“Brothers, have no fear of men’s sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day, and you will come at last to love the world with an all-embracing love.” Father Zossima, in The Brothers Karamazov, Book VI, Chapter 3

“[My] creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Saviour; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more: If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.” Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

Reading the theological reflections of Paul Evdokimov is, as one observed, like walking into a secret garden – a place bursting with beautiful flowers, of various colors and scents. As one takes a closer look, all sorts of surprisingly delightful shades and aroma and attractiveness unfold so that one is compelled to examine more and more flowers and eventually contemplate Beauty itself.  Every plant and flower in this captivating garden flourishes because of the rich soil of the traditional teachings of the Church. A key to understanding the aesthetic theology of Evdokimov is to consider his view of God’s passionate love for humanity.  Quoting his brilliant compatriot Dostoevsky often along the way, the equally brilliant lay theologian Paul Evdokimov writes about God’s foolhardy (unconditional) love for humanity and the harmonious order of the created universe envisioned as God’s gift for mankind from all ages. Evdokimov talks about man’s tragic fall, which “had cosmic repercussions in that it perverted not only the initial relationship with God and man but also the relationship between man and the cosmos.” (1657). But in the same breath, Evdokimov writes about Jesus Christ as God’s greatest manifestation of his eternal love for humanity; Christ as “the Divine-human [theandric] archetype”, Christ as “the Wisdom of God” whose vocation is the “reuniting of all things, whether in the heavens or on the earth” in his deified humanity. (800). Thus, fallen man (created in the image and likeness of God and now lovingly embraced by Christ) falls again into the beautiful mystery of “the fiery explosion of the divine plenitude in the deified human plenitude.” (1107). This passionate union of fallen (but deified) man with the infinitely loving God through the salvific sacrifice of Christ accomplishes God’s plan from all ages.   No wonder Dostoevsky exclaimed with all confidence: “…there is nothing lovelier…more sympathetic…more perfect than the Savior…if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.” Even as man was banished from the gates of Paradise, God implanted a lingering “nostalgia” deep in man’s heart and soul so that fallen humanity would yearn and seek the truth, the goodness, the beauty of God.  Such nostalgia is fulfilled by penetrating and contemplating the mystery of creation. In reaching out towards the goodness and beauty of God’s created world, man finds his true identity, which is linked to God’s greatest art: the theandric, divino-human archetype Christ, whose vocation is to gather humanity and the created order unto himself and into the light and splendor of the Holy Trinity. To Evdokimov, this is a “mystery hidden in God from before the beginning of the ages.”(800) In observing the present order of things, Evdokimov decries the fact that “the initial unity between Truth, Goodness, and Beauty has fallen apart. The principles which govern knowledge, ethics and aesthetics are no longer integrated in religious principles. Each area of human activity has become autonomous [and ambiguous]…” (708). He recalls how Dostoevsky, challenged by such “ontological schism,” discovered “a vein of gold” and arrived at a “brilliant psychosynthesis…a mature analysis of man and his destiny.”  (707) If the nostalgia for the source and origin of truth and goodness and beauty disappeared, if humanity were deprived of a sense of “the infinitely great… [men and women] would die of despair.” (707) Evdokimov echoes Dostoevsky’s point: “A sense of infinity and measurelessness is as necessary for man as the little planet he lives on.”(707) This fear that “man would lose even his outer form if he lost his faith in the possibility of being integrated into the Divine” (1379) led Dostoevsky to “the acquisition of the Holy Spirit in existence…to a ‘life filled with the fire of the Spirit.’”(707)  As Evdokimov points out: “It is in holiness, in the Spirit, that man finds again the immediate intuition of true Beauty.” Furthermore, he writes, “Beauty will save the world…It is the healing power which flows from Christ, the ‘Great Healer.’ (736) Christ unites us and the world to divine Beauty. Dostoevsky’s, Evdokimov’s and our “search for Beauty coincides with the search for the Absolute and the Infinite.” (717)

What part does liturgy play in this salvific quest for beauty? In praising, adoring, and glorifying God, liturgy embodies everything important that we do in creation. It is the microcosm of our existence. In one shining glorious moment, we, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, gather in thanksgiving to acknowledge God as our Creator and to love one another.  In liturgy, we perceive the created universe in the light of God’s splendor; we are drawn into a deeper contemplation and encompassing union with God’s beauty, goodness, and truth. In Evdokimov’s eloquent prose: “This action of ‘punching holes’ in the closed world by powerful explosions from the Beyond belongs properly to the sacramental mysteries and sacramental which teach us that everything is destined for a liturgical fulfillment. The blessing of the fruits of the earth…extends over every kind of ‘food’…The final destiny of water is to participate in the mystery of the Epiphany; of wood, to become a cross; of the earth, to receive the body of the Lord during his rest on the Great Sabbath; of rock, to become the ‘sealed Tomb’ and the stone rolled away from in front of the myrrh-bearing women. Olive oil and water attain their fullness as conductor elements for grace on regenerated man. Wheat and wine achieve their ultimate raison d’etre in the Eucharistic chalice. Everything is referred to the Incarnation and everything finds its final goal and destiny in the Lord. The liturgy integrates the most elementary actions of life: drinking, eating, washing, speaking, acting, communing. It restores to them their meaning and true destiny, that is to be blocks in the cosmic temple of God’s glory.”

Evdomikov Paul Evdokimov (1901-1970) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. His family fled following the Bolshevik Revolution and joined the émigré community in Paris circa 1923.  The young Evdokimov supported himself with “proletarian jobs” such as chef’s assistant and a Citroen factory and railway car worker. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy at the Sorbonne and studied theology at the Institut-Saint Serge, under Nikolai Berdyaev and Fr. Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944), a brilliant and controversial Orthodox theologian, philosopher and economist. He married Natasha Brunel in 1927 and remarried in 1954 after Natasha died of cancer. He is the father of theologian Fr. Michel Evdokimov. Paul Evdokimov completed his doctorate in philosophy at Aix-en-Provence in 1942 with a thesis on “Dostoyevsky and the Problem of Evil.” He taught at the Catholic Graduate Theological Faculty in Paris and served as an official observer at the second session of Vatican II.

Laisser un commentaire