Weil, Simone (1909–43)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD070-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved February 20, 2019, from

2. Decreation and grace

There are two implications to this programme. First, all our specific goals or desires are likely to be flawed, because they invite us to form images of what we want, and so to evade necessity. Second, the root of corruption in our seeing and acting is the desire not to lose control, the longing to pretend that the immediacy of thought can be translated into our negotiations with what is given. The moral and spiritual task is to purify our desire by the rigorous renunciation of the ego, its position, its ‘rights’, its account of its individual wants. Pure desire is absolute consent to what is given, a submission to the otherness of the world that abandons any claim to a place, over against the world, from which I can manipulate the given. In the most radical expressions of this in the late notebooks, Weil will speak of the need for the ‘I’ to disappear: ‘To say “I” is to lie’, to defend an illusory self against necessity. The residual Cartesian and Kantian elements in her earlier thought are here subjected to their most ruthless purgation – though not without leaving strong traces. Here too her religious vision comes most clearly in view. The total acceptance of the given, the ‘desire’ for reality, is the desire for God, the only proper object of desire, since God is no particular thing. The Christian narrative shows us a God who wills the universe into being, a universe that is devoid of God, in the sense that God is not identical with any object or state of affairs in it. Thus God’s supreme liberty is expressed in creation as consent to an order of God-less necessity. Creation is divine renunciation; and the further narrative of the incarnation shows God becoming present in the Godless world in the only way possible – as a person without power or rights, becoming finally a dead body on the cross and a passive, mute object in the bread of the Mass. The Christian God is thus absent from the world but also, consequently, ‘present’ in the very character of the world as God-forsaken.

To accept the world is to love God. But the introduction of God into the discourse here has its paradoxical side. While we can deploy the theological narrative of creation and incarnation, we have no possibility of constructing a religious metaphysic in the usual sense. As soon as we conceptualize and represent God and an existing reality over against us, we lose sight of the ‘real’ God; and, on the basis of what is said elsewhere about reality, we should conclude that the reality of God is a particular relation between the self and what is given in its entirety. Weil’s kinship is with the tradition, inside and outside Christianity, of regarding with suspicion any suggestion that God is a kind of object among other possible objects of experience. She is not straightforwardly aligned with those radical theologians who deny the extra-mental reality of God.

When the ego is displaced in this complete acceptance, what follows is ‘grace’ or ‘the supernatural’, a relation to persons and things devoid of private interest and desire. Only this can properly be called love. The connection between such love and any particular person or object is complex, and Weil’s interpreters are not at one in analysing it. On the one hand, the sheer otherness of the world in its concrete variety is precisely what resists and checks my ego; and I begin to learn something of grace by submission to this concrete otherness, by what Weil calls ‘attention ’. One of her most deservedly famous essays (‘Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God’, written in 1942 and published in Attente de Dieu (1950a)) elaborates the spiritual significance of intellectual discipline. But, on the other hand, love is not properly bestowed on any individual object in its historicity, because this would be to make it serve transient needs or projections of the ego. Only what is timeless can be loved without corruption. There is no easy resolution of this tension, which points up central difficulties in Weil’s conception of the self: the self’s material and historical identity is both axiomatic and the source of ‘infinite error’.

Citing this article:
Williams, Rowan. Decreation and grace. Weil, Simone (1909–43), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD070-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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