Feast of St Julian the Martyr
IN THE FACE of such a broad cosmos, full of so many different kinds of beings with any number of attitudes towards us, all of them dangerous in their own right, one indeed desires to ask with the Psalmist, “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:3-4). In the Rabbinic literature, this passage is interpreted as an angelic retort to mankind’s creation: why, O God and King of the universe, would you who are ministered to by such a vast hierarchy of blessed powers, who rules such a glorious kingdom, bother with these creatures composed from dust? Why would you endow them with your image? This is, indeed, one early answer as to why Satan rebelled against God: an elitist, disgusted refusal to submit to a being made out of both flesh and spirit (The Life of Adam and Eve 14:3). C. S. Lewis captures this idea well in The Screwtape Letters. When Wormwood’s patient is on the brink of death, he comes into contact with an angelic entourage ready to receive him, but Screwtape remarks:
He saw not only Them; he saw Him. This animal, this thing begotten in a bed, could look on Him. What is blinding, suffocating fire to you, is now cool light to him, is clarity itself, and wears the form of a Man. ~Lewis, The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition, ann. Paul McCusker (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 186-187.
Screwtape’s disgust provides a good definition: the human person is “an animal, a thing begotten on a bed,” but one who enjoys concourse with the angels and with God himself in and through the Son of God who has become human. The human creature was created originally to rule the earth (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8), but with the ascension and enthronement of the human being in the person of the risen Christ over the whole cosmos, the eschatological destiny of man has expanded. Mankind, though the younger brothers and sisters in the divine family, have received the inheritance of the divine kingdom in Christ over their elder, angelic brethren. To the majority of the angelic hosts, this is, as Lewis wrote in Perelandra, a deep and abiding joy and mysterious wonder: it is only for Satan and the demons that this is the cause of deep, jealous envy. The human person, as St. Maximus the Confessor writes, is a microcosm, containing within himself the whole of the cosmos both heavenly and earthly, both material and immaterial. This has several consequences, but chief among them is that Christ, in His Incarnation as a Man, has thereby saved the whole cosmos. It is not necessary, as some have supposed, that if there is life on other planets, and even perhaps sentient life, that Christ should have to incarnate among them and die and rise again to redeem them: His death and resurrection as a Man is sufficient “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 2:19-20). Human destiny in Christ is all the nobler for the majesty of a full cosmos, and indeed, finds its meaning in such a cosmos more fully than in the empty, meaningless existence proposed to us by contemporary interpretations of the world.
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Biblical renaissance, Neo-patristic synthesis, and Christian renewal ought to include a return to Christian theological engagement with cosmology and a reclamation of traditional cosmography. If we do not have a universal frame of reference within which we are carrying out our renewed Christian praxis and culture, we will not be able to understand the cosmic significance of our everyday lives as both creatures of flesh who share a common life with all of the creatures of this world and human creatures who have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we call out to God and say “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). This is also the substance of our prophetic calling to the world’s present misanthropy. God is in the business of nothing less than transfiguring the sort of creatures that we are—whom we surreptitiously call “human beings”—into gods through Christ. Christ came from the highest point in the cosmos to the lowest to lift us back up to the highest point together with Him. This witness is especially present in the saints, who have themselves been productively compared to superheroes in contemporary media by better authors than myself. But it is a witness which counteracts the dominant idea of our Western culture—that we sit, alone, in a wide, empty, universe, full of forces that at best ignore us but at worst are quite possible of destroying us, and in any event care nothing for us. Christianity affirms that, indeed, we do live in a universe full of many dangerous players, realms, and forces. But enthroned above them all is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has created the human person according to His own image and likeness and who centers His royal economy among the worlds to His restoration and glorification. There is, after all, a hidden wisdom in the fact that in Marvel, the Earth acts as the primary battleground for all of these cosmic forces whose interest in our little world seems arbitrary to the modern mind: in the providence and plan of God, this world is indeed, though yet untrue as regards the sciences, the center of God’s cosmic intentions. No wonder, then, that His enemies direct their attention here, and are frustrated with ignorance by why He takes so great an interest in its people.
David Armstrong is an Orthodox Christian who enjoys a shameless love affair with Jews, Judaism, and other Christians. He graduated with a BA in Religious Studies (minor in Classical Greek) from Missouri State University in Springfield, MO, where he is now working on an MA in Biblical Studies. He has an avid interest in far too many things, and would do well to specialize.