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Category: Father John Romanides

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.

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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.

Patristic Theology By Fr. John Romanides 4

by Andrea Elizabeth

I do not know if I relaxed or if Father John’s tone changed in the second half of Part One of this book which is on “The Rudiments of Orthodox Anthropology and Theology”. Part Two, which I will read next, is “On Heretical Teachings and How the Fathers Responded to Them”. It seemed to me that his tone became gentler and more loving. I know that it is important to clearly define the Orthodox Faith, to contrast it from false representations, and to speak of the dangers and limitations of false representations. Father John is very ‘Orthodoxy is the only path to salvation’. My deepest self believes this, but I am confused about the state of “others”. I love strengths in others, and many other Orthodox will quote others, but I guess I will have to leave them to God because I cannot reconcile their many good qualities with their rejection, maybe through ignorance or misrepresentation, of the Orthodox Church. And I believe that each conversation with a non-Orthodox who may have many worthy things to say, could ultimately lead to a fulfillment of each subject in The One True Church, if they would allow and desire it to go that far. And perhaps God brings others into our lives for some other benefit as “all things work together for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28), and then we have to let them go according to their own will.

So I agree with Father John in the exclusive message and practices of the Orthodox Church. My other issue, which I brought out in Patristic Theology 2, is Father John’s claims against modern Russian Orthodox and moderner Greek Orthodox teachers. Through my limited reading and exposure to people’s explanations, it does seem that the second millennium Eastern Church was perhaps a little more victimized by threatening social and political pressures than the mighty pre-Schism Roman (including “Byzantine”) Church was. The latter, with it’s unity, was able to recognize and cast out heresies in shorter order, it seems. After the Schism, the east was on the verge of capitulation to the errorred but mightier west many times and in many ways, official or not. I get the feeling that the east was the “injured spouse” in the dispute, it can be hard to keep your resolve with the injurer says they want you back, and how you may be tempted to compromise yourself, your beliefs, and your actions, in the hopes of being loved by them and joined to them again. Especially if you are having a hard time making ends meet, are lonely, or are under attack elsewhere. Some of these compromises may have occurred in regional or temporary instances, but I do not think they contaminated the Faith once delivered in a broader context. I do not know the effects on individual souls.

But still, even though I believe that the Orthodox message is unified, I am not ready to say that some Orthodox theologians, accused of speculation by Father John, were not in a state of his rightly required “purification, illumination and theosis”, so that their words cannot be received as helpful and valid. I think he was too sweeping in his remarks against whole countries full of Orthodox. St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. John of Kronstadt, St. John Maximovich of San Francisco, the North American Saints including Sts. Herman, Innocent, and Tikhon, among others, would be notable exceptions, the monks of Mt. Athos, Russian and Greek, and I’m not ready to give up on the Russian émigrés to France either, like Bulgakov and Florovsky, even though they may have disagreed with each other.

Which brings up disagreeing Orthodox. I find the fervor behind these disagreements kind of cute, after I get over their stepping on my toes. To me it points to the individuality of each Orthodox in their walk with God. It is the presence of God in the Liturgy, the Ecumenical Councils, the hymnography, the seasonal calendar, and the prayers that unite us, but all of these point to a personal experience of theosis – intimacy with God. Father John is very clear in what this entails, and it is rehearsed several times in this book. He is right and helpful in stressing the exclusivity of this message and experience, and we should not minimize its importance.

I think I’ll share some of the quotes I marked next.

Patrisitic Theology 3

by Andrea Elizabeth

Diakrisis offers some perspective in the comments regarding Father John Romanides’ statement against contemporary Russian theologians and my reaction to it. I have not extensively read the theologians in question so I’ll have to take his word for it. I see the need for a clear method rather than speculation so I’m all for learning more about that. Please forgive me for being disrespectful, but I do seek the truth so I expect to be humbled and impressed and guided the closer I get to it.

Perelandra 2 and Patristic Theology 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have said before that I am a disillusioned optimist. I keep believing that there is an answer and a fix to all the mess. I can’t help myself. And I have found answers, and when I do, like in Out of the Silent Planet, I hitch my wagon to the horse from whose mouth it came. Every time. I can’t help myself. Then the horse stumbles – how could he not? C.S. Lewis did not become an Orthodox Christian, but I so wanted someone in the western tradition to speak Orthodox, and I think he comes close many times because Orthodoxy is the language we were all meant to speak and lies in potential in all of us. What is not Orthodox is foreign, and sometimes we develop foreign habits. In Perelandra, Lewis shows his Protestantism in that he believes that Christ was incarnated because of the Fall, instead of the Orthodox belief that Christ’s intention in creation was to join with us in the Incarnation from the beginning and would have happened without the Fall. So on Perelandra when the unfallen Green Lady and the King get married, it is seen as a less great thing than what happened on earth as a result of the Fall.

Then Ransom’s sacrifice is seen as an unmeritorious act I assume because of the Protestant creed of Glory to God Alone. But this causes him confusion when he sees the King’s face who is created in the image of “Maleldil”.

“You might ask how it was possible to look upon it and not to commit idolatry, not to mistake it for that of which it was the likeness. For the resemblance was, in its own fashion, infinite, so that almost you could wonder at finding no sorrows in his brow and no wounds in his hands and feet. Yet there was no danger of mistaking, not one moment of confusion, no least sally of the will towards forbidden reverence. Where likeness was greatest, mistake was least possible.”

He continues to struggle with idolatry when he talks about man-made images,

“A clever wax-work can be made so like a man that for a moment it deceives us: the great portrait which is far more deeply like him does not. Plaster images of the Holy One may before now have drawn to themselves the adoration they were meant to arouse for the reality. But here, where His live image, like Him within and without, made by His own bare hands out of the depth of divine artistry, His masterpiece of self-portraiture coming forth from His workshop to delight all worlds, walked and spoke before Ransom’s eyes, it could never be taken for more than an image. Nay, the very beauty of it lay in the certainty that it was a copy, like and not the same, an echo, a rhyme, an exquisite reverberation of the uncreated music prolonged in a created medium.”

His iconoclasm is showing, but he knows that there is something to marvel at in humanity. It is so hard when converting from Protestantism to be able to make peace between the Creator and the created. We have been so conditioned to believe that it is a sin to appreciate the greatness of creation. Proper veneration has become foreign. We are more afraid of committing idolatry than to venerate man’s intended end, and that which represents and communicates those who have accomplished deification, or theosis – icons.

But it is because of Christ’s and the Saint’s union with God that venerating them is not idolatry. God is in them, unseparated, unmixed, distinct, and undivided. To venerate the Saints is to worship God and His intention in Incarnation. Perelandra is full of What Would Jesus Do? Instead of God filling His Saints so that they can reach their potential – deification. Lewis presents a copy, but not the real thing.

Back to disillusioned optimism, less than perfect people can still impart improvements to where we are at present, so I’ll not give up on Professor Lewis. And I’ll not give up on Father John Romanides who has also let me down with this unsubstantiated ad hominem on page 90 of Patristic Theology, “If we use the criteria of the Apostle Paul and the Church Fathers such as St. Symeon the New Theologian regarding who is truly a theologian, we will see that contemporary modern Orthodox theology, under the influence of Russian theology, is not Patristic theology, but a distortion of Patristic theology, because it is written by people who do not have the above-mentioned spiritual prerequisites [that they be in theosis].” This is all he says about Russian “theologians”. I’m very disappointed and now will have to force myself to finish this book as I did with Perelandra.

I struggle with disillusionment a lot, but I know I can’t keep retreating forever from the less than perfect. Part of it is dealing with being offended and learning to forgive and have a humble attitude about how much I fail myself and require patience and forgiveness from others. But also I have read that love requires perfection, so it is ok to notice when something is not perfect and to bring it to attention when it is presented as the truth. We are easily deceived and must fight it in ourselves and others. Father John Romanides is motivating me to seek theosis through purification and illumination by prayer and repentance, so I will keep reading him even though he must be one of those ethnocentric Greek Orthodox. It just takes some of the fun out of it is all.

Patristic Theology

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’ve been trying to find good in Plato, and have so far. Simultaneously, I’m reading Father John Romanides’ Patristic Theology, which is hopefully putting Plato’s philosophy in perspective.

So far he has some very good things to say about noetic prayer, revelation, philosophy, and language. He draws from Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, among others, to describe the stages of purification, illumination, and theosis.

So far here’s what he’s warned against Plato.

An Orthodox theologian is under no obligation to take the existence of a Platonic-style Frankish soul into consideration, because unlike the Franks who were followers of Plato on the question of the soul, the Fathers refused to follow Plato on this topic. (p. 65)

On language he says that it is an invention of humans, and not God. “People formed it in order to help them communicate and interact.” (p. 81) He then explains the platonic idea of archetypes/forms and how they lead to idolotry (p.82). The Hebrew Bible uses inanimate creation to describe God like “mountain, rock, stone, water, river, sky, sun, and so on.” Platonic expression are abstract like “nous, logos, intellect, hypostasis, substance, trinity, unity, and so forth.” “The energy of God is described as a cloud, fire, light, and so forth.” (p. 83)

We are free to borrow any name or concept and to attribute it to God as long as we do so on an apophatic way, because God does not have any likeness in the created world and because there are no concepts in the created world that can be attributed to God as a way of identifying Him. So on the one hand, we do attribute a name to God, but only if, on the other hand, we also take it away from Him. For example, although we say that God is Light, we negate this at the same time by saying that God is also darkness. We do not add this qualification because God is not Light, but because God transcends light. God does not lack anything but He exceeds everything.

He criticizes Western Scholastics because “for them these names are not taken away from God in order to avoid attributing them to Him, but in order to purify the names of their imperfections. But you will not find such a thing in the Church Fathers […] Names are given and they are taken away. In other words, they make use of opposites. But when the Fathers speak about God and attribute opposites to Him, they negate Aristotle’s law of contradiction and in so doing overturn the entire edifice of Aristotelian philosophy. (p. 84-85)

[…] rules of logic are valid, in so far as they are valid, only for God’s creation. The rules of logic or philosophy are not applicable with God. There is not any philosophical system or system of logic that can be applied to God. The Fathers consider those who think that they can approach God via pure mathematics to be terribly naive, simply because there is no similarity between created and uncreated. (p.85)

He is saying that God can only be known through theosis, though words can motivate or point a person in that direction. I do not think that he means logic is wrong, but that it can only describe the created. The Incarnation united the created and uncreated maintaining the distinction yet without confusion or separation. Mysterious indeed.