Friday, March 25, 2005

Ariste and Théodore on Being as Nothing Before God

The following is my rough translation from the French of a passage from Malebranche's Dialogues on Metaphysics and on Religion (Dialogue XIV, to be exact).

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VIII. ARISTE: ...There is no relation between the finite and the infinite. This can pass for a common notion. The universe compared to God is nothing, and ought to be counted as nothing. But it is only the Christians, those who believe the divinity of Jesus Christ, who truly count as nothing their own being, and this vast universe that we are admiring. Perhaps philosophers pass this judgment. But they do not proclaim it. On the contrary they belie this speculative judgment by their actions. They are to approach God, as if they no longer knew that the distance between him and us is infinite. They imagine that God is pleased with the profane worship they render him. They have the insolence, or, if you wish, the presumption, to adore him. Let them be quiet. Their respectful science will proclaim more than their words the speculative judgment that they form of their relation to God. It is only the Christians who may open their mouths, and divinely praise the Lord. It is only they who gain access to his soveriegn majesty. It is they who truly count themselves as nothing, themselves and the rest of the universe, in relation to God, when they profess that it is only through Jesus Christ that they claim to have any relation with him. This annihilation to which their faith reduces them, gives them a veritable reality before God. This judgment that they proclaim in agreement with God himself, gives to all their worship an infinite price. All is profane in relation to God, and ought to be consecrated by the divinity of the Son in order to be worthy of the sanctity of the Father, in order to merit his pleasure and his good will. This is the unshakable foundation of our holy religion.

IX. THÉODORE: Assuredly, Ariste, you understand my thought well. From the finite to the infinite, and what is more, from the profound nothingness to which sin has reduced us to the divine sanctity, to the right hand of the Most High, the distance is infinite. We are by nature but childen of wrath: Natura filii irae [Eph. 11:3]. We are in the world as atheists [atheoi], without God, without benefactor: Sine Deo in hoc mundo [Verse 12]. But through Jesus Christ we are already risen, we have been raised up and are seated in the most high heavens: Convivifiavit nos in Christo, et conresuscitavit, et consedere fecti in coelestibus in Christo Jesu [Verses 5 and 6]. Now we do not feel in ourselves our adoption in Jesus Christ, our divinity: Divinae consortes naturae [II Peter 1:4]. But this is because our life is hidden in God with Christ. When Jesus Christ will appear, then we shall also appear with him in glory: Scimus quoniam cum apparuerit, similes ei erimus [I Jn. 3:2]. Vita vestra, says saint Paul, est ascondita cum Christo in Deo. Cum Christus apparuerit vita vestra, tunch et vos apparebitis cum ipso in gloria [Col. 3:3]. There is no longer this infinite distance that separates us from the divinity. Nunc autem in Christo Jesu vos, qui aliquando eratis longe, facti estis prope in sanguine Christi: ipse enim est pax nostra [Eph. 2:13]. Because by Jesus Christ we all have gained access to the Father. Quoniam per ipsum habemus accessum ambo in uno spiritu ad Patrem. Ergo (listen now to the conclusion of the apostle) Jam non estis hospites et advenae, sed estis cives sanctorum et domestici Dei, superaedificati super fundamentum apostolorum et prophetarum, ipso summo angulari lapide Christo Jesu, in quo omnis aedificatio constructa crescit in templum sanctum Domino: in quo et vos coaedificamini in habitaculum Dei in spiritu [verse 18]. Weigh all these words, Ariste, and principally these: In quo omnis aedificatio constructa crescit in templum sanctum Domino.

ARISTE: Théodore, it is only the Man-God who is able to join creature to Creator, to sanctify the profane, to construct a temple where God can dwell with honor. I understand now the sense of these words: Deus erat in Christo mundum reconcilians sibi [II Cor. 5:19]. It is a common notion that there is no relation between the finite and the infinite. Everything depends on this incontestable principle. All worship that beliews this principle, offends Reason, and dishonors the divinity. Eternal Wisdom cannot be its author. It is only the pride, only the ignorance, or at least the stupidity of the human mind that can now approve it. For it is only the religion of Jesus Christ that proclaims the judgment which God passes, and which we ought ourselves to form, on the limitation of the creature, and the sovereign majesty of the Creator....The only true religion can be that which is founded on the only Son of the Father, on this Man-God who joins heaven with earth, the finite with the infinite, by the incomprehensible union of two natures, which renders him at the same time equal to his Father, and like unto us. This seems evident to me.

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