God Creates the World from the Cross

“Since he who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who saves should not exist in vain.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.22.3)

This quotation from the great second-century bishop and theologian St Irenaeus of Lyons immediately jumped out at me as I was reading the meaty third chapter of Fr John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ. I had to read it multiple times just to make sure I had understood it rightly. Even after checking other translations of the Against Heresies, I’m still not sure if I do. First I turned to the translation of Robert Grant:

Since he who would save pre-existed, what would be saved had to come into existence, so that the saving one would not be in vain.

The punch of the sentence has been muted. “He who saves” (present tense) has become “he who would save” (future tense). Grant’s rendering almost makes Irenaeus sound like a scholastic theologian who has clearly distinguished in his mind the formal distinction between the immanent and economic Trinities—and that can’t be right. Irenaeus is just too early. Then I checked with two patristic scholars. They both preferred Behr’s translation over Grant’s. A few hours later I came across further confirmation:

Since the Savior existed already, the one to be saved had to be brought into existence, so that the Savior should not be in vain. (trans. John Saward; cf. ANF)

For the curious, here’s the Latin text:

Cum enim praeexisteret salvans, opportebat et quod salvaretur fieri, uti non vacuum sit salvans.

As you have already guessed, the punch of the sentence comes in the main clause: “it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who saves should not exist in vain.” Irenaeus seems to be saying that God created the world in order to save it, as if evil and sin were somehow intrinsic to the world. Needless to say, that would be a contentious thing for any catholic bishop to say. It would contradict two critical orthodox convictions: God freely chose to create the universe, and he is not the author of evil. My first inclination is to jump in and immediately clarify what Irenaeus surely must have meant. Matthew Steenberg (now Bishop Irenei) offers such a clarification in his book Irenaeus on Creation. Commenting on the sentence in question, he writes:

This is perhaps among the more controversial of Irenaeus’ statements on God’s nature, as it is susceptible to charges of necessitarianism in the divine essence and represents a manifestation of circular logic at which most first-year students of philosophy would balk. Such criticisms ought seriously to be addressed. But Irenaeus’ primary point is not that God was restrained by his nature to create the cosmos and humanity (for he points out elsewhere that God as God can, ultimately, do or not do whatever he likes), but that God’s good nature leads naturally to the creation of a universe in which such goodness can be fully expressed. Irenaeus employs the language of necessity to describe that which he believes is so fundamental to God’s free nature that it could not express itself in any other manner than that described—and, paramountly, that which the nature of the incarnate Christ discloses as the necessary background to his own recapitulative work. (p. 32)

Sounds right, proper, and orthodox to me; but it does reduce the impact of Irenaeus’ statement, as if the saint was simply guilty of a poor choice of words. “Nothing to see here, move along.” I have long thrived on paradox and antinomy. As a preacher I delighted in challeng­ing my parishioners with assertions like “The eternal God died on Good Friday” or “That Jesus of Nazareth calls God ‘Father’ eternally constitutes God as Father.” (The former, of course, is typical Chalcedo­nian paradox; the second is more controver­sial—I probably would not say it today, at least not without qualification.) So before retreating into clarification, let’s ask whether something else might be going on here with Irenaeus. Behr thinks there is. Commenting on Irenaeus’ statement and the passage in which it is embedded, he writes:

In Adam, the Word sketched out in advance what would be revealed and established in the Son of God, Christ himself. The description of Adam as a ‘type’ implies the prior existence of the one of whom he is a type. As such, the one who was to come exists before Adam; it was by him and for him that Adam came into existence, and, furthermore, as he exists as the Saviour, Adam came into existence to be saved by him. Thus, though only appearing at the end, this one is, nevertheless, the true beginning.

This is a remarkable statement and for our modern theological sensibilities perhaps rather jarring. Yet it is entirely consequential and coherent, and a position held right through to the end of the Byzantine era. It highlights the fact, as we have been emphasizing, that Irenaeus theologizes strictly from within the economy, from what can in fact be known and spoken about, with the right hermeneutic, of God’s activity and revelation in Christ. He resists any attempt to seek a higher perspective to speak about God prior to and independent from creation, a standpoint that would have to be supra-human and, indeed, above God himself; to attempt to speak from such a perspective would, for Irenaeus, be not only presumptuous but also groundless. Yet, since the starting point for Christian theology is the work of God in Christ, understood through the opening of the Scriptures, the Christ who is now known to be the one to whom God said ‘Let us make the human being’ is already known to be the Saviour, to ‘pre-exist’ as Saviour, and so Adam’s relation to his maker is always already that of being saved by the Saviour. We are here far removed from the debate between Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus about whether the Word would have become incarnate had Adam not fallen, a debate that has all too frequently set the parameters for interpreting Irenaeus. We are also far removed from any attempt to think of creation and salvation as being respectively, in rather crude terms, ‘Plan A’, followed by the ‘Fall’, which is then rectified by ‘Plan B’. Starting with Christ, Irenaeus would rather see creation and salvation, with carefully defined nuances considered below, as being not two moments within one economy, but rather as coextensive, as the one economy: God’s continuously creative work throughout the economy, resulting in the end in the one who is in the image and likeness of God, is salvation. And, as such, Irenaeus can even say that it was necessary for Adam to come into existence, not implying any lack or need in God himself, but simply as a consequence of the fact that the starting point for all theology is Jesus Christ, the Saviour. (Irenaeus of Lyons, pp. 146-147)

Irenaeus reflects upon Jesus Christ from within the economia of salvation. He does not come to Scripture as a detached academic but as a believer in Christ who lives within the world of eucharist and gospel. Of course, all orthodox theologians do so, in one way or another; but few have ever concluded that because Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, therefore God had to bring humanity into existence; otherwise there would be no Savior. Redemption belongs to the act of divine creation. Because Jesus therefore Adam. The logic turns our heads upside down—but before we dismiss it, let’s recall a couple of verses from Scripture:

And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev 13:8)

Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Col 1:13-17)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn 8:58)

How is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world when the crucifixion took place in A.D. 33? How can St Paul say that the world is created through and by the man Jesus? What does the Son of God mean when he declares that he existed before his birth, before Abraham … before Adam?

“The mystery of the Cross,” writes Fr Georges Florovsky, “begins in eternity, ‘in the sanctuary of the Holy Trinity, unapproachable for creatures.'”

When Irenaeus reads Genesis 2, he sees first not Adam but the Nazarene, in whose image Adam was made. It’s as if time itself begins with the Crucified and flows and backwards and forwards from him. The eternal Father speaks the world into being from the cross. Those who are acquainted with the eschatological theology of Robert W. Jenson will not be shocked. Throughout his distin­guished career, Jenson has insisted that the Trinity must be interpreted through the Logos ensarkos: “Our divine savior is not an extra metaphysical entity, whether the unincar­nate Logos of the Antiochenes or ‘the Christ’ of the more feeble sorts of modern theology. He is Mary’s child, the hanged man of Golgotha” (Systematic Theology, I:145; also see Once More the Logos Asarkos; cf. Douglas Farrow, Irenaeus of Lyons“). Behr would agree and astonishingly suggests that the creation of the universe is properly dated on the day of our Lord’s crucifixion!

We can only speak of creation as having been brought into being by and for its savior Jesus Christ, and its whole history as having been providentially by him, from the moment that he is revealed within its history, as the Passion. Theologically speaking, creation and its history begins with the Passion of Christ and from this “once for all” work looks backwards and forwards to see everything in this light, making everything new. Christian cosmology, elaborated as it must be from the perspective of the Cross, sees the Cross as impregnated in the very structure of creation: stat crux dum volvitur orbis—the Cross stands, while the earth revolves. The power of God revealed in and through the Cross brought creation into being and sustains it in existence … Just as the date of the Passion in antiquity was considered to be 25 March (which …. was the basis for calculating the date of his nativity, nine months later), so also in antiquity 25 March was considered to be the very date of creation, the Creation which revolves around the axis of the eternal, immovable Cross. As paradoxical as it might sound, one can say, theologically, that creation and salvation were effected simultaneously on that day, 25 March, A.D 33, when Christ gave himself for the life of the world. (Mystery, pp. 90-91)

“Since he who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who saves should not exist in vain”—has any catholic theologian said anything more metaphysically revolutionary than this?

(Go to “Echoes of Eden”)

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44 Responses to God Creates the World from the Cross

  1. Jonathan says:

    “It’s as if time itself begins with the Crucified and flows and backwards and forwards from him. ” — Reminds me of the medieval scrolls called “universal histories,” that could be dozens of feet long when unfolded all the way from creation to the present. The Incarnation is always at the center. I think it’s always worth reminding ourselves how mysterious time is. One of the most remarkable books I’ve read lately about time is The Order of the Ages by Robert Bolton.

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  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wow, thank you for citing and ‘tackling’ this! Do we only have a Latin ‘witness’ for this passage? (Presumably the original was Greek. Has it been ‘experimentally reconstructed’?) I ask as a bad Latinist, who seems to find in the first good Latin dictionary I consult, a range of meaning for both verbs ‘oporteo’ and ‘salveo’ (or, at least for the related adjective ‘salvus’). ‘Oporteo’ seems to include the sense of being fitting or appropriate (and not only an indication of strict necessity). And ‘salvus’ seems to include that of sound and well (and not only an indication of restorative ‘salvation’). I’m not sure if such considerations (if accurate!) exactly bring us back to “the debate between Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus about whether the Word would have become incarnate had Adam not fallen”, but it would seem to suggest a possible translation along the lines of ‘Since the Soundness-giving-One already existed, it was fitting that the one to be brought to [full] soundness should exist, that the Soundness-giving-One should not be without beneficiary’. (The last is based on what appears part of the sense of ‘vacuus’.)

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    • Does a Greek text of Iranaeus exist or do we receive him through translation? Just as we also receive Jesus of Nazareth.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Stephen,

        Only 2 extant works of St Irenaeus have survived – Against Heresies and Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. Of the first, only fragments are in Greek (as well as Syriac and Armenian), but the main is a 4th century Latin translation. Of the latter only a 6th century Armenian translation is extant, of which Fr John Behr’s (it’s a small world) translation into English is the most recent (1997).

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Thanks!

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        • Jonathan says:

          Wait, it’s in Greek originally? That explains the weirdness of the Latin. At least the Latin strikes me as weird, although I’m not expert in Silver Latin. But to use a present participle (salvans) as a substantive, and then (even curiouser) to use a finite verb (salveretur) as a substantive… very odd to my eyes, but makes much more sense with Greek.

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        • Many thanks, Robert. Now I know why the quotations that I have seen are always in Latin. I did not know that Father Behr had made his translation from the Armenian. The process of translation has long fascinated me. The fact that Iranaeus comes to us via so many routes is itself fascinating but stories always come to us through the story teller. Every thought, word and event is mediated in some way.

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    • MJH says:

      The question of how to render ‘oportet’ here is crucial, isn’t it? I, myself, very frequently translate it with ‘it is fitting’, rather than ‘it is necessary’, but that may be attraction from ‘decet’. One would have to consider how Irenaeus’ translator uses the word in other situations throughout Adv. Haer. to know whether ‘fitting’ or ‘necessary’ is what we’re looking for. An interesting note in Lewis & Short is that ‘oportet denotes the necessity of reason or duty, necesse est that of compulsion’. That is, even if we use ‘necessary’ over ‘fitting’, there is still an element of God’s freedom at play in the text.

      saluo, saluare is the verb that gives us ‘salvans’ ‘the one who saves’ (‘the saving one’) rather than salueo.

      Does it matter that that which is to be saved is neuter?

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thanks! (How does the scope/range of ‘salvus’, reflected (if that’s an apt word) in ‘salveo’, find expression in ‘salvo’ – or not?)

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        • MJH says:

          Looking again at Lewis & Short (since the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae is still working through the Letter P), saluo, -are, is a late Latin word with no citation in the dictionary before Lactantius in the early 300s, same century as Irenaeus. Anyway, it is a verb formed directly from saluus, and seems to be used very simply as meaning ‘to save’, whereas as the older ‘salueo’ has a broader range; both, it appears, are friends of saluus, as well as nouns such as salus, salutis, which means health and general well-being. Given the wider range of things saluus can cover besides some sort of oversimplified vision of ‘I’m saved’, one wonders if Irenaeus/his translator has a richer understanding of what salvation is — that is, being made whole or healthy or simply safe…

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  3. Robert Fortuin says:

    Great topic!

    My intuition is to say that the crux of the matter is the theology of time. Time understood as linear and sequential, invariably runs into major problems dealing with the extra-temporal. The problematic is not unrelated to univocal construals of the divine mode of existence and concomitant univocal predications in discourse about God. The divine and divine action is constrained to fit the finitude of time and space. Judging by the passages cited, the various explanations of (Steenberg, Behr, Jenson) fall short in my estimation as the underlying issue of the mode of existence remains unaddressed. Talk, as they do, about ‘in advance’ ‘from the moment’, ‘backwards and forwards’, ‘future’, ‘point of view’, ‘simultaneous’ ultimately have no purchase for divinity and only further obfuscate matters. The Logos Ensarkos is not merely the Logos Ensarkos – there’s more to that story. The analogical interval must be accounted for in all that we undertake.

    Interestingly enough, to bring Gregory of Nyssa to bear on this topic; pace Jenson and Behr the creation of the universe is to be dated not at the crucifixion but at its end, in its apokatastasis when God will be all in all and the complete humanity (that is, every soul) has found its end in Him. The genesis in the eschaton – truly no linearity!

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Ontology, teleology, and – ‘Hyperontology’?

      I should get re-brooding over various NT ‘Arche’ passages…

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  4. Wonderful! What riches at the start of Holy Week!

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  5. Tom says:

    Steenberg: Irenaeus’ primary point is not that God was restrained by his nature to create the cosmos and humanity (for he points out elsewhere that God as God can, ultimately, do or not do whatever he likes), but that God’s good nature leads naturally to the creation of a universe in which such goodness can be fully expressed. Irenaeus employs the language of necessity to describe that which he believes is so fundamental to God’s free nature that it could not express itself in any other manner than that described…

    Tom: This looks like the problem restated and gets to my struggle – but maybe I’m not following the logic.

    Yes, God’s freedom to create (and thus creation’s gratuity and contingency) is definitely a natural fittedness for creation, and yes, this freedom precludes any dependence on sources outside God, and yes, it precludes any impediment or obstacle to God’s creative disposition. But this much is consistent with an inner necessity of nature to create, but in that case God would not be free ‘not to create’ and creation would not be gratuitous. So presumably God’s freedom to create is convertible with God’s freedom not to create, and not creating is as natural and fitted to God’s goodness and the infinite fullness of his being as is creating. That’s just the point – nothing about God “leads naturally to creation,” if that means anything is left unfulfilled and unnatural in God were he not to create. God is as good, as beautiful, as naturally fulfilled not creating as creating. But when we recognize this, the explanations we typically offer for ‘why’ God created cannot do the work we think they do since whatever explanations we offer, they are as fulfilled sans creation as via creating.

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    • brian says:

      Tom,

      I think that the crux of the matter has to do with certain ambiguities surrounding creatio ex nihilo. One cannot discount it without bringing in an implicit metaphysical dualism and furthermore, losing the giftedness of creation. Yet when one thinks of “to create or not to create” as a binary choice similar to human, libertarian choice, one is introducing a false, univocal comparison. God does not consider possibilities, run through hypotheticals, make use of “middle knowledge.” As you know, I have adverted to Balthasar’s views on “supertime” in the TriUne life as an indication that divine aseity is beyond our dialectical antitheses. The unique divine life simply transcends our categories and the event quality of discovery is not ruled out by divine plenitude. Likewise, the antinomy between Freedom and Necessity is not really for God what it appears for us. Yet even so, our own experience offers analogous insight. Love comes upon us like a Necessity, even though one feels oneself never more free, fulfilled, choosing than when one consents to love.

      Allowing for the distance of analogy, what the artist experiences as inspiration is not missing in divine life. What is the meaning of 1 Cor. 2:10 — “The Spirit searches everything, including the depths of God”? Something is implied about the creature — George MacDonald and probably Eckhart and many others discerned that while the creature is not God, the center of its identity is a gift of God to God.

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      • Tom says:

        Thank you Brian.

        I agree God doesn’t “deliberate options” or “take time” to assess options. I simply stating that ‘not creating’ constitutes no failure of God’s disposition to be God, that ‘not creating’ is as consistent with the divine plenitude and nature as creating. That much, I should think, is entailed in CEN, and we can say this much without reducing divine freedom to a deliberative mode of weighing options and thinking through the risks.

        But I get the feeling that many don’t want to suppose they are this absolutely unnecessary to God. So when one attempts to express this absolute contingency/gratuity in terms of God’s being “as fulfilled” without creation as with it, or that not creating is “as consistent” with God’s fully being God as is creating, one meets with the objection that God’s goodness only “leads naturally” to creating, that there’s something rather *unnatural* about God’s not creating. On the contrary, I think God’s not creating is as naturally divine as is creating. That’s just part of what I take CEN to mean.

        Thanks again! I always get something to think about coming here.

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  6. brian says:

    Father,

    This is well-written and intriguing. I confess I am ambivalent about the overall argument. There is no doubt that Christ is both alpha and omega. There is a mystery of the Cross. I agree with Robert Barron that Pascha involves an ontological change that affects all of being. I also agree that the Six Days of Creation are not complete until the Eighth Day, so that one should properly see redemption as within the continuing mode of Creation. All that is rich and fruitful and challenging.

    My caveat is alluded to in a quotation I included a while back in a thread here. Here is John Milbank pulled without context, alas:

    “our worldly logic wonders, why should we trust the giver for whom giving is easy? Thus so much Victorian theology falls into the pseudo-profundity of seeing God’s love as taking its origin from the sacrifice on the cross, or else as only guaranteed by the cross. Under the dispensation of death indeed, we only see gift via sacrifice, but the genuine sacrifice, supremely that of the cross, is only recognized as such in so far as it is the sustaining of joyful, non- reactive giving . . . ”

    Milbank then attempts to emphasize that we must locate soteriological suffering within the overarching intent of Creation which comes from a plenitude that is the flourishing of an aseity filled with a joy, I think, devoid of suffering:

    “to act morally is to act out of God’s original intention of plenitude, and this is why the torah of the Old Testament (the least legal of all law codes) condemns not just human but animal shedding of blood — the shedding of the blood of animals and by animals — and treats death as an alien impurity. Despite scarcity, despite our submission to the law which it imposes, we must act as if there were plenitude, and no death, since to believe is to believe that this is what really pertains, despite the fall. . . . To believe in plenitude is to believe in the already commenced and yet-to-come restoration of Creation as Creation. Within this belief alone, as Nietzsche failed to perceive, one can cease to be “moral.”

    I think you could bring in Hart on this as well, though I do not have time to track down references. What one wants to avoid is a kind of “tragic aesthetic” that somehow makes the Cross necessary for God — this comes close to a Hegelian conception in which Spirit has to pass through Tragedy to attain plenitude or forms of kenosis that make tragedy the heart of divine existence.

    In general, however, I would echo Robert’s point about the non-linearity of time in the light of the eschaton as resolving many of these perplexities, albeit in a manner that is itself suffused with mystery.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Brian thank you for bringing Milbank to this. I think you are absolutely right about avoiding the ‘tragic aesthetic’ as it smuggles necessity of death into divine intentionality – a catastrophic error.

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  7. Jordan says:

    This is fantastic. And, for what it’s worth, it’s exactly how I read Maximus (another DBH fave). I plan to argue in my dissertation that Maximus thinks eternity itself (which God exceeds) was created in Christ’s death and resurrection. Your attention to Ireneaus is very apt, especially since Maximus has been recently called “Neo-Irenaean” by Paul Blowers. Here’s a famous text from Maximus, which, read under the light you’ve shed, glisters all the more:

    “The mystery of the Incarnation of the Logos holds the power of all the enigmas and types of Scripture, and it also holds the exact science of all creatures visible and intelligible. The one who knows the mystery of the cross and burial knows the logoi of these creatures. And the one who has been initiated into the ineffable power of the resurrection knows the goal for which God gave hypostasis to all things.” (CT, 1.66)

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Jordan, could I ask you to elaborate a bit on how the passage you cite from St Maximus illuminates the statement by St Irenaeus that eternity is created in the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s not clear to me.

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      • Jordan says:

        I read Maximus as saying, as he does elsewhere (e.g. QThal 13, 60, passim), that the Incarnation – which includes everything from Mary’s consent to Christ’s final sigh to the empty tomb – is the very ground and form of the entire universe, of every creature. Quite like Behr, then, Maximus’s logic is that time “begins” with the Cross, death, and resurrection, because only then is time itself first perfected. In other words, I think Maximus is expressing himself in the opposite direction from Irenaeus (though Irenaeus himself also speaks in this direction elsewhere), but betrays the same logic.

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  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Let me throw into the mix this sentence by David Hart: “This is the world God creates because it is the world of Jesus” (Doors of the Sea, p. 108).

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  9. Julian says:

    It is interesting that in the Jewish calendar, the current month Nisan, in which Passover is celebrated, is considered the first month, but Tishrei, the seventh month, is the beginning of the year (Rosh Hashanah), and the celebration of the beginning of creation.

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  10. Gary M. Gorman says:

    Thanks! This is fascinating when I think about this topic. The Word spoken went forth in Adam, as an acoustic signal from the source might. If I think the Word spoken first stopped, as a signal would on a completely reflective surface, at the cross. Then, an echo starts to return to the source. What would be returned, as the echo, in this illustration, at the source, is the true phenomena.

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  11. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Another passage to add to the mix, this time from Paul Blowers, Drama of the Divine Economy:

    For Irenaeus, moreover, it is not sufficient simply to rationalize how creaturely freedom, disobedience, sin, and mortality can be enfolded into a coherent scheme of God’s permissive will and educative providence in the interest of a theodicy. He wants to assert a fortiori that the Creator, even before founding the world, intended to use death itself creatively, as an instrument of new life, and that the scheme of salvation constituted the a priori motivation for creation. It was to the Crucified, the “Lamb who was slain,” says Irenaeus, that the Father opened the “book” containing the secrets of “heaven and earth.” In recent scholarship John Behr has placed this Irenaean theme in bold relief. He emphasizes how Irenaeus and certain other early Christian writers began their interpretation of the divine economy with the “solution” (i.e. the redemptive incarnation and death of Jesus Christ) rather than the “problem” (an alienated creation). They sought theologically to emulate the realism of the Bible, in which “the fall” and “death” were not abstractions but elements in a cosmic drama of salvation in which the church, like the pre-Christian biblical saints, was already thoroughly implicated. When Paul himself reconstructed “salvation history,” as Behr observes, it was not a nexus of historical events such as how moderns conceive “history,” but a perspective on the divine economy from the standpoint of the cross that radically revises our view of why God created the world. Salvation for Irenaeus is not an emer- gency maneuver in which the Creator-Savior submits passively to the tragic necessity of a vicarious death. His suffering is “voluntarily undertaken and, as such, is creative, making all things new (Rev. 21:5).” In Irenaeus’ own words, Christ suffered on the sixth day, “thereby granting [Adam] a second creation (secundam plasmationem) by means of his passion (per suam passionem), which is a recreation from out of his death (a morte).” Adam’s fault then becomes a felix culpa not because God predestined Adam to sin but because, in the light of the glorious ignominy of the cross, his lapse appears an opportune catalyst for disclosing the fullness of creative and redemptive grace.

    Whatever philosophical difficulties lie in such reasoning, it has the advantage theologically of privileging the scandal of the cross (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18–2:16) as key to the divine Wisdom operative in creation. (pp. 263-264)

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    • Jonathan says:

      The last clause — ” privileging the scandal of the cross as key to the divine Wisdom operative in creation” — resonates with me. Probably the familiarity has something to do with writing and the writing process. An author almost never sits down and writes a book from start to finish. There is most likely a defining, central event that he conceives first, and the bulk of his labor will be to flesh out the story on either side of that event. This can make writing seem like something that operates backwards, because there is a time in the sub-creation, the fictional world, which like our time at least appears to move in only one direction, however relativistically. But for the author this time, no matter how complex, is secondary, and he will fill it in whatever order he can in the service of giving the right story to the event or image that is central to his conception (and perhaps final or initial in his plot). At present I’m studying an example of such a literary undertaking, the great fantasy of E.R. Eddison, a man highly esteemed by Tolkien and Lewis. Unfortunately, Eddison didn’t get to finish his trilogy, but he came close enough. One of the most striking things about his work is that he wrote it entirely backwards from the point of view of time in his created world, beginning with the novel that takes place last. Another rather unique thing about the trilogy, especially in view of the discussion here, is that the central event of that trilogy — the Cross, in the analogy with our world as presented, it seems, by Irenaeus — is precisely an act of world-creation. At the center of every world, we might say per Eddison, is the creation of another world. Now, Eddison was not a Christian and his worlds come to a bleaker fate than a Christian cosmos. But it’s worth then adding one further remarkable aspect of his work, namely that the supreme metaphysical idea of his fantasy is not that world-creation happens this way, radiating from a central point, but that all worlds are made for Aphrodite, i.e. for the embodiment of love and desire. Again, Eddison has a Pagan conception, but this powerful vision could well be adapted into Christian terms.

      I know this is a bit out there, just thought I’d share the “resonance” I was perceiving. Might not make sense to anybody else. Definitely file under the rubric of “Keep the analogical interval!”

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  12. Fr. Aidan, This is simply a feast for the soul. Only Christ’s Pascha makes any sense of anything for me. Irenaeus and Maximus. Joy.

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  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the good conversation and reflections. A few thoughts:

    First, in response to Robert: I of course agree with you that the analogical interval must be respected. If we do not, then we collapse God into the economia or vice versa. BUT … as a pastor and preacher (albeit retired), I come to Scripture not as a metaphysician (which you and all other readers of EO know I ain’t!) but as a teller of the story of salvation. And here is the decisive strength of St Irenaeus: in response to the gnostics, he had to offer a more compelling interpretation of Holy Scripture and thus a more compelling story. And so he begins, as do all the NT writers, with Jesus the Savior, crucified and risen, and interprets all of reality through him. This seems very right to me. Distinctions will and must be made, but we always begin and return to Pascha. If we do not, then we will end up with either the worst kinds of scholasticism or the generic religion of liberal Protestantism.

    Second, in response to Brian: I agree with your qualification, iterated in the Milbank quotation, that the divine love flows from infinite plenitude. We must not import death and evil into the immanent life of God, as Jenson and Moltmann, whether accurately or inaccurately, are sometimes accused of doing. BUT … same point as above. What I want us to avoid is making the story and work of salvation dispensable to preaching and our identification of deity. Who needs Jesus once we know (presumably through biblical revelation) that God is love? The story gets replaced by an abstraction. This is a special danger for all of us who confess the greater hope.

    Third, in response to Jonathan: yes! Last weekend I attended a conference in Washington, D.C. on the Yale school (Hans Frei, George Lindbeck, David Kelsey), which was popular in the mid-70s through early 90s. One of the strengths of the school was its insistence on the narrative identification of God centered in Jesus. This sounds commonplace today (it’s always been commonplace in Orthodoxy), but it wasn’t back then. Many of us experienced this as a great liberation from the constraints of the historical-critical method, which had made the telling of the gospel story virtually impossible.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Father,

      No disagreement. Of course Pascha is central, and that is why it requires careful explication, and to be put into perspective. However, it is difficult to think of a more abstract excursion into metaphysics than Irenaeus’ quotation you reference. No simple sermon material, ‘Since he who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who saves should not exist in vain.’ This in turn requires more explication….and so the conversation continues. I don’t see an aversion to theoria with a prejudice to praxis – can’t have one without the other.

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  14. Mina says:

    Just when I thought I was somewhat satisfied with creation theology and evolution as a physician and scientist, I am met with this very deep and enticing theology that makes me go back and say “I know nothing about creation”.

    Something to contemplate on Holy Week indeed as stephencwinter said. 🙂

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  15. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Fourth, in response to Tom: Your comment raises the question “Would the Son have become Man if Adam had never sinned?” The Eastern tradition has tended to say yes. It looks like St Irenaeus should be read this way. If the affirmative answer is true, then the Cross becomes “inevitable” given God’s foreknowledge of Adam’s disobedience and thus the fall of humanity into a state of alienation and violence. The deification of humanity is always “Plan A,” as it were, and “Plan B” always belongs to it. I do not recall us ever discussing this question here on EO. Perhaps now would be the time to do so.

    See Florovsky’s brief discussion “Cur Deus Homo? The Motive of the Incarnation.”

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    • Tom says:

      Fr Al: Fourth, in response to Tom…

      Tom: “And last of all he [responded] to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1Cor 15.8) 😀

      The ‘incarnation-anyway’ question is fascinating, and yes, I agree God’s will to create is convertible with his will to incarnate. They’re one and the same determination.

      But I thought the blog question was antecedent to this, namely, Why create at all? It’s the freedom of that which I thought was the issue, and I thought that whatever we mean by God’s freedom to create (unnecessarily, freely, gratuitously – all analogously of course) it includes saying God’s “not creating” at all is “as natural a fit” to God’s goodness “as is creating,” and thus not leaning the divine goodness toward creating over not creating (analogously of course – I don’t see God deliberating the options in some computational method).

      Tom

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        IIRC (and understood C), Eric Voegelin (who got me thinking about it) treats the Leibnitzian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing; and why are things as they are, and not otherwise?’ as a differentiation of an identical, fundamental aetiology.

        What is to be said about ‘the goodness of creation’? Are you saying that there is a ‘goodness of nothingness’ equal with ‘the goodness of creation’? And, if not, why not?

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        • Tom says:

          Thanks David.

          I’ll do my best—

          Q: What is to be said about ‘the goodness of creation’?
          A: That it is derived entirely from God, and as derived it reflects the goodness of God who creates. Thus, created goods are contingent expressions of the Good. Since they derive entirely from God they can add nothing to God.

          Q: Are you saying that there is a ‘goodness of nothingness’ equal with ‘the goodness of creation’? And, if not, why not?
          A: I’m saying God’s not creating is as consistent with God’s goodness as God’s creating, that creating actualizes nothing essential to God’s self-constituting perfections, that ‘creating’ is unnecessary to God’s perfections and is thus gratuitous, that God’s goodness is as fitted for not creating as it is for creating.

          I thought this was the Orthodox view on God’s freedom from creation and creation’s absolute gratuity. If not, then it’s just my view I guess!

          Tom

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          If I may chime in, as to the second question – is a ‘goodness of nothingness’ equal with ‘the goodness of creation’? – it seems to me the appropriate answer is in the affirmative. God’s intention is always the good, and the ‘nothingness’ that is referenced would in the hypothetical scenario be God’s intention, which is as good as anything else God wills.
          Ex nihilo has God as reference – which is to say that absolute nothingness does not exist.

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          My thanks to both of you!

          “Ex nihilo has God as reference – which is to say that absolute nothingness does not exist” – unless, I suppose, one speaks in terms of Divine Superessentiality, in which case ‘absolute nothingness’ could designate the absence of created being.

          Is there, then, any sense in which one can say ‘created being’ is ‘better’ than its absence?: if so, why?; if not, why not?

          Does one have ‘two goods’, with creation, in a way one does not, without it? Gratuitously created being (or becoming) good seems an addition (in some sense ‘real’) to God the Superessential (or Being) Creating Good. To create is to add Divine Attributes (is it not?). Is ‘to create’ analogically to actualize an analogical potential (however free and gratuitous)?: if not, why not?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            David,

            Creation adds nothing to God, nothing to the Good; it is thus not better or worse to create or not to create. Whatever God does and wills, or does not do or does not will, is Goodness and the Good. It is different for us however, if we take our created existence to be better than not to have been created. Creation is necessary to us – our existence is wholly contingent on the creative act of God. God did create and Christians affirm creation to be good.

            The creative act of God decidedly does not constitute a becoming from potential to actualization of the divine nature – nothing is changed or added to God (God and creation does not equal two – nor one). God transcends the limits of the created mode of existence – as for us to create is to change and/or add something. Creation as emanation is more appropriate (and helpful); emanation in the sense of an abundant overflow of the eternal creative plenitude which is the Triune Life, the ever flowing fountain to whom nothing can be added or taken away.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Again, thanks!

            In saying, “Whatever God does and wills, or does not do or does not will, is Goodness and the Good”, I take it you are not saying anything contradictory to, e.g., Richard Hooker saying, “They err […] who think that of the will of God to do this or that there is no reason beside his will” (LEP I.ii.5).

            In any emanation imagery I can think of, there is a distinction between ‘Emanated’ and ‘Emanator’ (so to put it), and so a ‘two-ness’ (in some ‘real’) sense and something resembling ‘causality’ – ?

            What do you say about Incarnation in such an explication of orthodox creation-theology? (Not a ‘demand’: If you have occasion to answer!)

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Yes, I am in agreement with Hooker (if I understand him correctly to say) that God’s will is the only good; there’s no good besides what God wills and does, no other motivation, no cause, no reason.

            We must think of emanation (and the creative act) along analogous predication – failure to do so will result in anthropomorphic construals of God. The point being that God transcends the Emanator-emanation (subject/object) dualism: for God to create is not to add something to something as a creative act is necessarily for us (we cannot create without adding or changing something to something, and we are changed in the process – not so for God). This is the meaning of creatio ex nihilo. Neither no-thing is needed for, nor no-thing added to, God to create: only His intention to create, ‘and God said….’ and His intention adds no-thing new to God. To press it further, there is no distinction between God’s existence and His actions (again this does not hold for creaturely existence, in which there’s a distinction between being and doing).

            I am not sure if I understand your question about the Incarnation in relation to this.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Well, it’s not clear to me if you are in agreement with Hooker or not (!). Do you mean, e.g., ‘God wills the good’ and ‘What God wills is good’ and ‘What Will (= “God”) wills must be acknowledged “good”‘ are three ways of saying the same thing?

            Why is to say “there is no distinction between God’s existence and His actions” not to say ‘God’s actions are necessary’?

            Why is to say “God transcends the Emanator-emanation” not to say ‘the creation is God’?

            Touching the Incarnation in relation to this, what is to say, “Dominus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus […] Qui licet Deus sit et homo, non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus. Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carnem, sed assumptione humanitatis in Deum. Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae”?

            (With apologies for any continuing obtuseness as to how you are explicating what I take to be orthodox understandings!)

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Hi David,

            I don’t see a distinction between ‘God wills the good’ and ‘What God wills is good’ – good comes from the Good. As to the ‘must be acknowledged’ qualifier – that may be a bit trickier: but I would answer that by affirming that the Good is the Good regardless of acknowledgment.

            As to divine actions and necessity – God is understood to be without external restraint (e.g. completely free from necessity, compulsion, potentiality) perfect in every measure. Divine activity does not add to what he is, or what he does for what he does.and is changes not.

            As to pantheism, the effects of divine activity are not identified with God.

            As to the incarnation, the creed affirms that the unity is hypostatic in the person of Christ, not a mixture of natures (which avoids pantheism, for one).

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Matter of perspectives. From eternity, there’s only one plan A and the fall, evil, sin, death, and the incarnation and the cross is unnecessary and accidental. From time, there is plan A and plan B (double creation); the fall is fait accompli and the incarnation and the cross necessary.

      We get all mucked up projecting timed succession of events into eternity; notions of necessity of evil as essential to the divine mode of existence is the infelicitous consequence. A catastrophic move.

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  16. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Where does the observable mutability of creation come into this? And, the actualization of creaturely potential? What have the transitions of either to do with ‘death’, or not (cf. the imagery of a seed dying)?

    In Tolkien’s “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” (published posthumously in Morgoth’s Ring (1993) ), IIRC (and whether as ‘speculation’ or what Lewis calls ‘supposal’), he entertains the idea that in an unfallen world, people would not be coextensive with the whole of its duration once they had come into being, but would personally discretely pass out of its mutability in a manner analogous with the Assumption, without death as we know it in the fallen world (cf. Enoch and Elijah ‘in the story so far’, anyway).

    If one entertains this, how would/might Incarnation relate to it? Would it enable it? Would it be gratuitous? Would it enable a distinct sort of theosis that depends of the Enhypostasizing of Humanitas and so sharing human nature ‘in common’?

    How would God-the-Son partaking of creaturely, mutable, and actualization-needing unfallen humanitas – transformingly – be related to (something like)’death’ and ‘resurrection’ and ‘ascension’?

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  17. Eric says:

    I’m so glad I found this site and I have really enjoyed reading through the posts and comments.

    I’m curious how Gal 4:4-5 (and perhaps Eph 1:9-10) fits into this discussion. It would seem to support a similar perspective of time, but perhaps reversed.

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