instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Literal reflections

One feature of apocalyptic literature (according to Fr. Corbett) is that what happens in heaven happens on earth, and what happens on earth happens in heaven. ("Heaven" here obviously doesn't mean just the state of perfect happiness with God, His angels, and the Church Triumphant, but the spiritual realm generally.)

Let me run with that idea a bit, considering it not just as a literary conceit but as literal truth. What if what happens on heaven happens on earth and what happens on earth happens in heaven?

For one thing, the smallest earthly sin and the least earthly suffering are in some way present in heaven. They have a spiritual reality, a spiritual weight that we are in no position to dismiss.

It works in the other direction, too. Every evil done by Satan in his fall is realized in this world, and all the good done by St. Michael and his company can be found here as well.

This puts both the devil's temptation and our own sins in a quite different light. The serpent in Eden can be seen, not as the devil let loose on the world after his fall, but as the earthly manifestation of the devil as he falls. "Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?" might be earth-speak for, "Non serviam." Looked at this way, in tempting Eve he doesn't even do her the courtesy of treating her as a subject of temptation; she is merely the earthly collateral damage of his own spiritual pride.

Moreover, in each of our earthly sins we create a spiritual sin that is of a piece with Satan's fall. When I sin, I am in a certain way joining with and endorsing the devil's fall. Which is to say (if what happens in heaven happens on earth) that I am joining with and endorsing all the evil, moral and natural, that we experience in this life. War, famine, disease, death: it's all a small price to pay for me not helping my wife fold laundry.


Okay, that's a bit excessive, right? And I'm just playing with a literary device, not exploring a doctrine of faith.

But then, the First Letter of Saint John seems a bit excessive, too:
No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has seen him or known him...

Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning.
Can we take this literally? Can we at least take it seriously?