Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Thoughts on Creation

The blogger formerly known as The Fearsome Pirate has of late been delving into the rather controversial topic of creation, evolution, and all that good stuff, over at Here We Stand. I am rather sympathetic to his argument- though I am no scientist (I have played one on the internet a few times), from what I have read and observed there are very weighty problems in a strict seven-day recent creation interpretation.

However, there is one major problem theologically that I still see with accepting a belief in an ancient universe as propounded by modern science: the problem of death and chaos in the cosmos, and how exactly it relates to man, sin, and the world's redemption in Christ. It is this problem that I would like to consider. The problem is this: if the world is ancient and existed as science tends to relate, then biological death and chaos existed before the fall of man. Plants and animals died and were turned into rocks in the proccess of earth's geological development; stars were born and died. How can this work into the Scriptural account of death being a product of man's fall- and, perhaps even more importantly, how can it relate to Christ's redemption of not only man but the entire universe? Is such a view of the cosmos compatible with orthodox Christian theology?

Firstly, I think it is important that we do not see the creation account as presenting a world that is in absolute perfection- that is, when the Scriptures speak of Adam in the Garden, while he is morally perfect- ie sinless- he is not eschatologically complete (in a similar way the book of Hebrews speaks of Christ 'becoming perfect'). Adam has something to do and something further to attain to. The Garden- and, by extension, the entire cosmos- is his to develop and bring into its proper maturity and end, which is found in God. The Fathers, beginning with St. Irenaeus, pointed this out: Adam was similar to a child, in that it was his position to grow into maturity, progressing into perfect communion and participation with God. Adam did not exist in an Origenistic stasis, but rather, as St. Maximus established against such ideas, he was first brought into being, then placed in motion, from whence he was intended to enter rest in God. When we read of Adam in the Garden, he is quite clearly a being with motion, and the capacity to incline himself either towards God or away from God. Adam's state is not the same as the state of man in Christ in the Resurrection. Christ did not merely restore us to Adam's condition- which would only put us back where we started!- but instead, He achieved what Adam had failed in: He brought man into eschatological perfection, to communion and participation in God. Christ is the Second Adam, completing what the first failed to do.

So how does this relate to our problem? If the world into which Adam was placed, the world from which he was drawn (the dust of the ground), was not yet eschatologically complete, then perhaps and aspect of the death that he brought into the world was his failure to advance into that completion- and with him, the entire cosmos. Instead of entering into the 'liberty of the sons of God', the world was subjected to sinful man, and an eschatological frustration. It veered from its intended course, the course that God had initiated from the beginning. However, God was not frustrated, and He both corrected the course and completed it in Christ.

What then of death in the world before Adam's fall? I would venture that biological death is perhaps not the same as the death that Adam brought upon creation. Clearly it is an important aspect of man's fall- but it is less clear how it relates to the rest of the world. Did plants die before Adam's sin? Did bacteria? If so, then why not also higher lifeforms? Is death then natural- at least for animals, if not for man? Perhaps death, as related to the cosmos, is not the same as simple biological death. Rather, could it be that creation's bondage lies in its severance from the direction in which God had placed it through man's participation in it? God created man to be over all His works, and as man dwelt in communion with God, and advanced to the eschatological completion, so would the rest of the world. Instead, man rejected God, and plunged himself into death- both spiritual and physical. In so doing, he also carried all the world into death, which would eventually end, not in communion with God, but utter extinction.

Death in biological systems may not neccessarily be evil- obviously, death in plants is not contended to be morally evil by anyone (except maybe the Manichees!), and is clearly an aspect of life on this planet. I would propose that the same may well be true for higher lifeforms- God did not intend for animals to be immortal.

I should note that we must not somehow isolate man's fall from the rest of the cosmos. The Scriptures are quite clear that man has had a malicious impact upon all the world- the question is precisely what is the content of this impact.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to work out these thoughts in more detail, and hopefully arrive at something worthwhile. I don't consider myself commited to any one idea at the present- there are many things to be considered carefully, as our understanding of the origin and development of the universe is intrinsically tied to Christ's recapitualtion and redemption of it: and I do not wish to detract from the content of the Gospel, or undermine the power and signigicance of the Reurrection. Rather, I should hope to find a proper synthesis of science with the truth of Christ, and so percieve both the world and its glorious salvation better.

On The Author's Absence

I just returned from a stay at my grandparents's home in Central Mississippi. I managed to find my way onto a few backwoods dirt roads (one of which happened to be mud thanks to a water truck directly in front of my car spraying it down generously) and knock about some in Greater Winston County. Explored the only cave in Winston County- and probably the only one for many miles- known as Nanih Waiya Mound Cave (around there it's pronounced 'nan-er wi-yah'). It's a humble cleft in the side of a very unusuall hill, in the middle of a swampy flood plain. The entrance is small, but the cave opens up enough to stand up straight, and slopes down, eventually ending in a pool of water. I understand the passage continues somewhere under the normal water level; during drought one can go a little further. At any rate, normal conditions allow one to get in just deep enough to be in near complete darkness, a sort of deep twilight. It's not the most impressive cave I've ever crawled in by any estimation, but it is one of the oddest- situated right next to a cypress swamp, in a rock that looks like highly compressed clay and defintely not like cave material, and the whole thing appears to be partly natural, partly dug out over the centuries. Choctaw legends on the cave vary- in one legend, the Choctaw people emerged from this cave at the time of creation. In another, rather more prosaic one, the cave is the work of a group of hunters who got caught in a rainstorm. They hid under a little overhang, and hollowed a bit more out during the rain. Later, as an amusement, they hollowed it out further and further, eventually resulting in the cave of to-day.

I also was able to spend some time with my great-grandmother. She has been in very poor health lately, and has had to stay indoors pretty much all the time, which is the hardest thing on her- she can't stand dwiddling about inside. She'd much rather be out under the hot July sun tending peas or flowers! She has been doing better though, after a week in the hospital and a trip to the emergency room last week, among other things. We would appreciate your prayers.


He Himself Comes to the Sepulchre

I recently came across this lovely passage in the works of St. Ambrose- thought it a wonderful proclamation of God's grace, for He is the One Who comes to where we are, the Good Samaritan Who stoops over our filth and shame and death and raises us Himself, in His own body.


Nevertheless if we are unable to equal her {the woman in the Gospel who washed the Lord's feet}, the Lord Jesus knows also how to aid the weak, when there is no one who can prepare the feast, or bring the ointment, or carry with her a spring of living water. He comes Himself to the sepulchre.

Would that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to come to this sepulchre of mine, O Lord Jesus, that Thou wouldst wash me with Thy tears, since in my hardened eyes I possess not such tears as to be able to wash away my offence. If Thou shalt weep for me l shall be saved; if I am worthy of Thy tears I shall cleanse the stench of all my offences; if I am worthy that Thou weep but a little, Thou wilt call me out of the tomb of this body and will say: "Come forth," that my meditations may not be kept pent up in the narrow limits of this body, but may go forth to Christ, and move in the light, that I may think no more on works of darkness but on works of light. For he who thinks on sins endeavours to shut himself up within his own consciousness.

Call forth, then, Thy servant. Although bound with the chain of my sins I have my feet fastened and my hands tied; being now buried in dead thoughts and works, yet at Thy call I shall go forth free, and shall be found one of those sitting at Thy feast, and Thy house shall be filled with precious ointment. If Thou hast vouchsafed to redeem any one, Thou wilt preserve him. For it shall be said, "See, he was not brought up in the bosom of the Church, nor trained from childhood, but hurried from the judgment-seat, brought away from the vanities of this world, growing accustomed to the singing of the choir instead of the shout of the crier, but he continues in the priesthood not by his own strength, but by the grace of Christ, and sits among the guests at the heavenly table."

Preserve, O Lord, Thy work, guard the gift which Thou hast given even to him who shrank from it. For I knew that I was not worthy to be called a bishop, because I had devoted myself to this world, but by Thy grace I am what I am. And I am indeed the least of all bishops, and the lowest in merit; yet since I too have undertaken some labour for Thy holy Church, watch over this fruit, and let not him whom when lost Thou didst call to the priesthood, to be lost when a priest. And first grant that I may know how with inmost affection to mourn with those who sin; for this is a very great virtue, since it is written: "And thou shall not rejoice over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction, and speak not proudly in the day of their trouble." Grant that so often as the sin of any one who has fallen is made known to me I may suffer with him, and not chide him proudly, but mourn and weep, so that weeping over another I may mourn for myself, saying, "Tamar hath been more righteous than I."

From On Repentance

Further Erudite Speculation at Pontifications

The master of eucharistic dogmatizing and ontological theorizing and all things eclessiastical has turned his pontificatal speculation to the Spiderman films. About time I say. Read his thoughts here: What will happen to MJ?

I also went and saw Spiderman 2 on opening night- midnight showing, great fun- and very much enjoyed it. The character development in Peter Parker was excellent- I could feel the angst building up, the sickening sink of frustration and weariness. And renouncing one's own desires in order to do right- how often does that come through in the cinema (as opposed to "follow your heart, blah blah")? The special effects were good- some of the Spidey swinging over New York had a rather obvious CG look, but otherwise, very good.


Mail Theft

This evening my dad discovered that we have been the victim of mail theft- several bills he had put in the box Sunday evening had apparently been removed- then opened, and placed in someone else's mailbox! The other mailbox happened to belong to members of our church, who we saw this evening. Along with our mail were opened bills from various other people, though not on our road. Not sure if anything was removed or not- though the bills are apparently intact; dad's going to get the stolen mail back tommorow. A very strange case- not so much that the mail was stolen, but the fact that it was stuck in another mailbox instead of simply being discarded. I can't think of any reason for it- intimidation, an attack of guilt, or just mere stupidity? At any rate, it's very odd, and a bit unnerving.


On Christ's Conquest of the Passions

Thus, in His love of humanity, the only-begotten Son and Logos of God became perfect man, with a view to reedeming human nature from this helplessness in evil. Taking on the original condition of Adam as he was in the very beginning, he was sinless but not incorruptible, and he assumed, from the procreative process introduced into human nature as a consequence of sin, only the liability to passions, not the sin itself. Since then, through the liability to passions that resulted from Adam's sin, the evil powers, as I already said, have hidden their activities clandestinely under the law of human nature in its current circumstance, it merely follows that these wicked powers- seeing in God our Savior the same natural liability to passions as in Adam, since he was in the flesh, and thinking that he was necessarily and circumstantially a mere man, that the Lord himself had to submit to the law of nature, that he acted by deliberation rather than true volition- assailed him. These evil powers hoped to use natural passibility to induce even the Lord himself to fantasize unnatural passions and to do what suited them. They tried to do this to him who, in his first experience of temptation by pleasure, subjected himself to being deluded by these evil powers' deceits, only to put off those powers by elimiating them from human nature, remaining unapproachable and untouchable for them. Clearly he won the victory over them for our sake, not his own; and it was for us that he became man and, in his goodness, inaugurated a complete restoration.

St. Maximus Confessor, Ad Thalassium 21

From On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ


St. Gregory of Nyssa on the Eucharist

Saint Gregory wrote this concerning the Eucharist in his work The Great Catechism (Chapter XXXVII):

The question was, how can that one Body of Christ vivify the whole of mankind, all, that is, in whomsoever there is Faith, and yet, though divided amongst all, be itself not diminished? Perhaps, then, we are now not far from the probable explanation. If the subsistence of every body depends on nourishment, and this is eating and drinking, and in the case of our eating there is bread and in the case of our drinking water sweetened with wine, and if, as was explained at the beginning, the Word of God, Who is both God and the Word, coalesced with man's nature, and when He came in a body such as ours did not innovate on man's physical constitution so as to make it other than it was, but secured continuance for His own body by the customary and proper means, and controlled its subsistence by meat and drink, the former of which was bread,-just, then, as in the case of ourselves, as has been repeatedly said already, if a person sees bread he also, in a kind of way, looks on a human body, for by the bread being within it the bread becomes it, so also, in that other case, the body into which God entered, by partaking of the nourishment of bread, was, in a certain measure, the same with it; that nourishment, as we have said, changing itself into the nature of the body. For that which is peculiar to all flesh is acknowledged also in the case of that flesh, namely, that that Body too was maintained by bread; which Body also by the indwelling of God the Word was transmuted to the dignity of Godhead. Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word.

Gregory proposes a sort of 'organic' approach to grasping the mystery of the Eucharist. Just as Christ, when on earth, ate bread, and this bread 'became' a part of Him (and through the mystery of the hypostatic union, the bread became God!), so, in a similar way, the bread and wine of the Eucharist are transformed, changed- transelemented or transmuted as Gregory says- into Christ's body and blood. Gregory definitely puts forward a radical change in the elements, though he follows an interesting way of explaining it. The bread and the wine, so to speak, are brought into Christ- it is through a mysterious 'incorporation' akin to eating, the bringing in and "blending" of food with the body. However, one should note that Gregory's language does not lead us to an exact correlation- hence while there is a change in the elements, one might also say they still exist, now as united, brought into, the Eucharist. I would propose that a use of Chalcedonian language would be helpful here- it would perhaps be proper to speak of two natures in the Eucharist, yet one hypostasis (St. Irenaeus speaks of the Eucharist as comrpising of "two realities" the heavenly and earthly). Also note what Gregory says below concerning the correlation of the Eucharist and our "mingling" with Christ. One might say that the elements "become" Christ in a way similar to which we are said to "become" Christ. The bread and wine are "one" with the body and blood in a way akin to our being "one" with Christ. {On second thought, I must disagree with myself- our "divinization" is properly understood more in the realm of participation, and is not strong enough for the Eucharist identification.}

For that Body was once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread, and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle, "is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer"; not that it advances by the process of eating to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, "This is My Body.".... Since, then, that God-containing flesh partook for its substance and support of this particular nourishment also, and since the God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be deified, for this end it is that, by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption. He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He transelements the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing.

Gregory, carrying through the thought of this entire chapter, demonstrates that Christ's body and blood, through our partaking of them in the Eucharist, are the means by which the believer's body is nourished and made a sharer in life. Jesus- the whole man, body and soul, humanity and divinity- is our life, and the whole of us needs the whole of Him. This is the reason for the Eucharist- communion with Christ: which is ultimately a mystery.