How odd of God!

We all know about Adam and Eve – their role as the ancestors of the human race, their Original Sin which separated us from the Almighty, and the redemption to be offered by God through Christ. Now let us consider how much of that story is true.

Putting a date on Adam and Eve is tricky – it depends of course on the discovery of fossils. But we would be safe if we settled for some 200,000 years ago. Now that is rather a long time for a story to survive. And a new species is unlikely to start from one individual or, in this case, two individuals; the process of evolution tends to work through numerous species rather than solo individuals. I suspect that, like the account of creation over 6 days, we should think of the Adam and Eve story as a fable: the narrative is imaginary but, within it, a deep truth.

We learn that the couple initially have no understanding of good and evil. The tempter uses this as his bribe: he tells Eve that eating the forbidden apple will open their eyes and they will be like gods, knowing good and evil. The moral sense of homo sapiens requires consciousness, the rational ability to distinguish between good and evil and the freedom to choose between the two.

It is significant that, although we are now able to understand the workings of the brain down into the tiny details, science is unable to understand consciousness, reason, and freewill. It cannot even describe what a causal solution would look like. We, on the other hand, recognise these elements as spiritual, and implicit in the story of Adam and Eve.

The outcome of our forefathers’ choice is extraordinary. Every human being thereafter would be born separated from God. However, we have one more chance: we may be redeemed through the salvation offered to us by Christ. But there is one condition: the acceptance of Christ through Baptism. The New Testament refers to its imperative again and again.

So what are the numbers? Here’s my best guess. Looking at the proportion of Christians today they number about one third of the world’s population. Take that back through the 200,000 years to Adam and Eve and we would get a huge number. Our Catechism expresses a hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. There are tiny exceptions for the older people such as “baptism of desire” and “baptism of martyrdom”. But that’s about it.

Now, were I a very brave person (and thankfully I am not). I would be somewhat critical of the Almighty. Yes, Adam and Eve sinned, but why should their punishment apply to every created person? None of us chose to be created. Of course, we all have a get-out through Christ. I, and perhaps all those reading this, will have had the opportunity to be baptised. But how about the others? If, in our communicating world, only a third of humans have been baptised, what proportion of the whole human race – back to Adam – could have had a chance? The remainder, perhaps nine out of ten, are in deep trouble. And not just for a day, or a lifetime but for ever – and ever – and ever.

Do you think God got it wrong?

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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52 Responses to How odd of God!

  1. milliganp says:

    I attended a talk given by an American Deacon who had attended a school for Rabbis and qualified in Jewish interpretation of the law. As I remember he pointed out that the tree was surely a fig tree as it was fig leaves Adam and Eve sewed together (who provided the needle and thread?). Apparently the Rabbinical interpretation was that what the serpent did was to give Adam and Eve a sex lesson – God had not yet commanded them to multiply – and they did what only God should do, create new life. As Psalm 51 puts it, remember in Sin I was conceived. If nothing else, this explanation provides for every person bearing the mark of original sin and allows Christ to be sinless having been directly created in the womb of Mary.

    • galerimo says:

      I think I would have a few questions for those teachers in the school for Rabbis.

      I would point out that both accounts of creation, the first one, the Priestly (Gen.1:1-2:3) and the second, the Yahwist (Gen.2:4 -24) are told before the account of the first sin and its punishment in Chapter 3.

      Eve and Adam were well and truly and unashamedly happy in their nudity, and generously endowed for the purposes of starting new life before the serpent appears in our story.

      I would put the argument that God’s work of creation is not defective and the lack of ability for the joy of sexual expression would suggest that our first parents, at a time when they were without sin, would have had to be a bit dumb if they needed a lesson in how to do it.

      I would agree that Psalm 51 is a prayer of repentance attributed to David (from whom Jesus is descended) after he raped Bathsheba, murdered and maimed and was finally called out as a liar by the Prophet Nathan – pointing out that eating forbidden figs would pale to insignificance as part of the same condition of original sin.

      I’d be asking those questions to establish whether or not the confusion of sexual activity with original sin was a error that had serious detrimental consequences to our understanding of the original blessings God gave humanity and never took back, as well as our own sense of self worth.

  2. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // If, in our communicating world, only a third of humans have been baptised, what proportion of the whole human race – back to Adam – could have had a chance? The remainder, perhaps nine out of ten, are in deep trouble. And not just for a day, or a lifetime but for ever – and ever – and ever. //

    Theology is complex and subtle, but theologians have at least a certain amount of common sense, I’m sure. How, in detail, that works itself out in practice I’ve no idea, but I’m reasonably sure that the Catholic Church is not damning six billion non-Catholics to eternal damnation. At least not for the public record.

    Allegories can be extremely useful teaching tools. People love stories. I’ve heard that are only so many possible story lines. Thus, we watch the same stories unfold on television and in the cinema as people thousands of years ago heard told around them. How people react to them differs slightly according to the prevailing culture, but it can’t differ much. Humans have changed little over the past few millennia. The same model of human animal keeps being born over and over again.

    I stumbled the other day upon a lovely old Catholic church a few miles from home, tucked back just off the road around a bend in a road downhill through a rural suburb. The church – Saint John’s – is large, and Gothic, and it has lovely tall stained glass windows, which tell, as stained glass windows do so well, the ancient allegories. The church and the windows are a treasure, every bit as powerful as teaching tools today as they were a hundred years ago, when the church was built. Very little changes in the human drama. Nothing, really.

    • Martha says:

      David, I would be grateful if you could say what you mean by “at least not for the public record.”.

      • David Smith says:

        Martha, there seems to be a great deal of waffling these days on the part of clergy and the hierarchy on what, exactly, Catholicism teaches. In effect, relativism rules. Catholics have been told by Church authorities and “experts” many contradictory things. The upshot is that Catholicism in the real world has acquired many faces, and Catholics have been left in the position of both having to choose and being free to choose.

        Quentin seems to imply that some Church authorities believe in condemning six billion people to hell. Maybe they do. It seems to me that it’s become impossible for the average Catholic to understand any longer exactly what he or she is expected to believe.

    • galerimo says:

      Six billion non-Catholics, locked out, as you point out, is a bit harsh and not consistent with any Christian understanding of a loving and bountiful God or the immense effectiveness of the salvation won for us by Jesus.

      The church tells us, very optimistically in my opinion, that those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but seek God with a sincere heart, can be moved by God’s grace to act in line with their consciences and can therefore achieve eternal salvation. (Lumen Gentium 16)

      And I don’t think the other great World Religions are included in the headcount here.

      The Decree on Ecumenism, gives grounds for cheer about them in several places – for the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them (separated Churches and communities) as means of salvation (Unitas Redintegratio 3) – is one.

      Karl Rahner is definitely one of those theologians you mentioned as gifted with common sense. He made a great contribution to our understanding of the dynamics of faith in today’s world.

      Many beautiful churches, one of which you described, were built for a predominately Christian culture and population. But we live in a time when freedom of choice and diversity are part of the landscape of our social assets.

      Reflecting on this state of affairs Rahner argues for “anonymous Christians” when he refers to the large numbers who also live good lives but who do not know Jesus Christ to the extent that leads them yet to official Church membership.

      Your figure of six billion is way below any estimate of world population when it comes to recorded history.

      Given it’s about 50,000 years ago since our modern “Homo Sapiens” species began walking the earth, more than 108 billion members of our species have ever been born since then (Population Reference Bureau ((PRB)).

      So with the current global population of about 7.5 billion (2019), that means those of us currently alive represent about 7 per cent of the total number of humans who have ever lived.

      PRB estimates that by 2050 about 113 billion people will have ever lived on Earth.

      I have no doubt heaven will easily accommodate that many souls.

  3. G.D says:

    Just a few questionable thoughts on the subject … God is unchanging (i think that’s an attribute taught?) so the Son (Christ/God) is always the same? .. With man’s nature reconciled to himself, and redeemed for all eternity in the God head? (Outside time and all that). …. Baptism is not ‘JUST’ an outward ritual sign of inward grace, given through the temporal church? That came to be through man’s way of expressing it – after Jesus the Christ manifested, in time, God’s unity with man’s nature? It (Baptism) is also graced by Christ’s (God’s) unchanging nature … No, God didn’t get it wrong. Or abandon those who don’t ritually accept it. (Today’s 1st reading at Mass Isaiah 55:10-11).

  4. galerimo says:

    Quentin, you touch on a big number of disciplines. Evolutionary Biology, Palaeontology, Soteriology, Biblical criticism, Hamartiology, Demography and I only got up to where you talked about human consciousness.

    I am tempted to agree with the statement that science is unable to understand consciousness, reason, and freewill, by cynically pointing to the clear absence of much evidence.

    Feels like we all need to wake up to ourselves, at times.

    But such a pragmatic approach to understanding how only the baptised, can be “numbered” among the saved always falls short because it cannot account for the freedom of God.

    I’m not a bit brave either but I don’t hesitate to say God definitely got it wrong.

    The reason being that divinity and humanity are so radically and critically different that, given the evidence, we can never figure out how it all fits together from God’s standpoint.

    I mean just look at how we try to deal with the revelation of the Trinity. No matter how you try to juggle the numbers it never works out quite right.

    Jesus is divinity incarnate but there is no confusion of natures. They always remain separate.

    People will accuse me of undermining the validity of ever being able to say anything truthful about God. That is not the case. It’s the inadequacy of what we can say that has always to be maintained.

    Aquinas says somewhere that truth is “adaequatio rei et intellectum”, an equation between the observed facts and what the mind can grasp. So since we cannot observe the facts about those who are saved, the truth of that reality will continue to evade us.

    Just listening to Jesus when he talks about the final reckoning, he does not mention membership of the baptised club; he talks about treating each other with care.

    So if you need to distinguish between the sheep and goats then use that as a good criterion.

    At it’s heart I think you are dealing here with the problem of evil. In seeking to establish the criteria for measurement of salvation you have to somehow sort out the good from the bad.

    But like everything else we grapple with in faith – it all still remains to be seen.

    And Thanks be to God for that!

  5. ignatius says:

    “Shall not the judge of the earth do right?”

  6. ignatius says:

    Possibly for the sake of a good argument Quentin has missed out the category of Implicit baptism of desire in its fullest sense. The following is a quote I know but it is very clear:
    An explicit baptism of desire is found in persons who desire the formal Sacrament in their minds and hearts, but die before being able to actually receive it.
    “There are a few different ways that a person might receive an implicit baptism of desire.
    1. Persons who love God, might not know about the Sacrament of baptism, such as the Israelites who lived before Christ. Their desire for baptism is partially implicit, since they do know and desire God in love. They explicitly love God, and implicitly desire baptism.
    [1 Corinthians 10]
    {10:1} For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and they all went across the sea.
    {10:2} And in Moses, they all were baptized, in the cloud and in the sea.
    {10:3} And they all ate of the same spiritual food.
    {10:4} And they all drank of the same spiritual drink. And so, they all were drinking of the spiritual rock seeking to obtain them; and that rock was Christ.
    2. Persons who know about the Sacrament of Baptism, but who — with a sincere but mistaken conscience — do not believe that Christianity and baptism are the path to salvation. If they love God, they explicitly desire the path to God and to salvation, which implicitly includes baptism. Again, this type of baptism of desire is only partially implicit. They explicitly love God, and implicitly desire baptism.
    3. Persons who do not believe in Christianity or God — due to a sincere but mistaken conscience — but who love their neighbor selflessly. Their true love of others implicitly includes the love of God, and all who truly love God desire the path to salvation, which includes baptism. This type of baptism of desire is fully implicit, since the person implicitly loves God by loving their neighbor and implicitly desires baptism. An explicit baptism of desire is found in persons who desire the formal Sacrament in their minds and hearts, but die before being able to actually receive it.

    There are a few different ways that a person might receive an implicit baptism of desire.

    1. Persons who love God, might not know about the Sacrament of baptism, such as the Israelites who lived before Christ. Their desire for baptism is partially implicit, since they do know and desire God in love. They explicitly love God, and implicitly desire baptism.

    [1 Corinthians 10]
    {10:1} For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and they all went across the sea.
    {10:2} And in Moses, they all were baptized, in the cloud and in the sea.
    {10:3} And they all ate of the same spiritual food.
    {10:4} And they all drank of the same spiritual drink. And so, they all were drinking of the spiritual rock seeking to obtain them; and that rock was Christ.

    2. Persons who know about the Sacrament of Baptism, but who — with a sincere but mistaken conscience — do not believe that Christianity and baptism are the path to salvation. If they love God, they explicitly desire the path to God and to salvation, which implicitly includes baptism. Again, this type of baptism of desire is only partially implicit. They explicitly love God, and implicitly desire baptism.

    3. Persons who do not believe in Christianity or God — due to a sincere but mistaken conscience — but who love their neighbor selflessly. Their true love of others implicitly includes the love of God, and all who truly love God desire the path to salvation, which includes baptism. This type of baptism of desire is fully implicit, since the person implicitly loves God by loving their neighbor and implicitly desires baptism.
    Here is the link for the fuller argument
    https://ronconte.com/2015/02/01/roman-catholic-teaching-on-implicit-baptism-of-desire/

    So that must cover at least a very large proportion of Quentins 9/10. We cannot, by the way, simply shell out a few lines of the New Testament and hope to gain fullness of meaning from it nor may we negate the Mystery of Faith with a few high hoops of logic.

  7. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes:

    // So that must cover at least a very large proportion of Quentins 9/10. We cannot, by the way, simply shell out a few lines of the New Testament and hope to gain fullness of meaning from it nor may we negate the Mystery of Faith with a few high hoops of logic. //

    When religion becomes too complicated and convoluted – which it is likely to do very quickly – human beings who are not disposed to spend their lives picking through the dense foliage of theological word puzzles are likely, I think, to simply throw up their hands, plump for an easy understanding that satisfies them, and get on with the unavoidable and vital work of daily survival.

    • ignatius says:

      David writes:
      “When religion becomes too complicated and convoluted – which it is likely to do very quickly – human beings who are not disposed to spend their lives picking through the dense foliage of theological word puzzles are likely, I think, to simply throw up their hands, plump for an easy understanding that satisfies them, and get on with the unavoidable and vital work of daily survival.”

      Sadly I think you may be right but many of the catholics I know have learned that the Christian faith is fundamentally something of the heart so there is no need to be bamboozled by theologians because there is always the great commandment to operate:.
      “Love the lord your God with all your mind , all your soul and all your might and love your neighbour as yourself”
      This at least is fairly clear.

      • David Smith says:

        If all that’s needed is the heart, why the catechism, the magisterium, schools of theology, the priesthood, and all the rest? It seems to me that we’re headed for an eventual breakup of the Church because of two converging trends: the intellectuals doing whatever feels right to them and the unwashed multitude doing whatever feels right to them. It looks to me like the long-delayed second prong of the Reformation. Individualism, in the end, will prove too strong a force for tradition to contain. Very sad, and very human.

      • milliganp says:

        This is a reply to Ignatius “Love God and neighbour” final line.
        If we love God then we seek to understand God’s will and this comes to us through Christ. Christ doesn’t then say nothing else matters. At the last supper Christ commands “do this in memory of me” and from this we derive our theology of the Mass and the need for regular worship. Love may be the first commandment and Augustine’s “love, and do what you will” may govern the rest of our loves but the love has to be the sort of perfect love Christ preaches. Love can never be indifferent to either God or our fellow human beings. The command of love doesn’t make life simple, it makes it incredibly hard.

    • milliganp says:

      I’m sure the love of God and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross are up to the task of saving humanity. However, I worry, when we start disassembling the details of Catholic theology and the life of faith, if we are then left with any motivation to live the specifics of a good Catholic life.
      Following the parable of the vineyard, I am happy that those who arrive late still get a full days pay; I’m happy if the owner of the vineyard then goes out and finds the poor at the side of the road and also gives them what they need to survive. But I’m, sadly, a man that needs the motivation to get up and come back to work tomorrow.

    • David Smith says:

      milliganp writes:

      // This is a reply to Ignatius “Love God and neighbour” final line.
      If we love God then we seek to understand God’s will and this comes to us through Christ. Christ doesn’t then say nothing else matters. //

      True, of course, but the way of individualism directs everyone to find his own path. The New Testament is a very short text. Everyone can read it and make of it what everyone will. The Catholic Church, which is based on a foundation of accreted tradition, is now irrelevant and, possibly, a roadblock on the way to self-understanding.

      I imagine that the Church will survive for a while – maybe for a few hundred years – in name, as a social and emotional crutch, simply because people are disposed to socialize in groups, but it will likely change radically into something scarcely recognizable to a traditionalist. John Henry Newman might deconvert or move into a cave.

      Sorry to be so negative. Maybe a few more days of sunshine and milder weather will brighten my perspective.

      • ignatius says:

        “Sorry to be so negative. Maybe a few more days of sunshine and milder weather will brighten my perspective.”
        Vitamin D3 might help a bit too!!

        “True, of course, but the way of individualism directs everyone to find his own path. The New Testament is a very short text. Everyone can read it and make of it what everyone will. The Catholic Church, which is based on a foundation of accreted tradition, is now irrelevant and, possibly, a roadblock on the way to self-understanding.”

        Slowly we are getting somewhere, or at least identifying the nature of the problem.
        Perhaps if we remember the apocryphal story of the Rabbi’s in Auschwitz who held a hearing and found that they had a just case against God .but then went off and said their prayers anyway.Or possibly in the later chapters of Job. It is frankly speaking impossible to gain anything definitive from scripture without relating the scripture to the whole of the word of God-which includes both the testaments and the witness of the church.

        We cannot get away from this, blather as we may..and on this blog we all do a lot of that albeit in a well meaning manner by chucking in our own individualised tuppeny worth. It is a mistake to view the catechism as a kind of Old Testament Law reincarnated by the church. If we read the catechism we do see quite clearly that it is the view of the church articulated and drawn out from scripture then elaborated on by the witness of the church, if you like it is teaching notes on who we Catholics think God is and how to live well in the eyes of God.

        But the catechism is not for example “living and active” in the way scripture is and it is subject to the mystery of a God who is free and who calls to us using symbols and signs that we may understand as best we can. God does this, as far as we can make out because of God’s unconditional love for all God has made, but this is not the same as ‘anything goes’
        When we speak of God we are immediately caught up into the mystery of mercy and judgement, that connundrum of Law and grace which so taxed St Paul is the axis of a mystery we do not comprehend..which is not the same as saying our individual thoughts do not matter because they do, though perhaps less than we think in the face of such a great Love which cradles us, both as individuals and our shared being as the bride of Christ.

  8. FZM says:

    Now, were I a very brave person (and thankfully I am not). I would be somewhat critical of the Almighty. Yes, Adam and Eve sinned, but why should their punishment apply to every created person?

    One possible answer I have seen is that Adam and Eve possessed original innocence on behalf of all of humanity, and they chose to sin on behalf of all of humanity. This seems to be a Platonic approach (as if Adam and Eve were the incarnation of the form of humanity), but is suggested by Paul when he says that in Adam all men sinned. Christ represents the renewed form of humanity in which all men are redeemed; there is the tradition that on Easter Saturday He descended into hell and liberated all of the people, including Adam and Eve, who had been put there since the Fall.

    About original sin and the nature of the redemption offered by Christ there seem to be two different approaches; in the Augustinian approach people inherit guilt from Adam and Eve from the moment of their conception, and can be worthy of condemnation on account of this. Actual baptism is required to redeem someone from this guilt. In the Greek tradition morality was inherited as punishment for Adam and Eve’s sin, but no other guilt. Mortality is considered to be the cause of human sin. Also there is this tendency I mentioned to see Christ’s incarnation and assumption of a human nature as something that regenerated all of humanity

    There seems to be more scope within the Greek tradition for believing that everyone can be saved, and theologians who believe in universal salvation are more common throughout history in the Greek part of the church than in the Latin.

    Another issue is the source of the morality by which God’s actions are judged. In classical theism (the usual Catholic and Orthodox view on God) God is the source of everything that exists apart from Himself, so human morality is His creation and somehow reflects what He is.

  9. ignatius says:

    FMZ:
    ” Mortality is considered to be the cause of human sin.”
    Could you just elaborate this sentence a little. The usual articulation is that death is the wages of sin not, as you seem to indicate, sin arising because of death ?
    As far as I understand its not possible to get to universalism within the catholic rubric. Also .as far as I understand things its the resurrection that actually provides scope for the ‘regeneration’ you speak of

  10. FZM says:

    Ignatius,

    Could you just elaborate this sentence a little. The usual articulation is that death is the wages of sin not, as you seem to indicate, sin arising because of death ?

    This explanation of the origin of the difference in understanding between Greek and Latin fathers of one of the key passages is from Fr. John Meyendorff’s book ‘Byzantine Theology’ (1979, p.144):

    “But there is also the consensus of the majority of Eastern Fathers, who interpret Romans 5:12 in close connexion with 1 Corinthians 15:22 – between Adam and his descendants there is a solidarity in death just as there is a solidarity in life between the risen Lord and the baptised.

    This interpretation comes, obviously, from the literal, grammatical meaning of Romans 5:12. Eph ho, if it means “because”, is a neuter pronoun; but it can also be masculine, referring to the immediately preceding substantive thanatos (“death”). The sentence then may have a meaning which seems improbable to the reader trained in Augustine, but which is indeed the meaning which most Greek Fathers accepted: ‘ As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men; and because of death, all men have sinned…’ ”

    The following page explain how various fathers understood death and corruption to give rise to sin, but is too long to include here.

  11. FZM says:

    Ignatius, cont.

    As far as I understand its not possible to get to universalism within the catholic rubric. Also .as far as I understand things its the resurrection that actually provides scope for the ‘regeneration’ you speak of.

    I found another useful quotation in Fr. Meyendorff’s book which illustrates the different emphasis in the interpretation of Christ’s death and resurrection, I think it is linked to the different way in which original sin is understood (p.161):

    ‘But the death of Christ is truly redemptive and life giving precisely because it is the death of the Son of God in the flesh (in virtue of the hypostatic union). In the East, the cross is envisaged not so much as the punishment of the just one, which ‘satisfies’ a transcendent Justice requiring a retribution for man’s sins. As Georges Florovsky rightly puts it: “the death of the cross was effective, not as a death of an Innocent One, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord.’ The point was not to satisfy a legal requirement, but to vanquish the frightful cosmic reality of death, which held humanity under its usurped control and pushed it into the vicious circle of sin and corruption…. Just as original sin did not consist in an inherited guilt, so redemption was not primarily a justification, but a victory over death.’

    It relates to the idea that ‘what is not assumed is not healed, and what is united to God is saved’, so The Son had to undergo a full human life and death to fully heal humanity. This idea about the centrality of the Incarnation itself is one of the striking things about the Eastern tradition, I think why venerating the Mother of God and the icons of Christ is seen as a cornerstone of being Christian, and something like a test of not being a heretic.

    I am unsure about universal salvation, I seem to remember there are some canons from one of the early ecumenical councils to the effect that it shouldn’t be taught. There has been a revival of interest in it lately coming from Western Orthodox theologians like David Bentley Hart. The different tradition in theological interpretation in the East is one reason it is a more common theme for Orthodox and Eastern theologians.

    • galerimo says:

      What a beautiful quote from Georges Florovsky about the death of Jesus, not as the innocent one but precisely as the Incarnate Lord.

      A great contrast with our deeply ingrained view of Jesus paying the penalty to satisfy the injustice suffered by God through our original sin. The “satisfaction” theology of the passion and death of Jesus.

      St John’s Gospel does have the emphasis of the death of Jesus as him supreme
      Moment of Glory: the hour of his death on the cross is crucially not an hour of humiliation but paradoxically the hour of his glorification; being ‘lifted up’ to give life to the world.

      I am very persuaded by a universalism view as a way of understanding Jesus’ redemptive work – and its hard not to be when you read words such as 1 Tim 2:4, Peter 3:9 Ezekiel 18:23 Mat 23:37.

      I think at the heart of our East and West views of theology there lies a simple difference of emphasis about God.

      For instance the process of divinization, by which we are assimilated into God through Grace, without any abandonment of our human nature, holds great appeal

      Although it is part of the Western theological tradition, especially thanks to Irenaeus but advocated too by Augustine, it does not get as good a run as it does in the East.

      Its appeal is the primary role of God in initiating and procuring the process of assuming the human soul into Godself. By contrast with the more mechanical style of saving people by getting them through our complex sacramental hoops discussed here viz. getting correctly baptised.

      I think it is the reclaiming or this “Theosis” in the West in recent times by movements such as the Charismatics that we can perhaps see an attempt to restore a balance to our Western/Roman pragmatic emphasis and even a revival of Universalism to some extent.

      Apologies for the lack of development in my thinking here – it’s probably more of an excited reaction to wonderful material you offer in response to Ignatius

    • milliganp says:

      I have a Greek Crucifix given to my wife and I 48 years ago on our wedding day. The figure on it is a risen Christ, dressed as a priest. It presents a thoughtful contrast to the Catholic tradition and the Protestant unadorned cross.

      • Martha says:

        We have this large crucifix of Christ Triumphant in front of the altar suspended from the ceiling in our parish church. Do you think it also helps children, and others, to avoid too much of the horror of the Suffering Christ before they are able to have any understanding of its supreme value?

      • ignatius says:

        Yes, I like that crucifix too (not yours of course but the style you speak of!!)

  12. Martha says:

    I whole heartedly agree with what you say here Ignatius, and very pleased to see it spelt out in detail.

    Could it be summarised as, anyone who does, or tries to do the best they know, according to all the circumstances of their life, and ability to accept, is safe in the love of God.

    Our Lord says, When I was hungry you gave me to eat, to those who did not explicitly know who they had been feeding, as well as to St. Mother Teresa.

    Outside the Church no salvation depends on the definition of Church.

    Evangelising and mission of course are still urgent because Christ wants all men to know Him explicitly, although He can include those who for many reasons have not had a true opportunity.

  13. ignatius says:

    Martha,
    “Could it be summarised as, anyone who does, or tries to do the best they know, according to all the circumstances of their life, and ability to accept, is safe in the love of God…”

    Yes, as far as our understanding goes I think you have it there in a nutshell, the gospel is a warmhearted not cold.

  14. ignatius says:

    FMZ,
    “‘But the death of Christ is truly redemptive and life giving precisely because it is the death of the Son of God in the flesh (in virtue of the hypostatic union). In the East, the cross is envisaged not so much as the punishment of the just one, which ‘satisfies’ a transcendent Justice requiring a retribution for man’s sins. As Georges Florovsky rightly puts it: “the death of the cross was effective, not as a death of an Innocent One, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord.’ The point was not to satisfy a legal requirement, but to vanquish the frightful cosmic reality of death, which held humanity under its usurped control and pushed it into the vicious circle of sin and corruption…. Just as original sin did not consist in an inherited guilt, so redemption was not primarily a justification, but a victory over death.’”

    Yes. I first came across this a few years ago this while working my way through some Karl Rahner and then Balthasar. It caused, as I’m sure you are aware, something of a furore for awhile in conservative Catholic circles but is perfectly valid as far as I can see. Timothy Radcliffe writes well on the subject,saying that God has no need of an atonement – but we humans do. I’m going to read up a bit on Meyendorff as he seems to write quite well, so thanks for mentioning him.

  15. ignatius says:

    PS It still doesn’t get us to Universalism though! Balthasar is quite good on the role of ‘free agency’ both in God and man.

  16. milliganp says:

    There is a lot in Catholic doctrine that creates difficulties; a recent survey in the USA states that 70% of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence and the underlying doctrine of transubstantiation. Similarly, I suspect, is the attitude of Catholics to divorce.
    Sadly, for the liberal minded, Jesus is unequivocal on both issues and equally unequivocal when he tells Nicodemus “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”.
    Galerimo is happy to tell us that either Jesus, or the evangelists under the alleged influence of the Holy Spirit got all this wrong – and that’s before we start reading St. Paul. I return to the word’s of Thomas Aquinas hymn “What God’s son has told us, take for truth I do; truth itself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.”
    I will rejoice, should I make it through the pearly gates, to see heaven full of Muslims, Hindus and atheists but will express some shock (and run the risk of expulsion) if I find nothing I have believed in life matters.

    • ignatius says:

      MillliganP writes:

      ” Love may be the first commandment and Augustine’s “love, and do what you will” may govern the rest of our loves but the love has to be the sort of perfect love Christ preaches. Love can never be indifferent to either God or our fellow human beings. The command of love doesn’t make life simple, it makes it incredibly hard.”

      And yet this great lover of ours bids us to take courage and follow him taking on the yoke which is light and easy bringing rest for our souls. Again we have the paradox of a love which is freely given yet impossible to earn. Personally I am at the place where I find almost any facet of the bejewelled mystery impossible to grasp or lay hold of -yet discoverable through proximity and simple acceptance of my place before the Lord of Hosts: psalm131
      My heart is not proud, O LORD,
      my eyes are not haughty.
      I do not aspire to great things
      or matters too lofty for me.

      2Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul;
      like a weaned child with his mother,
      like a weaned child is my soul within me.

      3O Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
      both now and forevermore.

      • ignatius says:

        MilliganP,
        The point I guess I’m trying to make is that, if I have only read one sentence of a talk you once gave and have never met you then the likelihood of me getting completely the wrong end of the stick about you is rather high….unless the sentence was an equation of course!

  17. Alan says:

    Quentin – “It [science] cannot even describe what a causal solution would look like.”

    I don’t understand what the expectation is here. If I consider some of the more notable scientific advances and hypotheses that have arisen in just the last hundred years or so and I try to describe what a “causal solution” would have sounded like prior to our having any real understanding of the subject (quantum mechanics, the Higgs particle, the Big Bang theory, String theory/M-theory, etc.) my attempts might as well be extracts from a fantasy novel.

    Take the “God” particle. With no knowledge of or means to test for the Higgs boson how does the “causal solution” to the question of mass sound? My understanding of the subject is crude but, as far as I can tell, the answer not too long ago would have been something like “A field throughout spacetime which matter passes through, interacting with a hypothetical and undetectable particle thus acquiring mass.”? Given what we once didn’t know about the subject – can anyone outline a more meaningful answer? I come up against the same basic problem with many other examples.

    Applied generally, my attempt at a solution is surely far from satisfactory – “Perhaps matter interacts in some way with something we don’t yet know anything about and thus acquires consciousness” – I do have a name ready for the particle/field involved should we ever develop a means to detect them though!

    In this particular respect consciousness is clearly “special”?

    • ignatius says:

      Alan,
      ““Perhaps matter interacts in some way with something we don’t yet know anything about and thus acquires consciousness”
      I enjoyed this. I’ve recently been ploughing my way through Robert Lanza on Biocentrism and all the funny experiments- firing photons through slits and all that. So I can grasp your ‘solution’ a little. Someone said that if St Paul had lived with todays science it would have been much easier converting the Greeks on account of the similarity between the creation myth and the big bang!

    • FZM says:

      In this particular respect consciousness is clearly “special”?

      Usually, yes, it is considered to need special treatment. It’s a significant topic of debate among philosophers and philosophers of science, whether secular or religious, at least.

      It is an issue within a naturalistic or physicalist framework because everything in reality is supposed to be reducible to Physics, and ultimately to possess only the kinds of properties describable by Physics; quantifiable, the phenomena is describable mathematically in terms of mass, energy, extension etc. With features of consciousness and mental life like qualia and intentionality the common question is whether any description in mathematical terms based only on empirical 3rd person observations would be an actual description or explanation of the phenomena and whether the reduction could be successful.

      Many philosophers and philosophers of science think there are big issues here, there are a wide range of positions, from Eliminativism, which claims that consciousness and other features of mental life are not real to Panpsychism, where all matter is supposed to be in some way minimally conscious, then the various rejections of Physicalism.

    • The problem of consciousness, freewill, sense of morality etc comes up on this website from time to time. Take five minutes looking at https://secondsightblog.net/2017/09/14/science-and-philosophy/. And we can start from there.

    • Alan says:

      For consciousness being considered special I was thinking only of the particular claim that we might expect science to already have some meaningful solution that it could offer. Even if that were only in principle.

      A much broader look at the subject has come up here before now, but I often have far more questions on such threads than I have time to raise. As curious as I am, beginning anything more based on a previous discussion wouldn’t be practical for me. Here I only sought to single something out that seemed especially strange to me.

      Is such a casual solution as Quentin mentions really to be expected for scientific breakthroughs at some unknown/undefined time before they are made? For all manner of discoveries that we are familiar with today it doesn’t appear that we would have to go back too many years/decades before such solutions become effectively impossible to describe. Perhaps that’s just my lack of imagination though. I would be interested to hear any other proposed solutions for the Higgs example I chose.

    • Alan says:

      Sorry, that should be “causal solution” of course. The casual one is the one I already invented!

    • milliganp says:

      Just to correct a misunderstanding about mass and the Higgs Boson. Prior to the full development of the standard model we presumed that mass came as a direct attribute of the elementary particles i.e. we presumed Protons, Neutrons and Electrons each had mass (and we even had experiments to weigh them!). High energy physics then exposed a deeper strata of matter and further information on quantum mechanics. For almost everything we do in the real world of technology (engineering and chemistry), atoms and above work fine.
      I worry when people star positing that consciousness might be down to something at the sub-atomic level that we haven’t yet discovered. All the processes of evolution which gave us our big brain have essentially been bio-chemical in nature. We have to be wary about merely creating the a more specialised gap for the “god of the gaps” to fill.

      • ignatius says:

        MilliganP
        ” High energy physics then exposed a deeper strata of matter and further information on quantum mechanics. For almost everything we do in the real world of technology (engineering and chemistry), atoms and above work fine.”
        This is very good and almost but not quite filled a gap in my understanding…. Is the Higgs Bosun thing part of this ‘deeper strata of matter’?

      • Alan says:

        milliganp – “Just to correct a misunderstanding about mass and the Higgs Boson.”

        Thank you for the background information on the former presumption about the mass of sub-atomic particles and what had prompted the search for a different understanding. I had always held the former view until an alternative was muted but I wasn’t really aware of what had encouraged the search. I cannot spot the misunderstanding you mean though. Can you spell it out?

        “I worry when people star positing that consciousness might be down to something at the sub-atomic level that we haven’t yet discovered. We have to be wary about merely creating the a more specialised gap for the “god of the gaps” to fill.”

        Prematurely downplaying the potential for the natural world to surprise us once again is the more common pitfall I suspect. And here I get the impression of an attempt to justify leaning that way again.

      • FZM says:

        Prematurely downplaying the potential for the natural world to surprise us once again is the more common pitfall I suspect. And here I get the impression of an attempt to justify leaning that way again.

        An equally widespread pitfall seems to be the term ‘natural world’ being used with no clear meaning. I would be really surprised if the natural world did show us that 2+2=5 or that after all, change is entirely illusory. The idea that consciousness is both not illusory and will have an explanation from anything recognisable as what we currently call Physics is more within this territory.

      • Alan says:

        FZM – “I would be really surprised if the natural world did show us that 2+2=5 or that after all, change is entirely illusory.”

        It would be a surprising discovery. Counter to everything we may have been taught. Incomprehensible given what we know at the moment. Contrary to everything our experience, intuition and understanding had told us. A solution to a hard problem that people might find difficult to accept even if a wealth of evidence eventually became available. The notion could well strike us as nothing short of magical, miraculous or “spooky”.

        All those things and more and yet not unprecedented, let alone impossible.

        I’m not sure, but breaking a mathematical proof might be something unique. I’d be surprised if either the natural or the supernatural world showed us that. But I’m not sure if this is what you meant by the 2+2=5 comparison.

  18. G.D says:

    i think the following can apply to consciousness. (Change mercy to consciousness) ….

    Cynthia Bourgeault in her little book ‘Mystical Hope’ …… “… we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together. The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional – always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being. ….. Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world … ”

    Consciousness “… is unconditional – always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being.” God! ……… And is eternally prior to all we can, philosophically or scientifically, posit.

    • milliganp says:

      Because God’s infinite perfections can’t be divided you could also substitute love or grace for mercy. However I’m a little unsure that we can posit consciousness to creation; yes, creation is maintained by a continuous act of Divine will but does that make creation, itself, conscious? There is a thin, but distinct, line between ‘God in all things’ and pantheism.

      • G.D says:

        Agreed, ‘God’s infinite perfections can’t be divided’ & God is always God, creation is not God. ….. PanENtheism is more in line with my pondering. As you say, the Presence of God (indivisibly perfect and whole) with all creation – always as ‘Supreme Other’ – sustaining it.

        ….. I’m not advocating that consciousness (if!) in inanimate things would be the same ‘level/type'(?) of awareness as sentient beings have. …. but …..

        Another musing i have ( mainly from the ‘double slit’, matter/energy interchange experiment & also other theories of the quantum physics minefield; mindfield even) ………. A book consciously authored by a.n. other, works of art created etc. – do they contain something of the conscious awareness (heartfelt emotions, physical graft) of the person that produced them; somehow subtly changed? And therefore something of the source of that consciousness? (i.e. God).
        …….. Find it all a very intriguing conundrum!

    • galerimo says:

      What a beautiful metaphor. The word it suggested to me was

      Consecration – a combining of creation and consciousness in the sacred.

      A favourite saying of an aunt of mine was

      “Everything is mixed with Mercy”.

      It came to my mind when I read your piece here. Thank you.

  19. David Smith says:

    Someone needs to posit a consciousness thingie. Call it Fred’s Boson. Set the scientists looking for it. That might keep them out of trouble for a while.

  20. ignatius says:

    FMZ,
    “The idea that consciousness is both not illusory and will have an explanation from anything recognisable as what we currently call Physics is more within this territory..”

    Sorry, which territory is it again? Not quite with you with this sentence.

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