July 2005


1.  Blaise Pascal, Pensees, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer (London: Penguin, 1993), 45.

2.  In this and the following quotations, I am basing my translation partly upon that of my great teacher, Albert C. Outler, in Augustine: Confessions and Enchiridion, Library of Christian Classics VII (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), and partly upon the excellent and very readable translation by R. S. Pine-Coffin, in Augustine, Confessions (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1961). See also Glenn F. Chesnut, "The Pattern of the Past: Augustine's Debate with Eusebius and Sallust," in John Deschner, Leroy T. Howe, and Klaus Penzel (eds.), Our Common History as Christians: Essays in Honor of Albert C. Outler (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 69-95.

3.  For this mysterious reality out of which the Big Bang exploded, is outside of space and time, and of necessity contains nothing that follows the physical laws of mass and energy as we know them, so that we cannot find figures to use for equations where t = time, and where space is measured in x, y, z coordinates, and where m = mass and E = energy. And even if we could modify our equations in some way, this ground of being contains that which is infinite. Since it is literally meaningless to speak of multiplying or dividing any number by infinity, or adding infinity to any finite and comprehensible number, our laws of physics and our mathematical equations which we attempted to devise in order to describe this ground of being, would turn into gibberish, no matter how we twisted and turned them.

4.  When Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century speaks of God as Being Itself, this is simply an adaptation of Augustine's concept of God as Truth Itself, for when I learn an important new truth, it causes some new dimension of Being to appear. See Bernard Lonergan, Insight, one of the two best books written in the twentieth century on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, who uses the concept of the moment of insight into some important new truth as the key to explaining the entire Thomistic system; and also the works of Paul Tillich, who adapts the Thomistic concept of God as Being Itself to fit it into a twentieth-century existentialist philosophical framework, in which God becomes the power who brings being out of nonbeing, when our lives seemed crushed into nothingness and we are ready to give up in despair.

5.  Origen, On First Principles, trans. G. W. Butterworth (New York: Harper & Row, 1936). For a general study of his role in the development of Christian theology, see Johannes Quasten, Patrology, 3 vols. (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1950-60) and Berthold Altaner, Patrology. one vol., trans. H. C. Graef (New York: Herder and Herder, 1960).

6.  In the language of ancient Greek patristic theology, we first use the kataphatic method to explore the inner connections of the myth or metaphor, so that we can understand the way its various parts fit together. Then we use the apophatic method to look beyond the myth or metaphor to where it is pointing, for it functions, not as a literal description, but as a signpost pointing beyond itself to the transcendent reality which we need to encounter. It is like following signposts to the Grand Canyon. Each one leads us one step further, until finally we arrive at the signpost which has an arrow on it saying "look here, here is the beauty and grandeur of the canyon right before your eyes." Literalists come back home with dozens of photographs of all the signposts and then argue for years about the logical connections between the signposts, but if you ask them, "what did you think of that extraordinary view which lay before your eyes?" you discover that they never bothered to look at the canyon itself.

7.  Vladimir Lossky, The Vision of God, trans. A. Moorhouse (London: Faith Press, 1963) and In the Image and Likeness of God, ed. I. H. Erickson and T. E. Bird (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974). Also John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 1974).

8.  Origen's system was an attempt to find an orthodox Christian replacement for the gnostic myth, which viewed this universe in which we live as the creation of an evil or fallen creator god, who had created it to hold our spirits prisoner, and keep them from returning to the supreme God and his realm of light and love. The gnostics pointed to all the pain and suffering in the world (loathsome diseases and children born with birth defects and all the other bad things that happened to human beings) to argue that it could not be the work of a good and loving God. In Alexandria in Egypt, where Origen spent his early years, many of the gnostics said that it was the fallen Sophia and her henchman, the Demiurge (who was the God of the Old Testament) who had created the world in which we human beings were now imprisoned. On gnosticism, see for example Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion. 2nd ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963) and David R. Cartlidge and David L. Dungan, Documents for the Study of the Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), which contains a good selection of actual gnostic texts, including the Gospel of Thomas, the Acts of Thomas (and the Hymn of the Pearl), along with the Gospel of Philip.

9.  The idea of the transmigration of souls had come into Greece after the Homeric period via the Orphic movement, a religious movement that had come down out of central Asia, and probably had its origins in the shamanism of the steppes of central Asia, where belief in a radical body-soul dualism arose out of some of the experiences which these shamans had when they fell into trances. For a general study of ancient Greek ideas on the immortality of the soul, see Erwin Rohde, Psyche: The Cult of Souls and Belief in Immortality among the Greeks (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1925).

10.  William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902 (New York: Random House, 1994), gives a number of examples, both Protestant and Catholic, in the latter part of the chapter on "Saintliness" (Lectures 11-13).

11.  See Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. W. R. Trask (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1959), and lying behind his ideas, the fundamental discoveries made by Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational, 2nd ed., trans. John W. Harvey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950); for the German text I use Rudolf Otto, Das Heilige: Über das Irrationale in der Idee des göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen, 11th ed. (Stuttgart: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1923).

12.  Thomas Aquinas, Nature and Grace: Selections from the Summa Theologica, trans. A. M. Fairweather (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954).

13.  In the Big Book: Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001) 58.

14.  In modern English translations of Plato, dikaiosunê is usually translated as "justice," although I once had a conversation with Professor Robert Vacca, the world expert on Plato's Greek, and we discovered that he and I had independently come to the conclusion that "sanity" or "mental balance" would usually be a better translation. In modern English translations of the New Testament, this same word is usually translated as "righteousness," which raises some thought-provoking questions about whether people who are too religious (in the wrong kinds of ways) have as good an understanding as they think they do of what the New Testament authors were actually teaching. This is particularly so because we need to remember that all the good philosophers of the ancient world (both Christian and Jewish) who knew the Bible thoroughly, were convinced that Plato and the Bible were both teaching exactly the same thing on most of the essential spiritual issues. This would include thinkers as diverse as Philo Judaeus, Justin Martyr, Eusebius of Caesarea, and even that cranky old curmudgeon Tertullian (in spite of his occasional antiphilosophical declamations to the tune of "what has Jerusalem to do with Athens!" Somewhat amusingly, many of the ancient Christian authors (who could not believe that anyone except themselves had ever received true divine inspiration) attempted to explain this by claiming that Plato had somehow gotten hold of a Greek translation of the Old Testament, and had shamelessly plagiarized much of his teaching from that source.


© Copyright 2005 by Glenn F. Chesnut.   From the Hindsfoot Foundation website at http://hindsfoot.org/   This material may be copied and reproduced by others subject to the restrictions given at http://hindsfoot.org/copyright.html