A Good Question

According to Jonathan Prejean, I asked good questions. Part of good philosophy is framing questions clearly to help get to the heart of the matter. You don’t have all the time in the world, so asking good questions is a way of scraping away unnecessary steps.  My question was part of a discussion at Triumphications concerning the nature of grace (and the grace of nature) and the Theotokos. I want to know, qua explanation, if the Catholic model can explain why God has Mary immaculately conceived and free from inherited albeit analogical guilt, why not just skip all of the evil in the world and do this for everyone? Or perhaps more strongly, why not create everyone in a state of confirmed grace? This kind of question is significant for lots of reasons. Currently in the literature on the problem of evil, this essential question has been a major objection to Plantinga type free will defenses. I have seen it proposed in one form or another by everyone from typical atheologians as well as process and open theists. But on to Jonathan’s reply.

Jonathan replied: “I could have prevented the possibility of either of my children committing actual sin by slaughtering them after they were baptized. Why didn’t I do that? This I think shows the inadequacy of your underlying worry about the problem of evil. There is a purpose in people being allowed to be subject to evil, even if that purpose is necessarily inscrutable to reason. I will let my children possibly be damned to Hell, not because I hate them, but because I love them. I suspect it is the same with God.”

I responded with the following: “
I don’t think you have given the proper analogy. God could have prevented lots of moral evil, not by doing some evil to human agents but by doing some great good to them. If you could have given your child a proverbial pill to prevent them from not only sinning but ever dying or any serious suffering, wouldn’t you do so? Now, you may object that your ways aren’t the ways of God. Fair enough, but given the imago dei, it is also true that we have via reason, barring Calvinism and Jansenism, a genuine notion of goodness. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be good to give them the pill. Do you?”  

I agree with Jonathan that there is a purpose for the possibility of evil, but that is not the same thing as evil having a purpose. The purpose of the former is the possibility of virtue for created agents. A necessary condition for the acquisition of virtue is libertarian freedom, with a Kanian type freedom. That of itself does not imply that evil has a purpose. I’d argue then that the Libertarian then has a principled reason why God could not create persons already confirmed in grace, specifically that it would violate the necessary conditions for personhood. (Moreover, there is a signfiicant difference between God redirecting the outcome of evil intentions after the fact, logically speaking, and evil being even consequently necessary for the occurance of some further good. I can argue for the former without the latter and this seems to be the division I want to make and Jonathan doesn’t.)

On Jonathan’s view, it is much more difficult for me to see how this is an option, seeing that he denies the alternative possibilities condition (AP) on free will. If all that is required is voluntary action without AP’s constituting volition and/or freedom, then creating agents without the possibility of performing morally evil actions seems a genuine possibility. So, if one subscribes to compatibilist type freedom it seems that it was open to God to create a world where there was no possibility of evil and all and only good acts were open to “free” created agents. If that is so, then the existence of evil impugns God’s moral character or his existence. Either disjunct will place theism in a very bad position in terms of an apologetic response to atheism. Either God is not morally perfect and in fact far less so, or God doesn’t exist at all. Since evil exists God either lacks the motivation to preclude it or he doesn’t exist. The assumed premise here is something along the lines of, a perfect moral agent will always eliminate evil when they are able to do so. I find that a very plausible assumption, but perhaps Jonathan doesn’t. I do because I believe in Heaven.

So I think if God could have done that kind of good to everyone, he should have done so. But I just don’t think God could have done so without eliminating the freedom and consequently personhood of every and any created person. Jonathan though does think that God could have prevented every moral evil, but for some reason he didn’t.  Jonathan thinks that even though God could have prevented every moral evil, this would not necessarily have been doing humanity a great good.   

Why? Jonathan appeals to the “interconnectedness between human beings.” In his following comments, I think he means to say something like the following. Humans are connected in such a way that giving grace or the prevention of evil in one circumstance isn’t such that God can give it equally to all in all circumstances without the loss human uniqueness. I simply balk at this answer. Here are some of my reasons for balking. First, given at least a Thomistic picture of God, and grace as divine life, the grace differs not in God but in the recipient. So in fact the same thing is on his own view is given to each and every person, or so it seems to me. And it seems that the same confirming grace is given at least to lots of people, namely the angels and some humans in the eschaton without annihilating their personal uniqueness. For any two persons who receive divine grace to the same degree and hence experience the Beatific vision to the same degree, their uniqueness remains intact. I think it is plausible on Jonathan’s own principles that there are at least two such persons and so if any two (or more) of them can receive grace in the same way and to the same degree in the same circumstance without eliminating their personal uniqueness, then the interconnectedness of persons cannot be a reason for denying to God the possibility of creating everyone without the possibility of performing morally evil actions. 

It is also important to notice what I take to be a confusion on Jonathan’s part. On the one hand he seems to agree that God could have created everyone in confirming grace, but on the other hand that God could not have done so.  This seems to be the motivation in his appeal to human uniqueness.  If the latter is true, then the former is not. In which case, Jonathan agrees in fact with me in principle that God could not have created everyone in comfirming grace. What we disagree about then is not if God could have created everyone in comfirming grace but if God created the Theotokos with it and the reasons why God could not have created everyone with it. 

Further, there is an ambiguity in Jonathan’s answer. When he says, “the interconnectedness between human beings isn’t such that what grace was given to one or another person in some particular situation could be equally given to all in all situations without substantially disrupting the entire arrangement and diluting the context in which people have experiences that make them unique”  does he mean that the circumstances make the experiences unique or does he mean that the circumstances make the persons unique? I am not sure on his own view of the Beatific Vision why he would think that either was the case. Even if the circumstances or experiences were homogenous in terms of being all and only good, how would that preclude a genuine difference in the degree of reception? Certainly Jonathan thinks that there is a genuine difference in reception in the Beatific Vision, even though for every agent who has it, it is all and only good qua vision. If that is the case there, why not make it the case for everyone from the get-go? Moreover, appealing to the special vocation of the Theotokos I think does no work for Jonathan. It is simply not the case that the Theotokos can’t have her special vocation without evil in the world.  This thesis is entailed by the thesis that the Incarnation would have taken place even without sin. If everyone had been morally perfect and bereft of alternative possibilities with respect to moral evil, and the Incarnation still occurred, the Theotokos still would have had her special vocation.  If God can create someone confirmed in grace, then it seems plausible that God can do both, namely give in some measure a confirmation the grace he gave to the Theotokos, on Catholic principles, to all and the Theotokos possess a special vocation. Again, the confirmation in grace, given to all in the eschaton doesn’t “wash out” all of the differences between persons. Grace does not obliterate nature by anyone’s reading, save Calvinists and Jansenits and grace isn’t opposed to nature or more specifically created hypostases. The only way I see that it could, would be if person and nature were confused (or if God were absolutely simple) so that we’d need some other principle of individuation, namely evil or a defect, to discern persons.   

But to take evil as a principle of individuation places us right back at the Platonic hierarchy where the Good is on top and evil its necessary opposite on the bottom. Good is therefore not autonomous with respect to explanatory power and this signals an implicit dualism.  And I think it is just false that what grounds our deeper experience of God is some vague “interconnectedness” but rather the Incarnation itself. Even though Christ recapitulates all of creation in himself, he does not take on angelic nature, but human nature. Jonathan is looking to general principles when he should be looking to a single concrete case. What differentiates us in part from the angels is not our rung on the hierarchy of being, but the Incarnation. In any case, it seems flat out false to say that if all receive the grace of confirmation, then there’d be no unique persons. Even on Thomistic principles following Aristotle, we can individuate modes or ways in which people all receive the same grace to preserve personal uniqueness. Ultimately, I don’t think such a move works, but it at least is a plausible way of staving off the conclusion that confirmation in grace implies the elimination of personal distinctions.

So, Jonathan I think is still wrong. Creating everyone confirmed in grace does not imply or entail that said persons would be denied the opportunity to “grow and to have their own experiences and to be their own people.”  To think so implies that in order to “be their own people” that evil is necessary, which is false.

Jonathan advocates some other theses that I am confused about. He writes that God not only tolerates evil acts but does so to give the wicked an opportunity to repent. I agree, but I do so on Libertarian principles. Jonathan is not a Libertarian since he denies the AP condition on free will.  So I simply do not know what he means by “opportunity” if the wicked are theologically or metaphysically determined to make the choices that they do. Jonathan also writes that to give “sanctifying grace” to all would undermine the entire Christian life a la baptism and the Eucharist. Does he think that it did so with the Theotokos? When she was presumably present with John the Apostle and John administers the Eucharist to the faithful in Ephesus, does she take a pass?  If she doesn’t then this implies either that she had a deficient Christian life, or none at all, or Jonathan’s thesis is false. (It’s false.) Moreover, why was Jesus baptized if sin is precluded? Certainly we have a concrete case then of someone being baptized even though there is nothing lacking in this person’s life. Presumably the archetype for the Christian life had the Christian life in full measure without defect as a basis for individuation. As an aside, baptism in its fullest form then seems to me to be an act on creation (water), rather than a washing away of corruption. Baptism regenerates because of Christ’s activity in His baptism rather than the baptism doing something to Christ. (this grounds Protestant confusion concerning it, which is assuaged, they think by making it the fullfillment of an empty legal reqirement.) So I don’t think that if everyone were created confirmed in grace it would necessarily preclude the sacraments. Certainly Adam and Eve were married prior to the Fall. Granted that they did not on Catholic principles possess confirming grace, but they did possess “original righteousness” and they still partook of a sacrament. Presumably Adam was a priest of God as well. Besides, one wonders why Christians have often understood the Tree of Life in the Garden as bearing the Eucharist if moral perfection would render it useless to a deified person. 

Jonathan also speaks of God’s “risk” in creating the kinds of agents and circumstance that he has in mind. If everything is determined and/or there are no alternative possibilities of created agents, I simply do not know what he means by “risk.”   Lastly, Jonathan counsels us to be epistemically humble with regards to the reasons why God permits evil. I agree, but the issue here isn’t if Jonathan in fact meets the conditions on knowledge for the reasons why God permits evil. The issue is metaphysical and apologetical.  Even if it were true that we should be epistemically humble and only hope for meager epistemological crumbs from the table of divine knowledge, it would still be the case that Jonathan and the Catholic (and Protestant) picture faces significant problems, and problems that I don’t think the Orthodox one does. Counseling epistemic humility doesn’t remove metaphysical difficulties and it certainly doesn’t silence, persuade atheists and skeptics, or silence the doubts of one’s own heart. 

But I don’t think we need be that humble, at least apologetically speaking. I think rather what is appropriate here is Socratic humility. Socrates didn’t know what the truth was, but he knew falsehood when he saw it.  Given the imago dei and the falsity of Calvinism and Jansenism, I think I can know a bad reason when I see it. I do not need to know what God’s reasons in fact are, I need only be able to properly identify what he reasons weren’t, namely bad reasons. I take answers of the kind of “God just loves some people more” given by Michael Liccone to be a bad reason.And given say Thomistic or Scotistic theological determinism, God could have created a world such that no one ever sinned even wiuthout confirming grace, thereby rendering Jonathan’s defense based on the Theotokos moot. on Scotistic and Thomistic grounds, the elect unto glory do not have confirming grace at conception and yet I see no reason why the elect could not have been theologically or metaphysically determined to always choose the right and why every created agent could not have been one of their number.As to evil, I can’t see any significant difference between what Jonathan offers and what Plotinus does. Plotinus (and Augustine, Hegel, et al) argue that every past evil while evil in and of itself, not only contributes to the good of the whole but goodness if deficient without it. The silence between the notes makes the whole piece of music sound better. I simply balk at the suggestion that my three year old suffering and dying of Leukemia or the children at the Russian school in Beslan who suffered and died somehow makes the whole world better in the end. The Good doesn’t need evil to be the Good. If it did, it wouldn’t be the Good.

52 Responses to A Good Question

  1. Perry and Photios,

    My discussion with you on this thread has lead me to an continuing energetic search of St. Maximus’ teaching. Thanks so much for revealing the straight line amidst my hitherto unknown crookedness, which is mainly Mr. Calvin’s (or is it Blessed Augustine’s and Origen’s) fault.

    Say “no” to predetermined evil and total depravity of man!, which has deep roots even when you think you’ve rejected TULIP. As Father Stephen said in his post about Archbishop Dmitri,
    (I haven’t figured out how to imbed links on comments yet) only Orthodoxy, the fulness of the Gospel, holds to the dignity of man.

  2. […] fall. I believe Mr. Robinson has articulated in his blog, Energetic Procession in a post called, A Good Question, an alternate universe allowance, which I need to […]

  3. Mark Downham says:

    The importance of this paper is that it is WORDS….the difficulty is in turning your face into the silence and speaking them as Habakkuk confessed:

    Habakkuk 2:1a I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me

    Habakkuk 3: 2a 2O LORD, I have heard thy speech

    He is in HIS WORDS and if you understand how to speak them YOU can literally change everything.

  4. This paper is beyond words,

    Maximos Confessor on the Infinity Of Man

    From: Felix Heinzer – Christoph Scönborn (ed.), Actes du Symposium sur Maxime le Confeseur (Fribourg, 2-5 september 1980), Éditions Universitaires, Fribourg Suisse, 1982.


    Recapitulation, free will, gnomic and natural will, theosis, transcendent virtue, the created and uncreated, energies, movement, stillness, divine eros, transcending time…

    I’m thinking its being published here on Valentines Day last year was not an accident. Like Death Breden said, wow.

  5. Greg,

    I posted a quote from St John Chrysostom) where he talks of the Pharaoh’s situation and carefully states that free-will was not removed. So, they are not the same case as that of our Lady because libertarian free-will was not contravened in the cases you mentioned.

  6. Just to provide another perspective of freedom in the Eschaton.

    I don’t know how God exercises His freedom but I understand that He is free from any outside or necessary constraint in living His life. We too will share this freedom. We will live without outside constraints and necessity. God’s will is ours and His freedom is ours however this may be.

    Our freedom is to accept this as our own so it is freedom and not necessity. This freedom cannot be forced on us without destroying the freedom. Thus those refusing God will have His freedom as their chains. He will be all in all whether we will this or not. To save ourselves is to freely accept God in all, otherwise He will be our torment in His love; He cannot deny Himself.

  7. acolyte says:


    I don’t take the case of the king of Egypt to be a case of violation of libertarian freedom. So I am afraid bringing those cases up only begs the question or at least moves it. Moreover, since I don’t think that even the saints confirmed in grace in the eschaton have lost libertarian freedom it won’t follow, at least for me that just because she is fixed in virtue that she lacks libertarian freedom. If you think so, it might be helpful for you to spell out why so that we can communicate more clearly.

    I don’t think he is a tame lion either, but I also don’t think he is a schizophrenic one. I don’t think he makes libertarian freedom essential to human agency and then contradicts himself later on. As for a reason, if you are at least going to persuade me, it might be good to be able to give a reason why God would deprive the Theotokos of something essential to humanity. Considered more widely, it doesn’t seem like a good thing to have explanatory danglers in ones system, especially at crucial theological junctures.

  8. Sophocles says:


    Thanks for the clarification.

    Is my second paragraph about “relations” irrlevant or does it tie into hypostasis? Is ‘hypostasis’ implying personhood or “who-ness” apart from said person’s interaction with God and created cosmos?

    How much is a person “person” in the truest sense of the word in and of himself apart from said person’s ‘journeying’ through life in all his complex interactions with Reality and all it encompasses, becoming more truly what he is through this experience, the experience being both conscious and unconscious?

    Is hypostasis to be thought of as a “stamp” in the sense that the ‘who’ is brought forth or created by God with certain characteristics i.e. height, weight, sex, eye color, and then through this ‘who’ living and interfacing with all there is in said ‘whos’ sphere of existence, this ‘who’ acquires likes and dislikes according to circumstances, i.e. a ‘who’ who would “be” something in one society but something else in another society as, for instance, a German in Nazi Germany but this selfsame German being born into an American family who has adopted children of African and Jewish blood and has a deep love for the African brother and Jewish sister.

    I guess in a sense what I am searching for is the answer to how we Orthodox understand “person” in the fullest sense of the word as revealed through the witness of the Church in Her fullest(the Trinity: the Three Persons in relation to one another, my being in Christ as He is in the Father and the Father in Him, my personhood interacting with the personhood of you, my mom, the atheist, the mailman, the whoever and whatever, and all the other known and unknowable relations that are to be had with the created order).

    And no, I have not read St. Basil’s letter 38. Are some of my queries to be found here?

  9. Photios,

    I’m gathering that philosophy is more the study of how and who, and psychology is more about why? Psychology talks about the distinctions between persons, and philosophy about our shared nature in relation to God and the rest of creation? Psychology is more about the work of parenting or reparenting the individual, though broad statements are made as well.

    Saying our falling is irrational and unnatural helps me turn away from analyzing and judging dysfunctional being, and look more toward how Christ harmonized/made peaceful human will with God’s will, and the Saints who also achieved this harmony in Him.

  10. Greg DeLassus says:


    To remove God from the charge of causing evil means that there is no way of Him preventing evil without denying our being in His image and likeness and ultimately our salvation. (Perry talks alternatively of our personhood to, I believe, the same effect.) We cannot be saved without libertarian free will and hence the potential for evil. I understand that the free will defence hinges on the necessity of humans to have libertarian free will to share in God’s life because God has this free will. It is part of the image of God; we couldn’t be created in His image without it otherwise God would be denying Himself.


    Making the prempting deprivation of libertarian freedom the case with the Theotokos isn’t helpful. First we would need a reason why God would need to deprive her of something natural. That seems to oppose grace to nature. Second, it seems to play right into the devil’s hands. If true, God could not save the world without willing two contradictory things, namely that humans be free and that they exist forever. God would be willing contrary to the divine will in the imago dei.

    As regard the charge that a contravention of Our Lady’s libertarian free-will would constitute a necessary contradiction in God’s will, I would like to ask Mr Robinson or Fr Patrick (or both) to clarify how this would be meaningfully different from God’s reported actions in (for instance) Exod 14:4 or Josh 11:20? It seems to me that I am merely suggesting that God did in Our Lady’s case much the same thing as He did in the case of Pharaoh or the Canaanite kings, except that He hardened Her heart towards the virtuous, instead of towards the wicked. Givent that it was evidently not an insupportable contradiction in those instances, I am hard pressed to see why it might become on in Our Lady’s case.

    Meanwhile I quibble with Mr Robinson’s assertion that my hypothesis is unsustainable without providing a reason why God might do what I suggest. For the record, I suppose that I could contrive to offer a reason, but I deny that such a thing really is necessary. As C.S. Lewis was wont to say, “He is not a tame Lion.” The “why” of the matter is really not my business.

  11. Photios,

    I’ve been thinking about our nature being good, and with an aversion to falling. We are not bad to the bone, as it were. That’s a healing idea. It is our will that has gone wrong, and caused such a splintering of our components that make up our person causing dysfunction to whatever extent.

    “Singular hypostasis”. Christ’s dual nature combined into a singular hypostasis… He is a single unconfused and undivided person. Hard for me to fathom. In His Incarnational life, He brought harmony between God and man, and between my person and my nature = that’s the goal anyway.

    Oh, and when I said Christ was established in a habit of virtue, I didn’t mean to imply development, but strength and stability.

    So our human nature was created in God’s image, according to His will. That makes it not so distinct from His nature in the first place.

  12. photios says:


    When asked the question of “how” the fall happened? I attempt to give an answer to that question in my paper. When asked the question “why” the fall happened? That is of a different set, in which I cannot take into account all the psychological motives for such a choice. Willing evil is irrational movement to St. Maximus, in which there is no answer that the human mind can give that is adequate (hence it being irrational). It is at that point we must step back with some silence.


  13. Andrea,

    I believe the apophatic language that the Fathers use is “unconfused and undivided.”

    Our salvation came about through Christ’s harmonization of His personal mode of willing, the way that something is willed, of His human natural will, always in accordance with His divine will. Where there was dialectical opposition between person and nature, Christ’s singular hypostasis brought harmony.


  14. Sophocles,

    Body/soul/spirit IS the content of a human person. They are things that are common amongst persons, hence of the nature of a person. They are not absolutely unique individual personal properties, so those aren’t adequate to sum up the totality of a human person. So we’re still missing one more category: hypostasis, a subject, a ‘who’. At best, they adequately describe human nature. Curious, have you read Basil’s Letter 38? I highly recommend that text.


  15. sophoclesfrangakis says:


    I’m missing the significance of “body/soul/spirit” vs. “CONTENT”. Are we possibly using different terminology to denote the same concept and if not, why is “body/soul/spirit” deficient to denote the total human person?

    Is it for “relational” reasons? i.e., that in my using “body/soul/spirit” I inadvertantly incapsulate that the totality of the human person is summed up apart from this person’s relation/existence/dependence/creation,etc. in and from God? And further also, does this denotation as “body/soul/spirit” further isolate this person as having totality of personhood apart from the formation that develops and forms him through his interaction with the rest of the created cosmos i.e.with other persons, animals, the sun, moon, angels, demons, Energetic Procession blog with those commenting on it, etc.,in the “things seen and unseen”?

    Am I making this human being an “individual” rather than a “person” in summing him up as “body/soul/spirit”, giving him meaning and existence in and of himself apart from relation?

  16. Photios,

    That puts a new spin, I don’t mean that substancelesslly, on my understanding of the fall. My view must have been influenced by the idea of total depravity instead of illness. I didn’t realize how Calvinist I still am, even though I never was a 5 pointer nor joined the PCA churches I briefly attended.

    So our fatally choosing to objectify something ‘subsistent’less against our natural will happens why? Oh wretched folks that we are.

    And Christ’s divine will coexisting (I can’t find the terminology – separate yet undivided?) with His human will redeemed/healed our ability to be unified enough to progressively choose actual substance in accordance with our never annihilated natural will?

    I am curious to know if Mary’s state of Theosis was progressive, however it is interesting that Gabriel called her full of grace before she said yes.

  17. I meant Rom 5:12.

  18. Well, not to be too critical, but no natural will has a tendency to fall, rather it is has a tendency not to fall, to draw back from falling. Falling is not “natural” to you. Falleness, i.e. death, is a failure to move naturally. To use an analogy by St. Dionysius what is evil about a sick body? Is it the body? Is it the virus itself? No, rather, it is the *incompatibility* of the virus with the body. Same thing here, death (falling apart, pullings things apart) happens when the personal mode of willing tries to bring into existence (give something subsistence to be even more technical) something that is not an ‘object of will’ of the ‘natural will,’ and it is something that cannot have true subsistence. The brokeness is the incompatibility of the personal mode of willing not willing in accordance with the natural will: what results is a ‘relation of opposition’ between the personal mode of willing and the natural will. You start to decay and fall apart. This is what happened to Adam. He gave us this *incompatibility* and now we sin because of this (Rom 5:21).

    Make sense?

    I personally don’t hold that Mary was sinless before the Incarnation. That’s a very debatable thesis (even among Orthodox). It is a possible speculation, but I’m of the opinion of Chrysostom and Basil here. Perhaps one of the other commenters that does hold to that thesis could comment further.


  19. Photios,

    I like (for want of a better word as ‘agree’ is too intellectual, and have peace is pretty close, but sounds too presumptive about God’s stamp of approval and my ability to graps this stuff) your ‘integration’ explanation of Christ’s Incarnation and think your use of ‘habituate’ goes along with Sophocles’ ‘trying on’ picture.

    How about this, His newborn human will was a clean state, but had natural human tendency to fall, so He picked it up from it’s weakest and unformed state and incrementally grew it up. This is why He had to experience everything, again like Sophocles says, that we face, yet without sin as in Hebrews 4:15.

    Now I’m wondering how Mary was sinless before the Incarnation. Maybe she was saved from being tempted as Christ was externally by her protected and prayerful upbringing. Or was she given a preview of the grace later made available at Pentecost? There have been OT exceptions of righteous people. I don’t know how much it’s safe to speculate.

  20. Sophocles,

    The total human person doesn’t equal body/soul/spirit. You and I have those in common. If you want to keep your statement, I would say Christ perfectly aligned the total CONTENT of a human person (i.e. human nature) with the will of God.

    The rest of your post: all yes, that was my point. Though as Maximus says, He suffers these things voluntarily, i.e. He let Himself suffer these corruptions to make us aright. He took on a corrupted humanity at conception (from the Virgin Mary) and healed it (starting at conception)through His alignment and trials.

    He who knew know sin, became sin (i.e. corruption) so that in Him we become the righteousness of God.


  21. Sophocles says:


    Is there a sense that it would be correct to state that in taking flesh, God in Christ was “trying on” the human body, filling it with the fullness of it(the human body’s) true extent of perfectly aligning the total human person(body/soul/spirit) with the will of God?

    In fasting for 40 days before the beginning of His ministry, for example, did He in the weakening of this body coupled with the temptations of Satan “explore”, by personal experience the parameters of what the human body which He had created could do and sustain in the midst of temptation and deprivation?

    My mind wonders along these lines about the meaning and necessity of the Incarnation for these reasons. That He could not fail because of the eternal virtuous mode of willing that He has in being uncreated hypostasis does not “fulfill” or “make complete” the Incarnation until He, in the body, “experiences” the body so to speak, wed with it, overcoming it, yet experiencing its joys, sorrows, pains, etc. to totally assume all the human person and in doing so to heal humanity, to save it.

    Is this in line with your above statement to Andrea?


  22. Andrea,

    This is a very trick statement:
    “I am understanding that Christ is beyond us in that His will was established in a habit of virtue before His Incarnation, and ours is gnomic – virtue is natural but not yet habitual. This ties into what I’ve learned about the necessity of Christ to redeem every stage of humanity – to perfect/redeem in a habit of virtue human infancy through adulthood. He realigned our fallen nature by His divine nature.”

    …and we must be careful to unpack it.

    I think it would be more proper to say that Christ’s will, his perosnal mode of willing, is eternally virtuous or eternally habitual. We want to avoid any type of “becoming” for Christ’s mode of willing, where this means that Christ was ignorant as a Person of what the good is and then gains knowledge of it over time (gnomic will). On the other hand though, Christ has never made personal use of His human will at the moment of conception. How do we reconcile this dilemma, if this would imply that his personal mode of willing is not integrated with his natural human will?? There is in a sense that Christ needs to habituate His enhypostatic human natural will with His personal mode of willing (the human things Christ does), this renews humanity and makes it holy. It also shows his solidarity with us. This is in part the doctrine of recapitulation. Since His human will has a beginning, it needs to be integrated with His personal use. The eternal virtuous mode of willing that Christ has in being uncreate hypostasis guarantees that He will not fail in doing so, since HE, Christ, cannot deliberate and be uncertain about the good, but as man He still must do the good.


  23. acolyte says:

    Monk Patrick,

    As to virtue and freedom here may be some help in thinking about God permitting actions to come to their intended end, at least in most cases. In standard accounts of Virtue Theory a la Plato/Aristotle, there is a linkage between the state of the agent (character) and the act and its consequences. This becomes severed in the modern period via Utilitarianism and Kantianism, either ethics is entirely concerned with the consequences or it is entirely concerned with the intention of the act. For Plato this linkage must be maintained in order for an agent to be considered morally praiseworthy. To remove the consequences from the moral evaluation would be to eliminate morality altogether. And this I think is because for Plato, morality has a teleological component. Even if we had the right intentions, that probably wouldn’t in fact make us better. There is a difference between reading a book about riding a bicycle and actually doing it. To throw out a philosophical idea, perhaps there is a qualia of moral action.

  24. acolyte says:

    Greg D,

    Making the prempting deprivation of libertarian freedom the case with the Theotokos isn’t helpful. First we would need a reason why God would need to deprive her of something natural. That seems to oppose grace to nature. Second, it seems to play right into the devil’s hands. If true, God could not save the world without willing two contradictory things, namely that humans be free and that they exist forever. God would be willing contrary to the divine will in the imago dei. And on no matter what reading one goes with, Mary was made in God’s image, like the rest of us. Third, it seems that we would need a reason to hold of the atheist as to why God would still wish to play “chess” when he could make everyone a winner just as easily?

    These are my concerns with the kind of answer you proffer.

  25. Andrea Elizabeth says:

    I didn’t know that would happen. Feeling obtrusive now : (

  26. […] Uncategorized Daniel (Photios) Jones recommended his impressive paper on Synergy In Christ during this discussion. Though I had to read it slowly, I posted the following response however appropriate, […]

  27. Daniel,

    I am finding your paper on Synergy in Christ very interesting. To digest as I go, you are saying that Saint Athanasius distinguishes between what issues from God’s nature – His essence through conception of the Son – and His will being that of counsel in creation. This reminds me of “let us make man…” We are a product of the counsel of His will, yet to be made into sons of God through through conception and our willed participation in His energies – deification.

    On to St. Maximus on Christ’s two wills/natures. I am understanding that Christ is beyond us in that His will was established in a habit of virtue before His Incarnation, and ours is gnomic – virtue is natural but not yet habitual. This ties into what I’ve learned about the necessity of Christ to redeem every stage of humanity – to perfect/redeem in a habit of virtue human infancy through adulthood. He realigned our fallen nature by His divine nature.

    So is virtue the same as God’s essence and thus eternally conceived in Christ and by energy in us? Or is God’s virtue more inherent in His will – His habit? The Divine will doesn’t choose virtue, it is virtuous. Our will has to be conformed to His by choosing to establish His habit, through conception via life in Christ – to be eternally born again.

    On choices between good alternatives – if Christ’s alternatives in Gethsemane were both good and virtuous – save Himself or save humanity, then love for humanity over His own life was the overriding motivator. So is loving others a higher virtue than loving onesself? “Love your neighbor as yourself”. That statement makes it equal, but in other places we are told to consider others before ourselves. Still, could God have still been God if He had not created us or saved us – which are both the same thing because if He hadn’t saved us we would have ceased to exist when we died. We are immortal because He died and rose again. So creating and sustaining life are similarly motivated actions. Is choosing the other a necessary part of being God, or Godlike? I think of monastics who are working on their own salvation and wonder if their seeming self justifying defense of praying and interceding for the world at the same time is necessary, though this intercession does seem inevitable on the path to Theosis. Perhaps virtue helps others by osmosis as well as by willed action. If a monastic hermit is saving himself alone – becoming like God – then maybe an organic, natural domino recapitulation cascades into creation around him without his putting himself out, so to speak, for others. The presence of holiness increases in the world and thus clarifies the universal muddy waters a skoche. Or like in the conversation about Sodom and Gomorrah,’’if I find 10 righteous people, I wont destroy the whole city.’ Then their intrinsic righteousness saved the many.

    In the comments, I thought Jack was inspiring in his reaction to God being fully present in His creation.

  28. Photios,

    Thanks for the link and article.

  29. monkpatrick says:

    MG and Photios,

    Thanks for the corrections and qualifications. I must read your paper Photios. Do you have a link to it?

    Personally, I prefer to say that God cannot deny Himself as being the reason for His not hating nor doing evil. He is love, He is righteous and Holy.

    When Saints freely accept God as all in all then His freedom becomes theirs and His will becomes theirs. They no longer exercise their own freedom or will but that of God which in complete synergy they have made their own. At this stage they can no longer sin or hate because they would then be denying themselves. The Saint is love, the saint is righteous and holy. Their freedom is longer tested because it has been fully given; it is Christ’s and Christ’s is theirs. So, the potential for evil passes away because they have freely accepted the fullness of good and live securely in this. The potential, that can be used for evil, serves its purpose that man freely chooses the fullness of God and once this is given, God moves in completely and takes over but totally at the will of man who in a sense does not lose self because he wills all that God wills and desires all the God desires as his own desire and will. He is god by grace and so he can no longer deny himself. Also, at the Eschaton, I understand, time to come to an end and the movement into eternity. There is no more change, no fall into evil (nor more repentance for those rejecting God) but the eternal life in God.

  30. Fr. Patrick:

    A small correction to your last paragraph:

    The potential for evil is necessary to be virtuous not to be Free. The Saints in the Eschaton and Christ do not have the potential to be evil, yet they are Free with libertarian type freedom.

    A recommend my paper ‘Synergy in Christ’ where I discuss how a thief steals, yet Christ does not have this as a potential.


  31. MG says:

    Fr. Patrick–

    “The freedom, though, that is required for one to have true love is the same freedom that could be used for full hatred.”

    I think this statement requires some qualification because it seems God’s love is true but He cannot hate.

  32. “There is no existence of evil until it becomes the result of a free choice of some person misusing the potential for good.”

    Clarifying truth is so healing. Thank you Father Patrick for your whole post . Glory to God.

  33. While I agree with the principle of exception that does not counter the rule, I think this is an essential principle in Tradition including Scripture, I think that it does not work in this situation. The reason being that of necessity. To remove God from the charge of causing evil means that there is no way of Him preventing evil without denying our being in His image and likeness and ultimately our salvation. (Perry talks alternatively of our personhood to, I believe, the same effect.) We cannot be saved without libertarian free will and hence the potential for evil. I understand that the free will defence hinges on the necessity of humans to have libertarian free will to share in God’s life because God has this free will. It is part of the image of God; we couldn’t be created in His image without it otherwise God would be denying Himself.

    Thus. if God could override the free-will of Mary without denying her salvation then He could do so for everyone because it would be possible and it could not be said that there was necessity for free-will. Thus the exception rule cannot work in regards to Mary’s free-will. Mary, even though full of grace, always had the potential to sin or reject God. Glory to God that she didn’t and that is to her credit and not to an inevitability of God.

    On another point, even if we have libertarian free-will then God could judge us for our free intentions but nevertheless, could it be argued that He could, in His providence, prevent the intentions being actualised. There is evidence that He does and can so act but also that He does not do so completely. Thus He seems to allow certain things and not others. It would seem that there must be another reason other than just libertarian free-will for this. Perhaps libertarian free-will must be allowed to act so that virtue can have meaning in action. Virtue needs to be act as well as intent and our free-will must be permitted to express itself in action for virtue’s sake and with no necessity for evil acts. God does control this to some degree (in every matter) because it is not necessary that every intention be acted or carried to a particular degree. However, some evil needs to be allowed to show in its fulness otherwise virtue could not be rewarded in its fulness. That is the potential for full virtue is the same potential for full evil depending the choice of the person. He cannot limit the full potential for evil without limiting the full potential for virtue, again doing so would be to deny His own perfection in us as the image of God. So even though He manages evil in His unfathomable wisdom, He does not cause it because our creation and salvation in His image requires both freedom of intent and potential of full freedom of action. Our intent must be allowed to be incarnate in deed otherwise we cannot participate in the life of God.

    Why x is a recipient of evil, e.g. mugged, and y not is a matter of management of evil and not cause of evil. We should not concern ourselves with these matters but leave them to the wisdom of God. Our salvation from the present fallen state, depends on us sharing the suffering of Christ and the suffering of the world. It is for our salvation that we suffer and so this is a good and not an evil. The act was evil but it becomes our good for suffering it in faith. It becomes an evil for us, such as those that commit suicide after being paralysed in an accident with a drunk driver, if we choose to not accept the suffering in faith focusing on the life to come and not on the earthly ends of the suffering. Again, our faith needs to be tested to be shown true and freely given in love and not a response to being spoilt otherwise it becomes selfishness. A trial of faith does not require evil, the command of not eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not evil and Adam would still have had a make a choice to obey even without Satan being there. If Adam, and any of his descendants, had not fallen then we wouldn’t need to suffer for Christ because Christ would not have had to suffer in His Incarnation. Suffering is only necessary because of the Fall and not because it is necessary to have evil for good.

    Thus, the whole condition we find ourselves in is the way of salvation and God cannot arrange things otherwise (not contrary to His freedom that some things could have been otherwise) in the principle of allowing evil in intent and deed. The sin of one man, Adam, brought about our situation, that’s what it means to be human in being descended from others, but our being human allows one man, Christ, to free us all through His Incarnation.

    Note: I want to confirm that the potential for evil is necessary to be free in the image of God but there is no necessity for evil. Good does not depend on evil to exist or have meaning. Love is love without any hatred to compare to it. The freedom, though, that is required for one to have true love is the same freedom that could be used for full hatred. It doesn’t need to be but it could be given the free choice. It is the potential for goodness that in freedom is the same potential for evil if used wrongly by a person. There is no existence of evil until it becomes the result of a free choice of some person misusing the potential for good.

  34. Greg DeLassus says:

    In either case, it will be problematic since I can see no reason why God can’t do that for everyone and hence prevent all moral evil.

    Is this necessarily problematic? As C.S. Lewis says (sorry, I cannot remember precisely where), if you are playing chess with a little boy, it is possible to allow him just once to move his pawn three spaces and still call the game chess, but if you make this a regular habit then you are no longer playing the same game. Mutatis mutandis, it seems to me that one could explain the concept of Mary Immaculate as an exceptional abrogation of Our Lady’s free will without messing up the overall arrangement of the moral universe vis-a-vis free will and God’s grace. In other words, you might well be right that the Catholic understanding of the concept of Mary Immaculate represents a sort of determinism, but I am not sure that this is necessarily a “problem” unless one is some sort of punctillious pedant. Clearly we Catholics are not asserting that the Mary Immaculate idea is normative for the rest of us, so it is possible for us to leave free will generally intact even if it were to turn out that we are asserting a species of determinism in Our Lady’s case.

  35. Andrea Elizabeth says:


    “But to take evil as a principle of individuation places us right back at the Platonic hierarchy where the Good is on top and evil its necessary opposite on the bottom. Good is therefore not autonomous with respect to explanatory power and this signals an implicit dualism.”

    I missed this part of your statement before which places my assumption that evil is the organic and natural opposite of God in the category of Platonic hierarchical dualism – oops. I was lining up more with Jonathan on this point in that evil is a reality that impacts us, and that we can choose, however foggy the choice may seem as in Eve’s case. But Christ came to eradicate this reality, so it is not a necessary nor intended part of our existence.

  36. Rob Grano says:

    On the Touchstone blog there is a lengthy exchange between David Hart and the Roman Catholic writer/translator Anthony Esolen that covers some of this territory, albeit in less philosophical terms.

  37. Perry,

    Thank you for your response.

    If evil is necessary for good to come about, then that means that the fall was necessary. My intuition, which used to be pro-Calvinist predeterministic and is now leaning more towards liberal, God doesn’t ever want evil to happen, but out of love gave us free will which Satan originally used to become evil, the organic and natural opposite of God, says the fall was not necessary and that perhaps evil is not a necessary instrument of godliness. I believe there is Orthodox opinion out there (sorry, can’t remember exactly who, maybe Bishop Ware) making allowances for an alternative way for the Incarnation to happen without the fall, as it would still be necessary for Jesus to take human flesh for us and creation to be fully united to God.

    However, it seems we grow best when constrained and suffer consequences of our ungodly decisions and actions. This may be because our fallen state naturally bends towards evil and so we need painful (natural consequence or sometimes punitive) or preventative measures (Mary’s parents raising her piously and protectively and nurturingly presenting her in the temple, plus her own heart for God which God generously reciprocates with more grace) to bend us back towards what is right.

    Regarding how the fall came about, there comes a time when good parents have to let their kids face temptations, and their response becomes their own responsibility. I am assuming that God is a good parent and gave Adam and Eve enough instruction and tools to withstand that temptation. Coming out of my total depravity pov, I now am trying to think more mercifully about the idea that Eve was genuinely deceived and yielded out of childish impatience for God’s likeness, and perhaps was vulnerable from being a little neglected by Adam (she was apparently alone), who was not yet deified enough himself (coming from the Orthodox perspective that he had not attained God’s likeness) to unselfishly meet her needs, spiritual or emotional. Maybe this is why the fall is mostly placed on his shoulders. (If this is unorthodox, anyone can please correct me)

    Anyway, the issues of objective morality vs. deification, free will vs. determinism, everyone is made in the image of God vs. total depravity, and wrathful punishment vs organic consequence (hopefully prevented amap by diligent deified parenting – St. Theophan and Elder Porphyrios have a lot to say about that) deeply affect how we raise and view our kids and treat others. The further I go, the more I see the uniqueness and necessity of Orthodoxy (which is naturally created inside everyone) for us to become like our loving God so that we can be who others need us to be.

  38. acolyte says:

    As for Hart on Evil, I do agree with him in that area and I hope that he receives a wide reading. I think it will force people to re-evaluate their unconscious committment to platonic philosophical theology.

  39. acolyte says:


    In whatever sense that Catholics wish to say that Mary was full of grace, I think it will cash out to some form of determination, whether it is paring down her options to one in a counter factual manner or in some form of direct control. In either case, it will be problematic since I can see no reason why God can’t do that for everyone and hence prevent all moral evil.

    Part of the problem is that for most Catholics, particularly the medieval scholastics, they have a different notion of free will which does not include alternative possibilities as a necessary condition. Just so long as the agent on their reading, is free from external sufficient causation and acts on their own desires regardless of whether they could do otherwise or not, they are considered free. That is, they tend to confuse, or so I would argue, the ability to will with the ability to will freely.

    And no, I am not being literal about my kids, but plenty of parents could be.

  40. http://crimsoncatholic.blogspot.com/2007/06/one-good-turn-deserves-another.html

    Thinking of God as a Frankfurt-type controller is going to be at lest unconvincing, since that can’t possibly be true of God (the Frankfurt-type controller responds to the controlled being’s choice, and God obviously doesn’t).

  41. Rob Grano says:

    Hart, I think, is more of a philosophically-minded theologian than a philosopher; as far as his orthodoxy vis a vis Orthodoxy, he’s probably a bit more “pro-Western” than some folks like, but I myself don’t think he’s overly so.

    One of the points of Noll’s book is that very little serious theological reflection came from America itself during the Civil War — there was too much rah-rahism going on on either side for that to happen. Much of the better theological examination came from European scholars.

  42. MG says:


    I have actually read Hart’s book and liked it quite a bit. I found it interesting that he didn’t classify his own project as a kind of “theodicy”; but given how he defines the term (explanation of how God uses evils to bring about an overall plan for good) it makes sense. I don’t think Hart is much of a philosopher per se (and if Im correct a few people on this blog consider him somewhat heterodox by EO standards) but he did make some good points closely related to philosophy of religion.

    As for the reference to “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis” that’s very interesting and enlightening to think that serious theological reflection like that would be born out of that conflict. Cool.

  43. The Scylding says:


    On an unrelated matter: I have ventured my opinion on my blog on the possible Christological heresies of chiliastic / dispensational theologies, but since I’m not a Christological expert, would you care to comment on these issues, please?

  44. Rob Grano says:

    “Have you seen any discussions of this distinction in philosophical literature recently?”

    This idea is the major theme of David Hart’s THE DOORS OF THE SEA: WHERE WAS GOD IN THE TSUNAMI? Only a hundred pages or so, but quite a bombshell.

    Another interesting and rather surprising place this idea came up in recent reading of mine is Mark Noll’s book THE CIVIL WAR AS A THEOLOGICAL CRISIS. Noll refers to a couple commentators who, outside the mainstream triumphalism of both North and South, refused to see any work of Providence in the Civil War other than the fact that God, in the end, used the great evil of the war to free the slaves. In other words, they saw the war as an unmitigated evil largely prompted by sin (greed and lust for power) on both sides, which God did not “will,” but “used” to free the slaves.

  45. MG says:


    Great post. I started realizing the distinction between saying “evil is the colateral of some kind of good that God desires” and saying that “evil is a necessary pre-condition for a good that God desires” about a year and a half ago, and have thought about this issue ever since. Saying evil is a necessary pre-condition for some good (Hick, Helm, Plantinga’s new theodicy, Stump to some extent, Swinburne to some extent) leads to all kinds of problems, as you’ve pointed out; and in the end I find it hard to make a sharp distinction between this view and the belief that God is the cause of evil. The view that evil is colateral, or a necessary consequence of a prior good (VanInwagen, Goetz, you) gets around this messy problem and can still affirm, like you said, that God can use evils for good purposes (they just aren’t necessary preconditions to the accomplishing of God’s ultimate goals).

    Have you seen any discussions of this distinction in philosophical literature recently?

  46. Death Bredon says:

    I recall an Orthodox ‘theologian’ remarking that, after Adam and Eve tasted from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil (thereby becoming their own moral arbiters), God did humanity a great favor (not a punishment) by expulsion from the Garden into the world of mortality least we become immortal, permanently, fleshly Satans in the flesh in the Garden.

    In short, because God had the means to offer a correction of the Fall to the offspring of primordial man that want it, and has in fact offered this path, the ‘problem of evil’ exists only because of our perception of time and our lack of understanding of eternity.

  47. Andrea Elizabeth says:


    It seems you are saying that Mary was not full of grace in the Calvinist sense of predestined grace, which is how your reading of Jonathan’s Catholic position reads to me. I’m not sure how you are applying grace to her, but I believe you are saying that her state of grace is related to her free will which was influenced by nature and nurture?

    I hope you were not being literal about your three year old child. But may God have mercy on all suffering children.

    I made a statement in my blog that perhaps evil is necessary to show us not only what the truth is, but also what it is not. Here I add, what is not truth is also a reality, substanceless though it may be, but is it a created reality? and by whom? Deja vu again to past “discussions” with Calvinists.

  48. Neo,

    …Especially since the Beatific Vision is the Frankfurt Counter-factual Controller. If it curbs sin out of the lives from those who die with concupiscence (yet justified according to the RC position), then it COULD and SHOULD be given from the get-go to have prevented the propensity altogether.


  49. acolyte says:

    Mackie’s criticism has found new life. You can find it in a variety of forms in the current literature on the problem of evil. I was suprised to find it in say David Griffin’s works for example. It seems to me that the criticism is gaining momentum and so it would be wise to place ourselves in an apologetic position to address. It won’t be long till Internet Infidels and such start bashing theists over the head with it.

  50. These are the very questions and issues which prompted my flirtation with deism/agnosticism. I remember Mackie bringing of the issue of created virtuous persons in his “The Miracle of Theism” and thinking the argument was undefeatable within a Protestant or RC framework (if I affirm compatibilist freedom in heaven, then what purpose could there be in not creating free and necessarily virtuous agents from the start?) I believe that this is one of your most important posts.

  51. Sophocles says:


    So well done.

    In Christ and in fellowship,

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