Synthesis, Part 4: Hell Hole

A nice 80’s reference, and a change of pace from Lady Gaga, huh?  😉

OK, so we’ve discussed what I think is a reasonably plausible scenario for understanding how the Fall could affect all humanity even without a primal “Adam and Eve” from whom all subsequent humans are descended.  It also allows us to move away from the penal model of the Atonement towards a more Athanasian view in which the Incarnation itself restores the Divine image in man.  So far, so good.

We are left with a few loose ends, though.  In either the view I posit in “Synthesis, Part 3” or the Evagrian view, one needs to explain the extreme amount of evil in the world.  Recall, Evagrius had the Fall occurring in the Pleroma, with the material world as a sort of Plan B created by God as a way of re-educating the now-incarnate souls so that they can eventually return to the Pleroma–to be once more in God’s presence.  Since the material world is in a sense a cosmic reform school, from the Evagrian perspective, it is somewhat easier to explain the existence of natural evils (earthquakes, floods, etc.–things not attributable to misused free will).  What would one expect from a reform school?

One might still argue, of course, that it’s an awfully sadistic reform school, with much more evil and nastiness than seems necessary.  Thus, a certain amount of exploration of the issue seems appropriate.  The need to do so with my scenario from the last post is even more necessary, since in that case you have innocent humans placed in an already-marred cosmos before their fall.  I will postpone that, however, and reserve this post for discussion of the Evagrian scenario.  In the Evagrian model, there is no need to explain why a perfect world ceased to be so with the first sin of mankind, as in the orthodox view.  Since the material world is created as an arena in which the fallen spirits formerly of the Pleroma are to work out their salvation–their ultimate return to God–there’s no need to posit that it ever was different than we see it now.  As noted above, there is also no need to explain away evils–to some extent, they’re obviously pedagogical.  There are two important questions we have here, though.  One, why did God choose the material world, with the fallen spirits embodied in it (and in the case of human souls, at least, forgetting their former existence), as the means of their redemption in the first place?  And, granted that a certain amount of natural evil serves as venue for “soul-making”, isn’t there an awful lot more of it than necessary?

We’re in very speculative territory here, and I’m not familiar enough with Evagrius’ works to know whether he gave answers to these questions.  However, I think we can look at the issue and see if there are any possibilities that suggest themselves.

The first thing we have to remember is how the fallen intelligences fell.  To refer again to the text quoted in my post on Evagrius, my emphasis,

 By use of their free will, these minds grew lax in their contemplation of essential knowledge, producing a rupture in the original unity and causing the minds to fall away from the essential knowledge and unity.  This movement, this misuse of free will, introduces differences in the once rational beings.

I think we need to be careful here.  “Lax” in this context could all too easily imply the type of bored lack of attention a schoolchild experiences when a boring, Ben-Stein-like teacher drones on and on.  This is obviously not what is meant here.  The spirits originally existed in harmony and original unity.  The laxness of contemplation of essential knowledge–that is, knowledge of God–is more like a willful turning away or even a refusal of God and unity.  In short, there is more maliciousness involved–at least for some of the fallen minds–than just boredom or being “spaced out”.

One mythological portrayal of this is the Ainulindalë segment of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion.  I won’t quote it or discuss it at length, but in brief Eru (God) creates the Ainur (angels) and teaches them a glorious song, showing them how to sing it in harmony.  The greatest of the Ainur, Melkor (Lucifer), decides that he wants to sing his own tune rather than the one Eru teaches him, and begins to do so.  His contribution causes dissonance, though, and after three attempts at injecting his own, shrill tune into the cosmic  harmony, Melkor is silenced by Eru.  The Ainur are given a vision of the cosmos–which is what the song was–and the elements of Melkor’s tune are the “marring” of it.  Eru, however, is able to take even the marred part of the song up into a greater unity, and forecasts the ultimate resolution of all at the end of time.

I would recommend to all and sundry to read this section, at least, in its entirety.  It gives a good portrayal in dramatic and mythopoeic terms, of Evagrius’ theory (though I don’t know whether Tolkien intended that or was familiar with Evagrius).  The point is that Melkor must “grow lax in contemplation of essential knowledge” in order to conceive the notion of his own tune in the first place; but once that has occurred, he continues to pursue his own plan even as it causes increasing discord and even as Eru begins to show disapproval.  What might have started in relative innocence becomes more and more stubbornly willful and malicious.

The point is that we can reasonably posit, I think, that this fall “from original  unity” was not just a momentary lapse of concentration, but involved quite a bit of nastiness.  The minds ceased to love and contemplate God in preference to themselves.  This implies not only egocentricity and a lack of love for God, but implicitly a lack of love–and perhaps an actual hatred–for others.  What conflict, selfishness, and strife might be like in a world of pure minds is something none of us can imagine.  Nevertheless, behind the rather bloodless and abstract theological formulations we can, I think, see a lot more; maybe even a “war in Heaven”, if your tastes run to that.

In a sense, then, the material cosmos is the ultimate example of letting the punishment fit the crime.  The fallen minds of the Pleroma have already, through their own deliberate actions, forfeited the primal unity and harmony with God and each other.  To banish them into the world of matter merely makes manifest in a very vivid way what has already occurred.  Perhaps even the amnesia of incarnate souls began before birth in the material world, as a result of willful estrangement from the “essential knowledge” of God.

In this sense, too, it is quite possible that the nastiness we see in the created world is but the reflection of the nastiness in the broken Pleroma.  I don’t quite want to go totally animistic and say that earthquakes, floods, and such are caused by evil spirits; but I don’t think it’s completely off base to say that in some way these phenomena are not reflections of the good God, but reflections of the twisted aspect of some of the fallen minds now made visible in the cosmos.

This gives a partial clue as to how the material world was intended to be a way by which the fallen minds could return to God.  By being hampered and limited by material embodiment (remember, according to Evagrius, even the angels and devils are “embodied” in a sense, in the cosmos, in a way they never were in the Pleroma), and in the case of humans, being subject to mortality, the fallen minds are forced to confront themselves in a way that perhaps would not have been available to pure, unembodied minds.  The greatest grandiosity is limited by our bodily nature.

This is something especially I feel as a blogger!  How often has one stayed up late, pursuing a train of thought or argument, feeling exhilarated, even exalted, by the magnificent (or not!) thought which one pursues, only to feel a rumbling stomach, an insistent bladder, or a complaining lower intestine!  However godlike we may allow ourselves, at times, to feel, we still must eat, drink, excrete, and sleep.  There’s a Zen story about the master who says to the too-much-in-awe disciple, “Even a master such as myself must eat for himself and shit for himself!”  The point was that no one can “get enlightened” for you or follow a spiritual path for you; but the blunt statement of the limitations of embodiment is well taken, too!

The final objection one might make is that, for humans, at least, the short span of a single life (remember, Evagrius did not posit reincarnation) is hardly long enough for the “soul-making” task of the material world.  Even if one eschews belief in transmigration of souls, I think things still work out.  Both Orthodoxy and Catholicism, at least, have always posited the intermediate state called Purgatory by the latter and not named at all by the former.  What this after-death state is like, we can’t know.  However, it’s not impossible that it has many different levels (other “incarnations” of a sort) with different experiences, serving as a sort of Christian bardo in which one completes one’s development over time on one’s way back to the Pleroma.  Thus, you’d get the effect of reincarnation without an actual return of souls to this plane.

As long as this essay is, it’s still but a brief sketch of a model of the Fall and Redemption according to the concepts of Evagrius Ponticus.  I think it is a not unreasonable theory, though.  In the next segment, we’ll look at the issues involved with the orthodox theory.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Posted on 27/06/2012, in Bible, Catholicism, Christianity, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

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