Legends of the Fall, Part 5: Compare and Contrast

OK:  I’ve discussed various theories of the Fall of Humanity here, here, and here; I’ve talked about Evagrius Ponticus; I’ve looked at some of the other issues involved here, here, here, here, here, and here.  What I’d like to do now is look at ways in which the three systems of thought I’m examining–orthodox Christian, Gnostic, and Evagrian–are similar and those in which they are different.  Once we’ve done that, we can look at the strengths and weaknesses of each in terms of figuring out how best to understand the Fall.First, let’s look at the points of agreement.

1.  All three systems agree that there is one God, and that He is infinitely powerful, completely good, perfect in all ways, and composed purely of spirit.

2.  All three systems agree that God’s original creation was of the bodiless intelligences (pure minds) and that this original creation was perfectly good (there is the distinction between “creation” and “emanation“, but for the purposes here I’m deliberately conflating them.  Also, to save space and avoid having always to say “bodiless intelligences”, I’m going henceforth to use the term “Pleroma” for the collective of these intelligences.  Though the term is characteristically Gnostic, it is sometimes used in orthodox contexts, as well, and it avoids the more cumbersome term or having to say “angels” when those are not necessarily what is meant).

3.  At some point posterior (remember, there is no “before” or “after” before the physical cosmos is made)  to its creation, there was a rupturing of the unity of the Pleroma as a result of the actions of some of its members.

4.  The material world was created posterior to the spirit world, and posterior to the rupture of the Pleroma, specifically.

5.  Beings consisting of a body and a soul–humans–are created,  which live in the material cosmos.

6.  The material cosmos, at least as currently constituted, is deeply flawed and has many evils, imperfections, etc.

7.  The material cosmos as currently constituted will not endure forever, instead coming to an end at some point.

8.  At least some humans, either in their souls or their complete being (more on this later) will return to God and the Pleroma at the end of time.

I think that’s a fair summary, and as one can see, there are more commonalities than is often thought to be the case.  Having said that, let’s look at the differences.

1.  Gnostics assert that the good God of spirit is not the one who created matter or the physical world, contra the orthodox and Evagrians.  Thus, in effect, they assert that the other two groups are worshiping the wrong God, or at least are profoundly mistaken about the right one.

2. Christianity disagrees with Gnosticism as to how the Pleroma came to be, the former asserting creation ex nihilo, the latter asserting emanation.  I am unclear as to which of these views Evagrius holds.  Note:  Follow the link on “emanation” above to a more recent post that discusses this issue at length.  I’ve come to believe that the difference between creation (at least as traditionally viewed by Scholasticism) and emanation is less than I’d originally thought, and may be merely semantic.

3.  Christianity, contra Gnositicsm and Evagrius, asserts that the Pleroma consisted only of the angels (some of whom later fell to become demons).

A.  Evagrius asserts that the beings which later became angels, devils, and humans  were all originally in the Pleroma.

B.  While it is unclear whether Gnostic systems postulate an individuality of beings in the Pleroma who were later incarnated as  humans, it is clear that the “sparks of light” that later became human souls at least existed “before” the physical universe.

4.  The most significant difference, for our purpose, is the Fall.  The precise accounts vary in all three systems, and even the number of Falls varies.

A.  Christianity, for example, has the Fall of Lucifer and his angels, and then the Fall of Man.

B.  For Evagrius the fall from the Pleroma accounts for angels, demons, and humans; and the Falll.

C.  For Gnostics is the mistake of Sophia that results in the Demiurge and his creations.

D.  One can generalize, though, and say that Gnosticism and Evagrius line up against orthodox Christianity in their descriptions of the reason for the fall.  The two former systems, while diverging in details, agree that the Fall was a failure of knowledge or wisdom.  It occurred because of ignorance, and the main problem of humanity is that we don’t know who we really are.  On the other hand, orthodoxy has it that the Fall resulted from self-centeredness and disobedience–the pride of Lucifer and the disobedience of Adam and Eve.  In a sense, the failure is not of knowledge, but of will–both Lucifer and Eve knew better, they knew who they were in respect to themselves and to God–but they chose, in different ways, to transgress the boundaries set by God.  Thus, for orthodoxy, mankind’s major problem is that we are willful and don’t wan’t to be who and what we ought to be.

5.  The greatest diversity of views is over the material cosmos–who made it, and why?

A.  Orthodox (little-“o”) Christianity agrees with Evagrius but disagrees with Gnosticism in asserting that the same good God who made the Pleroma also made the Cosmos.  Gnositcs, of course, assert that the True God, the Alien God, has nothing to do with matter or the material world, it having been created by the Demiurge, who creates it in conscious (or unconscious) imitation of the True God’s emanation of the Pleroma.

B.  Evagrius agrees with orthodoxy and disagrees with Gnosticism in asserting that the True God made the world; but he disagrees the orthodox as to why He did so.

i.  Orthodoxy never actually gives a motivation, except to suggest that God created the physical universe out of a “superabundance of good”.  In short, He wanted to and He did it.  Although this is never explicit, the assumption is that the material world was always part of the Divine plan–God always intended to make it.  Moreover, there is no clear connection between God’s creation of the Pleroma and His creation of the Cosmos.  Why He created both–or either–is inscrutable.

ii.  Evagrius denies that the universe was part of the original plan.  It is created only “after” the Fall of some of the Pleroma from contemplating God.  God then creates the material world and embodies the fallen of the Pleroma in the world in different states (angel, devil, human) as a way in which they can learn what is necessary to purify themselves and to return to the Pleroma.  Thus the universe isn’t good in itself, as orthodoxy asserts, but good in an instrumental way–good in that it’s designed to get us back to God.  This will bear a closer look later on.

6.  There is no clear teaching in any of the three systems as to the ultimate fate of the material world.  Even in orthodox Christianity some theologians have asserted that composite material as we know it will cease to exist in the Eschaton.  Gnostics differ as to whether it will cease to exist or somehow be redeemed by being spiritualized.  Evagrius, to my knowledge, gives no clear answer as to whether it will cease to be, having served its purpose, or be brought to a higher plane.

At this point, I think we’ve gathered the information and lined it up side by side.  Our next task will be to see what can be made of it.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Posted on 21/05/2012, in Bible, Christianity, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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