Introduction. Paul Johnson, usually acute, prejudices the case against Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906) in the chapter that he devotes to the instigator of modern drama in his Intellectuals (1993), where the author of Emperor and Galilean (1873) keeps company with the likes of Karl Marx, Berthold Brecht, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, and Lillian Hellman. Johnson can classify Ibsen under the pejorative label of an “intellectual” only by ignoring Ibsen’s text and concentrating on the biographical details, which indeed make their subject look like a contemptible piece of work. This criticism of Johnson by no means invalidates Johnson’s definition of an “intellectual.” On the contrary, Johnson has defined the “intellectual” brilliantly and his treatment of the phenomenon must bear instructively on any analysis of Ibsen’s play about Julian the Apostate. According to Johnson, the “intellectual,” who appears first in the person of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a politically committed character for whom “a utopian, socialist future [is] plainly a substitute for a religious idealism in which he [cannot] believe.” An intellectual is often the master of a narrow slice of specialized knowledge who, however, feels “no incongruity in moving from [his] own discipline… to public affairs.” Yet when examined closely, even the specialized knowledge of the intellectual, his peculiar theory, tends to be unconvincing and perverse – a type of pleading by the person to himself to protect his theory from inconvenient facts and to preserve his vision of himself as someone qualified to “counsel humanity.” Writing specifically of Rousseau, Johnson remarks that intellectuals see themselves, not as “servants or interpreters of the gods but [as] substitutes” – that is, of both the gods or God and the sacerdotal clerisy. Johnson writes of that “most marked [of the] characteristics of the new secular intellectuals,” namely “the relish with which they subjected religion and its protagonists to critical scrutiny.”
When Christ says in John 14:6 that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, he does not only mean that he is the Way to the Father. He means also that he – and the Father, and the Holy Spirit – are the way we are each doing whatever it is we are doing at any given moment. This is also, likewise, an aspect of what Paul means in Acts 17:28, when he says that in God we live, move and have our being. The being and power I am and have right this moment came just now from God, not per accidens, but per se (this origination per se being the forecondition for any causal origination per accidens). I certainly didn’t arrange for the existence and potentiality of this moment of my life to happen. I just find myself right here, right now. Which, when you think about it, is totally inexplicable, on creaturely terms. Thus all the power I exert right now, all the ways that I can act, are provided to me by God.
Everything that I am and have is derived from God’s creative act.
What will I do with this little bit of his being and power that, in making it out of nothing, Christ has given to me?
What is it like to live the life everlasting that is promised to Christians? The question has arisen in the last few days both over at View from the Right, where Lawrence Auster is contemplating his own incipient death with awesome magnanimity and serenity, and at Charlton’s Miscellany. Both Charlton and Auster make important points. I had reactions to both posts, so I figure it makes most sense to consolidate them here.
This post develops, and relies upon, arguments in Part I and Part II. In particular, it refers to two characters – Lester and Betty – of the novel All Hallows’ Eve, by Charles Williams, that is quoted in Part I.
When we intercede for a sinner in prayer, we implicitly forgive him our little portion of his moral debt to the rest of creation. A murder injures the whole City, not just the victim and his family. This is why the whole City executes judgement upon the murderer, and exacts payment (the same dynamic is at the back of feud and revenge, and vigilante justice). When we intercede for the murderer in prayer, when we beg for his redemption, we effectually forgive our own portion of his debt to the City. We eat that bit of his debt, and suffer it ourselves.
You’ll have an easier time taking in this post if you have first read Part I of this series. I there proposed some novel arguments, which this post relies upon and develops.
Perhaps purgatory is a full repayment of our debt to the other creatures we have injured, that they have not forgiven us in the way Betty forgave Lester’s debt; a de-leveraging of our moral books. The suffering we do in purgatory could be credited to the books of our moral creditors. And it would ipso facto cleanse our own books of moral stain, fitting us to Heaven. In purgatory, the body of death, the body of debt, is calcined away, leaving and liberating the spirit, so that he may put on his true and originally intended resurrection body.
Note then that the currency by which we repay our debt in purgatory – the way we purge our books of debt – is through suffering. Measure for measure; nothing either omitted or left over. In the final analysis, the divine omniscience cannot abide anything less than a full accounting.
The currency of coinherence, then, the medium of coinherence, may be suffering. A bit of pain suffered in the payment of a moral debt releases a bit of one’s own love from the service of that debt and liberates it for higher use, and for a permanent increase in enjoyment by the whole system of things; when a member of the communion grows stronger, the community grows stronger. A bit of redemption is an increase in ontological actuality, and likewise in capacity for goodness, not just of the redeemed, but of his community and cosmos – of his City, as Williams would have it. As the US Navy SEALs say of their training, “pain is weakness leaving the body.” What is left is a bigger, fitter, stronger body, harder, healthier, more dense, more capable, more real.
Consider Colossians 1:24, where Paul says,
[I w]ho now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.
That’s the KJV. The Greek translated as “that which is behind” or “that which is lacking” is τὰ ὑστερήματα (ta hysteremata), literally, “that which is lacking or empty.” The problem is, how can anything be lacking in Christ’s atonement – which is, after all, the perfect act of an omnipotent God?