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 several others who I respect 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. Ramelli

Notes on the Life of Saint Anthony

After just having listened to The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks edited by Benedicta Ward, I recently listened to the Life of Saint Anthony by Saint Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. [This is the text translated by H. Ellershaw: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 4. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.] Saint Augustine was famously drawn to the Christian faith as he read this text (as he recounts in his Confessions). I’ve read the Life of Saint Anthony in full only once before (several years back), and it was far more meaningful this time. I hope to read it again and to write more in reflection upon it with time. Here are some initial notes from this last reading:

  1. Saint Anthony’s life was one of many new beginnings (with several admonitions to begin each day as if just setting out upon the acquisition of virtue). The stages and main events of his life provided examples of multiple types for a wide variety of those who would follow him in later years. For example, these various stages included living together versus in solitude as well as ministering in the desert versus within the city. Another important structure that takes shape is the life of the inner and the outer mountain.
  2. A critical and clarifying distinction is made between passion and desire (with desire being essential to the acquisition of virtue).
  3. Saint Anthony’s most visible public ministry (within a city) was in the direct support of those publicly facing death for the sake of Christ. Later in life, he also visited Alexandria for an extended time to publicly denounce the Arians (and during this visit many in the city were healed and came to the Christian faith).
  4. One brief passage made it clear that the shared life of the monks within the desert provided a beautiful example of the ideal civic life or human community: “So their cells were in the mountains, like filled with holy bands of men who sang psalms, loved reading, fasted, prayed, rejoiced in the hope of things to come, laboured in almsgiving, and preserved love and harmony one with another. And truly it was possible, as it were, to behold a land set by itself, filled with piety and justice. For then there was neither the evil-doer, nor the injured, nor the reproaches of the tax-gatherer: but instead a multitude of ascetics; and the one purpose of them all was to aim at virtue. So that any one beholding the cells again, and seeing such good order among the monks, would lift up his voice and say, ‘How goodly are your dwellings, O Jacob, and your tents, O Israel; as shady glens and as a garden by a river; as tents which the Lord has pitched, and like cedars near waters’ (Numbers 24:5-6).”
  5. One passage claims that there are many types of demons in complex rankings and that these rankings can be studied profitably (although Saint Anthony did not himself feel called to become an expert in such matters).
  6. A major theme is the powerlessness of demons and their fear of being mocked and humiliated for their false displays of power.
  7. One passage made it clear that demons have serious limitations within both space and time. Demons can therefore predict the future only in the same ways as humans who forecast based on what they have already seen. Nonetheless, the demons used these predictions of the future in oracles as a means of deceiving the pagans.
  8. The clear differences between good and evil spirits are given by Saint Anthony in a long list that highlights how good spirits do not push themselves upon people, create distractions or sustain fear (as all evil spirits will try to do).
  9. “And again others such as these met him in the outer mountain and thought to mock him because he had not learned letters. And Antony said to them, ‘What do you say? Which is first, mind or letters? And which is the cause of which — mind of letters or letters of mind.’ And when they answered mind is first and the inventor of letters, Antony said, ‘Whoever, therefore, has a sound mind has not need of letters.’ This answer amazed both the bystanders and the philosophers, and they departed marvelling that they had seen so much understanding in an ignorant man. For his manners were not rough as though he had been reared in the mountain and there grown old, but graceful and polite, and his speech was seasoned with the divine salt, so that no one was envious, but rather all rejoiced over him who visited him.” [This is one of several remarkable exchanges with Greeks, philosophers and learned pagan wise men.]

the direction in which their unmarred fulfillment must lie

J.R.R.Tolkien in his notes on “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth.”

Finrod, however, sees now that, as things were, no created thing or being in Arda, or in all Eä, was powerful enough to counteract or heal Evil: that is to subdue Melkor (in his present person, reduced though that was) and the Evil that he had dissipated and sent out from himself into the very structure of the world.

Only Eru himself could do this. Therefore, since it was unthinkable that Eru would abandon the world to the ultimate triumph and domination of Melkor (which could mean its ruin and reduction to chaos), Eru Himself must at some time come to oppose Melkor. But Eru could not enter wholly into the world and its history, which is, however great, only a finite Drama. He must as Author always remain ‘outside’ the Drama, even though that Drama depends on His design and His will for its beginning and continuance, in every detail and moment. Finrod therefore thinks that He will, when He comes have to be both ‘outside’ and inside and so he glimpses the possibility of complexity or of distinctions in the nature of Eru which nonetheless leaves Him ‘The One’.

Since Finrod had already guessed that the redemptive function was originally, specially assigned to Men, he probably proceeded to the expectation that ‘the coming of Eru’, if it took place, would be specially and primarily concerned with Men: that is to an imaginative guess or vision that Eru would come incarnated in human form. This, however, does not appear in the Athrabeth.

***

We are here dealing with Elvish thought at an early period, when the Eldar were still fully ‘physical’ in bodily form. Much later when the process (already glimpsed by Finrod) called ‘waning’ or ‘fading’ had become more effective, their views of the End of Arda, so far as it affected themselves, must have been modified. But there are few records of any contacts of Elvish and Human thought in such latter days. They eventually became housed, if it can be called that, not in actual visible and tangible hröar, but only in the memory of the fëa of its bodily form and its desire for it and therefore not dependent for mere existence upon the material of Arda.* But they appear to have held, and indeed still to hold, that this desire for the hröa shows that their later (and present) condition is not natural to them, and they remain in estel that Eru will heal it. ‘Not natural’, whether it is due wholly, as they earlier thought, to the weakening of the hröa (derived from the debility introduced by Melkor into the substance of Arda upon which it must feed), or partly to the inevitable working of a dominant fëa upon a material hröa through many ages. (In the latter case ‘natural’ can refer only to an ideal state, in which unmarred matter could for ever endure the indwelling of a perfectly adapted fëa. It cannot refer to the actual design of Eru, since the Themes of the Children were introduced after the arising of the discords of Melkor. The ‘waning’ of the Elvish hröar must therefore be part of the History of Arda as envisaged by Eru, and the mode in which the Elves were to make way for the Dominion of Men. The Elves find their supersession by Men a mystery, and a cause of grief; for they say that Men, at least so largely governed as they are by the evil of Melkor, have less and less love for Arda in itself, and are largely. busy in destroying it in the attempt to dominate it. They still believe that Eru’s healing of all the griefs of Arda will come now by or through Men; but the Elves’ part in the healing or redemption will be chiefly in the restoration of the love of Arda, to which their memory of the Past and understanding of what might have been will contribute. Arda they say will be destroyed by wicked Men (or the wickedness in Men); but healed through the goodness in Men. The wickedness, the domineering lovelessness, the Elves will offset. By the holiness of good men—their direct attachment to Eru, before and above all Eru’s works—the Elves may be delivered from the last of their griefs: sadness; the sadness that must come even from the unselfish love of anything less than Eru.

***

Desire. The Elves insisted that ‘desires’, especially such fundamental desires as are here dealt with, were to be taken as indications of the true natures of the Incarnates, and of the direction in which their unmarred fulfillment must lie. They distinguished between desire of the fëa (perception that something right or necessary is not present, leading to desire or hope for it); wish, or personal wish (the feeling of the lack of something, the force of which primarily concerns oneself, and which may have little or no reference to the general fitness of things); illusion, the refusal to recognize that things are not as they should be, leading to the delusion that they are as one would desire them to be, when they are not so. (The last might now be called ‘wishful thinking’, legitimately; but this term, the Elves would say, is quite illegitimate when applied to the first. The last can be disproved by reference to facts. The first not so. Unless desirability is held to be always delusory, and the sole basis for the hope of amendment. But desires of the fëa may often be shown to be reasonable by arguments quite unconnected with personal wish. The fact that they accord with ‘desire’, or even with personal wish, does not invalidate them. Actually the Elves believed that the ‘lightening of the heart’ or the ‘stirring of joy’ (to which they often refer), which may accompany the hearing of a proposition or an argument, is not an indication of its falsity but of the recognition by the fëa that it is on the path of truth.)

the pebble is a perfect creature equal to itself

Here is the original English translation (1968) of Zbigniew Herbert’s poem “Kamyk” by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott:

the pebble
is a perfect creature
equal to itself
mindful of its limits
filled exactly
with a pebbly meaning
with a scent that does not remind one of anything
does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire
its ardour and coldness
are just and full of dignity
I feel a heavy remorse
when I hold it in my hand
and its noble body
is permeated by false warmth
—Pebbles cannot be tamed
to the end they will look at us
with a calm and very clear eye

Notes: Peter Dale Scott later recommended that the poem’s first line should have been translated “a pebble…” instead of “the pebble” and also that the closing line should read: “with an eye calm and very clear.” This poem can also be found online in a slightly differing translation in which “stone” replaces “pebble” and the origin of which I cannot find.

For another beautiful poem about stones, see this poem by Charles Simic.

 

to love reality

Personally transcribed excerpts from “The Wisdom of Tenderness” where Krista Tippett interviews Jean Vanier in October 2007 for the NPR show On Being:

An ethics of desire is good news for us at a time when we have become allergic to an ethics of law.

Pleasure is not something which is just sort of fooling around. …It is the fulfillment of a desire in an activity that you are doing well. …I come back to the reality of pleasure. …Somewhere the deepest desire for us all is to be appreciated, to be loved, to be seen as somebody of value … not to be admired. When you admire people, you put them on pedestals. When you love somebody, you want to be with them. …The cry of God is also the cry of ‘Do you love me?’ …The cry of people who have been wounded, put aside, who have lost trust in themselves … is ‘Do you love me?’

The way that they can come out of that depression is the way we look at them, the way we speak to them. …Tenderness is never to hurt a wounded person. …Tenderness reveals that ‘you are precious.’ …Do not shock or do not hurt or do not wound people who are already wounded. …We have to reveal to them that ‘you are precious.’

We are very fragile in front of the future. …We are born in extreme weakness and will end our life in extreme weakness. …We are a frightened people.

From the point of view of faith, those who are marginalized and considered failures can restore balance to our world. …If you take time with people at the bottom of the pyramid, there are people who relate. What they want is … love, not power.

It’s a suffering body which brings us together. It’s our attention to the body. …What is important is to see that the body is well. …It’s to communicate to them through the body that they are precious. …As the body can become comfortable, then the spirit can rise up. …What they were crying out for was touch. And also maybe what I was crying out for. What I would call safe touch. A touch which gives security and reveals, …the revelation that you’re special.

It’s a realization of how to create a culture which is no longer a culture just of competition but a culture of welcoming, where tenderness, where touch is important. And it’s neither sexualized nor aggressive. It has become human. And I think that this is what people with disabilities are teaching us. It’s something about what it means to be human and to relate and to celebrate life together.

Clearly for you community is a place of healing, community is a place of joy, but you also stress that communities are a place of pain.

To become human means to enter into a relationship of hearts. …I have no desire to have power over you. I don’t want to create mutual dependency.

People can be generous. Generosity can become power: ‘I am superior, so I can give.’ So generosity must … flow into a meeting. …We often believe that our identity is through power or through competence. But instead it is something else. It is to create an identity which is meeting. And meeting is the way we look at people. It’s not just a meeting. But also it’s about honoring what is weakest in the other. …In a true community, we honor the weakest. But that means that we are also honoring what is weakest in ourselves. And if we come back to what is despicable. It’s about our poverty. Even to honor our own poverty, to admit to our poverty. …Weakness can be despised or weakness can become the cement of our bonding. It’s because I’m weak, I can say I need you, I need your appreciation, I need your help. …Weakness is the recognition of who I am. …To be conscious of the anguish and to be conscious of the pain.

Jesus, …you are the most vulnerable of people. And my experience today is much more the experience of how vulnerable God is. You see, God is so respectful of our freedom. And if as John says, “God is love.” Anyone who has loved in their life, knows that they have become vulnerable. …’I stand at the door, and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter, and I will dine with that person, that person close to me and I close to that person.’ What touches me there, is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down. But waiting, will you open, do you hear me. …We’re in a world where there is so much going on in our heads and our hearts. …We don’t hear God knocking at the door of our hearts. …What touches me the deepest is the realization of the vulnerability of God, who doesn’t oblige.

How can God, how can Jesus allow [suffering]? …I just have to honor what I don’t know. There are so many things that I can’t explain. Because explanation is something about headiness and what-have-it in the head. But the whole question is not to understand, but it’s to be attracted to the place of pain [see this song], in order to give support to those who are suffering. …If we try to know to much, it might cut us away from being present. And I believe that the whole mystery of pain, the mystery of people being crucified today, and sometimes being crucified by very good people but who don’t realize it. The whole question is how to be present there. …One thing I know, is that in degree, according to where I am at and how I am, it is vital that I be present to situations.

Conversion is a change of attitude. …In that person who was disfigured and smelt bad there was a presence of God. …If we listen to Francis, he said that when he went and saw these people and stayed with them, he was changed. He discovered a completely new vision of the world. Which was not to become … a knight and to be strong. …He discovered that in those who are the most rejected, there is a presence of God.

The history of L’Arche is the relationship between a vision or a principle and experience. What has experience taught us? …We’re all on the same search. …Sometimes you want to clutch onto principles. Yet experience is saying go further, go further. …The road to peace … can only lie with listening to each other.

Take St. Francis in the Middle Ages. He had a spirit of poverty. And in some ways, one can sense that the institution wounded that spirit. But yet if the institution wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be speaking about Francis today. …It’s very important … to go back and forth. There needs to be structures.

I’m part of humanity. …I’m part of that humanity … of the Hindus who are going to the temples.

If we could come together to hear the cry of the poor, to identify with the poor, we would be unified. …They would lead us to unity and peace.

We are going into a world where the imagination, the virtual, the long-distance, the things far away, appear as close but you can’t touch them so they’re not close. They are close to the imagination, but they are not close to the body. …So I come back to what we were talking about: the body, the incarnation, the bodiness. …So let’s come back to the reality of the small. …With their bodies, their broken bodies. …Yet it seems so small in a world where we are wanting to claim to be big.

The reality of every day is sometimes quit painful in its smallness, in a world where we are being pushed to pretend that they’re big.

We can’t change the world, but I can change.

What I’m learning … at 79 … is that I’m human.

You see, the big thing for me is to love reality. And not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or should have been or want can be. Reality. And somewhere to … discover that God is present in reality. …That does mean to say that we’re just to be passive to welcome reality. You also have to know how to react in front of reality. …How to live that reality with my own body, my own weaknesses, my own need for greater sleep, …whatever it is, that ultimate reality which is death.

I like you doing it [interviewing], the way you do it.

to desire it

In secular use, meditari means, in a general way, to think, to reflect, as does cogitare or considerare; but, more than these, it often implies an affinity with the practical or even moral order. It implies thinking of a thing with the intent to do it; it other words, to prepare oneself for it, to prefigure it in the mind, to desire it, in way , to do it in advance–briefly, to practice it. [16]

…Another important factor explained by rumination and reminiscence is the power of imagination of the medieval man. Exuberant as this faculty is, it nevertheless possesses a vigor and a preciseness which we find difficult to understand. We are used to seeing, almost without looking at them unless with a distracted eye, printed or moving pictures. We are fond of abstract ideas. Our imagination, having become lazy, seldom allows us to do anything but dream. But in the men of the Middle Ages it was vigorous and active. It permitted them to picture, to “make present,” to see beings with all the details provided by the texts. …The words of the sacred text never failed to produce a strong impression on the mind. [75]

The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture by Jean Leclercq.

a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines

Education is not primarily a heady project concerned with providing information; rather, education is most fundamentally a matter of formation, a task of shaping and creating a certain kind of people. What makes them a distinctive kind of people is what they love or desire – what they envision as ‘the good life’ of the ideal picture of human flourishing. An education, then, is a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart (the gut) by means of material, embodied practices. And this will be true even of the most instrumentalist, pragmatic programs of education (such as those that now tend to dominate public schools and universities bent on churning out ‘skilled workers’) that see their task primarily as providing information, because behind this is a vision of the good life that understands human flourishing primarily in terms of production and consumption. Behind the veneer of a ‘value-free’ education concerned with providing skills, knowledge, and information is an educational vision that remains formative. There is no neutral, nonformative education; in short, there is no such thing as a ‘secular’ education.

From Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies) by James K.A. Smith.

wellspring of our desire to know

But I have come to see that knowledge contains its own morality, that it begins not in a neutrality but in a place of passion within the human soul. Depending on the nature of that passion, our knowledge will follow certain courses and head toward certain ends. From the point where it originates in the soul, knowledge assumes a certain trajectory and target–and it will not easily be deflected by ethics once it takes off from that source.

…History suggests two primary sources for our knowledge. …One is curiosity; the other is control. The one corresponds to pure, speculative knowledge, to knowledge as an end in itself. The other corresponds to applied science, to knowledge as a means to practical ends.

…Curiosity is an amoral passion, a need to know that allows no guidance beyond the need itself. Control is simply another word for power, a passion notorious not only for its amorality but for its tendency toward corruption. If curiosity and control are the primary motive for our knowing, we will generate a knowledge that eventually carries us not toward life but death

But another kind of knowledge is available to us, one that begin in a different passion and is drawn toward other ends. This knowledge can contain as much sound fact and theory as the knowledge we now possess, but because it springs from a truer passion it works toward truer ends. This is a knowledge that originates not in curiosity or control but in compassion, or love–a source celebrated not in our intellectual tradition but in our spiritual heritage.

…The deepest wellspring of our desire to know is the passion to recreate the organic community in which the world was first created.

To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on pages 7 to 8 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).

starving the sensibility of our pupils

By starving the sensibility of our pupils, we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.

From The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), page 27. This gem from Lewis was quoted in an essay by Jean Bethke Elshtain about The Abolition of Man, of which these passages stood out:

His essay The Abolition of Man, published in 1944 and subtitled Or, Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools, would seem at first glance to have little to do with the grave matters with which I have begun. Not so. Lewis sees pernicious tendencies in, of all places, elementary textbooks.

…For Lewis, when “ordinary human feelings” are set up as “contrary to reason,” we are on dangerous ground indeed, for a botched treatment of “some basic human emotion” is not only bad literature but is moral treachery to boot. “By starving the sensibility of our pupils, we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.”

“…When Martin Luther King delivered his great speech, he cried, ‘I have a dream,’ not ‘I have a preference.’ How do you explain this? Is there a difference?” The somewhat flustered young man indicated that what King was calling a dream was at base just another preference, and so that was no different in principle from, say, debating marginal alterations in the price of commodities. This way of thinking makes hash of our moral sentiments, of our God-given capacity to reason about what is good, as Lewis asserts.

This, surely, is what he feared in 1944: that something precious and irreparable was being lost.

“The Abolition of Man: C.S. Lewis’s Prescience Concenring Things to Come” by Jean Bethke Elshtain in C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty edited by Baggett et al (p. 87 to 90).