Nesteruk on Maximus on Logoi  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Alexei V Nesteruk is a researcher in cosmology and quantum physics at the University of Portsmouth in England and is an Eastern Orthodox Christian.  As such, he is one of the relatively few scholars engaged with the interaction of science and Orthodox  theology.  He explores many facets of this topic in Light From the East:  Theology, Science, and the Eastern Orthodox Tradition (Fortress 2003).  Of interest is the seventh-century theologian Maximus the Confessor and the great stress he lays on the discovery of God through the contemplation of the logoi of created things (logoi in this context referring to the underlying principles or patterns of created things, which are a reflection of the Divine Logos, the Creator of the universe.)  Nesteruk discusses Maximus' conception of logoi on pp 25-27 of his book.

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The problem that arises is how to demonstrate the presence of the Logos from within the created realm.  The clue to this demonstration can be found in Maximus the Confessor's theology of the logoi.  According to Maximus, it is the divine Logos (Word of God) that holds together the logoi of created things (that is, their immutable and eternal principles).

Maximus considered the contemplation of the logoi of created things to be a mode of communion with the Logos leading ultimately to mystical union with God.  The fundamental aspect of this communion is that, because it is exercised through the purified intellect (nous), the contemplation of the logoi is not the same as either empirical perception or mental comprehension.  It is a mode of spiritual vision of reality in which the ontological roots of things and beings have their grounds beyond the world.  This Christian contemplation of creation as if it were "from above" or "from within"--and not through external sensible or internal mental impressions--is significantly different from what is now normally accepted as taking place in scientific experience.

Indeed, science usually thinks of itself as starting from experiments and measurements, from things that constitute our sense of ordinary reality, though sometimes mediated by experimental apparatus.  There is, however, another aspect of all scientific investigation that involves the shaping of contingent empirical findings into a theory.  This requires access to symbolic language (for example, mathematics), which makes it possible for us to talk about the entities behind the outcomes of our measurements.  This takes place regularly when, for example, physics talks of elementary particles, fields, global geometry, the totality of the universe, and so forth.  All these "objects" are known to us only through their effects and are representable in our minds only with symbolic images.  In other words, their physical existence is affirmed in terms of their symbolic images.  We understand at present that this way of looking at reality corresponds to what we call human rationality.  The source of this rationality is hidden in the mystery of the human hypostasis, the human person.

The human person, made in the image of God, "is not identifiable with the body, or the soul, or the spirit.  It arises from another order of reality".  In other words, "the transcending character of human hypostasis...cannot be manifested within the relationship between body and soul--for they form one nature--but only in relation to something which is not of human nature, ie superhuman".

It is only because of the existence of this divine dimension in human beings that it is possible to infer from nature to God.  Only because of this dimension can we hope to unveil the divine intentions behind created things through the principles and ideas that are introduced into science by means of human rationality.

According to Maximus, the divine Logos is present in all things, holding their logoi together.  Thus the world is filled with the divine reality, and humans, in accordance with their logos, can have knowledge of the logoi of things.  Maximus expresses this thought in a characteristic, quite modern way when he speaks of the presence of the divine in the structure of the created world:  "Indeed, the scientific research of what is really true will have its forces weakened and its procedure embarrassed, if the mind cannot comprehend how God is in the logos of every special thing and likewise in all the logoi according to which all things exist".

Maximus contends that people know things from nature in their differentiated mode--that is, they see creation as divided into parts--and that this perception always confuses them.  The natural contemplation of things means the knowledge of the principles of existence of those things in their differentiation.  The fundamental step, which is made at this stage of mediation, is to contemplate all sensible creation in its oneness through finding that all the logoi of sensible things can be united in one divine Logos, which constitutes the principle of creation.  To achieve this contemplation, people mus be detached from sensible creation so as to see things spiritually.  Maximus compares this kind of contemplation of natural things with the angelic knowledge of sensible things, for angels know the logoi of sensible things directly, "from above".  Because the incarnation, according to Maximus, takes place both in the words of the Scripture and in the logoi of things that are held together in the universal Logos, spiritual ascent through the contemplation of the logoi of creation leads finally to the Logos-Christ.  The knowledge of things of the world thus acquires all the features of participation in the Divine:  "On the account of the presence of the Logos in all things, holding their logoi together, the world is pregnant with divine reality, and knowledge of it--through the rational quality of humans, their own logos--is itself a kind of communion with God, a participation in divine things through the aims and purposes that are recognized in creation"...

It is characteristic of Maximus and of the Greek Fathers in general that they could transcend spiritually the material world, the world of nature, in order to contemplate its logoi and through this contemplation praise the creator of the natural world...The Fathers never worshiped nature, only its creator...Praying to the Creator does not remove the distinction between God and the creation.  This safeguards the position of the Fathers from pantheism.  God and nature are not identical, but one may seek access to nature in order to find God.

Kallistos Ware on the Transfiguration  

Posted by Joe Rawls

For today's feast I offer an address by Metropolitan Kallistos.  Please be aware that the talk is in several parts.

Bulgakov on Death  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944) was one of the leading Russian Orthodox theologians of the 20th century.  His multi-volume systematic theology, of which The Bride of the Lamb (Boris Jakim translator, Eerdmans 2002) is the culmination, speaks of many things.  Since the anniversary of his death was recently observed on July 13, let's look at a bit of what he says about death in a Christian context.  Interestingly, it is reported by witnesses that just before his own death his face assumed a beatific expression and shone forth with an unnatural light, a phenomenon interpreted by Orthodox as the Uncreated or Taboric Light, a visible manifestation of God Himself.  The excerpt below is found on pp 359-360.

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This revelation of the spiritual world in death is the greatest joy and an ineffable triumph for all those who, in this life, yearned for this spiritual world from which they had been exiled.  But death is an inexpressible horror, anguish, and torment for those who did not want this spiritual world, did not know it, rejected it.  And here one is confronted with with this greatest of trials, which makes inevitable one's transformation from a corporeal being into a spiritual being.  One who was flesh is forced now to become directly convinced of the existence of his spiritual nature.  However, even after death, a human being does not stop being a human being, forever connected with this world by his corporeality.  But, for the fullness of spiritual-corporeal being and spiritual-psychic being, before death and after death.  The two halves are inseparably linked; they both belong to the life of the same individual, to his unique life that would have been free of this rupture if it had remained apart from this pathological dialectic of life and death, from the schism of the dual-unity.  But this is no longer the case:  to achieve fullness of humanization, a human being must go to the end of himself, not only in mortal life but also in the afterlife state, in order to attain the ripeness that makes him capable of receiving resurrection to eternal life in the fullness of true humanity.  Understood this way, as an essentially necessary part of human life, death is actually an act of continuing life, although life that is affected by "dormition".

Heschel on Fear vs Awe  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was one of the greatest Jewish philosophers of the 20th century. A native of Poland, he taught for many years at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.  Besides his scholarly work, he was passionately committed to social justice and marched with Dr King at Selma.  In his book God in Search of Man (Jewish Publication Society 1956) he points out that the biblical Hebrew word yirah, conventionally translated as fear (as in "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", in Psalm 111: 10) can also--and perhaps better--be rendered as awe.  The implications of this insight for Christian theology need hardly be exaggerated.  The following quote is taken from pp 76-77 of his book.

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 According to the Bible the principal religious virtue is yirah.  What is the nature of yirah?  The word has two meanings:  fear and awe.  There is the man who fears the Lord lest he be punished in his body, family, or in his possessions.  Another man fears the Lord because he is afraid of punishment in the life to come.  Both types are considered inferior in Jewish tradition.  Job, who said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," was not motivated in his piety by fear, but rather by awe, by the realization of the grandeur of His eternal love.

Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain, as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good.  Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery.  Fear is "a surrender of the succors which reason offers," awe is the acquisition of insights which the world holds in store for us.  Awe, unlike fear, does not make us shrink from the awe-inspiring object, but, on the contrary, draws us near to it.  This is why awe is compatible with both love and joy.

In a sense, awe is the antithesis of fear.  To feel "The Lord is my light and my salvation" is to feel "Whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1)...

Awe precedes faith; it is at the root of faith.  We must grow in awe in order to reach faith.  We must be guided by awe to be be worthy of faith.  Awe, rather than faith is the cardinal attitude of the religious Jew.  It is "the beginning and gateway of faith, the first precept of all, and upon it the whole world is established."  In  Judaism, yirat hashem, the awe of God, or yirat shamayim, the "awe of heaven", is almost equivalent to the word "religion".  In Biblical language the religious man is not called "believer", as he is for example in Islam (mu'min), but yare hashem.

The Cosmology of Maximus the Confessor  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Maximus the Confessor (ca 580-662) is perhaps the leading Patristic-era theologian of the Eastern Church.  His works are prolific and cover a very wide range of topics.  He is the most anthologized author in the Philokalia, the multi-volume collection of spiritual writings collected by two Athonite monks and first published in 1782.  An invaluable reference work dealing with the Philokalia is the collection of essays called The Philokalia:  a classic text of Orthodox spirituality, Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif, eds, Oxford, 2012.  Bingaman's essay "Becoming a spiritual world of God:  the theological anthropology of Maximus the Confessor" (chapter 9) is an excellent overview of Maximus' theology, dealing with a number of topics.  In this post we will look at his approach to cosmology.

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...one text in particular, his Fourth Century on Love, provides a helpful summary of his cosmology...In the first section of this century, there are eight discernible elements of cosmology.  The first is creatio ex nihilo.  In line with orthodox Christian tradition, Maximus asserts that God created the world out of nothing...This view expresses the superiority of God over all creation, as well as the idea that God does not need any pre-existent material in order to create.  It safeguards the distance and distinction between God and creation.

A second cosmological element concerns creation because of God's will...The world was created according to God's sovereign will, not because of obligation or any other external factor.  Linked with the idea of creation by God's sovereign will is Maximus' theology of the logoi...For Maximus, the logoi are the divine ideas for all things that have received their being from God.  Not only are these principles of differentiated creation preexistent in God, as God's thoughts, but they are divine wills or intentions...

The third element...is creation because of God's benevolence..Maximus explains that God's creative activity is rooted in divine goodness...Maximus asserts that the reunification of all things through communion with the Logos is an original divine intention, something interrupted by humanity's fall into sin.

A fourth element in Maximus' cosmology is creation by the Word...God creates through God's coessential Logos and Spirit.  The creation of all things is a trinitarian work...God's purpose [was] to create a world of differentiated creatures, independent creatures that find their unity in relationship to the Logos.  The logoi, those divine ideas or intentions in the mind of God, are dynamic realities that radiate from God, the Creator and Cause of all...through centempation in the Spirit, believers are enabled to see the Logos in the logoi of creation...Therefore, those who are in communion with Christ are enabled to see the logoi, the world of differentiated creatures, in light of their integral connection to the Logos...

...a fifth aspect of Maximus' cosmology can be seen:  creation on the basis of God's prudence...God's prudence or practical wisdom transcends the human intellect and is beyond human comprehension...

A sixth element...concerns creation as an act of God's condescension...Creation is good because God is its Cause...God enters into a deep relationship with creation by simply giving it existence...God the Logos actually indwells all of creation..

...The next element [is] the notion that every creature is a composite of substance and accident...God is pure being or substance, while creatures are given qualified being with the possibility for participation in something more than general being...Creaturely existence...is the gift of participation in God's own being, goodness, wisdom, and life...Human beings are able to transcend nature without violating it, and to realize their created purpose, which is union with God or deification...This union is made possible for humanity through the coming of Christ, through the hypostatic union of his human and divine natures.

The eighth and final point of Maximus' cosmology...is that creation is in need of divine Providence

Trinity and Liturgy  

Posted by Joe Rawls

When confronted with the doctrine of the Trinity, we are probably better off contemplating how a triune God interacts with us during worship rather than trying to imagine how the three persons interact with each other, a task which many learned theologians assure us is is impossible.  A good example of this can be found in an essay by Marquette University theologian Susan K Wood, "The Trinity in the liturgy, sacraments, and mysticism", found in The Cambridge Guide to the Trinity, Peter C Phan, ed, Cambridge University Press, 2011, pp 383-384.

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The movement of God's saving action and our response are related to two essential liturgical elements, anamnesis and epiclesis.  Anamnesis, translated as "memorial", commemoration", or "remembrance", actually has the much stronger meaning of making present an event or person from the past.  Anamnesis asks God to remember his saving work in Jesus Christ in order that the benefits of Christ's sacrifice may be made present to the faithful here and now.  These deeds are actually made present in the liturgy in the anamnesis, not as a repetition of his saving deeds or as a mere recollection of them, but as an actualization of them within the modality of sacramental sign.  The anamnesis is accomplished through the work of the Spirit, who "awakens the memory of the Church then inspires thanksgiving and praise."

The epiclesis is a calling on the Spirit to transform the material of creation and make it salvific in its sacramental use.  Sacraments are effective because they are Christ's action, made present through the power of the Spirit.  Although we may think of the epiclesis primarily in terms of the Eucharist, most of the sacraments, as we shall see, have an epicletic moment.  The Holy Spirit brings us into communion with Christ, effects our spiritual transformation into the image of Christ, both individually and corporately, and constitutes Christ's ecclesial body, the corpus mysticum.  Thus the Spirit is the bond of unity in the church and the source of empowerment for service and mission.

The Father as the source and end of all blessings of creation and salvation is the source and goal of the liturgy, which reveals and communicates the divine blessing.  We receive these blessings through the incarnate Word of the Father, who, in turn, pours out the gift of the Spirit.  The liturgy offers adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to the Father by offering to the Father his own gifts, especially the gift of his Son.  The Spirit "recalls and makes Christ manifest to the faith of the assembly",  "makes Christ present here and now", and "unites the Church to the life and mission of Christ."

The end or purpose of all the sacraments is reconciliation with the Father and the Father's glorification (Eph 1:12; 2 Cor 3:18; Jn 17).  The Latin word for sacrament, sacramentum, is a translation of of the Greek word mysterion, which refers to God's plan for salvation (Col 1: 26-27).  This plan is the Father's plan "to reconcile to himself all things through Christ, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, who made peace through the blood of his cross" (Col 1: 19-20).  The paschal mystery is the keystone of the Christian mystery.  All the liturgical feasts and sacraments are referenced to the event of Christ's dying and rising and to this great pattern of reconciliation with the Father through Christ in the power of the Spirit.  Thus the liturgical year is not simply a memesis or imitation of Christ's life.  Christmas is primarily about God's Word becoming flesh and dwelling among human beings in order to bring salvation.  Sacraments are not just seven anthropological markers of lifetime passages such as birth, puberty, sickness, and marriage, but relate to the two fundamental sacraments, baptism and Eucharist, in their functions of reconciliation and building up the church as a messianic saving community.  Sacraments give access to participation in this plan of salvation, anamnesis (memorial) and epiclesis being essential to each of them.

Theosis and the Holy Spirit  

Posted by Joe Rawls

A bit in advance of Pentecost, we have some words on the role of the Holy Spirit in the process of deification by Greek Orthodox priest and theologian Christoforos Stavropoulos.  It first appeared in Partakers of Divine Nature (Light and Life 1976); I found it in the excellent compendium Eastern Orthodox Theology:  A Contemporary Reader, 2nd edition, Daniel B Clendenin, ed,  Baker Academic 2003, where it appears on pp 188-189.

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The Holy Spirit is the great resident of the church.  It is there that the Holy Spirit exercises all of his sanctifying and deifying power.  The work of our theosis, which our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished objectively, is completed by the Holy Spirit, adapting it to the life of every faithful Christian.  The Holy Spirit is the main and essential beginning of sanctification.  The Fathers of the church specifically teach that the theosis of human beings is attributable to the Holy Spirit.  The essential place of the Incarnate Word of God is matched by that of the Holy Spirit.  The divine Spirit that proceeds from the Father divinizes us.  The Spirit is "divine and divinizing".  The Holy Spirit is a divine bond which harmonizes and draws the mystical body of Christ, that is, the church, together with its Lord.  It is the Holy Spirit who makes the faithful into other Christs, and thus creates the church.  Our incorporation in the mystical body of Christ and our theosis are not exclusively the work of the incarnation of Christ.  They are also the work of the creative Holy Spirit, who creates the church with his spiritual gifts.

Through the Holy Spirit the faithful become sharers of divine nature.  They are formed in the new life.  They put off corruption.  They return to the original beauty of their nature.  They become participants of God and children of God.  They take on the shape of God.  They reflect the light of Christ and inherit incorruptibility.  Thus, the contribution of the Holy Spirit is always a finalizing action.  God the Father, before all ages, conceives of the work of salvation and theosis.  He realizes it in time, in the Son.  The Holy Spirit completes and perfects and adapts this work to people.  In the sphere of the church, the Holy Spirit mystically sanctifies and unites the faithful with Christ, thus creating and giving life to the mystical body of the Lord.  Here, in this  mystical body, the Holy Spirit's sanctifying energy shines forth.  These divine energies and the variety of graces of the Holy Spirit and the gifts which he mystically transmits to the soul of the believer, all shape and form the new Godlike human nature.  The Holy Spirit consequently has a power which re-creates, renews, and causes a rebirth.  Basil writes, "From the Holy Spirit there are the foreknowledge of the future, the comprehension of mysteries, the understanding of hidden things, the distribution of graces, the heavenly way of life, association with angels, unending happiness, residence in God, the likeness of God, and the highest of all things to be desired, to become God."  This re-creative power of the Holy Spirit is what is known as divine grace.  It comes and meets people.  It does not force.  It strengthens them in a spiritual way to walk the road leading to theosis.  However, it is absolutely necessary that people receive divine grace willingly and without coercion.  It is absolutely necessary for individuals to freely cooperate with divine grace in order to be able to travel the blessed road of union with God.