Daily Meditations

Persons in Communion: The Justification of the Good

But sin turns this diverse unity into a hostile multiplicity, so that space becomes a separator, time a murderer, and language good only for expressing juxtaposition or possession. Whence the slogan of May 1968, ‘Love one another’; this is facile blasphemy, because the erotic encounter itself is given us as a symbol, a foretaste of personal communion.

In the universe of sin solitary individuals devour one another. There is a besetting tendency today, when faced with a strictly spiritual predicament, where only holiness could work a cure, to explain it in terms that are purely historical, and ultimately sociological. So we speak of a consumer society, whereas, ever since the Fall, individuals have consumed one another incessantly, and together have consumed nature, which always retaliates with equal force.

The universe of sin is made up of individuals who both hate and resemble each other (which is why hatred of others is conditioned by the most terrible hatred of all, that of self). The result is a curious monotony. If, after hearing so many wretched secrets, confessors were unable to see into people’s hearts, they would only have had to say, like Ecclesiastes, ‘All things are full of weariness… What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun’ (1.8-9).

We must agree with Soloviev that the time has come for ‘the justification of the good’, which happens to be also the title of one of his books. Not the sickly good of moralism, but the goodness and beauty which is our participation in the fullness of God. A good no longer derived from morality, but from being and communion. Inventiveness, creative energy, originality exist only in the Spirit. Evil is in itself nothing, a bubble. Its chief characteristic is repetition. Within the death and hell surrounding us the emphasis may shift from age to age, or from civilization to civilization – it would be possible to write a history of evil; but there would be nothing left in the historian’s mind but pride and despair, that is to say the nothingness brought into being by our misdirected freedom. Nothing would be left but the vertigo of the abyss.

That freedom, which seeks the Spirit of life only to reject and mimic it, can display a certain savage grandeur, a devilish inventiveness. There is a mosaic at Ravenna of the angel Lucifer, very beautiful but infinitely wistful, and infinitely sad, because, although he is at Christ’s side, he does not wish to see him. (Which is why sadness, the ‘worldly grief that, according to St Paul, ‘produces death’, was considered by the great monks to be one of the chief kinds of sin.)

The 19th century was, with notable exceptions, an age of spiritual slumber, when Christianity degenerated into moralism. So little evidence was there of the creative presence of the Holy Spirit that some ardent souls, in their passion for life and beauty, confused him with Lucifer. Baudelaire wrote verses to Satan, and the young Nietzsche, despite being the son of a pastor, or perhaps because of it, spoke of the Trinity of the Father, the Son and Lucifer. Only Leon Bloy understood exactly how to ‘discern the spirits’: true inspiration is from the Spirit, but he must be liberated from the underworld to which conventional Christian morality has banished him. We are still paying a massive price for the betrayals of the 19th century. But Berdyaev said – and this was borne out in his life – that each Christian receives a special genius from the Spirit, and Simone Weil has called for a ‘sanctity which has genius’ – something she had already shown she possessed. The Spirit, then, still has his prophets among us. We are discovering that the eucharist, in the words of the ancient Syrian liturgies, is Spirit and Fire.

~Adapted from Olivier Clement, On Human Being:  A Spiritual Anthropology