Thursday, November 22, 2012


One human being can and has given adequate thanks (εχαριστέω)[1] to God – Jesus Christ alone. In thanksgiving for God’s creation, redemption, and deification of us, to him is “due all glory, honor, and worship”[2] from all us other humans. Yet we, of ourselves, are “unworthy servants,”[3] and so we pray for God, who alone can do so, to “make us worthy to partake… of [his] heavenly and awesome mysteries.”[4] Only when we have thus participated in the thanksgiving of Jesus and mysteriously become one with him, can we pray, “let us worthily thank the Lord”[5] and adequately thank him.

Damiane's fresco of the Mystical Supper in Ubisi monastery , Georgia - 14th century

[2] Prayers of the First Antiphon, the Entrance, the Thrice-Holy Hymn, and the First Prayer of the Faithful; see also 1 Tim 1:17
[3] Prayers of the Thrice-Holy Hymn, and the Cherubikon. 
[4] Preparation for Communion.
[5] Prayer of Thanksgiving. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Working Definition of Evil

       I cannot accept that evil is an inevitable byproduct of creation, as the Alexandrians propose. I believe that free creatures make unnecessary choices for evil, which opinion I think Irenaeus would support. I agree with the Alexandrians that evil is lack – but not with their idea that creatureliness lacks something. A creature is less than its Creator, true, but this is good and not evil. Rather, it would be evil for a creature to strive vainly to be uncreated. (That may be the very sin of Satan). Evil is to strive against what is – or to strive to be what one is not. Goodness is to be what the Creator creates one to be. For the Creator, goodness is simply to be. Each creature is created good – without any evil at all. Freedom, which contains an inherent potential for evil, is itself good.
       Evil has no being. It is neither creature nor attribute of the Creator. Nonetheless, evil beings do evil things. Good creatures with freewill have the potential to strive vainly against goodness. Beings that strive against being are evil. All evil - both moral evil and all suffering and death – results from this vain striving, which is sin.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Iconography of the Devil

Roman Catholic images of Satan often depict him as a horned, muscular, bat-winged man in combat with Michael, whose feast is today  (right).

In many ancient religious traditions, horns were associated with the crescent moon and thus with fertility, night, darkness, death, and the underworld. On the devil, they signify his power, his association with death, and destructive sexuality.

            The bearded muscular figure is consonant with the view found in many religions that the principle force of evil is powerfully masculine (cf. Matt 12:29).

            Wings, which allow creatures to dwell in the air and grant them swiftness, i.e. the ability to be “everywhere in an instant,” signify the spiritual nature of both angels and fallen angels. According to Tertullian, “every spirit is winged.” In later imagery, bat wings serve to distinguish demons from angels.

Perhaps indicating a more dualist perspective, the Western image depicts Satan – though defeated – as well-matched to fight Michael. I believe Eastern iconography better represents the truth (left).
While the depiction of Satan in the icon contains some of the same elements – e.g. horns and wings – he is dramatically smaller and no match for his fellow angel Michael. Icons consistently represent demons this way – as tiny black specks, rather like flies (which evokes a name of their master: Beëlzebub). This effectively communicates the ultimate insignificance of evil. 

(I've written about some of this before). 

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