Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"dieux dont le principal tort était d'exister"

"the patristic notion of death as enemy entails . . . a certain notion of sin.  It is in what the Fathers consider to be 'the sin' par excellence, much more than by an abstract study, that we will recapture their way of comprehending it.  This sin par excellence . . . is idolatry.  It is extremely important to note that the ancients placed under this word 'idolatry' something completely different than we do.  When a modern Christian speaks of 'false gods,' this, in his mouth, tends to denote gods that do not exist.  When an ancient employed that expression, he, by contrast, meant gods who were dangerous precisely because they were real [(dieux dont le principal tort était d'exister)].  The notion that paganism with its polytheism and its superstitious practices innumerable was only a vast illusion is one that occurred to no ancient mind. . . .
     "The position [that St. Paul takes in 1 Cor 10:19-22, which is that 'what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons',] will remain that of the whole of the patristic period.  The Fathers will be led to systematize it by the necessity of sustaining the indomitable oppositionup to and including martyrdomof the first Christians to idolatrous practices [to us] the most apparently benign.  When we look into the details, it is very difficult for [us] moderns to justify these dispositions of the ancient councils, which went so far as to forbid to Christians, at even a very late date, the civil magistracies that would have secured for them positions of incomparable influence.  This, simply because one could not discharge such duties without [performing] some trifling rite that the greatest [pagan] pontiffs of the period, e.g. a Cotta, stood ready to declare [were] of no real significance.  Yet the Christian apologists were completely justified in not seeing it in this way at all.  This network of ritual in which ancient life was caught up, right down to those of its customs in appearance the most secularized, was for them only the shadow cast by a network of demonic influences [that were] utterly authentic.  And to cede to that invasive idolatry on even the slightest point would have been to commit the least pardonable of sins, because it would have been to accept anew the fundamental error of all sin:  to adhere to that refusal-to-go-beyond-itself [(arrêt à elle-même)] of the free and conscious creature that placed it in the enmity of God, [an] adhesion that is . . . the whole principle of the slavery in which man found himself before Christ.
     "When one reads, for example, the treatise Against the pagans, by St. Athanasius, or it matters not what apology of the century previous, but in particular those of Justin or Tertullian, one readily discerns in them the same fundamental intellectual reflexes.  Behind all of the beauties, the grandeurs, the forces of this world is an ensemble of spiritual powers [that are] relatively autonomous, though completely dependent upon God by virtue of the fact that they, too, are only [his] creatures. . . . these powers wished to to arrogate to themselves the glory of the goods of which they were [appointed] only the guardians.  [And] the weak mind [(esprit)] of man has allowed itself to be seduced by them, to the point of settling for these goods [(s'arrêter à ces biens)] in place of mounting back up through them [(remonter par eux)] to God."

      Louis Bouyer, “Les deux économies du gouvernement divin: Satan et le Christ,” in Initiation théologiques par un groupe de théologiens, tome II: Dieu et sa creation, 2nd ed. (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1953), 529  (504-535).  "In this world . . . there is no real possibility of a settling of a finite being for itself [(un arrêt de l'être limité à soi-même)].  Either it will be immortalized in a reunion with God, [the] source of all being who calls it to himself; or, by refusing this vocation, it will deliver itself up to nothingness" (528).  Yet the Fall was not, for the Fathers, an attachment to (an "s'arrêter à") mere self in lieu of God.  Because it was precisely the move of the (now fallen) powers already primordially, the attachment to self and the goods of creation was ultimately an attachment to the demons in lieu of God (531).
     Would Mark Noll, by the way, care to call this The scandal of the patristic mind?  Cf. this passage, fairly typical of Noll, which I read not long after mounting the translation above:  "Although formally connected to the scriptural command to resist the devil, the stark dialectic of spiritual warfare found in these books [by Frank Peretti] can be traced directly to heightened language concerning Satan and the Holy Spirit that came to prominence in the first decades of the twentieth century.  They reflect new prominence given to angels and demons in both the informal instincts of Pentecostalism and the formal theologies of dispensationalists" (Mark A. Noll, The scandal of the evangelical mind (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 141).  Who is the real innovator here?

No comments: