Robert D. Crouse, 1991

NOTE: This article is part of a conference report of the Atlantic Theological Conference (Replenish the Earth; The Christian Theology of Nature, ed. S. Harris), and available from St. Peter Publications.

Medieval Christians were the conscious inheritors of ancient Greek and Roman, ancient Celtic and Germanic, as well as Biblical and Patristic traditions of thought about the earth and the significance of man's earthly life; and in the interpretation of those various traditions, they found one dominant and common theme: this earth is a place of pilgrimage, and man's life here is a journey and a struggle, through a desert or a wilderness of one sort or another, in search of a paradise of peace and harmony which is the true homeland - the patria - of the human spirit.

That is a thought which pervades all the poetry and mythology, all the religion and philosophy and theology of antiquity. One thinks of Homer's Odyssey, where Odysseus, the "Wayfarer", makes his way through the waste of wine-dark seas, beset by perils and temptations, tested by the gods, on his homeward road from ruined Troy to Ithaca. Or one thinks of Plato, for whom the agon of the hero is translated philosophically as the inner struggle of the soul, in its painful journey from the deceitful shadows of the cave to the clear light of day in the upper world. In Republic X, Plato speaks movingly of the soul's alienation and its aspiration.

Our description of the soul (he says) is true of her present appearance; but we have seen her afflicted by countless evils, like the sea-god Glaucus, whose original form can hardly be discerned... But we must rather fix our eyes, Glaucon, on her love of wisdom, and note how she seeks to apprehend and hold converse with the divine, immortal and everlasting world to which she is akin, and what she would become if her affections were entirely set on following the impulse which would lift her out of the sea in which she is now sunken, and disencumber her of all that wild profusion of rock and shell, whose earthly substance has encrusted her, because she seeks what men call happiness by making earth her food.[1]
The soul's true patria is the higher world of converse with the gods; this earth is a wilderness, whose relative goods and harsh disciplines must serve a higher end. Utendum non fruendum: already in the ascetical doctrine of Plato one hears the Augustinian adage. As a great medieval Platonist, Bernard Silvestris, would put it, this earth is "the prison which makes man free”. Much more directly in the background of medieval thought is Virgil’s great epic of Aeneas and his wanderings as a refugee from the ruined city, driven by the fates to find his true patria and found the new city. Virgil opens to his readers the possibility of diverse perspectives.

On the one hand, this earth is the place of strife and perturbations, wherein the human soul can scarcely be at home. Consider, for instance, Aeneas' conversation with his father, Anchises, in the underworld, in Book VI of the Aeneid.

O Father (says Aeneas), am I therefore to believe that of these souls, some go, soaring hence, up to the world beneath our sky and return once more into dreary matter? Why should the poor souls so perversely desire the light of day?
Only by a draught of Lethe, explains Anchises, only by drinking the waters of forgetfulness, can souls, whose origin is heaven, bear once again to enter earthly life. "The body", says Anchises, "is the cause of fear and desire, of sorrow and of joy, and is the reason why, enclosed within the darkness of their windowless prison, they cannot look with wide eyes upon free air."[2]

Yet, on the other hand, it is the divine vocation of Aeneas to found the new city, which will be a blessing to all mankind; and there are those marvellous prophecies, in the "Fourth Eclogue" - so dear to medieval readers - prophecies of a renewed and transformed earth, where the earth itself is in perfect harmony with the human spirit. Variously interpreted, by Neoplatonists, such as Servius and Macrobius, and by Christian commentators, such as Augustine, Fulgentius, Bernard Silvestris, and Dante, both these aspects of Virgil's account would be important strands in the tapestry of medieval Christian thought about the earth and man's earthly life.

These are just a few examples from the literature of pagan antiquity. There is so much more that is highly relevant to our theme: for instance, Manichaean views about the contradiction between spirit and matter, the perspectives of various forms of Gnosticism and the mystery cults; the long history and development of Neoplatonic speculation about the creation of the universe, and its revelatory character, and so on. All that, and so much more, is crucially important for an understanding of medieval thought about these matters, but, for the moment, these few examples must suffice.

All these ancient sources, with all their obscurities and ambiguities, were taken up, and variously interpreted, in the formation of the medieval Christian mind. Even more crucially formative, of course, was the tradition of the Holy Scriptures, with their story of the divine creation of the earth, the fall of Adam and man's exile from the paradise of Eden; Israel's journey from Egyptian bondage, through the wilderness, to gain the Promised Land; and the summons to a new Pentecostal kingdom of the spirit, which would be a new heaven and a new earth. There the enmity between man and nature will be overcome; the lion and the lamb will lie down together, there no serpent nor other deadly thing will wound, and there human community of language and of goods will be restored. There, mortality will be vanquished. The face of the earth will be renewed.

All that history and that prophecy, day by day and year by year dramatically re-enacted in the liturgy, interpreted by preachers and theologians, illustrated everywhere in paint, and glass, and wood, and stone, would be decisive in the shaping of medieval man's perception of the meaning of the earth and of earthly human life.[3]

But that account, also, was not without its obscurities and ambiguities. First of all, the earth, and, indeed, the cosmos - the universitas rerum - is divinely created, and is very good. Consider, for instance, the comment of Honorius Augustodunensis, incomparably the most popular of twelfth-century writers, arid one of the most widely read of all medieval authors:

Why did God make heaven? That it should be the dwelling-place of angels. And why did God make earth? That it should be the habitation of humanity. The great Creator made the universe like a vast lyre, in which he decreed that multiple tones, like various chords, should be rendered, Thus, he distinguished the universe in two~ parts, as contraries. For spirit and body are like choirs of adults and Children, with high and low voices. In nature they are different; but they agree in the essence of the good. The spiritual orders of angels sing with different voices... [but] they concord in sweet harmony, while they sing together in love of their maker. To each, his own glory is enough, and none covets another's gift. Likewise, corporeal things sing with different voices, distinguished in genera and species, in individuals, and forms, and numbers.,. Spirit and body, angel and devil, heaven and hell, fire and water, air and earth, sweet and bitter, soft and hard, render reciprocal tones...[4]
Man himself is constituted in this sacred, cosmic symphony.
For just as this world has seven tones, and our music distinguishes seven notes, so our body is conjoined in seven ways, with the four elements, and the three powers of the souls, which by the; art of music are naturally reconciled. whence man is called mikrokosmos, that is, a little world, thus in consonant number equated to the music of the heavens.[5]
To one who considers these things, say Honoruis, the whole creation of God is great delight: magna est delectatio.
In some things, there is beauty, as in flowers; in some things, there is healing, as in herbs; in some things, there is nutriment, as in fruits; and in some things, as in worms or birds, there is symbolic meaning. All are therefore good, and created for the sake of man.[6]
In such a view of man and the earth, all created things are good, and all the particulars of nature are of interest and significance, “from the atom to Olympus", as Honorius says.[7] Fundamentally, all things are revelatory, and it is in that sense that medieval authors were enchanted with the symbolism of plants and animals, and medieval sculptors adorned the lintels and the capitals of churches and cathedrals with a lush profusion of such subjects. And it is in that sense, too, that the physicists, at Chartres and elsewhere, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, nourished by the tradition of Plato's Timaeus, as well as by Patristic exegesis of Genesis, elaborated their luminous cosmic metaphysics.[8]

And it is that sense, too, which informed the great architectural achievements of the twelfth century. The Abbot Suger, speaking of the dedication of the Royal Abbey Church of St. Denys, put it this way: "That which is signified pleases more than that which signifies".[9] As Hildegard of Bingen, that remarkable twelfth-century visionary, contemporary of Honorius and Suger, said, "The whole celestial harmony is a mirror of divinity, and man is the mirror of all the miracles of God."[10]

But there is a caveat here. The cosmos assuredly sings the glory of its maker, and earth, man's habitation, is replete with beauty and utility; and yet, man and world are out of tune. Hildegard puts it this way:

Adam, before his prevarication, knew the angelic song and every kind of music, and his voice had sound as the voice of the monochord...[but] now that song of supernal joys, which Adam had, has been turned to a contrary mode of laughter and scoffings. [11]
The paradise of delights, which was Eden, has been turned to wilderness: man is in exile from his patria, condemned to journey as an alien through desert places, when man and nature are at enmity, and indeed, the whole of nature is distorted. "Before man's sin", says Honorius, "all things were subject to man; now man is subjected to all things. Before man's guilt the earth produced nothing noxious - no poisonous herb, nor sterile tree". Birds and beasts lived at peace, whereas now they destroy one another, and now, even domestic animals violently assault man.[12]

Where now is paradise, man's patria? Can earth again be paradise? In one sense, the medieval answer is resoundingly affirmative. In the great twelfth-century tympanum of the pilgrimage church of Vezelay, L’eglise de la Madeleine, one sees the rays of Pentecostal grace stretching from the outstretched hands of the ascended Christ, to renew, through the Apostles, all earthly things: land and sea, and all the races and all the labours of mankind. Even the signs of the zodiac are there, to signify the concord of the heavens. Or, to choose another illustration: in the twelfth-century mosaic which adorns the apse of the Church of San Clemente, in Rome, one sees the Cross represented as the Tree of life, in a renewed Garden of Eden, wherein are represented a myriad of plants and animals in marvellous harmony, together with scenes of human occupations. The face of earth is renewed.

Such scenes are, of course, symbolic of a heavenly paradise; yet they represent earthly life also, as an anticipation of that glory. In general, it was understood that man could not return to Eden. As St. Augustine had put it, In melius renovabimur: "we shall be renewed into something better"[13] ; and he had thoroughly castigated what he understood to be pagan views of the Golden Age as a kind of paradise. [14] The City of God, that ancient and ever-new kingdom of the love of God and neighbour, is here in pilgrimage, in the wilderness of the present age, and can be perfectly fulfilled only on a higher plane, in the heavenly Promised Land, where, in the angelic knowledge, it abides immortally.[15]

Yet, the life of the celestial paradise might be reflected and anticipated in earthly forms, Not only. heaven, but earth itself declares the glory of God. St. Augustine, arguing against the views of Origen, remarks, in the City of God, in texts fundamentally important in the shaping of the medieval mind, that

not even the sinfulness of a will refusing to preserve the order of its nature can diminish the beauty of God's total order, designed, as it is, according to the laws of his justice. As the beauty of a painting is not dimmed by dark colours in their proper places, so the beauty of the universe of creatures (universitas rerum), if one has insight to discern it, is not marred by Sins, even though the sins considered in themselves are shameful.[16]

And, arguing against the Manichees, he says that the heretics criticize, for example,

fire, cold, wild beasts, and things like that without considering how wonderful such things are in their own natures, and in their own places, and how much they contribute, each by its own measure of beauty, to the universe of things as a commonweal (in communem rem publicam), or how useful they are to us, if we use them appropriately and knowledgeably (scienter).[17]
Each of God's creatures speaks to us in a kind of secret language, to rouse our curiosity, and to intimate an image of the Trinity, every time we ask: who made it? How? and why?[18]

Not only the forms of nature, but also various forms of human life and community, might reflect the harmony of heaven. For St. Augustine's medieval followers, one such form was, of course, the monastic life, signalling by its communal harmony and order, the peace of paradise.[19] That ideal was wonderfully suggested architecturally by the construction (as, for instance, at the Benedictine Abbey Church at Maria Laach) of a garden cloister, at the entrance of the church - an enclosed garden, called a "Paradise", with a fountain at the centre, from which issue four streams, symbolic of the four rivers issuing from Eden.[20] For the mystic, the enclosed garden might be the inner garden, the hortus inclusas of contemplation, as a foretaste of the life of heaven.[21] For the scholar, the whole course of education might be seen as a road to paradise, on which all the liberal and practical arts could be represented as stages of the journey of the soul, from the exile of ignorance, until the pilgrim comes at length to the patria of Holy Scripture, the superna civitas of divine speculation. [22] For the millennialist - such, for instance, as Joachim of Fiore the terrestrial paradise would be fulfilled by an apocalyptic transformation, in the new age of the Spirit, renewing the face of the earth.

As a minor tradition, one might mention also those who thought to find the earthly paradise in some far corner of the globe, in the "Islands of the Blest". Actually, Christopher Columbus seems to have been heir to that kind of tradition, Writing to his royal patrons, he expresses himself in this way:

I have already described my ideas concerning this hemisphere and its forms, and I have no doubt, that if I could pass below the equinoctial line... I should find the earthly paradise, whither no one can go but by God's permission.. There are great indications of this being the terrestrial paradise, for its site coincides with the opinion of the holy and wise theologians I have mentioned. [23]
But the final, and definitive medieval word on earth as wilderness and paradise, and on the idea of a terrestrial paradise, must be given to Dante, that most comprehensive of all medieval voices. All the ideas we have touched upon are summed up there. The whole of the Divine Comedy is the allegorical account of man's journey through wilderness to paradise; and on the summit of Mount Purgatory, the pilgrim, with Virgil's guidance, reaches the terrestrial paradise, which is at once the Golden Age of Virgil and the Eden of the Bible. It is the utopian dream of poets and philosophers: the harmony of man with man, and of man with nature.
Those men of yore who sang the golden time
And all its happy state - maybe indeed
They on Parnassus dreamed of this fair clime.

Here was the innocent root of all man's seed.
Here spring is endless, here all fruits are, here
The nectar is, which runs in all their rede.[24]

In De monarchia, Dante had already spoken of the terrestrial paradise, as the goal of man's earthly life, to which we attain, he says, “by the teachings of philosophy, following them by acting in accordance with the moral and intellectual virtues.” [25] But in the Comedy, remarkably, the earthly paradise has no residents; it is a place of allegories, of dreams and visions, and the place of revelation. It is no resting place. Eden, the Golden Age, the earthly paradise, is not, and cannot be, an end of human aspiration At best, it is only a beginning; at worst, it is a false and contradictory conclusion, which Dante symbolized allegorically by a scene of strife between a harlot and a giant (spiritual and temporal powers), in which finally the chariot of man's spiritual life is dragged off into the wilderness.[26]

The earth is "the threshing floor on which fierce deeds are done”; it is "the threshing floor of mortality", [27] At best, under the rule of supernatural virtues, man's earthly life, as Dante's goes on to show in the "Paradiso", can be reflection or adumbration of the life of heaven. And thus, the poet, having traversed the seven planetary spheres in which are represented in this light the various forms of earthly life, looks back:

So with my vision I went traversing
The seven planets till this globe I saw,
whereat I smiled, it seemed so poor a thing.

Highly I rate that judgement that doth low
Esteem the world, him I deem upright
whose thoughts are fixed on things of greater awe. [28]

And yet, earthly things are not simply left behind: they are taken up, transfigured, into the glory of the celestial rose. Most significant in this regard is the presence of two streams in Dante's earthly paradise. First, there is the river, "Lethe" - the waters of oblivion - from which, as in Plato's "Myth of Ert" and Virgil's "Underworld", the pilgrim must drink. But Dante has altered its purpose and effect: no longer is it a matter of forgetting Elysium and. the joys of heavenly contemplation; rather, it is a matter of obliterating the memory of the sins of earth. And then, there is a second stream, from the same fountain: the river "Eunoe" - the waters of divine benevolence [29] - whose purpose is to restore in a new perspective, and at a higher level, all that has been lost in Lethe. And thus, the poet, nourished by the second stream, exclaims, at the conclusion of the "Purgatorio":
From those holy waters, born anew
I came, like trees by change of calendars
Renewed with new-sprung foliage through and through,
Pure and prepared to leap up to the stars.[30]
Earth is not simply left behind; rather, in the "Paradiso", all the forms of earthly life are taken up - reborn, as it were - in the perspective of eternity: there are the nims, the politicians and the lovers; the doctors, the warriors, the rulers, and the contemplatives; all seen now in a providential reciprocity, analagous to the music of the spheres, "transhumanised” [31] in harmony with saints and angels. In that "sweet symphony of paradise",[32] nothing is lost, but all is held in unity:
In that abyss I beheld how love held bound
Into one volume all the leaves whose flight
Is scattered through the universe around...

F or everything the will has ever sought
Is gathered there, and there is every quest
Made perfect, which apart from it falls short. [33]

The frozen lake of Cocytus, which, at the bottom of the “Inferno", was understood as the centre of the universe, as the centre of gravity - "The point toward which all weight bears down from everywhere"[34] - gives way in the "Paradiso" to a different point of reference: a lake of light, which takes the shape of the celestial rose. And a new principle of gravity is discerned, in a vision of the divine attraction - "The love which moves the sun and the other stars". [35]

The final Aristotelian reversal or perspective is to be understood, I think, simply in terms of the working out of the Christian Aristotelian (and speceically Thomistic) principle: Gratia non tollit naturam sed perficiat - "Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it". [36] Christian Aristotelians, in the thirteenth century, chiefly in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, of whose thought Dante is heir, and indeed a major spokesman, had worked out a formal distinction between nature and the supernatural, between faith and reason, between the earthly and the heavenly. For Thomas, as also for Dante, the two sides of that distinction were held together in a subtle, and ultimately fragile, synthesis.[37] The fragility of the synthesis is signalled, I think, even in Dante's own lifetime: for instance, in the Avenoist crisis of the latter part of the thirteenth century; in Duns Scotus' separation of physics from metaphysics; in Ockham's denial of all the claims of natural theology; perhaps even in the political theory of Dante's own De Monarchia - a position finally repudiated, I think, in the Comedy. With the dissolution of that synthesis, the two sides would come to be seen as independent ends. No longer then would earth be looked upon as remedial wilderness - "The rough and stubbern forest", as Dante says, “in which I found great good"[38] - no longer as a wilderness through which man might move as a pilgrim, through instruction and harsh disciplines, towards a heavenly end. Only with that dissolution could one think of earth in a thoroughly secilar way, as neither ancient paganism nor medieval Christendom could do. Only then could earth be celebrated as spiritual centre of the universe; and only then would it became possible to "untune the sky”.



1. Plato, Republic X, 611 (tr. F.M. Cornford, The Republic of Plato, Oxford, 1941, pp. 345-346).

2. Virgil, Aeneid VI, 720-751 (tr. W.F. Jackson Knight, Virgil - The Aeneid, Harmondsworth, 1958, p.169). On the interpretation of this passage, see Bews, "Philosophical Revelation and its Function in Aeneid Six", in Laurea Corona. Studies in Honour of Edward Coleiro, ed. A. Bonanno (Amsterdam, 1987), pp. 91-98.

3 Cf. R.D. Crouse, Images of Pilgrimage: Paradise and Wilderness in Christian Spirituality (Charlottetown, P.E.I., 1987); and in the very illummating discussion of this theme by G.H. Williams, Wilderness and Paradise in Christian Thought (New York, 1962).

4. Honorius Augustodunensis, Liber XII Quaestionum, II (PL, 172, col. 1179 B-D) (translations mine unless otherwise noted).

5. Honorius Augustodunensis, De imagine mundi, 1,82 (PL,, 172, col. 140 C-D).

6. Honorius Augustodunensis, Elucidarium, 1, 12 (PL, 172, 001. 1117 C-D).

7. Honorius Augustodunensis, Quaestio utrum deus ubique sit (Ms. Munich 22225, fol. 45v.).

8. Cf. R.D. Crouse, "Intentio Moysi: Bede, Augustine, Eringena and Plato in the Hexameron off Honorius Augustodunensis", Dionysius, 2 (1978), 137-157; id., "A Twelfth Century Auguatinian: Hononus Augustodunensis; Studio Ephemeridis "Augustinianurn" 26 (1987), 167-77.

9. Abbot Suger of the Abbey Church of St-Denis and its Art Treasures, ed E. Panofsky, 2 ed. Gerda Panofsky - Soergal (Princeton, 1979), p.47; see also W. Beierwaltes, "Negati Affirmatio, or The World as Metaphor", Dionysius, 1 (1977), 127-159.

10. Hildegard of Bingen, Causae et curae; excerpts critically edited by P. Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1984), p.243.

11. Ibid., p.245.

12. Honorius Augustodunensis, Hexaemeron (PL, 712, col. 258D-259A).

13. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram;VI, 27,87; Cf. G.B. Ladner, The Idea of Reform, Its Impact on Christian Thought and Action In the Age of the Fathers (Cambridge, Mass. 1959), pp.153-283.

14. Augustine, De Civitate Dei XII, 14; Cf. XI, 4 ("Bibliotheque Augustinenne" edition, vol.35, pp.190; 38-42).

15. Ibid., XI, 28 (p.124).

16. Ibid., XI, 23 (pp.100-102).

17. Ibid, XI, 22 (p.96).

18. Ibid., XI, 24, (p.106).

19. Cf. . Honorius Augustodunensis, Gemma onimae, I, 148 (PL, 172, col. 590); G.H. Williams, op. cit., p.48.

20. Cf. G.H Williams, op. cit, pp.47-49; on the Patristic background of this iconography, see H. Leclerq, "Paradis', in Dictionnaire d'archeologie chretienne et de liturgie, Vol. XIlI (Paris, 1937), col. 1578-1615.

21. Cf. Herrad of Hohenbourg, Hortus deliciarum, ed. R Green et al. (2 vols., London and Leiden, 1979).

22. Honorius Augustodurtensis, De animae exsilio et Patria (PL., 172, Col. 1245D-1246A); Cf. RD. Cronse, "HonoriusAugustodunensis: The Arts as via ad patriam" in Arts liberaux et philosophie au moyen age Montreal and Paris, 1969), pp.531-589.

23. Select Letters of Christopher Columbus, tr. and ed. R.H. Major (2 ed., London, 1870), pp.140-143, as quoted in GM. Williams, op. cit., p 100.

24. Dante, Divine Comedy, "Purgatorio", XXVIII, 139-144 (Unless otherwise noted, all translations of Dante are from the Penguin edition, translated by D.L. Sayers and B. Reynolds, 3 vols. 1949-1960).

25. Dante, De monarchia, III, 16 (ed. M. Porena and M. Pazzaglia, Dante Opere, Bologna, 1966, p.1344).

26. "Purgatorio" , XXXII.

27. "Paradiso", XXII, 151; De monarchia, III, 16; Cf. "Paradiso", XXVII, 85

28. "Paradiso", XXII, 133-138.

29. I suggest that Dante's mysterious word, "Eunoe", is bis adaptation of the Aristotelian eunoia, which scholastic commentaries well known to Dante regularly translate as benevolentia.

30. "Purgatorio" XXXIII, 142-145.

31. "Paradiso", 1, 70 "transumanar".

32. "Paradiso", XXI, 59.

33. "Paradiso" XXXIII, 85-87, 103-105.

34. "Inferno"; XXXIV, 108-109; Cf. XXXII, 74.

35 "Paradiso", XXXIII, 145. This final line seems to reflect at once the Aristotelian doctrine of divine attraction, and the Augustinian doctrine of amor; Cf. also Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae, II, m. VIII.

36. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, 8 ad. 2.

37. Cf. R.D. Crouse, "St. Thomas, St. Albert, Aristotle: Philosophia ancilla theologiae, in Tommaso d' Aquino nel suo settimo centenario, I: Le fonti del pensiero di S. Tommaso (Naples, 1976), pp.181-185; W.J. Hankey, God in Himself: Aquinas' Doctrine of God as Expounded in the Summa theologiae (Qxford, 1987), especially the final chapter.

38. "Inferno", I, 8.


Archbishop Harold L. Nutter

It is my responsibility in some way to make a response to the paper which was just so magnificently read by John Paul Westin. In fact I think he did it as well as, if not better than, Fr. Crouse might have done himself As he was reading it, the poetic structure of that whole composition came home to me much more vividly than it did when I read it, which is understandable. There was a sense of poetry and rhythm in it which I have found very seldom. Having paid that tribute to the one who composed it, I would like to add my own prayers and hopes that he may soon be perfectly and fully restored to health again.

As I read the paper I began to realize that there was a common theme which the writer was bringing out and which we also heard this morning in the exegesis of the first chapter of Genesis, and its revelation of creation and of man's part and place in that creation. The common theme which the writer of this particular paper is pointing out is that this is a place of pilgrimage in which we find ourselves and that man's life here is ajourney anda struggle and it is in search of a paradise of peace and harmony, and it is an attempt to find that true homeland of the humanspirit With that I find no difficulty because in general that same statement could be made of the Christian revelation as we have it in the words of scripture. However, Dr. Crouse goes back to look at some of the common elements which we find in the classics and the classical writers of Greece and Rome, Plato, Virgil, and others, and I see there a difference between what I understand as the Christian understanding of creation and of human life and of the human expectation of paradise, and the understanding of those of the classical period.

From my point of view, they had what I would call almost a vaporous expectation, which is summed up for us in Greek mythology and in Greek philosophy, and that same kind of edmost greyish e~tion is seen in much of the Old Testament when it talks about the future and the future of mankind and the future of creation. We might have been very uncertain of that future, if we had been Greeks, facing the ferryman who might take us across the River Styx, that foreboding river, with the two coins on our eyes so we could pay the ferryman. That falls far short of the story of creation which we find in the first chapters of Genesis and which you find developed in the Hebrew and Christian understanding.

Much of the Old Testament has a similar point of view, although there is some light in many parts of it, notably in the Book of Job, in some of the Psalms and in some of the Prophets. The reality of the true homeland becomes real only with the advent of Jesus Christ and a true understanding of what the human spirit is. I think this raises a question for us: is the purpose of the natural creation to be found in itself; or is it there for the sake of man or according to a divine plan? The Greek and the Roman philosophers have spoken of an immortality of the soul as they have tried to explain this question and find answers to it, yet their concept of an immortality of the soul falls far short of that which we see developing through the ages as we come to a Christian understanding of what true immortality is. While Christians may speak of the immortality of the soul, I would suggest that is in itself a very deficient idea or concept of what the reality is. For the Greek, the concept of the immortality of the soul was a very ephemeral kind of thing where the soul existed in a shadowy life that we could not really identify as personal life. Consequently, much of the teaching of the Greek philosophers had to do with rebirth into the same life again and coming back to face the same struggle over and over again in this physical creation, this veil of tears, and of a struggle which we are talking about. Possibly Virgil's Aeneas shares some common ground of the Christian understanding of this human pilgrimage. But apart from the concept of pilgrimage, there is little in common. One sees the pilgrim as the play thing and the slave of the almost perverted humour of the gods, whereas froni a Christian point of view we see this pilgrimage as directed and empowered and mQtivated and inspired by the one God, and as moving toward one whom we know and trust. Now I think that is the essential difference that we see between those two concepts.

True, earth and life here on earth are not the true home for either, either for the existence that Virgil was describing or for that which we understand from a Christian point of view, but the understanding of the true home and the one or the ones who await the pilgrim there differ greatly. The one demands the forgetfidness that we achieve at Lathe sothat earth can be endured as the soul leaves its heavenly home and comes to earth and forgets all that it was before, but the Christian point of view declares a continuity between this life and the life of Paradise which gives substance and meaning to life on earth and a justice over and beyond any temporal meaning which creation may have in itseff. mie, Virgil in the "Fourth Eclogue" prophesies a new and transformed earth in perfect harmony with the human spirit, and this may have had some impact on Christian philosophy and Christian theology, especially that of the Neoplatonists who would have been influenced by the idealism. of Plato and by his concept of the Ideal of which the temporal is but a pale reflection. Surely, however, the chief inspiration for this new heaven and this new earth of Christians comes from the words of Jesus Christ which differ greatly from those of the Greek or the Roman philosophers or poets or writeys. Jesus speaks of "many mansions", of "destroying this temple and rebuilding it in three days", the temple of this body. Then there is Paul, who may have been a Platonist; but he speaks of the whole creation "groaning and travailing together", or John, who saw a new heaven and a new earth. There is a world of difference between this and that which was presented to us by the philosophers of the dassical period.

Paul and John may have been Platonists. They may have been influenced by the philosophy of Plato, but what they carried beyond Platonism was the linking for ever of.the material and the spiritual, of body and spirit, in one complete and fullilled being whom they came to know in Jesus Christ and his promise that we too shall experience the same, not a semi-real existence in the after world such as the Greek and the Roman mythology postulated. It is true that, as the paper points out, the Manichaeans and some forms of Gnosticism are more akin to the Platonist theories of reality than are Orthodox Christian writers.

But long ago I think the Church disposed of both of those groups of people very well. I would certainly agree with Dr. Crouse that the scriptural and traditional understanding of the creation and man's fall and exile and the story of Israel's Passover and the picture of the new heaven and new earth are far more relevant than anything which comes to us out of the minds of the men of learning of the past, before the time of Christ or even some following that. That is what the writer of the paper says. "All these ancient sources, with all their obscurities and ambiguities, were taken up and variously interpreted in the formation of the medieval Christian mind, or even much more crucially formative, of course, was the tradition of the Holy Scriptures with their story of the divine creation of the earth, the Fall of Adam, and man's exile from the paradise of Eden, Israel's journey from Egyptian bondage through the wilderness to gain the Promised Land and the summons to a new Pentecostal Kingdom which would be a new heaven and a new earth. There the enmity between man and nature will be overcome. The lion and the lamb will lie down together; there no serpent or other deadly thing will wound and their human community of language and of goods will be restored. There mortality will be vanquished and the face of the earth will be renewed," what a statement that is. It is the statement that is essentially the Christian statement coming out of a Christian understanding of what this creation is and what is our part in it. It is here that man and nature find their rightful place and the face of the earth will be renewed.

How appropriate it is for the environmental and esehatological disaster of this day that we should have at least a dearer understanding of what the role of created nature is and of man's place in it. How relevant it is to emphasize that these and all other evils are at base spiritually caused and not primarily physical problems only. when mankind places God in his rightful place, and I think that this is what this paper is beginning to say, then creation arid nature will also be seen as they were intended to be without misuse and without greedy destruction

The picture of Honorius, which the writer also gives, is significant, or the harmony created by the chorus of man and nature and all created things where each is singing his own part of that tremendous chorus, each singing in his own voice the same song of praise, constituting a choir of such divine proportions that in and from God all is seen as good and significant. That is the chorus of creation which we need to hear. Have we lost in our own day of mega-projects, of continuing development and exploitation both of natural resources and of human beings, that respect both for mankmd and nature without which will come the destruction of both? I think that is a question that is being posed by this paper for us, Do we have the secret, the revealed "mystery" in the scriptural sense of the word mystery? Do we know the mystery which will and can restore the creator's intended order to it all? That is another very hnportant question for us to ponder. Are we prepared to pay the price to make the accommodation and changes needed to allow all creation, man and nature, to sing in harmony to him who is its creator?

Well those are questions that I have difficulty in answering, but yet which some time we must begin to ponder. while it is true that the whole celestial harmony is a mirror of divinity as the paper says, and man is a mirror of all the miracles of God, yet man and the world are out of tune. That is what it is saying over and over again and emphasizes. The writer calls to the witness stand not only the present day eterts on that but he calls to the witness stand to support that claim those of Medieval times and of classical times. The sin man in Eden still continues to change the good, the beautiful, and the harmonious into poisonous evil, ugly utilitarianism, and discord in society and nature and the whole cosmos. As the presenter points out, this raises the question, "Where now is paradise?" Man's patria, where is it? If it cannot be in creation, and if we have separated, as the paper says, the created reality from the human reality, then where is it? Have we allowed the naturalists, for instance, to claim that it only needs environmental change to find that paradise as they so often do? Or the huinist to assert that man's freedom and innate goodness will ensure paradise which never has happened yet? Or the cultists to claim miraculous powers over evil? where is the answer to the discord and the evil of the whole creation today? Is it in Christ or not? If so, then how does he become the means for the healing of mankind and nature? True, as Christ said, and as Dr. Crouse intimates, the city of God is not only in the future but with us in the pilgrimage on which we have embarked because the kingdom, in our Lord's words, is in your midst or is within you, yet how wonderful that its most exciting perceptions here are only a dim foretaste of the glory which shall be revealed in us. if we can just begin to get some of the glimmerings of it, it is only a foretaste of the glory that shall be revealed. As for us here, we must not ever allow ourselves to become so cynical about life, mankind and creation, that we fail to see that both the forms of nature and human life reflect the harmony of heaven when the creator God, and him by whom all things were made, is the right ruler and has the right to rule. Is this not our challenge and message today? whether we see Dante and the Divine Comedy as portraying earth as a wilderness and paradise and see the pilgrimage of man to Paradise or Purgatory, and hear that it is a terrestrial paradise which is our goal, or whether it is to be a new heaven and a new earth, a heavenly Paradise, we know that this life and this creation is only a beginning and that heaven has a place for the physical creation and for human nature. The incarnation, death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ are meaningless, unless the whole creation can be summed up in him.

What hope the writer of this paper gives, and what a hope the Christian gospel gives, when he and it both affirm that earth is not simply left behind, rather, in Paradise all the forms of earthly life are taken up, reborn in the perspective of eternity. Is this what so many philosophers, thinkers, dreamers, poets and mystics were really being led to by various routes which we have heard this evening in that paper, the various routes which they took to say essentially the same thing? If so, is this not all fulfilled and ensured in the Christian doctrine of creation, redemption, salvation, and eschatological fulfilment in Jesus Christ to whom all creation gives glory for ever and ever.

[backarrw.gif] Back to the Writings Page
St. Peter Publications 2010. All rights reserved.