In this conclusion to his two-part essay Dr Andrew Kania puts forward a mix of challenging philosophical and theological ideas that ought generate considerable debate. Largely based on the insights of the Russian Orthodox philosopher, Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), he presents a mix of ideas some of which will feel comfortable when read from within the Western theological tradition and others which might challenge our contemporary perspectives within the scientific perspectives we operate within in society today.
The search for harmony…
If one believes that God is the Creator of all that is seen and unseen — Creation then takes on a vastly different import than if a mindless force set up a chain reaction of evolution. Vladimir Solovyov's interpretation of Creation is far more sublime than what some contemporary atheistic scientists seek to offer us in its place, a world that is devoid of God — but filled with amoeba of all types growing limbs so as to outdo the next generation, and eventually become human — all by chance. Critically Solovyov stresses that the redemption of the world cannot be enacted by something that is mindless. Only that part of Creation capable of receiving Grace can according to God's salvific plan: "Not all living beings but only those endowed with a moral nature can receive the effects of grace and enter into the Kingdom of God". (Solovyov, 1897, p. 166) Hence the restitution of Creation, depends on humanity faithfully living out the Gospel message; lovingly working with God to restore the goodness of the Cosmos.
Solovyov can envisage Darwin's theory of evolution, but only up to a point, on the basis that creatures who live solely by instinct, cannot determine the form of their existence, and thus must obey slavishly the interaction between time and place. Humanity, although a child of the same Creator, has the ability to reason and shape not only itself, individually, but collectively. A person can learn from errors, they can aspire, they can become spiritual giants, as well as being base and reprobate. One generation by passing on the Word — can teach the next. Societies can live according to a higher law as they can exist according to a law that does not even deserve to be referred to as such. Humanity therefore does not evolve — humanity either self-determines or self-destructs. The animal or the plant may be genetically configured to be superior to the previous generation, but the human person, in essence cannot.
Certainly, through eugenics we can create a master-race of people who have blue eyes and blonde hair, or who will have no disease nor deformity — but can we by the process of genetic engineering create a better, more moral, human person? The answer of course is no. The scientist can create physically — but they cannot engineer the spiritual. If this were the case "good-breeding" would have been the secret to world peace. Yet we find within the sickliest of men and women, minds and spirits of genius; and conversely we find in the concept of the master-race of Nazi Germany, moral degeneracy. There is more to the human condition than physicality, there is more to being human, than being classified as a species of the animal kingdom. Humanity holds a place firmly established by the Creator. Hence the psalmist sings out across the epochs:
"For I will regard the heavens, the work of thy fingers; the moon and stars, which thou hast established. What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little less than angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour; and thou hast set him over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things under his feet: sheep and all oxen, yea and the cattle of the field; the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea, the creatures passing through the paths of the sea. O Lord our Lord, how wonderful is thy name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8: 3-9, LXX)
Solovyov argues that if the theory of evolution is applied to humanity, then no person in history could be our superior from a spiritual or intellectual viewpoint, for we, the moderns, living two to three thousand years after the lives of the ancients — should in theory be their masters. If this is the case, and we are indeed the masters of those who have gone before us: why do we still go to war, why do we still lie, why do we cheat, rape, pillage, if we are on the road of evolution? The answer is simple — because as human persons — each of us, that are allowed to be born, must choose our salvation or our damnation; we are not mindless. Each of us, writes history, by winning salvation for ourselves — by wrestling with personal or extraneous demons; and these demons and temptations are peculiar to each individual condition. What poisons me, may be another's milk; what kills my neighbour, may be what has no effect on me whatsoever. This battle for salvation, plays out anew in every generation. Evolution may be a force in the animal kingdom — but humanity lies beyond this kingdom. As of yet — none of us, has surpassed Christ; a man who lived as simply as the first of men, a man who played not with a Nintendo, nor word-processed on an Apple Mac, nor caught messages on a Blackberry. We will never surpass Christ, for one can never have more than the maximum; and no maximum can exist greater than God. He that is Divinely-human, will always be superior to he that is humanly-Divine. (cf. Athanasius of Alexandria in De inc., 54, 3: PG, 192B).
In like manner humanity can never be limited to a theory of evolution — as a theory dealing specifically with physicality is lower in its paradigm to that of the very essence of the human person. If this were not the case — then there would be no greats of history — for we would all be Shakespeares and Mozarts and Curies and Michelangelos. Solovyov writes: "If Christ represents only a relative stage of moral perfection, the absence of any further stages during almost two thousand years of the spiritual growth of humanity is utterly incomprehensible. If He is the absolutely highest type produced by the process of natural evolution, He ought to have appeared at the end and not in the middle of history." (Solovyov, 1897, p. 168) The only hope we have of humanity not being doomed as Sisyphus is to break the monotony of sinfulness and convert our lives to Godliness.
The purpose of the Christian message according to many of the Eastern Fathers, such as Clement and Cyril of Alexandia, is a stirring within the human spirit — a desire to strive for perfection, not out of a slavish obedience to Law, but because there is a larger agenda to be played out — an agenda that includes not only the rescue of our souls, but the rescue of our neighbour and by so doing, a cosmic renaissance for Creation.
St. Maximus the Confessor in Ad Thalassium 2, teaches us about the Cosmic Mystery of Christ and that Cosmic Mystery of the Holy Trinity which is in ourselves, when he writes:
"God, as he alone knew how, completed the primary principles of creatures and the universal essences of beings once for all. Yet he is still at work, not only preserving these creatures in their very existence but effecting the formation, progress, and sustenance of the individual parts that are potential within them. Even now in his providence he is bringing about the assimilation of particulars to universals until he might unite creatures' own voluntary inclination to the more universal natural principle of rational being through the movement of these particular creatures toward well-being, and make them harmonious and self-moving in relation to one another and to the whole universe. In this way there shall be no intentional divergence between universals and particulars. Rather, one and the same principle shall be observable throughout the universe, admitting of no differentiation by the individual modes according to which created beings are predicated, and displaying the grace of God effective to deify the universe.". (Maximus the Confessor, 2003, pp. 99 – 100)
The world is groaning as in child-birth; it is not static. A battle is indeed being fought out — a battle that rages far greater than any pitched at the Somme, the Dardanelles or at Gettysburg. (cf. Ephesians 6: 12). It is a battle for the resurrection of the human person, a battle wherein humanity strives for its original greatness, for its deification — within the Cosmic Mystery of Christ.
The implications of what Solovyov writes are vast; not only for politicians, economists, priests, farmers, teachers — but every person must make a decision regarding themselves, their neighbour, their society — all are involved in the process of rescuing Creation; we are the Images of God — carrying aloft the Word of God, from generation to generation, epoch to epoch.
Although, as has been said, each generation faces the same battles as the previous — society can set structures that help make the battle easier for the next generation to win. Laws against human exploitation, laws that promote justice, laws that protect the family, laws that promote peace between nations — all set a standard that over time can channel the human spirit toward its ultimate goal — toward God. Each time we allow in our society, a law that goes against the dictates of Nature, the dictates of Divine Authority — we take a step back from where we are meant to be going, as a people who are carved out in the Image of God. Each of us is a metaphysical architect helping to build a greater world, helping to not only care for the environment — but to care for all that is Created by a loving Creator. Had humanity always thought and lived as such, one can only imagine what world we would have today.
We need to create a society that brings out the best in ourselves — that maximises our lives — and those of our neighbours; that has compassion with regard Creation — but not compassion out of mindless altruism. Any altruism based solely on aesthetic sentiment triggered by an initial wonder and awe at nature, if it remains at such a primary level, is but a prelude to a much greater drama; a mere waiting on the threshold of Creation. Truly wise compassion understands the purpose and strength behind all action, and behind nature; it loves the beauty of Creation, but not more than it loves the Creator. It is a compassion that understands that in Christ we are part of a Mystery that exceeds the expectations that we place on ourselves; for we are by our very 'Createdness' more splendid than the stars that pattern the sky, more luminous in our spirits than the moon on a pitch evening; more intricate than the delicacy of a butterfly's wings. We need to understand this reality; not only on a personal level, but by way of universal concord. All that exists is in some way a theophany, but according to a manner of strict gradation. (cf. Psalm 150: 6 & Psalm 19: 1 - 6)
As we come closer to God's essence we begin to realise and acknowledge humanity's unique place above all Creation — as the Image of God; and this place we occupy not because of anything we have done, nor need to do — but because each of us, is struck from the template of a Light that came into the world, so that we could once more understand by Divine Illumination what it means to have life, and to have it to the fullest.
In the end, Solovyov reminds his reader:
"Being in the world we must become not of the world, and in this capacity influence the world so that it too should cease to be on its own account and become more and more from God ... All things acquire worth by establishing their positive relationship with the One that is worthy." (Solovyov, 1897, pp. 371 - 372)
Humanity, through Christ, has its place on the earth not only with feet in clay — not only with a spirit in Heaven, but in toto, body and soul in all that is — both visible and invisible; both in this world, and a world that has yet to come. Humanity faces the glory and challenge of St. Paul's letter to the community in Ephesus:
"And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love." (Ephesians 4: 11- 16, RSVCE)
In sum, Solovyov's entire discourse comes down to this: For as the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son — so too we are only able to be redeemed if the grace of God works through us — His Images; we are only able to save the world inasmuch as we allow God in all His goodness to save us.
©2009 Dr Andrew Thomas Kania