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  • Response to "What Is Wrong with Us? What Is Wrong with the World?"
  • Kristin Johnston Largen

It was my privilege to have the opportunity to respond to this excellent set of presentations. In so doing, I have structured my response as follows. First, I will make some comments about each paper individually. Then, I will suggest some points of interface and overlap, concluding with some more general questions and observations.

Thomas Cattoi started us off with an interesting and provocative analysis of one specific doctrine of human nature, specifically as it relates to our sharing in the image and likeness of God, and also as it relates to sin. For those of us whose theological background is primarily with the Western Church, it is helpful to be reminded of the different conversations that were happening in the Eastern Church, as well as the different perspectives on the more universal questions, such as the doctrine of sin, for example.

As Cattoi notes, one of the fundamental questions in this regard is what is "proper" to human nature: what humans possess by virtue of being human, and what they possess by virtue of participating in the divine nature. Because of the reality of sin, it is clear that there is tension there. One might well ask, if, according to Cyril, Adam in the garden was "holy and thus incorruptible," how was it possible for "Satan to fill the radiant face of humanity with sordidness"? How did humanity fall, and why?

I do not know Cyril's writings well, but for me, I'm intrigued with how his thought differs substantively from Augustine's. It is clear, of course, that the terminology is different, but I'm wondering, practically, what is the difference in saying that every member of the human race is "culpable" in the eyes of God for sin—and that this culpability is transmitted "biologically" (so Augustine)—and saying that human nature is "ontologically diminished," such that we are plagued with the serious disease of a soiled heart—and that this, too, is spread "like a contagion" from Adam down through the generations (so Cyril)? I appreciate Cattoi's use of Burghardt's "organic" versus "juridic" solidarity—and, of course, the Irenaeic theory of redemption/restoration to which Cyril's thought naturally leads—yet I wonder if there isn't more that is similar here than different. (I'm thinking also of Luther's own appreciation of theosis and a more transformative understanding of justification.) At the same time, I want to be clear that I appreciate the potentialities in Cattoi's claim that "Cyril's [End Page 41] organic understanding of the sin of the first parents as well as his conceptualization of redemption in terms of the healing of disease offer a soteriological hermeneutic that lends itself more easily to an interreligious conversation." It certainly is a claim worth pursuing.

Turning to Cattoi's articulation of Mahāyāna Buddhism, the overarching points of distinction between Buddhism and Christianity he articulates are well worth keeping in mind, even if well known: the lack of an eschatological emphasis in Buddhism, for example, and the general disinterest in knowing the cause of suffering—and an emphasis instead on the solution. In discussing humanity from a Buddhist perspective, Cattoi emphasizes the corporate nature of human existence and then also, of course, the corporate nature of karma. He writes, "karma is deeply corporate, as every individual mired in samsara will not simply suffer the impact of his or her own past negative actions but will also have to bear the consequences of the unskillful actions of other sentient beings." This has clear analogies with Cyril's thought, of course, in spite of the clearly different cosmological contexts. What also is interesting to me is the possible comparison of the universal penetration of the Light of the Logos with the universality of the tathāgatagarbha; both seem to point to some underlying fundamental reality that simply exists, even if we do not experience or realize it.

This theme of the tathāgatagarbha also is important for Glenn Willis's presentation [editors' note: this presentation is not included in this volume]. Willis notes that...


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