Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
November 7th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Tertullian and St. John Chrysostom on Isaiah 45.7

The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Mic...

The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo (Photo credit: Wikipedia) WHY DO THEY HAVE BELLY BUTTONS!

The verse in English, Hebrew, and Greek (LXX):

I make the light, I create the darkness;
author alike of wellbeing and woe,
I, the LORD, do all these things. (REB)

יוֹצֵ֥ר אוֹר֙ וּבוֹרֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה׃ ס

Ἐγὼ ἡ κατασκευάσας φῶς, καὶ ποιήσας σκότος, ὁ ποιῶν εἰρήνην, καὶ κτίζων κακά· ἐγὼ Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς, ὁ ποιῶν πάντα ταῦτα.

This is an interesting discussion to have, considering the the nature of evil.

3.1 Seeing therefore, too, these cases occur in persecutions more than at other times, as there is then among us more of proving or rejecting, more of abasing or punishing, it must be that their general occurrence is permitted or commanded by Him at whose will they happen even partially; by Him, I mean, who says, “I am He who make peace and create evil,”—that is, war, for that is the antithesis of peace. But what other war has our peace than persecution? If in its issues persecution emphatically brings either life or death, either wounds or healing, you have the author, too, of this. “I will smite and heal, I will make alive and put to death.” “I will burn them,” He says, “as gold is burned; and I will try them,” He says, “as silver is tried,” for when the flame of persecution is consuming as, then the stedfastness of our faith is proved.1

St. John Chrysostom says somewhat the same thing. He breaks away sin from evil, suggesting that evil (natural disasters and other things that chastise us) is in fact God ordained.

5. There is then evil, which is really evil; fornication, adultery, covetousness, and the countless dreadful things, which are worthy of the utmost reproach and punishment. Again there is evil, which rather is not evil, but is called so, famine, pestilence, death, disease, and others of a like kind. For these would not be evils. On this account I said they are called so only. Why then? Because, were they evils, they would not have become the sources of good to us, chastening our pride, goading our sloth, and leading us on to zeal, making us more attentive. “For when,” saith one, “he slew them, then they sought him, and they returned, and came early to God.” He calls this evil therefore which chastens them, which makes them purer, which renders them more zealous, which leads them on to love of wisdom; not that which comes under suspicion and is worthy of reproach; for that is not a work of God, but an invention of our own will, but this is for the destruction of the other. He calls then by the name of evil the affliction, which arises from our punishment; thus naming it not in regard to its own nature, but according to that view which men take of it.2

Thoughts?

  1. Tertullian, “De Fuga in Persecutione,” in Fathers of the Third Century, ANF.
  2. John Chrysostom, “Three Homilies Concerning the Power of Demons,” in Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues (ed. Philip Schaff; trans. T. P. Brandram; vol. 9; A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series; New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 9182.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

2 Responses to “Tertullian and St. John Chrysostom on Isaiah 45.7”
  1. St. John C’s “really evil” seems to be when it is a deliberate act loaded with consequentially malicious intent, negligence, or recklessness, though he doesn’t recognize that specific delineation. Rather, speaking of such stuff, his delineation is between that which can yield instrumental good and that which cannot (the sentence after “Why then?”).

    This is a shortsighted, folk view that requires non-sovereign thinking and lacks imagination.

    St. Isaac of Ninevah, by contrast, sees instrumental potential in all things, even odious things:

    “You should see that, while God’s caring is guiding us all the time to what he wishes for us, as things outwardly appear, it is from us that he takes the occasion to providing things, his aim being to carry out by every means what he has intended for our advantage.

    All this is because he knew beforehand our inclination towards all sorts of wickedness, and so he cunningly made the harmful consequences which would result from this into a means of entry to the future good and the setting right of our corrupted state.”

    (“Instrumental” requires interests to be sought, and essential to any theodicy must be the recognition of (1) a manifold divine interest set, and (2) being “mostly reluctant to intervene,” articulated in whatever way, being one of those interests. So “instrumental” for some evils may be a function only of #2.)

    Anyhow, our delineation, which is much more coherent, theologically sound, and productive, ought be between evils (that is, “bad stuff” / Heb. raah) produced by malicious designs and/or folly vs. evils (that is, “bad stuff” / Heb. raah) produced by deliberate productive punishments vs. evils (that is, “bad stuff” / Heb. raah) produced by chaotic coincidences yielding bad experiences (e.g., most natural disasters).

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