Archive for December, 2007

Dostoevsky and Redemptive Suffering


Whenever winter rolls around (especially after it snows) I often think of my Russian friends, especially Dostoevsky.

We had our first real snow here in Chicago last week. And I have also been thinking of him recently because B16 mentions him in passing in Spe Salvi. The pope mentions The Brothers Karamazov in paragraph 44 in the context of Dostoevsky’s protest against “cheap grace,” that is Grace without Justice.

I always considered Dostoevsky as a Doctor of suffering. The corner stone of Dostoevsky’s theology was the idea of Redemptive Suffering. Although The Brothers Karamazov certainly contains this idea as a theme, it is even more prevalent in Crime and Punishment.

It is in the juxtaposition of Raskolnikov and Sonya where Dostoevsky reveals the two natures of suffering. Raskolnikov as the criminal (and wannabe Ubermensch) who rebels against his guilt then finally repents and finds peace in the justice of his punishment and Sonya as the whore/saint who suffers because of and for others. Fr. Hardon’s definition of suffering also explains its dual nature:

SUFFERING. The disagreeable experience of soul that comes with the presence of evil or the privation of some good. Although commonly synonymous with pain, suffering is rather the reaction to pain, and in this sense suffering is a decisive factor in Christian spirituality. Absolutely speaking, suffering is possible because we are creatures, but in the present order of Providence suffering is the result of sin having entered the world. Its purpose, however, is not only to expiate wrongdoing, but to enable the believer to offer God a sacrifice of praise of his divine right over creatures, to unite oneself with Christ in his sufferings as an expression of love, and in the process to become more like Christ, who, having joy set before him, chose the Cross, and thus “to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church” (I Colossians 1:24). (Etym. Latin sufferre, to sustain, to bear up: sub-, up from under + ferre, to bear.) ” [pocket catholic dictionary]

In college, while still immersed in Reformed thinking, (although recently confirmed in the Episcopal Church) I wrote a paper called “Raskolnikov and Predestination”. It examined how Dostoevsky exposed Raskolnikov to a series of “chance” events that led him to commit murder and ultimately to salvation. If I were to write the paper again I would focus instead on Dostoevsky’s belief in Redemptive Suffering. I didn’t yet realize that it was a Catholic doctrine central to understanding the gospel, the Incarnation, and our union with Christ.

I love the whole section on suffering in Spe Salvi (35-40) but here’s just a portion:

39. To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves—these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself. Yet once again the question arises: are we capable of this? Is the other important enough to warrant my becoming, on his account, a person who suffers? Does truth matter to me enough to make suffering worthwhile? Is the promise of love so great that it justifies the gift of myself? In the history of humanity, it was the Christian faith that had the particular merit of bringing forth within man a new and deeper capacity for these kinds of suffering that are decisive for his humanity. The Christian faith has shown us that truth, justice and love are not simply ideals, but enormously weighty realities. It has shown us that God —Truth and Love in person—desired to suffer for us and with us. Bernard of Clairvaux coined the marvellous expression: Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis[29]—God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with. Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way—in flesh and blood—as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus’s Passion. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God’s compassionate love—and so the star of hope rises. Certainly, in our many different sufferings and trials we always need the lesser and greater hopes too—a kind visit, the healing of internal and external wounds, a favourable resolution of a crisis, and so on. In our lesser trials these kinds of hope may even be sufficient. But in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope of which we have spoken here. For this too we need witnesses—martyrs—who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way—day after day. We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day—knowing that this is how we live life to the full. Let us say it once again: the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity. Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon. The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope. Spe Salvi

Salvifici Doloris by JP II is also worth reading on the subject. Here’s a quote from paragraph 24 in reference to Col 1:24:

Does this mean that the Redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. In this dimension—the dimension of love—the Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished. Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limits but at the same time he did not bring it to a close. In this redemptive suffering, through which the Redemption of the world was accomplished, Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ’s redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed. Salvifici Doloris


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Live Free or Die!


Here is Heartland Catholic’s interview with Dr. Thomas Woods about Ron Paul, Politics and the Catholic Church.

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Why I am a Catholic


You have got to read Spe Salvi. I thought that Deus Caritas Est was really good but I enjoyed reading Spe Salvi even more.

Viva Papa Bene!

some choice quotes:

“Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.”

“To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment—that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. “But who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults” prays the Psalmist (Ps 19:12 [18:13]). Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is.”

“It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for. Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere.”

“We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.”

“For this too we need witnesses—martyrs—who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way—day after day. We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day—knowing that this is how we live life to the full. Let us say it once again: the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity. Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon.”

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