Creation and Redemption

A number of writers have been posting about atonement recently and Crystal challenged me to post something on the topic. It made me think of a paper I wrote a good few years ago on the relationship between creation and redemption–in particular exploring some of the implications of a theological aesthetics. Along the way it winds back and forth among some of the issues of a theology of atonement–perhaps denying such a thing is possible. For any who are interested here it is as a pdf file. Beware though if you are in a Holy Week mood as it focuses on Easter.

10 replies on “Creation and Redemption”

  1. Reading

    A Poem on the Passion of the Lord
    By Lactantius, 4th c.

    Whoever you are who approach, and are entering the precincts of the middle of the temple, stop a little and look upon me, who, though innocent, suffered for your crime; lay me up in your mind, keep me in your breast. I am He who, pitying the bitter misfortunes of men, came hither as a messenger of offered peace, and as a full atonement for the fault of men. Here the brightest light from above is restored to the earth; here is the merciful image of safety; here I am a rest to you, the right way, the true redemption, the banner of God, and a memorable sign of fate. It was on account of you and your life that I entered the Virgin’s womb, was made man, and suffered a dreadful death; nor did I find rest anywhere in the regions of the earth, but everywhere threats, everywhere labours.

    First of all a wretched dwelling in the land of Judged was a shelter for me at my birth, and for my mother with me: here first, amidst the outstretched sluggish cattle, dry grass gave me a bed in a narrow stall. I passed my earliest years in the Pharian regions, being an exile in the reign of Herod; and after my return to Judaea I spent the rest of my years, always engaged in fastings, and the extremity of poverty itself, and the lowest circumstances; always by healthful admonitions applying the minds of men to the pursuit of genial uprightness, uniting with wholesome teaching many evident miracles: on which account impious Jerusalem, harassed by the raging cares of envy and cruel hatred, and blinded by madness, dared to seek for me, though innocent, by deadly punishment, a cruel death on the dreadful Cross.

    And if you yourself wish to discriminate these things more fully, and if it delights you to go through all my groans, and to experience griefs with me, put together the designs and plots, and the impious price of my innocent Blood; and the pretended kisses of a disciple, and the insults and strivings of the cruel multitude; and, moreover, the blows, and tongues prepared for accusations. Picture to your mind both the witnesses, and the accursed judgment of the blinded Pilate, and the immense Cross pressing my shoulders and wearied back, and my painful steps to a dreadful death.

    Now survey me from head to foot, deserted as I am, and lifted up afar from my beloved mother. Behold and see my locks clotted with blood, and my blood-stained neck under my very hair, and my head drained with cruel thorns, and pouring down like rain from all sides a stream of blood over my divine face. Survey my compressed and sightless eyes, and my afflicted cheeks; see my parched tongue poisoned with gall, and my countenance pale with death. Behold my hands pierced with nails, and my arms drawn out, and the great wound in my side; see the blood streaming from it, and my perforated feet, and blood-stained limbs. Bend your knee, and with lamentation adore the venerable wood of the Cross, and with lowly countenance stooping to the earth, which is wet with innocent blood, sprinkle it with rising tears, and at times bear me and my admonitions in your devoted heart.

    Follow the footsteps of my life, and while you look upon my torments and cruel death, remembering my innumerable pangs of body and soul, learn to endure hardships, and to watch over your own safety. These memorials, if at any time you find pleasure in thinking over them, if in your mind there is any confidence to bear anything like my sufferings, if the piety due, and gratitude worthy of my labours shall arise, will be incitements to true virtue, and they will be shields against the snares of an enemy, aroused by which you will be safe, and as a conqueror bear off the palm in every contest.

    If these memorials shall turn away your senses, which are devoted to a perishable world, from the fleeting shadow of earthly beauty, the result will be, that you will not venture, enticed by empty hope, to trust the frail enjoyments of fickle fortune, and to place your hope in the fleeting years of life.

    But, truly, if you thus regard this perishable world, and through your love of a better country deprive yourself of earthly riches and the enjoyment of present things, the prayers of the pious will bring you up in sacred habits, and in the hope of a happy life, amidst severe punishments, will cherish you with heavenly dew, and feed you with the sweetness of the promised good. Until the great favour of God shall recall your happy” soul to the heavenly regions, your body being left after the fates of death. Then freed from all labour, then joyfully beholding the angelic choirs, and the blessed companies of saints in perpetual bliss, it shall reign with me in the happy abode of perpetual peace.

    In His great mercy,
    Fr. Gregory

  2. Don’t mean to be exactly rude about your work;
    but I have real problems trying to understand what you’re really saying – It seems to be part Rahner, part Chardin, part Eckhardt, and when you start stating von Balthasar then contradict what he says i get into difficulties.
    beautiful poetry, wonderful head-bowing in respect of frequently ignored aspects of our faith, but in totality ?
    Sounding wonderful can sometimes confuse us from understanding the consequences of what we’ve really writtten – it may be possible that you are right, but some of your off-shoots really require qualification – I say this out of love and respect to your endeavours and thank you for blessing a few minutes of my life with them; but in toto ? perhaps you’re too good a writer to be able to go slack in places ?

  3. \sorry, have re-read your work twice now and have to take back what I said….
    Dude, can I be honest with you ? I’m a nothing, a shelf-stacker in walmart, but I know good thelogy when i read it and yours aint it – because it’s running before it even crawls, it’s like architectural plans that spend most of its time discussing the problems of how the walls might clash with certain colours of curtain or how the skyscraper’s bricks/concrete/girders might be different if it wasn’t a skyscraper???
    I have no right or authority to give advice , but i’m still going to give it.

    Stop writing until you read at least one volume of ‘The Glory of The Lord’ . some Eric Voegelin, and a heck of a lot of Aquinas ! If you can’t do that grab a book of raymond smullyan puzzles and start trying to work out the logic behind things – then you might just be able to see the fundamental flaws you are making in your writing, the fallacies, the logical jumps, the amphibolies…
    You’re not some hippy new-ager who can get away with it – you are too academically and intellectually authentic and sincere [as is obvious from 80% of what’s on the page]
    it’s the rest that has me banging my head against the wall – alternate possible resurrected christs as victors ? who’s your pharmacist?
    Speculative metaphysics is one thing; resorting to oxymoron, antinomy , self-contrariety and fallacies of all manner of inducable colours, is another; there’s no point discussing the possibility if you haven’t affirmed any notion of the actual or the believed or the assumed.. I think my old systematic lecturer would have said your writing requires CPR – [reference to the Critique of Pure Reason which was frequently thrown at our heads if we ever attempted to doubly induce on metaphysical speculation]

    you can completely ignore me as a raving lunatic who just went out of his way to be nasty to a jesuit he’ll never meet, you can dismiss what i say as the ignorant opinions of someone with neither experience, academic prowess or social or intellectual renown, or you could believe me when i say that I like what you’re saying but at the moment the way you’re saying it is open to being torn to shreds because it is neither coherently structured nor rationally tenable . Why would i bother to say this if i didn’t feel strongly about it ? feel free to ignore me, or dismiss and ridicule what i think, but please be certain for your own interests, that you can justifiably counter what i say.

  4. Paul Priest: First let me apologise that this reply is too brief to do justice to your challenging comments — but my health doesn’t permit more at present.

    Though I did flinch quite a lot reading your comments my main reaction is of gratitude that you have taken the time to read and re-read my essay and to respond with such obvious passion. You are quite right that the ‘argument’ has several (many?) weak spots and if I were writing now rather than ten years ago I’d maybe buttress them more skilfully or better brush them under the carpet of rhetoric. Don’t, however, estimate this piece’s aim too grandly. It wasn’t meant to be a carefully argued exposition of the systematics of a theology of creation. It is a speculative argument of images trying to explore the limits of a metaphor — the aesthetic metaphor of creativity and creation. I’m still not sure how far it can be pushed without disaster but at the time it suggested to me certain connections between my experience of the Spiritual Exercises, my experience of liturgical prayer, and an ongoing project, inspired by Balthasar and Garcia-Rivera, to bring aesthetics to the foreground.

    It’s hard to respond more fully — even if energy permitted — because your critique is rather global and your main recommendation seems to be ‘stop writing until you’ve read and thought more’!

    I’d be glad to hear more of your passionate reactions — or even positive proposals in the area of the 80% you resonate well with — but I can’t promise I’ll be able to reply in a way that does them justice.

  5. father, I apologise wholeheartedly, I honestly do not know what I was thinking of – I was,how does one politely put it – High!
    I had contracted blood poisoning, was doped up to the eyeballs with pre-op level antibiotics, had developed eye infections and pilonidal cysts and was on so many codeine painkillers I spent the whole night typing to friends and commenting on anything I could find to ease the pain and take my mind off things – having little or no recollection of practically 90% of what I’d said the following morning- i’m afraid you took the brunt of something completely beyond me – I can’t even remember reading your article , let alone typing something so cruel or malicious or intellectually presumptuous – I apologise unreservedly and retract absolutely everything I said, and promise out of courtesy to read everything you have written here and respond in any way i possibly can , despite my limitations – I cannot believe I could have been so rude – please forgive me.
    [looking at this I am now truly dreading what I said to others!]

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