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Are death and corruption natural?


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#1 Ryan

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Posted 14 July 2009 - 04:22 PM

Back in this thread the question of whether animals died before the Fall was discussed. It seemed (at least to me) that there are a variety of views on this question among the Fathers. I want to start a broader discussion of whether corruption and death were natural to the creation, even before the Fall.

In The Incarnation of the Word, St. Athanasius, commenting on the Fall of Man, says that

...if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption

(my emphasis). He goes on to say that man is, by nature, corruptible and impermanent, because, being brought out of nothing, it is natural for him to proceed back to nothingness, except for the immortality bestowed upon him by God's grace.

On the other hand, I have seen many places in Orthodox literature and hymnody where it is stated or implied that corruption is not natural, neither in man nor in the rest of the creation, but was itself a result of the Fall. Is St. Athanasius' position a theologoumenon differing from the general Church consensus? I would be very keen to see further patristic references on this question.

#2 Evan

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Posted 14 July 2009 - 05:43 PM

How would Adam and Eve know what it meant to "die" unless they had some contact with death, i.e., in the natural world? That's not to say that they suffered corruption themselves, of course, until the Fall.

Perhaps that's what St. Athanasius is referring to. Death isn't natural to US, but to the rest of Creation. Animals, for instance. What did lions eat before the Fall?

#3 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 14 July 2009 - 09:27 PM

Dear Evan: interestingly, certain of the Fathers remark explicitly that before sin, lions ate grains.

The patristic view is quite clear that death is the result solely of sin. There are some previous posts elsewhere that deal with this.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#4 Ryan

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Posted 14 July 2009 - 11:02 PM

Dear Evan: interestingly, certain of the Fathers remark explicitly that before sin, lions ate grains.

The patristic view is quite clear that death is the result solely of sin. There are some previous posts elsewhere that deal with this.

INXC, Dcn Matthew


Fr. Dcn., I've searched through previous threads for quotes or references relating to this, and I couldn't find any. That may just be due to my deficient search skills, but could you help me out with some pointers? All I was able to find was the aforementioned St. Athanasius material as well as St. Basil saying that animals died and became fragrant earth (as opposed to decaying).

#5 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 15 July 2009 - 06:44 AM

Pomazansky says that man could have remained immortal in body as well as soul if he had not sinned. He quotes Augustine as saying that man's body did not possess the impossibility of dying but did possess the possibility of not dying and it was this which was lost.

#6 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 15 July 2009 - 08:11 AM

Dear Ryan, you wrote:

Fr. Dcn., I've searched through previous threads for quotes or references relating to this, and I couldn't find any. That may just be due to my deficient search skills, but could you help me out with some pointers? All I was able to find was the aforementioned St. Athanasius material as well as St. Basil saying that animals died and became fragrant earth (as opposed to decaying).


Having looked about myself, I can see why perhaps the relevant thread didn't leap out at you, since its title hardly bespeaks any relevance. The thread I have in mind, which contains some relevant patristic quotations and discussion (though also quite a lot that is irrelevant to this specific issue) is 1 Corinthians 15, the 'spiritual body', and the bodily resurrection. Posts dealing with the themes of interest to you begin on about page 2 (I provided some patristic quotations in post #22, followed up in #24; but these were just starters).

The basic patristic position is nuanced, and amounts to essentially this:

  • Only God is eternal and incorruptible by nature; anything that is created is intrinsically, 'naturally' mortal and corruptible, since it is not God; yet
  • God creates all things into harmony with Himself, by which they participate in His eternity and incorruptibility and these attributes become those of creation in union with Himself; and since this participation / union is the manner in which God created them, it is their 'natural' condition.
  • Human sin forges a division between man and God, which extends beyond humanity to all the created realm, the consequence of this being that all things fall into their 'natural' mortality, finitude and corruptibility; yet
  • God, in redeeming creation, re-unites it with Himself through man, thus restoring to it the 'natural' immortality, eternity and incorruptibility which are God's own, and for which creation was always intended.
It is this nuance that allows the Fathers to say that man is both 'naturally' mortal/corruptible and 'naturally' immortal/incorruptible. But this is maintained in the very specific observation of the fact that, prior to sin, the 'natural' corruptibility of all created things did not result in the actual corruption or death of any created thing, since all existed in the 'natural', created state of communion in God's incorruptibility.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#7 Evan

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 07:43 PM

... that nothing killed the dinosaurs?

It seems to me that if death and corruption, even of animals, didn't take place until after the Fall, it is utterly impossible to accept the conventionally accepted historical timeline for the emergence of species in any way, shape or form.

#8 Ryan

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 02:48 AM

... that nothing killed the dinosaurs?

It seems to me that if death and corruption, even of animals, didn't take place until after the Fall, it is utterly impossible to accept the conventionally accepted historical timeline for the emergence of species in any way, shape or form.


You're right. I dare say that the modern narrative of the emergence of life, as well as the modern scientific cosmology in general, is unacceptable for Christians. If there were one modern book that I think all Christians should read, it might be Philip Sherrard's Rape of Man and Nature, which reveals how fundamentally inhuman and atheistic the modern scientific worldview is.

#9 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 07:57 AM

If we say that there were two falls, the second that of Adam and Eve but the first that of Satan and the rebel angels, might it not be that the first fall affected nature and animals, and that the paradise of Adam and Eve was an enclave from an already fallen world? Adam and Eve were, we are told, driven out from the garden of Eden. Is there any patristic thought on these lines?

#10 Evan

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 06:06 PM

You're right. I dare say that the modern narrative of the emergence of life, as well as the modern scientific cosmology in general, is unacceptable for Christians. If there were one modern book that I think all Christians should read, it might be Philip Sherrard's Rape of Man and Nature, which reveals how fundamentally inhuman and atheistic the modern scientific worldview is.



In all charity, I must ask, why is this not being shouted from the rooftops by every Metropolitan with air in his lungs? How can men so versed in Patristics as Met. Kallistos Ware maintain that evolution is not un-Christian? If what is being said here is true, this is not a matter concerning which Christians can agree to disagree.

#11 Ryan

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Posted 22 July 2009 - 05:07 PM

In all charity, I must ask, why is this not being shouted from the rooftops by every Metropolitan with air in his lungs? How can men so versed in Patristics as Met. Kallistos Ware maintain that evolution is not un-Christian? If what is being said here is true, this is not a matter concerning which Christians can agree to disagree.


I am not sure how Met. Kallistos reconciles his knowledge of patristics with his defense of Darwinian evolution. I think a lot of it has to do with the way most of us are brought up today- with the assumption that modern science is simply a neutral, objective way of finding the truth about the natural world. The conclusion from this, for many religious thinkers, is that, since Christianity is true, it can't contradict science, which is also true.

When the conclusions of modern science contradict divine revelation, it becomes, from this perspective, increasingly necessary to maintain that science and religion address two separate spheres of reality and that it is wrong to apply the principles of one sphere to the other. Or, as some have said, revelation begins where science ends. Such a perspective seems to me to be schizophrenic and hardly compatible with the Christian understanding of God's immanence in the creation, most powerfully represented in the Incarnation.

If we accept that immanence, and that matter and spirit interpenetrate, I don't think we can accept a philosophy that says that that we can study the material world independently of the spiritual world, or vice versa. This matter-spirit dualism is at the root of modern science, and it is no surprise that often it resolves itself into simple materialism.

It's hard to come to grips with these philosophical problems, because to do so is deeply disorienting in the face of modern assumptions.

#12 Olga

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Posted 22 July 2009 - 11:54 PM

Science and faith are not incompatible. An old post which may help:

http://www.monachos....ropol#post15666

#13 Isaac Crabtree

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 03:53 AM

To say that death and corruption befell creation BECAUSE OF man's fall is not really the same as saying it is AFTER man's fall. Certainly it was because of the Fall that the creation is subject to futility, but it is also true that because of the Fall mankind reproduces in the same way that animals do. Nevertheless, we were created "male and female" chronologically before the fall. In fact, it would seem that the Garden ("between corruption and incorruption") was the place where we are told that mankind and animals are at peace and potentially free from the death cycle. Many traditional (even ROCOR) bishops, such as His Grace Alexander Mileant, have held to this idea. God, independent of time, "subjected [the creation] in hope" to futility, because it would lead us to salvation and would ultimately itself be renewed.

As for "unguided, random mutations" and "natural selection" being the SOLE agents of evolution-- this is a religious, metaphysical sort of claim. Of course whether or not science can properly contemplate the guidance is an issue for science philosophers. I think ID theory is a fascinating exploration of this subject (the detection of design, or information, in nature, which leads one to naturally conclude that such information was intelligently caused). Theologically we know that God's energies, His "logoi," suffuse and fill and direct all of the created world from the beginning of time until now. None of this conflicts with real science or the scientific method, or even with the pretty overwhelming evidence that nature appeared "red in tooth and claw."

#14 Ryan

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 03:24 PM

Theologically we know that God's energies, His "logoi," suffuse and fill and direct all of the created world from the beginning of time until now. None of this conflicts with real science or the scientific method, or even with the pretty overwhelming evidence that nature appeared "red in tooth and claw."


It depends on what we mean by "real science." Of course, the faith is never in conflict with an honest exploration of the creation, accompanied by an understanding of how God's creative energies suffuse it. But if we mean modern science as presented in the textbooks and the laboratories, I don't think I can agree. Modern science posits that we can understand natural phenomena purely through the interpretation of sensory data. While God's activity isn't necessarily denied, it is assumed to be irrelevant to the understanding of these phenomena, for which natural causes are always sought. Behind this approach is the metaphysical assumption (despite the strenuous objection of scientists that they don't hold metaphysical assumptions) that the material world and the spiritual world do not interpenetrate, and the one can be understood independently of the other. So even if the "unguided, random mutations" of evolution can't be conclusively proven, it is reasonable, from this perspective, to assume such a mechanism, or something similarly naturalistic. I don't doubt that there have been holy men who were scientists; I'm not talking about science per se, but rather the form of science that dominates the world today.

#15 Fr. Gregory (Hallam)

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 01:25 PM

Unless we assume that the serpent was an archetype of something rotten already in the heart of man (and then would be no Fall but rather a Manichean evil creation of the Demiurge) and not an exterior influence as presented in Genesis I think we must insist that the angelic fall predates the human fall. So maybe there is a possibility there that the death of animals (lions eating grain 'n all) was part of an angelic and not human corruption of creation IF death was already known in the animal world to Adam.

I say "possibility" because in the absence of direct patristic mandate I do not find this speculation at all plausible. It seems disproportionate and irrational. Why should bunny rabbits suffer on account of Lucifer? St. Paul in Romans 8:20-21 connects the redemption of humankind to the transformation of the Cosmos from corruption to liberty; but nowhere here does he explain the origin of that corruption save to place it within God's providence. In the absence therefore of any substantial warrant from Tradition that there was NO death AT ALL before the Fall of humans I do not think it necessary that lions should have originally been vegan. Their physiology alone is inconsistent with this.

So if death is natural for non-human animals what do we make of death in humankind? I do think that the overwhelming witness of Tradition is that human death is not natural in the sense that it is was not and is not part of God's intention that we should die. The patristic witness as explained here is that we were created with the potential for immortality .... NOT a natural immortality but an immortality to be acquired by grace and in communion with God, (see Bishop Alexander's excellent article on the Immortality of the Soul). We surrendered that when we presumed to acquire immortality through a moral and spiritual agency apart from God. We then succumbed to the natural death of the animal world which we COULD have risen above. This characterisation of death as both natural and unnatural is, I believe, fully compatible with God directed evolution, (but not anarchic evolution) and Holy Tradition.

#16 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 01:50 PM

Fr Gregory's latest post (immediately above) stirs up a thought: perhaps we could focus on the question of the 'two falls' as the concept appears in (some of) the Fathers, as a topic on which to dwell more closely for a time?

We could even resurrect the 'theme of the month' area for it?

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#17 Evan

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 04:25 PM

St. Gregory of Sinai, in "On Commandments and Doctrines," seems to associate Adam and Eve's fall with the development of "animal-like" characteristics in human beings, including corruptibility. I think this goes to support Father Gregory's position.

"When God formed the body He did not originally implant in it instinctual anger and desire. It was only afterwards, through the fall, that it was invested with these characteristics that have rendered it mortal, corruptible, and animal-like. For the body, even though susceptive of corruption, was created, as theologians tell us, free from corruption, and that is how it will be resurrected. In the same way the soul when originally created was dispassionate. But soul and body have been defiled, commingled as they are through the natural law of mutual interpenetration and exchange. The soul has acquired the qualities of the passions or, rather, of the demons; and the body, passing under the sway of corruption because of its fallen state, has become akin to instinct-driven animals. The powers of body and soul have merged together and have produced a single animal, driven impulsively and mindlessly by anger and desire. That is how man has sunk to the level of animals, as Scripture testifies, and has become like them in every respect (cf. Ps. 49:20)."


In Christ,
Evan

#18 Fr. Gregory (Hallam)

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 04:55 PM

That is precisely what I am trying to articulate Evan, thank you. We have a so called "reptilian" brain in the limbic. That is where much of our trouble seems to emanate from. The fathers when they talk about apatheia seem to think of the this animalistic scattering as being gathered back into the nous. To use more straightforward language, we repent and ascetically train ourselves to render our mind with our body at one in God thereby glorifying our nature by the grace and operation of the Holy Spirit. In a sense, theosis is God-directed evolution (HIS process) to put us back on track towards God's originally intended goal; immortality and incorruption.

#19 Isaac Crabtree

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Posted 26 September 2009 - 07:06 PM

Fr. Gregory raises some excellent points. We praise the great works of God-- and declare that in wisdom He made them all. This vesperal Psalm recounts lions roaring after their prey and the great leviathan that God made to play in the oceans with the ships. But in this Psalm that recounts the great works of God, we also hear of the death of animals-- God turns away His face, they die and return to their dust. There was a great Touchstone magazine article that raised this question-- the amazing design we see in the natural world is often not the peaceful petting-zoo sort of thing we'd expect. The great cats, for instance, have teeth which are perfect for sinking into the vertebrae of their favorite moving foods. Spiders and snakes have very advanced venom-delivering systems. Diseases and bacteria all do fascinating wondrous things but many appear designed to kill, infect, etc.

#20 Kyrill Bolton

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Posted 26 September 2009 - 08:32 PM

Thanks all this is becoming an interesting thread. I did have to take a detour for the definition of limbic. (The term ‘limbic system’ (from Latin limbus: edge) was first used by MacLean in 1952 to describe a set of structurally and functionally related structures of the brain bordering the midline, inner surface of each cerebral hemisphere. These structures were considered to be evolutionarily ancient. MacLean called them the ‘visceral brain’ and suggested they mediate behaviourally ‘primitive’ functions inherited from lower mammals, particularly emotion and motivational behaviour. Although such phylogenetic arguments (based on comparison between species) are now commonly rejected, the concept of the limbic system survives and has since grown to be highly influential yet controversial.)

Yes, Father Deacon, I think a thread on the two falls would be interesting. Do you have any reading suggestion?




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