I have volunteered to be a discussion group facilitator in my parish’s presentation of The Rescue Project . The goal of the Rescue Project is strengthening belief in the Christian Salvation story.
The project is guided by the maxim: “We live our lives according to the story we believe” The website announces:
“We passionately believe that the most urgent task is the compelling proclamation of the gospel, one that not only shares it in an attractive – and concentrated – way, but that also offers people a way of seeing reality, and of making sense of the world, history, and life that is vastly different from the story our modern culture tells.” N.T. Wright is quoted: “This is how stories work. They invite listeners into a new world, and encourage them to make it their own, to see their ordinary world from now on through this lens, within this grid.”
The project is structured around eight videos in which Fr. John Ricardo dramatically lays out the Christian Salvation Story. There are group discussions after each video.
The third video is titled “The Enemy is the Enemy.” Fr. Ricardo speaks in an emphatically realistic way about Satan, the devil or the evil one as OUR ENEMY. In the fourth video, Fr. Ricardo dramatizes how humanity, with the disobedience of the first two humans, were captured by Satan. The fifth video describes Jesus’ crucifixion as rescuing all of us from him.
I am uncomfortable about participating in discussions of Satan. I cannot decide what I believe about the narratives. I do not want indications of skepticism to undercut the point of the Fr. Ricardo’s narratives. So, I tell myself a “metaphysical story.” What is the story? I begin by adapting St. Augustine’ doctrine that angels are essentially messengers.* I use, and maybe misuse, Thomistic notions of matter and form. My metaphysical story should not be blamed on St. Augustine or St. Thomas. Is in my “metaphysical story glib?.” I grasp at metaphysical straws to build a conceptual structure. Telling a metaphysical story is my rationalization for participating in discussions about Satan. In The Value of Conceptual Models of Satan , I exam why I seek a rationalization. via metaphysics.
In creation the transcendent God has there be out of nothing potentiality for being formed in various ways for various purposes. (I use a passive construction “has there be” to avoid attributing our concept of action to what is transcendent.) The transcendent God has, also out of nothing, there be entities conveying to potentiality the various ways of being formed for various purposes, i.e. formal and final causes. These entities for conveying ways of being formed for various purposes can be regarded as messages from the transcendent; as such they are angels. They are not the Word of God. They are the messengers bringing the Word of God.to potentiality.
Without conveying ways of being formed for various purposes to potentiality, potentiality is formless void. So, having there be conveying ways of being formed for various purposes, viz., angels, is the beginning of creation: When God said “Let there be light.” Angels are not identical to that to which they bring form and function. Nonetheless, the conveyers of the form to potentiality, viz. matter, have the form and function conveyed but without forming matter. So, the angels forming humanity have the forms of free will, self-consciousness, thoughts of God and obedience to laws of God. (Attributing the forms conveyed to the conveyers of forms is my construction for rationalizing anthropomorphizing angels. )This is not platonic self-predication in which the form of man is a man. It is the conveyer of the form of man to potentiality which has the form it conveys, while remaining spiritual.
Angels are spiritual entities because they have no matter. This means that they have no potentiality for taking on accidental forms by which they can be spatially located and distinguished from one another; they can only be what they are essentially. However, these angels can change if their essence, the forms they have, provide for the attainment of a goal, eg. informing matter or making a decision as would be the case for angels conveying the form for free will. There is a formal succession; a before-and-after succession which cannot be tracked by an spatial succession.
This metaphysical speculation has set the stage for Fr. Ricardo’s anthropomorphic tale of the fall of Satan and Satan’s enslavement of human beings. The conceptual structure makes anthropomorphism plausible. For the angels for humanity have the forms of the traits they convey to humans. We think of them as similar to people while trying to ignore any spatial imagery of them.
Some of the highest angels, perhaps those charged with bringing the highest intelligence to humans, were envious that humans would share with them eternal life. They believed that the humans tied down in matter should not share their high goal of eternal life. In their pride, with their free will they chose not to convey the form of eternal life to humans. With their choice not to convey the form of eternal life to humans, they chose not to be what they are essentially, viz., conveyers of the Word of God. By choosing not to be what they are essentially, they chose total death. Total death is annihilation; not being at all. But they cannot be annihilated for they have the form of eternal life. The result is that they have chosen eternal torment of having as their chosen goal being annihilated while they can never be annihilated. Simply being, as opposed to not being at all- is an eternal torment for them. There is no rest. That is hell.
In their hellish state, they still envy humans having eternal life with being with God as their good. Other angels fulfilled the function of conveying the form of eternal life to humans. Perhaps, the other angels taking over this function could be portrayed as St. Michael casting Satan and his angels down from heaven. In their envy, they wish to pervert the good of eternal life in humans into the eternal torment to which their disobedience perverted their eternal life. Satan persuaded the first humans, viz. the humans from which the forms and purposes of humanity would be biologically transmitted to other humans, to choose not to be with God by choosing to disobey God. By choosing not to be with God, these first humans chose for humanity not to have the goal of being with God. For humans not to have the goal of being with God is not to be. For humans not to be as they ought is NOT TO BE. So, the first humans who chose the forms for subsequent humans, chose the final form as not to be. Thus, humans, by this primeval choice have their final goal as the perverted good of not being. But it is perverted because they have the form of eternal life while having the goal of not having life, viz. annhilation. Thus, humans now have the hellish condition of the fallen angels. They eternally seek annihilation; a restless striving for a total death which never comes.
To be sure, humans have a type of death for death is what has been chosen. The death we get is not being full humans because we are all ultimately to be separated from matter, viz., biological death. We still have the form of eternally being which is now a curse for our choice is not to be. So, with Satan we have the eternal torment of seeking not to be.
Thus, Satan has captured us by making our destiny the same as his, viz., eternally tormented spiritual beings. For each of us the capture is completed at our biological death. For in the spiritual condition we are completely in his realm. So, it is biological death, becoming disembodied, which is the doorway to hell. In this sense, death is as much our enemy as Satan. Overcoming death, as disembodiment is the way to rescue humans from the hellish destiny of Satan.
I shall not attempt a rationalization of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection as overcoming death. I try to understand the Paschal Mystery with philosophy. But these philosophical speculations are only faith seeking understanding. I regard philosophical speculations as rationalizations when used to excuse anthropomorphic stories about spiritual beings.
* See Taylor Marshall on creation of the angels according to Augustine. Taylor Marshall writes clearly on this point. I need not agree with all of his opinions on theology and Catholic Church policies.