I’ve often expressed my scepticism of “grand system” metaphysics or vision, and I rarely ever discuss or talk about “big picture” stuff. However, my friends and I have been reading and discussing blogs of high church Christians with extensive knowledge, command, and grand philosophies and vision of their faith but who have since fallen into apostasy, especially when that idealised platonic conception of the faith cannot survive contact with “on the ground” realities.
What I want to do here as such is to present an alternative big picture. A risky task doubtlessly fraught with potentially meaningless abstractions, sweeping claims and hand-waving devices. However, if I were to have a metaphysical “big picture” view of Christianity it would be this: Christianity is cosmic eschatology and fundamentally teleological all the way down. It is perpetual life, motion, movement and exploration into the infinite depths of the Creator’s creativity.
This is all a bit abstract, so to shift gears slightly, I shall discuss a curious medieval debate: whether sin is finite or infinite. Duns Scotus infamously insisted that sin must be finite for two reasons: (1) sin is an inherently creaturely act and creatures by definition are finite, as such, sin has to be finite too. (2) If sin were infinite, then that would imply a summum malum or “chief evil” corresponding to the summum bonum or chief good which all creatures moves towards, i.e. God. This is essentially to be guilty of a form of Manichaean dualism where both good and evil are equally infinite.
According to Scotus as such, sin must have an ending, a limit, it has to terminate, it cannot be permanent. It has to be finite, it cannot be perpetually journeying or moving towards some summum malum or infinite evil. But here we see a contrast between the damned and the saved: the saved are perpetually moving, living, journeying towards God, the damned on the other hand just… stop moving. They lose vigor, become lifeless, and is eventually drained of all activity, motion and life, and eventually dissolves into nothing. Thus, we are either connected to the “Giver of Life” and keep moving in communion, or if we turn away from that Source of All Life we just power down and stop moving, dead in our tracks literally.
I want to leave Scotus here and jump to a related topic, but which is linked by an interesting thread. It is a topic I’ve discussed from time and time and that is the question of the final state of the damned and whether “annihilationism” or conditional mortality as it is called today is valid. Between the “infernalists” who believe that the damned will writhe in eternal torment, and the universalist who thinks that everyone will be saved, there are the annihilationists who think that the damned will just, well, die, return to dust. However, in the light of the foregoing discussion, annihilationism is the most fitting position from the idea of finite evils. Those “out of communion” with God simply powers down, disconnected from the source of life, they just lose life in every literal sense of the word. All life and “being” in this world are powered and sustained by the grace of God, cut off from that source and we just stop living. God does not, as such, on this conception take a perverse delight in keeping the damned alive for the sake of torturing or tormenting them (Aquinas I think says somewhere that the saints in heaven will be watching the torments of the damned with pleasure). Rather since the damned had their happiness and joys in this life, but neglecting the source, God just “forgets” them, puts them out of mind, and they crumble back to dust. They had their fun. He doesn’t waste any energy or time trying to sustain in existence people who cares nothing for Him. And all the elect, while they will gaze upon the corpses of the damned at the Last Judgement and know that justice has been done, will promptly put them out of mind and move on to continue plumbing the depths of the infinite life of God.
It is interesting to note the two very different depictions of hell from the two great Western epics, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. In Milton, hell is a very hot place teeming life, activity, beauty: Satan and his army of rebels are filled with zest and energy in hatching their nefarious plots against the divine will, one of the devils even builds gem-crusted palaces from their lava and volcanic environment. But Dante’s Inferno cannot be any more different. The deeper Dante journeys into hell the colder it gets. The idea is that warmth, heat, energy, activity and life radiates from God, the further away one is from God, the less and less life and activity there is, until at the very heart of hell, hell literally positively freezes over, it is absolute zero at the heart of hell. Satan dwells at the centre, not vigorously plotting against God as in Milton’s hell, but chained and completely immobilised.
I want to shift gears and jump back to the beginning since we have now seen the end. Let’s go back to Scotus and pick up another one of his ideas: Supralapsarian Christology. Supralapsarian Christology is the idea that creation was made eventually for the Son and for the Son to rule over it incarnate as one of us humans. Thus, the “teleos” of creation, the purpose for which it was created, was precisely for the Son of God to dwell in it incarnate and reign over it, drawing men into a deeper and more intimate communion with God in the incarnate Son. As such, Scotus and the Franciscans argued that, even if Adam had not fallen, Christ would eventually become incarnate anyway to take up his reign on earth for that is what creation was made for. The calling of Israel, the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ, is simply God’s determination to realise his own will and purpose for creation in the teeth of sin and evil, the will for Christ to become incarnate and dwell in love with his creation even though they have been corrupted by sin and want to kill him. But he returns from the grave anyway and continues the determined march to fulfill the divine will for creation, to show that no power of sin can thwart the divine will or purpose for him to dwell with his creation in love. The saints go marching on as we sing.
This vision or “big picture” as such is teleological and eschatological through and through. Creation was made for a purpose and with a goal, that goal is perpetual life and motion in communion with God made flesh, the goal is everything. God guarantees that this goal will be realised and the end will be fulfilled in the teeth of every opposition or sin. The only question for us is whether we are going to hop on and get in on this everlasting joy ride, or will we be “left behind”, literally, and bite the dust, again literally.
This, I believe, is what the grand vision of the Gospel is all about. Christianity is eschatology, it is all about the End Goal, and that Goal is the communion of creation with God in Jesus Christ made Flesh, as it has been willed from the beginning, is and shall be forever. World without End.
4 thought on “Christianity is Eschatology; A Big Picture Sketch of the Gospel in the Spirit of Duns Scotus”
Hello, I’ve recently come across you blog and really like a lot of the ideas you present including this, in my opinion, very well written article. You refer to the elect in the article: May I ask if you believe that this elect will only represent a tiny portion of humanity as seems to have been believed by a lot of historic reformed theologians?
I don’t believe that it is possible to have access to heaven’s electoral roll on this side of heaven so it is pointless to speculate really. That said, I do believe in postmortem repentance although how that would affect the registry is any one’s guess.
I think I would agree regarding post mortem repentance. The only thing that I cannot reconcile in my mind is how to interpret passages such as the parable of the sheep and the goats where Jesus apparently sentences people to eternal punishment without any kind of post mortem opportunity.
Those passages doesn’t say when he sentences people to eternal punishment only that it will happen. Even if there is postmortem repentance there will still be a judgement at the end of time finally. The postmortem repentance occurs between death and that final consummation.