A New Heaven and a New Earth

In the last post, I briefly touched on the old Christian idea that the Creation itself would be redeemed and delivered, in and through the redemption and deliverance of mankind itself. It occasioned some interesting discussion, and I wanted to quickly post up some comments by other Church Fathers affirming that on the Christian worldview, the physical Creation will experience the very same redemption that human bodies will.

First up, here’s St. John Chrysostom in his commentary on Romans 8:21: “because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

He says: “Now what is this creation? Not yourself alone, but that also which is your inferior, and partakes not of reason or sense, this too shall be a sharer in your blessings. For it shall be freed, he says, from the bondage of corruption, that is, it shall no longer be corruptible, but shall go along with the beauty given to your body; just as when this became corruptible, that became corruptible also; so now it is made incorruptible, that also shall follow it too. And to show this he proceeds. (εἰς) Into the glorious liberty of the children of God. That is, because of their liberty. For as a nurse who is bringing up a king’s child, when he has come to his father’s power, does herself enjoy the good things along with him, thus also is the creation, he means. You see how in all respects man takes the lead, and that it is for his sake that all things are made. See how he solaces the struggler, and shows the unspeakable love of God toward man. For why, he would say, do you fret at your temptations? You are suffering for yourself, the creation for you. Nor does he solace only, but also shows what he says to be trustworthy. For if the creation which was made entirely for you is in hope, much more ought thou to be, through whom the creation is to come to the enjoyment of those good things. Thus men also when a son is to appear at his coming to a dignity, clothe even the servants with a brighter garment, to the glory) of the son; so will God also clothe the creature with incorruption for the glorious liberty of the children.

Just as, to the Christian mind, our own corruptible bodies will ‘put on incorruption’, and become like Christ’s glorified body after His Resurrection, the physical creation will be clothed in incorruption. Here’s a link to the rest of that series of homilies.

Next, here is St. Gregory of Nazianzus, from the funeral oration for his brother Caesarius. He describes first, the state of a disembodied soul, awaiting resurrection:

“I believe the words of the wise, that every fair and God-be-loved soul, when, set free from the bonds of the body, it departs hence, at once enjoys a sense and perception of the blessings which await it, inasmuch as that which darkened it has been purged away, or laid aside–I know not how else to term it–and feels a wondrous pleasure and exultation, and goes rejoicing to meet its Lord, having escaped as it were from the grievous poison of life here, and shaken off the fetters which bound it and held down the wings of the mind, and so enters on the enjoyment of the bliss laid up for it, of which it has even now some conception.”

He then goes on to describe the next state of its salvation: reunion with its ‘kindred flesh’, reuion with its body:

“Then, a little later, it receives its kindred flesh, which once shared in its pursuits of things above, from the earth which both gave and had been entrusted with it, and in some way known to God, who knit them together and dissolved them, enters with it upon the inheritance of the glory there. And, as it shared, through their close union, in its hardships, so also it bestows upon it a portion of its joys, gathering it up entirely into itself, and becoming with it one in spirit and in mind and in God, the mortal and mutable being swallowed up of life. Hear at least how the inspired Ezekiel discourses of the knitting together of bones and sinews, how after him Saint Paul speaks of the earthly tabernacle, and the house not made with hands, the one to be dissolved, the other laid up in heaven, alleging absence from the body to be presence with the Lord, and bewailing his life in it as an exile, and therefore longing for and hastening to his release.”

And finally, he goes on to describe the transformation of the entire physical Creation, along with a final (and rather moving) expression of hope that he will see his friend Caesarius again, freed from the corruption of death:

“Why am I faint-hearted in my hopes? Why behave like a mere creature of a day? I await the voice of the Archangel, the last trumpet, the transformation of the heavens, the transfiguration of the earth, the liberation of the elements, the renovation of the universe. Then shall I see Caesarius himself, no longer in exile, no longer laid upon a bier, no longer the object of mourning and pity, but brilliant, glorious, heavenly, such as in my dreams I have often beheld thee, dearest and most loving of brothers, pictured thus by my desire, if not by the very truth.”

(Here is that entire Oration).

The ancient Christian view seems to have been that the physical creation, including and especially our physical bodies, would be resurrected and renovated; transformed from fallen, corruptible matter into glorious, incorruptible matter that is always a means of communion with God. Again, to a modern ear, the whole notion must reek with a faint (or not so faint) air of ridiculousness. And for clarity, the argument has never been, ‘The early Christians believed this, therefore it is true.’ The only point in quoting the Church Fathers as evidence here, is to demonstrate that the modern assumption of that on a Christian worldview, God intends to simply ‘wipe away’ all Creation, is simply historically and theologically inaccurate. The question of the truth of such things is a philosophical and evidential one. I included some links to modern and ancient apologetic works on this topic at the end of my last post.

But I think that the rediscovery of this belief has the most gravity for modern Christians themselves. Evidential questions aside (for the moment), this ancient hope in a new heaven and a new earth provides a powerful refutation to the totally unfounded charge that Christianity despises and depreciates the value of the physical world.

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