God without the Idea of Evil: Part V—God’s Kindhearted Design by Gregory Casprini, OSB

Today we conclude our multipart feature by Gregory Casprini, OSB, on his recent translation of Dominican theologian Jean-Miguel Garrigues’s God without the Idea of Evil (University of Notre Dame Press, 2023). As with the “Doors to the Sacred” series by John Alonzo Dick that we published in 2022, we have conceived of Fr. Casprini’s feature as a kind of seminar or “retreat in writing” that explores the idea of a God who simply “cannot comprehend” the evil in the world. Fr. Casprini’s text is based on a presentation he gave about the book in Lithuania, and captures the way such a presentation prompts prayer and reflection in the hearer or reader. In the interest of full disclosure, TAC’s editor assisted with the preparation and submission of both manuscripts mentioned in the text, and receives a portion of royalties for any copies sold. Part I of this series, “The Origins of a Translation,” is available here; part II, “The Goodness of Human Freedom,” is available here; part III, “The Twofold Gaze of the Lord,” is available here; and part IV, “Destined from the Foundation of the World,” is available here—Ed.

On the basis of the entire New Testament, the Church Fathers, and St. Thomas Aquinas, Garrigues in God without the Idea of Evil argues that God’s sole motive for sending his Son into the world with a human nature like our own was to save us from our sins. The incarnation was the means chosen by divine wisdom as the best remedy against the deadly disaster in which we find ourselves. God’s antecedent plan was to adopt the human race in his eternal Son or Word. It was he who originally walked with our first parents in the Garden of Eden, gradually teaching them to walk in the way of perfect, selfless love, the way of love that is the eternal life of the Trinity. If people had continued on this path in unbroken communion with God, if there had been no sin, the incarnation of Christ as an individual human being would not have been necessary. Instead there would have been, according to Garrigues, something like a collective incarnation of the Son in all humanity. However, when, through the illusion of pride, man rejected communion with his heavenly Father and fell into the bondage of sin, the Lord responded with great love by sending his Son in the form of our sinful flesh as a sacrifice for sin (cf. Rom 8:3).

In the light of all this, Garrigues emphasizes the importance of a correct understanding of the expression O felix culpa (“Happy fault”), the solemn proclamation made during the Easter Vigil: “O happy fault that earned so great so glorious a Redeemer!” As Garrigues explains:

It would be quite wrong to believe the fault, man’s sin, merited for us the Son of God whom we would not otherwise have had without having sinned. This would amount to believing that evil, the evil that God does not conceive, would have somehow “up-graded” the ultimate goal assigned to us in God’s design. It would probably be better to understand this text in the following manner: “O happy is the fault to which God responded by giving, in reparation, his Son as our Redeemer.” God did not scrap, because of this fault, his original purpose, but he accomplished it by engaging as the active agent or instrument of the redemption his Son, in whom he had adopted us.

It can be said that the incarnation of Christ in human flesh and the sacrifice of his cross are the most eloquent expression of the madness of God’s love for us.

In keeping with the tradition of the church, Garrigues shows how the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) perfectly illustrates original sin and the dynamics of salvation. The father in the parable wants to share everything in common with his sons. In a similar manner, God from the beginning invited man to participate in his divine life. But the younger son in the parable seeks to detach from communion with the father that which he deems to be his own limited “share of the inheritance” in order to make use of it alone. As a result, he very quickly squanders it and becomes destitute in the distant country (the “country of non-resemblance” to God, according to Augustine) into which he has wondered. This is reminiscent of Adam’s sin. But remembering the justice and love of his father who awaits him unceasingly, the prodigal son resolves to return home, even if only to work there as one of the servants.

Beyond his own expectations, he is immediately restored to his former place dignity. This, of course, evokes the economy of redemption in which Christ, as our true elder brother, seeks us out and bring us back to the father. In the parable, however, is never occurs to the elder son that he should go looking for his brother. Although had remained outwardly obedient to the father, he too secretly nurtured the same desires for an illusory form of total independence.  The return of his younger brother reveals his inner state of mind. Far from rejoicing in the conversion of his sibling, he manifests jealousy towards him and anger towards the father. His most cherished desire is revealed not to share all things with his father and the entire family, but to detach from the fullness of his inheritance a goat in order to feast with his friends in private, apart from his father. At the end of the parable the father pleads with his elder son to abandon his pride and enter into the fullness of joy of the redemption.

Another parable, that of the murderous husbandmen (Mark 12:1-12), shows even more clearly that Christ’s death was decided from the moment of original sin. The tenants of this vineyard do not represent Israel, as is sometimes thought, but the whole of mankind, insofar as it is ruled by sin. The tenants want to seize the vineyard for themselves as their inheritance, as the portion they have chosen. Therefore, after rejecting all God’s messengers and mistreating them, they finally decide to kill the son, the true heir.

As soon as the virus of sin entered the human race, it was inevitable that a clash would take place between the hardened sinners and the innocent Lamb of God, who was the bearer of God’s love, and that the latter would inevitably be slaughtered. The vinedressers rejected and killed the Son of God sent into the world as a man. In this there is a double irony. The Son had come precisely to share with everyone the entire inheritance. But in killing him, the evil husbandmen acted in way that actually ensured the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation. Christ, through the selfless love that he manifested in his death and resurrection, reopened the kingdom of heaven to all who believe in him and who agree to be loved by him.

Blessed Fra Angelico’s fresco Mocking Christ, painted on the wall of a cell in the former Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence, Italy, shows how Christ loves all sinners to the very end, no matter what their faults. Christ is depicted in the courtyard of Pontius Pilate’s palace, where, according to the gospel, Roman soldiers dressed him in a purple cloak, blindfolded him, and mocked him by spitting on him and striking him in the face, saying, “Prophesy who is it who struck you!” (see Luke 22:63-65). In the fresco, however, Christ wears a white garment, which represents his total goodness and innocence as the Lamb of God. Almost with a touch of surrealism, Fra Angelico depicts Jesus being attacked not by a band of soldiers, but by a disembodied head spitting at him, as well as by disembodied hands hovering in midair, one of which is holding a club. All of this is symbolic of the forces of evil working through people who reject God’s love. Yet in the midst of all this hostility, Jesus sits calmly, as if on a royal throne. His eyes are blindfolded, unseeing. He sees no evil around him, and he is determined to love everyone to the end, regardless of sin.

Garrigues further illustrates this in an exceptional, truly original commentary on Catherine of Siena’s interpretation of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Olives. According to St. Catherine, when Jesus says, “All things are possible for you, Father. Take this cup away from me!” (Mark 14:36), it does not mean that he is no longer willing to sacrifice his life for the salvation of the world. All his life he desired to drink from the cup of suffering. But in his agony on the Mount of Olives, Jesus was able to see in the light of God the soul of his betrayer Judas, as well as the souls of all the people who did not want to accept the salvation that he was about to offer. Because of this, he was sorrowful to the point of death, and the devil seemed to say to him: “Your plan of salvation will fail, many people will not accept it, they will not accept your offer of love, and you will die for them on the cross in vain.” But Jesus immediately says to the Father: “Nevertheless not as I will, but as you will” (Mark 14:37).

Christ agrees to carry out God’s kindhearted design to the end. He agrees to drink to the dregs the cup of suffering offered to him by the Father. He promises to fight against the rebellious freedom of all sinners and to love them to the end, to every person’s last dying breath. That is why there is no reason to lose hope concerning the salvation of any human being, living or who has ever lived. Christ, as Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) said, is in agony until the end of the world, and every human being, at the hour of death, has an ultimate encounter with Jesus in the mystery of his agony. Following the example of St. Catherine of Sienna, we can always pray with Jesus at Gethsemane, hoping that no human being has ever been, nor will ever be, condemned to hell which was created only for Satan and his fallen angels. Moreover, for Satan and for any unfortunate one who may follow him, hell is a place of self-condemnation. It is the result of the final renunciation of God’s unchanging love, which for the person who definitively rejects it, becomes a suffering in the hereafter.

These are just a few of the many treasures to be found in Garrigues’s God without the Idea of Evil. We sincerely hope that this book will stimulate debate and help people to rediscover the entirely good, loving, merciful face of God our redeemer. ♦

Gregory Casprini, OSB, originally from New York, has lived as a Benedictine monk in Europe for over fifty years. He is presently at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Palendriai, Lithuania.

Image: Detail from Fra Angelico, The Mocking of Christ, 1440.

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