a day gone and a day to come,
sees a fire nearly out
and an oven with spiders.

There’s a traveler mad with grief,
no doubt seeing odd things;
he talks to himself, and when he looks
wipes us out with his look.

I remember fields under snow,
and pine trees of other mountains.

And you, Lord, through whom we all
have eyes, and who sees souls,
tell us if we all one
day will see your face.

— Antonio Machado, “Rainbow at Night”

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14 Responses to Searching for Our Human Face: The Flourishing of Apokatastasis

  1. Mickey says:

    Thanks, I really liked that post. Do you think that poetry is one of the main places of expression where ‘ the symbiosis between perfected freedom and universal compassion.’ can take place? because of the almost other-worldly, maybe over-reaching, nature of the Hope of Apocatastasis – ‘The mother holds her boy
    sleeping on her lap.
    The boy sleeps, and nevertheless
    sees the green fields outside,
    and trees lit up by the sun,
    and the golden butterflies.’

    Mickey

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    • brian says:

      Mickey,
      I live in Atlanta, Georgia.
      I think art is one of those places where the narrowness and hard borders of the ego can break down, where our defenses can be surprised by wonder into an enlargement that participates in and points to the eschaton. Authentic Christian thinking should always be oriented towards the eschaton — a plenitude that embraces the concrete particular and the lived quality of our temporal experience whilst deepening its relational capacities to include an eternal flourishing. Poetry may be especially indicative for it carries the power of the voice, the place where spirit and person mysteriously manifest.

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  2. Mickey says:

    ps – are you in the states or uk? I think I’ve asked you before 🙂

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  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I wish to thank Brian for this wonderful series of meditations. Yours is a unique voice, Brian—a blending of theological and philosophical acumen, poetic sensibility, and prophetic vision. I have benefited greatly, as have, I am sure, many of EO readers.

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  4. brian says:

    Father, Tom, Mike H.,
    Thank you for your regard and friendship.
    Speaking is empty without intelligent listening.

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  5. Jonathan says:

    So, our revels now are ended. Many thanks, Brian. Indeed, one rarely encounters a sensibility such as yours. I hope you’ll find time and venue, close to home or scattered broadcast, to continue sharing your much needed perspective.

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  6. Grant says:

    I will miss this series, it was a truly beautiful read from a clearly beautiful and brilliant mind, is there anyway these can be made into one article that can be downloaded?

    And thank you again Brian, for your time, prayerful reflection and mediation, and inspired thought, I haven’t really commented much but you have given me allot to reflect on and think about, and have enjoyed these pieces. As someone who finds himself in a wilderness often and has found Christian groups (including Orthodox and Catholic ones) hard to relate to and be part of (tending to just feel even more isolated, though this is probably my fault then theirs I’m sure) and sometimes even wonders over my status as a Christian these have been quite helpful in an odd way.

    I hope you do more along this line in the future, I think the Church, Christians and all people could benefit from your voice.

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    • brian says:

      Thanks so much, Grant. I’ve noted your voice before. I can empathize with your sensibility. If we are all singularities called to a communal dance, the eccentricities are destined for particular beauties. It means we will all have something unique to share.

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  7. tgbelt says:

    There once was a poet named Brian
    Who spoke and never was lyin’
    He searched for his face
    A gift of God’s grace
    That now won’t ever be dyin’.

    (Lame attempt at a limerick)

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  8. An ear for theological voice and an eye for theological imagination are two of Fr Aidan’s several contributions in this blog. Important and interesting as his other emphases are– and thankfully some of his de-emphases– these two are the most distinctive. And as it happens, they are also the most reparative for the Church on this continent, the sine qua non for all the other good things that are urgently needed. The posts themselves are liberating, and the best threads are ethereal writers’ workshops for theological minds. May God grant him peace of mind, glimpses even now of the beauty of the Kingdom, and many, many years!

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