“That which we have chosen is given us, and that which we have refused is, also and at the same time, granted us”

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“This Samaritan bore our sins and suffered on our behalf; he carried the half dead man to the inn which takes in everyone, denying no one its help”

To interpret the parable of the Good Samaritan, one of the elders used to say that the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho was Adam. He said Jerusalem was paradise, Jericho was the world, and the brigands were enemy powers. The priest was the law, the Levite the prophets, and the Samaritan Christ. Adam’s wounds were his disobedience, the animal that carried him was the body of the Lord, and the “pandochium” or inn, open to all who wished to enter, was the Church. The two denarii represented the Father and the Son, and the innkeeper was the head of the Church, who was entrusted with its administration. The promised return of the Samaritan was a figure of the second coming of the Savior.

The Samaritan was carrying oil–“oil to make his face shine,” as scripture says, referring surely to the face of the man he cared for. He cleansed the man’s wounds with oil to soothe the inflammation and with wine that made them smart, and then placed him on his own mount, that is, on his own body, since he had condescended to assume our humanity. This Samaritan bore our sins and suffered on our behalf; he carried the half dead man to the inn which takes in everyone, denying no one its help; in other words, to the Church. To this inn Jesus invites all when he says: “Come to me, all who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you new strength.”

After bringing in the man half dead the Samaritan did not immediately depart, but remained and dressed his wounds by night as well as by day, showing his concern and doing everything he could for him. In the morning when he wished to set out again he took from his own pure silver coins, from his own sterling money, two denarii to pay the innkeeper–clearly the angel of the Church–and ordered him to nurse with all diligence and restore to health the man whom for a short time he himself had personally tended. I think the two denarii stand for knowledge of the Father and the Son in the Father. This was given to the angel as a recompense, so that he would care more diligently for the man entrusted to him. He was also promised that whatever he spent of his own in healing him would be repaid.

This guardian of souls who showed mercy to the man who fell into the hands of brigands was a better neighbor to him than were either the law or the prophets, and he proved this more by deeds than by words.

Now the saying: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ,” makes it clear that we can imitate Christ by showing mercy to those who have fallen into the hands of brigands. We can go to them, bandage their wounds after pouring in oil and wine, place them on our own mount, and bear their burdens. And so the Son of God exhorts us to do these things, in words addressed not only to the teacher of the law but to all of us: “Go and do likewise.” If we do, we shall gain eternal life in Christ Jesus, “to whom belongs glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”

Origen of Alexandria

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The Nought of Sin and the Blindness of God

“Sinne is no dede,” Julian of Norwich calmly states (LT 11), yet who would be so insensitive and cruel to tell that to the families who lost loved ones in last week’s massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas. When Devin Kelly aimed his Ruger rifle at the members of First Baptist Church and pulled the trigger, he very much committed a “dede,” an evil, despicable, and heinous deed. Twenty-six men, women, and children were brutally murdered, twenty more wounded. The consequences of this violence will be felt for generations. Yet in her revelations of the Crucified, Julian sees no sin: “Therefore it seemed to me that sinne is nought, for in alle this, sinne was nought shewed me” (ST 8). Surely Julian knew the sins and evils of the world, and surely she knew the pain, grief, and loss of evil suffered. But when she is given to apprehend the saving death of Christ and the Father’s providential will for humanity, she does not perceive sin. She sees only the good and righteous working of God, who “doth alle thinge, be it never so litile” (LT 11).

Julian is fully aware that her vision of sin and divine providence contradicts normal human experience. We weigh our deeds in the scales of morality. Some tip the scales toward the good, others toward evil. Yet the work of God, Julian assures us, is always good:

For man beholdeth some dedes wele done and some dedes eville, and our lorde beholdeth them not so. For as alle that hath being in kinde is of God’s making, so is alle thing that is done in properte of Gods doing. For it is esy to understand that the beste dede is wele done. And so wele as the best dede is done and the highest, so wele is the leest dede done, and all in the properte and in the order that our lord hath it ordained to fro withoute beginning. For ther is no doer but he. I saw fulle sekerly that he changeth never his purpose in no manner of thing, ne never shalle without end. For ther was nothing unknowen to him in his rightfulle ordenance from without beginning. And therfore all thinge was set in order, or anything was made, as it should stand without ende, and no manner thing shalle faile of that point. For he that made alle thing in fulhed of goodnes, and therfore the blessed trinite is ever fulle plesed in alle his workes. (LT 11)

For a man regards some deeds as well done and some as evil, and our Lord does not regard them so, for everything which exists in nature is of God’s creation, so that everything which is done has the property of being of God’s doing. For it is easy to understand that the best of deeds is well done; and the smallest of deeds which is done is as well done as the best and the greatest, and they all have the property and the order ordained for them as our Lord had ordained, without beginning, for no one does but he. I saw most truly that he never changed his purpose in any kind of thing, nor ever will eternally. For there was nothing unknown to him in his just ordinance before time began, and therefore, all things were set in order, before anything was made, as it would endure eternally. And no kind of thing will fail in that respect, for he has made everything totally good. And therefore the blessed Trinity is always wholly pleased with all its works. (Showings)

This might suggest that Julian believes evil to be an illusion, but such cannot be her view. She is too faithful to the teaching of Holy Church and too well acquainted with her own sins: “And thus in alle this beholding, methought it behoved nedes to see and to know that we be sinners and do many evilles that we oughte to leve, and leve many good dedes undone that we oughte to do, wherfore we deserve paine, blame, and wrath.” (LT 46). Yet when she contemplates the finished work of Christ, she sees nothing of evil: “But I saw not sinne. For I believe it hath no maner of substance, ne no part of being, ne it might not be knowen but by the paine that it is cause of” (LT 27).

The image that comes to mind is that of a black hole. We cannot observe a black hole in itself, for light cannot escape its gravitational pull, but we may infer its existence by observing its effects on nearby matter. Analogously, perhaps we might say that while God creates the freedom by which a rational creature performs an evil act, and indeed sustains the act itself, and knows the suffering caused and endured, he neither sees nor does the evil itself, for “sinne is nought.” Again Julian:

A, wriched sinne! Whate ert thowe? Thow er nought. For I sawe that God is alle thinge: I sawe nought the. And when I sawe that God hase made all thinge, I sawe the nought. And when I sawe that God is in alle thinge, I saw the nought. And when I sawe that God does alle thinge that is done, lesse and mare, I sawe the nought. And when I sawe oure Lorde Jhesus sit in oure saule so wyrshipfully, and luff and like and rewle and yeme alle that he has made, I sawe nought the. And thus I am seker that thowe erte nought. (ST 23)

Ah, wretched sin! What are you? You are nothing. For I saw that God is all things: I saw nothing of you. And when I saw that God has made all things, I saw nothing of you; and when I saw that God is in all things, I saw nothing of you; and when I saw that God does all things that are done, greater and lesser, I saw nothing of you. And when I saw our Lord Jesus sitting so gloriously in our souls, and loving and liking and ruling and guiding all that he has made, I saw nothing of you. And so I am certain that you are nothing. (Revelations)

Julian invokes a common patristic theme—evil as the privation of being. In his Confessions St Augustine declares: “Evil has no existence except as a privation of good, down to that level which is altogether without being” (VII.12). And St Maximus the Confessor: “Evil never was and never will be on its own, for it has exactly neither substance nor nature nor hypostasis nor power nor energy in beings.” If darkness is a hole in light, then evil is a hole in the act of existence. Yet the perplexing fact remains that the actions that cause so much suffering and disorder in our world are themselves caused by God, as Denys Turner explains:

God causes sinful actions in that they are actions, because God causes everything that there is. But God is not and could not be the cause of my actions in that they are sinful, because there is nothing but failure in the nature of sin, it is only failure that can cause it. … Nor should we suppose that—as if in some raw, pre-moral, omnipotence—God could cause sin, but that he is restrained from doing so by some supervenient moral inhibition. God does not have the power to cause sin, and that is because sin is not something that any power could cause. And it is here that Julian’s reliance on the Augustinian-Thomist ontology of evil as privation is explicit. When Julian describes sin as being without “substance,” she means that sin is always failure. And it goes together with that conception of sin that it is not power, but only failure of power, that is the cause of sin. … But God cannot fail, not because God lacks the power to cause sin, but because it is only lack of power that can cause sin, and there is no power that God lacks. Neither do I, who sin, possess some power to do so that God lacks: I cause my sins because I lack a power that only I, and not God, can lack. So, after all, it does seem at least consistent to say that God does everything except sin because, as Julian says, “sinne is no dede.” (Julian of Norwich, Theologian, pp. 63-64)

We are thus presented with the counter-intuitive notion that human evil, which we certainly experience as a destructive, freely-chosen act and energy, is essentially a failure of the human being to choose the good that is presented to him at any given moment. And with this failure comes the nought that Julian cannot see.

(Go to “The Behoveliness of Sin”)

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Searching for Our Human Face: The Singularity of the Singular

Eclectic Orthodoxy

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

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There are enduring responses to human wretchedness. Prayer and acts of compassion may certainly draw one out from anomie. They may not work. Prayer is itself far more inscrutable than typical religious manuals may indicate. It may take a lifetime to come close to approaching a proper prayer – and there is something absolutely singular and incommensurable in such prayer, even as it is also equally communal, a joyous amen that sings in the heart of creation. Preparation for that unique prayer is encountered in what Balthasar called “the relative absolutes”: death, a great love, art. These are experiences that can take us outside our habitual “just so,” can briefly reveal an infinite, terrifying abyss, or a mystery of life that is unremarked in ordinary living. There is a famous passage by Sartre where he examines the powerful presence of the absent friend, Pierre. Everyone…

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God is the Doer: Providence and Human Freedom in Julian of Norwich

Meditation upon the passion and death of Christ leads Dame Julian into a deeper understanding of God’s creation of the world, which in turn prepares her for the third showing—the presence of God in all:

And after this I saw God in a pointe—that is to say, in my understanding—by which I saw that he is in al thing. I beheld with avisement, seeing and knowing in that sight that he doth alle that is done. (LT 11)

Not only is God present in his creation by his goodness and love, but he is present by his transcendent causality, as the doer of all actions and all events. This apprehension of the divine omnipres­ence immediately raises for Julian the question of God’s responsibility for evil. We will discuss this question in the next article; at this point we need only observe that in this showing Julian does not apprehend sin. She does not see evil in God, nor does she see him doing evil. Julian is most certainly not denying the reality of sin, for it was sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross. But because God is intrinsically good, he does not will evil. He wills only the good and he wills it perfectly. His sovereignty over history, therefore, with all of its violence, horrors, privations, and tragedies, is complete; and because it is complete, we may confidently and calmly trust in the divine providence.

For I saw truly that God doth alle thing, be it never so litile. And I saw truly that nothing is done by happe ne by aventure, but alle by the foreseing wisdom of God. If it be hap or aventure in the sight of man, our blindhede and our unforsight is the cause. For tho thinges that be in the foreseing wisdom of God bene from without beginning, which rightfully and worshipfully and continually he ledeth to the best ende as it cometh aboute, falling to us sodeynly, ourself unweting. And thus, by our blindhede and our unforsighte, we say these thinges be by happes and aventure. Thus I understonde in this shewing of love, for wel I wot in the sight of our Lord God is no happe ne aventure. Wherfore me behoved nedes to grant that alle things that is done is welle done, for our lord God doth all. For in this time the working of creatures was not shewde, but of our lord God in the creature. For he is in the mid point of all thinges, and all he doth, and I was seker that he doth no sinne. And here I saw sothly that sinne is no dede, for in alle this, sinne was not shewde. (LT 11)

For I saw truly that God does everything, however small it may be, and that nothing is done by chance, but all by God’s prescient wisdom. If it seem chance in man’s sight, our blindness and lack of prescience is the reason. For those things which are in God’s prescient wisdom before time, which duly and to his glory he always guides to the best conclusion, as things come about, come suddenly upon us when we are ignorant; and so through our blindness and our lack of prescience we say that these things are by chance. So I understood in this revelation of love, for I know well that in our Lord’s sight there is no chance; and therefore I was compelled to admit that everything which is done is well done, for our Lord does everything. For at this time the work of creatures was not revealed, but the work of our Lord God in creatures; for he is at the centre of everything, and he does everything. And I was certain that he does no sin; and here I was certain that sin is no deed, for in all this sin was not shown to me. (Showings)

Julian advances a very strong construal of divine agency and providence (“God doth alle thing”), yet all the while denying the implication of divine responsibility for sin. How is that possible?

One way to address this apparent conundrum is to ask, “Could God have created a world inhabited by rational creatures who, without exception, freely choose obedience and love?” Of course not, we answer. By popular definition a free being must be always capable of disobeying the sovereign rule of its Creator. To be free is to be free from divine determi­nation. As Alvin Plantinga writes: “Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely.” Given the dark history of our own world, we reasonably deem the actualization of a universe of sinless beings as statistically improbable, if not impossible. This impossibility is advanced to explain wickedness and sin (commonly called the free will defense), as well as to justify eternal damnation. The sovereignty of God ends where human freedom begins. This most certainly is not what Julian believed.

In the thirteenth showing we learn that Julian had long wrestled with the question, why sin?

And after this, oure lorde brought to my minde the longing that I had to him before. And I saw that nothing letted me but sinne. And so I behelde generally in us alle, and me thought: “If sinne had not be, we shulde alle have be clene and like to oure lorde as he made us.” And thus in my foly before this time, often I wondred why, by the grete foreseeing wisdom of God, the beginning of sinne was not letted. For then thought me that alle shulde have be wele. (LT 27)

And after this our Lord brought to my mind the longing that I had for him before, and I saw that nothing hindered me but sin, and I saw that this is true of us all in general, and it seemed to me that if there had been no sin, we should all have been pure and as like our Lord as he created us. And so in my folly before this time I often wondered why, through the great prescient wisdom of God, the beginning of sin was not prevented. For then it seemed to me that all would have been well.

In the next article we will explore Julian’s reflections on the mystery of evil, but here I simply note that Julian does not answer her question “why sin?” by invoking some form of the free-will defense. She apparently finds it plausible that God might have created free human beings who not only did not sin but could not sin. In fact, all medieval Christians believed that such a world already exists—it’s called heaven. Once admitted to the beatific vision, sin becomes impossible in the perfection of human freedom. If this were not so, both God and humanity would be trapped in a vicious cycle of fall and redemption.

While Julian does not analyze the mystery of divine agency and human freedom, she appears to presuppose, suggests Denys Turner, a position similar to that of St Thomas Aquinas. According to Thomas, the divine providence comprehends all activities and events. Turner summarizes:

God’s sovereign providence maintains its sway over everything, but it does so thereby achieving the perfection of each creature according to what it is created to be, according, that is, to its own nature. … And so God has created a world in which not only does each thing achieve its own good—as it were, for itself—for with some things their good consists in their sharing in the divine governance itself. Thus, Thomas says, “God governs the world in such a way as to establish certain causes the governance of other things,” so that the immediacy of the divine providence does not exclude God’s bringing about this created effect by means of that created cause. In fact, it is perfectly obvious to Thomas that if the whole universe of natural causes is caused by God immediately, it is nonetheless a system caused by God to operate by means of its own natural laws, being, as it were, a democracy of natural causation. Of course everything whatever is immediately dependent on God’s causality for its existence, for everything is created ex nihilo, and nothing that now exists could do so otherwise than by virtue of God’s creative act. Indeed, for Thomas, for a creature to exist at all is for it to be “created out of nothing.” But what there is in the world—that, for example, there are giraffes—God brings about through the natural processes of evolution over billions of years of, as most today would agree, random mutations thrown up by the interaction of multiple chains of causality. That there are giraffes, therefore, is the result of the world’s natural processes effecting what those natural processes were created to effect. In that sense, then, God can bring one thing about by means of another thing that God has brought about, and so indirectly, the immediate dependence of each and every thing upon God’s creating causality notwith­standing. For God is the total cause of all causalities, and so of evolution’s having randomly given risen to giraffes because that is just what God brought about those evolutionary processes, among other things, to do. (Julian of Norwich, Theologian, pp. 55-56; needless to say, Aquinas was unacquainted with modern theories of evolution)

Long time readers of Eclectic Orthodoxy will immediately recognize Thomas’s analysis of divine and creaturely causality as one of double agency: God implements his sovereign will for the cosmos in, through, and by the causal relations between creatures. The divine providence is immediate (at every moment every entity is created and sustained in being from out of nothing) yet also mediated (the cue ball hits the eight-ball and knocks it into the corner pocket). Personal causality, however, must be exempted from the dynamics of secondary causality. If my typing of this article is caused by something external to myself, whether by the firing of neurons in my brain or by the operation of the moon on the tides, then it is not the product of my freedom:

God brings about the history of salvation by means of the free acts of human beings. But by contrast with God’s having brought about my existence indirectly by means of my parents—granted the whole causality of which process is dependent upon God’s creating it ex nihilo—nothing at all mediates God’s relationship to those free acts: God creates ex nihilo each and every free act, with nothing in between. If one wants to speak of freedom needing “space” to be freedom, as the free-will defenders do, then it is right to conceive of that space as being unoccupied by natural created causes. Even God cannot cause a free act of mine by means of any created cause other than my own choices. But this is no restriction on the divine power, for God’s power is not restricted by the impossibility of creating what it is a contradiction to describe. Contradictions describe nothing. So they describe nothing God cannot do. But just for the reason that no created cause can mediate between God and my freedom, it is entirely wrong to conceive of that freedom as a space unoccupied by the divine causality. On the contrary, rather than excluding God’s causality from our free actions, we have to say that our free acts are where God’s causality is most evident, most immediate—most, we might in fact say, revealingly divine. For it is within our freedom that the divine causality, as creating all things “out of nothing,” is wholly undisguised by the mediation of any natural, secondary cause. If anything, then, my freedom reveals God more in the way that miracles do than as the natural world does, for the whole effect that is a free action directly reveals God precisely insofar as it is free. God’s causality lies within my freedom, sustaining it, not outside it, not canceling it. It is within my freedom, therefore, that God is, as Augustine says, “interior intimo meo,” “more within me than I am.” (pp. 56-57)

It may initially appear that Thomas has presented us with an antinomy or paradox—but only apparently so. We would have an antinomy if we were to say that God causes our free actions through the interactions with other entities and forces. Thomas insists that God creates our free actions immediately, from out of nothing: “My free actions,” Turner explains, “cannot be caused by anything other than God and myself: otherwise than as effected by my agency, a free act can only be created, out of nothing. God’s causing my free actions ex nihilo is therefore precisely what makes them free” (p. 58). Hence we are not confronted with a contradiction or paradox, as long as we do not think of God as a being alongside beings, thereby reducing divine causality to one cause among many.

And so Mother Julian confidently states, “For there is no doer but he” (LT 11). And this is no doubt true, from God’s transcendent point of view. But from our finite point of view, there are no doers but us. God concludes his third showing with the following encouraging words:

“See, I am God. See, I am in all thing. See, I do all thing. See, I never lefte my handes of my workes, ne never shale without ende. See, I lede all thing to the end that I ordaine it to, from without beginning, by the same might, wisdom, and love that I made it with. How shoulde any thing be amisse.” (LT 11) 

(Go to “The Nought of Sin”)

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“How could time enter the picture when an eternal gift is given outside of time?”

Every gospel reading, beloved, is most helpful both for our present life and for the attainment of the life to come. Today’s reading, however, sums up the whole of our hope, banishing all grounds for despair.

Let us consider the synagogue official who took Christ to his daughter and in so doing gave the woman with a hemorrhage an opportunity to approach him. Here is the beginning of today’s reading: An official came to Jesus and did homage, saying: “Lord, my little daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and she will live.”

Christ could foresee the future and he knew this woman would approach him. Through her the Jewish official was to learn that there is no need to move God to another place, take him on a journey, or attract him by a physical presence. One must only believe that he is present in the whole of his being always and everywhere, and that he can do all things effortlessly by a simple command; that far from depriving us of strength, he gives it; that he puts death to flight by a word of command rather than by physical touch, and gives life by his mere bidding, without need of any art.

“My daughter has just died. Do come.” What he means is that the warmth of life still remains, there are still indications that her soul has not departed, her spirit is still in this world, the head of the house still has a daughter, the underworld is still unaware of her death. Come quickly and hold back the departing soul! In his ignorance the man assumed that Christ would not be able to raise his daughter unless he actually laid his hand on her. So when Christ reached the house and saw the mourners lamenting as though the girl were dead, he declared that she was not dead but sleeping, in order to move their unbelieving minds to faith and convince them that one can rise from death more easily than from sleep.

“The girl is not dead,” he told them, “but asleep.” And indeed, for God death is nothing but sleep. He can restore life-giving warmth to limbs grown cold in death sooner than we can impart vigor to bodies sunk in slumber.

Listen to the Apostle: “In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, the dead will rise.” He used an image because it was impossible to express the speed of the resurrection in words.

How could he explain its swiftness verbally when divine power outstrips the very notion of swiftness? How could time enter the picture when an eternal gift is given outside of time Time implies duration, but eternity excludes time.

St Peter Chrysologus

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55 Maxims for Christian Living

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