Simone Weil’s Original Kenosis

In the Foreword of his book Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge, referred to the French philosopher Simone Weil (1909– 1943) as “the most luminous intelligence of our time”. Despite her brief life, much constrained by ill-health, she made important contributions to the field of philosophy and philosophical theology.

One key concept of Weil’s philosophy of God was “Absence”. I quote from Wikipedia:

Absence is the key image for her metaphysics, cosmology, cosmogeny, and theodicy. She believed that God created by an act of self-delimitation—in other words, because God is conceived as a kind of utter fullness, a perfect being, no creature could exist except where God was not. Thus creation occurred only when God withdrew in part.

This is, for Weil, an original kenosis preceding the corrective kenosis of Christ’s incarnation (cf. Athanasius). We are thus born in a sort of damned position not owing to original sin as such, but because to be created at all we had to be precisely what God is not, i.e., we had to be the opposite of what is holy.

This notion of creation is a cornerstone of her theodicy, for if creation is conceived this way (as necessarily containing evil within itself), then there is no problem of the entrance of evil into a perfect world. Nor does this constitute a delimitation of God’s omnipotence, if it is not that God could not create a perfect world, but that the act which we refer towards by saying “create” in its very essence implies the impossibility of perfection.

However, this notion of the necessity of evil does not mean that we are simply, originally, and continually doomed; on the contrary, Weil tells us that “Evil is the form which God’s mercy takes in this world.”[14] Weil believed that evil, and its consequence, affliction, served the role of driving us out of ourselves and towards God–“The extreme affliction which overtakes human beings does not create human misery, it merely reveals it.”

More specifically, affliction drives us to what Weil referred to as “decreation”–which is not death, but rather closer to “extinction” (nirvana) in the Buddhist tradition—the willed dissolution of the subjective ego in attaining realization of the true nature of the universe.

The chief underlying concept that compels this view of reality is the view of reality as substance. Divine infinity is viewed as substantially infinite, and the kenosis or withdrawal is imposed to accomodate creation of an “other”, i.e. the world. The “other” is neither the same nor the opposite, to keep on the via negativa tangent. Evil, therefore, is almost synonymous with contingency.

However, this concept doesn’t accord with the Biblical declaration. The Genesis record declares that when God created the world He declared it to be “good”. The term “good” certainly means “perfect”.

Also, we have philosophical complications. If God withdrew to accomodate the finite and contingent, the substantial view would force even the finitude and contingency of God, which is logically inconsistent with the notion of necessity.

However, there is a path-breaking notion in seeing contingency as a thrust towards the absolute fulfillment in God. Only God can satiate the human existential void.

With regards to the concept of Original Kenosis, there wouldn’t be a need to infer an accomodative withdrawal if Divine perfection were regarded as transcendental and non-spatio-temporal. That certainly assumes apophatic terminology; however, that also shows that infinity isn’t contingent on space-time-matter. It is infinite as it is.

Domenic Marbaniang, Sept 2010.

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