The Plan Print
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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