Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Apocryphal Destiny of Man

God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it. But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace. For though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality. And having been a little chastised, they shall be greatly rewarded: for God proved them, and found them worthy for himself. As gold in the furnace hath he tried them, and received them as a burnt offering. And in the time of their visitation they shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble. They shall judge the nations, and have dominion over the people, and their Lord shall reign for ever. They that put their trust in him shall understand the truth: and such as be faithful in love shall abide with him: for grace and mercy is to his saints, and he hath care for his elect.

Wisdom ii.23-iii.9

Among Anglicans, the Apocrypha receives mixed appreciation. Some will give it more weight than others. Officially, the Apocrypha adds no extra doctrine to the Church, but it does enhance the doctrine that can be found in the rest of Holy Writ. This passage from the Wisdom of Solomon is a wonderful example of that enhancement and just shows how the Old Testament gets bound to the New. St Paul himself probably reflects on these very words when he speaks of the destiny of mankind in his letters.

One of the dividing issues in Christianity is the idea of predestination. I cannot go with the Calvinistic interpretation of "once saved always saved" which doesn't really seem to mean anything until the death of the individual. Our Salvation is both corporate and individual; individual because our own humanity matters to God with its free-will; corporate because we are saved in unity with Christ in the Church. Human beings are destined to follow the same, almost paradoxical, quality of the Godhead. Oliver Clement describes the Church as one human being in the multiplicity of persons to mirror one God in a Trinity of Persons. An individual is saved because the Church is saved and the Church is saved because an individual is saved. Human being is a mystery in itself, even if we try to probe that mystery with neuroscience, anthropology and sociology.

It seems to be Man's quest to find himself and understand himself fully, and it is this very question that taxes his imagination. Can Man understand the reason why he wants to understand himself? Can he expect to find the answer to that within himself? Is the answer to that to be found within the individual, in a representative sample, or within mankind as a whole? The quest for self understanding is an ouroboros like the snake eating its own tail. It is self-consuming if all it does is perform an overinvasive introspection, and if something consumes itself, can we honestly describe that as a healthy state of affairs?

In this passage from Wisdom, we are also pointed towards a purgatory of a much more beautiful nature than as a place of punishment. To see Purgatory as a place of punishment is to view Salvation far too legally - in fact, that idea points more towards a stimulus-response relationship. The word Salvation has its roots more in the idea of health, rather than law. It is true to say with St Cyprian of Carthage that extra ecclesiam nullus salus since being part of the Church is a return to health. This is Purgatory, a return to full health in God.

The Church is very visible, but that is not to say that it is entirely visible for the same reason that the whole human nature is not visible. Those whom the Lord saves are part of the Church, thus St Cyprian's statement is more of a tautology if viewed legally. If viewed from the point of view of health, then one perhaps understand St Cyprian's aphorism as a call to find that very renewal within the broken society which the Church seems to comprise.

But we need to see the Church as an entirety. Those who have died are as much a part of the Church as those who are alive now precisely because the Church comprises of the people destined for perfection. The Church really does have a democracy of the dead because, although they seem to have died, her members are still extant and vital. The one who forgets this is the one who cuts himself off from the fulness of the Church and lives a half-life as a thin film between the past and the present whose existences he denies to be full.

To the one who has no concept of eternity, the sufferings of the Church and her members indeed look like punishments - arbitrary enforcements of a law as penal code. The route to the full health of a human being is the way of perfection and, considering that the Devil entices us to fight against that perfection, to take the easy route out and to regard our health as restrictive, unkind, intolerant and contrary to the happiness of the individual, we can see why the way of perfection is hard, painful and, at times, deeply depressing.

This passage in Wisdom is very clear because it encourages us to look out of ourselves. We can only find an ecstasy (i.e. a standing out from ourselves) if we are prepared to look out from ourselves, out from our existence, indeed out from our assumptions about our existence. If we cannot find happiness within ourselves, then it is because happiness is not just within, but without and not just without, but within.

Physicists postulate that 70% of the universe is "Dark Energy" which underlies the fabric of reality. It underlies all things, pervades all things, exists within a vacuum. Thus Science itself is pointing to something more to our existence which does not meet the eye, (or oscilliscope or Large Hadron Collider). All humanity possesses this tendency to perfection, this predestination if that's what you want to call it. It is our choice whether to accept that destiny in its fullest in the arms of God, or to the half-life of what we assume ourselves to be.


barneylow said...

I'm not sure that I agree with the defeatist attitude towards self understanding. With the backing of a bit of knowledge about neuroscience, reading up on attempts by philosophers and scientists alike can provide some very interesting and (I think) persuasive explanations for the biochemical and anatomical mechanisms that precipitate the phenomena of consciousness.

As to whether attempting to apply this knowledge to one's own experience of life constitutes and "overinvasive introspection" I can't say.

Warwickensis said...

I'm sorry that you find my comments about understanding "defeatist", Barney. That's not the intention. What I'm trying to say is that these endeavours are all well and good. They do allow for some remarkable insights into what's happening. However, I do not think they will ever give a complete explanation for the human condition. That's what I mean for the ouroboros effect.

Science necessarily has to be literally anarchist as the Philosopher of Science Paul Feyerabend suggests. The brilliance of the scientific luminaries is that they looked outside the system rather than within it. Too much introspection is rather bad and I see a certain smugness among some that seem to think we have all the answers already. The dignity of science lies in its bottom-up approach of understanding. Theology is more top-down. Will they meet? Yes and no.

Warwickensis said...

Of course, the same is true of theology - too much introspection is bad. That's why Christians are told to love one's neighbour as oneself.

barneylow said...

I had not meant 'defeatist' as harshly as it might seem - I apologise for that. I just feel that the most complex and fascinating organ available for science to study should not be seen as an unassailable target, even when the tools used to investigate it might by necessity include (but not be limited to) the organ itself.

Will we get all the answers we seek? Possibly not, but such claims can't be made until we hit a brick wall.

Warwickensis said...

It depends what you mean by "unassailable". There are always unknowables. For example, we cannot know whether scientific evidence is sufficient to describe reality. If it is, then where's the scientific evidence?

Sure, we can go as far as we can go, but what i'm saying is that I don't believe we'll get to the end. For example, if we try and understand consciousness, how can we be sure that our measurements of consciousnes are not skewed by our own consciousness?

Further, if our observations perturb the system we are observing, then can we be sure that what we see is correct? You'll appreciate that everythign we do is subject to a degree of probability. Absolute knowledge is surely unassailable in the sense that we can keep trying to narrow things down but we'll never really get there.

That's not a criticism, indeed quie the reverse, it's a joy because it allows Science a greater freedom and opens the door to greater and more intricate discoveries about who we are. You're right that claims either for or against absolute knowledge can't be made until we reach the brick wall. I think, given what's needed for absolute knowledge , the brick wall is likely and found in Heisenberg, Godel, and the refutation of verificationalism.

Warwickensis said...

Thanks for commenting, by the way. This is fascinating.

ed pacht said...

Another oar in the water:

If I understand the foundations of science correctly, Science is not only anarchic, but also agnostic. That is, science knows nothing and questions everything, constantly examining and doubting all the conclusions that scientists have made and even the observations on which its conclusions have been made.

I think I can assert confidently that any observation is to be considered as flawed, and can be approached with the near certainty that it contains error, and that any hypothesis, theory, or even natural "law" is likewsie flawed, based either upon flawed data or upon insufficient data.

To assert that it is ever possible to come up with complete, thorough, and entirely accurate conclusions, or ever even to achieve complete and entirely accurate observation, seems to me to militate against the very foundations of scientific method.

Science, like poetry, doesn't say -- it points out a direction.

Ultimately theology is not that much difference. I do affirm that Revelation conveys an ultimate and sure reality, but our observation of revelation is necessarily flawed. Our conclusions based on that revelation are the attempts of a finite and flawed mind to grapple with an infinity that is too vast to fit within a finite brain. I'm very fond of proclaiming that, when I am entirely sure of something, the one thing certain is that I've missed something of vital importance.

Introspection is a good thing. It's the main theme of the Lenten season so recently past. But expecting to come out of introspection with a complete or certain understanding is no more than a form of hubris.