Category: Church Fathers

The importance of discernment

by Andrea Elizabeth

It is apparent in these patristics quotes on the discernment of thoughts that taking thoughts captive is of the highest importance. For example:

It is discernment which in Scripture is described as they eye and the lamp of the body. This is what the Saviour says, ‘our eye is the light of your body, and if your eye is sound then there is light in your whole body. But if your eye is diseased then your entire body will be in darkness’ (Matthew 6:22-23). This eye sees through all the thoughts and actions of a man, examining and illuminating everything which we must do. And if it is not sound in a man, that is, if it is not fortified by good judgment and by well-founded knowledge, if it is deluded by error and by presumption, this makes for darkness in our entire body. The clear thrust of the mind as well as everything we do will be shadowed and we shall be wrapped in the blindness of sin and the blackness of passion. ‘If the light within you is darkness,’ says the Saviour, ‘what a darkness that will be’ (Matthew 6:23). For let no one doubt that our thoughts and our works, which originate from the deliberative processes of discernment, will be caught up in the shadows of sin if ever the good judgment of our heart goes astray or is taken over by the night of ignorance.” St John Cassian, “Conferences,” (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), pp. 61-63, (a conversation between Abba Moses and John Cassian)

So, then, the four kinds of discernment to which I have been referring will be necessary to us. First, as to material, is it true gold or spurious? Second, we must reject as fake and counterfeit coinage those thoughts which have the deceptive appearance of piety. They bear a false and not the genuine image of the king. Then we must be able to detect and to abhor those which impose a viciously heretical stamp on the precious gold of Scripture. This is not the effigy of the true king but of a tyrant. Finally, we must drive away thoughts which are like underweight coins, dangerous and inadequate, thoughts which have lost weight and value because of the rust of vanity, thoughts which do not measure up to the standard of the ancients. St. John Cassian, The Conferences

Most times we consider our own judgment trustworthy. We must trust it somewhat or we would be paralyzed. Since discernment is listed as spiritual gift, I suppose it must be asked for with the view that improvement is always needed.

unconditional love

by Andrea Elizabeth

Is there a difference in believing that Orthodoxy really is the True Church, even though its people are flawed; and in believing in another church even though the adherants believe that their church is flawed? The latter seem to think that they owe their church faithfulness, to some extent, as an act of accepting love of warts and all. I believe there is a difference. There are warts, and there is cancer. I suppose one has to believe in the Orthodox Seven Ecumenical Councils to see this. If an Orthodox clergyman messes these up as an individual, the Church isn’t changed, because there is a category for heresy, even within her. It seems that the Church isn’t 100% strict on these in that it doesn’t seem an individual clergy person need be as specific as St. Gregory the Theologian, for example, in his homilies, nor as ascetic as St. Simeon the Stylite in his prayer rule. The standards remain however. To me, if a person’s church has denied the necessity of holding such truths, then accepting that church becomes an act of unhealthy codependence, rather than condescending loving-kindness.

God the Son’s 2 Births

by Andrea Elizabeth

Jnorm on Energetic Procession‘s latest post on the Heresy of Calvinism has provided a link to three Christology Workshops in which one can learn the correct nature of God the Son’s Incarnation. I found it very clarifying.

Bio: Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald was formerly the Professor of Church History at St. Herman’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska. Dr. Macdonald converted to Orthodoxy while studying the history of the early Church at Wheaton College in Illinois where he completed a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Archaeology in 1978. He went on to St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, receiving a Master of Divinity degree in 1982, writing his thesis on the condemnation of the early Byzantine Scholastic John Italos under the direction of the late Fr. John Meyendorff. After graduating St. Vladimir’s, he began teaching at St. Herman’s Seminary in Alaska. In 1986, he went to Washington, D.C. for further graduate work at the Catholic University of America. He returned to teaching at St. Herman’s in 1989 and received his Ph.D.  in Early Christian Studies in 1995 with the completion of his dissertation on the Christological writings of the sixth century emperor-theologian Justinian. Dr. Macdonald continues to lecture on church history at St. John the Forerunner Orthodox Church in Cedar Park, Texas, and the thirty three recordings available on the download page are from these lectures.

Dangerous Creativity

by Andrea Elizabeth

The following are excerpts from The Patristic Heritage and Modernity by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, who I just learned was born 2 days before me. Hat tip to A Vow of Conversation.

It starts comfortably enough.

No one will challenge the need for preserving the patristic heritage. The “protective” element is emphasized in the words of St Athanasius given above: the Fathers have preserved Holy Tradition for us. But have they preserved this treasure for it to wither away, like the talent buried in the ground, unearthed from time to time to establish whether it has corroded from so long a lack of use? Have the Fathers written books for us to keep on shelves, dusting them from time to time and ever so rarely consulting them for that obligatory quote?

If we concentrate only on the preservation and conservation of what has been accumulated by our Fathers before us, then things are quite simple. When, however, our vocation is to invest the talent of the patristic heritage, we find ourselves confronted by a tremendous task indeed, comprising not only the study of the works of the Fathers, but also their interpretation in the light of contemporary experience; it similarly requires an interpretation of our contemporary experience in the light of the teaching of the Fathers. This not only means studying the Fathers; the task before us is also to think patristically and to live patristically. For we will not be able to understand the fathers, if we have not shared their experience and endeavours, at least to a certain degree.

This task is tremendous and inspiring, yet at the same time quite hazardous. Just as no one who decides to invest his “talent” is warranted against bankruptcy, no theologian who approaches the appropriation of the patristic heritage in a creative way is preserved from error. The distance – in time, culture, and spirituality – between the fathers and us is too large, it seems too difficult to surmount the obstacles that confound our attempts to penetrate the mind of the fathers. Yet as long as we fail to surmount these obstacles, we cannot fulfil the mission entrusted to us by the modern age as members of the Orthodox church. This mission consists in the capacity not only to make our faith truly “patristic”, but also to express it in a language accessible to 21st century human beings.

[…] One may ask with bewilderment: If two fathers of the church express contradictory opinions, where, then, is truth to be found? I consider such a question to be an inadmissible simplification. There is one truth and, as Clement of Alexandria says, “The way of truth is one.” But into it, “as into a perennial river, streams flow from all sides”.[15] One and the same truth may be expressed differently by different Fathers, in different times, in different languages, in different contexts. Besides this, one and the same truth may have several aspects, each of which may be articulated, emphasized, developed or, on the contrary, left in obscurity. The truth has many facets, many shapes, and is dialectical. For instance, the thesis that sacraments administered by a priest who has been canonically ordained by a bishop are effective and salutary is true. But no less true is the antithesis, according to which the moral countenance of the priest should correspond with the prominence of his orders and the sacraments he administers. Between both affirmations there is quite a wide expanse, wherein a theological synthesis may be sought. All that falls within that expanse belongs to the consensus patrum; all that falls beyond is heresy. Donatism, which goes beyond the framework of the “consensus”, is a heresy, whereas the teaching of St Symeon the New Theologian on the “power to bind and to loose”, which remains within that expanse, is absolutely correct – even though it is distinct from opinions expressed by other Fathers who lived in other historical contexts, wrote in other languages and emphasized other aspects of the very same truth.

Then it starts to get scary.

[…]They [Catholic scholars mentioned before this part who have studied the East] have achieved a mighty, qualitative leap forward and succeeded in breaking down the wall between the Christian East and West, laying the foundations for a truly “catholic” theology (meaning a theology which, following Fr John Meyendorff, includes and organically assimilates the theological heritage of East and West in all its diversity).[18] But another qualitative leap forward is needed in order to build the neo-patristic synthesis upon this foundation, a leap that we, who have entered the 21st century, must make.

It is necessary to find a new approach to the Fathers, once which would allow us to see the patristic heritage more comprehensively. I am deeply convinced that a fundamental and indispensable element of such a new approach should be the logically consistent use of a contextual method of patristic reading.

He subsequently outlines it in more detail. Then a friendly example,

Rarely did the East wonder about the reasons for the emergence of certain practices, or the development of certain dogmatic teachings, in the West. Rarely did anyone endeavour to look at the Latin tradition through the eyes of the Latins themselves. One of the exceptions was St Maximus the Confessor, who tried to discern the teaching about the filioque from as it were – the Western context.[20] In his Letter to Marinus, St. Maximus likens the Western teaching on the procession of the Spirit “from the Father and the Son” to the Eastern teaching on the procession “from the Father through the Son”; he does not apply the Byzantine criterion to the Western teaching but merely compares both traditions and looks for similarities between them. Although St Maximus gives a far from exhaustive answer to this matter, which is treated with far more detail in the works of later Byzantine authors, the very fact of a Byzantine saint attempting to view Latin teaching through Latin eyes remains remarkable.

But then he seems to say it’s already been done, and that the historic Hebrew understanding, for instance, doesn’t need to be undertaken.

Salvation has come “from the Jews” and has been propagated in the world in Greek idiom. Indeed, to be Christian means to be Greek, since our basic authority is forever a Greek book, the New Testament. The Christian message has been forever formulated in Greek categories. This was in no sense a blunt reception of Hellenism as such, but a dissection of Hellenism. The old had to die, but the new was still Greek — the Christian Hellenism of our dogmatics, from the New Testament to St Gregory Palamas, nay, to our own time. I am personally resolved to defend this thesis, and on two different fronts: against the belated revival of Hebraism and against all attempts to reformulate dogmas in categories of modern philosophies, whether German, Danish or French (Hegel, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Bergson, Teilhard de Chardin)…[23]

I believe that Florovsky, had he lived to the end of the 20th century, would have lost the war he wished to unleash, at least on the “first front”. In the first half of the 20th century the revival of what Florovsky calls “Hebraism” — the revival of interest for the Semitic tradition (in its Jewish, Aramaic, Syriac or Arabic form) — was only beginning to gain momentum. Florovsky could not have anticipated that in the late 20th century a whole corpus of writings by St Isaac the Syrian[24] would be discovered, which was significantly to enrich our understanding of this great Syriac writer-mystic of the 7th century. Florovsky could not have known many of the many Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopian and Armenian writings that were to be published in the monumental series Corpus Christianorum Orientalium (currently counting over 500 volumes), which fundamentally reversed the then-dominant understanding of the patristic heritage as the sum of the Patrologia Graeca and the Patrologia Latina. Only towards the end of the 20th century did it become obvious that besides these traditions there existed a Patrologia Orientalis as well, the thriving world of “Oriental” theological traditions, deeply authentic in form and content; it became clear that Christianity cannot be reduced to either Byzantinism or Greece.

And about modern philosophies, he’s saying they don’t need to influence or promote a reformulation of dogma. That’s assuring. But what role should they play?

As for Florovsky’s “second front”, although it is indeed dangerous to attempt to “reformulate” dogmas in the categories of contemporary philosophical tendencies, some of these trends — first of all Heidegger’s and Kierkegaard’s existentialism mentioned by Florovsky — by themselves indicate the departure of Western thought from Renaissance anthropocentrism and the rationalism of the Enlightenment, thus clearing the way for a return to the truly Christian catholic theological tradition. As did ancient philosophy at the times of Clement of Alexandria and Origen, existentialist philosophy may serve — and for many has already served — as a “pedagogue” towards Christ. Existentialism can be ecclesialized in the way that ancient philosophy was ecclesialized by the Greek Fathers in the 3rd and 4rth centuries.[25] Moreover the conceptual language of existentialism, which doubtless is closer to persons today than that of the ancient philosophy employed by the Greek Fathers, may be used, if not for the formation of a “neo-patristic synthesis”, then at least for the interpretation of its main elements in the language of our contemporaries. Finally we can not ignore the fact that the theology of the Fathers is, as Florovsky has worded it so well, itself “existential” in essence, in opposition to all “essential” theologies not founded upon a real experience of communion with God.[26]

Next he tackles Catholic mysticism, including the following:

The opinion of St Ignatius Brianchaninov that all works by Catholic mystics after the great schism have been written in a state of spiritual “drunkenness” and delusion is well known. Since Bishop Ignatius has been canonized, some value his opinion as “patristic”. Yet we also know a different approach by other — equally canonized — church writers with a somewhat less cautious and categorical attitude towards Catholic spirituality.[31] Some Orthodox Fathers are known for the direct influence Catholic spirituality exercised upon them. St Dimitri of Rostov was under this influence for his entire life: his homilies as well as other works, including the Reading Compendium of Saint’s lives, based primarily on Latin sources,[32] have a distinctly “Westernizing” character; St Dimitri’s library held books by Bonaventure, Thomas a Kempis, Peter Canisius and other Catholic authors, and in his spirituality such elements as the devotion of the passions of Christ, the five wounds of Christ and the heart of Christ may be traced.[33] The influence of Catholic spirituality on St Tikhon of Zadonsk[34]can equally be sensed.

How can such different approaches towards Catholic spirituality and mysticism between St Ignatius on the one side, and St Dimitri of Rostov and St Tikhon of Zadonsk on the other, be explained? It seems to me that much is accounted for by the differences between the contexts in which each of them live[d].

He goes on to explain. This is the most fearsome part:

The inevitable influence of the Catholic spirituality which St Dimitri and St Tikhon experienced in the 18th century did not, however, undermine their deep rootedness in the Orthodox tradition.

Then after you’re all tense about it he says,

Please do not attempt to find in my words any effort to “justify” Catholic mysticism. I am by no means an “Eastern admirer of Western spirituality” and have no personal sympathy whatsoever for Catholic mysticism, since I have been raised on totally different examples: the writings of the Fathers of the Eastern church, in particular Greek and Syriac. I have not mentioned Catholic mysticism in order to debate its content, but to present and illustrate a method that, in my view, should be applied to any phenomena whatsoever, be in within or without the framework of the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

I like Metropolitan Hilarion’s Contextual approach and appreciate his detailed explanation of it here. I have been trying to do similar things (in my own limited way, etc.) on this blog and hope that the Metropolitan’s explanations help guide and explain to others this dangerous, but I believe necessary task. Necessary especially to those with a western heritage. It is interesting that Russia ended up studying western sources a lot. Nevertheless, understanding others is a worthy endeavor. Being surgical about it is the difficult part.

Reading Geréby’s Peterson

by Andrea Elizabeth

Since Christmas break I have had my attentions more than usually diverted elsewhere, what with getting Jared off to Rome, the clergy conference, a birthday, and a wedding. Now that things have calmed down, I am trying to get back into reading deeper stuff, and am trying to catch up on blogs that require more concentration, as well as on the Iliad which I just picked up again last night. Btw, I find how Achilles’ goddess mother, Thetis, heard his cry of ultimate suffering, (description from Princess Bride) from the depths of the sea very touching.

Yesterday I requested and received from our good Ochlophobist “Political Theology versus Theological Politics:
Erik Peterson and Carl Schmitt by György Geréby”. Today in reading it I renewed my fascination with philosophy and theology (but not in psychology which was renewed by Archimandrite Meletios and explored in more recent posts) albeit of a more political bent than I am usually wont since finding Orthodoxy. I cannot give as detailed and thought out a response as did Gabriel or Ariston, the latter’s I read after writing a few questions which I’ll go ahead and humbly post.

1. Possible themes:  Who is God in secular politics: the monarch/title, the idea, or me/individual? Authority vs. Truth

But is there an analogy? Treat the monarch, the idea, or me as god? If not, do we treat them as opposite of God as we would Satan, evil, anti-Christ?

2. “The Roman Empire may have had a transitory providential character in providing peace for the birth of the Redeemer and may have helped spread the Gospel, but it was no political utopia, let alone the realization of the heavenly Jerusalem.” P.16

Here the govt can participate in the energies of God – providing peace and freedom for instance. What about Aquinas’ unity and order though? Can it be an energy of God (conceived differently than in Absolute Divine Simpicity)?

3. If one wants to emphasize the Trinitarian nature of God, then would drawing analogies to the US govts three branches (executive, judicial, and legislative) be too like Schmitt for Peterson?

I am not as trusting in individual rule/Monarcy as Ariston apparently is, but his critique in this statement is very thought provoking: “This seems to me to be claiming a rather impoverished view of the ways in which theology can comment upon politics, even considering Peterson’s conception of the Church itself as a political community.”

[I was going to comment over there, but I tried to edit from the security screen twice and deleted it twice.  Some people don’t learn. My comment was redundant anyway, so nevermind.]

Good, Peace-Inducing News

by Andrea Elizabeth

It may be apparent that I got irritated reading the John Scottus Eriugena book. This morning I took Felix Culpa’s suggestion to watch Dr. David Bradshaw’s lecture on The Divine Energies in Eastern Orthodoxy (I couldn’t open the essays with my Mac). The lecture in Part 1 goes to about 70 minutes in, now I’m listening to the Q&A. He nicely shows what Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Sts. Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, the Cappadocian Fathers, and, very briefly in the Q&A, Eriugena, whose writings were condemned, and St. Dionysius, meant by energies and essence. He is not as uptight about the ones who disagree with the further defined explanation of St. Gregory Palamas as I, and he’s wanting to get along with the Cambridge audience who disagrees more than I, so he makes some concessions about St. Palamas leaving a few loose ends. Perhaps he even tidies them up for him. He approaches it as they west is missing out on fuller revelation, and I’m fine with that.

John Scottus Eriugena, the last.

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have now completed half the book, and that is probably as far as I will go. John Scottus Eriugena, istm, has come up with a syncretic hybrid of eastern and western theology and ancient philosophy. None of the sources would recognize their work in what he came up with. Carabine even admits, “Of course, Eriugena’s thought was not simply a reproduction of what he had encountered in his reading of the fathers of East and West; rather, he molded their theology into his own to reveal a new pattern of thought in relation to an understanding of the transcendence and immanence of God.” (p. 45) I probably should have stopped reading right there. Innovation is definitely rejected by traditional, St. Vincent’s Rule, theologians.

Most of his ideas conform more with Platonic ideas of Absolute Divine Simplicity, which can be traced in western theology, not eastern, where everything emanates from the One, dialectically diverges, and then returns to the One. While this can sound similar to St. Maximus’ doctrine of Recapitulation, it differs in several ways (I quote St. Maximus extensively in the Categories bearing his name, “Recapitulation”, and the book, The Cosmic Mystery of Christ). Eriugena’s view of God, the source of all, is taken from numeric, Pythagorian ideas of the “Monad” (p. 32). Then it gets weird – meaning I’ve not read anything like it from any Church Father, not that I’m that well-read.

Eriugena presents us with a wonderfully different slant on this familiar understanding. Strictly speaking, God is uncreated, yet in the act of creating, God creates God’s self.

[…] The simultaneous timeless and time-bound character of creation depends on the fact that all things were created in the Word by God at the same time because God could not have existed before God created. (p.34)

Further, he does not have a concept of essence and energy, or a distinction between created and uncreated, but everything is God’s essence, as in ADS, and will return again, I suppose, to “n0-thing”ness.

God is both maker of all things and is made in all things (P.I454C; III 650C-D) (p.37)

He gives a nod to St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Dionysius in some of his descriptions of God being beyond being and in all things (p.38), but I do not believe that when they wrote before the 5th Century that the distinctions between essence and energies where formally categorized. Therefore “nature” and “essence” were sometimes used when later “energies” would be used to denote distinction between God, creation, and participation by grace. St. Maximus’ writings should have cleared that up for the 9th century Eriugena.

This seems like Total Depravity, “The fifth mode concerns human nature itself, which, through the fall from paradise, lost its divine image, its true being, and can, therefore, be said not to be. When human nature is restored through the grace of God, it is reestablished in its image and begins to be.” (p. 40)

This next premise seems to deny the activity of God in making Himself known through His uncreated energies, “Thus the logic of negative theology becomes clear: God, as the essence of all, is known only from created things, but this is knowledge not of what God is but simply that God is. Given the primary understanding that the ousia of any thing is unknowable, it stands to reason that the essence of all things is unknowable since that very essence is God.” (p. 42)

At least she’s honest, “While it is certain that he took much from Gregory of Nyssa and the Pseudo-Dionysius [btw, there is some controversy as to St. Dionysius’s identity and his neoplatonism], Eriugena’s own unique perspective can be seen in his continual straining toward that which is truly no thing.” (p. 42,3) He does seem to have a very negative opinion of God.

More weirdness,

God can be known as creator but remains unknowable as uncreated, even to God’s self, a theme I discuss hereafter. (p.45)

I believe this next part describes his slant on what is known as “natural theology”, “According to Eriugena, creation is the fundamental starting point for any attempt to understand divine reality (Romans 1:20), and it constitutes the one great mystery that focuses his thought as he attempts to set down, in an orderly fashion, sure definitions and right knowledge of the things that are.” (p. 46)

This segues into what seems to me to be a heretical view of the Trinity, “all things are at the same time eternal and are made in the Word: eternal things are made and made things are eternal (P.III 646C). […] God is the Maker of all things and is made in all things; and when He is looked for above all things He is found in no essence (P.III 683A). (p.48)

Not understanding participation by grace through God’s energies also gets him into trouble here, “Creation is not something apart from God [though he says it does exist on a different ontological level], but is, as I will show, the ontological participation of the creature in God. In this sense we can say that creation is already God, already deified because its very identity is God.”

But it is his explanation of the Trinity that makes me put the book down. Again it is admitted,

“Although Eriugena relies heavily [?] on the patristic sources of both East and West (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine feature most in Eriugena’s reviews of previous exegeses of the text of Genesis 1), Eriugena’s own ideas are clearly seen in realtion to the mysterious nature of the creative activity of the triune divine nature.” (p. 50,1)

It is not clear if he believes that the Son is a distinct person, or if He has always existed, I don’t think he does on either count, at least not in the traditional sense:

God the Father before the secular ages (began), brought forth His Word, in Whom and through Whom He created in their full perfection the primordial causes of all natures (P. II 560A-B). The Word, therrefore is the principle through whom the father “speaks” the creation of all things (P. III 642B) and is the first principle of divisoria running through all things that they may be OP.III 642D), just as the Word is also the first principle of resolutiva (P. II 526B-C). In this sense, the logical method of dialectic – division and resolution [ADS]– is prefigured in the activity of the Word itself. However, Eriugena is very clear that the causal activity of the Trinity does not imply that the Trinity is one and one and one; rather, it is a simple and indivisible one, multiple in power, not in number (P.III 687C-D). (p.53)

I have seen John Scottus Eriugena’s name mentioned in lists with many of the early Greek Church Fathers, all thrown together under the label, Neoplatonism. While some of the concepts may share similar descriptions, I do not believe that the contexts or basic conclusions are the same at all. I do not believe these men belong together in the same grouping, especially since Eriugena, who lived 500 years later, had access to the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils who clarified the Church’s position on these matters based on evidence of where heretical views lead. John Scottus Eriugena is an innovative Maverick.

What Is Truth?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Despite Ms. Carabine’s too general characterization of the eastern Fathers as Neoplatonists, and too informal treatment of Saints, I believe her to be intellectually honest and discerning in mapping out distinctions between the east and west during the 9th Century, so far in her book on John Scottus Eriugena.

I suppose my over-arching question in reading this book is what is the role of reason when forming a Christian view of the Cosmos. The west criticizes the east for being too mystical, and the east criticizes the west for relying too much on human reason. Here are some passages in which Eriugena’s method is discussed,

In the Periphyseon, undoubtedly Eriugena’s greatest work, we find him turning to many sources in the search for the truth of reality, but his fundamental source is the [S]criptures, one of the great Carolingian preoccupations. However, studying the sacred texts was not simply academic study like any other, for an intellectual understanding alone was not sufficient; as a foundation for a particular way of life, study of the scriptures meant that wisdom involved both intellectual and spiritual progress.

[…] The four levels of the intelligible world of the scriptures correspond to the four interrelated levels of the sensible world: historical, literal, ethical, and theological (Hom. XIV 291B-C and P.V IOIOB). The theological level is, of course, the supreme level of contemplation of the divine nature. However, for Eriugena scriptural texts cannot be studied in isolation at whatever level; reason is an indispensable aid in determining the true meaning of the sacred texts, “we must follow reason which investigates the truth of things” (P.I 509A), but the scriptures remain the ultimate guide to truth (P.V IOIOB-C) According to Eriugena’s understanding, if reason and the sacred texts appear to come into conflict, that is because scripture uses allegories when speaking of God in order that the human mind can more easily understand divine reality from the things it knows (P.I 509A).

This to me hints at the western notion of analogy in seeking to know a beyond-knowing God.

Eriugena’s continual warnings against believing the words of the scriptures only in their literal sense, demonstrates his skepticism about language, which ultimately results in his preference for negative theology. […] Eriugena’s prohibition here has recourse to [St.] Dionysius, who also admonished that we should not say anything about God except that which has been revealed n the scriptures: “For as there is not place in which it is more proper to seek Thee than in Thy words, so there is no place where Thou art more clearly discovered than in Thy words” (P.V. IOIC). “More clearly discovered than in Thy words” – this is not entirely true because the apparent conflict between reason and the scriptures is not the only conflict brought into focus by Eriugena. The sacred texts themselves contain many contradictory texts with which the exegete is forced to deal in the journey toward the truth about human and divne reality. (p.18)

It seems that Eriugena is trying to work out his Sola Scriptura technique, though he is more open than modern Sola Scripturists to peripheral, be they “secular” or the writings of the Saints of the Church. I think the Orthodox would agree with this approach to Scriptures. However I sense a divergence already in his approach to reason, not just to analogeia entis which I mention above. He is coming at it from a lone-ranger point of view. His trinitarian input of Scripture – Fathers – Secular/Nature is all sorted out by his own reason. He is the final authority.

While the Orthodox believe that God reveals Himself through Scripture, the Fathers, and Nature, the final authority on “what is truth?” is the Church. It gets messy if you try to describe how to resolve differences between the Fathers, and for those who don’t believe that the Eastern Orthodox Church is the fulness of the Truth revealed, and who communes with the Truth in oneness and unity, perhaps(?) it cannot be proven in a way that will relieve all doubts of bias, special pleading and partiality, but many have believed it anyway and converted, including me. But I used to be a lone ranger, so I sympathize with Mr. Eriugena, though my perspective was much narrower than his before I converted to Orthodoxy.

The next section describes what incredibly hard work it is to come up with the truth by yourself.

Bulgakov’s Sophia

by Andrea Elizabeth

Now I’m caught up, having finished the rest of day 10 and day 11 of The Bulgakov Conference, I read 12 previous to the rest (link in the previous post). Day 11 compares Augustine to Bulgakov and that put me in a defensive state, which the author could also be in. I’ll just, as dispassionately as possible, reiterate one of the criticisms in my last post, that there is a confusion in Augustine and perhaps in Bulgakov’s Sophiology between created and uncreated, and the humility required of the former to not only keep from prelest, but theoretical annihilation into Divine Simplicity.

In defense of Sophia, not having read Bulgakov’s works except the parts which are quoted by very engaged commentators who seem to agree with each other (I like discussions from multiple people because I think individual biases and passions get better sifted out, which is why I like the internet. Back to defense of Sophia), I think Bulgakov is valuable because he speaks of intimate relationship, kenotic love, and what was intended for our fallen, now buried in sin, nature. Sophia’s union of the divine and creaturely seems to me a poetic expression of the union in the person of Christ of His divine and human natures. The feminine personification of wisdom in Sophia also speaks to the union of divine and human accomplished through theosis, most evident in our greatest human Saint, Mary, the Theotokos. I get lost when it is described in more abstract and novel ways, but when I think of Christ and His Mother, I believe I gain an understanding of the beautiful, loving, intended relationship that is possible between God and man, which strict theological language can make too dry. Yet a foundation in the dogmatic proclamations of the Church, especially Chalcedon, and the explanations of Sts. Maximus and Gregory Palamas, is a necessary prerequisite so that one does not go off the deep end with this stuff.

Another thing about Sophia and other treatments of female personifications of wisdom and beauty by Dante and others, which I’ve barely studied, is that such a device, if it is not literal, builds a more normal human relationship than abstract concepts do. I read recently in Father John Romanides’ Patristic Theology that Hebrew tradition describes truths metaphorically with natural elements like rocks and rivers, and that the early Church described truths mostly through concepts using philosophical language. These both point to the difficulty of description that has to employ alternate means of communication. “Sophia” is a more direct thing that seems more accurate or containable than metaphor or allegory. But since there isn’t a forth person of the Trinity and she is more about the border (semi-permeable membrane?) between the created and uncreated, then I think it is safer to think of Mary, yet call her Sophia because the description is second-hand, to avoid presumption. The only way to say it is an accurate depiction of Mary would be to draw from Patristic witness, and since some of it would not apply, it can be criticized as speculation. About the charge of speculation in regards to Bulgakov, which I believe Romanides makes, btw, I do not discount that Sophia is based on supernatural encounter, as I believe he had a feminine visitation, that seems to my inexperience and lack of thorough memory and study, to be similar to Dante’s. I know that we are to be highly skeptical of stories of visitations, but when such love accompanies the description, it lends credibility, from my point of view. A lot of people’s “relationship” with Mary can be discounted as speculative. Indeed I think it is highly likely that impure imaginations and focus on the sensual aspects of loving femininity can distort and misdirect this relationship. This is why we need Orthodox icons, to show us the nature of Mary’s humanity, love, and relationship with Christ. The Church also guides us in our communication to her and the nature of her intentions toward us, loving intercession. Bulgakov invites us to take this further, and the Church cautions us against some of the inaccuracies, but at the same time, we are to grow in intimacy and love with God and His Saints. Perhaps it is safer to keep this relationship on the level of our human personhood, and the human personhood of Christ and the Saints, and not speculate about the interaction of the divine which is everywhere present and fills all things, beyond what the Church has revealed already. I know when I contemplate these things I can sort of get in an abstract mode of possibilities, and it seems I can neglect my own realities of fighting against my passions and loving my own family. Plus trying to get into mystical realities can get kind of weird. I trust more when the actual sunlight makes lovely patterns through the leaves or an interesting angle on the icons, to reveal that God is love, warmth, and light. I need actual physical manifestations, though they can be deceptive too. But I think personal love is such a deeply recognizable thing, that as long as it is in the context of the Church’s teachings, we can trust it. Feminine beauty though… I think it has been so misused in our generation especially, that we all, male and female, need to be retaught how to relate to it properly. And maybe reading Bulgakov, Dante and Donne would help.

Patrisitic Theology: Finis

by Andrea Elizabeth

Father Romanides’ book with its gradually progressing and repeating rhythm of explanation, is very clarifying regarding the Patrisitic method vs. the philosophical method of Theology, the distinctions between essence and energy and person and nature, the relations in the Trinity, the dual natures of Christ, and apophatic theology, (off the top of my head) not that I totally grasp these things, it’s just that they seem in sharper focus.

I found this passage in the last pages the most exciting as it is an answer to the question of the nature of the hypostatic union of Christ’s divine and human natures,

The only part of creation to participate in this kind of theosis [participating in God’s essence] is the human nature of Christ (the God-man). Hence, the essence of God is not only theosis (union or vision) for Christ as God (the Word), but also for Christ as the God-man. In other words, Christ’s human nature does not simply participate in the uncreated energies of God alone, but it also participates in God’s essence (by virtue of the hypostatic union), This theosis is the reason why the union in Christ of the two natures – divine and human – is a union by essence, by hypostasis, and by nature. You can find this terminology in the Church Fathers.

This speaks to an even closer relationship between Christ’s two natures than I have previously understood. The closer the better.

I don’t know whether to share many of the other quotes I marked in this book because it really is worth the read in its entirety. It is available at Uncut Mountain Supply. I may quote some in the future if I feel inspired according to context.