August 14, 2002

Steven Riddle of Flos Carmeli makes the point that definitionally beauty & goodness are inseparable, otherwise one is just a facade of one or the other. Works for me. Now wither nature is fallen is something I've struggled with... "The apparent amorality of nature, so wonderfully portrayed in Frost's "Design" is not suggestive of a lack of goodness, but perhaps a lack of understanding on our part." Probably so. These are muddy waters.

Cut & paste from previous emails on the subject, which is lengthy as a day is long...

That is precisely the heart of the matter. Aquinas claimed the physical world is NOT wounded - that only man is wounded in his alienation from God and nature. Can I look around and really see the physical world with its reliance on naked strength as the way to survive as good? That is the challenge. A physical world free from mishap would require miracles at every moment of every day - and miracles are a departure from the natural; they would then be, in fact, natural.

REPLY:
While the whole division between "natural" and "supernatural" is useful for common discussion, I'm inclined to say it's really a relative way of speaking about things. I'm inclined to say the "real" division that we can cite, in discussing that which exists, is between created and uncreated. I think this is a better way of looking at things, for it here that the difference is most profound. On one side of the divide you have God, on the other side, absolutely everything else. Angels, demons, different levels of existance, the earth, man, beasts, you name it. An angel may be of a more subtle substance, but it's still a creature that had a beginning.

God on the other hand, and His "energies", which refers to that of God which we experience, and can be known by the human being (typically refered to as "Grace", a reference to His benevolence towards mankind), are not created.

I think understanding God in "energetic" terms is important, because it has a bearing on how we view this world. The cosmos as we know them, while obviously still subject to the providence of God, lack the fullness of God's Presence, which confers immortality and incorruption. The vision of St.John in the Apocalypse, is of a "new creation", a renewed world where God will be "all in all" - we read about the "new Jerusalem", which will need no lamps, because they will be illuminated by God. What this is telling us is that there is another world coming, and that it will be a world glorified by God, for it will be His manifest abode.

So like I said before, making deductions about how we should act, based on bad data, from bad minds, makes no sense. Nor should we be surprised that the very things that the Christian tradition often labels as being sins, are in fact (in a worldly p.o.v.) precisely the things that will make you "get ahead". Stealing, oppression, pride, lust, gluttony, etc. Human nature transfigured by God, on the other hand, even if we only have the beginnings of such a renewal (the renewal of the mind), see's the situation differently.

This whole subject makes me think of the stories told by ancients (actually I think one such story was told about the first "Buddha" in India), of people who spent all of their time living in palaces, being sheltered from the outside world, so that when they first stepped out of their palaces (often without permission), they were shocked to find that the world was not a nice place at all, and were scandalized that people were going hungry, dying, etc.

I think something similar to that is going on in the case of most sceptics who approach Christianity, but it is happening in reverse. They're used a world that is consumed by death, and in fact are unaware that the Church, and the Apostles themselves, were so bold as to speak of the devil as being the "god of this world" or the demons as being the "rulers of this age" or the anti-christ as being the "prince of the air", etc.

The creation itself, is basically good, because God made it. However what most people encounter as being "Christianity", fails to properly explain our dilemma as creatures and as human beings. What is totally understated (perhaps out of pride, or because they think such a view of things is "childish" or "supersticious") is how comprimised this world is, how death exists as a poison wrapped up in it's fabric, and the real influence and literal existance of evil spirits, in particular their prince, satan. There is not enough emphasis that this "basically good creation", is ruled by these forces, for reasons that go back to mankind's beginnings. And everything, including the conclusions people reach solely through carnal reasoning, is poisoned by this. Indeed, so many things taken for granted seem so obvious in this scenario, that there could be any other meaning for things that exist in this physical world, just doesn't occur to them.

This whole matter reminds me of the stories of the 19th century Russian Saint, Seraphim of Sarov. There exist many sayings of his, stories about him from those who knew him, and so on. St.Seraphim lived in the woods for much of his life, the very forest becomming his church, and he would kneel motionless for incredible amounts of time, totally consumed in prayer. Saints are called such, because they are made "holy" by their communion with God, the root the word "holy" in Hebrew being "seperated" - just as God is totally seperate from all other things (they being created, He being the uncreated, the eternal.) A particular feature of people we honour with the title of "saint", is that they experience "glorification" even in this world. That means, they would enter into periods of particularly intense discourse with God, and when they did such, it was as if the very laws of nature we take for granted, did not apply to them anymore.

In the case of Saints like St.Seraphim, they would often remain in a state of prayer for incredible periods of time, days upon days, with neither food nor drink. They would manifest the glory of God at many points, inexplicable radiance coming forth from their bodies. Another famous example was the early Church Saint, St.Simeon Stylites. He was a profound ascetic, who had totally and utterly renounced the world, and stayed in prayer upon a pillar - a "stylite", an old pillar that once supported a building. He would sometimes not take food or water for weeks, and show a total indifference to the elements.

Other manifestations like this are common to Saints, even outside of these deep states of "theoria" - for example, the Saints often manifest a certain quality which cannot be explained, which brings consolation by their very presence, or can drive those totally dominated by evil to either repentence or revulsion. One interesting example in the case of St.Seraphim, was the fellowship he had with wild beasts. The animals did not fear him, nor acted with hostility towards him. He was even known to sit serenely, as a gigantic brown bear approached...but it had no malice, but was his friend, and St.Seraphim would smile and feed the wild animal as if it were a pet.

The Church is a place where healing takes place, a hospital for the sick. But it is not only men who are waiting for their final redemption, but also the creation itself. When you look at the example of Saints like St.Seraphim, or St.Anthony (considered by many to be the "father of monasticism" - an early Christian who fled worldliness by living in the desert as a solitary, who also was so sanctified that wild beasts were not adversarial towards him), you get an idea of how another world is possible. In fact, glimpses of it are seen, here and there, even now.

The author from Time magazine is obviously unaware of all of these things. But then again, so are many professing Christianity. Perhaps the hardest part of all of this, is that modern westerners are mentally shackeled by post-industrial ideas about technological progress, and more remotely, by the "renaisance", which really was a renewal, but a renewal of a fundamentally pagan (carnal) view of the world, in which the sick patient is called healthy, and from there on in to "attain health" is to make one's self all the more ill.

In the face of this pious materialism, with man sitting as the crown idol amongst all the others it has erected, there is very little room for shrugging your shoulders anymore, or being honest enough to admit that you "don't know". Thus you have everyone, whether it be people professing to be "Christians" or others professing atheism, sounding pretty sure of their respective explanations about everything... totally unaware of the fact that the last century has taught us how quickly today's certainty will become tommorow's quackery. It is pride which will always convince people that they are somehow special, exempt from the faults of their ancestors, even though they still indulge in the same games that they did.

I am content to say that I can tell you something about our past (only because it is preserved in the Tradition of the Church), but what I can say has more relevence to the "why" than the "how". If your primary concern in life is to live rightly, and sucessfully, you'll cherish this most necessary knowledge.

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