This is a great little quote. It explains what is wrong with a saying by Elder Thaddeus that I’ve seen crop up on various Orthodox websites. He says that the reason we are to love our enemies is “not for their sake, but for ours. For as long as we bear grudges, as long as we dwell on how someone offended us, we will have no peace.” But David Bentley Hart so clearly is the one who gets it right. We love our “enemies” not for our sakes but for their sakes, because they have the face of God, they are made in God’s image. We love them because God loves them. The fact that we gain peace in the process of loving them is a welcome consequence in the same way we gain peace whenever we lift our eyes off ourselves and onto God and His love for all men.
I’ve been reading D B Hart’s essays from his new book, A Splendid Wickedness. I expected most of the essays to be way past my own ability to follow, but have found instead that they are full of gems that even someone of my own shallow education can understand and recognize as true and full of wisdom – and sometimes great fun. He is such a great gift to the Church!
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I completely agree! What you’re saying reminds me of something I read in an essay by Mother Maria Skobtsova, in which she criticized what she called the “ascetic” tendency in religion (including Orthodox Christianity) to see love for one’s neighbor as merely a matter of enlightened self-interest, a means to the end of one’s own salvation. How different is the story David Bentley Hart tells about the Hindu sage Ramanuja who was willing to damn himself by publically revealing the secret salvific mantra…
This is interesting, Morgan. Mother Maria is one of the Saints on the Iconostasis in my parish (“written” by our founding Rector Emeritus and iconographer, Fr. John Matusiak) which is how I learned about her. I so appreciate her down-to-earth, spiritually on-target insights about such things! The “ascetic” explanation you describe is also very typical of modern New Age “spiritual but not religious” apologies for the practice of extending “forgiveness” to others as well (very “Oprah”!). My observation is this might be a practical place to start if we are having difficulty moving toward loving our enemies or forgiving those who offend us, and perhaps this is the context from which certain Elders, like Elder Thaddeus, have advised it, but it certainly doesn’t rise to true Christlike love and forgiveness, and it seems to me only the latter can save us and unite us to Christ.
This quote—pointing to the “extraordinary cultural significance” and “offering… a vision…”—describes the work of Christ more accurately than any exposition of atonement and justification could. However it is described, the REAL, “functional” result of Christ’s teaching, death and resurrection is to provide humanity with a beautiful narrative of reality. That narrative seeps into the collective subconscious, from whence comes the “reality” we “experience.” And this is precisely why Dostoevsky says “beauty will save the world.”
Yes. The letter of the law can be so deadly and empty. Not that we don’t need the letter, but it is the story, the wonder, the beauty, the oneness of humanity, that “catches.”
In my ignorance, I’m not sure what you mean by “collective subconscious” but perhaps you are saying that the “story” has now been already deeply embedded in our hearts (collectively) and it is the beauty of that story that rises up and “bears witness” when we hear the truth, see the beauty?
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