Fixed is not Unbroken

Fixed is not Unbroken December 8, 2012

The post on judgement and culpability has (terrifyingly) crested 300 comments (but I probably deserved that).  I’ll be reading through them and making notes tomorrow, but I won’t be responding until later in the week, since there’s a highly relevant lecture tomorrow night that I’d like to hear first.  And DC area folks may want in.

The Dominican House of Studies is holding a series of talks on the Four Last Things for the four Sundays of Advent.  (Advent is an anticipatory season, but, in addition to being a remembrance of the anticipation of the birth of Christ, it’s also meant to sharpen our longing for Christ’s return, so that’s the focus of the talks).  Tomorrow’s lecture is titled “Judgement” and that link goes to the Facebook event with full logistic details.

I went to last week’s lecture (“Death”) but will miss the last two in the series (“Heaven” and “Hell”).  I’m quite glad I made it up to Catholic University last week, since the friar who was lecturing touched on a facet of the story of Genesis that I’d never noticed before.  When Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden, God doesn’t intend their expulsion solely as punishment:

Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. (Gen 3:22-24)

I had seen this passage before, and I had assumed that Adam and Eve were essentially on a trial run in the Garden.  If they resisted temptation for long enough, eventually they would be allowed to eat from the Tree of Life, but, since they flunked the test, God didn’t want them sneaking around to claim the prize.  But what the Dominican brother pointed out is that, in the text, God only proscribes the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  When Eve speaks to the serpent, she says they are free to eat from any tree except that one.

What the lecturer concluded was that people were naturally mortal, even in the Edenic state, but that God extended the grace of immortality to them through the fruit of the Tree of Life (woo, Eucharistic foreshadowing, etc!).  The reason that they “shall surely die” as the result of their disobedience is that their disobedience causes God to withdraw his supernatural graces and to restore them to their natural, mortal state.

The friar went on to say that, although we might think the ultimate goal is to return to the Garden and eat again from the Tree of Life, we’re clearly not going to take on a sword-wielding angel in single combat.  So, since we cannot come to the Tree, the Tree of Life came to us, but, to reach us, it suffered a sea-change, into something rich and strange.  Christ on the cross is the new Tree of Life, and that fruit of that tree is what will restore to us our former graces.

I’d never heard this Old Testament-New Testament connection made before, so I’m quite excited to see tomorrow’s lecture on Judgement and to be able to reflect on it before responding to some of your comments (with priority going to David and Jay).  If you’d like to listen the Dominican House lecture, they’ve uploaded the audio here.  The exegesis I’ve glossed above was just one strand of a great lecture that was peppered with more jokes than I expected (including a very funny one about Franciscans).

Oh, and last week’s lecture gained new relevance this morning, when my “Read the Catechism in a Year” email arrived.  We’re up to various comments on angelology, and today’s excerpt discussed the fallen angels: ” It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable.”  Humans live in time and are subject to change, so this contrast with the angels helps to explain why we were so quickly shunted away from immortality.  It is an act of mercy to not calcify someone in zer sin, but to give him/her the flexibility to change and turn away from their choice.

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  • g

    On what grounds is the choice of fallen angels considered irrevocable?
    It sounds as if you’re saying it’s because angels are timeless beings and therefore changeless, but that can’t be right; a being that’s capable of “falling”, of choosing to turn from serving God to doing something opposed to that, can’t be essentially changeless.

    • “What the lecturer concluded was that people were naturally mortal, even in the Edenic state, but that God extended the grace of immortality to them through the fruit of the Tree of Life (woo, Eucharistic foreshadowing, etc!). The reason that they “shall surely die” as the result of their disobedience is that their disobedience causes God to withdraw his supernatural graces and to restore them to their natural, mortal state.”

      WHOAH! I never really considered this before…but pretty cool. It seems like the older I get…the more I realize that there are so many layers to the Catholicism of my youth…and the more I find myself comparing it to a Tolkien novel….and the more I realize that there is so much more to learn!

      • leahlibresco

        Except I like delving into the complexities of Catholicism more than I liked the Silmarillion. *Ducks*

        • *GASP!*
          Considering the parallels between the two…I will let it slide 😉

        • deiseach

          *sharp intake of breath at effrontery*

          Just for that, lassie, have a gratuitous quote from the “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” (Colloquy of Finrod and Andreth) which ties in with the title of this post:

          “This then, I propound, was the errand of Men, not the followers, but the heirs and fulfillers of all: to heal the Marring of Arda, already foreshadowed before their devising; and to do more, as agents of the magnificence of Eru: to enlarge the Music and surpass the Vision of the World!

          For that Arda Healed shall not be Arda Unmarred, but a third thing and a greater, and yet the same.”

          This is also something of the thought behind the notion of the felix culpa, as sung in the Easter “Exsultet”.

          Regarding our putative nature if we had remained unfallen, there is debate (and the Dominicans should certainly know all about this!) as to whether or not we would have been immortal, or how/if we would have undergone death. And regarding whether or not the fallen angels have irrevocably chosen their fate, there have been eminent Fathers of the Church who debated this position; it was one of the reasons Origen – or rather, certain positions taken by later parties calling themselves Origenists – got into trouble (a condemnation of universal salvation at the Second Council of Constantinople in the 6th century), but St. Clement of Alexandria and St. Gregory of Nyssa also considered the hypothesis that even Satan might attain salvation eventually.

          Advent-related note: the O Antiphons! Woo-hoo! Or at least, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel 🙂

        • Have you read Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth? Other than a few ideological weird spots (like actually thinking that Magic: The Gathering cards are occult) and a subtle anti-Protestantism, I found it pretty compelling. The thesis is that the Middle-Earth writings express Tolkien’s particular Catholic theology, but the interesting part is seeing the author lay this out piece-by-piece. The book also allows you to understand the Legendarium’s theology without having to slog through Tolkien’s posthumous stuff.

          Note: I realize that Tolkien was anti-Protestant, as distinct from being Catholic. I got annoyed when the author seemed to take Tolkien’s ideas onto himself, or at least fail to make the distinction between Tolkien’s ideas and his own ideas clear.

    • Jason Schalow

      According to St. Thomas’ logic, it isn’t that angels are unchangeable in the way that God is…rather because angels don’t have bodies and therefore don’t have senses to learn through. They were created with all of the knowledge they would need. So, when they made their choice it was irrevocable in the sense that they will never gain any new knowledge that would cause them to change their minds. We are able to look back at our choices with hindsight and see what went wrong precisely because we learn from our mistakes. They don’t have anything more to learn: their hindsight and foresight have equal acuity.

      • g

        According to this account of things, what exactly is it that characterizes *fallen* angels? They surely aren’t supposed to have been created ready-fallen, so despite their alleged inability to gain new knowledge they have undergone a change in allegiance (where “change” may mean something rather weird if angels are taken to exist outside time-as-we-know-it, but has to mean *something* for there to be fallen angels at all). So how does this inability to gain new knowledge permit one change but not permit two?

        • deiseach

          Because angels have direct perception of reality-as-it-is, then their refusal, denial or opposition means that they have to fundamentally twist and deform their own nature to be able to act in upholding their version of reality-as-it-is-not.

          Humans can’t see reality in the same way; if, at death, we come into the presence of God and say “So you really do exist!”, then it is the first time we will know by seeing (and not by faith). Some may say, while alive, “Even if God exists, I don’t or wouldn’t believe in such an entity because I don’t want to/don’t see any use or need/don’t like what He purports to command and condemn” but they do not have the unmediated knowledge that the angels do.

          It’s entirely possible for me to deny the existence of Australia because I’ve never been to that hemisphere of the world, even if others tell me it exists, they’ve been there, look at these pictures and video. If I get on a plane and fly to Australia and walk out onto the ground and see the sun in the north and the seasons different and the strange animals, and I still reject the existence of Australia as a hoax, deceit, delusion or invention of the tourist industry to make money on holidays from gullible travellers, then I am the one with the problem.

          • g

            That would certainly be a difference between humans and angels. But it doesn’t seem to be the one Leah’s talking about, which allegedly involves some sort of irrevocability to fallen angels’ choices. A being that chooses to deny clearly perceived reality in the sort of way you ascribe to fallen angels would certainly have a serious problem but I don’t see why it would make their choice either irrevocable or unforgivable.

      • Iota

        This is the section of the Catechism Leah is quoting from:

        • Subsistent

          Given that the section of the Catechism referenced just above suggests that Lucifer in sinning sought to be “like God.”, may I add the footnote that St. Anselm (of Canterbury) remarked that in seeking this, Lucifer “sought what he would have attained if he had stood fast, *si stetisset*, remaining faithful to what God wanted. Thus it was somehow in HOW he sought to be like God, not in the fact that he sought this at all.

          • Subsistent

            More clearly expressed: “Thus Lucifer’s sin was somehow in HOW he sought to be like God, not in the fact that he sought this at all.”

        • g

          Regrettably, that section of the Catechism gives no indication of why fallen angels’ choice should be considered irrevocable. It does quote from a work by St John Damascene, but the sentence quoted is just as unsupported in that work as it is in the Catechism. (And, incidentally, that work states explicitly that angels are by nature changeable, on the grounds that all created things are.)

    • Iota


      Warning: all this is theological speculation by a layman. Tread and treat with caution (and possibly consult a theologian/priest). I’ll be summarizing arguments I seem to remember hearing, but I won’t be providing links, because the sources I got that from aren’t in English.

      The opinion that the choice the angels made is irrevocable seems to not be a dogma (in other words: we may be wrong about this). If I’m wrong and it is dogma, corrections are welcome. It is, however, at least a widely held opinion.

      One way of explaining that has to do with time: that humans come to decisions in long stretches of time, so it’s conceivable someone will eventually change their mind if you give them enough of it (because the initial decision was hasty or lacked understanding), but angels do not need this, as their minds are pretty much perfect intellect.

      Another has to do with the problem that there is in fact no new data to challenge the angels decision, that they aren’t aware of. We have no idea what the “test” consisted of, but a commonly held idea seems to be that they were shown the whole of God’s planned salvation (that God would create the material world, that humanity would sin, and that the Word would then incarnate into a man to save humanity, basically giving us a closer potential relationship to God then, perhaps, even the angels have). Now, angels (and saints) are not by nature omniscient so it would mean that an actual change occurred at this point insofar as they got new data to process. But, the argument goes on, there is no new data to be further given to the angels (they know the whole deal already). The damned angels also experience the full extent of their damnation, so it’s not like they don’t know what they bargained for. It’s not that God would not have pardoned the angels if they asked, it’s that they have no “reason” to ask, insofar at they know exactly the same stuff they did when they chose that they don’t want any part in it and, by nature of their intellect, they don’t make decisions they have any reason to consider faulty further down the line.

      • Right, but wouldn’t the fallen angels have to have been created fallen (or pre-fallen) in the first place in order to have the moral character to choose damnation? If they were created with a perfect intellect (which would make the book of Job rather incomprehensible), what does that say about their choice to fall in the first place?

        • Angels are just plain beyond our direct experience; almost everything we say about them is speculation.

          It may be that angels to not have separate actions, as we do; their whole being is a single act, which appears in our history as a series of actions (insofar as we’re sure that it’s the act of an angel appearing in our history – which is an entirely distinct question).

          It may be that their time is so unrelated to our time that whatever “before” and “after” they had is already “past” so far as we are concerned.

          It may be as some others have said, that their understanding is so complete that it does not admit the possibility of repentance.

          All we know for sure is: something exists that we call “angels” for lack of a better term, and some are in union with God and some are opposed to God.

          BTW, the book of Job is not a literalist account of “historical” events in “heaven”; it’s doubtful it’s even supposed to reflect actual events in the life of a historical human being. It’s very much a theological/philosophical concept piece, so it is grouped with “wisdom literature” rather than with “historical books”.

          • Your reply doesn’t really address my question. Let me put it in starker terms. I see only two options:

            Angels cannot change, in which case some were bound for hell from their creation because of the way they were created OR Angels can change, which means there’s no reason they couldn’t continue to change after damnation.

            When change occurs in time relevant to us isn’t really relevant to their salvation.

            I wasn’t pointing to Job as a historical account. I was pointing to Job as an example of an angel having incomplete information, which contradicted the understanding of the writer above. And however much we might like Aquinas, he wasn’t an inspired author of one of the books of the Bible.

        • Iota

          Reluctant Liberal,

          > (or pre-fallen)

          Everyone was created pre-fallen. In the sense that everyone (us and them) had the option of saying they don’t want what is being offered.

          > (which would make the book of Job rather incomprehensible)

          Y’know, AFAIR the consensus is that this is a fable (generically speaking). Fables don’t necessarily make complete, literal sense.

          However, the bigger question is whether you can be very intelligent and still make extremely stupid (and/or evil) choices. I think the problem here is we (you and I) define intellect a bit differently. And I was expecting that question to come. Bear in mind the following has NO relation to any theological treatise I can name – just my reflections. And Robert King and deiseach had some alternative, interesting answers.

          I think intellect and moral character are two different things. One can be very intelligent and bad, and extremely stupid and good. The reason for this is that I think intellect is a kind of algorithm – it can get you from point A to Z. A very good intellect simply means your reasoning from A to Z is airtight (you did not make a weird turn at F, which, when corrected would have caused your conclusion to actually by Z2 or R, or whatever). What remains is the problem of where you get A from. In morality, I would argue, A is always an axiom, because there is no such thing as evidential proof of morality. So the quality of the choice (if your reasoning from axiom onward is airtight) is dependent on the axiom. Notice you are not any less intelligent simply because you have axioms, because it’s literally impossible to have none.

          At this point I’m going to (ab)use the quote from Marcus Aurelius Delphi Psmith likes to post here. I think it illustrates something. Go read it.

          What is he doing here? He is setting himself up as an authority to judge gods. But if he can judge gods according to justice, then the question is where does justice come from and what is justice (it should be a thing greater than both the gods and Aurelius)? This is especially fun, when you realize he was an ancient Roman and it’s more than likely his ides of justice didn’t match those of the civil rights movement, yours or mine.

          So, in some alternative universe, where we were given a right to judge a Roman following Marcus’ philosophy, who happened to build a fortune on trading slaves, arranging lucrative marriages for the women of his household or whatnot, and found him unjust and deserving punishment, could he retort that we are unjust (since he was clearly just and we are damning him), and therefore he will wear his punishment as a badge of honour? I don’t see why he couldn’t.

          Now, imagine that he had committed no fallacy in his thinking, his logic is airtight. We disagree at the point of the basic axiom. How would you try to persuade the Roman that he is wrong?

          In the “tested by being shown all of God’s plan” hypothesis the underlying idea seems to be that the fallen angels rebelled against mercy. God had created them, much better than we are, and then he was going to create humans, who will fall and will be redeemed by the Incarnation. To add insult to injury, the angels will have to assist in this mission, by ministering to these fallen, weak beings, and eventually pay homage to God Incarnate.

          It’s kind of the same problem that the obedient son had with the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son and the problem the good workers had with the employer in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: “it is shocking and scandalous that we have been faithful and shall be no better off than the ones that were not faithful/did less work”. In a word, it is unjust.

          And this is where it’s related to the Marcus Aurelius quote. If you believed that God was unjust, and if that stemmed from your understanding of justice (which functions here as an axiom), and had an otherwise airtight argument (so that the only way to change your opinion would be to change the axiom), how could you ever be convinced that you are wrong?

          • In your algorithm-axiom example, the question remains: where did the evil axiom that caused the fall come from. If the fallen angels were able to change the axioms God created them with once, why can’t they do it a second time?

            As for your question to me, my basic response would be, “lots of different ways, depending on the person.” But then, my model of people doesn’t really conform to the algorithm-axiom model that you posed.

            This has also caused me to reflect on how disappointed I am that hell managed to sneak into Christian tradition. The kind of thinking it requires is so bizarrely different from anything else no one would believe it if it hadn’t been around for a few thousand years.

          • Iota

            Reluctant Liberal,

            Axioms are stuff you choose. The ability to choose an axiom and follow it is part of what being autonomous and having free will means (in this hypothesis). So the world was created good in the sense that it contained no evil, but evil was always potentially there in the sense that beings can opt out of being good (without which choice they would be automatons).

            > If the fallen angels were able to change the axioms God created them with once, why can’t they do it a second time?

            If you take can’t to mean it is absolutely impossible (as in: I can’t fly) then I don’t think I’ve ever met the argument that they literally can’t (are constrained by anything other than the consequence of their previous choices). The idea seems to be (bear in mind, we are WAY past any dogmas here, AfAIK) that given what we believe about their nature, they just won’t (as in: will not will to). Also see answers below: some people argue otherwise. And frankly, I don’t put much stock into any particular theory about this.

            > But then, my model of people doesn’t really conform to the algorithm-axiom model that you posed.

            Care to elaborate? Or maybe drop me a link to a relevant post on your blog? I’m genuinely interested.

            > The kind of thinking it requires is so bizarrely different from anything else no one would believe it if it hadn’t been around for a few thousand years.

            Again, I’d gladly hear why you think that…
            Also, I do seem to remember the Orthodox have a different view of things (and they are Christian), which as influenced at least some Catholic thinking.

          • Sorry about the delay in my response. I got several pieces of good news today and was out celebrating.

            My understanding of mainstream theology is that “can’t” is a more appropriate word by virtue of angels being outside of time.

            >Care to elaborate? Or maybe drop me a link to a relevant post on your blog? I’m genuinely interested.
            I don’t yet have such a post, though it’s a good idea for one. People, for me, are hopelessly convoluted. There are not neat divisions between intellect, will, passions, emotions, motives, or any of the other ways we typically try to classify human behavior. It’s a big jumbled mess, and trying to put names on what we do has typically resulted in false divisions (though I don’t think this needs to be the case).

            >Again, I’d gladly hear why you think that…
            While a person is alive, it’s never too late for their salvation, right? Why should death close that door? God can create another universe as easily as I can snap my fingers. Why wouldn’t He? I could think of many reasons why it might be reasonable to stop giving people new chances for redemption, but the presence or absence of brain activity isn’t one of them. In fact, giving people a thousand lives in a thousand separate universes seems more like the act of an all loving God than just one life. Why should people being stuck in time (the usual argument for Hell) be any obstacle for the author of time?

            >Also, I do seem to remember the Orthodox have a different view of things (and they are Christian), which as influenced at least some Catholic thinking.
            I am certainly not Orthodox, and I would imagine opinions would vary as to whether or not I am Christian. I subscribe to the Nicene creed, but I don’t believe in hell or the mechanics of salvation. Do with that what you will.

            As for my own views, I hope for universal salvation, but I find total destruction more likely. If hell is total separation from God, then it seems like nonexistence should be the Catholic conclusion. How can anything exist separate from God? Anyway, there are a one or two Bible verses that imply eternal suffering, a few more that imply universal salvation, and a majority that refer to “destruction.” Only by looking at scripture heavily through heavily tinted lenses does destruction mean eternal torment.

            I hope all that isn’t too off the wall for you. You’ve been very enjoyable for me to interact with, and I’d be disappointed if you couldn’t say the same.

          • Iota

            Reluctant Liberal,

            1. Twelve hours isn’t a delay in my book. It’s called having a real life. Happens to people. 🙂
            2. As long as we’re talking about people, I’ll give you that (that they are convoluted). The Roman slaver was mostly an analogy and the main subjects here were angels.
            If you ever get to the point where you want to write more about it, drop a link (somehow).
            > While a person is alive, it’s never too late for their salvation, right?
            Here’s my take – I firmly hope everyone who would have in some, however minuscule way, wanted to become a saint (which is what seeing the beatific vision is) gets that chance. (probably after a very long stint in purgatory, given what I think about everyone’s, including my own, normal level of willingness to do absolute good). And I don’t mean this “wanting to be a saint” in any literal way – I mean it in the broadest possible. But I’m also rather convinced there are probably people who would not change their mind, ever. I get the universalist urge (I think), I’ve had it. But I don’t have it, to that extent, any more. I think (this will sound perverse, possibly) that it would be disrespectful of me to ignore the fact that some people are what they are and want to stay that way, thank you very much. After all, this is largely my own response to the claims of Islam and Jahannam (for which it seems I qualify as a Mushrikeen).
            I don’t have a specific class of people in mind though.

            4. About Orthodoxy: didn’t think you were. I have the decency to read people’s About Me’s if they have a blog and I’m talking to them. 🙂 I was just pointing out Christianity is sort of diverse on the whole question.

            > You’ve been very enjoyable for me to interact with
            I’m glad.

            > disappointed if you couldn’t say the same
            Don’t worry. I don’t interact in comboxes with people I don’t enjoy interacting with.

          • Most people like the way they are and want to stay that way. That doesn’t stop Christ from reaching out to them again and again. And I have to say it saddens me a bit that you feel like you don’t have a universalist urge anymore. I get what you’re saying about respecting people, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you or I are personally responsible for harassing people on the street until they get saved to our satisfaction. But I do think it’s a very Christian act to persevere in hope. My wife likes to say that real Christians should pray to God for the reconciliation of Satan himself. If we’re to pray for our enemies, shouldn’t we especially pray for the Enemy?

            And if I ever write that post, I guess I’ll just hijack one of Leah’s threads to let you know. Sorry Leah!

      • g

        This all seems to have the same problem I was complaining about before: If it justifies believing that fallen angels cannot cease to be fallen, then it seems like it also justifies believing that angels cannot fall in the first place.

        • Cassandra

          This whole mystery revolves around the mystery of free will.

          I suggest that you read Aquinas’ explanation at

 (particularly Article 2)
          “On the contrary, It is said (Psalm 73:23): “The pride of them that hate Thee, ascendeth continually”; and this is understood of the demons. Therefore they remain ever obstinate in their malice.”


          To find the cause, then, of this obstinacy, it must be borne in mind that the appetitive power is in all things proportioned to the apprehensive, whereby it is moved, as the movable by its mover. For the sensitive appetite seeks a particular good; while the will seeks the universal good, as was said above (Question 59, Article 1); as also the sense apprehends particular objects, while the intellect considers universals. Now the angel’s apprehension differs from man’s in this respect, that the angel by his intellect apprehends immovably, as we apprehend immovably first principles which are the object of the habit of “intelligence”; whereas man by his reason apprehends movably, passing from one consideration to another; and having the way open by which he may proceed to either of two opposites. Consequently man’s will adheres to a thing movably, and with the power of forsaking it and of clinging to the opposite; whereas the angel’s will adheres fixedly and immovably. Therefore, if his will be considered before its adhesion, it can freely adhere either to this or to its opposite (namely, in such things as he does not will naturally); but after he has once adhered, he clings immovably. So it is customary to say that man’s free-will is flexible to the opposite both before and after choice; but the angel’s free-will is flexible either opposite before the choice, but not after. Therefore the good angels who adhered to justice, were confirmed therein; whereas the wicked ones, sinning, are obstinate in sin. Later on we shall treat of the obstinacy of men who are damned (SP, 98, 1, 2).

          • g

            OK, so Aquinas’s position is that actually there are not two but three possible states for an angel’s will: an angel can be good, or evil, or not-yet-decided; but once an angel decides, “he clings immovably” either to good or to evil.

            That gets around my objection that if an angel can change once it can change twice, I suppose. But it seems to mean that all the fallen angels, at least, were in that not-yet-decided state until the devil fell and they chose to go with him. Which doesn’t seem like quite the traditional picture. Nor does it seem consistent with what Aquinas says in Q63 A1 Reply3: “for him to turn to God as the object of supernatural beatitude, comes of infused love, from which he could be turned away by sinning”. (This seems to describe someone who’s on God’s side rather than undecided, but is “turned away”.)

            Perhaps the idea is that before the devil’s fall the angels were good (because uncorrupted), but hadn’t yet been presented with an actual choice between good and evil; once that choice was made apparent to them, they could choose either way, but that choice would be decisive. But that seems terribly contrived (why would an angel’s service to God before the fall of the devil not count as a choice?). And it seems to leave the way open for some other new kind of choice between good and evil being presented to the angels later.

    • Subsistent

      According to the commonly accepted (and to me quite reasonable) Scholastic philosophic view, the free choice about who one’s absolutely first love is, made by a pure spirit — be it an angel, or a human soul newly separated from bodily conditions by death — is so utterly and simply wholehearted and open-eyed (as it were), that such a spirit is, and wills to be, fixed in that choice for ever. “It’s in virtue of the order of nature that the will of those damned is fixed in evil in a manner that’s absolute and unchangeable. A miracle — and a miracle only — can change that.”
      In the essay from which this quote is taken, the prominent 20th-century Scholastic (Thomist) author Jacques Maritain goes on to defend the thesis that it is permissible to hope that by such a miracle, the reprobate will be converted — without being raised to the state of grace — from being morally evil to being morally upright, thereafter humbly yet nobly accepting everlasting deprivation from heavenly joy as something just, and thanking God for this unasked-for pardon, one rendering the “reprobate” (“à la fois réprouvé et pardonné”) able to experience some joys of the natural order (science, art, friendship, etc.).
      I find it significant that one Jean-Hervé Nicolas, O.P., even though disagreeing with this view of Maritain’s, has admitted that it’s not opposed to Catholic teaching.
      The essay at point is titled “Idées Eschatologiques”, in the posthumously published book *Approches sans entraves*, whose English version is titled *Untrammeled Approaches*.

      • Subsistent

        Against Maritain’s thesis here are two possible objections, and my admittedly incomplete replies:
        # 1: “If the wicked in hell don’t want to be pardoned and converted, what would be the good in it?” Reply: Altho they don’t want it, they need it, in order to be happy. Unconverted, they remain necessarily miserable. Besides, their fellow-persons in heaven will desire their conversion, if it be at all possible.
        # 2: “It’s an ironclad law that altho God’s always ready and willing to forgive, He can’t forgive unless the sinner repents.” Reply: Granted. But that’s HOW God forgives: by moving a sinner to repent.

        • Cassandra

          >> their fellow-persons in heaven will desire their conversion
          No, the saints in heaven will rejoice in the justice and wisdom of God.

          >>But that’s HOW God forgives: by moving a sinner to repent.
          God gives us here on earth grace to respond to his initiatives, but always respects free will. I can’t say it’s definitive Catholic teaching, but I’m pretty sure that it is, that such grace is no longer extended to those in hell. They rejected God, and reject his love.

          • Subsistent

            I concede that SANCTIFYING grace cannot be extended to those in hell: they’ll never be raised to the state of sanctifying grace. But it does not follow that BY MIRACLE they cannot be moved by God to repent.
            To give a sinner ACTUAL (not always sanctifying) “grace to respond to His initiatives” IS how God moves a sinner to repent.
            The “saints in heaven will rejoice in the justice and wisdom of God” AND they would desire and pray for the conversion of those in hell if at all possible: a conversion in which that justice would be maintained, since even after being pardoned, those in hell would remain forever “damned”, and “reprobate”; and while they would then be morally upright in the natural order, and able to experience joys of the natural order, they’d still suffer the pain of knowing that they lost forever, thru their own choice, the possibility of enjoying supra-natural beatific vision.

  • grok87

    Apparently in the Eastern Orthodox tradition the flaming-sword wielding Cherubim have been “stood down”

    (sorry for the all-caps)

  • Jason Schalow

    I also heard a lecture once where Mother Superior pointed out that the ‘curse’ of mortality was really a blessing from God: Adam and Eve had already become broken by their choice before God shows back up in the story, so eternal life for them would have meant an eternity of broken trust and hiding from one another and from God. In death comes the possibility of being remade… the possibility made concrete in the Resurrection.

  • Yvain

    “The friar went on to say that, although we might think the ultimate goal is to return to the Garden and eat again from the Tree of Life, we’re clearly not going to take on a sword-wielding angel in single combat. ”

    I feel like if more Less Wrong-ers were religious there would already be a startup in Berkeley developing anti-angel weaponry.

    (and staying on the subject of doomed but valiant crusades, see )

    • leahlibresco

      That’s basically Lord Asriel’s plan.

      • grok87

        with support from Ruta Skadi

      • Thought the exact same thing!

  • jose

    Just for the record, can we make explicit what Adam and Eve and the tree and the fruit and the cherubim symbolize, or do you believe they existed and the stuff in genesis are real, historical events. I know this is the catholic channel but the discussion sounds pretty literal.

    • From a Catholic point of view, we’re not sure about the exact relation of the Genesis 1-3 narrative to concrete history. It is theologically acceptable to consider it a literal account of events, though almost nobody in the Catholic world does so these days because it seems to raise more questions than it answers.

      Nor is there an exact, dogmatic, one-to-one significance of the various parts of the story. As with most poetry, the trees and the serpent, the garden, the angel’s sword, and so on are images that resonate with a great deal of meaning, and their symbolism resonates differently with different people. So the following is sort of a minimal symbolic interpretation, but is open to expansion and additional interpretations.

      Adam & Eve are our first parents, representing the first fully rational and free animals who were capable of moral choice.

      The tree of knowledge of good and evil (and its fruit) is a MacGuffin; it’s simply the object used to test Adam & Eve’s faithfulness and obedience. Much has been made of the “knowledge” bit, but minimally it is simply that, since they already have knowledge of good, disobedience gives them knowledge of evil.

      The cherubim and its flaming sword shows that it is impossible to return to the Garden and the state of innocence, that the tree of life is cut off from us, and to foreshadow the advent of the lightsaber. (Okay, that last bit might not be a standard Catholic interpretation.)

      That’s about as far as Catholic dogma goes. There are thousands of additional ways to interpret the stories, ranging from hyper-literalistic to hyper-metaphorical; but Catholics have never had a single absolute interpretation, nor are we likely ever to have one.

      • grok87


    • Cassandra

      In 1909 the Pontifical Biblical Commission which had competence (juridiction) at that time to interpret texts, stated (in answer to rather particular dubia (questions) it is not permitted to interpret Genesis 1-3 as purely fable or myth.

      Question III might answer some of your questions about what cannot be called into question. An interpretation of Gen 1-3 cannot call into question the list of Catholic truths listed in the question.

      Question III: Whether in particular the literal and historical sense can be called into question, where it is a matter of facts related in the same chapters, which pertain to the foundation of the Christian religion; for example, among others, the creation of all things wrought by God in the beginning of time; the special creation of man; the formation of the first woman from the first man; the oneness of the human race; the original happiness of our first parents in the state of justice, integrity, and immortality; the command given to man by God to prove his obedience; the transgression of the divine command through the devil’s persuasion under the guise of a serpent; the casting of our first parents out of that first state of innocence; and also the promise of a future restorer? — Reply: In the negative.

  • The Book of Mormon actually has a little theological discourse on this Biblical passage. According to the prophet Alma, the expulsion from the Garden was an act of mercy on God’s part – He was giving man a “space … In which he might repent” of his misdeeds and “prepare for that endless state … which is after the resurrection of the dead.” If they had partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Life after the Fall, however, “they would have been miserable forever, having no preparatory state.” It seems like there’s something about being made immortal that might subject people to divine judgment (it’s only after the resurrection that we return to God for the Judgment, for example), or perhaps the counterfactual is that Adam and Eve would have been immortal and sinful, never getting a reprieve from the world (Tuck Everlasting, or Tolkien’s elves if they could not die).

    That said, regarding the cherubim and flaming sword, you have the LDS endowment ritual. In it, people reenact the Fall of Adam and Eve – as well as the steps they needed to take to return to God, including taking on covenants of sacrifice, obedience, following the Gospel, chastity (sex with spouse), and consecration (dedicating everything to the building of the kingdom of God) and receiving corresponding levels of divine power, symbolized by the donning of ritual clothing (etymologically, endowment). Brigham Young explicitly described the endowment as a way to pass the sentinel cherubim: “Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.” If people are true to their covenants, they’ll be able to walk past the Angela and partake of the Tree of Life.

  • jenesaispas


  • Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament…read some Scott Hahn if you’re really into how the OT foreshadows the NT. He does a LOT of work with that.
    The friars usually come to our parish during Lent, but I would’ve liked to attend this Advent series.

    • Alan

      I wrote a short story in school revealing a great deal of Hamlet – rather than recognizing how Shakespeare foreshadowed my story my teacher just called it plagiarism…

    • ACN

      Post hoc ergo propter hoc much?

      You can read two pieces of literature concurrently and decide one foreshadows the other. Or you could recognize that maybe the authors didn’t write them independently. That perhaps the authors of the second had a vested interest in spinning a narrative that alluded to the first.

  • DoctorD

    I dropped a pin once. I wonder how many of these mystical dancing creatures were injured in the fall.

    • Cassandra

      None. Spiritual beings are not affected by material objects.
      The pin dancing argument is a myth that was started by a critic of Scholasticism. Never happened. However, as Peter Kreeft has pointed out, it would not be a trivial debate as one has to tackle the nature of the interaction between spiritual beings and material matter, not to mention how spiritual beings relate to space, even if in just the spiritual realm.

      • Acn

        You’ve simultaneously missed and made DrD’s point.

        • Subsistent

          Cute assertion. But, gratuitously made in snarky contempt for Cassandra’s thoughtful comment, Acn’s assertion can legitimately be gratuitously doubted.

      • Kewois

        Cassandra is the soul a spiritual being?


        • Irenist

          The soul is the form of the body. Not that Mario Bunge would think very much of that assertion, I know.

          • Kewois

            Forms : a too elaborated and obscure way to account for what is in fact categories form the linguistic perspective.


  • Kewois


    what is the context of your post?

    a) Literalist. Adam and Eve really existed.
    b) Interpretation of an allegorical myth?

    If b ) then “Christ on the cross is the new Tree of Life, and that fruit of that tree is what will restore to us our former graces.” is also an allegory?


    • Irenist

      Not Leah, but:
      (a) & (b) Adam and Eve really existed. But much of Genesis is allegorical.

      As for your second question, Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross really literally is the source of the grace that conquers sin, but it is not literally a fruit-bearing tree.

      • ACN

        I have a suspicion that you and Kewois don’t mean the same thing when you say “Adam and Eve really existed”.

        You’ve previously claimed that “Adam” and “Eve” are handles attached to the first humans that your deity decided would get “rationally minded souls”, that “Adam” and “Eve” were otherwise physically identical to a large number of other humans that were around at the time, and that the specific stories surrounding the events that happened to them in genesis are allegorical.

        Kewois probably means something like “there were a first two humans etc etc”.

        • Irenist

          Thanks for the clarification, ACN.

  • Kewois


    I was about to make some questions about your comment but I believe that you have answered them in other comments…. so I have to read a lot….. 🙂


    • Irenist

      so I have to read a lot…..

      Yeah, I am kinda verbose in some of those comments! Sorry about that. Nice chatting with you. Have a great day, Kewois.

      • Kewois

        Irenist after reading your comments (/unequallyyoked/2012/12/is-judgement-always-about-punishment.html) I have to ask you:

        what is really your interpretation about Genesis?
        a) Literalist. Adam and Eve really existed.
        b) Interpretation of an allegorical myth?

        Because along many comments sometimes you talk from the literalist point of view, about Adam and Eve as a real man and woman making a thoughtful decision to act against God and eat from the Tree. But also you said that at some point in Earth history, a primate of the genus homo received a “soul” and become rational. So what that primate did in order to choose to act against God or get apart from God??

        Three other comments:
        i) Do you really believe that it is just to punish sons and grandsons for their parent’s crimes or sins???? Why is it reasonable to you to believe that it is just that we are being punished because of eve and Adam Choice??? Also you said that God has not made us perfect so why is he upset with us because we do wrong things??. Also Alan made a good point when he said that as he did with Mary god can always choose to erase original sin from any man or woman.

        ii) Now let´s look from the literal point of view. It is not true that Adam and Eve choose not to obey God knowing what their action deserved to them. It is not that God explained in detail what were theis options so they made a decision and said. “Ok God we understand what you said but we freely choose death and pain”.
        No, they were just told not to eat a fruit (like you said a toddler not to eat poison). And then the all knowing God allowed the serpent to deceive Eve and Adam allowed them to eat the fruit. This is as if you let a psycho enter your home and allow him to deceive your 5 years old kid into eating rat poison because you prefer to respect your kid´s freedom over his (eternal) life.

        iii) Finally. It is not true that people like me “choose” to be apart from God. That implies that I have plenty evidence and reasons to believe that God exist and that is not the case, even less to believe in the Christian tale. To believe you need faith and faith is a gift from God. So I am apart from God for the same reasons that you are apart from Zeus, Brahma of whatever other god you want. Not because we choose pain and death. By the way if God is infinite…. It is impossible to be apart from God.