“My weight is my love”: Sin, Free Will, and Universal Salvation

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

 

My weight is my love.  Wherever I am carried my love is carrying me.
Augustine, Confessions 13.9.10

 
The above is a well known quote of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 ce).  The image Augustine is painting for us, is that we are attracted to what we love;  much as the earth’s gravity pulls us toward it.

Thus, in whatever we place our love, to that we are drawn.  If we place our love in Godly things, we will be drawn toward Godly things.  If we place our love in earthly things, we are drawn toward earthly things.

 

Consider the nature of Godly things, verses earthly things.

Specifically, consider the nature of existing within time, verses existing outside of time.  Earthly things exist within time;  they always fall apart, fail, and if living, eventually die.  Augustine calls this corruption.  Everything in time becomes corrupt.  Not so, however, for that which is outside of time.  That which is outside of time is eternal;  incorruptible.  Thus, Godly things are incorruptible;  eternal.

Augustine’s suggestion is that if we choose to place our love in earthly things, we are placing our love in things which must fail, corrupt, die.  And we will never find ultimate happiness loving things subject to corruption.  This is one reason why Augustine counsels us to place our love in eternal things;  Godly things.

  • (There is a Buddhist corollary:  attaching ourselves to things of this world always results in suffering, because such things are illusionary;  whereas attaching ourselves to that which is eternal frees us from suffering.)

 

Free Will is our ability to choose.

Do we choose to place our love in that which is eternal, or that which becomes corrupt?  The choice is ours.  However, even if we steadfastly choose corruption, Augustine offers us the hope that unlike a rock which once fallen to earth remains at rest, we are always subject to the attractive force of God’s love for us.

Love flows in both directions:  from us to God, and from God to us;  from the temporal (in time) to the eternal, and from the eternal to the temporal.  Thus, we may hope that the Grace of God will draw us to Him, no matter how strongly we resist this attraction.  If God’s Love for us is eternal, we are eternally carried upon that Love, toward the Divine Center/God.  I find this offers a beautiful, hopeful image.

 

What about sin?  

Augustine teaches that God is Good.  And all that God creates is also Good.  Thus, the world and all that has been created, is also Good.

Does this mean that sin is also Good?  Augustine does not go that far.  He teaches that sin actually lacks essence, being, or being-ness.  God has be-ing (more than this, God *is* the *source* of all be-ing).

We too have be-ing.  And my shirt has be-ing.

However -and this is the key point- the *hole* in my shirt does *not* have essence or being-ness.  The hole in my shirt is a lack or deprivation or privation.  This is easy to see in the case of a shirt:  the shirt is made from some material;  should a hole be torn in the shirt, in some sense we can say the hole “exists” because we can see it after all.

But in another important sense, the hole lacks being, because the totality of its apparent existence is comprised by the material no longer being there;  thus, that which comprises the hole, is without essence.

 

  •   The shirt has positive existence:  it exists because it has essence;  the material of the cloth.
  •   The hole has negative existence:  it does *not* have essence;  it is defined by the missing material.

 
So too, sin has negative existence.  Sin lacks essence or being-ness.  Augustine teaches that sin is the absence of God’s Goodness.

And this is related to our Free Will, because we choose into what we invest our love.  As we choose eternal, Godly things, we are attracted toward God;  and as we choose temporal, earthly things, we are attracted toward corruption;  and one manner in which corruption manifests is as sin (depriving ourselves of God’s Goodness).

We should, however, *not* take the next logical jump and say there must be Good and Evil.  Remember, Augustine teaches that *all* is Good.  There are different degrees of Good, to be sure!  But in the created world everything that has existence has some measure of God’s Goodness, be that measure great or small.

Thus, even Satan retains some degree and measure of God’s Goodness!  Try as he might to fight against this and deny it, Satan was created as an angel, and was created Good.  A long series of Free Will choices (placing his love in that which is ungodly, or anti-God) has been drawing Satan farther and farther away from God.

And yet, we may hope that God loves all of his creation eternally.  If this is so, God’s Love, even for Satan, will inevitably, ineluctably, eternally be drawing Satan back to God.

 

  • (Sidebar:  To my mind the personification of Evil in the person of Satan is an allegory.  At times it is convenient to use this language, of Satan vs. God, but I do *not* take it literally, because I find to do so leads one down the path of strong dualism, and the battle of Good God vs. Evil God, which I believe we inherited from Zoroastrianism, c. 500 bce.  I find this to be a destructive line of thought – especially when literalized.  For those interested in this subject, I recommend reading Elaine Pagels book: “The Origins of Satan.”)

 

Universal Salvation

God’s eternal Love for all of his creation is one way to frame the concept of Universal Salvation.  Augustine was a Latin-speaking Roman, and while this concept of Universal Salvation exists in the original Greek (see “Universalism” by Dr. J. W. Hanson), it had been almost entirely lost in the West by the time of Augustine.

Augustine was able to provide us the tools to arrive at the logical conclusion of his argument:

 

  •   Everything God creates is Good.
  •   God’s Love is eternal.
  •   Therefore, God eternally draws all of His creation back to Himself.

 

But Augustine did not officially take this position.  (Obviously, we cannot know what Augustine thought, but did not write or teach.)

Yet this teaching of Universal Salvation has never completely disappeared.  While it has never become an official Church doctrine (teaching) a variety of theologians have said we may still hope it is true, including the recent Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.

 

Offered with blessings,
Erik+

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