Thursday, January 06, 2005

Does Suffering...a continuation

And an end, I hope. I sent Touchstone my final response on this issue, but they have obviously decided not to post it, as I had been warned they might not, and this may be for the best. I am posting it here, however. But first I'd like to thank all readers who participated (some still are), like that brainy Terry of the Summamamas who very acutely drew out the point of divergence between me and Hart - or at least the point at which we began talking past each other - and readers Clifton Healy and Matt, who sometimes use words I have to look up. And to Paul Cella, TSO, and Jeff Culbreath, this last (in concert with Matt), returning the syllogism to its proper place in blog discourse. A special thanks to Lane Core for the following email:

...modern Orthodox Christians like to draw more distinctions between Catholic and Orthodox thought than may really be warranted. Allow me, in this case, to refer you to the Confession of Dositheus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, the first (1672) systematic & authoritative response by the Orthodox to Protestant ideas. Decree VI, quoted in its entirety below, treats original sin, though it does not call it that. It seems to me that Patriarch Dositheus and the other Orthodox hierarchs who participated in the great Synod of Jerusalem would have much less objection to your thoughts on these matters than Hart might. ELC.

"We believe the first man created by God to have fallen in Paradise, when, disregarding the Divine commandment, he yielded to the deceitful counsel of the serpent. And hence hereditary sin flowed to his posterity; so that none is born after the flesh who beareth not this burden, and experienceth not the fruits thereof in this present world. But by these fruits and this burden we do not understand [actual] sin, such as impiety, blasphemy, murder, sodomy, adultery, fornication, enmity, and whatsoever else is by our depraved choice committed contrarily to the Divine Will, not from nature; for many both of the Forefathers and of the Prophets, and vast numbers of others, as well of those under the shadow [of the Law], as under the truth [of the Gospel], such as the divine Precursor, and especially the Mother of God the Word, the ever-virgin Mary, experienced not these, or such like faults; but only what the Divine Justice inflicted upon man as a punishment for the [original] transgression, such as sweats in labour, afflictions, bodily sicknesses, pains in child-bearing, and, in fine, while on our pilgrimage, to live a laborious life, and lastly, bodily death."

I see nothing in this which a Catholic could not wholeheartedly embrace.
Another thanks to Justin Barnard, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Chair[man] :~) of the Department of Humanities at Crichton College in Memphis. Prof. Barnard wrote to Touchstone, who saw fit not to post his remarks (no doubt they received very many), but I think they deserve a viewing:

Dear Mr. Luse,

I read with some interest your response on "Mere Comments" to David Hart's piece, "Tremors of Doubt." For what it's worth, my own instincts are similar to those of yours and Prof. Esolen's. And having read the exchanges thus far, my impression is that while Hart's philosophic point is technically correct (i.e., evil has no ontological significance), he is missing an important corrective about the relation between meaning or significance and ontology. Quite simply, the ultimate meaning of suffering need not be ontological; it may well be epistemological. Alas, I cannot express this as eloquently as you or Prof. Esolen. Nonetheless, I'm copying my meager effort to make the corrective clear for your amusement below:

Thanks for the exchange between Luse and Hart on suffering. Luse's comments were especially illuminating since similar thoughts occurred to me when I read Hart's piece, "Tremors of Doubt."

Despite Hart's useful reply, it remains unclear to me whether Hart's initial invective against those who would "utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends" is ultimately rhetorical boxing with a straw man or a reflection of deep and genuine theological differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and what might broadly be construed as the Augustinian-Thomistic-Calvinist tradition. For while the latter might agree with Hart's assertions that

a. suffering is not "part of some vast providential calculus whereby God balances accounts," and
b. "nowhere does God promise to make the sum total of [the fallen world's] suffering add up to some greater spiritual truth," and
c. the gospel "does not announce the perfect rationality of the history of the fallen world,"

Hart's claims that sin and death "never occupied any necessary place in God's intentions for his creatures; nor has he need of suffering and death to realize his nature or ours. Whatever good God may bring from suffering or death does not, therefore, endue suffering or death with any eternal or ontological meaning in itself" require further scrutiny.

Hart is correct that God did not intend sin and death for his creatures in the sense that he willfully authored sin and death. Moreover, he is correct that God does not need suffering and death to realize his nature or ours, where realization pertains to ontological fulfillment. I take it that Hart's point is that God is who he is fully in and of himself - independently of sin and death. Thus, speaking very technically, Hart is correct to conclude that suffering and death are without ontological significance in and of themselves.

However, according to the Reformed view (a representative of the A-T-C tradition mentioned above), suffering and death do possess an epistemic significance. In particular, they ultimately serve to display or manifest some of God's attributes that, while he would still possess them fully, might not otherwise be displayed. Whether such epistemic significance makes suffering ultimately meaningful or adds "up to some greater spiritual truth" is not a question about which I'll speculate here. However, it seems fairly obvious to me that while the Reformed perspective does not offer the "perfect rationality" of an ontological, "providential calculus," it does offer more comfort than Hart's seeming tendencies toward nihilism. If the only god that exists is one who permits such suffering as has absolutely no point whatsoever, ontic, epistemic, or otherwise, then I'll have nothing to do with that god.

And so you see...there are good professors still out there.
And now my last email to Touchstone which, other than thee and me, none will likely ever see, and as I said this is probably for the best, but as I also said to them: I want it on the record:

Dear [Editor],

This was written before I saw the most recent exchange between Hart and Esolen, conducted this time more after the manner of Christian gentlemen. I'm posting it at my own site since some readers over there are carrying on a rather interesting discussion. I certainly don't want to be the cause of any further aggravation or hurt feelings, and so I hope the following will be taken in the spirit of sincerity with which it is offered, not of contempt or disdain, but as by one whose hope is only to know the truth.

I also realize we can't keep peppering Mr. Hart with annoying emails, so I don't expect or demand a response, but, whether due to my own poor powers of communication or not, I would like on the record what I actually believe in preference to the caricature Mr. Hart has made of it.

On the matter of universal guilt for original sin, I am not sure what he believes because he doesn't say; I only know he wasn't fully comfortable with my take on it. But it's not really mine; after doing some reading I am satisfied that I am where I began, firmly in the Catholic camp, and anyone who wants to explore the connection between Adam's sin and our participation in it (St. Ambrose's mysterious "We were all in Adam") can read about it here. In his response to Esolen he complains about "the absurd, obscene, and grotesque claim that the sum total of suffering in the world adds up to a precisely calculated 'balancing' of the score for original sin," when I had already agreed with his and Voltaire's aversion to the notion that "that the universe is an elaborately calibrated harmony of pain and pleasure" (it may be; I don't know, and I certainly don't hold it De Fide. I won't even puzzle over what St. Thomas meant in quoting the Book of Wisdom: "These punishments were appointed by God, Who has 'ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight.'"). I was rather referring to the vicarious restitution that must be made by the whole human race. Pain in this life is punishment for sin, actual and original, and we are distressed to see that the punishment is not equitably administered. The balancing had to do with punishment and reward according to our "just desserts", and with the abundance of grace bestowed upon those who suffer and upon others unknown for whom these sufferings might gain merit, the 'balancing' of which can be fully realized only in eternity. Obviously, the beatitude of heaven will "outweigh" any suffering this life has to offer. It's not as though I'm talking about stacking up coins lableled pleasure and pain in the pans of Lady Justice's scale. I'm talking about the scales of Divine Justice, which are perfect in their measure, such that (in the words of the Catechism), "Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life;" and, with St. Augustine, that "there shall finally be a restoration of violated order by Divine justice."

As to the necessity of suffering, he says that "that sin and death are accidental to our created nature, and so they never occupied any necessary place in God's intentions for his creatures; nor has he need of suffering and death to realize his nature or ours." I never said that it, or He, did. I said that it had meaning. Once sin entered the world, suffering beccame necessary in the sense that it is inextricably bound up with our existence. That it is a privation rather than a true presence, and has no ontological significance "in itself" is unarguable. But I understand its reality in the same way that a man who has lost a limb really does suffer the absence of it, or that the integrity of a soul mired in sin really does suffer the injury. I believe I understand it in the same way as St. Thomas when he says (about physical evil): "it is enough to remark that such evil is not merely permitted, but willed by God, not indeed in its character as evil, but as being, in such a universe as the present, a means towards good and in itself relatively good." Suffering has meaning.

But if I might now steer straight to the matter which gives literal offense, and that is his assertion that dying babies (and adults, I presume) cannot participate in Christ's suffering, that, "Yes, the deaths of innocents are indeed meaningless, even if God's providence will indeed bring good from that evil"; and further, that "there is no spiritual fruit to be reaped from the drowning of tens of thousands of infants, for them or for us." Not even the charity elicited from the hearts of those rushing to the aid of these devastated people, and which must redound to their everlasting benefit?

I find this at best an approximate denial of the doctrine of the Mystical Body: "According to Christian teaching, however, suffering, especially suffering during the last moments of life, has a special place in God's saving plan; it is in fact a sharing in Christ's passion and a union with the redeeming sacrifice which He offered in obedience to the Father's will." (From the Vatican's Declaration on Euthanasia.)

Or from the Pope's Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris: "In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ...The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ's sufferings—in any part of the world and at any time in history—to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world."

If I am wrong, at least I am wrong with my Church, to whose infallible character I have sworn allegiance. Perhaps I'm overly sentimental in clinging to the fervent hope that God's mercy would extend to those who, though not of their own volition matriculating members of that Mystical Body, might in their last moment of terror have cried out in the spirit, beseeching God that he would not abandon them; that He might consider them among those who, though "not of this fold", He would gather to Himself.

I will not say - if he truly holds the contrary on this last point - that Mr. Hart's assertions are absurd, obscene, or grotesque, but will be content with the conviction that he is in the grip of grave error. Still, I will continue to read him. I like most all of his stuff.

And now I am sick and tired of staring at a computer screen. It makes my eyes and head hurt. I'm going to the driving range and tomorrow to the golf course, in which forum I'd be glad to test the expertise of any among you.

Related posts: Go back to -Does Suffering Have Meaning?
Or on to...
Does Suffering...finis


And so you see...there are good professors still out there.
Yes, one of them goes by the name Luse.
Posted by Paul Cella email at January 6, 2005 10:12 PM

And let me add that it would not be wise to test Mr. Luse's expertise in the forum he mentions in his last paragraph.
Posted by Paul Cella email at January 6, 2005 10:22 PM

Flattery is not quite as meaningful as suffering, but it too will pay dividends. By the way, have you been practicing?
Posted by William Luse email at January 7, 2005 05:12 AM

I've played some, but alas, my back problems have hampered my progress.
Posted by Paul Cella email at January 7, 2005 06:57 AM

You're too young to have back problems.
Posted by William Luse email at January 7, 2005 05:55 PM

That's what I thought. Nonetheless, I have them.
Posted by Paul Cella email at January 8, 2005 10:59 AM

I believe God acts in my life (aka "Godincidences") in a micro sense. But if I go there then I must admit that He does in a macro sense too. St. Francis de Sales wrote that God carefully weighs and considers every cross you receive in life, and the idea of random tsuami leaving twenty-thousand orphans vulnerable to the sex trade over there, well, it's hard to consider that the crosses those kids will bear have been carefully considered. Faith does sometimes seem like a blind leap. Certainly the Orthodox are taking the path of least resistance (faith wise) in their suggestion that there is no ultimate meaning in physical evils such as the one we recently witnessed.
Posted by TSO email at January 8, 2005 03:29 PM

Don't be too quick to judge which fortunes are good and which are bad. I recall Screwtape's reminding Wormwood that peace and prosperity give the devils just as fine an opportunity for damning men's souls as do war and famine. If war provides the stage for cruelty and bloodshed, it also provides the stage for heroism and self-sacrifice. In fact, Lewis seems if anything to believe that, given the two, peace is actually more dangerous than war.
Imagine a man confirmed in his selfish ways; careless of God, careless of others except insofar as they serve his appetites; careless of the world to come, and spending most of his time in this one engaged in trivial and unworthy pastimes. In other words, a modern man. The good Lord can do justice by such a man by making him even more comfortable, as the last little slip of opportunity or prompting for repentance fades away, so that in the end he wouldn't change his ways, not even if it involved no more effort than it would take to brush away a fly (C.S. Lewis's image). His prosperity would be a judgment of God against him, and in the end, even that little he had would be taken away from him.
We do not know how to evaluate the fortunes of those around us, except to see the outside of things, make limited and provisional judgments, and trust in God, who knows what we can never know.
Posted by Tony email at January 8, 2005 10:14 PM

i hate to admit it, but i'm sooo glad i missed this one. it squinches my brain. i must also admit that i always take the easy road when the question is posed and i simply quote matthew (5:45), "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." i had to memorize this particular verse way back when so that i could go forward with my faith after a series of unfortunate events. when the chips are down, i still believe it is the most lofty way to admit that "[excrement] happens."
Posted by smockmomma email at January 8, 2005 11:58 PM

And so, TS, you can see why, in light of Tony's response, this is such a bedeviling issue. I don't think Catholics would hold either that such evils have "ultimate meaning", except insofar as they might be occasions of grace, e.g., that the victims' suffering might be united in Christ's, meriting blessings as yet fully unseen both for themselves and others. Isn't that why Christ suffered, to give ours meaning? I keep thinking of Christ bearing the wounds of His passion into eternity. In the end every tear will be wiped away, yet something remains.
Micki, you're not taking the easy road, just accepting the Lord's words as true. Good things happen to bad people, and bad to the good. But there will be reward, and punishment. Your repeating the words during those "unfortunate events" was like a prayer for fortitude, and persevering in it doesn't sound like the easy road to me. Sorry to sound so trite.
Posted by William Luse email at January 9, 2005 03:50 AM

Paul, I played with Bernadette the other day. I had five birdies. She had one. I still lost.
Posted by William Luse email at January 9, 2005 03:52 AM

Thanks for the good responses to my comment. St. Paul says that God never gives us more than we can handle, but I worry about whether those kids didn't in fact receive more than they can handle. But that's where faith kicks in.
Posted by TSO email at January 9, 2005 08:48 AM

Dr. Luse
First of all, I hope Mr. Hart's style did not turn you off too much. I am certain he did not intend to offend you personally, just to disagree with a position you were putting forth! I have noticed that correspondents on the Internet, whether by email or blogs, often tend to assume a certain ill intent the writer did not mean. One of the advantages of this medium is a sort of quickness and brevity. It is also a disadvantage, particularly with difficult subjects.
As an Orthodox (convert), and a great fan of Touchstone, I followed this discussion with interest. I wanted to comment on Barnard's last paragraph, because I have not even had the time to read your last thoughts yet!
It seems to me (and perhaps this is the Orthodox in me) that Evil can have exactly no meaning; ontic, epistemic, or otherwise. If it is really to be a privation of the good, it has to be in a very profound sense only a negative. For example, for a bit I thought perhaps it's "meaning" is only , from the perspective of the Eschaton, as a memory of a fallen time/state - a memory of what was before the "new Creation" in the mind of a risen man. However, this is speculative, and seems to want to deny the real power/effects of evil in the (fallen) here and now. Mr. Barnard wants nothing to do with a God that would truly, in every way, make (or perhaps redeem) evil into, quite literally, nothing. I, on the contrary, would find such a God truly infinite, and incomprehensible! This seems to me to be our God!
That being said, I still not sure what it would mean for God to grant evil a "epistemic" purpose - can then God not still be said to be the author of such evil - it being for our ultimate good in that we "learn" from it?
Posted by Christopher Encapera email at January 10, 2005 05:10 PM

Mr. Luse
First, I am sorry if I referred to you as Dr. if you are not in fact a Dr. :). I read your "for the record" post and I have to disagree with you on a couple of things. I don't think there is at bottom a real disagreement here (certainly not between East and West on this particular matter). Mr. Hart (if I am reading him correctly) was not arguing that by our good will, our will in obedience to the Lord, and by his grace He can not bring good from suffering. The point is, that evil is not a cold, metaphysical necessity. If I am following you, you seem to quote the Blessed Augustine to support a sense where God will "wield" evil to some how put to right (with "punishments") that which the world so desperately needs, a "restoration". I think your sentence "Once sin entered the world, suffering became necessary in the sense...." reveals something important. Notice the switch - from a discussion of evil, to "suffering". If you mean ascetical suffering, or the suffering of bending our will to God's in the midst of evil, then yes, suffering has meaning. But does evil? I think a clarity of terms is called for here - and Mr. Hart himself needs to be included.
I don't really see how a specific denial of the ultimate ontological status of evil (and here I think we can think of evil in some way as "imbecile chance" or wanton destruction) is a denial of the Mystical Body of Christ. Here, I would ask you how you would respond to Ivan. Are you saying that God willed the destruction of these children for our benefit? God wills evil that good will come from it? - we are back to a crude ontological purpose of evil. I would stand with Ivan (and his good brother) and not accept such a Kingdom built on a cornerstone of evil.
I think a good point of departure might be Job. God "allowed" Satan's will in the matter, but did not will it himself. What was the meaning of Job's suffering? We really are not given one, except to say that the theodicy of his friends was rejected. Job also had to repent - what did he repent of? To quote Vladimir Lossky:
"...Job's attitude in accusing God is opposite to that of his friends, who, in assuming the hypocritical role of defenders of God, defended, without knowing it, Satan's right to an unlimited dominion. Like most defenders of the status quo, in wishing to justify the legitimate character of the present condition of humanity, they gave an absolute value to the legal situation, projecting it on to the very nature of God. In this wrong perspective, the different levels of human, demonic, angelic, and divine reality, bound up in the complex and shifting economy of salvation, are telescoped together, welded together and crystallized in a single vision of God-Necessity..." (from Dominion and Kingship in 'In the Image and Likeness of God')
I strongly sympathize with your hope that some meaning, some sense, can be made of evil. Still, is not our God a wonderful God! He makes evil into a nothing, and even calls Satan to repentance and forgives all. To on the one had truly redeem us and on the other to truly make all the absurd evil of this world as nothing! That is incomprehensible, and to be a Christian is to worship a God who is incomprehensible and is beyond all evil, and all good, and all meaning, even being itself...
Posted by Christopher email at January 10, 2005 10:36 PM

Christopher, These are fine comments, worthy of response, and I will respond. I just ask you to give me until tomorrow due to the press of other matters. That means it will probably be up on Wednesday.
Posted by William Luse email at January 11, 2005 02:08 AM

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