I was reading something recently on Martin Luther, ressourcement theology, great chains of being, and other things that I know well enough to say hello but no more than that. It got involved in talk about hierarchies and ladders and such, up which we apparently move or don’t move depending on our theological allegiances. So, for Luther, the ladder would have to accommodate downward traffic only, God coming down to us and not us up to God.
I don’t get along with (or play well with) Luther’s downplaying of the human will, so I have to allow for some sort of action on my part, and yours as well, be it on a ladder or the parallel bars or at least from bed to breakfast. Then what comes to mind is that, if it has to be on a ladder, it might be that we begin at the top, so the only possible movement is downward. So, if we go, it’s down we go.
And that is how we respond to God. Or, keeping the analogy, it is by going down that we get to God. This is not a “go down to go up” or “go down and then up” idea: our separation from God is better expressed in terms of us starting out above God. It’s as if we all share, initially and naturally, this side of the Fall, the attitude of some Corinthians, but directing it not toward some whiney apostles but toward God, so that God might respond:
You people already have everything you want.
You’re already rich.
You’ve become kings without us. (1 Corinthians 4:8)
In “Gloria in Profundis” G. K. Chesterton asked poetically,
Who is proud when the heavens are humble …?
He wasn’t asking for information or out of curiosity; rather, his question is a challenge, as if it were “who dares to be proud …?”
Chesterton thinks here of a downward movement of God in the incarnation, and these lines are from a Christmas poem.
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.
I have been thinking differently from this for a while, namely, that the manifestation of God in the man Jesus is not an incognito but truly God, the expression of God’s basic humility before creation (in two or three senses of “before”). Whether or not you go with me in that direction, we can at least agree that God is immune to the attractions of our games of one-up-man-ship. God has never, for instance, sought high ecclesiastical office.
And whether or not you think along with me about “God’s basic humility” or prefer to reserve the humility of God for the incarnation, still we can agree on the result, which is, first, to hear the angels singing, along with Chesterton,
Glory to God in the Lowest…,
and, second, to find ourselves following the voice of our God and Teacher to where he is, down there.
Why is it that we prefer to think of Jesus as exalted above? Because that is the direction we prefer to look and to set our course toward. We have inherited a nervousness about going down:
For in dread of such falling and failing
The Fallen Angels fell….
- “great chains of being”: or was that “great balls of fire”?
- “hierarchies and ladders,” not “chutes and ladders”
- The blog-writing software, without asking, turns “4:8)” into 4. I guess that about says it.