If anyone would like to explain Hart’s paper for us, please do so. I think I understood perhaps 15-20%. 🙂
Thank you so much for linking this. Lovely to see DBH sharing his work. Prayers for his well being and flourishing.
any idea where we can actually get what he is reading from?
Not sure I can do this briefly. Hart is positioning his view of consciousness, will, and intellect first in terms of a broader theological debate. When he refers to two-tier Thomism, he is referencing an old debate between defenders of “Pure Nature” and those, like Henri de Lubac, who vigorously argued that the natural end of man was supernatural. Those who advocate for pure nature are concerned that grace not somehow be co-opted by nature in a manner that would compromise its free, gratuitous giftedness. Hence, they argue that nature has its own finite ends whereby it could be considered complete in its own terms; grace elevates this nature to a supernatural end it would not otherwise have had. Yet, as Hart points out, this is a fundamentally flawed notion. Creatio ex nihilo is enough in and of itself to secure the giftedness of being. Not only is the double foundation of the two-tier anthropology unnecessary, it invites its own ultimately disastrous consequences. If there is a natural fulfillment that excludes theosis (to bring in Eastern terms,) then grace is extrinsic to nature’s own teleology. This means that the truth of God (revelation) has no interior connection to the truth of nature (creation.)
Hart, rather in passing, alludes to Duns Scotus’ idea (surely correct) that Christ would have been Incarnated even if their had been no Fall. To assert otherwise makes the incarnation a purely accidental, reactive remedy rather than the central truth of creation. Later, when one of the interlocutors makes a genealogical connection between Maximus and Scotus via John Damascene, Hart, apropos Maximus, notes that the Confessor properly situated anthropology within Christology. In shorthand, this is the key to the argument, for one side of all these divides begins “within Christology” in order to understand nature, whilst the other thinks one can follow nature as far as it goes and then add on Christ.
Now Hart’s central concern in this talk is to see how all this plays out in terms of the structure of rational consciousness. Just as he situated his own position first against a two-tier Thomism, here, he wants to oppose a kind of static epistemological realism in which consciousness is seen as a kind of passive mirror that simply records reality willy-nilly. Why does this matter? Because if one understands consciousness in terms of a passive mirror one has first introduced a kind of mechanical notion where the freedom of consciousness is impaired or ignored and secondly one has radically separated intelligibility from desire. These concerns will bear upon the theological issues discussed above. When Hart accentuates the genuine philosophical importance of intentionality and the orientation towards ‘aboutness’ associated with the phenomenological efforts of figures like Husserl and Edith Stein, he is emphasizing that consciousness is never a purely passive mirror; mind is always actively disposed and all acts of knowledge are also always acts of interpretation.
Allow me to step back a moment. Hart takes pains to distinguish the transcendental condition that grounds and makes possible every finite act from the gnoseological acts of the psychological ego. In a trivial and obvious manner, one can separate will and intellect in ordinary experience. One can give a priority to intellect. The will cannot desire what it does not know. Intellect can in this sense be considered prior to desire, prior to will. Deeper reflection indicates a more abiding mystery. Plato’s grappling with the nature of learning and desire and his concept of anamnesis tried to point to an enigmatic paradox. One must somehow always already have knowledge of the Good in order to orient one’s quest for knowledge. One must somehow implicitly possess what one seeks or one would never be able to direct a quest or even feel the need for such. Hart implicitly alludes to such a paradox in his discussion of the transcendental gift that is logically prior to all the temporal efforts of the fragile ego. Each moment of awareness presupposes an aboriginal appetite for reality as a whole. This appetite is already a hidden subsistence of the soul beyond the finite realm. Longing reaches out towards a horizon of infinite meaning that transcends any possible act of finite knowledge.
But here, it is crucial to recognize that we are not talking about mystical experience or rare, philosophical arcana. Rather, embedded in every act of quotidian existence, in every simple act of knowledge, when you enjoy a glass of Guinness or scrape ice from your car windshield, pat the head of your good dog or chat with your wife about the groceries, the limited scope of your interest, your intentionality within that distinct existential moment by the very fact that it is not a passive mirroring, but an action disclosed through the desiring soul, implicitly aims beyond such narrow limits. And this is where Hart thinks that Scotus has an advantage on other medieval thinkers. In this regard, Scotus has a greater sensitivity to the role of desire in knowing. Think of it this way. Just as two-tier thinking could countenance a good that was purely finite, a certain mode of understanding separates intellect and will. If intellect is prior to will, it is also in some sense prior to desire, prior to beauty, also somehow passive, anonymous, unhistorical. All that is out the window, implicitly in Scotus and explicitly in later philosophical probings such as one finds with phenomenologists like Merleau-Ponty, for example.
One can distinguish intellect and will, but the actual living soul is a holistic reaching out in which desire and intelligibility each play roles that may be considered “prior.” This is because knowing is not a static world of concepts; truth is always revealed in dramatic encounter; it is always an event. Desire is not only after knowledge; it is itself a condition of knowledge. This is what Scotus emphasized and why Hart draws attention to him. Love is not merely the flourishing coda upon an already concluded act of knowledge, an affirmative (extrinsic) amen to what is known. Love is the necessary condition in which knowledge occurs. Unloving knowledge is in a very real sense not knowledge at all. This is why Philip Sherrard calls so much of modern western science an illusion. This is not meant to denigrate the achievements of such a methodology, but to properly remind us that the truth of creation is never separable from the truth of God. Anything that methodologically brackets off God is bracketing off truth in its flourishing reality.
Two tier thinking is closely allied with Siger of Brabant’s notion of two truths. There might be a truth for science and a truth for religion, for example. Such an erroneous conception invites a splintered universe and a schizophrenic rationality. If, however, one recognizes with de Lubac that rational spirit is nothing other than an absolute desire for God, one will see that every act of desire, of limited, finite knowledge is an interior anticipation of a flourishing inseparable from theosis. The creature of pure nature is completed within an immanent frame. Such a creature is utterly monstrous. What would such a man look like? One might take a look at Jens Lien’s film, The Bothersome Man. But such a creature is a complete fantasy; there is no such creature. To be a creature is always already to be gifted with desire for God. To be creature is largely nothing other than desire for God. The rightful generosity of Hart’s conception can be discerned in his careful humor that would not exclude elephants and dolphins and gray parrots from a divine destiny.
Desire for the whole of Being is the Structure of Knowledge. The rational mind is logically ecstatic. Reason, by nature, goes beyond itself. (Cf. D C Schindler’s The Catholicity of Reason.) Any immanent frame is penultimate. Everything you do, everything you desire, in your losses as well as your victories, there is never a place that makes sense apart from God. In Holy Saturday, Christ joins his humanity to all of creation, in all its suffering, death, and alienation, as well as its wonder, discovery and delight. This is what Hart’s argument defends against anemic and misguided theologies that conceive there might be some place complacent and satisfied, whole apart from an infinite, open horizon.
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Thank you, Brian.
Brian, I wanna have your baby.
By the way, the ontological grounding Brian is describing–nothing more, nothing less–is precisely why eternal, irrevocable, conscious torment is metaphysically impossible. Because the desire is a given of nature, nature can never freely foreclose upon itself all desire for God.
Thank you Brian.
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I like that perhaps that is really where the rubber meets the road here. I can’t tell you on a personal level how having this perspective has helped me be far more loving and gracious towards others. To really believe that God-ward movement is intrinsic to every human being changes everything. It changes the way we see the world or at least for me it has. I think as DBH and others have noted it really presents a serious challenge to our concepts of Free-Will too.
I agree the perspective change can be very empowering, very different in comparison to the motivating power of eternal conscious torment (at least in my experience).
Thank you very much. Now I *almost* understand, instead of being entirely baffled 🙂
Can someone please get Brian a professorship? It is utterly absurd that a man with this kind of intellect and knowledge remains hidden in some internetical stratosphere!
“This is why Philip Sherrard calls so much of modern western science an illusion. This is not meant to denigrate the achievements of such a methodology, but to properly remind us that the truth of creation is never separable from the truth of God. Anything that methodologically brackets off God is bracketing off truth in its flourishing reality.”
This is for me one of the reasons which makes panentheism a formidable and a necessary corrective to classical theism as some conceive it.
It’s one of those terms that has to be carefully parsed, but I am inclined to agree with you.
Without a doubt – by one account there are 12 different ways to understand the “en” in panentheism.
Thank you for that posting. That is very helpful in understanding David’s talk.
Will continue to mediate concentrating on my mantra, “Maranatha” and maybe someday I’ll understand what the hell I just read from Brother Brian.
Granting the overwhelming interest of the main topic, an aside Hart made caught my attention. Something about the failure to believe or understand being rooted in a withholding of love. This explains Christ’s insistence in John 8, for instance, that the Jews were culpable for their rejection of him, or the condemnation-for-not-believing that Peter insists on in Acts.
But also, it seems to me to go some way to explaining Isaac of Syria’s Hell. If the root problem for unbelievers (not all different-believers, perhaps, but real unbelievers) is that withholding of the grounding love which is necessary for knowledge, understanding, or belief, then it makes sense that the afterlife redemption for such people is not pictured as people sitting in a theology classroom. Apparently direct immersion in Divine Love, as in a substance, is the only possible corrective for such a condition? Perhaps because the natural response to Divine Love, once encountered, is to make a return of one’s own creaturely love. As long as one continues withholding that love, the very unnaturalness of one’s act creates its own torment – a torment that most of us experience now, but shield ourselves from through our engagement in the temporal (non-Eternal) world.
Maybe I’m just recapping what everyone else has been saying, I dunno.
I find this interesting partly because I’ve come to dislike the idea that the fires of Hell are fires because they are “burning away impurity.” It seems so unnecessary put like that. So cruel, so impatient.
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I can’t say I’m correct–my thoughts probably don’t explain all the Scriptural images of Hell–but I can’t shake the conviction the full torment of Hell is actually only possible in souls whose hearts are in process of being healed by the true vision of Christ. It is the very process of the healing of our hearts–the rendering of them back from stone into hearts of flesh–that enables us to experience our wrongdoing for what it really is/was–to really experientially know the depth of its horror. Every act of evil we perpetrated upon another, and every kindness we withheld, we will feel, as we are transformed by the love of Christ, as if it happened to us–no, not just to ourselves, but rather to Christ Himself for Whom our hearts of flesh will now burn with the most ardent love (“Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned . . . “), and that will be intolerable agony and grief of deepest regret. There is only one thing worse than suffering torture and deprivation at the hand of an evildoer. It is being that evildoer and discovering that I was torturing someone I cannot now help but love more dearly and fiercely than I have loved anything in the world even than my own flesh, the only true Lover of my soul! This is St. Isaac’s “scourge of love.” I cannot conceive of a love that has a purifying, healing, or scourging power apart from its being embraced within oneself.
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Yes… but if DBH is correct, wouldn’t it be impossible for anyone to be utterly unloving? You would, like, stop existing or something. Or become pure matter, to get super hypothetical. So the love embraced within oneself – that describes everyone to some degree, however miniscule.
AR, let me clarify my point (which is the same regardless of what small capacity for love may remain even in the most unrepentant sinner). I was responding to your speculation, given St. Isaac’s interpretation, that perhaps the very unnaturalness of one’s act of withholding one’s responsive love in the face of the full revelation of God’s love would be the source of hell’s torment.
My intuition would be the exact opposite of this. It would be that it is the very resurrection of our full capacity for recognizing and responding to God’s love, the consequence of the soul’s coming into the unmediated Presence of God in His Love upon physical death, that gives us a corresponding capacity for experiencing the full depth of the pain and horror of the wounds of our formerly unrepented sin. It has been suggested sin is analogous to Hanson’s Disease (leprosy) in its effects on us. It destroys our spiritual nerve endings (the heart’s capacity for spiritual perception) such that we don’t properly feel the pain of sin’s wounds to our being so as to tend to them that they might heal. In this view, it is actually our increasing imperviousness to the pain created by our sin that gives sin its power to destroy us (hence also C. S. Lewis’ insight that pain is actually a gift, given as a danger warning to alert us to act to avoid immanent injury).
Entrance into the unmediated Presence of God (Who is “a Consuming Fire” that by His very nature/life destroys anything incompatible with Him, i.e., sin and death) is intrinsically also the resurrection to life of all our spiritual nerve endings–of our capacity for spiritual life, for love! To the extent that we have been destroyed by sin (and especially to the extent we have willfully cooperated with that) is the extent to which we will experience the resurrection of our heart as suffering and torment, though it would also be by definition and at the same time a true healing (i.e., our salvation) and simultaneously our release from the power of sin. Surely this kind of exquisite spiritual suffering from sin would be far deeper and more excruciating torment than any mere thwarting of sinful desires or even physical burning might be. Yet it seems to me it is only the full realization and internalization of God’s love that could produce such a profound and agonizing regret for ever having violated it. This is a huge paradox, but it does make spiritual sense to me. If this is an accurate vision of what produces Gehenna-like suffering in the afterlife, it would tend to corroborate, it seems to me, DBH’s view of Gehenna as a process (by definition not permanent or static) with permanent effects/consequences–such as the final destruction within the sinner of sin and death. The spiritual pain produced by our awareness of our sinful state is rightly termed “shame.” Thus, in Confession, the Gehenna-like suffering of “bearing a little shame”, as Elder Sophrony terms it, is also how we are progressively healed from sin in this life in the sacramental life of the Church.
So which is the true corrective – the Love or the pain?
The love, definitely. In this view, the suffering of hell is a side effect of the consciousness of having sinned.
Ok, I’m technically challenged on my iPhone and keep “liking” my own comments by accident when I’m just trying to find out who already liked them!
Rats! Outed my vainglorious egocentricity!… 😳
Oh my, Karen. I guess I’d better “like” your comments immediately! 😉
Karen, I ended up replying to you in my reply to Brian, below. Sorry, it just worked out that way.
P.S. I don’t think it’s egocentric that you checked your likes! Why else do we leave them?
Thank you everyone for your kind words.
I know what you mean, Alana. I am interested in alchemy and do not mind such language as a metaphor, but it certainly has its limits. One must be especially careful not to casually ascribe to God what we would find insufferable otherwise. All that said, I can imagine that it is not at all easy to love as God loves, to embrace in agapeic generosity so much that we find repugnant or frightening. I think, with Bulgakov, that some of this will vanish because the evil that contributes to our misgiving will be redeemed and transfigured, but it is simply naive to think that all deficiencies of love can be painlessly removed.
Brian, excuse me if I try to walk my way through a few things that your reply brought up – and it will probably be all tangled up with my discussion with Karen. I don’t mean to be picky or ignore anyone, but you gave me a starting place.
Metaphor – this reminds me of an old friend who preaches and writes on the question, “Are the fires of hell literal or metaphorical”? I don’t care for the question – and not just because it’s only words that can be either. I don’t think that ‘metaphor’ is the right word for the type of verbal figure that uses some physical process, substance, or event to represent some spiritual reality. I think one physical item can be named as a metaphor for another, or one psychological item for another. But if we are talking about something utterly non-concrete, and using concrete language for it, then we’re hanging more on the words than mere comparison. There is no “A is like b;” there is only “A is a.” As above, so below.
So I think this kind of language is not analogy, but rather homology. In the schematic of Reality, these two things are Family and that’s why you can use one as the name for the other. (I’m assuming that the only reason we don’t have direct concrete names for these heavenly or eternal realities is that without encountering them as immediately and directly as we do earthly and temporal realities, there’s no mechanism for developing direct language relating to them.)
So if we say that Hell is “God’s Love burning away impurity,” then I think we are saying (or at least it must seem we are saying) that fire is ‘a’ and God’s Love is ‘A;’ Dirt is ‘a’ and sin is ‘A.’ (The first might be true; the second seems – well, deficient, thank you for the word!)
(I realize my distinction isn’t airtight. After all, you could have a verbal figure that goes like, “b is like a, which is kin to A.” Maybe that’s how people are using the gold/dross figure, with or without realizing it.)
So my reason for disliking the idea of “burning away impurity” is not just the cruelty. It treats evil as an inert substance, residing in some other inert substance (a human spirit.) When actually, as we see in the video above, there’s a much more personalist and dynamic way of looking at it. Several, probably.
If sin is “deficiency of love” (I agree with that, I think) then it cannot by “removed,” by definition. (A deficiency is already an absence.)
The only corrective for a deficiency is to exercise what is deficient – we said love. This cannot be done by addressing oneself to the deficiency, but only to the faculty which is deficient. If love is broken, love must be mended; if sleeping it must be wakened; if absent it must be provided, if crooked, straightened; if weak, strengthened. In the Real world, none of this can happen in a vacuum, but only where Love is light, food, drink, air, rest, medicine and all desire – and love must be really “intentional” to use DBH’s word.
So, we all agree that in the afterlife, the sinner is changed by encountering Divine Love. But what is the sinner doing all that time? Is he volitionally passive, like the proverbial gold nugget, while God approaches him – an action which God knows will cause him to undergo a violent painful, unnatural reaction which must mechanically result in the removal of his impurities? And if so, whyever cannot God do so painlessly? I really don’t see why not – after all, he put Adam to sleep while he pulled out the rib. Naive, or simply miraculous?
Clearly the reason why this process we are trying to describe cannot be painless, then, is not some inability in God but rather because the people involved have to, well, be involved. So one would find the pain within himself because of something about the process. But how necessary is that pain? For how many and which kind of people?
To back up a bit, I don’t think any of us really think Hell is like burning away impurity. Witness Karen’s idea of the “resurrection of the heart” which jump-starts the process. Why should the return of feeling and perception be necessary unless the person himself must live out his salvation?
So we agree surely that there must be some responsive involvement from the sinner. But based on previous discussion we’ve had on this blog, I think we are imagining two kinds of sinners in this situation and we should probably differentiate which we’re talking about. One is holding out on God, and one is cooperating. In my comment above, I was imagining a sinner who is holding out on God.
Maybe we think that no one could possible hold out on God once this process has begun? I don’t know. But if one could, then I feel certain that such a person, in such a condition, would feel the effect of his dysfunction as directly and obviously as a person with a broken arm feels the corresponding pain. Well, Tom says as much all the time, doesn’t he? The will that is disoriented from God is like a shattered knee or a degraded cartilage or a or blocked ear canal or stuffy nose even – unable to work as it was designed to do, and therefore causing pain which indicates lost functionality. This is having its effect on people now but we disguise that fact from ourselves. The difference in the afterlife is no pain drugs, no addictions, no virtual reality to hide in.
Obviously, this is not a friendly good healing pain, like Karen’s holy shame. But if we go by the biblical language alone, we have to make room for some infernal suffering that is not friendly good healing pain. For pain that is the indication of evil. For instance, James says that the evil of the tongue is “set on fire of Hell.” And Jesus talks about the “gates of Hell” that want to prevail against the Church.
But what of the sinner who is willingly and repentantly involved in his own salvation, in the afterlife? Well – to address Karen mostly, since I’m already in this type-box – I’m sure that the pain of regret could be unbearable and exquisite. I’m not really sure what the reasoning is behind the need to make such a statement, though. Are we saying that this is painful enough to explain the biblical language and imagery? Or are we saying that we have to come up with some really, really horrible experience to posit for repentant but incompletely saved people in the afterlife, because that feels orthodox? I ask that because I seem to see these kinds of statements out there a lot from modified traditionalists. People assuring other people, “Oh don’t worry, it will still hurt really, really, bad.”
Since we’re talking about spiritual intuitions – and I don’t want to do violence to yours, Karen, but the question is how to apply it and how it might be modified in actual practice by other dynamics – I do feel strongly that sin has no existence in God’s presence, that it literally doesn’t matter to him. Not that he is careless of the harm caused to people. But that for him, what is harmed is all the concern, while the harm itself is utterly discountenanced by him. It cannot come near him.
So I feel certain that it would be a cosmic insult of some sort to think about evil, let alone one’s own past evil, in the face of his Love. You would have to turn away from Him in order to contemplate the evil. This is the endless trap of the religious.
So much traditional morality is based upon the idea that God hates evil and is going to correct it and wants us to think about evil and suffer for it and be sorry for it. I’m sure at some level this is true, at least in regard to his governance of the world (which probably he performs through angelic agents anyhow.) But this doesn’t seem to be true all the way up to the seventh heaven… I’m scrambling for words here… it doesn’t produce specifically Christian sanctity. It’s not the natural human reaction to a direct encounter with God, provided that encounter involves a revelation of Love.
Incomplete revelations, like that on Mt. Sinai, may produce a focus on sinfulness and a feeling of terror and regret. But not revelations of Love. Similarly, the disciples could not fast while Jesus was present with them.
Not only that, but a focus on sin is too self-involved to produce spiritual growth. One leaps in growth easily when forgetting the deficiencies and turning one’s face to the Perfect.
So to sum up, if regret is causing the suffering of Hell, then implicitly we are still positing a Hell of God’s absence rather than a Furnace of God’s Presence. Not absolute absence, perhaps, but a falling away rather than a return.
Or to put it another way, are we so enchanted by the idea of God’s love as a “river of fire” that we forget that it, too, is the farthest thing from an inert substance – that a person engulfed by God’s love will feel, well, loved?
I wish I could put that last word in italics.
And as this being loved is more than all evil suffered and committed, to infinity, so in that direct perception of being loved, of being an irreplaceable member of a total Creation which is loved together, to eternity – there may be a furnace of sorts. An inflagration of the created passions, a firestorm of consciousness, a white-hot leaping up toward the Father of spirits from whom one has lain alienated in an unnatural coldness, leaving the ashes of dead deeds and dispositions behind forgotten.
But the mental quality of mere suffering – its dingy, despairing, self-involved misery – that I cannot imagine in such an experience. That could only be present in a fundamentalist Hell.
Well, that was long. What do you all think?
I cannot adequately reply today. I think you’re selling metaphor and analogy a bit short, but that is a longish metaphysical discussion. The greater part of your meditations is profound and interesting. I do think much in the traditional hell and in its vestiges held even by those who reject it has a somewhat hidden egocentric pull. Anyway, I will come back to this when I have more opportunity to properly dwell with your thoughts.
Thanks, Brian. As you see, it took me several days to get this far.
“That could only be present in a fundamentalist Hell”… or perhaps, there is a Hell of falling away and misery and absence that is possible prior to the resurrection? I’m not sure what I think about that.
It kind of feels like your running the language of post-mortem atonement/reconciliation through a Wittgenstein deconstruction which is syntactically problematic in that ‘Homology’ works philosophically backward looking for the ‘common ancestry of meaning’, whereas the immanency of the ‘eschaton of hope’ looks to the future ‘Parousia’ where – “Theos ta panta en pasin”. What does that look ‘like’ or what analogy suffices ? – The Resurrected Lord.
It often seems that language which is in the process of generating ‘pictures’ of how things are in the spiritual realm, is fraught with problems of personal divergence. Rational logically coherent patterns of intension communicated through metaphor are often designed as instruments of comfort and security or with ECT; the opposite. Elusive areas of our own experience are made clearer by a vocabulary of self-knowledge – i.e. ‘I am Loved’, ‘I am redeemed’, ‘I am sanctified’, etc… however, “The limits of our own language often reflect the limits of my our world” – to coin LW.
“Like everything metaphysical the harmony between thought and reality is to be found in the grammar of the language.” – LW
I couldn’t agree more but as a ‘Believer’ my [grammar] is derived from The Cross – it is the salvic morphology with which I approach reality. One of my favorite quotes by Moltmann is –
“When Jesus expels demons and heals the sick, he is driving out of creation the powers of destruction, and is healing and restoring created beings who are hurt and sick. The lordship of God, to which the healings witness, restores sick creation to health. Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly ‘natural’ things in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded.”
I especially love that last sentence where he juxtaposes the world as we phenomenologically experience it, with that which we know in our hearts through faith, will be possible in the beauty of the “Apocatastasis”. I see what you’re saying about the problem of employing descriptive language to “non-concrete” metaphysical realities – Ha! (sounds a bit reductio) when discussing this topic, however I try to look for the ‘metaphors’ within the ‘parables’ and vice versa. Who is and what does the “Fatted Calf” represent and the missing “Young goat” the older brother never got? Personally I’m at the point where I see the ‘purging of the dross’ as being more akin to Aslan pealing off the dragon skin of Eustace, the particular details of which remain intentionally in obscurity to foster our growth in the Faith.
Dave, I find that when used correctly and carefully, logic accurately handles all reality I’ve ever encountered. So I’m not dismissive of it, as people are who don’t understand what it is. For instance, my logical training tells me that your first paragraph involves the following implicit train of reasoning. “Syntax working philosophically backward is problematic because eschatology works forward.” The missing (but assumed) premise is, “Philosophy must always work in the same direction, reckoned consequentially, as eschatology works, reckoned chronologically.” At which point I simply ask, Why? You haven’t demonstrated why this should be so and I see no reason why it should be so. Therefore I’m not going to hang any conclusions on it.
I have no idea what “Wittgenstein” is jargon for and I really don’t want to know. It sounds horrid.
As for the idea that the cross is a salvific morphology from which one’s grammar ought to derive – well, I find that intolerable. I elicits no faith, awakens no energy, calls to no sleeping self, conforms to no known reality. I don’t even think it means anything.
I don’t mean to be cruel. I’m sure you’re much smarter and better educated than I am. I just can’t handle this kind of conversation. Sorry.
I apologize if I appeared to be condescending in any way. I find your comments to be tremendously intelligent and very challenging to my limited knowledge in theses areas of faith. Your logic appears to be requisitely apropos and interrogatively well-seasoned. I can see how my comment would imply a ‘directional quality’, but when you say – “must always”, that was not my intention; which I did not make clear. Honestly, no pretentious ‘gazumping’ was meant. As someone who has personally moved and evolved away from a ‘Dispensationalist’ aesthetic, I’m open to both philosophical and theological a-symmetry. If you want to me demonstrate eschatological ‘Retrocausality’ then the most obvious example that comes to mind would be the beautifully incandescent “Apokalypsis Picture Show’ from the cave wall on Patmos. His first century vision of the future (as well as the past) has affected the growth and development of His ‘Bride’ for the last 2000 years. Or the reverberations of Calvary backwards into the Patriarchal faith as implied by Galatian 3:6-9 etc..
I only mentioned “Wittgenstein” because in the way in which he describes ‘language games’ and ‘the logical identity between signs and things signified’ – as in “Our God is a Consuming Fire” – There’s a certain level of ‘internal identity’ there that any picture we form, cannot suffice or identify it adequately by analogy. I’m not saying it’s inexplicable, however, from an image in a mirror we can usually infer what stands before it. But with synchronic and apocalyptic language we may formulate pictures in our minds that are not accurate reflections of historical and or future realities – that’s why the mystery, the ambiguity feels good, feels right! Which is what I think you may have been driving at in your earlier comments? It was not meant to be “horrid” in anyway – but maybe naïve and possibly inaccurate?
“As for the idea that the cross is a salvific morphology from which one’s grammar ought to derive – well, I find that intolerable”
“Intolerable” – Why? When I say “Morphology” I’m simply using the term in a ‘form’ and “structural” even ‘biological’ sense, here in the ‘day to day’ flesh – in that, how Jesus lived his earthly life, loved, cared for and forgave people, accepted them with unconditional love and shed his blood to defeat sin and death. That’s the path of salvation we should take as we are conformed and transformed into his likeness. The “Physiology” however of that faith involves the ‘function’ of that process; to bring glory and honor to him through sacramental worship, self–sacrificial love and praise – are you kidding me, that’s a dynamo of energy! It has helped me to climb out of my narcissistic bubble and begin to reach out to other people in love and compassion. It’s all about Him and from Him – Eph. 2:8-9
I’m not sure what you thought I meant, but that’s what I’m saying now – Ha!
As far as being ‘smarter and better educated than you’ – I hardly think that’s the case.
I like the Moltmann quote. Some of Alana’s objections appear valid. You’d probably need to clarify in light of her objections.
Dave, no need to apologize. I was never offended personally, and you seem like a very nice person. I don’t think you were being condescending. Maybe our minds are simply too distant, but anyhow I find your writing disconnected and I can’t seem to make sense of it. I’m sure that what you are saying means something but I just don’t follow.
Wittgenstein is a person? LOL. I assumed it was a place name – standing for some kind of creed or confession or school of thought.
All the best.
“Well – to address Karen mostly, since I’m already in this type-box – I’m sure that the pain of regret could be unbearable and exquisite. I’m not really sure what the reasoning is behind the need to make such a statement, though. Are we saying that this is painful enough to explain the biblical language and imagery?”
Alana, In a word, yes. Though, as I said, this is also a huge paradox, because experiencing God’s love would also have to involve not only suffering for having ever sinned against such an unspeakably holy, generous and wondrous reality, but also an equally fierce sense of joy, answering love, and worshipful gratitude as well. Certainly, we could experience the latter apart from the former (if we had never sinned or had already deeply repented for our sin, for example), but not the other way around I think. Also, I would expect the torment to eventually have an end, be washed away in the tears of repentance, and be swallowed up in the ecstasy of our Communion in God. This is what I meant by mentioning DBH’s insight of Gehenna as process (not a permanent state) with permanent effects (our purification and healing). Our experience of this on the journey of repentance within the Church in this life is probably what is being described by the Fathers as “joyful mourning.”
Following DBH in Doors of the Sea, I don’t imagine any “necessary” suffering from God’s perspective. Suffering in and of itself is never “necessary” to God’s loving purposes, but is rather the natural consequence of the abuse of freedom on the part of rational creatures, given the nature of ultimate Reality as fully Personal, as Light, Life and as Love, etc. I would expect this would be true of the sort of torment experienced by the resistant sinner in hell as well as the responsive one that I posited earlier. I would expect resistance is possible in hell (at least for a while) because God doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Given what we are shown of the nature of God in the face of Christ, it hardly seems likely to me He would come blazing in full force upon the one who is determined to avoid His love at all costs. I am drawn to Julian of Norwich’s frequent and rather quaint and delicate description of God as “courteous.” I take this to mean God is exquisitely and unspeakably kind and tender in His love (hence the “exquisite” suffering realizing we have significantly violated such a love entails).
Hell is also described in Scripture as “outer darkness.” Is this perhaps a descriptor for what God allows for the resistant person? Given that we live and move and have our being in God, wouldn’t it makes sense to think of it as the the only logical alternative for the one who continues to resist full exposure in the Light (carrying as he will the fully realized consciousness of his evil deeds attained in the particular judgment and in light of John 3:19)? Perhaps then allowing the conscious awareness of His Presence to recede for the sinner who is unwilling to receive it is what an exceedingly compassionate and courteous God does in His mercy, but this would also, by definition, leave a most dreadful void and be the ultimate spiritual deprivation (where again perhaps the image of burning in fire is the only one that can do such an experience justice), and even here I don’t believe it would be possible to completely avoid the sense of shame intrinsic to our awareness of our sinfulness. I personally can’t conceive of a person who could endure an “outer darkness” type of suffering forever, or who would not eventually be rendered by that experience ready to repent, but I also believe it is possible that such a one, by definition an unbeliever, thus not having the capacity in himself to perceive the doors of repentance remain open to him, might never attempt to do so unless his spiritual perception is opened through God’s grace and the prayers of the Church. Of course, we are not given to know what will become of such a resister, but a true possibility for his salvation through God’s grace and the prayers of the Church is where my faith and experience take my hopeful imagination at this point.
I will emphasize for your benefit, Alana, knowing a little of your background, that I am convinced there is absolutely no suffering God allows gratuitously and that no sufferer is subject to what may be imagined as an impersonal, deterministic, mechanistic, arbitrary or fatalistic suffering. Whatever suffering we endure in hell and the degree to which we endure it, we will endure precisely because we are persons made in the image of God, who are loved by God, and who sin and/or have sinned in our own particular, personal and unique ways against that love, and who remain unfulfilled and unhealed only until we voluntarily rest completely in Him.
As for the remainder of your comment, you ask lots of good questions (most for Brian I’m sure), the answers to which are well beyond my purview!
“If sin is “deficiency of love” (I agree with that, I think) then it cannot by “removed,” by definition. (A deficiency is already an absence.)”
This really struck me AR. We often speak of evil as privation, darkness as absence of light, etc. (although I’m more prone to think of them as their own thing). But darkness doesn’t disappear by removing darkness, but rather by adding light.
Certainly childbirth is excruciating (thanks Mom!). I imagine being born is the same, if we could remember it. Perhaps the only possibility is that “the whole creation groans as in childbirth” as life pervades it.
I’m not at all sure that all of the imagery, symbols, metaphor/whatever of hell can bear this, but it does seem to me that salvation as addition – as love, gift, grace – shapes things a bit differently.
I mostly agree, Mike. I think we could be getting of-track by trying to merge the concepts ‘Hell’ and ‘Salvation’ so completely. Just because we believe that God’s salvation still seeks those in Hell doesn’t mean that Hell is just ‘Heaven spelled differently” or something like that. Or maybe we should just admit we’re talking about Purgatory? lol
But yes, salvation as addition. I like it, too.
Childbirth… theologically childbirth is only painful because of sin. Not sure how that works out exactly but Orthodox tradition is pretty insistent on it. So, I think your analogy (or is it homology?) could work with that clarification. To give birth to the new man – to Christ in us – we must groan. But it is not the pervading life that causes pain, but rather the remaining sin, the old man within us, that actually causes the pain. This is important to me.
Alana, I find your claim that that theological language is homologous (or at least the language in this specific context) confusing. I confess I’ve never heard the word being used in this context. I looked it up and I’m even more confused. You write:
I don’t think that ‘metaphor’ is the right word for the type of verbal figure that uses some physical process, substance, or event to represent some spiritual reality. I think one physical item can be named as a metaphor for another, or one psychological item for another. But if we are talking about something utterly non-concrete, and using concrete language for it, then we’re hanging more on the words than mere comparison. There is no “A is like b;” there is only “A is a.”
Consider these two statements:
“God is a rock.”
“God is like a rock.”
By my understanding, the first is a metaphor, and the second is a simile. Both are forms of figurative speech: we know that God is literally not a rock and can specifiy the important differences. How do you understand these sentences?
Hi Fr. Aidan,
Thanks, this is a great question.
If we already know that our verbal figure is a figure of comparison, then the best way to distinguish between metaphor and simile is to remember that simile uses the form “is like.” So far, so true.
I’m saying that you could use the form of metaphor: “A is B,” without your figure being a metaphor. Or to put it another way, it’s more than a metaphor because it’s more than mere comparison.
I borrowed the distinction between ‘analogical’ and ‘homological’ from biology, so sorry if that was confusing.
Analogical structures are similar but developed separately. A bat’s wings and a bumblebee’s wings are common examples. Homological structures are similar because they are related.
So I’m trying to say that, for instance, the spiritual heart is aptly named. Not just because you can draw a comparison between the physical organ ‘heart’ and the spiritual entity that functions as the core of the intellect. But because the physical heart recapitulates the spiritual heart and at some level they are even the same entity. Without this relation of “severalated one-ness” or perhaps familial descent, the Orthodox way if the Jesus Prayer wouldn’t work, right?
I probably overstated this originally. I don’t know what to say about language describing God. He can’t be named in some sense, so it might seem that trying to making language about him anything more than analogical would threaten apophaticism. But maybe the via negativa isn’t actually that fragile?
Or maybe this works only for spiritual realities other than God.
“God is like a rock” means that he stays the same while other things move and change. This is definitely comparison. “God is a rock” means exactly the same thing.
I don’t think “God is a consuming fire” is the same kind of language. I think it’s a homological figure. Something spiritual is to spiritual reality what fire is to physical reality. Physical fire recapitulates it and is somehow the same thing. This is the meaning of the paschal miracle, isn’t it? Since we have no name for it, of its own, ‘fire’ becomes its actual name: for now.
Is that better?
Alana, I apologize for not following up sooner. Back in the early 90s I read a fair amount of the literature on metaphor, but have forgotten most of what I thought I once knew. I also gave away most of my books on the subject and threw out virtually all of the photo-copied essays. But I did keep one book, but I’ve had a hard time finding the darn thing. But I found it this morning. 🙂
I would like to propose an alternative understanding of literal and metaphorical speech. It’s all about the use of language. In a literal utterance, I intend to mean what the sentence means in ordinary usage, according, if you will, the dictionary meanings of the words. Speaker-meaning and sentence-meaning coincide. In a metaphorcal utterance, on the other hand, I intentionally go beyond what the sentence would mean in ordinary usage. Speaker-meaning and sentence-meaning diverge. I utilize and build on the sentence-meaning but I now employ the words in an unexpected, nonusual way; and it is precisely this divergence that is the point. A trivial example: I point at a nearby stone and say, “That is a rock.” You know exactly what I mean. You don’t even have to consult a dictionary, but if you do you learn that it defines rock as “mineral matter of variable composition, consolidated or unconsolidated.” When I call the object in question a rock, I specifically intend that dictionary-meaning. Now I point to your Uncle Harry and declare, “He’s a rock.” I am not redefining the word “rock.” I am still utilizing the word according to its dictionary-meaning, but the intent of the utterance is now different. Speaker-meaning and sentence-meaning no longer coincide. What I am inviting you to do is to envision your Uncle Harry through the model of rockhood. I no doubt have in mind one or more resemblences (e.g., solidity, stability), but it will be up to you to discern those resemblences.
So let’s apply this brief analysis to theological language for God. When I say, “God loves humanity,” I am speaking literally. I intend what the words mean in their ordinary usage. However, I also know that God radically transcends every creaturely context in which we use the word “love.” For this reason Aquinas distinguished between the univocal and analogical use of words, both of which are considered as forms of literal speech. We cannot speak univocally of God, but we may speak analogically. Aquinas also recognized that much, perhaps most, of our language for God is intended figuratively. “God is a rock,” I declare. If pressed, I will explain that he is like a rock in some ways and unlike a rock in other ways. And that is a key difference, for Aquinas, between literal and metaphorical speech for God. In the former, I never have to qualify my statement by saying “God is also not loving in specific ways. I may not be able to understand how God is love, but I do not mean less than love. In the latter, I always have to qualify my statement by specifying that rockness is not to be attributed to God in all respects.
Does that make sense?
Fr. Aidan, no apology needed. My own processing speed is very slow, especially some days.
Well, I think I can work within the framework you’ve laid out here. Although – I prefer not to use the word ‘metaphorical’ as a synonym for ‘figurative.’ Within figurative language, metaphor is only one among many kinds of figures. So, ‘figurative’ is the only proper opposite of ‘literal.’ Isn’t that right?
Anyhow, your structure seems to be as follows. There are two overarching uses of language: I) literal and II) figurative.
I) Literal language can be subdivided into A) analogy and B) univocy (Is that the right noun form?) the former of which is possible to use in reference to God, and the latter not.
II) Figurative language may include various figures of speech (A, B, etc.) one of which is metaphor. The distinction between I.A) analogy (the only literal language we can use of God) and II) figure (of any kind) is that figure is never intended to be taken true in every respect, while analogy is always at least true.
So, if I’ve read that correctly, then I have to agree that my explanation above doesn’t fit into that framework, mainly because I’ve been using ‘analogy’ as a sub-category of ‘figure’ – a subcategory meaning ‘language of comparison’ which includes both simile and metaphor. And I was assuming that what you’ve called univocy is the only possible way to use literal language. I like that Aquinas carved out this way of using literal language for God without destroying via negativa. That’s really brilliant. Thanks for sharing.
So. Taking the statement, ‘God is a consuming fire.’ I think if I convert my idea into language that fits this framework, I am more or less proposing a new subcategory of literal language rather than of figurative language. A literal way of talking about God that seems figurative but actually is not. The distinction that has to be made is that this fire is not phyiscal, nor is it created. It is something for which we have no other name. We borrow its name from a physical created substance, but we don’t intend to refer to that physical created substance. It is still “sentence meaning” because we are expanding the semantic range of the word ‘fire’ to include both physical and spiritual flames.
Because of this distinction, I don’t think we truly have to qualify that fireness “is not to be attributed to God in all respects.” As long as we are talking about spiritual fireness, it is – because spiritual flame has nothing that God (analogically) is not.
Well, that’s the best I can do. I see now what a tightrope I’m walking here.
A clarification: I said that this fire is “not created.” But that would only be the case of God… not other spiritual flame. So I guess I shouldn’t have made that distinction at all.
This actually brings up a whole different solution to the “what are the flames of Hell/Purgatory” question. Because if God is flame, and angelic beings are flame, then human spirits must also be flame. Perhaps when this flame is darkened – when it burns uncleanly and smoky and low – that is the “fires of Hell” that James referred to with reference to the evils of the tongue, and also the torment we feel when we do wrong, that ravaging of the spirit. I mean, you could have devilish flame that would be a spiritual substance and human flame also, and they might even meet in some terrible circumstance, but either way it’s spiritual – that is to say, intelligent and conscious. Not a passive “stuff” that we can imagine God as plunging sinners into. But an alteration of our own spiritual energy.
There are probably lots of things to consider here…
commenting so that I can follow the thread.
Love is always the correct answer.
There is no doubt that we come up against the limitations of the cataphatic, even if analogy and metaphor (as I think) are ontologically message bearing because all of creation is Christologically rooted and always a being that exists by participation in eternal realities. You are wrestling with the greatest questions and we are perhaps always going to end in a apophatic silence before what transcends the limits of our experience and intellectual grasp. Though, of course, we keep on talking and seeking and wondering, because that’s the sort of paradoxical creatures we are.
I’m just going to make some rather scattered comments. I think your basic intuition has much to recommend it. I love when you talk about “a white hot leaping toward the Father of spirits.” “One leaps in growth easily when forgetting the deficiencies and turning one’s face to the Perfect.” All that is a necessary corrective to the kind of indulgent and lachrymose lament of the sinner, the bathetic proclamations of being a “lowly worm” that incited the wrath of Nietzsche, for instance. Such posturing is a thinly disguised egotism, ignoble, and vulgar at once. It lacks, as Karen’s allusion to Julian notes, awareness of God’s courtesy. (Charles Williams also has a keen sense of heavenly courtliness, btw.)
So, I am sympathetic to theological sensibilities that stress the patient, yet passionate love of the Father for the cosmos that is the nuptial partner to the Son. And yet, like Job, I continue to wrestle and I still find the darkness of evil an intractable and ongoing test. Indeed, one may find the metaphysical definition of evil as privation insufficient. Tom’s analogy of physical ills is apt. Perverted love involves the distortion of active will, so healing such is not simply the provision of what was missing, but the reorientation of what is malformed. I consider the judgment parable of sheep and goats to be intrapersonal. I am both sheep and goat, both cooperating and holding out. And though Christ Pantocrator illuminates a Justice that is always Love, I still struggle with Aeschylus — the Furies transformed into Eumenides point to enigmatic and instinctive drives that do not just vanish in Taboric light.
And this is where I feel some internal resistance when you say:
I do feel strongly that sin has no existence in God’s presence, that it literally doesn’t matter to him. Not that he is careless of the harm caused to people. But that for him, what is harmed is all the concern, while the harm itself is utterly discountenanced by him. It cannot come near him.
There is something right in what you say, and yet I feel a check, an internal resistance. I am particularly sensitive to the suffering of animals and when I think of the immeasurable cruelty done, to sinners and innocent alike, but for me, especially to innocent beasts, I find myself unwilling to simply write off the need for recompense. This may be atavistic in me, but it’s there. I absolutely abjure the kind of “don’t worry, it will really, really hurt” sort of vindictive spite that may assuage itself all too easily by invoking justice, but there is a monstrosity to evil that demands something more than mere healing. Or perhaps it doesn’t. We are pointing at enigmas that defy easy categorical and conceptual treatment. William Desmond points to the “monstrosity” of God’s goodness that bears with and founds the existence of every creature, the good and the “bad”, the kosher and the profane. Is it jejune to imagine the Good is without its own terrors, it’s own need for daring?
As a classicist, I love the allusion to Aeschylus! I’d love to hear if you have any other musings on the Oresteia and its depiction of atonement and reconciliation…I’ve always thought that the archaic Greek concept of miasma–of evil as having an objective, almost physical, presence that poisons the world as a whole and that often cannot be avoided–to be far more suggestive than the typical forensic or eudaimonistic views of sin and virtue, neither of which seem to capture sufficiently that “monstrosity that demands something more than mere healing” that you mentioned.
On another note (and I apologize if this is off-topic), but I am in complete agreement with you about the horror of animal suffering. Recently, however, I have been more and more disturbed by what seems like an almost unique level of indifference to that suffering in Christianity, compared to the world’s other major religious and philosophical traditions. Even excluding Platonism and the dharmic religions of India, it seems like one finds a different attitude to the animal creation in Judaism and Islam, which while not condemning the necessary killing of animals have many injunctions safeguarding animal welfare of a sort which Christian moral teaching, as richly detailed as it is in relation to almost all areas of life, never seems to have developed. ( To give an example, Judaism at least forbids hunting for sport, whereas it does not seem that the church historically condemned the sadistic blood sports lwhich were so dreadfully ubiquitous as public entertainment in western Europe until the nineteenth century.) I may (hopefully!) be overstating the case here, but for the last few months this issue has kept haunting me, and I would be profoundly grateful to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Morgan, if I may –
If evil is a miasma, then it has substance. Not necessarily physical substance, but substance nonetheless. And if it has substance, it is either created or uncreated. But if it is uncreated, it is God. And if it is created, it is created by God, because all things (things being entities with substance) are created by God.
If I were you, I would get around this by saying that evil is neither created nor uncreated, but rather generated (from pre-existing created substances) by combining them in unintended ways. However, even if this were possible, we would then have to trace the origin of evil to this act of combining. Then we would have to say that the act of combining is the true evil, while the miasma is simply an effect of the true evil. In which case, we are right back to where we started – with evil being insubstantial, found only in acts which pervert goodness. Any experience of a substantive-like evil, then, is simply the experience of good substances, perverted or misaligned.
I can understand the classical Greek viewpoint because it reflects experience, like their myths. But I can’t see that it’s philosophically tenable. After all, the makers of Greek myth had no concept of creation ex nihilo, no concept (if I recall correctly) of an originally pure creation fallen from grace. Without these concepts, I think it would be really difficult to arrive at an understanding of evil as truly and thoroughly unequal to Good.
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I do not have time to properly talk about Aeschylus just now. While I believe those who argue that Christianity transcends any kind of tragic soteriology have strong points (Hart has a discussion of this in The Beauty of the Infinite,) I also think that there is value in engaging the Greek Tragedians as a path towards insight. Balthasar does this quite cogently, in my opinion. (And to be clear, I don’t think Hart would deny this.)
Some of your complaint about Christianity reminds me of Hart’s complaint that an individualist, Western Christendom appears ungenerous and imaginatively starved next to the transcendent vision of many ancient Eastern religions. I think there’s no doubt that there has often been a callousness with regards to creation amongst Christian thinkers. There are, of course, tales of saints and beasts that suggest a more amicable understanding. Saint Francis of Assisi is iconic for a different approach and this Franciscan element has persisted in Catholic customs that include a blessing of pets. For the most part, however, this more sympathetic aspect tends to be treated condescendingly and authoritative voices are frequently blind to the full implications of the cosmic scope of the Gospel. You might look at one of my meditations archived here, “Animals in the Eschaton?” I think the dispute between Hart and Edward Feser referenced there is emblematic of the great gulf between those of us who see this as a critically important matter and those who quaintly look upon such concern as faintly ridiculous. I recommend the work of Philip Sherrard generally, but his Human Image, World Image has some helpful reflections in this arena. There is also emerging awareness in the field by many biologists that animal intelligence, feeling, and memory is far greater than a mechanistic tradition derived from Descartes and nineteenth century materialist assumptions prepared them to admit. An old work by Prince Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, already argued for a counter-narrative to Darwinian conflict as a singular account of nature. George MacDonald had a much more hopeful imagination. He implies in works like The Golden Key that animal destiny is open to infinite transformation. Bulgakov also drops hints of a similar nature.
I think that the full appreciation of the Resurrection requires this cosmic breadth. It is incumbent on those of us who have a glimpse of this to speak and act and articulate as best we can the unlimited and powerful love of God for his creation. As William Blake says, “Everything that lives is holy.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply! This is really helpful and interesting, and I definitely read and appreciated your essay on Animals in the Eschaton. I believe George MacDonald, in the last essay of The Hope of The Gospel, once went so far as to speculate in a rather heterodox way that certain individuals might be reincarnated as non-human creatures–and John Wesley more plausibly speculated, in line with what you say of Bulgakov, that animals would be resurrected with heightened intelligence in the age to come.
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