Talk I


The subject of this series of talks is "The Last Things", that is to say: Death, Judgement, Resurrection, the Eternal Destiny of man, Hell and Heaven, the Last Things and Time with all it contains, such as individual human destinies on the one hand, and the history of nations on the other. So in the course of these talks I shall have to make an introduction to the Last Things by considering a certain number of points as premises. The Last Things, in this sense, will come as a conclusion and as a fulfilment of what history and life are, whether we consider individual human lives or history as a whole, for both are conditioned by time. They develop in time and one can probably say as I will try to show that they develop together with time. We have got to consider several elements in time: the beginning and the end on the one hand, and the intermediary flow of time on the other. Learned people call the study of the beginning "archaeology"; this is a bit confusing because it is not what people normally mean by archaeology, but we shall have to speak a little about this problem of the beginning as well as about the problem of the end. The end is called, in theological language "eschatology”: this is a word which has a much larger expansion in our time than the first one, and means the knowledge of what is final and of what is decisive; and the end of history as well as the end of any human life can be considered from these two points of view. It is a final event because it makes an end, it puts a limit to the flow of time for this particular person or for the history of the world, but the fact that its end has come is more than simply the winding up of a period of time. It has got not only a final but also a decisive meaning, because on what has happened before will depend what belongs to the realm of timelessness, of eternity.

We will have to define later what timelessness or eternity mean; for the moment what is important is to realise that "end", means both fulfilment and judgement; and both these terms, "beginning" and "end", define the limits of time. In a certain sense one may say that there is no time after (before) the beginning and no time after the end; time is imprisoned in between these two limits. I am not using this word "imprisoned" haphazardly. We will see that in another connection, in connection with the problem of our freedom, both the beginning and the end are completely out of our control, that we are imprisoned between those two limits, whatever we may think of our destiny between them. This imprisonment affects the individual as well as affecting the totality of the created world. It affects a man individually because he comes into the world without choosing to come into it and he dies at a moment that is not of his choice, and he is confronted with a summing up of his destiny which is the judgement. These two limits, beginning and end, belong to God, one may say, onesidedly, and the existence of these limits transforms the destiny of man (the flow of time that takes place between these two extremes) into something extremely meaningful and tragic; tragic because of this question of life and death, and ultimately of the life to come which we have got to face without having any choice in accepting or not the challenge which is offered to us.

Between the beginning and the end, time finds its place. And time itself is not simple. There is the past and there is the future and there is what a German writer calls "the twinkling of an eye", the moment, the split second, less than the split second which is the present. The past grows at every moment in our life, the future presents itself at every moment and between past and future there is the split second which belongs to us. One may say that time appears to us as a flow, but it comes out of the past which is at every moment growing dim, because it is outgrown, and it leads us into an unknown darkness which is the future, which is not yet; the one is no more, the other is not yet, and between the two, we are constantly in a situation which we call “now". But this now is infinitely short, infinitely meaningful. We cannot do anything to change the past; we can do nothing about the future. The split second contains the past and the future, because there are things in the past that have gone by, have died put and are no more, but, there are also things in the past which are still with us, which are the present and which belong both to something which has evolved and to some thing that continues to exist and continues to proceed into the future. And this split second also contains the future because we enter into the future which is made not only of outward circumstances but mainly, essentially, of our own selves and of our contributions.

In a sense the past and the future are unreal like a dream, and in another sense, they are completely and intensely real, already now, and actual within one another and within the moment in which we live. This moment is the absolutely real and concrete aspect of time which we can handle and within which we live and act, in which existence gathers itself, becomes solid, becomes dense, deep and intense, and in which time entrusts existence to man in a way which is irrevocable, in a fashion which is unalterable. What is happening will go back into the past to remain unchanged as the unchanging past and is already defining the future. So apart from the beginning and the end, there is also this element of present, past and future, and the only aspect of time which we possess is such split second which we can call "now". All the rest is beyond us, and again we find ourselves imprisoned, somehow, between these two other realities, the past belonging to the problem of the beginning (because every past moment is our beginning in the present) and the future full of the awe and of the problem of the end, of the final, eschatological judgement of ourselves and our life. And each one of these terms of beginning and of end and of now, of time in its flow, possesses other characteristics. The beginning, the real one, is connected with a one-sided act of God which we call the Creation. Man, as well as all things which exist, was created from naught. This is the prime verity with which Scripture confronts us; Scripture as revelation, as God's Word, about something of which we have no knowledge and can have no knowledge. Man has no ontological basis, either in himself (he has no past before his beginning) or in God (he is not rooted substantially in Him and is radically different from Him). Nothing precedes the cosmos of which man is an integral part, and no genetic bond links man with his Creator. The "chaos" of ancient discourse was only a relative nothingness; from its experience of the already existing, all that the ancient world could imagine of chaos was nullity, rather than non-being. It is a vague and formless way of being, of already being, described to us by the book of Genesis in the second verse: "The earth was formless and void and there was darkness all over the surface", or, according to a translation from the Hebrew by Edmond Flegg, "Now the earth was flood and chaos, and dark lay upon the face of the abyss". For antiquity ordered being alone had existence, but real and absolute nothingness, that nothingness, that naught which precedes the creation of the first creature, exceeds the capabilities of natural thought and cannot be deduced from observation of "what is", because "what is" can grow thin but cannot return to non-being, because this nothingness is not absence, or void, or the reduction of being to imperceptibility; it is, on the contrary, the presence par excellence of the unique, of the only real one, of the One who is transcendent and unknown until He chooses and wills to reveal Himself. Chaos is the vacuity of the created, but what precedes the appearance of the creature is the plenitude of the uncreated, which God alone knows and alone can reveal. No common standard exists, no natural filiation between man and God, because man's only fulcrum is the divine will. Man was willed by God together with the rest of the created world: it appeared because it was commanded to be and together with it appeared time, because time appears when something that was not begins to exist. In this sense, all the destiny of the created world belongs to the category of time. At the other end, at the end of all things, the eschatological conclusion of all things, is judgement, a judgement brought by God before which we stand but that we have neither willed nor defined. The beginning and the end (which define the limits of time), these two poles of necessity as opposed to human freedom, are one-sided acts of God to which we must submit, and this creates a tragic problem because, willed by God without our assent, we yet must stand in judgement before God and be answerable to Him for the life we have led, for the way in which the mystery of time has been used by us.

Time possesses another quality: theologically it contains the mystery of our freedom, because between these two absolute and rigid limits of beginning and end we can use time. Time belongs to us, either unto justification or condemnation, but it belongs to us and contains the totality of our freedom. Against this background of creation, judgement and freedom, of the one-sided will of God and the will of man, appear a certain number of realities: the act of creation with its implications both for God and for man, the tragedy of fall and of death which contradicts, apparently, the act of creation (one of the problems of Theodicy is the vindication of divine Providence in view of the existence of evil), then the problem of the judgement which also contradicts our freedom because our existence is predetermined, and, in the end, something that can be either a nightmare or bliss: the resurrection either unto life eternal or unto condemnation, which again seems to contradict the very fact of our freedom because we are free only to define ourselves within certain predetermined limits. We are not free to escape this imprisonment defined by beginning and end, defined again by the fact that God has created us in a certain way, granted us a certain nature, and we have got to face beginning, judgement and time together with freedom, from within a situation which is defined by God. We will have to face these various problems before we can pass a judgement or express an opinion or enter into any understanding of what the last things are and what they mean, because their meaning will be quite different depending on how we solve the various problems and particularly this problem of freedom. Here is the crux of the matter for us, because the last things — death, resurrection, judgement and eternal destiny will appear to us, according to the way in which we solve the problem, either as a fantastic nightmare or as something profoundly meaningful. In the light of a certain understanding of time and of freedom, the last things, which include both the destiny of every individual man and the meaning of history, will give us an answer to the problem of life, because it is only by an understanding of the premises and the conclusion that we will be able to arrive at a final judgement about what life means to us, how we can use it, what it contains.

I should now like to come back shortly to a primary situation, that of the created being. Here are the main theses: man was called out of naught by the creative Word of God, he has no roots either in God, from whom he is radically different, or in himself; because before the call of God he was not and nothing of what he is, was. It is the will of God that has brought all things and man in particular into existence. The creation of man or of any other thing in this world was not a necessity for God. God is self-sufficient. He needs nothing to be Himself, no fulfilment to be Himself; man appears, therefore, as superfluous as far as God is concerned, and if God has created him, it is not for His own, God's sake, but for the sake of man. The fact that man is not necessary for God to be really God, is the very condition of man's independence, of man's reality. If man had been created because his existence was necessary for the existence, for the life or the bliss or the fullness of God, he would be nothing but a pale shadow of the divine being, so small, so insignificant. It is just because God is perfect and fulfilled without him that man has reality. God has placed him in his created world as a reality different from Himself, face to face with Himself, and in a relationship with Him, and man has been created sovereign, capable and entitled to define his destiny in time and in eternity and, together with his own destiny, the destiny of all that has been created.

His very contingency insures his independence, and the destiny of the whole world is defined by two wills: the will of God all-powerful, capable of creating anything, and the will of man, weak, frail, but endowed with the dread power to say "no" and to prevent any action of God by his refusal to co-operate, to participate or to commune.

These are the basic elements about our creation, there are a few more derived from the fact that we are created beings. We are in this world without our assent; we have not willed to be here and our freedom at this end is radically absent. This creates a first problem for the general problem of freedom which I want to face next time.

Together with our creation, together with the first creature, time appears. I want to underline what I have already said, that time is the basic category in which the created exists; and we will have to face a problem of time and of eternity, because the two things are not in opposition and because even in eternity, in a certain sense, a created being continues to exist in time.

These are the first things which I wanted to say as an introduction to my talks on the Last Things.


Talk II


The subject of this talk is freedom. To begin with, it is necessary to distinguish the unconditioned freedom of the Creator from the conditioned freedom of the created — we will come later to certain details of the subject, but for the moment let me say that God, in his freedom, is conditioned by nothing; there is no outer compulsion or coercion and there is no necessity for Him to act in one way or an other. He is completely unconditioned and He is the condition of all things. On the other hand, the created being possesses freedom and this freedom is a gift from God, but it is conditioned — conditioned first of all by the fact that it is given, and secondly by a certain number of characteristics of this "givenness" of created freedom which we defined last time. First of all man was called into being without his assent and has been put (set?) into existence by a one-sided act of God; his freedom begins with his creation, but is also conditioned at the very root, at the outset, by a one-sided decision of God. Secondly, man has to stand in judgement before the throne of God at the end of his personal life and at the end of History, and again his freedom will come into judgement, which gives it a different connotation. Lastly, man was created in a certain way, endowed with a certain nature and put into certain definite circumstances, all of which limit his freedom, if we would define freedom as the ability to do or to be whatsoever we choose without any limitations or conditioning. This will be enough to begin with; we are confronted with two realities which are not quite the same.

When we come to discuss the question of freedom, of liberty, we are faced with the way in which we are accustomed to use these words; and in the word liberty, and in the word freedom, there is ambiguity. In a book called "Grammaire de la liberté" or "Grammar of freedom", a contemporary philosopher gives an example that brings out a certain aspect of freedom, the wrong one, but also brings out the fact that we use the word in a way which leads to ambiguity. He tells the story of a man who one morning committed suicide in the Underground. He had been out of a job for a long time; he had tried to find a job, to re-adjust himself, to change his qualifications, but gradually, simply because there was no demand for work, because no one gave him a chance to continue in life or to start again in life, he had grown to be a beggar whom no one would employ; and one morning, after his last attempt to find work had been refused, he committed suicide. He had come out of the employment bureau, he had seen workers, men and women streaming into the factory; they, no doubt, felt tied, limited, conditioned, because for a number of hours of the day they would lose their freedom; but this loss of freedom gave them a right and a possibility to live. He was completely free, he could go anywhere, to an exhibition, to a museum, he could go for a walk, he could do any mortal thing except live, because there was nothing to live on or to live for. By this example the writer shows that freedom can develop into a deadlock; the man was free, but this freedom meant nothing; it was not really what one calls freedom, it was a situation which one can only sarcastically call freedom: he was no longer free even to remain alive. In one of the Psalms there is something of the same quality: "Free among the dead"... (Ps 88/5) and in this passage, the Slavonic translation uses the word "свобода” which is from the same root as freedom, "left to yourself". Freedom has got this ambiguity; on the one hand it means expansion, on the other hand it means complete isolation, and in these two senses, freedom is very far from being consistent with itself, the word freedom contradicts itself.

Now let us come back to freedom as we understand it in a more tragic sense. Freedom as we constantly use it means absence of constraint or of unavoidable determination in our lives, and yet even this constraint is only apparently, seemingly non-existent. When, in physics, we say that an object falls freely, we mean simply that nothing hampers it from falling, and yet the free fall is determined by the fact that this object cannot help falling: there is a law of gravity which is absolute for this object, and the fall that appears absolutely free is conditioned by one thing, yet it is the only thing that matters. In politics, in economics, in all forms of life, freedom does exist, but freedom is always determined by a law, by an agreement, by something that makes freedom a lawful situation; in other words again, freedom is not the possibility of doing something because there is an inner need, necessity or prompting; it is a situation in which you are free to be free only within the limits defined by an inexorable law. Absolute freedom, that is the state of one who is not determined either by external or by internal forces, in the words of the French philosopher Lalande, is metaphysical in the sense that it is not only beyond nature — it is almost contrary to Nature: it is completely beyond it because this freedom, this absoluteness of freedom, should transcend even the fact that the given object, the given person, has got a nature subject to internal laws. This is true only for God who is not determined by a pre-existing nature, who is "I am who I am".

As I have said, every creature is limited in his freedom on several levels; he is created without the participation of his own will, he is given a certain nature, ruled by certain laws, and he is awaiting a trial. Can we then speak of freedom at all? — because it is most unsatisfactory to speak of freedom in terms of it being our acceptance of necessity, or in the way in which a German officer defined it during the war: "I am free when nothing prevents me from fulfilling my duty". Let us search a little bit more. First of all, can freedom be proved? Is it possible to produce evidence that there is any such thing? There may be evidence, but there can be no proof.

Freedom in its essence is a state of contingency; this contingency (the possibility of things happening without a pre-existing determination) is essential to the use and play of freedom. Thus freedom can be affirmed, it can not be proved or strictly defined, because to prove contingency, to establish a law according to which contingency exists, is to deny contingency itself and to kill the very notion and fact of freedom.

A certain number of theories have been offered which I shall not explore, because my purpose is not to discuss freedom in all its implications, but only in regard to our main subject.

To come back to what I said before, if freedom is limited at the outset and at the final moment, if freedom is limited in the course of process by our nature, what is left of freedom save, perhaps, our delusion that we are free, because we are not aware of the fact that we are determined? There are several kinds of determination; to be determined from the outside does not mean that we are deprived of freedom; we are deprived of the exercise of it, but freedom remains in the form of our inner choice, our inner protest, the attitude we take in regard to what is happening. When we speak of destiny in all its forms, whether as the Moslems speak of it of as the Greeks speak of it, it is as an outer determination that leaves our inner self untouched. But what about inner determination, to what extent does that exist? Well, here we must go further into this condition of the nature of freedom.

We usually define freedom as our ability to make a choice; we are free when certain eventualities offer themselves to us and when we can, without being compelled, choose either the one or the other. When the choice is made between things good or indifferent (things which have neither the quality of good nor the quality of evil, which can become good or evil according to the way in which we will use them) this freedom of choice is acceptable. But when it comes to our constant experience of choosing between good and evil, is the liberty of indifferent choice (I am using the word indifferent in the prayer-book sense, — without prejudice) a reality? I think not; it is the character of the fallen creature to be confronted with life and death, with good and evil, and to oscillate between the two. To oscillate between life and death, to oscillate between good and evil is already a sign that we are not free, but that we are already in a state of beguilement. Life, good, God, call us; evil, death, the devil, beguile us and try to force us into a certain choice. Can we say that freedom resides in the fact that we can calmly consider the two possibilities and choose the one or the other? Among the lessons that are read at Vespers on Christmas Eve, there is one taken from the Book of Isaiah, in the seventh chapter, which refers to the Lord Christ the Lord Christ who was perfect man, perfectly free, perfectly himself — and this is the way in which the Greek text and the Septuagint text and translation renders the passage (which is not translated exactly in the same words in the authorised or the revised version): "Before the Child shall know good or evil, he refuses evil to choose the good". This passage is applied by the Church to the Lord Christ. Can we say after this that freedom resides in a wavering and indifferent choice between God and Satan, between life and death? One may say that to act freely consists in acting according to one's own nature, but again one falls into the previous problem; if our nature is given, are we free, is it not an internal determination replacing an external determination?

I would like now to try to find answers, or at least to set new problems before you, by considering the meaning of the words we are using. As you know, the aim of this introduction consists in preparing the ground for us to face the Last Things — death in its nature and consequences, the judgement and what comes after that — and so for the moment my purpose is less to give you a final answer (which we will have to worn out gradually when we face each of these points) than to give certain elements that we will need in the future.

Freedom, liberty, are two words which I would like to analyse shortly. I turned to the dictionary to be sure that my definitions would meet with the true meaning of the words and I was surprised to see how satisfying the definitions were. "Freedom", said the dictionary, in a way which was more than convincing, "is the quality or the state of being free". Now, fortunately, this was not the dictionary's last word. First of all it had something to say about freedom itself, and secondly something very interesting, from my point of view, to say about the word "free". "Freedom”, it said, "is the exemption from slavery, imprisonment or restraint, or exemption from the power or control of another". And I would like you to note the last words, "power or control of another", because they will come in useful. Secondly it means "exemption from necessity in choice or action”, and thirdly it means "a privilege". Further the dictionary teaches me, if not you, that freedom and liberty are often interchanged, but that freedom means more often absence of restraint or repression, while liberty suggests overcoming a previous restraint or repression." Now, if you turn to the word free, you discover something quite unexpected; free is not "the state in which one is when one possesses freedom"; that is not what the dictionary says. I discovered with pleasure that free originally meant, in all sorts of languages (beginning with the Goth and the German and ending with the ancient form of French), "beloved and dear", and that free was specifically applied to a member of a family, as opposed to the slaves of the family. It meant "not subject to any arbitrary external power or authority, not held in bondage or compelled to render obedience or service on unequal terms". If we turn to the word liberty, we also find interesting characteristics which make the two words coincide at their roots very precisely. Liberty comes from the Latin word "libertas" which is the state of a child born free in a free family as opposed to a servant, to a slave; "libertas", as freedom, is the state of the free-born child in his family. And we learn from what I have said before that this free-born child is "not submitted to any arbitrary power or authority, is not held in bondage, is not compelled to render service or obedience on unequal terms, is not under the power or control of another and that freedom is a privilege and not only a state. This is very important.

Usually when we speak of freedom, of liberty, we contrast them with subjection; we are free when we can escape the power, the control, the authority of another, and this other, for us, is one who is stronger, whose power can oppress us, subjugate us, and there is always opposition in our minds between our will and the will of the other. If you turn to the images of freedom and liberty given in this wise and truthful dictionary, you will see that you can work it out quite differently. In a household, the father is not an external, crushing authority, he is the loving head of the family at whose origin he stands. If you transfer the terminology to God and His creatures, you see, quite simply, God the Father who, by an act of gratuitous creation, stands at the origin of all His creatures for whom, therefore, so long as they are not perverted, divine love is not an outer authority, an alien power.

The Russian theologian Khomiakov says in one of his writings: "The will of God is damnation for the devils; it is law for man in his process of redemption; it is perfect freedom for those who are redeemed." The same will of God assumes three different aspects according to what we are. The will of God is not an external will that tries to subjugate us and to compel us to act according to an arbitrary determination; the will of God is the objective revelation for us of our own call, and this call of ours is not only external to us but also internal, because we have been created by God, endowed with a nature that can find fulfilment only in Him, and with a freedom which can develop and attain its fullness only in harmony. The relationship that we find in the household of God is not that of the weaker one submitted by force to the stronger one, not of two opposing powers, but of one family in which the Father is the guide and the wisdom that leads every one else to his own fulfilment, the fulfilment of what is his nature and his life. In this sense, freedom appears indeed as the privilege of those who are children of the household, but the privilege lies in the harmony between the call and the reality. As long as there is a tension between that which is the vocation of man and the reality of his actual situation, there is lack of freedom, there is choice, there is oscillation and vacillation, and there is a perception of God as of "the other", as one who is "not me" and who is stronger than I am. The Russian word "свобода" gives us another clue, or perhaps reinforces what we have discovered in the previous images. The word "свобода" is made of two roots: "сво" and "быть" which means "to be oneself": not to be what God (understood as the other) wishes me to be; not to be what I am not, but what I really am, in spite of empirical evidence; because each one of us, to a certain extent, is a monster compared to what God has willed and has put, in a germinal way, in each of us. And so, freedom can be understood now only in this internal relationship within the family of God, it can not be understood outside the relationship, it does not exist outside it otherwise than as a curse and damnation.

How then does freedom develop out of the empirical situation? There are two more words to which I would like to attract your attention; the one is discipline, the other is obedience. We all have a tendency to think of discipline in military terms, and we are rather pessimistic in our interpretation of our experience of discipline, say at school or in the army; it is always perceived as coercion and more often than not as coercion to do absurd things. But that is not true discipline; it may be discipline, but basically discipline is something else. Discipline is the condition of a disciple, and a disciple is one who has come to a master in order to learn. Discipline is the hearing, the exercise, the teaching, all that goes towards the education, the formation, the moulding of the perfect personality of a disciple by the master. Discipline and freedom, in this sense, are correlative, not opposed to one another. Discipline is the condition for learning, and therefore it is the condition, the necessary condition, for attaining real freedom, that completely harmonious relationship with God which is at the same time "libertas" and "свобода", — being oneself in all the fullness of this word in the true relationship of the household of God. This begins, quite often, with coercion simply because we are in a fallen world and we are fallen creatures. Discipline appears to us as orthopaedic surgery or as orthopaedic corsets or gymnastics, a lot of most unpleasant exercises or situations; but their aim is not to make us little monsters according to the strange mind of an arbitrary God, but to make us harmonious with God and with the rest of the cosmos, that we should become children of the Kingdom.

Part of discipline is obedience and again when we think and when we speak of obedience we usually think in terms of subjection, of coercion, of limitation of rights, — in negative terms; and again obedience is more than this, or rather it is something profoundly different from this. We know that Christ was perfectly obedient to his Father and yet we know that He was sovereignly free at every moment of his ministry; we cannot think of Christ in terms of one whose will was broken by the stronger will of the Father, because Holy Scripture teaches us that there was only harmony and freedom and unity of will between the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Obedience must therefore be defined as what it really is; beyond the ideas of power, tension and breaking-in, obedience should be defined in terms of listening, of real discipleship. The real disciple comes to his master in order to learn, and he will never learn anything unless, at the outset of the teaching, he is ready to believe his master.

A disciple comes first of all to listen, to listen and to take in. And the first act of obedience is an act of listening — one is obedient when one is capable of being still and listening. Where we go wrong in practice is that we imagine that we listen in order to act. We do not listen in order to act, nor do we learn only in order to act, but in order to become — to become profoundly different from what we are. Listening, in terms of obedience, does not consist in developing the ability just to understand what the other commands in order to do it — this is part of obedience — but, further, in gradually penetrating the mind a of the teacher — as St. Paul says "to acquire the mind of Christ" — to become able by this training of listening and stillness, by this alertness of all the powers of our soul orientated towards understanding, to acquire the mind of the teacher, to understand, by a deep communion with his thoughts, his mind and heart, what he is, in order to become his like. When our freedom and our obedience are directed Godwards, this listening consists in being both absolutely alert and absolutely still in order to hear and perceive, in order to grow into the mind of Christ, in order to commune with God and to become children of his household; real children, not monstrous children; children for whom God has ceased to be the "other one" and for whom God's will is the perfect revelation of their own will and nature, in complete harmony with God; children of the household when each has become himself, completely and perfectly, and thus has become what God has willed for him.

Well, this is the introduction which I wanted to make on the subject of freedom. As a conclusion I would like to quote the words of St. John's Gospel, chapter 8, verse 32: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free".

Christ has said: "I am the truth". To know the truth consists in knowing Christ and one does not know Christ as an external event of history or as someone who is an outsider, one knows Christ through participation and communion, and only by this participation and communion in the creative word of God, in the logos, only in communion with the Incarnate Word of God who is the Saviour, only by communion with One who is not only the Truth, but also the Way and the Life, can freedom be attained. And through this attainment of freedom the remaining problem of the prime and the final determination of our destiny in the creative act of God and in the judgement of God can be overcome, in a way which I hope we will be able to perceive at least approximately.

Talk III


I should like to complete what was said last time concerning freedom. To begin with I think we should pay some attention, and this not only for academic reasons, to the point of view concerning freedom which has been expressed by the existentialists and particularly by the school of Sartre, who have got quite a lot to say about it and for whom it is a very central point. To go on with, I should like to say a few words about the relationship of two notions of freedom and determination, two theological notions of nature and person, and then to gather up, in a tentative conclusion, what we will have discovered in these two talks. I do not want it to be final; we cannot answer the question which we have asked about the nature of freedom, or rather about the way in which we can be free and are free, before we have considered a certain number of other things, like judgement and eternity. So let us begin by a short consideration of Sartre's point of view on this subject of freedom.

Sartre's fundamental idea is that existence precedes essence. This is the way in which human existence is radically different from the existence of man-made objects. An object is first thought of, conceived in the mind of the maker, and then becomes reality when it is made. For Sartre man, on the contrary, is not first conceived and made afterwards for the simple reason that Sartre starts with the assumption that there is no God, and therefore there is no maker. A human being exists first of all, then he defines his own nature by and in the process of existing. In this sense Sartre is in contradiction with philosophers like Leibniz and a whole school of rational, classical theology which began in a certain way with St. Augustine, in which the creation of man consists in the fact that God's conceptions are made objective, are projected into reality out of God's mind by an act of God's creative will. Yet Sartre's conception does not clash with another aspect of Christian theology; it does not clash with an act of creation born of gratuitous, divine generosity and love because in this conception, human existence is born not of concepts but of existence. The existence of man is thus founded on the very existence of God in an act of love and of sharing, and man does not appear as an essence that has existence, but as a free existence which is free either to perish or to redeem itself, to live or to die, to choose between fulfilment and. catastrophe. This a first tenet in Sartre's conception which I wanted to point out. What is interesting in it is this non-opposition to the second theological view and the insistence on the fact that man's existence is founded, grounded (that is a conclusion which we could draw but Sartre has no God to draw it from) on divine existence and not on divine thinking; love and God being identical, an act of love is an act of existence.

A second point is this: every man finds himself in a situation, every human being possesses a body, a past, an environment; there are obstacles in front of him, there are problems he needs to solve; but can one say that this situation in which he finds himself determines his behaviour or not? Sartre argues that a determinist would contend that people who find themselves under oppression will rebel against it and that the cause of this rebellion is that the situation is intolerable. Against this view, Sartre makes a point which I think is remarkably interesting; he says that there is no situation which is intolerable in itself, a situation becomes intolerable only when we have another concept already in front of us. The same situation may be considered by one person as an occasion to learn or to manifest patience, humility, greatness of thought, while another would define it as intolerable because he has already a project of change. Heidegger has said somewhere that man is a being living in the future; in that sense every situation is appraised, and the value of a situation is defined in view of this future. As I said a minute ago, a given situation is, for a Christian ascetic, the God-willed situation for him to grow into holiness and perfection, and for someone else it is intolerable; but it does not become intolerable until he has the notion of another situation and of the fact that this situation can be changed. And so Sartre would argue that it is the free project that a man works out in his mind and heart that gives a certain quality to every situation. The world, he says, is simply a mirror of my freedom because everything acquires a quality depending solely on what I define as my own future, the present being defined by the future, and not vice versa. He calls transcendency this ability of man to outgrow a situation by means of a project in the future, by projecting into the present an element which is the goal of the future and gives significance to a situation which otherwise is ambiguous, to be understood one way or another.

Concerning another notion of Sartre's about freedom, one could answer him that the very liberty which he advocates, the freedom that transcends present reality and gives it a specific value because of the project in the future, is not freedom at all simply because man is determined by his own nature. At this point we find another thought of Sartre which our Christian theology could not accept just as he puts it, but which I think we must take into account if we want to have a deep view of what nature is, not the outer nature, but the nature of any object or any person; namely, is this project, this scale of values, really defined by nature? Sartre would say “no, because a man has no nature in the sense of an exhaustive reality which is him and out of which his decisions or his situations proceed”. He underlines the fact that there is a great difference between what he calls the massive, the compact nature of an object, and what he calls the nature of a man. He gives an example: a stone has a compact nature, it exists in itself; for the stone there is no inside and no outside, there is a massive block which is the stone. Man is conscious of his existence, he does not simply exist in himself, he exists for himself and this existence is dual. He exists and he reflects on his existence; he is there and he is conscious of being there. He examines himself and passes judgements on himself; there is an inside and there is an outside for him, and there is more than that; there is not only an inside and an outside, there is also the fact that because he cannot only exist, but reflect, and not only reflect but also have consciously a future, he is never, at no moment, what he seems to be, and he is always ultimately what he is not at any particular moment.

To put it perhaps in a more understandable way: a stone is the there what it was, what it is and what it will be, a compact, concrete reality; it can change physically, it can break into pieces, but this would make no essential difference, the total stone remains unchanged, it does not become anything except a stone. On the contrary, any human being, considered at any moment, cannot be examined statically; a human being is always in motion from what he was to what he will be, through the present instant which is what he is; but if you consider him at this present moment, you cannot say that he is himself fully because he is already moving towards what he will be, and he is moving away from what he was; at every moment he is not quite what we perceive he is, and at every moment he is not what he appears to be. Also he is moving from coincidence and identification with himself in the context in which, as a human being, he is placed.

Sartre calls this the "naught" because it is out of this present naught that will evolve the future something; it is a very approximative naught, it is not naught as we defined it when we spoke of the Creation and the pre-creation, it is what at every moment precedes being, a moment later. This situation of being naught as compared to what will come next is a compelling situation; you cannot remain what you are, you are bound to move ahead, and this movement ahead is what Sartre calls freedom, the necessity of becoming; and in this sense he is right when he says that we are condemned by destiny to be free, and freedom itself is in a certain sense a determination.

Well, as I said, it is not only for academic reasons, because Sartre's thought is so much now in the minds of people and the concern of people, that I have turned to these things. There are two or three points in his teaching which I would like to take up, but I must first underline one thing. It seems to be commonly held, simply because Sartre and his school have made more noise than other schools of existentialist thought, that existentialism and unbelief — denial of God's existence — are one and the same thing. This is untrue factually because there are schools of believing existentialists, a man like Gabriel Marcel is an example, and the basic idea that existence precedes essence is neither for or against a belief in God. We can therefore take up various points in Sartre's views and look at them in a way in which he does not look at them, draw parallels or see connections which he would definitely deny but which we are not bound to deny for that reason.

The first point which I would like to underline is this. When Sartre speaks of the existence of man being derived from existence and not from pre-conception, it is exactly what the Fathers of the early Church thought about the life of the Holy Trinity. They insisted on the fact that there is not at the outset a substance, a divine Essence which can be divided subsequently into the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. God the Father is Godhead and existence itself and the two other Persons of the Holy Trinity derive their existence from the Father. The relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one of existence and this played a great role in the theology of the Fathers.

Where we can follow Sartre is when he comes to man, because we believe in the act of creation and that man derives his existence from God, not in the direct way of direct generation, but being founded by the creative word and will of God; it still remains that Sartre's conception cannot fit with the views of Leibniz for instance. As I said, there is first of all an idea in God, the idea of man, which materialises in a subsequent act of will: Sartre's views do not clash, if we broaden our perspective, with the creation understood simply as an act of pure love or as a gratuitous divine act of generosity, which shares existence with what does not exist, and in this connection it is not an essence which is created, it is an existence which is called out of naught. The second thing which I would like to underline, because it will come in useful later when we will speak of the problem of judgement, is the relationship Sartre establishes between freedom and project. A situation is intolerable because there is a project of rebellion. A situation is intolerable because we conceive another situation and we work towards it, because we are drawn to it for some reason, and in connection with the whole setting he offers a very remarkable suggestion which, as I said, will come in useful later but which I mention now because I think it is worth sowing early if we want to reap later. He says somewhere in one of his writings that a man is not a betrayer because he betrays, but he betrays because he is a betrayer. This is just a passing remark which I would like to connect in your minds with the problem of Judas. Now let us move from this point which I leave almost open for you to think about and to feel puzzled about — I hope!

Let us turn to the other point I wanted to make concerning the relationship there is between determination, freedom, nature and person. I think we must make an attempt to define these four terms. Determination means that the decisions, or the actions, or the way in which a being is, are not the result of his free choice, but are mechanically imposed on him. Freedom, as we defined it last time, (and this I would like you to keep in mind, because it is probably one of the few things in all my talks that will come in useful to you!) — freedom, from the old word free, beloved, dear, is that state in which one is not subject to any arbitrary, external power or authority; a state in which one is not held in a state of bondage or compulsion; freedom is therefore a relationship of mutual love. The two other words are much more difficult to define. The Fathers of the early Church, after the first ecumenical Council and later worked on the notion of nature in relation with the Holy Trinity. We may say that our human nature is what we have got in common, physically and psychologically; this is not a very good definition but one which is workable in practise; we all know by experience the characteristics of body, of mind, of will and so on, that allow us to recognise that so and so is a human being and not a dog or a monkey.

The notion of person is much more difficult; nature is defined as the collection of all those common characteristics which are the human characteristics. One can reduce these characteristics as much as possible and in the end get a minimum which will probably be common to all these things which we call humans. Nature is made of common features; certain are basic and without them there is no human being, and certain are additional although they belong to our humanity and are joined together in various proportions and in various ways. We have no direct knowledge of what human nature is, simply because human nature does not exist in the state of purity in the way in which we can show that gold is or some other substance is. In no one individual do we find in any sort of purity what human nature is: what we know are individuals.

What is an individual? We would say, probably, "each of us is one" and this is true and it is very sadly true, because an individual, from the meaning of the word, is the last term of gradual disintegration, breaking up; the individual corresponds, on the human level, to what the atom was (but is no longer) in the realm of physics; one cannot divide further. But this perception of ourselves and others as individuals is just the definition of our fallen world: we are no longer a race, a complex whole, an organism in which each of us would be a member, a living member possessing characteristics but not opposed to others. We are individuals, and what defines us is that each of us possesses the qualities that belong to human nature, in varying proportions, which make us seemingly different from the others, but only in very secondary features; the one is tall, the other is small; the one is fair, the other is dark, and so on; but all these are characteristics of natural history, they are not enough to single out an individual of real value, because on this level of natural history, we consider each individual simply on his practical, or say commercial value; one, because the common features are arranged in a certain way, can be used in a certain way by society, and another one in another way, but this does not give them any sort of significance although it gives them a practical use. In that sense a human individual is in no wise different from an animal.

What makes a human being unique is what the Fathers of the Church called his "reality as a person". Of course all this, to a very great extent, is a problem of definition. We need distinct words and a precise terminology. The difference which the Fathers saw between a person and an individual is that an individual is made of a combination of common characteristics, while the person is unique, unrepeatable, beyond comparison simply because it is not made of common characteristics. The fathers tried to convey the notion by examples and later theologians have done the same. When we look at a painting and say: "Oh, that can be by no one else but Rembrandt!", we are speaking of a quality which has nothing to do either with the canvas or the colours or the lines of the subject; the same materials could be used by any good copyist and yet someone who has the ability and experience to see and discern would say "this is not the real thing", because in the true painting there is a quality of a hand, of a mind, of a personality which is unique. Lossky, in his book on the mystical theology of the Eastern Church, gives another example: the peculiar touch of one who plays the piano; the melody is the same, the notes are the same, everything is the same and yet this recital can only be by such a pianist and by no one else. These are ways in which the uniqueness of a given person expresses itself, it is not made by the combination of a variety of features common to any one, it is made of a certain number of characteristics which are unique because they are not repeated or repeatable; they are unique and they belong to this person.

If from the realm of analogies we try to turn to that of Scripture, there is a passage which I have often quoted, that characterises, I think, this uniqueness of person as contrasted with phrases like "the race of Adam", "the human race", and so on. This passage is in the Book of Revelation and says that at the end of time, after the judgement, every one of the elect will receive from God a white stone with a name written on it which no one knows except God and the one who receives it. This name expresses what the person is, the unique, only, unrepeatable reality of this person, and this can be known only to God, and to the person to the extent to which God Himself gives insight. This relationship that exists between God and each person is unique and unrepeatable, and this is why the whole world in its entirety is called to be what St. Augustine calls "Totus Christus", the whole, the complete Christ — Man with a capital M, humanity fulfilled as a complete harmony of selves, of persons, of limbs each of which is unique, not replaceable by another, and which only in their togetherness are an image of the mystery of God. Each person on a certain level, on the level of nature and humanity, knows God as every one else does; there is community of knowledge; God is known by all of us and we can speak of Him and convey the idea of Him to one another, and yet, on another level, this uniqueness of every human being implies that each person knows God as no one else knows Him, can know Him or ever will know Him.

Now, this relatedness of the human person to God, this relatedness of mutual knowledge and mutual love, of communion with God, of God making us partakers of divine nature in an act of gratuitous generosity, is the place, the location of human freedom; simply, as we saw last time, because freedom is a relationship and a relatedness, a special way of being related, and we see now, tentatively, provisionally, something that will come in useful later. We have been created by God with a given human nature, but this human nature in its reality, in its purity, we do not know because it has been deeply shattered, distorted by sin; we know only individuals, but within each individual, coinciding with each individual, is the person. The nature is given; it is one of the elements of our determination, God's way of determining us; determination unto eternal life and bliss, but it still remains that this element is a determined element; but within the individual being, connected with his human nature, there is the notion and the reality of the person which is the very relationship that exists between God and me, or you, or him, or her; and this relationship is the ferment, the leaven of the ultimate glorious freedom which, again, is the mystery of communion with God.

We are created by a one-sided act of God, but we are not created static, we are created in a motion, and we are created possessing a relationship with God that can integrate our very determination into the will of God.

Talk IV


Following the introduction on Time and Freedom, we come now to the first of the Last Things, to death.

In our experience, death and life are constantly interwoven. We see death in nature, but we also see that out of death springs life, that which is destroyed supplying the necessary condition for new growth and new development; and on a quite different level we find the words of Christ, that “unless the seed dies it does not bear fruit". I just mention this at the outset of these two or three talks on death, to underline the fact that death and life, in our experience and in the words of our Saviour, are not to be sharply opposed to one another; they belong together in some mysterious way, which we will have to investigate, and the two realities, as I have said, are interwoven into a mystery of life on earth and into that which unfolds itself as history and as an economy of salvation.

When we speak of death we must always remember that death is a catastrophic event which was not originally in the plan of God, and this catastrophe affects the total man, body and soul. We have in our age, as did the Monophysites and the Manicheans at other times, a tendency to think of death as affecting the body and the soul in two quite different ways: we think of the soul remaining alive and the body falling dead, and we have lost the sense of the total man affected equally in soul and in body, (although each is affected differently) by the tragedy of death. We shall have to examine the two aspects of the event, but we must underline at once that neither soul nor body is a complete man. A body without a soul is a corpse; a soul without a body lacks incarnation, which is part of our human destiny. Also to a very great degree we have lost the sense of both the sacredness of the body and the sinfulness of the body; we think much too often of the body as merely the place where the soul dwells, but Holy Scripture rates the body much higher. St. Paul speaks of the body as "the Temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. VI, 19). In the same first Epistle to the Corinthians (VI, 13) we find: "Meats for the belly and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body". This relationship of "the body being for the Lord and the Lord for the body" underlines the fact that there is a deep meaning in our bodily structure, in bodily reality. I Cor. VI, 18 says: "Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body, but he that commiteth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's”.

Equally, our body participates not only in the life of the Spirit, to the extent to which the Spirit conquers it to God, but also in the life of sin. St. Paul, who speaks so highly of the body, says (Rom. VII, 24) "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" In this respect, he underlines the fact that the body, of which he spoke so highly before, now appears to him as the prison in which his soul is kept and a prison which takes an active part in the destruction of all that is Godly and divine.

So our bodies are both sacred and sinful and we must always remember that body and flesh, in the terminology of both the Old and the New Testament, do not mean the same thing. The body is given in the act of creation; it is our material humanity as God has willed it; it is capable of being and meant to be Godbearing, Spiritbearing, pervaded with divinity, of becoming party to the great mystery which St. Peter defines in the second Epistle general 1,4 when he says that "we are called to become partakers of the divine nature."

The "flesh" is a term used in the Old and New Testament to signify our material components, as it were, but also our soul, our psychological side, devoid of divine communion, in rebellion against the law of the Spirit. The old ascetics' saying: "who fights against the flesh, fights for his body" is profoundly true and completely adequate to Old Testament and New Testament theology. So both the soul and the body of man are involved in the tragedy of death, differently but equally, and we shall have to consider both of them, each of them, in the tragedy. And, may I say before we go further, we shall also have to consider them both in the mystery of the resurrection, which we confess in the Apostolic Creed in the words "I believe in the resurrection of the body" and in the Nicene Creed in "the resurrection of the dead".

From what I have quoted from St. Paul, particularly from his Epistle to the Romans, we see that death is an equivocal event. On the one hand, as I have already said, it is a tragedy which is contrary to God's intention and positive will, on the other hand it is an event for which St. Paul longs; and I will introduce a few more quotations later to show his attitude to death as a positive event. This dual attitude to death is very important for us to keep in mind from the outset of this attempt to understand death.

Before we go further, I would like to say a few words about mortality and immortality. Mortality has two meanings, the one which is obvious and to which one's mind turns immediately, — the event of physical death which sets an end to our life on earth and which we know in its outer manifestations from observation, the other, which is eternal death. And this eternal death, we must remember, is not a return to the naught out of which we have been called when God, by His creative word, brought us into being. In the Book of Revelation, we see that after the Last Judgement, those who will have been rejected by God will experience a second death. The tragedy of this second death which will last eternally is that it is not a return to naught, it can not be described in the words of one of Dostoievsky's heroes, Ivan Karamazov, who says: "I will come to God and give him back my ticket: I do not want the life He has offered, I do not want anything He is offering, I want to return to what I was, or rather to what I was not before the Word of God brought me into being without consulting, me". The tragedy of death in the plan of eternity consists in the fact that this also is, as it were, a one-sided act of God, that condemns us to exist even when life has gone; and Lossky, describing the tragedy of the devils, says that in their rejection of God and their longing to reverse every positive, creative process of God, they long to return to the naught out of which they have come, but all they can do is to fall eternally into bottomlessness and never reach the end of their fall.

We are concerned with mortality on the first level for the moment; the problem of a second death, or the eternal destiny of those who will have sided with the spirits of eternal destruction, we will have to consider at the end of these talks.

Let us turn now to immortality and try to understand enough about it to make the subject of death a little bit clearer, again leaving for the last talks the consideration of immortality on the level of eternity.

Immortality and Eternity are not one and the same thing. Eternity belongs to God; we single it out as a characteristic of God simply because we need words; as light, as love, as truth, eternity is God and in this sense, eternity is absolutely stable, impassable. Immortality belongs to the world of creatures and is both frail and dynamic; frail because it is a gift of God not yet actual, to be acquired; dynamic because although it is given, it must be grown into; it is given at the outset as a call and a possibility, it has got to be achieved, that is received in a which is not passive reception but active integration. There are several views on the immortality of the first parents, of the first man created by God. In the West, a view is largely held, according to which God created man endowed with a mortal nature and added Grace which made him immortal and kept him immortal as long as he did not sin and was not thereby deprived of his divine grace.

As an Orthodox, I would ask the question: is there any such thing as pure human nature? Pure human nature is a static concept, it is not a dynamic reality and according to more than one of the ancient writers, God did not create man first of all as a mortal being to which immortality has been added, but created him already in motion, already endowed with all his virtual possibilities. From the outset however, he possessed immortality as one who can and may die. Immortality, as I said before, is not a gift like the gift of existence which we cannot loose, it is a dynamic reality into which we are called to grow, or out of which we can fall; and man was called to grow into the immortality of one who could no longer die, because in his communion with God, he would have grown beyond the very possibility of death in the same way in which the angels of God who remained faithful have established themselves in the stability of faithfulness and can no longer fall. One can however fall out of immortality as a gift of God which has not yet become our second nature which has not yet been integrated into our nature as a component which cannot be taken away, and this actualisation of death is the result of the fall, of sin. I would like to read a few passages from the 5th Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans which make it very clear;

verse 12: "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned".

verse 15: "If through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many."

verse 18: "Therefore, as by the offence of one, judgement came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life."

verse 21: "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

We find a last quotation in the next chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, chapter VI, verse 21: "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are not ashamed?" asks St. Paul "For the end of those things is death". So, from the point of view of Holy Scripture, death and sin are closely linked to one another. Sin is the power that has brought death into the world.

Let us now consider the two aspects of this mortality-immortality problem. There are roots or seeds of immortality, there are seeds of mortality and death. Yet, from what we have already seen, it is clear that the root of immortality belongs to ontology, to the very being of the created being, while mortality enters into the created situation not substantially, but as an action, as an attitude. Man was created capable of immortality, he has been killed by sin. The two terms are not equal in their nature; God, whom we see in the beginning of the book of Genesis described as "one, transcendent, preceding all creation and creating all things" has called all things out of naught by His creative Word in an order of increasing dignity, of increasing ability to meet Him. Man, who is the last term of this creative action of God, belongs to two worlds and belongs to these two worlds completely; and yet, because he belongs to these two worlds, he is more completely involved in one and he is not yet completely integrated into the other.

Man is created as the last of the beings of the earth, it is out of the clay of this earth that he is fashioned; in him we find all that exists in all other creatures of this world. If we forget the existence of God, or if we disbelieve in the existence of God, we can consider man as one of the many animals that exist; and yet, if we consider him from this point of view, we see that, because he has got consciousness, because he has got a certain number of qualities of intelligence, of will, of heart, because he is man, he has disengaged himself to a certain degree from the rest of the animal world. This observation which we make as scientists, even from a godless point of view, coincides with what we know from Holy Scripture. Yes, man was created from the clay and the dust of the world; he is the last link in a chain of creative acts, but because there is something more in him than in every other creature of God, and although he belongs so completely to this unbroken chain, there is a break between him and the first creature that precedes him.

On the other hand man belongs to another world; God has breathed into him and endowed him with a living soul. Man has been given by God participation in the world of spirits; through his soul he has an analogy with the angels of God, and St. Maxim the Confessor insists on the fact that he stands on the threshold of these two worlds, being a lawful citizen of both and capable in his person of bringing them together; and in this he sees the particular vocation of man. But if, because of his peculiar human qualities, it is true to say that man no longer belongs undividedly to the material world, it is also true to say that, because he has not yet fulfilled his vocation, he does not yet belong completely to the world of the spirit. There is a dynamic situation in the destiny of man: he is not standing at the threshold but on the threshold of these two worlds. The image and resemblance of God which were given him at the outset are both a link and a sign of disparity: the fact that there is between him and God this link of image and resemblance establishes the break I mentioned between man and the rest of the world.

And yet, image and resemblance establish analogy and not identity. St. Basil the Great in his liturgy, speaking of the Lord Christ, says that He reveals to us the Father, as a seal which has been marked on a piece of wax reveals to us its own inscription; we can read the inscription and the design, the emblem of the seal, on the wax. It is an adequate image; it may be, as it was in the case of the revelation of Christ in the Incarnation, an adequate revelation and yet the imprint is not the seal, there is no identity between the two, although the image may be perfect. I would not like you to misconstrue what I have said into a wrong conception of the Incarnation. I am now thinking much more of the image and resemblance in man in general than of the particular case of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

The image of God means conformity, that is an analogy in form and structure, something given, without which man ceases to be man and falls back into the animal world. It is given, it is static, it is never taken away even if man disfigures it, for, as St. Paul said, speaking in general, "the gifts of God are never taken back". The notion of resemblance, on the contrary, is a dynamic notion; man, formed in the image of God, was and is to become His like. It is a dynamic notion, the end of which can be framed in the words of St. Peter in the second Epistle general, chapter I, verse 4: "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."

Let us consider now both image and resemblance in turn. We shall have to come back to this point when we speak of the consequences of death, and this is why I take these two notions now. The image of God is conformity and not portrait. God's image can be termed an Icon, in modern terminology, but not a portrait; there is the same conformity, and this comes out very clearly in the Hebrew text. There is conformity in the same sense in which a vessel and its content must have a formal analogy, in which an instrument is defined by its purpose; and this image has been sought ever since the words are in use. And what we find is this: there are, one may say, two ways of understanding or of reaching an approximate understanding of the idea of the image of God in man; the one is the notion of unity in complexity, and the other is the notion of unity in multiplicity. This unity in complexity was suggested in the early times by the Greek Fathers who instanced the fact that there are diverse powers of body and soul in a man which are blended together into one reality which constitutes this particular man, or man in general; they spoke of the mind and of the heart and of the will and of various groups of qualities which in their essentiality and unity could define a unique human being.

This is a first approximation; the second way in which the image of God in man was defined was in the terms of the Nicene discussions. As we see in God Three Persons sharing one nature and being one God (a later theologian would, perhaps have said “one Personality”) so do we see also in man the reality of one nature divided between persons or, rather, not divided but expressed in persons. What I mean by this contrast between “divided” and “expressed” is that there is no such thing as a nature that is subsequently divided up between the persons who need to have a nature, and there is no nature apart from the persons and outside the persons. St. Gregory Palamas, in later times, in the fourteenth century, has underlined also that, owing to the fact that man has consciousness and can therefore act in a purposeful way, he shares with God in creative power. We have also to underline the fact that, within the limits which we have tried to define in the last talks, God and man both possess freedom, the freedom of man being unequal to the freedom of God and yet being freedom.

The other aspect of the image of God in man is unity in multiplicity. The Three Persons of the Godhead are one God, and mankind is one mankind in a multiplicity of persons. The image seen in this respect is absolutely clear in God, in whom the Three Persons are One in the mystery of giving and receiving sacrificial love; it is blurred in our human world by the fact that both giving and receiving have been marred and murdered by sin and that sacrificial love has diminished although not disappeared. In this view, love is the fullness of life and death, in this context, is overcome by sacrificial love. In the fifth Chapter to the Romans, verse 1, we find a passage which I think is to the point. St. Paul says: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom also we have access by faith into the grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."

Love is the mystery of the Holy Trinity, but love is also the mystery of this unity in multiplicity, of this many oneness in the mystery of the total man, that is of mankind; and only if love is fulfilled as a gift, as the ability to receive and as the ability to present oneself as a perfect sacrifice, is this image resplendent before us. But when this is being done, this "given" image becomes resemblance and this immortality, given and offered in the place, becomes immortality received in a mystery of communion with God. The tree of life spoken of in Genesis III, 22 is the symbol of immortality: "And now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live for ever". But this tree of life is not only a symbol of immortality — of some sort of mechanical, mysterious immortality as it may appear at first sight from this reading — it is also the symbol of this charismatic life in God. If you turn to verse 2 of the 22nd chapter of the Book of Revelation, you read: "In the midst of the street of it (it being the New Holy Jerusalem) and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."

In the context of this chapter you will see that this tree is not simple immortality in the process of a natural life in the garden of Eden. It is a tree of if charismatic union with God and this garden of Eden is the only place where this tree can grow. I think it is easy to see how the Cross of Christ and the mystery of the Holy Communion to the body and blood of Christ which is in direct connection with the sacrifice of Calvary appear to us in the same terms as of the tree of life. Only within the Church, which is the garden of Eden restored, can the life-giving tree grow and yield its fruits which are life and healing of soul and body. This tree of life in the Old Testament or in the New Testamental Church rears man into the immortality of communion and makes it possible for him to reach unto resemblance, that is to fulfil the vocation defined by St. Peter which I have quoted two or three times; to attain stable immortality, if I may say so, and even this is probably less than what we are called to attain, because beyond stable immortality in the mystery of communion to the divine nature stands the problem of our participation in the Eternity of God.



Talk V


Life and death are deeply interwoven, and death is the catastrophic event which affects the total man, both body and soul. The Christian faith does not speak only of the immortality of the soul, but of the resurrection of the body at the last day, and this leads us to emphasise that the body has a destiny which is not only an ephemeral destiny on this earth, connected with a soul which is all-important, but that man is both soul and body in their unity, and death is the very tragedy of their separation. If we examine the two components of this complex whole which we call a human being, soul and body, we discover on two different levels, perhaps not in the same terms, that both are immortal. The soul is immortal, this is something to which we are accustomed when we speak of life and death among people who are believers, but also there is a sort of double immortality of the body; on the one hand it is called to final resurrection, and in this sense it dies and yet it is called to exist again, it fades away for a while to reappear; and on the other hand, even in this period during which the body disappears, matter remains. We shall have to come back to this point concerning matter in general in connection with the body; for the moment, I would like to underline the fact that all our material world, created once by the creative Word of God, is there, alive in us and around us, and if we were capable of being sufficiently attentive, or of perceiving deeply enough not only what happens to our soul or within our soul, but what constitutes and affects our body, we could recapture in our very bodies the amazement, the glory, the first thrill of matter once created, because it is the very matter which now is us.

Last time we distinguished mortality and immortality from eternity, and we tried to determine the roots of immortality in us, what makes this immortality potential, something which we can be or not be, and we were to come today to the question of mortality. Immortality in us is essentially based on the fact that God willed us immortal and created us in order that we should live; it is rooted in us in a variety of ways which we can call the image of God in us, this unity in complexity, this unity in multiplicity which makes us the like of God and makes us capable of a relationship with God, an ontological relationship in our being and not only in our activities; yet, although we are called into being without our previous agreement, we are created free and to this question of freedom, as you remember, we have devoted two complete talks. This freedom makes our immortality conditional: we are offered immortality, we are offered stability in life, a share in divine life and growth beyond the very possibility of dying. But this immortality is not inflicted on us; we are free to take it, we are free to leave it.

Let us now turn to a passage of the Old Testament which defines the root of mortality in us; it is obviously the passage in which the first men are told that if they eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they will die. As a first comment, I should like to remind you that the language of the passage is certainly not the language that was spoken in the Garden of Paradise; it has been pointed out several times by anti-religious writers that the whole passage is absurd, because before death had appeared on earth, man could not have understood what it meant, "thou shall die", and therefore God warned him in a way which could bear no positive fruit.

However primitive this sort of remark is, it catches the attention, and people do sometimes wonder what these words could mean. But we must remember that the Book of Genesis was not written in Paradise nor for those who knew and remembered Paradise; it was written much later, after the fall, in the fallen world. The chapters of Genesis give us a description, often by analogy, of what happened or what existed before the fall, in terms of a world which is already fallen; it speaks of one world in terms of another. Whatever the words used, the fact remains that, in the very centre or the situation which is called Paradise, there was the possibility of death. Knowledge, the knowledge of things as they are, or rather the knowledge of what is and what is not, the knowledge of being and not-being, of life and death, of existence and non-existence belongs to God. No one else knows what non-being means, what death means, what non-existence means, and it appears from the third chapter of Genesis that by sinning man makes an attempt at possessing what is essentially God's.

Now, what is it he attempts to possess which cuts him off from the root of life? It is not the knowledge of all things, divine knowledge, because he does not acquire this when he tastes of the fruit of good and evil; nor is it the ability to discriminate between good and evil as moral categories, because man is called to good, is called also to shun evil, and so the distinction between the two, up to a point, is necessary to life. There are two ways in which this fall, as a result of the discovery of good and evil, has been explained. In the New Bible of Jerusalem which appeared a few years ago, there is a foot-note which says that what man was beguiled into, was searching for the faculty to decide for himself what is good and what is evil and acting in accordance; in other words that this discernment of good and evil of which this passage of the Bible speaks, is a claim to moral and also to ontological autonomy.

I do not think that this is adequate, but if we think in biblical terms I believe that we come to the following picture: all God's creation was good because it was in God; it was in harmony because it was perfectly obedient and harmonious to the will of God. Evil, in terms of these first chapters and of many other passages of the Old Testament, appears not as a moral category, a category of better and worse, of good and evil, but as the knowledge of things outside God or contrary to Him. In other words, this attempt which, beguiled by the serpent, made to discover what was good and what was evil, was a tantamount to an attempt to knowing what is outside God, and this, for the created being, corresponds to death; because it is only in a relationship with God that there is life, that there is existence and that there are categories of life. A French Protestant writer, about thirty years ago, said that, when man tried to discover what good and evil were, that is to experience not only what being in God was, but what being outside God was, he established himself as a new God so to speak; he took the right of investigating that which was beyond his capabilities and, falling out of the divine being, he fell also out of life; he puts it, I think, very impressively. "The moment man wishes to know what it means not only to have a God, but to have no God, he has no Creator any longer and no sustainer of his life, he is outside life and he can do nothing but die."

So, in this passage of the Old Testament, we are not warned specifically against the desire to know what is good and evil, what is right and wrong in categories of the world as we know it, but in categories of Paradise: then all things are either in God or outside God, and to be outside, for the created being is death and non-being. But it is not the radical naught out of which man was called into being, because the naught out of which man was called by the act of creation is not an absence of the creature, as we tried to define it at the beginning, but the plenitude of the uncreated, God filling all things and having no partner in existence; the naught which the creature discovers when it falls out of the divine naught is that of nullity, that of death, and, as Lossky puts it, having fallen out of existing in God and life in God, the creature may renounce God and try to return to non-being, but non-being cannot be regained once it has been called into existence; and this is where death appears and not simply annihilation. This falling out of man from the harmony of a world integrated in God does not lead to his annihilation but to another mode of existence, the tragic mode which we call death. But to continue to live in the situation which we call Paradise, and at the same time to have the experience of being outside God or without God, would be impossible; and therefore, in a first act of charity and of providence, the Lord God expels man from Paradise, because the monstrous situation which would have occurred would nave been an everlasting hell, — so death appears. But death appears, as I have said more than once yet I feel it needs to be repeated, death appears as the corollary to the creature's experience of falling out of life; and the whole process of man's life and of human history and of cosmic history is the work by God and men towards reintegration into the harmony of all things in God, so that in the end God should again, but in a quite new way as we will see later, be all in all.

Death therefore has got a dual character; on the one hand it is catastrophic, tragic, on the other hand it is providential and our only chance of salvation and return. The perpetuation for ever and ever of the monstrous state created by the fall would be hell for ever. Death is the only way in which the human, the total human being can be broken out and, according to God's providence and plan, reintegrated and saved. That death appears as something profoundly tragic, we see in many ways; the Bible is full of passages which underline the sadness and the tragedy of death. The New Testament speaks in the same terms, and if you turn to the burial services of Christendom, you find the same note; we will, next time, read some passages from the Orthodox service of burial to underline this side of death.

But at the same time, in the same Scriptures you see, particularly in St. Paul, an attitude to death which is quite different. St. Paul says: "For me to live is Christ and to die is a gain", because living in the body we are separated from Christ and so he wishes he could die; "nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more useful for you and having this confidence I know that I shall abide and continue with you." In another passage he speaks of death and stresses what he sees in it. Too often we see death as a natural phenomenon, in other words we see in death the end of life, of the precarious, ephemeral life which we experience on earth, and death appears as the breaking up of something that has ceased to exist, but this again is not what St. Paul either thought or experienced when he says that what we strive for is not to be divested of life but to put on immortality; it is neither tiredness nor disappointment nor disillusion that leads him to wish to be dead; he wishes for death because only in death does he expect a fullness which his life on earth does not allow him to achieve. And both aspects must be remembered. It is naive and unrealistic to speak of death only in terms of joy and glory; we may perceive it that way and if we do we are right; yet, on another level, on the level of objective reality, death is a tragedy and death should not be. Scripture tells us that the last enemy to be defeated by Christ's Resurrection is death; both aspects are there and both must always be taken into consideration. But where we go wrong is when we put the accent on one side, usually the tragedy of death, forgetting that there is no other way into eternal life, and that to be fixed in the sort of life which we now possess would be hopeless, sad and hellish.

I would now like to come to another point: when we speak of death, we usually think, and quite rightly, of the moment when a human being who was active, full of movement, thoughts and feelings, ceases to be so, when all that was life disappears from our direct experience and nothing is left except a body. This is of course true, but death is something infinitely more subtle in the experience of man, and we are in fact much more often in the presence of death and much more often do we have an experience of dying. Romano Guardini, in one of his books brings out several points, the first being that we do not need to die bodily in order to die, as he puts it, biographically; in other words we may outlive our own life, our purpose, our meaning. We may continue to exist when we have no longer any meaning as far as our own judgement is concerned. One who has devoted his whole life to serving a given cause may become incapable of serving it and, if he was foolish enough to sum up the totality of his meaning in the serving of this cause, he continues to exist but he does not live anymore, he is virtually dead as far as he is concerned. On a more ordinary level, much more frequently we observe this in the life of an old person who, year after year, wonders why he should continue to live, there being no meaning in his life, only the impression of being a burden; a person who judges his own life in this way really affirms that his life is over, that death has already come and only existence continues; the person has outlived life. That it is untrue is obvious only to the onlooker.

This is the first point; that the sense of being dead is not connected simply with the fact of having died physically. There is another point which Romano Guardini brings out; he insists on the fact that in the course of a human life, every step from one age into another, from one level of being into another, is always connected with a dying as well as with a re-birth, and this is perceived not only when we meditate on life but also in life itself, quite often by parents. A baby does not simply grow into a child; there are some characteristics which develop, increase, evolve, attain to a certain maturity and determine this baby's growth into childhood; but there are other characteristics which die out and may die out to such an extent that some parents lose touch with their own child to the extent of having the impression that, after a certain age, their child is no longer the same; the one they understood and loved is now dead. I have met people who perceive this movement from one age into the other as something tantamount to a death which confronts them with someone else who is perhaps lovable, but who is not the one they loved, and which makes them consider the end of babyhood or the end of childhood was practically the death of the child.

When the child turns into youth the same occurs again; it is not only a growth and a greater maturity that we observe, we observe also the dying out of characteristics and if they do not die out, the youth remains childish and later perhaps the man still remains childish. Every step forward, every increase in this trail of plenitude corresponds therefore not only to more life but to the dying out of some features which can no longer be traced, no longer be found in the person, the baby, the child, the adult or the old man, and if we were more aware of it, this process of life being born out of death would be much more familiar to us that it is, and we should be able to face death as a process well known, close to us, familiar, profoundly simple because it goes on throughout what we call our earthly life.

If we put together these remarks of Romano Guardini and what St. Paul says about his life and his death, we will see that there is really a continuity, an harmonious and yet tragic continuity, in this gradual movement from life into death, from death into life until one day life can no longer grow if it remains fettered to this body of corruption as St. Paul calls it. It appears on reading St. Paul that life grows ever stronger and more powerful, so that at a certain moment it must break through the limits which are determined by the fact that we live within a body that belongs to a fallen world, which cannot fully, completely be transparent to or pervaded by the presence and the plenitude of God, and death appears to St. Paul as that increase of life which breaks down the barriers and allows the soul to proceed and grow into a greater plenitude of life, and yet we should not be romantic and naive about it, because when this happens, something tragic has occurred, man is no longer complete because man is a whole which is made of a body and a soul. The separation of body from soul may be a necessary period but it is, in a way, as tragic a separation as the one we experience when someone who is dear to us is no longer in the flesh but alive in God and for God.

This is brought out very forcibly in a variety of texts from the burial service of lay people and of priests in the Orthodox Church, which I will try to quote and to comment upon next time. At this stage I would like to underline the fact that the Church, which speaks in its Creed of the Resurrection of the body, surrounds the body of the departed with veneration and sanctification. In several languages, the old word for the body, the corpse, was identical with the word relic; a body, the body of a dead person is in a sense a relic; it is left behind and it has got a sacredness; and those people who wish to console themselves by saying that the soul has now escaped this world of limitation and the body is left like an old dressing-gown are ignorant of the facts. In a way, the soul had to break out of a shell to grow further into life, but this shell is not without importance or without meaning because this shell is the other component of man, and the totality of life is in both, body and soul, and both have taken part from birth to death in all that was sinful in life and in all that was holy.

We often suffer from the illusion that the body is the cause of sin, simply because we perceive greed, lust, laziness and all sorts of evil dispositions through the body; this is untrue; the body comes into sinful motion when the soul is greedy for evil, and one may say that in spite of the fact that outwardly it is the body that has sinned (hands have stolen, the tongue has lied, the eyes have seen evil, etc.) it is a martyr-body and it is the soul that bears all the weight of responsibility. To say “all the weight” is perhaps to go too far because there is a profound harmony between soul and body, each influences the other and yet the origin of evil is in the soul, the decision for evil is in the soul and even when the body becomes the instrument of evil it is used in the way in which possessed people are used by the devil in the Gospel and in the life of saints. So we surround this body which is a body of corruption (because it will fall into corruption, nothing will be left of it until God calls it back into existence), we surround this body with veneration, with reverence because it has not only sinned, it has also been the instrument of all manifestations of holiness. Remember the words of St. Paul: "Faith proceeds from hearing and hearing from the words of God." Hearing, seeing, perceiving this outer world through which God speaks to us is the function of the body, and it takes part in all the complexity of our life, and the Grace of God is not given only to our souls. If you read the lives of saints, if you read the Acts of the Apostles, you will see at every moment that the Grace of God did not touch only the souls of men, but pervaded their bodies, made them different, remember the Transfiguration of the Lord. Remember the various events in the life of St. Paul and St. Peter in the Acts of the Apostles. Remember the innumerable cases in the lives of saints in which human bodies were instruments of the divine Grace. There is a destiny of the soul; there is also a destiny of the body, between our earthly death and the resurrection and after the resurrection of the dead.



Talk VI


Continuing these talks on the subject of death and human destiny, I should like now to come to the consideration of the burial services in the Orthodox Church. There are several types of burial services — for instance priests, monks, etc. — each with their own characteristics; I will speak mostly about the burial of laymen which is the basic type. First of all I want to emphasise that — on the evening of Good Friday, there is a service called "the burial of Christ", and it is in the light of this service that we can understand what a Christian burial means.

One feature common to all these services is the words with which they begin: "Blessed be our God!" Unless we think that the words are meaningless, just a manner of speaking, we must understand in them a message of love, — that death is not a senseless accident, — and then we can pronounce these words of blessing intelligibly. Unless we feel that death is meaningful and part of God's plan, we cannot start with these words, nor can we agree with the words of St. John of Damascus: "Death is only the command of God.”

The body of the newly departed person is surrounded with veneration. We stand with lighted candles as we do in the Good Friday service, — and remember that the Easter services represent shining faith and glory, mean that the kingdom of God has come, that we are admitted to joy, victory, light, life (in a few Churches it is still the practice to light candles during the singing of the Resurrection canon at the Saturday evening service). So we stand there, facing the dead body and singing the Resurrection. Such a sad service begins with joy. It is only against this background of unfaltering faith in the Resurrection of Christ that then comes the certitude that in Him we are alive. We are not concerned with the soul alone, but with the body as well. Our concern is with the total man now being torn from us; both the body and the soul were equally involved in all that was his life, and both are the objects of our prayers. The body, however sinful it may have been, is now surrounded with veneration; it is a martyred body in the sense that it has not chosen to be sinful, that it has fought for good and for evil, not choosing evil by sheer wickedness but having been forced into the fight; it lies now, a dead soldier, broken down, and its judgement is in the hands of God. We look at this departed one, we do not remember his weaknesses, we see only the tragedy of death, and this tragedy seems greater than all else. This tragedy makes us stand reverently, without judging; this departed one is beyond human judgement and we surround him with prayers both for his body and for his soul.

The service starts with Psalm 90: "Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" — the meaning of which is: God is my protection.

Then chosen verses from Psalm 119 characterise the attitude of the Church to the departed: "Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way and walk in the law of the Lord. — My soul breaketh out for the very fervent desire that it hath always unto Thy judgements — My soul melteth away for very heaviness; comfort me according to Thy words — Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies and not to covetousness — I am a companion of all them that fear Thee and keep Thy commandments," and later on: "Thy hands Have made me and fashioned me, O give understanding that I may learn Thy commandments — I have not shrunk from Thy judgements for Thou teachest me — Hear my voice, O Lord, according to Thy loving kindness, quicken me according as Thou art wont — My soul shall live and it shall praise Thee and Thy judgements shall help me — I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost, O seek Thy servant, for I do not forget Thy commandments." –

These are the verses that are appointed to be sung at the beginning of the service; here we see the choice of the Church. From the long psalm, the Church has chosen words of faith, words of hope, words that define clearly, realistically, the position of the soul of the departed human being who now stands before the judgement of God and who knows who God is, — the God of love, the God of his salvation, the God of Truth. I have spoken several times of realism. Realism is present in this service and I would like to say something about it before I read you any more texts. Realism can be morbid or it can be serene, and what impresses me in this service is its serene reality, the serene quality of this realism.

In the eighth century, St. John of Damascus wrote eight odes concerning death. It happened in a way which is not particularly inspiring for those who believe that obedience is all in the life of a monk. St. John of Damascus was a great musician and a great poet, he sang a great deal and he wrote a great deal; but he had for an abbot one who had neither poetical sense nor any love for music and who thought it intolerable to have a singing-poet in the monastery; so he forbade St. John to write any poetry, to compose any music or to produce any sound unwished for by his superior — and he appointed him to the service of the dustbins. And thus, in perfect obedience, did St. John of Damascus live for a certain time, until one of the monks, one whom he loved most, died; and then he forgot all about obedience, he forgot all about dustbins, and he sang his sorrow and he sang his faith in eight odes which have been preserved and which we sing now (in different harmonies of course) just as they were conceived and composed and sprang from the soul of this man. And to the honour of his abbot it must be said that he was touched as much as were the others and that thereafter he allowed St. John to write and to sing.

The different odes are not haphazardly a succession of exclamations about death and life. If we read them attentively we see that there is a sequence which is characterised both by the text and by the music. I cannot give you any impression of them from the musical aspect but I would like to bring out a few points concerning the text. The English authorised Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer speak quite often of the sharpness of death, and here, in the first ode, we are confronted with two sharpnesses as it were. There is a sharpness of death, out life also is sharp, and dear and present, and we see that life and death are inter-related in a way that makes it impossible to separate one from the other. Life becomes intense, acute, the edge of life becomes sharp when death is there, close; otherwise life may be slow, flat and dull, lived always in the expectation of tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, — so long to live that we can, instead of living, dream or sleep; it is only when death appears, is recognised, not as a terror, not as something to be escaped out as some thing that gives an ultimate, final meaning to life, that life acquires its ultimate and true significance; it is only when each situation is received not as relatively better or worse than another, but as absolutely all we possess, that life becomes powerful and deep, that a dimension of depth, of eternal depth, appears, and it is not only because of death that it becomes apparent, this is what we see in the first ode:

"What delight of life continueth unmixed with sorrow? What glory on earth remaineth unalterable? All things are more fleeting than a shadow, all things are more illusive than dreams; one moment, and all these things are succeeded by death. But in the light of Thy countenance, in the sweetness of Thy beauty, do Thou, O Christ, in mercy, give rest to him whom Thou hast chosen!" This is the beginning of this realistic vision of life. Life is changing, life is illusive, life is ephemeral, there is nothing we can keep, everything escapes us; the moment we try to close our hand on things, they are already gone. All things are more fleeting than shadows, more illusive than dreams, but what succeeds all these dreams is not another dream, it is a sharp reality — death; death, that arrests our judgement, arrests our emotions, sets us face to face with bare reality and stands there inescapable, inexorable; and this reality of death is made reasonable only by the last words: "Give rest unto him whom Thou hast chosen." Not one whom Thou hast broken, but one whom Thou hast chosen because his time has come to enter the great rest of God, because, as so many spiritual writers have repeated, God makes an end to a human life when this life has brought forth all the fruits it could bring forth, when it would be aimless to continue because it would be no longer living but only continuing to exist. It is God's choice, God is completely responsible for our death, and this choice shows that beyond death lies something deeper; and that is why I said in the beginning that unless we are prepared to start our prayer with an act of rebellion, we must start it with an act of complete faith and complete hope. "In the light of Thy countenance, in the sweetness of Thy beauty, do Thou, O Christ, give rest into him whom Thou hast chosen". This is the first situation; life is ephemeral as long as there is no dimension of eternity in it; as long as it is two dimensional, as long as it is emotion, movement, passion, it is ephemeral and it will fade; it is dreams, it is illusions: death cuts into it a wound which makes it real. And beyond, lies the wisdom of God and the glory of the eternal beauty of Christ who has not created things or people that they should die, but that they should live.

Let us consider further what St. John of Damascus sees in the presence of death, death that has brought this extra dimension of eternity and judgement and meaning to life; looking at this soul and body, he sings: "Alas, what strife hath the soul in parting from the body. Alas, what tears, and there is none to pity her; towards angels her helpless eyes are turned in supplication, and towards men her hands are extended, but there is none to aid her. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, as we see the shortness of our life, let us plead with Christ for rest for him who is passed away, and for our souls, great mercy."

This is realism clear and simple; yes, there is a tragic parting between soul and body; it is not like the falling of a flower, like the withering of a leaf, it is the tearing apart of two realities that both subsist and can be separated only by the sharp edge of death; and there is tragedy in this parting, and there is a fight in this parting, and there are tears in this parting, and every man dies his own death, and no one can help another to take the last step. "Towards angels helpless eyes are turned, in supplication, no one can aid"; yet we are not without help because Christ has lived and died, because Christ Himself has gone through all the tragedy of death, a tragedy more tragic that ours. We die because we are mortal, He died although He was eternal life itself.

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, meditating on the brevity of our life, let us beseech Christ for rest for him who is passed away, and for our souls, great mercy" (different translation). Here body and soul are seen together, and both are the object of this compassionate plea, and here again, in the light of death, comes a vision of the things of the earth: "All mortal things are vanity, since after death they are not; wealth remaineth not, glory goeth not with us. Death cometh suddenly and all things vanish utterly. Therefore to Christ, the immortal king, let us cry: give rest to him who is passed from us into the dwelling-place of all rejoicing."

There again we meet with this contrast; the vanity of all things considered in the three dimensional situation of the vain and fleeting world, and the beginning, through death, of a new life, of a new world which is the dwelling-place of all rejoicing. And again:

"Where is the yearning for the world? Where is the pomp of things temporal? Where the gold and the silver? Where the tumult and rushes of servers? All is dust, all is ashes, a shadow. But come, let us cry to the immortal King: O Lord, vouchsafe Thine everlasting favours unto him who is passed away from us, and give him rest in unfading blessedness."

This is the contrast between the fleeting world and a world of complete steadiness which is called the dwelling place of unfading blessedness. And to sum up what he said before: "I call to mind the Prophet who cries: I am dust and ashes; and again I meditate among the tombs, and I see the bare bones lie, and I say: who, then, is a king or a warrior, or rich, or poor, or just, or a sinner? But give rest, O Lord, with the just to Thy servant."

And then, a new vision of things, the vision again which is possible only through the sharpness of death:

"For me my beginning and substance was Thy word which formed me; for at Thy desire Thou didst compact me, a living thing, out of visible and invisible nature, from earth Thou formedst my body, and a soul Thou gavest me by Thy divine and life-giving breath. Wherefore, O Christ, give rest to Thy servant in the land of the living and in the dwelling places of the just".

The beginning of this ode is a complete theology of what we are: we have, as we have seen before, no roots in ourselves, we are called out of naught, we did not exist before God commanded us to be. We have no roots in God Himself: it is not out of God that we emanate, we are different; from Him, there is otherness between Him and us. Our very beginning and our very substance is founded on the word of God that commanded us to be. And He made us a living being of visible and invisible nature; of the visible nature, the earth, He made our body, and of the invisible, the divine and life-giving breath of God, our soul. Both are in the will of God, both have been formed by the power and love of God, both have been called into life eternal, and therefore we beg of Christ for rest in the land of the living, beyond death, because this land in which we live is a land of ephemeral life that ends, and beyond death is the land of life eternal:

"In Thine image and likeness Thou in the beginning didst form man, and Thou didst place him in Paradise to rule over Thy creation, but by envy of the Evil one man was deceived and partook of the forbidden fruit and became a breaker of Thy commandments; wherefore Thou, O Lord, didst condemn him to return to the earth again whence he had been taken, and to have need of rest."

At the end of this ode is summed up the notion of which I have already spoken, that this last situation, which could spell meaningless horror, is redeemed by the fact that it has been willed by God, as our beginning was willed by God.

"I weep and mourn when I look upon death, and when I see our beauty, created according to the image of God, laid in the grave, formless, shapeless and without glory. What a marvel. What is this mystery that is our lot? How are we given up to corruption and yoked together with death? Truly it is by the command of God who bestoweth, as it is written, rest upon him who has passed from us."

Theophane the Recluse, one of the Russian divines of the 19th century, preaching at a funeral, began by the words: "Let us weep, brethren, but let us weep as Christians weep." On the one hand, there is the tragedy of death because here is one, created in the image and likeness of God, but without beauty, without glory, without the shining of this image; on the other hand there is the human tragedy of a long parting, and there is weeping and mourning, and both these lead us to an act of faith and to the certitude that God, who has put an end to this life, has not done it in vain, has not done it thoughtlessly, but has done it in the depth of His wisdom, for our salvation.

After these prayers, these odes, come a certain number of prayers which are interspersed with verses from the Beatitudes, and here we find the feature to which I have already drawn your attention: we can speak for the departed one as he can speak to us, for us; we can do it because we are one body, one human family, because what is his is also ours if we are united by love which gives us unity of life, because we live the one for the other and also the one in the other.

"Thou, O Christ, didst change the thief into a citizen of Paradise when upon the Cross he cried to Thee: remember me; of his repentance make even me, who am unworthy, worthy."

"O Thou who art the Lord of life and death, give rest in the courts of the saints to him whom Thou hast taken to Thyself from passing things for he crieth to Thee: Remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom."

"O Thou who art the ruler of souls and bodies, in whose hand is our breath and Who are the consolation of those in distress, give rest to Thy servant who from us hath passed away to the land, of the just."

"O Thou who hast loved Christ, may Christ give thee rest in the land of the living and open to thee the gates of Paradise and receive thee as a citizen of the Kingdom and grant thee pardon of the sins of thy life."

These are the prayers that follow and then comes the epistle and the Gospel. The Epistle is taken from the first epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, chapter IV, beginning verse 13:

"Brethren, I would not have you to be ignorant concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. So if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him, for this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." This is our attitude; death does not disappear, death is there, real, and yet we are not to be in distress and despair as those who do not know life eternal which is Christ, for "if we believe that Christ died, and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him."

As a preface to this reading of the Epistle, there are the words of the third tune of the offertory:

"Blessed is the way in which today thou goest, for a place of rest has been prepared for thee."

And the Gospel which is so clear, so full of hope: John V, 24

"The Lord saith unto the Jews which had come unto Him: verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself, and hath given Him authority to execute judgement also, because He is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. I can of mine own self do nothing; as I hear, I judge, and my judgement is just because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which has sent me."

And this is the end of the burial service, after which the priest reads a prayer of absolution and a last series of odes are sung during which the believers come to give their last kiss to the departed one. I will read you part of it:

"Come, o brethren, let us thank God, and let us give the last kiss to him who hath died, for he is gone from his kinsfolk and hasteneth to the tomb, and no longer hath a care for the things of vanity, and of our much-toiling flesh."

"Now hath all the deceptive vanity of life passed away, for the spirit hath left his dwelling place; the clay is blackened, and the vessel is shattered; speechless, senseless, motionless and dead. Let us, as we press around him at the grave, pray that the Lord may grant eternal rest."

"Great is the lamentation and weeping, great the signing at the parting of the soul; Hades and destruction, the passing life, the unsubstantial shadow, the sleep of error and the untimely toil of life on earth. Let us flee far from all the sin of the world, that we may inherit the things of Heaven."

And then a prayer to the Mother of God:

"Through the intercession of her who bore Thee, o Christ, and of Thy Forerunner, of the apostles, prophets, hierarchs, the pure, the just, and of all saints, give rest to Thy servant who has fallen asleep."

And to conclude, the priest proclaims eternal memory to the departed servant of God. What does that mean? We beg God to keep him eternally and forever in His memory. It means that to be forgotten by God is to die, to die the second death, to die another death more horrible, more tragic and radical than the one we are speaking about and of which we will have occasion to speak when we discuss judgement and our eternal destiny. But this also is not an irresponsible prayer: a prayer can be meaningful, can be powerful and effective only if it is backed by our own efforts. It is not enough to say to God: do Thou what I am neither able nor prepared to do. We can offer a prayer to God only when the words of prayer express our thoughts, our feelings and our will, and are rooted in our whole life. If we wish to have a right to pray God that He would remember for ever and ever the departed servant, we must also undertake to remain for ever faithful to the memory of the one whom we bewail on this particular day.

And to be faithful means several things. We forget easily; we must not forget: we forget easily and this is not only a deficiency of our memory, it affects, tragically, our outer life. Those of us who have experienced loss through death or who have seen others profoundly wounded by death will remember what happens. When death touches someone, together with the person so much else dies out. When a brother, a friend, a child, a mother dies, a whole world dies at the same time. As long as we are aware of this death, not only of the tragedy of bereavement but of the greatness of the event, as long as death stands before us with all its greatness and depth, all those things which are vain, illusory, superficial, meaningless, loose their attraction according to the depth of our sorrow. This may last for hours, days, a whole life-time; the point is that, as long as we remain aware of God's sudden meaningful intrusion into life, a whole world of vanity and triviality recedes away from us. Then we begin to forget, our hearts grow cool, our minds let the truth which we have discovered escape. Our wills which are weak do not fight, but on the contrary, helped often by the evil councils of those who love us in an earthly way, we try to forget and to find distraction; and then we fall back into the world which is superficial, which has no eternal dimension. Therefore when we pray, when we ask God never to forget, we must learn in our own lives also not to forget.

But not to forget does not mean that we must spend our life in gloom, in non-Christian or anti-Christian sorrow, it does not mean that we must transform our life into an unending dirge, it does not mean that we must let everything that is life die out of life; on the contrary, as I have said before concerning the meaning of death — that it alone can introduce eternity as a dimension into our life — this constant awareness of death, this constant memory of death means a sharp, concrete and deep perception of life, full of meaning and greatness. If we are prepared to do this, we will loose part of what is the content of our life, all that is superficial, meaningless, light, but we will gain all that is abiding, all that is deep and meaningful, and then death will have introduced us into the plenitude of life. And when our death comes, our death will be what St. Paul wished it to be, not a putting away of ephemeral life but a putting on of life eternal; not a dying out but a growing out of a limited and suffocating life, when real life has grown strong and pressing within us. Only if we face death, only if we live in deep familiarity with death, only if it becomes a reality that gives depth to life, will we be able to grow into a fullness of life which will break its boundaries and introduce us, through death, into the eternal life of which Christ is speaking in the Gospel.



Talk VII


This is the last talk on death, and you will not be surprised if I have to repeat certain things in order to prepare ground for our next subject which is judgement and the other last things. I would like us now to examine the question of death, of the death of man, in the light of the death of Christ, and also to question ourselves about death in the context of the new situation which has been created in the world by the Incarnation, the death and resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit, that is to say — in the Church.

The death of man and the death of Christ are both similar to and profoundly different from one another. In a world into which the Lord God has come by means of the Incarnation, and in which He died, human death must have become something which it was not previously. We will see how far this is true. First of all, the parallel and the distinction between the two. Man, before he is born, before he is conceived, has no pre-existence, he is born into a world to which he did not belong and he does not come from any other world; in other words, each of us is born, as the whole world was created, out of naught; we are born out of non-existence into existence, into this life which we know on earth, which we may term ephemeral or transient but which is, all the same, something more than non-being, and which is the gate, for us, into a fullness of being. We are born into life, into a life that comes to an end on earth through death and yet possesses qualities of reality; it is not a dream, it is incomplete but leads to something greater than itself. We are born; and at first we grow, increase, acquire new qualities of life. Later we come to a period of comparative stability; and then a decay begins in us. But this decay does not affect us equally in soul and body, in mind, heart and spirit; it touches our body and those qualities, those functions, those characteristics which are connected with our body. And in the end, death comes. It have quoted to you the many passages from the fifth and sixth chapter of St Paul to the Romans in which he speaks of the problem of death and exclaims "when shall I be delivered from this body of corruption." This body is called to fall from us; but there is something, which is not the body, which survives in a comparative integrity.

When I speak of comparative integrity, I mean firstly, as we have stressed several times, that a human being is complete only as soul and body, and that therefore, the soul, separated from the body, lacks completeness and fullness; and secondly that the soul itself does not leave this world in full wholeness and integrity; it is wounded by sin and must stand, before God in judgement. Death, this separation of soul and body, however violent, however painful the process, however hard the struggle, death comes as the natural result of a life which cannot sustain itself; if the spirit has grown strong, has become increasingly alive, a man can say together with St. Paul, that his life was Christ's and death is a gain, and that, longing for death, he does not long to be divested of this transient and ephemeral life, he wants to put on all the glory, all the shining, all the power and reality of eternal life; otherwise the power of life fails and man dies. In both cases he comes before the Face of God, in both cases something takes place which is the summing up of his life on earth and which we call the judgement.

If we turn now to the Incarnation and to the death of Christ, we see that things are in certain respects similar, in other respects profoundly different. Christ was not born out of non-existence into existence, out of non-being into life; Christ is the Word of God, and the birth of Jesus in Nazareth was the coming into this world of One who was before the world began. He came out of divine plenitude and entered a world of human limitations, defined both by the fact that we are created and the fact that we are a fallen race in a fallen world. He was born out of life, out of changelessness, out of plenitude, into time, into change and into limitation; He is born out of immortality into mortality. Dorothy Sayers says that at the core of our created world stands the mystery of the mortal immortal; and the same idea is brought out by many texts from the service of the Orthodox Church for the Thursday Passion Week in which we are constantly confronted with the fact that the One who is not only the font of life, the source of all existence, but life itself, dies. The impossible happens, impossible not only according to divine standards but also to human standards, because the Incarnation of the Lord Christ introduced into our world a human reality which although it is connected with ours, is, in certain respects, different from ours.

If the teaching of St Paul and of the Church is right and true, if death is conditioned by sin, the Incarnation, which is the inseparable union of divine nature with human nature means the end of death so far as this particular man, Jesus is concerned. A human nature, a human person is mortal because there is a separation between him and God. In Christ there is no separation; Christ is very God and very man. He is perfectly, completely God, and completely and perfectly man. In Him the divine and the human nature are united inseparably and for ever, and yet both remain themselves; there is no confusion between the two, there is no coalescence of the two; it is not a new kind of being that appears, some sort of centaur being neither God nor man because he is both, but one, who is completely man, is completely God, so that in him the fullness of Godhead abides in the flesh. And this flesh, united inseparably with divine nature yet without change, as far as its own nature is concerned, become immortal because death cannot touch what is united with God.

And then something occurs which is what St. Maxim calls the double acceptance of Christ, of our human nature and our human destiny. This human nature, which is already immortal and incorruptible, which has the qualities which our human nature is called to possess when, according to St. Peter, we will have become partakers of the divine nature, this human nature, which is nowise submitted to the rules and conditions of the lawless and fallen world, by an act of God's will for our salvation, within the plan of our salvation, is delivered unto all the limitations, all the sufferings which are characteristic of what the man is not. Christ suffers, He is tired, He hungers; Christ's passion is nowise an illusion but a stern reality; Christ's death is no illusion, but is completely and tragically real; and all this happens in spite of the fact that all this is impossible.

And this is where the words of Dorothy Sayers concerning the mortal immortal, and the words of our various hymns for Thursday in Holy Week, come true. "O Thou, Light eternal, how dost Thou die?" In the death of Christ something different happens from what happens in the death of man. In the normal, or rather the monstrous but usual way in which things happen in our fallen world, the body, no longer sustained in eternal life by the life and the presence of the soul, falls into corruption, and the soul stands in judgement before God. But in the death of Christ it is not only the soul of Christ which remains, as it always was, inseparably united with the glorious divinity of the Lord, but His body also, and death, appears as the violent, impossible but providentially willed separation of an incorruptible body, which is not overcome by the death of sin, from an eternal unwounded soul which remains united to the divinity of Christ. When Holy Communion is given by a bishop to the priests and deacons, he says: "The holy, precious, immortal body of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ is given unto thee; the holy, precious life-giving blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus-Christ is given unto thee". Both are equally immortal even in the mystery of this death of Christ. This violent separation of the two can happen only as an act of divine providence, and has no roots either in what Christ is by nature or in what Christ is in actions; there is no sin in Him, and as He says, "...I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me ... I have power to lay it down as I have power to take it again." The miracle of our salvation is not the Resurrection of Christ, it is the death of Christ. That Christ rose in His immortal body and immortal soul is only the natural result of what He was. The fact that He died, contrary to what He was and to what was humanly possible, is the miracle and the tragedy of our salvation. The death of Christ confronts us with a human body, perfect and incorruptible, filled with the divine Presence; and with a human soul, perfect and uncorrupted, shining with the glory of his divinity...

How are we related to this mystery of the death of Christ? Have we nothing to do with it or are we somehow integrated into it? Both are true to a certain extent: the Church is both the body of Christ and the company of the sinners who, in repentance, seek salvation. We belong to this world of corruption whose weight St. Paul perceived so acutely, and at the same time we belong to the world of incorruptibility and immortality which is Christ's in us. That which is Christ in us is constantly defeated by what Scripture calls the Old Adam, and the Old Adam is constantly defeated and overcome by the New Adam, Christ, the first-born from the dead.

The Church, as I have said so often, is not a company of men centred round their divine founder; the Church is a body, an organism, a living and real organism both human and divine. The humanity of the Church is not our humanity only; Christ is the head and we are the members. Christ is the first-born of the dead and in Him we have hope of salvation; and our salvation already begins in the mystery, the sacrament of baptism. We are integrated into Christ's humanity, of which I have just spoken, which is not only different from ours, although it is ours, but which is greater than that of the newly-created Adam before his fall. Humanity in the Church appears simultaneously in our humiliation, in our brokenness, in our sinful state, and in its perfection, in Christ, the Lord, who is very God but also very man. In this respect we are a continuation, a constant presence of the Incarnation of Christ, of the Word of God, throughout the centuries in all places in all times; yet we are not only the total Christ, as St. Clement of Alexandria calls the Church, we are also, as St. Ephraim defines it, "the company of the singers who seek salvation in repentance."

And in us, according to the measure of our participation in the divine nature, according to the degree to which we have become Christ, natural death acquires to a greater or lesser extent its supernatural significance. In this way some die because they have spent in sin all the power of life which their soul and body could afford; others die partaking simultaneously of this world of corruption, which saps life, and of the hope of salvation, (because, as we have seen in the first talk on death, death is not just destruction but the setting free of mankind from the necessity of monstrous sinful, godless immortality); others have come nearer and nearer to their perfection, and their death has been really a divesting of time in order to put on eternity. I am thinking of so many saints of East and West, whose death has been not a defeat, but a glorious ascent, which substantiates the views of Romano Guardini about which we have spoken and in which he shows that death and life interwoven, inseparably united, grow out of one another; that every new increase, new plenitude of life into which we grow results from the dying out of that which was our life before. We have examples and they are not rare, of saints who have left behind incorruptible bodies, relics as we call them; bodies, which by constant participation through the soul in the life of eternity, have become already beyond the touch of death, or rather of corruption.

And lastly, the Orthodox Church as well as the Roman Catholic Church believes in the bodily Assumption, that is in the Resurrection of the body, of the Mother of God, freed by the Cross of Christ from original sin, that is the condition, the first condition of death, and freed by Her outstanding and unique holiness of any actual sin which would have bound Her to corruption and to the grave. When the lord Christ died, He stayed three days in the tomb; this (period, time) we call the blessed sabbath of the Lord. The Mother of God, in the same way, had her sabbath, a more tragic one, because She had to die a human death, but Her body and Her soul, free from the law of corruption were taken by the Lord God into His eternal Kingdom to which She completely belongs.

Thus, in the Church, we find all degrees of communion with the destiny of Christ, beginning with the tragic, sad, cruel death of the believing sinners (the sinners whose faith was weak and yet whose hope and even love were undefeated), through all the saints who in soul and body defeated corruption and yet did not overcome death, to the Mother of God, the only creature who has fulfilled in Her life-time the vocation of all flesh and all humanity, to live completely and perfectly in God. Death, therefore, leaves in our hands to our care, to our love, to our veneration, a body; death (takes, brings) before the face of God a soul. Of the body we have spoken when we described the burial service for the dead, according to Orthodox rites; it is a body which is surrounded with reverence and with charity because if it partook in sin it partook also in every spiritual endeavour of the departed man; it partook in the mysteries of Baptism, in the mysteries of Communion, in all the actions of divine Grace which come to the soul through the body, or which, by means of the soul, come to renew and to save and to redeem the body. And the soul stands in judgement.

Judgement is the first subject which we will have to envisage when we start our talks again and I should like to attract your attention to a few points, because it would be much easier for us to discuss them if you have already formed some sort of opinion about them.

The first fact which is brought out by Holy Scripture is the fact that there are two judgements. Immediately after death, a soul stands before God; and to stand before God is already a judgement. At the end of time, when history will come to a stand-still, there will be another judgement, the Last Judgement, towards which the Church longs (as the Book of Revelation has it: "The Bride and the Spirit say: come o Lord Jesus”). This is one thing with which we are confronted by Holy Scripture.

The second is the fact that we cannot consider either the Last Judgement or the private judgement of God over a soul, simply in terms of a court of Law; not only because a purely legalistic approach to the mysteries of Salvation can never account for what Scripture has revealed and God has not yet revealed to us, but because even in terms of Holy Scripture, the Judgement is not the judgement of a court of Law. We find that the one who determines the law is the judge himself; we find that the one who is our only mediator and advocate is the Lord Himself; we find that He is the propitiation for our sins; the One who has redeemed us is the Lord Himself; and therefore we are face to face with a mystery of Judgement indeed, but with something which is much less simple and much less primitive then we may choose to imagine.

I would like to remind you before we leave the subject till next year, that the Greek word for judgement is "crisis", which may shed some light on your thoughts. Judgement is the answer of Scripture and of the Church, yet the fact that judgement is not understood, that the ways of God remain mysterious, that man cannot accept a God whom he cannot respect, (and some other reasons to which we will come back), has brought out another answer which reject judgement in favour of a process which must either bring to salvation all those who live, or which gives a chance of salvation to those who live. We shall have to give attention to this point; we shall have to give attention also, although I do not want to discuss it to-night, because it stands in sharp contradiction to the faith of the Church, and yet it is very attractive to many minds: it is the problem of reincarnation. Then we shall come to the problem or to the mystery of eternal life. We shall have to examine what we mean by hell and what we mean by paradise and what we mean, in general, by all the imagery, all the hopes and all the definitions of faith which the Church offers us; all this as a guide to lead us to an understanding of the ways of God; because the Lord has said: "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I called you friends: for all the things that I have heard of my Father I have made knoweth into you" (St. John XV. 15) This makes it necessary for us to face the problems and to learn all we can from the words of God, stopping only when we are confronted with the true mystery of God’s unknowable nature and unknowable ways.


N.B. Bp A. never did return to the problem of Re-incarnation.




We are continuing this year the series of talks which we began last year on the Last things, and having considered the problem of death, we now come to the problem of after death, and of the ultimate destiny of both mankind and each member of it. The first problem which confronts us is that of judgement or of its alternative. St. Paul in one of his writings says that death comes, and after death comes the judgement. We have a certain number of passages, both in the Gospels and in other parts of the New Testament in which the Judgement is spoken of; either the judgement which is pronounced over every individual when he presents himself before the judgement of Christ, or the last judgement which will come at the end of time, at the summing up and the winding up of history, before the reign of Christ begins. When we read them, we cannot help being struck by the fact that the terminology and the images used are often contradictory, and often inadequate, if we try to set them side by sides different aspects of the same event happening at the same time in the same circumstances. We cannot simultaneously accept the image given by Christ of a debtors' prison, (the sinner who will not be freed from judgement and punishment until he has repaid his debts unto the last mite), and those passages in which we are taught of the eternity of suffering. We cannot put them together without raising a problem with other passages in Scripture, particularly the passage in which St. Paul says that God will be all in all. If we try to make all these statements of the Gospels and of the Epistles as well as of the Book of Revelation mean the same things, we shall have to do what too often is done, we shall have to twist the direct meaning of the text, or else to use a device — and this also has been used very often in history — which consists in taking some texts literally and others in a metaphorical sense. If we do this, everything falls into place except the true meaning of the passages. So this will be the first problem which we shall have to consider; the contrary or complementary passages and the vision they give us of things to come. Another difficulty which we meet is one of terminology and imagery. when we try to think in terms of a court of law, we cannot use all the images offered by Holy Scripture concerning the judgement; they do not work, they do not give us an image of a just and acceptable judgement, not because this judgement is harsh end therefore unacceptable, but because harsh or not, it is not just. (This is another aspect of the question).

Then there are two other points which make the problem a very reel problem which needs discussing and solving; the first one is that so many people cannot believe that man, in the short time which he is given on earth, can legitimately be expected to find a positive solution to the problem of his eternal salvation. This confronts us with all the various theories, all the various ways in which judgement in its finality is eluded or set aside. The second point which makes things difficult, if we think in customary terms concerning the judgement, is our awareness that a human life neither begins nor ends with the birth of death of a given person. Heredity in all its aspects has shown us that a man's life is not so much a beginning as a continuation; and history, if we are attentive to what it teaches, shows us that it is far from being ended when his death occurs. We can all quite easily think of many people whose influence continues through ages and generations after their departure from this life; and we cannot imagine that their responsibility, or even their life in the most general sense, is unconnected with posterity whose thinking or whose action is based, founded on what they taught, on what they did, or on their examples. And finally, the question of judgement brings us back to something we noted in the beginning of these talks when I spoke of freedom, that there is a paradox between the affirmation that man is free to determine his destiny, and the fact that at the end of time, when he has not determined his destiny in a given way, what ensues is catastrophic, a judgement which is a condemnation. We saw at the beginning that our creaturely freedom seems to be limited at the outset by a one-sided act of God that brings us into existence, is limited throughout our life, and throughout history, by the fact that we are endowed with a certain human created nature, and comes to a tragic end, to a tragic crisis when, all this having been given, we stand in judgement before God. These are the various points which I believe we shall have to consider in the course of these talks. Let us begin today with the first one, the discrepancies or contradictions which we find in the various texts concerning the judgement which we must expect, either immediately after our death or at the end of time,

First of all there is the passage in the Gospel to which I have already referred which is easy to accept, and understand, where the Lord Christ says: "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing" (St. Matthew ch. 5 vv. 25, 26). This in terms of judgement, in terms of moral law, of equity, seems to be reasonable and acceptable. Then there is the passage in which we are taught that a time will come when we shall stand in jugement before Christ, and those found guilty will be expelled into outer darkness; and those passages which are parallel to it in which we see that this judgement of God is an eternal judgement. Then there is a passage in the Book of Revelation in which we are told that at the end of time the nations and kingdoms will bring their glory before the throne of God and will be found either right or wrong. Here it is no longer individuals in their isolation, but people in their solidarity, corporate bodies that will stand in judgement. And this immediately introduces quite a different point, the one which I have made prior to this, that man’s life does not end with death, and that therefore all these destinies are interwoven in such a way that the destiny of the guilty cannot simply be separated from the destiny of the righteous. And in the face of the various passages in which the Lord Christ warns us of the eternal judgement and the eternal condemnation, there stand the words of St. Paul concerning God being all in all at the end of time. As I said before, it is always possible to solve the problem by explaining away a difficult passage as a metaphor or an allegory, and keeping the passages which seem to be obvious, but this does not satisfy anyone who believes that the words of Christ are true, and that Scripture is an inspired book, the word of God speaking to us.

I think that we will be able to see, by analyzing the various passages, something which I want only to mention now, the fact that we overlook the eschatological context against which these statements are made. If we reed the Scriptures attentively we will discover that in this process of life and death, there is a series of epochs and moments, and when I say epoch I do not mean a given and determinable stretch of time but a sequence of events. There is our life on earth which is conditioned on all sides, there is our death, and there is the moment when we stand for the first time face to face with the Lord, laden with all that has been our life. We have been given materiel possibilities, we have lived in certain circumstances, and now we bring to the judgement of God the fruit of this life and work. You probably remember another passage in the Epistles of St. Paul (I Cor. ch. 3, v. 12 et seq. ) in which he says that everything will be tried by fire, and that a moment will come when we will see the worth of what we have built, whether we built in straw, or in wood, in precious stone, in silver or in gold. And at this point he says (something which again is important in the general context) that those who have built in straw or wood, will escape out of their burning houses, the houses will be burnt, they themselves will barely escape; it is as if even this personal, this private judgement left untouched the integrity of the builder and, if there is a destiny, then this judgement is not the end. But while this goes on, while this living soul stands face to face with God, while a judgement, (to which we will come back), is pronounced, history continues, and history involves not only those who are still on earth, but also those who are already standing in judgement before God. If it is true for us today that our bodies and many of our psychological characteristics are the products of heredity, if it is true that our environment makes a deep impression on us, then it is also true that those who have lived previously continue to live both through heredity and through the fact that this environment in which we live was defined, was formed by their lives. In a narrower sense, in a family, in small groups, everyone makes an impression on the social group, but on a wider scale there are men who live on from century to century; there are today people who still live by the teaching of the Stoics and other early G-reek philosophers, there are people who still live by the words of the Gospels written by four mea, there are people for whom the words of Paul and Peter and James end John and Mark are still full of weight and meaning; and there are people now who endure a tragic existence because Marx or Engels thought as they did and influenced whole generations of not only thinkers but men of action. And so, even in that period after death when a man's soul seems to be quiescent, even in this period things happen which affect the eternal destiny of this soul.

And then we read in the Book of Revelation that when history has come to an end a whole series of events will take place. It is not always easy to disentangle these events, because the Prophets of the Old Testament as well as the writers of the New Testament, when they had these eschatological visions, insights into the future, did not always make clear the sequence of events. But, we can see that there will be a last fight between Christ and anti-Christ, we can see that evil will be defeated, and we can see that Christ will judge.

We read of something very mysterious which is called the second death of those who are rejected. But we also read that after this judgement Scripture speaks of a millennium, that is of a time when Christ will reign on earth, of a time when, having conquered all things, Christ will Himself hand over power and dominion to His Father; Scripture again speaks of a time when there will be a new earth and a new heaven and speaks of the life of the new Jerusalem. And if, along this scheme of events we try to think of the various passages in which we are told about judgement, we shall probably discover that they do not contradict one another, but that they refer to different events which follow one another, fulfill one another and lead us gradually to a fullness which is defined by the words of St. Paul when he says that "God will be all in all", and we shall have no need to use St. John Chrysostom’s device and say that God will be all in all because those who are in outer darkness exist no more.

Now I would like to take up again in greater detail the various moments of this judgement; but before I do so I would like to come back to something which we have already discussed here, the terminology of judgement and law. First of all there is one parable in the Gospels which seems to defeat completely the very idea that God’s justice is comparable to ours, or can be termed justice in the strict sense; it is the parable of the workmen of the eleventh hour. A man goes out to hire men for his fields and vineyards; some are hired at the first hour, others at the sixth, and the ninth, and just before the end of the working day the lord comes out and finds more people standing idle who say that they are idle because no men has hired them, and he takes them also to work in his fields; and when the time comes to give the workers their reward, they all receive the same wage. This demonstrates very clearly the contrast between what in all sincerity we should call justice and what God calls justice. The men who have worked most protest that it is unjust; they have worked all the day or most of it and receive the same wage as those who have worked only one hour; and then God, the Lord, claims the right to be as generous with the last as he was with the first. Here already is an element of injustice if we think in our terms of justice; if only he had said, "Right, I will give the full reward to the last, but I will give more to the first", but no! the Lord gives equally to them all. This is the only parable as far as I can remember in which the justice of God and its qualities are brought out.

Now, in a normal court of law, functions and situations are clearly defined; the law which is to be applied is above both the judge and everyone involved in the case; the judge is not involved either in the prosecution or in the defense, the judge, as well as the jury, is completely free. Every part of this mechanism works according to its own law and the result is just because everyone has acted according to the law. What we find, in the various pictures of the Judgement is something which is very different from this court of law. First of all the lawgiver is at the same time the judge; it is God who is the lawgiver, it is God who is the judge. Secondly, it is the same God who although he is not the prosecutor brings out, in the person of Christ, the image of the perfect man who is the condemnation of evil. Thirdly we see that Christ Himself is our advocate, and He is the propitiation for our sins and He is the Redeemer. Thus we find as far as law is concerned, an impossible position; either justice cannot be administered or the words used merely indicate a certain situation of the soul who stands in judgement but do not give a factual description. The judgement which is portrayed to us is a judgement which is faulty from every point of view; not only as I have said when I spoke of the parable, because God’s judgement is not the same, His standards of judgement are not the same, but also because none of the procedure can be described as a judgement in our terms; therefore; if we want to understand it, we shall have to look at it in a different and probably a deeper way.

Well, this is what I wanted to say in the way of introduction today. Next time I would like to discuss the destiny of a human soul after a person's death, and see what Scripture and patristic teaching allow us to conclude and to understand about it.


Talk IX


We usually think of the immortal human soul and of its death, and we do not sufficiently pay attention to the fact which I have underlined very much in the past that the total man is made up of a soul and a body and is not a soul imprisoned in a body which is, to a certain degree, irrelevant. And so if we speak of the destiny of man after his death, we must always remember that we have to consider two things, on the one hand his immortal soul, on the other hand his body. Concerning this body as distinct from the total man as it were, when it appears as nothing but a body, separated from the soul, we can say, although certainly in a different sense, that it also is immortal, because what the body is made of dies, as far as the man is concerned, but does not disappear as far as the body is concerned. We can speak of the death of the men, we can say that the soul and the body are now separated, we can see that the body gradually disintegrates and is no longer a human body, yet nothing of this body has disappeared; and this is to be remembered because there is a great deal to be said about the situation of matter and its eternal destiny. The soul and the body are separated in the mystery of death, the whole man is no longer a whole man. I insisted just now on the fact that the body does not simply disintegrate, cease to be, and I must now insist on something that applies to the soul. The soul is not simply free, delivered from the body, it is deprived of its body; and however much we can, together with St. Paul, speak of death as of a deliverance, repeat with him "who shall deliver me from this body of corruption?", however much we may say that death is for us s gain because as long as we are in the body we are separated somehow from Christ, whatever we say about death to show how positive an event, how creative an event it is in our destiny, we must remember that neither of the two parts of the total man is fulfilled in the mystery of death, and that death cannot in that sense, against a background of Biblical thought and experience, be the last term, the last event in our destiny. The world is not moving towards a time when disembodied souls will rejoice in a divine world. When we speak of the destiny of the soul after the death of the whole msn, we must always remember that there is some degree of a lack of plenitude, even in the destiny of the saints of God. And when the saints of God speak of death as of the way that is open to them to come close, or closer, to their Creator, they are speaking of a tragic event that has to be undergone but which in its self remains tragic and unfulfilled. The fulfillment of human destiny lies far beyond death, far beyond judgement; it is the resurrection of the body. And if you remember the Apostles' Creed, which is read in the great majority of western churches, you will remember that it does not speak of the destiny of the eternal soul, but professes our Christian faith in the resurrection of the body. This is the victory of God, this is the final victory of life. As long as this has not been fulfilled and achieved, something is lacking in the plenitude. You may say, if we move from one lack of plenitude to another lack of plenitude, what is the use? If you think back to one of our first talks, you will probably remember that the fall of man which brought about death, the fall of man which consisted primarily in a falling away from God and in at disintegration of human nature, of a destruction of its harmony and of its wholeness, that this sin of man was the reason why God prevented man from eating from the tree of eternal life, so that this tragic and monstrous situation should not be fixed for ever. Death came to break a vicious circle of existence, but death has got to be overcome also. And Scripture teaches us that death is the last enemy which Christ, God in Christ, will overcome. So, when we speak of death, we must always be aware of the fact that the whole man is now disrupted in a new way, into a body and a soul, that both have a permanent existence, although not in the same categories; the body, separated from the soul, becomes, again, matter, but does not disappear from the existence of this world, and the soul, torn away from its body, enters into a new destiny, a new period of existence in which either salvation continues to work, or in which the tragedy becomes darker and darker.

We will speak of the body in greater detail when we speak of the resurrection of the body, but what happens to the soul? According to Orthodox teaching, to the experience and teaching of the mystics, the Orthodox pray particularly for the departed in the course of the first three days after their death, then on the ninth, and then on the fortieth day after death. Whenever we introduce calculations of time with regard to events which are only partly in time, what we say is, of course, inadequate, and yet, in these numbers and in these prayers, there are a number of abiding notions. The first notion is this: we pray in the course of the first three days with particular warmth, intensity, concern for the departed soul because we believe that the separation of soul and body is a tragic event, an event which is like unto the separation of two friends. The body and soul have shared on earth one common destiny, all the impressions that have formed the soul have come through the body. The body has seen, tasted, touched, smelt, the body has received impressions that were transformed later on into emotions, the body has also been the instrument of the soul because it is through the body that good and evil is done by man. And there they are, body and soul, separated from one another; their destiny is one and the separation cuts through this destiny, and now each must enter into a destiny which is no longer common to them both. On the other hand very few are those whose spiritual life has been so profound, so complete, as to make them already on earth, citizens of Heaven, and any human soul entering into this new destiny finds itself face to face with new realities, of which some are realities of peace, but some are realities of fear.

I remember having read the experience of a man of reliable spirituality who was present at the death of an old woman who had been, from a social point of view, from the conventional point of view, a great success in life, and who, inwardly, was often a frightened (?frightening) person. As this person lay dying, as prayer had profoundly united the two, – the one who was praying and the one who was dying, – he experienced a series of visions: first he saw this women, unaware that death was so close, stern and determined to live, then becoming more and more aware that life was escaping her, and then, anguished, afraid, and beginning to fight for life, and this fight was a long fight; and as the fight went on, as the body grew weaker and weaker, as the perception of the surrounding outer world grew dimmer and dimmer, this soul began to discover the invisible world which had been screened from her by the violent intrusion of the visible in the course of years and years of life. She began to discover the invisible, first of all through those things which are lowest and therefore closest to the visible; first of all a vision of the world of darkness, the world of sin and evil with all its powers, a world of terror, a world that claimed the right to possess one who could so directly perceive it because there was so much in her that belonged to it. Then gradually, as death conquered, as the body grew weaker and weaker, as the perception of exterior things became ever more dim, there came the vision of things more profound, more light, more divine – the angels of God and the realities of the divine. And in this period fear and hope struggled in this soul; fear of what was seen, what was akin to the sinful soul, and hope because this vision of light and of eternity would surely not be granted unless there was a hope. And then death came.

This discovery of a new world which the soul makes in the process of death continues during the first days after a human death. Another mystic, who lived in the sixth century, said that while the soul is still so close to the earth, it is allowed to gather memories and impressions from all the places, all the corners of the earth, it had inhabited, so as to stand in judgement in possession of all its past. During these days, we pray intently for the soul of the departed because there is only one way to reach into the world of God; it is by prayer, prayer with love, with charity, with the sense of being together, because in God there are no dead, everyone is alive, everyone belongs to the world of eternal life. And then, almost according to the pattern which was described, in the account of the process of dying, the soul is brought for the first time into the presence of the Lord God, to worship, to adore, and to become aware that the world of illusion and deceit is not the real world, that the world of the liar, the world of sin is not the real world but a world that has got to die and to disappear for ever, and that other notions, which perhaps meant little in the life of the departed soul, are the only ones that exist and. remain.

And then in the period between the third and ninth days the soul is brought to the experience of sin and of its deadly effect, the experience of hell, because sin creates hell, because sin, chosen and followed in an act of destructive freedom, is the beginning of hell; the experience of being cut off from the only real world and being immured in the only world to which the soul belongs personally, built of all those things which have been gathered, tragically, monstrously, from the earth. And then again there is s vision of God, and then again a new period of experience, this time the experience of holiness, the experience of life, the experience of a world which is on the brink of the divine world. This experience is partly an inner one, because there is no living man who is evil to the last thread of his structure, but it is also a vision of the unattainable, of the "might-have-been".

There is in The Brothers Karamazov of Dostoevsky a short chapter on hell in which he says that the totality of hell may be summed up in the words, "it is too late". It is too late to love, because everyone is loved and is in no need of love, it is too late to be compassionate, because God the All-merciful pours out His compassion on all who need it. It is too late to be virtuous, because virtue, compassion, love, must be learned and fulfilled in a world which depends on human charity, on human love, a world in which to love, and to be compassionate and to be merciful is an act of faith, a world in which this act of faith defeats the evil illusion which the Devil creates about its law. It is too late because now all is evident; it is too late to have faith; now all is fulfilled.

We find in Scripture more than one passage in which we are told of the Judgement; what I have just described is only the preparation of the soul for this judgement, a preparation that will make the judgement not only just on the part of God, but acceptable and just in the eyes of the soul; a vision of evil and good, a vision of self, a vision of the eternal law and destiny, The personal judgement of the soul of the departed, and the last judgement at the end of time were foretold by the prophets, declared and confirmed by Christ, and preached by the Apostles; according to the words of St. Paul judgement is one of the points of the Christian faith; we shall all come into judgement and the judge will be Christ, the Lord. And all will be judged, all nations, and all worlds, all people, the great and the small, the righteous and the unrighteous, the quick and the dead. All will come into judgement except those who, on this earth, will have outgrown the measure of the law and of judgement and reached into the measure of grace and of love.

Can thin judgement be just? On what is it based? Can we expect that we shall all be judged by the standard of the Gospel, which is unknown to so many? Are there several ways of judgement in God's wisdom? We find in St. Paul, in St. John the Divine, in St. James, answers to these questions.

In the second chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, in verses 12, 14, 15: "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law". "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are law unto themselves. " "Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” So this is a first approximation; the pagans, those who are alien both to the covenant of the Old Testament and to the covenant of the New Testament, will be judged by the law of God, mysteriously inscribed in every human soul. This law of God can be defined by our biblical faith in the conformity which exists between God and man, by the fact that man was crested in the image of God.

Long before the first covenant united God and man – the first covenant of the Old Testament between God and Abraham – a series of covenants had united God and His creatures. The first covenant, which is called the Adamic one, is the link that exists between God and man simply because God the Creator created man capable of knowing His will and in conformity with Himself; later on other covenants occurred, but this basic covenant is both the ability to read the will of God in one's our heart and to listen to the voice of one's conscience, and also to read the wisdom of God in the created world; these are the two bases of the knowledge of God and of the faith of mankind before the first explicit covenant. Those who are under the law of the Old Testament, as St. Paul puts it in the verses which I have reed, will be judged by the law, the law of Moses, and Christians will be judged according to the Gospel.

St. John, in the twelfth chapter of his Gospel, verse 48, says: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day". It is the word of Christ, that stands in judgement against us. The Gospel teaches us that Christ has not come into the world to judge the world, but to save the world, but at the same time one could say about Him, what the Old. Testament says about Noah, that His righteousness was at the same time the salvation of the few and the condemnation of the many. Because in Him was revealed light, those who prefer darkness fall, because in Him was revealed truth, those who prefer deceit and the realm of the Devil fall; because in Him was revealed the perfect love of God, those who choose against love fall: Yet He is our salvation, because apart from Him there is no hope of salvation. To this we shall come later in greater detail. It is, then, the word of Christ which judges us, but in what sense? Is it simply that we shall be confronted with innumerable commandments or examples or counsels or sayings of Christ, to be judged on whether we have fulfilled these words or not; or is it something different? You probably remember the words of St. James the Apostle when he says that if you transgress one commandment, you have transgressed the law and you are answerable for it in the same way as it might be said that whether you crossed a river by one bridge or by another you arrive on the other side, and you are no longer in the Promised Land, you are in the land of slavery and betrayal.

But there is another passage in which the Lord Christ, before or in the process of washing the feet of His Apostles, says: “Ye are clean through the word which I have spoken to you". Again, it is not a magic power attached to the word, it is a deep human power; the word does not judge as an outer law, because the law of the New Testament is not an outer criterion and the word does not save us or judge us mechanically, magically; but the word saves us and judges us because in the word of Christ we have an objective, sharp, clear revelation not only of the will of God, but of the true nature of man; and if we turn away from the commandments of Christ, we turn away from the integrity of our human nature.

A French psychologist of the nineteenth century said that the Gospel gives us, simply, the picture of a completely sane and healthy man. It is not by the doing, but by the being, that one is saved; it is not because we will have imitated Christ, aped His actions and His words, remembered every word of His in order to do what He said, that we will enter into the kingdom of God, but because and when, beyond, further, deeper than the words, we will have entered into what St. Paul calls the mind of Christ. And so the word of God judges us because the word of God is a revelation to us of what we really are; and if we turn away from it, if we reject it, we turn away from and we reject our true being. The presence of Christ and the word of Christ are salvation and judgement, and yet there is a further feature in this law of judgement. We will be judged according to the knowledge we have of the law and the ability we possess, from the beginning to the end of our life, to hear and to understand, to receive and to fulfill.

There is a law for the pagans, a law for the Jews, a law for the Christians and infinite variety in their application; and this is why Holy Scripture tells us that the judgement will be true and just, that it will take into account the deeds, the words, the force, the secret of the heart, and it will also take into account the use we have made of all the gifts of God which we received at our birth and later. We will be judged as we judge; there will be no mercy for the one who had no mercy; there will be stern judgement for the one who sternly judged his neighbour. Indeed St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, did not vainly repeat the words of Isaiah that it is a dread thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

But who is our accuser at this judgement? Our accuser is not Christ, our accuser is not His word as an objective reality, alien to us, because then our ability to understand and the amount of our knowledge would play no role; our accuser is our conscience, this voice which sounds in us at every moment of our life and says that we are departing from the law of our true nature, falling away from the dignity of man, that we are siding with the powers of death and the powers of darkness. The Lord Christ says: come to terms with your adversary as long as you are on the way. The Fathers of the Church have all commented on this passage by saying that your adversary, the one whom you consider to be your worst enemy, is your conscience who never leaves you in peace, who torments you at every moment; and to beware, come to terms with your conscience while you are in the way of life, before the last summing up of your earthly destiny, before you stand in judgement before the Lord God, come to terms. But this coming to terms is a hard doing, because our conscience knows no other terms than the absolute integrity of our human nature as God has created it, willed it, and will fulfill it. So we cannot come to terms in the ways in which we do between ourselves, sacrificing a certain amount on each side. There can be no sacrifice, only integrity, and this is what makes this coming to terms so hard and why our conscience is our adversary, our enemy, whom we hate, until we discover that this enemy is the one who loves us most and saves us. If our hearts condemn us we shall be condemned of God says St. John the Divine (First Epistle, Ch. 3, v.20), and there is no judgement for those who are beyond judgement; what does this mean? This certainly does not mean that one can achieve such a degree of perfection that we have no reason to be judged because we are free from condemnation. Here we must come back to the notion, which I have already underlined in the past, of the meaning of the commandments of Christ. The law of the Old Testament was to be attentively, diligently, fulfilled. One who had fulfilled its every commandment could say he was righteous in the eyes of God. And yet this law could not restore people to eternal life, because no amount of doing could achieve the transformation, the renewal of our human nature which can be fulfilled end done only by God, and is done, usually, in the mystery of baptism. The Hew Testament also offers commandments, counsels, advice, but Christ tells us and warns us that when we have fulfilled all these things, we should recognise that we are unprofitable servants. No one can claim that he is righteous because he has fulfilled the law, because there is no law; because the law of the New Testament is not a law but an outline, a transparent vision not of doing, but of being, a vision of the perfect man whom each of us possesses deep in his soul. Those who believe in Christ will not come unto judgement, those who are in Christ and walk in the Spirit will not come unto judgement, but believing means living and walking in the Spirit, means acquiring the mind of Christ and becoming true, real human beings.

When we come to the judgement of God, this judgement is determined by two things, on the one hand the totality of our past life, on the other hand the new vision which we have, the vision of evil, the vision of good and the response of our souls. It would seem then to be quite simple to accept the horror of the situation as a first step to repentance; but it is too late to repent. One cannot repent when evidence is there, one can repent only in an act of active confidence in God. And here we come to a point which I will use as the starting point for the next talk, namely the views of St. Isaac of Syria on the destiny of both soul and body in this situation. St. Isaac says that what torments the soul, which now has a vision of what is real and true, is that very vision of truth and reality; it is, he says, light and love and bliss which are the torment of the soul; the soul is in an anguish like unto a woman with child who cannot give birth to it; and, he adds (and this is the point which will lead us to our next talk) "because the soul alone cannot redetermine its destiny in eternal life".

This life on earth was lived by a soul and a body; it is only in their agreement that a new life can begin, and so, as the body is gradually falling into dust, and as this destruction gradually frees the soul, it has got to go through a whole process of change, renewal and purification. And it is only at the day of the resurrection of the dead, when we shall all stand in awe in the presence of God, that the total man will be able to make the next move in determining his eternal destiny.



Talk X


We will continue today to think of the problems of the Judgement. There is a passage in the Gospels in which God tells us that He will judge according to what He will find when He comes to us for this judgement; and this I think is very important for us to remember, because it gives a quality of eternity to every moment of our lives. Every moment of our lives is a summing up, every moment is a summing up of all that has happened and of all that we are; and if God comes at any moment, what we are doing and thinking and feeling at this particular moment is the summing up of all our past, from the very beginning of our life. And so it is not that God chooses, shall I say, an inconvenient, a tragic moment to come, but every moment has got this quality, and if you remember what we said about time and the meaning of the twinkling of an eye, of that split second in our life, you will realise that this element of judgement is there at every moment. The only moment which is in our possession is this split second: we live in it; the past is no more, the future is not yet, and we possess completely only the moment we are in. And if we realise the depth and the tragic element in this, then we will realise also that this split second is not only a point on the line of time but that it is a point that opens onto a depth, and only death can give significance and real depth to this moment. When death enters into life, it gives this quality of eternity to things. The moment you realise that you are side by side with a person who may be dead the next moment, that particular moment acquires full meaning; as long as you can postpone the crisis, that is the final meaning of things, and say, "this particular moment is of no importance, there will be another one", life is shallow. This is why the writers of old insisted so much on the thought of death, to think of it, to remember it, not in kill life, not in order to order to cast a shadow on life, to make life meaningless, but on the contrary to make it deep and full of meaning; because it is only the fact that it may end at this particular moment that makes this particular moment completely meaningful. This happens, in a way, at moments when we suddenly feel how intense and deep life is because we are in danger, at the edge of death. The moment we escape death, we become intensely aware of life, and this could be true for every moment if we realise that every relationship, beginning with our relationship with God, is of this quality. I am alive now, I may not be alive in a minute; and in this split second my relationship with God is complete and my relationship with each of those who surround me is complete; it has depth because it may be the last moment, and if it is the last moment, it is the only moment, because all the rest is past. All the rest has borne fruit and brought me to this moment. This makes life deep, intense and meaningful; it also explains why this meeting with the Lord Christ is always, in a certain sense, judgement, because we cannot stand face to face with God otherwise than in judgement. And the reason why we are usually unaware of it, the reason why our life is not made up of successive moments which have the depth of eternity, lies in the fact that we do not live in the moment. We live in the past which is secure, or in the future which is secure: the past is secure because, however hard or bitter it was or cruel, it exists no longer; the future is secure because it has no grip on us; however frightening, it has not got the quality of the present. If we become aware of the present moment, we become aware of standing face to face with God at every moment, and that this standing face to face is a final judgement. Whether it be in actions, or in prayer or in thinking, in reading or in talking, there we are summing up all our past in a gesture, in a word, in something that means eternity in one way or the other, away from God or with God. St. Paul, repeating the words of Isaiah, says, "it is a dread thing to fall into the hands of the living God"; in a way we may say that we are always in this dread state, we are always in the hands of the living God, whether we are aware of it or not. If we are aware this dread becomes creative, if we are not, we escape the dread, we do not escape the judgement. And this judgement, if we look at what Scripture has to say about it, this judgement is, in the words of the ninth psalm, a righteous judgement and a true judgement. And it is a judgement which meets every man, irrespective of what he thinks or wishes or wills, because we are all God's creatures, we are all fulfilling a destiny, and whether we blind ourselves to it or not, we are in a state of judgement always, at every moment. But there is hope; there is righteousness in the judgement, and we find it in the fact that it is not a standard judgement., it is not a judgement according to one line of thought or one line of principles. If we read the second chapter of the Epistle to the Romans we find that this judgement is different according to different people; the pagans will be judgeed according to the law of their conscience; the Jews according to the law of Moses; the Christians according to the Gospel; and at once I must underline that though "Gospel" spells judgement, yet it means "good news", not "God’s curse".

If we think of this threefold approach, (may I say, this threefold approach of God to our destiny) we shall see also the depth and freedom, of this judgement. The pagan is not expected to know what he can not know, nor will he be judged except according to his lights, St. Paul says that we must live according to what we have already reached in the way of understanding and enlightenment, and this is the standard of judgement. If we turn to the Bible, we see that the two great categories of the Old and the New Covenants are not the only covenants and the only categories which define our relationship with God. Long before Abraham and the Old. Testament there was a relationship and this relationship we can trace and find in the Bible. There is a first covenant between God and His creatures in the very act of creation; God creates man as His like, in conformity with Himself; He creates him as His like, capable of a relationship simply because God has so made him; and before the fall, before the split, before God and man were divided, this basic covenant of createdness, of conformity, of likeness was there, defining the mutual relationship between God and man. This is a first covenant; there is a call in it, there is also a condition in it, the condition being something which with difficulty we can perceive in the Old Testament at the beginning of Genesis; here is a Tree of Life, here is a Tree of Knowledge: live but do not touch the Tree of Knowledge. When we speak of obedience, we use a word which is misleading, because obedience has come to mean subjection; it has lost its simple quality of perfect listening, of a relationship as of two hearts and two minds which commune, the one because it wants and longs to commune and the other which wants and longs to give.

Next, we find another covenant, the covenant of the fallen world which God established between Himself, man, and the rest of the created world; we find the covenant which God established between Himself and Cain and the surrounding world; and we find the covenant of Noah. And all these covenants precede what we call the Old Testament, the first explicit covenant between God and man. If we think of the pagans in terms of all those who are outside both the new and the old covenants, then where is the root of salvation? The root of salvation, the way of salvation, and also the way of holiness exists for them and it is defined in two ways: on the one hand we are told in one of the Psalms, and in several passages of the Old Testament, that "the heavens declare the Glory of God", that all nature bears the imprint of the divine Wisdom, of the divine Will; that from it, by thought, by meditation, by the gradual discovery of the mystery of the created world, we can come to the knowledge of the One who has created the world. And then we find in St. Paul another aspect of this knowledge that leads to salvation, to holiness in the pagan world: the Law of God written in the heart of man. These are the two roots of salvation and the two roots of holiness in the pagan world. They give, at times, a dim image of the true God and yet can lead to a holiness which may be called greater than that of the Old Testament, – remember Melchizedek, the pagan king, who was called by God to bless Abraham, the man of the covenant. So this is a first category of covenant and it is a category of judgement also; it is not in vain that Christ speaks so often of those who have eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear. By this contemplation of what God has made, we can come to the knowledge of God; by the contemplation of the Law of God written in us, we can become, to the extent to which it is possible since the fall, that which Adam was called to be. And we will be judged. The pagans will be judged on these two categories of knowledge, and of purity of heart. But the fact that the pagan is to be judged on these does not mean that we shall not be responsible in our awn way if we discard these categories, because what we are given in the Gospel is beyond what is possessed naturally; but it fulfils it, it does not reject it.

And then, in the same Epistle to the Romans, we find that the Jews will be judged according to the Law of Moses. What is this Law of Moses? St. Paul says that the law is like a teacher, a guide, to lead to greater things. A Russian theologian called Khomiakoff says that the will of God is law for these who still need to be taught and directed, it is freedom for those who have learned, and it is the curse of those who have rejected God. This law of Moses is a guide, a guide between the depth of the fall of the natural man and what the real man should be, is called to be: it is not yet the Gospel, it is not beyond what man can achieve, it is a standard offered to men who wish to recapture true humanity although they are fallen creatures. I have already pointed to one example in the beginning of Genesis, the words of Lamech who says, if Cain was avenged seven times, I will avenge myself seventy seven times. This is the law which was established for himself, vengeance without measure, or to the measure of one's own ferocity, godlessness; and then the law of Sinai, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, not more than thou hast suffered canst thou claim; and at the ether end, the words of Christ and the Gospel in answer to a question "How many times shall I forgive my brother?" – "Seventy times seven". This line between Lamech and the words of Christ is cut in half by the law of Moses; equity, justice, and no more, to put a stop to the freedom of evil before we are offered the freedom of God; and this is the law of Moses, something which is only righteousness, only justice, only equity. And it is obvious that this law can make a man righteous, but it cannot make a man alive, because life is far beyond peace and equity.

Finally the Christians will be judged by the Gospel, by the Good News of the Gospel. We cannot pride ourselves on being Christians; God can raise new children to Abraham out of stones; and in the writings of one of the greatest Jewish theologians ef the 18th century, Maimonides, there is a passage in which he quotes an older text: a disciple asks his master, "is there in Hell a deeper place than the one assigned to the Christians?", and his master says, "Yes, the place of the unworthy Jews". And this we can apply to ourselves. There is no deeper place in Hell than the place of these who have been given all that Christ gives and have lived below their calling, have rejected knowingly and indifferently their calling. But we find in the Gospel also several passages in which Christ says that he has not come to judge the world but to save the world. What or who then finally judges us? Christ: and yet He says "it is My word that will judge you"; that is the answer which we find in the twelfth chapter of St. John.

What then is the word? We find in liturgical texts, in the writings of a certain number of the old spiritual writers, a parallel between Christ and Noah; leaving aside the mere »obvious aspects of the analogy, there is something which comes very clearly out of the sixth and seventh chapters of Genesis. The presence of Noah is both condemnation and salvation for the people who surround him; it is condemnation because the fact that he has remained faithful witnesses to the fact that faithfulness is possible; the fact that he has remained pure and unstained in a world of godlessness and sin points to the fact that anyone might have chosen to be faithful. In that sense his righteousness is the condemnation of sin, but on the ether hand, his presence is salvation at least for those who can receive it, these who around him have remained faithful to God, who are called to survive, to be saved from the flood. In the same sense, Christ's person and Christ's word are both condemnation and salvation. He stands there as a stumbling block. He stands there as the revelation of the true man, and because He is a revelation of the true man, anything which is unworthy of the true man falls under condemnation. Yet He is our salvation also; His word is our condemnation if He has spoken in vain to us but it is salvation if it has been life-giving. Remember the passage in the Gospel at the washing of the feet of the Disciples, "You are clean for the word which I have spoken to you". When thee word of God makes our hearts burn within us, when it transforms us, when it leaves us different from what we were when He spoke, then it is salvation. When on the contrary it is spoken in vain, it is our condemnation. Christ as the revelation of the true man, and His word which is the word of truth, which is the word of the true man, are both salvation and condemnation.

Remember again Christ's words in the Gospel "Do not be surprised that I will come and judge, I am the Son of man". This judgement of Christ, this judgement revealed in the word will be a judgement without exception of person, and a judgement which will take everything into account because it is a judgement of the whole person, not only of his actions and words; it is the total person who stands in judgement; his deeds, his words, his thoughts, the secrets of his heart will be probed and judged, and also the way in which he will have made use of the gifts given him by God. And it will be a judgement which is so personal that, as the service of burial says, no friend, no relative will be able to help; each one must stand alone with his destiny. But now let us see a little bit more what these terms mean; that we shall be judged according to our deeds, our words, our thoughts, the secrets of our hearts, the gifts of God. The New Testament makes it clear on the one hand that nothing is of any avail that is not done in faith; only faith makes sense of, gives an eternal, divine, religious value to our actions; an action, as such, has no meaning; it is only against the background of our faith that it acquires its full meaning. On the other hand we knew from St. James’ epistle that faith is dead, unreal, if it is not embodied in action. The deeds of man must be a revelation of the faith of man, of what he believes in, what he strives for, what is the meaning of his life. This faith is a little bit wider than a concrete theological faith because it applies equally to the pagan, to the Jew and to the Christian. Whatever is done in the mystery of faith, that is of total commitment to what is believed in, has got this significance, but each one must live up to the faith he possesses and not proclaim one knowledge and live according to another. This then is the first criterion, our faith is made evident, concrete, believable by our deeds. If you wish to show me your faith without deeds", says the Apostle, try. I on my side will show you my faith through my deeds". And the stumbling block and the criterion is life in its concreteness. St. John says that anyone who says he loves God and who does not love his neighbour is a liar. Who will believe you that you love God whom you have never seen if you cannot love your neighbour whom you see? It is in the concreteness of life that the secret impulses and convictions of the soul must find expression, and it is this concreteness of life which is the criterion of truth or untruth in our faith or conviction. This is why judgement begins with deeds, but this is not all; there are two passages to which I want to draw your attention concerning words. "It is our words that will condemn us, it is our words that will redeem us". This links directly with what I said just n»w: we know too much and we proclaim too much the truth not to be in danger of judgement. If we know the truth and we do not live up to it, we fall under the judgement of our own words: if we know the truth and speak against it we fall under the judgement of our words. Then there is the second passage in which we are told that we will be answerable for every word spoken in vain. Very often this passage is understood as a warning not to speak idly, not to speak nonsense; that is true, but there is more to it. These vain words, these idle words, are so often words of truth which remain idle in us; words that witness to the fact that we know the truth, we know the way, we know what should be done and thought and how we should live, and yet those words remain idle, we do not do what we know, and our own words testify against us. And this applies to our thoughts, to the secret movements of our hearts, because we can sin in our hearts and thoughts without putting into action our evil impulses; yet they are there, and we are destroyed by them, made different from God, monstrous as compared to the true man, when we commune with the energies of evil, when our desire is evil. And lastly we are told that we will be judged in accordance to the way in which we will have made use of the gifts of God. We must realise at once that it is not our success or failure that will be judged but something different. Success or failure depend on factors many of which are not in our power; but there are things which are in our power. Remember the parable of the Lord Christ concerning the talents, the three men who received each of them a sum of money before their master went away; the one ten, another five, another one; the first earned ten talents, the second one five, and they were praised equally although their earnings were unequal; the Lord did not say to the second one that he might have made ten talents out of his five, He uses the same words. The third one came and gave back to his master what he had received; he did not give less, and yet he was condemned. What is the difference between the three men, two on the one hand, one on the other? It seems to me that the difference lies in the fact that the third one took no risk, he did not dare, he played for safety; "what I have received I will give back; I may lose if I attempt to increase this capital; I had better stay where I am". And yet, the totality of our life is risk; we are called by the word of God out of naught into being, we are called into the mysterious depth of God; under our feet is the abyss of our non-being, above us the no less frightening empyrean of God's being, and we are called to move from the unknown into the unknown. We can stand where we are but then, attempting to keep our life, to keep our soul, we lose both our life and our soul. It is courage that is wanted here.

And this is the first image of this judgement of God. That it is not success that God expects from us can be seen, I believe, in the parable of the heavenly banquet. People were invited by the king, they refused to come, this one had bought oxen, another one a piece of land, another one had married, all were busy with their own lives; and the master sent his servants to collect tramps from the highways and the byways and bring them into the kingly hall: and when he came into the hall he found one man who was net dressed in a garment for the feast.

Certainly all these tramps that had been collected in the back streets were not walking about with a garment prepared for a king's feast in their bag, so [that] it is not that these men came ready and the others one did not; but we can understand this parable if we remember that in the Orient when a guest arrived, he was received, his feet were washed and he was given a robe worthy of the feast, whether he was poor, whether he was rich, it was part of a king's hospitality. And so the man who came in unprepared was not poorer or less successful than anyone else; they were all of the same breed, poor tramps and pilgrims, but this one had not cared either for his bath or for his robe; what he wanted was the food of the king, and he came in as he was found on the street, and he was turned out. Righteousness, purity, cleanliness and the white robe is God's business, as Scripture says elsewhere, and the righteous are those who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, who are given the white robe of righteousness; these people are pure because God has made them pure. It is not the righteousness they brought into the kingly hall that is their salvation, it is their acceptance of God's mercy; and this is another image of this judgement. Then again we find one mere, in the twenty fifth chapter of St. Matthew, the judgement of the sheep and the goats.

What, then, is essential? What is essential is that those who have had compassion, those who have been capable of loving, all those were received by God. They did not knew whom they served, they never thought it was God, they just responded by compassion to human needs. It is love in every case that has saved them, it is absence of love that has condemned the others, and here again we find a summing up of the whole person and not a detailed analysis; and yet in every one of these cases, the other points which I have made before come into the picture. It is love and compassion, yes, but a compassion that found expression in deeds, that was rooted in thoughts and hearts, that was an act of faith in the general and yet completely precise sense of this word; not, as I have said before, of any particular theological faith, but an act of faith that is a complete commitment to what was clear, obvious, to the law of God written in their human hearts. And that which condemns we find, perhaps, in one of the several parables of the fig tree. Christ came to a tree that was covered with leaves when it was supposed to bear fruit; it is the beginning of a long series of parables and examples in the Gospel that speaks of God's rejection of what is untrue, what is seeming instead of being; this is one of the first elements of our condemnation. I have said before that the judgement according to Scripture is true and just; no aspect of untruthfulness attends our standing in judgement. And on the other hand, in the first Epistle of St. John, in the fourth chapter, we read that perfect love gives greet daring; and this is brought out in the parable of the talents, because there can be no readiness to risk all for all, there is no love, and no faith in love. There can be no acceptance of God's invitation to the tramps and pilgrims if there is no love and no faith in love, and there is no salvation at the judgement when the flock master divides the sheep from the goats, unless there is love. But this love must find expression, and one of the expressions of love is the ability to act as God, to receive one another as Christ has received us; not to judge, but to be compassionate and merciful in judgement, to forgive as we expect or wish to be forgiven. Judgement, condemnation, salvation in that sense are in our own hands; if we have not been able to be perfect, we can in one way be the likes of God, – in our charity, in our compassion, in our mercy, in our readiness not to judge but to forgive. And this is what we bring with us to the Judgement Seat of the Lord God when we die. This is what happens; we stand before the Lord Christ, the true Man, and we see what we are. His word, written in our hearts, revealed in His law, spoken to us or revealed to our sight, is our judgement and, at the same time, our salvation.




Hitherto I had thought of man in the terms of the Epistle to the Romans, that is to say Body, Soul and Spirit.. The body I had thought of as the flesh which I had imagined returning to its chemical elements after death. The soul I had thought of as the vehicle which went to Purgatory, there to be purified. The spirit, I had dimly thought, was something of Life, an Immortal part of God, which would ultimately return to That, from which it emanated. What then is the resurrection of the body of which the Bishop speaks? Might it be the accumulation of the evidence of the senses belonging to a particular person?


Answer: Well, to begin with, this division into three, body, soul and spirit, is not an absolute and constant division; we find in St. Paul this tricotomy, but we also find him speaking of body and soul. It is not always easy to define exactly what each of these components are. For one thing the word "spirit" in Hebrew is defined by two words, of which the one means the spirit of man, the other one the spirit of God in man or outside him, and I do not know any satisfying and complete definition of what that spirit is. We find in the beginning of Genesis that God breathes life into man; what is this breath of life substantially? It is something from God, certainly; it is life, it is also something which is peculiar to man in his relationship to God, but can we say that it is an immortal part of God which would ultimately return to that from which it emanated? I do not think we can, because what is given by God to man to make him what he is, remains man's. I know that it does not really apply to the context, but St. Paul says, the gifts of God are never taken away; God has imparted a life which belongs to Him, but this life does not return to Him to be swallowed up because otherwise what is left is left outside of God as eternally and hopelessly incomplete.

Now the body, — this question says ‘the body I have thought of as the flesh, which I had imagined returning to its chemical elements after death". There is in ascetical literature a distinction which is consistently drawn, I think, between the notion of body and the notion of flesh. The flesh I would say, very often, (because not to be mistaken I do not want to say always), the flesh is just what it says here, chemicals and whatever else that can fall apart and become again part of an inert world; but the body is something more complex, it is the flesh, but it is the flesh which has been marked as it were, that has received the imprint of the spirit and soul; it is something which is the same chemicals, but no longer nothing but chemicals. The body is the man to a very great extent, while the chemicals are no one. The body is all this chemical and physical world, which has been so completely integrated into the destiny of soul and spirit that one can no longer consider it just as chemicals, and this falling apart is part of death. But the resurrection of the body is not simply the gathering together of elements that could belong here and there, but some sort of gathering together of all that is marked by this total human personality. I do not think I can go much further because I do not think that we have any descriptive theory of how the resurrection takes place, but all that was man is no longer simple physics and chemistry.

Now, the word ‘soul’ is something which I find most difficult to define because, in this definition of body, spirit and soul, the soul is nearest to what can be defined as the psychological content of man, self-consciousness together with all there is in the life of the mind, of the emotions of the heart and so on. And in that sense it is linked with the notion of body very much; it is not independent of it, they are a couple that work together. When the spirit comes into the picture it is something different. If you define the soul as simply "the accumulation of the evidence of the senses belonging to a particular person", then it becomes terribly difficult to conceive of this "accumulation of evidence of the senses" going to Purgatory, to repentance and purification, because it has, as accumulation of evidence of the senses, no moral responsibility, and no morel significance, and so cannot be judged. An "accumulation of evidence" is not an object for judgement, it is an inert fact. It acquires its quality in another context. I think it is easier to speak of it if we speak in terms of body and soul without introducing this tripartite definition. When we say that after death something happens to the body and something happens to the soul, then we can reason in terms of the destiny of this soul. If we remain with this definition of body, soul and spirit, which is used in certain places in St. Paul but not in others, then we must define our terminology very precisely lest we send to judgement a collection of things which are not subjects for judgement at all because there is no person in this accumulation of evidence; there are only things. Now, that is really all I think I can say about this question.


To another question: When we use the word ‘Salvation’, we always think in terms of escaping, but one escapes always somewhere. We should not only consider this negative side of escaping evil, but the other side, the side of communing to what is good and meaningful.


To another: One can say to God: This commandment of forgivness, I accept unreservedly, I wish to forgive, yet there is something evil in me, something still unchristian which does not allow me to do it. I beg for forgiveness, I know I do not deserve it, I accept the condemnation, but teach me to forgive.


To another: If we can forgive completely, we are sure of being forgiven completely, because we have entered into a new category of life, but it takes a whole life to enter into it.


To another: There is in the Russian Prayer Book a prayer which says: "I have the will to repent, help me". It does not say "I do repent" because that is untrue, but "I have the will to repent, accept this will and help me repent". And the same can be applied to everything. I have a will to forgive. The problem is how much will you have and how true. If we really forgive, a whole relationship must be over.


To another: If I tell God that my determination is to forgive, all that I would do as an unforgiving person I am not going to do: I will no longer mention to all my friends what he or she has done, or said: I will not remind him or her at every moment what was the fault. As far as speech and actions are concerned it is finished: and then, it is a question of what is going on in my heart. There God can help. But first, do not add fuel to the fire by acts or words.



Talk XI


In continuing to pursue our attempt to come to an ever closer and deeper understanding of God's Judgement and our eternal destiny, I would like to speak of the relationship between God and man. God is the judge of man both at the end of time at the Great Judgement and He is also our judge from day to day. It is a paradoxical situation that He is at the same time our Creator and our Judge.

The impression which the majority of us derive from a quick, an all too quick, reading of the Old Testament, is vaguely that God has created His world, that it depends completely on the will of God on the one hand and is in a state of rebellion and unfaithfulness on the other; that in this situation in which dependence and rebellion, complete dependence and freedom, seem to act at cross purposes, in this situation it seems that this standing face to face of God and His world is indeed simple; yet it is very powerful because side by side with this situation there is another one. If we read the prophets, if we read the books of the Pentateuch, we see also that there is a deep relationship of divine love given to all men and received by some. God Himself is the One who has created, the One who, confronted by human unfaithfulness and rebellion, has passed a judgement, but also is One who has accepted the situation which man is offering, accepted the situation in what one may call a creative compromise. And more than this, more than accepting a creative compromise by which the world can continue its destined calling under God's judgement, we find, so often, God speaking of this world and His attitude to it as a lover speaks of the beloved one. It is not by chance that this image comes again and again: God is faithful, the creation is unfaithful: He loves and His love is rejected. The deep relationship between the God who has created this world, and this world, is one of love, the total love of God either received or rejected. And if we examine more accurately that which we read at the beginning of Genesis concerning the problem of sin and punishment, we may discover that, in response to human sin, which contains and implies its own punishment, we find not an act of divine judgement, but an act of divine mercy: as St. Paul puts it centuries later "where sin abounds, grace super abounds". Again, we find already in the Old Testament, in the case of a few only perhaps, but quite concretely and clearly, a first conception of God as a father. At that stage the definition of the father/child relationship is still moving in categories of moral relationship, not of substantial relationship, but it still remains that in Hosea and in Job and in many other places we find a deeper vision of God than the face to face relationship which we have perceived. And I would like now to examine a few of these points and come to the crucial point of both the earthly relationship and the vision of God as it appears in the Old Testament, which can ultimately be summed up in a phrase, which is misused and misunderstood fit every step, that of the jealous God. I have said that the relationship between God and His creation is paradoxical, it is paradoxical as always when love is given by one and rejected by the other; all that should be joy becomes tragedy.

Herein lies the paradox of this relationship both in the New and the Old Testament. What we find when we face the situation of a God in His otherness with regard to the creation is not so simple. He is radically different, other, and yet there is a relatedness between the two which transforms the two into a couple, which from the moment of creation can never live separately. God, self-sufficient, in His act of love and power, sets face to face with Himself a reality which now no longer may be abandoned. The all-powerful, all-loving, creative Word of God establishes this inter-dependence, establishes an eternal relationship between them. The creative Word of God is not like a human word that resounds and dies, it is a Word that resounds and is in action for ever. Even considered in terms of creation the world and God are related, and related in a way which modern man as well as ancient thinkers would have defined in terms of relativity. The whole problem of the vindication of God, of Theodicy, is one of vindication in the face of the existence of evil. He stands in judgement before His creature and we stand in judgement before Him. This relationship between God, who is impenetrable to His creature, radically different, and us, cannot be broken and therefore we cannot speak of a simple face to face situation because there is an evolving destiny, a destiny which involves both man and God since the very beginning. God is not acted upon, but, since He created the world, He is no longer independent of it. He is the judge, but He is infinitely more than the creator and the judge, because the very creation of this world is an act of divine love, the act of one who gives Himself unreservedly to what He has created so that His creation can be fulfilled and partake of the totality of His divine life. And when Man falls away from Him, God does not act as a judge: a new aspect, a new relationship appears which we call providence. God accepts this new and monstrous situation now offered to Him by man, instead of that which He offered to man, and within this situation He acts creatively; He acts in order to save. He accepts sin and death, He accepts the frustration of His will, the rejection of His love and He leads the unfaithful and rebellions world towards salvation and redemption; not simply towards a return to the original data of creation but towards something greater; because the second Adam is greater than the first and because the Kingdom of God is greater than the first Garden of Eden, the paradise of our first parents. In all this relationship love is central, but a love that is a burning love; it is a totalitarian love, it is a love that will never be satisfied with a limited response, a love which will never agree to accept less than it offers. And here we come to this problem of the jealous God, of what these words mean and of what kind of consequence they imply in this problem of judgement. If we turn to the Oxford Dictionary we will find that the word "jealous" is used in the Bible to mean "intolerant of unfaithfulness", and is used about God; it also has a connotation of "suspiciously vigilant". And indeed, in a cursory reading of the Old Testament, we are already prepared for this by our modern use of ancient words. And yet if we try to understand what the translators meant when they made their translation, when we try to see what the word jealous meant centuries ago, we will discover that it meant "zealous" and not "suspiciously vigilant", not "intolerant of unfaithfulness". We know whet zeal means in common speech; it means ardour, it means liveliness with regard to a task, and if we turn to the very language from which it is derived, from the Greek, we see how gradually from its original meaning it develops additional meanings which are both an enrichment and a confusion. Originally, and this meaning was never lost in spite of the fact that other meanings appeared gradually, zeal, zelos, meant mettle, ardour, liveliness, alacrity of spirit and mind; it meant zeal and endeavour, strenuousness in effort, quickness in action; then if we turn from this basic essential meaning of the word to its consequences in human life, we find that it meant rivalry, competition, antagonism, and, again as a consequence of this situation, it meant suspicious vigilance, and jealousy in the modern sense of the word. The words have got the same connotations but the primitive, the basic one, seems to be stronger than the later ones; it means to seek, to pursue with ardour, it means to endeavour, to long for, it means also to be jealous. And if we turn to other languages we find the same meaning, the same sense of liveliness, of intensity, which characterised the word; and if I insist on these meanings it is because it is so important for us when we apply an adjective to God, to be aware of all it implies and not to confuse real meanings with false meanings. In Arabic languages the same word means to be mettlesome. The root from which zealous is derived is "dja" which has given several words "djan" which means the soul, which also means life, which also means the spirit. If you turn from there to Slavonic languages the word "revnost" which has got other connotations to which we will come, means intensity and quickness, a longing for, a straining after, and it is derived from a Sanscrit word meaning to rush forwards, to hurry: and it has got a direct link with the English because it has given the word arrow, a missile which is quick, alert, speedy. Again, if from these languages which are comparatively far away from the original text, we turn to the Hebrew we see that the word means both ardour and quickness on the one hand and jealousy on the other; and the basic root for this word not only in Hebrew but in Arabic and Syriac is the idea of heat: to become hot, red hot, to act with passion. The link which I wanted to underline before was the Sanscrit word "arvan" with the Greek word "eran" which means to love with passion. And now let us leave these considerations at the point to which they have led us, and we will come back to this problem of love in a moment. It has led us to seeing the God who created the world as One who has a relationship of intensity with His created world. He defines Himself in more than one passage as the rejected lover who seeks the beloved one in order to restore her to her rank and honour. In the same line of words, again the same root, we find the Hebrew word "shatonga" which means to honour, to respect, to esteem, to pay regard to, to revere and to worship, to set a value on something. The God who creates is one who sets such a value on the created world, who pays it such regard, for whom this world means so much that, with all the intensity of what we call, for lack of a better word, passionate love, He treats it as the beloved one; and this same God who has created the world in an act of sacrificial love, who loves this world as the beloved one to whom He remains eternally faithful, who sets such a value on this world that He is prepared to give His only begotten Son to the end that this world should be saved, is the same God before whom we shall stand in judgement. But there is more to it; there is more to it because in the Old Testament all this was already true; but in the New Testament something has happened that has linked and interwoven the divine and the human, God and the whole cosmos, in a mysterious way so that we may no longer consider the two as two separate realities. The Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension of the Lord Christ and the very nature of the Church set before us new problems as far as this problem of our judgement is concerned. If up to a point we had a right before the Incarnation of the Word of God to speak of a world and a God face to face, related to one another but radically other, we can no longer see things so simply. There is a degree of "otherness" which remains for ever, and yet, in the Incarnation, God has become part of human history in the person of the "God-Man Jesus Christ"; and in the Ascension, all that is man, all the physical and material texture of humanity and all the soul of man in the person of the Incarnate Word of God has entered into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The two are no longer related, they are now profoundly and deeply interwoven. In the Incarnation God has taken upon Himself humanity; in this mystery of the Incarnation humanity and divinity are now for ever inseparably united in the one person of Jesus of Nazereth. In Him the totality, the fullness of Godhead abides in the flesh; in Him, all that is man, body and soul, and through Him all that is the created world with its material substance and its generic interdependence is for ever joined to the mystery of God. And in the Ascension, the God-Man has brought into the very mystery of the Trinity the presence of a man, or rather of Man, because Christ is not one of the many, He is Man in the sense in which the first Adam was Man. But there is something which affects us individually, each of us in a particular way; the Church is not just an assembly of people who believe in God, who are the Disciples of Christ, who follow Him; the Church is much more than this. In the words of Ignatius of Antioch repeated by Cyril of Alexandria, the Church is the total Christ. He is the head, we are the members; it is a living body inseparable from its head, as the head is inseparable from any body, because the life of Christ is in us and ours in Him, not only in terms of moral relationship but in terms of ontological relationship; of being, not only of behaving. In the words of St. Irenaeus of Lyon we are, together with Christ, the only begotten Son; all that belongs to Him He gave to us when He assumed all that belongs to us to make it His own. The image which, perhaps, is clearest as a commentary on this substantial identity between the Head and the body, between Christ and His Church, is that which we find in the beginning of the gospel of St. John, that of the vine and the branches; if we put it together with another image which we find in St. Paul when he speaks of the branches of a wild olive tree being grafted on the healthy branches of the good tree. These branches are grafted by an action coming from the outside, and this, I believe, we may safely consider to be the action of baptism. But the moment when these branches are grafted is not the moment they cease to be wild; they must undergo a whole process of progressive regeneration; the sap of the trunk must find its way trough the veins and the capillaries of every one of the leaves of every branch; this sap must bring the life of the vine and displace the life that previously was there. Again, in the words of St. Paul, it could be termed the death of the old Adam and the gradual birth and increase of the new. It may be described in the words of John the Baptist when he says that he must decrease that Christ may increase. Gradually the life of Christ pervades, fills all the new branches so that from being a wild and unruly sapling it becomes an integral part of the healthy vine.

With this substantial identity the problem of judgement becomes more puzzling and more paradoxical; it is no longer simply the problem of the Creator who at the same time is the condemnation of the unfaithful world; it is no longer simply the problem of the Lawgiver who is at the same time the Judge and the Advocate; it is no longer simply the problem of the Redeemer who at the same time sits at the right hand of the Father to judge the quick and the dead. It is an infinitely more puzzling problem, but before we come to it and before we adjourn, I would like to consider a few more words, not as words but as defining and coining back to the relationship of which we have already spoken, the jealous God. The jealous God whose relationship, whose attitude to the created is absolute, all ardour, all passion, all intensity, which, as I said before, in the Sanscrit language is defined by the word "arvan", the one who makes haste, who rushes forward, and has given the Greek word "eran". This is a first thing, the jealous God is One who loves with this particular aspect of love, with ardour, with intensity, and having no better word and without qualifying it I would say with passion. The Greek word is well known in modern languages, "eros". To love with this particular love meant in Greek to direct towards an object the totality of one's life, so that this love means the gift of one's unlimited and total self; it implies what we find in the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John when the Greek text says: "and the Word was Godwards". It implies a directedness towards another that sums up the totality of the person's love and life; it also implies that there is nothing left of the person except his quality of love. It means ultimately the complete death or the complete non-existence of the self in a life, in a relationship which is beyond the self. And this is the basic relationship which we find in the Old Testament.

But there is another one which is as essential. We find constantly that God, both in the Testaments and in Patristic and Liturgical literature, is called "philanthropes", the one who loves man, we translate. But it is very important to remember, to realise, that the verb from which philanthropes is derived has an essential connotation , which is to love because of a natural affinity, because of a natural congeniality, and to find delight in a relationship. This can be traced back simply, without commentary, to that passage in the first chapter of the book of Genesis in which we are told that "God created man in His image and likeness". The essential conformity of the two, this natural affinity of the two, side by side with the radical otherness that exists between God and man, is the second aspect of this love. Three or four times, particularly in Jeremiah, we find another verb used, "stugein", which means the quiet steady loving of a mother with regard to a child, a relationship which is completely steady and quiet because the one who loves is unshakable and serene in her love. We find in Jeremiah passages in which we are told, "though a mother could forget her child, I shall never forget thee, o Israel", a loving relationship of absolute steadiness, absolute serenity, a readiness to accept all things while love remains undefeated for ever. And lastly a word which we know well and which we use much when we speak of the New Testament, "agape", which proceeds from a verb that speaks of love as a result of esteem.

In God's love we have found elemental love, passionate love, the serene love of a parent, and finally a love founded on judgement. We have seen many words springing from the same source as "jealous" and meaning variously, to set a value on, to pay regard to, to esteem, to honour, to respect, to revere and to worship someone — and here is one more aspect of God's attitude to His creation. If we put all this together we shall have a truer, a less shallow and approximative meaning, and against this background the problem of judgement will not appear as primitive and as simple as it does to those who take only one or two quotations from the Old and the New Testaments or who seek it in the very simple image of the sheep and the goats.


Talk XII


We have come to a point in our discussions which I find very s worrying because I must discuss with you a certain number of thing which one should discuss with extreme care and circumspection, and I am not sure that I am capable of doing this. I am thinking, perhaps with too much straightness and not enough nuances, about what I want to say tonight, so take what I give you as material for thinking, check it with your experience and with your own thinking and reading and let us one day, perhaps tonight, or perhaps in the course of the next talks, discuss it thoroughly, in order to discover what the truth is concerning the points which I am going to make.

What I would like to discuss now is the problem of eternal torment and eternal bliss which are connected with the ideas of hell and of paradise, although they do not sum up these two ideas and are not completely identical with them; and also I would like to discuss a quotation from the works of St. Isaac of Syria of which I spoke last time at the end of my talk. Let us begin with the problem of eternal torment and eternal bliss; when this problem appears in our mind, and more so when we read about it in text books, it seems to be quite simple and clear; the judgement divides between light and darkness, between good and evil, between life and death, between those who are of Christ and those who are of anti-Christ, two quite different roads open up and in the opening words of the Didache, one of the oldest documents of Christendom, it says that there are two roads, the road of salvation, the road of damnation. And then, when we try to go along these lines of thinking, it appears that the final result is an eternity of suffering, of rejection, of damnation, and on the other hand an eternity of bliss; and what, I think, I see to be the failure of such a scheme is that it puts on the same level two kinds of eternity, which I think cannot be put into parallel. If the eternity of torment and the eternity of bliss are to be put on a par, it means that in the eternity of torment, of damnation, evil acquires an equally eternal quality with good; it means that godlessness, that is the falling away from God, acquires a metaphysical density, a reality, whereas the only reality is God and life in God. This seems to be not only a philosophical problem but something very real. Can one say that it is the same thing to be alive in God or to be dead outside God? Can one say that the eternity of eternal life is the same as the eternity of damnation? Does not this scheme, as I said, before, introduce a new idea, an idea which is radically contrary to Scripture, to the Faith, to our experience, by making evil co-eternal with good in a mock solution of the problem of evil and good? Throughout history and in all the teaching of Scripture and the Church, the only reality is God; only God is real, only God is eternal, only God and what is in Him has substance, concreteness, reality, and of a sudden, because the Judgement has come, evil acquires substance, solidity and concreteness. This seems absurd, not only logically, but as a final failure of God's undertaking, that the last word of Judgement should establish evil instead of disestablishing it. It is no solution, it is the contrary of a solution. On the other hand, if we turn to the notions of eternity, of the eternal, we see easily that we have got to envisage these words from two quite different points of view. Constantly, at every moment, the word ‘eternal’ is used in common speech to mean an endless line of time, time that never ends; this is an aspect of eternity that "belongs to the created world, this is an infinity of time bat nothing more than an infinity of time, and if you remember our first talk on time, the nature of time and its various aspects, you will probably remember that time and eternity have no common measure, because time is contemporary with the created. Time appears at the moment when the first creature appears, time appears at the moment when something that was not begins to be. Before the first creature appears, there is no time and so the eternity of time, the infinity of time belongs to the created world, and in that sense does not belong either to the world of bliss or to the world of damnation, but to the world of change, of oscillation, to the searching period of the human life or of the life of history. Eternity has also another sense; when we say that God is eternal we do not mean to say that eternity is a category in which God exists and moves. Eternity, as spoken of in connection with God, is not a category of His being, it is not one of the ways in which we speak of him; divine Eternity coincides with God. As Life, as Love are ways of speaking of the same mystery whom we call God, the Eternity of which we speak in connection with God is not something similar to or different from time, it is something that has absolutely no common measure, because time is a thing, however abstract, while eternity, when we speak of it with regard to God, coincides with Him and is Some One as is Truth, as is Life, as is Love. And so we find ourselves in the presence of two quite different realities when we use the word "eternity", and we see that they are profoundly different, that they cannot be opposed to one another. It is not two kinds of eternity face to face, one of darkness and one of light, one of death and one of life, it is ultimately the Uncreated face to face with the created and with less than the created; there is no common measure and, therefore, when we speak of the two, we must remember this profound difference. Divine eternity is timeless, the eternity of the created world belongs to time. When we read the Gospel and certain of the Epistles together with the Book of Revelation, we see, I believe, as I tried to put it last time, a series of steps in the final, in the eschatological destiny of the created world as far as Judgement is concerned. There is the parable of Christ, the words of Christ: "Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the Judge, and the Judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing." (Mat. V,25-26). Here we find a judgement that has an effect in time, a condemnation in time, a punishment that allows us to emerge out of this condemnation free from guilt. We find then the various examples which are always brought to bear on the discussion: the outer darkness and the gnashing of teeth, the worm that does not die, the fire that is never quenched or rather that burns eternally. How are we to understand this eternity? This eternity can be understood, as I said, only from two points of view: either it belongs to the creaturely world in which case the word ‘eternal’ has got a time connotation which is neither infinite nor absolute. It is difficult to discuss the subject of words like eternity or corresponding words in modern languages, but in Greek and Slavonic the words in question are words of time and not of timelessness –- "aeson" in Greek, "вечный" in Slavonic – and belong to roots and words that speak of spans of time and not of open series that never end, and so we have a right to stop at that point and not to draw conclusions which the words offered by Holy Scripture do not warrant in themselves. If on the contrary we think in terms of an eternity of torments which has the quality of the divine eternity, then we are confronted with a problem which brings us to the quotation I took from St. Isaac of Syria; this eternity of torment can be related only to God Himself. In other words, both the bliss and the damnation are rooted in Him; He is the eternity of damnation as He is this eternity of salvation and bliss. Can we accept it? Well, here I would like to bring into the discussion another, rather lengthy quotation from St. Isaac of Syria, and go through various points in it with you. This is what he says:

"And so I affirm ... the ones in hell are being hit by a whip which is love, and how bitter, how cruel is this torment of love, because those who have perceived that they have sinned against love suffer a torment which is more cruel than any suffering we can imagine, however terrifying; the sadness that wounds the heart as a consequence of a sin against love is more terrifying than any possible punishment. We are not to accept the thought that the sinners in hell are deprived of the love of God, but love in men is the fruit of the knowledge of the truth, and this knowledge can be given to all men. But love has two ways of affecting us: love torments the sinner, as it happens even on earth when a friend suffers through a friend, and love fills with joy those who are faithful to it; and so, according to my thinking, the torment of hell is nothing but repentance. As to the souls of the sons of heaven, love fills them with unutterable joy."

This is how a man such as Isaac of Syria squarely faces the problem. Nothing escapes the love of God because the love of God is undefeated and cannot be defeated. The words of Christ, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" speak of this absolute stability of divine love. The love of God embraces those who have been faithful, who have become the dwelling place of this mysterious love divine, but it does not abandon those whom God created in an act of love and who have become unfaithful while He remains faithful. There is no realm where love does not reach, whether it is heaven or hell, love divine is there. But what then makes the one a place of bliss and the other a place of unutterable torment? We may find an answer if we set side by side two expressions taken from the passage of the ascetical writings of St. Isaac: "It is love that hits like a whip those who suffer in hell"; this is the first, and the other one: "love is born of the knowledge of the truth". This knowledge of the truth is offered to us throughout our life, yet this truth comes to us in images, in parables, in approximations, in partial revelations, in the calling of God in minutes of clear sightedness. This knowledge of the truth is veiled in the course of all our life, it is both an object of faith and an object of increasing or decreasing knowledge, it belongs to our experience through an act of faith, but this experience of ours is at times clear, at times darkened, and in this twilight those who have faith, those who are capable of trusting God, those who have the courage and the simplicity of heart not to ask for a light, but to put their hand into the hand of God and to allow this hand to direct them along an invisible path, come to an increasing knowledge of the truth. But when our life has come to an end, when all the limitations which are defined by this fallen world, and when this body of corruption, as St. Paul calls it, have fallen away, when we are face to face with the truth as it is, this knowledge of the truth requires no faith, it is evidence in itself. And one of the spiritual writers of our century, Father Alexander Elchaninoff, says in his diary: "No one of those created by God will be able to see God without falling down and saying: 'You are the only One for whom I longed through out my life'." And yet, what was possible in the course of this life, what was possible in the twilight of faith and knowledge, is no longer possible now that the bright light has shone. It is too late to act by faith, it is too late to trust God, it is too late to obey God because the evidence of the truth, the absoluteness of this inescapable evidence, has put an end to an act of faith, has put an end to choice. There is no choice any more, and therefore there cannot be on our side a movement of love, there is only a movement of knowledge. And in another passage the same Isaac of Syria, speaking of what happens then, says, using an image taken from the Book of Revelation, that every one of these souls in whom love suddenly has been born together with the implacable, the inescapable knowledge of God, each of these souls is like the woman of the Apocalypse who was with child and could not give birth to it. And there begins torment, torment because love is evidently the only content of life, without distinction between life in time and life in the absoluteness of communion with God, and love is the only thing that cannot be achieved because love is rooted in freedom and evidence has taken away choice. And here we find the whole problem coming to the acutest point, and it comes to the acutest point, because, what solution is there? What can happen? After Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa confronted with this horror of eternal damnation which is more than suffering in time, which is infinitely more than the metaphysical tragedy of an endless series of time moments, St. Gregory of Nyssa tried to find a solution by saying: "God being love will forgive." But if you have clearly understood, not my commentary, but the words of St. Isaac, you will see that forgiveness is irrelevant at this point because forgiveness is implied in divine love. But forgiveness cannot now be achieved and possessed, and if it could, it would mean the destruction of freedom, the destruction of choice, it would make a necessity of bliss instead of a necessity of damnation, which would be the same failure of the creature to achieve the mystery of love. This situation is so aptly shown to us in Greek mythology in the story of Tantalus who could not receive what the gods offered:

/Ask Abp. A?/

It is not a one-sided act of God which can affect the eternal destiny of those who now stand face to face with the only reality, who understand that there never was an alternative to love, and because there is no alternative, are confronted with the fact that love is hell as love is paradise. The choice has gone, what is left? On the one hand, God all-forgiving and infinitely loving, rather God who is forgiveness, who is love itself, and on the other hand, man who has discovered what God is and has discovered love and who can no longer, because choice is removed because evidence has replaced twilight, who can no longer choose and enter into the mystery of love which is rooted in the very mystery of freedom. This is a monstrous situation, the sinner for whom the only reality that is left is love and who cannot love. This is one of the most tragic images of hell that we find in patristic literature, and it coincides in its broad features with Dostoyevsky’s short essay on hell, which you can find in The Brothers Karamazoff, in which he defines hell almost by the words "too late". Now I see, it is too late to act. When I could act, I did not. But what is now the situation? It is a fixed situation, is there no way out of it? What will happen, what can happen? At that point we must come back to the words of the Creed — we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life to come. The creative twilight of faith, the freedom to choose and possibility to love was given to the total man, to an incarnate soul and to a body alive with the presence of this soul; the body is now at rest in the grave and the soul is facing with terror the mystery of love which is the mystery of suffering.

St. Isaac has not left these points without thought. St. Isaac insist on the fact that it is the total man, or simply man, who is called to eternal life, and that nothing is final as long as only a soul or only a body find themselves in a given situation, face to face with a new discovery. According to him, it is only when soul and body will have come together again that a decisive moment will be achieved, when the choice will again be made possible. But we may say, is it not obvious then, that, when our bodies unite with our souls who now know God, in one movement of will in the unanimity of soul and body, man will choose for life, for God? No, it is not so simple, and at that point I leave aside the quotations which I read, and other quotations which I thought of, from St. Isaac of Syria. It is not possible because things are not so simple. The destiny of man is not only the destiny of soul and body. It is a much more complex destiny of human interwovenness. I want to come back to a point which I made at the beginning of these series of talks. A man does not live only between his birth and his death. A man begins, in a way, long before his birth and continues his existence long after he is dead. Long before his birth, not in the sense that his soul pre-exists and is sent to this earth at a certain moment (this a teaching which the Orthodox Church has rejected as well as Western Christendom) — but because we are links and not beginnings, we are links because in our bones and in our flesh and in our souls we are the product of every generation that has preceded us, beginning, each of us, with the first man and the first woman whom God created – and who fell. We are a summing up of all the past generations and what we are in our soul and body is determined by all the history of mankind before us. Equally, when we die, our life is not ended; not only in the sense we have been discussing all this time — the soul face to face with the living God and its tragic destiny — but on earth also, every person whom we have met, every person who has received the impact and the imprint of our personality, is now connected with us; the fruit of our actions remains on this earth and we are not free simply to reject all our past, because the past is not a past, it is an abiding present; the people whom we have met have accepted seeds of our personality, they have been marked by it, and each person whom we have met, with whom we have been in contact, however casually, now continues to bear fruits of our life. These fruits may be our condemnation, as well as our redemption. They may be our glory, as well as they may be our shame, but they are always there. And so it appears that, on this first approximation, when our soul and body will stand together, it will not simply be for them to make a choice, because in this choice they will have to bear responsibility for other destinies around them. There is another aspect of the same reality, both on the direct and the indirect level. The whole of mankind is more that a complex of individuals; it is a race; it is something which, in its togetherness, is the total man. Every one of us is a summing up of the past, every one of us is the beginning of the future, but this is true not only in one direction, but in all directions. So that finally the words of the Book of Revelation, that to the City of God "they shall bring the glory and honour of the Nations" (Rev. XXI,26), come true, not only in terms of national units but in terms of the total man who will stand face to face with God. Here every one will be responsible for each and all, both unto judgement and unto salvation. Can we say, therefore, that all will perish because of the sinners or that all will be saved because of the righteous? We can, to understand it better, look into the words of Scripture. We find two passages which I would like you to think about. The one is a passage of the Book of Revelation in which we are told that the end of the world will come, the summing up of history will take place when the 144 elect will have been gathered. 144 means 12 x 12, fullness from each of the tribes of Israel. It is obviously not a number, it is an image, the fullness of each tribe, the fullness of all tribes. But the very idea of this final summing up of history, connected with a plenitude of elect, does it not point towards what I have suggested before in another talk, that a time will come when those who are Christ's will be able to lift upon their shoulders the weight of this world? Remember that it is not only the elect of this created world who are part of human history; among the tribes of Israel in the line of descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through David the King, One among the men, stands Jesus, born in Bethlehem; Jesus of Nazareth, true God indeed, but true man also.

And here we are confronted with the last problem which I would like to discuss next time, the problem of freedom in this mystery of salvation or in the tragedy of damnation, and see whether, what we have learned in the beginning of our talks, the two lectures on freedom, will not come in useful and lead us to discover an answer which will make sense of all the passages which have puzzled us, and which will lead us to the second quotation I wanted you to think about, the words of St. Paul already mentioned before several times, that when Christ will have submitted all things, the Son will submit Himself to the Father and God shall be all in all.

Well, I have said a great many controversial things and I would like you to give thought to them because they are not simply a few thoughts that have occurred to me in the process of preparing these talks. This is one of the most tragic problems, not only of each individual human destiny, but a tragic problem which Christendom has to tackle in the face of the structures of the unbelievers. It is one of the essential points of accusation against God and we have got to face it . Whether we choose one way or another , whether our convictions and experiences lead us in one direction or another, we shall be answerable in our lives for our lives and convictions, and answerable also for God whom we represent or misrepresent in the image we present of the world He has created and its final destiny.




I would like to-night to reach some sort of conclusion — although there will be some points which will have to be discussed later on — and I would like to remind you of the few main deductions which we have made in our last talks. First of all, speaking of this problem of eternal bliss and of eternal torment, we have endeavoured to distinguish two aspects in the notion of eternity: on the one hand, when we speak of eternity in common speech, we mean an endless line of time, some sort of creaturely and temporal eternity; on the other hand, if we wish to understand eternity with all its depth, all its ontological, substantial significance, we must remember that God is eternal and that the only real eternity is in God, is God Himself. And so, when we apply these two notions of eternity, the one which is eternity within time, the other one which is a timeless eternity which is in God and God Himself, we come to the conclusion that, if eternal torment were of this kind of eternity in time, as we so often imagine, the result would be the establishment outside God, face to face with Him, of another kingdom, a kingdom of evil which would acquire, as a result of the final crisis, that is the final judgement, a stability, a substance, a monstrous reality which evil does not possess in the process of history. The judgement would in that case establish evil as a reality opposed to God, establish the kingdom of satan as an eternal, lasting situation. On the other hand, if this is not acceptable to us, then we must realise that eternal torment as well as eternal bliss can be thought of only in relation to God as something which is not a radical "without", but which has a relation to the "within", and I have quoted you the passage of St Isaac of Syria, taken from his ascetical works, in which he says that the whip of suffering, the fire of hell, is love itself. I must at this point underline the fact that Scripture speaks of an outer darkness, a gnashing of teeth, but as I have tried to show previously, this is part of the development and not, perhaps, a final situation. If it is love divine which is the cause of this suffering of hell, then we must give thought to what this means. I remind you that the argument of St Isaac the Syrian consists in the fact that, face to face with God seen, now, as He is, face to face with the reality of the created world seen as it is, the sinner as well as the righteous man discovers that the only content of the created, as well as of the uncreated, is love, that the discovery of God is the discovery of love itself, and that, as man was made in the image of God, was made in conformity of God, it is the love which is there but cannot be achieved that constitutes the torment which finds no issue at that point; it is the vision and the knowledge of the truth that creates this situation of nascent, of incipient love and, in the image of St Isaac of Syria, the torment is that of a woman pregnant with child who cannot give birth to her child. The problem, then, that we are facing is this: what, later on, is to become of this situation? What are we to hope for? What can happen? We all have in mind the simple and straightforward ways in which the position is defined in textbooks and in our habitual thinking. The sheep and the goats, the ultimate rejection and the ultimate bliss; we have seen the various problems which this creates, but what is the solution which we can offer?

First of all, I want to emphasize that I am not now offering you a solution final: but I am attempting to show you another way of thinking about the subject. The problem of this eternal destiny was faced by Origen, by the Gnostics and, finally, in a particularly vivid and deep way, expounded by Gregory of Nyssa. The Church has not accepted the simple solutions offered by these theologians and thinkers as far as the universal salvation of all is concerned, but also the Church has remained very careful not to reject the totality of their teaching. We are face to face with a problem to which only unsatisfactory answers have been offered; these have been rejected, and the problem still exists. And that the problem exists, as I tried to explain last time, is made clear if only by the fact that however cut and dried our affirmations are concerning an eternity of suffering for the sinner, we are told at the outset and at the conclusion that we must hope beyond hope. First of all, it is quite simple and obvious that this discovery of God with all His beauty and His truth, with all He is as the final and the only goal of a human life, and this incipient responds of love which cannot find its way, is not sufficient to transform hell into paradise, because it has come too late; too late, because it is not as an answer to unavoidable evidence that we can make the choice of love, but it only is in the twilight of faith. Face to face with the unavoidable evidence a choice is no longer possible, because unavoidable evidence supplants freedom, and the mystery of love itself is no longer a way, only a final achievement; on the other hand, that which is described by St Isaac of Syria is not only the effect of unavoidable evidence, of that discovery of the knowledge of God, it results also from the fact that a creature, because he was created in the image of God, can respond to this discovery of God, to this vision. And beginning with the knowledge of God through love, which is a relationship, the only relationship, and love which establishes kinship, it is not only God Who is discovered at this moment; the creature discovers himself as an image, and discovers that there is only one way in which he can become himself fully and completely; it is in the mystery of outgrowing himself, in a communion with God, from a static situation into a likeness which is communion of life, and therefore dynamic similitude; but here again we meet with the problem of freedom.

If you remember our first talk on freedom, you will remember that, leaving aside the limitations of freedom which are defined by sin, which damaged human nature and the relatedness of the human being to God, there are three limits to the freedom of the creature. The creature is called out of naught by an act which is divine and one-sidedly divine, he does not participate in this decision of God that he should be, he is limited at the end by what is called the judgement, (which we have been analysing and which we are now facing squarely) by the crisis (the Greek word for judgement), by the fact that he now stands face to face with what he could be and what he is not, what he could have become and has not become; and, thirdly, uniting the outset and the conclusion, by the nature which God has given to him, the nature which is defined in terms of the image of God in us creatures. We spoke of freedom, and at the conclusion I brought to your attention the fact that the Slavonic word for freedom means being oneself, being one's true self; and here we find that the crisis, the judgement, consists in the fact that the creature who has erred, gone astray from God's will, which is his own fulfillment, discovers with unavoidable evidence that he has not been and is not himself, he is a monstrosity. The creature has not achieved to be what a creature is meant to be, the only way in which this creature can become himself is to become dynamically the like of God, that is to outgrow all the limitations which I have mentioned before by such a communion with God as is defined in terms of "the mystery of love and freedom", so that the life of God becomes the life of the creature, and the life of the creature to be taken into the life of God. If you want images, the three limitations which I have mentioned before are, as it were, the sides, the ends and the bottom of a box in which the creature finds itself, the only way of being free is to fly upwards, heavenwards. But there is something new; it is new in a sense that it is not only the discovery of God as beauty and truth and life, but it is also the discovery by the creature of his own nature, of his own possibility, and the discovery of the way, the way being revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ; the Lord Jesus Christ who is true Man because He is both man and God, because in Him Godhead and humanity are united in a sovereign freedom of the two natures, and for ever. Now the creature is again, in a way, free to choose, because the evidence is not compelling it, only shows him that there is no issue or bliss otherwise than in God. It is the discovery of one's own self, of one's own calling, of one's own possibilities. There are limitations to this possibility to choose, there are limitations to the possibility to change. I have said before, and Dostoevsky is right in this, that hell is defined by the words, "it is too late!" and it is too late at that point. This is the moment which possibly corresponds to what Scripture calls "the second death. There is no other way; there is no way; the creature must die, die not only the physical death which was undergone before, but a second death, a falling away from the very possibility of being. St Isaac, however, underlines the fact that at that point the creature has one more hope – the resurrection of the body, which will restore him to his creaturely fullness, because it is only a total man that can take a decision, a departed soul alone cannot make the choice between perdition and salvation.

I have underlined more than once the fact that if, from a certain point of view, our lives can be considered individually, we can be asked what we have done with all the material which was given us at the outset in our body and soul, and in the course of our life in the form of influences and contributions from all the world around us. Our human destiny is interwoven with the destiny of every other person who has lived before and after us, and therefore the final judgement which will follow our resurrection from the dead, is connected not only with our individual life, but also with what has happened before and after us. I have mentioned already that in this line of human beings, in this human history, one name is written which is that of Jesus; I have already mentioned also the fact that good and evil meet in terms of suffering, that suffering is the meeting place between evil and good, and. that the defeat of evil is closely connected with the problem of the sufferers who acquire power to forgive and power to bind. There are also more than one passage of Scripture which show this relatedness of all. One, which I should like to mention, which I have not mentioned so far, is the passage of the Book of Revelation, in which we are told that the end of time will come when the number of the righteous will be fulfilled and this number is given us as a hundred and forty four thousand of all the tribes of Israel (Apoc. VII,4). However strictly we keep to the words of the Bible, we cannot avoid seeing that this number is not a number of people who are called to eternal salvation, while every one else will be rejected. First of all, this hundred and forty four thousand are taken from the tribes of Israel and it is not only Israel that is called to salvation; secondly, if you remember that the tribes were 12, 144 is 12 x 12 times and it is a common symbol in the Old and New Testament to use 12, which is 4x3 and 3x4, as marking fulfillment and also to use the thousandth degree to underline the fullness; so what it probably really means is that the judgement will come when the earth will have borne all the fruits of holiness it can bear. One can interpret this in two ways: either that then God will be satisfied and receive into His Kingdom all the righteous which the earth is capable of bringing forth, while the rest will be rejected, or else that something will happen to the world because the world will have brought forth the fullness of sanctity which God expects from it. St Irenaeus of Lyon is of the last opinion and he speaks in terms of the salvation of the world to be achieved because of these righteous. If you turn to the Book of Revelation you see also that in the city of God you have got two pictures. I am not going to read out this passage which you can look up later. In the 21st and 22nd chapters there are two visions which are not quite equal. In the first place and here is the sequence of events, there is a great fight between Christ and anti-Christ, with the victory of Christ, and then there is the second death falling on those who have chosen against Him in the twilight of history, and a thousand years of the millennium of the lord Christ's reign on earth together with the elect in a city which is described in the 21st chapter as standing in a world that is not yet fulfilled, in a world where salvation is still in progress; in the beginning of the 22nd chapter it speaks of the tree of life which bears 12 men as month a fruit "and yielded her fruit every month", "and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the Nations" . And then again another vision of the City which appears after everything is fulfilled. One does not see two worlds then, one sees only one world unified in which God is the Lord. The link between the different elements is problematic in the sense that what I have got to say about it is offered to you, to think about and to check, to compare with the teaching of the Church and to compare with the words of Scripture. The fulfillment of the holiness of the world may be interpreted, as I have said before, as the fulfillment of God's plan; these saints are all that God expected from the earth; it may also be interpreted in a rifts of the fulfillment of God's plan in a different way; they are there, capable of taking up together with Christ, the true man and true God, all the heaviness, all the weight of the world. You remember the words of Saint Paul: "I fulfill in my body what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ." Those who have overcome evil can loose and can bind, they can free or they can hold; they cannot free those who are not prepared to be freed, but that which St Isaac says which I have read to you perhaps opens up some sort of understanding. The world of sin has discovered not only the truth and justice of God, not only that there is no light outside Him, but that within itself there is no light except in God; and this torment of love is, or can be understood as a last appeal, a last prayer, a last longing to be, and to be fulfilled, love and freedom here find equally their expression and fulfillment, and in response to, or perhaps preventing the cry of those who have sinned, both the one who is the true man and those who in Him are His members have might and authority and power to forgive. No sin is ever committed without someone being involved in the tragedy. It is very seldom that we sin against God otherwise than by sinning against man. Every sinner, then, is in the hand of his victim or victims, who have power to loose and who have power to bind .

I think I will leave the problem open at this point. If we try to imagine the sequence of events that are connected with the judgement we see that man comes into being, called out of naught by the will of God, and he lives endowed with a nature which God has fashioned and which centuries have both damaged and repaired. In the twilight of history, in the twilight of faith, in the twilight of revelation fully given and yet incompletely received, man chooses his way; and one day, after his own personal death, he stands face to face with God whom he now sees and whom he now discovers. He discovers Him as the supreme truth, the only reality, as supreme beauty, as life. He discovers Him as his own fulfillment and discovers himself hopelessly defeated because, apart from being in God, there is no being, a creature cannot be even a creature, apart from his fulfillment in God. And there begins the torment of love for which it is too late and which it has now become unavoidably evident is the only content of this situation.. A choice, a decision that would change things cannot be taken as one-sidedly by the creature in crisis, in judgement; it is too late. A choice is only possible in the twilight of faith and Revelation, not in the unavoidable clarity of evidence. This is a time which one may call hell, which one may call purgatory, which one may call heaven or paradise, which is none of these things as we describe them in terms of time and terms of situations; it is either incomplete fulfillment or incomplete failure. It is only with the resurrection of the body that both bliss and tragedy acquire their final intensity, it is only then, when it is no longer human biography but human history that has come to an end, that the tragedy occurs which we call the second death and which we call simultaneously the millennium when Christ reigns on an earth which is the old earth and in a heaven which is the old heaven, indwells a city which stands, as it were, in a conquered land, and during which time something is happening which we cannot describe except from the fact that, immediately after this description, the Book of Revelation offers us a second description of the same City in which everything is fulfilled, fulfilled in the same way in which Saint Paul in his Epistles says that when Christ will have submitted all things to his authority, He will lay down his authority at the feet of the Father, and then God shall be all in all. There are problems still left open, there is the problem of the resurrection, of hell, of eternal bliss; these problems we will have to face in our last talk on this subject. For the moment I would like to leave you with the points which I have made today, which are neither the teaching of the Church nor contrary to it, which are, perhaps, unusual and which should be reconsidered by you if you want to form a free and thoughtful opinion about the last things.



Talk XIV


This talk is the last one in the series on the subject of the Last Things and it will probably have the negative characteristics of such final talks in the sense that I shall have to assume that things which we have already discussed are known without repeating them too much, which will make it a little difficult for those who have not been present at previous talks, and also I will probably have to repeat a certain number of points which we discussed in detail because now they must come to fruition. What I would like to introduce to you in order to discuss it is the content of this eternal life which is the goal, the final aim of our life on earth, and I wish you to remember that we have already found a certain number of quotations and discussed them, which show that this final eternity is an all-embracing, comprehensive eternity, that not only man is called into it, but also, as we can find it in the Epistle to the Ephesians 1,9, or that to the Colossians I,19, that the whole creation is called to this final bliss. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians. says, "Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He has purposed in Himself: that in the dispensation of the fullness of time he might gather together in one all things in Christ; both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will." And the same thought is brought out in the second quotation: "For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell."

The content of this life is God, and we have seen in the long discussions which we had a couple of months ago that the words eternity life, love, God, empress the same experience. I would like to read to you a page from the book of Romano Guardini, a Roman Catholic German professor of philosophy in Munich, on the Last Things, concerning this question of eternity, because it will be useful as a starting point. Contrasting time and eternity, he insists first of all on the importance of the right use of the words and he says: "Eternity is a term all but debased by modern usage. It is applied all too freely, often as a mere catchword for the mysterious and important. Depreciation of this kind is an evil. A word is not merely a sign to convey a meaning. It is a living thing embodying spirit. In company with other words it makes up language, and language is the room in which man lives. It is the world of mental images from which the light of truth is ever breaking upon him. When a word decays, it is not merely that we become uncertain of each other's meaning. One of the forms that compose life has perished. A signpost has become illegible. A light has been extinguished and our intellectual day made darker. To restore to its original meaning a word that is being destroyed by careless use is a service to the whole of human life. With this premise in mind let us now ask: what is the real meaning of "eternity" ?" I read out this passage now, although it should have come long ago when we discussed the subject on its own merits, because I had not read this page before and I think that these words are of great importance for us. And now, turning to what he means by eternity, he explains that ostensibly eternity signifies time prolonged for ever but that this is not the meaning of eternity, and then he says: "There is such a thing as mechanical time. It is a mere succession of moments, regardless of their content – comparable to a river bed run dry. It is represented by the clock with its indifference to what passes, with its cold insensibility, which, though, so alien to the joys and sorrow of the human heart, yet, for that very reason, impresses us so powerfully. But this is not time as we, humans, experience it; that time, as we live it, is alive also. It is really the only time we knew, and the threat we sense in the irrevocable, impassible movements of the hands of the clock derives from the fact that it is our life-time that is measuring out. Mechanical time stands, as it were, as a margin around our life stream, as an external means of measurement. But in the immediate experience of our own temporal passage, time is an entirely different thing. An hour filled with rich experience and an hour spent in boredom and emptiness are not perceived as time segments of equal length. One passes in an instant, the other drags on endlessly. In retrospect the impression is reversed. The hour that passed so tediously shrinks to nothingness; the hour that sped by with the momentum of strong emotion, expands in the memory. Consequently, when one's own life is concerned, time takes on a new character. It is a succession of events, but it is not, as with the mechanically propelled hands of the clock, a meaningless sequence. Time-experience varies in meaning, depth, intensity, as it bears upon our own unique existence – an existence linked to the dignity and responsibility of the person. It is measured not only by the hands of the clock but also by what is contained within it." And then, analysing the concept of eternity, Romano Guardini says that if you examine these two kinds of time, "one of content, one of duration, one measured by importance, one by happenings only, might it not be possible to suppose that by compressing the spread of one to a flash and increasing the significance of the other to the highest intensity, the line of movement would thus not come to an end but would point to what it is in reality – eternity? Eternity, then, would be a state of life in which nothing just passes by, but all is simultaneously present, In which there is no succession of moments and events, but simultaneous happening only, yet which, on account of the momentousness of the content and the intensity and perfection of experience, precludes all tedium ... Eternity might be the perfect still point of perfect being."

We will have to return to this point in the course of my talk, but this is a view which sums up very adequately the conception of eternal bliss which several writers, both of the early patristic period and of later times, have expressed: our entry into eternity in that case would mean the stand-still, the point at which time is resorbed in intensity and contents, when everything which can be experienced and known is experienced and known in its totality, or rather to the complete extent to which the given being can know and experience. And the life of eternity appears then as a static and yet profoundly alive, intense contemplation of God. The intensity of the experience, the depth of it, the momentous significance of it, as Guardini suggests, precludes every idea of boredom; it is fulfillment,. it is almost ecstatic fulfillment, it is a fulfillment that brings to ultimate intensity, to ultimate depth, the possibility of each single being to experience; it is fullness once received and always, eternally, lived and perceived. This is one of the two views which patristic literature holds of eternal bliss. I hope that the quotation I made from Guardini and the little I have said to supplement it makes it clear to you that it is not a static state in the sense in which moments may be static in the flow of time; it is a state which is alive and therefore needs no tides of increase or decrease, it is fullness and life at the same time. Others have viewed the eternal experience in another way, as an endless change, as an increasing discovery of God, as an increasing knowledge of God, as an increasing communion with God. In that case one may still, as I have done in the past, speak of the coincidence of time and eternity, of the fact that as eternity is not an endless sequence of time, that as the word ‘eternal’ does not mean ‘everlasting’, as eternity is God Himself and life in eternity is life in God, that because of this, time and eternity can be present together, yet be experienced in a new and in a different way from what we can experience in our earthly life. Romano Guardini uses an image which I believe is extremely interesting when he says that mechanical time is like a river bed run dry while the content is the life's stream. One could find parallels between his theology and Einstein's views on the relativity and correlativity of time and space, but what matters in the given case is this: we perceive the flow of our life's stream because there is a river bed which is immobile, we pass one way-mark, one mile stone, one sign post after the other, being aware that they were first ahead of us and now behind us. It is not the flow of life which we perceive, it is the contrast between movement and immobility, between the banks of the river and the movement of the stream; but when all things are within God's eternity, there is no such thing as a river-bed run dry, there are no such things as co-ordinates, there are no way-marks because there is no immobility, nothing is petrified, all things are alive and in motion; in motion in the sense in which old writers spoke of the harmony of spheres, of the harmonicas movement of all things, of the dance, the round of all things that sing God, by movement and by sound. In that case, time seen by God exists, in that case the fact that we change, the fact that we move, the fact that our communion with God increases, the fact that we are more and more vested with eternity, that is clad with the glory of God, to an increasing extend means that time continues. God sees our darkness grow into light and our light develop from glory to glory, but we who are in this glory, who are now deprived of the petrified way-marks of the earth, we perceive only the fullness of the present moment; for us there is no time, for us there is no everlasting sequence, for us there is only a plenitude which grows and develops into a greater one but at every moment all things are plenitude, at every moment our total life is hid with Christ in God, at every moment we are both in motion towards the very depth of cognisance and communion, and in complete repose because nothing is lacking.

There is another view of this mysterious state of ours after the resurrection of the body, when man has become again the complete man and lives in God. We are told by Scripture that a time will come when all things will have come to an end, even faith, and even hope, because only one will survive, the one which is essential, which is identical with God, with life, with eternity, with fullness, which is love. The Lord Christ, in His last discourse to His disciples before His crucifixion, praying to the Father says that He has revealed to His disciples the Divine Name; and a little further He explains that this Divine Name is Love. (St. John XVII 26). Scripture tells us that a time will come when we will know as we are known, that the Spirit Who searches all mysteries will reveal unto us the divine depth, that this knowledge which coincides with life is not the external knowledge of this created world, of this fallen world; it is not a world of objects, which we are called to discover; it is not a God Who stands face to face with us, different from us, inaccessible to us; that we are to meet; it, is not the ascent of Moses to Sinaï that we are to repeat throughout this mysterious timeless time of eternity, because the darkness is now replaced by light. The mystery of God is no longer darkness although we cannot know God as He knows Himself, it is another vision that brings us face to face with God and makes us to know Him. This vision is that of communion, of a community of life; this vision from the inside, this vision by transparence as it were, we can find described in two different ways in Scripture; the one is the revelation which God gives to a creature about the mystery of the nature and essence of another creature, it is the vision, the revelation which God gave to Adam when He brought to Him all the animals and Adam with a word was able to define what they were and to become their lord and their guide; but it is not this vision by transparence which is offered to us by God. God offers us not only a vision, but a relationship, and not only a relationship but a kinship which may frighten us, because it is beyond what we could expect or imagine. When we read in the first Epistle of St Paul that we are called to be partakers of the divine nature, we do not realise the depth, the acuteness of this kinship which is offered to us by God; we think that God will communicate to us something of Himself, that like gold or silver or iron in fire, we will glow with a glory which is not ours, through which, by an act of divine dispensation and grace, we will share something which remains, nevertheless, different from us and alien. But what we are called to is more than this. A first approximation may perhaps be found in a legend which I have quoted before about a doll made of salt which came to the brink of the Ocean. It looked at it and could not understand what the Ocean was, and turning to the Ocean the doll said: "What are you?" And the Ocean answered: "I am the Ocean." "But what is it to be the Ocean?" And the Ocean said: "Touch me and you will know." And the doll put forward a foot and as the water touched it some of the salt melted, and in a flash the doll perceived something, but something it could not retain or recapture. And so the doll went further into the water, and gradually, more and more, the salt melted and moments of cognisance appeared in flashes interspersed with the despair of not understanding, until the last grain of salt had melted; and at that moment the doll exclaimed: "I am the Ocean!" And the Ocean said, "You are me!" but the doll could never say, "I am water," for there was something in the mystery of this partaking which escaped the doll completely, hopelessly. To be the Ocean was possible, to know what the water was, was beyond understanding and beyond experience. And it is more than this that the Lord offers us in this relationship in eternity between Him and us.

All the experience of Christians on earth is centred in Christ; we live in Christ, we are in Christ, all that happens to us happens in Christ. We repeat these words, but we are so far from understanding what they mean. Christ is the root of our being, Christ is a place, Christ is a citizenship and yet, what is Christ in His relation to us in time and in eternity? Let us dwell a minute on this problem. St Paul speaks of the Gentiles becoming part of the Church in terms of a grafting, the grafting of a wild olive on a healthy olive tree, and in the 15th chapter of the Gospel according to St John, the Lord Christ gives us the image of the vine and the branches. We are all, singly and in our togetherness, wild branches of a degenerate tree; the tree was planted by God in the Garden of Eden, it was transplanted through sin into a barren, a poor ground that gives it a transient, a precarious life from the dust into which every one of these branches fall after a time. The Lord God at moments tears us out of this ground, cuts us off these roots and grafts us on to a healthy olive tree, to a healthy vine; wound to wound He binds us to the life-giving vine or tree; the wound which is inflicted on us when we are torn away from our precarious life meets the wound cut into the vine, they are bound together, facing one another, merging into one another; and gradually the sap of the life-giving vine finds its way unto the tiny, thin vessels of the little branch, gradually it mounts, ascends through every one of these vessels, surrounds every one of its cells, feeds it with a new life which gradually displaces the wild life and fills the branches with the life of eternity. This process is what we find described in so many ways: as our integration with Christ, as our becoming members of a living body which is the body of Christ; in the image of baptism in the sixth chapter of St Paul to the Romans, in so many places: it is what finally St Paul describes in his great words: "It is not I but Christ who lives in me." All the life of Christ, all the life of the real man who is at the same time very God, has pervaded and conquered and filled this new branch; it is not substitution of our person for another person, it is not the person of Christ who has displaced the personal life of the sinner; it is the life of Christ, health and eternity that has entered into the sinner and made him alive with the total life of the Risen Christ. We must remember that Christ is the real man; real as a man through His Incarnation, real as God by nature; real in His Incarnation on earth as God made man, real in His sitting at the right hand of the Father as the Risen God-man, and the ascended God-man in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, in the humble and glorious flesh of man. By becoming His members, not allegorically, not metaphorically, but substantially, actually, because we have one life with Him, because we are, through baptism by the gift of the Holy Spirit, through communion, through the total life of the Church, consubstantial with Him and alive with His life, through all this, and together with Him, redeemed humanity becomes what Ignatius in the second century called "the total Christ", limbs and Head. And within this mystery of the total Christ in whom the life of the Head, which is both God and Man, is the experience and life of the body in each limb, in each cell; within this experience St Irenaeus of Lyon, in the 2nd century, called the Church, "the only begotten Son of God", affirming that all that is true of Christ is true of us, provided that what we speak of in terms of the body of Christ, of being one with Him, of real communion, of destiny on earth, and destiny in eternity, is true.

And this leads me to the final point concerning this eternal life of ours. St Paul, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, says: "our life is hid with Christ in God." This is a relationship that is established between us and the Father in an absolutely new way. In the Gospel according to St Matthew in. the eleventh chapter, verse 27, the Lord Christ says: "All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." What this knowledge of the Father is we have stated; it is not an objective knowledge, the knowledge of an object posited outside us, it is not a vision that allows us to see it and remain alien, it is a knowledge of communion, not only of relationship but of kinship. We are the total Christ, we are the only begotten Son of God, and this is the basic and the mysterious aim and end of all things for us. Outside Christ, considering the way in which God deals with us, we may call Him Father; it is only within Christ that we discover not only a fatherhood of relationship but a fatherhood of nature; what is true of Christ becomes true of us, and His Father becomes our Father. This is why the lord's Prayer is both the summit and the depth of our Christian experience; it is not of relationship it speaks, it is of the unfathomable, of what we already possess, although we posses it only in shadows, in approximation, because we are called in the life of eternity, to share in the mystery of the divine sonship of Christ the Lord, through the power and grace of the Spirit. Whether this will be an ecstatic vision and an ecstatic experience that annihilates time, whether it will be an increasing, unfolding of the divine mystery and of the mystery of man, we cannot say. St. Maxim the Confessor says that the time will come when the finite will unfold itself to contain the infinite and the infinite will fill the finite; in this relationship all things are fulfilled and in this relationship freedom is at last acquired and achieved by man. Freedom as we have defined it before is a relation with God, a relation of love. I remind you of the meaning of ‘free’ in English, namely, "beloved", a relationship in which we are the children of the Father; of the word ‘libertas’, the status of a child born free in a free-born's home, the state of one who has become and is for ever "himself" in the full perfect sense of this word: of the Russian Slavonic word svoboda, freedom, which means to be oneself. And all this is possible only when the series of historical events, of events of reality, have taken place and brought us into this situation which we call eternity, sonship, the Kingdom of God, the Only begotten Son. At that moment the words of Christ: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn VIII, 32) appear as a fulfillment. To know the truth means to commune fully with the one who is the Truth, and to be free means to be what we are potentially and what we are called to become — life members of the body of Christ, substantially children of the Eternal Father.

At this point I will make an end to these talks on the Last Things and I hope that you will have had, in these two years, sufficient material to form a new appreciation of our human condition and our human destiny which will inspire us to aim high enough to be worthy of our human calling.