In the World but Orthogonal to It

If you’ve got infinite power on your side, what can possibly defeat you?

Any finite number presupposes infinity. So infinity is mathematically necessary; it must exist, somehow or other, in order for there to be such a thing as any finite quantity.

However infinity exists, it must at least be actual. If infinity did not actually exist, then it could not exist mathematically. If it did not exist actually, then its mathematical existence would be illusory – not an accurate reflection of reality. There would then be no such thing as quantity, and mathematics would have nothing to do with truth. But it does. So infinity actually exists.

To say that infinity actually exists is to say that it is, or is a property of, some concrete real. It is also to say that it is an actual fact – which is to say, the factuality of an act. And this is all to say that infinity is a fact of an act of existence of a concrete being. Whatever else that being is, he is infinite.

That being is furthermore infinite in all dimensions that can logically be infinite, and maximal along those that cannot. Just as there can be no number 5 except insofar as there are all possible numbers, so there can be no other finite degree of any property except insofar as there are all possible degrees of that property. Of any excellence, then, we must say that there is a perfection thereof.

It would seem as though the perfection of two different properties might subsist in two different actualities, but not so. By the definition of ultimacy, there can be no more than one ultimate. So all perfections must subsist primordially and eternally in one perfect being. That ultimate, perfect being all men call God.

The noblest possible allegiance of a soul is to the ultimate, perfect being, and to his purposes. To order oneself to anything else is in some way to lessen or even disorder oneself, and so to fail of that maximum of being possible to one’s own nature. That debasement of fundamental allegiance renders one “of the world.” If one is fundamentally about some sheerly worldly purpose or other, one is of the world. While we are all inescapably in the world, those on the other hand whose fundamental allegiance and ordination is to God, and whose lives are dedicated to him and his purposes, are not of it, but rather of God.

If we map the internal causal nexus of the world to a plane, then God is perpendicular to that plane, at each of its loci. He is everywhere orthogonal to the world. To be of God then is to be oneself oriented orthogonally to worldly events.

In comparison with any or all worldly events, God is infinitely larger and more powerful, and infinitely more suasive. So is he infinitely dispositive of all that shall come to pass. Without him is not anything made that is made. Thus if our fundamental allegiance is to the infinite God and his purposes, then nothing that happens to us in this world need discourage us. Who has infinity on his side need not fear any defeat; for if he fight as a vassal and thain of infinity, defeat is not mathematically possible.

There is then no reason for orthodox Christians to worry about the hellward course of modern culture. Sure, it is terrible, and we must do what we can to save what is good from the wreckage. But in the end, there is no way we can lose; this world with its wayward predilections will lose, and perish, precisely to the extent and degree of its error; but we shall not. With infinity on our side, we win even in our world’s total destruction. God’s victory is assured; so therefore is ours, provided that we are in fact truly on his side.

A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.

– Martin Luther

10 thoughts on “In the World but Orthogonal to It

  1. Pingback: In the World but Orthogonal to It | Neoreactive

    • Jenkins’ book is wonderfully sad and informative. Who knew that there were so many hundreds of monasteries in Turkey, Syria and Iraq? How sad that they are no more. Would it not be wonderful if they were established once again? Why shouldn’t they be, indeed?

      No doubt martyrdom is easier to write about than to undertake. Martyrdom is hard; that’s why the martyrs earn their crowns immediately, bypassing all further purgation by their sacrificial act of complete surrender. I wrote only to encourage us in this dark hour, to take up that cross heartily when our time arrives to do so – as now seems more likely than I could have conceived ten years ago.

      The key sentiment of the post is in Luther’s dreadful couplet:

      The body they may kill:
      God’s truth abideth still,

      This goes as much for the mystical Body of Christ in its present Earthly form as for the bodies of its members. If the Church dies here I shall be horribly sad; but I shall not then err in thinking she can ever die altogether, for her salient here is but one organ of that Body, which is the immortal body of eternal Truth.

      Nevertheless we must do all that we can to keep her alive among men on Earth, like yeast; harvest of souls, and all that. And martyrs are terrifically refreshing for the Church.

  2. It may be the case that number theory requires infinity. If I have two apples in front of me, and I add one, I will have three. I am aware that I can abstract from this an operation of incrementing a number, and that such a process has no logical limit. I can perhaps _imagine_ having an infinite pile of apples (although, in fact, I have never been able to imagine infinity at all.) However, I _know_ that an infinite collection of apples will never be assembled.

    I mention this gap between the physical realities and the works of the mind and the imagination because it seems to me that it is relevant to the destiny of Christians. Some years ago, I was talking with two devout and knowledgable Catholics about this destiny. One was of Australian-Irish background, and the other of Latvian descent. I said that the Church taught the physical resurrection of Christians in the world to come. The Australian-Irish woman was having none of it, thinking perhaps of the timeless Beatific Vision. The Latvian woman assured her that, yes indeed, the Church did teach the physical resurrection.

    It seems to me that the actual physical resurrection of Christ and his on-going physical reality present a constant challenge to orthodox Catholics like my Australian-Irish acquaintance. It is a little like introducing, into a conversation about the infinite sequence of integers, a basket full of juicy, decidedly edible apples to be counted, then eaten.

    Today in the Catholic calendar is the feast of St. Thomas the Doubter. Do not lose sight of the physical, resurrected Christ, asking for something to eat. Do not be doubting, but believe.

    • Yes. The genius of classical theology is that it shows how reality integrates eternity with corporeality, so that there is no conflict between the two, but rather mutual implication. Nor will there be any difficulty about enjoying the BV as an incarnate person: “in my flesh shall I see God.”

      The contemplation of eternity then is stupid, if I have not love; and vice versa. The fact of eternity entails that we perform acts of corporeal charity. And the fact of corporeal charity entails eternity.

      Put another way: if you don’t have the whole of the infinite number line, then you don’t have any numbers at all, for the numbers are each an instance of the whole line; and if you are missing any single number, then you don’t have the number line. Either reality is integral, then, or it isn’t real.

      Lots of the heresies begin by favoring corporeality – real concrete numbers you can handle – over eternity – the infinite number line – or vice versa. But to do this is like choosing the outside of the ball over the inside. It’s a fundamental misprision: the ball could not be a ball in the first place unless it had both inside and outside.

  3. Pingback: In the World but Orthogonal to It | Reaction Times

  4. This is all well and good, but this is also the world where some of us had children and have to tell them to grow up and acquire marketable skills and navigate the sexual marketplace to get married and have children of their own. If it’s such an awful world out there, why are we casting our children adrift in it?

    So we have two options: reform the world, or make our own little worlds in the midst of the larger one. The world knows who we are, what we are saying, and where to find us, and they despise us and our message so I think the first option is off the table. Why are Anglo-European Christians the only ones not allowed to carve out their own cultural space? And why are Anglo-European Christian leaders so craven in the face of atheistic encroachments?

    • The reformation of the world might well begin with making our own little worlds in the midst of the larger one. That is how Christianity began.

  5. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/07/05) | The Reactivity Place

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