The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ is the proper beginning point for all Christian theology. Christ’s Pascha should be the source for all Christian reflection. It is clear that the disciples themselves did not understand the Scriptures nor Christ Himself until after the resurrection (Luke 24:45). We cannot approach Pascha as a midpoint in a historical narrative. It is the beginning. That which came before is only understood by reading backwards from Pascha (even though Pascha was before all things – Rev. 13:8). Everything subsequent to Christ’s resurrection is also understood only in the light of Pascha. Pascha is the meaning of all things. I offer this brief reminder of the true nature of theology as I continue my reflections on evolution and creation.
As I noted in the previous article, the age of the universe presses the question about the nature of the Biblical creation narrative in Genesis. Advocates for a 6,000 year-old earth based in a strict literalism find themselves having to resort to notions of a universe created in a manner to only “appear” old. A single, flawed reading of Scripture is preferred to the reliability of simple observation. With such caprice as dogma, Christianity would be embracing a literalist tyranny. Nothing in the world is reliable, only a narrow reading of the text. This narrow reading is a product of a false use of the notion of history
How did history come to triumph over all things? The answer is not far removed from Genesis and Adam.
The early chapters of Genesis were treated in a variety of ways by the early fathers. They by no means held universally to a literal interpretation. The Old Testament mentions Adam but once (other than a geneology) outside the book of Genesis. Adam as the progenitor of sin is nowhere an idea of importance (or even an idea) within the Old Testament. St. Paul raises Adam to a new level of consideration, recognizing in him a type of Christ, “the Second Adam.” But St. Paul’s Adam is arguably much like St. Paul’s Abraham (in Galatians), a story whose primary usefulness is the making of a theological point.
Nevertheless, St. Paul’s lead eventually becomes the pathway for history’s ascendancy. For while it is true that man’s breaking communion with God is the source of death, this is reduced to mere historical fact in the doctrine of Original Sin. For here Adam, as the first historical man, becomes infinitely guilty and deserving of punishment, and pays his juridical debt forward to all generations. This historical understanding of the fall, with inherited guilt, locks the Fall within historical necessity. It is among numerous reasons that Original Sin, as classically stated in the West, has not found a lasting place within Orthodox tradition.
Written into a diminished doctrine of the atonement, Adam as the historical source of the fall becomes a theological necessity. He also becomes an easy target for the enemies of the Christian faith. For even if the resurrection is beyond the reach of unbelief, a 6,000 year-old Adam is child’s play for those who would reduce the need for Christ’s redemption to the ridicule of a few ancient bones and Carbon-14 dating.
Some would reduce this historical danger by pushing Adam back in time. How long? And in what way? C.S. Lewis, wonderful Christian thinker, but still a man of his Western heritage, offers an account of an older Adam, merged with an evolutionary tale:
For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past…. We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods…. They wanted some corner in this universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, the question is of no consequence. (C.S. Lewis, Problem of Pain, 68-71)
This requirement to salvage some literal Adam somewhere, somehow, is not shared by the universal opinion of the fathers. Indeed, the treatment of the early chapters of Genesis is “all over the map,” sometimes even within the writings of a single father. The primary fathers of the East (if I may use such a term), Basil, the two Gregories, etc., are quite free with both historical and ahistorical treatments of Adam. Bouteneff, citing both Behr and Balthasar, notes that Gregory does not envisage a historic pre-fallen immortal state.
[Gregory] alludes twice in the Catechetical Oration to the fact that Moses is speaking through a story, or an allegory. The implication of this is that God’s addition of mortality is a part of his creation of humanity from the beginning, in foreknowledge of the ongoing fall. However, Gregory does not care to make this plain here. Nor does he ever develop a portraiture of an idealized pre-fallen Adam or Eve who would not have been subject to death and all that it entails for human life (Bouteneff, 164).
There is even an on-again-off-again treatment of paradise as a non-material existence. St. Basil uses the very interesting phrase: “In your righteous judgment, you, O God, sent him [man] forth from paradise into this world…”
St. Basil is far removed from the later Western account of Adam as the progenitor of sin. He wrote: “Evil has no other origin than our voluntary falls. . . . Each of us is the first author of his own vice; . . . you are the master of your actions” (In Hex. 2.5).
So strong was his sense of human free choice that Basil did not even consider an action sinful unless it was done consciously and voluntarily. He thus has no interest in blaming Adam for our sin, because freedom—a part of the divine image itself—trumps all determinism (138).
This does not deny humanity’s complicity in death. Rather, it is similar to Dostoevsky’s words: “Each man is guilty of the sins of the whole world.”
But does this mean that God created a world that has held death from the beginning? It would not be strange to say so, since Pascha was before the beginning. St. Paul states that creation was made “subject to futility” in view of man (but not with man as the cause). Creation is clearly “subject to futility” by God’s action.
What is damaged in such an account is the apparent integrity of a time line. But it has never been part of the Christian gospel that history is a closed system. That the faith redeems history is one thing, but it is not subject to it. Pascha triumphs over all things.
Adam’s breaking of communion with God brings death. Death as the “last enemy,” however, is not revealed until Christ’s resurrection. For though human beings have always died, death was by no means seen as the central point of the Old Testament faith. Indeed, death and life-after-death were handled in a variety of manners before Christ.
Just as Christ’s resurrection reveals life to the world, so His life also reveals death as the enemy. It is only in light of Christ’s death and resurrection that the story of Adam becomes interesting and universal in its meaning. Christ’s resurrection liberates the early chapters of Genesis from possible obscurity as Jewish creation myth into the most profound account of the crisis of human existence.
Death is a fact of our existence, thus the Fall is a fact of that existence. But the significance of our death is only made known to us in Christ. I personally remain skeptical of the efforts to describe the historical character of the Fall, even as I remain utterly aware of its reality in my life. Biological death, well known throughout our existence, is not yet the “fullness” of death revealed in Christ/Adam. We do not know death until Christ.
There is a conflict between Christian believing and certain versions of evolutionary theory. Biology itself holds no contradictions for the Christian faith. However, meta-theories of biology are often grounded in ideologies that have no place within science. As theories of meaning, they are more “religious” than scientific in nature.
Biology can describe change, but the meaning of change, the purpose of change remains beyond its scope. Creation as the unfolding of “random chance” is the best that can be offered without reference to God (even if some chances are more likely than others). But this brings us to the same question that is confronted daily by believers (and others). God’s work remains opaque, we cannot see behind its results and watch the process of divine action. But the results are often so startling that randomness would seem absurd. And this applies profoundly to the unfolding of our universe.
Believers need not argue about the absurdity of a universe that some think to be random. For the resurrection is that one moment that shatters the silence of God and the opacity of His work. It is the voice of God explaining Himself (John 1:18).
We rightly hear in the language of “survival of the fittest” nothing more than the 19th century Christian heresy of Progress. Progress is a mere ideology, a secularized version of Christian eschatology. The 20th century endured the catastrophe of various brave new worlds. Progress, as an idea, belongs in the dustbin of history. History and evolution do not carry within them their own meaning. If a comet takes out human existence tomorrow, then all of the “progress” of the human race will have been a moot point. “Progress” begs the question: “progressing towards what?”
But there is a movement (kinesis) within creation and it is revealed in Christ/Adam. The created Adam, the significance of whose story is made known in Christ, is created as image and likeness of God. The fathers note that this creation is only fulfilled in Christ Himself, the Second Adam. For the first Adam does not become what he was made to be. Only the Second Adam is able to say on the Cross, “It is finished,” for man in the likeness of God is only revealed in the suffering and self-emptying of the Cross – the death-that-becomes-life.
Just as Christ’s resurrection reveals the meaning of Adam, so the resurrection reveals the meaning and purpose of creation itself. The resurrection alone offers transcendence and eternity to a universe of seeming chance and randomness. The movement of Creation is towards Christ’s Pascha, though we do not call that movement “evolution” nor imagine it unfolding through biology. But we do not imagine that the unfolding of the universe has nothing to do with the resurrection, for Creation shares a destiny with man:
…the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Rom 8:19-21 NKJ)
This is indeed the glory of God!
Father, what can you tell us about that incredible icon?
You make the beautiful connection of how the movement from futility to meaning, the deliverance “from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” is one and the same thing as what we sing on Easter night “Christ God has brought us from death unto life, and from earth unto heaven”, and that this is so from the beginning. I found this post is perhaps more useful to me than the entire book of Bouteneff…
Peter, here’s some great information about that icon: http://iconreader.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/boundless-christ-resurrection-icon-with-extra-scenes/
i found this incredibly obscure. i take you to be saying that Adam is a myth and never existed in history, nor was there any point in history before which there was no death, but we shouldn’t be so certain of evolution either. i’m guessing i’ve misunderstood you (or have i?).
Thank you father Stephen for this marvelous post. It distills and elucidates much for me that was confusing in the comments. I must be especially careful in selecting what I read since an eye affliction severely limits my reading time. Your line, “Christ’s resurrection liberates the early chapters of Genesis from possible obscurity as Jewish creation myth into the most profound account of the crisis of human existence,” was itself very helpful in showing how these first few chapters of the Bible must be viewed through the lens of Christ’s Pascha.
Jay, thank you. That’s very helpful.
Very good points to ponder, Father. Thank you.
Once again, extraordinary post. It is very difficult to break away from the linear narrative of American fundamentalism if you have had any exposure to religion during formative years in America, but break away we must. I have had a few occasions to suggest Fr. Behr’s Mystery of Christ as the first and only introduction to Orthodoxy *or* Christianity in general. I often have thought it should be the basic catechetical text for converts from the protestant world.
I can highly recommend Conor Cunningham’s “Darwin’s Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong”
It’s a good read, not overly technical and makes a solid case for creation and evolution. From the publisher:
“According to British scholar Conor Cunningham, the debate today between religion and evolution has been hijacked by extremists: on one side stand fundamentalist believers who reject evolution outright; on the opposing side are fundamentalist atheists who claim that Darwin’s theory rules out the possibility of God. Both sides are dead wrong, argues Cunningham, who is at once a Christian and a firm believer in the theory of evolution. In Darwin’s Pious Idea Cunningham puts forth a trenchant, compelling case for both creation and evolution, drawing skillfully on an array of philosophical, theological, historical, and scientific sources to buttress his argument”
Wow. Thank you, Fr. Stephen!
Father, thank you for these lovely discussions of Creation and evolution. Although I refuse to make any claims about Creation outside what is stated in the Creed (anything more is, IMHO, unimportant detail)I’ve greatly enjoyed your discussion of the topic. It is lovely to have my suspicion that I need not choose between two equally scientifically ridiculous options confirmed. Truly, nothing in this world makes sense if it is not viewed through the lens of the Resurrection. To Christ be the Dominion and the Glory!
I do have one remaining question about Creation though. Why couldn’t God put 25 hours in the day so that I can get my homework done *and* spend ample time pondering these topics? 🙂
No. You have misunderstood. For one, some of your categories create problems. Myth versus history. I’m saying that the nature of the Genesis account is not historical, in the sense of “this happened, then this happened…etc.” If it were, then it would read quite differently. Instead it is a literary account that can only be understood in the light of Christ’s resurrection – which helps us read the story of Adam in a way that reveals the nature of the human Fall from communion with God and how it relates to Christ’s Pascha.
What relationship it has to a historical event remains unknown to us, and will remain unknown to us. We can speculate however we want to. As for evolution, we can say that things change and are always changing, and clearly life on our planet is vastly different than it was say, 65 million years ago, etc. But as to interpretive theories, these remain outside the realm of science since they have to do with meaning and the like.
And I’ve noted that the treatment of Genesis that I’ve suggested is not at all uncommon in the fathers. It begins to be “historicized” or seen as important as history only with the development of the Western notion of Original Sin.
Greg, I agree. I also recommend his recent book, Becoming Human. I will be reviewing it on the blog very shortly.
It is also a bit of a stretching exercise for Christians nurtured in a historicized version of theology to allow themselves to wonder a bit at how one of the fathers, such as the Cappadocians, could have thought and theologized about Adam, without blushing, even if they did not necessarily give it a historical position. It is the “necessity” of historical construction that is extremely problematic and by no means endemic to the Christian faith. Christ’s resurrection is indeed historical, the one truly historical necessity. But the remaining bulk of the faith has a variety of aspects to it, and is not a pure historical construct.
Modern conservative Christians are used to having defend the faith against the skeptical attacks of liberals, and therefore suspect any questioning of the history of something as a liberal attack. But such conservatives and liberals both stand on the same ground (history). The ground for Christians is Christ’s Pascha. The other is a red herring.
Christina, I think there are two likely answers. One, we are drowning ourselves in stuff and input, and that 24 hours is plenty for a well lived day. Two, by the mercy of God “the evils of the day are sufficient there of” (sermon on the mount) and he has limited us to no more than 24 hours of evil a day. I personally think that I can screwup a day a lot faster than 24 hours. Maby if the day was only an hour long I might manage one good day pleasing to the lord before my death.
I have this blue policeman’s call box that is useful for certain time-related issues.
It’s been a while since I read it, but John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One” was a very intriguing read. In it, he reprimands both young-earth and old-earth creationists for missing the point of Gen 1: that it is a cosmic temple inauguration ceremony.
In one place, he writes, “The seven days are not given as the period of time over which the material cosmos came into existence, but the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple.” He discusses (and one can see this also in the writings of the early church fathers) that in ancient near-eastern thought, something was noted to exist because it had function; in other words, God made things that they might have purpose.
Also, he mentions that a deity would reside (aka rest) in its temple after it is built. The resting has nothing to do with relaxing, but rather the deity condescending and being present among us.
While I favor the interpretation in which everything hinges on Pascha as Fr Stephen mentions here, Mr. Walton’s book is still interesting for those who enjoy understanding the first chapter of Genesis through the lens of the ancient semitic people.
I clipped this excerpt about scientific education in Russia. “In the realm of Orthodox education in Russia, a significant development has been the publication of the high school textbook General Biology by Dr. Sergei Y. Vert’yanov. Written with the help of Russian scientists from a number of disciplines, this work presents scientific evidence for the Scriptural Patristic understanding of the creation, history, and age of the world. The second edition (2006) was carefully reviewed and edited by the late Dr. Y. P. Altukhov, a world-renowned population geneticist whose seminal research into the limits of genetic change led him to the inescapable conclusion that the neo-Darwinian paradigm is founded on an impossible premise. An Orthodox believer nearing the end of his life, Dr. Altukhov was more than happy to assist Dr Vert’yanov in producing a book of high scientific standards which would help free the minds of young students from the shackles of Darwinism. Having labored long, over the book with a concilium of fellow scientists from Moscow State University (MGU), Dr. Altukhov stated only a few days before his repose: “Everything was written correctly. The book was blessed by Patriarch Alexy II, published by the Patriarchal Publishing House of the Holy Trinity- St. Sergius Lavra, and- in an act equally inconceivable in the former Soviet Union and in contemporary America- approved by the Russian Ministry of Education as a supplemental textbook for public schools.” p. 71 Fr. Seraphim Rose Genesis, Creation and Early Man, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2011.
Scientists and Hierarchs in Russia are not taking your particular slant on Scripture, or on Science, apparently.
The Word Incarnated Himself in Human flesh and history because of the historic aberration that had come to man, through Adam, also in history. Any problems in soteriology related to the historicity of Adam, are not due to its historicity, but because the interpeters have mis-read the Fathers, and have not discerned science from pseudo-science. There is a huge amount of pseudo-science surrounding origins, because the human heart wants to avoid God. The Modernity project has been hard at work there as well.
This is not a well-informed report on the mind of the Russian Church. I am well within the mainstream of Orthodox patristic thought. You have offered only the same worn out assertions about science and a Westernized take on Adam but haven’t said anything substantial on the topic.
An excellent article, Fr. Stephen. I will likely need to re-read it a few times to understand it better.
One thing that strikes me in all of this – and I think you were suggesting this – is that we can see “sin of Adam” is all of the extremist debates about that very topic.
Do we worship human science? Human accounts of history? (To do so is just another form of worshiping ourselves.) Do we worship the Bible? (With all due respect to sacred Scripture, this too would be an error – to worship the gift rather than the Giver of the gift.)
These errors all reflect our fallen nature – that we want to worship something other than God.
Our puny brains cannot begin to fathom God and the power of His creative and unending love. Yet, in Pascha, He has revealed to us, on our own limited level, its reality. To Him be glory.
of course the Fathers saw non-literal meaning in Genesis. But is there a single Father who actually rejected the literal meaning of Genesis? Several Fathers quite emphatically insist that we MUST accept the literal, historical truth of Genesis. Adam is celebrated as a Saint in our Church – he is undoubtedly an historical figure. And the idea that Genesis as history is only important once Original Sin comes in is strange too. Fr. Irenei Steenberg writes in his Children in Paradise: Adam and Eve as “Infants” in Irenaeus of Lyons, Journal of Early Christian Studies – Volume 12, Number 1, Spring 2004, pp. 1-22 about St. Irenaeus’ strong emphasis on the literal meaning of Genesis. He argues that for the Father, no typological meaning is possible for Adam without him being a true, historical figure. Also, St. Theophilus of Antioch, also in the second century, clearly reads Genesis as history – and even goes over in detail the Old Testament genealogies and timelines.
and the idea that God created a mature earth is not a flawed reading of Scripture, but rather a Patristic one. For example:
“Let the earth bring forth herbs.” And in the briefest moment of time the earth, beginning with germination in order that it might keep the laws of the Creator, passing through every form of increase, immediately brought the shoots to perfection. The meadows were deep with the abundant grass; the fertile plains, rippling with standing crops, presented the picture of a swelling sea with its moving heads of grain. And every herb and every kind of vegetable and whatever shrubs and legumes there were, rose from the earth at that time in all profusion…. “And the fruit tree,” He said, “that bears fruit containing seed of its own kind and of its own likeness on the earth. At this saying all the dense woods appeared; all the trees shot up, those which are wont to rise to the greatest height, the firs, cedars, cypresses, and pines; likewise, all the shrubs were immediately thick with leaf and bushy; and the so-called garland plants – the rose bushes, myrtles, and laurels-all came into existence in a moment f time, although they were not previously upon the earth, each with its own peculiar nature.” – St. Basil, Hexameron 5:5-6
Dr. Bouteneff is simply wrong about St. Gregory of Nyssa:
“But in that form of life, of which God Himself was the Creator, it is reasonable to believe that there was neither age nor infancy nor any of the sufferings arising from our present various infirmities, nor any kind of bodily affliction whatever. It is reasonable, I say, to believe that God was the Creator of none of these things, but that man was a thing divine before his humanity got within reach of the assault of evil; that then, however, with the inroad of evil, all these afflictions also broke in upon him . . . Just so our nature, becoming passional, had to encounter all the necessary results of a life of passion: but when it shall have started back to that state of passionless blessedness, it will no longer encounter the inevitable results of evil tendencies. Seeing, then, that all the infusions of the life of the brute into our nature were not in us before our humanity descended through the touch of evil into passions, most certainly, when we abandon those passions, we shall abandon all their visible results. No one, therefore, will be justified in seeking in that other life for the consequences in us of any passion. Just as if a man, who, clad in a ragged tunic, has divested himself of the garb, feels no more its disgrace upon him, so we too, when we have cast off that dead unsightly tunic made from the skins of brutes and put upon us (for I take the “coats of skins” to mean that conformation belonging to a brute nature with which we were clothed when we became familiar with passionate indulgence), shall, along with the casting off of that tunic, fling from us all the belongings that were round us of that skin of a brute; and such accretions are sexual intercourse, conception, parturition, impurities, suckling, feeding, evacuation, gradual growth to full size, prime of life, old age, disease, and death. If that skin is no longer round us, how can its resulting consequences be left behind within us? It is folly, then, when we are to expect a different state of things in the life to come, to object to the doctrine of the Resurrection on the ground of something that has nothing to do with it.” — On the Soul and Resurrection
“This reasoning and intelligent creature, man, at once the work and the likeness of the Divine and Imperishable Mind (for so in the Creation it is written of him that “God made man in His image”), this creature, I say, did not in the course of his first production have united to the very essence of his nature the liability to passion and to death.” — On Virginity 12
Dr. Bouteneff’s book provides great sources, but his commentary is often terrible and plainly contradicts the sources he provides.
I would think that we have to read St Basil carefully and in context about this subject. We should not read his homilies as we do science; it certainly wasn’t written as a commentary on, or in response to, evolution.
Thank you for the article. I like what Metro Hiertheos Vlachos wrote about looking at this from a hesychastic approach when St Gregory Palamas wrote about the Prodigal Son Interpreted Hesychastically. (One can apply it way back to Adam´s time and to our time)
I noted that the fathers are “all over the map” on the early chapters of Genesis, sometimes even within the writings of a single father. There was in the writings of the Cappadocians, something of an effort both to salvage what they loved of Origen, who was too far removed from the literal, as well as moving back somewhat towards the literal – St. Basil does this particularly.
I don’t think any father rejects the literal – there would have been no need. Not rejecting it and insisting on it as a theological necessity are very different things.
I fully agree that sin and death are historical and that those clearly have to be displayed in a historic Adam, indeed in every historic Adam.
And Genesis is the definitive story of Adam.
But what that looks like in mere history is but a guess. To say more than that, I think, creates a process of mental gymnastics similar to the fundamentalist 6000 year-old earth, no matter how far back we push the story.
I think the modern debate with various versions of ideological evolution has skewed our use of the fathers.
There is much here, particularly within the use and nature of types, that is hard to digest. I more than understand how wrong and disconcerting it will seem to some.
Thank you for the post, Father. I converted to Orthodoxy, but my wife did not. She and her family view a literal six day creation and young earth as paramount to the Christian faith: to cast doubt on this is akin to saying Christianity is not true.
I have many friends who rejected Christianity because they were taught the same thing growing up, and then they went away to college, discovered the scientific data on evolution and an old earth, and did exactly what they’d always been told they should do by their own Christian family and friends.
I went through a similar trial, and had it not been for the Church Fathers and Orthodox, I’m not sure I would have come out of that trial as a Christian myself.
We have children, and I worry that as they grow up and are “indoctrinated” into the young earth creationist position, they’ll one day also face the same trial and fall away. I’ve so far avoided this topic, because it’s a tricky one to talk about. I was wondering if you might have any advice on how I could talk to those I love about this? I don’t want to rock the boat, but neither do I want to watch my children grow up with a foundation grounded in anything other than Pascha.
This has been on my mind for years and is a constant struggle for me.
Thank you Nathan. I indeed think that there are positions that push people into atheism or agnosticism – and that are not necessary positions. And what I have offered here is not an effort to compromise with liberals, etc. Rather, I am working to understand the implications of true allegory (or some such word) within the Orthodox faith.
Are you offering this as simply a quote from Nyssa or as representative of the full scope of what he has said and meant? Isolated quotes frankly can be misleading or misunderstood. Again, I noted that we can find within a number of the fathers contradictions on the matter. You have not pulled any of the contradictory quotes and sought to give an account of the full thought of Nyssa, etc.
As such, I have far more confidence in the peer reviewed material of Dr. Bouteneff.
Are you saying that the fathers teach the necessity of a 6000 year-old earth (or man)? If not, why not. That position has plenty of voices within the patristic writings as well.
Of course some of the fathers think the “days” of creation could be longer than 24 hours, with some insisting on 24 hours (Ambrose). What do you do with contradictions between the fathers? Are some more important than others? What do you do when they contradict themselves? How do you pick one thing over the other?
State positively what you are wanting to say and not just cherry pick my article apart. Give a fuller account for what you’re trying to say.
Jesse raises a question that I have been curious about how to frame an answer. Forgive me, as this is somewhat tangential to the post at hand, though I think addresses the same core issue.
Jesse relates the “necessary” historicity of Adam to the fact that our Forefather is a saint in our Church. I was recently wondering about something similar in regards to St. Nilus, who is thought to be a sanitized (indeed, “sainted”) version of Evagrius, who, in his historical personage, was condemned as a heretic. Likewise, the historical personage of St. Dionysius, at least as known through his writings, is also contested.
The fact that we have saints who may not be literal persons is another instance of the way the mind of the Church shows how unequipped our modern, literal minds are for understanding the mind of the Church. Could you speak to how we should properly understand a saint who may not have been a discrete, literal human being?
From this discussion (and many others), I have been learning about Orthodoxy. I’d like to ask you to check my understanding on a couple of points, as it relates to this discussion:
(1) The teachings of the Church fathers help make up the Tradition of the Church. We look to them for wisdom, with faith that God teaches us through them. Wisdom is not the same as “answers” (as in known “fact” and no longer in the realm of mystery).
Thus, in the current discussion, we would look to the teachings of the fathers (Tradition) to deepen our understanding of creation, the fall and redemption. We would not selectively quote them to try to “answer” questions about the precise manner by which God created (evolution or not) or the historicity of Adam and Eve as individuals. We learn meaning from their teachings and are not meant to learn history or science from them. The history and science we learn in the world is then understood in the context of this wisdom. True wisdom, as given to us by God, is never threatened by human knowledge – it will always exceed it in depth and scope.
(2) The dangers of “imagination” may enter into play here. If, in trying to reconcile what I do not understand, I begin to “imagine” how God might have created the world (differing scenarios of evolution or direct creation), I run the risk of creating God in my own image. I begin to look at my own imaginings as though they were “true”, rather than opening myself to what God might reveal of the divine Mystery.
My imaginings or ideas will never come close to encompassing divine Truth. And so I am called to humility and awe at what exceeds my understanding.
(Please correct me if I am misunderstanding, sinner that I am.)
After a couple re-reads, i’m still as lost as the first read. It doesn’t appear to me that you’ve stated anything clearly.
By “myth,” i mean to refer to written or oral accounts alleging that certain events occurred when, in fact, they did not occur. In contrast, “history,” i take it, is a written or oral account recording events that, in fact, did occur. A third category i might just call “fiction” (though there would be many subcategories based on purpose) where a story is told, but no claim is made that the events in the story ever actually occurred. (i suppose that this allows for overlap between these categories; of note, an overlap between history and fiction, where fictitious elements are added to history for some purpose.)
i understand you like to pick on the meaning of words. But *given* that that’s what i mean when i use these terms, it appears to me that you are saying either (1) that the Adam story is a myth or (2) the Adam story is fiction.
There are two more possibilities, of course: (3) the Adam story is history or (4) the Adam story is in the overlap category of history and fiction. But i read you to be dismissing (3) and to be agnostic toward (4).
Have i misunderstood, and if so, how?
Essentially, I would agree, but would state it rather differently – and the difference is important. It is the “mind” of the fathers we seek to acquire. This is a purified and illumined heart that more clearly sees God and the true nature of things. The writings of the “fathers” run the gamut but have, at their core, a common “mind.” This is not at all the same thing as a uniform agreement. But they see and know something that we want to see and know and what they see and know transforms.
This is in contrast to a mere rational approach in which I mine the fathers for information to be compared with my information and for it to be worked out or reconciled as best I can. That does not require anything of me different than any scholarly field requires of someone else.
Frequently, very pious people seek to appropriate the writings of the fathers, but have not appropriated their inner life. To some extent this is true of us all.
But the mind of the fathers (phronema in Greek) allows us not only to ask “What did they say,” but “What do they say.”
An interesting passage someone brought to my attention is from St. Augustine:
It is quite likely that what Augustine had in mind were some of the more elaborate allegorical treatments of Genesis (this stands for this…etc.) But the passage is still good advice for those today whose literalism takes them in an equally absurd direction. Augustine himself rejected a contention that the Egyptians had “tracked the path of the stars for over 100,000 years” as a rather fantastic claim, particularly in light of the Scriptures’ teaching of a 6000 year old earth.
But his science was wrong, and the Egyptian science perhaps right. But if Augustine continued to reason as he was, he would say something different today about the science of a 14 billion year old universe.
I do not like schemes, sometimes used, that want to say the fathers are right about some things (faith and morals) but not necessarily others (science, history). I don’t like bifurcating and categorizing things. Someone who can be wrong about anything can be wrong about anything. The kind of “authority” that some seek to make of either the fathers or the Scriptures is, to my mind, more Protestant than Orthodox.
God is our authority and it is only in union with Him that we truly know anything. Again, this establishing of various kinds and forms of external authorities becomes a way to short-circuit the true nature of the spiritual life.
So you can quote the fathers about something. Do you love your enemies? We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies (St. Silouan). So when someone wants to quote and argue from a darkened mind and heart, it is of no use, for me or for them.
I want what the fathers have, nothing less.
Father Stephen, I am saying that it is Dr. Bouteneff who is cherry-picking. He claims that St. Gregory believed in no pre-fallen immortal state, and yet St. Gregory himself clearly states that he did. Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Damascene hit on these passages in Genesis, Creation, and Early Man. Dr. Peter is even contradicting another book from his own Seminary. In “From Glory to Glory” we find St. Gregory quoted as saying:
“But the element of passion was introduced later on, after he was created, and in the following way. Man was, as we have said, the image and likeness of the power that rules all creation; and this likeness to the ruler of all things also extended to man’s power of self-determination: man could choose whatever pleased him and was not enslaved to any external necessity. But man was led astray by deception and deliberately drew upon himself that catastrophe which all mortals now share. Man himself invented evil: he did not find it in God. Nor did God make death; it was man himself who, as it were, was the creator of all that is evil. … the first man…deliberately instituted by himself things that were against nature; in rejecting virtue by his own free choice he fashioned the temptation to evil. For sin does not exist in nature apart from free will; it is not a substance in its own right. All of God’s creatures are good … So man fell into the mud of sin, and lost his likeness to the eternal Godhead. And in its stead he has, by his sin, clothed himself in an image that is of clay and mortal; and this is the image we earnestly counsel him to remove and wash away in the purifying waters of the Christian life.” — pp. 112-114
As for the length of the days of Creation, I really don’t see it as a very important issue – but rather what happened during those days is the important question. Nevertheless, the Church does have a consistent teaching that these days are 24 hours each. The Byzantine Creation Era calendar places the creation of the world at 5509 BC. I do not believe that the Fathers contradict on this issue. I have yet to see a single Father who believed the the days were longer than 24 hours. Origen and St. Augustine wrote that they were in fact one single instant, but I’m unaware of any saying the days were longer than 24 hours. Sure, they use the days as the grounding for allegorical meanings, but that does not constitute a negation of the literal length of the days. I have seen various websites pull together quotes to try to demonstrate that the Fathers interpreted the days as longer periods, but they are all cherry-picked and ignore passages from those same Fathers in which they speak of the days as days.
St. Anastasius of Sinai, following St. Basil closely, gives a good, concise statement of the Patristic method of interpretation of Genesis:
“Mystical meaning is dependent upon literal
We do not seek, however, to annul the literal meaning. Rather, we seek the meaning that the Holy Spirit, in its great goodness and love for humanity, mystically encrypted within the literal. Toward this end we will examine the text first in its bodily or physical sense.” — Hexaemeron 1.5.2, p. 19
“mystical meaning is dependent upon literal” is not part of St. Anastasius’ quote … that should have been removed – my mistake
Jesse’s quote of Gregory of Nyssa is how I’ve have always understood Adam in the garden.
In On the Making of Man chapter 17, St. Gregory also writes that our redemption is a return to our ancient, lost state, which he calls “angelic.” Surely he did not believe we are returning to a state of corruption and death, as that would not even constitute a return since we are *now* in a state of corruption and death.
Which is more reliable? The witness of Scripture and the fathers concerning Christ’s resurrection, or the earth as a roughly 7500 year old event? Or are they equally reliable? Why do you think this?
I’ll turn to some of your other points – as well as some related things after you post an answer.
Well, again, I don’t think the age of the earth is a very important question, so I don’t quite understand why you’re asking this.
Just opened my eyes to a major question I was having for the past couple of months. Very interesting and a big thank you!
Father you stated it well earlier,
“What do you do with contradictions between the fathers? Are some more important than others? What do you do when they contradict themselves? How do you pick one thing over the other?”
This speaks to the nature of the authority of the Church Fathers. And this is something I wish to point out in response to Mary Benton (and Jesse also) – not all of the Fathers and Mothers teachings are considered equally authoritative and useful. Some are considered mere personal opinion, others only useful for a particular historical application (i.e. without universal significance). This must be considered carefully.
And we must be aware of anachronistically forcing modern issues and assumptions into their writings.
Would their teachings on Genesis be any different had they been written by them in the 21st century?
“Would their teachings on Genesis be any different had they been written by them in the 21st century?”
We can’t really answer that question without speculation, can we? Hence we must (attempt) to understand them as they are – written not in the 21st century, but in their own theological, political, social and cultural context.
Robert, you ask a good question “Would their teachings on Genesis be any different had they been written by them in the 21st century?”
we have 21st century Saints and elders, inspired by the same Holy Spirit. we could ask how their understanding of Genesis compares to the ancient Fathers.
Indeed it is no different: we are left with the same conundrum – not all a saint, modern or ancient, teaches is considered inspired by the Holy Spirit. And the same questions, raised by Fr Stephen as to the nature of the authority of the Fathers, apply.
This is not to speak of the difficulty as to the identification of who those modern living saints may be.
Which, to me, highlights the wisdom in refraining from centralizing the genesis issues.
The BIG ISSUE is creation vs. an infinite self-existing universe (which coincidentally is what I think is the underlying theme of St Basil commentary on Genesis).
I ask, one, because this is a conversation and I’m interested in your answer. Second, because I’m curious how you see the nature of truth within the Scriptural and patristic witness. Are there levels? Or is there only one standard of reliability? If there is more than one level of reliability, how is it determined?
If the age question doesn’t seem to be important, does that mean that those witnesses that provide the basis for the 7500 year old creation are not reliable? I’ve much more to say, but I would really like to hear your thoughts on this. I’ve not had a conversation before with an Orthodox believer who held to a young earth. I’m interested.
sorry for the waffling but my instant reaction to this debate is that we are forgetting the experience of the beholders of God.
The personal, first-hand experience of the resurrection through encountering Christ in the Uncreated Light informs what the Saints say about Adam prior to the Fall, more than anything- far more than Genesis. It cannot be otherwise; and this is no different to saying that Pascha is the exegetical key to all Scripture, because one lives that “unending day”, only in that Paschal Light, which all of a sudden opens a new interpretation of all beings, of time and space, of Scripture and Man, of Man’s (Adam’s) potential, and of God’s intent for him from the start.
This is far stronger a witness than that of Scripture and the Fathers, even though it is not an experience “out on a limb” but is cross verified by Scripture and the Fathers – notably one’s spiritual Father. The one side verifies the other; however only the first-hand experience makes any real personal sense (for the beholder of God’s Grace) of Scripture and Fathers.
So death predating Man’s fall, as well as freedom from death existing through grace for Adam -is not an issue for such a person. Having seen things both according to nature and according to grace he comprehends this.
He has, however, seen the resurrection, and he understands that for Adam in Grace this life was a first-hand experience that freed him completely from death, made him eternal according to grace.
I think we all know here and should remember that there is consensus in the Orthodox Church that Adam’s freedom from death was NOT according to nature, it was only according to grace. This is a most important point.
Nature therefore before and after Adam was susceptible to death according to nature… But in Adam and through his capacity as the head of all creation, (called to become what Christ -the second Adam- showed us), there could have been no death according to graceeven for all of creation.
In Eden, one could certainly argue that Man had this experience topically. The Saints have had similar experiences that lasted for a as long as they lasted. They became the lens through which they understood Genesis and everything…
Robert you asked when the Fathers disagree “How do you pick one thing over the other?” That is something I’ve always wondered myself. I suppose you ask someone who knows the answer.
Dino, you said I think we all know here and should remember that there is consensus in the Orthodox Church that Adam’s freedom from death was NOT according to nature, it was only according to grace. This is a most important point….. This to me seems exactly right. Adam truly was full of grace unlike that son of his, Cain!
just a quick note before I run off to Vespers … we have to be careful when we speak of nature – what do we mean? if we use “nature” to mean strictly Adam’s body and soul, then yes, he is mortal by nature for only God has life in and of Himself, but “nature” can also be used to include mode of existence. In this sense Adam was naturally immortal because his natural state is to be sustained in life by God’s grace. Lossky writes about the inseparability of nature and grace ins his Mystical Theology of the Eastern Curch, pp. 101 and 126. Thus Adam’s incorrupt state in Paradise is Patristically considered “according to nature” and he fell “against nature.” For now I will provide one quote to this effect, from Abba Dorotheos:
“In the beginning when God created man he set him in paradise (as the divine holy scriptures says), adorned with every virtue, and gave him a command not to eat of the tree in the middle of paradise. He was provided for in paradise, in prayer and contemplation in the midst of honor and glory; healthy in emotions and sense perceptions, and perfect in his nature as he was created. For, to the likeness of God did God make man, that is, immortal, having then the power to act freely, and adorned with all the virtues. When he disobeyed the command ate of the tree that God commanded him not to eat of, he was thrown out of paradise and fell from a state in accord with his nature to state contrary to nature, i.e. a prey to sin, to ambition, to a love of the pleasures of this life and the other passions; and he was mastered by them, and became a slave to them through his transgression. Then little by little evil increased and death reigned.” — Discourses and Sayings (Cistercian Publications), pg. 77
Thank you so much for posting about this – I think I may need to read it a few more times to take it all in. When you talk about ideas being a product of Western heritage, does that mean it is a problematic way to think about things? My priest is a fan of a lot of what C.S. Lewis has to say, and I think would like the Lewis quote that you provided on the topic.
My priest has also said that while belief in Adam as a historical person is not necessary to be an Orthodox Christian, there is no reason for an Orthodox Christian not to believe it to be so. Would you agree?
This topic has come up frequently for me because my husband is an atheist, and I try to talk to him about these topics while not being entirely sure that I know what Orthodox Christians are supposed to believe. After reading, I’m still not sure. Was there an Adam, the first created, or are we supposed to read Adam as all of us? We all contribute to the Fall, but was there a single, instigating Fall that is the reason for death? Are humans responsible for the fall and corruption of the rest of the world – animals, cataclysmic events, etc.?
Your post may have addressed these issues, perhaps when discussing the problems of viewing time as a line, but I don’t want to draw conclusions about what you mean and be wrong.
There are cities that have been continuously inhabited for more than 6,000 years.
While talking about things that are difficult to intersect with modern thought, there is another question that often comes up in our household – what is a soul? I tend to talk about it as what allows us to relate to God – as we perceive/experience/communicate/come to know. But I don’t think that is solely what it is? I attribute a lot to my soul that I also attribute to my brain, and I’m not sure how much of that is correct. And from my husband’s perspective, if the brain can do everything the soul supposedly does, then the very concept of a soul doesn’t make sense.
I agree with your priest. Adam as a historical person is not a requirement of the Church’s faith, but the faith certainly does not preclude it.
I will try to answer the rest, but it is both difficult to express and harder to understand.
I see Pascha as primary, but Pascha is an event both historical and transcendent – the marriage of earth and heaven – the timeless with time – etc. And wherever Pascha is present it is present in the same manner. Thus, when I think of something being a type of Pascha, I do not think of it merely as reminding us of some later event – but that Pascha indwells it and in-forms it. It gives it something of a Paschal shape.
Also, I think of Pascha (being transcendent) as truly Real, in a way in which creation is not. Creation is moving toward such a reality (the glorious liberty of the Sons of God). Thus, I do not put any event on a par with Pascha. There is nothing equivalent. But other things participate in it – everything participates in it to some degree.
As to Adam. I think we cannot know anything about the historical matter of the first human being. The account we have in Genesis is not a historical account, it is a literary account. I do not mean by that to say that it is merely fictional. But it is a literary account (poetic if you will) that reveals far more than a merely historical/scientific account would. For example, we have God speaking and defining who man is. We hear the inner dialog of the Trinity. That is literary. Even if it is relayed later to Moses, it is still God’s literary relaying of the event. Sometimes literary accounts are required in order to reveal the inner reality of something. This account gives us a version that allows us to connect it with Pascha – it “rhymes” with Pascha, you might say. Pascha reveals its meaning – and the Paschal shape of the version allows us to see that this is so without thinking that a commentator (St. Paul for example) is just saying something off the top of his head.
But our anxiety over the merely historical is mistaken. We think “historical is real and if he says we can’t know what happened historically then we can’t know what really happened.” But this makes the merely historical to be the measure of the truth, rather than Pascha. History would be the judge of Christ (who would not really be the truth, or only truth so far as history judges). But Christ Himself is the Truth as His Pascha is true.
The fathers (St. Maximus in the East and St. Ambrose in the West) say that the Old Testament is “shadow,” the New Testament is “icon”, and the eschaton (which would mean the fullness of Pascha) is the Truth itself. What we have in the story of Adam, I would say, is the shadow of Christ’s Pascha, and the shadow even of the historical Adam (whatever we may understand by that – one or many). We may understand the shadow because we have the icon and see in it the Truth.
What we have, however, are the Scriptures and it is in them that we see Christ (if we dwell in Him). What God has given us is the story of Genesis which, in the light of Pascha, reveals the true nature of man, of his sin and his predicament. None of that seemed at all clear from the Genesis story until Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ reveals Adam. No one – absolutely no one – was looking for the “Second Adam.”
What is difficult in all this is our deeply engrained habit of historical thinking – very linear and chronological. But the Scriptures, particularly Christ and His Pascha are constantly blowing that up. “Before Abraham was I am.” Some like to think of this as, “Before Abraham was I was.” And the difference is important.
All of this, an exercise in the “mystical” reading of the Scriptures (and of history), is not a literary technique, but a learning spiritually of how to discern the Kingdom of God.
This, to me, is the emptiness of literalism, whether in its Protestant form, or in an Orthodox form. Truth is diminished into a single layer, the resurrection becomes the equivalent of any story on the front page (or back page) of the newspaper. And it can be known like anything else that is investigated, etc.
But this is clearly contrary to the witness of the gospels, particularly with regard to the resurrection. Adding up the witness of the fathers for literalism is, to me, a reduction of the fathers. They just become old Protestants with beards.
They spoke wisdom to the wise and like children to the childish. But we have to grow up a bit in our present mission to the world. We cannot speak of 7000 year-old creations and expect anything other than to become marginal. We will cease to speak to the very people we were sent to evangelize, cowering in our own anxieties and needs to preserve an intellectualized castle of nonsense.
I hope Guy will read this and see if it helps any with his questions. I can write more specifically to them if he needs me to.
I am glad you brought up that great quote which seems to emphasise the topical character I was describing.
The issue of ‘according to nature’ is slightly confusing, it is far clearer in Greek.
You have already explained it well, but I would clarify it again further, It is thus:
there are three degrees of grace (what St Dorotheos is alluding to):
1) lower than nature (παρά φύση)
(what we see as natural to fallen man, yet theologically we call this unnatural in the knowledge of man’s original purpose)
2) according to nature (κατά φύση)
(theologically termed natural)
3) above nature (ὑπέρ φύση)
However, we use this same terminology when we say man was created “immortal not according to nature but according to grace” (“ἀθάνατος ὄχι κατά φύση, ἀλλά κατά χάρη”). Here we do not talk of natural, subnatural or supernatural states, but of createdness/nature as opposed to its transformed mode of being through God’s Grace. Of course the 3rd state (super natural) corresponds to this too…
Is the the “Adam” mentioned in the genealogy of Christ (Luke 3:38) the same historically real individual whom I have inherited corruption/death from? Because I was under the impression I inherited death; i.e., I inherited death from my parents, and they inherited it from my grandparents, and my grandparents inherited it from my great-grandparents, etc, until we reach the first set of parents at the end of my own genealogy.
Dino – great post!
I answered why. I think you’re avoiding an obvious question based on what you have quoted. Or do you only quote to contradict but not to assert. If it’s not important then you obviously don’t think that a literal reading is important. Or is it only selectively important and only when it seems convenient? What criterion are you using to say something is important or not?
Meshell. I have no idea.
Lol! Oh well I guess. Thanks for your honesty though 🙂
I always thought of Adam and Eve as my very (very, very) distant relatives, thus making Jesus one of my distant relatives too, according to the genealogy found in Luke. This may be just a silly sentiment, but I’m kind of sad to know this may not be true.
Christ is far more than just that meshell2001
Isn’t even greater to know that Christ is IN you every time you partake of the Eucharist (He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me,and I in him) Jn. 6:56. This is a union far closer than any blood relative.
i appreciate the mention in the comment. So i take from the comment that you don’t think Genesis is merely fiction. i take from your chiding of literalists (on the basis of what i can only see as capitulation to a kind of scientism) that you don’t think it’s history.
i take it then you think Genesis is some mixture of fiction and history, but you don’t know what degree of history is included in that mixture. That seems fine to me. i guess it’s just that some of the suggestions in comments so far (no historical person and no historical fall) seem to express that the amount of history in the mixture is so small that i’m not sure i see any important difference in just saying there’s no history in the mixture at all–only fiction.
But you said this:
“But our anxiety over the merely historical is mistaken. We think “historical is real and if he says we can’t know what happened historically then we can’t know what really happened.” But this makes the merely historical to be the measure of the truth, rather than Pascha.”
(1) You’ve said ever since i’ve started reading your blog that the resurrection is the criterion of truth or that it’s not on a par with other events. To this day, i really have no idea what you mean by this. Are you saying that the resurrection bears certain features, and for any proposition, that proposition is true only in virtue of cohering with those features? If so, what are those features and how is coherence to them determined? And if so, are you, thus, critiquing the more common correspondence theory of truth–that for any proposition, that proposition is true only in virtue of its correspondence to some fact in the world which it resembles?
(2) My anxiety over the historical is not as you characterize i don’t think. i’m not concerned about the history because i think history measures the truth. i’m concerned about the history for a number of reasons which i’ve told you before. (a) If none of these accounts are based in history, why not just Christologically allegorize and spiritualize about any old story at all? It seems like the differences between these stories and others become either arbitrary or just a matter of divine fiat. (b) Further, if none of these accounts are based in history, then none of them really tell me that God works and redeems in history. Why think He’s working and redeeming history now? i’m in history. i’m historical. My life is occurring in history. If the historical doesn’t matter, then neither do i so far as i can tell. And if whether the historicity of the events really doesn’t matter, then i don’t see why i need to think the resurrection was historical. [Now we’re into Protestant territory for sure (of the Barthian variety, who, i believe, argued that the resurrection was far too important and transcendent to have occurred in history).] (c) Given that these accounts are literary in nature (as you point out), if there are literary connections between the resurrection and these accounts, then giving up on history altogether in some seems to unravel the rest; that seems clear whether or not there are “levels” to revelation.
(3) i could understand if you were saying “How historical these are or aren’t really doesn’t matter when it comes to theosis. So we’re majoring in minors.” i could also understand if you were saying, “Whether these are historical isn’t as important as the theological/philosophical truths expressed in literary form.” But i’ve never heard you say either as clearly as that, and sometimes you seem to deny that you’re saying either of those.
You’re so much more organized than I am in your thoughts! I will use your questions as something of an outline and work seriously on an answer. I’ll try not to be evasive (it’s not my intent), it’s just that sometimes the categories actually create answers that are not what I’m trying to say. I’ll get on with it. Snow is falling heavily outside. Not much else going on. Think I’ll be blogging a bit. Doesn’t blogging sound like something that requires snow?
Thank you Dino, and Dean. Union with Christ is indeed the greatest gift of all.
I personally am still not sure what I believe concerning the historicity of Adam. If we are not all related through Adam, then that is how God intended it, thus it is good for it to be so. But to be honest I lean more towards his actually being real, and being the father of us all. I thought this was one of the reasons why he was mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, to show us that Jesus is indeed one of us (human), because he shares with us our common ancestral father. But like I said, Im not sure what’s true.
🙂 You’re endearing. i hope you never take any of my picking/questioning as caustic or unfriendly. i won’t lie, i do get frustrated from not understanding. But i really do find your general pastoral demeanor (especially apparent on the radio) disarming and welcoming.
i had a professor say in class once (though i think he was quoting someone else) that the difference between Western analytic philosophy and continental philosophy is the difference between being clear and being profound. Perhaps my aim is clarity (i’ve only been trained in the Western analytic approach) and your aim has been profundity.
And cold weather does motivate me to get on the computer! Our snow here in OKC just stopped last week.
Fr Andrew Louth in Discerning the Mystery does a good and much needed job chipping away at the false binary of history/fiction (literal/allegorical, science/theology, and so forth). It’s a must read for anyone interested in this topic. I love the subtitle, it alone should give one pause – “An Essay on the Nature of Theology.”
He addresses the nature and methodology of theological truth vs. scientific truth. How does the Enlightenment condition our approach to truth?
I would be grateful if you would include answers to these thoughts in your reply to Guy.
“As I noted in the previous article, the age of the universe presses the question about the nature of the Biblical creation narrative in Genesis.”
With respect, this is something of a caricature – one that can be applied to the Fundamentalist Literalists, but not to the Genesis narrative itself. The narrative, even if read as ‘historical’ narrative, doesn’t demand it all. On the contrary, the narrative does not speak of time as we know it, for there can be no time as we know it without the relative movements of objects in space. How much ‘time’ (though we cannot speak of time) passed during the ‘days’ of creation? It is impossible to say and even more impossible to measure. A ‘young earth’ understanding is not at all necessary to the narrative unless we choose to read it as Fundamentalists. Thus I fail to understand why you keep returning to the idea of a 7,000 year old universe as though an ‘historical’ reading demands it.
“For while it is true that man’s breaking communion with God is the source of death, this is reduced to mere historical fact in the doctrine of Original Sin. For here Adam, as the first historical man, becomes infinitely guilty and deserving of punishment, and pays his juridical debt forward to all generations. This historical understanding of the fall, with inherited guilt, locks the Fall within historical necessity. It is among numerous reasons that Original Sin, as classically stated in the West, has not found a lasting place within Orthodox tradition.”
This, too – if I may be so bold – is a caricature. It is an accurate description of much of Western Christianity’s understanding. But the concept of inherited guilt (a thoroughly un-Orthodox idea) does not follow necessarily from an ‘historical’ reading. And I would qualify that the very word ‘historical’ is not an apt word to use when one speaks of the timeless nature of union with God although I don’t know what word WOULD be appropriate.
What follows is my own (admittedly limited) understanding. I share it here not to proclaim any dogmatic statement to which I cling, but to ask you sincerely to answer as though it were in the form of a question.
“And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female…?”
It is here “at the beginning” that God created all things good. The Scriptures, the Fathers, and indeed the whole of the Orthodox Christian Tradition insist on the essential goodness of all creation regardless of how they read the creation story. Yet when our Lord was called “Good teacher” by an inquirer He replied, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God.” Thus, when creation is said to be good it is apparent that this goodness is grounded in the fact that it was created in union with God who freely gives His life to all things in accordance with the capacity He has given each creature to receive it. The goodness of God’s creation is in its inherent created capacity to be interpenetrated by God’s own life-giving energies, a capacity revealed in concrete fashion by the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.
A creation in union with its Creator (that is, a creation full of Grace) is what St. Maximos clearly had in mind when he wrote that, “Grace irradiates nature with a supra-natural light, raising it above its natural limits.” This description is not a denial of nature (and thus not a denial of science). It is a description of nature that is in union with the eternal life of its Creator, not subject to natural limits, and thus not a subject of scientific inquiry by means of the tools of science. Was there not a ‘time’ (although in the eternal realm we cannot actually speak of time) ‘when’ (again a poor word) this was the case with man and thus with the creation subject to his dominion? Otherwise, how can it be asserted that “it is true that man’s breaking communion with God is the source of death”?
Nature (be it human, animal, botanical…) when subjected to itself is subject to decay, corruption, or whatever similar word we might use to describe death. This is the nature that is the subject of natural scientific inquiry. It has its own laws that apply in their own way to the world as we experience it now, the world governed (so to speak) by “the law of sin and death,” to use the words of the Apostle.
But again, “at the beginning” the Scriptures illumined by Christ’s Pascha declare that it was not so. Nor will it be so at the end when God is again “all in all.” And while it is not necessary to understand the Genesis narrative of the beginning or the visions of the end in a literal sense, can they not nevertheless be said to very real spiritual (and even in a sense physical descriptions [for God created matter] – glimpses, so to speak, expressed in language we can understand – of a past and a future (but again, the linear language of past/future are inadequate) that are the only way our natural minds can even begin to grasp the glory of personal union with the Blessed Trinity – a union prior to the corruption of death that came through sin and also a more complete union wherein God and man are fully united in the Person of Christ, death is abolished, and life reigns – not only among men, but also in the entire creation that subjected to his dominion and thus “was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”?
One of the primary questions, therefore, is the question of the origin of death. The Genesis account agrees with the Apostle (“Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men…” [Even the Apostle finds himself stuck with linear language]. It agrees with the Fathers (regardless of how we read them). It agrees with the Liturgy of St. Basil and the whole liturgical tradition. Indeed, it agrees with the entirety of the Tradition. It even agrees with our own experience – which is to say that we know experientially that were born into the corruption of death, a corruption we personally did not initially choose and one in which even infants who bear no responsibility for sin die. Moreover, it is a condition of ours that is so repugnant to our good God that He Himself is come in the flesh to abolish it for us and for all the creation He loves.
Finally, there is another aspect of this question that relates directly to the Apostle’s words that “as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin.” While willful sin is never private or ‘individual’ (in the sense that it affects only the sinner), it is always personal (in the sense that it is the choice of a human person). ‘Humanity’ only exists in human persons (Mary, Sally, George). You said this yourself only recently. Thus, the nature of a person participates in the sin of the person because a person does not exist apart from his nature. But only persons can sin. Only persons can love God or refuse to love. How is it, then, possible for a non-specific, impersonal, generalized ‘humanity’ to fall away from union with God and subject all mankind to the condition of death? Only persons are capable of refusing to love the Persons of God. Only a person whose human nature once freely shared the eternal life of God by his personal communion in the divine Persons could bring about the subjection of his nature to the corruption of death by choosing (albeit in the ignorance of an ‘innocent’ state) to sever himself from that communion and thereby sin against the One who is his life. How, then, can it not be that a person, a person in a position to father the entire race of man in his own corrupted likeness, after his corrupted image (Genesis 5:3), is cause of death (and therefore the propensity toward sin) being transmitted to all human nature? It is not at all necessary that this be interpreted as his “being infinitely guilty and deserving of punishment, and pays his juridical debt forward to all generations.”
And is it not also true that this applies in the reverse, so to speak (although Pascha is rightly said to be first) – that righteousness is also personal, which is to say that the Word is incarnate personally. He shares in our humanity as a divine Person, and His Pascha is personal – as in… “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous.”and “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Thus, I agree wholeheartedly that all ‘begins’ not with the creation narrative, but with Pascha – and that Pashca illumines all else. But why would we then find it necessary to disregard as irrelevant the very things that His Pascha illuminates? I don’t hear you saying that they are untrue – only that they are “problematic.” Is it merely to defend against ignorant ideas about a 7,000 year old universe put forth by supposedly ‘Biblical’ Fundamentalists?
Forgive my boldness, but though I have tried to pay close attention the answers to these questions have thus far not been satisfactory.
Fiction, History, Myth -definitions
I would mean by fiction something that is made up whole cloth, like “Once upon a time,” or things politicians say.
History is a record of events. It is not the same thing as the events themselves, but is a record, told from some point of view, about something that happened.
Myth (from the Greek mythos=story) is a story that often has profound meaning beyond itself. Such a story has the power to shape lives and nations. Such a story can reveal depths of reality that cannot be reached in other ways. It can have layers, some fictional, some historical. Homer’s Iliad is clearly mythic. The gods talking and acting, etc., but there is also obviously some amount of history (a war with Troy). It is also mythic in that the notion of the heroic (cf. Achilles) profoundly shaped and reflected a whole culture.
The Canon of Scripture contains history, myth (in the nuanced sense above), poetry, letters, apocalyptic writings, and gospels (its own category).
Examples: history – the book of Kings. Judges seems to have both history and possible some mythic elements. It’s hard to sort out.
Fiction: Book of Jonah may be fiction. Again, hard to tell, but it lacks a number of key markers for historical works. It’s references outside itself for one. Instead, it seems more like a parable, a rabbinical tale, with a moral purpose.
Myth: The early chapters of Genesis have a mythic quality. They are clearly poetic (the refrain: “evening and morning” and “it was good” etc.). They have very large transcendent characters Adam (whose name means “man” etc.). God makes him with his own hands. He walks with him in the cool of the garden. This is unlike anything anywhere else in the Scriptures. Unlike anything “historical.” Of course, it is set in Paradise, also a setting somehow “outside of this world.” In the Garden, there is a snake. It has legs. It talks. I for one think talking snakes is rather mythic.
But it is our myth – our story – a story so profoundly accurate about the nature of human existence and our relationship with God (in the light of Christ) it is raised to a level well above fiction. It is primal – maybe even the primal myth, if reading through Christ (and only then).
I have the highest possible regard for myth – especially true myths. They reveal things to us. They tell us what could not be know otherwise. We could perhaps distill the “lessons” of the first few chapters of Genesis:
1.God created everything out of nothing
2. Everything God created was good.
3. God created man in his own image.
But I suspect that any such propositional list, no matter how exhaustive, would fail to carry the weight of the story itself. And the story itself has this incredible power, the ability to continually renew itself and reveal things that we did not see at an earlier point. Propositions cannot do this. I think that myth in this sense, is divinely inspired. Deeply so. I believe in the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden.
The Resurrection as the Criterion of Truth
Ok. I frequently try to make it clear that by true and real I mean having the character (even the very life) of God. God alone is real and true. This means that true and real refer to the eternal, unchanging, self-existing. Things that are temporal, changing, contingent are only relatively true, relatively real. So I tend to reserve those words.
History, what “happens” is the unfolding of events, actions, etc., in time within creation. But such events, actions, etc., are not self-existing. They do not define themselves nor have meaning in themselves. They are relative. They relate to God, to His eternal purpose, to His will, to His energies, etc. This aspect of what unfolds in history is not always apparent or manifest. Many things look one way, but are another. The crucifixion looks like defeat, but is victory (one easy example).
The resurrection (I prefer to say Pascha and mean by that the whole crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ) is that sole event (historical) in which both its outer and inner reality are manifest. It is the life, purpose, will, energies, etc. of God breaking forth in space and time. It actually changes space and time. Pascha thus becomes the one eternal event in history. It is the one true thing, eternal, unchangeable, etc. in all of space time.
History is headed somewhere. It is not just static (“what happened”) but is also iconic. There Is a reality that underlies all things (and I mean to connect this with Reality). And so Patriarch Bartholomew says “the whole world is a sacrament.” So, to the question, “What really happened?” It is not enough to describe what we all history, but to discern something more.
And, more than this, sometimes fiction has this same Reality behind and within it, so that it bears what is true. Myth, certainly has this aspect.
With all that in mind, I strongly resist the temptation to take a purely self-contained secularist view of history, fiction and myth.
I do not mean to Christologically “allegorize.” You assume that there are historical events that are what is real, and the allegory is just talk about the events. And so the Scriptures are considered true only as historical record. But they are true because whatever their relationship is to events they have a relationship (iconic) with the truth which is Christ’s Pascha. If there is a correspondence then it is correspondence with Pascha that constitutes the truth of anything.
Historical events matter (you and I matter). But we only matter in relationship to Christ. The truth of our existence is found in the resurrection.
All this is true because of the nature of the resurrection. It is not just a fact, an event that takes its place among other events – something which is wonderful because it is now history. Rather it is wonderful because history has now become eternal and divine. History becomes God.
And that history-become-God now promises to transform all history (including me and you).
These are the consequences of the resurrection. Particularly if someone truly understands and believes in the resurrection. And especially if they do not believe in a reductionist resurrection. “It’s wonderful because it happened!” No, “happening” is now wonderful because it participates in the resurrection.
We’re used to a two-storey universe – where we think only the first floor is real and everything else is an idea. I’m saying something quite different. Ideas are nothing in comparison to this.
The fathers said (7th Council) that icons do with color what Scripture does with words. I would say it is also correct to say that Scripture does with words what icons do with color. “Icons make present what they represent.” The truth of an icon is not the wood or the paint, but the person. This doesn’t mean that the wood and the paint are unimportant, only that arranged properly they become iconic and that this is their purpose. This is the purpose of creation as well. But even greater than that – for the Icon (image, Adam) is to become what it represents. Glorious wonder.
As you can see my answer to Guy is long. I’ll return to your questions in the morning. I was pushing on the narrow reading of Genesis (the 7000 year old account) to emphasize that such a flat, literal reading is simply more than problematic. It becomes wrong. And if it is wrong, it does not mean that we discount Genesis, only that what is wrong is the reading. I wanted to see if there was a crack in the door that was being shut through which we might see something better.
Nothing in the Genesis account should be considered irrelevant. Absolutely not.
I very much appreciate your clarity in this last comment to Guy, I am grateful for the effort you put in, thank you very much!
i do understand you a lot better now.
(1) It appears to me now that we’ve just talked passed each other in many cases.
You seem to use “true” and “real” much like some medievals (and even some moderns like Descartes) whereas i have not used the terms this way. But what strikes me is that your use of these terms does not seem to be doing or trying to do the same work or function as the more contemporary use of “true” and “real.” Based on this, i don’t understand your objection to the contemporary use of “true” and “real.”
Why not just say that these concepts are not univocal? There are type-1 and type-2 senses of “real” and “true.” In other words, it seems like this is a mere quibble over words. It seems like the criticism reduces to “stop using those utterances to make those references.”
For instance, suppose i weren’t using the terms “real” and “true.” Suppose when i referred to events that actually occur or states of affairs that obtain, i used a different word–“flerb.” And suppose when i referred to whether propositions accurately resemble some fact in the world to which they correspond, i used a different word–“gerkin.” And so you say, “Look–the Genesis account is true and real.” And i say, “Well, of course the Genesis account is revealed in light of Pascha, but what i’m asking now is whether the account as described is flerb. If it alleges to be flerb yet is not, doesn’t it follow that it’s not gerkin?”
If that were the case, would your criticisms even arise? If so, i don’t see why. Seems to me i can acknowledge that Pascha is true in real in your Type-1 sense, and still use “true” and “real” in the Type-2 sense as well. i’m not seeing any incompatibility between the concepts.
i take from things you say that perhaps you’re concerned about the motivations for the Type-2 senses. But the type-2 senses are quite useful when concerning ourselves with things like lying, falsehoods, or mistakes. Everyday and practically every minutes of my life i need to be able to discern whether events actually occurred and whether propositions accurately resemble bits of the world to which they correspond. And i have all the same concerns i shared before about type-2 “true” and “real” when it comes to accounts of events in the Scriptures (and i take it from your response that at least one or two of those concerns are not illegitimate).
(2) This is somewhat tangential–regarding your “talking snakes are mythic comment.” Given that you’ve defined myth the way you have, my question is unfounded. But i want to ask it anyway because i suspect some underlying motivation. If i’m wrong about that motivation, then just say so and that’ll be that.
It seems odd to me to say something like “When i read about a talking snake, i knew i was reading a myth,” and then to read (say) a priest talking about the real presence in the Eucharist yet *not* be motivated to say “must be myth.” Now, again, granted the way you defined myth, you could easily say they’re both myth. My ‘itch’ has to do with what motivates you to judge “myth” when you read about a talking snake. My suspicion is the very thing we’ve been talking about–“Well that can’t possibly have actually happened, so it’s fictitious, which entails this is at best a mix of history and fiction, which entails it’s a myth.” Is this right? Do you judge it to be myth just because it’s fantastic or hard to accept at face value?
Have you ever read Swinburne? He makes my hair hurt, but his logic would thrill you. 🙂
“Mythic.” Yes, I included some sense of “fictional” in my comment, though it is clearly mythic in the sense that I’ve defined. Our adversary has been there since the beginning. He is cunning and crafty, and the snake captures something of it much better than a literal description of an angel (perhaps) or an inner dialog – and absolutely myth in the most profound sense considering the prophetic pronouncement concerning the snake and the woman!
What you are suggesting however, with regard to meanings – is to formally agree to a two-storey conversation. For even normal conversation, “Such as saying that’s not true,” carries the depth of meaning I’ve been suggesting. I will quickly plead guilty to occasionally being inconsistent, for I’m a secular, two-storey man, as are we all in the modern world. But I’m struggling to teach my tongue to speak the language of the heart. What I am trying to do is, by grace, drag us all towards an awareness of the nature of the truth.
The statement “that’s not entirely true,” captures something of my concern. To push and force me to say of something “that never happened or that’s just fiction” is like saying “that’s just a symbol.” Symbols, for example, are never “just.” Symbols make something present. “That’s just a symbol” would require me to subscribe to Nominalism and become a pure secularist.
I would never say that what has happened that is recorded in the Scriptures doesn’t matter (much of it does), but this begs the question of what the Scriptures are for. “These are they which testify of me,” Christ says. And it doesn’t matter to me exactly which genre of writing I put “these” in. They still testify, and it is that testimony that I seek.
I mentioned Jonah as a possible candidate for the fiction category. And it is one of my favorite books and utterly essential in Christ and His Pascha. We read the entire(!) book on Holy Saturday in the Church. No other book in the OT, excepting the Psalms, receives such an honor! It is the only book that even obliquely refers and reveals the three-day resurrection of Christ!
But things are important and true in reference to Pascha. This book is important and true. But I am clueless whether it happened. And my skepticism is not about the big fish swallowing him. It’s fantastic, but that doesn’t matter to me. It’s the internal “evidence” in the book that makes it unlike any other book of the prophets. It’s a neat tale, from beginning to end. None of the other prophetic books is like it. You could read it out loud to a child, with a good translation.
It is not about what he says (prophecy). It is about what he does. It’s like the parable of the Good Samaritan. The book says, “God is kind to the evil and the ungrateful.” And Jonah doesn’t like it.
Someone will ask, “But Jonah is on our calendar of feasts.” Yes. Honor him. Ask his prayers. But quit trying to reduce the world to flat literal and secular.
Back to the snake. Actually, I have almost no liberal bones in my body – as to “hard to accept.” It’s simply honesty on my part. Not that I’m so virtuous. Lewis understood these things. He was a literary man (as was Tolkien). Some things just “feel” different. There are historical things that read one way, and mythic things that read another. And after a lifetime of reading, it’s not always hard to tell the difference. And since I find not necessity as a believer to force my mind to say something it doesn’t believe, I can call a myth a myth, or history a history. Again, it’s just a matter of honesty.
I find that people damage their souls by creating hoops and loops and jumps for their brains because they’re afraid that if they ever say out loud what they’re secretly thinking, their faith will fall flat and disappear in a puff of smoke. And every hoop and leap darkens the mind.
I have sinned for so long and so profoundly that my soul has been greatly darkened. I cannot afford to add to it by quibbling and hedging my bets and the like. Learning to speak the truth (in its fullest sense) is the same as being saved.
Thank you for your kindness. It was late at night. It is stated in a less than traditional manner. They were the only words I could find.
your comment brought to my mind that ‘reason’ will always find the experience that God’s grace bestows endlessly debatable; its inherent lack of sufficiently ‘reasonable’ explanation in words -no matter how experientially verifiable it happens to be for the person who undergoes this experience- is the reason. Talking of the truth of Adam’s experience is very much part of this category.
Let me use an very different example: For instance, what is true and what is not true in the following words of a practitioner of the Jesus prayer (this is a real example of a very very very true common realisation confered through grace to those that grace has purified and is starting to illuminate) :
I have never met a single bad person apart from myself in my entire life!, everyone is a saint and I am the only sinner on this earth, (usually uttered by someone that everyone would see as completely sin-free…)
Am I to concentrate on the secular ‘truth’, that this is not so? Am I to accept as truth what the person is uttering? If I myself am that person I cannot possibly say this is not true since it is the truest thing I have ever experienced! It is certainly very confusing on paper…
Is Adam’s experience of immortaily in Eden not such an experience?
Great conversations. I love this line–it made me LOL.
I would mean by fiction something that is made up whole cloth, like “Once upon a time,” or things politicians say.
Also, Father, as someone trying to stop jumping through all kinds of hoops that lead only to the false self, I really resonate with you where you say:
Learning to speak the truth (in its fullest sense) is the same as being saved.
“History is a record of events. It is not the same thing as the events themselves, but is a record, told from some point of view, about something that happened.”
This is somewhat tangential, but your comments about history, myth and fiction are (to my way of thinking)right on.
I was a history major as an undergraduate. My school considered history one of the humanities — and emphasized the narrative qualities of history. As a result, I am always a little put out when colleges, universities, or other schools list history among the social sciences. In my mind, that implies an objectivity that does not exist, and a relationship to actual events that is impossible.
“Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.”-St. Porphyrios. Ultimately, we are trying to understand with our heads those things which may only be understood in our nous. The poetry of the Church helps us, I think, by providing a way to “see” the invisible Realities. Our minds want to “know” things that may only be apprehended by the soul. What is more, it seems that the purpose of trying to understand all of these infinite things with our finite minds is, in some sense, to find out whether we can trust that God is real and that we can rely on Him. Is He there? I liken our task to learning how to float. The only way to float within the Cosmic River of Light–this universe we inhabit–is to be able to relax, breathe in His Life, and let the invisible realities hold us up. Then, we can look up and see the Beauty. Otherwise, in our ceaseless flailing, we are dragged down into the abyss and drown. Can we trust that Adam is “real” may really be a quest to know if God is real. The poetry of the Church is so sublime that I have sometimes thought that at its core, the entire Cosmos must be some Divine Poem. My mind cannot comprehend what my nous is beginning to enjoy: “Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden hath been opened for all. Prepare, O Ephratha, for the tree of life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin; for her womb did appear as a spiritual paradise in which is planted the divine Plant, whereof eating we shall live and not die as did Adam. Christ shall be born, raising the image that fell of old.”
I think that in order to do science, science has to assume some amount of regularity. I think it is uncharitable for those who do not do science to ask those who do to stop doing science. That is essentially what one is doing when one critiques the assumptions of Uniformitarianism and Gradualism.
Now there may be exceptions to Uniformitarianism and Gradualism, but even then science has to assume there is some higher order it hasn’t found yet in the scientific process.
I think the Fathers would say that God is a God of order and not of chaos.
I have tried to avoid entering this conversation, but I could no longer hold my metaphorical tongue; please forgive my foolishness.
Did linear, historical time even exist before the fall?
Only, if it did not, then questions such as “Is the Earth 6 thousand or 6 billion years old?” or “Were the days of creation 24-hours long?” do not even make sense.
Science seems to associate the nature of time with that of entropy, and the latter seems to be awfully akin to the Law of Corruption that the world was made subject to through our ancestral disobedience.
Also, I was taught as a child (in Greece) the following scheme:
Adam fell from the seventh day to the sixth. Christ’s proclamation on the Cross of “It is finished” refers to his re-creation of Man bringing the sixth day to a close, and entering into his Sabbatical rest in the grave. He then pushed on to the new, endless, eighth day through the Resurrection.
Yannis et al
There are reasons, quite important, I think, that things are as they are – that all things do not appear quite as clearly as they are. The things that are unseen, are seen by faith, they require that the nous be purified and illumined, which always means our cooperation with God. In this, all things become personal (in the theological sense of the word). However the world as seen “objectively” does not rely quite so much (if at all) on our cooperation. It just is. Were the Kingdom of God to appear in such a manner and behave in such a manner, we would be forced into God and the Divine Life, which is a contradiction. We would experience this as torture.
This is one of the difficulties with various forms of fundamentalism. It is a desire to couch the faith in terms that are objective and able to be forced on others – to be so convincing that no one could deny them. So we look for Noah’s Ark, postulate about where the Garden was located, etc. If we could just “prove” it – i.e. make it so clear that no one could deny it.
But this is, in fact, no matter how well-intentioned, a demonic desire, born of envy. “See! See now! Now you’ll no longer deny it!” This is the voice of a darkened heart (darkened by envy). God changes hearts. He never forces them.
I found your reflection here both profound and (to quote an early responder) “obscure”; however rummaging through the Internet I came across something that brought clarity: theologian Ian Barbour’s distinction between “Natural Theology” and “A Theology of Nature.” Barbour explains that Natural theology today starts with science while a Theology of Nature “starts from a religious tradition based on religious experience and historical revelation,” and “holds that some traditional doctrines need to be reformulated in the light of current science” (Barbour. When Science Meets Religion, p. 31. Qtd in George Tsakiridis, “Knowing God through the Patristic Fathers: Basil and Ambrose on the Hexameron” [Internet])
Using Barbour’s distinction, it seems to me your post represents a “Theology of Nature” approach to the question of evolution. You begin with the Paschal revelation, which totally rearranges any prior understanding we’ve had of God, human nature, human destiny, or life and death itself. That seems to me a much better starting point than the other way around in which a hybrid of natural theology and biblical literalism makes futile (and unintentionally dishonest) attempts to disprove current (but ever-changing) scientific hypothesis in order to arrive at “proof” for the Christian God. This approach takes our eyes off Christ and weakens our faith by making it appear to hinge on the outcome of dubious debates over scientific data and biblical interpretation. The Theology of Nature approach strengthens our faith by keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the Risen Lord, the true source and center of that faith. If Christ be risen who cares whether or not the world was created in six literal days. If Christ be not risen, who would bother to care?
“But in fact, Christ is risen from the dead; the first fruits of them that sleep (1 Cor. 15:20). It is the credible witness of the apostles and martyrs, handed down to us and lived out in the Tradition of the Church along with the Holy Spirit speaking in our hearts that makes us proclaim, “Jesus is Lord.” No amount of biblical literalism and pseudo science can lead us to that proclamation and no evolutionary theory can lead us away from it.
“What you are suggesting however, with regard to meanings – is to formally agree to a two-storey conversation.”
Welllllll, there you go with the one-story/two-story thing again. Every time i think i understand it, i don’t.
*IF* i understand that metaphor, then i guess i don’t see how you’ve said anything incompatible with a two-story view. i get that you’re saying the metaphysical furniture of the universe is not as contemporary people think it is–whether religious or not. They tend to think that the world operates as it does, and then if they’re religious, they posit additional entities or operations, and if they’re not religious, they don’t.
If that’s what you mean, then i don’t understand the house-level metaphors–that is, i don’t understand in what sense the religious positing is analogous to an “upstairs.” (10 years ago, i pored through everything Francis Schaeffer ever wrote. i know he was fond of this metaphor, but i didn’t understand the point of it then either. It didn’t seem to serve any function i could see in relation to the rest of his comments and arguments.)
And if that’s what you mean, i don’t see how you’ve said anything qualitatively different from or incompatible with a two-story view. i don’t take you to be saying that atoms *don’t* behave the way the scientist says they do in the particle accelerator. (Am i wrong?) i hear you saying there are additional truths–theological truths–to be posited about the atoms’ behavior. –that the behavior presupposes God’s providentially sustaining the world, that understanding atoms is only important inasmuch as it helps us to know God, that facts like this are meaningless without Pascha, etc. Is this not just a two-story view? It doesn’t sound any different to me than the religious talk i grew up with.
For instance, you say:
“I do not mean to Christologically “allegorize.” You assume that there are historical events that are what is real, and the allegory is just talk about the events. And so the Scriptures are considered true only as historical record.”
But i don’t assume that the Scriptures are only true in virtue of their correspondence to historical events. i’m not affirming that all truths are historical truths. There are mathematical truths, moral truths, scientific truths, philosophical truths, theological truths, etc. So you might say, “But this story teaches us something about Christ, and what it teaches is true.” Okay, fine. The story can be understood to make a Christological claim, and that claim is true. i have no objection to that. But in addition to that, we can still inquire whether certain historical claims made in the story are true in the sense of whether the events described actually occurred as described.
Perhaps what you’re saying is that *no* historical claims are being made by any of the stories, but claims of a different nature are being made–moral claims or theological claims. And those claims are true. Alright. i still understand just fine (though, as i said, i have concerns about view). But, again, i don’t see how you’ve said anything incompatible with my ordinary concepts of “true” and “real.” And i don’t see how you’d be saying anything qualitatively different from the religious people you say hold to a two-story view.
i suspect the punchline is hidden somewhere in this quote…:
“To push and force me to say of something “that never happened or that’s just fiction” is like saying “that’s just a symbol.” Symbols, for example, are never “just.” Symbols make something present. “That’s just a symbol” would require me to subscribe to Nominalism and become a pure secularist.”
…but i still don’t see how you mean something different from a two-story view. (And for the record, i do ethics and not metaphysics, so i only have a cartoon understanding of the difference between nominalism and realism.) “Make present”? Make the meaning present to us? So, help us to understand? Okay, again no objection. Perhaps you mean something more robustly metaphysical. Symbols “make present” in the sense of conjuring the literal presence of the thing symbolized. Okay. But again, how is this different than positing additional entities/operations in the world as other religious people do? –the only difference being the operation posited, but not the manner/method of your positing?
i don’t understand you’re objection to “symbol” being a reduction. If there are two features–(a) the feature of being historical and (b) the feature of being a symbol, and i ask you whether X has feature (a) and (b), and you respond “Not (a), but (b),” then X has fewer features than it could’ve had. Hence, a reduction (compared to what may have been expected). i don’t see why you’re objecting to it though. Unless all you mean is that X’s having (b) is a much bigger deal than is expected. “Symbols are really important.” Of course, they are. i don’t mean to deny that at all.
i understand your basic argument to be:
1. If the conventionally understood terms “true” and “real” presuppose a worldview i don’t hold, then i can’t use those terms in a non-self-defeating way.
2. The conventionally understood terms “true” and “real” *do* presuppose a worldview i don’t hold.
3. Therefore, i can’t use those terms in a non-self-defeating way.
That’s certainly a valid argument. But i don’t yet see any reason to think that “2.” is true.
(i read a touch of Swinburne as an undergrad, but not since. i only recently found out he’s Orthodox.)
So, weird, i’m getting comments sent to my email that don’t show up on the blog.
Thank you so much for your reply to my comment, Father, and the thoughtful replies to everyone else. I’ve been reading every one, and it really is helping to clear up a lot of my confusion. As a Catholic, I was taught that the story of Adam was allegorical, but he was rarely referred to beyond that. As an Orthodox Christian, Adam seems to be referenced so frequently that I felt like his importance must require him to be historical. I love your example of the significance of Jonah, and the reality that can be seen in fiction.
When you spoke of Jonah, you also mentioned that while fictional, we should still honor him and ask his prayers. I’ve actually been reluctant to consider the name Adam for future children because of my uncertainty about his place in history, and wanting my children to have a “real” saint to intercede for them. I can only make sense of what you said about Jonah if I think that saints don’t actually respond to those who seek their intercession, and that it is the act of praying that is beneficial. Or maybe since saints are icons of God, we’re really praying to God, so their historicity is unimportant? Are either of these correct, or is there something else that I am missing?
(I would also love for you to answer my questions on the soul, although I understand that this comments section is already way too complicated to start bringing in an irrelevant topic. But I couldn’t find an email for you, and I didn’t know where else to ask.)
i’m honestly not trying to be thick, but i really didn’t follow most of what you said. Where did experience come in? And what do you mean by “Adam’s experience”?
Regarding your quote, i think meaning is not determined merely by words but also by context and intent. Given the interpretations i’m immediately inclined to when reading the quote, it doesn’t strike me as obviously false at all.
Guy Hmmm (I think I’m going to make your last name to be “Hmmm”) 🙂
Let’s try a different image. Let’s use dimensions. If you lived and only perceived the world in two dimensions, and you encountered a square, someone who perceived three dimensions would say, “Yes, but it’s really a cube.” You wouldn’t know what they were talking about. And you’d say, “But is the square real or not?”
In the example of the symbol, the symbol doesn’t point to something that isn’t there, but participates and makes present that which is. So, we could say that in a world of two dimensions, a square could be a symbol of a cube (if the cube were present). If the cube is not present, then the square is not a symbol of a cube, just merely a square.
In the same manner, I am saying that not “religious” language, but the reality of the Kingdom of God is like another dimension, of which what we see is a symbol. It doesn’t reduce the reality of what we see to say this, but it says that what we see is a “reduction” of the Reality.
Christ in the synagogue at Nazareth says, “Today the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Cube is seen as a square by everyone around Him, and they wonder why He’s claiming to be a Cube. But He explains, “The lame walk, the blind receive their sight, etc.” This is the function, if you will, the property of the Kingdom of God. The Cube is truly there and we can tell it because of what it is doing. Everywhere Jesus walks, the Kingdom of God is inherently being manifest. It cannot be otherwise, for He is the Kingdom of God (God reigning).
Jesus in Nazareth, however, spoke in two-dimensional language. He could have said, “I am the Only-Begotten Son of the Eternal Father, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, God from God, Light from Light, etc.” But He is kind and only says, “Today the Scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing.”
Those who followed Him found that He was telling them the truth even though they didn’t understand it as yet. “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your Name!” And Peter’s shadow healed the lame, etc. Following Christ they were birthed into the fullness of three dimensions that changed the two-dimensions around them.
In this way Fr. A. Schmemann says that the sacraments do not make things to be what they are not, but reveals things to be what they truly are!
This is not a “two-storey” explanation, because the cube and the square participate in one another. The square is not a reference to a cube that is somewhere else (“like a cube”). But the cube is present, even if what I perceive is a square.
Shaeffer uses the imagery but means something completely different, by the way. He was thoroughly 2-storey like all good Reform folks.
To announce the coming of the Kingdom of God (which is the content of the gospel), is to do what Christ did.
When it comes to prayers, I pray and leave the mechanism to God. Jonah intercedes for us as does Adam. I think it would be possible to encounter the person of Jonah (or Adam), but I put that in the hands of God to explain to me later what I don’t understand now.
guy, on the email stuff. I deleted a comment from someone that posted. It might have therefore gone out to subscribers but not appeared on the site. It’s also possible that what is in your email is a symbol for something else.
Sorry for taking up so much of the comment space here, but I’d oversimplified things a bit in my previous post because I didn’t want the main outlines to be obscured and lost in a thicket of professorial qualifications and quibbles; however my conscience is pricking me to do another post in which I recognize some of those quibbles
First in my post, I presupposed the most simple-minded and fundamentalist forms of creationism. That’s because it’s probably the most widespread. However, there are much more sophisticated “old earth” variants of creationism that are fully prepared to admit the great age of the earth as well as some form of derivation of later species from earlier (while denying the Darwinian mechanism for it.) I think the Bill Nye types like to concentrate on the most fundamentalist kind because they provide the best handle for attacking Christianity, but Christians at least should recognize there are more thoughtful forms of creationism and make this fact as public as possible to the world at large so that potential believers won’t get the wrong impression that all Christian creationists are literalists.
Secondly, I think it’s important to recognize there is a pathos driving many who hold the young earth position that ought to be respected and perhaps shared by everyone. Only the young earth creationist position seems to have a solution, however simplistic, to the painful question, “why is there suffering and death”? Their answer is that a perfect and harmonious natural world was upset by the fall of man. For those of us who don’t believe this, isn’t it rather disturbing that innocent and prefallen nature was “red in tooth and claw” though God called it good? It appears that prominent fathers and seem to accept that with equanimity. Anyone who has read Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation,” can pretty much agree with John Zizioulas when he asserts the following:
Athanasios the Great wrote in his work “On Incarnation” that Creation has “nil” and “death” within its nature. Therefore, “death”, in the sense of “elimination of Creation” is something that is embedded in Creation. When we say “creation” we definitely imply something mortal, as nothing immortal can be created.
Something very much like that emerges from reading St. Basil’s first homily on The Hexameron. Nevertheless something in the gut finds the pain and death of innocent creatures disturbing. It certainly bothered C.S. Lewis, who devoted a whole chapter to it in The Problem of Pain, to which Father alludes in his original post. I would love to find something that might throw more light on this. Father?
Speaking of Lewis, I think it’s important to note that Father Stephen’s citation may unintentionally give the impression that Lewis’s suggestions about paradisiacal man was a view he positively endorsed. But in fact Lewis introduces the section Fr. Stephen quotes by calling his speculation “a ‘myth’ in the Socratic sense, a not unlikely tale.” As I recall, all he’s trying to do is engage the reader in a thought experiment. I think he’s saying, “This may not be the right answer, but it demonstrates that there might be a rationally satisfying answer to those for whom this is a concern.” But Lewis did not hang his hat on any particular understanding of the relation between evolution and biblical truth and perhaps he and Fr. Stephen are more in agreement than would seem.
By the way, J.I. Packer once wrote in reference to the Genesis narrative that “Matters of fact do not always need to be presented in matter-of-fact language.” I do think that the Fall must be regarded as fact and “historical” however symbolic and “mythological” the dark mirror through which we view that fact. But as I think you’re saying, father, we would never have discovered our falleness except (paradoxically and by contrast) for the revelation of true human life that came through the Incarnation, life, and resurrection of the Son of God. That was the event that revealed to use the meaning of the Genesis stories, however we are to take them.
sorry for being unclear. I’ll briefly try and address your comment in hope of clarifying. You said you think meaning is not determined “merely by words” but also by context and intent. But if, as we are doing here, we want to understand what St Pau conveyed “merely by words” on ‘death as consequence’, or the Father’s ‘mere words’ on Adam’s earlier immortality according to Grace, we need context ourselves. “Adam’s experience” of immortality according to Grace, prior to the fall has to become our own experience of immortality according to Grace. We won’t understand without this context. The disciples experience of immortality according to Grace far surpassed Adam’s and it is what infomred their understanding of Adam – is it not?
This is why first-hand expeirence is always so crucial in Orthodoxy, it makes the whole talk of Pascha make sense. It’s the difference between giving a thirsty man a drawing of water and a drink of water.
Thanks. Not quibbles – good points. First, every Christian must be a Creationist. God created everything that exists and sustains it in its existence (the latter is not unimportant). And, I agree that I’m probably not at all far removed from Lewis – I expect that a conversation might have yielded so much commonality. I did my senior thesis in seminary on Owen Barfield’s Doctrine of God (one of the hardest papers I ever wrote. To this day I barely understand it when I read it, and I wrote it!) Barfield had some very, very sophisticated takes on the nature of myth, to which Lewis and Tolkien both subscribed. Tolkien once said, “Since God is mythopoetic, we must become mythopathic.” Tolkien saw his writing as creating “myth.” And criticized Lewis for the mere allegory in the Narnia books, since he thought Lewis could and should do better.
I heartily recommend some of the material on all of this to those interested in the topic. Lewis and Tolkien were Realists (not Nominalists). It made Tolkien a devout Roman Catholic and Lewis a “High Anglican” (not an Anglo-Catholic) despite his childhood prejudices that would have been quite Low Church.
what you say here:
is not so.
The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. The creation of free beings contains within it the risk that the son will become a prodigal; the first Angel, Satan; the Forefather unto life a forefather unto death, it contains in other words the Cross from the very start.
What you reference later:
shows this very thing.
The “prominent fathers that seem to accept a perfect and harmonious natural world that was upset by the fall of man with equanimity.” are speaking through their experience of Grace of Adam’s expereience of Grace, this is what I was tryig to convey to Guy too…
When St Gerasimos of Jordan or the Prophet Daniel lived in perfect harmony with the lions, they also saw a perfect and harmonious natural world was upset by the fall of man, no?
I had one further thought. The Fall is certainly historical (I actually said that in the article) inasmuch as we historical creatures are clearly fallen. Some of the fathers, some of the time, have us “falling” into history. It certainly would be the case that Eden (without death) is not at all like the historical world we know. There are those who therefore want to posit a huge discontinuity in the universe. It is arguable but unprovable one way or another. I tend to prefer continuity and “solve” the theological problem some other way.
As to the existential matters of the young creationists – I don’t think they take death and suffering any more seriously than I do. Indeed, I frequently think they do not recognize the absolutely imminent danger posed by death at every step – particularly the ongoing death of no communion with God.
I certainly didn’t recognize that imminent spiritual danger. Not when I had swimming in my head (heart?) ditties such as…”Clean before my Lord I stand and in me not one blemish does he see.” Makes me shudder now as an Orthodox that I once believed that!
Another way to think of ‘Adam’s experience’ as the very thing that the Fathers are concerned with is to ruminate on Saint Silouan’s “Adam’s Lament”. We clearly see that for the one who has had experience of God in great Grace and has then fallen back down to the default position of createdness (as did Adam & Silouan) it all makes a different kind of sense…
Romans 5 seems to give credence to the idea that Adam was an historical person. In fact the redemption seems to hinge on the actions of 2 men, both historical.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
It does indeed. At the same time, a Saint who has the experience Elder Sophrony calls the hypostatic prayer of Gethsemane – repentance for all – will say that he himself is the cause of the fall of everyone’s sin and death, the Adam, the only sinner. St Paul does not make the exchange of Adam unto himself in that particular passage though.
People will disagree, but I don’t hear the necessity or inference of Adam as a historical person in Romans 5. I hear the obvious conclusions. But I think people fail to hear St. Paul’s Rabbinical voice in the construct of this commentary.
Again, I’m here to bring my little contribution, beginning with a paragraph of my previous comment:
The problem, of course, is the age of the earth (or rather of the whole cosmos). Scientific conclusions in this respect make it embarassing for an educated person to support the idea of a young cosmos. However, a young cosmos (or at least a young life on earth) is the simplest solution to the problem of (animal) death before the Fall of Adam and Eve. A young earth which appears old need not be the work of a trickster god (I can’t even capitalize God in this situation). Someone mentioned the creation of Adam, which was created as an adult and not as a newborn baby. Also, there are many instances, of which I only mention now lenses and mirrors, which produce the appearance of a thing in a place where it is not. I see no reason why the Fall would not act like such a perception-distorting device and produce the appearance of an older universe. This is, of course, a stretch and a speculation; but being an educated person, I find it difficult to affirm the possibility of a young cosmos with simplicity.
It seems it is also not fashionable to assert a historical Adam and a historical Eve. C.S. Lewis was ready to admit a literal fruit (something which the Fathers seem to find unnecessary), but not the existence of an actual Adam and an an actual Eve. Personally, I find it hard to believe that St. Paul would have made the parallel between the first (old) Adam and the second (new) Adam, had he not believed firmly in the existence of the old Adam.
Orthodoxy may not be glamorous or relevant to the concerns of contemporary society, but is and always has been relevant to those who seek salvation and communion with Christ. In my (not so) humble opinion, those who seek Christ will accept Orthodoxy as is, while those who are not interested will find pretexts to avoid it, no matter what.
An important point to make, of course, is that the literalism of the Fathers is not the same with the literalism of the American Fundamentalism and even less with that of the “scientific Creationism” — a trap in which even Fr. Seraphim Rose fell, unfortunately.
Perhaps it is also worth noting some wider issues St Paul is talking about in that entire passage. They are about selecting who do I want to be ‘planted together’ with, ‘grafted unto’ or ‘unified with’, the old or the new Adam?
He is talking of a past “old Adam” and a past (having overturned the curse in the past tense) “new Adam”. However, he is really talking of now, who do we now become a part of? and paraenetically expounding on the need to be in Christ.
Otherwise, if taken literally, Rom 1-14 would imply that death only existed from Adam to Moses(!) ‘death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.’
Thank you for your post.
Why is it that so many Christians these days appear to be going to great efforts to explain Christianity is a way that is compatible with evolution and modern cosmology? Keep in mind, however, that evolution and modern cosmology, however, are two different sets of propositions.
Evolution is a hypothesis (no, not a theory) about the origin of different forms of life. In the McLean vs Arkansas trial, it was ruled that Creationism should not be taught in schools because it is not scientific, i.e. it is not falsifiable or verifiable. However, evolution is not falsifiable or verifiable (and hence, is not a theory, as such); it is a way of understanding natural phenomena based on certain presuppositions, and, hence, is closer to being a worldview than a theory (and, therefore, the difference between evolution and Creationism lies in the presuppositions, and not the data). One of the presuppositions that underlie evolution is uniformitarianism (i.e. that the current natural processes allow us to determine past natural processes). For example, current patterns of sediment deposition explain previous patterns of sediment deposition. One of the presuppositions of Creationism is catastrophism, i.e. that at some points in history, natural processes may have been different to those at present. For example, if there had been a flood, sediment deposition may have occurred at a rate faster than that at which is currently occurs, meaning that geology may point to a young earth, even if, when based on uniformitarian presuppositions, it may look old (notice the difference lies in the presuppositions). Notwithstanding, there is some sedimentary evidence of a flood a few thousand years ago, and it is uncanny that almost every culture has a flood myth (e.g. one native Australian myth I heard of was that the god of the tribe, in the beginning, created three sons who, when he had formed them on earth, had not left any dry land for them, and, subsequently, saved them from drowning in the waters that, in the beginning of this god’s creation, covered all the dry land–?Noah’s three sons).
To be honest, very few of us understand the actual scientific processes of evolution and the big bang ourselves. Most of those who believe in evolution and the big bang do so by faith—faith in the scientists who tell them that these events are true. Am I going to have faith in modern scientists who may be coming to wrong conclusions based on those presuppositions (i.e. not that they are bad scientists collecting the wrong data, but that they are misunderstanding the data presented to them, a bit like viewing the world wrongly because they may be wearing the wrong pair of glasses) or am I going to have faith in what has been the general consensus of the church until the last 150 years.
Furthermore, I understand, Father, your comment that searching for relics of the flood or Eden can had sinful motivations, but this cannot be presented as an argument against their veracity—St Helen found the true cross, but I am sure someone could have searched for it with sinful motives as a means of converting infidels.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Are we, by striving to defend the evolutionary/big bang cosmology view of “the whole world”, losing our own soul? Evolution erodes the idea of a concrete human nature; where do apes end and humans begin? Where is a creature not made in the image of God and then made in the image of God? If someone went back in time, could they have killed Adam’s father for food if they were starving, but not Adam? How can we argue to the modern bioethicist, who sees the foetus as similar in structure to an animal, and the dolphin as superior to the Down’s syndrome patient, that a foetus and a Down’s syndrome patient are made in the image of God? Are they not all along an evolutionary spectrum? What differentiates them? Mental capacities (but a dolphin may have more than a foetus or a Down’s syndrome patient)? Degree of evolution (but could some races be more “evolved” i.e. Nazism). The presence of a soul (but when did ape-men first get a soul)? Only if man is a distinct creation with a unique nature who is created in the image of God are we able to preserve the idea of human dignity are are to withstand the attacks of those who would undermine the dignity of our children and our grandparents. It is more profitable to have a concrete understanding of what humanity is, while leaving it as a holy mystery why the stars appear 14 billion light-years away (although some have offered interesting arguments to try to explain this), than vice-versa.
I have stated before on your blog that I believe evolution is erroneous because it would require the Christian to hold that God used death to create man and because Adam would have died anyway, regardless of whether or not he had sinned. The book of the Wisdom of Solomon states that God did not create death, but created him to be immortal, and that it was because of the devil that death came into the world (i.e. the fall). You have responded that Adam (or the group of beings that he represents), by sinning, may have caused effects of the fall to occur earlier in history, prior to actual fall. However:
• If sin can have retrospective effects on history (i.e. death occurring back in time), should not the resurrection have an even more powerful retrospective effect on history (people no longer dying or being raised again prior to the resurrection), or at least a present resurrecting effect on history (i.e. people rising from the dead now)?
• The council of Carthage in 419 A.D. stated “That whosoever says that Adam, the first man, was created mortal, so that whether he had sinned or not, he would have died in body— that is, he would have gone forth of the body, not because his sin merited this, but by natural necessity, let him be anathema”.
• For those Catholics reading this, the Council of Trent, fifth session, states that “If any one does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted; and that he incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death, with which God had previously threatened him, and, together with death, captivity under his power who thenceforth had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil, and that the entire Adam, through that offence of prevarication, was changed, in body and soul, for the worse; let him be anathema.”
Lastly, if Rublev’s icon of the Trinity is evidence for the existence of the Trinity, cannot the Paschal icon of the harrowing of hades be evidence for the existence of Adam and Eve (i.e. the icon illustrates Christ raising Adam and Eve out of their tombs while standing on the demolished gates of hades)?
Father, forgive me for any lack of humility offering these arguments back to you, and may Jesus have mercy on me, a sinner.
In a response to a post of mine you wrote: “I did my senior thesis in seminary on Owen Barfield’s Doctrine of God (one of the hardest papers I ever wrote. To this day I barely understand it when I read it, and I wrote it!)”
You went one better than me. I read Barfield in seminary, when a professor recommended Saving the Appearances. I didn’t understand him enough even to attempt a paper.
Quote from a post by aka (Feb. 10) “We need theological reflection on what Genesis 2:17 and 3:3, Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15:21 mean if death existed prior to Adam and Eve’s Fall (whether they were real historical figures or whether they are allegorical or metaphorical).”
Archdeacon Kuraev (or Kurayev) has a thoughtful discussion of this in an article “Orthodoxy and Creation” http://solzemli.wordpress.com/2008/11/05/orthodoxy-and-creationism-by-deacon-andrew-kuraev/ He argues that death properly speaking is a phenomenon that properly speaking applies only to human beings. (In the article this makes more sense that this bald statement.)
Quote from Anna on Feb 13: “However, a young cosmos (or at least a young life on earth) is the simplest solution to the problem of (animal) death before the Fall of Adam and Eve”
What is the “solution” (or is that a presumptuous word?) to the problem of animal death before the Fall? Unlike Archdeacon Kuraev, I still find animal death (and suffering) a problem. Outside C.S. Lewis’s attempt to deal with that in “The Problem of Pain,” and Kalomiros’s “Six Dawns of Creation” (which I believe an earlier poster referenced) I haven’t seen a lot of discussion on this from those who reject the young earth position. Kuraev and Lewis relate animal pain to the fall (using different lines of reasoning.
The most powerful realization I got out of Fr.’s original post is that any discussion of the evolution/creation issues should start with the risen Christ, whose conquest of death is a revelation of the original human purpose, ultimate human destiny, and anticipation of the ultimate fulfillment of the ‘groaning creation.” With our eyes fixed on this truth, we may have confidence that there must be answers to any tormenting philosophical/scientific questions—as well as a recognition that our faith doesn’t depend upon someone’s ability to solve any of the intellectual or spiritual problems that arise.
Nevertheless, I sure would be interested in any reflections on animal pain that seem (even if only in the form of a “not unlikely” Socratic myth) to throw light on this issue.
“However, evolution is not falsifiable or verifiable”
First, while I have no doubt those terms were used in a legal case, that’s not really the best description of “theory” from a scientific perspective. One pretty good description in lay terms that springs to mind is Stephen Hawking’s in, if I recall correctly, “A Brief History of Time”.
Even with that note, however, the above assertion is simply false. Evolution (and “modern cosmology” for that matter) is most definitely a scientific theory with an abundant and ever-growing body of evidence. Nor is that evidence particularly difficult for a reasonably well-educated and intelligent person to grasp. I’m an information technology guy, but my father and aunt are both biologists/geneticists and I’ve never had a problem following the gist of their research. In the past, I’ve helped my father in the past build datasets to track and determine speciation for different studies. (He was primarily a cancer researcher, but did a number of other things as well.)
While people can and do believe anything they wish, patently false assertions like that do absolutely nothing to advance Christian faith and much to harm it. And it’s ironic, really. When you study the history of ancient Christianity in a pagan world, it’s notable how firmly grounded in a contingent reality revealed in Christ and a reality that was not capricious and could be understood to be stable and comprehensible. Christianity wasn’t the only such force, of course, but it was a significant one laying the groundwork that allowed modern science to develop.
You make a number of theological assertions that should be examined.
It is certainly the teaching of the Church that death for humanity begins with Adam. This is also to say that there has never been a man who was not subject to death (Christ voluntarily). It is well within the fathers (Ireneaus, Nyssa, et al) to see Adam as “adolescent” – created to become image and likeness, but he does not fulfill this. It is only fulfilled in Christ. Nicholas Cabasilas says:
But Adam refuses and turns away from the gift of immortality (we are not immortal by nature but only by grace). Immortality is fulfilled only in Christ.
Nor is it wrong to think of creation “made subject to futility” (Romans 8), as having been made subject to futility (i.e. death and decay) from its inception. This is a “proleptic” act of God, who makes creation “subject to futility” in light of the choice that will be made in Adam. We do not need to hold to an immortal creation which falls into death. Paradise is clearly separated from “this world.”
There are even a few obscure musings within early fathers in which Paradise and the Fall occur within the mind of God before creation. This, of course, is a stretch and has its own problems. It never became the normative teaching in the fathers. But it should point to the scope of possibilities that we enter when we contemplate beginnings and paradise and the like.
There are some today, who, far from being concerned about our unlikeness to other animals, see in the evolutionary account of relatedness (shared DNA, etc.) a representation of the doctrine as man as “microcosm.” We are the whole universe in microcosm according to St. Maximus. We are the summation of creation. It would seem that this theological assertion is only strengthened if we indeed share much commonality with everything that came before us. According to physicists, many of the minerals and elements found within us and our world were birth in Supernovae (“we are stardust” in the words of a 60’s song).
This does not diminish human beings –
But you ask the question: “Why is it that so many Christians these days appear to be going to great efforts to explain Christianity is a way that is compatible with evolution and modern cosmology?”
Because this is the world we live in. The meta-narrative of evolution (“survival of the fittest” etc) is certainly a major debating point even within science. But the mechanics of evolution (DNA, etc.) strongly favors the change/connectedness, etc. that belong to that model. On the micro-level of virus’s, etc. where change occurs very quickly, we see constant change and “evolving” (antibiotic resistance, etc.).
As Christians we in no way would hold to a blind/chance, random evolutionary theory. At most, we would accept or profess a model of “directed” evolution. But that would fall under the heading of “causelessly causing” – something we believe because we believe in God, but not something that we could prove. What we can do, however, is, as with the Big Bang, point to the problem of “something from nothing.” Evolution, and its present point (Us!) also points to something more than randomness.
But, as I said, it is because we live in a world in which biology, and physics raise serious questions. We are not in the 19th century talking to Darwin. We’re in the 21st century dealing with genome mapping, Higgs Bosons and the like.
But like CS Lewis’ grumpy dwarves in The Last Battle, we too easily spend our time grumbling about “theory” and “hypothesis” and not engaging what is happening all around us. I serve a parish in a city where one of the National Labs is centered. My congregation is rooted in science and technology, some of it at extremely profound levels. I have to engage these things at a very serious level.
My observation is that many have internalized a version of the Church’s teaching that leaves them stuck. It becomes rigid and loses its wonder. A lot of energy is invested in defending positions and fighting. Much less energy is put into prayer accompanied by wonder with the fruit of theoria – in which we push and see what we have not seen before.
If this series of articles pushes people to their boundaries and increases wonder – then it has been worth it. I do not mean to create angst or doubt – though a little angst and doubt can be useful if it drives us to pray.
My advice to us all: ask more questions, draw fewer conclusions.
Well, i guess i understand the Flatland metaphor (Isn’t that what the book was called?), but i still don’t see how it answers some of the questions i asked.
i take it you’re claiming the difference between a religious 2-story view and an Orthodox 1-story view has something to do with the connection relationship. 2-story entails some sort of separation. And i guess i’ve heard you talk about it like this before–all those divine entities and events are “up there” but not “here”–as though there’s some other “place” for them to be or to be happening.
i guess that doesn’t ring true for me though. My religious upbringing is filled with talk of the divine being here and now. –that God is providentially at work in everything. –that spiritual warfare takes place all around us. i even remember meeting charismatics who thought every good parking spot in bad weather they ever got was the Holy Spirit’s doing. i even met high church protestants who believed in a real presence in the Eucharist. (i suppose i did meet a fair number of Christians who at the end of the day were deists when it came to God’s involvement in the world, if that’s who you’ve been talking about the whole time.)
i guess i do start to see the difference you’re describing about symbols; i take it you do mean that metaphysically robust sense of “make present” i described earlier. i’d like to ask you more about that–especially about how this applies to icons and scriptures–but my questions would be tangential at this point i think (maybe i’m wrong about that though).
What is more important is that i don’t see how the Flatland metaphor answers my final question about “true” and “real.” It seems to me you’ve just restated the same argument:
1. If “true” and “real” presuppose a worldview i don’t hold, then i cannot use them in a non-self-defeating way.
2. “True” and “real” do presuppose a worldview i don’t hold.
3. Therefore, i cannot use them in a non-self-defeating way.
i hear you now to be saying, “Well, it’s kinda like only having 2-dimnesional talk when i mean to be referencing a 3rd dimension.” i understand that’s what you’re claiming, but i still don’t see any evidence for that claim. It seems to me the conventional sense of “true” and “real” do not make any relevant presuppositions such that they preclude anything you’ve claimed or described so far. If we’re talking squares or cubes, i don’t see any problem with saying that a proposition P is still true in virtue of the accuracy with which it resembles a feature of squares or cubes to which it corresponds. i don’t how the concept would fail to serve its function no matter how many dimensions are introduced (perhaps a 4th–perdurance through time).
Now, i get that you might hold that there are propositions for which that accuracy cannot obtain. Okay. But that’s just the same as saying those propositions are false. For instance, the claim that “A symbol is a mere idea.” Your account so far entails that this claim is false. Or consider the claim “The literal details of the Genesis account ought to be understood to correspond to historical events.” i take it you think that claim is false. Or again, “Pascha is that in virtue of which any historical event is relevant or meaningful.” i take it you think that claim is true. But these are all still true or false in the conventional sense of “true” or “false.” i don’t see how anything you’ve said so far entails that there is something inimical to the conventional concept of “true” itself (i haven’t picked on the term “real,” but i think the same could easily be said for it as well.)
It seems to me that it would be easy to communicate with the one-dimensional talkers (the non-religious who don’t even acknowledge the existence of squares). You just think there is far more furniture in the room than they do. (Our metaphors abound.)
even if nature provided all the scientific proofs to the contrary, someone would create a chimera of man and animal -even if it lasted for a few seconds – and the adversary would use this to produce a whirlpool of thoughts on the differentiation of man and beast, soul and soul-less etc.
Thinking a little more–all i can figure is that when you criticize the conventional conception of “true,” either you must have in mind a concept more robust than the simple correspondence definition i’ve given, or what you’re really criticizing is the conventional *methodology* by which the concept is applied rather than the concept itself. Yes? No? Maybe?
Isn’t it evident from the context that St. Paul is speaking in terms of the law of Moses when he speaks of death “nevertheless” reigning from Adam to Moses (that is, even though there was no law to transgress)? Is he not merely demonstrating the reality that the problem of death is far deeper than the law?
Father bless, what do the Church Fathers have to say about the fall of Lucifer and how/if that relates to the fall of Adam? For many of us, the concept of pain, suffering, and death is incompatible with a good creation from the “good God and lover of mankind”, similar to your previous articles on an Orthodox understanding of Hell vs distorted images of an angry and vengeful god. Could Lucifer’s fall be related to the chaos hinted at in the Genesis creation story or to death outside of Paradise?
Father, bless. I have really benefitted from your ongoing conversation with Guy. (Have also appreciated remarks of many others here, including Brian and SC who, it seems to me–notwithstanding Scott’s rebuttal–raised some important point, including the devastating consequances for society that have been exacerbated by 150 years of teaching survivial of the fittest.
In your own reply to SC you said, in passing, “On the micro-level of virus’s, etc. where change occurs very quickly, we see constant change and ‘evolving’ (antibiotic resistance, etc.).” Your quotes around “evolving” are tell-tale, since this is an example of adaptation and not the synthesis of anythign like a new species or “form” and hence is not, prima facie, an example of evolution at all. But the modern mind sees evolution everywhere . . . As you say in your article, it is a symptom of “the 19th Century heresy of Progress . . . a secularized version of Christian eschatology.”
Much of what you say in Creation and Evolution is profound and powerful–the more so when it does not digress to make light of young earth creationists by confining them to people believing a 6,000 year-old cosmos. This is an oversimplification of the young-earth position and and of the make-up of its advocates–many of whom are also scientists or engineers of one type or another.
Furthermore, leavning aside the age of the earth controvery, there are plenty in the scientifie community who have pointed out the problems of irreducible complexity that seem to make evolution as conventionally understood and popularly taught an impossible fairy-tale.
As you also say in one of your comments: at bottom every Christian must be a creationist a fact born out by the centrality of Pascha.
Christ is in our midst.
If I’m understanding correctly, Father Stephen has concluded that the creation account in Genesis is to be considered a myth (in the sense of the word he has previously provided) because the book of Genesis presents it as a myth. Thus, it is perfectly Orthodox to accept the creation account as myth, as opposed to historic fact, because that’s how Holy Scripture reveals it to us.
This is very enlightening to me because I am not sharp enough to detect the literary traits that distinguish the mythological from the purely historical when it comes to Scripture. For instance, the genealogies in both Genesis 5:1-32, and Luke 3:23-38 mention presumably this same Adam from the mythological creation account. Does this follow that these genealogies should be viewed as mythological? Like I said, I’m not very sharp, but to me these genealogies should also be taken as real historical accounts. I’m mean, aren’t they presented as the actual familial histories of real persons? Maybe the creation account is not historical per se, but is referencing and using the historical Adam as its main character.
Father Stephen also stated, “It is certainly the teaching of the Church that death for humanity begins with Adam. This is also to say that there has never been a man who was not subject to death (Christ voluntarily). It is well within the fathers (Ireneaus, Nyssa, et al) to see Adam as “adolescent” – created to become image and likeness, but he does not fulfill this.” It seems to me everything in this statement can be maintained while holding to a mythological understanding of Adam, even to the point that Adam need not be historical at all. BUT, if the genealogies stated above reveal a historical Adam, then we may not want to push Adam into the sphere of pure fiction.
Only in the nuanced meaning of “myth.” The fathers generally hold to a historic Adam. I have pushed what I think is a crack in the door to say otherwise – where I think the otherwise may very well be important in the contemporary presentation of the gospel. That is, is there a way for a believing Orthodox Christian to hold to a 14 billion year-old universe and humanity derived from earlier forms and still confess the gospel and the Scriptures? If that’s not an issue for you, then ignore me. If it is an issue, as it is for many, what I’ve said might be helpful.
But by no means have I offered the only proper take for an Orthodox Christian. I do, however, raise questions for various forms of literalism (some quite problematic) on other grounds – I’ve raised those questions many other times and in other settings as well.
The geneologies are not present in Luke and Matthew in order to give a careful bloodline for Christ’s human descent. They have other theological purposes.
It is interesting to me that Orthodox Christians (readers of the blog) have in some cases as many problems about things like “fiction” and the like as some conservative protestants (fundamentalists). The services of the Church are dominantly poetic. Every service of the Vigil has wonderful theological poetry which sings many things for which we have no historical reason at all. But these hymns are true. Beginning to understand the depth of what truth means, transcending (though not eliminating) the literal, is, I think, important in the spiritual life.
But enjoying all of those hymns as “fiction” and “just poetry,” in my experience will deaden their intent and weaken their force in our lives. When I read in the Psalms about “trees clapping their hands,” I have to admit (to a literalist) that I’ve never seen a tree with hands or seen one clapping. But if I dismiss the words as “merely” poetic (fiction), then I will likely deaden the possibility that I will noetically hear the sound of nature. “All of creation rejoices in thee…” etc.
It has been a task of mine, for the past 7 years, to repeatedly push people beyond the literal and towards the noetic. I have done this with work on types and allegory, on understanding the nature and shape of creation.
Orthodoxy with the Bible of my fundamentalist childhood, only now with a fundamentalist reading of the fathers to boot, will be, I suspect, about as deadly as its Protestant form.
The answer is not to the left nor the right – but deeper.
Adam, whether historical or no, may have a story that is “mythic” in its shape. But Adam is not fictional.
Myth is not necessarily fiction properly understood. Myth can be quite real if not, by modern standards, ‘factual’. To consider myth as opposed to fact and history is a creature of the modern mind.
Myth is the way a tribe, society and culture order themselves, transmit their truths and proclaim transcendent reality.
Every culture has myth even our own empirical one, i.e. progress. The human race cannot exist without myth and be truly human. Some myths, however, are destructive. I have studied the myth of progress most of my adult life and have concluded that its hope is specious and it is essentially nihilist delusion that only brings destruction.
It is a tragedy of the empiricist mind and a product of that destruction that myth has been relegated to mere fanciful legend without ground in truth.
The ground of myth is what is important. The ground of the mythos of Genesis is the revealed nature and action of God. That mythos is only made clear and given concrete reality in the Incarnation. Genesis and all of the Old Testament point to the Incarnation as Christ Himself made clear to His disciples on the road to Emmaus.
He is the Alpha and Omega. He is the one who reveals Himself both in works of His word and His hands. He is the one who prepares the way into His Kingdom and stands there to welcome us in every Divine Liturgy and in His whole glory in the fullness of time.
His work is of profound and deep wonder and beauty–a wonder that can never be exhausted or fully plumbed. Empiricism is ugly and quickly exhausted producing no lasting fruits only the destruction of continual ‘change’.
The Genesis account certainly has a great deal of history that can be adduced from it as Alice Lindsey can attest. However, like all good myth, it is more than history (a linear recounting of what ‘actually happened’ [as if we could ever know]). It is the story of life in all of life’s dimensions. In many cases it is far more true than any ‘factual’ delineation can ever be.
Man’s stories, our myths, are either icons or idols. The myth of progress is an idol. The Genesis account is an icon.
Each created thing is made ‘after its kind’ and continues ‘after its kind’. We are the only creature made in His image and likeness molded by His hands. There are no prior forms.
Viruses remain viruses. Fruit flies remain fruit flies. Humans have always been humans. Because we prefer darkness over light, we create delusions that allow us to be less than human. Because we are full of pride we like to ascribe ourselves to other than God so that we may ‘be like Him’. Death is always the result of such arrogance.
The physical body may change and adapt, that is of no consequence, but we have always been human and will always remain human called to realize the fullness of that humanity in the hypostatic union with our Creator.
“Evolution is a hypothesis (no, not a theory) about the origin of different forms of life. In the McLean vs Arkansas trial, it was ruled that Creationism should not be taught in schools because it is not scientific, i.e. it is not falsifiable or verifiable. However, evolution is not falsifiable or verifiable (and hence, is not a theory, as such);”
Evolution is both theory and fact. The theory corresponds to how we model evolution (always an approximation) and the fact of common ancestry of all species. The fact of evolution is supported so overwhelmingly by such a broad range of convergent evidence that there really is no point in arguing it – those who believe that evolution doesn’t happen are not concerned with evidence or science. But since evolution is the underlying framework not only of all biology but of medicine and pharmaceutical development, it’s worth noting that most fundamentalists are at least functional evolutionists (there is no real distinction between “macro” and “micro” evolution – the idea that speciation doesn’t occur is fantastical).
And of course many aspects of evolutionary science are both testable and more importantly falsifiable – this should be obvious since so much of what we know with such certainty is based on microbiology and genetics, but it bears repeating nonetheless, that this is true even of fossil appearances.
These aren’t matters of opinion – this is akin to arguing that gravity doesn’t exist for example. In fact we have a better understanding of how evolution works than we do for gravity. It would not be misleading to speak of evolution as a better substantiated theory.
Also the claim that the Fathers require Biblical literalism is just wrong – in the Life of Moses, for example, Gregory of Nyssa tells us we mustn’t believe the narrative of the killing of the first born really happened, for example.
I hope I am not giving offense, but I am genuinely dismayed by the counter factual comments that are showing up here.
Michael, and Father Stephen,
I wasn’t trying to use the word myth as a “mere fanciful legend without ground in truth,” but rather as Father Stephen described it when he said, “such a story can reveal depths of reality that cannot be reached in other ways. It can have layers, some fictional, some historical.” So I think we are all in agreement as to the nature of the creation myth. But, just because this understanding of myth CAN have layers doesn’t necessitate that it MUST have layers. So, the creation myth could potentially have no historical layer pertaining to it. I thought that the genealogies might have been a clue to the creation myth having also a historical layer in it as well, namely the historical person, Adam.
I guess Im trying to salvage a “historical layer” within the myth because I resonate with Guy when he said, “…If the historical doesn’t matter, then neither do i so far as i can tell. And if whether the historicity of the events really doesn’t matter, then i don’t see why i need to think the resurrection was historical.” If there’s no Adam, then why not no Abraham, no Noah, no David, etc. How about the possibility that the overwhelming majority of people and events in Scripture are not historical? Well, if one were to take it that far then I definitely would have to disagree with them.
Plus, Im emotionally attached to the lives of those found in Scripture. To be honest the idea of Adam not being real is kind of heart breaking, because through my Christian walk Ive grown to know and to love Adam (as well as Abraham, Jacob, David, etc, etc.) Ive thought of these people as a part of the Church, real concrete members of the same Body that I am a member of.
A 14-billion year old universe doesn’t bother me in the least. And finding out that people were formed from a different species isn’t heart breaking. Being told I will not be meeting Adam in the resurrection makes me a little emotional though.
Clearly there are many historical layers. To deny that is gnostic IMO. The difficult thing with history is realizing its limitations and that it is always being reinterpreted depending on the prevailing mythos.
I used to be a young earth creation literalist, and I couldn’t fathom how it could be possible to believe in evolution without hurting the “relationship” I had gained with Adam and Eve through the creation story in Genesis. I also couldn’t couldn’t figure out how to uphold God’s integrity in my mind if the creation story wasn’t “true.” But I have learned a lot since that time. The creation story is absolutely true, but that does not necessitate it to be literal.
Dear to Christ Greg, I believe your statements go too far. As I understand it there are many reputable scientists who would disagree with you in your broad assertion that there is no difference between micro evolution (which can be observed) and macro evolution which never, as I understand it, has been and probably cannot be. I believe they would say that you are mixing the categories of genetics and adaptation with evolution proper which posits the development (i.e. transformation) of one species into another of the natural production of new kinds from different existing ones. By no means do all scientists believe this to be possible your assertion to the contrary notwithstanding. Such changes can only occur by the Word of God, as the mythical account in Genesis teaches when it says that God said, “Let the earth bring forth . . . ” and “Let the waters breing forth abundantly . . .” and, of course, “Let us make Adam in Our image, and after Our likeness; . . . so God created Adam in His own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.”
Now that I look carefully at this deeply mythical and instructive text, I note that it says “In the beginning God CREATED the heavens and the the earth” (bara et ha shamayim et ha arets). This was, if you will, even before He said “Let there be light” and what would become yom echad “one day.” On the “afternoon” of what became the sixth day, He CREATED (bara) again. This time it was Adam, whom He created male and female. In between these two “creations” we have God speaking, dividing and making and commanding the earth and the waters to bring forth. So, yes, creation participates in the work of God by responding to His Word. But before the start of the “creation week” and at its very end end He engages in direct creatiion. It was thereafter that He saw everything that He had MADE (asah), and behold it was tov meod (very good) and He rested on the seventh day–a rest He completed in Hades as He was about to harrow it and break its bonds leading captivity captive, trampling down Death by death.
Our friend and brother Father Stephen has given us so much to ponder and rejoice in. Thank God and glory to Him for all things.
Christ is in our midst.
Greg can you please name on piece of concrete factual evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt a link, any direct link that one form of life changed into another form of life?
Not just typological or even genetic similarities, but an actual, verifiable, testable change that does not rely on the assumption of change to prove the reality?
If the evidence is so overwhelming it ought to be easy to do. Utilitarian arguments are insufficient.
I can’t follow all the nuanced meanings of those who comment on the blog. However, the truth of Orthodoxy pulses through every fiber of my being in the liturgy and other services of the Church. Its poetry and prayers are sublime such as St. Nikolai’s Akathist “Jesus Conqueror of Death.” A beautiful line reads, “…the longer I listen to the noise of the world, the less I hear the noise of the world and the more I hear Thy still voice….” So more than the well reasoned arguments, which I do appreciate, far more does my spirit resonate with the spirit in which you write, Fr. Stephen, which does move me toward wonder, of our glorious God in Trinity, his Church and the beauty of his world which at times moves this old man to tears.
Reading this site is such a benefit for me, such a blessing. I am truly grateful. Like Dean, I sometimes struggle to follow along, but it is well worth the effort. Thank you, Fr Stephen, for your work here. And many thanks to all comment-makers.
“Greg can you please name on piece of concrete factual evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt a link, any direct link that one form of life changed into another form of life? ”
The basic question misunderstands evolution. This is fundamentally important: what you are asking for doesn’t have any relationship to evolution per se. You don’t have a hominid of say “type” Australopithecus and then one day discover that you have a hominid of “type” Homo Habilus. Evolution is accumulated gradual changed. As populations separate incremental, gradual change results in “speciation.”
That said, I am not sure how to answer your question in a way that could hope to satisfy you – you don’t want genetic evidence on relationships, which is utterly compelling, and we have a clear fossil record of development over geologic time of differentiated life: descent and common ancestors. Maybe you could spell out what doesn’t seem to be compelling to you?
Robert, evolution is just incremental/gradual change. There is no such thing as macro evolution per se, at least in the sense you seem to be contemplating it – there is just the long, slow march of genetic variation within populations.
Incidentally – on Biblical literalism this talk from David Bentley Hart is helpful to put Genesis is context (both in the Patristic sense and modern fundamentalism). I think one thing that is particularly helpful here is the reminder that the Genesis narrative isn’t read “literally” by the literalists. If it was read literally, you’d be talking about a henotheistic narrative that included an explanation of how a snake lost its legs.
Thank you, Father, for your reply.
In regards to your comments, Scott Morizot, I will quote the highly reliable and evidence-based source of Wikipedia:
Wikipedia (scientific theory): “The defining characteristic of all scientific knowledge, including theories, is the ability to make falsifiable or testable predictions”. A theory “makes falsifiable predictions with consistent accuracy across a broad area of scientific enquiry”. Popper [the father of modern scientific theory] summarized these statements by saying that the central criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its “falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” Echoing this, Stephen Hawking states, “A theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations.” He also discusses the “unprovable but falsifiable” nature of theories, which is a necessary consequence of inductive logic, and that “you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory.”
What observation, if found, would falsify evolution, and not be interpreted by its followers as supporting evolution? Waiting a million years and ensuring that humans/apes/fish hadn’t evolved into other species? As with Creationism, most observations can be interpreted by supporters of evolution as fitting with the theory. Neither view is fully falsifiable; your presuppositions determine which you believe.
I am not arguing that evolutionary/big bang “science” is unintelligible; I appreciate that you and your parents must have a very good grasp of science. I am arguing that few people come to their support of evolution because they have thoroughly reviewed scientific data and come to the conclusion that it is more in support of evolution than creation. Most people I know who support evolution do so because authorities they trust (e.g. teachers, scientists, friends) believe in evolution.
My fear, therefore, is that many Christians feel that they are left with no choice but to support evolution because authorities say that the data points to evolution/the big bang, when, in fact, the data may be interpreted differently, based on the presuppositions that are used to interpret the data (which is the case with a worldview, not a theory).
“What observation, if found, would falsify evolution, and not be interpreted by its followers as supporting evolution?” I can literally think of a thousand point examples, but the simplest would be the appearance of a life form at the wrong stage of geologic time. That would falsify both the idea of development via incremental change. What is remarkable is that this never happens.
” I am arguing that few people come to their support of evolution because they have thoroughly reviewed scientific data and come to the conclusion that it is more in support of evolution than creation.”
Putting aside the false dichotomy “evolution versus creation”, this is obviously not true. Talk with any biologist who grew up in the American south. The evidence for evolution is so deep and broad across so many dimensions and without contradiction that I would venture to say that for several generations of Americans, most trained scientists had exactly the experience you are denying.
I mean this with all due respect, but you should at least read up on the topic.
I see the “fact” cited frequently about scientists who don’t accept evolutionary theory. This is always cited by non-scientists, or simply by scientists who don’t accept evolutionary theory. My experience in the academy and in relationships with scientists at the National Lab has not produced such scientists. Instead it produced the rolling of eyes when it’s repeated. I sometimes feel like it’s an urban myth.
Now my hometown, Greenville, SC, has Bob Jones Univ. (independent, protestant, fundamentalist). Their “science” people would support anti-evolutionary theory. But their science people also taught me when I was a child of 10, that blacks were genetically inferior to whites. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth for their science.
I am personally skeptical of a science that is driven by theological theory – since – as I myself am evidence for – theological theory is not so rigid (even in its Orthodox form). I do not find in theological problems with the mechanics of evolutionary change (the movement between species for example is, I think, not demanded by the Tradition). Kalomiros’ article on the 6 days of creation is a good treatment of this. And although Fr. Seraphim Rose disagreed with him, he could not, I think, effectively argue that Kalomiros’ take on things was not thoroughly Orthodox. Kalomiros was an Old-Calendarist Greek disciple of Fr. Romanides, which gives him impeccable “conservative” or “traditional” credentials.
As Greg noted – evolution is a hypothesis, not a theory.
Thank you for your reply, Father. It is saddening that proponents of both Creationism and evolution have at times allowed their views to become entangled with ungodly attitudes. May we all seek God’s glory first and seek to love Him above all else.
I’ve been lurking the comment pages of your blog for a while. Your words have been and are a constant inspiration. Having grown up in and fallen away from a textbook fundamentalist Protestant young-earth-creationist church and finding every liberal alternative wanting, I must say it has been a personal revelation to discover that a Church exists that is both deeply invested in original tradition and able to accommodate ordinary science without requiring me to believe the historicity of something that to the best of my knowledge is historically false as a non-negotiable condition of the faith.
Something has been bothering me about this discussion enough that I wanted to post, and I think it’s best characterized by this part of an exchange between Michael Bauman and Greg:
This hits me as a matter of realism vs. nominalism – i.e., whether or not the “type” has its own reality that cannot be ignored (the way it often – I think inevitably – is when you get to the really nitty-gritty bits of evolutionary theory and taxonomical problems). Is there anything in Orthodox doctrine that requires one to adhere to the former, and if so why?
This bothers me as belief in the former seems like such a prevalent trait among the faithful where it’s mentioned that it almost seems like part and parcel of the faith, and it seems to intuitively follow from “In the beginning was the Word” and the transsubstantiation, but everything I regularly experience and intuit seems to draw the opposite conclusion. (I am a lawyer by trade, linguistics major from school (with focus on grammar and semantics) and sometimes programmer by hobby who frequently deals with people with very different cultural and class-based assumptions about what does or does not naturally imply something else, so the notion of our categories having any fixed, objective reality of their own is something the contrary evidence of which I have had to deal with every day for a long time.) I do not want to see another YEC-esque deal-breaker, but neither do I wish to stay blinded in what may be nothing but a personal prejudice – or make a deal-breaker out of something that doesn’t even matter at all.
Forgive me, a sinner.
SC et all,
I pray for God’s protection, purification and illumination in all matters including this.Having heard the very extremes of both sides in my life time (by believers that is) makes me unable to hold to one or another. Besides, there are far more pressing matters to occupy our attention with.
One of the strongest anti-eveloution stances, I only just recalled, was Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s who, as documented in the book ‘my elder Joseph the Hesychast and cave-dweller’ once remarked that a certain pilgrim metaphorically’ ‘stank’ (based on his charisma of discernment) of darwinianism.
One of the strongest pro-evolution explanation’s was (theistic evolution proponent and head of the Human genome project) Collins’ words that: it is not just the 98% similarity between humans and lower forms that points to evolution (God could have made us with even greater similarity), but the fact that the very special, unnecessary (random wrong code) accumulated DNA that is part of the slow process is 100% the same, (and can be analysed) which cannot have another explanation.
Very good question. I do not think it’s a deal-breaker. However, I confess to being a committed Realist (in some fashion). My reasons for this are spiritual rather than intellectual (that’s really a lousy way of expressing it). And the sacrament has much to do with it. Orthodoxy has never truly embraced “transubstantiation” (with the exception of the Jerusalem Council that has been critiqued in many ways). But we believe that the bread and wine truly and really become the Body and Blood of Christ. And this is far more than mental or nominal.
My spiritual instinct about this, as strong as my faith in the resurrection, is that this is so. Having said that is perhaps to state a direction of my life and thought. It is not so much an idea to be defended (who cares?). It is a reality to be pursued. It is following a trail of faith that others have blazed and, I think, substantiated as true by the manifestation of the divine in their lives.
It is a Realism that binds everything together – such that belief and sacrament are one. Thus in Baptism, I am truly united to Christ (not just in loyalty or mentally). And it is that true union that is salvific. It is that true union that runs through everything in the Orthodox Christian life.
Having said that – it is not at all the same as requiring some philosophical conversion. That is just mental gymnastics. Give some time to the question of the journey it suggests.
“This hits me as a matter of realism vs. nominalism – i.e., whether or not the “type” has its own reality that cannot be ignored (the way it often – I think inevitably – is when you get to the really nitty-gritty bits of evolutionary theory and taxonomical problems). Is there anything in Orthodox doctrine that requires one to adhere to the former, and if so why?”
I do want to point out that my answer was limited to the specific topic of speciation as a process. I do not think that has a material bearing on the philosophical problems of universals. More specifically, I think Michael’s anxiety is that there must really be a unique human essence. I think he is absolutely right in that regard.
Sorry, I just realised how little sense my description of Francis Colins’ (a Christian Theist) words (from the top of my head) makes, here it is proper: “Finding a precisely truncated ARE [Ancient Repetitive Element damaged copy] in the same place in both human and mouse genomes is compelling evidence that this insertion event must have occurred in an ancestor that was common to both the human and the mouse.” (p.135).
“Unless one is willing to take the position that God has placed these decapitated AREs in these precise positions to confuse and mislead us, the conclusion of a common ancestor for humans and mice is virtually inescapable. This kind of recent genome data thus presents an overwhelming challenge to those who hold to the idea that all species were created ex nihilo.” (p.136-137 of “The Language of God”).
I don’t know what to make of some ‘prophecies’ of certain truly charismatic Fathers that there will come a time when science will itself abandon evolution theory…?
One thing that strikes me as odd about this debate among Orthodox Christians who quote the Fathers is its focus on biology. A broader reading of the Fathers beyond convenient excerpts drawn from modern patristic studies like Beuteneff or Seraphim Rose reveals that the biology of the Fathers, aside from concepts like spontaneous generation and preformationism, was rather good compared to their physics. Obviously their astronomy was limited – geocentric with only 7 planetary spheres including the sun and moon, 8 if you include the fixed sphere of stars. Their chemistry is terrible – only 4 elements to work with, 5 if you include the aether. Even their geography is off – demonstrably incorrect, sometimes even by the standards of their own day. Why is this? Simply because they were using the common notions of their audiences about how creation works in order to teach transcendent, eternal truths.
Someone point me to a place where the Fathers actually do science, even in the classical sense as Aristotle did. Explain to me why we have to take the biology of Fathers at face value and not their physics and chemistry. Show me where the Fathers reject the science of their own day like fundamentalist Christians reject the theory of evolution.
Thank you Father.
It is now Saturday morning and I’ve had something reasonably resembling 8 hours of sleep. Doing more reading it seems the problem is both much more complicated and, for that very complication, less intractable than I felt it to be when I posted last night.
Perhaps I’m better off, instead of trying to come to any conclusions based on abstract reasoning, focus on a specific example that can be a (second) starting point. (And of course the same problem for species may apply to trying to define an individual member of a species as well – ironically, a growing disillusionment with the notion of the human individual (in the Modern, self-interested-rational-actor sense as well as the biologically naïve discrete-biological-unit-with-one-set-of-genes sense) is one of the things that draw me to the faith now.)
On another note, perhaps more closely related to the original discussion, the majority of people I’ve known who has worked in the life sciences in one form or another believes in some form of Christianity, while the people I know who are most vocal about using evolution to deny God have little if anything to do with biology in their work. (I can only think of one notable exception to both of these, and both exceptions are one and the same person.) Meanwhile, I have never met anyone who has voiced the standard objections to old Earth and evolution (sediments come from Flood, irreducible complexity) who did not also turn out to have some collateral doctrinal or political reason for such opposition (cannot admit physical death before the Fall, is a Republican, believe the Beringian theory undermines their people’s status as a true First Nation of the Americas, believe that evolutionary biology necessitates “social Darwinism”, has been brought up to associate evolutionary biology with eugenics-talk about superior and inferior races, etc.) My motivation for making this observation is all ad hominem and heuristics, rather than any attempt at all to engage the “scientific language” you see in the debates, but I think some comfort in knowing that belief in X will not require your support of capricious and merciless torturers can go a long way.
Oops, broken link! Father if you can fix that last one to http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/KalomirosRiverFire.php it would be appreciated, though I suspect the URL and text in the link itself already imply the intended content well enough.
Other than a brief general reply during your late night several days ago, you never returned to my question concerning the personal nature of humanity. I understand that you want “to see if there is crack in the door through which we might see something better,” and indeed there is far more than a flat, literal reading can provide. Even so, this question is not tangential to the subject at hand.
I repeat the thought/question here:
Finally, there is another aspect of this question that relates directly to the Apostle’s words that “as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin.” While willful sin is never private or ‘individual’ (in the sense that it affects only the sinner), it is always personal (in the sense that it is the choice of a human person). ‘Humanity’ only exists in human persons (Mary, Sally, George). You said this yourself only recently. Thus, the nature of a person participates in the sin of the person because a person does not exist apart from his nature. But only persons can sin willfully. Only persons can love God or refuse to love. How is it, then, possible for a non-specific, impersonal, generalized ‘humanity’ to fall away from union with God and subject all mankind to the condition of death? Only persons are capable of refusing to love the Persons of God. Only a person whose human nature once freely shared the eternal life of God by his personal communion in the divine Persons could bring about the subjection of his nature to the corruption of death by choosing (albeit in the ignorance of an ‘innocent’ state) to sever himself from that communion and thereby sin against the One who is his life. How, then, can it not be that a person, a person in a position to father the entire race of man in his own corrupted likeness, after his corrupted image (Genesis 5:3), is cause of death (and therefore the propensity toward sin) being transmitted to all human nature?
It is sometimes said that Adam’s fall from (or, for that matter, rise to) union with God is not merely an event in ‘history,’ but rather something that occurs in each one of us. Here Adam is understood as each of us personally. There is truth in this that should not be ignored, but it is inadequate as an answer to the question of the origin of death. It assumes the ability of all persons to choose freely, a capacity that infants or others born with disabilities lack but who are nevertheless born subject to death as all others are.
It is also said (again rightly) that man is mortal by nature, that only God is immortal and that man’s immortality is wholly dependent on union with God. But this, too, is inadequate in terms of why those lacking the capacity to choose die nevertheless.
I speak here not only of so-called ‘spiritual’ death, but of physical death (the two seem ultimately inseparable to me) – the death that is “the last enemy” overcome, the death that Christ overcame in the flesh by His resurrection, the death that will be no more in the age to come.
All this is not unrelated to the creation itself. In Orthodox Christian anthropology man (the fullness of which is revealed in the Man, Christ Jesus) is the king and priest of creation, a microcosm of all creation, a summing up in his person of its meaning and destiny, the means by which all of creation is united to God. And so it is written of the God-man: “…that He might fill all things.” “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
This union of God with His creation is not accomplished or “finished” in a merely ‘spiritual’ way (although all things, including physical matter are spiritual). They are “finished” in the organic personal physical union of God and man in the Incarnation of Christ. He doesn’t ‘drop from the heavens’ as God (who is spirit). He is incarnate of the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary (who, while ever-blessed, blameless, and most pure, was nevertheless subject to death in Adam as all of us are) and was made man. This is to say that the union is organic, real – more real, to be sure, than a mere flat reading of the “myth” (understood as you have expounded upon it) of the creation narrative. It is “that which we have seen and heard that we have touched and our hands have handled.” But is this union not real and organic in precisely the same sense that Adam’s (and I speak here of a person) fall from union with God and his death is equally personal, real, and physical as well as ‘spiritual’?
So while I thoroughly understand the need to “crack open a door” so we don’t locked into flat, strictly literal reading and miss the greater truth, and while I ‘get’ that Adam is, in a very true allegorical sense, all of us, I still fail to grasp how Adam can be seen as STRICTLY mythical and whose actual personhood is irrelevant to us.
I couldn’t care less what all this may mean in terms of science. This is not within the realm of science. It is shifting sand, ever in the process of discovery and revision. It is to be highly valued and has a place. But it also has a realm within which it must remain if it is to continue to rightly be called science. It will never lead us to the truth of things. I suspect that in the end we will understand that the creation narrative is altogether true – although, like the visions of the end which “eye has not seen nor ear heard,” in a way we could never have imagined or figured out.
My dear brother, Greg, and dear to Christ,
You say, “Evolution is accumulated gradual changed(sic). As populations separate incremental, gradual change results in “speciation.”
[There is] “. . . genetic evidence on relationships, which is utterly compelling, and we have a clear fossil record of development over geologic time of differentiated life: descent and common ancestors.”
Forgive me, but from what I read from a rather large number of sources on both sides of the debate, what you assert here is false. Without the assumption that evolution must be true, the genetic evidence is NOT compelling and in any event we do NOT had a clear fossil record of development. Rather we have the so called Cambrian explosion, when everything “suddenly” so to speak appears. We have NO record of transitional forms. In a number of cases, the evidence in favor of evolution has been fabricated and in some cases evidence against it has been hidden. See e.g. The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder, graduate of MIT and when he wrote this book at the Technion in Israel. An Orthodox Jewish man and scientist as I understand it and certainly not a fundamentalist Protestant. In fact a later book of his which I have also read, discuss the idea of chance and randomness based on quantum physics and the suggestion that free will is programmed into creation itself which has “participated” in God’s act of creation.
I do thank you for you comments–and Father for your pieces–which I invariably pass on to family and friends, many of whom attest to being deeply edified by them.
This very discussion has opened by eyes to the probability that death was programmed into creation from the start in view of and because of Adam’s (i.e. our) coming refusal of communion with God and the treason that comes from desiring ourselves to be God rather than performing out task as a holy race and royal priesthood called to show forth His glory in gratitude, joy and compassion for each other and all that Christ has created and made.
I see what I should have known or had forgotten that Adam sometimes means a man and at the same time Man(kind). Both realities are true and sometime indistinguishable, reflecting the reality of Christ God, Who is both Theanthropos, God and Man, at once a man and also the head of the Church, His Body, of which we who have been grafted into Him are all members in particular and hence members of one another. He is the New Adam, but in Him so are we collectively, so to speak.
Christ is our midst. Forgive me, a sinner.
As some one who has studied history all of my life I see in these discussions from the various points of view how powerful the assumed narrative is in interpreting the pieces of data held up as facts.
Of course it is really easy for me to see that as work in Greg because I don’t share his narrative. And Greg you explanation to me relied solely on your belief in your narrative.
Facts don’t prove anything. Their importance lies in whether or not they sustain one’s narrative or not. Consequently, people tend to ignore or trivialize pieces of days that seem to contradict the narrative. Those pieces of data are no longer ‘facts’
However my greatest concern lies in the manner in which science is taught in our schools, evolution in particularly. It is used as a bludgeon to force people of faith into non-faith.
I would quibble with your use of the term “narrative” here – “paradigm” might be a more helpful term for an approach to a scientific theory, esp. if you find Kuhn’s work to be compelling (as I do), though I don’t know why you state my response is entirely dependent on my commitment to that paradigm. However, I do agree that facts require contextualization and interpretation: one of the great myths/misunderstanding of popular scientism is that empiricism and raw facts are interchangeable – whereas in fact they are opposed.
It happens to be the case that the evolutionary paradigm both explains a tremendous variety of convergent facts and is not contradicted by any facts. If you don’t find that compelling and prefer instead to adopt a view that is contradicted by facts, I can’t possibly see what basis there would be for arriving at a coherent view of biology.
“However my greatest concern lies in the manner in which science is taught in our schools, evolution in particularly. It is used as a bludgeon to force people of faith into non-faith.”
While I have personally never experienced this, I wonder, though, if the tension would exist at all if fundamentalist forms of Christianity weren’t so prevalent. I would reiterate that in my opinion the bigger threat to Faith is a false, fundamentalist narrative that is impossible to sustain in the light of observable facts. My motivation for commenting here is to strengthen the Faith of Orthodox Christians and encourage inquirers to understand that Orthodoxy is about truth – in fact the Truth. Our best theologians and teachers support truth in history, theology and science.
I find that it can help if when reading your (great) comment we hold the notion that Adam did not exactly fall from a fully realised perfection. Adam’s fall is from a calling, the high calling that we saw realised in Christ’s Pascha.
It also helps a little to keep this other notion in mind: the creation narrative is intensely experienced by every saint, St Silouan’s ‘Adam’s lament’ is a perfect example…
Yes, the personal is important. And I would agree that regardless of how we are to understand the manifestation of Adam in time, it cannot simply be in a generic sense. There is Adam. But I am willing, if required, to be very fluid about the flow of time. Since the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth, and there was as yet no sin (in time) for which to die, it must mean something about how all of this relates to time and is manifest in time.
Another aspect of personal, however, is that personal is not the equivalent of individual (self-contained) or private. Many die (children in the womb) who have made no choice. My choice, my personal existence is equally bound to the existence of all. Adam is in every man, and every man is in Adam. Else, how could those be saved who have made no choice (children in the womb)? We are fearfully connected and wonderfully connected. Our sin is a rupture of union, but our capacity for union is not lost. Our salvation is through the restoration of union and the capacity is brought to its fullness.
I would never want to say Adam is STRICTLY mythical without an actual personhood. The story as we have it is mythical, it has the universal structure and power of mythos. How the story it manifest in an Adam is beyond my ability to know. I can imagine it in any number of satisfactory manners, but knowing it belongs to a union with God that is well beyond me. I appreciate Dino’s mention again of Adam’s Lament (St. Silouan). I think we can know Adam (even personally), even if we cannot access that knowledge in the normal manner of history.
OK Greg, God bless you. Don’t you see the fallacy in what you said?
If there were no formal opposition to the de-humanizing secular nonsense their would still be tension but you persist in framing the discussion as a dichotomy between the straw man of fundamentalism and the straw man of enlightened science.
That is not even the discussion.
Evolution as taught and hammered at in the public schools is flawed in its assumptions about the nature of the physical world, humanity and our interrelationship with God. It assumes God does not exist and will brook no opposition from any one on that assumption.
What you term fundamentalism ( as nearly as I can understand what you mean) shares many of the same deficiencies. Unfortunately you persist in the fallacy that anybody who disagrees with you is a fundamentalist. That seems to be fundamental to your thinking.
Even the mouse DNA example of Dr. Collins (which you did not bring up) need not be interpreted as he does. It is simply the power of the narrative that leads him to rule out other possibilities.
Science dies not define God. Every scientist I have heard talk on the matter essentially believes it does.
In the end it won’t matter a bit. If you are able to maintain a wall between your reverse gnostic science and the presence of the living God in your ljfe., that’s great. I don’t doubt your faith. I just don’t know how you do it.
Personally I’ll never understand why you want to.
All life is connected at a common source. God.
BTW it is historically accurate that Darwin was looking for an explanation of the natural world that ruled out the Christian God.
Father and Dino,
Agreed all around. And thank you.
You’ve asserted this a few times before, both on this and other threads. For the benefit of those of us who have never seen this actually happen, can you describe a specific, anecdotal example that illustrates this? I was studying evolution long before it was ever taught in school so I never paid much attention in class, and it’s been a long time since I’ve heard any high school biology lecture, so I personally have no recollection either way, but have no idea how what you’re describing would actually be implemented.
(For what it’s worth, I do not consider merely positing a naturalistic mechanism for something, or the reliance on random chance as the beginning of a change, to be inherently atheistic propositions, cf. Joseph being sold into slavery and saving his family, and for a modern-day pagan one-storeyism, the story of the termites.)
Michael, I am not really sure what you are talking about, what is troubling you about science per se, or why you believe it to be some kind of reverse gnosticism. You would need to really spell out what you are trying to say more explicitly for me to understand.
Whatever kind of connections you are implying seem to be quite unnecessary and I am quite it does not apply to myself, nor to any of the Bishops, theologians, priests and philosophers in the Orthodox Church that understand biological evolution to be a part of the natural world. Once again, I recommend Dr. Hart’s book the Experience of God for a discussion of reductive naturalism, science, and theism as a useful and excellent corrective to some of the confusion that seems to swirl around these topics.
As an aside, for anyone interested in an artistic interpretation of St Siluoan’s Adam’s Lament – which has been mentioned several times – Arvo Part’s 24 minute piece is a must experience: utterly moving.
Apologies – pushed submit too soon. I meant to include a comment on the piece by Part: ” “The name Adam is like a collective term which comprises humankind in its entirety and each individual person alike, irrespective of time, epochs, social strata and confession. We could say that he is all of us who bear his legacy and we, Adam, have been suffering and lamenting for thousands of years on Earth.”
Yet the Apostle Paul does not have Christ recapitulating all of humanity in Elder Sophrony but in Adam.
St. John Chrysostom in His Commentary on Romans 5finds Adam quite historical.
After the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of Him that was to come. Now this is why Adam is a type of Christ. How a type? It will be said. Why in that, as the former became to those who were sprung from him, although they had not eaten of the tree, the cause of that death which by his eating was introduced; thus also did Christ become to those sprung from Him, even though they had not wrought righteousness, the Provider of that righteousness which through His Cross He graciously bestowed on us all. For this reason, at every turn he keeps to the one, and is continually bringing it before us, when he says, As by one man sin entered into the world— and, If through the offense of one many be dead: and, Not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift; and, The judgment was by one to condemnation: and again, If by one (or, the one) man’s offense death reigned by one; and Therefore as by the offense of one. And again, As by one man’s disobedience many (or, the many) were made sinners. And so he lets not go of the one, that when the Jew says to you, How came it, that by the well-doing of this one Person, Christ, the world was saved? You might be able to say to him, How by the disobedience of this one person, Adam, came it to be condemned? And yet sin and grace are not equivalents, death and life are not equivalents, the Devil and God are not equivalents, but there is a boundless space between them. When then as well from the nature of the thing as from the power of Him that transacts it, and from the very suitableness thereof (for it suits much better with God to save than to punish), the preëminence and victory is upon this side, what one word have you to say for unbelief, tell me? However, that what had been done was reasonable, he shows in the following words.
Concerning Fr. Rose falling into the ‘trap’ of young earth creationism, in his book, he took pains to demonstrate that he had not taken a Fundamentalist tack. However, one might also note that a significant Orthodox minority of eminent Russian scientists as well as Alex II in his endorsement of a biology text for Russian students with a Patristic and young earth perspective, also approved by the Russian Ministry of Education, have taken the same position as Fr. Seraphim. One must also emphasize that while the Fathers are not Protestant Fundamentalists, neither are they Protestant Demythologizers on the order of Bultmann, et al.
while it may not be wrong to think of death existing before Adam as a proleptic act of God, do the Fathers think of it so? I have not seen evidence of that.
I have a great inner resistance to the idea of introducing ‘myth’ into the Christian conversation about Scripture and Truth. I do not have any problem with pressing into the noetic. I have no problem in taking typology, allergory into the noetic. I have no problem is taking the Symbol of the faith and insisting that the reality of the Faith is that to which the Creed points in the noetic. But the idea and usage of myth as a medium of Christian revelation I find great discomfort with. It is also an idea that I do not find in the Fathers. God spoke to Moses face to face we are told and not in riddles (Numbers 12:8). Myth falls under the characteristic of riddles. Moses was revealed salvation proto-history and not salvation proto-mythology. We find our selves in deep trouble when we introduce myth. Once we do that there is nothing to stop us from doing that to the coming ages and to the Incarnation and death and resurrection of our Lord as well.
When Stephen J. Gould who was the dean of American evolutionists until his recent death, tells us that there is no evidence of transition forms in the fossil record, and that fixity of species is what is observed; when Dean Kenyon, who wrote the textbook that was THE Standard for biochemical evolution in the eighties, decides he was wrong and retracts his position and becomes a young earth creationist, and when world-class Russian geneticists are saying the same thing, I would suggest your certainty about what the evidence demonstrates is not as air-tight as you put forward!
Once again, Stephen J. Gould, the dean of American evolutionist paleo-biologists, of Harvard tenure, until his death, concluded that the thing that was observable in the fossil record was stasis of species, and no transition forms. He was forced to abandon gradual and incremental change for a theory called punctuated equilibrium, which is, sudden and abrupt appearance of new species so fast that they leave no record in the fossil record.
The Scylla to the Charybdis of literalism, is demythologization. The answer to both is in the Fathers, for the faith was delivered in fullness to the Apostles and passed on unsullied by them. Literalism consigns all meaning to be embedded within history. Pure demythologization has all meaning as an upper storey. The incarnation teaches us that both are involved as human beings seek to find the truth. But myth I do not see in any consensus of the Fathers, despite a quote from Gregory of Nyssa who is known to have had Origenist tendencies. Lord have mercy on me a sinner.
The human heart including that of the scientist is desperately wicked and totally lacks the dispassion to find truth with respect to origins. God gives those who worship the creature more than the creator over to strong delusions to believe lies.
The abandonment of evolution is happening to some extent in Russia and in Korea. One can be a young earth creationist and a first rate scientist in Russia. Russian world class scientist are writing and editing biology text for schools that treat favorabvly a young earth, Patristic position
I think you misunderstand my use of “myth.” Nevertheless, the point is well taken. Interestingly, Bouteneff discourages use of the word and notes the Tradition’s hesitance with it.
It has a particular, even common usage in modern academic study. Thus my own usage of the term and personal comfort with it. But my experience is what it is, and understandably is more specialized than the experience of others. “Myth” is more description of the “form” of a story than otherwise.
I think your identification of myth with “riddle” is incorrect and mischaracterizes the nature of such a story. If you or I are less than comfortable with something (myth, etc.) really makes no difference. Things are what they are.
I dare say I would create screams of shock among some if I were to suggest that the books of Moses show clear evidence of multiple authors. But the literary study of the Scripture has long been the playground of liberal scholariship. But it is not unknown to Orthodox scholars, nor is it taboo. Again, its misuse by some has made it anathema to others.
However, the contention that the Genesis account must be literal history because God told it to Moses face to face is fraught with difficulties in and of itself. It’s far more than I wish to go into.
As far as I know evolution has never explained the gap between the animals who developed string theory and wrote symphonies and all the other animals who basically lie in the sun and scratch themselves. A physics theory would be required to offer an explanation of why there isn’t more in between.
” But myth I do not see in any consensus of the Fathers, despite a quote from Gregory of Nyssa who is known to have had Origenist tendencies. ”
Neither the quote nor the comment suggest that St Gregory characterized the Exodus story as “myth”. And being dismissive of Fathers with “Origenist tendencies” – whatever that means – seems highly problematic, not least with reference to the Father of Fathers, if I can borrow a Roman Catholic accolade.
At this point, surely we’ve heard from all sides. Argument is never very useful. Questions things that move the conversation along are welcome. But I will be trimming the comments for a while.
Saint Nicholas Kavasilas who was mentioned above says something pretty striking concerning the words in Genesis, that God saw that everything was very good indeed – it is in his talk on the Dormition. He says that these words were concerning the Mother of God and Her spiritual beauty. many Fahers have said that She was the ultimate and unobstructed purpose of Creation. It opens up new dimensions to how we see these matters.
It is the interplay of such things that (it has always seemed to me) makes the “flat” account of literalism unworkable. It is not that the literal is not important, or that it does not take place. But it is the nature of Providence (with which the fathers were deeply concerned) that the earlier is often a reflection of the later. In the common “flat” model of cause and effect (through time), there can be a kind of slavish predestination that devalues the past. Thus, as Cabasilas will note, the Mother of God is seen from before the beginning. We can rightly say that God had always seen her birth. But if the typical temporal version of cause and effect is assumed, then everything that happens before her are just means to an end, but become “mere” stepping stones, means to and end. It even necessarily impinges on their freedom. It’s the nightmare of Calvin’s form of predestination. In the “flat” model of temporal cause and effect, there can be no compatibility between freedom and predestination. And so we get the perversion of those who don’t care about freedom, only the sovereignty of God.
But temporal cause and effect is not the proper model. In Christ the Beginning and the End are identical – and this model underlies all of creation as well. We see, for instance, that the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth. Pascha, like Christ Himself, was also at the beginning. And just as there is Pascha, so there must be the Mother of God. It is an Incarnate Lamb, born of a Virgin, that is the Paschal Lamb.
The foundation of creation was the End of Creation. This is well known within the fathers. Aristotle had long before taught that something is not what it “was,” but what it is going to be. The “telos” of a thing (it’s end or goal) is its truth. In St. Maximus the Confessor, these are called the “logoi” of things. Reflections of the Logos (Christ the Word), the logoi are the ends, the direction towards which all things move. It is what St. Paul describes in Ephesians 1:
All things are gathered together because from the Beginning, the logoi are icons of the Logos, towards which everything tends and is drawn.
The First Adam is only Adam, because he is icon of the Second Adam, the Last Adam. And as icon he tends towards the true Adam, Christ, the Prototype. And for each of us, Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve, the logoi of our existence mean that we tend towards Christ the Logos. He is our End. And so we say that sin is “missing the mark” (hamartia). St. Maximus makes much of this kenesis and direction in his writings. But it works because it is not a model in the “flat” and “linear” notion of cause and effect.
As I’ve noted, many have an anxiety regarding origins, feeling that the answer must always be placed there (for so a linear model requires). But if the truth of something is found in its End, then however God has appointed for the Origin to take place or be manifest, it was always the logoi of man, the image of the Image, the Logos, Christ God. Adam is always in Adam.
Just some further thoughts on this Sunday afternoon.
Thank you for the thoughtful response. In the interpretation of Scripture it is my understanding that the type of literature that is being interpreted is of first importance. In the case of early Genesis it seems that it is not ‘myth’ according to your definition, but a Covenant made by the God who is with the Adam who is and all who were to follow him.
Since the MIddle eastern covenants of the time of Moses did not involve a Revelation from the God who is, their covenants so elaborated would necessarily involve ‘myth’, and myth would be the legitimate category for those. But not early Genesis.
My discomfort with ‘myth’ I would describe as noetic, not intellectual and not emotional, and therefore as the substance of a dispute with things as they really are and not as they seem.
thank you for your thoughts, they do make perfect sense to me, most especially once we include the eschatological understanding of ‘logoi’. (Dr. Ben Marston, this could be included in your notion of covenant in fact).
I often reflect that in both a linear AND a non-linear sense, the first fall of the angels also needs to be a part of this discussion.
What can be discomforting sometimes is the vehement words of certain Saints or Elders against current scientific theories of origins (I mentioned Elder Joseph the Hesychast earlier) – but then again this is not really the point of the theology-anthrololgy described here, it is a talk on scientific matters made confusing due to the vehemently negative statements coming out of the mouths of otherwise clairvoyant Fathers.
Truth be told, our origins questions discussed in these comments are far far more about the ‘how’ rather than the ‘who’ so we cannot have all the answers in the way we do in theology. It is really a scientific matter.
Metropolitan (and scientist) Nikoloas of Mesogaia has a great talk on the “unknowability” of the created physical world, and the “communicability” of the uncreated Creator.
This has been a very interesting thread. But what can you say about the Byzantines (and the Jews for that matter) that number years based on the date the world was created? In both cases they point to a world less than 6000 years old. Numbering years in this method also shows that the basic cultural understanding of the age of the world was in fact 6000 years, whether directly described by the fathers or not. This year numbering system is still used on Mt. Athos. Is this not also part of the Orthodox tradition?
In my work career, I work with a large range of engineers and scientists performing basic research on many topics. On the front lines, what we know is often determined by our hypotheses and experiments that try to generate observable data. It many ways, they are like children in a complicated playground, trying to get things to work. In my experience, what we know is so much less than we think. We use methods (such as radio carbon dating among many others) to direct our conclusions but so much rests on extrapolating our short life span’s experience over a much longer time frame. I am not sure we know enough to know. I have seen scientific arguments that can bolster both sides of the creation debate and even more in the “do not know” category.
The most difficult part of what is happening here in this conversation is that it has become much more complicated for simple folk to understand. By the quality and depth of the responses, I am sure most of the posters here are highly educated, probably many with Masters Degrees. Bringing the conversation to this level will cause most people in the world to leave it – it’s over their heads. I am speaking this as someone who has been burdened with an above average IQ. I struggle with relating to the concerns and interests of most people. Father Stephen is trying hard to bridge the gaps but in doing to it is going far being the ability of the average person to understand and therefore the average person’s response it that it no longer concerns them. We have forged an engineer’s technical Christianity.
I think when the end of the world comes we will be surprised. I think we should be much more humble about what we know collectively as a species and trust God more. The danger is that we cause many to lose their faith.
Very good question indeed…
The first thing that comes to mind for an Orthodox, I think, is that physical death – as understood secularly – is part of createdness, regardless of any fall (human or angelic).
Immortality -‘Life’ as we would call it, call “Him” rather – is a potential. It is a potential, but, it is far more than that when we say it is why God created man:
for the purpose of eternal union with Him.
This is the deepest desire of human nature (irrespective of any fall) – a perception of which is to be found in every single soul.
All physical death however, -of all creatures that is-, is transcendable through the allmightly power of grace that was (and is) to act THROUGH Man.
The only way to approach the truth of these things is from the resurrection of Christ. If Christ has been raised from the dead…then the story of Adam has the meaning given to it in the Christian Tradition. If Christ is not raised from the dead, then it really doesn’t matter.
But the normal linear, historical, logical arguments simply will not do.
The resurrection is the single, total game-changer.
If Christ is raised from the dead, then the God who raised Him is the God who gives us the story of the fall (regardless of its relationship with history). But the resurrection is still the only place to start.
I do think we need to be careful when we speak of immortality as a potential. All men, simply by virtue of existing have eternal-being (whether saved or not), and Adam in his pre-fallen state according to nature had well-being. The state he was created in knew no suffering, pain, corruption, etc – he was not naturally heading towards the grave. In this sense immortality was an actuality. what is the potential is to combine ever-being and well-being into ever-well-being and this is where Adam failed, but nevertheless he once knew life free from corruption and death.
well-put! As long as we remember that this knowledge (asFather reminds us here), (the knowledge of the ‘eighth day’), -even though it has clear precursors (as in the unflinching martyrdom of the maccabbes for instance)-, comes to us in full from that historical Pascha of all on the 25th of March 33.
Potential is not the right word for the ‘logoi’ theologically, was using it for simplicity’s sake
It is equally important to remember that immortality was not given to us by nature but according to grace. It is nonetheless real and true though only realized in Christ himself.
But does Christ resurrection have meaning without the story of Adam?
The resurrection is a solution. The Fall is the problem that the resurrection solves.
Without a problem, a solution makes no sense and the resurrection becomes a neat magic trick.
If there was no story of Adam, would you still arrive at the conclusion that “man’s breaking communion with God is the source of death”?
The problem with the Fall, as I see it, is that it places guilt upon humans because a choice was made by humans.
It is this Once Perfect -> Chose Death -> Redemption that encapsulates the message, is it not?
Whether you write the equation
Need for Redemption = Once Perfect + Chose Death
Once Perfect + Chose Death = Need for Redemption
makes no difference. Where you start has no bearing on the component necessary for this truth to be arrived at.
Hi TLO (nice to “see” you again)
I do not have the wisdom to answer for Fr. Stephen but I will share a couple of thoughts.
If there is a God who is source of all Life and who is goodness Itself, then to break communion with Him would have to be death. (Not referring specifically to physical death but non-being, ultimate death.) There can be no Life outside of Life.
Whether the story of Adam was told as is…not so important as the “story” or realization that humans did and do actually break communion with God. It would be hard to argue that we have not done this – assuming one believes there is a God to break communion with. (The story of Adam and Eve sums it up pretty well but if the same truth were told in a different story that wouldn’t matter a lot to me.)
Should we not feel “guilt” for having done so? I’m not talking about neurotic, paralyzing, unhealthy, self-loathing guilt but rather acceptance of responsibility and true contrition.
I cannot accept redemption if I do not accept that I need it.
(I apologize in advance if any of my comments miss the point; I haven’t followed the entire thread of commentary.)
I think you leave out an important component. “If there is a personal God who is source of all Life and who is goodness Itself and who cares about human beings.
(As an aside, it seems to me highly narcissistic to realize that this universe contains a billion galaxies, each with a billion stars and quadrillions of planets and to think that he cares about the morality of one species on this little dot. Everything we suppose about this creator was penned by bronze-age people in a region of this planet that is roughly the size of New England. I find it highly improbable that they really had the inside story.)
I have no problem with “a God who is source of all Life and who is goodness itself.” In fact, it occurred to me that if such a being exists and he took the trouble to read what the Bible has to say about him, he’d be insulted.
You are a good person. Would you require a bloody animal or human sacrifice before you would reconcile with someone?
The very idea of this separation from god requiring such a remedy does not fit the definition of “good.” Why couldn’t god just say, “I forgive you”, end of story?
I left Christianity because I could not look on the Christian god as being “goodness itself.” I simply cannot think that poorly of such a being. I prefer to hope for a god who is better than you or I.
Can’t write at length on my phone. But. The resurrection stands with or without the story of Adam. The Christianity you have rejected is deeply flawed. Guilt is not an issue. Your understanding of sacrifice is flawed as well. It’s not Christianity you reject but a child’s version of Sunday School theology. Death is the problem. And I live out Adams story every day. And the resurrection responds.
Dear to Christ, TLO,
Father Stephen is right and I’m sure he will have more to say when freed from participation in the Pastoral Conference in TX. (Father, I wish I had been able to stay to hear your talk on Saving the Atonement.)
Meanwhile, let me say that God couldn’t, and cannot, simply say “I forgive you,” because our dilemma as persons made in His image is not one of the transgression of a prohibition and of some way to escape a penalty. No, it is one of a volunatary,if not always conscious, ontological separation from Him Who is the sole Source of Life, Joy and Love. It is an illness with willful aspect to it.
Since the separation is voluntary–and the illness is one of the heart–it cannot be undone by divine diktat.
Instead, to keep us from returning to the nothingness from which we are made, Christ God emptied Himself and became a man–He became human as we are, so that we might, by participation in grace, become divine as He is.
He has personally showed us, and led, the way to Life through self-emptying death–not by word only but in deed–and He has sent us the Divine Spirit preceeding from the Father, of Whom He is the sole Begotten–and Who is one with Him and the Father–so that through Baptism into His death and the immersion into Him it implies, and the Great Thanksgiving(Eucharist)and communion in His Body and Blood (and various other means of grace) we may experience and actualize, in fact, the reality of the transformation from participation in the first Adam, the mortal man of dust, into a participation in the immortal Second Adam, Christ God, the Theanthropos, Who as St. Paul says,is the Divine and Life-giving Spirit. so that we may be able to say with the Apostle that it is no longe we who live, but Christ Who lives in us.
Forgive me, a sinner.
Christ is in our midst, and may He be magnified in us and made visible to the world.
Thanks for the reply. The difficulty I have with this idea of a voluntary separation is this: one has to be aware of something in order for one to voluntarily avoid it.
If one is born in Arizona, do you then say that they voluntarily avoid the ocean?
No matter how it’s presented, this “voluntary separation” sounds to me like simply another way of saying “people don’t always choose to do good.”
By what methods does one arrive at the conclusion you make or that “Death is the problem”? It is certainly not self-evident.
Father Stephen, I can wait for a reply.
Having said so, I don’t understand why you would post anything about Creation vs. Evolution. It seems to me that neither of them really matters.
Would it be correct of me to say that Orthodox theology stands apart from any evidentiary examination?
Evidentiary? Other than the resurrection?
Correct. The resurrection is the only aspect that requires any actual evidence. Once that is established, the rest is pretty much fluff, isn’t it? Said another way, you could randomly pull out entire books of the Bible without is having any bearing whatsoever on Orthodox theology, right?
There are many things that are said and affirmed in the theology of the faith. But everything flows from the resurrection of Christ. There are some who might try to start everywhere, but they’re mistaken. The disciples don’t get it, until they get the resurrection. And the resurrection of Christ was not what they thought they were waiting for. If you will, the answer came first, and the answer revealed the question.
For that reason, we understand Adam, and anything else in the OT through the lens of Christ’s Pascha. I would agree that the Creation/evolution debate doesn’t matter much – except that God created all things – this is revealed to us in Christ’s resurrection. But there is no necessary commitment to how that Creation unfolds. Again, some might argue otherwise, but they are mistaken.
There can certainly be an examination of the “evidence” for the resurrection. I would suggest Gary Habermas’ work on the evidence for the resurrection. I find his work to be solid. Why, as a believer in the resurrection of Christ am I also an Orthodox Christian? That is perhaps another question – though not unconnected for me.
The resurrection having been established in the faith of the Church – everything within Scripture is taken up into the theology of the Church – not so much by force of itself – but by force of the resurrection. For that matter, everything in the world gets taken up by the resurrection. CS Lewis even said of the old pagan myths that they were like “good dreams sent to us to prepare for the coming of Christ.” Obviously, they are not treated as true – but – they served to some degree to “baptize” the imagination. Both Lewis and Tolkien thought of myth (Tolkien saw himself as a writer of myth rather than mere fiction) as a baptism of the imagination. And they both saw imagination as a component of faith. The faith isn’t true because we imagine it – but confronted with the resurrection – we find ourselves able to imagine the world in ways that would otherwise be impossible.
Orthodoxy is the historic, living witness to the resurrection. It is not the consequence of OT teaching – but the place where the OT is read in light of the resurrection. It is the place where everything is read in the light of the resurrection.
Hi Fr. Stephen – While there are many writings surrounding the resurrection that amplify it, the removal of any one set of writings would not alter the fundamental idea of the resurrection. Would that be an accurate statement?
The the life and death of Christ as it is described in the Gospels is what one must accept as factual and accurate. I think I am understanding that correctly.
I would agree.
one could go further still – as St Silouan illustrates – and claim that, even if all Scripture, (100% of it) was somehow lost, those who have the Spirit of God dwelling in their purified and illumined hearts, which are devoted solely to Christ, would be able to rewrite it all again with few differences from the lost originals.
The saints that were unlettered or destitute of all books (like the famous Anthony the Great or Mary of Egypt) were proof of this.
I have personally met Elders who knew and saw things no one could possibly know; in the past, in the future, inside the depths of your soul, and inside the entirety of scripture without this being due to having memorised it in any way…
I must admit that at the time none of it works like a ‘sign’ (this is true for most people that meet these Saintly rare persons). Our doubts stay with us. We don’t particularly believe in it all even though it stares us in the face. It might be totally astonishing to think back on. But the insatiable desire to confirm this stuff from an investigative point of view ruins our chances of wonder and acceptance. The multiplication of questions, does not increase our faith. Few are the people that have a sudden change because of any such ‘sign’, the change (for those that do suddenly change – and then hopefully assimilate this over many arduous years) is always because of their humility attracting God’s grace at the same time…
The “sign” that I am asking for also can’t change much on its own at all – even believers remain colder than the Pharaoh or the thief on the left.
Even with all reasons to the contrary destroyed, faith still cannot enter until the humble repentance on a personal level brings a touch of God’s grace – enough to explain what is going on with the trillions of stars and the trillions of nerve connections in a way that is diametrically opposed to what the reasoning mind demands.
Christ’s words “you will ask me nothing” start making sense then, when everything falls into place, when we actually have a relationship with God from our side too. Up to then it seems to always be ‘His problem’ (that we haven’t enough proof, enough communion, enough perception of Him) but after that we discover it was ‘my’ problem, and we start accepting it as such too.
Grace reveals this darkness in our souls softly when we are inclined to abandon (or at least recognise) the ultra refined strains of self-justification that run deep in our psyches’… however, the crazy thing is that all this can also get buried under a great deal of distraction, laziness, forgetfulness and thought processes after a while too; Even if Grace gives us something extremely special and life changing – and this is very painful indeed.
Once blessed with this experience though, the reasoning faculty of the intellect normally becomes useful again – as a slave to the Spirit-filled noetic faculty, not the other way round.
Father Stephen – Thank you. I truly value simplicity.
Dino – What I really need is something simple. All this personal-relationship-Jesus-in-my-heart stuff is how Evangelicals justify their warped theology and intellectual laziness. (I cannot tell you how often the I have been berated by evangelicals that I was never a True-Christian™.)
We have narrowed it down to one simple equation: Is the the life and death of Christ as it is described in the Gospels factual and accurate?
I am not here to discuss that question, only to understand what is the one question upon which Orthodox Christianity is founded.
Frankly, on my hardest or worst days, it is just as simple for me as you asked. The whole of my present life rests solely on the resurrection of Christ. And occasionally, I have to strip everything else away and stand just there. Just there.
I appreciate your non-muttonheaddedness. 🙂
oops sorry TLO. it’s amazing how words have the potential to sound one way or another – even ‘evangelical sounding’. And it does make even more sense in this world of extreme cross-cultural conversation we live in though…
Yes the resurrection of Christ, of course, is what our faith, joy, love is founded on.
It’s just that – to me – I find this having the potential to leave me both: untouched, as well as rocked to the very core.
St Silouan’s experience of Christ (not your usual “personal-relationship-Jesus-in-my-heart stuff that Evangelicals justify their warped theology and intellectual laziness with) was described as communing in Christ’s resurrection by his disciple.
Well, I would answer that if this is the way that God did things, it was intentional. He would have to know that some would believe and be rocked to the core while others would be incredulous and untouched. The purpose behind this? God only knows.
I’m at rest with it. If I am destined for hell due to honest incredulity, so be it. I prefer that to abdicating my reason in order to believe something that I find unbelievable. That sounds arrogant and judgmental but it isn’t. I almost envy those who do not find it unbelievable.
But there’s a third option as well – incredulous and touched. There are a lot of fictional stories that touch us. Frodo returning to the Shire and never being able to fit in then leaving his faithful Sam is a beautiful picture of something that I think holds deep meaning for us all. The idea that the creator of the multiverse would care enough about our one pathetic little species is a beautiful story whether you take it to be real or fiction.
At least the Orthodox stance makes sense. Evangelical theology is replete with things that are unbelievable simply because their ideas are idiotic.
The evangelicals have done a great disservice to Christians everywhere. They have made Christianity a political force and a corporate franchise. Personally, I think that if there were only Orthodox Christians and not Papists and Evangelicals, this would be a much better world to live in.
Nice to chat with you again, btw.
there is also a fourth option you missed above, that of believing yet being untouched. This is what I meant above: that even after having been touched to the point that our life has been turned around, we still have the crazy ability to bury the whole experience…
St Peter was at the Transfiguration, he saw the meaning of the “multiverse” in a Person in front of him, he had all the proof one could ask for, yet he still betrayed that person later. I would argue that Peter’s own (upside down) crucifixion was as great, no, an even greater communion actually with the resurrected Christ than when he was answering Him, ‘yes I do love you’ seeing Him resurrected at lake Galilee…
That is why a Christian is not scared of being in hell if he has God dwelling in him. And equally he is terrified of still having selfishness in him (‘hell’ if you like) even if they place him in Paradise.
But, (back to the topic of the Creation), we mustn’t allow our scientific knowledge to become a thought that aids unbelief unaware of the hidden adversary in it.
If after finding out about the incomprehensible vastness of the known universe I tend towards unbelief – it just means my God was small, a created imaginary god.
The God one encounters -even if I myself never encounter Him on this earth, others have and that suffices- is the explanation of this immensity, as well as of the paradox of His concern for little man (a spiritual version of what we call the “anthropic principle” in astronomy). In fact not believing in Him, at least in this sense, while knowing of the unbelievable vastness of the universe (and you seem to have delved into that subject like me) makes the ‘chance’ existence of all this stuff that exists an even greater abdication of my reason.
Hi TLO – don’t want to interrupt the conversation – I have no “words of wisdom” – Fr Stephen’s suffice. Just want to send you a virtual hug.
Hi Dana! Hugs back. It’s been a long while, hasn’t it? How are you? I trust that all is well with you.
I am fantastic. Lots of stuff happening in the past year+.
Among them, my Mom died in March 2013. Dad’s getting married to a phenomenal lady this coming May and I have found that dealing with both events has been a lot easier for me than for my Christian sister and my parent’s other Christian friends – except the Orthodox! Simply being outside of Evangelical/Protestant thinking has allowed me to look at these events as I think is reasonable.
My parents met at age 16, dated for three years and were married for 54 years. Dad did right by Mom and I admire him for it. And Mom had a good long life. I miss her terribly but I see no reason why my grief should be assuaged before dad is free to look for happiness. I’m just not that selfish.
I have been so impressed with how Dad’s fellow Orthos have been so understanding, encouraging and supportive. Even my mom gave dad her blessing before she passed. Why all these people gave him any grief at all about looking for someone to be close to is beyond me.
Not looking for an opportunity to bag on the unOrthodox but the reality has simply underscored my admiration for what I consider to be the true Christianity. This community has had a huge impact on how I view Christianity in practice.
:::patting you all on the back:::
I agree, to a point. I think any belief system needs to stand or fall on its own merit. This is why I wanted to distill it down to the one central question.
That said, the RC reaction to Galileo is an example where belief can often be based in the wrong things and science can’t help but expose this. To my mind, scientific discovery should always strengthen a correct theology either by underscoring something that has been held as truth or exposing where an incorrect concept of God goes off the rails.
The trap that the Evangelicals fall into is to try to use science to support their theology. That’s how we ended up with the Ham on Nye debate. Ken Ham presented the most preposterous ideas because he’s made the mistake of mixing theology with YEC. I don’t think that John Cleese could have come up with more absurd arguments.
My unbelief began because of what I saw as a direct link between The Fall and The Cross. Since The Fall cannot possibly be an actual, factual event, The Cross made no sense to me. Even as allegory, it makes no sense to me that there should be a literal remedy. One does not invest his fortune into righting the wrongs of Rumpelstiltskin.
But Fr. Stephen has made it clear that the Fall is not really the question. The resurrection is. I have no interest in defending a position. I crave understanding. I have zero problem admitting when I am wrong. In this case, I was incorrectly viewing the Orthodox understanding.
This is not the place for me to discuss my thoughts on that matter because I have a deep respect for this community and I have no desire to even risk the possibility of dissuading any of you in your faith.
Now that I do have a correct starting point, I can investigate it with a clear head. I am completely unafraid of what I will find, no matter how it plays out. (And, to be honest, I don’t really want to discuss it with this community because I know that eventually it will result in some of you brainiacs throwing out huge words that I have to look up before I get what you mean… 😉 )
“Since The Fall cannot possibly be an actual, factual event” ….chto?!
A couple of comments:
(your words – I don’t know how to quote you in those nice blocks) I think you leave out an important component. “If there is a personal God who is source of all Life and who is goodness Itself and who cares about human beings.”
Jesus is the revelation of God as “personal” and “caring about human beings”. (If Jesus was just some guy, not the Incarnate Word of God, it would mean something totally different than what I believe it means.)
(your words) “it seems to me highly narcissistic…”
It would be narcissistic if WE invented the idea that God cared about our tiny species. It is extremely humbling and beautiful if God did (which is what I believe).
(your words) Why couldn’t god just say, “I forgive you”, end of story?
He does. Hard part is getting us to believe and accept it.
(your words) You are a good person. Would you require a bloody animal or human sacrifice before you would reconcile with someone?
Actually, I’m not a particularly good person. I’m a sinner. No, I wouldn’t require bloody sacrifices. And I don’t think God did either. God made Himself the sacrifice, not someone else. This the ultimate “personal” act of Love.
And, like Fr. Stephen, I believe it does all rest on Resurrection (though not apart from the Incarnation).
Yes, Jesse, when having conversations with a non believer, some of them will say that the Fall cannot possibly be a factual event…
It’s a broader conversation…
Well, to be fair, as you pointed out the Church Fathers are all over the map regarding this as well.
Forgetting any other evidence, if you ask any Rabbi you will learn that the Hebrews never took the Garden story literally, and it’s their book so I think they should know.
TLO and Jesse,
I’m reading David Bentley Hart’s God (great title for a book). He is probably one of the most brilliant theologians (of any stripe) writing today. That’s not to say he’s the holiest – but his mastery of material and depth of study is breath-taking. I’ve occasionally disagreed with him on some minor things. But this book, occasionally a real work to read, will become, I think, or should become, a standard read for thinking at all about God. It clarifies so much – particularly clearing out the brush of wrong ideas.
He touches on the creation stories, I would love to see him write an entire article on the topic. His read of the fathers in the matter is consonant with my own.
Jesse, I think you have a confusion between the meaning of “literal” and “factual.” This is a fairly modern development (complete with linear time lines).
The “literal” meaning of a text is the meaning of what it actually says. Thus, if the text says something is a “bush,” then it means “bush” and not “greed” or something like that. The repeated insistence on the “literal” meaning, often cited in the fathers, has much more to do with avoiding a kind of fantastic use of allegory that was not uncommon, indeed it was popular, in the ancient world. It began to be carried to far many thought in the work of Origen and some others and there was a back lash – essentially an effort to maintain the integrity of the Scriptural text. It imposes controls. The story is what the story actually is.
But the relationship between the literal meaning of the story, and facticity is another matter, and is not at all the same thing as the meaning of the word “literal,” though the word could have that meaning at times as well.
We misuse “literal” all the time in modern language. It is always important, by the way, to know that the meaning of a word in one father (and century) can be subtly or quite different from its meaning in another father (or century). Thus collections of quotes gathered together, appearing to say the same thing, can, in fact be misleading. There is no substitute for the difficult work of scholarship. Piety is good, but it is not a substitute for study.
You make me smile. I loved this:
“And, to be honest, I don’t really want to discuss it with this community because I know that eventually it will result in some of you brainiacs throwing out huge words that I have to look up before I get what you mean…”
You are what the ‘sophisticated’ Orthodox would call supercalafragalististicexpealidocious!
Respecting a difference between God and creatures, Orthodoxy is about reality which, for creatures, is the givens of God. We live and die with what we’re given.
Like given phenomena, the Word also originates in silence. Silence is our destiny. Words distract from silence. If coming from silence a few will do.
Not touched? God’s touch is found in death where silence will not suffer distractions. Baptism (death) is where all talk of living touch begins.
Anticipating death, we may seek silence today. If God doesn’t touch us today, at least we may have some peace until or if he does.
Suffering? Silently look at the cross until a Word for you comes out. This is Orthodoxy.
Brian: Ha! I know that one!
Michael: You are getting way ahead of me. I am at step 1, the one upon which your theology depends. For some reason, it’s a step that few are able to identify as being the first step at all. It took a lot of work to clear away the bracken and leaves just to find it. Now it’s time to test whether it is solid or not.
TLO, the first and last step for everyone is under that cross. It may be hard but it is not complicated.
Michael – Not to be nitpicky but I believe that it is at the tomb, and not at the cross, where the first step lies. The cross speaks of punishment, guilt, and justice. The resurrection speaks of something else entirely.
Dear to Christ, TLO,
Why do you conclude that the Cross speaks of “punishment, guilt and justice”? Are you sure? Assuming it did, in some small part, is that all it speaks of? Who is on it? Why? Then, as you say, the Tomb is important, too, and the Sabbath rest and descent into Hades that it implies and the harrowing of Hades and–yes, of course–the Resurrection (and the Incarnation itself), the sitting down at the right hand of the Father, and the sending of the Holy Spirit and the Church and His glorious second coming again–and all these other things that He has freelly done FOR us.
Christ is in our midst,
Dear to Christ, TLO,
I owed you another response from yesterday. Forgive me for taking so long. Time hardly permits a true conversation.
You said, I believe, “The difficulty I have with this idea of a voluntary separation is this: one has to be aware of something in order for one to voluntarily avoid it.
“If one is born in Arizona, do you then say that they voluntarily avoid the ocean?”
It may be that I should not have used the term “voluntary” for we daily ask forgiveness of our sins, both voluntary and involuntary.” But my own experience is that we live in a constant state of forgetfulness of God. This forgetfullness is often involuntary, sometimes it is intentional and sometime deliberate. My experience of the human conditon is one of self-centeredness and disordered desire to have things generally my way. It is not easy–it seems virtually impossible–to love God with whole heart, mind and strength and to love others–family, friends, strangers and enemies as truly part of one’s very self and of an equal value and personhood. It is very hard to see things as others see them–though with vigilence it is possible from time to time.
In any event, the Word of God became Man to put an end to this fragementaion and to reveal to us Who God is and Who we, human beings, are created and made to be.
I understand the conundrum you pose by your example of the Arizonan who has never seen the sea. However, I don’t think it’s apt, since we are talking about God Who is always everywhere present and Who is closer to us than our own breath. The fact is, if we are sharing on this board, we have already approached the seashore.
God the Holy Trinity is filled with nothing but love for each of us and asking us to turn to Him and share His affection as a little child–in gratitude, wonder, joy, trust and love–and then to tell others of His greatness. Is this so much a question of the mind and reason, as it is of the heart and the communion of persons freelly engaged in self-giving and receiving?
Christ is in our midst,
Why is everyone so quick to move on?
It is the resurrection that is the cornerstone. That is all I am thinking about at preset.
I’ve only recently become a regular reader of this blog. The sweetness and charity with which people almost always treat each other blows my mind. This is one of the few—perhaps the only—blog I know where people regularly talk TO each other instead of AT each other. The result is that Fr. Stephen’s initial post becomes a gift that keeps on giving: the discussion continues to move “further up and further in” as people respond to each others’ questions or challenge one another’s answers and thereby pull one another into more insight even while sometimes pulling against each other! It is amazing how much wisdom can emerge when people join together on a journey to find it instead of engaging in a contest to see who wins!
Hi Brian – I have had similar experiences on exchristian.net and in a private group of about 200 ex-Christians on facebook.
There are good people to be found in many places.
By bringing up punishment, guilt, and justice it’s clear you’re burdened by some unOrthodox baggage. Nevertheless, we can’t escape that resurrection always starts in a tomb.
We die because we wildly miss our calling to be divine (sin), refusing the gifts, trying to rob God’s store when he’d rather just give us more than we can imagine. Punishment doesn’t put us in tombs and Christ did not die in punishment. He went in there with love to get us out.
We were just dust made out of nothing and a complete resurrection starts back at zero. Everything is new. New birth. Baptism.
Jesus’ cross actively turns death into a source of life. This is daily, it is now. Ever notice how most Orthodox crosses flower with life? “Come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Matt 6, Mark 8,10, Luke 9) Dying this way is the only way to live.
Us Greeks have a whole bunch of words that deliberately join the Cross and the Resurrection into one.
We say for instance: “Σταυροαναστάσημη χαρά” literally: “the Joy of the cross-resurrection”
Orthodox portray Christ on the Cross, dead, yet with the original inscription INRI changed to “The King of Glory”…
We see everything through the resurrection, absolutely everything, most especially suffering. And the triumph is in the crucified and exalted Christ.
Some rare Fathers have spoken of Christ’s ‘joy’ while ascending Golgotha to be crucified, of his ‘eagerness’ to be crucified for us, explaining that the only sadness He had about being crucified (in Gethsemane) is not that He would be crucified – no… It is that some people would commit that sin.
We see this in most martyrs too…
I’m well, thanks for asking. I’m in the stage of life where my kids are getting married. One eloped, and everyone’s fine with that. Another is getting married in August. Hopefully the third will marry longtime significant other before too long. None is interested in the Christianity in which they were raised, which is not as distressing to me as it is to my husband… I read somewhere on the interweb that when your children start their spiritual journeys, it’s not from ground zero; rather, it’s from where *you* are. I think this is true, at least anecdotally. My kids moved out of Evangelicalism at the same time I was moving out of the whole western Christian scene and into Orthodoxy.
Sorry to hear of you mother’s repose. My mother married again, 15 years after my dad had passed, and had a very happy second marriage. Hope the same is so for your dad.
I really am glad to see you hanging ’round here again!
And do please sit right there at the entrance to the tomb.
Brief thoughts when I think of the entrance to the tomb (an anecdote). In 2008 my wife and I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I was in the Church of the Resurrection (where the tomb of Christ is located) late one night for Divine Liturgy (it starts after midnight). I was standing by the tomb of Christ, hearing confessions of people in our pilgrimage group. When I finished, a line of Russians formed and started coming up for confession one-by-one. I kept saying “I don’t understand Russian” (in Russian – a useful phrase to know), but they confessed anyway, and I gave absolution (since God speaks Russian). This continued until a Babushka came up and started chewing me out in Russian. So I stopped and went away.
Being chewed out is a common priestly experience. It was not my first, nor my last. But it was the most memorable! And an interesting memory to have attached to the tomb of Christ.
Utterly overshadowing that was the liturgy itself. I was able to enter and receive communion in the tomb itself with the other priests. Earlier, the priest preparing the bread and wine (the service of proskomedie), did so in the tomb on the place where Christ’s Body lay. the faithful (lay, ordained, male, female) were able to go in the tomb, kneel, and read names aloud for the priest to take particles for from the bread (they go on the plate next to the Lamb (Bread) that will be consecrated in the liturgy). This service is always done preceding the liturgy – the memory of this particular one has now accompanied every Proskomedie I’ve done since. The Eucharist is our mystical sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection.
What a great conversation. I don’t want to “move on” from where your thoughts currently lie, TLO, but I’m curious as to what your logical, reasonable purposes are for equating size with importance. More than once in your comments you’ve spoken of our “little” planet, and our “pathetic” species in the context of the vastness of our universe and even further into the multiverse. Your mentioning of the Catholic response to Galileo is kind of ironic, given that your comments seem to imply you would expect a sort of Earth-is-central viewpoint of the universe, were Christianity true. Our planet is indeed tiny, and our species is most certainly pathetic, but there is no connection between that and whether or not we are of importance to God. Indeed, of supreme importance.
Hey Dana – The thing with kids is that at some point we as parents have to realize that they aren’t us and the choices they make are not a reflection of how they were raised. Said another way, don’t take their life choices personally. They are them and you are you.
Letting them go and allowing life to kick them in the butt is hard but usually necessary. And taking on responsibility for their behaviour is usually a bad move.
Before being concerned about whether they adopt Christianity, my first thought would be “are they good people?” That is a true indicator of what someone believes, IMO. And, honestly, there is so much junk-Christianity out there, can you really blame them?
Personally, I think that any deity who would in any way look down on anyone who honestly cannot accept the story as it is presented isn’t really much of a god. I can name a dozen agnostics who I know who are far more merciful, generous and gracious than a host of Christians I have known through the years. I have difficulty in thinking that a good god would cast them off.
I would suggest that saying that we are of supreme importance to god is opinion, not observation. I am observing the size and scope of things and surmising from a human perspective that it’s pretty unlikely for a creator to even be aware of us, let alone care about whether we get angry with someone else. It is just as likely that god would care about the habits of an amoeba. I am speaking in mere probabilities.
My comment about the gangster battle between Rapper G Solar and P-Daddy Urban simply underscores what I see as a major problem. When one, such as the Pope, starts from “we are the most important creatures in the universe” then the universe (obviously) revolves around us. I see this as primarily arrogance and ignorance. (I am not equating the Catholic worldview at that time with Orthodoxy. The RC seemed to have lots of issues, such as a need for power, which I don’t think the Orthodox church tried to capitalize on.)
If we start out with recognizing our own insignificance then by default you are starting with humility and awe.
Look at it this way. If we assume we are all-important, then of course god is going to pay attention to us. Why wouldn’t he? Look how amazing we are! We are the pretty girl who everyone admires and we expect god to do stuff for us. You see what I’m saying?
If we assume that we are insignificant and then learn that god is paying attention to us, that is most baffling and humbling. To me, this is a far preferable starting point and will, in the long run, keep one from becoming arrogant, condescending and judgmental.
In my experience, agnosticism/atheism provides a much better home for the meek and humble than does an RC or Protestant worldview. (I don’t know enough about Orthodoxy to make an assessment.)
True Christianity is far more deductive than inductive – Elder Sophrony explains this on a fascinating way.
It is based on a Revelation, a Crucifixion-Resurrection, which is then verified deductively in believers’ lives- everything flows from there.
Whereas the bottom up (inductive) approach of most science works differently.
The fact that many modern scientists in their pride, forget that a scientist is normally someone who knows more than anyone on earth, perhaps even in history, about one specific small part of a topic; and fall into a philosopher’s “spherical”/ global view of all that exists -lacking (mocking even) a philosopher’s basic skills- is something worrying we see more and more of lately.
The god you’ve identified with “punishment, guilt and justice” does not exist. He is a fictional character in myths about divine-human justice that so many of us swallowed up in childhood. This god damaged me too.
You won’t find a vindictive god in the Gospels. A jealous lover of mankind is there. St. John describes him in cosmic terms that I just love, but read any gospel, again. Christ in the gospels deserves a fresh reading, He should be taken on his own terms.
We have to set old baggage down in His presence, pour out our pain, and lift our eyes to see Him as He is. This is the sacrifice He wants because then He can embrace us. He took our cross for this and went into our tomb for this.
I thought of something that C.S. Lewis wrote that reflects on what you said about very generous and merciful unbelievers whom you’ve known that exceed some Christians in virtue. Someone was once complaining to Lewis about a grouchy, not too pleasant old lady who lived in a nearby flat. Mr. Lewis responded…”Oh, but you should have known her before she was a Christian!”
Who, for example?
How do you arrive at that conclusion?
TLO, just read the gospels and see if you find that god in there. I did that and, finding a different God in there, I was eventually able to let go of the mythical punisher-god I had been taught to believe from nursery days on.
It was hard because everything I read or heard seemed to fit pretty neatly into the punisher-god’s myth. I had swallowed his story, was raised on it and eventually even defended it. But the lie poisoned me spiritually four decades. I’m OK now but that god gave me beating I cannot forget or erase from my bones.
Dino: You contrast “the bottom up (inductive) approach” with revelation.
I don’t think this is a reasonable approach at all. For goodness sakes, we have 2,000 years of Christian writing constantly contradicting one another about the nature of god. You cannot expect any reasonable person to “simply believe.”
As Styx put it: “And if I see your light, should I believe? Tell me how will I know?” (From “Show me the way”)
In my estimation, “revelation” is a form of intellectual laziness. Anyone can claim it. It has no value to me.
This is why I have worked to narrow down the whole thing to something that can be examined. The only thing that needs to be proven is that the Gospels and resurrection are accurately factual.
With Father Stephen’s permission, I would like to throw out the question:
I only have two parameters:
1. Hearsay is not reliable testimony
2. Evidence must be able to stand up to scrutiny (e.g. what sources/corroborating evidence supports the texts of the Gospel narrative?).
I promise not to argue.
I will simply read from here on out.
Remaining at ground-zero, the Resurrection of Christ.
First, I don’t think any set of beliefs will make much difference in people, Christians or atheists. They’ll pretty much think they are the center of the universe for many reasons (one being that it’s the only place in the universe where they are). “The line between good and evil runs through every human heart” is Solzhenitsyn’s observation, and I think it is true, not matter what kind of person the heart is found in.
The resurrection of Christ is the true game-changer. There are historical reasons for believing it – the New Testament witness – having been assailed mercilessly by liberal critics for more than a century – has largely emerged unscathed today. There is pretty much “scholarly” consensus that the early, most primitive witness of actual eye-witnesses is that Christ’s tomb was empty and they saw Him alive again, and transformed.
Having said that, it becomes something of a piece of “data” to be considered. Perhaps they were all mistaken (in which case they were seriously mistaken because all of them were willing to die for that witness). It certainly marked a change not only in those witnesses but in the world itself. The Church became amazingly “universal” (in its world) within a few short centuries. Of course, Islam became quite wide-spread, in a short time, but I consider it cheating to spread at the edge of the sword. 🙂 Buddhism spread fairly quickly too, but should be seen as a “reform” movement within the Hindu/Chinese/Japanese world.
The Church is the abiding witness of the Resurrection. And it has plenty of things to answer for. Apparently, it is possible to do all kinds of things in the name of God, in the name of the government, in the name of race, in the name of money, etc. Nothing has insulated the Church from the ravages of the human imagination.
But the core texts of the primitive community remain and are intact. Orthodoxy represents not some perfect institutional incarnation of anything. It, rightly seen, is a continuing community of worship and the spiritual life that is rooted in embodying that primitive witness. It has not undergone great reform, etc. The life of prayer and what that entails abides. It is in that abiding life that the continuing witness of the resurrected Lord remains.
As an Orthodox Christian (and priest) I have to “put up” with a lot of things that are nonsense and not part of that witness. Some of them are my own sins. Others are the sins and nonsense of others in my immediate community. Others are the sins and nonsense at a greater remove. These things, though pains in the neck, are not terrible concerning to me – it’s the resurrected Christ I’m after and His living witness.
If I’m being rational about all this – then I would expect certain consequences to flow from an actual, factual, resurrected Christ. And I see those consequences.
The resurrection does make me think that, for whatever undeserving reason, human beings have been singled out for special attention from the Ground of all Being. Apparently He thinks we’re created in His image. And there are consequences from that. Nothing that should make us arrogant, however.
One of the consequences is that, we are told, he wants us to be priests of this universe He has created. So, as a sentient being, able to see, to understand, to express, and even “create” to a certain extent, we are supposed to “give voice” (and action) – speaking as the “mouth” of the universe in praise and thanksgiving to the One who causes all things to be. And there are consequences that flow from that.
One of those consequences is that we gather once a week (on the weekly anniversary of the resurrection) to offer Bread and Wine (that represent not just the “stuff of the universe” but the stuff of the universe that has first been transformed by human beings (bread is wheat transformed, wine is grapes transformed). Offering this, remembering Christ’s death and resurrection, we eat and drink it, being told that the Ground of All Being will make it to be His very life – restoring our communion with Him.
And there are consequences from that. To be the voice of the universe, the priests of creation, the offerers of thanksgiving, can and should change how we live. It can and should change how we see the universe in which we live and how we live in it.
And there are consequences from that…
working on it. I would ask others to let me do this without too much help. 🙂 I’ve got more services starting shortly. It might be tomorrow before I get this done.
to your question: “Who, for example?”
Maybe forget the “2,000 years of Christian writing constantly contradicting one another about the nature of god.” and remember that True Christianity is what we are talking about, true Orthodoxy, and it starts from ‘the top’ (Pascha – the Crucified, exalted and resurrected Christ) down…
Of course what i say concerning the ‘deductive’ or ‘inductive’ approach will not make sense if you take into that other context as you did. I hope it’s obvious which ‘context’ I was talking about. I certainly do not have that in wider watered down caricature of Christianity in mind, but I am thinking -perhaps a tiny – portion of what one would think of, or know of, asChristianity in the west. Sorry, i obviously need to be a little more clarifying, as I come from a country and a region that was 98% orthodox background.
I will let others more knowledgable answer that question. However, I must say that from an Orthodox point of view the text is not the important thing – it is one of many things that re-emphasises and re-verifies what the experience (repeated in various degrees – yet always the same), and verified (first) through the ‘living’ Orthodox tradition, “speaks’ of.
It is in the hearts (as St Paul explains) that the real ‘text’ (Word) is ever found.
There was no text, but there certainly was the experience of the resurrected life for the first Apostles, as well as for (as mentioned earlier) Anthony the Great, Mary of Egypt, all the way to the utterly illiterate old granny, or simple peasant in my great-Grandad’s village, who lived the Church life with unceasing remembrance of God, arresting humility, love and joy, who foreknew her/his death and prepared with fasting and frequent communion for it as for their true birth.
Patience. But no one will satisfy the word “irrefutable.” I couldn’t prove the sun came up irrefutably. 🙂
I’ll be writing this afternoon on the matter of evidence.
I’ll settle for ‘reasonable.’
Dino – I place very low value on personal experience. There are martyrs and holy men in every faith.
Evidence for the Resurrection
The writings of the New Testament are very different kinds of materials. By no means are we looking at simple historical materials. They have a place and purpose in the life of the believing community that varies.
The earliest writings in the New Testament – agreed by everyone – are St. Paul’s letters. And it is within those letters, specifically 1 Cor. 15:3-8, that the earliest written evidence of the resurrection is found.
It is agreed within New Testament studies that St. Paul is quoting something like a Creed. Perhaps the most primitive of all Creeds. And it is signaled with the language of “delivered and received…” they are technical terms for the transmission and content of a tradition (what has been handed on). And there are very solid historical reasons to place the dating of this creed to within about 5 years of the resurrection itself.
Added to this is St. Paul’s eyewitness statement (which appends to this creed), “Last of all He was seen by me.” It is not hearsay, but eyewitness, written witness of the resurrected Christ.
And, it is interestingly corroborated by the biography of St. Paul. He admits (in Galatians) that he persecuted the early Christians (which Luke describes in the book of Acts).
This is the absolute most primitive witness.
Then we have the gospels. The gospels are written by the Church and for the Church. They are something like a doctrinally-structured account of the life and teachings of Christ, and His death and resurrection appearances. But they are not written like a pure historical fact/report, etc. account. Rather, they are more like the nature of the holy icons.
Each of the stories has a shape and a function. They are collected and edited. Each gospel has a shape as a whole (and they share some similar material that is shaped by each author).
The Church recognized and recognizes in them the Gospel of Christ. That is, these books conform to the shape and content of the Apostolic Rule of Faith. These gospels share the story of Christ, seen and remembered and shaped after the resurrection.
It would be impossible to use them to arrive at “pure history” in the sense of “what actually happened” in any particular instance. Some things seem to have more of a core about them than others. The events of the Passion are quite similar in all 4 gospels (with some important variations).
But these things are like this, not because there is some faulty memory or corrupted documents. They do precisely what they were written to do. The only fault in using them lies with the users (especially those who do not understand the true nature of the Scriptures).
There are other letters and writings, all of which agree with the Apostolic Rule of Faith. This same Rule of Faith is also found in writings outside the New Testament that were not included in the Canon for various reasons. Quite important would be the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who knew the Apostles and served as an early bishop of Antioch. He wrote a number of letter himself.
What we see is a continuity of witness and the rule of faith. That same witness and rule of faith has continued through the ages with consistency.
Now, just as St. Paul can say, “Last of all he appeared to me…” is something that could be repeated through the centuries by others to whom the resurrected Christ has appeared. I met an Orthodox priest from Indonesia, Fr. Daniel Byantoro, who is a convert from Islam. He converted because the risen Lord appeared to him. But that would count, I suppose, as hearsay.
None of this says anything about Christians in general. But some Christians in particular, who have faithfully followed the path described by St. Paul, the Apostles, and the Spiritual Fathers through the centuries, find their teachings to be true and reliable.
This is written as a minimal account, with a maximum level of question or doubt about the facticity of the New Testament. I’m taking your criteria seriously.
Fr. Stephen –
I know you wrote this for TLO but I thank you for it. I have so little scholarly knowledge about scripture and this is helpful and concise summary.
There would doubtless be many who would give a much more “conservative” account of these things. But I sought to give only the most “reliable” description according to standard historical measures for TLO’s sake. I was trained in the historical/critical method. I found its assumptions about the nature of truth to often be similar to the flatland assumptions of fundamentalism and neither satisfy me. Frankly, if they were the only possible ways of being a Christian, I would have long ago ceased to be one in despair.
But I walked that dark path (very far) and by God’s grace I found a way out. Holy Orthodoxy, particularly how it understands truth and the nature of history, tradition, etc., to be very liberating and life-giving. There are some who have sought refuge from modernity in Orthodoxy by seeing it as a more complete version of sola scriptura (only now based in the fathers and “holy tradition” etc.). But are actually engaged in the same modern vs. modern struggle that liberals and fundamentalists engage in.
Orthodoxy is, I think, something completely different. It is that vein of Orthodoxy that I write. Some apparently find it helpful, as it has been to me.
I certainly agree – these descriptions alone would never be enough to lead me to faith. I can never have an experience of Truth through such things – because there will always be someone who will come up with a “logical” argument or present a historical account that contradicts. That is the nature of human beings – what is “proof” to one is folly to another. (The whole creation/evolution topic certainly illustrates that well enough.)
However, there are times when my logical mind tries to challenge (again) what my heart has known and experienced for many years. It is nice to have things to refer to at such moments.
It sometimes amazes me how fickle I can be in matters of faith. Even my own profound experiences of God can fade from awareness or seem less relevant, given enough time or distraction. But, of course, that is why I pray and repent. Conversion is ongoing (at least for those as weak as me.)
God is love and will be there for you.
Today’s epistle reading seemed so fitting for Mary’s comment, “at least for those as weak as me.”
It is from St. Paul’s second letter to those at Corinth (4:6-15):
Brethren, it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we too believed, and so we speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Mary: In my experience, it is neigh on impossible to find anyone who can actually give a “helpful and concise summary” as Fr. Stephen does.
Thank You Fr. Stephen for providing it and for taking my question seriously.
Thank you, MichaelPatrick. The RC calendar is different and so I appreciate your bringing this Scripture to me today. I have a love for “earthen vessels”. While I haven’t done it in quite a while, I have sometimes gone by river beds and made simple pots out of the natural clay. It is prayerful experience.
TLO -how true! Fr. Stephen has been given a great gift and exercises it with a generous heart.
I’ve been mulling over your “reasonable” for the last few hours and thinking how the Baptismal service asks that the newly-illuminated be a “reason-endowed” member of the flock of Christ. At the heart of Orthodox theology and worship is the conviction that rationality is the great gift of God to human beings, a sign of their being made in the image of God and the thing that distinguishes us from the “speechless” beasts.
Thus to believe anything against reason is a sin against our very nature (which is no guarantee we won’t commit this sin as we do every other!). On the other hand, to believe BEYOND reason is a requirement of the human condition. I am pretty convinced that a person who’s honest and self-aware has to admit at some point that his most cherished convictions, the “oughts” and “ought nots” he builds his life on will always outstrip the evidence he can bring forward to justify them. As the atheist writer Camus says in the Myth of Sisyphus, science can tell me the earth goes around the sun, but who cares? It can’t tell me how to live life or why I shouldn’t commit suicide. Once I start asking those questions I leave the realm of science and experimental verification and am back with those pesky philosophers and religious types Hawking wants to sweep out of the conversation—and they disagree!
But if the Resurrection happened, as Fr. Stephen makes so lucidly clear, its very empirical quality settles (or sets aside) a lot of arguments and brings a kind of stupendous clarity.
Along those I’d be interested if you’d be willing to conduct a thought experiment I tried on myself years ago in my “ex-Christian” days. Pretend for a moment that you don’t know in advance that Christ’s resurrection couldn’t have happened. (I assume this is your position). What would be the implications if it did?
(I know that thought experiments don’t settle the question of truth, but sometimes the exercise of the rational imagination helps brings a useful lucidity about just what’s at stake in a disputable belief.)
Of course, “reasonable” has to be juxtaposed against “unreasonable.” Is it “unreasonable” (contrary to reason) to believe that the primitive witness of the Christian community, relayed in what is universally considered to be a genuine letter of the Apostle Paul, who lived a life of suffering and eventually died based on his commitment to the truth of what his witness, is true?
No matter how outrageous the claim (a man was raised from the dead in a transformed form), it is still not “unreasonable” to accept it. It stretches reason to a new place, perhaps. “It seems that there might actually be a God who became a human being, who was killed and who came back to life and said that this event matters.”
“If there really is a God, then why doesn’t He show me?”
That’s not an unreasonable question. But perhaps He already has. Is it reasonable to demand that He do it again whenever someone feels a little queasy about accepting the one time He did do it?
None of this believing is unreasonable. But it changes everything. TLO knows that and respects it so much that the question really matters to him – and I deeply respect that.
Everyone here should.
It remains an extraordinary claim, no matter how we slice and dice it. It is contrary to universally accepted ‘normal’ experience, is it not? Of course that in itself is not ‘proof’ that it did not happen.
But I am not so sure, based on my own experience, that even if I would have been an eye witness to the miracles, to the crucifixion, to the resurrected Jesus, that these events themselves would have taken away my doubts. There’s always some other explanation we can come up with. “Did I really see that?” “Was there a trick involved” “Does it mean what some people say it does?” etc. etc.
Which raises the question for me, what is it that convinces me to believe anything at all? What proofs do I really need? To believe that Martin Luther was a real person? To believe that Abraham Lincoln is not a fiction of our collective patriotic imagination? Some things we just accept, because they are accepted by all. But to believe that Jesus is God incarnate, this is in a different category altogether. And what good would it be to believe and accept that Jesus is God as I do believe and accept that Abe Lincoln really was a factual person? Christian faith is much more. To believe in Jesus, this requires, at least for me, a personal encounter. At the end of the day I am not interested in history and facts alone.
God didn’t really go out of his way to make it any more reasonable, did he?
* According to Paul, only 500 people saw a post-resurrected Jesus (not a lot, considering) but according to Acts there were only 120 believers after the ascension; so only 24% of those who actually saw him believed? How reasonable would it be for us to believe then?
* Post-resurrected Jesus didn’t show up in Pilate’s office and say, “OK, so I’m back, clearly. Get some scribes in here and write this down….”
* Post-resurrected Jesus didn’t show up to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin and say, “Remember all that stuff I’ve been telling you for the past three years? Now do you believe me? So, listen up while I go over it again. This is important.”
* Post-resurrected Jesus didn’t show up in Nicaea to quell the bickering and get his church all on the same footing
In the battle between Reasonable and Unreasonable…
TLO, I understand how that may seem unreasonable, but even by the words Jesus spoke, it isn’t. He says, “Seek, and you shall find.” The question (from the Orthodox point of view) isn’t, “What should God have done to get these people’s attention?” but rather, “Were they seeking Him?”
If he had done all those things, would it really convince you? I don’t believe it.
Nathan: And the answer from me is “Heck yeah I was seeking! 43 years isn’t long enough or dedicated enough for god to actually reveal himself?”
Talk about unreasonable.
LBTL: Yes! Why wouldn’t I? It is evidence that we are after, isn’t it?
“The Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it.”
I Kings 19
My point is that the evidence for those events had they occured (i.e. post-resurrected Jesus showing up at Pilate’s office etc.), would not be any different from the evidence we do have for the resurrection! In other words, it alone wouldn’t convince you.
Michael: Just as a matter of etiquette, heaving Bible verses at people is not helpful in a discussion that is trying to determine if the core issue (the resurrection and the validity of the Gospel texts) is reasonable.
Until the one can be established, the rest is meaningless.
LTBL: I promised not to argue. But let me ask, if someone came to you and told you that your mother had been part of a drug cartel when she was younger, would you believe them?
If they provided a picture showing her with a know drug lord, would that convince you? It could be an innocent coincidence, yeah?
How about if all the people who knew your mother at that time confirmed it?
The more evidence that one has for something that one is disinclined to believe has a profound impact on the strength of the argument.
I would ask my mother, and even then she could not be telling the truth.
What counts as evidence? Some ‘story’ that Jesus appeared to Pilate post-resurrection? (FWIW – according to tradition Pilate – as recorded in the apocryphal (but not heretical) Acts of Pilate and the Gospel of Nicodemus) did become a believer!) Why disbelieve or discount Jesus’ appearance to Saul of Tarsus, post resurrection? Why discount the eye witness accounts of John, of Peter, of the women, of James, and so forth?
The thing is, you can ask your mother. Not an option available with god.
If she were alive I would still need to believe her word for it.
You keep looking for that extra evidence to convince you.
And every time someone provides reasonable evidence, you ask for more, raising the requirement for evidence again. And round and round.
God’s existence cannot be scientifically proven. There’s no scientific, empirical evidence that can be provided to make you believe. You demand evidence that no one can provide.
Could you please note some of the ways you sought God in that 43 year period? Perhaps you’ve said elsewhere.
To be consistent, make that same “high bar” for the axiom(s) that you believe.
What scientific proofs and evidence do you have that God does not exist?
Please provide me evidence and I will abandon my faith in God at once.
I do wonder sometimes if it is good policy to ask that, if God actually avoids an untimely coming to us in His mercy, if He does this to provide us the opportunity to understand the futility of our other ‘gods’ (in freedom from a life-changing appearance of His), to judge ourselves, to understand the value of acceptance of our continent existence, if He avoids it perhaps even in the foreknowledge of our complete rejection of Him shortly afterwards, of our state of soul, which is such that His presence would mean condemnation for our perverted selves; then how else could He have arranged things?
My personal experience is that He is exactly as apparent as is perfect for me in my faithlessness and exactly as hidden as is perfect for my sinfulness.
However, I can (unfortunately) allow myself to go down that road of complaining that “it is not so!” (in my folly). I am not saying this applies to you TLO by any means, but I certainly have seen this ‘problem’ in my own past.
And it is even easier to believe that His hiddeness/apparentlness is as it should be considering Who it is we are talking about, as D.B. Hart explains in his philosophical terminology
Gosh, you can be so…literal with the texts of Scripture. I started off with a minimum of reliability. Now you assume that the 120 in Acts is not only accurate, but inclusive of all who saw the resurrected Lord, which it does not say. I’m presuming the 500 remained.
But the battle is not between reasonable and unreasonable. God’s not trying to win a popularity contest. Nor is He running for favorite resurrected character in history. He’s transforming us and the whole universe into the fullness of life in Himself. And it is for that reason and that alone that He does what He does.
So – why didn’t He show up in Pilate’s office. He knew Pilates’s heart. They already had evidence of the resurrection and were bribing people to be quiet. Same with the Sanhedrin. In fact, Nicodemus of the Sanhedrin believed. Joseph of Arimathea of the Sanhedrin believed. Gamaliel of the Sanhedrin, teacher of both Stephen and Paul, eventually became a believer.
Post-resurrected Jesus has been showing up on the altar of the Church for lo these many years. If they won’t accept Him there (leaders like those in Nicaea) they wouldn’t accept Him in an appearance. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus addresses this: “If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe if someone came back from the dead.”
But none of that stuff is really the question is it? Is it reasonable to believe that He rose from the dead? If He rose from the dead, then anything else He did would be a moot point, wouldn’t it?
I did not mean to heave a bible passage at you or others. Please accept my apology if that offends.
Thinking you were still seeking God’s touch, I thought it appropriate and perhaps encouraging to note that he sometimes comes with a comparatively small and personal word. And reflecting on the recent direction of questions and comments, the passage also speaks about big vs small phenomena wherein he might be found. In this passage, for example, the small voice is how God choose to speak and be heard. Does he get to chose or must we set the terms of his appearances?
Again, I’m sorry if this misses the point.
If you don’t see the flaw in the question, nothing I can say will help you.
The question posed was this:
Fr. Stephen gave an excellent accounting for the factuality of the resurrection which relies upon the texts and traditions of the church as well as the lives of the martyrs.
I am asking about the texts themselves. Once they are established, the resurrection is also proven.
No one has yet presented any reasonable evidence to support that the texts are accurate and factual.
What baffles me most is the complete lack of any texts from any disinterested third party writers to support the amazing claims of the Gospel texts.
As Fr. Stephen said, it is a discussion of Reasonable vs. Unreasonable.
No sorry I don’t see the flaw in my question, please explain.
On the texts. As I noted, the Gospels are not the texts to look at for historical questions. They are liturgical texts. There’s plenty of history in them, but it’s surrounded and shaped by a doctrinally ruled reading of history. And this doesn’t trouble me in the least. It’s fundamentalists of varying stripe who try to make them what they are not that bug me.
But. The text of St. Paul’s 1 Corinthians is not in dispute. It is written somewhere within the 50’s A.D. at the latest. It is universally accepted as being from the hand of St. Paul and there are no significant textual or manuscript issues with the passage in question.
The passage in question, again, is agreed to reflect an eye-witness shaped Creed of the primitive Church, probably Jerusalem (some scholars think that the original of the passage – which is clearly being quoted by Paul was in Aramaic – there’s a grammatical case to be made for that). That “Creedal” statement is placed, at the latest in the mid-40’s A.D. – only one decade after the event itself. And most scholars think that it belongs to the first three years after the event.
It comes very close – reasonably close – to an eyewitness statement from the time of the event itself.
The Gospels represent the Church’s telling of the Christ story in a manner, as St. John says, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing you might have eternal life.” The Gospels not only relay the event of the resurrection, but do so in the context of a story that itself represents the Church’s mature reflection on the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection.
And that reflection – echoed in St. Paul’s writings – clearly represents what the 12 – those who were with Jesus and were the core of those who saw His resurrection – believed, taught and relayed to others.
This is still the Orthodox faith today. That same doctrine and teaching. But the Gospels are “Churchly” documents.
I’m not surprised by the lack of “disinterested” texts. There are “interested” texts from opponents. Those (some echoed in Jewish documents) that say precisely what the gospels say – they do not deny that the tomb was empty. That they accept. But they allege that the disciples “stole” the body. The gospels note that this was said. If you will, the gospels confirm what the third party says.
There is a letter written by Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor of Bithynia, around the year 96 a.d., to the Emperor Trajan, wondering about what to do with the Christians he’s arrested and tortured. He said they admitted under torture to coming together on a certain day before daybreak and “singing hymns to Christ (which he treats as a name) as to a God.” It’s an undisputed letter. It confirms in detail what we know from other sources (St. Ignatius of Antioch) that are contemporary to it.
What we have is a clear agreement from all surrounding non-Christian sources, that the Christian community was just like it continued to say it was (and not like Protestants imagined some 1400 years and more later). Orthodox Christianity goes back to the very beginning and has been saying the same thing for 2000 years.
In hindsight – its detractors probably wish they had written something or other – but everyone would have expected it to go away. After all, Jesus was only one of many so-called “Messiahs” at the time. None of them came to anything at all. And that’s another strange witness to the resurrection. It not only is said to have happened in a document that can reasonably be placed to the time of its eyewitnesses, but the reflections that flowed from that event, became not a weird fluke in Greco-Roman culture, but the utter beauty of true Christianity.
Now, is it reasonable to think that a bunch of fisherguys would have managed to invent Christianity? Really? Now that start getting unreasonable.
When I read the Book of Mormon, and someone says it’s a fraud, you know – it reads exactly like a fraud – in fact, it reads exactly like a 19th century American fraud – with everything I would expect. The most reasonable thing in the world is to believe that Joseph Smith was a fraud and a liar. And his stuff is weird, kinky, etc.
But this is something quite different.
That Christianity is the truth – based on a true event, etc. – is quite reasonable. That it’s followers have messed it up from time to time (Protestantism, etc.) is also completely reasonable.
I don’t know how to do the neat quote box thing others use, so just let me put a remark of your remarks in quotes, Fr. Stephen and respond to it.
Quote 1: “Of course, ‘reasonable’ has to be juxtaposed against ‘unreasonable.’ Is it ‘unreasonable’ (contrary to reason) to believe that the primitive witness of the Christian community, relayed in what is universally considered to be a genuine letter of the Apostle Paul, who lived a life of suffering and eventually died based on his commitment to the truth of what his witness, is true?”
No I don’t believe it’s unreasonable. Let me clarify my remark that beliefs not against reason may go beyond it. Something like the “ground zero” event of the Resurrection can never be proven. Every time I advance a “sic,” a perfectly reasonable human like TLO can counter with a “non.” In making judgments about the validity of the apostles’ claim, we’re more like a jury having to render a verdict on debatable evidence than a scientist looking to “clinch” a hypothesis under conditions of controlled and reduplicatable experiment. Juries and judges may be wrong, and reasonable humans may disagree about their verdicts; but there are a number of issues in history and in real life that call for a decision on the more uncertain ground of “legal” rather than “scientific” evidence. As the need for decision outruns the “proof” that decision is correct, it goes beyond reason though not against it.
But by “beyond reason,” I think I also meant something else. In the end a good juror or judge may finally be influenced by something we might call an “instinct” for truth that makes one reading of the evidence seem more plausible than another. Similarly, if our hearts “burn within us” when we hear the story of the risen Christ, it might be because it satisfies a certain deep instinct for truth. It may be our “nous” our heart, naturally burns for God when as Augustine says, we’re in ourselves instead of outside ourselves. This may be sheer delusions; on the other hand if we were in fact made in the image of God and find our true being only communion with God, this burning is what we should expect.
I agree. I frequently do things that are “beyond reason” now. But I’m responding to a reasonable request from TLO, and keeping the answer limited. Once beginning with reason, we may move elsewhere. It’s like marriage. 🙂
“Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.”
Albeit far from irrefutable proof, it cannot be denied that the Gospels and the Acts have an odd character about them. The ‘heroes’ of the stories – Peter (brash, sometimes stupid, and denier); James (the brother of the Lord about whom it is written that even his own brethren did not believe in him); Paul (arch-enemy of believers), etc. are portrayed in such negative light.
“..but some doubted”…even though they were disciples and are said to have seen Him with their own eyes. Strange words to read in the Gospel – even for believing Christians.
Yes. And the right question is to ask how the stories fit the needs of the community in which they’re written. The stories of the gospels most certainly represent the collected stories of the primitive community – they share a great deal in common (with the exception of John).
St. Paul like shte word “gospel” (it’s among his favorites). Do you ever wonder what he meant by the word? “My gospel” he calls it. It is certainly the basic account of Christ’s resurrection and what it means – the theological interpretation – which is already amazingly well-developed.
But it would certainly have included a “gospel,” an account of the life of Jesus. St. Paul also knows (verbatim) the story of the Last Supper (he quotes it as a tradition he has received earlier in the same Corinthian letter). He also knows a saying of Jesus not found in any of the gospels (“it’s better to give than to receive” – a statement that fits well with the other sayings of Christ in the gospels). St. Paul clearly knows and relates a “gospel.” We should also assume that the same can be said of any of the other apostles (the 12, the 70, and missionaries such as Timothy and Titus, Luke, etc. that were in the company of St. Paul). What we have as written gospels represent, I think we can say with great confidence, the kind of “gospels” that were taught by all the apostles.
St. Paul has a very interesting phrase in his letter to second letter to Timothy:
“Pattern” is a word similar to that used for the rule of faith. It is more, I think, than a collection of theological ideas – it is the Rule of Faith – the basic gospel – the structured relating of the story of Jesus.
These same “patterns” are what we see in the 4 gospels. The Church accepted them because it heard in them what it had always heard – the same “pattern” of the apostolic preaching. When you look at the 2nd century examples of “Gnostic gospels” the pattern is radically different. It is not the same Jesus at all and the point of the stories is all skewed.
But there are “odd” things as well – the “and some doubted” always strikes me oddly. It’s not the sort of thing you say if you’re worried about writing a gospel that you’re afraid that people won’t believe. You only include that if there are some within your hearers who don’t believe but should be ashamed of themselves. It’s “preaching” attached to the gospels. Or at least that’s my take on it.
Historical studies, if well done, do not undermine the gospels. They reinforce it. The fathers of the 7th Council said that “icons do with color what Scripture does with words.” I think that is quite precisely the case.
But there are some who are deeply afraid of historical questions – but that is – I think – where the doubters are to be found. The writer of the gospel (Matthew’s in this case) had no fear. He knew. He believed. He wrote what he had received.
Thank you, again, Fr. Stephen, for your additional summary at 5:58 PM today. I appreciate the depth of your scholarship – surely a help to all of us.
I too respect TLO’s quest. Accepting or denying the Resurrection is perhaps the most important decision of anyone’s life. He is wise to take it seriously.
I give up.
The proof of the resurrection boils down to the fact that Christianity survived. Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism are all much older than Christianity and have all survived though great turmoil. They all have their martyrs and holy men and traditions. These are not proofs of anything except that people are religious.
One cannot look at Christianity objectively. One must accept the premise and (if they even bother with history) they must interpret history based on that premise (and traditions).
There is and can be no evidence. None except what one chooses to call evidence. If one chooses the writings of the great men and martyrs of Islam, then that will be his truth and all history will seem to make sense through the lens of that truth. If one chooses to look at the pattern of the rise and fall of gods and myths and concludes that myths are, well, myths, there is nothing that one can say or do to persuade him that their particular philosophy is something more than a myth.
It is impossible to prove a negative.
It is like asking for scientific proof that there is no invisible padylwampus.
“It is impossible to prove a negative.” – That assertion of course is a negative.
Here’s a negative that can be proven: a proposition can’t be both true and untrue.
But now we are arguing and I had enough of it, this “conversatation” ain’t going nowhere fast.
All the best.
by comparing Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism to Christianity, you are revealing that your understanding of Christianity is not the same as that of the true Orthodox Christianity but that of the secular or perhaps the protestant deviation of it.
I see man talking about God in Hinduism, Buddhism, even in Judaism, and all other religions. Some have faired well and others haven’t. The majority of those that faired well made ‘sense’ as an ideology, and their founders usually showed signs of great humility, as did many of the great thinkers of all times. Socrates, Lao, Comfukius, Moses, Mohamed etc. have many sayings I won’t quote here, demonstrating their comprehension that they were nothing compared to God. Rightly so, since they were men speaking of gods.
However, why do you compare Christ’s Revelation (religion is not the best word if we understand religion as man talking on God) with these while bypassing His striking differences to these…?
He, the humblest of all in practice says things about Himself (e.g. you will die if you do not eat ME) that no-one else dared say and yet become a founder of a many thousand-year lasting religion.
Also, his disciples never martyred (as you say of other religions) due to an ideology (that of love your neighbour and your God). They died as witnesses/martyrs of the resurrection. Yes, that is the only fact they died for – not an ideology. We should ponder on that!
I am not adding anything to the debate but saw this on C-Span that was broadcast earlier in Feb 2014. It is abit long so you can come back to it and start where you left off.
Please provide a reference for your quote from David Bentley Hart. I would like to learn more about the author and his works.
Hinduism and Buddhism do not make any historical assertions with which I disagree. Islam is afraid to allow historical questioning of its primary documents – but most such examinations reveal problems that make the New Testament appear rock solid by comparison. If you examined these things reasonably, which you have just abandoned with sweeping platitudes, you’d likely agree.
But a lot of what you’re saying is, “I don’t want to deal with anything that has a history because history is unreliable!”
Frankly, the “I’ve been seeking for 40 something years” sounds less plausible. You’re not seeking now – I’m not sure how to describe what you’re doing, but it’s not about seeking. “Show me a sign” and “Prove you’re God,” are not the same thing as seeking.
you can find it here in it’s entirety:
TLO, if I might add a word to Fr. Stephen’s…
In some time past, I believe I recommended to you a prayer that I said at an earlier time in my life: “God, if you exist, help me to know you.” This is a seeking prayer – not expecting that God should meet me on my terms or satisfy my demands for how He should respond.
To me the prayer had value because it was not me seeking the god of my making (the god I wanted to exist) but an opening to the true God, should there be one. I figured it did not hurt to ask – if there is no God, I would not be any worse off for the asking. If there is a God, then I will learn from Him in a manner consistent with His infinite wisdom.
My experience has been that this prayer has been answered, over and over and in many ways, for decades. This has been more valuable than one dramatic revelation. If I had been granted a vision of Christ, for example, I would not have known whether to trust it – am I just hallucinating?, etc. But the ongoing experience of God makes it harder for me to deny the reality of my experience.
If you haven’t tried the prayer over an extended period of time, I would invite you to do so. If you find that you don’t want to pray it, I would invite you to reflect upon why not. These reflections are offered out of genuine concern for you. Blessings.
This is perhaps slightly off the main topic, but, when you say,
I take it, that if you are researching the matter of the Christian faith –most especially the matter of the indisputability of the resurrection- you are only researching it (conceivably unintentionally), to reassure your mind’s denial of faith. I could be wrong, but it comes across like that from the way you default back to the methods of reasoning that cannot be convinced by anything.
I call it researching because, as Father Stephen mentioned, one cannot depict that as seeking, just as he said that one cannot honorably think of, “Show me a sign” or “Prove you’re God,” as genuine ‘seeking’ either. However, at the same time, I trust that inside of each person, inside the hidden depths of yours and everyone’s beautiful heart of hearts lies a qualitatively very different sort of faith -to what our minds perceive as ‘faith’.
Not towards you personally but to everyone, I would go so far as to boldly claim that there is not one person that lacks this kind of faith, even if one clearly believes themself to be a wholeheartedly convinced, staunch atheist. You, and I, and everyone, might not exactly be consciously cognizant of this ‘depth’. Just as I am not altogether aware of what is going on in those depths of my heart -hidden even from me.
There is a periphery of all sorts of ‘stuff’, around this core (habitually more vividly felt than the deep core). It’s what ascetics “of the deep heart” would unassumingly call darkness. Forgive my mentioning Christian ascetics yet again, but if there is someone on this earth that becomes ‘all conscience’ without anything unconscious going on inside of them, then these particular kinds of ascetics I have in mind (what Orthodoxy defines as ‘Hesychasts’) come the closest to it – it is perhaps what, in practice, they are about the most…
Psychology sometimes also speaks of these outer layers of the “heart” (well, “outer” only in relation to the very core I am alluding to here), as a sort of exoskeleton of: first ‘interests’, then ‘desires’, then ‘aversions’, then (deeper still) ‘worries’ and insecurities, etc. etc. until finally one reaches the soul’s deepest desire. This desire (the desire of human nature) is always for an undying, eternal peace, joy and love. Many think that this must be out there somewhere or else why do I even conceive such a thing in such a peculiar way… Even consciously, numerous people would occasionally say this is what they think they desire most, although, in reality we know very little of this accurately, even if we suspect it very strongly.
This ‘desire’ is also, at an even profounder depth, an almost instinctive knowledge of a soul’s Creator, it’s redeemer, it’s Life-giver.
But… the mind’s ‘atheism’, (as well as the mind’s unrestricted roaming) and the outer heart’s ‘enslavements’, (as well as their unrestricted reign) is threatened by this deep core – which cannot be ‘an unbeliever’.
That would be like saying to the mind: ‘look! Here is an effect of a certain cause; which does not actually have a cause, causing it!’ The intellect will laugh at this and will not believe it. Just like the heart of heart’s of every man and woman, deeper than all distractions, desires, terrors, desolations, weaknesses, if it could somehow be asked about its ‘faith’ directly -as a small child buried inside the unfathomable depths of one’s soul whose voice can somehow bypass the mind’s bowdlerization – it would instinctively admit unshakeable faith.
And a comprehension of my sometimes clandestine, sometimes palpable, sometimes suppressed and other times coerced internal ‘civil’ war, the schism between this depth and almost everything else, is inevitable.
Quite the opposite Father. I have an enormous respect for history. The reason that John Adams is my favorite of the founding fathers is because of the presentation of historical documents including letters among his friends and family members, diary entries by the man and by people surrounding his life, and so on. What is known as a result of those documents paints a picture of a man who I can respect and admire. And there are similar writings about other’s of that era against which to contrast him.
I like Truman and Lincoln just fine and I have reservations about Franklin and Jefferson, all for similar reasons. Their lives are well documented and often their personal views and recordings of events are documented as well.
There are many things about Gandhi that I like (and a few things that trouble me) because I have read his words and I have read documents that have been backed up by news articles and whatnot.
My issue is that there is nothing remotely close to such documents with regards to the person that is supposed to be the central figure of history. No personal writings. No “news” or records from anyone during his lifetime.
I’m not looking for photographs or anything. But come on. The book of Mark is full of simple geopolitical errors. If we accept that Luke is even written by Luke, at best it is second-hand information. And the earliest of these writings came no earlier than 40 years after the alleged events?
I accept that you have no problem with these issues and that other factors play into your convictions. But to me, I could not think of a more incompetent manner to go about ensuring that this most important message in history was recorded and handed down. It’s just plain irresponsible. No event planner worth his salt would be this ambiguous and careless. I cannot find it in myself to think so poorly of whatever god there may be.
Nope. Have you talked to any Evangelicals lately? Well I have and let me tell you that you will never find a more muttonheaded bunch of people when it comes to discussing their faith or understanding anyone outside of it. To them, any outsider is an enemy destined for hell, an amoral twat who only denies god so that he can indulge in sin, yada yada yada.
TBH, I have frequently recommended to these people to investigate the Early Church Fathers and origins of the church,not as a tactic but because I’d prefer that there were only Orthodox Christians.
I came here to get to the core of the issue, one thing that I could present to these people who have been telling me that I am doomed to eternal torment that would keep them on track and on point. So I came to the smartest Christians I know.
TBH, I needed an approach to discussions with these people that would allow me to avoid anger and a feeling of malice. I have very little patience for pat answers and idiotic challenges like “prove that there is no god” or arrogant condemnation like “you were never a true Christian.” I wanted to learn from you all so that I could keep my cool, not hate those people, and have an intelligent discussion with them.
It is true that I don’t like the term “faith” the way that religious people employ it, and for very good reason. It has been warped and twisted by so many people of so many religions and is so nebulous that to me it is a beaker full of poison gas. I have witnessed too much suffering by good people at the hands of religious “leaders” in the name of “faith.”
I have a great respect for faith that is based on something that can be consistently demonstrated. That’s what I hoped to find here.
I have faith that the human brain works in ways that can be verified and demonstrated. (for example, I have faith that the human brain is constantly reconstructing a person’s memory and that our personal histories contain a great deal of fiction, whether we like it or not.)
I have faith that word-of-mouth is by far the absolute worst method of conveying any message and that by the fifth person it will be entirely wrong.
I have faith in lots of things, so long as there is good reason to have faith in them.
Even if you could find convincing documents in witness to the historicity of Jesus Christ and his ministry on earth you’d find –with that kind of inquiry– nothing more than an artifact out of the past.
We are designed to participate in God’s life now and that’s probably why He doesn’t bother much to convince skeptical minds. Christians have an eros that drives them to reach out to God knowing he is beyond their natural reach. Presenting yourself to God so He can communicate with you is not optional to be touched. Like a marriage, it takes a commitment to the end to God as a person. Not a historical record.
If you will not taste and see you will not taste and see.
Said with love and peace,
Fr. Stephen wrote above: “The text of St. Paul’s 1 Corinthians is not in dispute. It is written somewhere within the 50′s A.D. at the latest. It is universally accepted as being from the hand of St. Paul and there are no significant textual or manuscript issues with the passage in question.”
Since Jesus is believed to have died between 30 and 32 AD, something written in the 50’s AD is more like 20-25 years after the event. This is considerably less than the “40 years” you cite above. I also doubt that the first reaction to those who encountered the risen Christ was to sit down and write a book about it.
Paul was traveling extensively to share the Good News with others and wrote letters to some of the people who came to believe because of him (as I understand it). He also obviously lived in a time when when written records were not nearly so common, sturdy and readily preserved as during the time of Lincoln and the others whose histories you accept. To expect there to be something similar from the time of Jesus doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I think it is quite extraordinary that there are undisputed texts from contemporaries of Jesus – someone must have considered them quite valuable.
I am not writing all of this to you to be argumentative but rather to suggest (as others have) that you seem to be approaching this quest for information with some bias toward finding it inadequate. As you note, human memory and constructions of history are often unreliable. So you request the historical data related by people but, when you receive them, shoot them down on this basis. Hmm…
Are you truly seeking the Truth? I hope so. I again extend my invitation, posted at 1:35 PM. (Of course, I don’t expect you to respond to it publicly. But you are welcome to e-mail me.)
can be translated:
I know you think you mean more than this but I was in that seeking=God-with-all-your-heart mode for most of my life. No god showed up. You can draw your own conclusions as to why, but it was not for my lack of trying.
I was speaking in particular about the testimony of those who claimed to have lived with Jesus for three years. First-person accounts.
Anything offered by Paul has to be second-hand at best. That Paul believed what he stated is not an issue for me.
Khalid al-Mihdhar truly believed to the death as well.
While martyrdom is extraordinary, it is not proof of the validity of one’s beliefs. Sometimes it’s just sad and leaves us wondering why.
TLO are you an atheist or agnostic?
“One must accept the premise and (if they even bother with history) they must interpret history based on that premise (and traditions).”
you mention Khalid al-Mihdhar as a martyr compared to the disciples. How can I suspect you have not decided beforehand that you will not accept the evidence for Christ’s resurrection, seeing that you brush over the key point again? which is this: the apostles were martyred as witnesses to the resurrection, to a fact, all these other martyrs (you keep ignoring) were martyred as believers in an ideology. Delusion can enter ideology, but the apostles, the first-hand witnesses of his resurrection, did not die for the ideology of love your niegbour, they died as witnesses of the resurrection.
And as Mary pointed out, we accept a great deal of history with far less written proof than Christ’s life on earth has, I am sure you know how extremely difficult it was to write anything down up to a few hundred years ago… and we do have ample sources ( that I worry you are armed and loaded to discredit from the start), why mix and match criteria in such a way? does that not approach irrational distrust in the name of rationality?
When I was a young man, I had a friend who was married to a promiscuous woman. His wife was beautiful but troubled, and she liked to sleep with other men. Most of my friends slept with her, but when she propositioned me, I turned her down out of loyalty to my friend and some ill-remembered lessons from Sunday School.
But I wanted to. I wanted to very badly.
Years later I read in the Gospels that Jesus said, if any of you have looked at a women and desired her, you have committed adultery in your hearts. When I read that, it shattered my image of myself as a “good” man who didn’t sleep with his friends’ wives.
Like you, I had the same sorts of hesitations about the career and historicity of Jesus, but although I had read the Upanishads, the Koran, the Tao-Teh-Ching and many other spiritual works, nothing compared to the moral clarity of the teachings of Jesus. In a way, it was kind of an ontological argument. I knew instinctively that I was in the presence of not just greatness, as was the case when I read Homer and Virgil, but Divinity.
If Jesus was nothing more than a literary character, then somehow God had become a literary character. Only God could have said the things attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. However, since real human beings are superior to literary characters, it folllowed to me that Jesus had to have been a real human being.
You’re right in one thing. You’ll never find the documentary evidence of sufficient rigor to establish without reasonable grounds for doubt the career of the founder of Christianity. It doesn’t exist. What Father said is also true, though, that the foundations of Christianity are better anchored in history than those of other creeds, but that isn’t what you want. So go your way, be thou warmed and fed, and have a good, long, and prosperous life. I wish you well.
Maybe I’m a gullible rube, the delight of salesmen and grifters the world over There is ample evidence to support that proposition. I just didn’t need the same level of verification that you appear to. I needed Jesus. I just find it difficult to believe that if you have been seeking Him for 40 years you haven’t found Him. It seems out of character for Him to me.
Paul, “second hand at best.” But what Paul offers here is “what was given to him.” And who gave it to him? In Galatians Paul speaks of spending 15 days with Cephas (Peter) in Jerusalem and meeting with James (brother of the Lord). And again of meeting with the 12 some 14 years after that.
This is, by historical standards, incredibly reliable evidence. You can choose not to believe it for whatever reason. But as historical evidence goes it is astounding – in fact, almost no other ancient event comes even close to this for evidence. It’s incredibly reasonable. What is not reasonable is your unwillingness to consider it.
In addition to Fr. Stephen’s comment, Paul had a rather extraordinary first-person encounter with the risen Christ. One can choose to discount that – as we can choose to discount anything we don’t want to believe – but to me, his experience was powerful and convincing. Others witnessed the consequences of it – his resulting blindness and recovery of sight – and more importantly, his sudden and complete change in heart. He who was persecuting the early believers began preaching what he sought to destroy. Why else would he have done this and gone to the extremes that he did to spread this message?
Re Your quote: “Have you talked to any Evangelicals lately? Well I have and let me tell you that you will never find a more muttonheaded bunch of people when it comes to discussing their faith or understanding anyone outside of it. To them, any outsider is an enemy destined for hell, an amoral twat who only denies god so that he can indulge in sin, yada yada yada.”
Which Evangelicals have you talked to? This kind of wholesale scapegoating of an entire group is unworthy of someone whose posts have generally seemed those of a serious thinker. You remind me of an anecdote about a man moving into a town who asked a long time resident what people were like here. He replied, “Well, tell me what they’re like in your old town? “O, they’re terrible. Gossipers, full lf malice, stab you in the back on a dime.” The old-timer nodded sadly: “I’m afraid they’re like that here, too.” A week later, a another man moved into town and asked the old resident the same question, receiving the same request. “Oh,” the newcomer said, “They were the sweetest, kindest, most helpful people you could find.” The old-timer smiled and said, “Well, that’s pretty much what they’re like in this town, too.”
I believe the term for this is “observer bias.” We have a narrative that makes sure we see only what fits that narrative. So let me turn your diatribe inside out: “Have you talked (or tried to) with any atheists lately? Well I have, and let me tell that you will never find a more arrogant group of ignoramuses. Thinking that atheism automatically makes them brilliant, they swallow wholesale the most amazing disinformation about, say, the New Testament documents. Ten minutes of Internet research on what reputable scholars and historians actually say could cure this illiteracy, but they’ve read the witticisms of Christopher Hitchens and don’t need to waste their time with real scholars. And talk about nasty attitude if you disagree!. Yada Yada Yada.
Now I imagine your gorge was rising reading this description, but I assure you it pretty well fits a lot of people whose rants I’ve read in the blog world as well as some folks I know in real life.
But obviously it’s grossly unfair as a wholesale description of every agnostic or atheist. Some people have actually thought their way into unbelief just as some people have actually thought their way into belief. And those people are the most likely to be complex and charitable in their dealings with others. I think you could find intelligent, articulate, and charitable evangelicals. I wonder how hard you’re looking?
Dear to Christ, all. This discussion just goes on and on. I so appreciate Father’s wisdom and insight and patience, as well as contributions by Dino, Mary and many others. As St. Athanasios tells us the witness of the martyrs to the Resurrection, the joy with which they faced death and looked forward to life, is a testimony to the Truth–and as Dino says they did not give their live for an ideology but out of love, in hope and in faithfulness to the One they loved because they had come to know that He loved them and this very One was still alive and still loving them–the same yesterday, today and forever. What else could they do save love Him in return–and each other?
I do regret that Catholic and Evanglicals have been somewhat unfairly mocked and slandered during some of our dicta. A close and careful examinatin of history will show that much of the blame for his treament by the powers that then were falls on Galileo and not on his erstwhile friend, Pope Urban VIII or “the Catholic Church.” We really need to be careful what kind of agenda-driven history we read. Why it was only in college that I learned that the great Galileo had NOT proven that heavey and light things fall at the same rate by dropping balls off the bell tower in Pisa.
Regarding the dating the Gospels also, we need to take care. Not every reputable scholar holds that they were not written until 40 or 50 years after the fact. J.A.T Robinson wrote in his last book (published after his death) that core of St. John’s Gospel appears to have been written BEFORE A.D. 40 (even though it was edited and expanded by him in his waning years at Ephesus half a century later.
Moreover, my own mentor, Rev. Dr. Robert Lindsey, Ph. D. Princeton (Classics) after ordination and appointment to pastor the Narkis Street Church in Jerusalem (this was about 1948), later came (with others) to dispute the majority view that St. Mark’s Gospel is the earliest we have and wasn’t written until A.D. 70 0r 80. In fact, Lindsey, believing this to be the case, and wanting to produce a Hebrew translation for use in Israel, found it rather difficult to render from Greek to Hebrew. However, lo and behold, when he attempted the same thing with St. Luke’s Gospel he found large and numerous sections that could be rendered word for word. Later, he found the an even greater ease when working with St. Matthew’s Gospel in those parts which are called the double tradition (i.e. pericopes which are common to Matthew and Mark but not Luke). This should not have been surprising since Papias had told us that St. Matthew wrote down the Lord’s sayings first in the Hebrew tongue and each one translated as he could. Working evangelical and Jewish scholars connected with the Hebrew University in Jersuslem, Lindsey concludes that of the Gospels we have today, Luke’s was compiled and written first and probably within a few years after the Resurrection in A.D. 33, and that Mark’s came next in time and is the “cause” of certain differences in the triple tradition and Matthew’s, which (as we have it) was finished last of the Synoptics. I think we should also remember that in any case, Matthew was an apostle, John Mark (in whose mother’s house the Last Supper may have been held) as a cousin of St. Barabas and an assistant to him, to St. Paul and to St. Peter, and his Gospel and St. John’s bear many similarities; St. Luke was one of the 70 and a confidant of our Lady the Theotokos, and St. John was, of course, an Apostle and the one to whom her care was entrusted by our Lord from the Cross. These people knew and loved their Lord–both before and after the Resurrection and they knew how He and that climactic event had transforme their lives and the trauma and joy itself would have seared in their memories the things which they had experienced and the unbreakable relationship for which they were thereafter to commit and give their lives.
My prayer is that each of you and I may be likewise blessed and likewise faithful giving thanks and glory to God for all things.
How wonderful it is that Christ is in our midst.
I think your assessment has some merit. Perhaps it is unreasonable that I expect the alpha and omega, the creator of all things and the king of heaven to be held to a higher standard than mere men. Whether that be in moral behavior or the manner in which something of such profound importance is communicated, I’d like God to be better than us. We are, after all, not to be trusted… 🙂
TBH, if there was such a thing as a god that is a person and relates with humans, there would be no need for creeds, traditions, or religion at all. Isn’t it part of your creed that in heaven there will be no one telling anyone else what God is like because everyone will know him and see him? Is it too much to ask for that to be a reality here and now? It would certainly end a whole lot of suffering and chaos.
I find that answering that question brings no illumination and only serves to obfuscate. I am a homo-sapiens-sapiens. That is the only group that I claim any affiliation with.
Zackly. It is a premise I am unable to accept on pure faith.
Perhaps I am not understanding the argument. Fr. Stephen essentially said that Paul’s claim that he had been handed something is reliable because of when the document was written and because he gave his life for what he believed. Fr. Stephen furthered this by stating that it is not reasonable to think that a bunch of fisherguys could come up with this story…
My point is that martyrdom is not evidence or proof of any kind. I asked for something simple, I wanted to know what sources other than the Bible lend any credence to the claim that the gospels are accurate. You can’t use the Silmarillion to prove that the Two Towers records actual events.
Am I impressed by martyrdom? Sometimes. Ignatius was a complete stud. That dude who recently went to Iran and got arrested for proselytizing and then cried to the US State Department about it? Not so much.
That level of passion is impressive. Doesn’t make it right though. Keith Green was extremely passionate – and completely heretical to the Orthodox viewpoint. The Church Fathers would have had no trouble excommunicating him, and he wouldn’t have cared because he thought you guys all have it wrong.
You see what I’m driving at?
I don’t know how to “sorta believe” something. It’s simply in my nature to go full throttle or complete idle.
In literally hundreds of conversations in the past four years, I have come across one and only one evangelical who did not fit this description. I encourage you to go on any forum where you are likely to find them and post as though you are an atheist. You will see what I mean in very short order.
I am as polite on those sites (and in person) as you have known me to be here.
I have been threatened with hell, called a fool, condemned as amoral, called a tool of the devil/deceived by satan/a spawn of evil, castigated as a “liberal democrat” (which I am not), literally been asked “what, did you suddenly become gay and had to find a philosophy that allows you to continue in your sin?” and on and on.
I have received more blatant personal abuse at the hands of Christians than you might believe. It’s not bias. It’s simply observation. Usually it’s also hilarious. I laugh a lot during such discussions.
Mule Chewing Briars:
This is getting way off topic but…
When I first traveled abroad I saw the world with fresh eyes. I listened to people of other cultures and learned how they view the world and America in particular. Those who never step outside their culture never question anything about it. I think that this is unfortunate because there is so much to be gained by knowing and understanding people who are not like me and do not have a similar worldview.
Two cases in point of your comments:
The Mosuo of Southwestern China have a society in which everyone, men and women, are completely sexually autonomous. there’s no shame associated with sexual behavior. Women have hundreds of partners. It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. When she has a child, that child is cared for by her, her sisters and her brothers. The biological father is a non-issue.
In the Amazon are many tribe that practice “partable paternity.” These people believe that a fetus is literally made of accumulated sperm and so if a woman wants her child to be a good hunter and have a great sense of humor, she’ll mate with men who have those traits.
I think you are immersed in a cultural view that is not universally accepted, even among Europeans. It is fascinating to learn what actually exists around the world that does not fit into our own worldview. I’d encourage you to read up on anthropology to see what I mean.
This is a most enlightening exchange! I feel blessed to be part of it,even if only as a follower. My faith,as well as my experience of a community of faith,has been strengthened,enriched.
Years ago I was learning from the rabbi of a Messianic Jewish congregation. (Let’s not go down that rabbit trail). He, being a wonderful expert in the OT and its language, was asked about someone who had “discovered” a correspondence between the numerical values of Hebrew letters and the dimensions of the pyramids. The rabbi looked up, smiled, shook his head and remarked that G-d just might have embedded such things in the universe to bring home one lost sheep.
I often think of him when reading some of the more outré stories of the saints.
Those of us who studied at the academy but left for other fields are regularly shocked by its latest fashions. St. Mark’s Gospel is cited for its complex nuance. I couldn’t understand how anyone who tried reading Greek could come up with that one (the Transfiguration being much brighter than any soap could make it &c.). A scholar came to my aid and explained that the Gospel text is now seen as having remarkable narrative complexity.
In fifteen years the neo-regionalists will have won and newer opinions will be the rage.
I didn’t inquire about your association, I asked what you believe.
And, yes, it is very relevant to the discussion as it would be very enlightening to discover upon what evidence you base your position.
TLO, so why this merry-go-round? It seems you’ve been at this for decades and, since Al Gore invented the Internet, in other online forums as well as this one. So, it’s a habit to “seek” in this manner. When do you think it might register that you’ll simply not get what your seeking, or not at least in the way you are seeking it?
Perhaps the God who is there refuses to be “found” by persons who aren’t seeking Him as He wishes. Christians find God in a personal, demanding relationship. There is no way to keep Him at bay and still “find” Him.
It seems to me you missed the point again…
The ‘other’ martyrs you have in mind died for their ‘ideology’. They didn’t die for real events. In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many have died for an ideology. But –as you rightly say TLO- that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.
However, this is the point, it is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events. The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas. Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them. And the event at the center is obviously Christ’s resurrection.
The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1)
Just like the clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.
Let’s take the first case. It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported, was not reported to them by others. They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of all those things. Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection. Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful. The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected.
And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ’s calling? Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and be teachers of the universe? Not at all. They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families. That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets…
The second case: Did they deceive us? Did they lie to us? But then, why would they deceive us? What would they gain by lying? Was it money? Was it status? Was it glory? For someone to tell a lie, he must be expecting some sort of gain. The Apostles though, by preaching Christ – and in fact Christ crucified and resurrected – the only things that they secured for themselves were: hardships, labours, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, nakedness, attacks from robbers, beatings, incarcerations and finally, death. And all this, for a lie? It would be undoubtedly foolish for anyone to even consider it.
Consequently, the Apostles were neither deceived, nor did they deceive us. This leaves us with the third choice: that they told us the truth.
I should also stress something else here: The Evangelists are the only ones who recorded true historical events. They describe the events, and only the events. They do not resort to any personal judgments. They praise no-one, and they criticize no-one. They make no attempt to exaggerate an event, nor eliminate or underestimate another. They let the events speak for themselves.
It seems to me you missed the point again…
The ‘other’ martyrs you have in mind died for their ‘ideology’. They didn’t die for real events. In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many have died for an ideology. But –as you rightly say TLO- that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.
However, this is the point, it is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events. The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas. Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them. And the event at the center is obviously Christ’s resurrection.
The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1)
Re: “In literally hundreds of conversations in the past four years, I have come across one and only one evangelical who did not fit this description. I encourage you to go on any forum where you are likely to find them and post as though you are an atheist”
O I agree that there are lots of people who [perhaps obligingly for one’s prejudices] fit that description Once a pamphlet-bearing and fulminating fundamentalist vented all over my wife and told her she was going to hell because we Orthodox weren’t born-again. He made a nicely matched bookend to the young atheist who wrote me a rage-filled screed blasting me for teaching works with religious content in my Literary Masterpieces class. (That they were classics was apparently beside the point!). You know as well as I do that a Christian can go to certain atheist forums and get mirror-image treatment of that which you describe.
We could play a round of combat-by-anecdote, but the exercise would be pointless. If I want a rational discussion with unbelievers OR believers, I know where I can find them and as you look to be an intelligent human being I’m sure you can too. The Internet with its possibilities for anonymous venting is not perhaps the happy hunting ground for rational and charitable debate, but I’m pretty sure this blog isn’t the only place where you can find decent and thoughtful Christians.
It’s unjust to judge any group by the worst and the loudest of them, and the fact is when absolutely fundamental convictions are at stake, people lose their cool, their tempers, and their charity. There’s also a lamentable human tendency to say, “Your views are wrong-headed so you must be evil. “Evil”-izing an entire community (as opposed to attacking IDEAS that seem wrong) is a very scary tendency that needs to be fought tooth-and-nail, no matter how many members of the group seem to do their best to justify the caricatures.
Since the beginning of recorded history, historians have cataloged over 3,700 supernatural beings, of which 2,870 can be considered deities. By definition, you are atheist with regards to 2,869 of those proposed deities. It is my understanding that the first Christians were persecuted for being atheists. Honestly, I don’t understand why disbelieving in all 2,870 of them is really that significant.
Until I am presented with a God who is better than men, I’m afraid I’m going to have to be atheist in practice yet I am open the the possibility that such a being may exist which would put me in the agnostic camp in theory.
Because that is how any religion seems to function. Always moving, impossible to pin down. You can’t really see anything clearly until you jump on the ride. And if you pick the wrong ride, you’re screwed. It seems to you like I’m moving, but that’s because you are on the ride. I am standing still beside it.
I cannot tell you how arrogant and condescending that statement is.
You are using the terms “personal” and “relationship” in ways that are at odds with how humans actually have personal relationships. Humans rely on being able to understand facial expressions, voice inflection, body language and all manner of nuances when they are getting to know another person.
No! I am shouting out to the universe for this god person to present himself… not in a letter, not in a sermon, not in writings of men who had next to no understanding of the universe in which they lived, not through some ambassador who has never seen him in person, but in a way that human beings recognize persons.
As I stated:
You cannot tell me that God created this physical universe, that he fashioned every creature, and he can’t figure out how to make himself known to us in a way that everyone would agree is him and cannot be denied by anyone?
It simply makes no sense to me. So long as you continue to use terms like “personal” to describe God, the only measure I have of that word is the human measure and to my ears it cannot mean something other than what it means when you tell me that you are a personal friend of Usher (for example).
Well it seems significant to me as we all use premises for which we may not have evidence at all, but we still accept as if we do.
since you mentioned God’s unknowability (well sort off) again in your last comment to LTBL, I would bring up the centrality of Christ’s words in the parable of poor Lazarus and the Rich man. (on the matter)
God’s hiddeness this side of death is a great mystery which depends on man’s internal disposition to a degree. It was spoken of in the comments above before. His manifestation in humility this side of death makes some believe Him personally and others to discard Him “objectively”…, his manifestation in His glory – as “more than being itself” – would be Heaven for the first and Hell for the latter.
What is He to do other than what he does?
Do you not see that if we research Him as an object of out inquiry He has to hide for our sake, while when we accept that He is the Person that is the substratum of existence Whom we must p r e p a r e to meet, He can safely fulfil His and our desire to encounter Him in a heavenly encounter?
The correct spectacles to see Him now are often provided by some of the words Father says and through humility.
Dino, your words are appreciated as an apt response for my comment which apparently offended.
We know that God responds to seeking as Christ said: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7
God loves us all. If He isn’t found by seeking I can’t say why, only that He is true and does not lie.
You seem to be an intelligent, reasonably content, well-rounded, loving person. Please don’t take offense, but is it a reasonable question to ask why you bother shouting out to the universe for this god person to present himself?
Again, I hope this doesn’t come across as snarky. I just know that I don’t invest any energy concerning myself with things that I am already fully convinced are mythical (in the Greek god or Santa Claus sense of the word). From my own point of view – that of being a believer – I can understand how this question would be of ultimate significance. But why it should matter in the least to a convinced unbeliever puzzles me. You seem to want to be convinced even though the evidence is sorely lacking in the substance you seek. Is it reasonable to ask why?
My sense is that you want to KNOW, rather than believe. That is understandable.
But a God who “shows up” because you demand that of Him, who makes Himself known in just the manner you want, sounds to me like a God you can control. And if you can control Him, He is no better than most people you know.
You want Him to reveal Himself in a way that people can understand. Many people feel He has done so quite lovingly and generously. (Our understanding is limited, of course, but He would not be much of a God if we could understand Him totally, limited creatures that we are.)
You would like to know Him as we will know Him when brought into the fullness of His life – before getting there. I cannot know the mind of God, but it seems to me that the process of learning to come to Him in love is much more beautiful than if He had created me so that it was so obvious that I had no choice but to acknowledge His reality. There is no real love when there is no choice.
But we’ve covered this ground before. May you find peace…
A psalm that most Orthodox Christians pray daily is Psalm 50(51). Verse 19 reads: “A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart God will not despise.” If I may I’ll share just a bit on how I was found by Christ (I realize everyone’s story is unique). I had grown up in a Christian family but lacked any real teaching on what it means to know Christ. At 18 I read a double issue of Life magazine devoted to Christianity and the Bible edited with a very liberal slant. Summarized it basically said that Christianity is fine for little old ladies and for those who lack any intellectual savvy. Being immature I bought the line. The next four years I considered myself agnostic. I stopped attending church. At 22 I was now married. My wife was a believer. She had been reading a book written by Billy Graham but had retired early to bed as she was feeling ill. I saw the book on the coffee table and picked it up. I remember as I read how my heart burned. I wanted so to believe that Christ was whom He said he was but couldn’t make that leap of faith. Finally in my quiet desperation I cried out (to the ceiling for all I knew), “God , if you’re there, if you’re real please let me know.” Shortly thereafter, I went to bed. I don’t remember dreaming. However, during the night Christ had worked a change within . I now knew in my heart of hearts that He was real and that He was God. He had condescended to answer my honest plea made in desperation.It then took many more years of searching and at times stumbling before coming to fulness of faith in the Orthodox Church. But God has been so faithful to me in all these intervening years in spite of my sin and faithlessness to Him.
The shout to the universe is really a shout to you. I never actually shout out as if there was a god who could hear me. But I am very vocal to Christians.
So of much my life was wasted in pursuit of something that doesn’t exist. I cannot begin to list all the ways in which that pursuit cost me,and for what? that used to anger me. Now it’s just a fact of life. I can’t undo the past.
Do you know how many people I currently control other than myself? Zero.
I have no desire to.
And this is a step forward that was part of leaving Christianity. Control is a central issue for Christians. Not for me. Once I accepted that people are the way they are because, well, that’s the way they are, I stopped desiring that they be something that they aren’t. (In very broad terms, of course. I don’t just accept that some people are murderers and that’s OK. That’s another discussion.)
Case in point; I held my Dad to an extremely high standard (this is also a very Christian trait) which he never could meet. After leaving Christianity, I set out to get to understand him as a person. After chats with his siblings and childhood friends, I got an understanding of the context of his life, after which everything he did in my life made perfect sense. Had I been a Christian, I would have said, “Well, that still doesn’t excuse…”. Outside of that worldview, though, I was able to accept him as a normal human being.
Consequently, we have become great friends. After Mom died last year, he quickly started looking for a new mate. And I totally understood it because I understood him and Mom. He did right by her and even she told him that he should remarry because he’s useless without a mate. And I encouraged him and cheered him on.
Not a single one of his Christian friends or his Christian daughter did anything but talk down to him. They gave him grief and my sister gave him hell, literally spending a half hour at his house dressing him down (on the eve of my dad moving out of his house so that her son/family would have a place to live).
The point is, I was only able to stop being a judgmental person after I left the faith. And I am glad of this. Dad deserves to be honored, respected and encouraged.
And he’s marrying a wonderful woman in May. Guess who he asked to be the best man…
I conjured up feelings too back then. But the thing is that the promises that I would be a new creation were simply false. I could front to everyone else but I could not lie to myself. I never heard God. I never got guidance from God. His so-called “prophets” had lots of guidance, much of which led to disaster.
Feelings are a very poor replacement for evidence.
“Come let us reason together” – Yes. Let’s. That’s not the sort of thing that one says to someone who is not mature enough to reason, is it?
My experience in Christianity was like binding one’s feet. Small feet may be an ideal but if you’re born with big feet, what are you gonna do?
It wasn’t until I let go of theology of any sort and began to study anthropology and evolutionary biology that I was ever comfortable with myself. Who we are at a biological level is in may cases in direct conflict with many aspects of the modern world. It is certainly in direct conflict with Christian dogma. And this causes a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Dean – Thanks for sharing.
I see very little control in God, in fact, the ‘charge’ could be made God is too distant (who is in control here?)!
Christians I admire are those who exert zero control.
What I admire about Orthodox Christian theology (and practice, for the most part) is zero tolerance for manipulation, and a high view of human freedom and will.
you hold to views of Christianity which are not Orthodox – they are distortions of Christianity. It won’t help if you carry on undiscriminately considering Christianity in that way after all your experiences. Any conflicts you see, are mistaken based on this premise. It is like discarding your true friend because an impostor who looked like him turned out to be your enemy.
However, the real issue I believe is that of the particular methods of ‘shouting out to Him’ (or ‘his people’). It reminds me of a famous controversial Greek writer who wrote about God more than anyone, but is considered a blasphemer or an atheist by many – go figure… He has written some seriously suspect stuff though.
Anyway, the point is that he searched all his life for God with his mind, with discussions, often with demands, or a sense of self-importance, entitelment and presumptous expectation. He really searched though! Intellectually.
But he never gave up on that method to open up to Orthodoxy’s ‘method’: the opening up to God’s grace directly, what we call ‘repentance’ (but means something v. different than what is understood by that word in English).
The first step is certainly an exclusive one between man and God – even the unkown God – of the ancient Greeks. Exclusive though. Few people bare to give such a time to such a pursuit to start off with though. In fact I think this is a good reason why God allows certain tribulations that bring man to such an exclusive place – it works as the only possible blessing in diguise for some.
I am in no position to advise. I felt sorry for Kazantzakis (the greek writer) who seemed to combine a Sartrian defence mechanism no matter who advised him, even though he was steeped in an Orthodox environment (well, with only “one leg” might I add, the other was in different waters), and I pray that a time comes when we are all freed from our ignorance of God.
The proofs/winesses on Christ’s resurrection though -to get back on topic- are certainly there as I explained above…
proofs/witnesses – sorry
TLO taught me the quoting thingy himself – way back – (Thank you my friend John…)
for quotein you type (without spaces) at the start and
at the end…
ooops lets try again : the word “blockquote” inside these and again a then the word “/blockquote” inside of these
what a mess… one more try: this symbol “” need to be at the start and end of the word “blockquote” then your quote and “/blockquote” If this doesn’t work maybe the master can repeat the trick 🙂
It is shift and the two keys next on the right of letter m. They are obviously invisible
Can you expound on this please? Isn’t the entire liturgy designed to manipulate you into behaving and thinking in certain ways? Liken it to training for sports, certainly, but that too is manipulation. I am not making a moral assessment, just clarifying what you mean by the word.
The God of the Bible is highly manipulative.
– People are behaving badly so wipe them out
– People are getting along too well so let’s confuse the language
– You’re complaining too much so I’m opening the the ground, sending snakes and plagues and whatnot…
– You aren’t paying attention to me so I’m chucking you off into exile
– You didn’t wait for me so I’m deposing you as king
– You committed adultery and murder to I’m going to
kill you and take your kingdom from youkill the innocent child
– You and your husband lied about your income so it’s the death penalty for you
I’m not complaining here because to me it’s all a fable, but it takes a very special way of thinking not to recognize that the person described in the Bible is manipulative.
Manipulation involves “underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics”
Liturgy does not involve any of that.
If you use the definition “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage” then you are correct.
If you use the definition “to manage or utilize skillfully” then the liturgy fits the bill.
Again, I am not saying it is a bad thing. Manipulation is often needed.
Yes I welcome it
Saying that Christ or His church are manipulative is unhelpful at best or a lie at the worst. What kind of rhetoric is this and what purpose does it serve?
TLO uses a definition of manipulation that would seem OK. It’s getting down to semantics over here 😀
LTBL, it seems then that the discussion has digressed into definitions and stipulations needed just to keep it going. How wearisome. I wish we could all have tea instead.
true that brotha
This is very important: NB (nota bene) The Orthodox do not believe in “the God of the Bible.” We believe in God as revealed through Christ. Thus when we read the Scriptures, it is Christ that we seek, not the God of the text. If something in the OT contradicts that revelation (“wipe them out”) – then we read it metaphorically or allegorically, giving it a different import. If the “God of the Bible” had been sufficient revelation, then He would not have become man.
Please note this.
Okay, so you shout to Christians as opposed to the universe. Makes sense. Perhaps more so than you may realize. And you are far better off since rejecting the sort of ‘Christianity’ you have known. That makes even more sense.
It still doesn’t answer the essential question. Why do you bother? I cannot imagine my doing the same, and you are obviously far more intelligent – an observation intended neither as flattery nor jab – than I.
Yes and amen!
Yes and double amen!
Perhaps it was simply my own experience as a Protestant, perhaps it is a more common experience, but be it as it may, this is exactly what I found myself doing, ‘worshipping the God of the text’.
Thank God for the Eastern Orthodox faith!
I think I answered this earlier on but this conversation has gone somewhat sideways.
Most conversations with Protestants begin in the social arena (e.g. “Are the people of Arizona right to legislate whether a business has the right to refuse gays?”) or as a result of some debate about Creation v Evolution. Nine times out of nine they get very personal and result in the condemnations I mentioned earlier. And those folks hardly know who Calvin was, let alone Athanasius. They are the same people who use the Bible to say “God hates gays” but then ignore the texts from the same book about selling your daughter off to be married by her rapist.
I originally came here because I wanted to get to the central issue of Christianity so that I could keep the conversation on track when talking with evangelicals about their faith.
Then it devolved into “you have to accept the premise” and “nevermind what the people who wrote the OT meant by what they said and how rabbis have interpreted the texts over the religion’s 4,000 year history, we know better”, neither position being one I am willing to adopt.
There is nothing to back up the resurrection claim except a story that was told to Paul who ran with it. That’s all the evidence you require. Not I. Especially for an alleged event of such magnitude. Even if there had been some reference somewhere in other writings of the time that mention that a bunch of dead people rose again at that time, I’d believe the rest of the story. But all these astonishing things allegedly took place and no one seemed to notice. You must understand my chagrin.
I have no position to defend. Whether it is the claims of the resurrection or claims that homo sapiens sapiens are genetically more closely related to bonobos and chimps than the African elephant is to the Indian elephant, show me why I should believe you. If your answer is not satisfactory, I won’t believe it until you provide some supporting data.
Convince me. Not with feelings or fables. Convince me.
Apparently, that can’t be done, more’s the pity.
I came into this thread an agnostic and have been given a huge shove toward complete atheism.
(sigh) Let me restate in Narnian:
He is not a tame Lion.
Lucy wasn’t crazy.
Therefore, if he doesn’t come when you call, if others see him and you don’t, does that mean he doesn’t exist?
It saddens me that you keep challenging people here to convince you and then want to blame them that you feel shoved “toward complete atheism” when you are being treated with love and respect. If you are feeling a “shove”, I fear it may be from another source.
The dwarves are for the dwarfs, indeed. I do hope you are not one of them. (“They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” – Aslan.)
The guilt card won’t play.
This is at least the second time you’ve come to this blog asking others to convince you of God, saying how badly the world has treated you only to conclude that we, too, are failing you or making your lot worse. You admit doing likewise on other blogs too and have been at it for years.
Take responsibility for your condition and ask God for mercy. This is wisdom and the path of life.
“That’s all the evidence you require. Not I.”
Respectfully, you vastly overestimate the degree of my gullibility as well as that of most others who comment here.
“…except a story that was told to Paul who ran with it.”
You have investigated this thoroughly, read the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles and then write THIS? Come on, John. You know better even if you do find the testimony unbelievable.
I sincerely hope you find the evidence you require. It is hard to kick against the goads.
Forgive me for everything. I forgive. God forgives all
“blockquote” It is shift and the two keys next on the right of letter m. They are obviously invisible “/blockquote”
(Just trying to follow your directions, Dino!)
Guess I still have a lot to learn 🙂
mary benton, the symbols you need are lesser-than, greater-than, and slash this way:
lesser-than symbol followed immediately by blockquote (the word verbatim) followed immediately by greater-than symbol
text you want to quote without quotemarks
lesser-than symbol followed immediately by slash symbol followed immediately by blockquote (the word verbatim) followed immediately by greater-than symbol
Thanks, MichaelPatrick, I am trying it. I am quoting Brian in honor of “Forgiveness Sunday” (even though we RC don’t observe it, it sounds like a beautiful service).
Atheism is a position hard to defend considering the overwhelming amount evidence that points to design, intelligence and meaning. Both in our own personal experience, and in the universe on a micro and macro level. Is it absolute, irrefutable proof that God (must) exist? No. But it neither absolutely disproves it.
I recently read a book review about multi-verses and the possible implications for theology. The author suggested we ought to not fixate on the question about the existence of God. All good an well, but the bottomline, one or multiple universes, it really doesn’t matter. All good and well, but the question still remains, where did it all come from and what does it mean? You can’t side step that. Unless of course one stops asking pertinent questions.
That someone might possibly come to faith through reading and communicating on a blog simply proves that God can do anything. In many ways, I consider it among the worst forms of communication. It’s slow. Almost anyone can hijack the conversation. There’s an almost complete lack of depth that normal conversation carries (because there’s emotions within the words, etc.).
But it’s why it is far more profitable to look for God among real people in real places. And, even there, there will be difficulties. If God (the Ultimate by anyone’s definition) is worth the bother (and if there is a God it would seem that He is worth all the possible bother involved), then why wouldn’t someone curious or “seeking” not pursue Him in a manner beyond a blog.
So, sorry if the experience here has been other than you hoped (I hear it in the tone of your typing). But it’s just a blog. And I’m just a priest who writes. I’m not God’s keeper, or even His explainer. I believe in Him.
I see Him everywhere, all the time. He is obvious to me – even when He isn’t. When He’s not obvious, then He is “obviously” hidden. Everything speaks of Him – because everything is contingent – and He alone is necessary. He is the One Thing Necessary. Thus the presence of everything bears witness to His presence – the One Thing Necessary for their contingent existence.
And Jesus is the One Thing Necessary, become Man. And has taught me that the One Thing Necessary loves everything and everyone – which explains why everything exists.
I enjoyed the article.
One of your comments stood out to me: “…the treatment of Genesis that I’ve suggested is not at all uncommon in the fathers. It begins to be “historicized” or seen as important as history only with the development of the Western notion of Original Sin.”
I’m a Roman Catholic going through a faith crisis and have looked into Orthodoxy — much more of which I agree with theologically than what I was taught as a Catholic — and I came across this article after days of near-obsessive searching for answers to my doubts about the historicity of biblical Adam and Eve, which the Catholic Church has “infallibly” declared to be our literal first parents who transmitted the “infallibly” defined original sin. I already didn’t believe in original sin, and everything I studied came back to the likely fact that Adam and Eve were not our only first parents (the biblical timeline doesn’t add up), and if we did have only two first parents from a much earlier time, they can’t have been the Adam and Eve of the Bible. I can forgive an oversight by the early church fathers or by St. Paul because they had no reason to believe otherwise. But to be told that something that cannot be true and literal is infallibly true under penalty of anathema…well, I just can’t pretend anymore. In any regard, I’ve got so many Catholic anathemas on me at this point, that my only option is to head East.
There is definitely no anathema that I know of regarding not believing in Adam and Eve in the Catholic Church. For an in-depth discussion of this, see here. https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/is-a-literal-adam-necessary-for-catholics/2613
I’m Orthodox, and believe that there was probably no historical Adam. Pete Enns +Bouteneff+Behr freed from that. But nevertheless, maybe you should make sure you’re not an official heretic in the Catholic Church before running East. There are good reasons to be Orthodox, I converted. And yes, I do find solace in the fact that I don’t have to have a slavish adherence to the literal meaning of OT passages that strike me and other scholars as myth, legend, or morally outrageous, etc. But I’ve run TO something in Orthodoxy. I’ve run to Christ, and found Him here.
Fr Freeman thank you for your thoughts on this topic. How the Creation story jives with the physical world that we observe and that our children are taught about in the lower grades through College is not something that is spoken of often within the Christian Faith in this country. For whatever reason, of all the Orthodox acquaintances I have, from lay persons through clergy, most have not been taught in the hard sciences and really do not have a lot of background in things like paleontology, geology, biology, and genetics past what they learned in childhood. Perhaps this manifests itself as more general interest in why we are here (the most important question) over how we got here, and that’s fine, but our kids are being raised in a world that is not friendly to Christianity and will use whatever it has at its means to drive a wedge. I think there is a great danger in teaching a strictly literal interpretation of the Genesis story to the exclusion of how scientists explain their understanding of “how we got here,” so long as we teach them to think critically and know when they are being deliberately deceived to damage their Faith.
Please continue to discuss this topic. I think there are many Christians who study science and have great internal discord over what they see and what they feel they are required to believe that in their perception is contradictory. We should not leave them to be filled with doubt by atheists with ulterior motives. We need more Orthodox voices with your perspective!