Archive for April, 2013

The Great Dance

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

What do I think is the best solution to the problem of evil? As it happens, I’ve just finished directing an honors seminar on that very topic, with readings drawn from Aeschylus’s Oresteia, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra.

Each of these authors (even Hume) provides an important component to what I believe to be “best”. But perhaps the best of the best can be found in the book by Lewis, the second volume of his Space Trilogy. Obviously I can’t tell the whole story here. Allow me instead to refer you to the end of the novel, particularly Lewis’s vision of what he calls the Great Dance. To give you just a taste of what this involves, here’s the question (with prologue) that I posed to my class the last day we discussed Perelandra:

Milton opens Paradise Lost with an invocation to the Holy Spirit: “What in me is dark Illumin,” he prays, “what is low raise and support; / That to the highth of this great Argument / I may assert Eternal Providence, / And justifie the wayes of God to men.”

As you know, solutions, or attempted solutions, to the problem of evil are called “theodicies” precisely because, like Milton’s poem, they seek to explain the justice of God (the dike of theos in the Greek). If God is truly all-good, all-wise, and all-powerful, how can He justly permit the existence of evil, sin, suffering, and death?

As you also know, Lewis devoted his most influential scholarly tome, A Preface to Paradise Lost, to this poem, and as a Christian theologian, he was of course well aware of the importance of defending God’s justice. But in the last chapter of Perelandra, he seems to suggest that “justice” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. What I’ve got in mind is a passage on p. 180, where the King is made to say to Ransom:

“I know now what they say in your world about justice. And perhaps they say well, for in that world things always fall below justice. But Maleldil [Lewis’s name for God] always goes above it. All is gift. I am Oyarsa [a vicegerent of God’s] not by His gift alone but by our foster mother’s, not by hers alone but by yours, not by yours alone but my wife’s—nay, in some sort, by gift of the very beasts and birds. Through many hands, enriched with many different kinds of love and labour, the gift comes to me. It is the Law. The best fruits are plucked for each by some hand that is not his own” (180).

And then, as if to illustrate and illumine this Law, Lewis begins to describe what he calls the “Great Game” or “Great Dance”. Here’s my question for today: Is this Law just? Is the Game fair? Or would one be right in thinking that it’s precisely because it’s not “just” and not “fair” that the Great Dance is a solution to the problem of evil?

Copy and Shadow

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Needless to say, the issue you raise is a controversial (and potentially volatile) one, and the position Orthodox Christians take can easily be misperceived as anti-Semitic. The problem is brought into rather stark relief by the text you cite from Hebrews 8:

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…. In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”

As is clear from the context, the “old covenant” to which Saint Paul refers included an obligation to perform a ritual animal sacrifice, and man’s fulfillment of his side of the covenant therefore required a place ritually set aside and marked out for the purpose of such sacrifice—in short, a templum or “temple”. So the question arises: When, after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, there was no longer an appropriate templum, and thus no sanctified space for the required sacrifice, did that covenant remain in force, or is it now “made old” or “obsolete”?

Of course, Judaism continued, and continues today, in the synagogues, but compared to what took place in the Temple, this continuation—it could be, and has been, argued by traditional Christians—is but a “copy and shadow” (Hebrews 8:5), just as animal sacrifices were themselves a “copy and shadow” of the sacrifice on Golgotha, and even as Golgotha in its turn was a “copy and shadow” of the heavenly Sacrifice (Revelation 13:8). So the question becomes: How many shadows does it take before the Light no longer illumines? How many times can you copy a thing before it is no longer legible?

I don’t claim to have the answers. But it’s precisely such highly charged questions that lie behind the issue raised by certain Traditionalists: namely, whether—and if so, to what extent—Judaism remains a fully operative Path. One thing I do know: if the Liturgy of the Catechumens were the only Liturgy—if there were no anaphora and if Christian initiates were no longer able to receive the Eucharistic Mysteries—Christianity would cease to be a fully operative Path. I’ll leave it to others to argue by analogy, if there is such an analogy, as to the state of contemporary Judaism.