Hartshorne Once More: Deeper Metaphysical Problems

“It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent, as that the World is permanent and God is fluent. It is as true to say that God is one and the World many, as the world is one and God many. It is as true to say that, in comparison with the World, God is actual eminently, as that, in comparison with God, the World is actual eminently. It is as true to say that the World is immanent in God, as that God is immanent in the World. It is as true to say that God transcends the World, as that the World transcends God. It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God.” Alfred Whitehead

The quote above displays precisely the problem. This metaphysics posits an absolute relativity. God is not more God than the world. To God, the world is God. It is only to the world that God is God.

You have then as absolute “relation” as such: i.e. the coupling of actor and receiver. This is the foundational, the absolute. What is relative is who you posit as actor and who as receiver. From God’s perspective, he is receiver. He receives his constitution from the world. As it (freely) goes, so he goes. It does not matter whether or not his “experience” is of a certain emotional kind: i.e. if it is all bliss all the time, or constantly fluctuating. The point does not hinge on the quality of God’s experience. It is rather that the experience qua experience is constituted by what is other than him and freely determining him. In a word, God is eternally watching the movie of the world. How it goes impacts him and constitutes his experience. If character x dies, he feels such and such. If character y narrowly escapes, he feels such and such. Depending on which process theologian you read, God will either “suffer with” each character, or he will incorporate the character’s experience into himself such that his experience is still perfectly beautiful – though still different – in light of the goings on of the world-movie.

I have already tried to show the difficulties in thinking that God is negatively emotionally impacted by the goings on in the world (would his “level” of emotion be an average of the emotional states of all conscious agents in the universe at every particular moment?) However, even if God is in maximal bliss, the nerve of the problem still remains: he receives all his actuality from the world. As such he loses his identity as the first cause and the supreme being. He is no more God than the world.

Imagine the relation: God-world, with God as receiver, world as giver. Now, the causal arrow is going one way: from world to God. The world determines God. God does not determine the world. As such the world is seen as necessary and self-existing (a se), and God is contingent and existing from another. God is related (dependent); the world is unrelated (independent.)

Yet if you switch perspectives, CH wants to say (as Whitehead says above), that things are exactly the opposite. The world can be receiver, and God can be giver. The causal arrow can be going the opposite way.

This is inconceivable; or rather, flatly contradictory. If the causal arrow goes from God to the world, it cannot also go from the world to God.

At least, not at the same time. The arrow could go back and forth: God–>world, God<–world, God–>world etc. But then notice there is something more fundamental to both God and the world. There is the common space in which they co-exist. And there is also the eternally never ending causal arrow bouncing back and forth between them. And note too, if the arrow really is eternally bouncing back between God and the world — each now giving, now receiving – then there is no real sense in calling God the originator or creator. “Creator” becomes a mere relative term depending on which side of the relation is receiving, which changes each time the causal arrow changes.

What this boils down to is this. If you want to say God and the world can interact, then your absolute – your God – becomes either space, or time. It is space insofar as one stands over and receives. It is time insofar as the causal arrow continues to move forward from one to the next.

I pass over, also, the difficulty I brought up in my last post: the fact that if “the world” is freely self determining, then what constitutes “the world” (e.g. all the free agents within it) could not at the same time be free. That is, insofar as an entity is freely self-determining at time x, things which constitute that entity cannot be freely self-determining at time x. Entities must stand over and against one another to influence them. If they are “within” other entities, then when they are freely acting in their particular spatial reference frame, the entities that they constitute cannot also at the same time be freely acting (also note that many opposing entities which are competitive rather than constituted-in-others could freely act at the same time, but they could not act on each other. Entities can only be conceived as acting or receiving at a particular time with respect to what they are acting on or receiving from.)

The last problem I want to probe is really is cluster of problems, each having to do with infinity. I am not sure it is coherent to posit an infinity of actually existing things (plural). That is, I don’t think the concepts of infinity and plurality are co-existent. To say a thing is infinite, is to say no more and no less than that it is not finite. But to be finite is to be bounded. And since “plurality” already includes the idea of several bounded finites, I conclude that there cannot be an actual infinity of finite things.

CH wants to say that God’s memories are infinite. Also, that the God-world relation is necessary and eternal. God has from all eternity been creating and knowing the world. But how, then, could anything new ever come about? CH wants to save novelty and creativity in God. But ironically, this is impossible if infinite time and infinite potencies have already come about (I don’t think what I’ve said is actually coherent – infinities cannot “come about,” for that implies “completion” which is repugnant to infinity – but I say it because I think CH affirms the point.) If God has a perfect memory of the past (I do find CH’s notions of all world-happenings being eternally absorbed into the divine conscious memory and creatively reproduced rather beautiful), then nothing new can come to be which is really foreign to the divine memory. No moment that comes to be is really unique because everything has already happened. Therefore no novelty after all.

Another infinity paradox. CH (I think) wants to say God “creates.” But to create means to make finite. To create an infinity is, I think, impossible. If an actual infinite number of created entities existed, it must be possible that God know all these entities. (Unless you think he could make what he does not know.) But if the number of created entities was infinite, it could never be contained in proposition, and thus it could never be actually comprehended or contained in God’s mind. Insofar as the thing made was known and comprehended, it would thus be finite. But if it was infinite, the proposition – which contained the infinite number of entities – would never terminate such as to allow comprehension. The proposition would be like a sentence that began but never had a period to end. It would indefinitely extend, and to that degree be incomprehensible and unbounded by mind.

There are also of course the more manifest infinity paradoxes of how, if this moment was preceded by an infinite number, a “new” moment could come into being. To say it is new is to say that it is in addition to what came before. But what came before was infinite. How then could you add something new to it?

In a word, in any metaphysical system, the infinite can only be properly attributed once. You can only have one unbounded, non-finite. All else besides that is not identical to this one must therefore be finite and bounded. Now the bounded and finite can have within it potentially infinite things: but these all themselves insofar as they actually are must be bound and finite also.

In sum: if there is a God, and if your metaphysics speaks of him, only he can be infinite, unrelated, and necessary. All that is not him must be these negations. There cannot be such a thing as an absolute relativity between God and not-God. Otherwise you don’t have God anymore in the picture at all.

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Hartshorne Revisited: Top Down or Bottom Up?

Take Hartshorne’s (henceforth CH) claim that every entity, from the micro to the macro, has some free self-determining ability. Question: how can both we as individuals and the items which go to make up our bodies both possess this ability simultaneously?

For instance, we are composed of atoms. Now, take “me” to be a certain assembly of these atoms. (It doesn’t matter for my purpose whether there are smaller entities.) Say that number is, for simplicity’s sake, 10. So we have now one certain entity I call “me” which is composed of ten smaller entities.

If CH is right, both me – the one entity – and my atoms – the ten – have free self determining power. It is quite easy to conceive of “me” affecting my atoms – say by making a conscious volitional act, like moving my hand. I will to move my hand, and my atoms “obey.” It is also easy to imagine my atoms affecting me – say I feel the urge to urinate. The problem, however, is that, if I really am composed of atoms, then any movement I make as a single entity is simultaneously a movement of my atoms as well. I cannot move or make a free choice without my atoms which compose me also moving. For I just am a particular combination of atoms. But how, then, can both I and my atoms each, at the same time, have free self determining ability?

If I choose to raise my arm, does this count as an “action” on my atoms? Does my free choice of self-becoming now impact the atoms that compose my body or brain? But how can that be, since I am composed of these things? That is, my acting at whatever time I act – say time t – necessarily implies the action of my atoms also at the exact same time. If my atoms lag behind – that is, if I act and then my atoms are effected – then I cannot simply be a constituent of atoms. I am somehow distinct from them and stand over and against them and act on them.

Take a ruler. It is a foot long. But it is also simultaneously 12 inches. Now, if the ruler moves qua foot long-wise, it also moves qua 12 inch-wise. You cannot move the ruler without moving it both as an entity that is a foot and as an entity that is 12 inches. However, on CH’s metaphysics, both the entity as a foot long object (in the analogy, it is “me”), and the entity as 12 inches (my atoms) have simultaneous free self determining power.

I submit that this is inconceivable. Or at least, if both entities do have simultaneously free self determining power then neither entity can impact the other.

Causality is incoherent without assuming that there are two distinct entities, both of which occupy a common spatial field, and that of these two entities, one serves as agent, and the other as patient.

Say you want to abandon the notion of causality which depends on action and passion. My question is, is there any other notion of causality left?

Again, just how can an entity which is constituted by other entities, have free self determining power if the entities which it is constituted by also have self determining power?

Imagine you have 3 entities or nodes of causality: one containing, one compositional, and one compositional in that one. Say you have 1 big node, 1 medium, and 1 small. Now, as big node acts at t1, medium node passively receives. But what would small node be doing? If medium node is composed of small node, would not small node be impacted the moment medium node was impacted? Remember, the nodes are not separated by space. they are composed of each other. Any action done on one would likewise necessarily effect the others. Remember the ruler example. If you move the foot you also move the twelve inches, as well as however centimeters. You don’t move the foot and then a few seconds later the 12 inches follow.

What this means is that you have to have two finite termini in order to have any conception of becoming and causality. You have to have at least some locus of action, which you can call node alpha, and some ultimate terminus of action, call it node zed. If there is no finite termini, your causal influence will proceed to infinity in the same instant. That is, it will never terminate, and all causality will reduce to a single action in one moment of time. Also node alpha could never actively receive any causal influence. It could never be moved since it was the one always moving.

Perhaps one could say that the compositional entities (atoms) have self determining power (SDP) at certain times, whereas the containing entity (“me”) have it at others, but both don’t have it at the same time. At time 1, my atoms have SDP. Also at time 1, I as containing entity am passively awaiting their determination. Once their determination occurs, we have a new moment, t2, at which point, I now become active and determining, and they become passive. It is a sort of pulsating, snap shot causality in which the causal influence moves from micro to macro entity, as time goes on. Or rather, the movement of these snap shots would simply be time.

But if this is so, I do not see how there could be such a thing as absolute simultaneity. For instance, if all 3 nodes existed at the same time, then, if we suppose at time 1 that one node was active (i.e. was freely exercising SDP), then necessarily, since the other nodes are in that node as constituents, they would be passively receiving, and therefore could not be exerting SDP.

In other words, if we assume something has SDP, then we must also assume some system in which that thing operates, and we must also assume that all other agents must act as receivers, the moment that the agent is exerting SDP.

If each node was temporally isolated from every other node, you could have a sort of break or gap between the nodes that allowed for the taking in of previous causal influence and a new becoming. But if this was true, the nodes could not be constitutive of each other. That is, they could not be as inches in feet (or atoms in “I’s”). Quite literally both entities could not exist at the same time. Actually, what this would seem to entail is that no entity existed at any other time than simply itself. That is, each entity – at least each entity with SDP – would have its own absolutely unique temporal present. In this present, it would be actor. In all subsequent presents in which it did not act, it would be receiver. The time for each node would have to serve its own space: i.e every node would be temporally discreet. If the nodes overlapped times with absolute simultaneity, then whichever node you privileged with SDP would necessarily determine absolutely all nodes related to it, and only one node at a time could have SDP.

But perhaps you could connect all these nodes such that, at each temporal moment, there is an “arrow” of causality, either in the positive or negative direction. That is, take all your nodes (they could not be infinite, or causality would become absolutely relative, and God could not be the supreme being or first cause.) Say there is God, and a billion nodes, each containing their own lessers nodes. At each temporal moment, God is either active, or passive. Period. If he is active, all nodes under him are passive. If he is passive, the absolutely smallest node is active, all others passive. But then this would seem to delegate no SDP to any nodes in between.

You could also distill all relations into simply “God” and “not-God,” where each relation would have its own temporal moment, and each temporal moment would have its own objective relation between pairs of nodes, with either God being active or passive, and not-God being the opposite. For instance, we could imagine reality as follows.

Temporal moment 1: God

Temporal moment (TM) 2: God active, node 1 passive

TM 3: God passive, node 1 active

TM 4: God active, node 2 passive, node 3 passive

TM 5: God passive, node 2 active, node 3 passive

TM 6: God passive, node 2 passive, node 3 active

TM 7: God active, node 2 passive, node 3 passive, node 4 passive etc

Each temporal moment, after temporal moment 1, would introduce a new creative becoming, undetermined by previous moments, but connected to them. For instance, node 1 comes into being ex nihilo at temporal moment 2. And once the active-passive relation is posited, it would “circulate.” Or rather, the now active node would become the first mover in the series at that temporal moment, and all others would be relegated as finite nodes terminating in a final end node. The causality would move down the line, until you got back to God, who would create ex nihilo a new node.

Musings On Hartshorne’s Processism

I’ve been reading some Hartshorne lately. Some questions I would have for his metaphysics.

He was very concerned with God knowing and being enriched by the world. Question: what difference would it make to God, if he knows or was enriched by the world?

Suppose for instance the race became engaged in nuclear war. God, since the universe is “his body,” would evidently be affected by this. That is, I suppose he would experience “emotion” or some sort of conscious experience that was constituted by what is going on in the world. Now, what sort of mental or conscious or feeling state would God be in, in light of this nuclear war? Is there a scale of happiness, say 1-10, in which God would land?

Say that God would be “mildly upset” at nuclear war. That is, he would be troubled by it, but not enough for him to conclude that his own existence was unbearable. He would not want to commit to suicide: he would not think his creative investing in the world was not worth it. Now, suppose also that throughout the entire universe, our planet was the only one in which any violence whatsoever was taking place. All other planets were living in harmony and joy and zesty creative fun. How would God be feeling then?

Planet nuclear war seems to shrink in significance, no? It went from being a mortal wound – or at least a gangrenous limb – to now less than a bug bite.

How then does God synthesize the entirety of the universe’s goings on into a complete aesthetic or emotional or conscious experience? Notice too that planet nuclear war is just one example of what must be going on all the time anyway, even on our own planet. Given 8 billion humans, very many of them at this moment must be in extreme agony. And this is not to mention the non-human life forms. So, too, many are experiencing joy.  Is God then in a constant state of emotional flux? And what would be the metric which “moved” God from one emotional state to another? Would he change by the second, the nano-second? Is there some sort of absolutely finite unit of measure, some sort of psychological God-time, that moved his thoughts along? And where would it come from: why would it be as small as it was?

The problem, by the way, would still be there whether there are 8 trillion sentient creatures in existence or 8. For it does not fundamentally have to do with number, but with how God evaluates the suffering of something other than himself, and incorporates that into his own life and experience. Supposing there is another thinking and feeling thing – how does this fact impact God? How moved is he, based on it? How much of his own empathetic movement is there by his own free choice? If God freely opens himself up to whatever degree of vulnerability he does, is there really such a thing as saying that he is absolutely suffering that which is absolutely against his will? After all, it was still his will that he be able to so suffer. That is very different than a suffering which is absolutely opposed, at the moment, to the suffer’s will. Where if the sufferer had his way, he would abolish he suffering, could it be that God, if he had his way, would endure it? If so, we should qualify how we are using the word “suffering” here. For it would be something which, on the whole, God still chooses. It would be akin to the wish not to be ignorant of a painful truth. God would say: “let me hear the truth, even if it is painful. I will not stick my fingers in my ears and hum.”

Or should we say that, God’s conscious experience is always of maximal aesthetic satisfaction, and that him simply being God involves him necessarily seeing, in each temporal moment of the universe, the most beauty that can possibly be seen? And since this is the most beauty that possibly can be at this moment, and since God is omniscient and almighty (being understood in the non-classical sense), then God simply freely chooses to view and be consciously experiencing the world in such a way? That is, why would God be sad, if he knew that the state of the world was such and such? Given all that has happened, he cannot change it. Nor given all that has happened, does it follow that any irremediable evil has taken place, for he can always draw new good from it. For God to have anything less than a unified aesthetically satisfactory experience of the world would seem to amount to him “wallowing” in misery, simply for miseries sake. What if we suppose that he takes it in – he experiences it aesthetically – and then, breathes forth once again his creative energy of possibilities, with a sort of glorious, eternal optimism?

Note this view would require a different understanding of divine “happiness.” I use the phrase aesthetic experience because it seems richer than using a single emotive word like “happy.” But we can I think get glimpses of such a thing. No one would say that experiencing the death of a loved one is a happy experience. But it can be a deeply aesthetic – that is, moving – one. Tears can come not from happiness as such. They can also come from experiencing a certain glory – a certain deep impression from the event. I don’t know if I’m expressing myself clearly. What I am trying to say is that the word happiness is far too diluted a word for what I want to identify with my richest and deepest experiences of loveliness.

The feeling I am after comes closest to union. I somehow feel the presence of the other in me. This occurs even if that other is not physically present – indeed sometimes is strongest when they are not present. It is some sort of indwelling: not altogether without pain. But it is a sweet pain.

Or maybe we simply cannot describe God’s experience. All our emotive experiences are fragmented into single, disconnected feelings: joy, peace, hope, warmth, anxiety, vulnerability, connection. Perhaps these words of ours are just glimpses of something that is in God a unified, ineffable whole experience that we cannot imagine or understand.

Anyway, I am trying to get a handle on how Hartshorne would imagine a God who is incessantly emotionally labile based on the goings on in the world. One would think he would wish for some peace of mind! And would this state of God ever end? Evidently not, if creation is eternal. Where then would be his control? Where would be his maximal satisfaction?

If Hartshorne is right in that God can only be God in his relating to creation, and if God is not the biggest victim of suffering imaginable, then God’s creating must give him what he wants. But the greater God’s desire for things going a certain way, the greater would his pain be if things did not go that way. Unless the contingency in the world – the possibilities that God offers it – are such that God can enjoy equally satisfactory aesthetic experiences in them. Now no doubt for us creatures, certain happenings result in worse outcomes. But if we really believe in a Almighty God of perfect Love and Beauty – if we really trusted in Him and were as wise as He – would we not likewise know and rejoice in the fact that, whatever evil happens, God will weave a glorious and justifying good out of it? But even this seems to not really answer the question at hand. For it admits of some temporal defeat, simply in view of a better outcome down the road. In God, not even this could be the case. Literally each moment must be constituted by an aesthetic satisfaction that is perfect and complete. But perhaps in a particular moment what actually constitutes his satisfaction is the realization that at some point the particular suffering of a creature will indeed blossom into an eternal and unshakable joy.

Which leads to the final question I have for Hartshorne. At what point on his metaphysic can God actually achieve the aim for which he works? God, in creating, offers possibilities to things already existing. (Let us leave aside the question of how these already existings got there – I think Oord would say that they have been preceded by existing things, and so on ad infinitum.) But God gives possibilities to the world. The world can choose less than optimal possibilities for itself.

Now the question. Is there built into this system any self-correcting mechanism whereby that which chooses among possibilities will eventually and necessarily right itself? That is, is it the case that on and on, forever and ever, the world – or some entity, say some spiritual consciousness – can continue to choose less than optimal possibilities? Suppose the aim of God is creating as such, and enjoying the becoming of said creation, which he can do no matter what happens. Still, it seems to me that the aim of the creature must be its perfection. It must be its coming to be in the state that God is in: a never ending aesthetic experience which cannot even in principle be diminished. (In short, its perfection must be union with God.) Otherwise what aim would there be for a particular creature? Would it serve simply to help another creature – or the world as a whole – achieve this? And if so, couldn’t the same question be posed to that object?

Anyway, whatever aim you want to give the creature, call it x. Now, can God necessarily achieve x? That is, can the creature necessarily achieve x, regardless of the contingencies that God offers it?

If not, what reason then to think that the world, or even a single agent in the world, will reach perfection? Indeed what even is progress on this view, if possibilities are constantly being offered such that, even for one who has built himself into a very great human being, that person can still fail to reach beatitude? Further, how indeed can God have perfectly maximal aesthetic satisfaction every moment of his existence if he knows that it is impossible to necessarily reach the goal towards which he works? Or does he not work towards a goal for each creature? Who cares then, if he knows and love us? What difference does Hartshorne’s metaphysic make in the end over and against Aristotle’s who claimed that God did not know the world and was unmoved by it?

I can well imagine being perfectly satisfied in God and all the evil in the world, if I knew that the good beings who suffered it were worth enough to be necessarily destined for perfection. But how is the world tolerable if, for every human person it is the case that, they are objectively indifferent to their own perfection? How does this process metaphysic not lead to the nihilism of the human person? The good of the cosmos is the same, whether or not that human over there reaches heaven. How can God be satisfied, or how can we, if we love his creatures, if we know that, for everything that ever comes into being, God’s aesthetic enjoyment of reality – his Godlike valuation of what is good – is still maximal, even if all the creatures he makes suffer and die? Does God give us a desire for eternal life, when he cannot guarantee that we shall reach it?

The question I have for the process metaphysics boils down to this: are the possibilities that God offers the world such that their consequences are equal in both the direction of evil and the direction of good? Or do somehow the possibilities necessarily bend in the direction of good? If it is the former, I’m not sure what the benefit in Hartshorne’s whole philosophy is. He wants to rescue us from Aristotle and medieval thinkers by saying that God knows and loves the world. But what does that matter if it really makes no difference to God whether we are beatified? What does it help if we cannot hope that we will, like Paul says, one day ourselves “know even as we are known”?

When pressed, if one don’t have a necessary way of achieving universal beatitude, your metaphysics reduces simply to dualism. It is a manly philosophy, to be sure: the eternal battle of Good vs. Evil. But it is bleak. And also incomplete. For on it Good is not necessarily stronger than Evil. It cannot then guarantee victory. How then can it ground loyalty?

3. You Search the Scriptures

“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness to me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” John 5:39, 40

Why do you search the Scriptures? For what other reason can it be but to know truth? Yet if this is so, then Truth must be the final end towards which the searching of the scriptures labors. All tools we use, all arguments, all authorities, all commentaries, yea all thinking itself, exist but for the sake of attaining the pure and simple truth: to have it dwell in our hearts and rule our lives and saturate our spirits. How easily the minds of us are distracted from this goal. How easily we turn aside from journeying towards the land of Truth herself to rest content in the cave of what-someone-thought-was-truth. How could we, if we were true lovers of truth, ever be satisfied with such?

What good is it, to know what another thinks of truth? It is a mere historical fact, a trifle, a question of secondary – infinitely secondary – importance. Why then do we labor to prove what this or that person believed to be true? No doubt because we feel a kinship – a love even – towards the person. But this love for our brother or sister ought never to replace our love for what is true. The more noble minded and pure hearted the one we are inquiring about, the more surely he would cast aside all false opinion and beclouded conclusion to lay hold of what is true. Would not St. Paul himself, if he were shown some obscurity in his argument or some erroneous deduction that could be made from his words, not, upon being told by a fellow truth seeker of truth and lover of humanity and follower of Jesus Christ, would not St. Paul, I say, join hands with his interlocutor and seek to purify his own understanding, his own appreciation of, his own arguments for, God’s sweet truth? And if he would not, would he be a true man seeking truth, in all its profundity and loveliness? We use other men’s thoughts best, not when we adopt them thoughtlessly, worse still when we defend them blindly without ourselves feeling them true, but when we assimilate them into ourselves and our own true-knowing, and then look at the world through both their and our now blended, interpenetrated vision.

“Do you then put yourself on the same authority as Paul? As Christ himself? Is there no room for you to bow your mind to truths too high for you to comprehend? Are you saying that unless you can comprehend it, a thing cannot be true?”

I am saying that if a person cannot see a thing to be true, he cannot really – that is, truly – think it true. How then could he bow to it in honest submission, since he does not know the nature of the thing he is bowing to? And, supposing he blindly bowed anyway, what would be the good in such a thing?

If one cannot see the truth in something, there is no way that he can believe it true. Unless he lies to himself, but then he sins, both against himself and against his God. Did not Paul himself say this when he charged Timothy: “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience“? Why hold a good conscience? Because, Paul says, “by rejecting it, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.” Shipwreck of faith! By denying conscience! Friend, how backward that theology is, stuck in the crusted pages of history, which supposes conscience has no place in growing faith, plays no part in free inquiry, and is a voice to be muted when it cries against tradition! Rejecting conscience is that which leads to a damaged faith, a faith poor, weak, and low. A faith kept alive – starving and crouched and afraid – by fear: not a faith fed by the nourishment of wonder, mystery and freedom.

Faith therefore can only be strong to the degree that conscience is alive and heard and constantly responsive to every truth that comes spontaneously into one’s mind. Insofar as one is bound to have faith in God, therefore, he is bound to follow conscience, and assent to nothing which seems to him false or unworthy of belief, nor to believe a thing merely out of fear.

But that is very different from saying that all that one may believe in is that which he can comprehend. God shall no one ever comprehend. I do not say that one shall never rest, yea even find joy, in his incomprehension. In the highest union of the soul with God, the fact that the divine beauty is infinitely surpassing even the all glorious and unspeakably loving bliss that the soul is bathed in, this very fact must itself cause the soul a unique rapturous delight. The ineffable, unimaginable grandeur of God’s being must fill the soul with an ecstasy beyond description. But this sort of incomprehension – an incomprehension of quantity, as it were – is very different from the incomprehension attending the submission of one’s intellect to what one cannot see as true. Such an incomprehension comes not because one cannot see a thing as true, but because he sees a thing as untrue. In the former case, an incomprehensibility is set before the mind to gaze and wonder at: a mystery, a sphere with no beginning, a space with no boundary. In the latter, what meets the mind is a contradiction, a clashing of assertions: as if two opposite poles of a magnet were being forced to make contact. Here the mind does not breathe in mystery, but chokes on impossibility. The mutual togetherness that is being presented to it is unthinkable; it simply cannot be. The two things presented to it exclude each other from the very nature of what they individually proclaim.

“You then set yourself up over Christ.”

I set myself alongside Christ – or rather my understanding of him, for my understanding of the man may be very far from the thought of the man himself, as he himself thought. I know, sorrowfully, that I cannot ask Christ my questions and then see what he says. But do you suppose he would be angry with me for wanting to ask them? He would either answer them, or rebuke me. If he answered them, I would be the better, assuming I understood him, which, if I did not, I would, I hope, continue to ask more questions until I was satisfied. On the other hand, if he rebuked me, this would be either for my benefit and to deepen my understanding, or it would not be. If it would not be, Christ cannot be a lover of men who seek truth. He cannot himself be the truth, cannot be the one who tells us to ask so that it may be given to us, or seek so that we shall find. Christ cannot then be the one who tells us to knock on the door of life and truth so that it will be opened to us, nor can he be a real seeker after things true. Is this seeking not the very thing which, he tells his followers, shall set them free? How then could he mean it, if he would be angry with you and me, friend, for asking our questions – whatever they be? Is there a question – a mental quest –  that would be too small, too insignificant for the Real Man Jesus? I will not believe it, else you take the humanity out of Christ himself.

Yet, if Christ would rebuke me, and if the rebuke was for my benefit, is it not all the better still that I ask my questions, seeing as the sooner I am rebuked, the sooner I am on the way to a better understanding?

In any case, a lover of truth must ask the questions that burn in his bosom.

Therefore I ask again. What purpose is there in studying Church history, in reading Biblical commentaries, in memorizing Scripture? What good is it to ponder over the words of Jesus or know the theology of this or that thinker or recite the Creeds? Again I answer. These things exist but to serve a unified and mighty end: to know the truth. But are we to know truth simply for truth’s sake? No. We are to know it for the sake of becoming true. That is, we are to know it so to become beings altogether lovely, strong, perfectly good and pure.

Have you ever thought, friend, that the whole purpose for us in knowing Jesus, is not so that we could quote his words, but so that we could become True, Beautiful, and Good human beings? In this respect – and mind what I say closely – in this respect, it does not even matter if we know what Christ said. If Christ could look upon a man or woman and see a true man, a good woman, an absolutely loving and lovely man or woman, yea a pure human being, would it bother him if that person had never known that Christ himself had lived? Would not the Lord rejoice simply in the goodness of the human, in the fact that the one was and was a noble son or daughter of God? Would Jesus not be unspeakably glad in the perfect childhood of the Father that had blossomed into the mighty spring radiance that was the person’s soul?

I do not say that anyone can be good without Christ working in him. I take that to be a metaphysical impossibility. But it is not difficult to believe – is it not impossible to doubt? – that Christ can work in one without that one knowing it. Or do you not think that the Spirit of Christ, that is, the Spirit of the ideal humanity born out of infinite love’s heart, is working in you all the time, even when you know it not, yea that perhaps it works most when you know it least? If you believe in a God of love, how could you ever suppose that you were ever anywhere other than in a universe bathed in a human love unspeakably tender, omnipotently fierce, unfathomably compassionate?

Long before the dawn of what you call yourself peeped over the brim of your out-looking soul, the spirit of Christ was working in you. What moves the embryo in the womb, what knits together its limbs and body, what draws it into its humanity and makes it grow, what unifies the spiritual nature of the form that is there taking shape – what anchors all these things, if not almighty God, working through and with the essentially human? That essentially human is Jesus Christ. Before you uttered your first word, before you thought your first thought, before your heart beat its first beat while you slumbered in your mother’s womb, the spirit of Christ was already working in you, friend. The divine maker was already, with his invisible and love driven hands, molding the depths of thy deepest self, through the ideal humanity of his Son.

Let us, however, return to the question, because it does present a difficulty. How are we to know Christ? We cannot speak to him, we cannot audibly hear his voice. We do not even have words he himself has written. And though we have words written by those who knew him best, even those men very often misunderstood him.

I ask, would not Jesus, if his goal was to bring men and women to a truer and better understanding of the divine purpose of their lives – which is, to look upon themselves as the offspring of a God altogether perfect and lovely – if this was Jesus’ primary goal, would he not be bound to talk at the level of his hearers? To teach a man, that man must be met where he is. There must be accommodation made for him. His mind must be stretched, not broken. To anyone who doubts that this way the way of Christ, or who doubts that such a thing has occurred, I ask him to but honestly and diligently compare the Synoptics to the Gospel of John. I do not say they contradict one another. But I doubt very much one would disagree with me if I said that in John we find a deeper revelation of the Son of Man. Therefore, a writer stands behind that historical document who could better appreciate the truths that Jesus spoke.

“You cast doubt upon the inspiration of the Bible!”

I do not grant it. But what does it matter if it were true? How can the casting of doubt ever trouble us, friends? We seek after truth, do we not? What would it matter if in the whole world not a soul knew or had ever heard of the Bible, if the whole world were nothing but true and altogether good men and women? We must never forget that the Bible exists, as does the New Testament, as do the writings of Paul and Peter and James and John, as do the words – yea the very deeds – of Christ himself, to make us like Jesus. That is, into perfectly good, true, lovely human beings.

But how does one become such a thing? And how does one know what such a thing looks like, opened up and living and thinking in the world? We must be our very best selves, must become better than what we fear we cannot be. But how to do it? If we are to be like Christ, what does that mean? How do we know him, so that we can be like him? What we have of him written in the New Testament shows us much of him. But is there no closer we can press into him, to know him better?

The one who loves the words of Jesus in the New Testament best will want most more than those words alone. He knows that the letter exists for the deeper realm of spirit and life. To the degree that the letter leads us deeper into our essential humanity and therefore brotherhood with Christ, to that degree it serves its divine, life giving purpose. To the degree it leads away from this, it brings forth death.

To the one who would rule his life by the text alone, and who claims to go neither beyond it nor against it, his individual life – yea his whole thinking and doing and being in the world – must be an unspeakable enigma. How could one take a single step if he supposed his every action must, before he could do or think it, be found in the historical record of Jesus, as either commanded or permitted by him?

What we want, friends, and what the soul yearns for with unutterable longing, is to know, not the words of the man Jesus, but to know the man himself. It wants not to know the record of him, but to know him. What does it matter if we knew the very words that came forth from his lips – yea if we sat at his feet night and day, and heard the very tone and richness of his human voice – if we did not know the person himself? We want to push past the appearances -which is merely the person as he appears through the matter that he is forced to use to convey himself – and enter into communion with his soul, his very self.

Who does not long for such a union with every soul that he loves? Who is not dissatisfied with the fact that he must always be separated from, since he is not in absolute union with, his friends, his family his lover? How often I have looked into the eyes of another and felt them so marvelous, so unique, so full of someone within! Are eyes not portals to the soul; do they not speak to us of the deeper thing inside: the person they express?

Is it not easy to believe – it takes tremendous conscious effort to doubt – that, when we look into another’s eyes, those eyes show us, somehow, someone? And yet who does not wish to push deeper into them, to lay hold of and intermix with and utterly dwell in the one they are giving us glimpses of? I imagine such a union ineffable, a mutual indwelling so interpenetrated and fulfilling and overflowing with loving warmth and joy, is what lay at the heart of the God.

And yet, if the eyes show us something of the man which his words do not, and indeed cannot show us, how can we be satisfied in our knowing of Christ if our only way of knowing him lay in the reading of the words of the New Testament? Mark, I do not say such reading does not show us the Lord. It does indeed. But I do say it cannot show us all that can be known of him, all the yearning heart wants and therefore must know of him.

The sabbath was made for man; not man for the sabbath. Likewise the letter exists for the spirit, never the spirit for the letter.

How then are we to know Christ in the deep way that we wish? There is no other way save this. It is a way you have been doing all your life, a way you do every day, maybe every waking moment that you have ever thought of Christ. You must know him by imagining him.

“What? Imagine him! Then what is preventing me from simply making up my own version of him and doing what I please?”

Friend, have you not – have all people not – been doing this from the very beginning? One cannot think about, cannot interpret, cannot know the personality of any person at all without using one’s imagination. Christ you know spoke in parables. What is a parable, but the setting before the imagination some situation in which the mind goes on to draw out some conclusion: some deeper truth? You have surely read books about Christ, heard sermons on him, and thought a great deal about what he said and what he meant when he spoke certain things you could not understand. What is this, but you using your imagination to get at the man?

Tell me you wish to know the spirit of someone without using your imagination, and I will tell you it cannot be done. For the imagination is an indispensable organ of thought. The mind can form no meaning whatsoever without running on its fuel. No doubt there is a very great danger that lie in imagining the spirit and message of Christ. But that danger is present from the sheer fact that we are not ourselves perfectly good and true and lovely people: not because, when we try to know Jesus, we do so the only way it is possible to know anything.

Christ is either the essential humanity which binds all human beings together, and therefore the perfect instance of Ideal Man, or he is one more man like the rest of us who are seeking for such a principle of unity. If he were the latter he would still be, by being himself, and doing what he thought was good and true, a great help for us in reaching our own ideal humanity, our true self. All souls who are true, all who strive to open themselves up to their fellow humans, all who lay bare the chamber of their heart and try to speak the secret that lay at the root of their being and so be good, all such souls are mighty helpers of the race. With their unquenchable spirit they inject humanity with life, and with their fiery souls they make the veins of us all pulse with a vitality strong and intoxicating.

On the other hand, if Christ is the Ideal Man, he does this same thing, but in a higher, more exemplary way. Where then is the difference in kind? Do not say that Christ was a different kind of man than all men. How then could he have been true man? How could he have been compassionate, could he have known our hearts and identified with the race, if he did not understand, had never experienced, was totally alien to some part of our humanity?

In any case, in order to know the man, we must imagine him. But how? By taking what we already know of goodness, love, compassion and truth, and applying it in our here and now. To ask “what would Jesus do?” is the same as to ask “what would the idealized man, the most true, compassionate, good and loving man, the best version of myself, do? Or what would this figure at least wish he could do?” Thus the image of the perfect man which we must model ourselves by is one discovered by continually thinking and imagining, molding and comparing ourselves to our Ideal.

We must simply do the best we can with what we already know and have. This is necessarily different from taking a given passage of the Bible which, taken at face value, contradicts notions we know to be true and good, and submitting to the passage, and therefore abandoning what we already know and have. For what we already know and have is nothing else than our true humanity, our true Christ alive and working in us, giving birth to our true individuality and our own Sonship with the divine. This is the only real contact we have made with the Good and True. All else is simply the remnants of contact made by another. To therefore abandon our own would be to doom ourselves to a universe in which we never could make direct contact with the good and the true. For we could never trust our own hearts: we could never set about becoming more than what we were, by being more truly what we know we ought.

But as of yet, are we not speaking of a sheer generality? The very question is to know the man, and yet, by following this path of idealized imagining, we shall not know the man at all, but know simply an imagined version of him.

If Jesus Christ really is an infinitely true human being, then, since we too are human, he must be like us. Or rather, if he is Perfect Man – the Son of Man – then we must be like him. How therefore can we know him, but to know ourselves?

To know Christ, is to know thyself, for in knowing thyself, thou knowest humanity. Thou knowest not only humanity, brothers and sisters: in knowing thyself thou knowest the essentially human. Christ as true man, is truly human. Therefore in knowing thyself, who are human, thou knowest Christ, for his essential humanity lives in you.

How then are we to become more and more like Jesus? How therefore but to be more and more our true, our purestly human selves?

To know Christ, is to have Christ dwell in you, and to have Christ dwell in you, is to become yourself like him. But to do this, is to become more truly – more fully – yourself than before. For this is and was the very way of Christ: to be fully human is to fully imitate Jesus.

“You teach a strange, not to say dangerous doctrine. Be yourself and be truly human? Why not then may a man do anything he wants? Be a murderer, a thief, a bigot, a self-centered and violent egoist? You offer us no protection from what is evil in ourselves! You offer us no protection from our fallen nature! Do you not know the inherent wickedness of the human race?”

What can save humanity, but that humans become fully, truly, and altogether good human beings? The protection from our fallen nature comes from the perfection of our current one. Christ was fully man. Therefore it is not the humanity itself which is evil. It is the fear and selfishness and lowness that plague it.

In God’s great universe, can a thing be fully itself without also being fully good, fully beautiful, fully lovely, fully true? It cannot be, else God made that which finds its fulfillment in its own destruction. Therefore for a thing to grow most truly into itself, is for it to reach its divinely appointed beatitude.

What is it to be fully human? It is to go on being as good, as true, as honest, as fair, as compassionate as you can. It is to continually look at the world as that which you can love and enter into and enjoy. It is to have a cosmic, eternal, undefeatable optimism It is to shun fear, and all things mean and low, and to hold existence as a treasure unspeakable, a mystery all-glorious. This is what Christ taught us. To be like him, which is to be essentially human, is to believe that there is a great Father – an all encompassing, absolutely lovely and beautiful principle – at the heart of all life, and to believe that this principle knits all humans into a single body, a united organism, every piece impossible to separate from every other. This is the first great light we must use to guide our steps as we come to understand Jesus Christ: this, I take, is his central message, the electricity that generates his beating heart, the atmosphere in which his spirit is saturated, the foundation on which his soul stands. It is the pillow that he lays his head down upon at night, and the sun which enlightens his eyes every morning. It is his meaning and his reason for being. To live in a universe sprung from his Father’s hand must be the way of things: to think such is the only way to live.

Thus we as imitators of Christ believe that the world ought to be looked at as the work of a Father who loves all infinitely and higher and deeper than we can ever imagine. And that the human soul ought to interpret reality as that which flows from not just a father, but our Father, as a gesture of omnipotent and tender love, as a gift to enjoy, and to help others enjoy.

The second great light Christ gave us for living is this: that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. To truly love a man as oneself is to recognize that each man is in us and that we are in each man. Every individual is in every other individual. This is so – yea it must be so – because we all share a fundamental humanity. Our fulfillment as humans, and therefore the fulfillment of our human nature, lies in our entering into the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters so deeply that we consider our very selves as if we were they. Note I do not say we are to consider our neighbor as if they were us: we are to consider us as if we were they. We must break down the wall of separation, the wall of self defense, the wall of thinking it impossible for there to be anything in common between human beings. We must enter into the heart, the mind, the feeling, the person of our fellow brother or sister. We must consider them as ourselves, for we must love them as ourselves. Their moods, their thoughts, their failures: they must become ours, and we must think of them as if they really were our own. How often do we do this? How often do we allow our neighbor’s feelings become our feelings? Not enough, friend. Not near enough.

Do we think we are above such things? It cannot be, for we are all human beings. We must strive for our compassion – our entering into – to reign so mightily in our hearts that there becomes no human alive – no human that ever existed – that we do not share a reality-binding, essentially inextricable connection with. It matters not how far away they are, how different their life may be, how foreign their feelings, fears, or beliefs, how apparently holy, how evidently selfish. No man is an island to any other man. If a man is a human like ourselves – no matter how different they may seem to be – we share the same fundamental consciousness, the same range of emotions, the same data of experience, the same hopes, the same desires. Yea we share the same image of God. All humans, therefore, are in some sense too deep for words and too big for explanation, one.

All other things Christ said and did must be interpreted in the light of these two truths: the eternal and all lovely fatherhood that surrounds us every moment, and the eternal, divine brother and sisterhood of humanity. The first ushers in a universal optimism, though it may take at times a mighty strength of will to hold on to. The second, an unbreakable bond in the hearts of all humans for each other. On these two truths hang all the law and the prophets. And this is what Christ came to teach us. Or else, there is some greater message, some deeper undercurrent, that could underlie Jesus’ teachings that would stand behind them and give them life. To this source then we must turn, Christ himself being but the pointer to it, the messenger of it, rather than the thing itself. Since this principle explained the unity of humanity and pointed with hope to the ends towards which the race is moving, it must supersede and envelope all notions that taught or terminated in lesser truths. But if Christ is True Humanity in the flesh, if he is indeed the Son of Man, and that in which all men and women are rooted and interpenetrated, that cannot be. He must show us the way, for he, being himself Man, is the way. Therefore in looking within ourselves, we see our manhood and therefore Christ himself. We see both our universal brotherhood to one another, and our childhood of the Father.

I will be misunderstood if what I have written leads any to believe that I hold that Paul or the writers of the New Testament spoke falsehoods about God or misunderstood Christ’s teaching or that Christ himself was anything less than the perfect God-man. With all my heart I believe that the New Testament reveals to us Jesus Christ himself and gives us his very words, which are life. Do you agree? And if you do, is it not that, even with you, it is the thought, the preeminence, the person of Christ holds your heart in his hands; yea, who is for you the authority, the author of your faith? The perfecter of our faith, its pioneer, its life-giver, is Jesus Christ, the man who lived and who now sits on the right hand of the throne of God.  The words of the New Testament approximate and approach him. But he, the perfect divine humanity, is the center point. There can be no created thing higher than he to which he must bow, for he is the very Word of God become flesh. It is this God “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.”

You In Me

You are interested in me, and I am in you. Even though we shall never meet, still, I wish I could meet you.

There is therefore some space in me carved out for you, and only you, since, were I never to meet you, I should still want to.

And the same is true of you with me. This makes us both happy.

My love to you, reader.

9. For They Know Not

“And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

The will follows the intellect. What the intellect proposes to the will, the will, being naturally and unavoidably drawn towards what appears to it good, assents to. If the intellect ever presented to the will some irresistible good – some good which had no defect, some good which was absolutely and in all respects good – then the will would necessarily desire that good, and assent to it. Many imagine heaven in light of this fact, and it stirs within them a hope unspeakable. Up there, as Dante would say, the intellect sees God face to face, and, God, himself being seen unveiled as infinite goodness and beauty, presents to the will that which it therefore cannot but cling to and love and enjoy. Such occurs without shadow of want or any need unmet, for all eternity. The soul has within it a never ending well spring of divine joy. If it sighs at all, it is for pleasure’s sake.

Yet there are some Christians who hold that there is some particular kind of act of will regarding some object which, once committed, could possibly foil this destination, this complete vision and enjoyment of God. There are certain things one may do, they say, that if done, deserve eternal torment and separation from God. Traditionally such acts have been called “sins leading to death” or “mortal sins.” Against this teaching I ask, when such a sin occurs, does the intellect know for certain that the good it apprehends as desirable will, if chosen, in fact cause to itself this irreparable, unspeakable torment? And if it does, and if the will chooses the thing anyway, then I also ask: is not the will corrupted already before its choice in its very desiring of the bad thing? Or should one think it ought to be in the will’s power to desire that which the intellect sees as unworthy of choice? Yet who would want a will that could actually desire that which the intellect sees as evil, indeed as the worst evil, leading to, if chosen, the worst consequence imaginable? Would such a thing even be a will, since the will is just that thing which has appetite towards the good as understood? And is then not a wicked act, insofar as it leads to a separation from God, who is goodness, just that far away from a true and full act of will?

On the other hand, if the intellect does not know for certain that the desired thing leads to such a fate, and is therefore not such a wicked thing to choose, how then is it true that the will fully consents to choose the object which leads to eternal death? If the intellect is not fully and unmistakably aware that choosing the desired object will bring about eternal torment and separation from the end of its being, then why does the soul deserve all the consequences that follow from such a thing, seeing as it does not consent to the desired object with a responsible knowledge of what all its choosing entails?

“But”, one may say, “if we knew for certain that our acts led us to eternal life as a reward, people would do the acts not because the acts were good in themselves, but only to get the reward. Thus we would have an end of virtue.”

To this I ask: are you asserting that we do not know for certain which acts lead to an eternal reward? And if so, then how can we say there are certain acts we can do that cut us off from God? Are we certain only of the mere existence of the acts, but ignorant as to what they are? That is rather like saying we certainly know that there is poison in one of the drinks: but we do not – indeed cannot – know which. And if we are so ignorant – if certainty is in principle impossible because it would rob virtue – why continue to erect a system explaining what one ought to do to avoid damnation? If we do not know what leads to heaven, then we do not know what leads to hell, seeing as one way of getting to heaven is to avoid hell. “Avoiding mortal sin” is a logically necessary condition for attaining salvation on these models. Now, we either know for certain how to avoid mortal sin, and therefore know for certain how to obtain the reward we are after, or we do not. If we do not, then we may as well be silent about heaven and hell altogether, seeing as we have as much knowledge of how to reach them as we do of reaching another galaxy. Yet if we holds that we do have certain knowledge, then the objection fails, and we arrive back at the problem of trying to explain how it is conceivable for someone to knowingly choose that which will bring upon them unspeakable and irremediable ruin. Either the person does not in fact know such a thing, and they act in ignorance, or they know the thing, and act from a defective will.

All people necessarily desire happiness. A person cannot will to be unhappy, for “willing” just is desire, and desire just is the wish for happiness. This is a truism from Aristotle through Aquinas and is undeniable to anyone who considers the question. It is a manifest contradiction to suppose that a will would want anything other than something that appears pleasant to it, for “want” just is the appetite for a pleasant object. So the actual existence of a sin that is truly mortal – a sin in which the evil act was apprehended in all its seriousness as something which necessarily resulted in pain that infinitely outweighed any pleasure – is impossible. Insofar as the mind cannot but judge a thing as true which appears to it true, in that same degree it truly apprehends an action as mortally sinful, and the will cannot possibly desire that such an act be committed. Thus the conditions necessary for a mortal sin are in principle impossible: if full knowledge is present, deliberate consent cannot be; if deliberate consent is present, full knowledge cannot be.

There is another difficulty that attends the idea of mortal sin, which is the impossibility of defining mortal sins satisfactorily. If mortal sins were really possible to commit, surely if we were to be responsible for them we ought to know without any doubt what they exactly were. But, since a necessary item in determining whether or not a sin is mortal is that state of one’s intention, and since no one can know his own intention perfectly, then no one can really know whether or not they have committed any such sins. A clear conscience does not amount to an objectively innocent one; for “the human heart is wicked and deceptive above all else.” But then if man cannot know his intentions, and if he cannot trust God to surely and necessarily correct him when his intentions are not what they ought to be, then no man can ever have anything more than a guess as to whether they’ve committed, are committing, or are in danger of committing, such sins.

Do you say that, although a man cannot know that his intentions are pure, nevertheless he can have signs that they are pure? And what would those signs be? Pleasure at reading the Bible, or going to Church, or thinking about Jesus? But these things are found even in wicked men, indeed sometimes they are strongest in the most wicked; for it is not a hard thing to deceive oneself and therefore justify oneself and rest content in oneself concerning the Bible or Church or Christ. But more than this, the interpretation of a potential sign of a pure heart carries with it the same difficulty as the interpretation of one’s own intentions – that is, of the heart itself. For of course in order to know if one takes true pleasure in the things of God, rather than in how those things happen to be benefiting us, requires a knowledge of one’s intentions towards God. A sign is simply the outward showing of something else. In this case here, we are attempting to judge what is on the outer layers of of inner being as telling us something about the inner layer. The trouble is it is the inner layer which gives rise to the outer and, unless we have a knowledge of it first, no knowledge of the other is possible. It is out of the abundance of the heart that the words flow forth from our lips, and thoughts spring up in our minds. Thus unless we can have confidence in what we know – that is, in what we are convicted of – regarding our hearts intentions, talk of having confidence in “external signs” is meaningless.

I ask: what, precisely, is a mortal sin? They answer: “mortal sin is the placing of one’s last end in a creature.”  What does that mean, though? If all we know of God are his created effects, how is it possible to know if one is truly loving God, or merely his effect which is leading one to God? One could not know whether or not even the slightest enjoyment of some physical pleasure – the laughter of a friend, the smiling eyes of a cat, the kiss of a lover, the taste of a fruit – was being inordinately directed towards the created good and away from God. The problem is not that there are no “lists” of mortal sins. There are many in catechisms abundant. The problem is that those lists do not capture the essence of mortal sin itself, which is the inordinate love of a creature. What is the inordinate love of a creature? How would one know if his love – that is, his passion, his desire, his grip upon – how would one know if this was exorbitant? Is a doctrine which rests upon a theory which is in principle impossible to define a doctrine, even if it were true, that is able to be taught? How can a theory be believed if the theory, when pressed, dissolves into that which is impossible to define? Indeed what is being taught in such a system, since it is not the certain definition of a sin which leads to death?

I ask, how can one love a created thing too much? To which they seemingly reply: by doing what God commands not to be done. To which I ask again, are God’s commands that alone which gives goodness and rightness to a thing? If so, then God could command we do anything – he could command that we do inordinately love creatures – and the mere commanding would make the thing good. Therefore it is not the inordinateness itself – the gratuitous love of creature – but the fact that God has commanded that we have no gratuitous love of creatures. But then there would be no badness in the thing, in the act itself. The act itself would be indifferent to goodness or badness, and would only become so on the supposition that God commanded it.

How far can we take such a teaching? Evidently infinitely far, extending to any action conceivable. For if we were to imagine some action which not even God could command us to do, because the doing of the thing in itself would be wicked, then there is some ultimate limit which not even God’s commands can do anything about. But then we are really admitting that a divine command theory of ethics is false: for actions are good only if they are in themselves good: that is, if they are necessarily good. Yet if God’s commands are not that alone which make an act good; if, that is, an act is good because it is necessarily good and cannot but be good, the act itself being as necessary and eternal and impossible to be otherwise than the divine will and wisdom and love itself; then simply appealing to a list of things not to be done because God said so does nothing to help us discover what could constitute a mortal sin.

Let us see as clearly as we can the practical implications of the idea that a human being could possibly perform some single act which, once done, meant that justice demanded that it experience eternal conscious torment. It follows on such a teaching that, since no one can know his intentions certainly, and since, to avoid such a mortal sin, it is necessary that one not intend to place his last end in a creature rather than God, therefore no person could ever know if any act he deliberates about doing will be mortally sinful. This is a logically valid conclusion of such a teaching. If, when one acts, one cannot know his intentions, and if one’s intentions must not be inordinately directed towards a creature, then no one can know which of his actions, no matter how small, could possibly result in his eternal conscious torment. If this sounds unbelievable, it is not from any fault in the argument. It is simply from an emotion attached to the goodness and love of God which makes such an existence seem something impossible for him to bring about.

If such a doctrine of sin were really true, no one could ever actually make a decision, for the sheer paralysis of choosing that which may result in eternal misery would overwhelm the mind. The fact that people often deliberate and often avoid doing that which seems to them sinful is not to the point, for that only proves that people do not really believe in the possibility of mortal sins at the time of their acting. But again I am not attacking what people believe when they make choices. I am attacking a theory of the divine and human relation which says that a loving being who not only expects but wills that we trust and love him, could create us even capable of committing such an action. If God loves us – and if he does not, trying to understand and therefore obey and love him back, is meaningless – if God loves us, I say, then any theory of mortal sin like as that described above must be false.

To see my point take a normal example often seen in the movies. Say you had to diffuse a bomb by cutting the right wire out of two wires. Should the bomb blow up, it would cause, not instant death, but a protracted torture for all eternity such that you could not imagine. You would be eternally separated from all that you loved and you would be in mental and emotional anguish without any relief. And you would know that this state would never end, with utmost certainty. You could not even begin to believe that your suffering would be lessened even the tiniest, since such a feeling would amount to hope, and hope, being a good thing and gift of God, would find no place in your soul. This is what happens if you cut one of the wires. If you cut the other, you would continue existence in its current state.

Now, say you knew all this with utmost certainty. Say these ideas were the liveliest realities before your mind: you absolutely knew them to be true and believed them. And then, say that you had to cut one of the wires. What person could even make such a choice? The more he believed the reality of what he knew, the more impossible would it be to choose. Insofar as anyone actually did choose, all that would prove was that that person simply did not believe that the imagined outcome was really possible. For if the mind truly were convinced of such a thing, paralysis would result, it being overwhelmed with the possibility of what may befall it. This is compounded by the fact that, on traditional doctrines of mortal sin, the dilemma of the wire cutting is one which could theoretically attend literally every moral decision. And since every decision could also theoretically be a moral one, since man is the type of creature capable, according to Paul, of directing everything he does to God, then every action whatsoever can conceivably be mortally sinful. If man can direct all things to God, he can also fail to do so: and to fail to rightly orient things to God is nothing less than failing to give God his due, which is just for man to rest his end in a creature. But that is the definition of mortal sin in the first place. Thus, the theory taken to its logical conclusion entails that every decision a man may make could possibly be a mortal sin. But this is impossible to believe, for it annihilates the capacity to make a rational decision. To rationally deliberate a man must at least believe he is certain that what he chooses will not possibly result in his eternal ruin. That is, in order to make a choice, no one can truly believe that either of his two options could result in eternal misery. Neither can anyone actually believe, and make a decision, that there is no way to know which option would in fact lead to such a thing. For unless a man believes with certainty that, no matter what happens if either wire is cut it cannot be that one really could cause eternal misery, no man could actually decide to cut either one. The will would stand in frozen paralysis, the mind presenting to it something which is in no way desirable. For again remember, the choice is not a one time thing, where if it chooses right, the will attains perfect happiness, but if wrong eternal misery. If the will chooses right, it is conceivable that it still did choose wrongly, and that punishment simply awaits further in the future; or that, though it did choose rightly, there may follow infinitely more similar decisions, until the soul’s death.

I trust it was this nauseating and unavoidable sense of being uncertain about one’s own intentions and about being uncertain just what mortal sins were and if he had committed any that drove Luther to madness and was the springboard to his sola fide. If one cannot not know with certainty what mortal sins were, or what ones own intentions were when he acts, he could at least certainly know that he had faith: for faith just is the awareness of one’s intentional state of belief. These problems outlined are also, it seems reasonable to hold, the reason for the division of sin into mortal and venial. Since it is impossible to live with the constant threat of eternal damnation truly present and therefore possible in every single decision a person makes, it became necessary to have some sort of category of action which was not really sinful, but only partly so. Yet how can an act be “partly” sinful? That is like saying a woman is “partly” pregnant. Certainly there are different degrees of sin. But “degree” itself presupposes something in the same genus which admits of varying degrees. But if a venial sin is not in the same genus as a mortal sin, then how can both be “sin”? What is common between them, making them partake of the same definition? If it is their defection from God’s command, then how can they not both be mortal? If it is not their defection, then how can they be sin? On the other hand if venial sins are generically the same as mortal, why the division? And why suppose one justly deserves eternal conscious torment and the other does not?

I wish to interject in passing that, though a Christian may say he does not believe in the doctrine of mortal sin, yet, I say, so long as he believes there is some state of the human condition which, simply from the fact of being in it, justly deserves eternal separation from God, or eternal conscious suffering – so long as a man holds such a belief, he implicitly believes in the doctrine of mortal sin, though he may repudiate the name. If a man can do anything or be in any state which garners for him eternal hell, then that thing, or that state, is in his theology functionally equivalent to a doctrine of mortal sin. What falls into the category of “damnable actions” may be different – a man may be damned for lack of faith, or for sinning against the Holy Spirit, or any other thing. The point is, the category itself exists in the first place. Thus any man who believes in eternal hell also, implicitly, believes that man is capable of doing something to go there; and so all the difficulties I have been speaking of attend his view as well and deserve his attention.

To return to my subject, it is commonly held that, once one commits a mortal sin, charity is extinguished from his heart. But I ask, how is it conceivable that there be absolutely no charity – no love at all – in a human heart? Without desire, and therefore love in some form, a human could not act or think. Therefore so long as man is conscious and has some movement of will, he has the love of something, however feeble the movement of his will and the judgment of his intellect may be. Therefore from the very fact that man thinks and wants, he necessarily has some degree of charity in him, however dim.

But, one may say, charity is the love of man for God, whereas mere natural love is love of man for something created. The second can exist without the first. Yet I ask, does man in this life ever truly see the essence of God? If he does, how could he ever choose against him, God being necessarily irresistible? Yet if no man ever does see the essence of God clearly in this life, how can there be the division which such a system calls for – that is, the choosing the creature over the choosing of God? To choose on object in place of another, that other must be present to consciousness. If I choose x rather than y, both x and y must be objects of my perception. But those who hold to such a teaching of sin admit that no one sees God as an object of choice. We see him only through created things. How, then, can one ever choose a created thing absolutely over and against God?

The movement of sin can never be infinite, absolute, or final. This is because the act of sin is not, strictly speaking, the opposite of an act of love. If it were, the badness of sin would equal the goodness of love, simply in its own direction. But then good and evil would be coequal and copowerful. The arena and conditions, therefore, that are necessary for an absolutely evil choice to occur presuppose an impossibility. They presuppose that the will and mind are equally balanced between good and evil, meaning and absurdity, being and non-being. They presuppose that, at the root of all meaning and everything which partakes of reality, light is not stronger than darkness: that the tendency of being and life and existence towards the good are not necessary and ultimate, and that, somehow, all such movement and power can be just as strong in the direction of evil. Such a theory imagines that the consequences and effects of evil are infinite by their own essential reality. If a man really could commit a sin which resulted in the utter negation and absolute unmeaning of the purpose for which he was made – this being the essence of hell – then there would be tied in to the very power of choosing evil a consequence and effect as infinite, eternal, and real as what lay in the power of choosing good. But then evil would be as on the same footing as good. It would be as high, as ultimate; it would be as necessary and all pervasive and all-drawing as, goodness itself. The good pulls all things, reconciles all things, corrects and transmutes and beatifies all things. It is irresistible simply because it is goodness itself: that is what the good is: the highest, supreme, ultimate ruler and puller and harmonizer and desired thing. It can have no opposite.

There are more difficulties that attend this doctrine. Even supposing such an absurd state of “extinguished charity” could coexist in a body housing the existence of a soul made in God’s imagine, it is also necessary to think, they say, that, should one die in this state of extinguished charity, the person deserves hell. Now notice first this inconsistency. Is it the committing of the mortal sin which deserves hell, or the dying in the state of having committed one? The case is different because, if it is the former, the man is immediately deserving of hell the moment he commits the sin. If it is the latter, then the man doesn’t deserve hell until the moment of his death. This is relevant because if one truly deserves hell the moment of committing mortal sin, why ought any Christian to pray for those in a state of mortal sin? They literally deserve hell. There is nothing in them which is objectively worth saving, worth perfecting in heaven. For if there were, they would have some speck of divinity – and therefore charity – in them. But seeing as they do not have anything of the sort, they deserve damnation. To pray for their immortal soul – supposing it were coherent to say a soul could exist without any trace of its maker in it, it somehow having the power to extinguish the principle of life in itself and yet still remain living – supposing, I say, it were even possible to conceive of the existence of such an un-man, to pray for its salvation would be essentially unjust; and therefore immoral.

“But it would be loving,” one may say, “and we are commanded to love all people.” But can you call such a thing a person? And even if you could, can one be just but not loving to his fellow human being, or loving and not just? If so, how shall a man choose which to be? Is either one better than the other, and if so, why?

Or let us look at the human heart of Christ. Would that heart not, since it loves all men, pray for the souls of all those in such a state, of all those whose hearts have not a single ember of divine charity in them? Surely if he loved all men he would pray for their deliverance from such a state. Yet is not the human heart and will of Christ heard by God? Could Christ ask anything of God, if he asked it with a true request, which God would not grant? If so, if Christ can truly desire and ask something of the Father which the Father may deny, then God can deny himself. He can deny his own human heart, his own humanity, in Christ. If not, then all who Christ prays for – who is all men, since Christ loves all men – must be delivered from their state of extinguished charity brought about by moral sin, each time they commit one.

Or did Christ not love all men? Did he desire the “justice” for some who were in sin, and therefore wish for and look forward to their condemnation? Yet he told us to – indeed so not all Christians every Sunday? – pray for the forgiveness of our enemies. Did Christ then tell us to pray for the unjust deliverance of sinners from a punishment which they ought to suffer and which it is good for them to experience and which he himself desired that they undergo? Did Christ tell us to ask from the Father that which he himself did not ever truly want to occur?

Did Christ, then, only conditionally pray for the deliverance of men? That is, did he pray that men would be saved from sin and therefore delivered from eternal torment only if God wanted them to be? Then his love was not for his fellow men, but for God’s will, regardless of what that will was. Mark you, I do not say there is anything wrong in praying God’s will be done. To align oneself with the will of the Almighty is the height of perfection and a state which we must all one day come to be in perfectly. But to pray that God’s will be done, when that will is in itself indifferent towards either of two opposite outcomes, is to pray, not to Goodness itself essential, but to an indeterminate may-be-anything. God is Goodness, and Goodness is necessary, eternal, and essential. It cannot be other than it is, or it would be other than Goodness. Christ prayed for the will of God to be done in the sense that he prayed that all goodness would be done. But goodness cannot be indifferent to opposite outcomes. It cannot be as equally good for a man to be damned as it is for him to be saved. If it were then why ought we want to be saved? The spirit of Christ’s prayer was not, “whatever your will is Father, whether it be good or bad, whether it be that some of your children be tormented forever, or annihilated, or brought to heaven, may it be done.” Rather it was, “Father, I know that thou art Good, and cannot but be Good. May this perfect goodness, this unspeakable, ineffable plan, come to pass as thou wilt. For I could not conceive a better one if I spent a thousand ages tracing out the steps, since even my notion itself of “better” comes from thee and is but a shadow of thy heart.”

It matters nothing to my purpose if the passage used in the title of this chapter is in the original manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke. For the principles of loving thine enemy, forgiving those who wrong you, and the irrationality of evil action, are found elsewhere, not only in the New Testament, but in all philosophy since Plato. Christ for instance taught others to pray for those who persecute them, and the author of John, in his prologue, says that the very same souls who come into the world by the light that lighteth every man, do not  themselves know that light, and therefore, because of ignorance, do not accept it. Yet still it matters nothing to my purpose here, whether in the passage of St. Luke, we have the very words of the Lord as he was making his way to the cross, at that particular time. It is enough for me that, if the words were inserted, that they were inserted by one who knew and felt the pathos of Christ, and wanted his spirit to be present in the text. Or do you not think that Christ did not even once think, towards those who were crucifying him, “Father, forgive them?” If you say he did not, I say he could not have been the perfect man. He could not have been the one who bore all our sins in himself, including the sin of ignorance and hate. The soul of Christ expanded to heights infinite: therefore his capacity for compassion was likewise infinite. I do not say he looked approvingly at sin and hate: yet he must have, since he knew their character, and since he entered into all human pain and fear, he must have felt for the souls who were mingled with such evils. Yet if this was the mind of Christ and if he saw human souls this way, what matters it if there be words in the text, which he may or may not have said? We want to know the man’s heart. If the words dwelt there, that is what matters.

Let us ask about that heart of Jesus. Are we to imagine that Christ wanted to love his fellow man, and that we are to want to love our own loved ones, and that both us and Christ are to desire to our heart’s bursting that such ones will be saved, and yet that God the Father, who is Love itself, should not will the same? Are we to think the love in our hearts for mankind will meet in God a love at variance with our own love? No. Love cannot be so divided, for it is one. What it envelopes is one. Its pulse throughout all existence is one. There must be, there cannot but be, a harmony of all wills and a harmony of all loves at the root of all things.

Thus we must believe, on pain of insanity, or on pain of believing in a God impossible to trust and love, that God is so good that he cannot but necessarily will our perfect loveliness; and therefore our perfection. If we did not believe this about God, how could we ever obey him, ever trust him, ever love him, out of a pure heart? No doubt we would try our very hardest to keep all his rules. Yet never out of love; never out of seeing naturally the necessary loveliness of what he told us to do. We would act purely out of fear of punishment. For the very same God, absolutely everything the same, may hate us or be indifferent to us. Such would be a true possibility, did God not love us necessarily. Therefore to trust God, we cannot even believe it is possible for him to be less than our great helper, deliverer, lover. We must think of him as our Father and we his children, necessarily.

Ah, friends. Were we strong enough men and women, such a fear could be present in consciousness to the highest degree, and would serve as no deterrent for our action. Supposing, say, we thought it a mortal sin to lie; but yet thought that, somehow, a lie, though it may damn our souls, was yet the right thing to do, we would freely and gladly lie. Our obedience would be to the necessary Goodness that rules existence, not to the consequential evil of pain that attends our clinging to that Goodness. Yet to get to this apex of faith, we must purge ourselves of fear, by steeping ourselves in love. For “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.”

We must love the purity of love more than we fear our own doubts, more than we fear our own fears. We must never do or think a thing because an authority has told us we must “or else” something bad may happen. The motive behind such action or belief is not devotion, or love of truth, or love of pureness, or love of loveliness. It is fear, and only fear. We must love God so abandoningly that we must not be afraid of thinking too highly of him, of trusting him too completely. We must be bold enough to say that, when we go wrong, he shall forgive us, for we know not what we do. This is just what it means for him to love us; and we must trust that he loves us, else believing in him would be useless. We must trust that even our sins are only possible because we do not yet see God as we shall see him, as he shall have us see him, when sin will be impossible. This is not to say our sins are anything less than absolutely heinous. That which allows a separation between creature and Creator, between perfect love and love not yet perfected, must needs be the most horrible, heinous reality imaginable. Yet as terrible as such a state is, and the sins that necessarily attend it, it cannot be that we may ever be truly cut off from the source from which we came. Even were God to annihilate a thing he had made, it would still be true that thing came from him and from his heart: that it was therefore a divine representation of him, an indestructible image, a child; and therefore a thing impossible to abandon, to leave behind, to give up on.

It is this, this unbreakable and divine umbilical cord between the created and the creator – between the first born Son of the Father and those later born sisters and brothers of his Spirit – which ensures us that, despite ourselves, God will set all things right. And if all things, therefore all souls. Yea his whole relation to us just is this setting us right. This setting right God shall continue to do, until he sees that there is no more to set right: therefore until we cannot be righted anymore, because we are absolutely right, utterly at oneness with him, and are thus perfected. He shall continue this labor until all his children are brought home into closest unity with his Father Heart. Thus the whole human family is under the divine and omnipotent care.

It is this interconnectedness which allows us to call Jesus our Elder Brother, and the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. It thus gives us a joy and hope unspeakable to know that, as a human being, he himself “increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”