My Lenten Journey with Dante, Augustine, and Samwise

David Russell Mosley

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Lent
24 February 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s been a while since I’ve written, I apologize. Early in January I got asked to teach an extra class for Johnson University, one developed by someone else, and I’ve been snowed in by homework ever since. I have finally caught up, however, and am now waiting for my students to turn in their final projects, a research paper on the Apostles’ Creed, this Sunday. While I probably should be working on my conference paper for the NEMAAR in April, or either of the two books I have coming out, I thought I would stop to write a little something about Lent.

A little over a month ago I wrote about trying to return to a life of pilgrimage. While Lent is an excellent time to engage in the journeying nature of the faith, I admit to having struggled with it a bit. My Lenten fasts have been going OK, but I have this sense that this Lent could be particularly transformative for me, if I only allow it. It was, therefore, rather providential that I came across “First Steps, Brancaster” by poet Malcolm Guite. Guite’s poem, while set in Winter, hit me on day when the weather was warm and I was sitting outside. Sadly, it has gotten colder again, it even snowed last night. Nevertheless, read this stanza:

This is the day to leave the dark behind you

Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,

Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,

And find the courage for the forward path.

You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,

The day has come and you are free to choose,

Now is your time and season.

Companioned still by your familiar crutches,

And leaning on the props you hope to lose,

You step outside and widen your horizon.

This season, Lent, this day, is when I begin the first steps of my journey. I am moving forward, limping, but heading forward nevertheless. I have not only my crutches but my guides. This Lent I am reading several books that I think will help me as they are themselves stories of journeys, quests, and pilgrimages. As I wrote to you in my letter on pilgrimage, I am still reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. Just yesterday I left the ante-room of Purgatory with Virgil and the Pilgrim. Later today I will enter the garden of Eden with them working my way ever closer to the Beatific Vision, or at least whatever glimpses I can get of it this side of the parousia. I am also reading Augustine’s Confessions journeying with him into the depths of my soul, into the depths of my sin, so I can come out of the muck and mire of my sinfulness and reach up and be raised up to the Trinity. Lastly, I’m re-reading The Lord of the Rings, which I read every year. I am joining Frodo, Sam, and the others on a journey to see new beauties and face new horrors in the hope that when I return home, should I return home, I will not return the same.

I hope this Lent will be transformative for me, but even more, I hope it will be transformative for you.

Sincerely,

David

The Poetry of Easter: Creation’s Hope

David Russell Mosley

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Easter 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Advent and Christmas tend to put me in the mood for fairy-stories and fantasies. After all, it is a time of magic, of enchantment, for the God has entered Creation. Easter, however, puts me in mind for poetry. Right now, for instance, I’m attempting to read The Divine Comedy liturgically. The poem begins on the day before Good Friday and ends, apparently, on the Wednesday after Easter. Now, I haven’t reached Paradise yet, but I want to share a passage from there with you.

Dante writes:

“All things, among themselves,
possess an order; and this order is
the form that makes the universe like God.
Here do the higher beings see the imprint
of the Eternal Worth, which is the end
to which the pattern I have mentioned tends.
Within that order, every nature has
its bent, according to a different station,
nearer or less near to its origin” (I.103-110)

All of Creation, made by God, is tending toward him. Every inch of Creation has a trace of God within it. In this sense, we can call Creation sacramental because it points toward its origin. It is even, says Dante, tending toward that origin, just as we are. That is, just as we are intended for union with God in the life to come, intended for deification, so too is Creation intended to unite with God, according to its station, according to its place in the Cosmos. This is why, as I wrote over at Theology Think for Palm Sunday, Easter brings hope to Creation and not simply humanity. Let’s remember that as we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord today.

I deal with this subject in a few places in my thesis, key to my understanding of Creation’s role in the life to come is Maximus the Confessor who writes:

With us and through us he encompasses the whole creation through its intermediaries and the extremities through its own parts. He binds about himself each with the other, tightly and indissolubly, paradise and the inhabited world, heaven and earth, things sensible and things intelligible, since he possesses like us sense and soul and mind, by which, as parts, he assimilates himself by each of the extremities to what is universally akin to each in the previously mentioned manner. Thus he divinely recapitulates the universe in himself, showing that the whole creation exists as one, like another human being, completed by the gathering together of its parts one with another in itself, and inclined towards itself by the whole of its existence, in accordance with the one, simple undifferentiated and indifferent idea of production from nothing, in accordance with which the whole of creation admits of one and the same undiscriminated logos, as having not been before it is (Amb. 41 1312A-B).

Maximus is arguing several things here, but the key is twofold. First, it is essential to note that Maximus sees humanity as playing a role in God encompassing all creation into himself. God does this, ‘with us and through us’ (Amb. 41 1312A). Humanity, as I argued in the first chapter, has a priestly role to play for the rest of Creation and this is due, in large part, to humanity’s microcosmic nature, that in humanity is there a convergence of all created beings, ‘things sensible and things intellectual’ (Amb. 41 1312A). God encompasses all this in himself in the Incarnation. In this way, using the microcosmic nature of humanity, God unites all created beings to himself.

The second key is that all of creation is included in this. Maximus does not delineate between mineral, vegetable, and animal, some being included, others not. All beings are related to one another and to God, as Maximus writes:

For in their true logos all beings have at least something in common with one another. Amongst the beings after God, which have their being from God through generation, there are no exceptions, neither the greatly honoured and transcendent beings [angels] which have a universal relationship to the One absolutely beyond any relation, nor is the least honoured among beings destitute and bereft since it has by nature a generic relationship to the most honoured beings (Amb. 41 1312B-C).

Here, Maximus goes further than Aquinas, who only seems to see a role in the eschaton for mineral creation, humanity, and the angels. For Maximus, this cannot be, for all created beings are related to one another, even the lowest is related to the highest, by virtue of being a created being. What it more, all beings are held together by God through Jesus Christ.

What this means is that God in Christ and through us is raising up all Creation to himself. We must remember our brothers and sisters outside the human race in the rest of Creation. Remember Christ’s words, ‘”I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”’

Let me leave you with, compared to Dante’s (and many others) some rather base verses of my own:

The flowers all grow towards an end;
Trees and rivers clap for joy.
The mountains on their knees bend;
The birds make a joyful noise.
For water from the holy side
Spilled out, and red blood
Poured onto Creation’s hide.
At last we understood,
Redemption is not for us alone.
If we were silent,
Every rock, and every stone,
Every bird and beast and violet,
Would with one breath
Proclaim the death
Of Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Thesis Extract: ‘The Role of Humanity in Creation’

 David Russell Mosley

Commemoration of Bridget of Sweden, Abbess of Vadstena, 1373
23 July 2013
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is another brief extract from the second chapter of my thesis on Creation and deification. I hope you enjoy.

The Role of Humanity in Creation

Creation of Eve

This brings us to role and place of humanity in creation. We will discuss more fully in the section below humanity being made in the image and likeness of God and how nascent humanity was both to serve as priest and to await its deifier. Here, however, we should look at the priestly role of humanity from creation’s point of view. That is, that creation is incomplete without humanity.

John Paul II writes, ‘So the very sacramentality of creation, the sacramentality of the world was revealed in a way, in man created in the image of God.’1 The world is revealed, in a sense to itself, in humanity. Since in creation, only humanity can accept creation as a gift, it is clear that humanity completes, in a qualified sense, creation. If we accept that God creates in order to deify, in order to return all things into himself, as argued above, then we must ask how this is to take place. For Maximus, it takes place through humanity’s interconnectivity and kinship to all creation:

For humanity clearly has this power of naturally uniting at the mean point of each division since it is related to the extremities of each division in its own parts. Through that capacity it can come to be the way of fulfilment of what is divided and be openly instituted in itself as the great mystery of the divine purpose. It proceeds harmoniously to each of the extremities in the things that are, from what is close at hand to what is remote, from what is worse to what is better, lifting up to God and fully accomplishing union. For this reason the human person was introduced last among beings, as a kind of natural bond mediating between the universal poles through their proper parts, and leading into unity in itself those things that are naturally apart from one another by a great interval.(Amb. 41.1305B-C).

What Maximus is arguing is that humans by being both material and spiritual have within them an aspect of every part of creation. This allows humanity to serve as a bridge between the material and the spiritual. A bridge that will unite the two realms, allowing all to return to God. Maximus goes on to say that the way Humanity effects this union by shaking off hindrances (like sexual difference) and seeks union with the undivided God. This unifies heaven and earth in the human person (Amb. 41.1305 C- D). Then, by attaining angelic knowledge humans unite the intellectual and the sensible (Amb. 41.1308A). Finally,

And finally, beyond all these, the human person unites the created nature with the uncreated through love (O the wonder of God’s love for human beings!), showing them to be one and the same through the possession of grace, the whole [creation] wholly interpenetrated by God, and become completely whatever God is, save at the level of being, and receiving to itself the whole of God himself, and acquiring as a kind of prize for its ascent to God the most unique God himself, as the end of movement of everything that moves toward it, and the firm unmoved rest of everything that is carried towards it, being the undetermined and infinite limit and definition of every definition and law and ordinance, of reason and mind and nature (Amb. 41.1308 B-C).

Thus, the human person in one sense deifies creation through its own deification. Just as Christ’s having deified his humanity reached through to all humanity,2 so that deification reaches to all creation, ‘except to the level of being.’ ‘[B]y being divinized, the world is perfected as world.’3 We have begun to encroach on an important aspect here, however, that I will deal with more fully below and in the fourth chapter. For now, however, note that just as creation, if its end is a return to God, cannot effect that end on its own without humanity, so too, humanity cannot affect that change on its own.

 

1 John Paul II, The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1997), 76.

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2 Gregory of Nazianzus Theological Oration  30.21.

3 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe According to Maximus the Confessor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 257.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

What am I Doing? Deification, John Cassian, and My Path to a PhD

Dear Friends,

I thought today, I’d write a short blog about the main thing I’m currently working on, namely, my doctoral thesis. Since I’ve only just finished my first year as a PhD student at the University of Nottingham, my thesis doesn’t have a proper title yet. My general topic, however, is deification, John Cassian, and the contemporary significance. Let me try to distill that briefly.

Deification is a notion (doctrine might be too strong of a word) that part of God’s intent for humanity is for humans to, in some sense, become divine. Athanasius (a fourth century Bishop and theologian from Alexandria) put it most pithily, ‘For He [Jesus] was made man that we might be made God,’ (De Incarnatione 1.54). The idea is that when God became man he deified all humanity giving us the opportunity to become God. Now, this doesn’t mean that we become absorbed into God loosing our distinctiveness, individually or corporately, God is not the Borg. It also, however, doesn’t mean that we become demigods like so many of the heroes of pagan mythology. No, it means that somehow, our identity is inextricably linked with that of Christ’s, but we never cease to be us, nor does He cease to be Himself. I’ll probably write more about what deification is at some other point. For now, suffice it to say that according to deification Christians become as much like God and as much God as it is possible for them to do so.

What I’m seeking to do with deification is, primarily, to define it and its significance for the lives of believers. I’m trying to do this through looking at the works of John Cassian (a fifth century monk and theologian probably from Southern France). Cassian spent a lot of time in the Greek East (Egypt, Israel, Constantinople) which is from where most of our language and definition of deification comes. He is not explicit, so, as well as looking at how Cassian defines the life of believers, I also have to try to show that he had a concept of deification. Clear as mud? Well, I’ll try to write more some other time, but you may simply have to buy my book (if my thesis is lucky enough to get published) to get a fuller idea. In the end, not only do I believe Cassian had a notion of deification, but that his understanding of the monastic life can be helpful for believers in understanding why how they live matters and how they can live out the reality that they are being deified.

I want to leave you with two things: a question and a quotation.

Question: Either based on your own reading, or from my poor definition above, what do you think about the notion of deification?

Quotation: This Comes from Cassian’s work On the Incarnation 5.4

All then, whether patriarchs, or prophets, or apostles, or martyrs, or saints, had every one of them God within him, and were all made sons of God and were all receivers of God (θεοδόχοι), but in a different and distinct way. For all who believe in God are sons of God by adoption: but the only begotten alone is Son by nature: who was begotten of His Father, not of any material substance, for all things, and the substance of all things exist through the only begotten Son of God––and not out of nothing, because He is from the Father: not like birth, for there is nothing in God that is void or mutable, but in an ineffable and incomprehensible manner God the Father, wherein He Himself was ingenerate, begat His only begotten Son; and so from the Most High, Ingenerate, and Eternal Father proceeds the Most High, Only Begotten, and Eternal Son.

Thanks for reading.

Sincerely Yours,

David