Friday, December 2, 2011

More On My Son's Questioning Why He Can't See God

I find this whole discussion quite interesting - not merely because my son is at its center - but because this is a young mind hasn't been trained to distract his eyes from the truth yet.  Whenever the topic of God comes up, the question inevitably follows that is 'why can't I see God?' which reminds me a lot of Celsus's statement (preserved in Book Seven of Origen's Contra Celsum):

As Celsus supposes that we uphold the doctrine of the resurrection in order that we may see and know God, he thus follows out his notions on the subject: After they have been utterly refuted and vanquished, they still, as if regardless of all objections, come back again to the same question, 'How then shall we see and know God? How shall we go to Him?'

Christians today don't behave in the way Celsus describes of course.  Yet the interest in seeing first what you are supposed to believe in is of course quite natural.

Moreover it is noteworthy that the subject under discussion here is the resurrection.  For even to this day the Coptic tradition understands 'the Incarnation' as something which happens in the Church. Athanasius, for instance, presents Christ's body cosmological meeting point between God and the world: through the Incarnation, we are corporeally 'joined to the Word who is from heaven'. For Athanasius our deifying participation in the Word reaches its consummation only in the Resurrection to come.  Yet I don't think this is what Celsus is describing.  Celsus is aware of something older and more heretical.

Origen gives us a sense of Celsus's original argument in what follows:

Seeking God, then, in this way, we have no need to visit the oracles of Trophonius, of Amphiaraus, and of Mopsus, to which Celsus would send us, assuring us that we would there see the gods in human form, appearing to us with all distinctness, and without illusion. For we know that these are demons, feeding on the blood, and smoke, and odour of victims, and shut up by their base desires in prisons, which the Greeks call temples of the gods, but which we know are only the dwellings of deceitful demons. To this Celsus maliciously adds, in regard to these gods which, according to him, are in human form, they do not show themselves for once, or at intervals, like him who has deceived men, but they are ever open to intercourse with those who desire it. From this remark, it would seem that Celsus supposes that the appearance of Christ to His disciples after His resurrection was like that of a spectre flitting before their eyes; whereas these gods, as he calls them, in human shape always present themselves to those who desire it. But how is it possible that a phantom which, as he describes it, flew past to deceive the beholders, could produce such effects after it had passed away, and could so turn the hearts of men as to lead them to regulate their actions according to the will of God, as in view of being hereafter judged by Him? And how could a phantom drive away demons, and show other indisputable evidences of power, and that not in any one place, like these so-called gods in human form, but making its divine power felt through the whole world, in drawing and congregating together all who are found disposed to lead a good and noble life?

The question of course is how does the Marcionite phantom Jesus (being described here by Celsus) connect to the concept of 'seeing God' through the resurrection?  The heretics did not believe in the future resurrection to come.  The implication that Celsus was making was that the Christians he knew believed in the pre-Athanasian Incarnation - i.e. of assembled Christians embodying (quite literally) the resurrected Christ in the here-and-now.

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