Archive for the ‘Eschatology’ Category
Today my readings took me to St. Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, and an interesting passage where he warns them against what he calls the great Rebel (2 Thess. 2:3) This is in a modern (Jerusalem Bible) translation. The King James Version renders the Greek expression (anthropos hamartia) as that man of sin. Usually I am wary of modern translations, but here one suspects that the international team of scholars who translated the Jerusalem Bible had good grounds for their more evocative choice of words.
In any case this reading serves as a welcome stimulus to address a topic I have too long delayed. I wish to call attention to the reality of this great Rebel as a psychological phenomenon , and as a major obstacle to human happiness.
Now as to whether Satan, in the traditional sense, exists or not does not concern me here. What is of concern is a satanic principle as it exists within the psyche of each individual. That I am convinced does exist. And it is this inner satanic principle which is, I believe, our most immediate concern, and perhaps ultimately our greatest adversary and obstacle to well-being.
What is the evidence for this? To begin with, I call attention to the psychological theories of Carl Jung. Jung’s theories are not always right, and much of what he wrote is either inconsistent with — or has been interpreted (perhaps wrongly) in ways that make it inconsistent with — Christianity. However, points of incorrectness or disagreement should never make us hesitate to accept whatever else is true and useful. And there is indeed much true and useful in Jung’s theories.
In this case, Jung’s theories make a very strong case that the Bible, as well as the sacred writings and myths of all cultures, (1) can be interpreted psychologically, and (2) that this can be done more or less along the same lines as one interprets dreams psychologically.
One proviso or explanation must be made immediately: to say that the Bible can be interpreted psychologically in no way denies that it has other levels of meaning. Most importantly, it does not deny that the New Testament is literally true. (Whether the Old Testament is literally true is, of course, another matter.) Thus, rather than detract from the grandeur of the Bible, this view actually enhances it: it allows that God, the Supreme Author, uses all modes of meaning which literature may carry — literal and symbolic — to communicate with our souls. But having stated this, I will not further defend the premise here, having done so elsewhere. In any case, many readers will be willing to accept this key premise prima facie.
A corollary of this premise is that each figure in the Bible has some counterpart, and thus serves as a symbol for some part or process of the individual psyche. Again, many, especially those already familiar with Jungian theory, will accept this without further explanation. It is a standard element of psychological interpretation of dreams, as well as of mythology, art and literature.
However, from the preceding, fairly unimpressive propositions, logic leads us necessarily to a momentous one: this means that the figure of Satan — or the great Rebel — must also correspond to something within the individual psyche.
If true, this is a huge concern. It means that, at virtually all times, in whatever we do or think, in whatever way we seek to improve ourselves on the road of virtue, or to love others, or to contribute to a better word, something within us opposes our efforts. Moreover this energy, force, or principle of opposition is extremely strong, crafty, utterly callous and unloving, devoid of virtue, and, in every way corresponds to the figure of Satan in the Bible!
Evidence of the reality of this adversarial principle can be found in ancient philosophy. I refer, in particular, to the writings of the Jewish Middle Platonist, Philo of Alexandria (c. 25 BC–c.50 AD). Philo is most famous for his complex and amazingly astute psychological interpretations of Genesis and Exodus. However in the process of his interpreting Scripture he contributed quite a bit of philosophical and psychological theory as well. In particular, Philo sees human nature as containing two opposed energies — one salvific and salutary, which he calls soteria (so-tay-ree’-ah; the Greek work for salvation), and the other, its antithesis: a destructive force, which he calls phthorá (fthor-ah’; Liddell-Scott; Strong G5356).
Even this much is quite valuable to know. Now we have a name for this opposing principle, our great enemy: phthorá. This is a great advance over not having a name, in which case we must simply experience the effects of this force. With a term, however, we have the ability to form a definite concept, to associate that concept with other concepts, and to think rationally and productively about it.
There would appear to be at least a vague connection between this negative principle and Freud’s concept of death wish, or thanatos. However, for reasons I won’t go into here, I think that phthorá is something more — and more problematic for us — than the Freudian death wish.
As would be expected for something of such vital and fundamental psychological importance, this principle is represented in the world’s mythologies. In Greek mythology, for example, it corresponds to the god Typhon, a many-headed serpent of inconceivable strength and virulence, who is also the god of storms (hence our word, typhoon.)
Each of us is concerned, both each day and moment to moment, with constructing a stable, integrated personality. This corresponds to the state of unity or harmony discussed in my previous article on the monomyth of fall and restoration. Phthorá is that force within us which actively seeks our fall, and, once we’ve fallen, prevents us from rising again to wholeness.
At a phenomenological level, this is experienced as disturbing thoughts which agitate our mind, and distract us from positive, creative, loving and productive cognition. In a very real sense, at least phenomenologically speaking, life is virtually the same as clear and whole awareness of our outer and inner experience. If we look at a meadow and our mind is tranquil, we see the beauty, the details —we are alive to it. The more our mind is agitated, the more our experience comes to approximate semi- and even un-consciousness — and, in that degree, we are only partly alive. In a state of complete mental agitation we could be said to be dead, in the sense that, if we are conscious at all of our surroundings or inner life, the mental impressions are devoid of vitality and vividness (i.e., of life)
I wish to do no more here than to expose this deadly foe by naming him (or her or it). Knowing phthorá exists alone will not stop it. But better to know your foe than to let it wreak havoc unobserved.
I would only add a few additional points:
- As already noted, this force is opposed by soterias, the principle of self-actualization, which is stronger. In Christianity, Jesus Christ corresponds to (among having other meanings and levels of reality), or perhaps is, soterias. This means that remedy for phthorá is to be found in the complex system of mythos, religion, psychology and philosophy that surrounds the figure of Jesus Christ.
- There is possibly some legitimate reason, biologically and/or psychologically, for the existence of phthorá. Perhaps goodness needs an adversary to stay in trim and so that we can grow in virtue. Nevertheless, in this case a little goes a long way: if we need the devil, keep it chained, well guarded, and hopefully with Jesus Christ standing on its head.
- Again, it is very important to recognize how this force operates within us. Otherwise (as Jung pointed out), there is a strong tendency for us to project our own satanic tendencies onto others. Our great enemy, adversary and antagonist is within. Whatever harm anyone else can do us is negligible in comparison with the ferocity and malice of this opponent.
- In keeping with everything said here, it follows that there is a serious danger our identifying with this principle, of becoming it. This, in fact, happens routinely. It occurs, for example, when we become so harshly condemning of others that we literally take the attitude of an avenging angel towards them. To take an example from today’s news, political conservatives may condemn progressives, angrily denouncing them and insisting they are great sinners, etc. But in doing this, in relinquishing the reign of love and goodness in their psyche, they become literally possessed by phthorá. And, of course, the exact same can be said of progressives who condemn, rather than try to engage or reason with conservatives. But this is only an example; a hundred others could serve equally well as illustrations.
The usual Roman Catholic and Anglican belief is that, after death, souls go to Purgatory. This is traditionally envisioned as a purifying fire, though many suggest that ‘fire’ is to be understood in a metaphorical sense, representing a potentially painful purification.
While it is believed that souls of the good will eventually join God in heaven, this would actually happen after the end of the world, the General Resurrection and the Last Judgment. So, even one who lived the most saintly life on earth would not go to heaven immediately, but would need to wait until after end times before receiving his or her final reward.
So what do souls of the good do in the meantime? If they sinned little, why would they remain in Purgatory for a protracted period?
Some theologians suggest that in the intermediate state, that is, the period between death and the General Resurrection, redeemed and sufficiently purified souls may go to not to heaven, but to different place, which is itself pleasant enough to merit the name Paradise.
Scriptural evidence comes from Jesus’ words on the cross to the penitent thief: Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43) Jesus said not “some day” but today the thief would be in Paradise.
Origen (184 – 254 AD), the enigmatic and mystical Church Father from Alexandria, Egypt, conjectured on the intermediate state in his speculative work, On First Principles (De Principiis). He suggested that perhaps the just, after death, go to a place, Paradise, which is a school for souls. He also mentioned an ascent through various spheres of heaven, using some of the same imagery as Gnostics (who were active in Alexandria at the same time, and whose work Origen knew well). There are also associations to Jewish Merkabah mysticism, something which Origen also was exposed to by virtue of his tenure as a teacher in Caesarea, Palestine.
An extract of his work follows. (As Origen’s sentences tend to be long, I’ve parsed them into something like blank verse poetry to aid understanding.)
Origen on the School of Souls
On First Principles, Book 2, Chapter 11, Sections 6-7 (2.11.6-7)
6… I think, therefore, that all the saints who depart from this life
will [first] remain in some place situated on the earth,
which holy Scripture calls paradise,
as in some place of instruction, and,
so to speak, class-room or school of souls,
in which they are to be instructed regarding all the things
which they had seen on earth,
and are to receive also some information respecting
things that are to follow in the future,
as even when in this life they had obtained
in some degree indications of future events,
although through a glass darkly,
all of which are revealed more clearly and distinctly
to the saints in their proper time and place.
If any one indeed be pure in heart, and holy in mind,
and more practised in perception, he will,
by making more rapid progress, [then]
quickly ascend to a place in the air,
and reach the kingdom of heaven,
through those mansions, so to speak,
in the various places which the Greeks
have termed spheres, i.e., globes,
but which holy Scripture has called heavens;
in each of which he will first see clearly what is done there,
and in the second place, will discover the reason
why things are so done:
and thus he will in order pass through all gradations,
following Him who has passed into the heavens,
Jesus the Son of God, who said,
I will that where I am, these may be also.
And of this diversity of places He speaks, when
He says, In My Father’s house are many mansions….
7. When, then, the saints shall have
reached the celestial abodes,
they will clearly see the nature of the stars
one by one,
and will understand
whether they are endued with life,
or their condition, whatever it is.
And they will comprehend also the
other reasons for the works of God,
which He Himself will reveal to them.
For He will show to them, as to children,
the causes of things and the power of His creation,
and will explain why that star was placed
in that particular quarter of the sky,
and why it was separated from another
by so great an intervening space;
what, e.g., would have been the consequence
if it had been nearer or more remote;
or if that star had been larger than this,
how the totality of things would not have remained the same,
but all would have been transformed
into a different condition of being.
And so, when they have finished all those matters
which are connected with the stars,
and with the heavenly revolutions,
they will come to those which are not seen,
or to those whose names only we have heard,
and to things which are invisible,
which the Apostle Paul has informed us are numerous,
although what they are, or what difference may exist among them,
we cannot even conjecture by our feeble intellect.
And thus the rational nature,
growing by each individual step,
not as it grew in this life in flesh, and body, and soul,
but enlarged in understanding and in power of perception,
is raised as a mind already perfect to perfect knowledge,
no longer at all impeded by those carnal senses,
but increased in intellectual growth; and ever gazing purely,
and, so to speak, face to face, on the causes of things, it attains perfection,
firstly, viz., that by which it ascends to (the truth),
and secondly, that by which it abides in it,
having problems and the understanding of things,
and the causes of events, as the food on which it may feast.
For as in this life our bodies grow physically to what they are,
through a sufficiency of food in early life supplying the means of increase,
but after the due height has been attained we use food no longer to grow,
but to live, and to be preserved in life by it;
so also I think that the mind, when it has attained perfection,
eats and avails itself of suitable and appropriate food in such a degree,
that nothing ought to be either deficient or superfluous.
And in all things this food is to be understood
as the contemplation and understanding of God,
which is of a measure appropriate and suitable to this nature,
which was made and created;
and this measure it is proper should be observed by
every one of those who are beginning to see God,
i.e., to understand Him through purity of heart.
Origen. De Principiis. Tr. Frederick Crombie. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV (ANF4). Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Eds. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1866-1872.
The religious life, explained in detail throughout the Bible, is summarized in a single, short passage, namely Psalm 1. Further, the essential message is conveyed in just the first two or three verses. Noting this and studying the psalm will therefore greatly assist ones spiritual progress, in a very direct way, and with comparatively little effort…. click here for the rest.
Psalm 71 (72)
This is a magnificent psalm. Here an interpretation is offered following depth-psychological framework developed in several of these posts.
To begin, we recall a primary principle of depth-psychological exegesis: that every element in the scripture corresponds to some element of the self, psyche, or personality.
The Messiah’s royal power
Give the king your judgement, O God,
The king is the personality after salvation is attained. This is attested to by (1) our earlier understanding of what the Kingdom of Heaven implies, by (2) associations with the idea of a philosopher king in Plato’s Republic, and (3) the symbolism of the king in Alchemical writings and iconography.
give the king’s son your righteousness.
Here is something new. There is both a king and a king’s son! What the king’s son is not clear. One might thing this is the Christ Archetype. However, it seems more likely that the king is the Christ Archetype; that is because, above, a distinction was made between the king and God. However, we are not dealing with literal logic here, and perhaps, in some sense, the king and the king’s son refer to the same entity.
Let him judge your people with justice
Is it the king or the king’s son who judges? Since it is the king’s son who receives righteousness (a quality associated with justice), this suggests that the king’s son is referred to. As the distinction between king and king’s son is not maintained in the psalm, we shall provisionally assume that these are, basically, two facets or functions of the same entity.
As repeatedly mentioned in these posts, the psyche or self includes components or facets that can be likened to peoples, nations, tribes, etc.
and your poor ones with wisdom.
Some of these ‘people’ are poor. These would correspond to neglected or suffering parts of the total person. In a sense, this also refers to the empirical ego –( i.e., you, the reader, as you see yourself) — because it is the suffering ego that is drawn to the psalms and seeks salvation.
Let the mountains bring peace to your people,
What are the mountains? This is something perhaps for future consideration.
let the hills bring righteousness.
He will give his judgement to the poor among the people,
he will rescue the children of the destitute,
Expanding on earlier statements.
he will lay low the false accuser.
The false accuser is our primary adversary and source of negative thoughts. Related to doubt, anxiety, fear. This is to the Christ Archetype what King Herod is to the infant Jesus.
He will endure with the sun, beneath the moon,
Sun and moon here surely have iconic significance — relating to the solar and lunar aspects of the psyche. Much has already been written about this.
from generation to generation.
Our personality/ego continually changes. These ‘versions’ might be likened to generations.
He will come down like rain on the pasture,
As in the form of grace.
like a shower that waters the earth.
In his time, righteousness will flourish
and abundance of peace,
until the moon itself is no more.
The last statement is interesting; note that the author does not say “until the sun and moon are no more”, but only “until the moon itself is no more.”
He will rule from coast to coast,
from the world’s centre to its farthest edge.
The desert-dwellers will cast themselves down before him;
his enemies will eat dust at his feet.
The kings of Tharsis and the islands will bring tribute,
the kings of Arabia and Sheba will bring gifts.
All the kings will worship him,
Potentially there is some significance to the specific references to kings of Tharsis, Arabia, Sheba, and the islands. In general we see reference to the same theme as the Adoration of the Magi.
The Magi were kings, magicians, who came to prostrate themselves to Jesus Christ. This implies there are elements of our psyche or our personality — Magi analogs — which revere and subordinate themselves to the Christ Archetype. What are these Magi analogs? This is a worthy subject for speculation. We can say this much: the Magi are presented in the Bible as wise and noble. This implies there are wise and noble elements of our personality — let us suggest, perhaps, elements that, like the Christ Archetype, seek our integration and improvement, and accomplish good things towards that. But these eventually must see themselves as inferior and subordinate to the Christ Archetype.
all nations will serve him.
Because he has given freedom to the destitute who called to him,
to the poor, whom no-one will hear.
He will spare the poor and the needy,
he will keep their lives safe.
He will rescue their lives from oppression and violence,
their blood will be precious in his sight.
He will live long, and receive gifts of gold from Arabia;
they will pray for him always,
bless him all through the day.
There will be abundance of grain in the land,
it will wave even from the tops of the mountains;
its fruit will be richer than Lebanon.
The people will flourish as easily as grass.
Let his name be blessed for ever,
let his name endure beneath the sun.
All the nations of the earth will be blessed in him,
all nations will acclaim his greatness.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone works wonders.
Let his majesty be blessed for ever;
let it fill all the earth. Amen, amen.
To emphasize the special importance of this psalm, the author concludes with not one, but two Amens. Let it be! Let it be!
2 Peter 3: 8 – 14
8 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!
13 But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
14 Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
Isaiah 25: 6 – 10
6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
10 For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain, and Moab shall be trodden down in his place, as straw is trodden down in a dung-pit.