Wisdom’s Fire, Radiant and Unfading. Part VI.

Wisdom’s Fire, Radiant and Unfading. Part VI. November 2, 2010

Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV. Part V.

Love, pure and true, directs us to beatitude;
Perverted, love leads us to perdition.
We are called to love that which is good,
In a way appropriate to its ontological condition.

When we invert the hierarchy of creation,
Seeking what is lower instead what is higher,
Love continues to be our major affiliation,
Leading us, however, to hell’s damnable fire.

Created Sophia follows her exemplar Divine Sophia as she guides creation, showing those within her space their rightful place in God. However, because of the freedom given to all created subjects, her guidance can be ignored — her work can be damaged if not outright destroyed. “Wisdom builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down” (Prov. 14:1 RSV). Created Sophia can be said, in a poetic fashion, to become fallen – not that the image of Divine Sophia is destroyed, nor that created Sophia, as the guardian angel of creation, can be said to have sinned. Rather, those persons who have been given freedom can fail to follow the dictates of wisdom, and so sin. When they do so, the corruption of their sin is felt throughout the great chain of being, causing the links to be weakened. Subjects, indeed, isolate themselves from each other, trying to become pure individuals without need of anyone else. They cut themselves off from the order of grace, leading them to live life in a fallen modality of existence, a modality which includes much suffering. Nature, as we know it in our fallen mode of existence, is what comes out of this, the imperfect act of this new, corrupted whole, which, in metaphoric sense, can be said to be “fallen Sophia.” For it is the world as we know it is known through the lens of sin. It is still full of power, and follows, in part at least, the path of created Sophia; but it does so in a fallen fashion, so that what we see is at once something great, something which is encountered in history and often deified, and yet, because of the corruption contained in it, something which can be terrible and quite destructive:

Being extradivine as a creation that originated out of nonbeing, nature was destined to be deified in and through man; but when man fell, nature was doomed to the illegitimate independence of extradivine being. It became the godless, self-sufficient world, the “great Pan,” possessing the mighty fullness of life. Having become the fallen Sophia, the world broke away from the Divine Sophia in the mode of its being, although of course not in its foundation. And in its disintegrated, chaotic being, nature preserves its fullness as all-unity. But this multi-unity is only the external and mechanical coherence of the natural law and is covered by it as by a crust, while the animal world, deprived of human government, is doomed in its life to the struggle for existence and mutual annihilation. The life of nature in its separate manifestations is subject to degeneration and decomposition. Parasitic forms of animals and plants emerge that represent, as it were, the creative activity of evil in the turbulence of nature.[1]

One of the many questions philosophers and theologians wrestle with is the question of evil; if the world is created good, whence comes sin? It is a question which knows no rational answer, because sin is folly. To try to give a reason for sin is to try to give reason to something irrational, which of course is a contradiction in terms. This is not to say we cannot analyze the fall, and grasp elements of it, but because of its nature (or rather, because sin is a corruption of nature, and is not, in itself a nature), what we say will never fully explain sin. We will not feel entirely satisfied with the answer as we will be left with new questions which we can raise up, questions which seem to go on and on into infinity. We must understand that these questions, questions which are worthy of exploration, cannot be answered because any answer would, in the end, be an explanation for what can only be without explanation. But, because sin does not entirely corrupt us, we still try to discern the truth, and we seek after the good, however imperfect we are in doing both, and so we desire an explanation, an answer, for what we see around us. What we can provide are mere elements of the story, elements which, in themselves, can be mutually contradictory – and yet, by the irrational nature of sin, this is what we must expect. Another way to look at this is to understand that evil, as the corruption of the good, is a perversion of existence; it has no nature, no essence of its own. Answers look toward essences in order to discern the truth. There is no truth in evil, therefore, whatever answer we give is not about evil, but something which we use to approximate evil by way of analogy. Since we are looking for an answer to the question of evil, whatever it is we discern, we know we that we have not discerned evil, but a lesser good.

Vladimir Solovyov, who is a great pioneer in modern Sophiology, has considered this subject much. He was, to be sure, influenced by the ancient so-called Gnostics. He admitted it in many of his writings. He looked to them to see what it is he can learn from them. But he did so with an attempt to remain orthodox, to take what truths the “Gnostics” had and to bring it back into philosophical and theological discussions. Thus, he showed why their writings must not be entirely rejected – there is truth contained in them, and if we outright ignore what they had to say, we would likely to miss out on the fullness of truth. On the other hand, such an enterprise is dangerous, because it is easy to accidentally take elements of “Gnostic” thought which are erroneous and dangerous, and to work them into one’s own thoughts. For this reason, though Solovyov is worthy of respect, we must still be careful as we work with his thoughts.[2] Dualism is one of the oldest, and most powerful, heresies, creeping up time and again in the thoughts of the faithful. When someone inadvertently comes close to it, we must always exercise caution in what they say, though of course, if they offer some valuable insight which is worthy of examination, we must not deny their insight. Heresy, after all, comes out of a misappropriation of truth, and so we must discern not only the truth in heresy, but also work with those who try to discern that truth. Solovyov, as he tried to discern the truths the so-called Gnostics had, could sometimes come close to their dualism. But he said it in a speculative form, and so we must take that into consideration – speculating over difficult questions, without coming to final conclusions, is different from trying to make definitive claims, and one can easily make mistakes in speculation without it being indicative of someone who wills contrary to teach contrary to the truth. Since much of what he said is speculation, and not final, we can accept (as with so many others, even from saints) what he wrote in that spirit. Thus, his own sense of “fallen Sophia” as the “world soul” must be read, not according to how we have already looked at the world soul, but according to what was just said above — that when we talk about the world soul or any Sophiological element as fallen, it is in relation to our fallen mode of existence, that is, in how it is experienced by us due to our sin. Thus, we can agree with the underlying spirit of his thought when he wrote:

The world soul possesses “all”, as the content of her own being (her own idea) and not immediately in herself, but from the divine beginning, which is essentially prior to her, is presupposed by her and defines her. Only as she is open in her inner being to the activity of the divine Logos does the world soul receive in Him and from Him power over all, and possess all. Therefore, although possessing all, the world soul can still desire to possess it in a manner different from the way she does possess it, i.e., she can desire to possesses it of herself, as God [desires anything]: she may wish to add to the fullness of being which belongs to her, also the absolute self-substancy of her being in the possession of that fullness— something that does not belong to her. By virtue of this, the soul can detach the relative centre of her life from the absolute centre of the divine life, can assert herself outside of God. But thereby the soul necessarily loses her central position, falls from the all-one focus of the divine being to the circumference of multiple creation, losing her freedom and power over this creation: for she possesses such power not of herself, but only as a mediatrix between creation and Divinity, from which in her self-assertion she becomes separated. In resisting her will upon herself, centring in herself, she takes away from the all, becomes but one among many. But when the world soul ceases to unite all with herself, then all lose their common bond, and the unity of cosmic creation breaks up into a multitude of separated elements, the universal organism becomes transformed into a mechanical aggregate of atoms.[3]

There are many ways one can take this passage. I admit, I must interpret it, and not exactly follow the simplest interpretation possible with these words. It is because such an interpretation would be incomplete. If we leave it as it stands without supplementing to it other elements of Christian thought, what he said could lead people to erroneous views. But if it is taken as a starting point, and supplemented (as later Sophiologists have done), his speculations show an aspect of the truth which has often been neglected, and it is one which is helpful in explaining not only salvation history, but the history of creation as it is wounded by sin. Thus, as has been said above, one must not believe that created Sophia is fallen. She remains in principle as the first creation, unfallen, and continues to act and guide creation according to the dictates of her nature – wisdom. Those who sin, like humanity, corrupt the order of creation, hurt and wound it, causing great suffering in history; yet created Sophia remains as a guiding light, an angel over creation, seeking its proper end:

The earthly sophia, the world’s ideal root, must attain likeness, but the freedom of the human spirit has overthrown every sacred order (hierarchy), and has perverted the relationships of the Sophianic principles. Evil creeps into “the cracks” of being. It is the culture-medium of the parasitic world, of the excrescences that represent a parody of sophia, “the nocturnal aspect of creation,” its demonic mask.[4]

Created Sophia continues to act as the integral unity of creation, seeking to bring harmony to it, even when harmony has been hindered because of sin. What is in creation continues to possess goodness within, and that goodness is made in the light of wisdom, and it is this light which allows creaturely Sophia to continue to act and to try to bring about that harmony in creation. We can still sense it, as St John of the Cross points out, though to do so we must silence all distraction, all that would close us off from the order of grace:

In that nocturnal tranquility and silence and in knowledge of the divine light the soul becomes aware of Wisdom’s wonderful harmony and sequence in the variety of her creatures and works. Each of them is endowed with a certain likeness of God and in its own way gives voice to what God is in it.[5]

We return once again to the questions of sin – what is it, where does it come into creation, what is its source and origin?

First, as indicated above, sin must not be seen as a nature, per se, but as a corruption of nature. What is created, according to its nature, is good. That which acts, that which has will, can will contrary to their nature by perverting it in some fashion. The primary sin seems to be a perversion of love. What this means is that we are to love things according to their level of lovability, to work for that which we love to attain their proper place in the great chain of being. A perversion of love, however, loves what is good, but it loves in on a level contrary to the level of love which we are to give it: God is to be given absolute love, and everything else, relative love. However, the first sin appears to be a self-love, which puts the love which is meant to be given to God to the self, hence pride.[6]

Having lessened (or removed) God’s place in one’s love and association, this subjective wound leads to a greater and greater perversion of love – one tries to make creation in the image of oneself, and one’s new, and perverted, order of being. What should be given greater love is given less love, what should be given less love, such as the self, is given greater love, with the channels of grace, of God’s love, being cut off. As Solovyov points out, things fall apart – creation and what is in it is experienced in a fallen modality; interdependence turns into independent, atomistic subjects and objects, and our love, now perverted by our self love, loves objectified things in this fallen modality. St Maximus the Confessor explains what happens in this fashion:

Self-love, as has frequently been said, is the cause of all passionate thoughts. From it are begotten the three capital thoughts of concupiscence: gluttony, greed, and vanity. From gluttony the thought of fornication arises; from greed, that of covetousness, from vanity, that of arrogance. All the rest follow one or the other of these three: the thoughts of anger, grief, resentment, sloth, envy, back-biting, and the rest. These passions, then, bind the mind to material things and keep it down on the earth, weighing on it like a very heavy stone, though by nature it should be lighter and livelier than fire.[7]

Charles Williams agrees; what we end up loving becomes a part of who we are, and if our love is in error, it leads to our damnation:

It is therefore above all things the relation between his own soul and Love with which the lover is concerned; and though he passes into the mystery by the channels which Love has prepared, Love itself issues therefrom in all his terrible strength along the channels which the lover has prepared. It is in this sense that he too may “eat and drink his own damnation,” for what his sincerity brings will certainly be strengthened, desire or covetousness or humility or pride or sentimentality.[8]

It is in our nature to love, to be creatures of love. Even fallen, we love. It is, however, not a love based upon the love for God, and therefore a love for creation in God, but a love for creation apart from God which causes us to sin. St. Augustine said it well when he wrote:

This word is conceived in love of either the creature or the creator, that is of changeable nature or unchangeable truth; which means either in covetousness or in charity. Not that the creature is not to be loved, but if that love is related to the creator it will no longer be covetousness but charity. It is only covetousness when the creature is loved on its own account. [9]

Once our love is perverted, once it is moved away from the proper order of being, it becomes a dark shadow of itself. Love is, ironically, the foundation for great evil, even hate.[10] Denatured acts of love are all formed on the basis of love, but they are perversions of it, hindering the creature from loving in the way it is meant according to its nature. Such love is imperfect, partial and aims not at unity but division, of separating that good which we do not desire from that which we love. “The right will is, therefore, well-directed love, and the wrong will is ill-directed love. Love, then, yearning to have what is loved, is desire; and having and enjoying it, is joy; fleeing what is opposed to it, is fear; and feeling what is opposed to it, when it has befallen it, is sadness. Now these motions are evil if that love is evil; goof if the love is good.”[11] While Florensky points out the positive value behind jealousy,[12] we must remember how it is put into practice, in our fallen mode of existence, it becomes a love which is unwilling to share our beloved, indeed, trying to preserve a lesser good, hurting them because of it.[13] Destructive hate comes when our power to shape and transform that which we give our love fails to achieve what we want to make out of our beloved, thereby, judging them from our vision of who we want them to be (a vision which gets our love), we end up hating them for who they are. In this way, the dark underbelly of love, is understandable – it is not that love is wrong, but the way it is enacted becomes dark and deadly, as is seeks to destroy that which fails to meet our vision of reality. It takes, even, a good, the desire to purify, but ends up seeking annihilation instead of purification.

Having looked at the way evil is a perversion of the good, and indeed, comes out of a perversion of love, let us next look into the question of the origin of evil. Is there something we can say about it?

[1] Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 153-4.

[2] Pope John Paul II, in 2003, showed how highly he respected the thought of Solovyov, and he thought his writings could help bring together the East and the West. Thus, he encouraged an exploration of Solovyov’s writings for this express purpose. “May the rediscovery of the treasures of his thought foster a better understanding between East and West and, in particular, hasten the progress of all Christians towards full unity in the one fold of Christ (cf. Jn 10: 16).” Pope John Paul II, Message On the Occasion of the Conference on Vladimir Solovyov, Russia and the Universal Church, October 28, 2003 (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/2003/october/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20031028_vladimir-soloviev_en.html).

[3] Vladimir Solovyev, Lectures on Divine Humanity. Intr. Peter Peter Zouboff (London: Dennis Dobson Ltd Publishers, 1948), 174-5.

[4] Paul Evdokimov, Woman and the Salvation of the World. Trans. Anthony Gythiel (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994), 66.

[5] St John of the Cross, “Spiritual Canticle” in The Collected Works of St John of the Cross. Trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1991), 535-6.

[6] Thus, St Maximus the Confessor says, “The beginning of all passions is love of self, and the end is pride.” St Maximus the Confessor, “The Four Hundred Chapters on Love” in Maximus the Confessor, Selected Writings. trans. George C. Berthold (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 69.For St Maximus, this self-love in part comes from a mixing up of the great chain of being in one’s own person, by raising up the body and its desires above the spiritual principle which should guide it. Thus, we become distracted from the order of being in ourselves, corrupt it in ourselves, and fall into all kinds of bodily sins.

[7] Ibid., 69.

[8] Charles Williams, Romantic Theology (Berkley, CA: Aprocyphile Press, 2005), 43.

[9] St Augustine, The Trinity, 278.

[10] While hatred is said to be the opposite of love, it nonetheless, comes out of love, is founded upon love, and inverts it; see St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II.29-2.

[11] St. Augustine, The City of God XIV.7 in NPNF1(2): 267.

[12] See Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, 333 – 43. Florensky’s point is that jealousy points to the uniqueness of the love which is shared by two persons, a love which identifies and unites the two in a way which others cannot share. “But even if one were to say here that there are ‘many’ such beloved Thou’s, nevertheless, toward each one the relation, in the case of love, would be as to a unique one. Every love, in essence, has a selective, a selecting power, is dilectio. The loved one is therefore always a selected one, a unique one. It is this that constitutes the personal nature of love, without which would be dealing with desire whose object is a thing and with indifference as to whether the desired thing is replaced by a thing equal to it.” (336). In this positive sense, jealousy is about this selection and the preserving of it, of keeping something good and holy, and protecting it from being destroyed. In this manner, Florensky points out how God can be said to be “jealous,” without it being seen as something negative. God has personally chosen each person, for some good in them, a good which God wants to preserve.

[13] C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces presents the many faces of love together for us to see. As for jealousy, he points out how Psyche was hurt by her sister and dear friends – they did not believe Pysche in part because they did not want to give Psyche up to the god whom she had betrothed. Psyche, acting out of love for her sister and friends, disobeyed the higher call of love that had been given to her, causing her to be expelled by her lover. Psyche underwent a terrible ordeal in order to be restored to her beloved. When her sister found out what Psyche had went through, she felt great remorse:

“Did we really do these things to her?” I asked.

“Yes. All here’s true.”

“And we said we loved her.”

“And so we did. She had no more dangerous enemies than us. And in that far distant day when the gods become wholly beautiful, or we at last are shown how beautiful they always were, this will happen more and more. For mortals, as you said, will become more and more jealous. And mother and wife and child and friend will all be in league to keep a soul from being united with the Divine Nature.”

C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1985), 304.

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