Synthesis, Part 5: Hell Hole (concluded)

OK, back on topic after a slight diversion into other avenues!  Last time we looked at the issue of pre-existing natural evil from the perspective of the cosmology of Evagrius Ponticus.  In short, given that we’ve put the concept of the Fall, in light of modern science and polygenesis, on a sounder basis, how do we then account for the natural evils of the world (moral evil–the bad behavior of individuals–is another matter, which is not directly germane to the issue here)?

This is easily explained by the Gnostic mythos, since matter and the material world are considered to be evil by nature.  Thus, there’s nothing to explain–a material world is by definition an evil and corrupt one.  It is for this reason that I’ve not discussed the Gnostic mythos much in this series.  Whether or not one accepts it, it does do a pretty good job of accounting for the Fall, polygenesis, and the evil in the world.

The Evagrian perspective is a little tougher, but as I said, I think it’s not too hard to use it to account for the observed nastiness of the cosmos.

It’s when we come to the orthodox view that we have the biggest challenge.  Granting that man was created sinless (with the modification that it was an original population, not an original couple, of which this could be said); and granting that the material world obviously contained great amounts of natural evil long before the existence of humanity; then it seems that God put unfallen humanity smack in the middle of an egregiously fallen–or at least questionable–cosmos.  Attempting to explain–or at least to give suggestive lines of thought towards explaining–this conundrum will be the purpose of this post.We have to start by saying that in the orthodox scenario we really don’t know what God’s motivations for creating either the material universe or mankind are.  In both the Gnostic and Evagrian systems, the very existence of the material cosmos is a result of an initial Fall in the spiritual realm.  It is a pale imitation of the Pleroma  (Gnostic) or God’s Plan B (Evagrian).  In the orthodox view, however, everything is rather obscure.

In fairness, none of the scenarios, orthodox, heretical, or in between, explains why God created other (though obviously lesser) intelligent beings to begin with.  In my view, that is something that can’t be explained in any way we can now understand.  Presumably He wanted company, in some sense.  However, granted the initial and inexplicable creation of minds separate from God’s, the Gnostic and Evagrian systems progress in a fairly logical fashion, as mentioned above.  Not so the orthodox account.

Traditional Christian teaching has God making the angels at the very (presumably timeless) beginning.  Eventually, some of them, led by the one we call Lucifer, rebelled and were “cast out” of Heaven.  Then, after some “interval”, God creates the material universe and the human race.  Neither in Scripture nor in any officially defined dogmas of Tradition is there any connection made between these two creations.  God makes the angels, problems arise, end of story.  The He makes the world and mankind, Lucifer/Satan mucks around with the new creation, man falls, story in progress.  There is no logical progression, no “plot” to this, as there is to the more heterodox accounts.

The closest one comes to an explanation is the unofficial but persistent notion that crops up here and there that humans are the actual summit of creation and that (depending on the version) the angels were either a false start or failed experiment whom man supplants, or that the angels were just the groundwork paving the way for the ultimate pinnacle of creation, humanity.  There are vague allusions to this in the well-known Biblical passages in Psalm 8:4-9 and Hebrews 1:5-14 (I’m lazy–look them up!).  A clearer exposition this view is in the Islamic story of the fall of Lucifer (known in Islamic tradition as Iblis), which gives a different spin on the matter:

We created Man from dried clay, from black moulded loam, and before him Satan from smokeless fire.  Your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am creating man from dried clay, from black moulded loam.  When I have fashioned  him and breathed of My spirit into him, kneel down and prostrate yourselves before him.’

The angels, one and all, prostrated themselves, except Satan.  He refused to prostrate himself with the others.

‘Satan,’ said God, ‘why do you not prostrate yourself?’

He replied, ‘I will not bow to a mortal whom You created of dried clay, of black moulded loam.’

‘Begone,’ said God, ‘you are accursed.  My curse shall be on you till Judgement-day.’

‘Lord,’ said Satan, ‘reprieve me till the Day of Resurrection.’

He answered, ‘You are reprieved till the Appointed Day.’

‘Lord,’ said Satan, ‘since You have thus seduced me, I will tempt mankind on earth:  I will seduce them all, except those of them who are your faithful servants.’

—Koran, Sura 15, N. J. Dawood translation, 4th revised edition

Obviously the sequence here is a bit different from that of the orthodox Christian tradition–the Fall of Lucifer/Satan/Iblis occurs after the creation of Adam.  It is also not necessary to assume that the angels were somehow jealous or envious of humans.  Nevertheless, the basic idea–that the angels were but a prelude to humans–does crop up in various places in Christian speculation.

Still, I am hesitant to endorse any particular theory (in the context of the orthodox view, that is) of the exact relationship between the angels–the Pleroma–and the material cosmos.  What we can say, on a firmer basis, is that the two realms do have a common, interrelated destiny.  Consider 1 Corinthians 15, particularly verses 24-28, New English Bible, my emphasis:

 Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers up the kingdom to God the Father, after abolishing every kind of domination, authority, and power.  For he is destined to reign until God has put all enemies under his feet; and the last enemy to be abolished is death.  Scripture says, ‘He has put all things in subjection under his feet.’  But in saying ‘all things’, it clearly means to exclude God who subordinates them; and when all things are thus subject to him, then the Son himself will also be made subordinate to God who made all things subject to him, and thus God will be all in all.

Please note that the terms “domination”, “authority”, and “power” often refer to classes of angels; and that the “all things” translates the various inflections of the Greek word panta, the neuter plural meaning “all things”–in short, everything, period.  Coupling these two points, to say nothing of Christian eschatology, it’s clear that the human and angelic world are to come together in the end.

Given this, which I think is well-grounded in Tradition, I think it’s not unreasonable to assume that the Pleroma and the material cosmos (and its inhabitants–us) are on a common or at least interconnected path already.  This would certainly work with Tolkien’s perspective on Creation, briefly discussed last time.

Having said all this, let’s look at one at least  plausible scenario for reconciling a more or less traditional view with our knowledge of human origins:

1.  God creates the angels–the Pleroma.

2.  At some point, some of them (Lucifer and his angels) fall.  We’ll consider this as happening “before” the creation of the material universe, though it could be “during”, as Tolkien speculates in the “Ainulindalë” section of The Silmarillion (though even he has the creation of humans coming afterwards).  For the purposes at hand, we’ll keep to Tradition as much as possible.

3.  The material cosmos is created “after” the War in Heaven.  As a created and finite entity, it cannot have all perfections.  Secondly, God allows certain imperfections in it in advance as part of His plan.  Third, the fallen spirits–devils–either in the course of the creation of the cosmos (Tolkien) or after its creation (orthodox) “mar” it in various ways.  Thus, even before the existence of humankind, the world is a rough and nasty place, and not all the fault belongs to God (except in that  He permits the demonic influences to exist for now).

4.  Humans–as yet unfallen–are brought into being by the ensoulment of early hominids.

5.  Following St. Albert the Great (Albertus Magnus), I think that God intended to become incarnate in Christ whether or not humanity ultimately sinned.

6.  The “Plan A” was that man would use his freedom properly, multiply and spread throughout the Earth, and gradually, as its steward, heal its marring and bring it to the state intended for it.  In short, man’s task was tikkun olam.  The capstone of this would be the coming of God as man in Christ to live among His people.

7.  Man failed by sinning.  What form this “original sin” actually took, we don’t and can’t know.  However, in essence, mankind failed to live up to its task, failed to love and obey God, and thus fell.

8.  Thus, we now live in a “Plan B” scenario.  Our task is still to mend the world–tikkun olam–but we are weaker and less effective in doing it.  In fact, the task is beyond us–except that God, always intending to become man, has now come not only to live among His people but to save them.  Christ atones for us by taking all our sins and imperfections on himself (which, as a human, he can do) and transmuting them and forgiving them (which, as God, he can also do), restoring the Image of God in fallen man, and opening the road back to God once more.

9.  Ultimately, the world will be restored at the end of time, and God will indeed be “all in all”.  Meanwhile we suffer, but we unite our suffering to that of Christ and have faith that “all will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well,” as Dame Julian of Norwich said.

This has been one of the longest posts in this series, but I think the length was required.  As of this post, I’ve covered the main ideas I wanted to examine regarding the Fall.  I still have a few wrap-up posts to go, and then some related material that will stand on its own.  For those who have come with me this far, my deepest thanks, and I hope all this has been of some help, or that it has at least provided much food for thought.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Posted on 02/07/2012, in Bible, Catholicism, Christianity, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I’m reluctant to put in excess links (not wanting to run afoul of spam-grabber mechanisms) but would like to share my own version of this. [Just ask.]

    As well as Raymond Smullyan’s story of a World Without Humor… in which an evil little animal keeps bugging Adam: “Hey, haven’t you hung around here long enough? Why don’t you go out and make something of yourself?!” Adam says, “Nah!” but later finds himself bringing the question to God, who tells him, ~”You used to be pretty good company, but now… you mope; you’ve stopped laughing at my jokes. Maybe you’d be happier somewhere else?” Pretty soon everyone has forgotten what humor used to mean, and is going to ‘laughing academies’ in a vain attempt to recapture this lost art.

    Anyway, the link I want to pass along… is to a somewhat unconventional Bible study, of Quaker provenance, ‘Reading the Light Throught the Pages’ aka

    Want to play?
    — — —- — —

    I’d say that “evil” becomes a problem for materially-embodied creatures as a consequence of something Stephen Gaskin once pointed out: that so far as people are focused on spiritual desires, it’s possible for everyone to have enough. Once people get distracted from Spirit and start keeping score with material possessions, there’s a limit to how many mansions people can have before it gets hard just to feed everyone.

    • It seems it would be interesting, and I’m always open to new insights. I would be willing to have a look at anything you wish to pass along. If it’s unconventional, it’s got something going for it already, in my book!

  2. Okay, then

    If “unconventional” isn’t a four-letter word to you, by all means consider whether contributing to that Bible blog might suit you!

  1. Pingback: Legends of the Fall, Part 7: And on the Seventh Post (actually, the 22nd!) He Rested « The Chequer-board of Nights and Days

  2. Pingback: Excursus: Evil, Part 3–Who’s In Charge Here, Anyway? « The Chequer-board of Nights and Days

  3. Pingback: Legends of the Fall: Index « The Chequer-board of Nights and Days

  4. Pingback: Words From our Ancient Sponsors « Oreo ab Chao

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