It’s not as though the crisis in western Christianity were new…

Michael Green in 1981:

When the church has grown so uncertain of its own beliefs, when it has become so preoccupied with its own structures, when it has degenerated very largely into a spectator sport for those who like that kind of thing, is it surprising that people have turned from it towards something that actually works? Ironically, the church may well prove to be the last sector in the community which comes to believe in the supernatural. –I Believe in Satan’s Downfall, p. 116

The un-sexy demonology of John Cassian

Having finished A New Kind of Christian, the next “book that ‘normal’ people read” I’m going through is Michael Green’s 1981 volume, I Believe in Satan’s Downfall (from the ‘I Believe’ series). Obviously not a book that normal people read anymore, but I hope that some normal people read it in the 80s, because it is very good so far.

I have just finished Green’s chapter about temptation, and I am reminded of the awkward conversations I would have about demonology when I was researching John Cassian (d. c. 435). Specifically, the lack of any Frank Peretti, This Present Darkness or The Oath business. Cassian acknowledges this sort of demonology, but he is not going to spend time on it.

It’s a bit disappointing for the sensationalists. Why tantalise us with the idea of demons who wait at crossroads to mug people if you aren’t going to give us any details? Other stories from the Desert Fathers give us great details! I forget the source, but there’s this one time that a guy took shelter in an old tomb, and a bunch of demons turned up, and he overheard them talking about all the monks they tempted. Or there are the temptations of St Antony, wherein he wrestled with the denizens of Hell all night:

Including Funnel Butt:

John of Ephesus tells the story of some demons who made a woman levitate and appear like the BVM and fool some monks into praying to her.

Cassian doesn’t deny the reality of such things. After all, they say that The Exorcist is based on real events. But these sensationalist stories are not his main event.

Cassian’s demonology is all about temptation. How do the demons tempt you to sin? How do they try to distract you from prayer? What sorts of thoughts do they encourage? How much power do they have in terms of temptation? Can they implant an idea in your mind? Can demons really see the future?

Let me tell you, when you follow, ‘I study demonology,’ with, ‘specifically how demons tempt people to sin,’ your rocketing coolness plummets.

But the un-sexy demonology of John Cassian is just the demonology we need. I remember this scene in This Present Darkness (the aforementioned Peretti novel) where some dude is literally wrestling with demons in his living room. Let me tell you — you probably do wrestle with demons in your living room.

The demon of wrath.

The demon of greed.

The demon of gluttony.

The demon of laziness.

The demons of gossip and slander.

The demon of saying that malicious thing.

And so on.

Our passions are disordered, and the demonic prey on that. Their main goal, though, as Cassian’s Conferences would tell us, and which is, I believe, the lesson from St Antony’s battle with Funnel Butt, is to keep us from prayer. Watch out, then, for

The demon of distraction.

He comes clothed as a Netflix of Light.

Providence and Predestination 1: Providence

Augustus: Evidence of God's providence?
Augustus: Evidence of God’s providence?

Every once in a while, the concepts of providence and/or predestination come up. Maybe it’s because I’m reading Leo, Epp. 1, 2, 18. Maybe I’m reading Augustine. Maybe I’m hanging with Presbyterians. Maybe John Cassian flits through the mind. Or maybe a friend sends an e-mail:

Augustine and predestination. Discuss.

How could I resist?

One of the important distinctions I learned in theological discussion is that between predestination and providence in the way people talk. Predestination is usually geared specifically to the question of salvation, while providence focusses itself on God’s will working itself on the cosmos and history in a big way. And maybe in small ways, too.

Important for providence, to my mind, is Eusebius. Providence, more specifically, is the idea that all of human history is, at some level, organised by God to bring about his ends — some, such as some modern Calvinists, will say that this goes as far as God determining which shirt I’m wearing today; others allow for greater human freedom, arguing rather that the grand sweep of the narrative is tweaked by God when He so desires, but our ability to choose our clothing of our own free will remains untouched.

This is the sort of idea that undergirds Eusebius’ Praeparatio Evangelica. For example, Eusebius and others see the Roman Empire as having been established by God for the propagation of the Gospel, the pax Romana being perceived as an essential ingredient therein. Augustine’s views along these lines are set out in the City of God are somewhat similar; unlike some, such as Orosius (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans; I’ve not read him, so this could be a misrepresentation) or the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1066: The French were sent as God’s judgement on the English), however, Augustine does not think that God’s ordering of history means good people prosper while bad people fail — rather, the rain falls on the just and the unjust (passage in Isaiah somewhere), and God works towards his own sovereign will, even if things perceived on this mortal plain as ‘evil’ befall the demonstrably good.

The pax Romana is interesting because the idea of it’s foundation by God lives on. Orosius sees the age of Augustus as a highly significant moment in the history of grace, and not just because Christ was born therein (I heard someone give a paper on this aspect of Orosius). Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, presents basically the same idea. He argues that Christ was born in the fullness of time, kairos, because the pax Romana ensured the propagation of the Gospel through Roman roads and trade networks in a unified and relatively safe Mediterranean world. He also argues that the cultural unity effected by the Hellenistic world is also part of the kairos of Christ’s birth — the shared linguistic culture and thoughtworld meant that the Gospel could more easily be communicated not only in the Mediterranean world but to Hellenised lands to the East. Green also argues that, with these two cultural forces at play, the hearts of Mediterannean peoplel were ready for the Gospel, visible in the philosophy and religion in the period.

What’s dangerous, of course, is when we turn from seeing how God has made conditions right for Gospel and justice and start equating our culture with providence and blur the lines between what we like and what is Gospel. On these grounds has injustice been perpetrated in the name of providence.

Closing on providence, then: I could imagine Eusebius being a contender for first place in this arena vis a vis Augustine, considering that the others in the playing field are either students of Augustine such as Prosper of Aquitaine (On the Call of All Nations), continuators of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, or folks like Orosius (Seven Books of History Against the Pagans).