Excerpts from the Letters of Cyril to Nestorius, and the 12 Anathemas.

cyrilApproved by the Council of Ephesus, AD 431.

“To the most religious and beloved of God, fellow minister Nestorius, Cyril sends greeting in the Lord . . .

The holy and great Synod therefore says, that the only begotten Son, born according to nature of God the Father, very God of very God, Light of Light, by whom the Father made all things, came down, and was incarnate, and was made man, suffered, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven. These words and these decrees we ought to follow, considering what is meant by the Word of God being incarnate and made man.

For we do not say that the nature of the Word was changed and became flesh, or that it was converted into a whole man consisting of soul and body; but rather that the Word having personally united to himself flesh animated by a rational soul, did in an ineffable and inconceivable manner become man, and was called the Son of Man, not merely as willing or being pleased to be so called, neither on account of taking to himself a person, but because the two natures being brought together in a true union, there is of both one Christ and one Son; for the difference of the natures is not taken away by the union, but rather the divinity and the humanity make perfect for us the one Lord Jesus Christ by their ineffable and inexpressible union.

So then he who had an existence before all ages and was born of the Father, is said to have been born according to the flesh of a woman, not as though his divine nature received its beginning of existence in the holy Virgin, for it needed not any second generation after that of the Father (for it would be absurd and foolish to say that he who existed before all ages, coeternal with the Father, needed any second beginning of existence), but since, for us and for our salvation, he personally united to himself an human body, and came forth of a woman, he is in this way said to be born after the flesh; for he was not first born a common man of the holy Virgin, and then the Word came down and entered into him, but the union being made in the womb itself, he is said to endure a birth after the flesh, ascribing to himself the birth of his own flesh. . . .

We, therefore, confess one Christ and Lord, not as worshipping a man with the Word (lest this expression “with the Word” should suggest to the mind the idea of division), but worshipping him as one and the same, forasmuch as the body of the Word, with which he sits with the Father, is not separated from the Word himself, not as if two sons were sitting with him, but one by the union with the flesh. If, however, we reject the personal union as impossible or unbecoming, we fall into the error of speaking of two sons, for it will be necessary to distinguish, and to say, that he who was properly man was honored with the appellation of Son, and that he who is properly the Word of God, has by nature both the name and the reality of Sonship.

We must not, therefore, divide the one Lord Jesus Christ into two Sons. Neither will it at all avail to a sound faith to hold, as some do, an union of persons; for the Scripture has not said that the Word united to himself the person of man, but that he was made flesh. This expression, however, “the Word was made flesh,” can mean nothing else but that he partook of flesh and blood like to us; he made our body his own, and came forth man from a woman, not casting off his existence as God, or his generation of God the Father, but even in taking to himself flesh remaining what he was. This the declaration of the correct faith proclaims everywhere.

This was the sentiment of the holy Fathers; therefore they ventured to call the holy Virgin, the Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word or his divinity had its beginning from the holy Virgin, but because of her was born that holy body with a rational soul, to which the Word being personally united is said to be born according to the flesh.

These things, therefore, I now write unto you for the love of Christ, beseeching you as a brother, and testifying to you before Christ and the elect angels, that you would both think and teach these things with us, that the peace of the Churches may be preserved and the bond of concord and love continue unbroken amongst the Priests of God. . . .

Confessing the Word to be made one with the flesh according to substance, we adore one Son and Lord Jesus Christ: we do not divide the God from the man, nor separate him into parts, as though the two natures were mutually united in him only through a sharing of dignity and authority (for that is a novelty and nothing else), neither do we give separately to the Word of God the name Christ and the same name separately to a different one born of a woman; but we know only one Christ, the Word from God the Father with his own Flesh. For as man he was anointed with us, although it is he himself who gives the Spirit to those who are worthy and not in measure, according to the saying of the blessed Evangelist John.

But we do not say that the Word of God dwelt in him as in a common man born of the holy Virgin, lest Christ be thought of as a God-bearing man; for although the Word tabernacled among us, it is also said that in Christ “dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”; but we understand that be became flesh, not just as he is said to dwell in the saints, but we define that that tabernacling in him was according to equality  But being made one kata fusin, and not converted into flesh, he made his indwelling in such a way, as we may say that the soul of man does in his own body. . . .

And since the holy Virgin brought forth corporally God made one with flesh according to nature, for this reason we also call her Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word had the beginning of its existence from the flesh. . . .

The 12 Anathemas, Proposed by Cyril and accepted by the Council of Ephesus:

  1. If anyone does not confess that Emmanuel is God in truth, and therefore that the holy virgin is the mother of God (for she bore in a fleshly way the Word of God become flesh), let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone does not confess that the Word from God the Father has been united by hypostasis with the flesh and is one Christ with his own flesh, and is therefore God and man together, let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone divides in the one Christ the hypostases after the union, joining them only by a conjunction of dignity or authority or power, and not rather by a coming together in a union by nature, let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone distributes between the two persons or hypostases the expressions used either in the gospels or in the apostolic writings, whether they are used by the holy writers of Christ or by him about himself, and ascribes some to him as to a man, thought of separately from the Word from God, and others, as befitting God, to him as to the Word from God the Father, let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone dares to say that Christ was a God-bearing man and not rather God in truth, being by nature one Son, even as “the Word became flesh”, and is made partaker of blood and flesh precisely like us, let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone says that the Word from God the Father was the God or master of Christ, and does not rather confess the same both God and man, the Word having become flesh, according to the scriptures, let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone says that as man Jesus was activated by the Word of God and was clothed with the glory of the Only-begotten, as a being separate from him, let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone dares to say that the man who was assumed ought to be worshipped and glorified together with the divine Word and be called God along with him, while being separate from him, (for the addition of “with” must always compel us to think in this way), and will not rather worship Emmanuel with one veneration and send up to him one doxology, even as “the Word became flesh”, let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone says that the one Lord Jesus Christ was glorified by the Spirit, as making use of an alien power that worked through him and as having received from him the power to master unclean spirits and to work divine wonders among people, and does not rather say that it was his own proper Spirit through whom he worked the divine wonders, let him be anathema.

 

  1. The divine scripture says Christ became “the high priest and apostle of our confession”; he offered himself to God the Father in an odour of sweetness for our sake. If anyone, therefore, says that it was not the very Word from God who became our high priest and apostle, when he became flesh and a man like us, but as it were another who was separate from him, in particular a man from a woman, or if anyone says that he offered the sacrifice also for himself and not rather for us alone (for he who knew no sin needed no offering), let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone does not confess that the flesh of the Lord is life-giving and belongs to the Word from God the Father, but maintains that it belongs to another besides him, united with him in dignity or as enjoying a mere divine indwelling, and is not rather life-giving, as we said, since it became the flesh belonging to the Word who has power to bring all things to life, let him be anathema.

 

  1. If anyone does not confess that the Word of God suffered in the flesh and was crucified in the flesh and tasted death in the flesh and became the first born of the dead, although as God he is life and life-giving, let him be anathema.

 

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Some thoughts on Orthodox/Protestant dialogue.

GrahamI was sent an article written by the late Fr Seraphim Rose on “The Proper View of Non-Orthodox Christians” and I would like to share some thoughts on its argument.

While I do not disagree with the general intent and purpose of the article (how to cultivate φιλανθρωπία, or the love of neighbor), I do believe that the article is not as effective as it could be because it does not take into account the many nuances and complexities of Orthodox/Protestant dialogue in the 21st century.

Maybe that is because Fr Seraphim wrote during a time when globalization and the Protestant awareness of Orthodoxy in America had not grown to the extent it has today. Be that as it may, I’d like to address some of the article’s arguments. (Please note that I am addressing only the content of the argument, not making any appraisal of Fr Seraphim, his writings, or anything like that).

The article is available in many places online, e.g., here.

After making some general remarks about how Orthodoxy is the Church, the article starts by saying that

It is not for us to define the state of those who are outside the Orthodox Church.

I think Fr Seraphim begins by unintentionally committing the fallacy of poisoning the well when he asserts that it is not for us to define the state of those who are outside the Church. It assumes that criticisms of error and debates about the church and doctrine, at least in the majority of times, consist of people judging the personal state of those with whom they were interacting; but that is not always the case. Plus, this is not the topic of the article to begin with.

It goes on to say,

About those Christians who are outside the Orthodox Church, therefore, I would say: they do not yet have the full truth. Perhaps it just hasn’t been revealed to them yet, or perhaps it is our fault for not living and teaching the Orthodox Faith in a way they can understand.

Here, I believe Fr Seraphim equivocates on the concept of “the truth not being revealed to them yet.” Of the several possible meanings of this idea, which one is intended here? One could think that he means that people never heard in their entire life about the Orthodox Church and of Christian doctrine, and if so I think this could be a valid point.

However, most interactions in a place like the United States today are not of the sort. On the contrary, they are interactions between Orthodox people and Protestants who know what the Orthodox Church is and what it teaches; and they often are very happy to deny her teachings, in its most central dogmas, and explicitly call Orthodox people non-Christians. So they know. And they reject it.

The only other possible meaning of “God has not yet revealed that to them” would be a subjective, Calvinistic idea of God conveying some secret revelation to people in their hearts. I don’t know if Fr Seraphim meant this, but this meaning would be problematic for several reasons: first, because it is not for us to inquire about secret and hidden things; also, because the Church in its history did not simply tell those who opposed Christian truth by saying, “maybe God didn’t reveal it to you.” Well, maybe God didn’t, but truth is truth, and error was rejected. Explicitly. In many councils.

The article also makes some vague statements about using the terms “heresy” and “heretic.” For example,

Among Western converts to Orthodoxy there is indeed a temptation to speak too freely of “heresy” and “heretics,” and to make the errors of the non-Orthodox an excuse for a certain pharisaic smugness about our own Orthodoxy.

Perhaps it is true that people might use those terms too loosely at times. However, the clear, intentional, informed, obstinate, and deliberate denial of the central tenets of Christianity by many Protestants is also a reality.

It is a common experience of many practicing Orthodox people in a place like United States, who have friends and relatives who are Protestants, to be told explicitly things like, “there is no such thing as the Eucharist, there is no such thing as the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ. This is idolatry and paganism. Communion is just a memorial, it’s just bread and wine, or better, crackers and grape juice.”

Or, “the Virgin and Theotokos is neither a virgin nor the mother of God. This is idolatry and paganism; she is only the mother of Jesus, she was just a pipe through which God sent the physical body of his Son.”

Or, “The Orthodox Church is not the Church; it is not in the Body of Christ. It is at best just another denomination, at worst a pagan group developed after Constantine, and people in it deny Christ and go to hell.”

Or “asking for the help and prayers of the ‘saints’ is idolatry, necromancy, paganism, it is empowered  by demons, and it is a sure sign that one is going to hell.”

I could go on with many other examples. These I report from personal interactions and listening to Protestant public teaching, from the pulpit, media, etc.

Maybe one is prepared to be confronted with such things and shrug if off in the name of love. After all, there is some truth in Protestantism (as it is inevitable – there is much truth in Buddhism and Islam as well), and, as Fr Seraphim says,

Almost all of the [Protestant] religious Christmas carols are all right, and they are sung by Orthodox Christians in America (some of them even in the strictest monasteries!).

Maybe Fr Seraphim was thinking of some of the classic Protestant hymns of John Newton and the Wesleys, not the, shall we say, interesting things sung in modern pop evangelical Jesus-is-my-boyfriend Christian rock.

Be that as it may, I don’t think that true love, in this situation, is one not to address truth. This would be simply superficial indifference and compromise. And I don’t think the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils who gave their lives to defend truth and evangelize the world would agree with that approach either.

yelling1Many Protestants say these things outlined above to Orthodox people. They deny the Eucharist, the Church, the Mother of God, the communion of saints, the Mysteries (Sacraments), and Orthodox Christology. They actively teach the erroneous alternatives to the Christian Faith.

They also say these things to other Protestants. Pastors and teachers say these things from the pulpit. Protestant churches use all available media tools to spread these errors and to keep people from being joined to the Body of Christ. I have heard, read, or been told these things hundreds of times.

The article ends by affirming that we should view or non-Orthodox people as potentially Orthodox, and live peaceably with them and not be harsh towards them.

In the end, we should view the non-Orthodox as people to whom Orthodoxy has not yet been revealed, as people who are potentially Orthodox (if only we ourselves would give them a better example!). There is no reason why we cannot call them Christians and be on good terms with them, recognizing that at least we have our faith in Christ in common, and live in peace especially with our own families. A harsh, polemical attitude is called for only when the non-Orthodox are trying to take away our flocks or change our teaching.

I think this is a very problematic equivocation, and here’s why.

It assumes that opposing these errors I listed here, and many others, is automatically, and by definition, equivalent to being harsh, to considering people as lost causes, enemies, or wanting not to be peaceable with them.

Not only this is not true, very often the opposite is true. We speak the truth in love with the hope that people will embrace the truth and reject error, not because we don’t consider them as potentially living in the Truth.

We live in a society where truth has been, by and large, demoted from the public square and reduced to personal, subjective preferences. The  popular idea that “truth is relative” is something that many people actually believe. And one offspring of such darkness is the increase in hatred against opposing views.

We already see this in the current socio-political condition of this country, where “toleration” is something that one only wishes to apply to his or her opinion, but never to extend to the ones who disagree with him or her. More than ever, people do not accept opposing in views, and express hatred against those who hold them. We are living in an increasingly fascist society when it comes to ideas and freedom of speech. It probably won’t be too long before people can be jailed for simply saying particular Christian beliefs out loud which are out of step with current popular opinion.

This carries on to the religious arena as well. Ironically, very often, the same evangelical Christians who complain about not having the liberty to believe as they will in the secular world, will not tolerate being questioned in their beliefs by other Christians either.

I cannot count how many times I have witnessed Protestants reacting with hatred at the mere mention that their views are in error. Not necessarily by an Orthodox –  it could be a Lutheran questioning Word-of-Faith preachers, or many other combinations.

Protestants are often very eager to affirm the things I outlined above, but if one tries to explain why the affirmations are erroneous, the reaction is something like, “how dare you? Who do you think you are? How dare you judge me? You are rude and judgmental and harsh!”

Image result for yelling womanMost often, it would not matter if you were to oppose their views on your knees and holding out flowers and a box of chocolates. The mere objective mention of their error, or the defense of the Christian faith and truth, is a cause for hatred and the accusation of rudeness, arrogance, and of being judgmental.

It is no surprise that those who have been wounded by the zeitgeist (as we all have some way) get angry when confronted with the truth, even if the “confrontation” is done with respect and even gentleness.

I do not doubt that many people have failed to be gentle and respectful in their theological interactions. I am sure I have at times. We should all heed the call to gentleness and respect.

But I am convinced that more often than not, the problem is just the opposite. It is that people knowingly and deliberately reject the truth they do know, much like the Pharisees of old; they do not like being opposed in any way that does not suit their personal preference. Because for many Christians in America, Christianity, either in itself, or in its different “expressions,” is a matter of preference, not ultimate truth. That is why many Protestants now, more than ever, incessantly pursue the Holy Grail of being “relevant” to the public preferences du jour.

I do not even need to list the numerous passages in the New Testament where St. Paul and others command their co-workers to “rebuke sharply” those who oppose the truth.

I worked for a few years in countercult apologetics when I was a Protestant. I have seen how cults operate. Groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on. They might be “potential” Protestants and Christians, but they are not Protestants, and they are not Christians. They’re cults. They jeopardize peoples’ lives spiritually. Maybe God has not yet revealed something to them either.

Often they also react with anger and hatred against those who very gently, objectively, and respectfully speak and publish against their serious errors. Against people who have spent their entire lives, as a calling, reaching out to them and “speaking the truth in love” to help pluck them out of the fire.

Many of those people speaking the truth are former cultists. I have met them. Many of them are very thankful that somebody reached out to them. They are thankful that people were not afraid to be hated or thought of being jerks by simply telling them the truth. They are thankful that people cared and reached out and spoke the truth to them.

Our friends and family members who are Protestants may not be in cults. But, as I mentioned above, they can very clearly, deliberately, and obstinately espouse very serious error and spread such errors against the truth of Christ. They do it here in this country. They also send missionaries to Orthodox countries to “evangelize” them – i.e., get them out of the Church and into their own groups and versions of “Christianity.”

I believe Fr Seraphim’s article, which I have seen circulating on the interwebs, and which is well-intentioned, does a disservice by implying that presenting truth is, automatically and by definition, unkind; and that we should “live in peace” and quiet alongside outspoken error and heresy for the sake of being nice and not being thought of as rude.

On the contrary, we should speak the truth in love.

As I write this, I’m reminded that last night I was invited by a friend to attend the Service at the old ROCOR Cathedral in San Francisco, when in a couple of weeks he (a Protestant convert) will be made an official catechumen so he can be baptized and Chrismated into the Church. Because people who cared (including me) spoke the truth in love and took the time to answer his questions.

Glory to God!

Faith and Reason, Theology and Philosophy – what do we know and how?

Faith and ReasonFor Aquinas, philosophy considers the nature of things as they are in themselves, whereas theology considers things as they are in relation to God.

The distinction, first, involves the point of view. From the point of view of theology, there are things that can be known by reason alone, and some of those things have been revealed by God, but they might not have been. These are things revealable.

They are encompassed by theology when they are investigated and understood in their relation to God as their source and their end. In addition, theology also involves those things that can be known only by revelation. For example, that God is a Trinity. These are the revelatum.

In this way, all things can be considered within the scope of theology because they are treated sub ratione Dei, under the logic of God, within the context of God being their source and end, and of the ordering of all things within a hierarchical structure of all reality towards God. For Aquinas, theology is a science of revelation, acquired from the Word of God. This is his idea of sacra doctrina  – the sacred doctrine of God and of the beatorum.

From the point of view of philosophy, things that can be known apart from revelation can be extracted from their theological context and be viewed as they are in themselves, judged from the point of view of natural reason. In this way, not only the physical sciences, but also metaphysical knowledge, can be investigated in its own right, as well as be inserted in a theological structure without losing its strictly philosophical nature.

There is a science of reason that can be integrated with the science of revelation without compromising the structure of either (although, when integrated, the science of reason is subordinated to and ordered according to the science of revelation). Philosophy investigates creatures as they are in themselves, and theology investigates all things as they are in relation to God.

In this way, there are things that are accessible to human understanding and reason; for example, mathematics, physical sciences, metaphysical inquiry in which the existence of a simple Being whose essence is identical with its existence is the Prime Mover of all creation, etc.

These things are in principle knowable by human reason unaided by revelation, even though some of them have been revealed. They are the revealable, the revelabilia.

This human learning, then can be incorporated into theology. Some of these things have been given through revelation: for example, a metaphysician can, by reason alone, demonstrate the existence of God. But since not all men are metaphysicians – they do not have the training, the aptitude, the time, etc. – God has revealed that in order that all men might be saved.

There are also things that can be known only by revelation. This is the realm of the revelatum. Examples are the Trinity, the Incarnation, sin, etc. They are not accessible to human reason save by revelation; this is not to say they conflict with human reason, quite the contrary. But it is to say that human reason alone can neither attain, deduce, or prove those things.

AquinasTheology therefore depends solely on what is revealed by sacred scripture, and order all things – even things that are known by human reason alone, some of which have been revealed and some of which have not – sub ratione Dei.

Theology contains both what has been revealed by God and our rational understanding of that revelation. Theology receives what has been revealed and then spreads itself to consider all things under that point of view, ordered from God and to God. The things necessary for salvation are the articles of faith, which God has revealed.

Other things, which can be incorporated into theology, are not necessary for salvation, but they make the understanding of things necessary for salvation more explicit.

For Aquinas, then, sacred science can consider all things – all branches of philosophy –  from one point of view, insofar as they are revealable, and ordered according to God as their source and end. Faith and reason can be viewed as two intersecting circles, because there are things that are included in both at the same time (things knowable by reason alone which have also been revealed). The circles also have their content which do not intersect – e.g., the Trinity belongs to the realm of theology and faith and it is not attainable or proven by reason (these are things necessary for salvation), and there are also things known by reason alone that God has not revealed, even if he could have.

Reason and faith therefore are neither put in opposition, or in isolation, or in identity.Each has its proper realm according to the point of view of how they are considered.

Theology, however, is the higher science because it can encompass everything philosophy can discover, but it also includes things revealed that philosophy cannot discover. Also, when theology consider all revealable things sub ratione Dei, it does so in a way that is in accordance with human reason, because human reason, while limited and unable to attain to the revelatum, is never in conflict with it. Even when faith and reason cover the same territory, they each retain their own characteristics.

For human reason, sensible objects are always the point of departure of all of our knowledge, even as they have retained vestiges of the divine nature as their cause. Reason thus can have a preliminary role of pointing us to investigate the Ultimate Cause. It can also have a didactic purpose of explaining what has been revealed: either in the different ways of apologetics (confuting Christian or pagan error, etc.) as well as developing Christian theology in a coherent and encompassing way, approximating the knowledge of all things to the knowledge God has of himself and the knowledge that the blessed in heaven have.

Reason is used by theology to clarify the truths of faith. But the truths of faith that depend of revelation – the revelatum – cannot be attainable by reason alone or proven by reason alone. The attempt to do so is to confirm the unbeliever in his unbelief.

In this way, Aquinas is neither a rationalist nor a fideist.

He is not a rationalist because he makes very clear that things that are necessary for salvation can only be known through revelation and received by faith. He is not a fideist because he both preserves the legitimate realm of philosophy in which things can be considered as they are in themselves, as well as incorporates it into the realm of theology in which all things are considered from the point of view of revelation, while being understood in accordance with human reason.

Aquinas protects theology from rationalism and creation from contemptio mundi. In this way, grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.

Notes on Thomistic Concepts on the Structure of Reality

St. Thomas Aquinas from  by Carlo CrivelliThis is a summary of some key concepts for the understanding of the Thomistic theological constructs for the structure of reality and being.

Substance

In Aristotle, there are two senses of substance: the “first substance” is a whole, concrete entity – this horse, this man. The second sense, or “second substance” refers to quiddity – horse, man.

First substance refers to a being or an entity subsisting or existing in itself, not in another being like an accident. This is a metaphysical category; e.g., God, angels, human beings.—not physical, chemical substance. It is the basic ontological unit, a complete, individual whole, a determinate, particular subject of existing and acting, e.g., this tree, this human being, Tom, Mary, etc. It is the proper subject of existence, “that which exists [quod est],” not “that by which something exists [quo est]”

This is the first “category” of Aristotle’s ten categories or predicaments, the principal and primary sense of being. (See the list below)

Aquinas defines “person” as “individual substance of rational nature,” (cf. Boethius) and divine persons as “subsisting relations.”

Second substance refers to the essence/quiddity/nature (including both substantial form and prime matter) that defines the kind of being something is, “that by which” a thing remains the kind of being it is; it is universal, not particular like first substances, and is realized only in first substances. Iit is an internal principle of being (not a being), “that by which”; e.g., humanity, dogness, treeness, not a human being, a dog, a tree—entities are not all externally determined but have certain natures intrinsic to themselves that make them what they are and make them act as what they are; intrinsic or internal principle of being and acting.

Therefore it refers to a set of the defining potentialities proper to a specific kind of being to be actualized by accidents; it provides identity, continuity, and stability in the midst of “accidental changes,” coming to an end when “substantial change” occurs and the entity ceases to be what it is – for example when a body ceases to be human by dying and being decomposed in to chemical substances.

Accidents

They refer to realities that cannot exist in themselves, like first substances, but only in something else that does exist in itself – like color, weight, action, passion, etc. Iit is that by which a being can change while remaining the specifically and individually same entity and provides the elements of change and difference; it is the principle of diversity within the unity of the first substance. Some accidents are called “proper” accidents because they are proper to the species as a whole (e.g., ability to speak, laugh)

There are, according to Aristotle and Aquinas, nine categories of accidents, or modes of being in which a first substance can exist

  1. Quality: good, bad, wise, white
  2. Quantity: two feet long
  3. Action: run, walk, etc.
  4. Passion: being burned, being cut
  5. Relation: double, half, greater than
  6. Place: in the classroom, in Claremont, etc.
  7. Time: yesterday, last year, etc.
  8. Posture: reclining at table, sitting down, etc.
  9. State: having shoes on, being in armor

 

Structure or Essence of Material Substances:

The essence of material substances is composed of substantial form and prime matter. Substantial form is the source of the specific identity or identity as a species, as a human being, as a dog, etc. Prime matter is pure potentiality to be specified, determined, activated by the form. It is the principle of individuation: it multiplies the form and accounts for diversity within the unity of the form or species by receiving and restricting the form to “this” material subject–the possibilities of the species are not exhausted by an individual. For example, “humanity”is  multiplied into “many human individuals” by matter.

Consequently, in human beings there is a composite of form and matter: hylomorphism. There is a unity and distinction of soul and body –  soul as form of the body (matter); the soul is the efficient, transcendent cause of the body through intellect and will

 

Ultimate Principles of Being: Essence and Existence

For any being, or substance there are two fundamental questions: what something is and whether it exists—essence and existence

As such, there is a distinction between ens (a being), esse (to be, act of being, act of existing, activity of existing, existence, as verbal noun), and essence– the act of existing diversified by a diversity of essences. For example, one can ask whether a unicorn actually exists.

There is real distinction between essence and act of existing in all finite beings – they may or may not exist – but only a rational distinction in God, since God’s essence does not possess existence, but rather, is identical with his existence.

 

Ontological primacy of esse, existence:

Thomism is a metaphysics of existence, not metaphysics of first substance–esse is not to be reduced to substance. It is an existentialist, not essentialist ontology. The general rule is that the actual determines the potential (e.g., accidents determine substance; form determines matter (specifying and actualizing).

The act of being cannot be determined by anything outside itself, i.e., by something not existing. It can only be determined internally from within – the finite act of being is not absolute, pure, unique esse but only an act of being of a certain limited kind.

This limitation can only come from essence, which as potency, potentiality of certain kind of being, receives, determines, specifies, and limits the act of being. Thus, the act of existing both actualizes the essence as something other than itself and is limited by essence.

This is different – even opposite than previous ideas found in Alfarabi, Avicenna, Algazali, which, in making a distinction between essence and existence, considered existence as added to essence, i.e., existence as accident, which is then an essentialist philosophy (not existentialist).

In contrast, for Aquinas, existence is not on same level as essence. Existence is not another accident, but the most intimate and most profound element in all things. Existence as accident cannot explain  the necessary existence or simplicity of existence in God. Esse and essence belong to two different orders altogether: esse transcends the whole plane of essence.

Essence is distinct from existence and essence does not contain existence but is also thoroughly actuated by existence. Existence is internal to essence in the sense that essence is truly essence only when actualized by existence, but essence is external to existence in the sense that existence is not inherent in essence; that is to say, a thing can be or not, exist or not; to be a particular kind of being is not necessarily to exist as that kind of being—existence is most internal to me yet external to my essence as this individual of a particular kind.

To create is precisely to produce the esse of things – it is to make things exist. The creator is most intimately present to things because he is present to their act of existing—more deeply than to their materiality or even their spirituality. God is more intimately present to me than I am to myself – as Augustine said, intimius intimo meo.

Existence is graced, intrinsic to me as most intimate to me yet not constitutive of me because I am not my own existence—my existence is always borrowed, gifted, given. Existence is not part of my essence. This distinction precludes pantheism, and yet it does involve a certain panentheism: all things are in God, in the sustaining power of God’s creative causality.

All things have meaning only in relation to existence; what is most perfect is the act of existing, related to all things as to their first act. Existence is the actuality of all things, including essence, form, matter, etc. It precedes all other perfections: the good, the beautiful, one, etc.; these latter are meaningful only insofar as they are or exist and therefore only as particular modes of being or existing. There is a primacy of existence in Aquinas vs. the primacy of the Good in Plato.

 

Cognitive primacy of existence:

Esse, existence, is the horizon of all cognition: all things are understood as existing or at least as capable of existing (the first principle) and we perceive all things under the horizon of being (sub ratione entis). The natural tendency of reason is to essentialize existence, turn it into a mode or kind of essence, especially material essence—to reify esse into a frozen essence, to reduce existence to an abstract concept.

We must distinguish between simple apprehension of essence or quiddity (first operation of the intellect, i.e., what is this? It is a horse, or a unicorn.) and the act of judgment which composes or combines or separates essence and existence (second operation of the intellect which regards the esse of things – the unicorn does not exist, the horse exists). Thus, there is a judgment of existence: “Socrates is”– a composition of substance Socrates and its existence in the unqualified or absolute sense.

It depends also on what the meaning of “is” is!

Judgment of existence in the qualified sense would be: “Socrates is a human being” – the role of the copula: essence of Socrates is to be a man, or white–existential value is not direct in the copula, but still there–actuality of the act of existing is the principal signification of “is,” but secondarily all actuality whatsoever including the actuality of a certain form (man, white).

The copula still designates composition of form and existence; the actuality of the form is consignified —“Socrates exists with such and such determinations” still specifies his particular mode of existing. The unity of subject and predicate is affirmed as existing in reality, outside the mind, irreducible to our own affirming subjectivity. Thus the modern turn to the subject has its limitations.

Every time we make such judgments – Socrates is … – we are already affirming existence, and act of existing as grasped in the act of judging contains a permanent reference to an infinitely rich reality of the pure act of existing–pursuing it all the way to the supreme existent, God. As concept, being is most universal and most abstract—richest in extension but poorest in comprehension. Reason dislikes the undefinable, which being is in its inexhaustible reality.

 

Real distinction between essence and existence in finite beings

Essence can be understood without knowledge of its existence. There is a radical contingency of all beings (they may or not come into existence, and they may nor not cease to exist) and there is the impossibility of there being more than one being in which essence and existence are identical (God).

Existence and essence are related as act and potency. There is no potency in God, who is pure actuality because his essence is identical with his existence.

God is not a genus, a quiddity. Finite existence is existence by participation; God exists by essence – ipsum esse subsistens, the very act of existing that subsists, the subsisting act of existing

Kant says that existence is a logical, not a real predicate, but this is not true; existence is neither merely logical nor merely one among other predicates, but the predicate that confers reality on all other predicates because existence makes all predicates real. The reality of predicates depends on existence.

Thus, Thomist theology is a theology of being (sapiential, contemplative), as opposed to contemporary theologies of life, existence, praxis, liberation, hope, etc. (prophetic, practical).

Kierkegaard speaks of forgetfulness of existence in the subjective sense, Heidegger of forgetfulness of being—Aquinas speaks of the forgetfulness of existence in the metaphysical sense—the sense of the suppression of contingency of existence, death, old age—our tendency to reduce reality to the sensible in their particularity—and ignore the act of existing as the most profound and intimate act of a being as a being (shich requires contemplative detachment from the lures and illusions of sensible things)

Because of the composition of act and potency, where every act is the actualization of an existing potentiality, the world is not a mere succession of purely contingent appearances or acts but an orderly succession of intelligible, stable events—there is no act which is just act without actualizing a potentiality, while potentiality, if it is real, is an already actualized potentiality.

 

 

Hegel’s Realization of the Spirit in History

Friedrich-Hegel-2Hegel is the first thinker to treat history as a matter of philosophical and theological study. He made a distinction between individual existence and social existence, so that history refers primarily to our social life, not individual, private lives. The spirit moves the individual, but history is primarily society in its temporal process – and Hegel’s basic social unity is the nation/state.

The spirit works through history in bringing together freedom and necessity, subjectivity and objectivity. There is a rational pattern that can be discerned in history, as the spirit continues to move forward toward freedom. The progression is necessary, because development is necessary in all levels. In nature, organic matter develops, as a seed becomes a tree; in human beings, children develop, and by necessity a three year old child cannot think and behave like a thirty year old adult.

In the same manner, the spirit develops through the thoughts and actions of nations and civilizations. The spirit actualizes itself in the self-consciousness of human beings and in their progressive consciousness of freedom. For Hegel, it is a discernible pattern of history that the more ancient civilizations had a more limited concept of freedom, whereas democracy only appears in modern times. He argues that in ancient Oriental civilizations, the general pattern was that only the ruler was free, whereas in the later Greek civilization there was an oligarchy of the few who were free – and finally modern nations have the awareness that all should be free. There were exceptions to the rule, and breaks in the general chronology, but the exceptions only prove the rule.

History is not a mere succession of sheer contingencies – not just one random thing after another. For Hegel, if one looks at the world rationally, the world will look rationally back. There is a development of reason in the pattern, since for Hegel reason is substance and infinite power, the infinite material of all natural and spiritual life and the infinite form which activates this material content.[i]

General Design

The sole aim of the philosophical enquiry then is to eliminate the contingent, and so in history we must look for a general design. World history is governed by an ultimate design; it is a rational process of the divine and absolute reason, the manifestation of the one original reason, and a reflection of the archetype in a particular element in the life of the nations. Reason is self-sufficient and contains its end within itself, bringing itself into existence and carrying itself into effect.

The history of the world is thus a rational process, the rational and necessary evolution of the world spirit. A divine will rules supreme and is strong enough to determine the overall content, as events are moved by the moving of the spirit within them, the “true Mercury, the leader of the nations.”[ii]

Modes of Historical Thinking and Writing

As Hegel observes and explains the patterns of the development of world history, he makes distinctions concerning what kind of historical writing is appropriate for his project. He discerns three modes of historical writing: original history, reflexive history and philosophical history.

The first mode, historical writing, is one in which the author is immersed in the spirit of the events he describes, and does not rise above it to reflect upon it. The writer is an eyewitness of the events, and although perspective is time fresh it is also limited by a lack of wider perspective.

The second mode, reflexive history, depicts not only what was present and alive in this or that age, but that which is present in spirit, and so it looks at the past as a whole. This includes surveys of history (compilations), pragmatic history (focus on significance and moral instructions[iii]), critical history (history of history, higher criticism[iv]) and specialized history (which is fragmentary, particular, and abstract: e.g. the history of art).

The third mode of philosophical history (the one Hegel proposes to adopt) focuses on the concrete and “absolutely present,” the “spirit which is eternally present to itself and for which there is no past.” It is the Idea, the leader of nations and of the world, the spirit with its “rational and necessary will” which directs the events of world history.[v] This mode brings a synthesis of reason, spirit, providence, subjectivity, objectivity, movement, and teleology.

The Realization of the Spirit in History

Philosophical history then discerns the patterns of the spirit, which combines reason and will. This is expressed not only in individuals, but also in higher levels of human existence.

There are for Hegel three basic levels of the activity of the spirit:

1. First, the spirit becomes conscious and seeks freedom in the individual spirit.

2. It also moves individuals together as it sublates contradictions and seeks freedom in the level of the nation – the nation spirit.

3. Thirdly, the spirit will also move not only through individuals and nations, but also in guiding the totality of world history – the world spirit.

From a different perspective, these three levels can also be understood in a descending scale: The absolute spirit is incarnated, embodied in the world spirit; the world spirit is incarnated, embodied and particularized in the nation spirit, and the nation spirit is incarnated and embodied in the individual spirit.

The absolute spirit is the ultimate agent and ultimate goal. It is absolute in that it is not determined – but it seeks determination in its embodiment in the world, so that it can eventually sublate contradictions towards ultimate freedom.

In this way, world history belongs to the realm of the spirit. Physical nature does plays a part, but the spirit and the course of its development (actualized in human beings, and, more importantly, in nations) are the true substance of history. After the creation of nature, man appears as the antithesis of nature since the kingdom of God is the spiritual kingdom which is realized in man and which man is expected to translate into actuality – man is active withinthe spirit, and the spirit is active within man. Human nature is a combination of spirit and nature, and essence of the spirit is self-consciousness. [vi]

Deutschland über alles!

hegelHegel, however, is primarily concerned with the spirit of the nation, which for him is the basic unit of world history, not the individual person. Thus he takes a thoroughly socio-historical approach to his philosophy of history, opposing atomistic individualism. Hegel recognizes that it is from the state that and individual derives the substance of his life.

This approach is markedly different from the modern philosophical approaches which, since Descartes, generally concentrate on the individual and his relation to the external reality. Hegel’s philosophy does not allow for any identity outside of relationships embodied in concrete reality, and therefore it is natural that, while recognizing that the movement of the spirit is indeed realized in the individual, there is no meaningful individual who does not derive his existence and meaning from historical relations.

There is no independent individual, for (as we will see later) each element of finite reality is thoroughly dependent upon its finite counterparts, just as finite reality is thoroughly dependent on the infinite and vice-versa.

As an individual, I derive my food, my protection, my value system, and so on, from the social relationships in which I live, move, and have my being. Therefore the spirit of the nation is the womb in which individuals live, and is the basic vehicle of the spirit in its progression toward self-knowledge and freedom.

Hegel’s conception of the state is therefore spiritual, not materialistic, and the “spirit of the nation” is constituted by the ideals that bind people together. All spheres of our lives – politics, technology, religion, art, philosophy, etc. – are expressions of the spirit of the nation.

This is an organic conception of society, in which there is what Hegel calls a principle of coherence between laws, politics, religion, culture, and so on, because the spirit of the nation in its own locus of development toward freedom will affect all these areas in a reasonably uniform way. For example, a nation that has an authoritarian religion will find it hard to have a democratic constitution.

Just as an individual life has to cohere in its different aspects, embracing its negations and sublating them, so also with the state. Internal conflicts bring revolutions and the dialectical approach demands reconciliation of the many realms of life present in the state, since the spirit of the nation articulates itself in this diversity of spheres. They have to cohere, and they generally do – again, the state cannot impose a constitution on a people, since it has to come from the spirit of the people. There must be as much unification of differences in society as possible (and this does not mean sheer uniformity), and some kind of totality is essential even for the sake of difference.

Hegel took the German nation and society to be the pinnacle of the development of the spirit. However, to apply his insights to our current history, it could be said that this becomes especially relevant in our present context, since globalization clearly requires a harmonizing element between the different cultures, religions, ideologies, societies, economic systems, and so on, which have been brought face to face more than ever in the history of mankind.

Civilizations are becoming more and more amalgamated, as now the “wholly other” is my next door neighbor; the challenges of reconciliation and the questions concerning the possibility of unity that maintains diversity brings Hegel’s idea of negation-transcendence-preservation to great relevance today.

Freedom: the part Marx tweaked.

The nation spirit, then, continues to move into greater awareness of freedom. The ultimate phase of national consciousness is the recognition that man is free. This consciousness encompasses and guides all the aims and interests of the nation, and it is on this consciousness that the nation’s rights, customs, and religion depend.

This progression is achieved through a dialectical movement where contradictions are constantly being encountered and sublated; as we have seen, the world is a struggle of classes, religions, ideas, systems, cultures, etc., and thus,

The ultimate aim of the spirit is to know itself, and to comprehend itself no merely intuitively, but also in terms of thought. It must and will succeed in its task; but this very success is also its downfall, and this in turn heralds the emergence of a new phase and a new spirit.[vii]

There is progression, growth and succession, and the task of philosophical world history is to discover the continuity within this movement. It is important to emphasize that the movement of the spirit (particularly the nation spirit throughout history) is not a cycle, but a progression. Every instance in which ideas and practices within a particular society have come into tension and conflict, and then have been resolved and sublated in any way, there is fulfillment.

hegelmugBut as Hegel points out, when the ideals, aspirations, and goals of a nation have received some relief though some resolution of conflict, the tendency (as with individual human beings) is that stagnation and “boredom” occurs. Once (literal or metaphorical) battles have been fought, human beings and nations tend to become complacent, and often lose their sense of greater purpose. For Hegel, this eventually issues in a kind of “death” of the nation, and what is needed is a sort of resurgence from the ashes.

The universal spirit does not die; it dies only in its capacity as national spirit. But the universal spirit will continue to move, and even this death will not be final.

As a phoenix, the spirit rises out of the death of change and comes again to life. The spirit rises again not just as a mere repetition of what it was before, but rather now enhanced and transfigured in a new stage of development.

The Spirit Carries On.

[i] Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 27-28

[ii] Ibid., 29

[iii] Hegel argues that history teaches that we have never learned anything from history, because each age and each nation finds itself in peculiar circumstances and situations.

[iv] For Hegel, higher criticism “has been the pretext for introducing all the un-historical monstrosities a vain imagination could suggest … a method of bringing a [present into the past, namely by substituting subjective fancies which are considered the more excellent the bolder they are … (22-23)

[v] Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 24

[vi] Ibid., 44

[vii] Ibid., 56

Hans Urs von Balthasar and Hope – Conclusion

Abandonment, Holy Saturday, and Hell

lastjudgment_5x10One very helpful insight Balthasar emphasizes is that God does not judge his creatures merely from above and merely from outside. Rather, he has lived out in Christ the ultimate experience of this world, the very world that has exercised its given, created, limited freedom to withdraw obedience from God. Christ was abandoned by man and he was abandoned by the Father, and so he is the incarnate one who has experientially known “every dimension of the world’s being down to the abyss of hell.”[1] This he calls the “central issue” of the theo-drama: “that God has made his own the tragic situation of human existence, right down to its ultimate abysses; thus, without drawing its teeth or imposing an extrinsic solution on it, he overcomes it.”[2]

This heightens the drama and brings concrete reality to the meaningful relationship between God and men. Balthasar’s theology at times is subject to the criticism that it is more abstract that concrete; but here, concreteness gains prominence, and fittingly so at the turning point of the drama of redemption. Christ has suffered concretely for the concrete sins that are done individually and corporately; he has suffered for all the suffering and injustice that are experienced in the world individually and corporately. God proves his love and compassion for the world by taking sin and judgment upon himself in Christ. The Mediator is the one who is in a “pact with both warring parties and yet not a traitor to either; epitomizing the living drama in the very ‘composition’ of his being, torn asunder by his tragic situation and yet, thus torn, healing divisions.”[3]

There are two dimensions that open up in the cross of Christ, where “God himself is forsaken by God because of man’s godlessness.”[4] Balthasar develops the theme of the crucifixion and death of Christ as that which will become the locus of the judgment of God for all humanity. But there are some aspects of his development of this theme that seem to be inconsistent both with Scripture and with Tradition, as some scholars have complained.[5] He argues that, as Christ drank the cup of the wrath of God, he was baptized with the baptism which lead down to death and hell, becoming the accursed one (Gal 3:13) who is sin (2 Cor. 5:21) personified.

So far, this seems consistent with the traditional interpretation of the cross of Christ. But Balthasar goes further: for him, Christ goes to the place where “the smoke . . . goes up for ever and ever,” as described in Rev. 19:3 in reference to the eternal destruction of Babylon; Christ is thrown into the lake of fire which is the second death (citing Rev. 20:14).[6] Referring to Christ’s condition, he says, “this is the essence of the second death: that which is cursed by God in his definitive judgment (John 12:31) sinks down to the place where it belongs. In this final state there is no time.”[7] Further, he states that

The real object of a theology of Holy Saturday does not consist in the completed state which follows on the last act of self surrender of the incarnate Son to his Father . . . rather . . . it is something unique . . . all the sins of the world now experienced as agony and a sinking down into the “second death” or “second chaos . . .[8]

Thus, Christ has suffered “not only for the elect but for all human beings  . . . [and he] assumed their eschatological ‘No’” as he experienced the second death.”[9]

There are a number of problems with these statements. First, if Christ has indeed experienced the second death for all humanity indiscriminately, there are only two options available for a consistent soteriology. One is that all the sins of humanity, without discrimination, are punished in Christ, and thereby all human beings ultimately are justified and saved despite their Yes or No to God; they are automatically redeemed because the objective work of Christ is applied to all without qualification. The second option is that, conversely, some will still remain in their conscious, final No to God and be eternally separated from him in hell despite Christ’s work that applies to all indiscriminately. Both options are highly problematic.

In the first option, there is no significant drama left. All evil has been punished in Christ and all humanity has been saved, whether individuals accept that or not. There will never be any other judgment upon murderers, abusers, oppressive governments, liars, and the like. We can know with certainty (despite Balthasar’s desire to remove certainty in order to maintain genuine drama) that all sins that could ever be committed, whether personally or corporately – indeed, all the evil that is daily perpetrated throughout the world, and all injustice – have been already punished.

In that case, hell has already fully and finally appeared under the cross, and it has fulfilled its purpose in the sufferings of Christ. Balthasar indeed has affirmed that “on the basis of this exchange of place, we are already ‘reconciled to God’ (Rom. 5:18) in advance of our own consent, ‘while we were yet sinners’ . . . we are ontologically ‘transferred.’”[10] This would need some serious qualifications to begin with; but here the implications seem to go beyond “in advance of our own consent” into the idea of despite our own consent.

This unlimited and unconditional act of grace might sound like something desirable in the abstract sense, but when one considers individual people (or particular groups or governments) with their concrete sins and concrete expressions of evil, human intuition reacts against unconditional amnesty. Indeed, it would be unjust if an evil person who perpetrates great evil intentionally, unrepentantly, to the end of his or her life, should go unpunished.

Temporal punishments do not solve the problem either, because they often are not experienced by guilty parties. There seems to be a universal intuition that unrepentant criminals who commit vile crimes should not only be deterred, but punished – and that if they are not punishment, justice has not been served. Human nature can appreciate mercy to repentant offenders; but not unqualified mercy and grace to unrepentant, obstinate evil doers. But that is what the concept of Christ’s suffering the second death for all humanity indiscriminately would require. In fact, the main purpose of the book of Revelation – to comfort the faithful who experience pain and persecution in the world in view of the coming deliverance of the righteous and punishment of the evil persecutors – is defeated.

When John says that “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur; this is the second death,” (Rev. 21:8), to take Balthasar’s approach, one cannot take this other than a symbol for what Christ has endured. They do not apply to people in any meaningful way anymore.

The second option would be one in which God would honor a person’s freedom to remain in his or her No to God despite of what Christ has suffered in the second death. This is what is implied by Balthasar when he says, “Man is always situatied between two principles that, depending on his free choice, govern his perdition or salvation.”[11] Aside from the apparently contradiction this creates with his other statements, this would entail (given his apparently purely objective view of the atonement as described above) that Christ’s sacrifice ultimately is not effective, because, in and of itself, it does not atone for anybody – it only makes forgiveness possible.

It does not accomplish any objective punishment in hell for sinners who say No to God, even though it is meant for them. In this way, finite freedom ultimately triumphs over infinite freedom, and all affirmations (made repeatedly by Balthasar) that Christ’s suffering and abandoment is experienced in the place of all human beings needs to be qualified as a mere possibility posited by God that becomes effective only to those who say Yes to God.

Tradition

Beyond the issues of exegetical difficulties and logical inconsistencies that these options entail, there is also the problem of the traditional understanding of the Church in relation to Christ’s suffering on the cross. Of course, one may not take either Scripture or the Tradition of the Church as bearing any ultimate authority on this or any other issue; but they are central to someone like Balthasar who means to submit himself to the authority of both Scripture and Tradition. When it comes, then, to Tradition, it would be almost redundant to cite the overwhelming majority of the historical Church which has denied that Christ has suffered the second death in the lake of fire. Suffice it to quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.

633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”: “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

As the Catechism makes clear, Jesus did not go to the lake of fire in a second death to experience there the abandonment and punishment of God. The Church has understood Christ’s “descent into hell” as done in glory, as Christ descends “as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.” He went, not to the lake of fire, but to “Abraham’s bosom,” where the righteous awaited the proclamation of the victory of Christ; he did not go to the place of torment where was found the “rich man” who begged Lazarus for a drop of water and was denied because of the “great chasm” that stood between them.

One of Balthasar’s concerns in emphasizing Christ’s descent into hell is to make sense of Holy Saturday. If Christ’s work was finished on the cross, why is there a Saturday before Easter? This is an important question, and, indeed, to affirm that Christ needed a day to proclaim victory to the righteous seem unconvincing as a rationale for Holy Saturday, given that Christ exited the realm of physical time when he gave up his spirit on the cross. Announcing victory to a multitude in Abraham’s bosom would take less than a second – indeed it would take no time at all, because that realm is beyond time.

However, to argue that on that day Christ was in hell finishing his atonement and abandonment for mankind is not something necessary for one to make sense of Holy Saturday; indeed, to deny Christ’s suffering in the second death is not to deny the importance of Holy Saturday. Balthasar himself brilliantly expresses the role and importance of the silence and darkness of that day, which is the time “in between his placing in the grave and the event of the Resurrection” when death calls for this silence. He writes,

Death calls for this silence, not only by reason of the mourning of the survivors, but, even more, because of what we know of the dwelling and condition of the dead . . . death is not a partial event. It is a happening which affects the whole person . . . it is a situation which signifies in the first place the abandonment of all spontaneous activity and so [it is] a passivity . . .  In that same way that, upon earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is in solidarity with the dead.[12]

This is consistent with Christ’s cry on the cross: Τετέλεσται (John 19:30), as he gave up his spirit; the work had been completed then and there. Τετέλεσται is the perfect passive indicative of the verb τελέω which means “to complete an activity or process, bring to an end, finish.”[13] The perfect passive form as found in the gospel indicates that, as Christ gave up his spirit, his work of suffering and atonement was completed.

Thus, Balthasar’s exposition of Christ’ suffering in hell, as a second death effecting atonement for all humanity without qualification, faces great difficulties both with the Scriptural data and with Tradition. Edward Oakes argues that “the antinomies that inevitably result from their juxtaposition [of finite and infinite freedom] can only be resolved by the ‘wondrous exchange’ that took place when Christ was ‘made sin’ for our sake.”[14] Yet, it still remains arguable that, at least in the way Balthasar has conceived Christ’s sacrifice, those antinomies still remain.

Conclusion

Balthasar’s argument that man is destined and chosen “before the foundation of the world” to be “blessed with every spiritual blessing” implies a potential universal redemption, concept which, if not vitiates, at least significantly removes the vitality of the drama. The problem is not that we should not hope for the best; hope is always a virtue if that for which is hoped is a good thing – although even here this hope would be questionable given all the biblical data discussed above.

The problem is that, conceptually, the understanding of Christ’s representation and mediation for all men without qualification, and the application of Christ’s redemption to all men independently of the means faith from which the efficient cause of God’s grace cannot be divorced, actually becomes a comedy in which the script does not matter much apart from the work of Christ. That is, decisions made in people’s lives, and throughout history, whatever they might be, are in principle overwhelmed by the grace of God. An actor can fulfill whatever role he chooses, and regardless of whether he cares or not, the play knows what the end will be for him.

Balthasar would probably object and say that, if one thinks one can know what the end of the drama will be, one has misunderstood both Scripture and Balthasar’s theology. But this is where the difficulty in maintaining tensions becomes more pronounced. If all men are destined and chosen “before the foundation of the world” to be “blessed with every spiritual blessing,” then we do know the final outcome of the play. On the other hand, if the No of man can frustrate the Yes of God in Christ, then we may not “dare hope that all men be saved” in any meaningful sense.

If the Yes of Christ is made on behalf of all men indiscriminately, then it really does not matter what role I choose to play in my life. Scriptural commands to repent and to believe the gospel lose their force. My everyday actions as an individual, in all the spheres of life in which I participate – as a parent, as a friend, as a spouse, as a co-worker, as a laborer, as a law-maker, as a janitor, as a president – they have no ultimate, everlasting significance because they are all swallowed up by the grace of God.

Ethics become severely restricted, since whatever realism there might be in the good, the true and the beautiful, it is swallowed up by the nominalism and voluntarism of God who overthrows evil unqualifiedly at the end. On the other hand, if the No a person chooses to consciously and irrevocably give to God is maintained, as God’s “kenosis” in giving legitimate freedom to his creation would necessarily imply, then Balthasar’s hope is not legitimate; and this brings us to another problematic question in relation to hope.

While it may appear that Balthasar’s hope of an empty hell and universal salvation is a pious attitude that conforms more than any other to a robust, biblical, and faithful trust in the ultimate goodness and grace of God, it is in reality a restriction to what the goodness of God can in principle be. For example, if one chooses to say that creation is good, and therefore the salvation of all creation is in principle the greatest good, and therefore the greatest hope, then this would divorce God’s goodness from his justice.

That is to say, it becomes the case that, even if it is just to punish sins, it is good, and even better, to either leave them unpunished, or to punish them in a way that eternal salvation can be eternally secured. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the second option, for that is precisely what is required of any theology that incorporates Christ as representative. The problem is that this representation, in this case, becomes automatic, which again forces the goodness of God to overwhelm human decision. There is no sublation of God bringing good out of evil, but a mere deletion of evil, by fiat. At the end of the day, anything other than universal salvation, even at the expense of human will, will not be considered as a proper expression of the goodness of God.

Against this, however, one has is good reason to believe, both from the testimony of Scripture and of Tradition (as the vast majority of the Church has believed throughout the ages), that the goodness and mercy of God are indeed given to man in a way that is greater and stronger than man’s revolt and man’s sin: because God becomes incarnate in Christ to mediate for the sins of man, and the Holy Spirit imparts the grace of God in men’s hearts to produce faith and unite them to Christ.[15] This is more then sufficient to safeguard the overabundant goodness and grace of God, without requiring that punishment of sins upon any man other than Christ be precluded.

Moreover, the certainty that judgment will indeed be meted out upon those who irrevocably say No to God is precisely what is needed for the theo-drama. Rather than rendering God’s goodness inferior, it actually enhances it because it highlights his justice, which cannot be separated from his goodness – a justice that is itself declaring the goodness and grace of God when it is meted out upon Christ on behalf of those who are united to him by faith.

Therefore, the theo-drama becomes real dramatic when there is a certainty of outcomes, while at the same time there is genuine freedom for actors to choose one or the other. What Balthasar’s soteriology requires is that there is uncertainty of outcomes (on the one hand) and a hope for only one outcome.

This uncertainty softens both the threats against the actors who badly choose their roles, as well the promises to those who choose them well. On the other hand, certainty of the double outcome of punishment and grace (and this is important – the certainty is of the double outcome, not of who will be included in each irrespective of their actions) is what provides the choices in the play to have eternal meaning, consequence, threat, promise, tragedy, and comedy.

Ultimately, the lack of assurance of salvation for those who trust Christ and seek to do good works is precisely what the New Testament seeks to remedy in many places; conversely, the assurance of perdition to those who say No to God in Christ is precisely what it seeks to preserve.


[1] MP 13-14.

[2] Theo-Drama II, 54.

[3] Ibid., 196.

[4] Ibid., 194.

[5] Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, “Balthasar, Hell, and Heresy: An Exchange” in First Things, Dec. 2006.

[6] Mysterium Paschale, 50.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 172-173.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Theo-Drama II, 241-242; emphasis mine.

[11] Ibid., 188; emphasis mine.

[12] Mysterium Paschale, 148.

[13] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Electronic edition, 2000).

[14] Edward T. Oakes, Pattern of Redemption (New York, NY: Continuum Publishing Company, 1994), 226.

[15] The many different ways in which this work in the heart has been understood, ranging from a mere suggestion by example, or an assistance, all the way to an effective work that will infallibly change hearts, is immaterial to the argument here.

Hans Urs von Balthasar and Hope (Part 2 of 3)

Being “Under Judgment,” Presumption and Assurance

dare we hopeBalthasar understands that the passages of Scripture (and particularly of the New Testament) that include threats and descriptions of eternal judgment in hell are “not to be read as anticipatory report[s] about something that will someday come into being,”[i] because there are other statements that indicate they might not. Moreover, he argues, if they are taken as anticipatory reports, they would give certainty of judgment, which would damper Christian hope.

Quoting Karl Rahner, he argues that those statements are to be understood “as a disclosure of the situation in which the person addressed now truly exists.” That is to say, we live in the state of promise and at the same time we are under threat of judgment. “He is the subject who is placed in the position of having to make a decision with irrevocable consequences; he is the one who, by rejecting God’s offer of salvation, can become lost once and for all.”[ii]

The state of being “under judgment” constitutes a cornerstone for Balthasar’s structure of interpretation of the references to judgment and hell. In the opening words of “Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? he says,

All of us who practice the Christian Faith and, to the extent that its nature as a mystery permits, would also like to understand it, are under judgment. But no means are we above it, so that we might know its outcome in advance and could proceed from that knowledge to further speculation . . . Still, in standing trial, we are not left helpless and disheartened; rather, as [Paul] constantly tells us, we can have confidence (parrhesia) and hope, since our judge is he who – as dogma says – has borne the sins of everyone. Are we therefore quite untroubled in the certainty of our salvation? Surely not, for which man knows whether, in the course of his existence, he has lived up to God’s infinite love, which chose to expend itself for him? Must he not, if he is honest and no Pharisee, assume the opposite?  . . . Man is under judgment and must choose.[iii]

It seems almost impossible to read these words and not immediately say, which one is it? Am I under judgment and without the possibility of knowing the outcome of my judgment, or has Christ borne my sins? Am I to have confidence in the outcome of my judgment because Christ has already born my sins, or must I “assume” the opposite, i.e., the certainty of my perdition? One should not deny the mystery involved in Christian revelation and in its paradoxes, but paradoxes can be pressed to the point of self-contradiction.

This is problematic especially because this issue has direct relevance to a person’s spiritual and psychological life (as Balthasar implicitly recognizes). It is one thing to recognize the limits of our understanding when one investigates the Trinity, the hypostatic union, and so forth. But, at the end of the day, am I to have a reverential confidence that, despite my sins, Christ has born the punishment in my place – as long as I don’t say No to God? Or am I to assume the opposite and consider my fear of condemnation as a virtuous antidote to Pharisaic presumption?

Scriptural Foundations

Besides the inherent contradiction in Balthasar’s paradigm here, there is yet another problem with his foundational concept that we are under judgment.[iv] Once again, it is clear that Balthasar wants to take Scripture seriously, and so it is only appropriate that we bring Scripture to bear directly on this discussion.[v]

Paul states in Rom. 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We also read in the gospel of John, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Similarly, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). John writes in the closing section of this gospel that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

Therefore, those in whom the gospel fulfills its purpose, i.e., those who do believe, may have that very confidence: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:14). Again, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14a). Far from being presumptuous, confidence and certainty through faith is encouraged in the New Testament:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.[vi]

The concept of assurance of salvation is explicitly given in many passages of the New Testament for those who (a) believe the message of the gospel and (b) persevere in the faith.[vii] It is always given in the context of assurance that should create a healthy confidence in the reality of adoption. The teaching is also present implicitly in passages too numerous to list (the passages speaking of salvation and adoption as a past, accomplished act of God on our behalf, that provides the basis of our present condition, are of particular notice).

This is not to say that there are not serious threats in Scripture as well; but also the threats are always given either in relation to apostasy, or in relation to those who deny, by their deeds and by their teachings, that they have actually believed the gospel. John speaks in this way when he says of apostate teachers, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19a).

Similarly, the famous warnings of judgment in the epistle to the Hebrews are given to those who, in the face of persecution and suffering, are considering apostasy from the Christian faith. The author often assures his readers of the finished work of Christ on their behalf, and the assurance they might have in entering the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, which way has been opened by Christ on their behalf: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:19-22). This is coupled with the command to remain in the faith, and the threat towards those who do not:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful . . . For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries . . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God . . . But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.[viii]

Therefore, it is clear that the New Testament does not remove the tension of promise/threat to Christians; but this tension is not one in which Christians must consider themselves without confidence of forgiveness so as to remain free from presumption. On the contrary, believing Christians can rejoice precisely because they are not to fear, since they have already received the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15; 1 Pet. 3:9). This is very important for an assessment of Balthasar’s soteriology. He is wrong to assume Christians are “under judgment” and therefore should not be presumptuous to trust in salvation.

Therefore, it seems that Balthasar is incorrect in interpreting the threats in Scripture as primarily a means to keep man in this state of reverential fear and tentative hope. The threats are real, and the descriptions of judgment, of the separation of sheep and goats, and of the destruction of God’s enemies (e.g., Mat. 25: 31-46; Phil. 3:19; 1 Thes. 5:3; 2 Thes. 1:9; 2 Pet. 3:7) should not be taken as pictures that do not really describe events; they are indeed to be taken “as anticipatory report[s] about something that will someday come into being.” In fact, Balthasar himself seems to take such threats in a more concrete fashion elsewhere in his works. In volume IV of the Theo-Drama, he states,

[W]hen it comes to concrete mention of the judgment, it is, not God, but the Son of Man who will pronounce it. The verdict will depend on how a man has responded to him . . .  if a man has recognized in him the presence of God’s Holy Spirit and has resisted him, his sin is unforgivable . . . the ‘eternal fire’ has opened up below Sheol . . .  balancing, as it were, the heaven that is no open to all.”[ix]

But then again, elsewhere Balthasar argues that the “threatening remarks are made predominantly by the pre-Easter Jesus, and the universalist statements (above all in Paul and John) [are made] with a view to the redemption that has occurred on the Cross.” [x] The statements of the “pre-Easter Jesus,” he argues, use a language that the Jews of that time were familiar with, “whereas certain reflections by Paul and John clearly look back upon all that happened to Jesus – his life, death on the Cross and Resurrection – and, in so doing, consider and formulate this totality from a post-Easter perspective.”[xi]

In this way, the concreteness of the contents of the threats is again put into question – because they do not apply to people, but only to Christ. But if, as we have seen, Christ’s work does not necessarily apply to all individuals automatically, such threats should be taken seriously as referring to those who reject the faith and say an ultimate No to God. In the same way, the promises are just as serious and just as real; they are to be taken as reports of something that has come into being (“we know that we have passed out of death into life,” “that you may know that you have eternal life,” “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” etc.) and something that will be consummated and ratified at the end of one’s life.

All of this seems to contradict Balthasar’s basic soteriological premises. One could argue that there is a long tradition of those who agree with him. There is no question about that. The same can be also said of those who have argued the foregoing. What I argue here, however, is that, given the seriousness with which Balthasar takes the Scriptural data, it is very difficult to maintain what he does in this issue, given the abundance of Biblical texts that assert the concrete reality of God’s judgment upon those who choose to reject him, as well as the concrete reality of God’s promise of ultimate salvation of those who are united by faith to Christ.

Balthasar seems to be driven by his intention to preserve the dramatic tension that would preclude certainties – because certainties would transform the drama in a tragedy or a comedy from the start. Contrary to what he tells his critics at the beginning of Dare We Hope, he has indeed spoken of certainty, or rather the lack thereof, and he has argued that we may not know the outcome in advance. He has argued that we may not be “untroubled in the certainty of our salvation,” which would be the attitude of a “Pharisee,” but rather that we should “assume the opposite.”[xii]

His intention is to preserve one’s lack of certainty of salvation (which presumably produces reverent fear), while at the same time preserving one’s lack of certainty of damnation, which produces tentative hope. He states, “On this earthly pilgrimage, man is, of course, placed between fear and hope, simply because he is under judgment and does not know . . . but precisely the knowing  . . . renders impossible this sate of suspension of those on pilgrimage.”[xiii] But it is John who says ““that you may know that you have eternal life.” Quoting Joseph Pieper approvingly, Balthasar says, “there are two kinds of hopelessness. One is despair; the other, praesumptio . . . praesumptio is a perverse anticipation of the fulfillment of hope.”[xiv] Balthasar wants to keep Christians from this “double praesumptio.” But the New Testament gives assurance of hope to those who believe.

Click here for Part 1.

In the next and final section of this 3 part assessment I will interact with his arguments on abandonment, Holy Saturday, and hell, and make some concluding remarks.


[i] Dare We Hope, 32; emphasis in the original.

[ii] Ibid., 32.

[iii] Ibid., 13-15.

[iv] I am not so concerned here with the general state of mankind, but with the state of those who explicitly embrace the Christian message of the gospel.

[v] All Scriptures quoted in the rest of this paragraph have my emphasis.

[vi] 1 John 4:15-17.

[vii] In responding to the Tridentine accusation that assurance of salvation is presumption, the Canons of Dordt – which are normative for historical Protestant churches of Dutch, German and French origin and their heirs – state (Fifth Head of Doctrine, article 10):

This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God, but springs from faith in Gods promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God (Rom. 8:16); and lastly, from a serious and holy desire to preserve a good conscience and to perform good works. And if the elect of God were deprived of this solid comfort that they shall finally obtain the victory, and of this infallible pledge of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable.

[viii] Heb. 10:26-39.

[ix] Theo-Drama IV, 178.

[x] Dare We Hope, 21.

[xi] Ibid., 29; Balthasar makes clear, however, that he takes this cautiously, and does not want to imply he is arguing for a “progressive revelation even within the New Testament” as some of his critics argue.

[xii] Dare We Hope 13-15.

[xiii] Dare We Hope, 27.

[xiv] Ibid., 27-28.