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.


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.