The Transformation of the Material Creation

A Monk of Most Holy Trinity Monastery

"... the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail until now..." (Rom. 8:21-22)

"Blessed is the hidden one shining out!" St. Ephrem

The treatment of our subject will be divided into five parts. First we will establish the fact of the transformation of the creation within its Scriptural context. Then we will investigate the nature of this great transformation, asking what new form will be given to the world. The last three sections will address the question of the efficient causes, i.e., how and through what causes will the transformation of the world come about.

I. The Promised Land

"In the beginning God created the sky and the land" (Gen. 1:1). The Hebrew word "ha aretz" can signify both "the land" and "the earth." Scripture thus begins by focusing on the biblical theme of the land. In the beginning God prepared the land for man by dividing the waters, just as He would later lead the Hebrews into the promised land by dividing the waters of the Red Sea. "And God said, 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear'" (Gen. 1:9). "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided" (Ex. 14:21). The making of the world is described as an exodus of creation.

"And the land was formless and empty" (Gen. 1:2). The object of God's work in the first chapters of Genesis is to form the land and fill up its emptiness, and then give the land to man. In the work of the six days God is preparing man's inheritance. From being a formless, desert waste, the land becomes a watered, flourishing garden. "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom... The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God" (Is. 35:1-2).

Having drawn forth the land from formless matter, God then drew forth Adam from the land. "And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (Gen. 2:7). Commenting on this verse, St. Ephrem adds that Adam at his creation was clothed in a robe of glory or light. "And He wrapped him in glory, and gave him reason, thought and an awareness of the Majesty."1 As a result of the fall Adam and Eve were stripped of the robe of glory. "For the glory in which they had been wrapped left them..." And instead of being clothed in glory, they were clothed in a curse. "... God, who when they were still free from the curse and clothed in glory was prepared to give them immortal life, now that they were clothed in the curse, kept them back from eating of the Tree of Life..."

When Adam sinned and lost his glory, the land, his material origin and home, also lost its glory and was laid under a curse, changing from a garden back into a desert. "And to Adam [God] said, '... cursed is the ground because of you ... thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you..." (Gen. 3:17-18). "... [A]nd the pleasant land was made desolate" (Zech. 7:14). The exterior landscape reflects the interior landscape. "And he cast out Adam, and placed at the east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and a flaming sword..." (Gen. 3:24).

Adam and Eve left the garden travelling east. The Scriptural narrative so far traces out two regions: the region of Paradise, where man walked with God and the creation was blessed; and the realm of exile, east of Eden, where the creation is cursed and man must approach God through sacrifice. In this land of exile there occurred a second fall. Man, having disobeyed God, murdered his brother. The murderer Cain was then exiled further eastward. "And Cain went away from the face of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod, to the east of Eden" (Gen. 4:16). Cain journeyed into a third region where one was cut off even from seeking God through acceptable worship and sacrifice. Scripture thus portrays the early history of man as an eastward migration away from the garden of Paradise, paralleling man's inner wandering and exile from God.2

In the area of Babylon, the place of ultimate exile, Abraham received a call which changed the direction of history. "And the Lord said to Abraham, 'Go forth out of your country, and from your kindred and your father's house, and come into the land which I shall show you'" (Gen. 12:1). Abraham arose and began the journey back in the opposite direction, west, toward "the land." For the author of the Pentateuch, then, the land in some way occupies the location of Paradise. The words of God to Abraham are a call to cooperate in the work of leading man and creation back to the state of Paradise, reversing the effects of the fall.

The significance of the land is developed further by St. Paul in the context of the new covenant. God promised three things to Abraham: a blessing, a name and the land (cf. Gen. 12:1-3). "To Abraham were the promises made, and to his seed" (Gal. 3:16). In the Letter to the Galatians Paul discusses the question of how "the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles through Christ Jesus" (3:14). One of the difficulties raised is that when God made the promises to Abraham He "did not say, 'And to his seeds,' as of many; but as of one, 'And to your seed,' which is Christ" (3:16). To solve this difficulty Paul argues that those "baptized into Christ have put on Christ," the seed of Abraham, and so they are "all one in Christ Jesus." From these middle terms Paul draws his conclusion: "And if you are Christ's, then you are the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise" (3:26-29).

The promises made to Abraham now apply to those baptized into Christ. Yet, what does it mean for the members of the new covenant to be heirs of the promises to Abraham, particularly of the promised land? According to St. Paul does Palestine belong rightfully to the Christians? Or is the land merely a metaphor for a purely spiritual heaven? It is especially in his Letter to the Romans that St. Paul explains the meaning of the inheritance of the land.

In the thematic verses of chapter one St. Paul writes, "I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed..." (1:16-17). In these few lines St. Paul presents a chain of arguments in abbreviated form. It remains for him to manifest the first premise upon which they all depend, namely, that "in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed." The righteousness of God, i.e., His faithfulness to His covenant promises, is revealed in the gospel. But how is God's covenant faithfulness revealed in the story of a man named Jesus who was crucified as a rebel by the Romans? God promised a new exodus and return from exile, a renewed Davidic kingdom and the inheritance of the promised land. If Jesus crucified is the revelation of God's fidelity to His covenant, where is the fulfillment of the promises?

In chapter eight of Romans St. Paul shows how the covenant promises are fulfilled for those who constitute the new Israel, viz., "those that are in Christ Jesus" (8:1). He proceeds by using the narrative background of the books of Exodus and Joshua: the new people of God experience a new exodus and, after suffering in the desert, they will also experience the entrance into the promised land.3 Verses 14-17 describe how, through the blessing of the Spirit, those who are in Christ are delivered in a new exodus from the spirit of slavery. They then receive the name of sons, just as Israel did at the first exodus: "And you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the Lord, Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you, Let my son go that he may serve me' " (Ex. 4:22-23). "For," writes St. Paul, "whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of slavery again in fear; but you have received the spirit of sonship, whereby we cry Abba! Father! For the Spirit himself gives testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we also may be glorified with him" (8:14-17).

Those who receive the blessing of the Spirit and the name of sons become heirs of the inheritance, "provided they suffer with him." The following verses describe how, after passing through the desert of sufferings, God's people will enter and inherit the true promised land of the renewed creation. "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved" (8:18-24).

The great promise for which we wait in hope, says St. Paul, is the redemption and glorification of our bodies. And in the glory of the resurrected body the rest of the material creation will also share. The creation will enter into this glory by experiencing its own exodus, being led out of a state of slavery into freedom. The renewed material creation, the principal part of which is the human body, is the promised land to which the new Israel is travelling. It is the beautiful inheritance which God the Father is preparing for His children.

And so, in chapter four Paul writes, "For not through the law was the promise made to Abraham, or to his seed, that he should be heir of the kosmos; but through the justice of faith" (4:13). St. Paul translates the Hebrew ha aretz by the Greek kosmos. God promised Abraham and his seed not only a limited stretch of land but the cosmos, the entire material creation. The promised land refers not to a bodiless heaven but to the renewed creation. St. Paul, then, does not simply spiritualize the Old Testament promises. Rather, his reading makes explicit what is implicit in the theological geography of the author of Genesis, for whom the land was associated with the Paradisaic creation.

II. The Face of the Earth

The material creation will undergo a great transformation. But what sort of change will this be? What effect will it have on the world? Any transformation or change consists in the acquisition of a new form by a subject. It is the form toward which the change is leading which makes the change intelligible and distinguishes it from other changes. For example, heating is a change toward the form or quality of being hot. And heating is the opposite of cooling because the terminating forms, hot and cold, are opposites. To understand the transformation of the visible world, then, we must ask, what new form will the creation acquire through this change?

The Scriptures describe the transformation as a kind of renewal or return to the state of Paradise. Man's sins have frustrated the purposes of the creation, subjecting it to a kind of slavery. The transformation will release the creation from its subjection to futility and enable it to realize its original purpose. What, then, is the purpose of the material creation? The purpose and goal of the entire creation, spiritual and material, is found in God. The material creation proceeded from God and its goal is to return to God. Yet it would seem that only a spiritual creature, possessing intellect and will, is capable of returning to God. In order, therefore, that matter share in this return, it must in some way be united with spirit. This is realized especially in man, in whom spirit and matter are united in the same substance. In the human body matter touches spirit.

The purpose of the world of matter must then be understood in relation to the composite being, man. In general, the material creation is related to man in two ways. Matter is either inside of man – i.e., the human body, which is a part of man – or outside of man. The human body returns to God along with man. When man as a whole is united with God so are his parts, the soul and the body. Matter most directly achieves its purpose in the human body.

The material creation external to man can be related in various ways to man in and through his body. Through nourishment man brings what is outside inside, transforming matter into his own substance. Man can also use the creation in numerous external ways, such as by building houses and making tools. Such uses of creation are practical means of sustaining man's bodily life. There are also contemplative uses of creation. Through his senses man is able to contemplate the beauty and order of the universe and its parts and so arrive at a knowledge of its designer and maker.

When the world receives its new and eternal form it will be related to man in his new, resurrected state. The new form of the world will be a function of its new relation to man. Because the human body will be incorruptible, the practical services of matter will no longer be required. Man will not need to sustain himself through digestion and nourishment, nor will he need shelters to protect himself from an inclement environment. If, then, the purpose of the material world was merely to sustain man's natural, bodily life, the physical universe would seem unnecessary after the resurrection.

The enduring purpose of the cosmos must therefore be contemplative rather than practical. And the material world, being something less noble than man, is a proper object of contemplation insofar as it reflects or manifests something higher than man. Such was the motivation of Aristotle in his study of nature. "For," he wrote, "if some [animals] have no graces to charm the sense, yet even these, by disclosing to intellectual perception the artistic spirit that designed them, give immense pleasure to all who can trace links of causation... Every realm of nature is marvelous: and as Heraclitus, when the strangers who came to visit him found him warming himself at the furnace in the kitchen and hesitated to go in, is reported to have bidden them not to be afraid to enter, as even in that kitchen divinities were present; so we should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful."4

In the Letter to the Romans St. Paul expresses this truth even more clearly: "Ever since the beginning of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom. 1:20). St. Paul then proceeds to explain how the archetypal sin involved a disorder precisely in this contemplative aspect of man's relation to creation. "For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or beasts or reptiles" (1:21-23).

Though these words of St. Paul in Romans, chapter one, seem to apply to mankind in a universal way, they have a particular application to Adam who, before his "mind was darkened" by sin, was able to "clearly perceive God in the things that had been made." "And the Lord God, having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name" (Gen. 2:19). Adam was able to see in each creature the divine idea according to which it had been made, and in virtue of this perception he was able to give each creature its proper name. This clarity regarding the meaning of the visible creation was greatly diminished by the primordial sin, and it is obscured further by personal sins. Conversely, to the extent that a man becomes purified and illumined, he is proportionately better able to perceive the divine ideas, the logoi, in creatures. This was experienced by some of the desert fathers. For example, the following anecdote was told of St. Anthony of Egypt:

A certain member of what was then considered the circle of the wise once approached the just Anthony and asked him: "How do you ever manage to carry on, Father, deprived as you are of the consolation of books?" His reply: "My book, sir philosopher, is the nature of created things, and it is always at hand when I wish to read the words of God."5

This analogy of creation to a book is beautifully developed by St. Thomas in his commentary on I Cor. 1:21.

When making the universe the Divine Wisdom inscribed His judgements in the things of the world. "He poured her out on all His works" (Eccl. 1:9). Thus the creatures made by the wisdom of God are related to that wisdom just as the words of a man are to the wisdom which his words signify. And just as the student comes to know the wisdom of his teacher through the words he hears from him, so man is able to come to know God's wisdom by studying the creatures which He has made, as it says in Romans, chapter one, that the invisible things of God are understood through the things which God has made. But man, on account of the vanity of his heart, has deviated from the rectitude of divine knowledge. Wherefore we read in John, chapter one, "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world did not know him." For this reason God led the faithful to saving knowledge through other things which are not contained in ideas drawn from creatures. Such are the teachings of the faith, which are considered foolish by worldly men who judge only according to human notions. It is as if a teacher, seeing that his meaning was not understood by his listeners through the words he was using, tried to find other words by which he might manifest what he had in his heart.

The visible world is like a book in which are written the thoughts of God. In Paradise Adam and Eve understood the language of the book of creation; but sin has caused a darkening of the spirit which makes it more difficult for man to decipher this book. One of the purposes of divine revelation is to remedy this. Through the study of Scripture and the teachings of the Church man relearns the language and meaning of creation. But not only did sin cloud man's faculty for grasping the meaning of the visible world, it also affected the legibility of nature itself. "Cursed is the ground because of you." Man has smudged the letters of the book of creation. Two things, then, are needed for creation to fulfill its purpose: man must relearn its language; and the creation must be renewed so that it will radiate the divine ideas with greater clarity. This is the end toward which the renewal of creation is directed.

Yet, this analogy of a book also gives rise to an objection. Words are external, sensible signs of internal thoughts. Since our knowledge is derived through the senses, we depend upon sensible signs to make known to us what cannot be sensed. If we could directly perceive the thoughts of others, words would be unnecessary. They would only make known to us in a more obscure, remote way what we knew already in a direct and clear way. Likewise, for someone directly experiencing the divine nature and attributes in the beatific vision, a knowledge of God through material creatures would seem superfluous, if not distracting. Consequently, the contemplative purpose of the material world, like the practical uses, would be limited to this life and would not be required after the resurrection.

To resolve this difficulty we must look more attentively into how creation manifests the divine nature and attributes. God is a pure and simple essence, and He knows all things by knowing Himself. The divine ideas and attributes are in reality nothing other than the Divine Essence Itself. But, as St. Thomas explains, "creatures represent the one, simple form of God according to diverse forms, since in the one form of God are united whatever perfections are found distinct and multiplied in creatures."6 Through the diversity of creatures the one God is imitated and reflected in many ways.

The simple form of God is first and most clearly reflected in the spiritual creation, the angels. Each angel is a pure mirror beholding and reflecting one of the attributes of God. And the angel sees his task within creation in that attribute which characterizes his vision of God.7 The mission, then, of the angel is to carry into creation that attribute of God of which he himself is the pure reflection. The forms in the natural, material world are administered and mediated by the angels. And since every effect bears a likeness of its cause, natural forms are likenesses of the angels which steward them, and consequently also likenesses of the divine attributes of which the angels are mirrors. Now, in natural things we can distinguish two forms: the inner form (or essence) and the outer form (or external, sensible appearance). The outer form is itself an expression of the inner form or essence. We see, then, how what is more invisible, and in this sense interior, is successively expressed, or "pressed-out," into what is more visible and exterior; just as the invisible movements or passions of the soul are expressed in the visible movements and expressions of the human face.

This procession of forms continues into the soul of man. Man through his senses receives into his soul the outer forms or appearances of visible things; and when he understands these things he conceives in his intellect a likeness of the inner form of the thing. In this way man, by understanding the visible creation around him, receives into his soul a reflection of the angels and the divine attributes.

When we speak of creatures as words signifying the thoughts of God we must, therefore, be aware of a certain inadequacy of this analogy. Things can signify other things either by nature or by convention. Words are only conventional signs of our thoughts. If we agreed, we could use the word "red" to stand for the color blue. That is why there can be different languages. But creatures are more like natural than conventional signs of God's attributes. It is the natures themselves which reflect God in different ways on account of a likeness. It is not merely by convention that the night sky reflects God's immensity and majesty. Creatures, therefore, not only signify the thoughts of God the way words do; they express and make visible what is hidden within God the way a face expresses what is within the person. The expressions on a face are natural signs containing in themselves a sensible likeness of the movements of the soul. A baby understands in a mysteriously direct and untutored way the facial expressions of its mother. Creation, then, is not only the book of God, it is the face of God. And man's contemplation of God through the creation is meant not only to be a deductive interpretation of symbols, but also an intuitive penetration of the personal mystery of God in the face of creation.

The comparison to a face perhaps makes it clearer why the contemplation of God in the visible creation will still be desirable to man even in addition to the immediate, spiritual vision of the Divine Essence. A man in love would still find joy in gazing into the face of his beloved even if he could have a more direct perception of her thoughts and feelings. Man's dependence on the senses is not in itself an imperfection resulting from the fall. It is something deeply rooted in his composite nature. Man's blessedness will not be the blessedness of a pure spirit. It will be a composite blessedness corresponding to his spiritual and material nature. When man desires "to see God" this is more than a metaphor; the expression also retains its primary meaning. Man desires to perceive God even with his bodily eyes. At the end of the City of God St. Augustine wrote:

For such reasons it is possible, it is indeed most probable, that we shall then see the physical bodies of the new heaven and the new earth in such a fashion as to observe God in utter clarity and distinctness, seeing him present everywhere and governing the whole material scheme of things by means of the bodies we shall then inhabit and the bodies we shall see wherever we turn our eyes... [I]n the future life, wherever we turn the spiritual eyes of our bodies we shall discern, by means of our bodies, the incorporeal God directing the whole universe.8

"The renewal of the world," wrote St. Thomas, "is directed to the end that, after this renewal has taken place, God may become visible to man by signs so manifest as to be perceived as it were by his senses."9 The new form of the world will be such as to perfectly realize this end. Creatures will regain the purity and freshness with which they first came forth from the hand of God. And they will even shine with a greater clarity, so that those who look on them will see with their own eyes the divine ideas according to which they were created.

This manifestation of God in the material creation will occur in a certain order. When our Lord's Body was transfigured on Mount Tabor the apostles were able to see with their eyes the divinity shining out visibly in the Body of Christ. "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light" (Mt. 17:2). The Body of Christ was the first part of the material creation to be transfigured. The renewal of the world at the end of time will be the transfiguration of the entire creation. "The divine majesty will appear especially in the flesh of Christ, and after this in the bodies of the blessed, and then in all other bodies."10 But in the human body it is especially the face which radiates the beauty of the person. Thus, man's longings to see God with his own eyes will be fulfilled most completely in gazing upon the glorified face of Jesus, and after this on the faces of the saints, and finally on the face of the renewed creation. "O pulchrae facies, Deum aspicientes et in aurora aedificantes..." (St. Hildegard of Bingen)

III. The Cleansing of the Temple

The effect of the renewal of the cosmos will be that God and His attributes will manifestly appear in visible form. Creation will become the radiant face of God. Now, God can be seen in the face of Christ because of the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures. Analogously, the radiance of creation as the face of God will be rooted in a deeper union of God with the creation. God will become present in creation in a new way. "When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be all in all" (I Cor. 15:28).

A new presence of the Divinity in creation requires a prior disposing of the subject. Wood is the matter of a chair, but not any log or branch is ready and disposed to receive the shape of a chair. The wood must first be prepared. Likewise, the material creation must be prepared to receive the form of divine glory. "The elements require to be cleansed from contrary dispositions before they can be brought to the newness of glory," wrote St. Thomas.11 There will, then, be required two kinds of causes of the transformation of the world: dispositive and formative. The principal or formative causes will more directly effect the giving of a new form to the cosmos. The dispositive causes will prepare the material world so that it is ready to receive its new form. First we will consider the dispositive causes, then in the last section we will treat of the principal formative cause.

Before entering into glory man must be completely purged of sin by means of a spiritual purification of his soul. But what about man's body and the material world, what contrary dispositions could there be in matter to receiving the form of glory? St. Thomas identifies two kinds:

On account of sin corporeal things contract a certain unfittingness for being appointed to spiritual purposes; and for this reason we find that places where crimes have been committed are reckoned unfit for the performance of sacred actions therein, unless they be cleansed beforehand. Accordingly, that part of the world which is given over to our use contracts from man's sins a certain unfitness for being glorified, wherefore in this respect it needs to be cleansed. In like manner with regard to the intervening space, on account of the contact of the elements, there are many corruptions, generations and alterations of the elements which diminish their purity: wherefore the elements need to be cleansed from these also, so that they be fit to receive the newness of glory.12

The second contrary disposition of matter is perhaps easier to understand. The natural world can be deformed and subjected to chemical alterations which must be purged before the cosmos can become a paradise. Many alterations of the material creation are not sanctioned by the Creator; consequently, when man uses his body and nature contrary to the order intended by Divine Providence he places obstacles to God's plans for His creation. On the other hand, man can cooperate with God in preparing for the renewal of the world by using his body and material things according to the divinely willed order. This right order is determined by the purposes of things and their mutual causal influences. Man assists in the transformation of the world by learning to think and act towards creation, not according to sensual appetite and laziness, but in terms of cause and effect, nature and finality. Through reason and revelation man penetrates the inner natures and finalities of creatures, and by acting on this knowledge he becomes an instrument in the Father's mysterious plans for the material creation.

The world also "contracts from man's sins a certain unfitness for being glorified." This means in general that the moral order has more influence on the physical order than we may realize. But what effect could sin have on matter? St. Thomas offers a comparison to help us: the desecration and reconsecration of a place of worship. When a serious sin is committed in a consecrated Church, the building must be reconsecrated before further worship can be performed there. The very material surroundings are infected by the sin; and the means of cleansing them is through an ecclesiastical exorcism and blessing performed by an ordained bishop or priest. Applying this illustration to the cosmos, we see that the entire creation is like a great temple which has been desecrated by man's sins and which consequently stands in need of a ritual purification. These ideas have a rich Scriptural background, and it will be helpful to examine some of this background to better understand the effects of sin on the creation.

The description of the creation of the world and the fall of Adam in Genesis 1-3 contains parallels to other Scripture passages which indicate that the sin of Adam desecrated the material creation. For example, one might note some of the parallelisms between Genesis 1-3 and Exodus 25-33:

God creates the world
(Gen. 1:1-2:14)

God instructs Moses to build the tabernacle
(Ex. 25-27)

The creation of Adam
(Gen. 2:7-24)

The investiture and consecration of Aaron as high priest
(Ex. 28-29)

The fall of Adam: the serpent
(Gen. 2:25-3:24)

The fall of Aaron: the golden calf
(Ex. 32-33:11)

The description of the creation and structure of the world in the first chapters of Genesis shares many similarities with other Scriptural passages about the construction of the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon. For example, in the account of creation we find seven times the expression "And God said," and in the instructions for building the tabernacle seven times "And the Lord said" (Ex. 25-31). Solomon took seven years to build the temple, recalling God's completing the world in seven days (cf. I Kings 6:38). Also, in the likeness of the garden of Eden, the tabernacle and temple contained gold, precious stones, and were guarded by cherubim (cf. Ex. 25; I Kings 6). The point of such similarities is evidently that the tabernacle and the temple were images of God's original, pure creation. They were meant to symbolically and ritually make Paradise present again, beginning with this one, small part of the fallen creation. The temple and its liturgy were the center from which was commencing the renewal of the cosmos. From there the priestly sacrifices and blessings radiated out into the world to undo the curses of sin.

These parallelisms also teach us that in creating the world God was actually building a temple. God's plan was that the cosmos itself would be the great temple in which He would be contemplated and worshipped. Thus, the work of building the temple of creation was followed by the Sabbath, the day of divine worship. And Adam's role in the temple of creation was paralleled by that of Aaron in the tabernacle: he was the high priest who was to offer acceptable sacrifice. But, like Aaron, Adam's first priestly act was instead an act of idolatry. This idea of the sin of Adam as comparable to an idolatrous ritual may be behind the apparent allusions in Gen. 3 to the Canaanite fertility rites, e.g., the serpent, a naked woman, the references to childbearing and the fertility of the earth. The high priest, Adam, was consecrated and led into the temple; and instead of worshipping YHWH, he fell down in homage to the serpent. The temple which God had blessed was desecrated and defiled. "Cursed is the ground because of you!" "And the earth is infected by its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, they have changed the ordinances, they have broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse shall devour the earth. . ." (Is. 24:4-6). "And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and good things. But when you came in you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination" (Jer. 2:7). "O God, the heathen have come into thy inheritance; they have defiled thy holy temple!" (Ps. 79)

The defilement of the creation by sin continues through history. After describing the sins of idolatry and sexuality practised by the Canaanites, the Lord tells the Hebrews, "All of these abominations the men of the land did, who were before you, so that the land became defiled" (Lev. 18:27). The Israelites were given the mission to enter and cleanse the land by holy wars, and to reconsecrate it through the temple liturgy and life according to the Torah. But if they failed in their mission and instead themselves defiled the land by idolatry and impurity like Adam and the Canaanites, then they too would be cast out. "But you shall keep my statutes and ordinances and do none of these abominations... lest the land vomit you out, when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you" (Lev. 18:26-28).

The temple of the material creation, built and consecrated by God, has been desecrated by thousands upon thousands of years of sin. Even now, when a part of the creation is designated especially for divine worship it must first be blessed and consecrated. And before the universe as a whole can become the place of the eternal liturgy of the redeemed it must pass through a rite of cleansing and reconsecration. One of the principal ceremonies in this cosmic ritual will be the cleansing by fire. "And the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10). After this, "nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood... There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of the lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face..." (Apoc. 21:27, 22:3-4)

IV. "A Ladder Set Up on the Earth" (Gen. 28:12)

We may still wonder what, more properly, does it mean for the material creation to be under a curse. Material objects can be cursed or blessed. But what effect do these acts have upon the objects? In the context of discussing the nature and morality of the occult arts, St. Augustine observed a) that in order to achieve their effects these arts normally make use of various objects, such as particular stones, plants and animals, as well as symbols and sounds, and b) that the effects were sometimes realized. Now it is evident that the objects and rituals do not of themselves possess the power to bring about the intended effect, for instance, a person is not made ill by harming an image of him. The explanation, said St. Augustine, is to be found in a connection of the objects with demonic spirits. "Demons are enticed by creatures ... diverse things are attractive to diverse demons; not as animals are enticed by foods; but as spirits they are allured by signs, which befit the pleasures of each demon, through various types of stones, plants, trees, animals, songs, rituals."13 And St. Thomas said concisely that such things "have their effect through the operation of demons."14 For these reasons, St. Alphonsus Ligouri instructed priests involved in such cases to first destroy the material objects through which the demons were working.

Through occult rites, and perhaps through sin in general, the demons acquire influence over material objects, which then become instruments of demonic radiation. The means of removing an object from demonic influence is an exorcism. And the contrary act has a contrary effect: through a blessing an object is placed under the influence of the holy angels. This effect is in fact stated explicitly in a number of formal blessings. The angels are the mediators of actual graces, and so the good things which are called down or petitioned in a blessing will be realized through the agency of the angels. The material world is under the influence of spiritual powers; and man can help to determine which spirits – angels or demons – have the greater influence.

There is a common error which prevents a proper appreciation of the influence of the incorporeal spirits on the material creation. It is sometimes assumed that the angels or demons are working only where there is lacking a particular, physical cause. On this view, the angels would serve to fill in the missing links in a chain of particular causes. We would then posit angelic or demonic activity only where there was no other explanation, for example, if a child fell from a high building without being harmed or a car ran without gasoline. This too limited view arises from an overly material conception of angelic causality. The presence and influence of spirits in the natural world is much more encompassing than this missing link theory would suggest.

Aristotle made a fairly simple observation which provides an opening towards understanding the causality of the pure spirits. When a builder builds a house he does not cause house as such, that is, he is not the cause of what it is to be a house. Rather, he is the cause of these materials being arranged into the form of a house.15 The case is similar in the generation of natural things. A young sparrow is generated by its mother; and the sparrow's existence is dependent on its mother such that if she had not been he would not be. But since the mother is of the same nature as her young one – both are sparrows – then the mother cannot be the cause of the nature or what it is to be a sparrow, otherwise she, being herself a sparrow, would be the cause of herself. There must then be a per se cause of the nature of the species sparrow, both in her and in her young as well as in all the individuals of the species.

This conclusion is true for everything in the natural world. None of the individuals of a species can account for the nature of the species as such. In order to explain the nature or form of any species, we are required to posit a cause which transcends the individuals of the species. Such a cause must contain the form of the species within it in a higher way without being itself part of the species. These are the spiritual substances or angels.16 The angels contain within themselves in a purely spiritual way the forms of things in the material world. And the species of plants, animals and inanimate beings could not exist without the continuous influence of the spiritual causes. In fact, the activity of the spiritual beings in the world is more universal, interior and penetrating than any of the particular, material causes we perceive with our senses. The causality of the angel of sparrows on the young sparrow is more intimate than even the sparrow's own mother. When the mother dies the sparrow continues to exist; but without the angel there would be no sparrows at all.

Every effect in the material world depends for its existence not only on the particular causes we sense but on a whole ordered hierarchy of spiritual causes. Far from it being the case that an angel is active only where a needed physical cause is absent, every instance of causality that we perceive in the natural world is in fact the sign of a deeper and more penetrating angelic causality. Venerable Cardinal Newman wrote that "the course of Nature, which is so wonderful, so beautiful, and so fearful, is effected by the ministry of those unseen beings. Nature is not inanimate, its daily toil is intelligent; its works are duties ... as our souls move our bodies, be our bodies what they may, so there are Spiritual Intelligences which move those wonderful and vast portions of the natural world which seem to be inanimate; and as the gestures, speech, and expressive countenances of our friends around us enable us to hold intercourse with them, so in the motions of universal Nature, in the interchange of day and night, summer and winter, wind and storm, fulfilling His word, we are reminded of the blessed and dutiful Angels."17

An instructive objection is raised in the Summa regarding the administration of the creation by the angels. It might seem that an external ministry would be opposed to the perfect blessedness of the angels, which consists in the contemplation of God. For, any external service would in some degree hinder their contemplation of God, and so lessen the happiness which is derived from this contemplation. St. Thomas answers that in fact the contrary is true: the contemplation and the service of the angels mutually strengthen one another. And the principle from which he argues helps illuminate our topic. The reason, says St. Thomas, is that "when, of two actions, one is the rule and ratio of the other, one does not impede the other but rather helps it."18 Each angel, therefore, finds in his vision of God the rule and idea for all his work in the world. His goal is to imprint that idea of God on the part of the material creation of which he is the steward.

There are, we have noted, no ideas in God really distinct from His Essence. But since the angels are the pure, spiritual mirrors of the divine attributes, really distinct from God, they are in a way the divine ideas personified. Though there is no world of ideas or forms as Plato supposed, there is the world of the angels, each of which is a unique species. And so, the more the angels are united with and penetrate the material creation, the more clearly will the divine ideas shine out in the visible world. The causality of the angels will, therefore, be not only efficient – a new union of the angels with the material creation will be a kind of formal cause of the transformation of the world. On the other hand, the more material objects are under the influence of the fallen angels, the less clearly will they radiate their divine ideas. Subjected to the power of demons, creatures will be used in disorderly and sinful ways, and their luminosity will be tarnished. The creation will be in bondage and subjected to futility.

V. The Presence

The nucleus of the great transformation of the cosmos is the resurrection and glorification of the human body. "At one and the same time the world will be renewed and man will be glorified," wrote St. Thomas.19 At one and the same time because from one and the same cause. In this last section of our paper we will determine the proximate instrumental cause of the resurrection of the body, and then show how this will be the cause of the transformation of the entire material creation.

The principal cause of the resurrection of human bodies will be the power of the Divinity. Yet St. Paul refers also to another kind of cause: some physical sign or instrument through which the divine power will work the universal resurrection. "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the voice of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first..." (I Thes. 4:16) Among the Fathers and Doctors this text was understood as referring metaphorically to some "sign given by God" which will have a certain power to effect the resurrection of the dead, and which "the whole of nature will obey."20

What, then, will this sign be which will have such power as to cause the resurrection? Certain of the Fathers answered that it will be "nothing other than the manifest appearance of the Son of God in the world."21 For this reason, adds St. Thomas commenting on I Thes. 4:16, "the visible presence of the Son of God is called His voice, because as soon as He appears all nature will obey His command in restoring human bodies; hence He is described as coming with commandment."22 The mere presence of the glorified Body of Christ returned to earth will itself have the power to effect the resurrection of the dead.

This tremendous power of Christ's glorified Body is more understandable if we consider what it means for the body of Christ to be "glorified." The proper principle for understanding our Lord and His works is the Hypostatic Union, the union of the divine and human natures in the Person of the Word. During our Lord's life on earth many of the effects of this union were held back and not allowed to rush out in their full force. Such effects include those which the Hypostatic Union would have otherwise had on the matter of Christ's human Body. The glorification of the Body of Christ means, then, that the Hypostatic Union is allowed to have its full influence on the Body which is included in that union so that the divine Word of God becomes fully manifest and operative in and through the physical Body of Jesus Christ.

"Consequently, the Word of God first bestows life upon the Body which is naturally united with Himself, and through it works the resurrection in all other bodies... Our bodies are made glorious by sharing in the glory of Christ's Body."23 The Body of Christ, hypostatically united to the Divine Word, will be the proximate cause of the resurrection and the transformation of the world. When the world is renewed "manifest proofs of the Divine Majesty will appear, especially in Christ's flesh, secondarily in the bodies of the blessed, and afterwards in all other bodies."24 This causality of the Body of Christ in the transformation of the world will be not only an exemplary causality, but it will also exercise a kind of sacramental efficient causality. "The divine operations are wrought by means of Christ's flesh as though it were a kind of tool."25 When the priest speaks the words of consecration – the sacramental form, "This is My Body" – over the matter of the bread, these words have a power to effect the transubstantiation. This depends not on the words being heard or understood by the matter, but simply on their being spoken. In a similar manner, the glorified Body of Christ, simply by its visible presence within the material creation, will be like a sacramental form spoken over the world which will effect the final transformation.

We can now take one last step in our considerations. If the effect of the manifest presence of Christ's glorified Body will be the final renewal of the material creation, what is the present effect of the sacramental presence of Christ's Body in the Holy Eucharist upon matter? That the efficacy of the Eucharist is not limited to the soul is attested to by the Fathers. According to St. Ambrose, "Christ's Body is offered for the health of the body."26 And in our Antiochene liturgy we pray before Holy Communion, "Make us worthy, O Lord, to sanctify our bodies with Your holy Body." Finally, St. Thomas wrote in reference to the Holy Eucharist, "Although the body is not the immediate subject of grace, nevertheless the effect of grace flows into the body" in order that "in the future our body might share the incorruption and glory of the soul."27

The Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist has even now an effect upon matter, and this effect is ordered to the transformation of the world, beginning with the human body. What the visible, manifest presence of the Body of Christ will effect visibly at the Second Coming, the hidden, sacramental presence of the Body of Christ is now working in a hidden, sacramental way. "This sacrament does not at once admit us into glory, but bestows on us the power of coming into glory."28 Our bodies and the material world around us are already beginning, in an inchoate manner, to receive their eternal form through the instrumentality of the Holy Eucharist. Through the Sacred Hosts, received in Holy Communion or present in tabernacles, God is preparing bodily creatures to become clear reflections of the divine ideas.



1 St. Ephrem, Hymns on Paradise, trans. S. Brock (New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1990), p. 223. back

2 John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Zondervan 1992), ch. 1. back

3 N. T. Wright, "Romans and the Theology of Paul," SBL 1992 Seminar Papers, pp. 201-202. back

4 Aristotle, Parts of Animals, Bk. I, ch. 5. back

5 Evagrius Ponticus, Praktikos, trans. J. Bamberger (Massachusetts: Cistercian Publications, 1970), p. 39. back

6 De Veritate q. 1. back

7 Cf. Summa Theologiae I, q. 112, a. 1. back

8 St. Augustine, The City of God, trans. H. Bettenson (Penguin Classics, 1984), Bk. XXII, ch. 29. back

9 Summa Theologiae Suppl., q. 91, a. 3. back

10 Ibid., a. 1. back

11 Ibid., q. 74, a. 1. back

12 Ibid. back

13 St. Augustine, The City of God, Bk. 21, ch. 6. back

14 Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 96, a. 2. back

15 Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. VII, ch. 8. back

16 Cf. De Potentia, q. 3, a. 7 and q. 5, a. 1. back

17 John Henry Newman, "The Powers of Nature," Parochial and Plain Sermons, II, 29. back

18 Summa Theologiae I, q. 112, a. 1. back

19 Ibid., Suppl., q. 91, a. 1. back

20 Ibid., q. 76, a. 2, ad 1. back

21 Ibid., a. 2. back

22 Ibid. back

23 Ibid., III, q. 56, a. 1, ad 2. back

24 Ibid., Suppl., q. 91, a. 1. back

25 Ibid., q. 76, a. 1. back

26 Ibid., a. 1. back

27 Ibid., q. 79, a. 1, ad 3. back

28 Ibid., a. 2, ad 1. back

This article was originally published in Return to the Source: Contemplative Studies from the Eastern and Western Christian Traditions, vol. 1, no. 1 (Petersham, Mass.: 1999). Copyright 1999, Most Holy Trinity Monastery. Reprinted with permission.