Archive for the ‘Individuality’ Category
On November 25, 2014, Pope Francis addressed the members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, exhorting them to greater concern for what he called man’s transcendent dignity. The next day one newspaper ran the somewhat misleading headline, “Pope Calls for End to Hunger.” Now clearly ending hunger is a good thing, and the Pope did mention it. But this was not his core message, which considered not so much man’s needs and dignity at a material level, but man’s transcendent dignity.
What, then, is man’s transcendent dignity? This is clearly too large and involved a topic to pursue in detail here. Rather it is more fitting to call attention to the fact that it is a question. Our first task, that is, is to come to a more clear and explicit understanding of this term, transcendent dignity, which we seem to collectively intuit has some valid meaning…
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“Christ’s temptation in the garden of Gesthemane constitutes the archetypal temptation of human existence. The temptation in that case was impending death by crucifixion and the fear produced as a result. However, Christ does not allow his gnomic will to overpower his natural will and thus prevents through free will the penetration of temptation into the heart where it inflames the passions which eventually lead to sin. [See Maximus Confessor, Opuscule 3.]”
Source: Ilias Bantekas, “The Metaphysics of Temptation in Eastern Orthodox Monasticism“, Theandros, 4(2), 2006/2007.
The terms gnomic will and natural will require clarification:
- Gnomic will: false, egoistic will
- Natural will: our will when set into motion, guided, and energized by God
Despite its unfamiliarity as a term, ‘gnomic will’ is the perhaps the more experientially familiar. This is our ordinary will in the fallen state. Thus, in a sense, what St. Maximus calls “‘natural will” might be thought of as a supernatural will or divinely inspired will, and what he calls “‘gnomic will” might actually be considered the ‘natural’ (i.e., more associated with our usual, fallen nature) will.
The WikiPedia has two paragraphs on gnomic will, the more important one being:
“The notion of gnomic will belongs to Eastern Orthodox ascetical theology, being developed particularly within the theology of St Maximus the Confessor. The term ‘gnomic’ derives from the Greek gnome, meaning ‘inclination’ or ‘intention’. Within Orthodox theology, gnomic willing is contrasted with natural willing. Natural willing designates the free movement of a creature in accordance with the principle (logos) of its nature towards the fulfilment (telos, stasis) of its being. Gnomic willing, on the other hand, designates that form of willing in which a person engages in a process of deliberation culminating in a free choice.”
The main point is that Jesus Christ’s temptation in Gesthemane corresponds to a continuing existential struggle and choice of ours: to follow either false reasonings and false will, or to exercise the true (natural), God-led will, and thereby to act in the way God wishes, the former producing unhappiness and the latter leading to the Kingdom of Heaven — in our souls and in the world.
A fine point invites further attention: may it properly be said that we exercise our natural will, or is it exclusively God who exercises it? That is, are we merely passive bystanders when our natural will operates? This seems like a very relevant question, even at first it might seem like something that smacks of excessive scholasticism. At stake here are fundamental ideas about personal individuality. There is no need to pursue this topic here — it’s enough simply to mention it. Let it suffice to suggest that we should not make any limiting assumptions in this regard. It is entirely possible — if not experientially self-evident — that natural will may be a joint activity of personal and Divine action. Although the power of natural will — and certainly it’s direction, may come ultimately from God, nevertheless there seems a definite sense in which it is our will: our doing, making, intending, or effort. It does appear that we are contributing or committing something of ourselves.
Having gone this far into the subject of Gethsemane we may add a little more. The struggle associated with the choice between following gnomic will and natural will is so basic to the human condition that we would expect to find it repeatedly, and perhaps centrally, addressed in the Bible. And, indeed, the entire story of the fall of Adam and Eve may be understand precisely in these terms. The Fall itself corresponds to Adam and Eve choosing gnomic will over natural will. The events of Gethsemane, and the subsequent passion, crucifixion and death (and resurrection) correspond to a reversal of Adam’s primal sin, and, in a sense, a restoration of what was lost. What was lost in a garden is corrected in a garden.
In case it has not been mentioned before in so many words (most likely it has, but in any case it bears repeating), the process of reversing the primal psychological sin of egoism corresponds not just to the events of Gethsemane, but through the point of John 19:30:
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.
The Greek word for ghost here is pneuma, or spirit, so one might understand this as corresponding to the relinquishing of control (“giving up”) of the spirit, letting thereby the spirit guide and energize our will and actions.