An Answer to the Call for the Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything

David Russell Mosley

flammarion-woodcut

Eastertide
Octave of the Ascension
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few days ago a new acquaintance (really a kindred spirit and therefore friend, though we’ve not yet met) of mine, Michael Martin, wrote an essay on the Angelico Press blog entitled, “The Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything.” For those unfamiliar with Martin, he is the Assistant Professor of English and Philosophy at Marygrove College and has written several works, the only one of which I have read thus far is The Submerged Reality: Ophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics. Martin is like me, a believer in faërie, a poet (though a far better one as I understand it). I think we both can sign off on this line from an interview with theologian John Milbank, “I mean, I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I’m really bitterly opposed to this kind of disenchantment in the modern churches.” So I was overjoyed when Martin decided to put tires to pavement in a new way (he’s been living this stuff for some time now) when he wrote this essay.

Martin’s essay is a clarion call to those who are like minded in this endeavor which he calls the radical Catholic (and I would add catholic) reimagination of everything, or one might it even call it the C/catholic unveiling of sacramental ontology, for, ultimately, this is what Martin is driving at. At the beginning, Martin, a proponent of sophiology (something on which I hope to write more as I understand more), notes the call to Wisdom (Sophia) that appears at key moments in the Byzantine Liturgy. He then turns to another part of the liturgy, a hymn called  Megalynarion, “The Magnification of Mary.” You can read those for yourself in Martin’s essay. What I want to draw your attention to is this line from Martin:

“My investigation here is not about the liturgy, however, but about the ways in which phenomenology and sophiology discover the same phenomenon: the shining that illuminates the cosmos. This shining speaks in the languages of poetry, languages that take on a myriad of forms and are sometimes mistaken for science, sometimes for theology.”

Martin is calling us to a different way of seeing, but also a different way of doing, of being, simply put of living in reality. Martin understands that certain strains of theology do not allow for this kind of sight. He notes, via Hans Urs von Balthasar, that Neoscholasticism denuded itself of attention to the Glory of the Lord and that this proper attention was passed through certain poets, philosophers, and scientists while it was lost by the theologians. Even were one to disagree with this genealogy, one need only look at trends in theology today to see that this attention the Glory, to Sophia, to sacramental ontology has been ignored by many (though it is making something of return as theologians find themselves once again desiring to return to the sources).

In the end of his essay Martin issues a call to “poets, artists, scientists, adventurers, teachers, communitarians, distributists, scholars, and visionaries who hanker for something more living in Catholic culture.” He does not desire mere theory, men and women sitting in a room talking about how great it would be if. However, it should be obvious that Martin is not against the study of these issues in order to better inhabit these ideas and live this reality. Rather, Martin wants us to act as we talk. Theoretike and Practike must be united. Some may be Marthas and others Marys, but we need both and we need most of all those who are willing to live the hard life being both at once.

And so this is, in my own small way, my answer to Martin’s call. I am a poet, an author, a theologian, a gardener, a distributist, a husband, and a father (and more besides); I am all of those things bound up together and suspended as one made according to the Image. I am ready not simply to think about a sacramental ontology but to live it. This will be hard, already have I been confronting ways in which my habits did not accord with my beliefs and my knowledge, but I will answer this call. I must answer this call, I can feel it in the very blood that flows through me that this is right, that this is how reality really is. Confronting my son’s cancer was the first step for me in coming not simply to believe that these fantastic elements of the faith are true (I already believed), but to experience them. Yet I have let the shadows overcome me and make me believe that those moments are rare and that real life is lived without experience of the Glory. Well I say no more. I say that that way of living is ultimately damned (though we can be saved from it). Root and branch, twig and bough, I am in. Join me, as I join Martin and others and we radically (which remember means to return to one’s roots) and catholicly reimagine everything.

Sincerely,
David

On 3 Kinds of Theopoetry: A Response to Callid Keefe-Perry and Anne Michelle Carpenter

David Russell Mosley

25434467

Epiphanytide
Candlemas
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Wipf & Stock Publishers, the people who will be publishing my novel, have recently started interviewing authors and putting the videos up online. They range from just a few minutes to half hour segments. In one of these interviews, the people at Wipf & Stock sit down Callid Keefe-Perry.

Callid is, in many ways, the man who has brought a certain strain of theopoetics back into the limelight. In this interview, he is being asked, in many ways, to explain what he means by theopoetics and what relationship it has to theology and the academy. For Friend Callid (he is a Quaker, after all), theopoetics is concerned with new way of “making” God. He qualifies this by saying that theopoetics is interested in how the things we make effect the way we think about God. At one point in the interview he says that theopoetics is concerned with the aesthetics, the form that theology or religious language, takes as much as, if not more so than with the content. Why is there a text and not a dance and what does that say about us and about God. The key, for Callid, so it would seem, is that our discussions about God not be limited to the traditional, but that we branch out, hear new voices. With the possible exception of saying that the form might be more important than the content, I am quite open to these aspects of this strain of theopoetics. Imagination, beauty, art, in a sense culture in general all have a place in our inquiries into the divine. The problem I have is that this kind of theopoetics is not simply about taking seriously the role of imagination and the arts in theology.

Callid is candid that at a certain point even he himself, along with others, have seen theopoetics as going against theology. Theopoetics turns away from “reason” (logos) and toward making (poiesis). At the start of the interview, as Callid is giving us the history of theopoetics, he briefly mentions that the new wave of theopoetics is connected with process theology, the notion that in some way God is changeable (not perhaps in his goodness or eternality) by temporal events, namely us. The connection to process theology is problematic in and of itself for me. That aside, however, (actually I do think these things related, but this is a letter, not a journal article) my major issue with the current wave of theopoetics is that it is almost a-traditional, that is it seems to act as if it has no tradition, or a limited one––going back to Whitehead. In an essay in the boo Theopoetic Folds, Callid notes that a speech by Stanley Hopper “is the first piece of scholarship to make direct use of the term theopoiesis” (Faber and Fackenthal, 149). This is problematic because of course theopoiesis is not an English word, but a Greek one that means deification (the two words actually share etymology in the sense that both are made up of the parts God and to make). The current form of this theopoetics seems either to ignore or be unaware that it has a link back to second century (if not earlier) understandings of the goal or telos of the human person in light of who God is as Creator, our being created in the imago dei, and what the Incarnation means for this. It is, of course, possible that I have not read enough from these theopoetic thinkers and I am happy to be proven wrong.

Moving on, there is another kind of theopoetics with which I have much more sympathy. That is the theopoetics of Anne Michelle Carpenter which she expounds in her excellent book on Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theopoetics. Anne starkly disassociates herself from the kind of theopoetics being done by those like Friend Callid (Carpenter, 3). She does so on the basis of the “agnostic overtures of the “theo-poetic” movement,” (Ibid.). Carpenters approach is, in many ways, similar to that of this other theopoetic movement. By that, I mean that her interest is to categorize, particularly Balthasar’s aesthetics, as a theo-poetic, a theological poetics. In this sense, unlike that of Callid, or at least others within the theopoetics movement, theopoetics is neither antithetical to theology nor is it a corrective that moves alongside theology. It is inherently part of theology, especially any theology that has a place of importance for the poetic, for the creative.

Finally, there is the way I use theopoetics. Since my thesis was written after the new wave of theopoetics but before Anne’s book was published, I decided not to give it its original title Being Deified: Poetry and Theo-poetry. Actually, to be honest, I thought I was doing something quite original creating theo-poetry (and theo-poet, theo-poem, etc.) out of theopoiesis. Sadly, I was quite wrong. In any event, I use this word directly as related to theopoiesis or deification. Playing off a line from Vladimir Lossky (and not A.N. Whitehead), I wanted to describe God as Poet (rather than Creator). God poetised creation, or the poem, out of his trinitarian gratuity. But God is not just Poet, he is Theo-Poet, deifier. Therefore we are not only his poem (creation) but his theo-poems (the deified), or at least we will be. From this play with language I moved forward to discuss the importance of human creativity for our deification. I focused on fantasy and poetry as genre but noted and still note that this extends to all kinds of human creativity (David Jones is someone I turn to here). The point I try to make is that our poiesis, our making/creating, is wrapped up in our participation in the one who is Creator, even Poet, by nature, not by participation.

There is much with which I can agree in the first two uses of theopoetics. Callid and company’s commitment to human creativity, to the body in many ways, in light of certain strains of theology which have sidelined these aspects is one with which I can certainly agree. It is the turn to process, the turn to theopoetics as a project that is simply a response to recent trends in recent strains of theology with which I disagree. With Anne I am in almost full agreement with the exception that her use of theopoetics does not include theopoiesis, deification. I do not claim that my own view is by any means complete or without flaw. There is much I have learned from both of them (and from others). Nevertheless, I think we cannot come to a full understanding of what theopoetics is or can be if we fail to recognize the importance of deification, the end for which we are made, as we engage in it. I am, however, quite glad to be in such good company that wants to discuss the importance of poetry and creativity in theology. Regardless of our disagreements, this is a good time to do theology that has an emphasis on the Beautiful as well as the Good and the True.

Sincerely,
David

Returning to a Life of Pilgrimage

David Russell Mosley

michelino_danteandhispoem

Epiphanytide
Sts. Timothy and Titus
26 January 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
For I had wandered off the straight path.
-Dante, The Inferno, 1-3.

While I cannot claim to be quite midway through my life (or so I hope, though Dante proved to be wrong about this himself), I have recently begun my annual re-read of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’m doing it a littler earlier than usual for two reasons: First, I’ve just been dying to re-read it, and this year I bought myself individual volumes for each part. Second, Pope Francis has recommended Dante’s poem as beneficial reading for the Year of Mercy. While I’m not a Roman Catholic, I’m certainly not one to ignore the advice of those far holier than I. As I read it, perhaps even more closely this year due to its multi-voluminous nature, I’m struck rather forcibly by the notion of pilgrimage.

What I mean is this: Traditionally, the main character in the Divine Comedy is called the Pilgrim. This is to separate Dante the Pilgrim from Dante the author since he is a character in a story, similar to how there is Lewis the author and Lewis the character in Out of the Silent Planet. So we call the character the Pilgrim. But we do this also because he stands for us as a kind of Everyman. It is not only his pilgrimage from Hell to Heaven, but ours as we journey with him (Bilbo works in a similar way in The Hobbit, as do hobbits in general in The Lord of the Rings). In this sense, that the Pilgrim is a representative for me, can I say that I am the Pilgrim. This is not because there is anything special about me but precisely because I am interchangeable with any other. I am, in my own way, just as much an Everyman, just as Dante is also an individual. In a way, I replace the pilgrim. I am the one journeying through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. I am on a pilgrimage, not to Rome or the shrine of a particular saint (though I hope to make this kind of journey someday) but to God himself. The Pilgrim and I go on this journey together, our identities sometimes being blurred.

Augustine will often talk about our journey in life as one that is intended to end in our Patria, our Fatherland. The allusions to Philippians 3 are obvious, but Augustine also means that our journey in life is to the Father, the Beatific Vision. A misunderstanding of this view has, unfortunately, led some to the conclusion that this world itself does not matter. Of course this is precisely not true for our journey to the Patria is not a spacial one. We do not move from Earth to Heaven. Rather Earth itself, in fact the whole cosmos, is moved to both Hell and Heaven. It is this pre-resurrection life that is not our homeland, not our Patria, not creation itself. This is key, I think, to living the Good Life. We must recognize that it is not material existence in a material creation that we are journeying away from. Instead, it is sin, evil, death itself; these are the things we hope to leave behind as we journey to God. Even as we journey on, we bring the rest of creation with us, lifting it up as priests to God, but also offering thanks on its behalf.

So I am trying to return to a life of pilgrimage. I am trying to remember that this life is a preparation for the life to come when Christ returns and makes all things new. This should mean that everything I do in this life be done as if by a pilgrim. I ought not to tie myself to sin and death, to the corruptible, but to set my sights on things eternal. Only in this way can I have creation, including my own, as I ought. Only in this way can I be in right relationship with the world around me. I must remember first that I pilgrim journeying to the Patria, in the process of being deified. Christ has paved the way and journeys on with us; the Spirit guides us, corrects us, points us back to Christ and his saints; and the Father is our journey’s end. Join me, won’t you, in this pilgrim life?

Sincerely,
David

Writing Begets Writing: On Habit and Vocation

David Russell Mosley

pipebythelake
Ordinary Time
27 November 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, another few weeks has gone by and I haven’t posted anything. This hasn’t been due to a lack of ideas, or even a lack of events in my own life on which I could write. Instead, I think a lot of it come from sloth. Sloth and getting out of the habit of writing, anyway. You see, I’m a stay-at-home dad for the time being. And most of the time I love it. I love getting to cuddle with my boys and watch them grow. They’d probably love it better if skills went beyond bread and jam, bread and eggs, or bread, ham, and cheese. But still, with two 18 month-olds running around, getting extra work done can be difficult. Sadly, this isn’t because I’m too busy chasing after them, not most of the time anyway, but because it’s too easy to just sit and watch TV or sit and read. These would be OK, the latter at least, if when they went down for their naps I exercised or wrote or something. But so often I don’t. Writing while they’re awake has its own problems too. Little fingers like touching computers and when they don’t, the little mouths attached to them start crying. But still these are just excuses. I could probably find a way to work around this, to train my kids not to grab at my computer while I’m working and still spend time with them. So what’s the problem? Getting out of the habit.

As many of you know, since I wrote to you about it, I’m publishing a novel (or Faërie Romance as I like to call it) with Wipf and Stock Publishers. What you might not know is that I wrote that book while also blogging and working on my PhD thesis (which is also being published by Fortress Press). Just on my thesis and novel alone, not counting conference papers or blog posts or letters or journal entries, in the three years I was resident in Nottingham I wrote over 150000 words or close to 400-500 pages. Add in everything else and I probably hit thousands of pages (not all of it good, admittedly). You see, for me at least, and I think for most writers, writing begets more writing. I had a routine of writing in a few different journals, reading books for research, pleasure, and enrichment, writing letters to friends, blog posts, my thesis and more. All of these outlets for writing made me want to write more. So, once I finished my novel, and then my thesis, and stay-at-home parenting took over more and more of my time, I started writing in the other places less and less. Hence my relative silence here. Once I stopped writing in some areas, it became harder to write in others.

Virtue and vice have firm roots in habit. Vices are bad habits we engage in, they become second nature to us, so much so that often we don’t even recognise temptation or the choice to give in. There is only one way to rid ourselves of vices (with the aid of God’s grace), and that is to replace them with their corresponding virtues. These virtues must become habits replacing the vicious habits. I mention virtues and vices because their inherent relationship to habit has been precisely my problem. Vices like sloth (and others I won’t mention here) have gotten in the way. I have not simply gotten out of good habits (though some might contend that my writing here is not one) but have fallen into bad ones. That needs to change. I must pursue the virtuous life. For only then can I co-operate with the grace of God and work toward my deification. This might sound strange, writing for a blog doesn’t necessarily lead one to deification. But writing for me is part of that process and the only way I can get back into the habit of writing is to write, to replace sloth with diligence. So, I am committing myself to write in my journal every day; to write letters when I have some to write; to post here twice a week; and to begin work on a new research project; all while I work on preparing my two works for publication.

So, I have a request for you my correspondents, please help keep me accountable (a word with which I have some hang-ups). Feel free to ask me about my writing habits, clamor for new content out loud––I know you keep it bottled up, let it out. Being a father should not keep me from caring for my children and fulfilling my vocation of being a theologian, help me make sure it doesn’t. Give me advice, tell me about your own struggles, ask me to write about something, do anything you think might help me keep writing. I’ll let you know what works and what doesn’t. In the meantime, look out for two new posts next week.

Sincerely,
David

The Purpose of Christianity: Deification and Evangelism

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
5 November 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I apologize for my lack of communication over the past month. I’ve had to submit my thesis corrections (I’m still waiting to hear back on the results), and I’ve had some other life things come up. But enough with excuses! I will endeavor to return to a regular posting schedule of at least twice a week.

Lately at the church my wife and I attend many of the sermons have had a very focused attention on evangelism. This isn’t something unique to the church we currently attend. I think I can safely say that with one or two exceptions every church I have attended has had a profound emphasis on evangelism, that is telling people who don’t believe in Jesus about Jesus in order to bring them into the fold of belief in Jesus. Some churches even go so far as to suggest that evangelism is the primary thing Christians are meant to be doing. Now I want to be clear, I am not against evangelism. Of course part of being a Christian is to “make disciples of the nations.” But I want to challenge the idea that this is the primary thing Christians are called to do.

First, I want to look at the primary passage we go to for seeing evangelism as the primary purpose of the Christian, Matthew 28.17-20. Jesus has been raised from the dead and these are his final words, in this Gospel, to his followers:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

We often call this passage The Great Commission, but it should be remembered that it only exists in Matthew’s Gospel and Mark’s (though many scholars believe the Great Commission portion of Mark’s Gospel is a later addition). Luke’s Gospel does not include any kind of commissioning other than to wait in Jerusalem until they clothed with power from on high and John’s Gospel ends with Christ’s commands to Peter to feed his sheep and follow him. Acts does begin with Christ calling on the 120 disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the world. So we have this odd mix of Gospels ending, and Acts beginning, with some calling on the disciples, and therefore us, to be witnesses to the reality of God Incarnate, of God Crucified, of God Resurrected, and of God’s Return. So this is clearly important, but it is to be the central focus for Christians, the primary thing we’re meant to dedicate our lives to? It seems to me that the rest of the New Testament does not bear that out.

First, we should keep in mind that even the Matthew passage part of what the disciples are called on to do is teach “them to observe all that I have commanded you.” I don’t think this limited to making disciples, but all the commands Jesus has given, including, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Which brings me to what I think is central: deification. For those who have kept up with the topic of my PhD thesis, you’ll know that I worked on the subject of deification and human creativity. Deification means being so unified to the Triune God through Christ and the Spirit that we may be called gods (although that by adoption/grace and not by nature). We could, to a certain extent, also call this holiness or even perfection. This is the thing to which we have been called and the reason for which we have been created, to be united to the Divine Life.

Paul’s letters bear this out. When you read through them you see that Paul spends little to no time about how believers should go about converting unbelievers, about how we should evangelize (although he does spend time concerning his own efforts in spreading the Gospel). Rather he spends most of his time concerned with our individual corporate holiness: how we conduct ourselves as individual Christians and as the Church. Paul calls us to strive towards the goal, which isn’t to evangelize as many people as we possibly can, but to come into that deified life in Christ.

It is for this reason that the early and medieval Church spends so much time on topics like contemplation, which in essence means times of intense thinking about and entering into the presence of God. This is the foundation of the Christian life, entering into the divine life through the incarnation of the Son and the indwelling of the Spirit. It is from this place of working toward our deification, which can only be done in and with the grace of God, that all other aspects of Christianity flow: like evangelism, social justice, human creativity, and more. The Christ event transfigures how we see the world around us and forces us to begin by doing more than simply assenting to a relationship with Christ, but to actually begin (or more rightly continue) the deifying process which is first and foremost about our transfiguration into Christ by being adopted into his Sonship. The natural outflow of this will include concern for the non-believer and for the poor and oppressed.

You see, I’m concerned. I’m concerned about the churches who make evangelism the main point of being a Christian. I’m concerned that making evangelism the central point of Christianity will lead to shallow Christians. I’m concerned it will lead to Christians who are like the seeds sown on the rocky soil, they will accept the Gospel with eagerness but will be burnt by the sun because they lack roots. It is of course true that there are problems with focusing only on personal or even corporate holiness (especially when done so without love and mercy) or only on the social or creative aspects of Christianity. However, I think the foundation must be in deification, in holiness. We must found ourselves in the reason God created us in the first place, namely to be joined to him in love. God did not create humanity to evangelize (since that require people created who needed evangelization). Neither did he create us to right the wrongs in society (since that would require societies existing in sinfulness before sin entered the world). God created humanity to be joined to him first and foremost, everything else we do is intended to facilitate that end. So I’m not calling us to stop evangelizing, far from it. What I am calling us to is a return to a foundational emphasis on the end for which we were created so that we may participate with God in bringing about our own salvation and deification and in order to transform this world to bring it into a deifying relationship with God. But we must start with our personal and corporate holiness, that must be our base of operations from which we go out to transform the world.

Sincerely yours,
David

Angels and Demons: On the Cosmic Reality and Theological Importance of Angelology and Demonology

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
Feast of St Bernard
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Several things have aligned in my life to bring me to this letter. The first is my annual re-read of C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). I’m currently in the beginning of Perelandra. The second is what re-reading this always leads me to, this interview with John Milbank, here’s a textual reproduction of the most important part. The third was this post, “Have We Made Satan too Powerful” by my friend Adam Tomlinson. Since I’ve written on the others before, I’ll give a quick summary of Adam’s post.

Adam, rightfully, reminds us that Satan is not as powerful as God. In short, he reminds us that we are not gnostics. We don’t believe in co-eternal and co-powerful gods of good and evil. Therefore, when we act like Satan is directly attacking us, or our church, or our small group we may very well be giving him too much power, namely omnipresence since others are saying the exact same thing in completely different parts of the world at the same time. Nevertheless, as Adam admits, just because it isn’t Satan himself does not mean that it isn’t one of his followers (whether human or demonic).

What I have often found, however, is that while many Christians, especially in the West (and particularly in Protestant churches, though Catholics and Orthodox can be confused on this as well), is that while we’ll readily admit the existence of Satan and the demons, angels aren’t something we particularly believe in or even think about. Now I’ve written to you about angels before, but there’s one thing I want to make perfectly clear. Angels and demons are created beings.

It’s easy to forget that they are created since they are so different from us in some obvious ways. They don’t have bodies, or at least don’t have bodies like ours. While they can take shape, as Scripture makes very clear, they don’t seem to be corporeal in the way things we’re used to interacting with are. They aren’t like rocks or trees or animals, we don’t often see them (although that’s likely a problem with our sight) or sense them in any physical way. Yet I can say unequivocally that there is at least one angel with me now as I write this though I am not sensibly aware (as in I cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell it) of its presence. But it is here nonetheless.

What is more, that they are created means that they, like us (and everything else that exists), belong to the created order. What this means, in other words, is that angels belong to and exist in the created cosmos. Now, I don’t mean the universe when I say cosmos, at least not how we normally understand it. They aren’t in “space” (a rather inappropriate name for the beauty that lies beyond our atmosphere). They aren’t on some other planet or in some other solar system. Rather they are part of created existence itself. Therefore they, and their abode, namely heaven, are part of our cosmos and their reality, which is many ways more real than our own, often intersects with ours. It is for the reunification of their realm and ours that we look forward to. Supposedly (I’ve studied this somewhat and have found no ancient or medieval evidence of this), the ancient Irish and Welsh Christians believed in “thin” places, places where the boundary between heaven and earth is thinner than in others. I used to be rather infatuated with this idea. Now, however, I think thick is a better adjective. There are places in our world that thicker than others because our reality is filled with a greater reality, although a created one, nonetheless.

So, why is all this important? For this reason, if angels and demons belong to our cosmos, if they can and do interact with us, then we need to be aware of that and we need theologies that give proper space to these beings. According to the Scriptures (insofar as we can take these numbers literally) for every demon out there two more angels exist. This means that whenever we think about demons working to foil the plans of God’s kingdom and God’s people, there are more angels working, in one way or another, toward the consummation of God’s plan for all of reality.

The angels are also waiting for our deification. Theologians like Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor describe human beings as microcosms. In us comes together the material, the vegetable, the animal, and the rational. While the first three categories cover pretty much all created things that we typically experience here on earth the fourth is, along with a reference to God himself, a reference to the angels who are pure intelligences. This means there is something of rocks, trees, dogs, and angels in us. Christ infused into that nature the divine as well. Therefore, just as all lower creation awaits with longing the coming of the sons of God (deified humanity), so too does the higher creation, the angels and archangels and cherubim and seraphim. Their fate is tied to ours. And let’s not forget that Scriptures tell us “that we will judge angels?” (I Cor 6.3), which is presumably a reference to demons. Therefore we need more than a theology with only a mind of the terrestrial, we need a celestial theology as well. This is what people like John the Theologian, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus, and Thomas Aquinas, and all Christian mystics are constantly trying to tell us. We should really start listening.

Yours,
David

Tetelestai, for now

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
30 May 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve finally submitted my thesis, titled: Being Deified: Poetry and Fantasy on the Path to God. It’s gone off to my examiners who will read it and then I will have to go back to the UK to defend it on 20 July. I can’t believe I’m almost done. Whatever happens at my viva, I will be done with my PhD within the next 12 months. I can’t believe it, I really cannot. In honour of my finished thesis, I thought I would put up my old posts on writing this beast. It’s gone through many iterations, permutations, and transfigurations, but now, it’s almost done.

A Brief Theology of Poetry and Fantasy: A Thesis Extract

Moving Countries, Cancer, Thesis Updates, and New Letters

It Is Finished: A Thesis Draft Done on Good Friday

Creativity as Deifying: An Extract from My Thesis Part I

Creativity as Deifying: On Fairy Stories, Part II

Thesis Extracts: Why We Need a Deifier

Thesis Extract: ‘The Role of Humanity in Creation’

Thesis Extract: ‘Thomas Aquinas’s Five Ways as Evidence of Deification’

Thesis Extract: ‘The Four Aspects of Deification’

The Evolution of the Thesis: Why It’s Alright to Change Your Topic

Shifting Thesis Topics (Again)

Deification: A Brief Explanation of My Topic of Study

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

Sincerely yours,
David

A River of Blood, a River of Life: The Vision of Ezekiel 47.1-12

David Russell Mosley

Advent
St Andrews
1 December 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the transferred Feast of St Andrew (transferred from yesterday since yesterday was the first day of Advent, which if you want to see my most recent devotion on Advent check it out here). I was doing Morning Prayer (from Common Worship for those interested) this morning and I got to the Old Testament reading. Now I use the Revised Common Lectionary––I intend a passage on the benefits and problems with using a lectionary. I like it because it includes Apocryphal readings. The Apocrypha is not Scripture in the way the texts of the Old Testament or New Testament are, but it has been found useful by the Early and Medieval Churches and shouldn’t be ignored by non-Catholics/Orthodox. However, by an oversight today, I didn’t read the provided Apocryphal text, Ecclesiasticus 14.20-end. I didn’t see it listed and so read the Old Testament reading instead, and today, I’m glad I did.

The passage from the Old Testament for today was Ezekiel 47.1-12:

‘Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple towards the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me round on the outside to the outer gate that faces towards the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.

Going on eastwards with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows towards the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”’

The beauty of this passage was not made evident to me until I took my Hebrew History and Literature II course in undergrad. It was there that my Old Testament professor pointed out that an ever-widening river is flowing out from the Temple. For whatever reason, it had not dawned on me that this river had its source in a building and flowed out from there. Today, I had a new realisation about this text, one I’m sure many before me have seen. This river is a river of blood. I don’t mean this in some kind of macabre sense, rather I mean it is a river of life. It provides sustenance to the world. It makes the sea fresh and fills it with fresh water fish for eating. It is surrounded by fruit trees whose fruit is good to eat and whose leaves are healing. But more than simply giving life to these trees as any water would, this river gives unending life, ‘Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month.’ And why? ‘because the water for them flows from the sanctuary.’ For us, today, it is clear what this river is, it is the blood of Christ. What else is so life-giving? What else can give the world unending life? What else picks up such momentum as it spreads out as the blood of our Lord and Saviour.

When we partake of the Eucharist, we are drinking from this river. We are given life, unending life by drinking it. Yet, what is even more astounding to me is the holistic dimension of this passage. While its true that humanity is definitely the focus here, the trees are meant for our use, nevertheless, this river transfigures the whole of Creation. It changes the sea into fresh water, except for certain places so salt can be had; it changes the dry land into fertile land; it changes fruit trees, with their cycles of blossom, bloom, fruiting, and harvest, into perpetual harvest; it imparts healing power to the leaves of the fruit trees. The whole of Creation is changed by this river which flows from the heart of the sanctuary, which is the Eucharist.

What a passage to read in Advent! Christ’s coming into Creation has transfigured Creation. If we are being deified, conforming to the image of God incarnate, so too is the rest of Creation, each part as is fitting. And yet, we do not see the fulfillment of this. We can see patches of the world that have been so transfigured, in part anyway, but the world as a whole is still broken, is still parched desert. This is why we wait. We wait for the return of Christ, for the free-flowing of this river that gives life and deifies the Cosmos. In the mean time we must do our part to spread it, to do the will of God in transfiguring his Creation, to make his name holy, to bring about his Kingdom here on Earth as it already exists in Heaven.

 

Sincerely yours,
David

Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy: Perelandra and the Cosmic Christ Event

David Russell Mosley

St John Chrysostom’s Day 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

In Lewis’s Perelandra, we get much less of the angelic. Perelandra, or Venus as we know it, is at the point of decision where Tellus before it had failed. Two rational creatures, in the shape––but not in any of the standard hues––of humanity, have evolved from a rather fishier biological background and have been separated. The woman, along with first meeting Ransom who has been sent there to aid the planet ward off the attacks of Satan, meets the tempter. This time, the tempter takes on the body of Dr Weston from Out of the Silent Planet. The book is made up primarily of these three characters: the Perelandrian Eve, Ransom, and the possessed Weston. Ransom and Weston thus battle not only for the Lady’s soul, but, in a way, for the whole planet. There are many interesting facets of this book. It can be read as a kind of suppositional commentary on Genesis 2 and 3. What fascinates me about it, however, is the cosmic level.

Lewis gives us a cosmos where the planets are ruled and governed by angelic beings, as I discussed in my last letter. Yet while Oyarsa was an ever present character, though unseen at first (and then only seen dimly when present), the eldila are unseen and mostly unknown on Perelandra (we later discover that at least the oyarsa of Perelandra is present, but more on that in a moment). What intrigues me is the way Lewis’s cosmos is connected. Too often, both in our real discussions of whether any potentially existent extraterrestrial beings or their depiction in science fiction focuses on the purely localised nature of the Christ event. We either assume that the extra terrestials would be damned by nature, in need of salvation, or at the very least, unaffected by what happened on Earth. Lewis challenges this. In Out of the Silent Planet, we have a world that is populated before humanity’s Fall, but during the angelic rebellion. Malacandra is thus peopled with creatures of varying shapes and sizes. Perelandra, however, gives us human shaped creatures. In fact, Ransom learns from the lady that there will be no more hrossa, no more sorns from here on out all rational creatures will come in the shape of a human. Why? Because Christ became human. While humanity’s fall did not cause the Fall of the entire Cosmos, it affected how the Cosmos would develop.

Earth becomes a step in the Cosmic dance that is tending toward the Beatific Vision. Both its Fall and its Redemption effect the direction of the rest of Cosmos. For a while, I was concerned about this. It seemed almost to make the Cross (and even the Incarnation) merely a reaction. The Oyarsa of Malacandra even tells Ransom that because Adam and Eve fell at this same point of decision, something greater (namely the Incarnation) happened there. Therefore, on Perelandra, what didn’t happen on Earth happened there instead. However, I was wrong to think this a reactionary view. By reactionary, I mean that God was surprised by the Fall and replied with the Incarnation, that is, plan A failed and so now it is time for plan B. Instead, however, Lewis gives us a cosmos where the Fall is not necessary, but is used to play an integral role in the development of the entire cosmos. It is the means by which the Son’s becoming human is, in some ways facilitated, but it is not a reaction, it is an eternal plan. It is necessary for the Son to become incarnate for all rational creatures, all ensouled creatures, are intended for deification, for the beatific vision. Thus, in Lewis’s cosmic vision, this is done on Earth, in part to combat the Fall, but in full to bring about the deification of all hanu (ensouled, rational creatures). It is for this reason, the Lord and Lady of Venus are human shaped yet green. It is for this reason there will be no more creatures like those seen on Malacandra. The Fall may have facilitated a need for incarnation, for we could not have been fittingly redeemed without it (not that we absolutely could not have been redeemed without it, but that is a letter for another day), but it is not the only reason for it. Rather, it’s ultimate purpose is to return the entire Cosmos, that is all of Creation, to God in deification. Christ’s becoming human has shaped the course of history, both tellurian and Cosmic.

In these first two books, Lewis’s Cosmic focus is extraterrestial. When I write about That Hideous Strength, we will see how Lewis takes this Cosmic understanding of the Universe and applies to the life lived on Earth. Until then, I remain,

Sincerely yours,
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