Archive for March, 2017

March 20, 2017

destroying sin through the instrumentality of death

There is a whole lot in my paltry readings of Maximus the Confessor that I don’t understand. However, I continue, and Maximus rewards patience time and again.

Here’s a recent example. Maximus says that Jesus came to give human death a new purpose. He made death into a weapon that we can use against our own sin. This confused me a lot at first, so let me set up the theological background a little more.

Death is simply a natural result of sin. We sometimes read Genesis as if God proclaimed that death would be the punishment for sin. In fact, God was not “assigning a consequence” but simply pointing out a reality about life. Death is fair (or just) because it is a natural extension of sin. This is because sin is turning away from God who is the loving source of life.

Moreover, death became tied up with human nature because our first sin caught us all in bonds of pain and pleasure. Our first sin left us serving a vicious tyranny of the urgent, always fleeing a pain or pursuing a pleasure that seemed more near-at-hand than God’s presence. It became natural for humans to pursue anything but God, and mortality became a human characteristic. It is terrible to think of death as natural to those made in God’s image, but we all learn to see each other in this world as destined for death instead of God. Socrates takes it as an axiom that “man is mortal.”

Maximus also points out that death and suffering are merciful because they keep us from going too far off course while we wander between increasingly extreme fears of pain or desires for pleasure. Although death is merciful in a way, God did not impose death on us as either a kindness or a punishment (most fundamentally). Death is simply reality apart from life with God. As love and the source of life, God hates death.

Moving a step further, human death attacks the core of God’s purpose in creation. Humans were made uniquely to ensure that all creatures would enjoy and display God’s love. By sinning (turning from God to pursue another source of goodness), the image bearers of God tangled up their own natures with death itself, entrapped there by pain and pleasure. Instead of promoting and protecting life in all creation, God’s image became connected to death by our sin. God’s image brought death to the world.

To set up a little background, I’ve wandered from Maximus’ main point (and wandered into a few points of my own, no doubt). Maximus is focused on explaining exactly how salvation is accomplished by Jesus Christ within this situation. Because God’s image became connected to death by our sin and brought death to all creation, Maximus shows how Christ becomes a human and used human death as an ingenious weapon against sin. Maximus says that Jesus Christ “turned death from a weapon to destroy human nature into a weapon to destroy sin.” This attack on our sin gives us a new weapon and opens a way for the curse on all of creation to be undone. Christ surprised the devil and death itself by giving this new purpose to human death. By becoming human and repurposing death, God restored to humans a way to serve again as the image of God.

Maximus explains at length how this was possible. Christ fully took on our own human desires for pleasure and our fears of pain, all the realities of our sins, while remaining free from committing any sins of his own. Therefore, death was not a natural or just consequence for Christ. The normal purposes of death did not apply to Christ, and he was able to give death a surprising new purpose. I won’t go into further details, but this surprise move required all that Jesus Christ was (as fully God and fully human).

This noble use of death to restore life with God is full of profound encouragements and implications regarding how to suffer and to carry our own cross with Jesus Christ each day in this life, even into our own eventual deaths. Amazingly, Maximus claims that “the baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin.” Christ has now given death to each of us to use as a weapon against our own sin. Christ changed the function of death for all of those who unite themselves to Christ. In Christ, humans can learn to accept everyday experiences of suffering and death in ways that free us from our sin. Maximus is giving a theological basis for the Christian practices of asceticism and mortification (which are very easily abused and misunderstood).

Pointing continually to the work of Christ, Maximus points us to the only perfect example of how to use death as a weapon against sin. However, Maximus the Confessor, as a follower of Christ, is himself a profound example. All those tortured for Jesus Christ were called “Confessors.” In Maximus’ case, he insisted on confessing the truth even when they promised to cut out his tongue and remove his right hand for preaching or writing one more word about who Jesus was. That didn’t stop him.

Here are some passages from Maximus himself (from Ad Thalassium 61 “On the Legacy of Adam’s Transgression”):

For if the deviance of free choice [by Adam] introduced passibility, corruptibility, and mortality in Adam’s nature, it only followed that in Christ, the immutability of free choice, realized through his resurrection, introduced natural impassibility, incorruptibility, and immortality.

…He exhibited the equity of his justice in the magnitude of his condescension, when he willingly (κατὰ θέλησιν) submitted to the condemnation imposed on our passibility (τὸ παθητόν) and turned that very passibility into an instrument for eradicating sin and the death which is its consequence—or in other words, for eradicating pleasure and the pain which is its consequence. For it was in human passibility that the power of sin and death (the tyranny of sin connected with pleasure and the oppression associated with pain) all began. Indeed, the rule of pleasure and pain over our nature clearly originated in the liability to passions. Wanting to escape the oppressive experience of pain we sought refuge in pleasure, attempting to console our nature when it was hard-pressed with pain’s torment. Striving to blunt pain’s spasms with pleasure, we merely sanctioned against ourselves a greater debt (cf Col 2:14) of pain, powerless to disconnect pleasure from pain and its toils. But the Lord exerted manifest strength of transcendent power by inaugurating for human nature a birth unchanged by the contrary realities (of pleasure and pain) which he himself experienced. For having given our human nature impassibility through his Passion, remission through his toils, and eternal life through his death, he restored that nature again, renewing the habitudes of human nature by his own deprivations in the flesh and granting to human nature through his own incarnation the supernatural grace of deification.

…Therefore death, in its dynasty, dominates all of human nature because of the transgression. …But the Lord, …naturally willed to die…. Clearly he suffered, and converted the use (χρῆσις) of death so that in him it would be a condemnation not of our nature but manifestly only of sin itself.

The baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin. …Such will ensue if indeed the saints, for the sake of truth and righteousness, have virtuously finished the course of this life with its many sufferings, liberating their nature within themselves from death as a condemnation of sin and, like Christ, the captain of our salvation (Heb 2:10), turned death from a weapon to destroy human nature into a weapon to destroy sin.

From the translator’s notes:

Maximus repeats here his slightly earlier affirmation that Christ “converted the use of death” (τὴν τοῦ θανάτου χρῆσιν ἀντέστρεψιν) so as to condemn sin and not human nature itself. We already see in Ad Thal. 42 (translated above) Maximus’s larger perspective on Christ’s assumption of human passibility in its fullness, becoming the “sin” which is a consequence of the fall (but not the “sin” committed in moral acts) and so for our sakes taking on the mortality which is its condemnation. Recalling here the christianized Stoic idiom of “good use” of the human passions (cf Ad Thal. 1), Maximus describes Christ “using” death, the ultimate “passion” and the end of human passibility, as a redemptive instrument. Elsewhere, Maximus speaks of Christ’s blameless use of the fear of death (Disputation with Pyrrhus, PG 91:297B), for Christ alone turns it into a “voluntary” fear that encourages the Christian faithful in their own confrontation with death (Opusc. 7, PG 91:80D; cf Comm. on the Lord’s Prayer, CCSG 23:34, 135–35, 142).

…Maximus is insistent that the Christian appropriates Christ’s own good “use” of the ultimate passion of death (see note 9 above) by his or her own discipline of mortification. One should not overlook his important distinction between destroying death and destroying sin through the instrumentality of death.

March 7, 2017

souls often harden during the course of life

From Eugene Vodolazkin’s Laurus:

Leave her here, wept Arseny’s soul, she and I have become entwined. Get used to separation, said Death, it is painful, even if it is only temporary. Will we recoginze each other in eternity? asked Arseny’s soul. That depends in large part on you, said Death, Souls often harden during the course of life, and then they barely recognize anyone after death. If your love, O Arseny, is not false and does not fade with the passage of time, one might ask, why would you not recognize each other there, where there be not illness, not sorrow, not groaning, but where there shall be everlasting life? Death patted Ustina’s soul on the cheek. Ustina’s soul was small, almost childlike. Her response to the affectionate gesture was more likely fear than gratitutde. This is how children respond to those who take them from their kin for an indefinite period: life (death) for them will, perhaps, not be bad, but it will be completely different from what they are used to, lacking the former stucture familiar events, and turns of speech. As they leave, they keep looking back and seeing their frightened reflections in the teary eyes of their kin.

March 5, 2017

A Letter to Lupin and Tonks (and Their Reply)

Nessa Hake

If they were alive this is
what I’d write to them:

3-2-17
Dear Lupin and Tonks,

Wotcher! My name is Nessa Ann Hake. I have a little eight-year-old brother, and my mother is pregnant! I am almost thirteen. Harriet is a family cat that I practically own because we have a bond. She sleeps with me. St. John Chrysostom is the Orthodox Church my family goes to. My whole family works or goes to Logos Academy which is an awesome muggle school. (I think some of the staff are magical though. 😊)

My aunts (my age), my cousin and me all have read books about Harry Potter, and you are in them. I really love the books and you. Please don’t take this wrong because I know you’re humble. But, I just had some questions and would like to get to know you some more.

Here are some of my questions: What was it like fighting Lord Voldemort? What was your childhood like? How do you feel, overall, about life now in these past couple of years? What was one of your worst and best days in your life?

Some of these questions might be hard or uncomfortable for you to answer. You don’t have to, but I really would like to know.

How and when did you start falling in love? How did you tell each other? What was your different stages of love like? When Dumbledore died, what did you feel like? (I felt like it was the end of the world until, I found out you loved each other in the hospital wing.) How do you feel about your friends like Harry, the Weasleys, Dumbledore, Moody, Kingsley, and Sirius?

How many kids do you have now? What do your normal days look like? Does Harry visit often? How is everyone? Could you please give an overall of your life and feelings?

I love you! It would be nice to either meet you or get a reply.

From,

Nessa Hake

 

[And here is their reply to be delivered to our home shortly by the U.S. Postal Service.]

Dictated from a Small and Treasured Double-Portrait
On a Wall of the Potter Home
London, UK

March 5, 2017

Dear Nessa,

Ginny just read your letter to Tonks and I, and now she is kindly writing down our response as we dictate it to her. We were very glad to learn about you and how much you love our story. Of course, we are only the picture-memory of ourselves, but our real selves heard your letter while you were writing it. Our real selves, on the other side of death’s veil, know about the lives and thoughts of everyone who loves their stories. However, neither we, the picture-memories of ourselves, or our real selves on the other side of death could answer your kind questions about what would have happened if we had lived.

We did enjoy hearing your questions about our future lives if we had survived the Battle of Hogwarts, and we love to imagine with you what might have happened. At least, we, our picture-memory selves, love to imagine those future lives with you. We’re not sure what our real selves on the other side of death love to imagine.

Now we hang on the wall of Ginny’s study corner, beside her desk. We were painted from memory by Harry and given as a gift to Ginny on their tenth wedding anniversary. We are a very small painting and not a very good one, but we were made from living memory and filled with love. Teddy also has a painting of us made by Ginny several years earlier. These are the only two paintings that we have to travel between.

You asked how many children we would have if we had lived. Well, Tonks wanted lots of children, and she probably would have gotten her way in the end if we had survived the Battle of Hogwarts. She was always the crazy one of us two. I was afraid to even fall in love, and having just one child terrified me at times. You have to remember that I spent most of my life and energy as a young man just trying not to let my “little problem” cause the death of anyone that I loved. I saw my place in the world as someone who was watching it from the outside (in a way) and trying not to let myself forget that if I became careless or lazy I could end up killing someone whom I dearly loved. I was ruled by fear and loneliness. But Tonks helped to start changing all of that for me. She helped me to learn about some kinds of courage that I had not even known I needed to learn about before I began to love her.

You also asked our imaginary future selves how often Harry comes to visit us. Well, after the Battle of Hogwarts, when Harry and Ginny married, Harry probably would not have been able to visit Tonks and I as often as we would have wanted him to visit. If I had lived longer, I would have been the closest person to a father that Harry still had alive, but Harry was like his own father. Harry would have usually been busy with something that felt more important than visiting old friends, and many times he would have been right. Even now, you notice, we hang by Ginny’s desk, not Harry’s. We were painted by Harry, but our first painting was made by Ginny. We love Harry very much, but he is still learning many things even as a grown man. But you know that Tonks and I were still learning many things when we died. For example, I was still learning the courage that it takes to receive love and to live my life with her. That is maybe one of the saddest things about death. We are still learning who we are in this world, and then we must suddenly be separated from this world.

Well, that is enough about our imaginary future lives if we had been able to keep on living. Of course, we can answer your questions about our past selves much more fully. It would be wonderful to sit and chat with you some time. Chatting with portraits is not as wonderful as chatting with our real selves, but even that will almost certainly be able to happen again one day. You remember how Harry was able to chat with the real Dumbledore at King’s Cross station when Harry was almost killed just before the battle of Hogwarts? There is probably more life than we can image on the other side of the veil between life and death, and this veil does not seem like the kind of thing that will last forever.

We will share a little about our past selves in this letter because you were so kind as to tell us a little about your own wonderful and fascinating life. However, Ginny does need to go very soon, so we cannot let this letter get too much longer.

What was it like fighting Lord Voldemort? Tonks never really let the fact that we were fighting Lord Voldemort be the most important thing about her life. This was one of the many wonderful things about Tonks. She could be sweet and funny even at the most dark and terrible of times. She always seemed to understand that life was greater and more important than death even up to the last moment when death took us in the middle of the battle. This also gave Tonks a kind of bravery. In a way, she loved to fight when she had to because fighting was like running into the wind or running through the waves on a beach. Fighting could be a way of living more than it was a way of killing. Ha! Tonks is making faces at me right now in the portrait and saying that I’m too philosophical. We’ve talked together about you, Nessa, before we wrote this letter, but I am doing most of the dictating to Ginny because it saves time. However, Tonks wants to add that I was one of the greatest heroes in the fight against Lord Voldemort because I had learned so much about darkness in my own hard life. She says that fighting Lord Voldemort was sad, so terribly sad. She wanted so much to see life on the other side of this battle with Lord Voldemort, but she never got that chance. But she says that terrible sadness can train some of the greatest warriors like Dumbledore, Snape, and I. So she laughs and says that she loves sadness. I secretly think she is the philosophical one and that she must love sadness so much that she always keeps it hidden quietly in her heart and all she ever shares with other people is life and joy.

What was your childhood like? Tonks had a very normal childhood (except for her clumsiness which was a little more than normal). She says her childhood felt boring to her sometimes, but I think that her childhood is one of the great gifts that she carries with her and gives her a power that I don’t have. My own childhood was stolen from me by Fenrir Greyback, and in a way the love of Tonks has shown me what I lost and helped me to learn some lessons about life and love that I never had the chance to learn as a child.

How do you feel, overall, about life now in these past couple of years? This question actually seems to be about our future selves, and we can’t really answer it. We would be guessing just like you. It’s fun that your questions actually slip back and forth between our future and our past selves.

What was one of your worst and best days in your life? One of the best days of my life was when Tonks first announced publicly that she loved me. This forced me to deal with my love for her which, for a long time, had terrified me and caused me to run away into the most dangerous and serious work that I could find. Tonks says that one of the best days of her life was when she first caught me watching her without even seeming to notice what I was doing. She didn’t let me know about this until much later, but it is one of the things that made her so sure that I loved her just as much as she loved me (even though I would never admit it to anyone for so long). For both Tonks and I, the worst day of our life was definitely when I left Tonks after learning that we were having a child. I had been afraid all my life of hurting someone whom I loved, and becoming a father made me so afraid that I had just passed on all of my own fears to another person. I couldn’t face this, not even with the help of Tonks, but Harry was a help to me that time. He knew something about what it meant to have no father.

How and when did you start falling in love? How did you tell each other? What was your different stages of love like? Our last answer talks a little about this, and this is a topic we could say way too much about because once we start, the stories just keep going. I think that I started falling in love with Tonks first. I used to find myself thinking about her after we had been working together on assignments for the Order of the Phoenix. Everyone in the order respected her teacher Mad Eye Moody, and so they treated Tonks well. However, I think that everyone was also a little annoyed by how clumsy this young auror could be. We were living a dangerous existence, and a clumsy mistake could easily mean that someone would die. But I couldn’t help noticing that everyone always forgave Tonks and that their trust in her continued to grow each day. She was so generous and humble while at the same time having a kind of bravery that was not like the kind of bravery that I knew about. Fear didn’t seem to exist in her world. She was just always modest, hard-working, and full of fun no matter what we were doing: cooking dinner at 12 Grimmauld Place or dueling with Death Eaters. She says that she loved me from the first time that she saw me but only started to notice what she was feeling after she saw that I was falling in love with her. She says that one of the things she loved about me was that I still obviously had so much to learn about falling in love.

When Dumbledore died, what did you feel like? In our own ways, we each felt a little like you did. We felt that the world had ended in some way. Tonks says that she immediately felt that we would all be doomed to die in our fight against Voldemort but that this wasn’t what really mattered to her. Everyone who she admired most had loved Dumbledore so much. She always suspected that, even though Dumbledore held more sadness in his heart than any of her other great teachers and friends, his mischievous smile came from some place deeper than all that sadness. His smile seemed like an invincible charm and a promise of victory even at the darkest moments. She gave up hope of victory when Dumbledore died, but that didn’t matter compared to her sadness at the loss of his smile. She did not despair herself in any deep way, but she felt that one of the brightest signs of life had gone out of the world. She didn’t know Dumbledore in the same way that I did. I was probably more tempted to despair. Neither of us gave up caring or fighting after Dumbledore died, but we shared a sadness at the loss of everything he had been for us and for so many of our friends.

How do you feel about your friends like Harry, the Weasleys, Dumbledore, Moody, Kingsley, and Sirius? I guess that some of our earlier answers have hinted at how we feel about Harry, Moody, Dumbledore and other dear friends. We each loved them in different ways, and it was wonderful to learn a little more about each of our friends when we began to fall in love with each other. We could share more about each one of them, but we really do need to end this letter now.

We do want to add that you are a wonderful girl, and we are so glad to be loved by you, Nessa. Keep on enjoying the secretly magical people at your school, your cat, your little brother, and your family’s new baby on the way. We’re glad to have been introduced to them all by you. Tonks likes to tease me for reading some muggle philosophy and theology now and then, but I couldn’t help noticing that your letter understood how we were real. You were sad that we had died but you were not wishing that we were real. Maybe you will find our portrait someday. That would be fun, but, if not, we are sure that we will all find something even better. This is something that we all enjoy each day on this earth: life together. We have lost that for now. However, we think that Dumbledore’s smile is a sign that life comes from a deeper place than pain and death, and we hope that somehow life together can be restored. In that life, our story will be with you, we are sure.

Love,

Tonks and Lupin

P.S. Here is a wonderful part of another story about life that Lupin once read by a great muggle author who you probably know about, too. This part of the story reminds us of the way that we are able to speak with each other, even though others cannot see the world that we share:

Celeborn and Galadriel … had journeyed thus far by the west-ways, for they had much to speak of with Elrond and with Gandalf, and here they lingered still in converse with their friends. Often long after the hobbits were wrapped in sleep they would sit together under the stars, recalling ages that were gone and all their joys and labours in the world, or holding council, concerning the days to come. If any wanderer had chanced to pass, little would he have seen or heard, and it would have seemed to him only that he saw grey figures, carved in stone, memorials of forgotten things now lost in unpeopled lands.

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