DBH on St Gregory of Nyssa

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15 Responses to DBH on St Gregory of Nyssa

  1. David says:

    What a lovely talk to share, thank you. I thought it offered a fantastic insight into Nyssa’s (and DBH’s!) thoughts, particularly on the ordering of the ‘first’ and ‘second’ creations.

    Have to say I was left a bit mystified by DBH’s continued endorsement of John Behr’s take on Origen’s view of the Fall, given what I (thought I) knew about DBH’s views of the absolute contingency of evil.

    In ‘The Mystery of Christ’ Behr describes humanity’s apostasy and death as “divinely providential, as the necessary condition for the manifestation of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” He explicitly endorses the “felix culpa” and approves of Irenaeus’ assertion that we need to know evil in order to properly appreciate the good.

    And in Behr’s article ‘Nature, Wounded and Healed in Patristic Thought’ describes “the perfection of creation” and states that “the groaning of creation, which must necessarily pass away, as it produces the fruit of immortality, is an intrinsic part of this process.”

    Basically it is very clear that Behr sees the fall, sin and evil as divinely ordered – the Fall is no plan B but instead is an ‘intrinsic part’ of the process of bringing about the New Creation. He even appears to give evil a positive role to play in the story – at the least he sees it as a tragic inevitability and not a real contingency brought about by some finite decision that could really have been avoided. And Behr is clear that he sees these views as in continuity with Origen’s thought.

    I find this odd because I always thought DBH saw ‘the Fall’ as genuinely contingent. That is, some finite being(s) brought about the Fall as the result of a contingent decision that genuinely could have been avoided. That does not appear to be the same thing as saying that ‘Fallenness’ is intrinsically a part of bringing about the New Creation as Behr endorses.

    Of course that’s not to say DBH endorses Behr’s view of Origen’s Fall uncritically. Indeed in DBH’s review of Behr’s translation of On First Principles, DBH suggests that a “subtler but nonetheless somewhat more literal notion of a real fall of spiritual beings from the ‘aeon’ around God” may be possible and indeed preferable Behr’s strictly allegorical take.

    I would love to know what DBH has in mind by this ‘more literal notion of a real fall of spiritual beings’. There are some hints in this video – does it mean that all of humanity exist ‘supra-temporally’ in a kind of shared consciousness that somehow collectively falls away from God (but what of Jesus and Mary, and how do good and bad angels fit in?) Or is just more allegorical talk after all for God’s supra-temporal knowledge of the tragic inevitability that non-perfected creations will inevitably be deceived into sin?

    (I did google around this area but I could only found a petition to ‘make David Bentley Hart explain The Fall’ (https://www.change.org/p/david-bentley-hart-make-david-bentley-hart-explain-the-fall-b7f9b5f3-08ac-41e2-b9e9-8a2749466453) – obviously others have the same questions as me! 🙂


    • Grant says:

      To be fair, I don’t think he’ll be much moved by a change.org pertition 😉 though it would be interesting to understand his thinking in this area, though perhaps he is still developing his thought on the area and isn’t going to elaborate until he’s more certain.

      As for me I strongly disagree with Behr and St Origen (since I assume his reading is probably accurate) on this issue, despite my deep respect for them. As I’ve said elsewhere (often in conversation with you 🙂 ) it makes evil both necessary and therefore God’s handmadien and faithful servant, tool and forge to create the persons and creation He wishes, and so also a foundation for the eternal Kingdom, and certainly neither God’s enemy nor is it tragic. God creates creation freely and so brings into being with evil intended as the tool to forge the outcome He desires, so all evil is His doing. That strikes at the heart of Christian claims of God to me almost if not as much as infernalism does, so whatever the difficulties I reject it and assert what Hart suggests in his review of Behr as a suggestion as being something necessary to my simple brain if Christianity is true of a necessary fall from the aeon (alongside the sopholoigical suggestion). I also feel that as the Genesis second myth protrays (as interpreted from Christian standpoint) the Fall as a geninue choice that might have been otherwise, that this is conveying a geninue truth of the matter. But no need to repeat what I’ve posted to many times on this thorny topic, I’ll just post a tweet from John Milbank today discussing this idea of evil’s (even if temporary) necessity which I agree with (even if I don’t know his own ideas on how the Fall happened):


      • Schelling just brought Böhme out of the shadows and tried to rationalize the mystical definition from the Theosophic Points in his Freiheitsschrift….contra someone like Kant/Hegel who reacted against it. Schelling keenly noticed that Böhme’s explanation allows for another way to handle theodicy/evil. Milbank’s preference for Eckhart/Cusa is clearly argued against Slavoj Zîzek in “The Monstrosity of Christ.” I don’t know that is necessarily persuasive in that work, but it is at least out there to see why. In this work, they are discussing the difference between dialectic and paradox, and this same argument comes up in the tension between accepting Böhme/Hegel/Schelling or accepting Plotnius/Cusa/Eckhart.


  2. DBH says:

    Origen did not regard the fall as providentially necessitated. But John’s reading of Origen on the relationship between eternity and time is very fetching, and makes sense of much that otherwise seems obscure. That is the object of my praise.

    A petition? Really?


    • David says:

      Fair enough! Thank you.

      So given your endorsement of Behr’s reading of Origen on the relationship between eternity and time, I had thought this might function as a key to understanding your view of the Fall. However it seems to me that Behr’s reading – particularly when combined with his other work which I’ve mentioned – ends up boiling down to seeing humanity’s ‘eternal fall’ as only being eternal in the sense of being foreknown (as a tragic inevitability) in the mind of God in eternity – as opposed to humanity’s literal supratemporal existence undergoing a literal and contingent fall. So I am curious as to precisely what you find so illuminating in Behr’s account of eternity, and in what way it leaves space for the kind of literal contingent fall I understand you endorse.

      Also I see that you’re correct that Origen did not see the fall as providentially necessitated. Just to make sure I’m understanding you right, could I please check whether you see a meaningful difference between ‘providentially necessitated’ (e.g. God actively brings about the Fall in order to make the Good more glorious etc.) vs. ‘tragically inevitable’ (e.g. God knows that all finite wills are inevitably dragged into sin and accepts this inevitability as the cost of creation but without positively intending it)? Or, as I suspect, are they both equally nonsense in your eyes?

      And if it makes you feel any better, I haven’t signed it… although thinking about it I would pay a pretty penny for a full DBH article or chapter on the Fall!


      • DBH says:

        Neither providentially necessitated nor tragically inevitable.

        What John Behr finds in Origen–if his interpretation is correct–is a disproportion between the language of eternity and the language of time. In regard to the former, the end is always already accomplished, and our first beginning as actual creatures is in our last end as deified in the glory of God. In regard to the latter, we are “fallen” from that first estate, even though as a matter of diachronic history none of us has yet attained it. But that means that, even in going astray, we are all already created as dwelling in God, and but for that reality could not exist; and so the end is certain.

        Certainly that would make Makrina’s and Gregory’s reading of 1 Corinthian 15 an extension of what they learned from Origen, rather than a correction.

        As I say, though, I’m perfectly content with another reading of Origen as well, one in which there really is a kind of aeonian preexistence of intellects. The question that interests me is whether there i any real conflict between the two.

        Liked by 3 people

        • David says:

          Thanks for shedding some more light on your views of this difficult area – so helpful.

          Personally I find it difficult to see how a literal supra-temporal fall can be reconciled with Behr’s take on Origen. It seems to me that, if there is no actual contingent decision/event – whether in time or ‘supra-time’ – then it is hard to see the Fall as anything other than ‘tragically inevitable’. I think relegating the decision purely to God’s ‘foreknowledge’ in eternity is incoherent if there is no actual event to which this foreknowledge refers – otherwise you just have Molinism with the decks pre-loaded for an inevitable Fall.

          As creatures, we must all undergo change as part of reaching stability in the Good – so temporality of one kind or another must intrinsic to our nature. If this diachronic existence – the distance between our present existence and our eternal selves – is identified as intrinsically fallen, then obviously the Fall would indeed be a tragic inevitability. Of course you don’t hold that temporality is intrinsically fallen – you’re clear that we are not simply temporal beings but being which have ‘gone astray’ – but I think you need a literal fall in order to safeguard the contingency of this ‘gone astrayness’.

          (of course this also invites questions over what exactly is meant by a ‘supra-temporal’ existence anyway, the nature of this (collective?) decision, how creaturely intellects transition from supra-temporal to regular temporal existence, etc.)

          Of course the fact that I can’t resolve this conflict tells me that I probably have much to learn, and that I can only hope your future work explores these questions in more detail. Thank you.


          • Not to beat a dead horse, but this is where someone like Berdyaev becomes helpful. His insistence on tragedy as a 3rd way to understand any type of ethos within existence is an interesting conversation tool (whether theodicy or anthropodicy). It isn’t just good & evil that we encounter. It’s also the tragic good/tragic evil. It is never so seemingly black and white….It is chalk full of contradiction and mystery. Tragedy, oftentimes, becomes the only way to filter the good or evil. I know I’m probably over my head in discussing this with you all but, at least at the existential level, it allows for a middle explanation. One in which tragedy takes up a roll that is neither inevitable or foreknown to occur. It merely is the lens by which an action is ever known to be. All transcendentals have a privative side. But that privative side is very real in a false world that we often create….this creates a perceived provisional dualism that we must encounter on this side of the eschaton, but in the end, will be fully understood on the other side(and in actuality is already fully known from the start). One of the biggest issues that occurs is that when God becomes an object, instead of a subject, we lose the sense of wonder and mystery that can arise. Thus, these problems always creep in when trying to “objectify” him. To nail Him down, so to speak…and unfortunately, I don’t believe we really ever can. Neither explanation will really suffice. Apophasis is a heck of a tool….but kataphasis(what he knew or didn’t know, the act of knowing/foreknowing), in this case, reaches beyond the pale.

            The question I have for most would be, what would require time to start ipso facto with the creation of a day? Why couldn’t time have started at the moment the gates were shut to Eden? So in a sense, it could be literal or figurative, as Maximus demonstrated so well. I mean, and I could be wrong, but isn’t it Origen that kind of talks about how “time” didn’t even really start, in any meaningful sense, until the Cross itself (Maybe Peri Archon says this)? I may have misread that but I feel like that was something that occurred from the fount of his pen.

            Always eager to learn, and hope everyone is well!


    • Rob says:

      DBH, while you’re here, do you mind telling me where I can find your essay on divine innocence? The one where you deal with the Banezian Thomists? I can’t remember where it is.


  3. Marc says:

    David’s been on an interview role lately…he’s done like 3 videos in the past week? I’m liking this trend 🙂


  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I finally had the opportunity to watch this video. Splendid! I think it’s one of the best interviews with David now on YouTube.

    Liked by 1 person

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