Theological Articles of Fr. George Florovsky
Introduction. The Soul as "Creature." Man is Mortal. "I am the Resurrection, and the Life." The Last Adam. "And Life Everlasting." The Mystery of Baptism. The Mystery of Communion. Conclusion.
The Existence of Evil as a Paradox. The Existence of Evil as a Mystery
Eschatology — an unpopular topic.Why an "end"? The Second Coming.
The “Immortality” of the Soul
Are Christians, as Christians, necessarily committed to the belief in the Immortality of the human soul? And what does Immortality actually mean in the Christian universe of discourse? These questions are by no means just rhetorical ones. Etienne Gilson, in his Gifford lectures, felt himself compelled to make the following startling statement: "On the whole," he said, "Christianity without an Immortality of the soul is not altogether inconceivable, the proof is that it has been so conceived. What is, on the contrary, absolutely inconceivable, is Christianity without a Resurrection of Man." The striking feature of the early history of the Christian doctrine of Man was that many of the leading writers of the second century seem to have emphatically denied the (natural) immortality of the soul. And this does not seem to be an exceptional or extravagant opinion of certain writers only, but rather the common teaching of the age. Nor was this conviction completely abandoned in a later age. Bishop Anders Nygren, in his famous book, Den kristna karlekstanken genom tiderna, praises the Apologists of the second century precisely for this courageous statement and sees in it an expression of the true Evangelical spirit. The main emphasis was then, as in Nygren's opinion it should ever be, rather on the "Resurrection of the body" than on the "Immortality of the soul." An Anglican erudite of the 17th century, Henry Dodwell (1641-1711, one-time Camden "Praelector" of History in the University of Oxford), published in London a curious book, under a rather bewildering title:
An Epistolary Discourse, proving, from the Scriptures and the First Fathers, that the Soul is a Principle naturally Mortal; but immortalized actually by the Pleasure of God, to Punishment; or to Reward, by its Union with the Divine Baptismal Spirit. Wherein is proved, that None have the Power of giving this Divine Immortalizing Spirit, since the Apostles, but only the Bishops (1706).
Dodwell's argument was often confused and involved. The main value of the book, however, was in its immense erudition. Dodwell, probably for the first time, collected an enormous mass of information on the early Christian doctrine of Man, even if he could not use it properly himself. And he was quite right in his contention that Christianity was not concerned with a natural "Immortality," but rather with the soul's supernatural Communion with God, "Who only hath immortality" (1 Tim. 6:16). No wonder that Dodwell's book provoked a violent controversy. A formal charge of heresy was brought against the author. Yet, he found some fervent supporters. And an anonymous writer, "a Presbyter of the Church of England," published two books on the subject, presenting a careful study of the Patristic evidence that "the Holy Spirit (was) the Author of Immortality, or Immortality (was) a Peculiar Grace of the Gospel, (and) no Natural Ingredient of the soul," and that "Immortality (was) preternatural to Human Souls, the Gift of Jesus Christ, collated by the Holy Spirit in Baptism." What was of special interest in that controversy was that Dodwell's thesis was opposed chiefly by the "liberals" of that day, and his greatest literary opponent was the famous Samuel Clarke, of St. James, Westminster, a follower of Newton and a correspondent of Leibniz, notorious for his unorthodox beliefs and ideas, a typical man of the age of Latitudinarianism and Enlightenment. It was an unusual sight: "Immortality" contested by an "Orthodox" and defended by a Latitudinarian. In fact, it was rather what one should have expected. The belief in a natural Immortality was one of the few basic "dogmas" of the enlightened Deism of that time. A man of the Enlightenment could easily dismiss the doctrines of Revelation, but could not afford any doubt on the "truth" of Reason. Gilson suggested that "what is known under the name of the "Moralist" doctrine of the 17th century was originally a return to the position of the Early Fathers and not, as seems to be usually believed, a manifestation of a libertine spirit." As a general statement, it is untenable. The whole situation in the 17th century was much more complex and mixed up than Gilson apparently surmised. Yet, in the case of Dodwell (and some others) Gilson's guess is fully vindicated. There was an obvious "return to the positions of the First Fathers."
The Soul as “Creature.”
St. Justin, in his Dialogue with Trypho, tells the story of his conversion. In his quest for truth he went first to Philosophers, and for a time was fully satisfied with the teaching of Platonists. "The perception of incorporeal things quite overwhelmed me, and the Platonic theory of ideas added wing to my mind." Then he met a Christian teacher, an elderly and respectable man. Among the questions raised in the course of their conversation was that of the nature of the soul. We should not call the soul immortal, contended the Christian. "For, if it were, we would certainly have to call it unbegotten also," i athanatos esti ke agennitos. This was, of course, the thesis of the Platonists. Now, God alone is "unbegotten" and immortal, and it is for that very reason that He is Divine. The world, on the other hand, is "begotten," and the souls make part of it. "Perhaps, there was a time when they were not in existence." And therefore they are not immortal, "since the world has appeared to us to be begotten." The soul is not life by itself, but only "partakes" of life. God alone is life, the soul can but have life. "For the power to live is not an attribute of the soul, as it is of God." Moreover, God gives life to souls, "as He pleases." All created things "have the nature of decay, and are such as may be blotted out and cease to exist." Creatures as such are "corruptible" (Dial. 5 and 6).
The main classical proofs of immortality, derived from Phaedo and Phaedrus, are disavowed and declined, and their basic presuppositions openly rejected. As Professor A. E. Taylor pointed out, "to the Greek mind athanasia or aftharsia regularly signified much the same things as "divinity" and included the conception of ingenerability as well as of indestructibility. To say "the soul is immortal" would be for a Greek the same as to say "it is uncreated," i.e., eternal and "divine." Everything that had a beginning was bound to have an end. In other words, for a Greek, "immortality" of the soul would immediately imply its "eternity," i.e., an eternal "pre-existence." Only that which had no beginning could last for ever. Christians could not comply with this "philosophical" assumption, as they believed in Creation, and therefore they had to deny "immortality" (in the Greek meaning of the word). The soul is not an independent or self-governing being, but precisely a creature, and its very existence it owes to God, the Creator. Accordingly, it cannot be "immortal" by nature, i.e., by itself, but only by "God's pleasure," i.e., by grace. The "philosophical" argument for (natural) "immortality" was based on the "necessity" of existence.
On the contrary, to say that the world is created is to emphasize, first of all, its radical contingency, and precisely — contingency in the order of existence. In other words, a created world is a world which might not have existed at all. That is to say that the world is, utterly and entirely, ab alio, and in no sense a se." As Gilson puts it, "there are some beings that are radically different from God at least in this that, unlike Him, they might not have existed, and still may, at a certain time, cease to exist." "May cease," however, does not mean necessarily "will [actually] cease." St. Justin was not a "conditionalist," and his name has been invoked by the defenders of a "conditional immortality" quite in vain. "I do not say, indeed, that all souls die." The whole argument was polemical, and its purpose was to stress belief in Creation. We find the same reasoning in other writings of the second century. St. Theophilus of Antioch insisted on the "neutral" character of Man. "By nature," Man is neither "immortal" nor "mortal," but rather "capable of both," dektikon amfoteron. "For if God had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God." If Man from the beginning had chosen things immortal, in obedience to God's commandments, he would have been rewarded with immortality and have become God, "an adoptive God," deus assumptus, Theos anadihthis (Ad Autolycum II, 24 and 27).
Tatian went even further. "The soul is not in itself immortal, O Greeks, but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die" (Oratio ad Graecos, 13). The thought of the early Apologists was not free from contradictions, nor was it always accurately expressed. But the main contention was always clear: the problem of human immortality had to be faced in the context of the doctrine of Creation. One may say also: not as a metaphysical problem only, but as a religious one, first of all. "Immortality" is not an attribute of the soul, but something that ultimately depends upon man's actual relationship with God, his Master and Creator. Not only the ultimate destiny of Man can be achieved only in Communion with God, but even Man's existence itself and his "survival" or endurance depend upon God's will. St. Irenaeus continued the same tradition. In his struggle against the Gnostics he had a special motive to emphasize the creaturely character of the soul. It does not come from "another world," exempt from corruption; it belongs precisely to this created world.
It has been contended, says St. Irenaeus, that in order to stay in existence souls had to be "unbegotten" (sed oportere eas aut innascibiles esse ut sint immortales), for otherwise they would have to die with the body (vel si generationis initium acceperint, cum corpore mori). He declines this argument. As creatures, the souls "endure as long as God wills them to endure" (perseverant autem quoadusque eas Deus et esse, et perseverare voluerit). Perseverantia here obviously corresponds to the Greek: diamoni. St. Irenaeus uses almost the same phrases as St. Justin. The soul is not life by itself; it partakes of life, by the grant of God (sic et anima quidem non est vita, participatur autem a Deo sibi praestitam vitam). God alone is Life and the only Giver of Life (Adversus haereses II, 34.). Even Clement of Alexandria, in spite of his Platonism, would occasionally recall that the soul was not immortal "by nature" (Adumbrationes in I Petri 1:9: hinc apparet quoniam non est naturaliter anima incorruptibilis, sed gartia Dei ... perficitur incorruptibilis).
St. Athanasius would demonstrate the immortality of the soul by arguments which can be traced back to Plato (Adv. Gentes, 33), and yet he insisted very strongly that everything created is "by nature" unstable and exposed to destruction (ibidem, 41; fysin revstin usan ke dialyomeni). Even St. Augustine was aware of the necessity to qualify the immortality of the soul: Anima hominis immortalis est secundum quendam modum suum; non enim omni modo sicut Deus (Epist. VFF, ad Hieronymum). "According to the mutability of this life, it may be said to be mortal." (In Jo., tr. 23, 9; cf. De Trinitate, 19.15, and De Civ. Dei, 19.3: mortalis in quantum mutabilis). St. John of Damascus says that even Angels are immortal not by nature, but only by grace (De fide orth. II, 3; u fysi alla hariti), and proves it more or less in the same way as the Apologists (Dial. c. Manich., 21). We find the same emphatic statement in the "synodical" letter of St. Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (634), which was read and favorably received at the Sixth Ecumenical Council (681). In the latter part of his letter Sophronius condemns the errors of the Origenists, the pre-existence of the soul and apokatastasis, and states plainly that "intellectual beings" (ta noita), though they do not die (thniski de udemos), nevertheless "are not immortal by nature," but only by the grace of God (Mansi, XI, 490-492; Migne, 87.3, 3181). It may be added that even in the 17th century this early tradition was not forgotten in the East, and we have an interesting contemporary record of a dispute between two Greek bishops of Crete exactly on this question: whether the soul was immortal "by nature" or "by grace."
We may conclude: When we discuss the problem of Immortality from a Christian point of view, we must keep in mind the creaturely nature of the soul. The very existence of the soul is contingent, i.e., as it were, "conditional." It is conditioned by the creative fiat of God. Yet, a given existence, i.e., an existence which is not necessarily implied in the "essence," is not necessarily a transient one. The creative fiat is a free but ultimate act of God. God has created the world simply for existence: ektise gar is to ine ta panda (Wis. 1: 14). There is no provision for revoking this creative decree. The sting of the antinomy is exactly here: the world has a contingent beginning, yet no end. It stands by the immutable will of God.
Man is Mortal.
In current thinking nowadays, the "immortality of the soul" is usually overemphasized to such an extent that the basic "mortality of man" is almost overlooked. Only in the recent "existentialist" philosophies are we again strongly reminded that man's existence stands intrinsically sub specie mortis. Death is a catastrophe for man. It is his "last (or rather, ultimate) enemy," eshatos ehthros (1 Cor. 15:26). "Immortality" is obviously a negative term; it is correlative with the term "death." And here again we find Christianity in an open and radical conflict with "Hellenism," with Platonism first of all. W. H. V. Reade, in his recent book, The Christian Challenge to Philosophy, very aptly confronts two quotations: "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) and "Plotinus, the philosopher of our time, was like one ashamed of being in the flesh" (Porphyry, Life of Plotinus, I). Reade then proceeds: "When the message of Christmas Day and Porphyry's brief summary of his master's creed are thus brought into direct comparison, it should be plain enough that they are totally incompatible: that no Christian can possibly be a Platonist, nor any Platonist a Christian; and of this elementary fact the Platonists, to do them justice, were perfectly aware." I would only add that, unfortunately, Christians did not seem to be aware "of this elementary fact."
Through centuries, down to our own age, Platonism has been the favorite philosophy of Christian wise men. It is not our purpose now to explain how it could and did happen. But this unfortunate misunderstanding (not to say more) has resulted in an utter confusion in modern thinking about death and immortality. We may still use the old definition of death: it is a separation of soul from body, psyhi horismos apo thomatos (Nemesius, De natura hominis, 2; he quotes Chrysippus). For a Greek it was a liberation, a "return" to the native sphere of spirits. For a Christian it was the catastrophe, a frustration of human existence. The Greek doctrine of Immortality could never solve the Christian problem. The only adequate solution has been offered by the message of Christ's Resurrection and by the promise of the General Resurrection of the dead. If we turn again to Christian antiquity, we find this point clearly made at an early date. St. Justin was quite emphatic on the point. People "who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven are not Christian at all" (Dial. 80).
The unknown author of the treatise On Resurrection (traditionally ascribed to St. Justin) states the problem very accurately. "For what is man but a reasonable animal composed of body and soul? Is the soul by itself man? No, but the soul of man. Would the body be called man? No, but it is called the body of man. If neither of these is by itself man, but that which is made up of the two together is called man, and God has called man to life and resurrection, He has called not a part, but the whole, which is the soul and the body" (De resurr. 8). Athenagoras of Athens develops the same argument in his admirable treatise On the Resurrection of the Dead. Man was created by God for a definite purpose, for perpetual existence. Now, "God gave independent being and life neither to the nature of the soul by itself, nor to the nature of the body separately, but rather to men, composed of soul and body, so that with these same parts of which they are composed, when they are born and live, they should attain after the termination of this life their common end; soul and body compose in man one living entity." There would no longer be a man, Athenagoras argues, if the completeness of this structure were broken, for then the identity of the individual would be broken also. The stability of the body, its continuity in its proper nature, must correspond to the immortality of the soul. "The entity which receives intellect and reason is man, and not the soul alone. Consequently man must for ever remain composed of soul and body." Otherwise there would be no man, but only parts of man. "And this is impossible, if there is no resurrection. For if there is no resurrection, the nature of men as men would not continue" (15).
The basic presupposition of the whole argument is that the body intrinsically belongs to the fullness of human existence. And therefore man, as man, would cease to exist, if the soul had to remain for ever "disembodied." It is precisely the opposite of what the Platonists contended. The Greeks dreamt rather of a complete and ultimate disincarnation. An embodiment was just the bondage of the soul. For Christians, on the other hand, death was not a normal end of human existence. Man's death is abnormal, is a failure. The death of man is "the wages of sin" (Rom. 6:23). It is a loss and corruption. And since the Fall the mystery of life is displaced by the mystery of death. Mysterious as the "union" of soul and body indeed is, the immediate consciousness of man witnesses to the organic wholeness of his psycho-physical structure. Anima autem et spiritus pars hominis esse possunt, homo autem nequaquam, said St. Irenaeus (Adv. haereses V, 6.1). A body without a soul is but a corpse, and a soul without body is a ghost. Man is not a ghost without body, and corpse is not a part of man. Man is not a "bodiless demon," simply confined in the prison of the body. That is why the "separation" of soul and body is the death of man himself, the discontinuation of his existence, of his existence as a man. Consequently death and the corruption of the body are a sort of fading away of the "image of God" in man. A dead man is not fully human.
St. John of Damascus, in one of his glorious anthems in the Burial Service, says of this: "I weep and I lament, when I contemplate death, and see our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the grave disfigured, dishonored, bereft of form." St. John speaks not of man's body, but of man himself. "Our beauty in the image of God" is not the body, but man. He is indeed an "image of the unfathomable glory of God," even when "wounded by sin." And in death it is disclosed that man, this "reasonable statue" fashioned by God, to use the phrase of St. Methodius (De resurrectione I, 34.4: to agalma to logikon), is but a corpse. "Man is but dry bones, a stench and the food of worms." One may speak of man as being "one hypostasis in two natures," and not only of, but precisely in two natures. And in death this one human hypostasis is broken up. And there is no man any more. And therefore man longs for "the redemption of his body" (Rom. 8:23; tin apolitrosin tu somatos imon). As St. Paul says elsewhere, "not for that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed, that what is mortal may be swallowed up of life" (2 Cor. 5:4). The sting of death is precisely in that it is "the wages of sin," i.e., the consequence of a distorted relationship with God. It is not only a natural imperfection, nor is it just a metaphysical deadlock. Man's mortality reflects man's estrangement from God, Who is the only Giver of Life. And, in this estrangement from God, Man simply cannot "endure" as man, cannot stay fully human.
The status of mortality is essentially "subhuman." To stress human mortality does not mean to offer a "naturalistic" interpretation of human tragedy, but, on the contrary, it means to trace the human predicament to its ultimate religious root. The strength of Patristic theology was precisely in its interest in human mortality, and accordingly in the message of the Resurrection. The misery of sinful existence was by no means underestimated, but it was interpreted not only in ethical or moralistic categories, but in theological ones. The burden of sin consisted not only in self-accusations of human conscience, not only in the consciousness of guilt, but in an utter disintegration of the whole fabric of human nature. The fallen man was no man any more, he was existentially "degraded." And the sign of this "degradation" was Man's mortality, Man's death. In separation from God human nature becomes unsettled, goes out of tune, as it were. The very structure of man becomes unstable. The "union" of the soul and the body becomes insecure. The soul loses its vital power, is no more able to quicken the body. The body is turned into the tomb and prison of the soul. And physical death becomes inevitable. The body and the soul are no longer, as it were, secured or adjusted to each other.
The transgression of the Divine commandment "reinstated man in the state of nature," as St. Athanasius puts it, — is to kata fysin epestrepsen. "That as he was made out of nothing, so also in his very existence he suffered in due time corruption, according to all justice." For, being made out of nothing, the creature also exists over an abyss of nothingness, ever ready to fall into it (De incarnatione, 4 and 5). "For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again" (2 Samuel 14:14). "The state of nature," of which St. Athanasius speaks, is the cyclical motion of Cosmos, in which fallen man is hopelessly entangled, and this entanglement signifies man's degradation. He loses his privileged position in the order of Creation. But this metaphysical catastrophe is just a manifestation of the broken relationship with God.
“I am the Resurrection, and the Life.”
The Incarnation of the Word was an absolute manifestation of God. And above all it was a revelation of Life. Christ is the Word of Life, o Logos tis zois (1 John 1:1). The Incarnation itself was, in a sense, the quickening of man, as it were the resurrection of human nature. In the Incarnation human nature was not merely anointed with a superabundant overflowing of Grace, but was assumed into an intimate and "hypostatical" unity with Divinity itself. In that lifting up of human nature into an everlasting communion with the Divine Life, the Fathers of the early Church unanimously saw the very essence of salvation. "That is saved which is united with God," says St. Gregory of Nazianzus. And what was not so united could not be saved at all (Epist. 101, ad Cledonium). This was the fundamental motive in the whole of early theology, in St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, the Cappadocians, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Maximus the Confessor. Yet, the climax of the Incarnate Life was the Cross, the death of the Incarnate Lord. Life has been revealed in full through death. This is the paradoxical mystery of the Christian faith: life through death, life from the grave and out of the grave, the Mystery of the life-bearing grave. And Christians are born again to real and everlasting life only through their baptismal death and burial in Christ; they are regenerated with Christ in the baptismal font (cf. Rom. 6:3-5).
Such is the invariable law of true life. "That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die" (1 Cor. 15:36). Salvation was completed on Golgotha, not on Tabor, and the Cross of Jesus was spoken of even on Tabor (cf. Luke 9:31). Christ had to die, in order to bestow an abundant life upon the whole of mankind. It was not the necessity of this world. This was, as it were, the necessity of Love Divine, a necessity of a Divine order. And we fail to comprehend the mystery. Why had the true life to be revealed through the death of One, Who was Himself "the Resurrection and the Life"? The only answer is that Salvation had to be a victory over death and man's mortality. The ultimate enemy of man was precisely death. Redemption was not just the forgiveness of sins, nor was it man's reconciliation with God. It was the deliverance from sin and death. "Penitence does not deliver from the state of nature (into which man has relapsed through sin), it only discontinues the sin," says St. Athanasius. For man not only sinned but "fell into corruption." Now, the mercy of God could not permit "that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word, should go to ruin and turn again to non-existence by the way of corruption." Consequently the Word of God descended and became man, assumed our body, "that, whereas man turned towards corruption, He might turn them again towards incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of his body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like a straw from the fire." (De incarnatione, 6-8).
Thus, according to St. Athanasius, the Word became flesh in order to abolish "corruption" in human nature. However, death is vanquished, not by the appearance of Life in the mortal body, but rather by the voluntary death of the Incarnate Life. The Word became incarnate on account of death in flesh, St. Athanasius emphasizes. "In order to accept death He had a body" (c. 44). Or, to quote Tertullian, forma moriendi causa nascendi est (De carne Christi, 6). The ultimate reason for Christ's death must be seen in the mortality of Man. Christ suffered death, but passed through it and overcame mortality and corruption. He quickened death itself. "By death He destroyed death." The death of Christ is therefore, as it were, an extension of the Incarnation. The death on the Cross was effective, not as the death of an Innocent One, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord. "We needed an Incarnate God, God put to death, that we might live," to use a bold and startling phrase of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Orat. 45, in S. Pascha, 28; edeithimen Theu sarkomenu ke nekrumenu). It was not a man that died on the Cross. In Christ there is no human hypostasis. His personality was Divine, yet incarnate. "For He who suffered was not common man, but God made man, and fighting the contest of endurance," says St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catech. 13, 6). It may be properly said that God died on the Cross, but in His own humanity (which was, however, "consubstantial" with ours). This was the voluntary death of One Who was Himself Life Eternal.
A human death indeed, death "according to humanity," and yet death within the hypostasis of the Word, of the Incarnate Word. And thence a resurrecting death. "I have a baptism to be baptized with" (Luke 12:50). It was the death on the Cross, and the shedding of blood, — "the baptism of martyrdom and blood, with which Christ Himself also was baptized," as St. Gregory of Nazianzus suggested (Orat. 37, 17). The death on the Cross as a baptism of blood, this is the very essence of the redeeming mystery of the Cross. Baptism is a cleansing. And the Baptism of the Cross was, as it were, the cleansing of the human nature, which was travelling the path of restoration in the Hypostasis of the Incarnate Word. This was, as it were, a washing of human nature in the outpoured sacrificial blood of the Divine Lamb, and first of all a washing of the body: not only a washing away of sins, but a washing away of human infirmities and of mortality itself. It was the cleansing in preparation for the coming resurrection: a cleansing of all human nature, a cleansing of all humanity in the person of its new and mystical First-born, in the "Last Adam." This was the baptism by blood of the whole Church, and indeed of the whole world. "A purification not for a small part of man's world, not for a short time, but for the whole Universe and through eternity," to quote St. Gregory of Nazianzus once more (Orat. 45, 13). The Lord died on the Cross. This was a true death. Yet not wholly like ours, simply because this was the death of the Incarnate Word, death within the indivisible Hypostasis of the Word made man, the death of the "enhypostatized" humanity. This does not alter the ontological character of death, but changes its meaning. The "Hypostatic Union" was not broken or destroyed by death, and therefore the soul and the body, though separated from each other, remained still united through the Divinity of the Word, from which neither was ever estranged. This was an "incorrupt death," and therefore "corruption" and "mortality" were overcome in it, and in it begins the resurrection.
The very death of the Incarnate reveals the resurrection of human nature (St. John of Damascus, De fide orth., 3.27; cf. homil. in Magn. Saиbat., 29). "Today we keep the feast, for our Lord is nailed upon the Cross," in the sharp phrase of St. John Chrysostom (In crucem et latronem, hom. 1). The death on the Cross is a Victory over death not only because it was followed by the Resurrection. It is itself the victory. The Resurrection only reveals and sets forth the victory achieved on the Cross. It is already accomplished in the very falling asleep of the God-man. "Thou diest and quickenest me." As St. Gregory of Nazianzus puts it: "He lays down His life, but He has the power to take it again; and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but He gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises again. He goes down into Hades, but He brings up the souls" (Orat. 41). This mystery of the resurrecting Cross is commemorated especially on Good Saturday. It is the day of the Descent into-Hell (Hades). And the Descent into Hades is already the Resurrection of the dead. By the very fact of His death Christ joins the company of the departed. It is the new extension of the Incarnation. Hades is just the darkness and shadow of death, rather a place of mortal anguish than a place of penal torments, a dark "sheol," a place of hopeless disembodiment and disincarnation, which was only scantily and dimly fore-illuminated by the slanting rays of the not-yet-risen Sun, by the hope and expectation yet unfulfilled. It was, as it were, a kind of ontological infirmity of the soul, which, in the separation of death, had lost the faculty of being the true entelechia of its own body, the helplessness of fallen and wounded nature. Not a "place" at all, but rather a spiritual state: "the spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:19).
It was into this prison, into this "Hell," that the Lord and Savior descended. Amid the darkness of pale death shone the unquenchable light of Life, the Life Divine. The "Descent into Hell" is the manifestation of Life amid the hopelessness of mortal dissolution, it is victory over death. "It was not from any natural weakness of the Word that dwelt in it that the body had died, but in order that in it death might be done away by the power of the Savior," says St. Athanasius (De inc. 26). Good Saturday is more than Easter-Eve. It is the "Blessed Sabbath," "Sanctum Sabbatum," — requies Sabbati magni, in the phrase of St. Ambrose. "This is the Blessed Sabbath, this is the day of rest, whereon the Only-Begotten Son of God has rested from all His deeds" (Anthem, Vespers of Good Saturday, according to the Eastern rite). "I am the first and the last: I Am He that liveth, and was dead: and behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen. And I have the keys of death and of Hades" (Rev. 1:17-18).
The Christian "hope of immortality" is rooted in and secured by this victory of Christ, and not by any "natural" endowment. And it means also that this hope is rooted in a historical event, i.e., in a historical self-revelation of God, and not in any static disposition or constitution of human nature.
The Last Adam.
The reality of death is not yet abolished, but its powerlessness has been revealed. "It is true, we still die as before," says St. John Chrysostom, "but we do not remain in death, and this is not to die. The power and very reality of death is just this, that a dead man has no possibility of returning to life; but if after death he is to be quickened and moreover to be given a better life, then this is no longer death, but a falling sleep" (In Hebr., hom. 17, 2; u thanatos tuto estin, alla kimisis). Or in the phrase of St. Athanasius, "like seed cast on the earth, we do not perish when we die, but having been sown, we rise" (De inc., 21). This was a healing and renewal of human "nature," and therefore all will rise, all will be raised and restored to the fullness of their natural being, yet transformed. From henceforth every disembodiment is but temporary. The dark vale of Hades is abolished by the power of the life-giving Cross. In the first Adam the inherent potentiality of death by disobedience was disclosed and actualized. In the second Adam the potentiality of immortality by purity and obedience was sublimated and actualized into the impossibility of death. This parallel was drawn already by St. Irenaeus. Apart from the hope of the General Resurrection, belief in Christ would be vain and to no purpose. "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruit of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20). The Resurrection of Christ is a new beginning. It is a "new creation," i keni krisis. One may say even, an eschatological beginning, an ultimate step in the history of Salvation.
And yet, we have to make a dear distinction between the healing of nature and the healing of the will. "Nature" is healed and restored with a certain compulsion, by the mighty power of God's omnipotent and invincible grace. The wholeness is as it were, "forced" upon human nature. For in Christ all human nature (the "seed of Adam") is fully and completely cured from unwholeness and mortality. This restoration will be actualized and revealed to its full extent in due time, in the General Resurrection, in the resurrection of all, both of the righteous and the wicked. And no one, so far as nature is concerned, can escape Christ's kingly rule, or alienate himself from the invincible power of the resurrection. But the will of man cannot be cured in the same invincible manner. The will of man must turn itself to God. There must be a free and spontaneous response of love and adoration, a "free conversion." The will of man can be cured only in the "mystery of freedom." Only by this free effort does man enter into that new and eternal life which is revealed in Christ Jesus.
A spiritual regeneration can be wrought only in perfect freedom, in an obedience of love, by a self-consecration and self-dedication to God, in Christ. This distinction was made with great insistence by Nicolas Cabasilas in his remarkable treatise on The Life in Christ. Resurrection is a "rectification of nature" (i anastasis physeos estin epanorthosis) and this God grants freely. But the Kingdom of Heaven, and the beatific vision, and union with Christ, presuppose the desire (trofi estin tis theliseos), and therefore are available only for those who have longed for them, and loved, and desired. And immortality will be given to all, just as all can enjoy Divine providence. It does not depend upon our will whether we shall rise after death or not, just as it is not by our will that we are born. The death and resurrection of Christ bring immortality and incorruption to all in the same manner, because all have the same nature as the Man Christ Jesus. But nobody can be compelled to desire. Thus Resurrection is a gift common to all, but the blessedness will be given only to some (De vita in Christo II, 86-96). And again, the path of life is the path of renunciation, of mortification, of self-sacrifice and self-oblation. One has to die to oneself in order to live in Christ. Each one must personally and freely associate himself with Christ, the Lord, the Savior, and the Redeemer, in the confession of faith, in the choice of love, in the mystical oath of allegiance. He who does not die with Christ cannot live with Him. "Unless of our own free choice we accept to die unto His passion, His life is not in us" (St. Ignatius, Magnes, 5; the phraseology is Pauline).
This is no mere ascetical or moral rule, no mere discipline. This is the ontological law of spiritual existence, even the law of life itself. For only in communion with God and through life in Christ does the restoration of human wholeness gain meaning. To those in total darkness, who have deliberately confined themselves "outside God," the Resurrection itself must seem rather unnecessary and unmotivated. But it will come, as a "resurrection to judgment" (John 5:29 (anastasis tis kriseos). And in this will be completed the tragedy of human freedom. Here indeed we are on the threshold of the inconceivable and incomprehensible. The apokatastasis of nature does not abolish free will, and the will must be moved from within by love.
St. Gregory of Nyssa had not a clear understanding of this. He anticipated a kind of universal conversion of souls in the after-life, when the Truth of God will be revealed and manifested with some ultimate and compelling evidence. Just at this point the limitations of the Hellenistic mind are obvious. Evidence seemed to it to be the decisive reason or motive for the will, as if "sin" were merely "ignorance." The Hellenistic mind had to pass through its long and hard experience of asceticism, of ascetical self-examination and self-control, in order to free itself from this intellectualistic naiveté and illusion, and discover a dark abyss in the fallen soul. Only in St. Maximus, after some centuries of ascetic preparation, do we find a new, remodeled and deepened interpretation of the apokatastasis.
St. Maximus did not believe in the inevitable conversion of obstinate souls. He taught an apokatastasis of nature, i.e., a restitution of all beings to an integrity of nature, of a universal manifestation of the Divine Life, which will be evident to every one. But those who have deliberately spent their lives on earth in fleshly desires, "against nature," will be unable to enjoy this eternal bliss. The Light is the Word, that illuminates the natural minds of the faithful; but as a burning fire of the judgment (ti kavsi tis kriseos), He punishes those who, through love of the flesh, cling to the nocturnal darkness of this life. The distinction is between an epignosis, and a methesis. "Acknowledgment" is not the same as "Participation." God will be in all indeed, but only in the Saints will He be present "with grace" (dia tin harin) ; in the reprobate He will be present "without grace" (para tin harin). And the wicked will be estranged from God by their lack of a resolute purpose of good." We have here the same duality of nature and will. In the resurrection the whole of creation will be restored, i.e., brought to perfection and ultimate stability. But sin and evil are rooted in the will. The Hellenistic mind concluded therefrom that evil is unstable and by itself must disappear inevitably. For nothing can be perpetual, unless it be rooted in a Divine decree.
The Christian inference is exactly the opposite. There is the inertia and obstinacy of the will, and this obstinacy may remain uncured even in the "universal Restoration." God never does any violence to man, and communion with God cannot be forced upon the obstinate. In the phrase of St. Maximus, "the Spirit does not produce an undesired resolve but it transforms a chosen purpose into theosis" (Quaest. ad Thalass., 6). We live in a changed world: it has been changed by Christ's redeeming Resurrection. Life has been given, and it will prevail. The Incarnate Lord is in very truth the Second Adam and in Him the new humanity has been inaugurated. Not only an ultimate "survival" is assured, but also the fulfillment of God's creative purpose. Man is made "immortal." He cannot commit an ultimate "metaphysical suicide" and strike himself out of existence. Yet even the victory of Christ does not force "Eternal Life" upon the "closed" beings. As St. Augustine says, for the creature "being is not the same thing as living" (De Genesi ad litt. I, 5).
“And Life Everlasting.”
There is an inevitable tension in the Christian conception between "the given" and "the expected." Christians look "for the Life of the world to come," but they are no less aware of the, Life that had already come: "for the Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal Life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (1 John 1:2). This is not only a tension in time, — between the past, and the present, and the future. It is a tension between destiny and decision. Or perhaps one may say: Life Eternal is offered to Man, but he has to receive it. For individuals, fulfillment of "destiny" depends upon the "decision of faith," which is not an "acknowledgment" only, but a willing "participation." The Christian life is initiated with a new birth, by water and the Spirit. And first, "repentance" is required, i metania, an inner change, intimate and resolute.
The Mystery of Baptism.
The symbolism of Holy Baptism is complex and manifold. But above all it is a symbolism of death and resurrection, of Christ's death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). It is a sacramental resurrection with Christ, by the participation in His death, a rising up with Him and in Him to a new and eternal life (Col. 2:12; Phil. 3:10). Christians are corresurrected with Christ precisely through burial: "for if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him" (2 Tim. 2:11). Christ is the Second Adam, but men must be born anew and be incorporated into Him, in order to partake of that new life which is His. St. Paul spoke of a "likeness" unto the death of Christ (Rom. 6:5, simfyti … to omiomati tu thanatu avtu). But-this "likeness" means much more than a resemblance. It is more than a mere sign or recollection. The meaning of this likeness for St. Paul himself was that in each of us Christ can and must be "formed" (Gal. 4:19). Christ is the Head, all believers are His members, and His life is actualized in them. This is the mystery of the Whole Christ, — totus Christus, Caput et Corpus. All are called and every one is capable of believing, and of being quickened by faith and baptism so as to live in Him. Baptism is therefore a "regeneration," an anagenesis, a new, spiritual and charismatic birth. As Cabasilas says, Baptism is the cause of a beatific life in Christ, not merely of life (De vita in Christo II, 95).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem in a lucid manner explains the true reality of all baptismal symbolism. It is true, he says, that in the baptismal font we die (and are buried) only "in imitation," only, as it were, "symbolically," dia symvolu, and we do not rise from a real grave. And yet, "if the imitation is in an image, the salvation is in very truth." For Christ was really crucified and buried, and actually rose from the grave. The Greek word is ondos. It is even stronger than simply alithos, "in very truth." It emphasizes the ultimate meaning of Christ's death and resurrection. It was a new achievement. Hence He gave us the chance, by "imitative" sharing of His Passion (ti mimisi … kinonisandes), to acquire salvation "in reality." It is not only an "imitation," but a "similitude," to omioma. "Christ was crucified and buried in reality, but to you it is given to be crucified, buried, and raised with Him in similitude." In other words, in baptism man descends "sacramentally" into the darkness of death, and yet with the Risen Lord he rises again and crosses over from death to life. "And the image is completed all upon you, for you are an image of Christ," concludes St. Cyril. In other words, all are held together by and in Christ; hence the very possibility of a sacramental "resemblance" (Mystag. 2.4-5, 7; 3.1).
St. Gregory of Nyssa dwells on the same point. There are two aspects in baptism. Baptism is a birth and a death. Natural birth is the beginning of a mortal existence, which begins and ends in corruption. Another, a new birth, had to be discovered, which would initiate into everlasting life. In baptism "the presence of a Divine power transforms what is born with a corruptible nature into a state of incorruption" (Orat. cat., 33). It is transformed through following and imitating; and thus what was foreshown by the Lord is realized. Only by following after Christ can one pass through the labyrinth of life and come out of it. "For I call the inescapable guard of death, in which sorrowing mankind is imprisoned, a labyrinth." Christ escaped from this after the three days of death. In the baptismal font "the imitation of all that He has done is accomplished." Death is "represented" in the element of water. And as Christ rose again to life, so also the newly-baptized, united with Him in bodily nature," does "imitate the resurrection on the third day." This is just an "imitation," mimisis, and not "identity." In baptism man is not actually raised, but only freed from natural evil and the inescapability of death. In him the "continuity of vice" is cut off. He is not resurrected for he does not die, but remains still in this life. Baptism only foreshadows the resurrection; in baptism one anticipates the grace of the final resurrection. Baptism is the start, arhi, and the resurrection is the end and consummation, peras; and all that takes place in the great Resurrection already has its beginnings and causes in baptism. One may say, baptism is an "Homiomatic resurrection" (Orat. cat., 35). It must be pointed out that St. Gregory specially emphasized the need of keeping and holding fast the baptismal grace. For in baptism it is not nature only, but the will as well, that is transformed and transfigured, remaining free throughout. And if the soul is not cleansed and purified in the free exercise of will, baptism proves to be fruitless. The transfiguration is not actualized, the new life is not yet consummated. This does not subordinate baptismal grace to human license; Grace does indeed descend.
Yet it can never be forced upon any one who is free and made in the image of God: it must be responded to and corroborated by the synergism of love and will. Grace does not quicken and enliven the closed and obstinate souls, the really "dead souls." Response and co6peration are required (c. 40). That is just because baptism is a sacramental dying with Christ, a participation in His voluntary death, in His sacrificial love; and this can be accomplished only in freedom. Thus in baptism the death of Christ on the Cross is reflected or portrayed as in a living and sacramental image. Baptism is at once a death and a birth, a burial and a "bath of regeneration," lutron tis palingenesias: "a time of death and a time of birth," to quote St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Mystag. II, 4).
The Mystery of Communion.
The same is true of all sacraments. All sacraments are instituted just in order to enable the faithful "to participate" in Christ's redeeming death and to gain thereby the grace of His resurrection. In sacraments the uniqueness and universality of Christ's victory and sacrifice are brought forward and emphasized. This was the main idea of Nicolas Cabasilas in his treatise On the Life in Christ, in which the whole sacramental doctrine of the Eastern Church was admirably summarized. "We are baptized just in order to die by His death and to rise by His resurrection. We are anointed with the chrism that we may partake of His kingly anointment of deification (theosis). And when we are fed with the most sacred Bread and do drink the most Divine Cup, we do partake of the same flesh and the same blood our Lord has assumed, and so we are united with Him, Who was for us incarnate, and died, and rose again ... Baptism is a birth, and Chrism is the cause of acts and movements, and the Bread of life and the Cup of thanksgivings, are the true food and the true drink" (De vita II, 3,4,6, etc.).
In the whole sacramental life of the Church the Cross and the Resurrection are "imitated" and reflected in manifold symbols. All that symbolism is realistic. The symbols do not merely remind us of something in the past, something which has passed away. That which took place "in the past" was a beginning of "the Everlasting." Under all these sacred "symbols," and in them, the ultimate Reality is in very truth disclosed and conveyed. This hieratic symbolism culminates in the august Mystery of the Holy Altar. The Eucharist is the heart of the Church, the Sacrament of Redemption in an eminent sense. It is more than an "imitation," or mere "commemoration. It is Reality itself, at once veiled and disclosed in the Sacrament. It is "the perfect and ultimate Sacrament" (to televteon mystirion), as Cabasilas says, "and one cannot go further, and there is nothing to be added." It is the "limit of life," zois to peras. "After the Eucharist there is nothing more to long for, but we have to stay here and learn how we can preserve this treasure up to the end" (De vita IV, i,4,15). The Eucharist is the Last Supper itself, enacted, as it were, again and again, and yet not repeated. For every new celebration does not only "represent," but truly is the same "Mystical Supper" which was celebrated for the first time (and for ever) by the Divine High Priest Himself, as a voluntary anticipation and initiation of the Sacrifice of the Cross. And the true Celebrant of each Eucharist is always Christ Himself.
St. John Chrysostom was quite emphatic on this point. "Believe, therefore, that even now, it is that Supper, at which He Himself sat down. For this one is in no respect different from that one" (In Matt., hom. 50,3). "He that then did these things at that Supper, this same now also works them. We hold the rank of ministers. He who sanctifieth and changeth them is the Same. This table is the same as that, and hath nothing less. For it is not that Christ wrought that, and man this, but He doth this too. This is that Upper Chamber, where they were then" (Ibid., hom. 82,5). All this is of primary importance. The Last Supper was an offering of the sacrifice, of the sacrifice of the Cross. The offering is still continued. Christ is still acting as the High Priest in His Church. The Mystery is all the same, and the Priest is the same, and the Table is one. To quote Cabasilas once more: "In offering and sacrificing Himself once for all, He did not cease from His Priesthood, but He exercises this perpetual ministry for us, in which He is our advocate with God for ever" (Explan. div. liturg., c. 23). And the resurrecting power and significance of Christ's death are in the Eucharist made manifest in full.
It is "the medicine of immortality and an antidote that we should not die but live for ever in Jesus Christ," to quote the famous phrase of St. Ignatius (Ephes., 20.2: farmakon athanasias, antidotos tu mi apothanin, alla zin en Iisu Hristo). It is "the heavenly Bread and the Cup of life." This tremendous Sacrament is for the faithful the very "Betrothal of the Life Eternal," just because Christ's death itself was the Victory and the Resurrection. In the Eucharist the beginning and the end are linked together: the memories of the Gospel and the prophecies of the Revelation. It is a sacramentum futuri because it is an anamnesis of the Cross. The Eucharist is a sacramental anticipation, a foretaste of the Resurrection, an "image of the Resurrection" (o typos tis anastaseos, — the phrase is from the consecration prayer of St. Basil). It is but an "image," not because it is a mere sign, but because the history of Salvation is still going on, and one has to look forward, "to look for the life of the age to come."
Christians, as Christians, are not committed to any philosophical doctrine of immortality. But they are committed to the belief in the General Resurrection. Man is a creature. His very existence is the grant of God. His very existence is contingent. He exists by the grace of God. But God created Man for existence, i.e., for an eternal destiny. This destiny can be achieved and consummated only in communion with God. A broken communion frustrates human existence, and yet Man does not cease to exist. Man's death and mortality is the sign of the broken communion, the sign of Man's isolation, of his estrangement from the source and the goal of his existence. And yet the creative fiat continues to operate. In the Incarnation communion is restored. Life is manifested afresh in the shadow of death. The Incarnate is the Life and the Resurrection. The Incarnate is the Conqueror of death and Hades. And He is the First-fruit of the New Creation, the First-fruit of all those who slept. The physical death of men is not just an irrelevant "natural phenomenon," but rather an ominous sign of the original tragedy. An "immortality" of disembodied "souls" would not solve the human problem. And "immortality" in a Godless world, an "immortality" without God or "outside God," would be an eternal doom. Christians, as Christians, aspire to something greater than a "natural" immortality. They aspire to an everlasting communion with God, or, to use the startling phrase of the early Fathers, to a theosis.
There is nothing "naturalistic" or pantheistic about the term. Theosis means no more than an intimate communion of human persons with the Living God. To be with God means to dwell in Him and to share His perfection. "Then the Son of God became the son of man, that man also might become the son of God" (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. III, 10.2). In Him man is forever united with God. In Him we have Life Eternal. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18). And, at the close, for the whole creation the "Blessed Sabbath," the very "Day of rest," the mysterious "Seventh day of creation," will be inaugurated, in the General Resurrection and in "the World to come."
The Darkness of Night
“Evil Is among Us”
The Existence of Evil as a Paradox
In a world that is created by God, whose laws and purposes are established by Divine wisdom and goodness, how is it possible that evil exists? For evil is precisely that which opposes itself to God and resists Him, perverting His designs and repudiating His ordinances. Evil is, furthermore, that which is not created by God. And since the Divine will establishes the reasons for everything which exists (and this Sovereign will alone establishes "sufficient reasons"), one can assert that evil, as evil, exists despite a lack of reasons, exists without a single reason for its existence. As St. Gregory of Nyssa stated, it is "an unsown herb, without seed and without root." One could say: phaenomenon omnino non fundatum. It is God alone Who establishes the foundations of the world.
Certainly there are always and everywhere causes and reasons for evil. But the causality of evil is deeply peculiar. The causes and reasons of evil are always an absurdity, more or less veiled. This strange causality is not included in the ideal "chain" of God's universal causality; it splits and disfigures it. It is a causality rivaling that of the Creator, coming, as it were, from a destroyer of the world. And this destructive power — whence does it come? For all real power belongs to God alone. One wonders whether the existence of evil is compatible with the existence of God. Nevertheless, this illegitimate power is not at all an anemic phantom. It is a real force, a violent energy. The opposition of evil to God is very active. The Good is seriously restricted and oppressed by the revolt of evil. God himself is engaged in a struggle with these powers of darkness. And in this struggle there are very real losses, a perpetual diminution of the Good. Evil is an ontological danger. Universal harmony, willed and established by God, is truly decomposed. The world is fallen. The entire world is surrounded by a dismal twilight of nothingness. No longer is it that world conceived and created by God. There are morbid innovations, new existences — existences which are false, but real. Evil adds something to what is created by God, it has a "miraculous" force of imitating creation — indeed, evil is productive in its destructions. In the fallen world there is an incomprehensible surplus, a surplus which has entered existence against the will of God. In a certain sense, the world is stolen from its Master and Creator.
It is more than an intellectual paradox; it is rather a scandal, a terrible temptation for faith, because, above all, this destruction of existence by evil is in a large measure irreparable. The lofty "universalist" hope is prohibited us by the direct witness of Holy Scripture and by the explicit teaching of the Church. There will be exterior darkness for "the sons of perdition" in the world to come! In the case of perseverance in evil, all the devastations and perversions produced by it will preserve themselves forever in the paradoxical eternity of hell. Hell is a sinister testimony to the staggering power of evil. In the final reckoning of this historical struggle between Divine Goodness and evil, all the ravages produced among unrepentant beings will only be acknowledged by the simple, final decree of condemnation. The perverse split, introduced into the world of God by an act of usurped power, seems to be eternal. The unity of the world is compromised forever. Evil seems to have eternal conquests. The obstinacy of evil, its resolved impenitence, is never covered by the omnipotence of God's compassion. We are now already in the realm of the full mystery.
The Existence of Evil as a Mystery
God has his response to the world of evil. "The ancient law of human freedom," as St. Irenaeus states, is still respected by God, who has granted from the beginning this dignity to spiritual beings. Any coercion or compulsion by Divine Grace is excluded from possibility. God has in fact responded authoritatively to evil, once for all, through his Beloved Son, who came here upon the earth to bear the sins of the world and the sins of all humanity. God's absolute response to evil was the Cross of Jesus, the sufferings of the Servant of God, the Death of the Incarnate Son. A Russian preacher of the 19th century stated once, "Evil begins on earth, but it disquiets heaven, and causes the Son of God to descend to earth." Evil causes God himself to suffer, and he accepts this suffering to the end. And the glory of eternal life shines forth victoriously from the tomb of God Incarnate. The Passion of Jesus was a triumph, a decisive victory. But it is a triumph of Divine Love which calls and accepts without any coercion. From this time on, the existence of evil is given to us only within this framework of the Co-Suffering Love of God. And the Love, and even the sublime majesty of God, are also revealed to us in the enigmatic framework of evil and sin ... Felix culpa quae tantum et talem meruit habere Redemptorem.
One defines evil as nothingness. Certainly evil never exists by itself but only inside of Goodness. Evil is a pure negation, a privation or a mutilation. Undoubtedly evil is a lack, a defect, defectus. But the structure of evil is rather antinomic. Evil is a void of nothingness; but it is a void which exists, swallowing and devouring beings. Evil is a powerlessness; it never creates--but its destructive energy is enormous. Evil never ascends; it always descends--but the very debasement of being which it produces is frightening. Nevertheless, there is an illusory grandeur even in this baseness of evil. Occasionally there is something of genius in sin and in evil. Evil is chaotic; it is a separation, a decomposition constantly in progress, a disorganization of the entire structure of being. But evil is also, without doubt, vigorously organized. Everything in this sad domain of deception and illusion is amphibolic and ambiguous. Undoubtedly, evil only lives through the Good which it deforms, but it also adapts it to its needs. But this deformed "Universe" is a reality which asserts itself.
Actually, the problem of evil is not at all a purely philosophical problem, and that is why it can never be resolved on the neutral plane of a theory of being. It is no longer a purely ethical problem, and on the plane of natural morality one can never surmount the correlativity of good and evil. The problem of evil only takes on its proper character on the religious plane. The meaning of evil is a radical opposition to God, a revolt, a disobedience, a resistance. The unique source of evil, in the strict sense of the term, is sin, the opposition to God and the tragic separation from Him. Speculation about the freedom of choice is always barren and ambiguous. Freedom of choice, the libertas minor of St. Augustine and the "gnomic will" of St. Maximos the Confessor, is a disfigured freedom, a freedom diminished and impoverished, a freedom as it exists after the fall, among fallen beings. The duality of purpose, the two correlative directions, do not belong to the essence of the primordial freedom of innocent beings. It must be restored to penitent sinners through asceticism and Grace. Original sin was not just an erroneous choice, not just an option for the wrong direction, but rather a refusal to ascend toward God, a desertion from the service of God.
Actually, choice as such was not at all possible for the first sinner because evil did not yet exist as an ideal possibility. If, however, it was a choice, it was not a choice between good and evil but only a choice between God and himself, between service and sloth. And it is precisely in this sense that St. Athanasius interpreted the fall and original sin in his work, Contra Gentes. The vocation of primordial man, innate in his very nature, was to love God with filial devotion and to serve him in the world of which man was designated to be prophet, priest, and king. It was an appeal from the paternal love of God to the filial love of man. Undoubtedly, to follow God involved a total surrender to Divine arms. This was not yet a sacrifice. Innocent man had nothing to sacrifice, for everything he possessed came from the Grace of God. (Here, there is something more profound than a voluptuous attachment to the world.) It was rather a tragedy of a misguided love. According to St. Athanasius, the human fall consists precisely in the fact that man limits himself to himself, that man becomes, as it were, in love with himself. Through this concentration on himself, man separated himself from God, and broke the spiritual and free contact he had with God. It was a kind of delirium, a self-erotic obsession, a spiritual narcissism. And through this, man isolated himself from God and soon became aware of his involvement in the external cosmic flow. One can say it was a de-spiritualization of human existence. All the rest — the death and decomposition of the human structure — came as a result. In any case, the fall was first realized in the realm of the spirit, just as it already had been in the angelic world. The meaning of original sin is the same everywhere — self-eroticism, pride, and vanity. All the rest is only a projection of this spiritual catastrophe into the different areas of the human structure. Evil comes from above, not from below; from the created spirit and not from matter. It is more profound than a false choice of direction, more profound even than a choice between an inferior and a superior good. Rather, it was the infidelity of love, the insane separation from the Only One Who is worthy of affection and love. This infidelity is the main source of the negative character of evil. It was a primordial negation and it was fatal.
It is necessary to take precaution and not identify the infirmity of fallen nature with the inherent imperfection of all created nature. There is nothing morbid or sinister in the "natural imperfection" of created nature except what is penetrated "'from above" after the consummated fall. In pre-fallen nature, one can perhaps speak of lack and flaws. But in the fallen world there is something more — perversion, revolt, vertiginous blasphemy, violence. It is the domain of usurpation. The dark tide of this perverted love envelops all creatures and the entire cosmos. Behind all the negations of evil one always discerns something quasipositive, an initial licentiousness, the egoistic arbitrariness of finite personalities. The fallen world is de-centralized, or rather, it is oriented around an imaginary or fictitious center. One could say perhaps that the circle (with a unique center) is deformed, becoming an ellipse with two points of reference — God and anti-God. Being, in any case, is dynamically divided in two. There are now two tendencies intersecting and crossing each other, both remaining essentially different. One could say there are two worlds within one: there are the Two Cities of St. Augustine. Evil, beginning with a practical atheism, puts itself in the place of God, resulting in a theoretical atheism and consequently, in a resolved deification of itself. In this dualized world true freedom does not exist. Freedom of choice is only a remote and pale reflection of real freedom.
Evil is created by personal agents. Evil, in the strict sense of this word, exists only in persons or in their creations and their acts. Physical and cosmic evil also originates from these personal acts. And that is why evil can have power, why it can be active. For evil is a perverse personal activity. But this activity inevitably spreads itself to the impersonal. Evil de-personalizes personality itself. Complete de-personalization, however, can never be achieved; there is a potential limit which can never be attained. But the tendency and the aspiration of evil toward this limit of total disintegration is energetically accentuated everywhere. Even demons never cease being individuals. It is the intrinsic form of their existence which cannot be lost. But, since personality is the "image of God" in spiritual beings, personal character can only be preserved in a constant conversation with God. Separated from God, personality vanishes; it is stricken with spiritual sterility. The isolated personality, which encloses itself within itself, often loses itself. In the state of sin there is always tension between the two internal solicitations: the "I," and something impersonal, represented by the instincts, or rather by passions.
Passions are the place, the seat of evil in the human person. The "passions," according to the Fathers and Greek masters of spirituality are active; they entrap. The person possessed by passions is passive; he suffers constraint. Passions are always impersonal; they are a concentration of cosmic energies which make the human person its prisoner, its slave. They are blind and they blind those whom they possess. The impassioned man, "the man of passions," does not act on his own, but rather, is acted upon: fata trahunt. He often loses even the consciousness of being a free agent. He doubts the existence and the possibility of freedom in general. He adopts rather the "necessarionist" concept of reality [the expression of Charles Renouvier]. And, as a consequence, he loses his personality, his personal identity. He becomes chaotic, with multiple faces, or rather — masks. The "man of passions" is not at all free, although he can give an impression of activity and energy. He is nothing more than a "ball" of impersonal influences. He is hypnotized by these influences which have a real power over him. Arbitrariness is not freedom. Or, perhaps, it is an imaginary freedom, which actually engenders servitude. In the spiritual life we begin precisely with a struggle against passions. "Impassability" is the main goal of spiritual ascent.
In general, the "impassability" of the Greeks is poorly understood and interpreted. It is not an indifference, nor a cold insensibility of the heart. On the contrary, it is an active state, a state of spiritual activity, which is acquired only after struggles and ordeals. It is rather an independence from passions. Each person's own "I" is finally regained, freed from a fatal bondage. But one can regain oneself only in God. True "impassability" is achieved only in an encounter with the Living God. The path which leads there is the path of obedience, even of servitude to God, but this servitude engenders true freedom, a concrete freedom, the real freedom of the adopted sons of God. In evil, the human personality is absorbed by the impersonal milieu, even though the sinner may pretend to be free. In God, the personality is restored and reintegrated in the Holy Spirit, although a severe discipline is imposed on the individual.
Evil is revealed to us in the world at first under the aspect of suffering and sorrow. The world is empty, cold, and indifferent (cf. "the indifferent nature" in Pushkin). It is a non-responding wasteland. We all suffer because of evil. Evil, sown everywhere in the world, causes us to suffer. And the contemplation of this universal suffering brings us sometimes to the brink of despair. Universal suffering was not discovered for the first time by Schopenhauer. It had already been attested to by St. Paul (Rom. 8:20-22), who gives us a very clear explication: evil is introduced in the creature by sin. All creation suffers. There is a cosmic suffering. The entire world is poisoned by evil and malevolent energies, and the entire world suffers because of it.
The intricate problem of Theodicy was first inspired by these facts of suffering. It was one of the primary questions of Dostoevsky. The world is hard, cruel, and pitiless. And the world is terrible and frightening: terror antiquus. There is chaos in the world; there are subterranean storms, an elemental disorder. Man feels himself frail and lost in this inhospitable world. But evil encounters us not only externally, in an exterior milieu, but also internally, in our own existence. We also are sick — we ourselves — and we suffer because of it. Again there is an unexpected discovery — not only do we suffer from evil, but we do evil. And sometimes one is delighted with evil and unhappiness. One is sometimes enraptured by the Fleurs du mal. One sometimes dreams of an "ideal of Sodom." The abyss — it has a sinister appeal. Sometimes one loves ambiguous choices. One can be enchanted by them. It is easier to do evil than to do good. Everyone can discover in himself this "subterranean" darkness, the subconscious full of malignant seeds, full of cruelty and deceit. Alas — the analyses of Dostoevsky (and of many others) are not morbid dreams of a pessimist who looks at life through a black glass. It is a truthful revelation of the sad reality of our existential situation. One could find the same revelations in the ancient teachers of Christian spirituality. There is a delirium, a spiritual fever, a libido at the core of "this world," at the core of our existence. One cannot ask an insane or maniacal person for reasons. He does not have reasons for his folly. He has lost his reason; he is insane.
Origen was very close to the correct solution when he attributed the origin of evil, in the world of spirits, either to boredom and idleness [desidia et laboris taedium in servando bono], or to a satiety of Divine contemplation and love [De princ. II, 9-2; and 8-3]. Now, in any case, with regard to us, we find in our heart and intelligence many revivals of the same paroxysms of delirium, the same absurdities. Libido is not the same thing as carnal concupiscence. It is a broader term. It is synonymous with self-eroticism, originating from sin. Evil in man is an ignorance and an insensibility; it is the blindness of reason and the hardness of the heart. Man seals himself up, encloses himself in himself, isolates and separates himself. But evil is multi-form and chaotic.
There are contrasting forms in evil: the aggressive form — der Wille zur Macht, sadism; and the solipsistic form — indifference, "the cold heart." Evil is divided within itself: it is a discord and a disharmony, inordinatio. Evil is ambiguous, wavering, variable. It does not have its own stable character. The seat of evil in man is in the depths of his heart, and not only on the empirical plane. Nature itself is affected; nature itself is no longer pure. And it is rather dynamic, a dynamic or functional perversion which is not yet consolidated in a metaphysical transformation. The existence of evil is a parasitical existence; evil lives because of the Good, ex ratione boni. The elements are the same in the original world and in the fallen world.
But the principle of organization is changed. And although dynamic, the perversion is inconvertible. He who has descended voluntarily into the abyss of evil cannot reascend from there by himself. His energies are exhausted. Without doubt, even in the demoniac depths, the creature remains the work of God and the traits of Divine design are never effaced. The image of God, obscured by the infidelity of sin, is nevertheless preserved intact, and that is why there is always, even in the abyss, an ontological receptacle for Divine appeal, for the Grace of God. This is true even for those who obstinately shut themselves off from the appeal of the Cross, who have always rendered themselves incapable of receiving the vivifying gifts of this Divine Love, the gifts of the Paraclete. Metaphysical identity is not destroyed even among the demons. Demons are still, according to a phrase by St. Gregory of Nyssa, angels by nature, and angelic dignity is not completely abolished in them.
But perhaps we could say that this image of God in man is paralyzed in a certain sense, and rendered ineffective after the separation from the One who should always be reflected in this image, in this living and personal mirror. It is not enough to begin again the ascent to God — it is necessary to have the living co-operation of God himself, who restores the circulation of spiritual life in a dead man, enslaved in and paralyzed by sin and evil. The paradox of evil resides precisely in this split of human existence and in the entire cosmic structure; it resides in the dynamic splitting of life in two, a split which resulted from the separation from God. It is as though there were two souls within each person. Good and evil are strangely mixed. But no synthesis is possible. "Natural" Good is too weak to resist evil. And evil exists only through the Good. Human unity is seriously compromised, if not lost. The Grace of God alone can surmount this human impasse.
Formal analysis of evil is not enough. The existence of evil is a reality on the religious plane. And only through spiritual effort can one understand and resolve this paradox, surmount this scandal, and penetrate the mystery of Good and Evil.
Translated from the French byRichard Haugh
The last things and
the last events
"Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5)
Eschatology — an unpopular topic.
Eschatology was for a long time a neglected field in modern theology. The arrogant phrase of Ernst Troeltsch — "The bureau of eschatology is for the most part closed" — was distinctively characteristic of the whole liberal tradition, since the Age of the Enlightenment. Nor is this neglect for eschatological issues fully overcome in contemporary thought. In certain quarters eschatology is still regarded as an obsolete relic of the forlorn past. The theme itself is avoided, or it is summarily dismissed as unreal and irrelevant. The modern man is not concerned with the last events. This attitude of neglect was recently reinforced by the rise of theological Existentialism. Now, Existentialism does claim to be itself an eschatological doctrine. But it is a sheer abuse of terms. Eschatology is radically interiorized in its existentialist reinterpretation. It is actually swallowed up in the immediacy of personal decisions. In a sense, modern Existentialism in theology is but a fresh variation on the old Pietistic theme. In the last resort, it amounts to the radical dehistorization of the Christian faith. Events of history are eclipsed by the events of inner life. The Bible itself is used as a book of parables and patterns. History is no more than a passing frame. Eternity can be encountered and tasted at any time. History is no more a theological problem.
On the other hand, precisely in the last few decades, the basic historicity of the Christian faith has been reassessed and reaffirmed in various trends of contemporary theology. This was a momentous shift in theological thinking. Indeed, it was a return to Biblical faith. Of course, no elaborate "philosophy of history" can be found in the Bible. But there is in the Bible a comprehensive vision of history, a perspective of an unfolding time, running from a "beginning" to an "end," and guided by the sovereign will of God toward the accomplishment of His ultimate purpose. The Christian faith is primarily an obedient witness to the mighty deeds of God in history, which culminated, "in those last days," in the Advent of Christ and in His redemptive victory. Accordingly, Christian theology should be construed as a "Theology of History." Christian faith is grounded in events, not in ideas. The Creed itself is a historical witness, a witness to the saving or redemptive events, which are apprehended by faith as God’s mighty deeds.
This recovery of the historic dimension of the Christian faith was bound to bring the eschatological theme into the focus of theological meditation. The Bible and the Creed are both pointing to the future. It has been recently suggested that Greek philosophy was inescapably "in the grip of the past." The category of the future was quite irrelevant in the Greek version of history. History was conceived as a rotation, with an inevitable return to the initial position, from which a new repetition of events was bound to start again. On the contrary, the Biblical view opens into the future, in which new things are to be disclosed and realized. And an ultimate realization of the divine purpose is anticipated in the future, beyond which no temporal movement can proceed — a state of consummation.
In the witty phrase of von Balthasar, "Eschatology is the ‘eye of the storm’ in, the theology of our time" (Hans Urs von Balthasar, "Eschatologie," Fragen der Theologie Heute. Feiner, Trütsch, Böckle, editors (Zürich: Köln, 1958), pp. 493-421). Indeed, it is a "subtle knot" in which all lines of theological thinking intersect and are inextricably woven together. Eschatology cannot be discussed as a special topic, as a separate article of belief. It can be understood only in the total perspective of the Christian faith. What is characteristic of contemporary theological thought is precisely the recovery of the eschatological dimension of the Christian faith. All articles of faith have an eschatological connotation. There is no common consensus in the contemporary theology of "the Last Things." There is rather a sharp conflict of views and opinions. But there is also a new widening of the perspective.
Emil Brunner’s contribution to the current discussion was both provocative and constructive. His theology is a theology of hope and expectation, as it befits one who stands in the Reformed tradition. His theology is inwardly oriented toward "the Last Events." Yet, at many points, his vision is limited by his general theological presuppositions. Indeed, his theology reflects his personal experience of faith.
Why an “end”?
The mystery of the Last Things is grounded in the primary paradox of Creation. According to Brunner, the term Creation, in its Biblical use, does not denote the manner in which the world did actually come into existence, but only the sovereign Lordship of God. In the act of Creation God posits something totally other than Himself, "over against" Himself. Accordingly, the world of creatures has its own mode of existence-derivative, subordinate, dependent, and yet genuine and real, in its own kind. Brunner is quite formal at this point. "A world which is not God exists alongside of Him." Thus, the very existence of the world implies a certain measure of self-imposed "limitation" on the side of God, His kenosis, which reaches its climax in the cross of Christ. God, as it were, spares room for the existence of something different. The world has been "called into existence" for a purpose, in order that it manifest the glory of God. The Word is the principle and the ultimate goal of Creation.
Indeed, the very fact of Creation constitutes the basic paradox of the Christian faith, to which all other, mysteries of God can be traced back, or rather in which they are implied. Brunner, however, does not distinguish clearly, at this point, between the very "being" of God and His "will." Yet, the "being" of God simply cannot be "limited" in any sense. If there is a "limitation," it can refer only to His "will," insofar as another "will" has been "called into existence," a will which could not have existed at all. This basic "contingency" of Creation testifies to the absolute sovereignity of God. On the other hand, the ultimate climax of the creative kenosis will be reached only in "the Last Events." The sting of the paradox, of the kenosis, is not in the existence of the world, but in the possibility of Hell. Indeed, the World may be obedient to God, as well as it may be disobedient, and in its obedience it would serve God and manifest His glory. It will be not a "limitation," but an expansion of God’s majesty. On the contrary, Hell means resistance and estrangement, pure and simple. However, even in the state of revolt and rebellion, the world still belongs to God. It can never escape His Judgment.
God is eternal. This is a negative definition. It simply means that the notion of time cannot be applied to His existence. Indeed, "time" is simply the mode of creaturely existence. Time is given by God. It is not an imperfect or deficient mode of being. There is nothing illusory about time. Temporality is real. Time is really moving on, irreversibly.
But it is not just a flux, as it is not a rotation. It is not just a series of indifferent "time-atoms" which could be conceived or postulated as infinite, without any end or limit. It is rather a teleological process, inwardly ordained toward a certain final goal. A telos [an end] is implied in the very design of Creation. Accordingly, what takes place in time is significant — significant and real for God Himself. History is not a shadow. Ultimately, history has a "metahistoric" goal. Brunner does not use this term, but he stresses strongly the inherent "finitude" of history. An infinite history, rolling on indefinitely, without destination or end, would have been an empty and meaningless history. The story is bound to have an end, a conclusion, a katharsis, a solution. The plot must be disclosed. History has to have an end, at which it is "fulfilled" or "consummated." It has been originally designed to be "fulfilled." At the end there will be no history any more. Time will be filled with eternity, as Brunner puts it. Of course, eternity means in this connection simply God. Time has meaning only against the background of eternity, that is — only in the context of the divine design.
Yet, history is not just a disclosure of that primordial and sovereign design. The theme of actual history, of the only real history we know about, is given by the existence of sin. Brunner dismisses the query about the origin of sin. He only stresses its "universality." Sin, in the biblical sense of the term, is not primarily an ethical category. According to Brunner, it only denotes the need for redemption. Two terms are intrinsically correlative. Now, sin is not a primary phenomenon, but a break, a deviation, a turning away from the beginning. Its essence is apostasy and rebellion. It is this aspect of sin that is emphasized in the biblical story of the Fall. Brunner refuses to regard the Fall as an actual event. He only insists that without the concept of the Fall the basic message of the New Testament, that is — the message of salvation would be absolutely incomprehensible. Yet, one should not inquire into the "when" and "how" of the Fall.
The essence of sin can be discerned only in the light of Christ, that is — in the light of redemption. Man, as he can be observed in history, always appears as sinner, unable not to sin. The man of history is always "man in revolt." Brunner is fully aware of the strength of evil — in the world and in the history of man. He commends the Kantian notion of radical evil. What he has to say about the Satanic sin, as different from man’s sin, about the super-personal Satanic power, is impressive and highly relevant for theological inquiry, as much as all that may inevitably offend and disturb the mind of modern man. But the major question remains still without answer. Has the Fall the character of an event? The logic of Brunner’s own argument seems to compel us to regard it as event, as a link in the chain of events. Otherwise it would be just a symbol, a working hypothesis, indispensable for interpretative purposes, but unreal. Indeed, the end of history must be regarded, according to Brunner, as "an event," howsoever mysterious this event will be. "The beginning" also has the character of "event," as the first link in the chain. Moreover, redemption is obviously "an event" which can be exactly dated-indeed, the crucial event, determinative of all others. In this perspective it seems imperative to regard the Fall as event, in whatever manner it may be visualized or interpreted. In any case, redemption and Fall are intrinsically related to each other, in Brunner’s own interpretation.
Brunner distinguishes clearly between the creatureliness as such and sin. Creatures come from God. Sin comes from an opposite source. Sinfulness is disclosed in events, in sinful acts and actions. Indeed, it is an abuse of power, an abuse of freedom, a perversion of that responsible freedom which has been bestowed upon man in the very act by which he was called into existence. Yet, before the abuse became a habit, it had to have been exercised for the first time. The revolt had to have been started. Such an assumption would be in line with the rest of Brunner’s exposition. Otherwise one lapses into some kind of metaphysical dualism which Brunner himself vigorously denounces. In any case, creatureliness and sinfulness cannot be equated or identified.
Indeed, Brunner is right in suggesting that we must start from the center, that is, with the glad tidings of redemption in Christ. But in Christ we contemplate not only our desperate "existential predicament" as miserable sinners, but, above all, the historical involvement of men in sin. We are moving in the world of events. Only for that reason are we justified in looking forward, to "the Last Events."
The course of history has been radically challenged by God — at one crucial point. According to Brunner, since the coming of Christ, time itself has been charged, for believers, with a totally new quality — "an otherwise unknown quality of decision." Ever since, believers are confronted with an ultimate alternative, confronted now — in this "historic time." The choice is radical — between heaven and hell. Any moment of history may become decisive — for those who are bound to make decisions, through Christ’s challenge and revelation. In this sense, according to Brunner, "the earthly time is, for faith, charged with an eternity-tension." Men are now inescapably called to decisions, since God has manifested His own decision, in Christ, and in His Cross and Resurrection. Does it mean that "eternal decisions" — that is, decisions "for eternity"— must be made in this "historic time?" By faith — in Jesus Christ, the Mediator — one may, already now, "participate" in eternity. Since Christ, believers dwell already, as it were, in two different dimensions, both inside and outside of the "ordinary" time — this universal time, or age, in which the dying give place to those being born (St. Augustine, Civ. Dei, XV.I). Time has been, as it were, "polarized" by Christ’s Advent. Thus, it seems, time is related now to eternity, that is to God, in a dual manner. On the one hand, time is always intrinsically related to the eternal God, as its Creator: God gives time. On the other hand, time has been, in those last days, radically challenged by God’s direct and immediate intervention, in the person of Jesus Christ. As Brunner says himself, "temporality, existence in time, takes on a new character through its relationship to this event, Jesus Christ, the eph hapax of history, the once-for-all quality of His cross and Resurrection, and is newly fashioned in a paradoxical manner that is unintelligible to thinking guided by reason alone" (Brunner, Eternal Hope (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 48). We have reached the crucial point in Brunner’s exposition. His interpretation of human destiny is strictly Christological and Christocentric. Only faith in Christ gives meaning to human existence. This is Brunner’s strong point. But there is an ambiguous docetic accent in his Christology, and it affects grievously his understanding of history. Strangely enough, Brunner himself addresses the same charge to the traditional Christology of the Church, claiming that it never paid enough attention to the historic Jesus. It is a summary charge which we cannot analyze and "refute" just now. What is relevant for our purpose now is that Brunner’s Christology is obviously much more docetic than that of the Catholic tradition. Brunner’s attention to the historical Jesus is utterly ambiguous. According to Brunner, Christ is a historic personality only as man. When He "unveils Himself" — that is, when He discloses His Divinity to those who have the eye of faith — He is no more a historical personality at all. In fact, Christ’s humanity, according to Brunner, is no more than "a disguise." The true self of Christ is divine. To faith Christ discards His disguise, His "incognito," to use Brunner’s own phrase. "Where He discloses Himself, history disappears, and the Kingdom of God has begun. And when He unveils Himself, He is no longer an historical personality, but the Son of God, Who is from everlasting to everlasting" (Brunner, The Mediator (London: Lutterworth Press, 1949), p. 346). This is a startling language, indeed.
Actually, Christ’s humanity is just a means to enter history, or rather — to appear in history. God’s relation to history, and to human reality, is, as it were, no more than tangential, even in the crucial mystery of Incarnation. Actually, Christ’s humanity interests Brunner only as a medium of revelation, of divine self-disclosure. Indeed, according to Brunner, in Christ God has really found a firm footing in humanity. But this does not seem anything more than that God has now challenged man in his own human element, on his own human ground and level. In order to meet man, God had to descend — to man’s own level. This may be understood in a strictly orthodox way. Indeed, this was the favorite thought of the ancient Fathers. But Brunner denies any real interpenetration of divine and human aspects in Christ’s person. In fact, they are no more than "aspects." Two elements meet, but there is no real unity. Christ of faith is only divine, even if in a human disguise. His humanity is just a means to enter history, or rather — to appear in history. Is history just a moving screen on which divine "eternity" is to be projected? God had to assume a beggar’s robe of man, for otherwise He would be unable to encounter man. There was no real "assumption" of human reality into the personal experience of the Incarnate. The role of Christ’s humanity was purely instrumental, a disguise. Basically it is a sheer "Docetism," however much attention may be given to "historic Jesus." After all, "historic Jesus" does not belong, in this interpretation, to the realm of faith.
Real decisions are not made on the plane of history, says Brunner. "For that is the sphere in which men wear masks. For the sake of our "masquerade," that is, for the sake of our sinful mendacity, Christ also, if I may put it like this, has to wear a mask; this is His Incognito" (Ibid, p. 346). Now, in the act of faith, man takes away his mask. Then, in response, Christ also discards His mask, His human disguise, and appears in His glory. Faith, according to Brunner, breaks down history. Faith itself is a kind of a "metahistoric" act, which transcends history, or even discards it. Indeed, Brunner stresses the uniqueness of God’s redemptive revelation in Christ. For man it only means that the challenge is radical and ultimate. Man is now given a unique opportunity, or occasion, to make his decision, to overcome his own limited humanity, and even his intrinsic temporality — by an act of faith which takes him beyond history, if only in hope and promise, till the final keros [time] has come. But is human history ultimately just a masquerade? According to Brunner’s own emphatic statement, temporality as such is not sinful. Why, then, should divine revelation in Christ discard history? Why should historicity be an obstacle to God’s self-revelation, an obstacle that must be radically removed?
In the last resort, the radical change in history — the New Age, released by Christ’s Advent — seems to consist only in the new and unprecedented opportunity to take sides. God actually remains as hidden in history as He has been before, or, probably, even more than before, since the ultimate incommensurability of divine revelation with the human masquerade has been made self-evident and conspicuous. God could approach man only in disguise. The actual course of history has not been changed, either by God’s intervention, or by man’s option. Apart from the decision of faith, history is empty, and still sinful. The intimate texture of actual historic life has not been affected by the redemptive revelation. Nevertheless, a warning has been given: The Lord comes again. This time He is coming as judge, not as Redeemer, although judgment will actually accomplish and stabilize redemption.
By faith we can now discern an "eschatological tension" in the very course of history, although it would be idle and in vain to indulge in any kind of apocalyptic calculations. This tension seems to exist on the human level alone. The eschatological interim is the age of decisions — to be taken by men. God’s decision has been already taken.
As a whole, Christian history, according to Brunner, was a sore failure, a history of decay and misunderstanding. This is an old scheme, firmly established in Protestant historiography at least since Gottfried Arnold. The primitive Christian community, the ecclesia, was a genuine Messianic community, "the bearer of the new life of eternity and of the powers of the divine world," as Brunner puts it. But this primitive ecclesia did not survive, at least as an historic entity, as an historic factor. Brunner acknowledges partial and provisional "advents" of the Kingdom of God in the course of history. But all these "advents" are sporadic. Where faith is, there is ecclesia or Kingdom. But it is hidden, in the continuing "masquerade" of history. Ultimately, the ongoing history is a kind of testing ground, on which men are challenged and their responses are tried and tested. But does the "saving history" still continue? Is God still active in history, after the First Advent — or is history now left, after the great intervention of Christ, to man alone, with that eschatological provision that finally Christ comes again?
Now, history is obviously but a provisional and passing stage in the destiny of man. Man is called to "eternity," not to "history." This is why "history" must come to its close, to its end. Yet, indeed, history is also a stage of growth — the wheat and the tares are growing together, and their ultimate discrimination is delayed — till the day of harvest. The tares are growing indeed, rapidly and wildly. But the wheat is growing also. Otherwise there would be no chance for any harvest, except for that of tares. Indeed, history matures not only for judgment, but also for consummation. Moreover, Christ is still active in history. Brunner disregards, or ignores, that component of Christian history. Christian history is, as it were, "atomized," in his vision. It is just a series of existential acts, performed by men, and, strangely enough, only negative acts, the acts of rebellion and resistance, seem to be integrated and solidarized. But, in fact, ecclesia is not just an aggregate of sporadic acts, but a "body," the body of Christ. Christ is present in the ecclesia not only as an object of faith and recognition, but as her Head. He is actually reigning and ruling. This secures the Church’s continuity and identity through the ages. In Brunner’s conception Christ seems to be outside history, or above it. He did come once, in the past. He is coming again, in the future. Is He really present now, in the present, except through the memory of the past and the hope of the future, and indeed in the "metahistoric" acts of faith?
Creation, according to Brunner, has its own mode of existence. But it is no more than a "medium" of divine revelation. It must be, as it were, transparent for divine light and glory. And this strangely reminds us of the Platonizing gnosis of Origen and his various followers. The whole story is reduced to the dialectics of eternal and temporal. Brunner’s own term is "parabolic."
The Second Coming
The notion of "the end" — of an ultimate end — is a paradoxical notion. An "end" both belongs to the chain or series, and breaks it. It is both "an event" and "the end of all events." It belongs to the dimension of history, and yet it dismisses the whole dimension. The notion of "the beginning" — first and radical — is also a paradoxical notion. As St. Basil has said once, "the beginning of time is not yet time, but precisely the beginning of it" (Hexaem. 1.6). It is both an "instant" and more than that.
Of the future we can speak but in images and parables. This was the language of the Scripture. This imagery cannot be adequately deciphered now, and should not be taken literally. But in no sense should it be simply and bluntly "demythologized." Brunner is formal at this point. The expected Parousia [the appearance]of Christ must be regarded as "an event." The character of this event is unimaginable. Better symbols or images can be hardly found than those used in the Bible. "Whatever the form of this event may be, the whole point lies in the fact that it will happen" (Brunner, Eternal Hope, p. 138). The Christian kerygma is decisive at this point: "the ultimate redemptive synthesis has the character of an event." In other words, the Parousia belongs to the chain of historic "happenings," which it is expected to conclude and to close. "A Christian faith without expectation of the Parousia is like a ladder which leads nowhere but ends in the void." At one point, in any case, we can go beyond images: it is Christ that is coming. The Parousia is a "return," as much as it is an ultimate novelty. "The Last Events" are centered around the person of Christ.
The end will come "suddenly." And yet it is, in a certain sense, prepared inside of history. As Brunner says, "the history of man disclose radically apocalyptic traits." At this point he indulges in metaphysical speculations. "The swing of the pendulum becomes ever faster." This acceleration of the tempo of human life may reach the point at which it can go no further. History may simply explode suddenly. On the other hand, and on the deeper level, disharmonies of human existence are steadily increasing: there is "an everwidening split in the human consciousness." Of course, these suggestions have no more than a subsidiary or hypothetical value. Brunner tries to commend the paradoxical concept of the end to the modern mind. But they are also characteristic of his own vision of human reality. History is ever ready to explode, it is vexed and overburdened with unresolved tensions. Some years ago a Russian religious philosopher, Vladimir Th. Ern, suggested that human history was a kind of "catastrophical progress," a steady progression toward an end. Yet the end was to come from above, in a Parousia. Accordingly, it was to be more than just a "catastrophe," or an immanent or internal "judgment" — a disclosure of inherent contradictions or tensions. It was to be an absolute judgment, the Judgment of God.
Now, what is judgment? It is no less "an event" than the Parousia. It is an ultimate encounter between the sinful humanity and the Holy God. First of all, it will be an ultimate disclosure or manifestation of the true state of every man and of the whole mankind. Nothing will be left hidden. Thus, judgment will terminate that state of confusion and ambiguity, of inconclusiveness, as Brunner puts it, which has been characteristic of the whole historic stage of human destiny. This implies an ultimate and final "discrimination" — in the light of Christ. It will be an ultimate and final challenge. The will of God must be finally done. The will of God must be ultimately enforced. Otherwise, in the phrase of Brunner, "all talk of responsibility is idle chatter." Indeed, man is granted freedom, but it is not a freedom of indifference. Man’s freedom is essentially a responsive freedom — a freedom to accept God’s will. "Pure freedom" can be professed only by atheists. "To man is entrusted, of man is expected, merely the echo, the subsequent completion, of a decision which God has already made about him and for him" (Ibid, p. 178). There is but one fair option for man — to obey; there is no real dilemma. Man’s purpose and goal are fixed by God.
All this is perfectly true. Yet, at this very point, the vexing question arises. Will actually all men accept, at the Last Judgment, God’s will? Is there any room for radical and irreversible resistance? Can man’s revolt continue beyond judgment? Can any creaturely being, endowed with freedom, persist in estrangement from God, which has been persistently practiced before, that is — to pursue its own will? Can such a being still "exist" — in the state of revolt and opposition, against the saving will of God, outside God’s saving purpose? Is it possible for man to persevere in rebellion, in spite of the call and challenge of God? Is the Scriptural picture of separation — between the sheep and the goats — the last word about man’s ultimate destiny? What is the ultimate status of creaturely "freedom?" What does it mean that finally the will of God must and will prevail? These are queer and searching questions. But they cannot be avoided. They are not dictated only by speculative curiosity. They are "existential" questions. Indeed, the Last Judgment is an awful mystery, which cannot, and should not, be rationalized, which passes all knowledge and understanding. Yet, it is a mystery of our own existence, which we cannot escape, even if we fail to comprehend or understand it intellectually.
Brunner emphatically dismisses the "terrible theologoumenon" of double predestination, as incompatible with the mind of the Bible. There is no eternal discrimination in God’s creative design. God calls all men to salvation, and for that purpose He calls them into existence. Salvation is the only purpose of God. But the crucial paradox is not yet resolved. The crucial problem is, whether this only purpose of God will be actually accomplished, in all its fullness and comprehensiveness, as it is admitted and postulated in the theory of universal salvation, for which one may allege Scriptural evidence. Brunner rejects the doctrine of the Apokatastasis, as a "dangerous heresy." It is wrong as a doctrine. It implies a wrong security for men — all ways lead ultimately to the same end, there is no real tension, no real danger. And yet, Brunner admits that the doctrine of the forgiving grace, and of the justification by faith, leads logically to the concept of an universal redemption. Can the will of the omnipotent God be really resisted or, as it were, overruled by the obstinacy of feeble creatures? The paradox can be solved only dialectically — in faith. One cannot know God theoretically. One has to trust His love.
It is characteristic that Brunner discusses the whole problem exclusively in the perspective of the divine will. For that reason he misses the very point of the paradox. He simply ignores the human aspect of the problem. Indeed, "eternal damnation" is not inflicted by "the angry God." God is not the author of Hell. "Damnation" is a self-inflicted penalty, the consequence and the implication of the rebellious opposition to God and to His will. Brunner admits that there is a real possibility of damnation and perdition. It is dangerous and erroneous to ignore that real possibility.
But one should hope that it will never be realized. Now, hope itself must be realistic and sober. We are facing the alternative: either, at the Last Judgment, unbelievers and unrepentant sinners are finally moved by the divine challenge, and are "freely" converted — this was the hypothesis of St. Gregory of Nyssa; or their obstinacy is simply overruled by the divine Omnipotence and they are saved by the constraint of the divine mercy and will — without their own free and conscious assent. The second solution implies contradiction, unless we understand "salvation" in a forensic and formalistic manner. Indeed, criminals may be exonerated in the court of justice, even if they did not repent and persevere in their perversion. They only escape punishment. But we cannot interpret the Last Judgment in this manner. In any case, "salvation" involves conversion, involves an act of faith. It cannot be imposed on anyone. Is the first solution more convincing? Of course, the possibility of a late "conversion" — in "the eleventh hour," or even after — cannot be theoretically ruled out, and the impact of the divine love is infinite. But this chance or possibility of conversion, before the Judgment-Seat of Christ, sitting in glory, cannot be discussed in abstracto, as a general case. After all, the question of salvation, as also the decision of faith, is a personal problem, which can be put and faced only in the context of concrete and individual existence. Persons are saved, or perish. And each personal case must be studied individually. The main weakness of Brunner’s scheme is in that he always speaks in general terms. He always speaks of the human condition and never of living persons.
The problem of man is for Brunner essentially the problem of sinful condition. He is afraid of all "ontic" categories. Indeed, man is sinner, but he is, first of all, man. It is true, again, that the true stature of genuine manhood has been exhibited only in Christ, who was more than man, and not a man. But in Christ we are given not only forgiveness, but also the power to be, or to become, children of God, that is — to be what we are designed to be. Of course, Brunner admits that believers can be in communion with God even now, in this present life. But then comes death. Does faith, or — actually — one’s being en Christo, make any difference at this point? Is the communion with Christ, once established by faith (and, indeed, in sacraments), broken by death? Is it true that human life is "a being unto death." Physical death is the limit of physical life. But Brunner speaks of the death of human persons, of the "I." He claims that it is a mystery, an impenetrable mystery, of which rational man cannot know anything at all. But, in fact, the concept of this "personal death" is no more than a metaphysical assumption, derived from certain philosophical presuppositions, and in no way a datum of any actual or possible experience, including the experience of faith. "Death" of a person is only in the estrangement from God, but even in this case it does not mean annihilation. In a sense, death means a disintegration of human personality, because man is not designed to be immaterial. The bodily death reduces the integrity of the human person. Man dies, and yet survives — in the expectation of the general end. The ancient doctrine of the Communion of Saints points to the victory of Christ: In Him, through faith (and sacraments), even the dead are alive, and share — in anticipation, but really — the everlasting life. Communio Sanctorum is an important eschatological topic. Brunner simply ignores it altogether — surely not by accident but quite consistently. He speaks of the condition of death, not of personal cases. The concept of an immortal soul may be a Platonic accretion, but the notion of an "indestructible person" is an integral part of the Gospel. Indeed, only in this case there is room for a general or universal judgment, at which all historic persons, of all ages and of all nations, are to appear — not as a confused mass of frail and unprofitable sinners, but as a congregation of responsive and responsible persons, each in his distinctive character, congenital and acquired. Death is a catastrophe. But persons survive, and those in Christ are still alive — even in the state of death. The faithful not only hope for life to come, but are already alive, although all are waiting for Resurrection. Brunner, of course, is fully aware of this. In his own phrase, those who believe "will not die into nothingness but into Christ." Does it mean that those who do not believe "die into nothingness?" And what is "nothingness" — "the outer darkness" (which is probably the case) or actual "nonbeing?"
It is also true that full integrity of personal existence, distorted and reduced by death, will be restored in the general Resurrection. Brunner emphasizes the personal character of the Resurrection. "The New Testament faith knows of no other sort of eternal life except that of the individual persons" (Ibid, p. 148). The flesh will not rise. But some kind of corporeality is implied in the Resurrection. All will rise, because Christ is risen. Now, Resurrection is at once a Resurrection unto life — in Christ, and a Resurrection — to Judgment. Brunner discusses the general Resurrection in the context of faith, forgiveness, and life. But what is the status of those who did not believe, who did not ask for forgiveness, and never knew of the redemptive love of Christ, or probably have obstinately denounced and rejected it as a myth, as a fraud, as a deceit, or as an offense for the autonomous personality ?
And this brings us back again to the paradox of the judgment. Strangely enough, at this point Brunner speaks more as a philosopher than as a theologian, precisely because he tries to avoid metaphysical inquiry, and all problems which have been suppressed reappear in disguise. Brunner puts the question in this way: how can we reconcile divine Omnipotence and human freedom, or — on a deeper level — divine holiness (or justice) and divine merry and love. It is a strictly metaphysical problem, even if it is discussed on the scriptural basis. The actual theological problem is, on the other hand: what is the existential status of unbelievers — in the sight of God, and in the perspective of the human destiny? The actual problem is existential — the status and destiny of individual persons. For Brunner the problem is obscured by his initial choice — his sweeping bracketing together of all men as sinners, without any real ontic or existential discrimination between the righteous and the unrighteous. Indeed, all are under the judgment, but, obviously, not in the same sense. Brunner himself distinguishes between those who fail being tempted, and those who choose to tempt others and to seduce. He knows of deliberate perversion. But he does not ask, how an individual human person may be affected, in his inner and intimate structure, by deliberate and obstinate perversion, apostasy and "love for evil." There is a real difference between weakness and wickedness, between frailty and godlessness. Can all sins be forgiven, even the non-avowed and non-repented? Is not forgiveness received only in humility and in faith? In other words, is "condemnation" just a "penalty," in the forensic sense, or a kind of negative "reward?" Or is it simply a manifestation of what is hidden — or rather quite open and conspicuous in those who have chosen, by an abuse of "freedom," that wide path which leads into Gehenna.
There is no chapter on Hell in any of Brunner’s books. But Hell is not just a "mythical" figure of speech. Nor is it just a dark prospect, which — one wants to hope — may never be realized. Horribile dictu — it is a reality, to which many human beings are even now committed, by their own will, or at least — by their own choice and decision, which may mean, in the last resort, bondage, but is usually mistaken for freedom. "Hell" is an internal state, not a "place." It is a state of personal disintegration, which is mistaken for self-assertion — with certain reason, since this disintegration is grounded in pride. It is a state of self-confinement, of isolation and alienation, of proud solitude. The state of sin itself is "hellish," although it may be, by an illusion of selfish imagination, mistaken for "Paradise." For that reason sinners chose "sin," the proud attitude, the Promethean pose. One may make of "Hell" an ideal, and pursue it — deliberately and persistently.
Indeed, ultimately, it is but an illusion, an aberration, a violence, and a mistake. But the sting of sin is precisely in the denial of the divinely instituted reality, in the attempt to establish another order or regime, which is, in contrast with the true divine order, a radical disorder, but to which one may give, in selfish exaltation, ultimate preference. Now, sin has been destroyed and abrogated — it can not be said that "sin" has been redeemed, only persons may be redeemed. But it is not enough to acknowledge, by faith, the deed of the divine redemption — one has to be born anew. The whole personality must be cleansed and healed. Forgiveness must be accepted and assessed in freedom. It cannot be imputed — apart from an act of faith and gratitude, an act of love. Paradoxically, nobody can be saved by love divine alone, unless it is responded to by grateful love of human persons. Indeed, there is always an abstract possibility of "repentance" and "conversion" in the course of this earthly or historic life. Can we admit that this possibility continues after death? Brunner will hardly accept the idea of a "Purgatory." But even in the concept of Purgatory no chance of radical conversion is implied. Purgatory includes but believers, those of good intentions, pledged to Christ, but deficient in growth and achievement. Human personality is made and shaped in this life — at least, it is oriented in this life. The difficulty of universal salvation is not on the divine side — indeed, God wants every man "to be saved," not so much, probably, in order that His will should be accomplished and His Holiness secured, as in order that man’s existence may be complete and blessed. Yet, insuperable difficulties may be erected on the creaturely side. After all, is "ultimate resistance" a greater paradox, and a greater offense, than any resistance or revolt, which actually did pervert the whole order of Creation, did handicap the deed of redemption? Only when we commit ourselves to a Docetic view of history and deny the possibility of ultimate decisions in history, in this life, under the pretext that it is temporal, can we evade the paradox of ultimate resistance.
St. Gregory of Nyssa anticipated a kind of universal conversion of souls in the afterlife, when the Truth of God will be revealed and manifested with compelling evidence. Just at that point the limitation of the Hellenic mind is obvious. Evidence seemed to it to be the decisive motive for the will, as if "sin" were merely ignorance. The Hellenic mind had to pass through a long and hard experience of asceticism, of ascetic self-examination and self-control, in order to overcome this intellectualistic naïveté and illusion and discover a dark abyss in the fallen soul. Only in St. Maximus the Confessor, after some centuries of ascetic preparation, do we find a new and deepened interpretation of the Apokatastasis. Indeed, the order of creation will be fully restored in the last days. But the dead souls will still be insensitive to the very revelation of Light. The Light Divine will shine to all, but those who once have chosen darkness will be still unwilling and unable to enjoy the eternal bliss. They will still cling to the nocturnal darkness of selfishness. They will be unable precisely to enjoy. They will stay "outside" — because union with God, which is the essence of salvation, presupposes and requires the determination of will. Human will is irrational and its motives cannot be rationalized. Even "evidence" may fail to impress and move it.
Eschatology is a realm of antinomies. These antinomies are rooted and grounded in the basic mystery of Creation. How can anything else exist alongside of God, if God is the plenitude of Being? One has attempted to solve the paradox, or rather to escape it, by alleging the motives of Creation, sometimes to such an extent and in such a manner as to compromise the absoluteness and sovereignty of God. Yet, God creates in perfect freedom, ex mera liberalitate, that is, without any "sufficient reasons." Creation is a free gift of unfathomable love. Moreover, man in Creation is granted this mysterious and enigmatic authority of free decision, in which the most enigmatic is not the possibility of failure or resistance, but the very possibility of assent. Is not the will of God of such a dimension that it should be simply obeyed without any real, that is, free and responsible, assent? The mystery is in the reality of creaturely freedom. Why should it be wanted in the world created and ruled by God, by His infinite wisdom and love? In order to be real, human response must be more than a mere resonance. It must be a personal act, an inward commitment. In any case, the shape of human life — and now we may probably add, the shape and destiny of the cosmos — depends upon the synergism or conflict of the two wills, divine and creaturely. Many things are happening which God abhors — in the world which is His work and His subject. Strangely enough, God respects human freedom, as St. Irenaeus once said, although, in fact, the most conspicuous manifestation of this freedom was revolt and disorder. Are we entitled to expect that finally human disobedience will be disregarded and "dis-respected" by God, and His Holy Will shall be enforced, regardless of any assent? Or it would make a dreadful "masquerade" of human history? What is the meaning of this dreadful story of sin, perversion, and rebellion, if finally everything will be smoothed down and reconciled by the exercise of divine Omnipotence?
Indeed, the existence of Hell, that is, of radical opposition, implies, as it were, some partial "unsuccess" of the creative design. Yet, it was more than just a design, a plan, a pattern. It was the calling to existence, or even "to being," of living persons. One speaks sometimes of the "divine risk," says Jean Guitton. It is probably a better word than kenosis. Indeed, it is a mystery, which cannot be rationalized — it is the primordial mystery of creaturely existence.
Brunner takes the possibility of Hell quite seriously. There is no security of "universal salvation," although this is, abstractly speaking, still possible — for the omnipotent God of Love. But Brunner still hopes that there will be no Hell. The trouble is that there is Hell already. Its existence does not depend upon divine decision. God never sends anyone to Hell. Hell is made by creatures themselves. It is human creation, outside, as it were, of "the order of creation."
The Last Judgment remains a mystery.