The title, of course, refers to the catchphrase of Dana Carvey’s iconic 90’s Saturday Night Live character the Church Lady. This post, however, is a little more serious than that.
I went to the vigil Mass yesterday, and the first reading, from Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24, struck me (my emphasis, of course):
God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the netherworld on earth,
for justice is undying.
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.
That got me to thinking about some of the themes I’ve discussed in this series, and indicated to me an actual Scriptural warrant, slim though it may be, for them.
To which I can answer only, “Beats me.” I do think that looking at the question in the title of this post is of relevance in our discussion of the Fall of Man, for reasons that we’ll soon see. I want to do a bit more detailed followup to this, and to take an interlude before we go on to look at the fall and salvation of bodiless intelligences.
I’ll start by explicitly saying that when I say “the world” I mean the material cosmos. I’ll also specify that the question of God’s motives is posed in the context of “little-o” orthodox Christianity. In Gnosticism, after all, the question, “Why did God make the world” is meaningless, since in the Gnostic view He didn’t. Rather, the material cosmos is a chop-job made by the ignorant and/or maleficent Demiurge. In the system of Evagrius Ponticus, which we’ve also looked at, the question is meaningful, but it has a clear answer: God made the world as a sort of rehabilitation clinic for the fallen spirits (angels, humans, and demons) through which they would eventually be re-integrated to the realm of God.
Long-time readers may recall that in the course of my “Legends of the Fall” series I discussed Evagrius Ponticus and his worldview. Recently I’ve been perusing this fascinating website dedicated to him. In fairness I have to point out that while the website refers to him as “Saint”, with which I’m willing to agree, I don’t know if any church ever formally canonized him, especially in light of the posthumous accusations of heresy.
In any case, the best thing about the website is that it gives online translations of Evagrius’s major works. These translations, by Fr. Luke Dysinger, O. S. B. of St. Andrew’s Abbey of Valyermo, California, are public domain. This is a really good thing. Good translations of Evagrius are fiendishly difficult to get hold of. There are several that translate part of his corpus–many such books are rather expensive, to boot. There are some cheaper editions–you can get Jeremy Driscoll’s translation of the Ad Monachos in relatively cheap paperback editions–but they usually cover only one or two of Evagrius’s writings. By contrast, Fr. Dysinger is gradually putting up and revising translations of all of Evagrius’s works, and they are freely available.
This is important because Evagrius is important. His works have been enormously influential in both the East and the West of the Christian world. He was one of the first to organize the sayings of the Desert Fathers and his ascetic, moral, and theological works were widely studied for centuries. He also shares with his predecessor Origen (whose works influenced him, and whom I’ve also referenced) a somewhat ambiguous status in later Christianity. Like Origen, he is enormously influential, even to the present; but also like Origen, he was accused of holding heretical beliefs after his death, and at least some of this teachings were condemned. As with Origen, it’s rather difficult to sort out his exact beliefs and to determine whether the beliefs he was accused of holding were things he actually believed. It is evident, though, I think, that in at least some respects his thought does push the boundaries, and it seems to have some affinities to Gnostic thought. This is especially interesting to me, as I try to tease out the commonalities between orthodoxy and Gnosticism.
I’m interested in reading as much of Evagrius as I can, since as I’ve said before I don’t have an in-depth firsthand knowledge of his work. There’s a book or two of translations I’m eventually going to get; but this website is a good start for now. Unfortunately, reading HTML on a computer screen gets old fast, even on a laptop. Therefore, I’ve done a conversion of Fr. Dysinger’s translation of “The Great Letter to Melania” to PDF format. In such format it can be read on an iPad or Kindle Fire very easily and conveniently. It’s not hard to do conversions of PDF’s to MOBI files (the ones Kindles use) or to EPUB formats; but that often results in other issues, so I’m sticking with the PDF format for now. The motivation for the selection is that the “Letter to Melania” and the Kephalaia Gnostica give clearer and more systematic discussion of Evagrius’s theology than most of his other works, and in them the similarities to both orthodox and Gnostic thought are more clearly visible.
I have uploaded the “Letter to Melania” to my media library–you can find it there or go directly to it here, to read or download. I do this to make it more widely available in a more user-friendly format; please, if you pass it on, give appropriate credit to Father Dysinger. I hope those who are interested will find this interesting and useful. From time to time I will be posting more of Evagrius’s works from Fr. Dysinger’s website. I want to do the Kephalaia Gnostica next, but it may be awhile before I have time. I will note when I do so with it and with further documents. Meanwhile, enjoy!
It occurs to me that during the course of the various religious and philosophical musings I’ve posted here, there are some concepts which I have used very frequently, but which I haven’t really elaborated. In short, I’ve just tossed them out with a link, if that, and plowed on. One such example in particular is the concept of emanation. Emanation is a highly important concept in both Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, in which they both differ from orthodox Christianity. The mode in which the universe came into existence has implications for one’s theology, cosmology, and philosophy, so I think it’s worth revisiting these different views on the origin of the cosmos and looking at them in greater depth.
First, it’s important to look more generally at how the universe came into being. First, one might maintain that the universe did not come into being at all, since it has existed and will exist eternally. Both some atheists and some theistic systems assume this model. The universe may change or go through cycles (which may or may not repeat), but it has no discrete origin. It’s worth pointing out that even this perspective doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of creation. As Mortimer Adler pointed out in his book How to Think About God, one can still think of God “exnihilating”–holding in existence–a cosmos without linear beginning or end. As I’ve explained in more detail here, God, properly understood, is completely outside of time and space in the sense in which we use those terms. A linear infinity of time–going infinitely into the past and likewise into the future–is still far “smaller” or “less” than the true atemporal eternity of God. To re-use the image I used in the earlier post consider:
Eternity, in this depiction, really shouldn’t be a separate sphere, but the entire plane–or better, the entire space–within which the comparatively tiny line of time lies and by which it is supported. Thus, God can easily be thought of as creating spacetime in all its linear infinity as a mere drop in the higher-order infinity proper to Him.