Sunday, February 12, 2006

John Passmore quote:

from 'The Perfectibility of Man' (pp. 90-91)

"Augustine's theology is certainly theocentric, then, in so far as he firmly maintains that nothing but God ought to be loved for its own sake. There is no love 'left over', as it were, to be directed towards the world, or towards our neighbours, or towards ouselves. But this is not inconsistent, according to Augustine, with my loving myself because self-love, rightly understood, is not a distraction from loving God, but is equivalent to it. 'The love wherewith a man truly loves himself is none other than the love of God. For he who loves himself in any other way is rather to be said to hate himself.' For a man to love himself in this sense, to seek his own true good, is to cherish the image of God within, to love God. To raise the question, then, whether Augustine's theology is fundamentally egocentric or fundamentally theocentric is to ask a question which cannot be answered; for on his view a theocentric and an egocentric theology, properly understood, will coincide.

"Luther will have no truck with such concession to self-love. His theology is resolutely theocentric. Those who truly love God, he says, 'submit freely to the will of God whatever it may be; they seek absolutely nothing for themselves'. 'Love your neighbor as yourself' does not imply, as Augustine had also recognized, 'you ought to love yourself'; it rests only on the observable fact that every man does love himself; it is the equivalent of Jesus' other precept: 'All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.' Men ought not to love themselves. By hating themselves, they can both love God and love their neighbors (b/c love of self exists in opposition, not accordance, to them. - JZ). For the medievel doctrine, as expressed, for example, by Bernard of Clairvaux, that men can attain to perfection by beginning from self-love and gradually arising above it, Luther has nothing but contempt. According to Luther, then, the sign that a man loves God with his whole heart is that he hates himself (in Cranmer's words: "miserable offenders,...not worth so much as to gather the crumbs from under Thy table,...there is no health in us..." - JZ), and is prepared, even to damnation, wholly to submit himself to God's will - not that Luther believed that such a man would be damned(!!!2 Corinth 7:10)! Augustine, in contrast, saw as the perfected man one who love himself, in the 'higher' sense of self-love, but who loved nothing in the world for its own sake. They agree, however, on the crucial point; neither kind of perfection is possible to men."


mattie said...

JZ -

Thanks for posting this. I think it cuts to the core of a fundamental theological difference between the Roman perspective and the Lutheran perspective. It also does a great job of implicitly explaining the both/and of Catholic thought.

Not suprisingly, I agree wholeheartedly with Augustine, not only for theological, but also for psychological reasons. Hating yourself is not a noble endeavor, in my mind, and I say that because I really hated myself for about 23 years and it did not help me find hope in Christ but made me want to kill myself. A kingdom divided against itself will fall, and it was impossible for me to live a fulfilling, productive, loving, and fruitful life when I had convinced myself that I was completely worthless. I have realized that to be able to extend love and grace to others I must be able to extend it to myself, always remembering of course, that I am not perfect and that all love I have for myself is firmly rooted in my imago dei, Christ's spirit living in me, and my status as a daughter of God. Going too far towards ungodly egocentrism OR towards self-loathing is deadly.

Also, Passmore says, "They agree, however, on the crucial point; neither kind of perfection is possible to men." Whew. Yeah for gender-exclusive language! Apparently, such perfection is available to us women! PTL! :)

Thanks again for this post,


John Zahl said...

Mattie, I too thought this quote encapsulated that which we've been discussing, and our theological divergences. I also really liked the ending that you made note of. That said, obviously I am much more taken with the Lutheran side of the matter. I am glad you understood this quote to a serve a purpose in the same way that I did. best, JZ

Tim Galebach said...

JAZ, while you and Mattie do have crucial differences, I think that there is a slight misunderstanding here, and Mattie is saying something accurate when she says that:

"Going too far towards ungodly egocentrism OR towards self-loathing is deadly."

While I don't think that this is what Luther meant by hating one's self, in my experience focussing on "self-loathing" is one of the more self-centred and self-loving things that there is, and (correct me if I'm wrong Mattie!), but I think this is what she's talking about.

The problem that I have with "imago dei" thinking (coincidentally, that's the name of the church I go to), is that it has nothing to say to me when I find real problems with myself. Saying that "I'm not perfect" doesn't cut it, and is a way of not calling a spade a spade.

Put otherwise, and probably better, I'm into redemption, not creation.

bpzahl said...

I agree with Mattie about the self-loathing part; I once heard that self-loathing (i.e. putting attention on yourself, but the ugly parts) is just the same thing as pride (putting attention on yourself, but the good parts), so that self-loathing is a negative-pride. I guess the point is to not put *any* attention on yourself?

John Zahl said...

I think what Luther means by hating oneself has nothing to do with what Paul calls "Worldly sorrow", he's not encouraging that we all start listening to The Cure's ealy middle period, Miranda Sex Garden, and Dead can Dance. He's not encouraging suicide. enough.

Like Tim says, redemption, not creation, that's the point. My strength is made perfect in weakness. Humility.

Anonymous said...

Once again, Bonnie said exactly what I was thinking...The point is we are not to be so self-centered EITHER WAY... I think what Christ calls us to is not self-hatred, or self-love,but lack of self-regard. We are not to be constantly sticking our finger in the wind: "How'm I doing, God? How 'bout now, God?" but instead to be vertically directed and other-directed.
Something I find disturbing in so many young people today is the desire for attention/regard/fame/acclaim-- lots of teenagers I know would just like to be "famous", as a life goal. And it's not limited just to young people (although they do make up the preponderance of shows like "American Idol" et al) (Thanks a lot, Brits)
Thinking that any religion or theo. bent would encourage a person to "hate themselves" as a "noble endeavor" is simply a way of effectively cutting off a conversation about a real issue, ie. law v. grace. We don't love others and extend grace to them because we love ourselves, or bec. we remember we're not perfect, but only because He first loved us. Undeserved, unmerited, unbelievable but true.

mattie said...

Just as you all don't think I'm being fair to Luther's position, I don't think you're being fair to St. Augustine's. To anonymous - the quotation says point-blank that Luther believed "Men ought not to love themselves. By hating themselves, they can both love God and love their neighbors." I'm not trying to "cut off conversation" about law v. grace. I'm just saying that just as you all feel that, in practice, self-love leads to pride and Pelagianism, I think that, in practice, self-hate leads to despair and "worldly sorrow."

Yes, we certainly love others because God loved us, the operative part of that statement being that God loved us. How can we hate what God loves? Loving ourselves definately means having a reasonable perspective on our sinfulness. If Passmore is accurate, Luther takes it too far. Luther does not say, "have a balanced self-regard" or "neither love nor hate yourself" as previous Luther-sympathetic readers have implied. Rather, according to Passmore Luther says "the sign that a man loves God with his whole heart is that he hates himself."

Tim - yes, your characterization of my perspective is accurate. As for your other question re: imago dei, I understand. When I first started exploring the RCC I struggled with that too. I still struggle with it! I think there are too many Catholics who see "imago dei" as justification for their own glory, which I don't think is the holy way to see it. Imago dei has to be understood in context as our created, yet rejected, identity. I think of the ugly duckling story. The ugly duckling is a swan all along but he doesn't act like a swan or look like a swan because he thinks he's a duck. Jesus comes along to "make us swans" in the true sense of not only helping us realize our calling as children of God, but to make life as a swan possible. When the ugly duckling sees the swans he finally realizes that he's beautiful, not hideous. Similarly, when we see the perfection of humanity in Christ, we see what we long to be, what we are intended to be. The reason we can't go immediately from ugly duckling behavior to swan behavior is because we've spent our whole lives behaving like ducks and we're still living among (mostly) ducks. It is ingrained into us (call it original sin if you will) that we are ducks and others treat us like ducks, and we treat ourselves like ducks, so of course we have problems!

I don't know if that's the perfect analogy (I know how much you hated my iPod and high jumping analogies!), but I think it kind of captures how I see the situation.

Happy Monday!

Anonymous said...

Having read very little Luther (but hanging around with lots of people who do) I did not know that he took it this far. And assuming that's in context (ie. in order to love God & your fellows, you must hate yourself) I too would take issue with that. Again, I think the "hating yourself" is too much self-regard. As Mattie says how can we hate something God loves? something he created?
I don't think I connected my little rant about young people and their love of fame, but what I was trying to say is that when there is not something bigger to contemplate (ie the issues on this blog, for ex.) people then begin to worship whatever is closest at hand (themselves)
I hate that ML said that. ALSO a lot of my love of Martin Luther (besides the smart people I know) comes from the movie. Speaking of which, does anyone know of anywhere in ML's writings that he ever made the statement about suicide, which was attributed to him in the movie? Having no small interest in the issue, I LONG to find out where this was from (if indeed he said it.) In the movie he basically said that a person who commits suicide is no more "guilty" than a man who was set upon by robbers in the woods.
As compared to many other weblogs , I am always so gratified to come to this one and read discussion and debate about such worthy (and eternal) topics, among people of such intellect ,whose opinions may occasionally be completely opposed, but who are willing to stay in the game and defend what they believe or even turn around completely, without being superior or unkind. Unique in my experience, but wholly refreshing.

Anonymous said...

Tim--Love your church website. makes me feel better about the left coast--

bpzahl said...

I thought the Ugly Duckling story was that he grew into a swan? That he had it in him (genetically) to grow into one over time, but it was just a matter of nature taking its course?

I think we'll grow into swans when we're in heaven. Till then we're still duckling.

(My favourite ML quote: "God did not make heaven for geese.")

bpzahl said...

By the way, Passmore's final conclusion is that there "Perfection" is an ultimate word, an absolute word, and as such there is no way to measure it. To say something is perfect is to assume that we know what perfection is, and since no one has ever seen God, we don't know. All we can say is it's like Jesus, except Jesus was, as Isaiah put it:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

(even those who saw Jesus day in, day out for 3 years - ie the apostles - hid their faces when Jesus was being taken to Pilate. They fled!)

John, put up more passmore quotes! Put up the one at the end of the chapter about Pelagius, about the difference between Christian religion's denouncement of perfection but Christian ethics that embraces perfection. It's sooo good.

John Zahl said...

The point is that, if the ontological make-up of a Christian is tainted with sin (even to the tiniest percent), God cannot abide with that person accept in the context of wrath/judgement. The Father is only able to do such through Christ's righteousness as it is imputed to the Christian believer by faith. If one rejects infusion in the sense that a Christian can never reach a place of existing in an ontologically righteous position before God apart from through Christ, then any idea of love of self must be rejected. God's love for us in Christ, his forgiveness for us, is thus him setting us free from ourselves, not his enabling better to interact with ourselves, but, rather, his enabling us to better reside in him. My understanding is that we are made guests in his house, rather than the idea that he becomes a guest in our house (i.e., infusion). We've already established (ad nauseum) that we don't agree on this matter. From now on, consider this blog to be a place primarily concerned with advocacy of a particular position rather than with discussion, though it is that too. JZ

John Zahl said...

For you Anglicans, here's Richard hooker on the same point:

"My eager protestations, made in the glory of my ghostly strength, I am ashamed of; but those crystal tears, wherewith my sin and weakness was bewailed, have procured my endless joy; my strength hath been my ruin, and my fall my stay."

John Zahl said...

Really, the question is: is Grace intervening in in its nature? Me thinks yes, absolutely.

bpzahl said...

"Is Grace intervening in its nature?"
Yes, but most often it doesn't *feel* like Grace!

Nancy Hanna, in her great wisdom, said something to me along the lines of:
"The Refiner's Fire is that which produces gold and silver out of the ordinary. It is a fire of destruction. It is the fire of destruction that makes us gold and silver."

If grace is the fire of destruction, we would never want it. We do not wnat this kind of grace! We do not want the grace that scorches us.

We cannot see through those flames; to say that we do - to say that we can see and know what God wants us to be like (individually) is really just us saying what we want ourselves to be like. That is because we can never see through the fire of destruction.

Note that I am saying we can't see through the fire of destruction. The image of the refining fire says nothing about the substance that needs to be refined. It says nothing about how much refining it needs, and it says nothing about what the Maker will do with it after it has been refined. All we know is that it is the fire of destruction that refines us, and that fire we cannot see through, because none of us naturally wants to walk through it.

John Zahl said...

Bonnie, those are profound words indeed. JZ

Tim Galebach said...

Don't save us from the flames!

Anonymous said...

Was it Cranmer who actually stuck his hand into the flame immed. prior to his execution?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hand in fire? Maybe he got it from Mucius Scaevola in Livy’s book 2, who placed his hand in a fire to show the Etruscan army that captured him who they were dealing with. His bravery was meant to define what it was to be Roman. The fire wasn't a refining fire, though--just really, really hot.

John Zahl said...

I love those silly Spartans! They were (in the worldly sense) Bad-Asses; how on earth else do you maintain a society that is comprised of 30% ruling class and 70% slaves?!

Needless to say, Cranmer, knowing himself full well not to be a Spartan, placed his right hand (the one with which he had signed away his Reformed theology when under severe pressure from the Queen) in the fire that would soon envelope his entire body and said: "If thine hand should offend..." (or something to that effect). Also a great, and true story. It happened less than two football fields away from where I sit now, typing (and listening to the French disco band, Poussez).