Archive for ‘goodness & kings’

June 21, 2017

the ultimate mystery of evil must also be a personal one

Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism by Alexander Schmemann.

It is not our purpose to outline, even superficially, the Orthodox teaching concerning the Devil. In fact, the Church has never formulated it systematically, in the form of a clear and concise “doctrine.” What is of paramount importance for us, however, is that the Church has always had the experience of the demonic, has always, in plain words, known the Devil. If this direct knowledge has not resulted in a neat and orderly doctrine, it is because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, rationally to define the irrational. And the demonic and, more generally, evil are precisely the reality of the irrational. Some theologians and philosophers, in an attempt to explain and thus to “rationalize” the experience and the existence of evil, explained it as an absence: the absence of good. They compared it, for example, to darkness, which is nothing but the absence of light and which is dispelled when light appears. This theory was subsequently adopted by deists and humanists of all shades and still constitutes an integral part of our modern worldview. Here the remedy against all evil is always seen in “enlightenment” and “education.” For example: explain to teenagers the mechanics of sex, remove the “mystery” and the “taboos,” and they will use it rationally, i.e. well. Multiply the number of schools and man, who is naturally good, will ipso facto live and behave rationally, i.e. well.

Such however is certainly not the understanding of evil in the Bible and in the experience of the Church. Here evil is most emphatically not a mere absence. It is precisely in presence: the presence of something dark, irrational and very real, although the origin of that presence may not be clear and immediately understandable. Thus hatred is not a simple absence of love; it is the presence of a dark power which can indeed be extremely active, clever and even creative. And it is certainly not a result of ignorance. We may know and hate. The more some men knew Christ, saw His light and His goodness, the more they hated Him. This experience of evil as irrational power, as something which truly takes possession of us and directs our acts, has always been the experience of the Church and the experience also of all those who try, be it only a little, to “better” themselves, to oppose “nature” in themselves, to ascend to a more spiritual life.

Our first affirmation then is that there exists a demonic reality: evil as a dark power, as presence and not only absence. But we may go further. For just as there can be no love outside the “lover,” i.e. a person that loves, there can be no hatred outside the “hater,” i.e. a person that hates. And if the ultimate mystery of “goodness” lies in the person, the ultimate mystery of evil must also be a personal one. Behind the dark and irrational presence of evil there must be a person or persons. There must exist a personal world of those who have chosen to hate God, to hate light, to be against. Who are these persons? When, how, and why have they chosen to be against God? To these questions the Church gives no precise answers. The deeper the reality, the less it is presentable in formulas and propositions. Thus the answer is veiled in symbols and images, which tell of an initial rebellion against God within the spiritual world created by God, among angels led into that rebellion by pride. The origin of evil is viewed here not as ignorance and imperfection but, on the contrary, as knowledge and a degree of perfection which makes the temptation of pride possible. Whoever he is, the “Devil” is among the very first and the best creatures of God. He is, so to speak, perfect enough, wise enough, powerful enough, one can almost say divine enough, to know God and not to surrender to Him—to know Him and yet to opt against Him, to desire freedom from Him. But since this freedom is impossible in the love and light which always lead to God and to a free surrender to Him, it must of necessity be fulfilled in negation, hatred and rebellion.

These are, of course, poor words, almost totally inadequate to the horrifying mystery they are trying to express. For we know nothing about that initial catastrophe in the spiritual world—about that hatred against God ignited by pride and that bringing into existence of a strange and evil reality not willed, not created by God. Or rather, we know about it only through our own experience of that reality, through our own experience of evil. This experience indeed is always an experience of fall: of something precious and perfect deviated from and betraying its own nature, of the utterly unnatural character of that fall which yet became an integral and “natural” part of our nature. And when we contemplate evil in ourselves and outside ourselves in the world, how incredibly cheap and superficial appear all rational explanations, all “reductions” of evil to neat and rational theories. If there is one thing we learn from spiritual experience, it is that evil is not to be “explained” but faced and fought. This is the way God dealt with evil. He did not explain it. He sent His Only-Begotten Son to be crucified by all the powers of evil so as to destroy them by His love, faith and obedience.

This then is the way we must also follow. On this way we inescapably meet the Devil at the very moment we make the decision to follow Christ.

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December 29, 2016

they were not going to waste anything they possessed between them

From “Watership Down” (chapter 18) in Watership Down: A Novel by Richard Adams:

Since leaving the warren of the snares they had become warier, shrewder, a tenacious band who understood each other and worked together. There was no more quarreling. The truth about the warren had been a grim shock. They had come closer together, relying on and valuing each other’s capacities. They knew now that it was on these and on nothing else that theirs lives depended, and they were not going to waste anything they possessed between them.

December 29, 2016

as though they felt the propriety of paying respect to the adversary who has put up so good a fight

From “The Raid” (chapter 25) in Watership Down: A Novel by Richard Adams:

When several creatures—men or animals—have worked together to overcome something offering resistance and have at last succeeded, there follows often a pause—as though they felt the propriety of paying respect to the adversary who has put up so good a fight. The great tree falls, splitting, cracking, rushing down in leaves to the final, shuddering blow along the ground. Then the foresters are silent, and do not at once sit down. After hours, the deep snowdrift has been cleared and the lorry is ready to take the men home out of the cold. But they stand a while, leaning on their spades and only nodding unsmilingly as the car-drivers go through, waving their thanks.

December 17, 2016

they must answer in a manner more gentle and more proper to discussion

To quote Plato’s Socrates (Meno, 75d):

If my questioner was one of those clever and disputatious debaters, I would say to him: “I have given my answer: if it is wrong, it is your job to refute it.” But if they are friends as you and I are, and want to discuss with each other, they must answer in a manner more gentle and more proper to discussion.

November 29, 2016

of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence

Dumbledore in book seven (J.K. Rowling):

That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.

September 30, 2016

we shall not cease from being deified

For if he has brought to completion his mystical work of becoming human, having become like us in every way save without sin (cf Heb 4: 15), and even descended into the lower regions of the earth where the tyranny of sin compelled humanity, then God will also completely fulfill the goal of his mystical work of deifying humanity in every respect, of course, short of an identity of essence with God; and he will assimilate humanity to himself and elevate us to a position above all the heavens. It is to this exalted position that the natural magnitude of God’s grace summons lowly humanity, out of a goodness that is infinite. The great Apostle is mystically teaching us about this when he says that in the ages to come the immeasurable riches of his goodness will be shown to us (Eph 2: 7).

We too should therefore divide the “ages” conceptually, and distinguish between those intended for the mystery of the divine incarnation and those intended for the grace of human deification, and we shall discover that the former have already reached their proper end while the latter have not yet arrived. In short, the former have to do with God’s descent to human beings, while the latter have to do with humanity’s ascent to God.

…Existing here and now, we arrive at the end of the ages as active agents and reach the end of the exertion of our power and activity. But in the ages to come we shall undergo by grace the transformation unto deification and no longer be active but passive; and for this reason we shall not cease from being deified.

From “Ad Thalassium, On Jesus Christ and the End of the Ages” by Maximus the Confessor.

June 13, 2016

far more interested in hearing about the tournament than in worrying about deaths that had happened hundreds of years ago

“Death toll,” Hermione whispered, looking alarmed. But her anxiety did not seem to be shared by the majority of students in the Hall; many of them were whispering excitedly to one another, and Harry himself was far more interested in hearing about the tournament than in worrying about deaths that had happened hundreds of years ago.

“There have been several attempts over the centuries to reinstate the tournament,” Dumbledore continued, “none of which has been very successful. However, our own departments of International Magical Cooperation and Magical Games and Sports have decided the time is ripe for another attempt. We have worked hard over the summer to ensure that this time, no champion will find himself or herself in mortal danger.”

From J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

April 30, 2016

through the dispensation of death in the flesh He rested

Orthodox hymns and prayers from Holy Saturday Morning (with the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil and the “Leading out” from Hades):

…Today Hades cried out groaning: Would that I had not received Him Who was born of Mary, for He came to me and broke my power; He shattered the gates of brass, and as God He raised up the souls which I had previously held. Glory to Your Cross, O Lord, and to Your resurrection.

…Today Hades cried out groaning: My authority has been broken down; I received a mortal, as one of the mortals; but I did not prevail against this One; I perish with Him and with those I had previously ruled. From eternity I had held the dead, but behold, He raises up all. Glory to Your Cross, O Lord, and to Your resurrection.

…Today Hades cried out groaning: My power has been trampled upon; the Shepherd has been crucified, and He raised up Adam; I have been deprived of those over whom I ruled, and I have disgorged all those whom I swallowed in my strength. He Who was crucified has cleared the tombs, and the power of death does not prevail. Glory to Your Cross, O Lord, and to Your resurrection.

…The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day, saying: And God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath; it is the day of rest, and on it the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works. And, through the dispensation of death in the flesh, He rested. On this day He returned again through the resurrection, and as a righteous and merciful Lord He has bestowed eternal life upon us.

…Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and stand in fear and trembling, giving no thought to things of the earth. For the King of kings and the Lord of lords comes forth to be sacrificed, and given as Food to the faithful. Before Him go the choirs of Angels, with all the Principalities and Powers….

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November 27, 2015

we should think of our humanity as a privilege

You are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.

From Marilynne Robinson (unknown source).

November 19, 2015

individual and the state can maintain an appropriate relationship only so long as a flourishing civil society mediates between them

Ross Douthat in his introduction to Robert Nisbet’s book, The Quest for Community:

In premodern society, this yearning [for a feeling of participation, for a sense of belonging, for a cause larger than one’s own individual purposes and a group to call one’s own] was fulfilled by a multiplicity of human-scale associations: guilds and churches and universities, manors and villages and monasteries, and of course the primal community of family. In this landscape, Nisbet writes, “the reality of the separate, autonomous individual was as indistinct as that of centralized political power.”

But from the Protestant Reformation onward, individualism and centralization would advance together, while intermediate powers and communities either fell away or were dissolved. As social institutions, these associations would be attacked as inhumane, irrational, patriarchal, and tyrannical; as sources of political and economic power, they would be dismissed as outdated, fissiparous, and inefficient. In place of a web of overlapping communities and competing authorities, the liberal West set out to build a society of self-sufficient, liberated individuals, overseen by an unitary, rational, and technoeratic government.

The assumption, indeed, was that the emancipated individual required a strong state, to cut through the constraining tissue of intermediate associations. “Only with an absolute sovereign,” Nisbet writes, descriing the views of Thomas Hobbes, “could any effective environment of individualism be possible.”

But all that constraining tissue served a purpose. Man is a social being, and his desire for community will not be denied. The liberated individual is just as likely to become the alienated individual, the paranoid individual, the lonely and desperately-seeking-community individual. And if he can’t find that community on a human scale, then he’ll look for it on an inhuman scale—in the total community of the totalizing state.

…[But] it’s possible for both liberal government and liberal economics to flourish without descending into tyranny, so long as they allow, encourage, and depend upon more natural forms of community rather than trying to tear them up root and branch. Possible and necessary. “The whole conscious liberal heritage,” Nisbet writes, depends for its survival on “the subtle, infinitely complex lines of habit, tradition, and social relationship.” The individual and the state can maintain an appropriate relationship only so long as a flourishing civil society mediates between them. Political freedom requires competing sources of authority to sustain itself, and economic freedom requires the same: [a free market] “has prospered, and continues to prosper, only in spheres and areas where it has been joined to a flourishing associational life.” Thus Nisbet quotes Proudhon: “Multiply your associations and be free.”

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