Whatever of religion that does not have wisdom as its cause and goal will fall away. A “wise” religion is Trinitarian (in the Cappadocian idiom) and Christological (in that Chalcedonian dialectic between divine and human, eternity and time, infinite and finiteness, spirit and flesh). “The Holy Trinity is the supreme mystery of existence,” wrote Fr Dumitru Staniloae in The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning There was Love (2014). If wisdom is chiefly concerned with narrating true mystery, then the Trinity is her essential subject.
Wisdom is articulated in sacrament because it is persuaded of a peaceful eschaton. All things move, because of their essence, toward a universal reconciliation — a union that perfects difference and cancels all violence.
Hell may be a reality, but it is never a theological necessity. It cannot be co-infinite with God. It may be indefinite, but this lack of closure should attract more skepticism than does the conceptual case of universalism, mainly because of the claim that some will remain always lost. This possibility should bother, perennially, the orthodox.
A religion that makes hell philosophically necessary will inevitably weaken and fade, simply because of its apostasy from wisdom. Hell cannot become a dogmatic cause, or even the subject of definition. There is no “logos” or rationality with hell or about “hell.” This is what is meant when it is said (rightly) that the devil has no name because he has refused it, along with the demonic en masse. But when hell is given doctrinal status, then it enters the mind (or cultural mindset) as a virus and infects the entire ethos. It injects a necessary violence into what should be a narrative of primordial peace. Salvation, for instance, is devolved into an escape from a deserved penal sentence — a devolution that completely subverts the gospel of an eternal elaboration of beauty, in creaturely union with the Creator.
Hell is contained in history. It is certainly an anti-mystical theme in a meta-narrative of violence. In short, hell is anti-wisdom, if goodness is existence according to essence. Hell is something that makes perfect sense to atheists. And that fact should give us pause.
What does it mean that religion could fall from wisdom? And I blame the concept of hell for this. Or, what kind of familiar things will become obsolete over time?
It is a simplicity to identify institutional activities that fail the test of wisdom. Every single absorption of an agora or state custom into ecclesiality is at best foolish, if not outright demonic.
But what is more destructive is the effect of wisdom being displaced as the chief pastoral practice of the church. It should be painful to admit that theological wonder is peripheral to most people — but the fact of this admission’s painlessness is even worse.
There are two reasons for this. The first is the fault of the theologians themselves.
Theology has been denatured into a false “vocation.” It is said that a “theologian” should properly be a polyglot, literate and conversant in academic culture. She or he should be properly degreed, published, and otherwise pedigreed in the cultus of the global university.
This is a worthless contention. Theology demands discipline and philosophy, but it is a discipline of wisdom and cannot be reduced to a professionalized speciality that may have lost all sense of philosophy. It should always be possible, more than possible, that an unlettered proletariat, even a modern cul-de-sac bourgeoisie, could be known as a "theologian." Theology may use big words, but must never speak a false language. Theology will have to be philosophical, and it is boorish to suggest otherwise. But the philosophical discourse of theology is convivial by nature: “symposium” is drawn from the drinking from the kylix, and the comic metaphysical conversation of friends after a good dinner; and “academy” from the grove of trees where Plato taught. This suggests an ethic that prohibits any sort of jargon exclusionism.
It seems that the best theologians are elders like Seraphim of Sarov, Isaac of Nineveh, Maximus the Confessor. The Orthodox world has given the title “theologian” to only three people: John the Evangelist, Gregory and Symeon the New — each one, by the way, was characterized by his erotic gravitation toward the doctrine of divine light.
But there is another source of fault -- far, far rottener -- for the diminution of wisdom in the ultimate concern and political life of religion.
It is the passion of forgetfulness of God, which is the fault of all of us. It is a quite democratic demonic possession.
The hesychastic fathers devoted a lot of effort to setting down the genealogies (or rather, etiologies) of various passions. We will leave that business of psychopathology to them.
However, it is more in our interest to observe the lived realities of this passion. We have somehow managed to discard the language of metaphysics and transcendence from our thought, speech and action.
The vocation of human nature — the universal election of humanity — is for the psyche to recognize the divine trace in all phenomena.
Consciousness is rooted in transcendence. This is axiomatic. But to disregard this axiom is to invent a self-contained echo-chamber of self-reference. This is what demonism is -- if "is" can ever be used in association with a demonic, anti-essentialistic term. It is only accidental that the objects of this self-referential cloud is de-limited into quanta of materiality.
It is a wretched irony that the only thing modern man “names” — i.e., matter — is something that really cannot be “named.” Atoms (or quanta) in their most basic appearance have no form and thus cannot be “named.”
But that futility is exactly what we embrace and focus our consciousness upon most fervently (i.e., most religiously) — the naming of the nameless.
We ought to be worried about how it is ever possible to not think of God, to fail to recognize the artistry of the Son, the calling forth by the Father and the perfecting joy of the Spirit.
But instead, we are given to more practical concerns, and subjecting our actions to pragmatic review.
The materialistic cosmology (and naturalistic philosophy that doubts the worth of the term “philosophy”) is an argument vulnerable to any freshman critique.
But we live in an age where it doesn’t matter that an argument is foolish.
Hell is not so much our enemy as is the idea of hell. That is the anti-essential force that destroys our thought and rationality. And renders stupid the vapid suggested possibility of a professional theologian, or of a bourgeois churchman.
A wise age is filled with remembrance of the eschaton.
And thus, the true chiasm — the real, contemporary chasm that separates the rich man and Lazarus — is the primordial Triune peace speaking to the troubled lands of darkness, the tattered banners and frenzy of the demonic.
I think it is better to think of the Fall as the demonization of this local cosmos, our existential “neighborhood,” so to speak.
And thus it is better to think of theological speech as exorcism (as opposed to professional scholarship) — exorcism, that is, that militates against the existential apostasy of true deafness, blindness and dumbness of an unwise globe.
A Prince of Peace and Angel of Council is the baptismal and eucharistic exorcist, par excellence. His Words will not fade away.
His beauty remains.
After all, Christ ever-newborn, dwelling in the manger of your heart, is the “peace that passes all understanding.” He is the Word of beauty that gives all eternal form. He is the rationality of all reason, the truth of all thought, the way of all desire, the source — and presence — of all goodness.
He is verb and noun, subject and predicate, logos and sentence, period and paragraph.
That, no less, is the beauty of counsel, and the eschatological -- and thus Prince-ly -- wisdom of peace.