Saturday 2 March 2013

Theosis and free agency


Man has free agency, and this is intrinsic and eternal.

Man uses his agency to make choices, but some of these free choices will be sinful.

The work of Christ has wiped us clean from these sins.  Now we get the benefits of our good choices, and are forgiven our evil choices. Our prospects are transformed.


Yet, the problem remains of how it could ever be that creatures with free agency could ever cease to make evil choices.

The slate has been wiped clean, and is wiped clean continually; but why would Man ever cease from writing sin over it again and again - even in Heaven?

That there would be no temptation in Heaven is an inadequate answer, since Man would not have fallen if there had been no temptation. The assumption is that mortal life, death and resurrection puts us into a better position than Adam...


The ultimate question is something like this:

How can man be transformed such that he will always choose good?

It must always be a choice, and the choice is (and must be) free; and yet the free choice must always be of good.


Man must become such that he will always resist temptation, will always shun sin, will always choose God instead of pride.

This matter is - I think - almost wholly neglected; and yet I believe the question is valid and vital.

Somehow we must explain how men become good gods - gods who always choose good; and how our mortal life is a necessary part of this process.

This happens; but we lack a clear, simple explanation of how it happens. 


The story we tell ourselves of human purpose, meaning and relations with God should tell us how this happens. Yet at present it does not. There remains work to be done...


Bruce B. said...

Maybe choosing good becomes such a deeply ingrained habit that it becomes, at some point, a permanent part of our nature.

I think the Orthodox would chastise us both as too "western" for trying to understand this holy mystery.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - At one level it is a mystery of course; but all mysteries have an analogy or we wouldn't even recognize that they were mysteries.

I don't think the habit story works; not if it is assumed (which I think we have to assume) that a sinner can repent and be saved then die; or a sinner may suddenly see the light then almost straightway become a martyr for Christ - long before there was a chance for habits to be established

George Goerlich said...

We can witness that a sane person would never murder their child. Yet free choice doesn't outright prevent them from doing so.

Perhaps in Heaven we become more sane, or come into full knowledge of God.

(This leaves me wondering why bother with this life again then, if our purpose is a test, etc.)

George Goerlich said...

I just realized my previous post was essentially based on the argument you already mentioned, that "all temptation being removed", sorry!

Bruce Charlton said...

@GG - it is strange, in a way, that this matter is not more discussed - but I think the reason is that most Christians do not recognize how central free agency is to being human; and that it must be a feature of resurrected Man as well.

I am working on a 'story' of this which I hope to post soon - it necessitates a pre-mortal pre-incarnate spirit existence of the soul, with mortality as primarily regarded as an experience rather than a test - such that for the soul, even living very briefly as a baby is an experience of incarnate mortality of qualitative value to post-mortal (mostly resurrected) life.

Adam G. said...

I think you should read the discussion that starts here ---
--with the comment "we don't have free will in heaven."

Assuming that you are talking about libertarian free will, the kind that isn't wholly determined by one's internal character, then I agree that it is impossible for a being to be 100% assured of fully embracing the good and having libertarian free will at the same time.

At the same *time.* Time is the key here.

If I have libertarian free will during mortality, and use it to mold my character such that after mortality I am no longer capable of choosing evil, am I a free person after mortality? If you treat my post-mortal self as a separate person from my mortal self, the answer is no. But once you realize that post-mortal me and mortal me are the same person, you realize that my total post-mortal embrace of the good is *part* of my libertarian free will. To put it in more philosophical terms, a choice is free if it is the *result* of libertarian free will.

That argument assumes the view of eternity where its endless duration of time. If you assume that eternity is timelessness, its even more obvious how libertarian free will is compatible with embracing the good throughout eternity. My one basic choice for good and evil isn't being repeated, it just is.

Adam G. said...

This is a better summation of my comment:

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Our free choices are dependent of events and our state in time. Once we pass into eternity and become spiritualized creatures, our last choice becomes definitive, like the angels’ one. The purpose of Christian life is precisely to let God infuse his Divine Life into us as much we can receive it, so that at the moment of death there is less risk of making a bad choice and we are immediately born into beatitude.

Theosis – becoming a saint – is learning in advance to live the real life promised to us. Through the Divine Liturgy (the Mass), God suspends secular time to make us enter into sacred time and live a moment in eternal reality (almost always unfelt but faith tells us it is so). Every Christian may let God expand this glimpse to a larger area of his life through the practice of contemplative prayer, which is the door to sanctity, and is called the way to perfection, or the interior life, or, like St. Teresa de Jesus put it, the Interior Castle or the Mansions.

An interesting thing to note about the Fifth Mansions of the Interior Castle is that it they are characterized by the union of our will to the will of God, so that there is no more question of changing our mind in this life unless we abandon prayer: not what I want, but what you want, Father. It does not mean that we are not free anymore but that we are freer than we can ever be to do the right things.

Complete text of The Interior Castle or The Mansions of St. Teresa de Jesus (of Avila):

Teachings of a great Carmelite theologian about St. Teresa’sInterior Castle: Father Marie-Eugene of the Child Jesus, O.C.D., I Want To See God Ave Maria Press, 1997-10-01 - 549 pages (translated from Je veux voir Dieu, Ed. du Carmel, 1949) :

Brief overview of The Interior Castle seen through I Want To See God:
1st Mansions: The person merely avoids mortal sin and has not yet begun mental prayer (oracion), which is the door to the interior castle.
2nd Mansions: Entering the prayer life; mostly vocal prayers at this stage (prayers with words recited vocally or silently); personal action and effort in spiritual fight and temptation; often too much activity.
3rd Mansions: Life of regular prayer and reasonable Christian activity according to one’s obligations.
4th Mansions: Night of the Senses (active night: detachment of imperfections and worldly goods); mental prayer makes way to contemplative prayer, or prayer of Quiet (conversation without words with Our Lord).
5th Mansions: Union of the will with God’s will.
6th Mansions: Passive Night of the Spirit; personal faults and evil tendencies disappear; formation of the saint and apostle, Spiritual Espousal (engagement).
7th Mansions: Transforming Union (sanctity), Spiritual Marriage

Pierre said...

I think some part of the answer lies in this:

Adam before the fall was only an icon of God (image and likeness); after the resurrection and theosis man shall become God’s *son*, equal of Lord Jesus Christ. Christ didn’t choose evil, so shall the righteous ones saved in the new world to come – in a way unimaginable for us now (because, even believers, we’re still under the influence of sin AND Satan/evil spirits).

Adam G. said...

The scriptures talk a lot about submitting your will, surrendering your will. Maybe this is why.

Bruce Charlton said...

Two good answers here.

If we conceptualize the afterlife as extended time, Adam G says:

"once you realize that post-mortal me and mortal me are the same person, you realize that my total post-mortal embrace of the good is *part* of my libertarian free will."

I would put this as follows: our free agency allows us to take an *oath* to embrace good and reject evil; and we are able to adhere forever to that oath.

This leads to the problem that it is easy to imagine that in endless time, sooner or later, we would probably break the oath; but perhaps the fact we can live without end yet without any possibility of breaking the oath could perhaps be regarded as part of the work of Christ - a gift of firmness of purpose, of integrity.


If eternity is seen as 'out of time', and death a transition form Time to Timelessness, then Sylvie DR's answer is a clear account:

"Once we pass into eternity and become spiritualized creatures, our last choice becomes definitive"

This leaves open the problem of conceptualizing eternity and the transition - a problem which I find so severe that it disrupts my faith - but nonetheless this answer (which is the Platonic/ Boethian/ Augustine answer, I understand) has been the standard one for Christian intellectuals since a couple of centuries after Christ.


I have a third answer which I will put into today's posting.