The Catholic Thing
The Plan Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S. J.   
Tuesday, 03 April 2012

The Breviary for Tuesday of Holy Week contains a reading from St. Basil on the Holy Spirit: “When mankind was estranged from Him by disobedience, God our Savior made a plan for raising us from our fall and restoring us to friendship with Himself.” God makes a plan? Why? Because of “disobedience.” Whose disobedience? Obviously, Basil refers to the Garden, where Adam and Eve eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Basil speaks of a lost friendship with God.

What does this “disobedience” have to do with us? We are all connected together in such a way that whatever good or bad that we do to one another touches everyone. Would we want it otherwise? Suppose God gave us a world in which we are totally unaffected by what others do, Logically, God would have to enclose everyone in isolated boxes. Nothing could reach us but God. We would not need others. Man would not be by nature a “social animal.” 

In the world in which we dwell, however, what we do or do not do to others makes a difference, an ultimate difference not just to others, but to ourselves and to God. This emphasizes the high dignity granted to the rational being that we are. What we do makes a difference to ourselves, to others, and to God.

Basil further explains that “According to this plan, Christ came in the flesh; He showed us the gospel way of life, He suffered, died on the Cross, was buried, and rose from the dead.” These events, Basil explains, were carried out according to a plan. But why did God plan it this way? Why did He undergo such painful events to rise again?

“So that we could be saved by imitation of Him, and recover our original status as sons of God by adoption.” Basil compressed many things into this little paragraph. He assumes we know that Christ is the Word, that He comes from within the Trinity, that He is true God, true man. The plan includes the Godhead’s own inner life and our “adopted” relation to it.

But what’s this “original status?” Evidently, we have a plan before a plan. What could that mean? Does God keep changing His mind? That would be “un-godlike.” Rather, He sticks to His own more “god-like” plan.

           St. Basil by Theophanes the Greek, c. 1400

Obviously, a drama is going on within this plan. God is pictured as a central figure in the drams. But in classical drama, the actors do not write the plot. They find themselves already involved in an on-going action that has a beginning, middle, climax, and an end.

This plan restores a lost “original state of adoption.” But this return to the original state could not be coerced. It had itself to be chosen both by the Word and by the rational creature involved in the initial disobedience that plagues us. We belong to the same human race in which everyone is connected with everyone else.

The restoration once made by Christ cannot be abstract or impersonal for each of us. This is why Basil says that restoration is by way of imitation. Imitation of whom? Of Christ, of course. Why “imitation?” Imitation means that we do something that someone has shown us. And what did Christ show us? He showed us the Cross.

What was the Cross? Not a happy scene, to be sure. The Cross was a public execution, under Roman legal auspices, of a dangerous criminal. What was Christ guilty of that He would merit such a terrible death? He made Himself “King of the Jews,” as the sign Pilate, the Roman governor in charge, put on the Cross in three languages. Yet this Crucifixion involved a plan with origins in the Godhead? How odd!

Was there anything about the plan that suggested to us that such a result was possible, or even intelligible? We seek to understand these things, once we know of them. The initial purpose of the plan was that we should freely accept God’s offer to a life higher than our own being entailed. We were first invited. We were made men, but invited to be Sons of God.

Once the plan was rejected on our part, however, God’s alternative was to achieve His initial purpose in a way that did not jeopardize our freedom. This is the part of the plan about which Basil speaks. God’s response, the Cross, shows the seriousness of what we are about in this world.

The plan can be rejected; otherwise we are automata. We are again brought before the Cross. This way is the only one we have to regain the original purpose of God in creating us, that is, of accepting the invitation to live the inner, eternal life of God as the very purpose of our being.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That Is Catholic.
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Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Grump, April 03, 2012
God's Plan as framed by Basil seems to amount to a my-way-or-the-highway design that destroys any notion of free will. If "Father Knows Best," as the Plan implies, then aren't we humans nothing more than "automata" since rejection sends one to hell, no quarter given. In the final analysis, this take-it-or-leave it Hobson's choice is no choice at all.
written by Thomas a Beckon, April 03, 2012
Grump - is Free Will only such if God were to allow the risk that Evil prevails in the end? To expect Him to create an adversary of equal power is absurd, since He would be self-negating His Will. And as for his created ones, we indeed have the freedom to choose good over evil (God-centeredness over selfishness) with each temporal step we make - and His omniscience neither contradicts the ultimate Plan (which, granted, is a mystery to us), nor relegates us humans to a sort of presdestination either. Peace.
written by Grump, April 03, 2012
Thomas, I'll have to ponder that for awhile but my first reaction is that since He is the Potter and we are the clay He can create whatever serves His purpose (the Pharoah, i.e.), which case "free will" cannot be exercised. "I will bless Whom I bless and Curse Whom I curse."
written by Bill McCormick, April 03, 2012
Providentially I'm reading Pinckaers' _Source of Christian Ethics_, throughout which he lays out the very significant differences between a "freedom of indifference" and a "freedom for excellence." The nature of free will was not Father Schall's only concern in this excellent article, but the point must be grasped.
written by Dave, April 03, 2012
Throughout Holy Scripture the Lord makes it clear that He loves us, that He created us to share in his goodness, freedom, and love, and that we have real choice in the matter: "I set before you life and death: choose life, that you may live"; "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"' the warning at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; the constant calls to repentance throughout the Prophets; and finally, Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, laying the matter out so clearly in the Gospels that he offers peace and wholeness but on condition of our acceptance of Him, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life: so clearly, that those who refused to accept his offer and his clarity accused him of blasphemy and put him to death. As He created our first parents, and each soul, in his image and likeness, he bestows upon each soul some share in his own sovereignty, in its power to choose. Then he gives us the natural law. Then he gives us divine revelation. Then he gives us himself; and to those of us baptized into the fulness of the Faith, he gives himself in the Holy Eucharist each and every day. The one thing he does not do, however, is coerce us. And so it is not so much the case that one is sent to heaven or hell as it is one sends oneself to heaven or hell through one's own free choice, and God has mightily stacked the decks in our favor that we might find the road to him and freely choose it. I'll take that Plan.
written by Gian, April 04, 2012
Dorothy Sayers is illuminative on this question of free will of the creatures.
Successful authors are those whose characters are alive and seem to be imbued with a self-will. Authors feel that such characters develop on their own.

God is the Perfect Author and his creations finds no difficulty in reconciling free will with the plan.

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