Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Witnesses, Trees, Brides, and Evolution

I have been working on a commission that has kept me out of the blogosphere. It isn't done, but my son has decided to alter my schedule.

Let us leave the ridiculous and the inconsequential (my more recent posts) and move back the the meaningful.

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The Two Witnesses
And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (Rv.11:3-8)
The Church Fathers wrote that the witnesses at the Eschaton would be Enoch and Elijah, the only two prophets who did not suffer death. At the end of all things, Enoch would prophesy to the Gentiles, and Elijah to the Jews.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." And the disciples asked him, "Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He replied, "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist. (Mt.17:9-13)
Some readers of this text anticipate a return of Elijah in the sense that John the Baptist was a return of the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk.1:16-17) - I think of Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah as an example of this line of thought. However, it seems clear to me that we are looking at a literal return. "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things."

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The Tree of Life

The garden of Eden had two trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of [eternal] life. The second tree has been revealed to us as the Cross. A couple thoughts.
  1. I suspect that, had there been no Fall, the fruit of this tree would have been Eucharist and Communion for Adam and Eve and their children. (Although the mind boggles at Eucharist and Communion without Crucifixion. Speculative theologians welcome.)
  2. The presence of a tree of [eternal] life argues that immortality is something bestowed on us by the fruits of the tree; it is not natural to Man. Therefore death was present in the Garden, in the animals, in the vegetation. Death was observable to Adam & Eve, and would one day have been experienced by them had they not then eaten of the tree of life. As we know, in the wake of their eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were barred from eating of the tree of life. [Eternal] death, or hell, is a consequence of the Fall.
  3. The only effective Orthodox argument against evolution that I have heard was one that stated the impossibility of Darwinian evolution in a world without death. If there was death (just not spiritual, or eternal, death), evolution remains something that is not alien to Orthodox theology.
Thanks to E. and Vic from Other Side of the Sun for helping me flesh out these ideas.

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Church as Bride of Christ

Just as Eve was formed out of the side of Adam to be the bride of Adam, so the Church has been formed out of the side of Christ, that is, out of blood and water, Eucharist and Baptism, to be the bride of the New Adam.

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Two Thoughts on Evolution

As has been evidenced above, I don't have a problem with evolution. To my mind, it is a perfectly reasonable way to explain the fossil record. Furthermore, I don't have any issues with the idea that Man is descended from apes, with a caveat explored below. I would like to suggest one thing, though, and take issue with another.

First, the suggestion. I don't know that we have had much evolution going on since the time of Adam and Eve. Perhaps a consequence to the Fall is the end of evolution and the beginning of devolution. [Others might here argue that evolution doesn't work too well with the Law of Increasing Entropy. Entropy could be a fancy way of describing the destructive impact of the Fall upon the cosmos. Or, more simply, entropy is a recognition that without God acting to create and maintain, the universe unwinds itself.]

Second, I wish to take issue with the Latin name for man, Homo sapiens. I don't really care what we call the ancestors of Adam & Eve ... they were animals, brutes, like the rest of Creation. However, I see a moment when God takes one (or two) more intelligent brutes from out of all Creation and breathes life and spirit into them. And in that moment God creates a new thing, utterly unique in all the cosmos, something that is both matter and spirit, some one who has both a mortal body and an immortal soul, some one who needs a tree of life in order that the two are never separated. But this new thing, this Man, is not different from the brutes by merit of being wise, or sapient, but through being God-breathed. If there was evolution, then God spoke into the process and created a miracle. I want to replace Homo sapiens with Homo spiritens (or its equivalent - I'm not sure of the Latin).

- V.

8 comments:

les said...

Tree of Life
I have long thought along the same lines regarding the presence of death in creation prior to the Fall. The entire universe is marked by change, by becoming, the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Change in biological terms requires death. If this were not so, all things would have been unchanging in the universe prior to the Fall. That has serious theological implications.
Thus the statement that Adam and Eve brought death into the world means they brought death to mankind.
Through the history of the people of the covenant we see that God wants to be in a relationship with his people such that he is their sustenance, that they feed from him, feed upon him. The metaphors are throughout the whole of biological life as the young grow from and feed upon the parent. One of the prefigurements in the Old Testament of the Eucharist is the daily manna in the desert, but we could also point back to the Tree of Life as well.

les said...

Evolution
I like the “homo spiritens” suggestion.

In the movie Braveheart, Longshanks said that the trouble with Scotland was that it was full of Scots. I would paraphrase to say that the trouble with evolution is that it is full of evolutionists.
Breathing life into the intelligent ape carries one problem. The genetic code. There would have had to be a biological change as well. The reason is that the Human Genome project and other parallel studies have traced the mitochondrial DNA back to a single mother of all of us. The Scriptures call her Eve. Incidentally they were also able to determine that at one point in human history the total population of human beings was reduced to somewhere between 8 and 20. The flood perhaps?
One of the issues that modern scientists have raised with Christians is a perceived history of dogmatism that impeded scientific enquiry. Yet evolution has produced a generation of close-minded dogmatists as well. Without disputing the evolutionary principle it is abundantly clear that there are severe anomalies and time-line issues that require serious rethinking. Human artifacts found alongside 6 million year old fossils in rock causes one, if honest, to go back and check the premises. One likely problem is that dating methods contain their own pre-suppositions which hinge to some extent on the evolutionary timeline, at least in principle. So we are traveling in a circle and it means that while we need not be “young earthers”, we need to challenge some of the assumptions contained in the average high school biology text-book. There is a plethora of archeological discoveries that taken as a whole virtually annihilate the standard evolutionary timeline. There are too many things found in places that they shouldn’t be found. It is the evolution dogmatists, the Darwinians mostly, that are standing in the way of real scientific enquiry.

LifeSpark said...

One point I would like to pursue here is your expression of the human person having a mortal body and an immortal soul. Immortality does not pertain to the soul any more than it does to the body. Both are part of the human person and while the primacy of the spiritual element of the person is not in question, the notion that the soul is immortal is simply untrue. That it endures beyond death is not a function of its immortality but rather of it being maintained in being by God. He "upholds all things by the word of His power". This covers the spiritual as well as the physical. The problem with seeing the soul as immortal is that it can be construed as immortal in its own right somehow, independent of God's will. This can easily be linked to early gnostic notions that the soul was good and the body was bad. I'm sure this is not your intention but our habits of speech must be examined, that they not play into wrong notions about the nature of God or humanity. The vocation of humanity is the spiritualization of matter, not the dematerialization of the person. By spiritualization I mean the completion of the union between the physical and spiritual elements of the person as witnessed in the Incarnation. It is a union that involves the whole created order, physical and spiritual. E.G. Christ's baptism is celebrated not just as His identification with our plight but also as the healing, renewal, and completion of material reality in making the waters of baptism grace-bearing.

V & E said...

Vic:

Language can obfuscate as easily as it can clarify.

Let me put it more simply: the mortal part of Man (flesh) is naturally mortal, and the immortal part of Man (soul, spirit, whatever is the best word here) is naturally immortal.

This is what I believe at present ... which could very well be the Gnostic theology you condemn - I sincerely hope not. I have attempted to get in touch with my spiritual father so that I could learn the Orthodox teaching on this matter, so that I did not post without knowledge. However, I have had no luck reaching him at this time.

Here is my big concern with the concept of a mortal soul or spirit:

- God would need to grant the soul/spirit post-mortem immortality in order to enjoy all the benefits of hell. And why, oh why, would He do that?

- V.

les said...

lifespark, you have an excellent point. We were created, as a race and as individuals to be the integration of matter and spirit, body and soul. That is part of why we look to the resurrection of the dead at the final trumpet; we are incomplete as soul disembodied.
Someone pointed out to me once what I had never before considered. At the resurrection Scripture tells us that the dead in Christ shall rise first, but everyone will receive a body, even those who have chosen hell.
Enoch and Elijah, as v mentioned, moved on without dying, and we Catholics believe that the Blessed Theotokos was assumed bodily into heaven likewise. Christ ascended in his glorified resurrected body as well. (It is an interesting question where they are right now)

The Apocalypse tells us there will be a new heaven and new earth, which makes complete sense as we understand ourselves to be integrated body and soul by design.

LifeSpark said...

V,
I really appreciate your anxiety on this point...I can't help but feel moved by it too. But, doesn't the prospect of God allowing people to experience eternal torment due to their God given immortal soul amount to the same thing? Also, on either view, there will be a resurrection, a reunion of the physical and spiritual elements of the person. Some will experience this resurrection as heaven whilst others will experience it as hell. The One who resurrects is the same in both cases. This is a terrible mystery, not soluble by either anthropology. It is only 'solved', I suspect, by crying out to God and expressing all the feelings such a difficult fact entails; from "Eloi, Eloi" Through to "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him..."
BTW, I believe the JW's teach that those who reject God simply cease to exist and do not experience the final resurrection. While this is a heresy, it's certainly an attractive one. We are not given the luxury of such a belief, however, and we must instead exercise faith in a God who says that it was worth creating us despite the fact that some of us would indeed choose wrongly, and that forever. Some days this confidence is easier to have than others...
L

V & E said...

Les:

You write "Breathing life into the intelligent ape carries one problem. The genetic code. There would have had to be a biological change as well. The reason is that the Human Genome project and other parallel studies have traced the mitochondrial DNA back to a single mother of all of us. The Scriptures call her Eve."

I don't see this as a problem. My intelligent ape would be indistinguishable from modern man in all respects save one - he would not be God-breathed. Biologically, he would be the same as us, evolved into our form, but were we to meet him we would recognize him as completely Other. (I think of Swift's Yahoos.)

When God breathed life into this intelligent ape, He created a new thing: Man. Adam. A unique hybrid of matter and spirit. The fulfillment of all Creation.

- V.

les said...

Here's a link that you may find interesting to this discussion;

http://www.orthodoxpress.org/parish/river_of_fire.htm

I have, as a Catholic, some reservations of course about his analysis of the west, but all in all, the insights of DR. ALEXANDER KALOMlROS into how a Good God could condemn anyone are very useful.