I have a very high regard for the work and thought of Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary. He has influenced much of my thought for a number of years both directly and indirectly. I am particularly pleased that Ancient Faith Radio offers two podcasts series by Fr. Tom. It is a great gift of the Church.
I have been listening recently to two podcasts on the subject of the Wrath of God (a topic on which I have written and done podcasts myself). Both are very worth hearing. In particular, I find that he is much more comfortable in his treatment of God’s wrath in both Scripture and human experience than I have been. I commend his podcasts to my readers and welcome any conversation they might engender.
Hopko – The Wrath of God – Part 2
Glory to God for all things!
I came into the Church on Pentecost of this year (I was chrismated at St. John of the Ladder in Greenville, SC…I was there for your recent visit, by the way). This subject of the wrath of God has been one of the most interesting, fascinating, amazing, and at times confusing, things that I have encountered in the Church. I have been reading and listening to many things on it, and just when I think I have some type of understanding, I’ll hear something else that throws me for another loop. But, of course, if God was so easily understood, he wouldn’t be God 🙂 I was actually listening to this very podcast, when I decided to take a break and flip over to your blog and I saw you had posted this! Great timing! From some of my previous readings and listenings to various things on this subject, I think I was going towards (and least in concept) what Fr. Hopko references in his podcast: this Platonic God, unmovable, pure essence, etc. But, Fr. Hopko gives another angle; seemingly he isn’t comfortable with just calling God’s wrath or anger of pleasure simply anthropomorphisms, but rather objective realities of God’s energies upon mankind. From what I understand, no one in the Church would confess that God’s wrath is juridical or necessary for his ‘justice’ to be appeased, etc, but I continue to struggle with understanding some pieces of scripture that speak of wrath and a judgment that requires punishment (seemingly). If nothing else, when I do get confused about these matters, I look to the cross and therein do I see the self sacrifical love of God…I don’t see a God that has to rip apart his own Son to have mercy on the rest of mankind. And I can find peace and rest in that! So, for those confusing parts about wrath and anger, real or imagined or explanatory, I will just try to keep learning at the feet of those that have pondered it longer.
So, what are your thoughts on Fr Hopko here?
Though probably too much to ask for, if it could be stated simply, what is the wrath of God? and maybe even give us some of the more difficult passages of scripture that reference wrath and explain….
Thank you so much! 🙂
Well, anytime this anger of God issue rears it head at me I simply dust of my copy of “The River of Fire” and reread it. Go to:
Brent. I’m not sure of the answer. Hopko’s podcast was interesting to me, though I could have sworn I’d heard a fairly different take from him 10 years back. That’s possible, of course. I’m not sure on the “objective” angle either. I have instead understood, and within the fathers, that the distinction between love and wrath is governed within our acceptance or rejection of His love. In particular, St. Isaac of Syria seems to treat this differently. Give my love to the brethren!
Thanks for sharing this series. I enjoyed hearing an Orthodox view on Gods wrath. This is a hard subject to deal with and I have never been able to square it up with my reformed background.
I was ready to ask you about these podcasts after listening on my commute today. I found myself quite confused after hearing them because I have understood your perspective on God’s wrath to be much closer to what fr. Tom called a platonic view. Did I missunderstand?
I do not think that what I have propounded is a Platonic view (it is certainly well-grounded in St. Isaac of Syria and a number of other fathers). Fr. Tom, I believe, points to a possible error or a wrong grounding – though I do not think that St. Isaac is either Hellenistic nor Platonic. In recordings of ten years or so back, I have heard Fr. Tom with a different emphasis (somewhat similar to what I have offered). He has been focusing a good bit lately on a more “Semitic” take on Scripture, one which has far greater comfort with language such as wrath and the like. I think it is a balance and that fathers can be found across a spectrum on this (and neither of them in error). Fr. Tom himself notes that nothing God does is contrary to His saving love (even His wrath is for our salvation) which, in the final analysis, is an agreement of sorts.
But I think he is an extremely important and respected voice within the contemporary Orthodox world and noted the differing emphasis in these podcasts (differing from my own) and thought it important to note this. I stand by what I have written with the ever-present caveat that “I am an ignorant man.”
Your blessings, father. In a speech he gave in St. Louis, MO last year, Father Thomas Hopko claimed that Adam and Eve are allegories and have never existed, contrary to what the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church have always held. What is your opinion on this matter Father? Do you believe father Hopko upholds Orthodoxy or does this statement of his impair Soteriology and thus constitute a cacodoxy? Thank you.
A second question. The “Confession of Faith against Ecumenism” was recently signed by more than 10,000 Archbishops, Metropolitans, Monastics (including whole monasteries of the Holy Mountain), with a plethora of confessional statements found here
For background info check here
Taking into account that fr. Hopko considers those who oppose the Ecumenical Movement dialogues (because they believe the correct Orthodox presuppositions for dialogue are not met and/or kept) as “schismatics and heretics”, what is your opinion on this matter?
Furthermore, I would be indebted if you could answer the questions a-k posed on the OODE link above addressed primarily to His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew but also to anyone who supports the current situation, most notably Fr. Thomas Hopko (and also Dr. Bouteneff from Ancient Faith Radio and others) who use similar language (schismatics, heretics, fundamentalists) to describe the views of those who oppose the way of conduct of these dialogues, esp. after the recent unfortunate events in Paphos? Incidentally, I am a canonical Orthodox under the State Church of Greece. Thank you and I am looking forward to your answers.
I do not mean to avoid the question, but I have not studied nor prayed in the current matter and have no judgment in the matter. I will give it some time. It is obviously becoming a very important matter within the Church of Greece. Your link is the first time I’ve been able to read the document. This has not yet received much attention in the American Church.
Father, bless. Like other comment writers, I listened to the two podcasts by Fr Thomas and thought of what I had read here on the wrath of God. I did not feel that Fr Stephen’s presentation of the issue was what Fr Thomas termed a hellinistic / platonic view. At the same time, Fr Thomas seems to reject the idea that God’s wrath is contingent on our perception of His love given a certain state of our soul. In this, I felt that he was probably contradicting Fr Stephen’s writing on the topic or maybe balancing it in some way. What I find interesting is that Fr Thomas’ explanation of hell is precisely that it is God’s love as experienced by the wicked. He gives the example of St Innocent (?) asking a priest “why are you squinting?” with the latter replying that it was bright and his house lacked shades.
Fr. Hopko’s presentation is more complete in that he deals with the difficult passages concerning God’s wrath in Holy Scripture which those holding to “The River of Fire” view have failed to deal with in my opinion. He also deals with some of the passages from the Fathers that might seem to favor a passive wrath view of God. One thing that confuses me is when a person claims that the “River of Fire” view is “the view of the Fathers”. I think an important point Fr. Hopko makes is that there is not just one view of the Fathers on this issue. Another good podcast that deals with this issue is “Steve the Builders” podcast on capital punishment.
Yes, I think there is a balance on the whole and that Fr. Hopko offers a word that is part of that. My context of speaking is probably different. I am deeply aware in my ministry of many wounded souls – injured through the preaching of a God who persecutes us with His wrath (or some such thing). Fr. Thomas has himself spoken of this and in one talk actually says that on occasion even atheism is a product of grace inasmuch as for some it represents the rejection of a false God – a need step in the journey of accepting the true God. The approach I have taken in the subject of God’s wrath owes much to Fr. Tom himself, though this present series of podcasts is a balance “on the other hand.” Nevertheless – in all that is said – both he (and Kalomiros for that matter) and I are saying that God is a good God and does everything for our salvation, not for our punishment (in a penal sense). But as you correctly note, there is a range within the fathers – ways of stating the truth with emphases that reflect varying things. It can be a “loaded” thing to say, “the fathers say.” There are, among the fathers, some who speak in a manner that Fr. Tom has characterized as “platonist.” But that is also found “in the fathers.” I hold Fr. Hopko in great esteem such that I want what he says in the matter to be heard, though I probably could not say what he says (in quite the same way). I am a very small voice, derivative in almost every regard.
I very much appreciate Fr Thomas’s effort to salvage the wrath of God. One of my concerns about Kalomiros’s “River of Fire” is its virtual nullification of the divine wrath, thus making it impossible for pastors to preach huge portions of the Holy Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testaments. Clearly the divine wrath poses a difficulty for us, but it is a difficulty that is posed to us by the Word of God. Fr Thomas reminds us that we should not too quickly retreat to abstraction, but rather we need to dwell in the biblical story and allow the Scriptures to teach us the meaning of the divine love and wrath. We may end with St Isaac of Syria but perhaps we should not begin with him.
I wish to offer one criticism (19:00-22:00): Fr Thomas accuses St Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent of asserting that God’s love, mercy, sadness, kindness, and wrath do not really exist in God; they are only ways of speaking of our experience of God. God as God is the “immobile, static supreme being.” Now I confess that I find Thomas Aquinas and all the scholastics difficult to comprehend; but I do know enough to know that this is a caricature of the Western tradition. For Aquinas God is pure act. He is not immobile and static being; he is the very act of existing. Heck if I know what this means, but I know it does not mean that the Christian God is the static unmoved mover of Aristotle. Eastern theologians really do need to stop caricaturing the scholastics. Either read and understand them or stop talking about them altogether.
Fr Thomas appears to believe that our language for God can be interpreted in a purely literal, univocal sort of way, that when we speak of God’s wrath, we mean precisely the same thing when we speak of the wrath of our next door neighbor; yet surely this is not the case. The scholastics were not the first Christian theologians to analyze language for God under the categories of metaphor, analogy, and anthropomorphism. I do not believe that the Palamite distinction between essence and energies so easily resolves the question “When we say that God loves us or gets angry with us, what precisely do we mean?” “What kind of language is this?” Aquinas’s discussion of these questions is one of the most important in the Christian tradition.
Many thanks for the comment – and the very helpful phone conversation that followed. Much to think about. I have to admit that I’m not competent to discuss Aquinas – my knowledge is too cursory (as would be the case for most people I know). I’ll try to pursue some of the leads we discussed on the phone – and see if any of them produce a thoughtful blog article. Many blessings!
Dear Fr. Alvin,
Fr. Thomas does in fact acknowledge that Thomas Aquinas says that God is “pure act” in the podcast. I think he (Fr. Thomas) might be taking this to mean that being pure act in this sense is not a mode of participation in the created order (as are the divine energies) but rather that pure act cannot participate in the created world, thus keeping the divinity away from the creation. If this is what is meant by ‘pure act’ then it fits with the removed, inaccessible divinity.
I feel obliged to advertise my almost total ignorance of Aquinas. I am merely offering a reflection on what I think such words might mean and why they might be taken to mean things that resonate as foreign to the Orthodox Phronema.
Pray for me a sinner
Thank you, Victor. Perhaps your interpretation of Fr Thomas is correct; but I think it is accurate to say that Fr Thomas went out of his way to identify the God of St Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics with the unmoved mover of Aristotle. Such an identification is simply wrong. If you are interested in following up on all of this, you might want to begin with Etienne Gilson’s *The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas*.
Attempting to characterize the interaction of the infinite uncreated Creator with his finite creatures is fraught with difficulties. All our theologies ultimately fail, though some no doubt do a better job than others. God is, after all, unsurpassable mystery.
Thomas Aquinas was a careful, powerful, and profound thinker. If Eastern Orthodox believers were to take the time to read him carefully, they might well find that they have much to learn from him. There was a time when Byzantines did appreciate (not uncritically, of course) St Thomas. Consider, e.g., these words by Gennadios Scholarios, a Patriarch of Constantinople, a fervent anti-unionist, and a supporter of Gregory Palamas against Barlaam:
“The present book is a summary of two books, on of that against the Gentiles, or those heresies which oppose the truth, the other the first part of the Summa Theologiae of which there are three parts. We have taken up the labor of such a summary on account of our great love for these two books. We have put these things together which we had written out before our captivity, and later rediscovered in the diaspora. Since they are in no wise of an easily transportable size on account of the breadth and size of the chapters and questions, and of the fullness of the precise arguments contained in them, and since this our unfortunate life after our national disaster lavishes on us wanderings and distasteful goings and comings, and being unable to carry about so great a weight of books, of necessity and for no other ambition we have made a project of this summary so that it can suffice for us and for anyone else who is well versed in them, in place of the complete books. The author of these books is a Latin by birth and so he adheres to the dogma of that church as an inheritance; this is only human. But he is a wise man, and is inferior to none of those who are perfect in wisdom among men. He wrote most especially as a commentator of Aristotelian philosophy, and of the Old and New Testaments. Most of the principal conclusions of both Sacred Theology and philosophy are seen in his books, almost all of which we have studied, both the few which were translated by others into the Greek language, and their Latin originals, some of which we ourselves have translated into our own tongue. (But alas! All our labor was in vain, for we were about to suffer along with the fatherland which perished on account of our wickedness, the divine mercy being unable to hold out any longer against the divine justice.) In all the aforesaid areas this wise man is most excellent, as the best interpreter and synthesizer in those matters in which his church agrees with ours. In those things wherein that church and he differ from us-they are few in number-namely on the procession of the Holy Spirit and the divine essence and energies, in these not only do we observe the dogma of our fatherland, but we have even fought for it in many books. Our zeal even to the shedding of blood for our dogmas is evident to all men, both friends and enemies, and the whole world is filled with the books we have produced against those who deny them. Glory be to God in all things!”
In any case, I write not to defend St Thomas and the scholastics on any given matter, but rather to caution against polemical caricatures.
I always like listening to Fr. Thomas. I trust him. These talks do make me wonder if all along the thoughts he expresses are supposed to have been just *obvious* to people in the past and not now? it sure gets tangled in the explanations. I’d love to read the talks a few times to make sure I’m getting it all.
The difficult Psalms are sometimes spiritualized by Orthodox believers and I think it may be because we don’t know what to do with the anger of David or Asaph any more than God’s “anger” unveiled elsewhere in OT passages.
I have observed how people suffering deep pain of heart and mind would readily swap it for an equal measure of physical pain if it would bring less hurt to a loved one or relieve their own psyche. Physical pain can be numbed in bodies headed for burial.
Knowing that psychic pain needs a spiritual remedy, how many times have we prayed asking for God’s surgery even if it causes pain, a loss, or even our death, knowing we can trust Him? Yes He is angry at sin and separates bone from flesh in those he loves, pruning, determined to find in us an enduring fruitful sinew. He is angry at all our enemies and cuts usall to the quick because we can’t separate from our own sins and those given us by others.
Though some generations suffer unjustly, He still can be trusted to deliver them to glory; to the glory of Christ who suffered the most unjust anger of both seen and unseen sinners, ignorant and willful. God’s anger, I believe, is nothing but holy love that can restore all things under His merciful reign. Our notions of justice just don’t work in a holocaust. We need faith to trust Him. He’s given us Christ to look at and cling to. Lord have mercy.
I find Fr. Thomas’ thoughts interesting – I continue to have reservations in speaking about the wrath of God in the manner suggested – I am not certain it is entirely helpful or necessary. There are writings of the fathers that treat such passages otherwise. I agree, however, that God’s love and mercy can be experienced quite painfully as He does what is required to heal and save us. I am content to read about anger and wrath and say that there is a mystery I do not understand. But I do not find my experience of anger or wrath to be a useful analogy for thinking about God, nor do I think that my experience of anger to be analogous to incidents in the life of Christ. I hear these things, and understand the points that are made – I just do not fathom them to be true. Perhaps it is a deep failure in my heart.
I agree with many of the caveats expressed here. I don’t know enough about scholastic theology to comment on Fr. Thomas’ presentation of it, but the alternative explanation he gives as the Orthodox view doesn’t seem quite right to me. I think that, essentially, he is trying to rescue the “wrath of God = love of God rejected” view from an overly tidy formulation that would seem to make God’s part in all this too passive. But his explanation here is not satisfying.
Another point that I found problematic, which hasn’t been mentioned by any commentators here, is his explanation of Christ’s Passion as ransom. He denies an approximately “Anselmian” theory of atonement (incidentally, here he tries to do Anselm more justice than he does to the scholastics later in the podcast), but then his own positive formulation doesn’t sound much different.
Interestingly, the “Anselmian” view is expressed quite strongly by St. Nicholas Cabasilas in his _The Life in Christ_, although there it is only one among several explanations for the Incarnation and Passion. Of course, the “Anselmian view has had a quite long history among Orthodox theologians since then, because of the long “Western Captivity” of Orthodox theology. e.g. the late Prof. Panayiotis Trembelas, in his paraphrase of the NT that is included in parallel in most official editions of the Church of Greece, expresses it repeatedly.
If I remember correctly from other podcasts and CDs, Fr. Thomas is agnostic on the issue of the historical existence of Adam and Eve rather than denying it outright. But my memory might be confused on that issue. (My own personal view is that their historical existence is an important doctrine, if we are not to make the Bible merely a book of edifying fables and parables.)
Regarding his views on ecumenism, I highly doubt that he believes all of its opponents to be schismatics and heretics, or that he would be so uncharitable as to express such a view. Perhaps you didn’t read or hear his comments in context.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has used the word “fundamentalist.” It is a regrettable tendency among some Orthodox theologians today to fling about this word too easily, using it label anyone who raises an objection from the Fathers to various forms of ecumenism. I have been at the receiving end of such a comment myself and felt that it was wholly unjustified, although I knew that it was not intentionally meant to offend me.
Something prevents most of us from speaking with comfort and assurance about the wrath or anger of God, yet the OT seems loaded with references to God acting that way. Fr. Hopko may be right saying that it’s a semitic way of thinking. The Psalms are loaded with judgmentally decisive prayers against sinners that can be easily rationalized. Something has biased us culturally; we’re as unbalanced as a Calvinist reading Romans.
I don’t know if Kalomiros is right, but if he’s not, I’d sure like t know what has ruined our collective ability to see God without this negative bias. What accounts for the shifted perception of God from a loving people-maker to angry prosecutor. Did a biasing error occur in history? Blaming all “Western” Christianity for it may be careless or wrong, but if that’s not the place to looking for this error, what is its provenance?
I meant to say “The Psalms are loaded with judgmentally decisive prayers against sinners that canNOT be easily rationalized.”
I would quickly say that the error should not be pointed at the West. Though the idea can be found there in abundance, and even institutionalized at certain points in history, careful and judicious readings of history show that the idea was not unknown in the East. There is an easy answer to the question, “what is its provenance?” It comes from the darkness within the human heart. Everywhere across the world there are those who are not content to live the truth but must destroy its opposition (or call for its opposition to be destroyed). I do not subscribe to theories of compromise or syncretism or any such thing (in case there are those who wish to accuse me), but I cannot pray for my enemies and at the same time wish for their destruction. I seek union with the good God who loves mankind and pray that in His goodness He will “make the evil be good” (to use the phrase of St. Basil). I trust that He will do that in the mystery of His will. In the meantime, I am struggling to learn to give thanks to God for all things, my enemies, my friends, my circumstances, and even for my sinful self.
Could you clarify something for me? Could this be taken as both the way that St Isaac the Syrian put it and the way that Father Tom put it at the same time? What I mean by this is, could it be that God shows His love in different ways. God chastens those who He loves, and we take that as wrath, even though it is out of love. After all, we are human and when someone does something to us that we dislike, we take that as the person’s wrath even if it is out of love. If, as a parent, your child is about to touch a hot stove, wouldn’t you take the child aside and spank him out of love so he learns not to do it? That’s an act of love that is first understood by the child as wrath until the child reaches a certain point of understanding. That understanding is of the profound love that the parent has for the child.
Would this way of thinking be Orthodox or am I starting to tread dangerous ground in this wording game?
That explanation is similar to St. Isaac and others.
“I cannot pray for my enemies and at the same time wish for their destruction.” – Fr Stephen of Oak Ridge
That’s a keeper.
“Attempting to characterize the interaction of the infinite uncreated Creator with his finite creatures is fraught with difficulties. …….. God is, after all, unsurpassable mystery.”
Thank you for this Father Alvin!
I have chosen to delete a portion of the thread of comments. They were headed in a direction that was becoming personal and perhaps unkind. The blog has rules. Forgive me if my poor moderation gives offense to any.
Some readers might find St. Basil the Great’s Homily, On God not being the cause of Evil, in the SVS volume, On the Human Condition, helpful. Also a careful reading of Jeremiah, who seems to explicitly endorse a more consequentialist or issuant understanding of wrath.
Thanks. I’m ordering the volume of St. Basil today.
Although not Orthodox, Jonathan Kvanvig’s The Problem of Hell, comes very close to an Orthodox view. Kvanvig was one of my phil profs in grad school and is a main defender of an Issuant account. The books is small, but intellectually tight so that each paragraph is crammed with clarity and finely tunned analysis.
Wow. After listening a bit of the podcast and reading all the comments I am coming to a conclusion.
Being born an Orthodox (or should I say baptized as an infant in the Orthodox Church, having Orthodox parents, who unfortunately didn’t take me to Church – only about an hour a year, on Pascha; but I thank them also for this little, I know it’s not their fault, they didn’t know much about Orthodoxy, they gave me the best they knew).
So, as I said, born an Orthodox, but coming into Protestant ideas in highschool, from my Evangelist friend, I thought I knew all about God. It’s like I had Him in a box – God is like this and like that, that’s why we need redemption (or else we are all sent to hell), that’s why we need to repent.
I didn’t want to go to my friend’s Evangelical assembly, in a way because I wouldn’t want to sadden my parents, so I began going to an Orthodox Church. Starting to search more things about Orthodoxy, I gradually found out that everything in Orthodoxy is different from the Protestant view. I felt overwhelmed by this! So I started to search – “So what do the Orthodox think?”. Especially on this subject – redemption, the wrath of God. I guess I still wanted to “have God in a box”, to see what are His limits, how much is He good to us, how much He isn’t?
My conclusion is that.. I don’t know and maybe that I cannot know. Especially after reading your comments and seeing father Stephen’s attitude, his humility in approaching matters. And I thank you for this, father Stephen. God cannot be put in a box. He doesn’t have any limits. I still don’t understand much, and see contradictions between some views of God’s wrath of which I read, and some passages in the Bible that in a way scare me. But i think now that this is building me a way to humility. And I thank God for that. This makes me build my approach to God on trust and humility rather than on theological sentences that are always subject to counter-arguments.
Greetings from Romania.
Please excuse my poor English!
Fr. Hopko was wrong in what he said about St. Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas teaches, we can speak about a man as being good, loving, wise etc and it means, that this man HAS these qualities (and doesn’t have some other qualities). Also we can speak about God as being good, loving, wise etc and it means, he IS goodness, love, wisdom etc. And because He cannot be “many different things”, He is simple, He is “all in one”. So when we say, God is good, it’s a reality and not just a metaphor.
Now about God’s wrath. His wrath is the expression of His justice. We cannot say, the “God is wrath”, but we can say the God is just and He IS justice.
Some how I knew that the article above was written by a Romanian, for it is so typical. I am fortunate to belong to a Romanian community in the Atlanta area. The Romanians have a orthodox spirituality that I have not encountered anywhere. While many may know know and understand the theology , it is written in their heart and soul (nous). For this reason I drive 300 miles each Sunday to worship with them. God Bless them.
I am not certain which article you refer to.
Father Stephan I believe Maximos is referring to Irina Says’s post:
“Wow. After listening a bit of the podcast and reading all the comments I am coming to a conclusion….
…This makes me build my approach to God on trust and humility rather than on theological sentences that are always subject to counter-arguments.
Greetings from Romania.”
Maximos please correct me if I am wrong.