Right and Left, Up and Down, Interior and Exterior in the Pattern of Reality

Jonathan Pageau gave a talked titled “Christian Iconography Shows Us the Pattern of Reality” at Saint Tikhon’s Seminary (posted on January 3, 2020). He also has three posts in the Orthodox Arts Journal called “Mercy on The Right. Rigor on The Left.” and “St-Peter on The Right. St-Paul on the Left.” and “Authority on The Right. Power on The Left.” He makes the case that Christian iconography took up and further developed an ancient visual tradition from both Jewish and Greco-Roman art whereby certain characteristics of right and left corresponded with a long list of qualities such as internal and external. Visual perspectives are sometimes from the standpoint of the audience but more often from the standpoint of the central figure in the image. In iconography, this central figure is Jesus Christ. Pageau says in his second post that “this aspect of the symbolism of left and right is supported by early rabbinical traditions in which God is said to ‘bring closer with the right and push away with the left.'” Pageau also gives this connection from the Old Testament:

In the Temple of Solomon there were two prominent bronze pillars. These pillars are given names in Scripture. The first pillar is Jachin, which means “the Lord will establish.” This notion of establishing can be linked to our Lord telling Peter: “You are Peter and on this stone I will build my church.” The second pillar is called Boaz, and here we have an even more surprising relationship, because although the word Boaz has an obscure etymology, it refers to the ancestor of David known mostly for marrying Ruth, a gentile woman who converted. Boaz therefore strongly prefigures Paul as the “apostle to the gentiles.” Most importantly, just as with Peter and Paul, we can see in the two pillars of the first Temple this primordial movement towards and away from the center, analogous to the movement of the nous.

Triptych with Deesis and Saints (Crete, late 16th c., Circle of Georgios Klontzas, 1530-1608, Tempera on panel, open 27.8 x 31.3 cm). In this image, both the old arrangement (with Peter and Paul beside Christ) and the more recent arrangement (with Mary and John) are present. This image corresponds to virtually all of the standards in the two lists below (for example, note the book in Christ’s left hand, the blessing gesture of his right, the book with Paul, the keys with Peter as well as the circumcised and gentile churches held by Peter and Paul).

Before sharing more below about this right and left paradigm (and giving some thoughts of my own), I am quickly cataloging all of the attributes that Jonathan Pageau mentions in his talk (and his three earlier posts) into two simple lists. As you study these parallel lists that express this visual paradigm, it is critical to note (as Pageau says several times) that right and left are not good and bad categories. Saints and angels (with virtues and vices) are found in both registers.

Right

  1. Inner
  2. Authority [charisma?]
  3. Personal presence
  4. Direct action
  5. Toward those inside
  6. Hand gesture of blessing
  7. Words and actions of our bishop or priest given in person
  8. Mercy
  9. Bringing in
  10. Raising
  11. Jachin temple pillar (“the Lord will establish”)
  12. Elijah (immediate presence) in the transfiguration icons
  13. Peter and keys
  14. Focused on the set-apart or inner family of God (Israel)
  15. Church of the circumcision
  16. Circumcised (outer removed)
  17. Theotokos (Mother of God)
  18. Sheep
  19. Good thief (sees his need)
  20. Cross footboard points up
  21. Halos (some resurrection icons)
  22. Adam
  23. White and blue
  24. Archangel Gabriel (lily)
  25. Spiritual authority (eagle & cross)
  26. Pride

Left

  1. Outer
  2. Power [title?]
  3. Formal office
  4. External body (indirect, added)
  5. Includes those outside
  6. Written code (formal guarantee)
  7. Outer structures of vestments, architecture, canons, liturgy
  8. Rigor
  9. Casting away
  10. Lowering
  11. Boaz temple pillar (for the man who married Ruth, a gentile)
  12. Moses (holding the written law) in the transfiguration icons
  13. Paul and new law
  14. Fool and shape shifter (all things to all men)
  15. Church of the gentiles
  16. Uncircumcised (outer remains)
  17. John the Forerunner
  18. Goats
  19. Bad thief (sees no need)
  20. Cross footboard points down
  21. No halos (some resurrection icons)
  22. Eve
  23. Red
  24. Archangel Michael (sword)
  25. Temporal authority (eagle & globe)
  26. Passions

This list of attributes is clearly long and sweeping. It is not clear if Jonathan Pageau is making claims about basic metaphysical categories, universal human ways of seeing, ancient traditions in visual representation across multiple cultures, or all of the above. Particularly, with his phrase “patterns of reality” from the title of his talk, I generally take his claim to be all of the above. Pageau says at the opening of his talk that the life of the church brings us not only into the Kingdom of God but to see all of reality (everything in the cosmos) in its two basic aspects.

There are substantial breaks in these patters with some of the early images. For example, Pageau describes the Sarcophagus of the Traditio Legis (4th c., Vatican), Christ (without a beard) has Paul on Christ’s right and Peter on Christ’s left. Christ is handing Peter the written law (instead of an active blessing or the immediate applied power of the keys). Paul is being actively blessed by a hand gesture from Christ’s right hand. This is entirely reversed from all that Pageau is saying about the standard arrangement where Peter should receive the active blessing (later the keys) from Christ’s right hand while Paul should receive the external sign of the new written law book from Christ’s left hand.

Sarcophagus of the Traditio Legis (4th c., Vatican)

In explaining these discrepancies quickly, Pageau mentions that everything is “still bubbling” in this early period of Christian imagery and that the patterns have not yet settled into place. He also mentions at a few other points in the lecture (as well as his blogs) that right and left are sometimes reversed depending on wether the perspective of the audience or of Christ are being used. These reasons may account for it. It may also be that the paradigm of left and right is not as rooted in Hellenistic culture as it is in Jewish culture (my own pure speculation without further investigation). As I will argue below, any paradigm of left and right clearly applies to each of us as a person (with the old man and the new man that Paul talks about, for example), and it is therefore entirely possible that the same figures could be used to illustrate either side (as we each contain both). In these older images, Peter may be receiving the old law (and standing in for the formal or external left-side in some early images) while Paul stood in for the immediate and active presence with the early Roman church (receiving the active blessing of Christ’s right hand). This apparent reversal of the expected (from our perspective with our later visual traditions) might also be illustrated with the transfiguration image of Elijah on Christ’s right and Moses on Christ’s left (reversing what we might expect of Elijah standing with John the Forerunner on Christ’s left and Moses standing interior to the household of God and the Theotokos on Christ’s right). With some varying emphases during the early period of church history on differing aspects of Peter and Paul, their figures may have intentionally been placed on different sides of Christ in early images as their different personal qualities could align with either the right of left paradigms.

Pageau notes that we each need both the right and the left. When describing the central throne of Christ around which all of this moves or is organized, Pageau also says: “We actually are inside that deësis. We are participating in it. And that’s really important to understand, that participation part.” This idea that we all contain the left and the right reminds me of the quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” It also reminds me of the ideas discussed by some of the early church fathers that the parable of the sheep and the goats is about Jesus Christ as the final judge who sorts out everything within each of us into that which is of the old man and that which is of the new man (see more here). With this image of the sheep and the goats or even our old and new man (from Paul), it is again critical to note that we are not even fundamentally distinguishing between good and evil in ourselves. Both sides touch our own heart and “who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

As Pageau points out repeatedly, “right and left” do not equate with “good and bad.” He cites St. Maximos the Confessor regarding sins of the right (pride and complacency) and sins of the left (passions and dissipation): “The passions of the flesh may be described as belonging to the left hand, self-conceit as belonging to the right hand” (Philocalia). In understanding this paradigm within ourselves and in relation to Christ, we see that all movements and places relate back to Christ and allow us to participate with Christ as long as Christ retains the central place of origin and destination.

In conclusion, as a pattern for reality (within the cosmos and within each human person as a microcosm), this paradigm has great explanatory power, and it can invite us into the full life of the church as well as into each icon before which we pray to God. It might be helpful to note that not all visual traditions within various cultures would have represented reality along these lines, and Pageau might have done better to qualify the universality of this paradigm across Hellenistic imagery (although he do not make any such universal claims about art history explicitly). Such technical or historical issues are clearly not the primary concern for Pageau. He is seeking to lay out a cosmic pattern that shows us more about ourselves as well as the entire creation and that invites us into a dynamic life with God.

For myself, I find all of this helpful in my engagement with Christian prayer and worship. I also am interested in connecting this paradigm of right (internal and upward) vs. left (external and downward) with a metaphysics of place that I have been discerning from multiple sources. This metaphysics of place claims that each human person (as a microcosm of the whole cosmos) connects (or anchors the connection) between two realms:

  1. each of our particular places in our present moments.
  2. the throne room of God (i.e. the immediate presence of God beyond temporal and spacial categories)

Pageau’s visual paradigm has a lot to offer as I hope (in some future writing) to develop this dynamic connection that each human person provides between the internal (transcendent, heavenly throne) and the external (earthly places in our present moments).

Appendix of images:

Contemporary icon of an ancient and traditional image of Peter and Paul embracing. To quote Jonathan Pageau: “In the end, what is important is how the left and the right are connected to the heart, how in truth, the Church is neither of Paul nor of Peter but of Christ. When contemplating the icon of the embrace of the apostles, we should tremble at the possibility of them having gone their separate ways. We should tremble at the very fantasy of St-Paul creating a fragmented, illegitimate, informal, proselytizing church opposing an overly centralized, presumptuous, formalistic church in this imagined wake of St-Peter. Rather, as they have embraced, as they continue to embrace in the very bosom of Christ, we find two immovable guides, a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, one pointing to the gathering, the communion of faithful, the joining of the body, the stable and solid hierarchy of the church; and one pointing to Christ’s great commission, the announcing of the Word, the martyrs, the ascetics and those fools of God that sacrifice all for Christ.”
Christ Pantocrator from Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai (one of the few icons of Christ to survive the destruction of Byzantine authorities who were embarrassed by images and who outlawed them for a time as they sought to cultivate a more intellectual respectable reputation with their Muslim neighbors). Christ’s arched eyebrow on his left side is one of several features that align with rigor and an external focus. Christ’s calm face on his right side is one of several features that align with mercy and an internal focus.
In this contemporary icon of the last judgement (which closely follows traditional imagery), Peter and Paul are easily identified just beyond the Mother of God and John the Forerunner. Blue and red robes on the angels dispensing judgment correspond to the right and the left paradigm. In the most expansive images such as this, some of the parallels between left, downward and outward are all evident as well (although multiple dynamics and realms are piled up and no one paradigm controls the entire image).
The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel, Mariotto Albertinelli (Florence, Italy, 21.6 x 35.4 cm, Oil on panel, c. 1510). Note the active help of God and the straight column of smoke with Abel on the altar’s right and the futile labor of Cain with the smoke bending into his face on the altar’s left. These same features appear across different times and cultures within images of this primordial sacrifice by Cain and Able.

then they will clearly see the nature of the stars one by one

C.S. Lewis has a retired star (Ramandu) become a human father, and J.R.R. Tolkien has a man (Eärendil, Half-elven) carry a star into the heavens aboard his ship. Here are initial excerpts from Origen and the Life of the Stars: A History of an Idea by Alan Scott (Oxford UP):

The second-century apologist Tatian asks what good it is to know the size of the earth, the position of the stars, or the course of the sun, a sentiment echoed even by Clement of Alexandria, but Origen’s attitude is very different. His teachings on the elements, meteorology, comets, planets, and stars display a wide knowledge of contemporary science which is all the more impressive in light of the time he must have devoted to his scriptural studies and his vast literary output. As a result of these broad interests, his cosmology encompasses a degree of astronomical detail previously unknown in Christian (including gnostic) theology.

…Before discussing the question of whether heaven is part of this World, Origen remarks that the matter is too high for a human being to comprehend. …It is true that Origen cannot resist speculating on all of the questions about which he has so gravely warned us (here again he is like St Augustine), but this does not mean that the warnings are simply conventional: he means these flights of intellect or fancy to be taken as speculation and not as dogma. Origen (like Irenaeus) felt that many questions could only be decisively answered in the next life, believing that, since the visible world was only an image of an intelligible and invisible one, many problems could be better understood when we were in the kingdom of the heavens. This also was true of theories on the life of the stars: “When …the saints have reached the heavenly places, then they will clearly see the nature of the stars one by one, and will understand whether they are living beings or whatever else may be the case.” Origen recognizes an uncertainty here which he does not allow in other doctrinal issues.

…Origen weighs his teachings very differently, putting forward many ideas as conjectures, and it is sometimes difficult to know how seriously he takes these views. Though Origen certainly thought the stars are alive, it should be stated at the outset that there is some room for doubt in his mind. He notes that the tradition does not make clear whether the stars have life or not, and elsewhere he says that Job 25: 5, “the stars are not clean in his sight,” proves that the stars are capable of sin “unless this is a hyperbole.” The view that the stars possess life is not one to which Origen feels completely committed.

Angelic, Glorified and Social Bodies in Dale Martin’s Work

Transfiguration_by_Feofan_Grek_from_Spaso-Preobrazhensky_Cathedral_in_Pereslavl-Zalessky_(15th_c,_Tretyakov_gallery) detail

Image: this is a detail from a traditional transfiguration icon. See full image and info at bottom of post.

“In reality only the Deity is immaterial and incorporeal.” —St. John of Damascus

Section Titles:

  • Introduction
  • Summary and Critique of Dale Martin’s Book (as an Aside)
  • Martin’s Key Points on Paul’s Model of the Cosmos and its Bodies
  • Glorified and Angelic Bodies in Paul (Was Hart Right and Wright Wrong?)
  • Spiritual Bodies in my Life and in the Work of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis
  • Why Moderns Can’t See What is Most Real
  • Further Reading

Introduction

This is not so much a review of The Corinthian Body (Yale UP, 1995) as it is my own reappropriation of Dale Martin’s work. I want to understand the metaphysical world that was inhabited by Paul and his beloved congregation in Corinth so that I can better grasp what is real and what I am blind to because of my own impoverished cosmological models and metaphysical categories of thought. Martin is a veteran New Testament scholar who has held academic chairs at Duke and Yale over the course of a long and distinguished career, and his book unpacks Paul’s world of thought with exquisite care. This takes place through an examination of all the beliefs current in Paul’s day within the areas of folk culture, medicine and metaphysics. In standard scholarly fashion, Martin does not generally share his own thoughts as he analyzes Paul’s beliefs about metaphysics, medicine and the nature of bodies other than as the basis for explaining Paul’s reasoning and thought processes within his letters. There is one notable exception to this when Martin hopes that not all women in Paul’s day believed what Martin says that Paul taught about the inferiority of the female body (251). I’ll return to this later, but for now, let me reiterate that my own reason for reading this book was to subject myself to a rigorous scholarly analysis of Paul’s profoundly pre-modern thought world.

I first heard of Martin’s book when it was recommended by David Bentley Hart as he defended himself against published criticism from N.T. Wright (and some others backing Wright) over Hart’s translation of “spirit”, “soul” and “flesh” as these were used by Paul in his discussion of the resurrection body. When two of the most preeminent living scholars of the New Testament thought world (who have both published translations of the entire New Testament) engaged in public debates over the nature of our resurrection bodies, I followed every word (with repeat readings). In response to Hart’s most developed essay on the topic (“The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients”), James Ware offered a defence of N.T. Wright’s position. Hart, in his very terse response to Ware, recommended reading “Dale Martin’s treatment of the matter in his book The Corinthian Body, which simply places Paul’s words in the context of his age.” [You can find all three articles here, here and here from Church Life Journal with the University of Notre Dame from July 26, 2018 to July 04, 2019. The original sally by N.T. Wright is here at The Christian Century from January 15, 2018. Hart’s initial response to Wright is here from January 16, 2018 on Eclectic Orthodoxy, a blog that Hart frequents. Finally, Christianity Today published an account of the “tussle” here on January 24, 2018.]

Dale Martin is recognized as being unorthodox with regard to some basic tenants of the Christian faith. David Bently Hart, on the other hand, defends Christian orthodoxy vigorously and takes the Christian creeds with all seriousness. Addison Hart recently wrote (in an social media discussion forum) that his brother David “reads Dale Martin, John Dominic Crossan, and others that many wouldn’t for doctrinal reasons” because “if you’re going to engage scholarship at all, that’s what you do” even if “you won’t always like what you read or even what you learn from it.”

Despite critical differences with some of Martin’s conclusions, I appreciated his rigorous examination of the world of thought and belief out of which Paul lived and taught and composed his letters. Paul’s pre-modern beliefs about the cosmos, angelic bodies, social bodies and our own human bodies (both current and glorified) point us toward realities that we have lost the capacity to see. This does not imply, of course, that Paul’s specific medical or metaphysical models should be maintained today. David Bentley Hart would doubtless extol most aspects of Paul’s metaphysics while pointing out that there is no necessary conflict with modern medical practices or physiology. This perceived conflict, however, leaves us benighted moderns with emaciated and collapsed cosmologies. We need fresh models of the universe and ourselves (along with revived stories of our shared travels through time and place) so that we can regain access to all of the layered realms that were opened up by the ancient cosmologies and social imaginaries that we have discarded as primitive. Tragically, our modern models provide no meaningful space for the realms of reality that were taken most seriously within all of the ancient maps of nature and of the human body. As a result, during the past five centuries, modern and Western humans (which, in another ghastly aspect of our current story, increasingly means all humans) have grown profoundly and increasingly blind to the most substantial elements of our own bodies and of the world that we inhabit.

Summary and Critique of Dale Martin’s Book (as an Aside)

Before leaving Martin largely aside and plundring his scholarship for my own purposes, I will pay his work the well-earned respect of my poor efforts at a summary and a critique. This portion of my post has drifted back and forth between this second section, the third section and even an appendix. This drifting had two reasons. First, I am not even faintly qualified to summarize let alone criticise Martin’s scholarship. Second, to understand even the basic outlines of Martin’s points requires a substantial and counterintuitive understanding—for us as moderns—of what bodies are for Paul and his congregation in Corinth. This requires that I repeat a lot of the basic metaphysics of human and social bodies in order to simply summarize Martin’s book. Both of these serious issues notwithstanding, I have opted to plunge in with a survey and response to Martin at the outset. (Please feel free to second guess my judgement or abilities in this and to skip ahead to later sections.)

In The Corinthian Body, Martin argues that virtually all of the directives and the guidance that Paul gave to the Corinthian church were motivated at some basic level by Paul’s concern for the purity and harmony of Christ’s body as the church. In chapter 1 (“The Body in Greco-Rioman Culture”), Martin makes it clear why Paul’s understanding of the “the body of Christ” is so literal, substantial and central to his entire vision for Christian life in this world. Throughout the book, Martin examines a comprehensive range of popular and scientific physiologies and etiologies from the ancient world—looking at what all bodies (human, social and heavenly) were thought to be composed of as well as what caused their diseases. In this effort, Martin’s survey of the realms of folklore, philosophy and medicine are impressive and fruitful.

In chapter 2 (“The Rhetoric of the Body Politic”), Martin looks closely at homonoia (“concord”) speeches as a standard category of deliberative rhetoric in which the speaker encouraged an entire population to maintain the health and unity of their social body. At one point, Martin argues that Paul likely had a standard rhetorical education in keeping with this background of higher social standing. Interestingly, Martin notes that every Hellenistic education had a basic rhetorical component that was separated from the more widely recognized later training of those who would go on to use rhetoric formally within their social calling (44, 48 and 51-52). In Martin’s analysis, regardless of the technical details of Paul’s education, he was clearly familiar with this standard rhetorical type concord speeches and used it to remarkable effect as he addressed the two primary threats that faced Christ’s body in Corinth. Both of these perils were understood by Paul in palpable terms as means by which cosmic powers—still struggling at some level to pollute and disrupt the body of Christ—might be allowed entry through disharmony or negligence. Although Martin does not provide this context, it does not conflict with Martin to point out that—while Christ had conquered all cosmic powers—many were still seeking to damage Christ’s body the church and that the reality of Christ’s conquest of them was still being played out in some sense by Christ through the church as his body. Martin focuses on Paul’s concern with this cosmic battle between the worldly realm (dominated by rebellious powers) and the church which is the pure body of Christ (demonstrating Christ’s power and victory over all of this world’s old authorities).

Two points of vulnerability for the church body form the two main parts of Martin’s book. He first deals with the threat to Christ’s body posed by “the Strong” in Corinth (Martin’s category name and capitalization). The second part of the book considers the dangers posed by female bodies. The strong in Corinth threatened the harmony of the church through their failure to understand and live by the reversed hierarchical order of social glory that had been established under Christ. Women, through no fault of their own, possessed bodies that were made up (in this fallen world) of a higher concentration of elements that allowed for the easy passage of powerful substances from one realm into the other. Martin notes that modern readers will generally appreciate the first aspect of Paul’s message (directed at the strong) but will be confused and offended by Paul’s ideas about the female body.

To unpack each threat to Christ’s body a little further, first in this pair of weak points was the refusal of the strong within the Corinthian church to give up their false idea of social eminence within the body of Christ. This failure by the strong to subserviate themselves within the church threatened the harmony of Christ’s body as a place where the categories of glory had been restructured in reverse order to the hierarchy that all human societies had previously followed (including those of the Greco-Roman world). For Martin, the strong were a group of especially responsible and empowered Christians (within the life of their city) who formed a vocal minority in the church at Corinth. These Christians understood their functions within the church to reflect their noble functions within the social body of their city, but Paul made it clear to them that Christ’s body is constituted with a reversal of the social hierarchies of the fallen world (although not by a reversal of the bodily elements associated with these categories, as will become apparent below). A powerful revolution—an upending of social status categories—had been accomplished by Christ’s bodily death on a cross (at the very bottom of the Roman social order) and subsequent resurrection and ascension to the throne of God (from which Christ appeared to Paul and demanded Paul’s allegiance).

According to Martin, Paul was calling out the strong despite the fact that Paul had more in common socially with the strong at Corinth than with the other Christians of the city (who have been servants or slaves of the strong in many cases). At the same time, Martin claims that certain areas of Paul’s folk beliefs (especially regarding the causes of disease) reflected ideas much closer to the weak in Corinth than to the more sophisticated medical and philosophical theories of the strong (122, 135, 136 and 168). With these several nuances, Paul’s relationship with the strong at Corinth was complex and dynamic. This adds subtlety and delight to Martin’s analysis of Paul’s rhetorical appeals to the strong in Corinth to give up their high status within the church and to imitate Christ’s humiliation for the sake of concord within Christ’s body. [This is a good place to note that—in this first portion of the book—Martin was clearly drawing on some of the concepts from his earlier book Slavery as Salvation: The Metaphor of Slavery in Pauline Christianity (Yale UP, 1990). This no doubt added depth to Martin’s arguments in the first section of The Corinthian Body. Also, this idea of “slavery as salvaiton” corelates powerfuly in several ways with some of David Bentley Hart’s key points in Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, particularly in chapter 13 (“The Face of the Faceless”).]

The second of Martin’s two main points within The Corinthian Body was the danger posed to Christ’s body by the physical makeup of the female body in this fallen world. Martin argues that female bodies were universally understood to be made of a greater percentage of elements that would allow for invasive substances and powers to more easily enter and threaten the entire body of Christ through them. He gives extensive evidence for the pervasive ancient belief that weaker and more porous substances made up female bodies and that these substances rendered female bodies more susceptible to invasion and pollution (199). This required different types and measures of care for females. This should not be misunderstood as saying that males and females were made of different elements. Genders simply contained different proportions of the same elements. “The human body—whether of a man or a woman—was understood to comprise male and female aspects. …Sexualtiy …was constructed less in terms of a dichotomy between male and female and more as a spectrum in which masculinity occupied one pole, femininity the other.” (32)

To understand Martin’s case regarding Paul’s thought here, it must also be clear that Paul would not have had any concept of an autonomous individual. All human bodies, regardless of gender or class, were understood as a part of their environment (in the broadest possible sense). In other words, human bodies were simply shifting and porous parts of their larger physical or elemental environments as well as of the larger social body (understood to be a very real entity). This surrounding elemental environment included powerful spiritual substances (a contradiction in terms for any modern mind) that could enter and cause disease in the entire social body (the household, city or church) through the body of any one individual. This basic line of thinking was taken as a matter of fact by anyone in Paul’s world, irrespective of their social status or gender. More sophisticated members of the Hellenistic world tended to emphasize the imbalance etiologies of Greek medicine over the invasion etiologies of folk culture, but both would have seen some individual bodies within any social body as more susceptible to a variety of dangerous influences (imbalancing or invading) than other bodies. Martin argues that Paul had such concepts in mind as he made what would have been understood as rather sensible recommendations for women, such as veiling themselves during corporate worship.

Martin notes that, in Paul’s world, a veil was not effective unless put in place by the woman of her own accord (245-246). While Martin explains this primarily in terms of power and dominance (which were of course fundamentally involved), he also notes that this was understood by everyone as essential to the welfare of the woman and to the entire collective body of which she was understood as a literal member (along with all males). This need for veiling was not understood as affected by the character of any women but was a product of the physiological constituents of every female body. Martin ultimately makes the case that Paul’s comment “because of the angels” in 1 Corinthians 11:10 refers to Paul’s concern that women might be dangerously exposed to the gaze of angelic powers during worship. Martin cites Terrtullian extensively regarding this concern “that lustful angels would be tempted by unveiled women” (246). Summarizing his case regarding what Paul believed, Martin says: “The veiling of women in church, especially when they were in an extra exposed state of inspiration, functioned as prophylaxis against external penetration and pollution for …both the female body and the communal body [or Christ] through the female” (248).

As Martin suggests, this portion of his book is the most bizzare to modern ears, but I also found it to be the most incomplete. While I don’t fundamentally disagree with Martin’s points about how the female body was understood in the Hellenistic world, I do not think that Martin fully develops Paul’s Christian vision of the female into a complete (and therefore an accurate) picture. To illustrate this, it will be helpful to develop another claim that Martin makes regarding the female body in Paul’s thought.

Martin says that Paul’s statement about there being “no male or female in Christ” was based on Paul’s idea that all resurrected female bodies would have to be reconstituted out of ingredients typical of males:

Women’s bodies are different from men’s—not just in the way we today think of them as different, in that they have different “parts,” but in that the very substance, the matter that makes up their bodies, is constitutionally different. Until the resurrection, women’s bodies will be different from men’s, more porous, penetrable, weak, and defenseless. …In Paul’s language, …in the kingdom of God[,] people who are now women will then be equal to people who are now men. Those who were formerly female will be equal, however, because their femininity will be swallowed up by masculinity. The inferior nature of their female stuff will be transcended as their bodies are raised to a higher level on the spectrum extending from higher male to lower female. (249)

According to Martin, Paul had no other way to conceive of what it would mean for a female body to be transformed into the incorruptible, immortale and glorified body of the resurrection.

Several questions came to mind at this point in my reading. Martin made it clear earlier in the book that Paul believed that glorified bodies would be transformed into the most substantial and potent of all elements: pure spirit (not immaterial as we will consider below but also not intermixed with elements of soul, flesh or blood). However, this body of pure spirit does not describe bodies that “are raised to a higher level on the spectrum extending from higher male to lower female.” For Paul, according to Martin, all fallen female bodies contained some spirit, and no fallen male bodies were made of anything close to pure spirit. Paul’s glorified spiritual bodies radically transcended both male and female bodies. It makes sense that Paul had this literal sense in mind (among other meanings) when he said that there is no male or female in Christ. However, neither Paul nor any women in the church were likely to have considered this demeaning toward the female body.

Martin does not say anything further about what New Testament authors might have thought regarding the shape or form of female resurrection bodies other than his brief reference (quoted above) to different “parts” not being the primary distinction between male and female. It seems entirely consistent with everything Martin says about Paul to believe that females would have been thought by Paul to receive a purely spiritual body with a feminine form. With this detail included, there seems to be even less reason to think that Paul’s teachings about the resurrection body would have been understood by himself or his audience as an elevation of all females to males—instead both would be substantially elevated.

Leaving Martin aside briefly, it is worth noting the early oral tradition in the church that had a female receiving what was something like the second glorified body after Christ as the Lord took his mother to be with him in heaven (setting aside potential body counts involving other figures taken up to heaven by God in earlier scriptural accounts). Of course the dating of the oral tradition about Mary being taken bodily into heaven to be with Christ is impossible to determine, and most scholars assign it a relatively late date. However, at whatever point there were any earlier Christians who began to believe this account of Mary being taken to heaven by Christ, there was a specific conception of a female body reigning with the glorified and enthroned Christ—typically seated on a throne of her own close beside Christ in a similar arrangement to that in ancient Israel with the Gebirah (a formal court title ascribed in the scriptures to several queen mothers of Israel and Judah). This image of an eternally glorified female figure clearly indicates that early Christians did not have any issue with the concept of the feminine form being present in heaven enthroned beside God. This corroborates with the idea that—while Paul would have assumed that the glorified female body would have to be made up of imperishable substances—he also would have assumed that it would still maintain its familiar feminine form. Moreover, the popular beliefs of all the common people in Paul’s day (which Martin says that Paul essentially shared with regard to the differences in male and female physiology as well as heavenly and earthly bodies) would have been that the bodies of goddesses were made of a pure imperishable substance while still retaining their female forms and even procreative abilities.

I’ll note one final detail regarding the incomplete idea that Martin develops regarding Paul’s concept of the female body. In several places throughout the book, Martin suggests that the bodies of the ruling class were made up differently than the bodies of the socially weak. However, when focusing in on Paul’s denigration of the female body, Martin makes the opposite claim: “Paul does not seem to think that a slave’s body is a different kind of body from that of a free person” but that “he believes, unquestionably, that women’s bodies are different from men’s bodies” (199). This simply does not line up with other portions of the book where Martin clearly indicates that Paul also understood bodily differences to have existed between different social classes.

For example, Martin sets this out in his opening chapter regarding the wider context for Paul’s own ideas:

Upper-class ideology of the body was not altogether consistent. On the one hand, it insisted that a person’s character was set from birth. …On the other hand, documents written by and for the upper class show much concern with the procedures whereby the young body may be formed. (25) …The real task of shaping the aristocratic body …began at birth. (26) …All aspects of the body and the self are malleable and susceptible to formation by the nurse, midwife, or whoever is standing in for society at the time. …The shape of the body and its inner constitution are thus subject to the molding of civilization. (27)

All the various aspects of the self were hierarchically arranged. A firm social hierarchy existed within the body of the ancient person. …Each individual body, moreover, could be placed confidently as some location in the physiological hierarchy of nature. In other words, each body held its hierarchy within itself. …In popular Greco-Roman culture, bodies were direct expressions of status, usually pictured as a vertical spectrum. (34)

In a later place, Martin argues that Paul would have understood gnosis as “a substance” (186). Martin goes on: “Paul’s view of gnosis makes is much less transferable; it is linked securely to the status or state of the possessor. The Weak simply do not have it, and no means for acquiring it are entertained.” (188-189)

In a similar way, Martin portrays Paul as agreeing with the strong at Corinth regarding the fact that self-control was more feasible for those with bodies composed of stronger elements:

Paul calls the ability to control oneself sexually a charisma, “a gift” (7:7); but the issue of control and a hierarchy of strong and weak constitute the frame in which possession of this gift is understood. Indeed, in versies 6-9 we see Paul using the same strategy as elsewhere in 1 Corinthians: he claims for himself the position of greater strength then notes that he is willing to be more flexible for the sake of weaker members. The construction assumes that celibacy is the practice of higher status and greater strength. (210)

Martin’s examples here of Paul’s own thinking line up with the idea that the bodies of “nobles” differed from the bodies of “commoners” in at least their form if not also their substance.

While the bodily differences between classes seems to have been understood as more dependent on formation than birth, it still seems clear that Paul and his contemporaries would have believed that different classes as well as different genders were grounded in real (although internal and constitutional) bodily differences. This makes the reversal of social status and power categories that Martin identifies within Paul’s letter all the more remarkable. The fact that gender categories were not unique in their direct connection to physiology also weakens Martin’s case that Paul had a uniquely degrading understanding of the female body (undermining key claims by Martin quoted above from 199).

Moreover, as Martin makes clear with regard to the strong in Corinth, these different physiologies in each person would have required different roles and needs within the social body. When speaking of the strong seeking to exercise their authority within the church, Martin notes that they were not functioning as selfish individuals in the way that we moderns would conceive of this (208). Nobility was a type of body that was received from and formed by others. It was also a body that required the noble person to submit to his or her role and function within the social body (for the good of the social body and not for the person’s own gratification). Not to follow the requirements of nobility would have been perceived as deeply impious and threatening to the entire social body. This is why Paul’s instructions to the strong in Corinth to imitate Christ upon his cross (by their submission and service to the weak) was so counterintuitive. This is also why early Christian teaching was labeled by many educated outsiders as the teachings of atheists and anarchists that threatened to destroy the entire social body of Rome.

Martin takes extended time to explore these nuanced dynamics between the socially strong and weak in Corinth—including considerations of Hellenistic traditions of noble self-abdication (41-43) and democracy (44). However, Martin does not do the same for the relationships between males and females in Corinth. He does not explore any equivalent ways in which men and women would have both been expected to function in keeping with the proportionally different ingredients of their bodies in order to secure the flourishing of the entire communal body. Nor does Martin explore any nuances with regard to status between male and female in the Hellenistic world.

The radical reversal by Paul within the status dynamics of Christ’s body (between the socially strong and the socially weak) within the first half of Martin’s book is contrasted repeatedly by Martin in his second half with the lack of evidence for any such status reversal (or even corrective) within the body of Christ along gender lines. Instead, Martin clearly sees Paul as teaching a degradation of the female body. Because of this, Martin openly hopes that Paul may have failed to fully carry out several of his instructions regarding women (251). While there are some clear differences to consider between Paul’s treatment of the socially weak and his treatment of women, my own sense is that Martin is missing several explanations that could move us well beyond a simplistic demeaning of female bodies in stark contrast to the elevation of slaves. It is possible that Paul and the women in Corinth saw both male and female bodies as being capable of a profound transformation through a future resurrection and glorification. This vision would allow for real differences in male and female physiology in this current world (along with the different types of responsibilities that would attend these different bodies) without there being any ultimate sense of inferiority on the part of females. Also, it is possible that the status of the socially weak in Corinth was at risk while the status of women in that church was not generally understood by Paul or any of the women there to be threatened to an equivalent level.

In principle, I have no issue with the idea that Paul had substantial class and gender blindnesses or that he personally struggled to respect women (not that Martin suggests this or that this necessarily lines up with the little that we know about any specific sins dealt with by this “chief of sinners”). After all, Paul was a proud member of an elite religious class in Roman Palestine, and he even had the coveted status of a Roman Citizen in addition to this. If Paul was an elitist and a misogynist (personally and/ or as a part of his broader cultural setting), he could easily have experienced a revolution with regard to social status without having any equivalent revolution with regard to gender statuses. This is what Martin strongly suggests. However, it is also possible that Paul and the women of Corinth did not perceive serious gender status problems to be addressed within their particular church at that time.

Either way, Martin seriously overplayed the idea that female bodies would become male (in their internal makeup) at the time of their resurrection and glorification. Paul clearly believed that male and female would both be transcended through an internal glorification of the bodily substances. For my own part—living within a culture that is saturated in images and obsessions with regard to the external female form—I found the focus of the Hellenistic world upon internal constitution and correlating social responsibilities to be refreshing and potentially insightful. After all, the modern world’s extreme externalizing of what it means to be female or male has hardly been a blessing to either gender. As Martin notes, male and female were not understood in Paul’s world primarily as opposites but as each containing the other or as each being different forms of the other. There was a spectrum on which all male and female bodies were located and it moved, in certain respects from weak to strong. Certainly, this hierarchy was easily connected to abusive power structures and disparaging status rankings. Power and abuse were real and wide-spread moral horrors between genders as well as social classes.

However, these structures were not necessarily abused, and they did not necessarily imply status differences. Moreover, these hierarchical structures and the literal understandings of every person as a part of the whole social body also provided a powerful positive sense of place and purpose that could be real blessings within each human life. It is far beyond the scope of this review to explore early Christian ideas of male and female and the implications of the good news and saving work of Jesus Christ for the social dynamics between genders. To do so would no doubt require a difficult attempt to re-inhabit an extraordinary strange world of thought and relationships. It would need to place the devastating vulnerability of orphans and widows at center stage—as Jesus Christ did in keeping with many prophets of Israel. It would also need to account for the profound reverence that depicted the mother of God prominently among the earliest images within places of worship and that elevated the myrrh-bearing women with the title of “Apostles to the Apostles.” These first apostles cared for the dead body of Christ at great personal risk and with no reward in view and therefore became the first to witness Christ’s resurrection and to carry this news to the men in hiding (who initially dismissed the account as womanly foolishness). Any effort to re-inhabit this premodern world of thought and relationships with regard to men and women would need to reconcile these high-status elements within early Chrisitian life and worship to the virtual invisibility of females within most of the early narratives. Whatever status and roles that females held during the apolstolic and patristic periods of the church, it was simultaneously visible and hidden. There is a strong sense in Mary’s life of something treasured and potent—something that is shown respect and acknowledged but yet intentionally hiding itself and working from within the new reality of Christ’s veiled kingdom.

With all of this, Martin misses some vital aspects of the full picture with regard to Paul’s beliefs about the female body and Paul’s teachings about the ultimately dignity and coequal status of females alongside of males in Christ’s kingdom. At the same time, I must also acknowledge that I learned a lot about Hellenistic beliefs regarding the female body that I am not capable of processing. I hope to keep reading. My confidence in the love of Jesus Christ for humanity is not diminished, but I can easily imagine that there is more to human degradation throughout our history than I have in any way comprehended.

At this point, however, I have wandered absurdly far off topic. These matters are not what drew me to this book nor were they my focus while reading it. Setting debates over class and gender aside, then, I will return to my own focus on the metaphysics of our resurrection bodies as understood by Paul.

Martin’s Key Points on Paul’s Model of the Cosmos and its Bodies

Two essential insights from Martin strike me as the most helpful lenses to use when seeking to gain a vision of the cosmos that Paul and his early converts saw in their own day. These lenses need to be fitted and tried out repeatedly in order to start seeing just how different Paul’s world was from our own. Therefore, I will intentionally cycle through both of them twice (with a summary and then with passages from Martin) before looking more closely at several details regarding specific terms and the minor differences that did exist between different social classes or schools of philosophy and medicine in Paul’s own day.

The first lense to try out erases any concept of the autonomous individual. Human bodies related to the world around them in three ways:

  1. As reflections of greater social bodies and of the cosmos as a whole with corresponding internal substances and regions that responded to the movements of these same substances and regions in the larger surrounding bodies.
  2. As derivatives and parts of these several larger social bodies as well as of the entire cosmos.
  3. As porous and mailable arrangements of every kind of substance that would continually take in and respond to the full array of surrounding elements and movements.

Human bodies were both reflections of and pieces of multiple larger entities. Bodies had their own internal weather systems that were continually responding to and joining together with the activity of the greater weather systems of which they were microcosms (17). “The human body was not like a microcosm; it was a microcosm—a small version of the universe at large” (16). This microcosmic human body was arranged of the same essential substances and even in similar proportions and alignments as the larger bodies (both political and cosmic) of which each human was therefore a small reflection. For example, specifically heavenly elements predominated in the makeup of the human head as well as in the bodies of the ruling classes within human societies. (Even parallel shapes were sometimes noted between the human head and the heavenly bodies.) In turn, these heavenly elements within human heads and chests responded to the actual movements of these same elements as they moved within the stately dancing of the sun, moon and stars in the upper realms. All of these corresponding elements needed to be maintained in a harmonious hierarchy between the heavens, the social body of the local community and, finally, the body of each human. At times, however, these larger bodies would be in conflict, and human bodies were then at risk because they were continually open to being filled up by multiple types of stronger elements that could empower them or throw them into disarray.

Amid all of this, no one in the ancient world could have imagined the human body as something that any one person could control or claim as their own private concern. Today, we think of our bodies as having fairly well defined physical boundaries, and we also think of ourselves as essentially independent and morally autonomous individuals. We each have human dignity and rights attached to ourselves and consider our free wills, our reason and our consciences all to be an essential part of how we make decisions and function within the many choices available to us in our democratic and free market society. We also have personal or private opinions and feel entitled to our feelings as things that cannot be dictated, trained or criticized. We are concerned about our physical and our psychological health, but both are intensely private. Many legal and bureaucratic codes exist to ensure that our privacy is not violated. In turn, we also expect to be able to exercise various freedoms such as the freedom of speech which is our own ability to say what we believe or wish to express without any limitations from our community.

In Paul’s world, any idea of an independent and autonomous individual who was in control of their own destiny would have been extremely difficult to understand. Human bodies belonged to multiple larger bodies and were literally reciprocating, mixed up with and continually interacting with several powerful and layered realities. Our contemporary talk of private lives, personal freedoms, and autonomous wills would have sounded profoundly inadequate to the complex and powerful relationships at work in reality. Ancients who could begin to understand our modern mindsets would have felt sadness for our tragic self-delusion and our blindness to the profound connectedness that we had with each other and with all of nature.

Seeing this ancient world, however, depends on a second lense as well. Putting this lense in place before our twenty-first century eyes, will erase our modern dualism between the material and the immaterial, between the natural and the supernatural and between the physical and the mental. We moderns have dug massive moats of separation between the physical or natural realm (that we instinctively take as real and important) and any possible mental, psychological or supernatural realms (that we typically view as products of the physical realm and that we automatically subject to careful critical analysis before granting any level of reality or importance).

This is actually a remarkable reversal of the ancient mindset. Anyone in Paul’s day would have assumed the greater potency and reality of substances such as mind and spirit over the impotent and less consequential substances of earth and body. Spirit or mind were not conceived of (even by the neoplatonists) as immaterial. Understanding spirit and mind as substantive elements that filled and directed all of the lower materials was essential to appreciating the profound connectedness and interdependence that existed for all types and levels of bodies throughout the entire cosmos. Our benighted modern minds can conceptually grant the ideas of microcosm and connectedness at some level, but it is profoundly difficult for us to truly inhabit a world where spirit is the most substantive and powerful element. This, however, is the second lense: to insist that entities such as spirit, mind and knowledge are all material substances that fill, guide and direct all of the lower elements such as earth and water.

At this point, we will circle back and look at what Martin has to say about each of these two topics: the absence of the autonomous individual and the breakdown of Cartesian dualism. To be clear, in my rhetorical gimmick of prescribing two lenses, I’m identifying these two concepts as “most important.” Martin, of course, does not do this. He does, however, make it clear that all of these basic ideas were held in common by Paul and everyone of his Hellenistic society regardless of their ethinc background or social status (15). “Greeks and Romans could see as ‘natural’ what seems to us bizarre: the nonexistence of the ‘individual,’ the fluidity of the elements that make up the ‘self,’ and the essential continuity of the human body with its surroundings” (21).

Regarding the first lense, Martin makes the case repeatedly that no concept of an autonomous human individual or body would have been conceivable for Paul or any of his contemporaries:

In most of Greco-Roman culture the human being was a confused commingling of substances. …For most people of Greco-Roman culture the human body was of a piece with its environment. The self was a precarious, temporary state of affairs, constituted by forces surrounding and pervading the body, like the radio waves that bounce around and through the bodies of modern urbanites. In such a maelstrom of cosmological forces, the individualism of modern conceptions disappears, and the body is perceived as a location in a continuum of cosmic movement. (25)

The workings of the internal body are not just an imitation of the mechanics of the universe; rather, they are part of it, constantly influenced by it. (17)

The concept of poroi in medical theory is one expression of the ancient assumption that the human body is of a piece with the elements surrounding and pervading it and that the surface of the body is not a sealed boundary. (18)

No ontological dichotomy between the individual and the social can be located in Paul’s logic in 1 Corinthians 5. One may argue that the modern concept of the individual is simply unavailable to Paul. In any case, the logic underlying 1 Corinthians 5 depends on the breaking down of any possible boundary between the individual body and the social body. (173)

Martin argues that moderns tend to conflate Platonic vs. Cartesian dualism. He describes an ancient dualism in some schools of philosophy between the body and the soul, but Martin argues that this should not be conflated with our modern dualism between the material and the immaterial. Martin states explicitly that no person in Paul’s day would have shared our modern distinctions between the natural and the supernatural or between the material and the immaterial. Even the Platonists believed that soul and spirit were substances and conceived of them in ways that we moderns would think of as material (12 and 14-15). (Note that, in drawing this sharp distinction between Platonic and Cartesian dualisms, it should be understood that neither of these helpful labels are representative of Plato or Descrtes in their own original thinking.) Here are a few illustrative passages from Martin on these points:

Plato maintains that quite a few ailments that we would think of as psychological, ethical, or spiritual are actually physiological at base. …All kinds of pains can alter the mind. “Acid and saline phlegm and bitter bilious humours roam about the body, and if they are trapped inside and can get no outlet the vapour that rises from them mixes with the movement of the soul, and the resultant confusion causes a great variety of disorders of different intensity and extend, which attach the three areas where the soul is located with different effects, producing various types of irritability and depression, of rashness and timidity of forgetfulness and dullness” (86D). An Epicurean or Stoic could not have put it more “materialistically.” Even in Plato, therefore, the most dualistic of ancient philosophers, we find something quite different from the radical ontological dualism between mind and body, matter and nonmatter, familiar from Descartes. We are still dealing with something more like a spectrum of essences than a dichotomy of realms. (11-12)

[Martin quotes Ruth Padel at length related to these ideas:] When I speak of innards, I mean all this equipment of feeling and thinking. The poets treat words fluidly as organs, vessels, liquid, breath. But I am not suggesting that tragedians “blurred” distinctions we make between mind and body, or that this words were ambiguous, or that the psychological “overlapped” the physical in Greek thought. These metaphors of blur and overlap would imply that the Greeks perceived two different things to blur, two meanings to slip between. If the distinctions and meanings are ours, not theirs, then there were no two things for them to blur or be ambiguous about. It is not useful to project semantic fields of our own words, like heart, soul, mind, or spirit, or to talk in terms of slippage. (20)

In the ancient world, all eating (and practically all activity) was construed as an aspect of interaction with unseen powers. (183)

A few philosophers, Platonists perhaps, may have emphasized a dualism between the body and the soul. But such theorists represented a small minority. (25)

For most ancient philosophers, to say that something was incorporeal was not to say that it was immaterial. Furthermore, to say that something was not composed of hyle [often translated matter but really meaning something like heavy and inactive matter] did not mean it was immaterial in the modern sense of the word. Air, water, and especially ether could all be described as substances not included in the category of hyle, yet we moderns would be hard pressed to think of them as “immaterial substances.” In other words, all the Cartesian oppositions—matter versus nonmatter, physical versus spiritual, corporeal (or physical) versus psychological, nature versus supernature—are misleading when retrojected into ancient language. A “one world” model is much closer to the ancient conception, and, instead of an ontological dualism, we should think of a hierarchy of essence. (15, italics from the original text)

Critical to this understanding is that the higher elements (such as spirit) would literally propel the lower ellements (such as earth and flesh): “According to Lucretius, the mind strikes the spirit, the spirit strikes the body, and so the body walks or moves” (9). This is counter-intuitive to our modern thinking for two reasons. First, we don’t think of mind or spirit in material terms. Second, when the ancients spoke of mind and spirit as being light weight and filling up other substances, we do not associate these qualities with the ability to physically push other substances around. However, despite their ethereal qualities, substances such as spirit were actually far more permanent and powerful than the heavy weight substances known as hyle.

In summary, these two charts (my own and therefore all problems are mine) present the basic concepts of modern Cartesian dualism vs. the spectrum (or hierarchy) of substances in the Hellenistic world (which contains and properly contextualizes the Platonic dualism between soul and body).

Modern Cartesian Dualism

Category Names

Fields of Study

Connotations

spirit, soul, heaven, immaterial, mental, intangible, supernatural

religion, theology and psychology

  1. less real and powerful

  2. potentially sacred or holy

body, earth, material, physical, tangible, natural

science and economics

  1. more real and powerful

  2. strictly secular (within any legal or professional realm)

Spectrum of Substances in the Hellenistic World

Three Types of Bodies

Substances that Predominate in Each Region

Cosmos

Social Bodies (City or Church)

Human Bodies

Substance Names

Substance Properties

sun and stars

nobles and priests

head

  • mind

  • pneuma (spirit, breath or wind)

  • psychē (soul)

  • aether

  • fire

  1. active or pushing

  2. filling or penetrating

  3. immutable or well-formed

  4. light-weight

region under the moon

citizens

chest

earth and regions under the earth

slaves and servants

stomach and genitals

  • earth

  • water

  • sōma (body)

  • sarx (flesh) and blood

  • hylē (heavy and formless matter)

  1. passive or pushed

  2. being filled or porous

  3. mutable or not fully formed

  4. heavy-weight

To be clear, charts such as these easily misrepresent actual realities. For example, this chart aligns human heads as well as the cosmic heavens with spirit and mind as if these things were all parallel, but substances such as mind or spirit were not found only in the heavens or in human heads. Spirit and mind just predominated in more concentrated forms within the heads of a wide variety of intersecting human and social bodies that each reflected the cosmos as a whole.

The basic concepts covered so far in this section (and outlined in the above chart) were widely shared by all those in Paul’s world regardless of their cultural heritage or education. (Although time and space to not allow for a more complete review, Martin’s survey, especially in the first chapter, of the common ground between Platonic, Aristitelian, Epicurean and Stoic thought, among other categories, is persuasive and fascinating.) Within this shared framework, however, there were many specific debates between different schools of thought in medicine and philosophy as well as some distinguishing features between popular or folk beliefs and the those of more educated people. As I mentioned in the last section, folk medicine tended to favor invasion etiologies (where corrupt or incorrect elements caused disease by entering the body) while Greek doctors tended to favor imbalance etiologies (where disease was the result of disturbances to the proper proportions or movements of elements within the body). Between these two positions, Paul tended to favor the common people and their folk ideas of invasion by corrupt elements as the source of disease:

Paul, …along with …the majority of early Christians, presupposes an invasion etiology of disease. The body, rather than being a balance ecosystem or microcosm of an equilibrated nature, is a permeable entity susceptible to attack by daimonic agents. Protection from attack is possible only by means of the powerful action of God. Cures are obtained by appeals to God that the hostile, alien attacker be expelled or by recourse to the charismatically endowed healers who function as conduits for the purifying power of God (see 1 Cor. 12:28). …This logic of the body underwrites Paul’s ethical arguments against the Strong at Corinth, educated believers who appear to subscribe to the other etiology of disease [i.e. the etiology of balance and imbalance that dominated Greek medical theory (see 152)]. (168)

Although identifying Paul with “the strong” at Corinth in terms of Paul’s overall social status, Martin also aligns Paul with some of the more folksy or popular ideas about the causes of disease and pollution (see 136 as well).

In addition to these differences over the causes of disease, we see a divide over the way in which language about dead bodies and resurrected bodies could be understood differently by different classes in the Hellensitic world. Here again, Paul tends to use language is, on its surface, more comfortable for the socially weak in Corinth. Teaching on the resurrection, Paul follows a narrow path that insists on a bodily resurrection but that must also make it clear that he is not talking about the zombies of Greek magic and folklore or that he is not insisting on the eternal incorruptibility of any substances that an educated Greek would have understood as mutable and impermanent in its very nature:

[The strong in Corinth] do believe in the resurrection and glorification of Christ, and …some kind of afterlife. What they question is the idea that human bodies can survive after death and be raised to immortality. …The strong …misunderstand Paul partly because …of the vocabulary he has used to describe resurrection. …Paul’s use of egeirein nekron would probably be heard as a crude form of “wake the dead,” also referring to a corpse, as in an example from the magical papyri. Thus when Paul uses the phrase anastasis nekrōn or the like (15:21, 42), it would be natural for the Corinthians to imagine a bringing to life of human corpses along lines familiar from popular myth and folklore. …The bodies raised out of graveyards by magicians are called by Lucian “corpses,” …as are the emaciated, unfed dead bodies the credulous people believe occupy the regions below the earth. …The most natural way in which a Greek speaker would have heard Paul’s langue in 1 Corintihans 15 would have been as a reference to what we would call resuscitation of corpses. As we will see, Paul himself rejects such an interpretation; but it is easy to see how his Greek audience might take his language in this way. For lower-class Chrisitans, not educated in the assumptions of philosophers, such language would perhaps not be off-putting. …But for the educated such beliefs would have appeared vulgar and naive at best and ridiculous at worst. It is against such skepticism that Paul must show his position to be more sophisticated than would appear on the surface, and do so without giving up his apocalyptic belief in the resurrection of the body. (122-123)

In loyalty to that apocalypticism, [Paul] insists on the future resurrection of the body, thereby denying the lowly status attributed to the body by Greco-Roman elite culture. At the same time he admits that the resurrection body will have to be thoroughly reconstituted so as to be able to rise from the earth to a new luminous home in the heavens. The eschatologial body must be one without earth, flesh, blood, or even psyche (soul). The tendency towards cosmic revolution inherent in Paul’s apocalypticism must bow to some aspects of cosmological hierarchy. Paul’s theology is constrained by his physiology. (135)

Paul is so far identified with the social weak in Corinth by some of his language choices and his ideas about the dangers of pollution to human and social bodies, that the strong in Corinth would have suspected Paul of foolish superstitions at points. First, however, Martin clarifies what was meant by superstition in the ancient world (as distinct from our modern meaning):

The philosophically educated referred to the beliefs they despised as “superstitious” (deisidaimonia). …In ancient texts “superstition” does not refer to a belief in supernatural beings or supernatural causation; it means simply “an unreasonable fear of the gods,” a “dread of divinities.” …Women and the masses (ochlos, hoi polloi) are assumed to be especially superstitious. (156, see also 114)

Alongside certain beliefs of Paul’s that would have made some philosophers turn away, some of Paul’s common language may have been intentional. He certainly shows an awareness of what the socially strong in Corinth believed and how they would have taken his language. Paul had a strong grasp of educated Greeco-Roman categories of thought. Specifically, however, “the kind of popular philosophy that seems to have influenced early Christians, Paul in particular, was of a general moral sort and much more related to Stoic than Platonic concepts” (15).

Although the details of Martin’s assessments across ancient Hellenistic thought continue to alure me, I must leave off this overview at this point. I will make a couple notes, in closing out this section, about how Dale Martin and David Bentley Hart do (or might) relate any of this to our own world and day. While Martin maintains a fairly standard “scholarly detachment” from the pre-modern science, medicine, metaphysics and popular physiology of the New Testament era, he does interject a thought or two of his own very occasionally. For example, he says within parentheses that “whatever we [moderns] do mean by the term [matter], it is not clear in the latter twentieth century” (106-107). Later, he criticizes contemporary medicine and the way that “much modern drug therapy operates through a certain ‘cowboy philosophy’ of American populism” whereby “the hero singlehandedly blasts out the desperadoes who were running rampant through the settlement” (145, quoting René Dubos). Finally, Martin mentions the “modern medicalization of the self” (211).

In contrast to Dale Martin, David Bentley Hart doubtless takes much of the pre-modern metaphysics of Paul’s world rather seriously on its own merits. I’m far out of my technical depth with these speculations about Hart (based on readings of his that I’ve only imperfectly grasped), but Hart probably would not hold on to much of the ancient medicine or popular physiology (while he would not consider these essential to the ancient metaphysical framework). Interestingly, in Martin’s construction, this dismissal of some ancient folk ideas by Hart might put him on the side of “the strong” over against Paul in a few instances. (However, Hart does have a track record of boldly defending folk stories (see “The Secret Commonwealth” in First Things October 20, 2009 for example), so I don’t want to overstate this conjecture on my part or be influenced by my own recent disappointment with Hart’s rather sweeping dismissal of a favorite folk story of my own from the life of Abba Macarius of Egypt (in the opening lines of That All Shall Be Saved). In summary, while I doubt that Hart would say that Martin fully represented Paul in his ideas of the feminine, Hart would no doubt join Martin in dismissing some of Paul’s specific beliefs regarding the physiology of male and female bodies as well as some of the specifics of Paul’s disease etiology.

Overall, however, the extent to which Martin’s scholarship supports Hart’s thinking is substantial. At its core, they both have the same understanding of the pre-modern that Paul saw. Another essay by David Bentley Hart, “Everything you know about the Gospel of Paul is likely wrong” (from Aeon January 8, 2018), is echoed in passages from Martin. Here is how Hart summarizes the main ideas in the good news that Paul preached:

The story of salvation concerns the entire cosmos; and it is a story of invasion, conquest, spoliation and triumph. For Paul, the cosmos has been enslaved to death, both by our sin and by the malign governance of those ‘angelic’ or ‘daemonian’ agencies who reign over the earth from the heavens, and who hold spirits in thrall below the earth. These angelic beings, these Archons, whom Paul calls Thrones and Powers and Dominations and Spiritual Forces of Evil in the High Places, are the gods of the nations. In the Letter to the Galatians, he even hints that the angel of the Lord who rules over Israel might be one of their number. Whether fallen, or mutinous, or merely incompetent, these beings stand intractably between us and God. But Christ has conquered them all.

In descending to Hades and ascending again through the heavens, Christ has vanquished all the Powers below and above that separate us from the love of God, taking them captive in a kind of triumphal procession. All that now remains is the final consummation of the present age, when Christ will appear in his full glory as cosmic conqueror, having ‘subordinated’ (hypetaxen) all the cosmic powers to himself – literally, having properly ‘ordered’ them ‘under’ himself – and will then return this whole reclaimed empire to his Father. God himself, rather than wicked or inept spiritual intermediaries, will rule the cosmos directly.

Backing up much of this, Martin says:

Paul’s views are informed by a myth that encompasses the entire cosmos within its explanatory frame. Christians are not free selves exercising their wills in their individual bodies; they are pieces in a cosmic conflict, who occupy places on a cosmic map of battle. …Paul apocalypticism perceives enemy agents everywhere in the cosmos as presently constituted. Death and sin are not abstract states but demonized beings. Even the Law is not an abstract concept or a list of rules but an agent of a dangerous nature, good in its basic intent but responsible for a disastrous state of affairs. Because humans are enslaved to sin, the Law is functionally an enemy of humanity. (134-135)

Within such a common framework, it is easy to see how Dale Martin supports David Bentley Hart’s reading of Paul over against N.T. Wright.

Glorified and Angelic Bodies in Paul (Was Hart Right and Wright Wrong?)

Obviously, all of the proceeding material has significance for how we understand resurrection and angelic bodies as well as for the debate between David Bentley Hart and N.T. Wright over Paul’s conception of resurrection bodies. Hart clearly knew what he was doing when he cited Dale Martin in defence of his essay “The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients.” A full survey of the idea landscape in which Paul lived lends powerful support to Hart’s assessment of Paul’s teachings about glorified bodies. My two previous sections will have made this clear in multiple explicit ways. However, I have intentionally not cited extensively from Martin chapter 5 on “The Resurrected Body.” In this section, I will briefly set out some of the specifics from Martin on this point.

Martin starts out by insisting that we should be careful not to introduce “a matter/nonmatter dichotomy” into our reading of Paul (106), and points out that “the problem for the Corinthians lies in the resurrection of the body, not in the existence, in the present or the future, of matter” (107). As I set out in the last section, Martin goes on to say that Paul was eager to affirm the bodily resurrection in ways that would have been reassuring to the socially weak in Corinth while also being offensive and vulgar to the socially strong. Both the weak and the strong in Corinth might have mistaken the bodily resurrection that Paul spoke of to be similar to the resuscitation of corpses practiced in Greek folklore and magic. The more educated in Corinth would have wanted to push Paul in the direction of simply recognizing a spiritual element in each human person that would continue on after death and could participate in eternal life with God.

Paul, however, insisted on using words that connected directly to the deceased body or corpse and claimed that this body would be raised up and glorified as a spiritual body. In this, Paul was acknowledging the sensibilities of educated Greeks regarding the impossibility of soma and hyle (substances that were impotent, malleable and transitory) being part of any conception of eternal and incorruptible life. Paul goes so far in his defense of this idea of a spiritual body as to say explicitly that our flesh, blood and even soul will all be transformed into pure spirit. Here is where Wright took issue publically with Hart’s translations and where Hart struck back in defense of his translations so forcefully. Everything that Martin sets out about the ideas of Paul and of all parties at Corinth, makes it clear that Hart is correct in every respect with regard to what Paul said to the Corinthians about the glorified body of the resurrection.

To be clear, this does not mean that there was unanimity among the early followers of Christ on the exact metaphysics of the resurrection body. Martin says that “in the first century there was no general agreement among early Christians about the nature of the resurrected body” (123). He goes on: “In John, Jesus’ death and resurrection are emphasized as physical, but the nature of Jesus’ resurrection body is not at all clear” (124). Martin says his “guess” is that most Chistians “seldom thought about the resurrection systematically but simply assumed that the resurrection of the body meant the resurrection, completely, wholly, and crassly, of the flesh-and-blood body” while some others recognized (like Paul) “that some change will affect the body ‘…for the better of what still remains in existence at that time’” [quoting Athenagoras with reference to the glorification of dissolute remains that will clearly be in need of improvement] (124). Responding to some who were pushing in more incorporeal and sophisticated directions, Tertullian insisted that the resurrected body is “none other than all that structure of the flesh, of whatever sort of materials it is composed and diversified, that which is seen, is handled, that hin short which is slain by men” (124).

Paul’s written teaching to the Corinthians starts with and maintains an insistence on the bodily nature of the resurrection but ends up clearly saying that the constitution of this sōma (“body”) will be transformed from any ingredients of sarx kai haima (“flesh and blood”) or psychē (soul) into a sōma of pure pneuma (“spirit”). This “spirit body” would take the original earthly body and transform or glorify it into a “heavenly body” (like the bodies possessed by the stars). This heavenly body would be grounded (via its origin) in the earthly body and—even in its spiritual makeup—would not have been understood as immaterial but as “supermaterial” (my term seeking to capture Martin’s points succinctly from 125-131).

Another aspect of the resurrection body that Martin points out form Paul, is that Paul assumes “that individual bodies have reality only in so far as they are identified with some greater cosmic reality.” Martin goes on:

Christian bodies have no integral individuality about them. Due to their existence “in Christ,” they must experience the resurrection. To deny the resurrection of their bodies is to deny the resurrection of Christ; to deny the resurrection of Christ is to render any future hope void. The Christian body has no meaning apart from its participation in the body of Christ.

Paul so firmly assumes that identity is constructed upon participation that he can refer without demurral to the practice of baptism for the dead. [As Dan Doriani at The Gospel Coalition (a large reformed evangelical blog) says: “the simplest reading of the text is that some Corinthian Christians were baptized vicariously on behalf of some who’d already died, seeking a spiritual benefit.” Doriani goes on to argue that this could not have possibly been the case and that we simply can’t know what Paul was talking about. Martin, however, takes the verse (1 Cor. 15:29) at its face value as describing a practice that Paul does not recommend but that Paul was aware of among his church in Corinth and uses as an example demonstrating the truth of the resurrection. Incidentally, the lives of several Orthodox Christian saints—in particular of several holy fools—were lived “on behalf” of another person who had died outside of the faith. See St. Xenia for example who wore the military coat of her deceased husband and seems to have devoted her entire holy life to him.] …Some scholars try to distance Paul’s theology from it. …But their attempts to explain away this bizarre belief—that actions performed on the bodies of the living can affect the bodies of the dead— are only special pleadings. Paul mentions the practice as proof of an afterlife for the dead, and his argument depends on certain assumptions: that the baptism of a human body incorporates it into the body of Christ, thus demonstrating a connection between the Christian’s body and Christ’s body, and that the baptism of a living body can affect the state of a dead body, incorporating the dead body into Christ, thus demonstration the connection between a person’s body and the bodies of his or her dead loved ones. The sensibility of the logic underwriting baptism for the dead is thoroughly consistent with Paul’s assumption that identity is established by participation in a larger entity. Existence in the body of Christ is not, however, the only reality Indeed, insofar as human bodies are subject to death at all, it is due to their incorporation in the body of Adam (15:21-22). (131-132)

To be clear, Martin’s case in all of this in no way depends on his reading of what “baptism for the dead” was talking about. Martin’s argument is taken from all across Paul’s writing and this example of how Paul uses baptism for the dead simply lines up with the way that Paul thought.

Such ideas about human identity as “established by participation in a larger entity” should sound familiar to anyone who has David Bentley Hart’s most recent book and his exposition of what Gregory of Nyssa taught about how the whole human race holds together as one insoluble body in both Adam and Christ (see here for excerpts from this remarkable exposition of Gregory by Hart). Paul clearly took this same idea very literally for all of those baptised into Jesus Christ. Moreover, we can see many other simple implications (not drawn out by Paul or Martin) such as the fact that, in some sense, every baptised Christian already participates in Christ’s resurrection. All of this points to the idea that the Christian’s glorified body is a revelation of their true body, not unlike the clear indication that Jesus Christ revealed his true nature to only his closest disciples on top of Mount Tabor during his transfiguration (as he show like the sun and communed with Moses and Elijah). There are also clear implications from all of this for Paul’s idea of communion with the body and blood of Christ in the eucharistic meal. We find life and mature as we eat and drink that which God created us (and then recreated us) to be.

As I will point out briefly in the last two sections, our contemporary ideas about the nature of our bodies as well as all other bodies have been wandering far away from these ideas common to everyone in the days of Jesus and Paul. We assume (in fact, we really cannot possibly help but assume even if we would rather not) that this is all a matter of increasing knowledge and scientific accuracy about extremely basic truths. Martin would likely largely agree that Paul’s ideas are simply wrong on virtually all fronts, but Hart would not. I’m not suggesting that Hart would defend Paul on every particular, but Hart has consistently defended—over his entire career to date—a metaphysics of the cosmos and of the human person that is remarkably consistent with the whole system of Paul’s thought. Of course, I could point out some critical distinctions between the metaphysics of Paul and Hart, and a trained philosopher (such as Hart) could point out far more. However, in the context of the contemporary intellectual landscape, Hart’s metaphysical common ground with Paul is far more remarkable than the differences. This is no small achievement for a professional scholar at the highest levels of the contemporary intellectual profession (holding a chair at Notre Dame and routinely publishing with Yale UP). This has required Hart to continually astound, challenge, offend and baffle his opponents time and again while seeking to communicate as clearly and precisely as he can regarding the nature of reality in both the cosmos and the human person.

Martin’s meticulous scholarship solidly backs up Hart’s recent self-defense against the criticism that N.T. Wright first leveled (and that some of Wright’s students continued) regarding Paul and the idea of spiritual bodies. It is clear that Hart has done some reading and plundering of Martin as well, although Hart’s own reading in the literature of the New Testament and patristic periods reaches far beyond Martin’s in its scope (as well as demonstrating an incredible depth of integration across multiple fields of study). Given this track record from David Bentley Hart, I do not feel quite as pathetic about my own poor attempt here to follow this trail and to mine the riches of Dale Martin in my own small way as I peer into his insights regarding the world of Paul’s ancient beliefs.

Spiritual Bodies in my Life and in the Work of George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis

This section title is more than a little misleading because I don’t have much experience with spiritual bodies in my own life. As a baptised and chrismated member of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, I consider myself to be a member of Christ’s body and to eat and drink Christ’s body and blood which is truely and spiritually present in the bread and wine of the eucharist. However, Paul’s famous description of his own experience with his “old man” fits mine as well: my old man hardly acknowledges my new man. Unlike Paul (who could speak of being brought through multiple heavens to witness things of which he was forbidden to speak), I have almost no knowledge or experience of my spiritual body (in so far as it is currently developed), and I expect that this is why I do not see, converse or commune to any remarkable degree with the spiritual bodies of those around me (human or otherwise).

Coming at this from another direction, however, I have started to know a little something of spiritual life. Paul’s reasoning in many passages makes it clear that heavy material realities (such as flesh or earth) are our blessed means of receiving the spiritual realities that they communicate (as the bread and wine are necessary for me to receive Christ’s body and blood). More recent sacramental theologians such as Alexander Schmemann have expressed this as the bread of the eucharist or the water of baptism being “revealed” as what all bread or all water actually are as gifts from God out of the endless bounty of God’s own Being for our life and benefit. (Hart’s work, of course, is filled with such language and insight as well, although Martin would not be other than in so far as he is expounding Paul’s thought.) It is at this level—of simple experiences of God’s grace carried by those most tangible realities of this world—that I am able to perceive in my current condition. If you are interested, here is something personal that I have written that does share one very modest example of this.

This concept—of the spiritual hidden within the lower elements and making them present to us and allowing participation without the full ability to perceive—may be slightly easier for us modern people to grasp than any concept of spirit as matter. Still it is potentially in line with the idea of spirit or mind as the most substantial of elements that push and direct the heavier and less substantial stuff of earth or flesh from within. Regardless, it is critical to grasp this internality and hiddenness that characterizes the most substantial realities. In this concept, we have the truth that holds together the ideas of the kingdom of God as both within us and above us. All things contain internal depths that touch the mystery of Being itself and therefore all things throughout the cosmos can be said to circle around the throne of God. In this sense, the heaven and the stars themselves—properly or fully apprehended within the microcosm of each human heart—are not distant or high above our heads as much as they are deep within our hearts. (Regarding this idea of internality, Naming the Powers by Walter Wink has some thoughtful points to offer, see my review of Wink’s book here.)

At this point, however, I’m wandering far out of my depths and I should turn back to some real help. In summary, I have next to nothing to offer from my own experience of angelic or glorified bodies other than some growing sense of my own current poverty and need (which truly is a rich gift and lesson). Therefore, in a final consideration of how to find our place within the reality of the world that Paul apprehended, I will point briefly toward two more recent masters.

Any such attempt to return to Paul, however, should acknowledge the gap that has formed between our thinking and his for many centuries. Even going back as far as Aquinas, we see that he taught about fully incorporeal angels as if they were a given when in fact, that was far from what Paul believed. In the Hellenistic world of the New Testament, angels certainly had bodies just as stars had bodies. C.S. Lewis did not get the idea for Ramandu (the star who is the father of Prince Caspian’s queen) out of nowhere, and Origen was far from alone in writing extensively about the life of stars (see Origen and the Life of the Stars: A History of an Idea by lan Scott (Oxford Early Christian Studies, 1994).

Like a good many American Evangelical boys, I had read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis more than once before college. So I knew the glorious image well from an early age of those vivid bodies striding down from the high country of the heavenly foothills toward the passengers who had just disembarked from their terrestrial bus. These newly-arrived earthlings were so feeble that their feet did not even disturb the dew upon the grass. They could not lift a beech-leaf or pluck a daisy without losing most of the skin off their hands in the effort. Lewis finally calls them “man-shaped stains on the brightness of that air.” Meanwhile, here is how Lewis describes the citizens of heaven as they come to welcome the passengers from earth:

Mile after mile they drew nearer. The earth shook under their tread as their strong feet sank into the wet turf. A tiny haze and a sweet smell went up where they had crushed the grass and scattered the dew. Some were naked, some robed. But the naked ones did not seem less adorned, and the robes did not disguise in those who wore them the massive grandeur of muscle and the radian smoothness of flesh. …They came on steadily. I did not entirely like it. Two of the ghosts screamed and ran for the bus. The rest of us huddled closer to one another.

This contrast between earthly and heavenly bodies is exactly what David Bentley Hart expounded in his article “The Spiritual Was More Substantial Than the Material for the Ancients.” Just as Lewis does in this story, Hart’s title challenges our modern way of equating material with substantial and spiritual with insubstantial. In trying to explain how ancients understood the relationships between the words matter, body, soul and spirit, Hart says: “Neither ‘spirit’ nor ‘soul’ was anything quite like a Cartesian ‘mental substance.’ Each, no less than ‘flesh and blood,’ was thought of as a kind of element.” Hart concludes that “spirit was something subtler but also stronger, more vital, more glorious than the worldly elements.” In further pointing out what was thought about creatures with purely spiritual bodies, Hart notes “that angels had actually sired children” within the stories most current at the time of Jesus and Paul and that “there really appears to have been nothing similar to the fully incorporeal angels of later scholastic tradition.” [Although many older Christian sources describe angels as incorporeal, John of Damascus says that “in reality only the Deity is immaterial and incorporeal.” See this passage from his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith (book II, chapter 3, “Concerning angels”).] C.S. Lewis loved these same ancient categories of understanding reality, and his description of the citizens of heaven within The Great Divorce clearly also sought to demonstrate the substantiality of spiritual bodies. There are many other examples from Lewis, but perhaps the most striking is from Till We Have Faces. Here is one example:

She was the old Psyche still; a thousand times more her very self than she had been before the Offering. For all that had then but flashed out in a glance or a gesture, all that one meant most when one spoke her name, was now wholly present, not to be gathered up from hints nor in shreds, not some of it in one moment and some in another. Goddess? I had never seen a real woman before.

Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature has a passage by C.S. Lewis that attempts to sketch the whole of the cosmic picture:

In every sphere there is a rational creature called an Intelligence which is compelled to move, and therefore to keep his sphere moving, by his incessant desire for God. …The motions of the universe are to be conceived not as those of a machine or even an army, but rather as a dance, a festival, a symphony, a ritual, a carnival, or all these in one. They are the unimpeded movement of the most perfect impulse towards the most perfect object.

Both Hart and Lewis take much from Plato. While Plato and his later followers are often accused of promoting a dualistic system that exalts the spirit or soul at the expense of the body, what Hart and Lewis maintain is that spirits have bodies too and that these bodies are fully present within and expressive of everything within our current bodies of flesh—but only at their most substantive and potent when able to be encountered directly.

Lewis, or course, was a devout student of George MacDonald who also provides many examples of stories and descriptive passages that sought to express this interior and participatory nature of reality. His story Lilith contains some of the most fully developed of these passages:

A wondrous change had passed upon the world—or was it not rather that a change more marvellous had taken place in us? Without light enough in the sky or the air to reveal anything, every heather-bush, every small shrub, every blade of grass was perfectly visible—either by light that went out from it, as fire from the bush Moses saw in the desert, or by light that went out of our eyes. Nothing cast a shadow; all things interchanged a little light. Every growing thing showed me, by its shape and colour, its indwelling idea—the informing thought, that is, which was its being, and sent it out. My bare feet seemed to love every plant they trod upon. The world and my being, its life and mine, were one. The microcosm and macrocosm were at length atoned, at length in harmony! I lived in everything; everything entered and lived in me. To be aware of a thing, was to know its life at once and mine, to know whence we came, and where we were at home—was to know that we are all what we are, because Another is what he is! Sense after sense, hitherto asleep, awoke in me—sense after sense indescribable, because no correspondent words, no likenesses or imaginations exist, wherewithal to describe them. Full indeed—yet ever expanding, ever making room to receive—was the conscious being where things kept entering by so many open doors! When a little breeze brushing a bush of heather set its purple bells a ringing, I was myself in the joy of the bells, myself in the joy of the breeze to which responded their sweet TIN-TINNING, myself in the joy of the sense, and of the soul that received all the joys together. To everything glad I lent the hall of my being wherein to revel. I was a peaceful ocean upon which the ground-swell of a living joy was continually lifting new waves; yet was the joy ever the same joy, the eternal joy, with tens of thousands of changing forms. Life was a cosmic holiday.

…I walked on the new earth, under the new heaven, and found them the same as the old, save that now they opened their minds to me, and I saw into them. Now, the soul of everything I met came out to greet me and make friends with me, telling me we came from the same, and meant the same. I was going to him, they said, with whom they always were, and whom they always meant; they were, they said, lightnings that took shape as they flashed from him to his. The dark rocks drank like sponges the rays that showered upon them; the great world soaked up the light, and sent out the living. Two joy-fires were Lona and I. Earth breathed heavenward her sweet-savoured smoke; we breathed homeward our longing desires. For thanksgiving, our very consciousness was that.

Why Moderns Can’t See What is Most Real

As we progress today in so many exciting ways (across impressive fields of study such as economics, medicine and technology), I believe that we are actually more and more deaf and blind to our world, to each other and to critical realities within our own hearts. I suspect these regressions because of things that I have observed in my cross-cultural experiences (growing up trilingual overseas for my entire childhood as well as some time spent in other countries at several points in my adulthood), my formal studies in history (with both undergraduate and graduate degrees) and my teaching of ancient literature to a wide range of contemporary American young people over several years. While my concerns are based on my observations, I am not primarily concerned about the blindness of others. It is my own blindness that is my chief concern. For myself or others, however, I am not thinking of abilities that can be regained easily (or even at all) by any one person. These are profound and collective blindness that have been deepening over many generations. Among other problems, we’ve lost any conceptual or experiential categories with which to recognize or think about the things that we can’t see.
So what am I talking about exactly? One fun example of what I suspect is expressed by C.S. Lewis in this letter to Arthur Greeves (from June 22, 1930):

Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when a family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the woods – they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air & later corn, and later still bread, really was in them.

We of course who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours.

David Bentley Hart has made similar points in many places with many different words. Here is just one of many examples (from Atheist Delusions):

I know three African priests—one Ugandan and two Nigerian—who are immensely educated and sophisticated scholars (linguists, philosophers, and historians all) and who are also unshakably convinced that miracles, magic, and spiritual war- fare are manifestly real aspects of daily life, of which they themselves have had direct and incontrovertible experience on a number of occasions. All three are, of course, creatures of their cultures, no less than we are of ours; but I am not disposed to believe that their cultures are somehow more primitive or unreasoning than ours. It is true they come from nations that enjoy nothing like our economic and technological advantages; but, since these advantages are as likely to distract us from reality as to grant us any special insight into it, that fact scarcely rises to the level of irrelevance. Truth be told, there is no remotely plausible reason—apart from a preference for our own presuppositions over those of other peoples—why the convictions and experiences of an African polyglot and philosopher, whose pastoral and social labors oblige him to be engaged immediately in the concrete realities of hundreds of lives, should command less rational assent from us than the small, unproven, doctrinaire certitudes of persons who spend their lives in supermarkets and before television screens and immured in the sterile, hallucinatory seclusion of their private studies.

Finally, turning to a more mundane illustration, consider carefully how Wendel Berry describes, Nick, an older man who worked for his father on their Kentucky farm and who Wendel Berry loved and imitated throughout his childhood. In Berry’s description (from The Hidden Wound), Nick knew the world in a life-long and constant way that an Emerson, Thoreau or Dillard could only dreamed about:

He was a man rich in pleasures. They were not large pleasures, they cost little or nothing, often they could not be anticipated, and yet they surrounded him. …They were pleasures to which a man had to be acutely and intricately attentive, or he could not have them at all.

With a similar affection and simplicity, Berry describes Aunt Georgie, an old woman who lived with Nick and who also cared for Berry through much of his childhood—telling him many wild and terrible stories from a forgotten oral tradition that mixed Christian scriptures with a variety of folklore. Berry describes what Aunt Georgie taught him:

I wanted desperately to share the smug assumptions of my race and class and time that all questions have answers, all problems solutions, all sad stories happy endings. It was good that I should have been tried, that I should have had to contend with Aunt Georgie’s unshakable—and accurate—view that life is perilous, surrounded by mystery, acted upon by powerful forces unknown to us. Much as she troubled me and disturbed my sleep, I cannot regret that she told me, bluntly as it needs to be told, that men and events come to strange and painful ends, not foreseen. …And no doubt because of this very darkness of cosmic horror in her mind, everything in the world that she touched became luminous with its own life. She was always showing you something: a plant, a bloom, a tomato, an egg, an herb, a sprig of spring greens. Suddenly you saw it as she saw it—vivid, useful, free of all the chances against it, a blessing—and it entered shadowless into your mind. I still keep the deepest sense of delight in the memory of the world’s good things held out to me in her black crooked floriferous hands.

My point with all of this is simply that Paul had more in common with the daily experiences of Aunt Georgie than with my own. While humans have never enjoyed a golden age of “spiritual awareness,” I do think that we have lost ground. I’d identify three fundamental reasons for this:

  1. Our loss of local oral culture and folk traditions (see Ancient Futures by Helena Norberg-Hodge for example)
  2. Our loss of intergenerational connection to place (see Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane for example)
  3. Our loss of contemplative habits (see Leisure: the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper for example)

Any statistical analysis of such alleged losses would of course involve a complex task of definition and consideration of variables (not to mention the actual data collection). If the losses could be quantified, assessing the historical reasons for such losses would be even more complex. For my part, I suspect the rise of the nation state as this process was accelerated by the Protestant Reformation. Hope in the power of the state to deliver on the dreams of the Enlightenment have led to many powerful, idealistic and extraordinarily lethal revolutions and conquests. David Bentley Hart calls modernism a “Christian heresy” because it fed on the ideas and assumptions made possible by Christianity but applied them in idealistic and deadly ways. Nations states have also provided the legal framework for capitalism and corporatism to establish the powerful and global consumer economy of today that thrives on short-lived novelties in media, entertainment and time-saving tools as well as the even more potent and hidden mechanics of the attention economy (see Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy by James Williams for example). If you’re interested, I’ve written a little more about these things in two pieces at the Front Porch Republic: Building Folklore Wealth and Reading Reality (and Watching for Bric-à-Brac on Our Windowsill).

In my understanding, human history does not evidence fundamental progressions or regressions but rather many long examples of both on multiple scales. I’m not advocating either a return to any “glorious past” or any fear of some “doomsday predictions.” However, in so far as we each are able, I’m advocating a pursuit of the freedom to connect back to local communities and places with some stability across generations (recognizing our existence within social bodies as Martin called this concept within Paul’s thought) and also to slow down so that our lives might be able to enjoy more oral traditions and contemplative habits. These pursuits can provide some way back, I believe, to whatever level of awareness this lifetime might have to offer with regard to what is real and what we are made to enjoy as humans.

Further Reading

  • Lilith by George MacDonald is a profound fantasy novel by an author who deeply influenced C.S. Lewis.
  • Till We Have Faces and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.
  • The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis includes his famous point: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”
  • The Discarded Image by C. S. Lewis is among the best introductions to ancient cosmology that I have read—especially the chapters on THE HEAVENS, THE LONGAEVI, and EARTH AND HER INHABITANTS.
  • Naming the Powers by Walter Wink. (I first heard of this book from Fr. Stephen Freeman who recommended it when he commented here during a conversation about some of Hart’s ideas regarding the Powers in Paul. I linked above to a review of it that I posted on my blog.)
  • The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible by Michael Heiser. This scholar takes Christian orthodoxy and scriptures seriously while expounding fully and rigorously on this topic. This book is much stronger in the Old Testament world than in the New Testament (or patristic) world. As an American evangelical, this author also has some introductory comments placing historic creeds at odds with scripture while proclaiming scriptural inerrancy.
  • Origen and the Life of the Stars: A History of an Idea by lan Scott (Oxford Early Christian Studies, 1994).
  • “When Did Angels Become Demons?” by Dale Basil Martin in Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 129, No. 4 (WINTER 2010), pp. 657-677 (21 pages). This journal article gives a lot of technical information about the various names given to various types of creatures in Hebrew and how these various creatures names were translated into Greek by Jewish scholars (providing the context of the thought world in which the New Testament was written) and then eventually developed into the later Christian cosmology that tended to place all such creatures into just two categories of angels and demons (as fallen angels).
  • The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God by Margaret Barker is more speculative (and unorthodox in several basic ways). Several of her books have fairly sensational titles, but she is widely recommended as a scholar of ancient Israelite religion.
  • Niels Peter Lemche, Mark S. Smith and Nahum Sarna (commentaries on Genesis and Exodus) are other scholars of Israel’s history that has been recommended to me but that I have not yet been able to read at all.

Transfiguration_by_Feofan_Grek_from_Spaso-Preobrazhensky_Cathedral_in_Pereslavl-Zalessky_(15th_c,_Tretyakov_gallery)

“Transfiguration” (traditional icon) by Feofan Grek from Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Pereslavl-Zalessky, 15th c., Tretyakov gallery.

because the end is not known

From Origen’s Commentary on Romans volume 2:

In the Scriptures “eternity” is sometimes recorded because the end is not known, but sometimes because the time period designated does not have an end in the present age, though it does end in the future.

The Greek word for “eternity” here (used by Septuagint in Exodus 21:6 and Eccl. 1:4) is αἰῶνα.

reading books is good but possessing nothing is more than anything

Icon of St. Macarius the Great with a cherub. (The one written more recently is in higher resolution and from this blog.)

Saint Macarius, commemorated today, has many sayings collected. Here is one that should be a warning to me:

Theodore, surnamed Pherme, had three good books. He went to Macarius, and said, ‘I have three good books, and I am helped by reading them. Other monks also want to read them, and they are helped by them. Tell me what to do.’ Macarius replied, ‘Reading books is good, but possessing nothing is more than anything.’ When he heard this, he went and sold the books, and gave the money to the poor.

And I’ve share this one before on this blog (from The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, 15.32):

Within the heart are unfathomable depths. …It is but a small vessel: and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the Apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there.

Finally, here is a story told of him:

Once, Saint Macarius was walking and saw a skull lying upon the ground. He asked, “Who are you?” The skull answered, “I was a chief priest of the pagans. When you, Abba, pray for those in hell, we receive some mitigation.”

The monk asked, “What are these torments?”

“We are sitting in a great fire,” replied the skull, “and we do not see one another. When you pray, we begin to see each other somewhat, and this affords us some comfort.”

Having heard such words, the saint began to weep and asked, “Are there still more fiercesome torments?”

The skull answered, “Down below us are those who knew the Name of God, but spurned Him and did not keep His commandments. They endure even more grievous torments.”

This story recognizes our current suffering as well as the love of Jesus Christ in his saints. May we weep with Macarius. Lord, have mercy. And Saint Macarius, pray for us.

this image of Jesus made a contribution to the formulation of the founding principals and secular values of modern political philosophy

From Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (chapter 11) by Jaroslav Pelikan:

This controversy over poverty [following the life of Saint Francis] had some unlooked-for political consequences. Nothing would seem to be more otherworldly and apocalyptical, indeed downright idealistic, than the doctrine that because Christ, Mary and the apostles had practiced total poverty it was incumbent on the church to obey their example and to abstain from owning anything. Yet by one of those curious ironies with which history (and perhaps especially the history of the church) is fraught, this otherworldly position formed an alliance with various radical secularists of the fourteenth century who were asserting the authority of the state over against that of the church. The eminent Franciscan theologian and philosopher, William of Ockham, attacked Pope John XXII for modifying the requirements of the Rule and Testament of Francis on poverty. During the ensuing conflict, Ockham found political asylum at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis of Bavaria, who was engaged in a struggle with the papacy over the relative prerogatives of church and state. Taking over some of Ockham’s arguments and adapting them in a manner that was in fact quite un-Franciscan and that Ockham—as a devoted churchman and, so he insisted, an orthodox Catholic had not intended—the emperor and his supporters cast themselves in the role of liberators of the true church from the burdens of property and power. In the process then, this image of Jesus made a contribution to the formulation of the founding principals and secular values of modern political philosophy. This was a long distance indeed from the Francis of the stigmata and his quest for the simplicity of the life set forth in the Gospels.

the goal of the cosmos

As the goal of the cosmos, the Logos represented the hope that even the devil could finally be restored to wholeness in the restitution of all things—apokatastasis ton panton. And with the reformation of the world, humanity also shall be changed from the transient and the earthly to the incorruptible and the eternal. …All of these metaphysical constructs of fourth century Christian philosophers about the preexistent Word and Logos were supposed to find their religious and moral focus and even their intellectual justification in the historical figure of Jesus in the Gospels, in the humble word—sermo humilis—and in the glory of his passion on the cross.

From Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (chapter 5) by Jaroslav Pelikan (distinguished Yale historian and convert to Orthodoxy).

it is precisely and solely this full community of persons throughout time that God has elected as his image

From That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation by David Bentley Hart:

In his great treatise On the Making of Humanity, Gregory reads Genesis 1:26–7—the first account of the creation of the race, where humanity is described as being made “in God’s image”—as referring not to the making of Adam as such, but to the conception within the eternal divine counsels of this full community of all of humanity: the whole of the race, comprehended by God’s “foresight” as “in a single body,” which only in its totality truly reflects the divine likeness and the divine beauty. As for the two individuals Adam and Eve, whose making is described in the second creation narrative, they may have been superlatively endowed with the gifts of grace at their origin, but they were themselves still merely the first members of that concrete community that only as a whole can truly reflect the glory of its creator. For now, it is only in the purity of the divine wisdom that this human totality subsists “altogether” (ἀθρόως, athroōs) in its own fullness. It will emerge into historical actuality, in the concrete fullness of its beauty, only at the end of a long temporal “unfolding” or “succession” (ἀκολουθία, akolouthia). Only then, when time and times are done, will a truly redeemed humanity, one that has passed beyond all ages, be recapitulated in Christ. Only then also, in the ultimate solidarity of all humankind, will a being made in the image and likeness of God have truly been created: “Thus ‘Humanity according to the image’ came into being,” writes Gregory, “the entire nature [or race], the Godlike thing. And what thus came into being was, through omnipotent wisdom, not part of the whole, but the entire plenitude of the nature altogether.” It is precisely and solely this full community of persons throughout time that God has elected as his image, truth, glory, and delight. And God will bring this good creation he desires to pass in spite of sin, both within human history and yet over against it.

…For Gregory, moreover, this human totality belongs to Christ from eternity, and can never be alienated from him. According to On the Making of Humanity, that eternal Human Being who lives in God’s counsels was from the first fashioned after the beauty of the Father’s eternal Logos, the eternal Son, and was made for no other end than to become the living body of Christ, who is its only head. It is thus very much the case that, for Gregory, the whole drama of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection was undertaken so that the eternal Son might reclaim those who are his own—which is to say, everyone. By himself entering into the plenitude of humanity as a single man among other men and women, and in thereby assuming humanity’s creaturely finitude and history as his own, Christ reoriented humanity again toward its true end; and, because the human totality is a living unity, the incarnation of the Logos is of effect for the whole. In a short commentary on the language of the eschatological “subordination” of the Son to the Father in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Gregory even speaks of Christ as having assumed not just human nature in the abstract, but the whole plērōma, which means that his glory has entered into all that is human. Nor could it be otherwise. Such is the indivisible solidarity of humanity, he argues, that the entire body must ultimately be in unity with its head, whether that be the first or the last Adam. Hence Christ’s obedience to the Father even unto death will be made complete only eschatologically, when the whole race, gathered together in him, will be yielded up as one body to the Father, in the Son’s gift of subjection, and God will be all in all. At Easter, Christ’s resurrection inaugurated an akolouthia of resurrection, so to speak, in the one body of the race, an unfolding that cannot now cease (given the unity of human nature) until the last residue of sin—the last shadow of death—has vanished. Gregory finds this confirmed also, according to one of his early treatises (a “Refutation” of the teachings of the theologian Eunomius), in John 20:17: When Christ, says Gregory, goes to his God and Father, to the God and Father of his disciples, he presents all of humanity to God in himself. In his On the Soul and Resurrection, moreover, Gregory reports the teaching of his sister Makrina that, when this is accomplished, all divisions will at last fall away, and there will no longer be any separation between those who dwell within the Temple precincts and those who have been kept outside, for every barrier of sin separating human beings from the mysteries within the veil of the sanctuary will have been torn down; and then there will be a universal feast around God in which no rational creature will be deprived of full participation, and all those who were once excluded on account of sin will enter into the company of the blessed. We see here the exquisite symmetry in Gregory’s reading of scripture’s narrative of creation and redemption, and in his understanding of eternity’s perfect embrace of history: just as the true first creation of humanity (Genesis 1:26–27) was the eternal conception in the divine counsels of the whole race united to him while the second (Genesis 2:7) was the inauguration of a history wholly dependent upon that eternal decree, so the culmination of history (1 Corinthians 15:23) will at the last be, as it were, succeeded by and taken up into this original eternity in its eschatological realization (1 Corinthians 15:24), and the will of God will be perfectly accomplished in the everlasting body of Christ.

For Gregory, then, there can be no true human unity, nor even any perfect unity between God and humanity, except in terms of the concrete solidarity of all persons in that complete community that is, alone, the true image of God. God shall be all in all, argues Gregory in a treatise on infants who die prematurely, not simply by comprising humanity in himself in the abstract, as the universal ideal that he redeems in a few select souls, but by joining each particular person, each unique inflection of the plērōma’s beauty, to himself. Even so, Christ’s assumption and final recapitulation of the human cannot simply be imposed upon the race as a whole, but must effect the conversion of each soul within itself, so that room is truly made for God “in all”; salvation by union with Christ must unfold within human freedom, and so within our capacity to venture away. For Gregory, of course, good classical Christian metaphysician that he was, evil and sin are always accidental conditions of human nature, never intrinsic qualities; all evil is a privation of an original goodness, and so the sinfulness that separates rational creatures from God is only a disease corrupting and disabling the will, robbing it of its true rational freedom, and thus is a disorder that must ultimately be purged from human nature in its entirety, even if needs be by hell. As Gregory argues in On the Making of Humanity, evil is inherently finite—in fact, in a sense, is pure finitude, pure limit—and so builds only toward an ending; evil is a tale that can have only an immanent conclusion; and, in the light of God’s infinity, its proper end will be shown to be nothing but its own disappearance. Once it has been exhausted, when every shadow of wickedness—all chaos, duplicity, and violence—has been outstripped by the infinity of God’s splendor, beauty, radiance, and delight, God’s glory will shine in each creature like the sun in an immaculate mirror, and each soul—born into the freedom of God’s image—will turn of its own nature toward divine love. There is no other place, no other liberty; at the last, to the inevitable God humanity is bound by its freedom. And each person, as God elects him or her from before the ages, is indispensable, for the humanity God eternally wills could never come to fruition in the absence of any member of that body, any facet of that beauty. Apart from the one who is lost, humanity as God wills it could never be complete, nor even exist as the creature fashioned after the divine image; the loss of even one would leave the body of the Logos incomplete, and God’s purpose in creation unaccomplished.

Really, we should probably already know all of this—not for theological reasons, but simply from a sober consideration of any truly coherent account of what it means to be a person. After all, it would be possible for us to be saved as individuals only if it were possible for us to be persons as individuals; and we know we cannot be. And this, in itself, creates any number of problems for the majority view of heaven and hell. I am not even sure that it is really possible to distinguish a single soul in isolation as either saint or sinner in any absolute sense, inasmuch as we are all bound in disobedience (as the Apostle says) precisely by being bound to one another in the sheer contingency of our shared brokenness, and the brokenness of our world, and our responsibility one for another. Consequently, I cannot even say where—at what extremity of pious despair—I could possibly draw a line of demarcation between tolerable and intolerable tales of eternal damnation. Some stories, of course, are obviously too depraved to be credited and may be rejected out of hand: A child who, for instance, is born one day in poverty, close to the sun in lonely lands, suffers from some horrible and quite incurable congenital disease, dies in agony, unbaptized, and then—on some accounts, consecrated by theological tradition—descends to perpetual torment as the just penalty for a guilt inherited from a distant ancestor, or as an epitome of divine sovereignty in election and dereliction, or whatever. Now most of us will recognize this to be a degenerate parody of the gospel, so repugnant to both reason and conscience that—even were it per impossibile true—it would be morally indefensible to believe it. But, then, under what conditions precisely, and at what juncture, does the language of eternal damnation really cease to be scandalous? For me, it never does, and for very simple reasons. Let us presume that that child who dies before reaching the font does not in fact descend into hell, and is not even conveniently wafted away on pearl-pale clouds of divine tenderness into the perfumed limbo of unbaptized babes, but instead (as Gregory of Nyssa believed such a child would do) ascends to eternal bliss, there to grow forever into a deeper communion with God. This is a much cheerier picture of things, I think we can all agree. But let us not stop there. Let us go on to imagine also another child born on the same day, this one in perfect health, who grows into a man of monstrous temperament, cruel, selfish, even murderous, and who eventually dies unrepentant and thereupon descends to an endless hell. Well, no doubt this brute chose to become what he became, to the extent that he was able to do so, conscious of the choices he was making; so maybe he has received no more than he deserves. And yet, even then, I cannot quite forget, or consider it utterly irrelevant, that he was born into a world so thoroughly ruined that a child can be born one day in poverty, suffer from some horrible and incurable congenital disease, die in agony … What precisely did that wicked man, then, ever really know of the Good? And how clearly, and with what rational power over his own will? Certainly he did not know everything, at least not with perfect clarity, nor did he enjoy complete rational discretion or power over his own deeds and desires. Not even a god would be capable of that. This thought alone is enough to convince me of the sheer moral squalor of the traditional doctrine.

Yet this still is not my principal point. I want to say something far more radical, something that I touched upon lightly in my First Meditation above. I want to say that there is no way in which persons can be saved as persons except in and with all other persons. This may seem an exorbitant claim, but I regard it as no more than an acknowledgment of certain obvious truths about the fragility, dependency, and exigency of all that makes us who and what we are.

God our Savior, Who Desires all People to be Saved

The Crucifixion, tempera, Andreas Pavias (active in Crete during the second half of the 15th century).

At a recent book club discussion (on The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, to give only the subtitle), a gentle Christian lady seated to my left asked me if the author David Bentley Hart could still be considered a Christian after his most recent book—That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation (Yale UP, 2019). I told her that I did not have the qualifications or authority to answer that question but that I really appreciated the book. My godfather—a third generation Orthodox priest of Eastern European ancestry—had gone to the bathroom just before this question, and I directed it to him a little later in the course of the conversation. He joked that he had stepped out at just the right time before answering that he had not read the book but that Hart had reportedly gone too far in saying that his thesis was the only possible correct understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Just before our book club meeting, my godfather told me that he had never imagined reading a David Bentley Hart book because of this author’s reputation as snarky and polarizing. However, the book club in his church selected The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, and he had thoroughly appreciated it. When talking about the passage on Peter’s tears and how Christ gave a face to the faceless, my godfather shed his own tears. He was also amazed that anyone had been able to give him compassion for Julian the Apostate.

As our conversation touched on the topic of universal salvation, I reminded my godfather of how he had once reassured me that I was far too insignificant to ever be at serious risk of becoming a heretic. He laughed and said that he belongs in the same category. To be a heretic, you must be a false teacher who needs to be formally confronted by a church authority and who then refuses to be corrected. Certainly, I am concerned to understand and love all that the church teaches to the best of my ability, but I am unlikely to ever have the responsibility of being a teacher within the church who would ever be worth anyone’s time to actually bring before the church for formal correction.

So if I am not qualified to say anything about the position taken by David Bentley Hart in That All Shall Be Saved, why am I writing this review? Well, honestly, it is mostly because I have three other little writing ideas waiting patiently to get out into words, and this content is one of two little clusters of ideas that feel like they are sitting in the way. So I’m weak, and I’m taking the easy way around. Writing always helps me to understand my own thoughts a little better and to continue on with the next ponderings. Finally, there is the excuse that a few other people (besides the kind lady beside me in the book club discussion) have asked me about this book. For these various reasons, I’m offering my poor thoughts freely to anyone who wants to know.

I’ve read the book twice and also read about a dozen reviews of it, and here is the short answer regarding what I think: being intellectually persuaded that all will be saved has no value compared to learning actually to long for the salvation of all people—learning to live and to pray like I really want it. In his letter to Timothy, Paul describes “God our Savior” as one who “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2:3-4). Looking at the whole of what Jesus Christ reveals to us, it seems clear that to be a person after God’s own heart, we should learn to desire the salvation of all people. This is widely and clearly taught in my own Orthodox Christian tradition. David Bentley Hart goes far beyond this, however, and argues that the only coherent understanding of the gospel revealed by Jesus Christ includes the eventual restoration of all things to a right relationship with the Creator (a concept known among the Greek fathers as apocatastasis, coming from Acts 3:21). Hart follows a tightly constructed philosophical case that he claims, repeatedly, to be irrefutable (within the book as well as in essays responding to critics of his book). This philosophical case involves a close examination of what we can coherently mean by speaking of God as loving, good and omnipotent. His case includes a number of biblical reasons (flowing out of his recent translation of the entire New Testament) as well as historical and theological reasons. However, these biblical and theological points are all secondary to his main metaphysical arguments.

Historically, Hart describes a church in which the idea of apocatastasis was the majority position, at least among clergy in the Greek-speaking east, for almost the first 500 years:

The great fourth-century church father Basil of Caesarea (c. 329–379) once observed that, in his time, a large majority of his fellow Christians (at least, in the Greek-speaking Eastern Christian world that he knew) believed that hell was not everlasting, and that all in the end would attain salvation. This may have been hyperbole on his part, but then again it may very well not have been; and, even if he was exaggerating, he could not have been exaggerating very much, as otherwise the remark would have sounded silly to his contemporaries, whereas he stated the matter as something almost banal in its obviousness. Over time, of course, in large part as a result of certain obvious institutional imperatives, the voices of the universalists would dwindle away to little more than a secretive whisper at the margins of the faith.

Theologically, Hart leans most heavily on Gregory of Nyssa (Basil’s younger brother) who defended apocatastasis plainly in several existing texts. Follow this link for an extended quotation in which Hart moves between multiple texts to unpack Gregory’s theology of our salvation as only being possible as a whole human race because the image of God is only revealed fully in all of humanity as one body that is connected to Jesus Christ as our head.

In his scriptural arguments, Hart only touches upon a few basic points regarding key terms such as age, eternity and hell as these are used by various biblical authors. He also outlines a scriptural understanding of human history as being contained within two envelopes or horizons, both at its beginning and at its end. God’s restoration of all things takes place, in some ultimate sense, beyond the confines of our current temporal framework. Our experiences within time now as well as after death (which Hart leaves mostly unaddressed as essentially unknown) are certainly of eternal significance and involve both deep suffering (a real hell in this life and the next) as well as the potential for profound joy.

This raises a critical point of contrast between Hart’s universalism and that of many contemporary universalists. Hart is not presenting a cheerful or positive picture of our condition now or after our deaths. It is clear that Hart considers our desires and longings to stay with us as we go to encounter the fiery love of our Creator beyond this life, and it is also clear that it will be a terrible thing as most of us find that our desires are not for our God in whom we are made to find our joy. Beyond these differences, Brad Jersak offers this helpful summary of the distinctions from “pop universalism” in this blog post:

The universalism Hart advocates is a specific subset that some call patristic universalism. Unlike pop universalism, Hart retains all the key vital features found in two of my favorite saints, St. Gregory of Nyssa (which is also to say, St. Macrina the Younger) and George MacDonald. Hart might describe these elements differently, but in general, they expand on the tenet proffered earlier:

    • Jesus Christ alone is the author and finisher of our salvation.
    • The Incarnation of Christ, climaxing in his Passion (death, descensus and resurrection) is the fundamental means by which God saves us and restores all things.
    • Sin and death matter greatly, but Christ has already and will ultimately overcome sin (by his freely given forgiveness) and death (by raising up humanity in his resurrection).
    • There will be a final judgment, and although it’s nature, duration and details are held in mystery, the agenda and outcome are revealed as entirely restorative and redemptive.
    • That all sentient beings will ultimately willingly embrace this salvation through the restoration of their natural wills, established in Gethsemane and effected by the beatific vision, when every eye sees him, every knee willingly bows and every tongue joyfully confesses the Lordship of Christ.

[Hart’s] patristic adaptation of the universalist label may work with his fans, but I suspect he’ll confound and confuse both disciples and detractors who assume universalists abandon any the above essentials because that’s exactly what most do. This isn’t Hart’s fault. The problem is with the term and with sloppy readers (if they even bother with reading). If we’re to call Hart a universalist on his own terms, then I recommend always including the patristic modifier and insisting others do so also.

Beyond just this one helpful category of patristic universalism (which might also be called apocatastasis), it is also critical to note that there were several distinct doctrines of apocatastasis described and defended within the first five or six centuries of Christianity.

These differences are essential to understanding the frequently cited point that universalism or apokatastasis was condemned as heresy by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (A.D. 553) and ratified again by the Sixth Ecumenical Council when the the fifteen anti-Origenist anathemas were reviewed and kept in place. Fr. Aidan Kimel’s blog provides an excellent review of the scholarship surrounding these matters. He explains that many scholars consider the fifteen anti-Origenist anathemas to have been added on later without full conciliar authority. Even if they do carry conciliar authority, it is clear that they are condemning a distinct and distorted doctrine of apokatastasis that was developed by disciples of Evagrius Ponticus centuries after Origen or Gregory of Nyssa. In this regard, Fr. Aidan cites Brian E. Daley (Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology):

The denounced theses represent a radicalized Evagrian Christology and cosmology, and a doctrine of apokatastasis that went far beyond the hopes of Origen or Gregory of Nyssa. They envisage not only a spherical, ethereal risen body, but the complete abolition of material reality in the world to come, and the ultimate absorption of all created spirits into an undifferentiated unity with the divine Logos, so that even the humanity and the Kingdom of Christ will come to an end. …E. M. Harding agrees that the views of the sixth-century Origenists were rooted not in Origen himself but in the teachings of Evagrius Ponticus. Augustine Casiday concurs, with an important qualification: just as there are crucial differences between Origen and sixth-century Origenism, so there are crucial differences between Evagrius and sixth-century Evagrianism. [See original blog post for full citations.]

In his recent book on the apokatastasis (as taught by at least one of the Cappadocian Fathers,  Gregory of Nyssa), David Bentley Hart is not advocating any of the later versions that may have been condemned as heresies by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (such as those involving the pre-existence of souls or “the ultimate absorption of all created spirits into an undifferentiated unity with the divine Logos”).

What Hart does do in his book, however, is utterly reject and vigorously condemn the idea that any human would be left in eternal conscious torment by our God. He makes it clear that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is morally despicable to him and rightly condemned in his view as idodic and horrific. Many reviewers have commented on Hart’s harsh language. He has responded that he intentionally reserved his blistering invectives for despicable ideas (that distort and hide who God is) and not for any of the particular people who have taught and defended these ideas over the centuries. Hence, readers will typically find that Hart will argue civilly with Calvin’s thinking (for example) and save his disparagement for Calvinism. This distinction is small comfort to most fellow Christians. It should be noted, however, that Hart does not play favorites at least. A beloved theologian of many people sympathetic to universalism in recent decades is Hans Urs von Balthasar (d. 1988) who made the case that Christians can and should hope for the salvation of all. Hart says that he “has very small patience” with this idea and dismisses anyone who is “timidly groping his way toward some anxious, uncertain, fragile hope.”

This brings me back to my own position on all of this. I’ve appreciated reading and learning. Hart’s case was compelling and will keep me reading and thinking about this at some level for the rest of my life. However, what matters is clearly the love (or the lack of it) within my own heart for God and for my neighbor. Whether or not I am intellectually convinced that my neighbor will be saved is not the most critical issue. In fact, any intellectual confidence on my part could easily become a distraction, an idol or a reason for complacency. Therefore, I prefer to face questions in response. Do I long for my own salvation and the salvation of my neighbor? Do I have the heart of Jesus Christ toward all those who I have come to know, and do I desire more than anything else for them to grow in their love for my Heavenly Father? Do I see the apathy and self-indulgence in my own heart that leaves me cold and suffering even within the warm and loving presence of my Creator? I am not criticizing David Bentley Hart with any of these questions. Right or wrong in all the particulars of his case, Hart is clearly zealous to defend our loving Father as Jesus Christ reveals Him perfectly to us. Moreover, Hart’s calling is obviously different from mine which makes is foolish for me to judge it. At the end of it all, I don’t want to feel compelled to turn over every stone within each part of the arguments or to come to rest upon my intellectual confidence. I want simply to grow in my desires for others to know and enjoy God’s love.

__________________________________________

Note, if you are interested in more about this book, here are three reviews from a variety of positions:

  • Jason Micheli (positive review from December 4, 2019)
  • Michael McClymond (critical review from October 2, 2019)
  • Peter Leithart (critical review from October 2, 2019 and which is followed by a response from Hart that raises many profound exegetical questions about the Old Testament)

Finally, here are two books that Hart and others have recommended in connection to this:

  • Origen: On First Principles by John Behr
  • A Larger Hope?: Universal Salvation from Christian Beginnings to Julian of Norwich (Volume 1 of 2) by Ilaria L. E. Ramble

heirs of a culture that sprang from Peter’s tears

“The Face of the Faceless” (chapter 13 in Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, Yale UP, 2009) by David Bentley Hart is a beautiful chapter in a profound book. Read it if you have not. Here’s an extended excerpt:

All four of the canonical Gospels tell the tale of the apostle Peter’s failure on the very eve of Christ’s crucifixion: Peter’s promise that he would never abandon Christ; Christ’s prediction that Peter would in fact deny him that same night, not once but three times, before the cock’s crow; Peter’s cautious venture into the courtyard of the high priest, after Christ’s arrest in the garden, and his confrontation with others present there who thought they recognized him as one of Christ’s disciples; and the fear that prompted Peter to do at the last just as his master had prophesied. John’s Gospel, in some ways the least tender of the four, leaves the story there; but the three synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—go on to relate that, on hearing the cock announce the break of day, Peter remembered Christ’s words to him earlier in the evening and, seized by grief, went apart to weep bitterly.

To us today, this hardly seems an extraordinary detail of the narrative, however moving we may or may not find it; we would expect Peter to weep, and we certainly would expect any narrator to think the event worth recording. But, in some ways, taken in the context of the age in which the Gospels were written, there may well be no stranger or more remarkable moment in the whole of scripture. What is obvious to us—Peter’s wounded soul, the profundity of his devotion to his teacher, the torment of his guilt, the crushing knowledge that Christ’s imminent death forever foreclosed the possibility of seeking forgiveness for his betrayal—is obvious in very large part because we are the heirs of a culture that, in a sense, sprang from Peter’s tears. To us, this rather small and ordinary narrative detail is unquestionably an ornament of the story, one that ennobles it, proves its gravity, widens its embrace of our common humanity. In this sense, all of us—even unbelievers—are “Christians” in our moral expectations of the world. To the literate classes of late antiquity, however, this tale of Peter weeping would more likely have seemed an aesthetic mistake; for Peter, as a rustic, could not possibly have been a worthy object of a well-bred man’s sympathy, nor could his grief possibly have possessed the sort of tragic dignity necessary to make it worthy of anyone’s notice. At most, the grief of a man of Peter’s class might have had a place in comic literature: the querulous complaints of an indolent slave, the self-pitying expostulations of a witless peon, the anguished laments of a cuckolded taverner, and so on. Of course, in a tragic or epic setting a servant’s tears might have been played as accompaniment to his master’s sorrows, rather like the sympathetic whining of a devoted dog. But, when one compares this scene from the Gospels to the sort of emotional portraiture one finds in great Roman writers, comic or serious, one discovers—as the great literary critic Erich Auerbach noted half a century ago—that it is only in Peter that one sees “the image of man in the highest and deepest and most tragic sense.” 1 Yet Peter remains, for all that, a Galilaean peasant. This is not merely a violation of good taste; it is an act of rebellion.

This is not, obviously, a claim regarding the explicit intent of any of the evangelists. But even Christianity’s most implacable modern critics should be willing to acknowledge that, in these texts and others like them, we see something beginning to emerge from darkness into full visibility, arguably for the first time in our history: the human person as such, invested with an intrinsic and inviolable dignity, and possessed of an infinite value. It would not even be implausible to argue that our very ability to speak of “persons” as we do is a consequence of the revolution in moral sensibility that Christianity brought about. We, after all, employ this word with a splendidly indiscriminate generosity, applying it without hesitation to everyone, regardless of social station, race, or sex; but originally, at least in some of the most crucial contexts, it had a much more limited application. Specifically, in Roman legal usage, one’s person was one’s status before the law, which was certainly not something invariable from one individual to the next. The original and primary meaning of the Latin word persona was “mask,” and as a legal term its use may well have harked back to the wax funerary effigies by which persons of social consequence were represented after their deaths, and which families of rank were allowed to display as icons of their ancestral pedigrees. Thus, by extension, to have a persona was to have a face before the law—which is to say, to be recognized as one possessing rights and privileges before a court, or as being able to give testimony upon the strength of one’s own word, or simply as owning a respectable social identity, of which jurists must be conscious.

For those of the lowest stations, however—slaves, base-born noncitizens and criminals, the utterly destitute, colonized peoples—legal personality did not really exist, or existed in only the most tenuous of forms. Under the best of the pagan emperors, such as Augustus, certain legal protections were extended to slaves; but, of themselves, slaves had no real rights before the law, and no proper means of appeal against their masters. Moreover, their word was of no account. A slave was so entirely devoid of any “personal” dignity that, when called to testify before a duly appointed court, torture might be applied as a matter of course. For the slave was a man or woman non Habens personam: literally, “not having a persona,” or even “not having a face.” Before the law, he or she was not a person in the fullest and most proper sense. Nor did he or she enjoy any greater visibility—any greater countenance, one might say—before society at large. In a sense, the only face proper to a slave, at least as far as the cultural imagination of the ancient world went, was the brutish and grotesquely leering “slave mask” worn by actors on the comic stage: an exquisitely exact manifestation of how anyone who was another’s property was (naturally) seen.

We today have our bigotries, of course; we can hardly claim to have advanced so far as to know nothing of racism, for instance, or of its most violent expressions; it was not so long ago that blackface and the conventions of the minstrel show were as inoffensive to us as the slave mask was to ancient audiences; and certainly there is no such thing as a society without class hierarchies. All we can claim in our defense is that we have names for the social inequities we see or remember; we are, for the most part, aware—at least, those of us who are not incorrigibly stupid or cruel—that they violate the deepest moral principles we would be afraid not to profess; we are conscious also—the great majority of us, at any rate—that they are historical accidents, which do not reflect the inmost essence of reality or the immemorial decrees of the gods or of nature, and therefore can and should be corrected. But this is only because we live in the long twilight of a civilization formed by beliefs that, however obvious or trite they may seem to us, entered ancient society rather like a meteor from a clear sky. What for us is the quiet, persistent, perennial rebuke of conscience within us was, for ancient peoples, an outlandish decree issuing from a realm outside any world they could conceive. Conscience, after all, at least in regard to its particular contents, is to a great extent a cultural artifact, a historical contingency, and all of us today in the West, to some degree or another, have inherited a conscience formed by Christian moral ideals. For this reason, it is all but impossible for us to recover any real sense of the scandal that many pagans naturally felt at the bizarre prodigality with which the early Christians were willing to grant full humanity to persons of every class and condition, and of either sex.

A few modern men, it is true, have been able to induce a similar dismay in themselves, or have at least succeeded in mimicking it. Nietzsche, for instance, did his very best to share the noble pagan’s revulsion at the sordid social sediments the early church continuously dredged up into its basilicas (though, middle-class pastor’s boy that he was, he never became quite as effortlessly expert in patrician disdain as he imagined he had). But to hear that tone of alarm in its richest, purest, and most spontaneous registers one really has to repair to the pagans themselves: to Celsus, or Eunapius of Sardis, or the emperor Julian. What they saw, as they peered down upon the Christian movement from the high, narrow summit of their society, was not the understandable ebullition of long-suppressed human longings but the very order of the cosmos collapsing at its base, drawing everything down into the general ruin and obscene squalor of a common humanity. How else could they interpret the spectacle but as a kind of monstrous impiety and noisomely wicked degeneracy? In his treatise Against the Galilaeans, Julian complained that the Christians had from the earliest days swelled their ranks with the most vicious, disreputable, and contemptible of persons, while offering only baptism as a remedy for their vileness, as if mere water could cleanse the soul. Eunapius turned away with revulsion from the base gods that the earth was now breeding as a result of Christianity’s subversion of good order: men and women of the most deplorable sort, justly tortured, condemned, and executed for their crimes, but glorified after death as martyrs of the faith, their abominable relics venerated in place of the old gods.

The scandal of the pagans, however, was the glory of the church. Vincent of Lérins, in the early fifth century, celebrated the severe moral tutelage of the monasteries in his native Gaul precisely because it was so corrosive of class consciousness: it taught the sons of the aristocracy humility, he said, and shattered in them the habits of pride, vanity, and luxuriance. It is arguable that, during the second century, the legal and social disadvantages of the lower classes under Rome had grown even more onerous than they had been in previous centuries, and that the prejudices of class had become even more pronounced than they had been in the Hellenistic or earlier Roman world. During this same period, however, Christians not only preached but even occasionally realized, something like a real community of souls, transcendent of all natural or social divisions. Not even the most morally admirable of the pagan philosophical schools, Stoicism, succeeded so strikingly in making a spiritual virtue of indifference to social station. The very law of the church was an inversion of “natural” rank: for Christ had promised that the first would be last and the last first. The Di-dascalia, for instance, prescribed that a bishop ought never to interrupt his service to greet a person of high degree who had just entered the church, lest he—the bishop—be seen to be a respecter of persons; but, on seeing a poor man or woman enter the assembly, that same bishop should do everything in his power to make room for the new arrival, even if he himself should have to sit upon the floor to do so. The same text also makes it clear that the early church might often have arranged its congregations into different groups, distinguished by age, sex, marital status, and so on, simply for propriety’s sake, but that social degree was not the standard by which one’s place was assigned among “the brethren.”2 Men of high attainment—literate, accomplished, propertied, and free—had to crowd in among slaves, laborers, and craftsmen, and count it no disgrace.

I do not wish to exaggerate the virtues of the early Christians on this count. Perfection is not to be found in any human institution, and the church has certainly always been that. Even in the early days of the church, certain social distinctions proved far too redoubtable to exterminate; a Christian slaveholder’s Christian slaves were still slaves, even if they were also their master’s brothers in Christ. And, after Constantine, as the church became that most lamentable of things—a pillar of respectable society—it learned all too easily to tolerate many of the injustices it supposedly condemned. The enfranchised church has never been more than half Christian even at the best of times; often enough, it has been much less than that. Neither, however, should we underestimate how extraordinary the religious ethos of the earliest Christians was in regard to social order, or fail to give them credit for the attempts they did make to efface the distinctions in social dignity which had traditionally separated persons of different rank from one another, but which had been (they believed) abolished in Christ. When all is said and done, the pagan critics of the early church were right to see the new faith as an essentially subversive movement. In fact, they may have been somewhat more perspicacious in this regard than the Christians themselves. Christianity may never have been a revolution in the political sense: it was not a convulsive, violent, or intentionally provocative faction that had some “other vision” of political power to recommend; but neither, for that reason, was the change it brought about something merely local, transient, and finite. The Christian vision of reality was nothing less than—to use the words of Nietzsche—a “transvaluation of all values,” a complete revision of the moral and conceptual categories by which human beings were to understand themselves and one another and their places within the world. It was—again to use Nietzsche’s words, but without his sneer—a “slave revolt in morality.” But it was also, as far as the Christians were concerned, a slave revolt “from above,” if such a thing could be imagined; for it had been accomplished by a savior who had, as Paul said in his Epistle to the Philippians, willingly exchanged the “form of God” for the “form of a slave,” and had thereby overthrown the powers that reigned on high.

Perhaps even more striking than the episode of Peter’s tears—at least, in regard to its cultural setting—is the story of Christ before Pilate. …In the great cosmic hierarchy of rational powers—descending from the Highest God down to the lowliest of slaves—Pilate’s is a particularly exalted place, a little nearer to heaven than to earth, and imbued with something of the splendor of the gods. Christ, by contrast, has no natural claim whatsoever upon Pilate’s clemency, nor any chartered rights upon which he might call; simply said, he has no person before the law. One figure in this picture, then, enjoys perfect sway over life and death, while the other no longer belongs even to himself. And the picture’s asymmetry becomes even starker (and perhaps even more absurd) when Jesus is brought before Pilate for the second time, having been scourged, wrapped in a soldier’s cloak, and crowned with thorns. To the ears of any ancient person, Pilate’s question to his prisoner now—“Where do you come from?”—would almost certainly have sounded like a perfectly pertinent, if obviously sardonic, inquiry into Christ’s pedigrees, and a pointed reminder that, in comparison to Pilate, Christ is no one at all. And Pilate’s still more explicit admonition a moment later—“I have power to crucify you”—would have had something of the ring of a rhetorical coup de grâce. Christ’s claim, on the other hand, that Pilate possesses no powers not given him from above would have sounded like only the comical impudence of a lunatic.

…I have to assume, however, that most of us today simply cannot see Christ and Pilate in this way. We come too late in time to think like ancient men and women, and few of us, I hope, would be so childish as to want to. Try though we might, we shall never really be able to see Christ’s broken, humiliated, and doomed humanity as something self-evidently contemptible and ridiculous; we are instead, in a very real sense, destined to see it as encompassing the very mystery of our own humanity: a sublime fragility, at once tragic and magnificent, pitiable and wonderful. Obviously, of course, many of us are quite capable of looking upon the sufferings of others with indifference or even contempt. But what I mean to say is that even the worst of us, raised in the shadow of Christendom, lacks the ability to ignore those sufferings without prior violence to his or her own conscience. We have lost the capacity for innocent callousness. Living as we do in the long aftermath of a revolution so profound that its effects persist in the deepest reaches of our natures, we cannot simply and guilelessly avert our eyes from the abasement of the victim in order to admire the grandeur of his persecutor; and for just this reason we lack any immediate consciousness of the radical inversion of perspective that has occurred in these pages.

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