by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
The thinking man, if he wants his thought about freedom to be complete, must also reflect—on the basis of his own experience—that freedom is inseparable from consciousness and the conscious experience of pursuing and discerning truth. If freedom is really free, it must be part of self-reflective thought, or logos; otherwise freedom would be identical with chaos. To say that man is truly free, then, implies that he is gifted with the ability to think reflectively. He is self-determined because he is self-conscious.
In this consideration we are touching man’s special place in the Universe. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), this complex psychological quality is what confers on the human being his dominance over all other things. Adam was—and knew himself to be—the head of the Cosmos, its sole deliberative agent. “Self-governed and directed autocratically by his own will,” man’s
“nature was, from the beginning, crafted for royalty (tyrannis).”
The human being, then, is not only a part of the Universe; he is also the thinking part. Human thought is the only place where the Cosmos is conscious, critical, self-reflective, and free. The human mind is the sole forum where Creation can examine itself, render an assessment, and even make cognitive adjustments as they are required. For this reason, man is the only being capable of perverting what God has made.
The human being is also the only part of the created Universe where thoughts—both interpretive ideas and thoughts of resolve—are deliberately chosen. Man’s mind, we noted, is conscious of being free; indeed, cognitive freedom and critical self-reflection are so bound together that man may experience them as identical.
In this respect, man’s mind is the sole portion of the Universe where “effects” cannot be adequately explained by purely physical causes. Man is innately aware of this freedom, nor does it take him very long to infer the moral responsibility it imposes upon his life. He is the only being in the Universe that can choose, but his choices are felt everywhere.
The human being, then, is the only place where the Cosmos itself can deliberately, intentionally change its mind. Man’s organic and formal cohesion to the rest of material Creation is the reason Adam, when he fell, took the Universe down with him. For all of its brevity Genesis 3:6—
“she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat”
—identifies the metaphysical mix-up of Creation itself. When the Universe fell into confusion and death, it fell head first.
Saint Paul is explicit on this point.
“Through one man,” he wrote, “he hamartia eis ton Kosmon eiselthen, sin entered into the Cosmos, and, by sin, death” (Romans 5:12).
In Adam everything—ta panta—succumbed to mortality and metaphysical bondage, and the very Universe became a medium of confusion and corruption. From that point on,
“death reigned” (5:14).
So why did God, with a view to redeeming that hopeless situation, “give his only begotten Son”? Very simply, says Saint John,
“because God so loved the Cosmos”— Houtos gar egapesen ho Theos to Kosmon .
Saints Paul and Irenaeus argued that the Universe had to be “re-headed” by Christ, the incarnate Logos. The Universe can only head in the right direction, they believed, when it receives its proper Head.
From Cosmology we should go on to speak of History. But to speak of History, we must speak of language. There is no separating the two. None of the foregoing activity—thought, reflection, consciousness, choice—is possible without language, and language, in its turn, is inherited. It is derived from History. It is through language that Cosmology and History converge in human consciousness.
There is an obvious corollary to this observation: History, as an object of man’s knowledge, must actually precede Cosmology; man cannot think about the world until he has, at least for a while, lived in it. Israel certainly regarded reality in the sequence from-History-to-Cosmology. In the New Testament, likewise, the thinking of the Church worked—backwards, as it were—from the historical experience of the Man Jesus to the contemplation of the eternally begotten Word, in whom
“all things came to be (panta egeneto).”
The importance of these considerations is apparent if we bear in mind that a major underlying assumption of Christian Theology is—and here we come to the nub—the historical nature of Revelation and Redemption. Indeed, this assumption has the quality of a principle.
In the biblical faith man neither seeks nor receives “deliverance” by escaping from history and time. In the Bible “deliverance” comes only in and through a historical process; indeed, it is found only within a specific line of history.