“The rule, in the devastation, is the tick-tock that brings death”

We may distinguish, for the purposes of this investigation, two fundamental types of cosmic temporality, the difference between them being given by the different relations they bear to the LORD. These two kinds of cosmic time I call metronomic and systolic. The former, metronomic time, belongs to the devastation in which we live, and is the only time in hell; and the latter, systolic time, is proper to Eden, where, however, it always had the potential to become metronomic, is coexistent with and gradually transformative of metronomic time here in the devastation, and is the only time there is in heaven.

Metronomic time, as the name suggests, is regular and measurable: its law (nomos) is measure (metron). The means of measuring it are various, and include the movements of the sun or other heavenly bodies relative to the earth, and the rates of growth and decay of material substances. The former give us days and nights and months and years; the latter provide smaller intervals, down to and beyond the zeptosecond or the ictus. But all these means of measure are derived from—or just are—kinds of creaturely motion … Metronomic time, therefore, is measurable duration. It is cosmic, regular, repeating, providing duration that is what it is independently of how it seems to creatures such as ourselves. Every event—and therefore all states of affairs, each of which is an event-ensemble—occurs within the manifold of creaturely motion, and can therefore have its temporal relations to other events and states of affairs by way of duration measured …

The creatures whose lives are measured and brought to death by metronomic time are, without exception, brought into being by and beloved of the LORD; that is always and necessarily true. Time itself, as a defining feature of creation, is intended and loved; spatio-temporal presence to himself is what the LORD intends for creatures, and the spatio-temporal relations we bear to one another are therefore also features of us that are loved. But time-as-metronomic is nevertheless an artifact of the fall. It is what time is like when it has been devastated. The principal mark of that devastation for us—the sign that shows us most clearly that metronomic time is devastated time—is that time is a metronomic countdown to death. To observe any creature for long—whether ourselves or others, human or otherwise, animate or otherwise—is to observe its decay, its ineluctable loss of goods it has now as it approaches its last loss, which is of life if it is animate, and of continued existence if it is inanimate …

It is not that decay toward death or nonexistence is the only thing visible to the close observer of creatures. We can also see in them, as the LORD certainly does, evidence of growth and beauty, increase in order and love, occasional and unanticipated (certainly irregular) responses to grace that brings those creatures that make them closer to the LORD rather than closer to death or annihilation. But these are the exception, not the rule. The rule, in the devastation, is the tick-tock that brings death. The other things, the acts of life and growth, do not belong to the metronome, and they are, now, in the devastated world, occasional contradictions of it, signs that it is not everything. The metronome’s omnipresence and unavoidability, its literal unendurability—the fact, that is, that we cannot live long with it, cannot put up with it, cannot survive it—is, exactly, time’s devastation.

Paul J. Griffiths

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“The baroque complexity and variety of human loves, sexual and other, is a pale reflection of and participation in the divine loves that are the LORD”

The claim that the LORD is eternal in the sense that in his life—in the life he is, in the Trinity he is—there is no division according to timespace is among orthodoxy’s key elements because it is ingredient to the proper drawing of the distinction between the LORD and the ensemble of creatures that is the world; their temporality is a constituent element of their creaturehood, providing the framework and horizon of the modes of their relation to the LORD. Were the LORD also to be temporal, subject to change, then temporality would not be a constituent of creaturehood—a mode under which creatures relate to the LORD—but would instead be a horizon within which both the LORD and creatures are found. That is one way to misrepresent the LORD by replacing him with an idol.

Another way to put this view of the LORD is to say that he is an atemporal state of affairs of vast internal complexity. This complexity is given by the fact that he is triune: the three persons of the Trinity are related one to another in many more ways than those specified by the language of the creeds, but those relations are all, first, last, and always, relations of love. The persons are lovers, eternally and intimately intertwined; the baroque complexity and variety of human loves, sexual and other, is a pale reflection of and participation in the divine loves that are the LORD. Mathematics is another window into the range and depth of the complexity of the atemporal state of affairs that is the LORD. The relations that obtain eternally among such abstract objects as numbers and sets are infinite, and accessible only in part to human intellects. Such relations are, in respect of atemporality and complexity, like the inner-Trinitarian relations. Of course, there are respects in which mathematical and inner-Trinitarian relations differ profoundly; but in these ways they are importantly alike, and it is probable that the best account to give of this likeness is one that understands mathematical objects to subsist in the LORD.

The LORD’s eternality is unique to him: eternity is constituted by the divine Trinity, and since everything that exists other than the LORD is a creature and belongs to the created order, whose distinctive feature is that it is temporal, it can belong only to him … Anything that is eternal—and only the LORD is eternal—lacks a temporal beginning, a temporal end, and any succession or alteration. He exists all at once, semper eodem, “always the same,” changelessly … Understanding the LORD’s life, his life as the Trinity he is, as happening tota simul means that there is no succession in that life, no before and after. Every event in that life is simultaneous with every other, though even that way of putting it disposes creatures for the time being such as ourselves to think this means that there can be no separation in the events that constitute the LORD’s life, that because they are not differentiable by appeal to timespace they are not differentiable at all because that is the only way in which events can be differentiable. It is true in the spatio-temporal order that identity in timespace means identity simpliciter. If one creature or state of affairs is here-now, and another is also, and identically, here-now—or, to put the same point differently, if two creatures or states of affairs have exactly the same spatio-temporal coordinates—then this just means that they are the same creature. They occupy the same timespace. We might think, following this pattern of reasoning, that if the LORD’s life is tota simul, then this must mean that it is self-identical, without any real distinctions of differentiations. And that is one part of the intuition behind the idea of the LORD’s simplicity.

But simplicity (and eternality) do not rule out every kind of differentiation or distinction. They deny only those kinds that suggest composition, and thereby the possibility of division. Differentiations such as those that relate the persons of the Trinity one to another need not do this, and that is because those relations (begetting, proceeding, and so on) conjointly constitute the LORD, making him, as Augustine likes to say, the trinitas quae deus est—the Trinity that God is. It is not that the LORD is a being who has those relations; it is that those relations, taken together, exhaustively constitute the simplex Dominus, the LORD who is simple. That the LORD is triune, however, does mean that his eternity is not that of an extended spatio-temporal period, like, in definition, a Euclidean point. It is, rather—and here we have to use metaphors—an extended but not compounded all-at-onceness, an enduring, but not spatio-temporally enduring, present.

This extended all-at-onceness is what the LORD’s eternity is. Temporality, by contrast, is everything that this is not. It (temporality) is the life of the fallen world, and, though differently, of the prelapsum cosmos, and of heaven. By analogy with the LORD’s eternity, which just is the set of relations that makes the three persons he is what they severally are, the world’s temporality just is the set of relations creatures bear to one another. These relations are what makes the world what it is, spatio-temporally speaking, and they are all at least (if not only) spatio-temporal relations, each construable through the categories “before,” “after,” and “simultaneous with.” Every creature, every ensemble of creatures, and every state of affairs is temporal in the sense that it bears an enormous number of relations of this kind to other such creatures. The temporal order as a whole, timespace properly considered, just is this set of relations, and all of them perdure.

Paul J. Griffiths

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The Proclamatory Rule of the Gospel: Preach Good News!

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What difference does apokatastasis make to the churchly preaching of the gospel? All the difference in the world, all the difference to the world! How we understand the conclusion of the gospel story informs how we tell the story.

About fifteen years ago I realized that I could no longer remain in the Episcopal Church. Suddenly I found that instead of having to deliver Sunday sermons, I was “privileged” to listen to them. I have heard dozens of homilies—Roman Catholic homilies, Maronite homilies, Eastern Orthodox homilies). With a few exceptions, they have shared one dominant feature, exhortation—specifically, exhortation embedded within a conditionalist linguistic structure. Orthodox and Catholic preachers alike appear to believe that their principal homiletical task is to urge their hearers to behave differently. Let’s just skip the evangel and get on with the admonishing, adjuring, imploring. Orthodox preachers tend to emphasize ascetical behavior, Catholic preachers moral behavior; but the message is the same—try harder! To put the matter in the language of the sixteenth century Lutheran Reformers, Orthodox and Catholic priests preach law.

The discourse of law shares a common transactional structure: if … then … It can be presented in positive terms (the language of reward and merit) or negative terms (the language of penalty and punishment):

If you work hard and get straight A’s on your report card,
your mother and I will give you a new car.

If you mow my lawn and trim the hedges,
I will pay you $50.

Or:

If you do not turn in your term paper by the end of the semester,
I will flunk you.

If you arrive late to work one more time,
I will terminate your employment.

These and all similar pledges make the outcome contingent upon the performance of the promisee. They pose to us a future for which we ourselves are responsible to actualize. If we fulfill the specified conditions, we will bring about the promised result, either as reward or punishment.

We are all intimately acquainted with this kind of transactional communication. It is the discourse of commerce, our civil and criminal judicial systems, and religion. It is the language of our Pelagian world. We determine our futures by the contracts we make. Law functions as demand upon our performance, and upon this performance falls the weight of the utterance. Once a conditional promise is spoken to us, we had best get busy, either to obtain or avoid the consequent. Conditional promise, in other words, presents the future to us as demand, obligation, and threat. It structures the fallen world in which we live; hence it is not surprising that legalism penetrates into the preaching of the Church.

Unconditional promise also has its own characteristic linguistic pattern: because … therefore … Here I cite examples with explicit Christian content:

Because Jesus is risen,
your future will be glorious.

Because you are baptized in the Spirit,
you are now capable of living a life of faithfulness and love.

Just as conditional promise posits a specific kind of future, so does unconditional promise; but note how differently these two kinds of utterance impact our lives. When God speaks to us a conditional promise, the burden of its fulfillment falls totally upon us. Existentially, it doesn’t matter if we are also told that God will help us by his grace. What matters is doing, or not doing, what needs to be done. Herein lies the difference between heaven and hell. But when God speaks unconditional promise, he assumes responsibility for our future, independent of our performance; he is its guarantor. In the unconditional promise God presents the future to us as eschatological gift.

“If you repent of your sins,” the preacher declares, “God will forgive you.” On the face of it, the pronouncement is clear-cut. Divine absolution is offered on the basis of the fulfillment of a prior condition. If we wish to obtain reconciliation with our Creator, then we had best put our noses to the grindstone and get on with the work of repentance. James B. Torrance calls this legal repentance. Of course, somebody will need to explain to us what repentance involves—but that is by the by. The critical point is that the responsibility and burden of fulfilling the stipulated condition lies on our shoulders. And at every moment hangs the threat of failure: What if I am unable to achieve a whole-hearted repentance? Will God forgive? If I die in mortal sin, can God forgive?

But now consider the difference when forgiveness is declared in the mode of unconditional promise: “Because Jesus has borne your sins upon the cross, God forgives you and will make things right; therefore, repent and live in the joy of the Spirit.” Suddenly everything changes. By the word of promise, God raises us from the condemnation of sin and grants us a future no longer bound to the past. He enters our lives as a liberating power. Whereas in response to the conditional promise our activity is directed to the fulfillment of the specific work demanded of us, in response to the unconditional promise our lives are liberated for freedom. Repentance is no longer a task that we must accomplish in order to obtain absolution: it is the fruit of a freely bestowed absolution. In other words, forgiveness is logically prior to our penitential response. Torrance calls this evangelical repentance. Life in Christ becomes joy, lived in thanksgiving and tears, discipleship, holy works, ascetical discipline, and the worship and praise of God. At every moment we are surrounded and upheld by the divine mercy. We were lost but have been found, blind but now we see, dead but now we live in the kingdom.

Immediately our minds raise a host of objections. I am acquainted, I think, with most of them. They boil down to a single concern: if God declares me unconditionally forgiven, does that mean that I am free to disobey the commandments of God with impunity? Or to state the same concern in its universal scope, will all be saved? What about free-will? At this point we are brought back to the robust hope of St Isaac of Nineveh.

So what difference should apokatastasis make to the churchly preaching of the gospel? Above all, it should encourage and authorize our pastors to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ precisely as good news. No more qualifications and compromises; no more ifs, buts, and maybes. The gospel is a message of triumphant hope, or it is not gospel at all. This does not mean that each homily must now be about universal salvation. Quite the contrary. As always, the pastor will continue to preach on the lectionary texts appointed for that day; but he now searches for ways to proclaim even the harshest biblical passage in the mode of promise. Every text now speaks Christ, crucified and risen. Every text now summons to a life made possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is risen! He has transcended death and lives with death behind him. In our fallen world, all of our promises ultimately turn into dust and ashes—we cannot pledge a future we do not possess. At any point death may intervene and nullify our commitments. But by his paschal victory, Jesus of Nazareth possesses the final future. Only the risen One can make an unconditional promise and mean it unconditionally. In the words of Robert W. Jenson: “If Jesus has death behind him, then his intention for his followers, defined by his particular life and death, must utterly triumph, there being no longer anything to stop him” (“On the Problem(s) of Scriptural Authority,” p. 238).

If Jesus were Attila the Hun or Joseph Stalin, the resurrection would be horrifying news; but the resurrection of Jesus is the best, most wonderful, brilliant, and transforming news, because of who Jesus was and is. Neither death nor life, neither principality nor power, can defeat the love by which our Savior lived and died. His intentions for his brethren, his intentions for all of humanity, his intentions for you and me, must and will triumph—utterly, completely, gloriously. The preaching of the gospel is simply this—the annunciation of the resurrection, with all of its consequences and implications for our lives.

Eastern Christians know this—surely we know this. At the Vigil of Pascha we declare the words of St John Chrysostom:

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.

The indicatives of the gospel precede the imperatives; the evangelical narrative prefaces all doctrinal teaching and qualifies all ethical and ascetical exhortations. Pastors may dare to boldly promise the kingdom, for the Crucified lives and has given himself as surety.

But not only does Jesus guarantee the promise of eschatological fulfillment, he is its ultimate speaker. Every address is the personal presence of someone. In this article I am presently intruding into your life with my idiosyncratic, and perhaps controversial, reflections on preaching. But were I to stand before you and unconditionally promise you eternal salvation in the kingdom of the incarnate Son, then it could not be only me addressing you. I cannot rightly make such a pledge, for I cannot implement its promised outcome. Only the One who has death behind him can do so. Only the conqueror of death may bestow the final future. When the preacher dares to proclaim the gospel in its radicality and power, there is the gladdening and inspirited voice of Jesus Christ. The making of eschatological promise must be his act, his presence, his Word, his kingdom. “If the gospel promise is true and unconditional,” Jenson writes, “then the event of the living word, of one person speaking the gospel to another, is the locus of God’s reality for us. Where is God? He is where one man is promising good unconditionally to another, in Jesus’ name” (Lutheranism, p. 102). Or as our Lord has taught us, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am between you” (Matt 18:20). A homily rightly proclaimed is a sacrament of Christ.

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I propose the following grammatical or hermeneutical rule for our preaching: so proclaim the story of Jesus Christ that it elicits from our hearers nothing less than faith or offense. Or to put the rule in its most succinct form: proclaim the gospel in the mode of unconditional promise. Robert Jenson calls this a meta-linguistic rule, George Lindbeck a meta-theological rule. Their point is the meta-. The rule does not specify the content of our preaching—that content is given in the Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition of the Church. The rule, rather, prescribes and instructs how to rightly proclaim this content: preach the gospel of the crucified and risen Son of God, not as law and obligation, but as a word that liberates sinners from the bondage of sin, conquers despair, and empowers believers to live lives of holiness, love, prayer, sacrifice, and radical discipleship. The proclamatory rule invites preachers to speak into the world the coming kingdom of the Lord.

(cont)

(2 December 2014; edited)

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“The LORD is not divided, not composite, not partly here and partly there, partly this and partly that, partly now and partly then”

I have begun a slow read of Paul Griffith’s dogmatic reflections on the last things—Decreation. After only a chapter or two I realized that I had before me a book of intellectual depth and speculative power. Griffiths wears his scholarship lightly. For one thing, there are no footnotes. One has the sense that this is a theologian who has been immersed in the topic for many years and is now speaking in his own scholarly authority, under the magisterial authority of the Roman Catholic Church. As my reading proceeds, I will share on Eclectic Orthodoxy specific passages that I think I think the brethren may find interesting. And I fully expect to one or more articles to follow after I have completed this book.

A unique feature of Decreation: instead of the word God, Griffiths uses LORD (all caps). “The LORD: the name of the god of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Mary, and Jesus; a triune name that designates Fathers, Son, and Spirit.” Griffiths occasionally uses god “as a category-word for a kind of being, a kind to which the LORD does not belong … If the kind designated by ‘god’ has members, they are all creatures; and while it may be said that the LORD is the god of Abraham, and so on, this is only by courtesy, to indicate that the relationship he has with Abraham, and so on, bears some analogy to the relation the peoples have with their gods (Zeus, Siva, Superman, and so on).”

* * *

The LORD is eternal and the LORD is triune. These are axioms of Christian theology; discourse about the LORD that denies or sidesteps either of them is, to exactly the extent that it does those things, not Christian discourse. The LORD’s eternity is constituted by his tri-unity, and his tri-unity by his eternity; to think about the one is therefore to think about the other, and to gloss the one is best done, and in the end only possible, by appeal to the other. Further, the LORD’s eternity is ingredient to, which is to say another way of thinking about, his simplicity: there is no distinction in the LORD between what he is and what he has. Every property or attribute or action spoken of as the LORD’s by us is, in the order of being, what the LORD is. The LORD, as Christian speculative theologians like to put it, is not something other than an addition to his justice, his mercy, his power, his bringing the cosmos into being out of nothing, his election of Abraham, and his taking of flesh as Jesus Christ. All this—the LORD’s properties and his actions—just is the LORD; he is not divided, not composite, not partly here and partly there, partly this and partly that, partly now and partly then. He is eternally (which is neither always nor everlastingly) just what he is. And that is because he is the LORD and not a creature.

All creatures, all realis other than the LORD, exactly are complex (not simple) in these ways. It is definitional of creaturehood to be like that, because to be complex is also to be contingent, to be capable of not being as you are at the moment, and to be capable of not being at all. The butterfly sucking nectar from the buddleia dld not always have the wings it has now; was not always where it is now, will soon be elsewhere, and will soon die. Complexity and contingency belong to creatures; neither belongs to the LORD. His mode of being is in this way not even analogically like that of creatures. What analogy there is between creaturely being and the LORD’s being is to be found only in the categories of gift and participation: all creatures are what they are, have the mode of being they have, by gift from the LORD and by way of participation in him. In this way, all creatures are alike; in every other way they differ from one another, both according to their kinds, and in the differences that separate individuals one from another.

Paul J. Griffiths

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St Isaac the Syrian and the Triumphant Love of God

How do we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as good news that liberates and transforms? How do we tell the narrative of the Savior in such a way that the kingdom of God is made present?  These are the questions I will address in this three-part series. Underlying the series is a simple premise: how we understand the conclusion of the gospel story will necessarily inform and shape how we tell the story.

St Isaac the Syrian is known and celebrated as above all a mystical theologian of divine love. He delights in speaking of the unconditional love of God. No doubt this is why his discourses have captured the hearts of so many Christian believers over the centuries. As Met Hilarion Alfeyev writes: “In Isaac’s understanding, God is above all immeasurable and boundless love. The conviction that God is love dominates Isaac’s thought: it is the source of his theological opinions, ascetical recommendations, and mystical insights” (The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian, pp. 35-36). The love of the Creator fills the heart of the great ascetic with wonder and awe, inciting him to rhapsodic praise:

What profundity of richness, what mind and exalted wisdom is God’s! What compassionate kindness and abundant goodness belongs to the Creator! … In love did He bring the world into existence; in love does He guide it during this its temporal existence; in love is He going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of Him who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised. (Discourses II.38.1-2)

The world begins in love, is ordered, maintained, and sustained in love, and concludes in love.

The divine love is absolute, unconditional, unmerited, gratuitous, extravagant, prodigal. It intends every human and angelic being, the righteous and the wicked. Isaac is clear. No one is “to the front or to the back of God’s love.” God has a “single equal love” for saint and sinner alike (II.38.2).

Any suggestion that God might, in response to sin, alter his attitude toward rational beings compromises the divine immutability and destroys the Love that God is. The LORD is not a creature. He does not live in time. He is not affected by the events of history, nor is he is subject to passions. “In the mind of the Creator,” Isaac explains, “there exists a single even intention with respect to all rational beings, and there exists with Him a single love and compassion which is spread out over all creation, (a love) which is without alteration, timeless and everlasting” (II.40.1). The divine love precedes God’s creation of the world and does not change in response to the actions of his creatures. It preveniently embraces the righteous and the unrighteous. “God has a single caring concern for those who have fallen, just as much as for those who have not fallen” (II.40.3). If the agapaic Deity is so promiscuous and indiscriminate in his love, what then of his justice? St Isaac famously replies, “Do not call God just, for His justice is not manifest in the things concerning you” (I.51, p. 387). How can we call God just, when we see the owner of the vineyard giving the same wages to those who worked the entire day and to those who worked only one hour? How can we call God just when we see the father lavishing gifts upon his prodigal son who had thrown away his inheritance on women and wine? “Where, then, is God’s justice?” asks Isaac—”for while we are sinners Christ died for us!” (I.51, p. 387).

And this brings us to the Last Judgment and the “difficult matter of Gehenna” (II.39.1). Christians have long believed that Holy Scripture teaches us that God will reward the righteous with eternal bliss and punish the wicked with eternal torment. St Isaac, however, rejects the claim that God retributively punishes the wicked. In his eyes this is mere anthropomorphism, the reduction of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus to the condition of pagan deity. Thus he declares: “God is not one who requites evil, but he sets evil aright” (II.39.15). Love is incompatible with retaliation. It is only concerned with “what is most advantageous in the future: it examines what is to come, and not things that are past” (II.39.17). St Isaac reads the Bible through a hermeneutic of love. He acknowledges that it sometimes appears to attribute wrath and vengeance to the Almighty Creator; but all such references need to be interpreted figuratively, in accordance with the gospel of Christ.

In Gehenna the reprobate suffer because they have been given to see that they have rejected their supreme good and sinned against their truest friend. The Father never ceases to love the damned nor to will their good and salvation—and that is their damnation:

I say that even those who are tormented in Gehenna are tormented with the torments of love. Torments for love’s sake, that is, the torment of those who perceive that they have sinned against love, is harder and more bitter than the tortures of fear. The sufferings that take hold of the heart through the sinning against love are more acute than any other torture. It is absurd to think that the sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of the Creator. … I say that the hard tortures are grief for love. (I.28, trans. Patrik Hagman)

Unlike, say, St John of Damascus, who denies in the damned any remaining desire for God, Isaac sees them as still possessing a driblet of desire. Their sufferings are caused by their regret, their guilt, their “grief for love.”

054DSC01105-copy-2_zps24539b29.jpg~original.jpegAnd here the matter stood for over a thousand years. The majority of St Isaac’s discourses (the First Part) were translated into Greek and Latin in the late first millennium. On the basis of these translations, the Nineven has been interpreted as affirming damnation as a noetic state of definitive and irrevocable rejection of God; in other words, he has been assimilated to the free-will model of everlasting perdition. But all this changed in 1983 when Sebastian Brock discovered in the Bodlein Library a manuscript containing over forty Syriac discourses whose existence had been known but thought lost (the Second Part). Three of these homilies address the theme of the Last Things. In them St Isaac passionately espouses apokatastasis—universal reconciliation (also see Brock, “St Isaac the Syrian“). He most certainly believes that at the Last Judgment God will condemn the impenitent and depraved to an existence of torment; he most certainly affirms the reality and horror of Gehenna … but—and oh, what a glorious but—it will ultimately prove to be purgative and temporary. The damned may be “scourged by the scourge of love,” but the scourging is not forever! In a hidden mystery of grace God will find a way to save all:

I am of the opinion that He is going to manifest some wonderful outcome, a matter of immense and ineffable compassion on the part of the glorious Creator, with respect to the ordering of this difficult matter of (Gehenna’s) torment: out of it the wealth of His love and power and wisdom will become known all the more—and so will the insistant might of the waves of his goodness. (II.39.6)

God does not punish to no purpose. He chastises only to convert, purify, heal, liberate. The eternal Creator did not create hell, but foreknowing humanity’s fall into sin, he has comprehended sin and Gehenna into his redemptive purposes. “The Kingdom and Gehenna,” St Isaac avers, “are matters belonging to mercy, which were conceived of in their essence by God as a result of His eternal goodness … That we should say or think that the matter is not full of love and mingled with compassion would be an opinion full of blasphemy and insult to our Lord God” (II.39.22). Borrowing a phrase from Sergius Bulgakov, we may fittingly describe Isaac’s conception of Gehenna as “universal purgatory.” The sufferings of the damned are reparative, remedial, therapeutic, converting. God’s love and mercy will ultimately triumph in the hearts of even the most hardened sinners.

The Syriac mystic does not speculate on how God will effect the repentance of the damned—this is a mystery that has not been revealed to us—but he is filled with an unconquerable and decisive hope. Despite hell the final destiny of humanity will be glorious; the grace and mercy of God will ultimately overcome all resistance; God will be all in all. It would be blasphemous to think otherwise.

(Go to “Proclamatory Rule of the Gospel”)

(1 December 2014; mildly edited)

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“Moses saw Christ even from the Virgin’s womb drawing the Church to himself, and the Church in the water of baptism drawing Christ to herself”

In his mysterious plans the Father had destined a bride for his only Son and presented her to him under the guise of prophetic images. Moses appeared and with deft hand sketched a picture of bridegroom and bride but immediately drew a veil over it. In his book he wrote that a man should leave father and mother so as to be joined to his wife, that the two might in very truth become one.

The prophet Moses spoke of man and woman in this way in order to foretell Christ and his Church. Wives are not united to their husbands as closely as the Church is to the Son of God. With a prophet’s penetrating gaze he contemplated Christ becoming one with the Church through the mystery of water. He saw Christ even from the Virgin’s womb drawing the Church to himself, and the Church in the water of baptism drawing Christ to herself. Bridegroom and bride were thus wholly united in a mystical manner, which is why Moses wrote that the two should become one. With veiled face Moses contemplated Christ and the Church: the one he called “man” and the other “woman” so as not to reveal the full splendor of the reality.

After the marriage celebration came Paul. He saw the veil covering their splendor and lifted it, revealing Christ and his Church to the whole world, and showing that it was they whom Moses had described in his prophetic vision. In an outburst of inspired joy the apostle exclaimed: This is a great mystery! He revealed the meaning of the veiled picture the prophet had called man and woman, declaring: “I know that it is Christ and his Church,” who were two before but have now become one.

Wives are not united to their husbands as closely as the Church is to the Son of God. What husband but our Lord ever died for his wife, and what bride ever chose a crucified man as her husband? Who ever gave his blood as a gift to his wife except the one who died on the cross and sealed the marriage bond with his wounds? Who was ever seen lying dead at his own wedding banquet with his wife at his side seeking to console herself by embracing him? At what other celebration, at what other feast is the bridegroom’s body distributed to the guests in the form of bread?

Death separates wives from their husbands, but in this case it is death that unites the bride to her beloved. He died on the cross, bequeathed his body to his glorious spouse, and now every day she receives and consumes it at his table. She consumes it under the form of bread, and under the form of the wine that she drinks, so that the whole world may know that they are no longer two but one.

St Jacob of Serugh

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Theistic Personalism and the Erosion of Classical Christian Theism

Readers of Eclectic Orthodoxy know that Calvinism is, to put it mildly, “beyond my sympathies” (to use a phrase that Tolkien liked). But there are Calvinist theologians out there from which we can learn a great deal. Dr James Dolezal is one of them. He is a vigorous defender of what is called today “classical theism.” In these two lectures he articulates the classical understanding of divine immutability and simplicity and warns us of the dangers of what he describes as theistic personalism. I do not, of course, have any problems with emphasizing the personal nature of God—one cannot remain faithful to the Scriptures and do otherwise—nor do I have any problems with speaking of God as person, as many modern Orthodox theologians like to do, though this raises interesting questions regarding the Trinity. There are ways to speak in these ways without compromising the orthodox understanding of divinity. But when this comes at the cost of the formal features of divinity (immutability, simplicity, atemporality, infinity), then real problems arise—specifically, God becomes a being, albeit the maximally greatest being around. I commend these lectures to you.

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