Read, Write, Dance, Suffer
October 19, 2022
Don't worry about the title. I'm doing well, I promise.
The weeks since I last posted have been only moderately eventful. Unlike last year, I have not been travelling around Scotland or going to lots of social events, for a few good reasons. I'm experiencing less pressure to see everything and do everything, since (A) I'm here for a whole year and not just this semester, (B) I already have plenty of friends and haven't been compelled to go to events seeking new ones, and (C) I've already seen and done so many cool things around St. Andrews! In the last month, I've felt much more relaxed and have embraced a fairly modest routine. I feel at home (away from home; don't worry, Mom) and not like I'm settling into a new place for the first time.
I've also been spending more time working for my courses. The workload is a bit higher than what I experienced last fall, which is to be expected for a graduate program, and I've been trying to work ahead as much as possible, successfully so far.
This does mean that I have different things to write about on the blog. Instead of a trip to some charming town in the East Neuk of Fife, I'll have to tell you about church, dancing, baking banana bread, and the papers I'm writing. I hope it's still interesting. The uneventful routine and the heavy workload have been in anticipation of a much more exciting adventure, so read on to find out what you have to look forward to.
Sunset in St. Mary's Quad. Spot the robin friend!
I'm currently drafting 2 papers, one for each of my courses. For my course on Gregory of Nazianzus, I'm writing about his understanding of humility. My paper examines his understanding of salvation as deification, or theosis, and his Trinitarian theology, then relates those doctrines to a particular definition and emphasis on humility.
Gregory argued that Christians are saved by "becoming God" in a process called deification or theosis. The problem with humanity is that we are prone to dissolution. We were created out of nothing and inevitably return to nothing. We are born dying. Christ takes on our human nature and unites it to the divine nature, which is immortal and is not prone to dissolution. The telos, or purpose, of humanity is to participate in the life of God through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to be saved is not merely to be justified before God or to imitate Christ as a moral exemplar, but to be incorporated into the divine life and, in that sense, "become God."
Gregory also argued strongly concerning the nature of the Trinity. In an oration on baptism, he tells his congregation, "I should like to call the Father the greater, because from him flows both the Equality and the Being of the Equals." There is a tension between the co-equality of all three persons with the monarchy of the Father, whom Gregory considers greater than the Son and Spirit because He is their origin. Above all, there is a "fittingness" to the Trinity: an orderly structure that indicates divine harmony rather than separation and chaos.
Salvation is the process by which we "become God," and we participate in the divine life through the Son and Spirit, who are equal to the Father in essence but not in origination. If we view humility in light of those doctrines, it takes on a certain form. Humility is a necessary means to harmonious Christian community, which is modeled on the harmony of the Trinity. However, humility does not necessarily imply perfect equality among humans, since we unite our nature to that of the Son, not the unoriginate Father. Finally, intellectual humility and a "philosophic life" of self-denial are required for purification and an understanding of the Trinity, which is the substance of salvation for Gregory.
For my class on reconciliation, I'm writing a paper than analyzes and critiques Felix Culpa theodicy. Theodicy is the attempt to explain why God, who is all-powerful, perfectly good, and perfectly loving, permits evil and suffering in the world. Felix Culpa theodicy argues that God has created the best possible world (since He wouldn't create a world that was lacking or deficient in any way), and that the incarnation and atonement are very good elements of the world's history. Since the incarnation and atonement are predicated on the existence of sin, evil, and suffering (this is debatable), it follows that sin, evil, and suffering are necessary components of the best possible world.
I don't buy this. Well, I kind of do. But not completely.
It would be pretentious of me to argue that God could have made the world any better than He did. I don't have the omniscience to know how the world could be any different or any better than it is. In that sense, I accept Felix Culpa as logically valid. However, I hope that I would never comfort a suffering friend with the best of all possible worlds, implying that they could view their suffering as a good thing if they understood God's plan for the world rightly. A theodicy I would not offer a suffering friend is not worth much, so Felix Culpa needs some amendment to be an acceptable Christian response to the problem of evil.
Chai lattes from Taste are the solution to the problem of evil.
In my research, I discovered something called cruciform theodicy, which may be a helpful alternative or supplement to Felix Culpa. Cruciform theodicy points to the suffering of Christ as the center of Christian theology and the proper focus of any discussion about evil and suffering. It maintains that there may be no tidy way of understanding evil, since perhaps evil is by nature unreasonable or incomprehensible. Instead, we can look to Christ, who co-suffers with us and suffers for our sake. Because of the incarnation, we can say, in a sense, that God suffers, that God dies. So when we suffer or witness the suffering of others, we can take comfort that God understands and empathizes with us. We can cry out to Him, and He will respect and even share our pain. Cruciform theodicy does not solve every problem with Felix Culpa, and it introduces new problems of its own, but I would sooner direct a suffering friend to Christ than to some syllogism about the strong-value contingent events of the world's history or the counterfactuals of divine freedom.
Autumn colors are easing their way into St. Andrews. The ducks and I are enjoying this.
As you'll know if you read the blog last year, I attend Scottish Country Dance (SCD) classes with the University Celtic Society every week. SCD was one of the highlights of my semester abroad, so I wanted to continue taking classes this year and get more involved with the society.
I still attend the general SCD class on Sunday nights, but I've also joined a technique class for intermediate and advanced dancers. Now I get a double-helping of SCD every week! We also held a meeting a few weeks ago to elect new members to vacant committee positions. I nominated myself and was elected to be the general SCD class representative and the social officer. This means that I'm responsible for collecting feedback from the general dance class and for organizing social events that aren't related to dance or Gaelic classes. Most importantly, I'm responsible for getting people to Janettas for ice cream after dance class on Sunday evenings. :)
We have also been enjoying some extra SCD events; I participated in 2 half-day schools in the past month to learn some new dances and improve my footwork. Last Saturday, some of us attended a dance put on by the Dundee branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. It was an intermediate or advanced dance, which presented some challenges. The dances on the program had some complicated figures, which I had wither learned very recently in the technique class or practiced for the first time earlier that day. Furthermore, the dances were called, but not walked through (unless someone asked for a walkthrough or started walking on their own), so it was easy to forget which step came next or get lost in the middle of a figure. Most members of the Dundee RSCDS enjoy Scottish Country Dance as a retirement activity, so our contingent of university students were the youngest dancers in the room by about 40 years. Our youth did not give us much advantage; the Dundee pensioners were, on the whole, more competent at remembering the steps than we were.
I experienced firsthand the duality of the dancing Dundee pensioner; during the dances, when I would inevitably get lost and cast around the wrong person or forget which hand to stick out for a turn, they would shout directions at me or use some combination of hand gestures and raised eyebrows to tell me where to go. When the dance finished, I would start to apologize to the rest of the set for inconveniencing them and thank them obsequiously for their patience. They would hear none of it. "You did so well! Very nicely done! How long have you been dancing? Just that long? Well, you're getting along quite nicely. Do you need a partner for the next one?" It was delightful. It was exhausting. I can't wait for the next one.
In other news, I've been taking full advantage of our kitchen. I bake banana bread almost every week, contributed a cardamom crumb cake to the St. Mary's College Society's weekly cake hour, and have been experimenting with cozy chicken and sausage dishes as the weather cools.
I still sing Compline most Thursday nights in St. Leonard's Chapel. I was also persuaded to join my church choir for an evensong and benediction service at the beginning of the month. The music was absolutely gorgeous: Brewer's Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in D. I thought we would need extra altos, but the director had me sing with the sopranos, so I very much enjoyed the high notes. While I may not have time to join the choir every Sunday morning, I'd like to continue singing at these extra services whenever possible.
Soup! And a tiny pumpkin!
Transporting cake through town on a rainy day.
Cardamom crumb cake. 10/10, would recommend.
Rocking the cassock and gown combo at evensong.
And now, the reason I've been hustling to finish those papers instead of galavanting around Scotland: I just arrived in Dublin for Independent Learning Week! One of my friends from undergrad is studying abroad at Trinity College, so I'm here to visit him and do some sightseeing around Ireland. His week off is the next week, so we'll travel back to Edinburgh together and do some more sightseeing around Scotland. It should be a fun trip, and I look forward to reporting back in a few weeks!