Apophatic theology has become a trademark of Eastern Orthodoxy in theological discourse. An internet search on the topic turns up a plethora of blog posts, articles, books, polemics, criticisms, etcetera. Even in catechetical texts apophatic theology can take up sections of a chapter, properly explaining the negative way of theology for the neophyte or inquisitor. It often assumes a monolithic character in Orthodox literature, where there is a negation of cataphatic theology which leads to a mystical experience with God. However, with a keener glance one can see that the coloring of apophaticism is not the same across Orthodox theologians, and at times can differ significantly. In this paper we will outline the apophatic-cataphatic relationship in the theology of Dumitru Stăniloae (1903-93) with reference to St. Maximus the Confessor’s tenth Amibguum to show that there is an interplay between apophatic and cataphatic theology. Finally, it will provide some concluding thoughts on the importance of this interplay for the place of rationality in Orthodox theology.
This post is a developed version of my 20th Century Orthodox Dogmatics midterm which was submitted to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology’s Three Hierarchs Essay Competition. I give my thanks to Father Matthew Baker for his outstanding class and critiques of my paper.
“ἀξιῶσε, τέκνον, ἀναβλέψαντα εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτοῖς πάντα ἰδόντα, γνῶναι ὅτι ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων ἐποίησεν αὐτὰ ὁ Θεὸς καὶ τὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος οὕτως γεγένηται.” – II Maccabees 7:28
The doctrine of creation is of such importance for the Orthodox Church that it was enshrined in the Nicene Creed, in which God the Father is “Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.” This has been understood within the tradition of the Church to mean God created all things ex nihilo, ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, from nothing. However, this very notion of nothing, as well as questions of substance and necessity, led to a fundamental disagreement between Russian theologians of the 20th century. Did this creation mean that ‘nothing’ was a kind of limit to overcome, the result of God’s self-limitation? Or was it merely the absence of anything, a “no-thing” which meant that creation was novel, completely unrelated to God in substance? This paper will examine these opposing doctrines of creation via the late Fr. Sergius Bulgakov and his influences from Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyev and their common inheritance from German Idealism, as well as the response by the late and devoutly respected Fr. Georges Florovsky.
Fr. Sergius Bulgakov (1874-1944) was a prominent Orthodox theologian whose legacy is his theologumenon: Sophiology.1 He developed this doctrine from the work of previous Sophiologists, primarily Vladimir Solovyev (1853-1900) whom Bulgakov considered to be “one of the ‘fathers’ to him personally.”2 While Bulgakov has no consistent definition as to what Sophia is,3 one can roughly figure it to be the essence of God which though not a hypostasis has hypostaticity.4 The identification of Sophia as the divine nature is from Vladimir Solovyev who states that Sophia is the “universal substance, or absolute unity of the whole.”5 For Solovyev the essence of God “cannot be one thing among many” and thus is a “universal substance or ‘all in unity.’” This notion of all in unity must be unpacked since it became axiomatic for Bulgakov.6
Because Sophia is “the universal substance” she contains “the latent potentiality of all things,” which implies a plurality that is actively subjected to a unity.7 Thus indeterminate multiplicity has never existed per se in Sophia, nor has God ever created it, but is eternally reduced to unity since Sophia is the universal substance.8 However, Solovyev makes a distinction of Sophia inside of God, “the eternally actual state,” and Sophia outside of God, the “potential state,” the former being all in unity, the latter being “all in division.” Solovyev labels this outside state as Chaos, which is the “antithesis of the Divine Being” who is eternally suppressed by God to a state of “pure potentiality.”
God then must overcome Chaos in three ways: by His mere fact as all in unity, His right to conquer Chaos by showing its falsity and thus proving His truth, and by having Chaos participate in the divine life, transfiguring and thus absorbing Chaos back into unity.9 The absorption of Chaos back into the divine is thus an act of synthesis between God’s truth and Chaos, thus reflecting a Hegelian influence.10 Chaos’ false “system of eternal ideas, reasons or truths, each one of which, linked with all the others by an indissoluble bond of logic” go through the process of determinate negation and are brought into unity, the absolute idea in this case being Sophia.11
This goal of all in unity is apparent in Bulgakov, especially in the act of creation’s becoming. Bulgakov describes creation as being ex nihilo, however he refuses to see ‘nothing’ as a limit for the absolute, or a space or void in which God can create.12 Nothing
is not “something totally extradivine” since there is nothing apart or outside of God, “just as there is not even any ‘outside of’ or ‘apart from.’”13 Bulgakov then reasons that this very nothing must have been created by God, thus making nothing a relative concept since nothing must relate to something.14 Nothing then correlates to a state of being which is incomplete and thus becoming.
God is the sole author of creation; however, He creates by His substance, the Divine Sophia, mixing it with nothingness to produce the world which is a “becoming being” because of its emergence from nothing.15 This same idea can be found in Solovyev in where Chaos is willed into existence and thus emerges “out of its nothingness” to be reabsorbed into unity.16 Creation then is not novel, but rather “a re-arrangement” of Sophia combined with nothing.17 This
creation is the Creaturely Sophia which is in the process of becoming so it can “reflect in itself the countenance of the Divine Sophia” which is the entelechy of creation.18 For Bulgakov, this very process of creation is creatio ex nihilo, and that the cataphatic knowledge one can derive from it is that the world was made from God’s own essence, a statement also found in Solovyev.19
Sophia is the identity principle which allows for the unity between the world and God and thus allows God to “split” Himself into nothingness and then synthesize the creation.20 The goal for creation is the same for Bulgakov as in Solovyev. Sophia’s submergence into nothing leads to an all-multiplicity which must be overcome by the Creaturely Sophia.21 Creation “is only in a state of potentiality, which the world must actualize in itself” by liberating itself from nothing.
Confronted with the problem of necessity, Bulgakov emphatically denies that God needs the world when relating to His inner divine life.22 The world, then, is a work. However, Bulgakov is also quick to deny any sense of arbitrariness in the act of creation, and affirms that the world is necessary to God not for Himself but “for the world itself,” and as such God could not have not created the world.23 Since God is love, it is proper for Him to expand beyond divinity, otherwise His absoluteness would be a limit on Himself who is the Absolute.24 Furthermore, God needs the world in order to love outside Himself, to love the “not-Himself.” This seems to be pulling from Fichte’s idea of the “absolute I” which splits itself in order to establish a subjective-objective relationship between the “I and not-I.”5 Without the world God cannot love outside Himself and would thus reflect a Satanic, egoistic pride.26 Borrowing further from Fichte, this necessity is not an external pressure (after all, there is no ‘outside’ to begin with), but rather is “the necessity of love, which cannot not love” and thus makes creation necessary.27 This same view is found in Solovyev as well, which states that Sophia is not content merely overcoming the possible challenges of Chaos, and as such God wishes for there to be another nature outside Himself that “may progressively become what He is from all eternity – the absolute whole.”28
While during his life Bulgakov had many admirers, he was faced with criticism for his Sophiology, even by fellow Russian émigrés to Paris. One critic who excoriated Bulgakov’s theology without mentioning him by name was Fr. Georges Florovsky (1893-1979). Though interested in Solovyev from a scholarly perspective,29 Fr. Georges diverged insuperably from Bulgakov in his opinion on the Russian philosopher, seeing “the rejection of Solov’ev in toto [po vsei linii] as a personal religious duty and a task that needs to be undertaken in due course by contemporary Russian religious and philosophical thought.”30 This criticism extended to Bulgakov’s theology which Florovsky characterized as being “long hindered” by Solovyev’s influence.31 More specifically, one can find the underlying problems with Bulgakov’s theology by analyzing Florovsky’s critique of German Idealism, a movement that influenced both Bulgakov and Solovyev.
In German Idealism Florovsky found a determinative influence of Hellenism which characterized the entire philosophical project.32 The problems and issues that plagued Idealism were essentially Hellenistic in nature. Antiquity could not comprehend “the empirical, the changeable, the variety” and “especially the event.” The response was then “to overcome the event, to overcome time” in order to discover the “actual world” which is unchanging in nature. Ancient thought is a morphology of the world in which instability is rejected and one seeks for “the eternally ideal world, of the world of paradigms and prototypes.”33 This same trajectory of thought is repeated in Idealism as its “pathos…was aimed at the search for the unchangeable foundations of the world.”
Concerning the doctrine of creation, German Idealism ultimately bore two different pathi, one of infinity (as seen in Fichte) and one of form, the latter eventually coming to dominate. The world in Idealism “is always finite, always limited…always a very sharply defined image.” Even Chaos cannot escape this as it “is the womb bearing forms, it is impregnated with these forms from ancient times.” All things, even Chaos, “adapt themselves to the circle, the rhythm of the universe.”34 This domination of form was especially prominent in Hegel, who saw “the progressing infinity as something ‘bad’” and instead seeks to find complete unity. The language no doubt reminds one of Chaos being suppressed and subjected to unity by God in Solovyev, or the overcoming of all-multiplicity in Bulgakov.
Furthermore, it is because one must overcome the changing to find the eternal that Idealism tried to comprehend existence from the event which is the manifestation of existence, of the original prototype, “for existence is nothing other than the power and the
need to reveal itself.” All mysteries of existence then will be revealed, and the only mystery left “is the power of revelation” itself. As such, any accomplished perception is a revelation of the absolute – economy swallows up theology and an identification of God and the world is made, thus leading to pantheism.35
This critique could equally be applied to both Bulgakov and Solovyev who both identified creation as being Sophia, and thus consubstantial with God. Bulgakov is aware of this criticism and avidly denies that Sophiology is pantheism, but rather “panentheism, where all is in God or for God.”36 Bulgakov sees pantheism as “pan-divinity and thus the absence of divinity” whose “distinguishing trait” is that God is “the highest degree of the evolution of the world, while considering the world to be the initial principle of the evolution of God.”37 Bulgakov even criticizes Hegel and Schelling for falling into this very pantheistic fallacy.38 However, Florovsky sees pantheism’s distinguishing trait as “the absolute, insoluble connection of God with the world” which means that even if God is not identified with the world, He nevertheless needs it – the world is a necessary being.39 If the world does not exist, neither does God, and if He does exist, then the world must also. God needs the world in order to reveal Himself, a point that Bulgakov undeniably teaches.40 If God remained within Himself then he would not exist since to exist for Bulgakov is to exist for another. Because of this very necessity as an attempt to make creation’s existence non-arbitrary, the world “constitutively belongs to the perfection of the divine existence,”41 it is a “part of the fullness of the very concept of God.”42 The world then is “the eternal double of God” not only in Idealism, but for Bulgakov as well – the Creaturely Sophia is merely the Divine Sophia in the process of becoming.43
In place of Bulgakov’s Sophiology, Florovsky puts forward the Orthodox interpretation of creatio ex nihilo in which neither the world nor time existed before the act of creation.44 This means, in clear opposition to Bulgakov, that the world is a contingent being and need not exist.45 The world’s very “createdness” means that its “cause and foundation” lies “outside the world” – it is not consubstantial with the divine. There is an impassable ontological gulf between God Who is uncreated and man who is created. This further means that created being is a substance and not a phenomenon, not an act of becoming or synthesis, but an essence.46
Florovsky, like Bulgakov, says that it is imprecise to say that creation is outside of God, but he arrives at a very different conclusion; creation is outside God in the sense it is ex nihilo and thus is a “heterogeneous substance” that is completely unlike God.47 There is no “kind of limitation to the Divine fullness,” but rather a novel creation. There is no external necessity for God to create, for there is nothing outside of God before creation.48
Yet while both may agree there is no external necessity, Florovsky goes further than Bulgakov to say that there is no necessity for creation at all. At the beginning of the second part of his essay Creation and Creaturehood, Florovsky discusses the problem of necessity with reference to Origen. Florovsky here is candidly speaking about Bulgakov for
the problems inherent in one exists in the other.49 Origen believed that in order to maintain the immutability of God and His attributes of being Creator and Pantokrator, creation had to be co-eternal for God to exercise His omnipotence over.50 If not, then there would have been a change in God in which He would have became Creator rather than be so from all eternity. Furthermore, for Origen any sequence or interdependence of predicates indicated temporal change and this clashed with the unchangeability of God.51 As such, Origen denied any sequence or interdependence of the predicates as a whole, and thus “asserted the necessity of the Divine self-disclosure ad extra,” a “’not-I’” from all eternity that was a necessary being for God’s completeness.
This critique is a repetition of that found in The Crisis of German Idealism and ultimately of Bulgakov as addressed above. However, to this problem Florovsky supplies the Orthodox response via St. Methodius of Olympus: the perfect Divinity “cannot depend on anything…except on His own nature,” meaning “God creates solely out of His goodness” and not His essence.52 Florovsky is quick to list a possible riposte: one must take into account “’the image of the world’” that existed with God from all eternity.53 Indeed, if revelation is co-eternal with God, and God is unchanging, does this not mean the idea of the world is eternal and necessary, thus meaning God eternally contemplates the non-I of creation, and once again not only makes God impossible without creation but creation becomes a necessary being that completes the fullness of God? The final deduction is that the world would be introduced into the inner life of the Trinity, again leading to pantheism and vindicating Bulgakov’s Sophiology.54
Florovsky answers this dilemma with the distinction of God’s will and His essence; the idea of the world and God’s will for it exists “by His volition” and not His essence. Thus, while the idea of the world is “obviously eternal,” it is “in some sense not co-eternal” precisely because it is “’distinct and separated,’” from His essence. God need merely to think up the idea of creation, an act done “in perfect freedom” which means “He as it were ‘becomes’ Creator, even though from everlasting.” Furthermore, taken from St. Athanasius, Florovsky affirms the distinction between that which is primary and secondary for God, the former belonging to the essence, the latter to the will.55 In the Trinity, the essence or “structure is antecedent to the will and thought of God” and thus antecedent to His works. As such, the idea of the world has a contingency on God’s will in the sense that its eternity is not one of essence, but one which is free and need not have been.56 This does not mean there is no reason for the “thinking up” of the divine world, but Florovsky agrees with St. Augustine’s prohibition to seek out these reasons.
The will is not bound or constrained in order to “think up” or create the world, but makes it out of the superabundance of love that has no necessity.57 Yet the idea of the world, one of the constituents of the eternal counsel of God, is not the world itself and thus remains unchanged and is not involved in the process of formation since it is outside the world.58 The world is created according to the idea, and the world strives to realize the idea, but the idea itself is not the subject of this striving, but “a norm and a goal established in God.” While the creation is the divine idea made substantial, it is still a new reality that “must realize this idea in its own becoming.” Creation exists outside of God, and yet is united to Him and grows closer by fulfilling its telos as established by God, an act that because of its creation ex nihilo is one of “self-determination”.59
While Florovsky was critical of Bulgakov’s thought, he always maintained a high level of respect for his colleague. Florovsky chose Bulgakov to be his father confessor not long after meeting him, and while the minority report on Sophiology bearing Florovsky’s signature noted the theological problems that Bulgakov had, Florovsky never went so far as to label him a heretic.60 Nevertheless, the doctrine of creation in Bulgakov’s Sophiology ultimately is at odds with the patristic tradition as the concept of the necessity of the world is foreign to the teaching of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and ultimately the Church. Florovsky is correct to point out that it is precisely God’s allowance for nothing to exist outside Himself that preserves the loving act of creation, for creation then is an act “out of the absolute superabundance of His mercies and goodness” in which the world “exists only through the sovereign and all-perfect freedom and unspeakable good pleasure and love of God.”61
1Nikolai Sakharov, “Essential Bulgakov: His Ideas About Sophia, The Trinity, and Christ,” in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 55, no. 2 (2011): 165 & 206.
2Alexis Klimoff, “Georges Florovsky and the Sophiological Controversy,” in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 49, no. 1-2 (2005): 67 & 73.
3Sakharov, “Essential Bulgakov,” 177.
4Ibid., 181; Sergius Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), 106, 444.
5Vladimir Solovyev, Russia and the Universal Church, trans. Herbert Rees (London: Bles, 1948), 156.
6Sakharov, “Essential Bulgakov,” 177.
7Solovyev, Russia, 156-57.
9Solovyev, Russia, 157-58.
10Hegelian thought also influenced Bulgakov in his dogmengeschichte. See Bulgakov’s introduction to The Lamb of God, 1-88.
11Solovyev, Russia, 158; Andrew Bowie, German Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 46.
12Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 124.
15Ibid., 125, 445; Sakharov, 178.
16Solovyev, Russia, 161.
17Sakharov, “Essential Bulgakov,” 178 & 201.
18Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 127.
19Ibid., 126-27; Solovyev, Russia, 161.
20The identity principle is roughly “the link between the subject and object world that makes judgements possible” and implies that “what is split and then synthesised in the judgement must…in some way already be the same.” “Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed February 4, 2014, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/schelling/.
21Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 127.
25Bowie, German Idealism, 39.
26Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 122.
28Solovyev, Russia, 160.
29Klimoff, “Georges Florovsky,” 72.
30Ibid., 73. Brackets are Klimoff’s. For further criticism of Solovyev by Florovsky, see “Reason and Faith in the Philosophy of Solov’ëv,” in Continuity and Change in Russian and Soviet Thought, ed. E. J. Simmons (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955), 283-97.
32Georges Florovsky, “The Crisis of German Idealism (I): The ‘Hellenism’ of German Idealism,” in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. XII, trans. Claudia Witte (Vaduz, Europa: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1989), 24.
35Ibid., 26-27. Florovsky’s critique of German idealism, and its relationship to Sophiology, is continued in the second part of his essay in which he deals with the problem of history, as well as its relation to the Reformation. However, for the scope of this paper, only his critique of pantheism will be discussed. For more, see Georges Florovsky, “The Crisis of German Idealism (II): The Crisis of Idealism as the Crisis of Reformation,” in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. XII, trans. Claudia Witte (Vaduz, Europa: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1989). The observation that economy swallows up theology is from Fr. Matthew Baker.
36Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 121.
37Ibid., 121 & 134.
39Florovsky, “The Crisis of German Idealism,” 27.
40“…Either the creation of the world is an impossibility for God, in which case the impossibility would constitute a limit for Him, would make Him limited; or in the case of such a possibility, God’s love could not fail to actualize it by creating the world. Consequently, God-Love needs the creation of the world in order to love, no longer only in His own life, but also outside Himself, in creation.” Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 120.
41Florovsky, “The Crisis of German Idealism,” 27.
42Bulgakov, The Lamb of God, 121.
43Florovsky, “The Crisis of German Idealism,” 27.
44Georges Florovsky, “Creation and Creaturehood,” in The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. III: Creation and Redemption (Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Company, 1976), 43.
49The charge of Origenism against Bulgakov was also made by another Russian emigre, Vladimir Lossky who reported Bulgakov’s doctrine to the Moscow Patriarchate and wrote against Bulgakov’s Sophiological apologetic in The Dispute about Sophia (Paris, 1936). Sakharov, “Essential Bulgakov,” 201.
60Klimoff, “Georges Florovsky,” 70 & 89.
61Florovsky, “Creation and Creaturehood,” 57.
Bulgakov, Sergius. The Lamb of God. Translated by Boris Jakim. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2008.
Florovsky, Georges. “Creation and Creaturehood.” In The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. III: Creation and Redemption, 43-78. Belmont, MA: Nordland Publishing Company, 1976.
________________. “The Crisis of German Idealism (I): The ‘Hellenism’ of German Idealism.” In The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. XII. Translated by Claudia Witte, 24- 30. Vaduz, Europa: Büchervertriebsanstalt, 1989.
Klimoff, Alexis. “Georges Florovsky and the Sophiological Controversy.” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, no. 49, 1-2 (2005): 67-100.
Sakharov, Nikolai. “Essential Bulgakov: His Ideas About Sophia, the Trinity, and Christ.” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, no. 55, 2 (2011): 165-208.
Solovyev, Vladimir. Russia and the Universal Church. Translated by Herbert Rees. London: Bles, 1948.
This is a response to Alex’s second post in his series on why Madoka is a better savior than Jesus. In this post, Alex says why Madoka’s sacrifice was more true than Christ’s.
Madoka made a true sacrifice in that she actually gave something up, never to reclaim it again. By contrast, Jesus just had a rough weekend.
Of course this only if we accept this definition of sacrifice (which there is no logically pressing reason to do so). Christ’s sacrifice of His own life was, as I detailed in my last post, to destroy the powers of sin and death that held mankind captive and incapable of being united to the Trinity. As regarding Christ’s “rough weekend,” I would like to quote from Fr. Thomas Hopko in regards to the level of temptation that Christ endured as compared to anyone else:
People sometimes think that Jesus’ temptations were nothing, since He is the divine Son of God. They consider His sufferings as empty gestures, devoid of true pathos and pain, since He is God’s divine Word, the One by whom all things were made. If Jesus of Nazareth is really God’s Son in human flesh, they say, what can it mean that He is tempted and suffers? Isn’t it a joke? And a bad one at that! And if His sufferings consisted in but half a day on a cross, do not thousands and even millions of people suffer much more than He? How many people there must be who would gladly hang on a cross for a few hours in order to free themselves of months, years, and even decades of the most agonizing suffering and pain! And to be raised up for everlasting life but a day and a half later – who wouldn’t wish it? And who wouldn’t endure it?
The Truth is, however, that Jesus’ temptations and sufferings, precisely because He is God’s eternal Son in real human flesh, are incomparably more terrifying and agonizing than those of any “mere man,” and of all “mere men” who ever were or will be. For Jesus is God, experiencing as God in His own human soul and body the rejections of His creatures, the betrayals of His brothers, and the abandonment of His own God and Father on the Cross, for the sake of reconciling all creation with Himself in perfect, unending communion and life. In this sense it is wholly accurate to say that no creaturely mind, of men or of angels, can even begin to imagine the magnitude of the temptations and sufferings of Jesus Christ for the sake of His beloved world. In Him all temptations and all sufferings that ever were or will be are experienced to the boundless infinity of His divine person. His, therefore, are temptations and sufferings which transcend creaturely comprehension. They literally cannot be fathomed. They can hardly even be imagined. They can only be wondered at with speechless adoration and wordless praise: His silence in death can only be met by our silence in awe-inspired amazement!1
One could of course wave this off given that Christ was the God-man, but once again, Christ overcomes temptations flawlessly so that this can be recapitulated into the human nature that He shares with us as Fr. Thomas points out. Christ overcomes temptation so that we can as well, and do so as members of His body, the Church. He does it for our sake, not out of any kind of necessity.
This second point ties in with the first point I made about Jesus’s omnipotence. Because Jesus always knew that he was going to be brought back to life after dying, his sacrifice wasn’t a real sacrifice. It would be the equivalent of disciplining a child by taking away a toy for a set amount of time only to replace it with a better one once the lesson had been learned. It’s nothing but a complete farce.
Alex means to say Jesus’s omniscience, not omnipotence. Either way, the analogy is insufficient since Christ goes to the Cross not to learn any kind of lesson, but to die “for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Not to mention, one would think that the garden of Gethsemane would nevertheless undercut Alex’s point; Christ specifically lets his human nature act out its natural fear of death, but still stays in total submission to the will of His Father (which is the same will as His own divine nature, as there is only one will in the Trinity). Plenty of Christians will say that they know they are supposed to die a martyrs death if called to it, and many also firmly believe in the age and promises to come. Yet, apostasy happens. Why? Because being faced with one’s death is far scarier than theorizing about it.
Madoka didn’t have such a loophole to escape from after she made her wish. Her sacrifice was real and permanent. An eternity separated from your loved ones who have forgotten you ever existed is an unbelievable sacrifice fitting of Madoka’s truer selflessness.
Of course many have rejected and mocked Christ’s sacrifice (as there is no shortage of such in our modern culture), yet God still went to the Cross. Furthermore, Madoka was not entirely forgotten as evidenced by Homura, and still seems to be interacting with the world to some extent, especially in the prevention of creating witches. Technical points, I know, but they evidence that Madoka is not entirely separated, as she has gone to a higher plane of existence (because, as I said in my last post, she is a Bodhisattva).
Furthermore, Christ’s sacrifice was indeed real (at least in the eyes of a Christian). Human nature has been redeemed from death and sin, and can once again be united to its Creator. Whether one accepts this and begins the long path of salvation is another question entirely, but nevertheless the effects of Christ’s death and Resurrection are permanent, even if He is not eternally dead.2 “Behold the Lamb of God…”
The next question you need to ask yourself is, “could I make such a sacrifice given the circumstances?” If the answer is a quick and casual, “sure, no problem,” it’s probably not a sacrifice. If you asked me if I’d be willing to be tortured and killed for the sake of every person’s salvation after death and after three days be brought back to life to sit at the right hand of god forever, I’d do it in a heartbeat. There’s just no question that’s a sweet deal. In fact, I’d provisionally be willing to stay dead forever for the sake of everyone’s salvation.
No, a sacrifice is a sacrifice regardless of how much one struggles to make it or not. Perhaps you could quip it was a rather easy decision, and thus did not extol much spiritual/mental/emotional effort on your part, but it is nevertheless a sacrifice. Certainly in the Judaic paradigm that Christianity grew out of, Christ’s sacrifice was a sacrifice – in fact it was such a humiliating one to the eyes of most Jews that many could not accept it.
However, there is another thing I would like to respond to; Alex’s question is posed as if Christ were any other human who needed to make a kind of deal. Now, I know Alex realizes that according to Christian doctrine Christ is God, and thus such a situation is absurd: Christ knew He would be going to the Cross before creation even existed. Nevertheless, the unsettling aspect of his example is that it ignores the metaphysics at play, and the differences that sets Christianity apart from Buddhism, or Madokaism, if you will. Alex’s death and resurrection to sit at the right hand of God the Father would of meant nothing metaphysically as humanity would ultimately remain unchanged. Nor would his “provisional…[remaining] dead forever” accomplish “everyone’s salvation” as death would not be conquered. There is an ontological gap between the uncreated God and created humanity, and it is only the Incarnation that bridges it.
However, if you asked me to obliterate myself from having ever existed in order to prevent the suffering of others, I’d have to consider that long and hard because my legacy is something I value highly. The generous side of me wants to say I’d be willing to make that kind of sacrifice, but my more self-preserving instincts protest that’s too high a price.
At what point does this get subjective? I am sure there would be plenty of people who would nullify their existence to prevent the suffering of others, or something along similar lines. Once again, what really baffles me is the value put on existence in this paradigm. I mentioned in my last post that one of atheism’s key problems, or at least this kind of reductionist atheism, is that values themselves have no ontological referent and are thus just as illogical, and just as “mythological”, as the religions that they are used to criticize. If Alex is nothing more than the assemblage of bio-chemical machinery that has no intrinsic value, then why is the obliteration of one’s existence too high a price? Of course one’s instincts can get in the way, but that should not be much of an issue given what is at stake. Then again, if there is no inherent value to human life, then why even bother saving it? In fact, this is assuming that we even need salvation in the first place, which nature is utterly silent about.
Simply put, she was forced by the logic of her wish to cease her own existence, past, present and future.
Except she did no such thing: though it is implied by the characters in their crying out about such a horrid fate, Madoka still exists at the end of the show, just at a higher state. She has yet to enter Nirvana, if my understanding is correct.
This was a costly sacrifice with tangible repercussions for Madoka that (debatably) were not offset by the benefits that she attained through transcendence. By contrast, can Jesus’s sacrifice really be called a sacrifice at all? In order for something to be a sacrifice, you have to lose something, but all Jesus did was die and come back to life stronger than ever. The only thing that can be argued to be lost was time, but what is three days to an eternal being? 3
Once again, it matters not if Jesus foreknew his Resurrection, it is still a sacrifice. He died that we may live, He gave up his life so that we could have Life. “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to all those in the tombs, bestowing life!” Christ’s Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection completely ontologically changed the entire universe into which suffering, death, despair, and evil have been overcome, and that man can participate in this if he so chooses to. Madoka only eliminates despair insofar as she prevents it coming to its full culmination by the annihilation of the magical girls before they totally succumb. For the girls there is no union with the divine, no overcoming of the passions (especially in the case of Sayaka), no purification, no telos. There is perhaps an afterlife, as implied by Madoka’s final scene with Sayaka, but if indeed the final stage for Madoka and others is the cessation of their existence, for I see no reason as to think why their fate would be any different than her own, then how is that any different than the world we live in now?
Today He who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree,
The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.
The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails.
The Son of the virgin is pierced by a spear.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
We worship Thy passion, O Christ.
Show us also Thy glorious resurrection.
1 Fr. Thomas Hopko, The Lenten Spring: Readings For Great Lent. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1983), 144-45.
2 It is of importance that I include the Resurrection here as well: had Christ not come back from the grave then mankind would still not be able to resurrect themselves. The Resurrection of Christ means that we too may participate in the Resurrection via our baptism into the Church. Had this not happened, then the whole thing would have been a farce. Since the telos of Christianity is theosis, or deification via union with the divine, an eternal death on Christ’s part would be utterly meaningless. Part of the beauty of the Cross is that it is where death itself is destroyed, and that the constant human history of life being swallowed up by death is completely overturned. The selflessness lies in the fact that God did not owe this to humanity, nor was He bound by necessity, but like the act of creation ex nihilo He did it out of His love for man, his philanthropy.
3 If Alex’s definition of sacrifice were the only, then we would not be able to say that Christ even lost time since Christians do not believe in ‘soul sleep,’ or the teaching that our souls are dormant and unaware until the Resurrection.
It is probably premature of me to write a response before the argument is finished, but this morning I saw a post on TWWK’s blog about how Alex of Ashita no Anime is writing a series of posts on why Madoka is better than Jesus as a savior. Needless to say, I knew I would bite before even finishing the first sentence.
Alex begins his argument as such:
Madoka started as a humble human who transcended existence. Jesus was always a god, which calls into question the logic of his methodology and thereby also the validity of said godhood.
Now, many would point out that Madoka’s very humanity is a metaphysical impediment to salvation to begin with: how can a mere man save mankind? If one is of the same ontological essence as their savior with no difference, then on what grounds can one human be lifted up as savior over the entire race? Any moral, spiritual, ethical, etc., advancement would have nothing to do with ones ontology, but rather how far one progressed upon a path of those categories, which means the locus of salvation still lies outside of the person. Indeed, Madoka’s own transformation is because of the karmic power of the universe, something that while humans interact with, ultimately lays external to them, and as such it is that karmic power that is the actual saving factor and not Madoka. While Madoka interacted with it on an unprecedented level, metaphysically speaking that could have been granted to whomever since no humans are ontologically different from one another in the Puella universe. This is why Madoka is far more akin to a Bodhisattva than Christ since she herself is not the locus of salvation. While she may certainly help man with their enlightenment (just as the saints help us with deification), she is not the savior. If this debate sounds familiar, its because its what the Catholic missionaries and the Buddhists argued about when Roman Catholicism was introduced to Japan in the 16th century.
Madoka is a wonderful example of a humanistic hero because if anything in humanism can be called a “commandment” it is the willingness of people to give of themselves for the sake of others. Although she was just a person, Madoka realized that she possessed the potential to save many. She gave all of herself willingly and completely for the sake of others with no thought of reciprocation. In a twist of logic that I like to think of as a natural kind of altruistic karma, she received a reward of sorts—a change in her very nature that is at least equivalent to what most people could consider a demigod.
There are multiple ideas going on in this paragraph, some that I even agree with. First, I want to speak on humanism, but specifically from the point of naturalism1 (since humanists are not committed to naturalism, and my critique only affects the latter). I will be using naturalism here as synonymous with physicalism, the philosophical position that only physical objects and systems exist. The logical implication is that metaphysics thus do not exist, and that as such metaphysical claims – most pertinently those of religions – are false. Of course, if one is both a naturalist and a humanist, then the teleological and moral values of humanism seem to be undermined by naturalism since such values are not in and of themselves part of nature. Let me explain.
Since the naturalist is committed to a stance of rejecting metaphysics, it means that all values must have an ontological root within the fabric of nature. In other words, they must exist intrinsically within nature. If not, then moral values are just as illusory as the other metaphysical concepts (i.e., God) that are rejected by the naturalist. Now, there is a distinction I need to make here: the difference between the concept of morality or teleology and the content of those concepts. There is no doubt that the concept of morality can be seen in nature: humans have written countless works on ethics and teleology just as they have about supernatural phenomenon, myths, theology, etc. We can measure the neuron and brain patters that fire off via fMRI scans when we deliberate about such concepts, and we can view the innumerable amount of spiritual artifacts left behind by almost every human civilization. The concept of morality and teleology, just as the concept of God, can no doubt to be said to exist within nature.
But what about the content of those concepts? After all, evolutionary psychology touts that many of our altruistic behaviors and intention-seeking patterns are part of our genetic makeup, things we have inherited from the long history of evolution. We tend to group together and act altruistically because pack-mentality was an aid to our survival and thus the propagation of our genes. Our ancestors sought out purpose and meaning because its what helped them to make sense of their chaotic surroundings and thus survive, or perhaps because its a by-product of consciousness. Hence, we see such moral and teleological values inherit within our species, and have no need to fear of any kind of ‘metaphysical boogiemen’ to force us to face nihilism. To be good is in our genes.
Then again, so is to rape, to steal, to murder, to cheat, to lie, to deceive, to commit infidelity, to do all the common actions that blind us or others from that which is good or beneficiary for the ‘well-being of conscious creatures’.2 Not to mention, our propensity for religious belief and other concepts (i.e., free will) also likely have evolutionary roots (which no Christian would even feel bothered by), but the naturalist rejects these as illusory. Morality and teleology are no different, as evolution does not provide us with ontological truths, but merely survival mechanisms, regardless of their falsity or validity. In order for morality and teleology to exist rationally they have to have a root within nature. Nature must say ‘man ought to survive’, ‘man ought to have value’, but of course nature does no such thing. Nature simply is. Values of these sorts are human constructions, but they do not have any actual reality to them, any kind of substance. They are just as fictitious as the metaphysical gods rejected by the naturalist.
One of course could shift into subjectivity: so there is no moral objectivity, so what? I can still choose my own moral system. The problem of determinism aside, subjective ethics suffer from the same problems as objective ethics, or at least if one wants to remain rational (which is the whole drive of the New Atheist movement, after all). We can choose criterion to base our subjective ethics off of: happiness, liberty, well-being, safety, etc., but these suffer from the same critique as above as there is no inherent reason to pick any of these values as they have no ontological root. Thus, even if one builds such a subjective (really, consequentialist) moral system, it could be perfectly consistent, it could even achieve the goals it wishes, but it most certainly is not rational for there is no rational reason to pick any value over another. In fact, one could very well take the most caricatured depiction of hell, (or while I’m at it, the non-caricature of double-predestination!) and say that this is the reason they think Jesus is a better savior than Madoka, or is a better God than any god, and there could be no rational response from the naturalist as all these values are not only subjective, but are just down-right fables.
I know this has been a large tangent for just one sentence, but it is of key importance: if indeed naturalism leads, as I have been hinting, to both moral and teleological (and epistemic) nihlism, then any rational critique given can only be that God is inconsistent with His own system, and nothing more. The real problem for anyone holding this philosophical position is that if values indeed do not have any ontological grounding, then on what grounds do we even value rationality?
Although she was just a person, Madoka realized that she possessed the potential to save many. She gave all of herself willingly and completely for the sake of others with no thought of reciprocation. In a twist of logic that I like to think of as a natural kind of altruistic karma, she received a reward of sorts—a change in her very nature that is at least equivalent to what most people could consider a demigod.
As I pointed out above it is the karmic power laden within the universe, and not Madoka, that is the locus of salvation. That said, Alex’s statement is still correct since he’s only talking about potential – I’m just reiterating my point. I agree with his next two sentences as the show leaves little room to argue: Madoka’s decision was based upon her love for others and her empathy with their suffering, and her accepting the contract turned into a demigod (Bodhisattva, really). Christians could have recourse to the problem of change and that if one changes it means they are inherently not perfect, but I have a feeling that would mean little to most reading.
Alex then begins his critique of Christ:
Jesus on the other hand started as god and was always a god. Even having taken human form he was still a god, omniscient and omnipotent. The incomprehensible process of having to sacrifice himself and come right back begs the question of why he didn’t just set up the system the right way to begin with. Why create everything just to change it a few thousand years after the beginning of recorded history? Why have any old testament at all if the current status quo was always going to be the end result?
Alex, of course, is correct in that Christ was still fully divine even after His incarnation. To answer his question as to “Why create everything just to change it a few thousand years after the beginning of recorded history,” one needs recourse to Genesis and the fall of man. It was not God’s intention that man is in the current state he is – broken, fallen, and sick, enslaved to the powers of sin and death – but Adam, so to speak, broke the fast and partook of the knowledge of good and evil before he was ready to. Wait — what?
More than one Church Father has explained Genesis in this light: Adam and Eve, while not fallen, were still child-like in that they were to continue to grow with God, even before the fall (in fact we never stop growing and communing deeper with God since He is by nature infinite). It is not that they were so oblivious as to know not to disobey God (after all, Eve’s first response to the serpent was the recollection of God’s commandment), but rather they were in a constant processes growing with God by participating in God’s grace. Certain Church Fathers even saw that outside of Paradise was chaos. Perhaps this is because God’s plan was that Adam and Eve were to bring those areas into paradise as part of their synergy in working with God, and thereby drawing closer to Him (such a view lends itself nicely to Theistic Evolutionists). Yet, they disobeyed, and when they did such they decided to commune with death rather than Life, non-existence rather than the Source of existence, and thus an ontological rift was made that would affect themselves and the rest of mankind to come. Yet God let this happen since He bestowed man with free-will since love must be given freely for it to be love. If Adam and Eve had no free will, indeed if none of us had free-will, then Christianity would be utterly incomprehensible.
Thus the incarnation of Jesus Christ to heal this rift, to destroy this barrier. One must understand that living in a traditionally Protestant nation, there seems to be a focus on solely Christ’s work on the Cross, with the Resurrection being proof of this work. But in Orthodoxy, Christ’s entire life is salvific, as the incarnation joins the human and divine natures without confusion (meaning the essences do not mix to create a synthesis) under the God-man Jesus Christ, allowing for the human nature to become deified. Christ lives out his life all the way up until adulthood (which encompasses all of adulthood regardless of age) so that he can sanctify each step, so that we may live each of those steps in Him and be healed. The same is true of His being tempted, of His baptism, of His death.
Christ’s death sanctifies death so that it can be a gateway to life, so that by dying we can die within Christ. Furthermore, Christ’s death, since he is the Source of Life, destroys the very powers of sin and death, a reality represented in Orthodox icons of the Resurrection in which Christ stands on top of the gates of Hades themselves, lifting Adam and Eve out of their graves, while the saints of the Old Testament look on in awe and wonder. The incarnation then has further implications, as even if Adam and Eve had not fallen there still would have to of been a Theotokos, a God-bearer, as it is only by uniting the two natures that we could be deified.
Looking at Jesus from this perspective makes him seem rather callous for allowing people to suffer death for so long when he could have done something about it sooner and capricious as well for having to go through so many loops to achieve something that the all-powerful creator of the universe could have accomplished by snapping his fingers and being done with it.
The problem, of course, is free-will: it is not that God could not have saved man earlier (in fact he tells the Israel that the coming of the Messiah is delayed because of their sins, if I remember correctly), but it is that man himself is stubborn and resists God. Salvation takes place in time since man himself is a temporal creature, and as such it was not until the ‘coming of time’ (I forget the exact passage, may someone remind me of it?!) that Christ was to be incarnate. He waited until there was one who was the perfect icon of what the nation of Israel was supposed to be, the perfect icon of the Church: The Virgin Mary. It was precisely because the Virgin Mary was perfectly obedient in her entire life, and because she was to be the new Eve, that God chose her to be the Mother of God, the Theotokos. Had Mary declined, Christ would have not of been incarnate. Such a view may scandalize many, but for Orthodox Christians this only makes sense since God calls us to be co-workers in our salvation, taking the grace God gives us and working with Him – just as Adam and Eve were suppose to – and that Mary’s acceptance of her role was the ultimate act of synergy between God and man. Had she denied this role, then she would not have been the living Ark of the Covenant that she is, as her disobedience would be yet another example of the Garden, another example of what Israel constantly was doing: betraying God. Yet, it is precisely because she did accept that God used her to bear the Incarnation.
So the ‘many loops’ are largely set up by ourselves and because of our nature, and one can read more if they study the Patristic understanding of Christ’s life and work on the Cross. St. Athanasius does point out that while God could ‘nod His head’, man would simply continue to fall over and over again. This only makes sense as Adam and Eve now have the knowledge of good and evil, and since God won’t deprive them of their free will, we have a never ending cycle of falling from grace. Furthermore, it is by the incarnation that Christ finally ends this, as he accepts the Holy Spirit at His baptism so that in our baptism we receive the Spirit, our ability to once again not lose this grace since it is secure because of Christ in His human nature.
Alex then proceeds to argue why Madoka is better:
In short, Madoka saw suffering and injustice and upon realizing she had the capability to right this wrong, she was moved to action. Jesus on the other hand sat on his butt for untold millennia watching the people he claims to love writhe in pain and die without salvation before finally getting around to doing something about it.
Madoka only acted upon this in the last time line, she had told Homura to prevent her from becoming a Magical Girl before (not to mention the multiple times she became a witch, even destroying the earth). This is because, unbeknownst to her, Madoka had to wait for karmic time lines to build up in order for her transformation to occur since it is karma and not herself that is the locus of salvation. Christ, on the other hand, had to deal with what humanity gave Him after humanity had first rejected Him (something that is completely absent in Madoka since it’s based upon Buddhism and not Christianity) and when the time came, He most certainly acted. Humans, unfortunately, tend to be a little recalcitrant.
Update: Cytrus of Yaranakya has made a reply from a Buddhist perspective.
1 I speak on naturalism specifically because of private e-mail exchanges that Alex and I have had in which he has claimed this philosophical position, though the term we used there was ‘physicalism’.
2 The term is from Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape.
Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, chief editor of the blog Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy has featured a guest post of mine: It Can’t Be Helped: Atheism and the Problem of Determinism, a post whose content is similar to one I’ve made before. Much thanks to him!
– ’Eye of the Beholder’ by Metallica
I’ve mentioned before to those that I know how as an atheist I had reached the conclusions of both existential and moral nihilism. While I should get around to how I arrived at those conclusions at some point (and further justify them as I no doubt did not consult literature when deciding such things) what I had never considered was epistemic nihilism; I had always assumed the existence of the material universe as philosophy seemed to be utterly useless without such an axiomatic belief. Of course, any theist who would have criticized me on taking that on faith would be completely right in their assertion.
More importantly, and relevant to this sketch, is the fact that I was a determinist in my view on free-will. This resulted from the philosophy class I took as a freshman, coupled with some of the science on the subject I had recalled from my high school psychology class which showed how decisions were made in the sub-conscious before being relayed to the conscious. The more I reflected on the matter, the more sense it made to me as an atheist; if I was the result of physical/material processes that functioned off of cause-and-effect, then that means every thought, action, etc, that I had was also the result of cause-and-effect and not a ‘choice’. I, after all, wasn’t a human being made in the image of God, but a biochemical machine.
But I never took the denial of free-will out to its full implications. To review: physicalist atheism seemed to lead to determinism since nature works via cause-and-effect. While quantum mechanics seems to contradict this, there are two important points. Firstly, quantum mechanics functions at such a micro level that it probably has no effect on macro-level systems such as the will. Secondly, even if this is not the case, quantum mechanics shows the universe to be at a level of randomness and chaos. This is in no way synonymous with free-will as all it would mean is that our choices are either determined by the antecedent state of the universe or are completely random.
If, then, we are the products of causality, this means our very beliefs, or lack thereof, are not the result of conscious deliberation and weighing of the facts. Nor are they the result of critical thinking or skepticism. They are the result of the antecedent state of the universe and nothing more. I was an atheist and am now a Christian because I had no choice but to be such things. The Christian who apostatizes because he feels that his religion is irrational is not doing so for rational reasons but because he had no choice but to become an atheist.
The one retort may be that while this is all true, atheists may have more accurately perceived the world around them, they have created a better mental model. At this point I will quote from an article by R. M. Manion:
Then,” I said, “if the mental models of a thing correspond to knowledge and the assessment of those models correspond to reason, we would have a paradigm for the evolution of knowledge and reason. We already have mechanical representations of this in artificial intelligence systems. We have robots that identify objects in a room from video input and make a sufficient analysis of these models to navigate around the room. If we set up an experiment where robots that ran into objects disappeared while those that successfully avoided objects reproduced with minor changes in their programming, we would eventually evolve a collection of robots with an astute knowledge of their environment and ability to assess and navigate it. In like manner, man has evolved the ability to form extremely detailed and accurate models of his sensory input of the world and to make sophisticated analysis of that data. Hence, man has evolved knowledge and reason. True, this system is still deterministic, and man is still a part of the natural system he has come to know. But, he knows it none the less. It is a case of nature knowing itself. A sort of feed back loop, or self-diagnostic routine.”
After pointing out the inherent dualistic language of the above, the second character of the dialogue gives the reason as to why such a feedback loop does not do us any good:
The robots know nothing. Simply, the ones set up to avoid obstacles, avoid obstacles, the ones that don’t, don’t. Can we say that water flows to the ocean because it knows the way? Does water that finds its’ way to the ocean know something that other water doesn’t? You see, water simply does what nature would have it do. So the robots do what their environment, sensory apparatus, and programs would have them do. Their actions are caused. They cause nothing. In like manner we believe what nature would have us believe. We do nothing. We are the repository of certain thoughts. I do not create my beliefs. I am simply a repository of belief. All of it, my beliefs, my thoughts, my reasons, even the language by which I try to explain them, are simply acts of nature.”
To transpose this, the Christian is a Christian because he was set up to be that way. The atheist is an atheist because he was set up to be that way. Their very deliberations, thoughts, analysis of evidence, and their very perception of evidence is all programmed. At no point can a person somehow transcend nature and peer behind its curtain to try and see whether or not its lying to us, because by adhering to physicalism we have already thrown any kind of transcendence out the door. There is nothing but the physical – that is it.
Ultimately, this leads one to an epistemic nihilism, or that we cannot know anything. The previous quote gets at the heart of the matter, that “we are the repository of certain thoughts…I am simply a repository of belief. All of it…are simply acts of nature.” The issue is that nature is everything in the physicalist worldview; it is the Alpha and Omega of this brand of atheism. But the problem is that non-physicalists exist, or rather, that there are differing claims about existence. The universe is the only source of information, but it has somehow has given contradictory answers, and we have no way of knowing which one is right. Hence, we cannot know anything – epistemic nihilism.
The rest of the dialogue goes on to talk about the self-refuting nature of such a stance, but I am not going to do that here; this sketch was rather to bring out physicalism in regards to free-will to its logical conclusion. Again, given the rough nature of any sketch it is open to being easily criticized, but I do invite any criticism or thoughts as long as the tone is appropriate. Oh, and read the article mentioned; it is better than anything I could type out here.
- I keep saying that my works are sketches because of their very unpolished nature. My current job prevents me from sinking too much research and time into anything, especially as the job is rounding its last leg. Thankfully, I will be able to devote more time to my writings once its finished.↩
- I should mention now that this is merely a hackneyed version of a brilliant article posted over at Energetic Processions on metaphysical naturalism and its moral and epistemic implications. I highly suggest that one reads it in its entirety and read the comments section at the bottom of the post.↩
- The view that there is no God and that only physical systems exist.↩
- R. M. Manion, The Other Side: Metaphysics and Meaning. November, 1993. http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/the-other-side/ retrieved 5/7/2012.↩
- Needless to say, while I could (and probably should) go on to comment on morality and purpose, if one agrees with this conclusion then such essays are rendered rather superfluous; if we cannot have knowledge, then there is no way to ascertain morality or purpose.↩