God By The Numbers

numbersMath is very strange stuff. A serious question within the community of science and math is whether math is an invention or a discovery. Is it something that we have just made up out of our head, or is it something we observed and discovered (because it is already there)? This might sound like a silly thing to wonder about, but it is indeed most serious.

The ancients (Plato in particular) thought that numbers existed “out there,” or somewhere. But Plato thought that about pretty much everything. Our reality, he thought, was, at best, a copy of some Greater Reality somewhere else. This idea later found echoes in Christian thought.

One very puzzling thing about numbers is that unlike most invented ideas, it corresponds precisely to what we observe around us. When physicists do the math to predict a hitherto unknown particle – lo and behold! the particle is found to exist just as the numbers said it would. This same phenomenon is found in many places throughout nature. The force of gravity can be expressed with a precise formula. So the numbers are more than mere ideas – they are ideas that actually correspond to reality as we know it. There are very amazing sets of correspondence. A Fibonacci Sequence is a name given to a sequence of numbers produced by adding the previous number to the present to get the next: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13, etc. It creates patterns that are found throughout nature, governing even the shape of the galaxy in which we live.

This is more astonishing than you might think. It is certainly possible to make up some sort of system of things with rules of what happens. But if I make up a random system with random rules, I would be absolutely astounded if anything outside of my head were found to correspond to it.

But numbers and the rules that govern them work.

Though the scientific community is divided over the nature of numbers, many mathematicians are not. As one mathematician put it, “When I’m working out a problem, the experience is one of discovery, not invention.”

Discovery, not invention. This is the point and a very, very great point.

For this aspect of our universe applies to far more than math. The universe itself is not the sort of thing you invent. You discover it. A fiction writer could “invent” an alternate universe, but if they did a very thorough job of it, we would not be able to follow anything he said about such a universe because it would not have the logic of the only universe we know. In truth, when a science fiction writer engages in his/her craft, they only partly “invent” their new world. They inevitably have to borrow many (or most) of the properties and aspects that we have previously discovered in this universe so that readers in this universe can understand their fiction and buy their books.

Discovery should be a primary attitude towards all things. For the universe is not something we invent. It is not inside our heads.

Oddly, this also applies to great art and poetry. I would say that it absolutely applies to all matters of beauty. We do not, and cannot “invent” beauty. We can make something and call it “art.” But beauty cannot be idiosyncratic. It is known in the communion of human knowing. We “recognize” beauty and are sometimes struck with awe by beauty. But no one can invent something and simply declare: “This is beautiful.”

This strange aspect of discovery applies to God as well. We cannot invent God and be satisfied with the result. Any God you can invent is too little to be your God. The religious term for this discovery is revelation. It is a religious finding-out.

This is one of the deep misunderstandings that modern atheists have about religion. They suggest that religious believers are inventing something. But that is not at all the nature of religious believing. What believers experience is closer to beauty and math. They perceive something that they did not invent.

Now, there are indeed religious inventions (cf. Mormonism, Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.). They are critiqued by others precisely on account of this aspect of their existence. To a degree, this is a fault in all of post-Reformation Christian groups.

Discovery is an aspect of tradition, the experience we have when we confront that which is handed down or given to us. And it is worth noting, that this is simply part of how the world actually is. Its givenness is its primary quality and our discovery of its givenness is a primary quality of our sanity.

It is the abandonment of this primary human experience that has become a hallmark of certain aspects of modernity. Modernity believes that the world, even human beings, can be re-imagined and newly invented. Gender-experience, it is suggested, can be self-defined (along with a continual string of new “rights”). But these inventions are not discoveries. They are nothing more than the assertion of power. They become oppressive inasmuch as they cannot be discovered in a manner independent of their brutal assertion. And they will be maintained as an invention, only through the continuing use of coercion.

Discovery is a matter of the heart as well as the mind.  It is a perception of what is outside us, and can be shared. It can be perceived by others. As a matter of the heart it is an openness to what has been given, a willingness to receive.

And we receive what cannot be invented: beauty, truth, goodness. Even God Himself.

83 comments:

  1. Father, you are making a very important point. Whenever we “invent” something, we always find deep contradictions and anomalies in what we invented. When we discover something generally it is not self contradicting, even though our limited understanding sometimes perceives contradiction until further discovery takes place. Relating this to “invented” faiths, if we follow the logic of the belief system to the end, we always come to an resolvable contradiction. One of the factors in my conversion to Holy Orthodoxy was the search for a faith in our God that did not contradict itself at some point. I found this in Orthodoxy. Thank you again for this post as with every other one.

  2. I found this part, “And they will be maintained as an invention, only through the continuing use of coercion.” particularly interesting. I am likely to apply it in a way contrary to the intention though. It is stated that, “Gender-experience, it is suggested, can be self-defined” which is interesting. I wonder if “Gender-experience” is more of an invention than a discovery. “This strange aspect of discovery applies to God as well. We cannot invent God and be satisfied with the result. Any God you can invent is too little to be your God.” People are dissatisfied with the result of traditional “Gender-experience”, which would seem to be why there are those who wish to redefine it. Those who wish to keep the traditional definition must do so through the coercion of those who with to redefine…

    It’s an interesting thought to entertain, thank you for putting this out where someone such as myself can see it and ponder its implications.

  3. I’ve always thought it interesting that our word “invention” is so obviously related to the Latin “invenire,” which meant “find,” not “make up out of nothing.”

    The first step in classical rhetoric was known as invention, and it’s often hard for my students to get past the modern idea of invention as creation ex nihilo. We’re so thoroughly individualist that we can’t see the obvious fact that our ways of talking and thinking are traditioned to us and must be found out, not made up.

  4. I Don’t
    Doubtless, the same point could be applied pretty much anywhere one wishes. And, I admit, this was a contentious example. But, considering the fact that genitalia, with only extreme exceptions, only come in two genders might suggest that new identities have very little grounding outside of a mental paradigm invented in very recent years.

    There is no doubt about body dysphoria (it is an experience). There is no doubt about various sexual attractions (it is an experience). However, the interpretation of those experiences is clearly a cultural matrix. So, what we are discussing is the nature of the cultural matrix.

    Is the cultural matrix an invention or a discovery. I’m going to come down on the side of discovery for the traditional matrix precisely because of its longevity and ubiquity. It is very easy to demonstrate that dysphoria even has a social aspect – as in the more you talk about the more it grows. It’s like cutting, bulimia, any number of psychological disorders that seem rather grounded in contemporary experience, rather than an on-going universal human experience. Even suicides can have a social aspect.

    I have been around the campus scene long enough to watch any number of fads. Today, we are seeing a “revolution” regarding sexuality that is largely driven by youth – who are themselves known purveyors and victims of passing fads – and who have far too little life experience to contribute reliably to the discussion of human sexuality.

    I deeply trust the experience of centuries over new suggestions that family and gender need to be overhauled. I believe, with all due respect, that we are mostly going through a political revolution for which gender issues is only a convenient tool. Our culture is being played in a game that has taken place before. What we are seeing today corresponds very deeply with a cultural revolution that took place in Russia from about 1840 to 1930. It included a radical approach the sexual thought that had to be jettisoned around 1930.

    We have here, an American (and European) version of Dostoevsky’s The Devils.

    The Orthodox experience is long enough to have watched this nonsense before. And it cost us millions of lives. It is already costing us million of unborn lives now. Tragically, the sexual revolution rhymes with death. I politely refuse the ticket.

  5. The thing that interests me, the part that strikes a strong chord to me, is that growing up I ended up under the impression that everything has a gender, even when it does not have anatomy. Certain play styles (house, building blocks), colors (pink vs. blue), or activities (sports, sewing, baking) have often been presented, at least to me, as inherently for those with specific anatomies. And I feel as though this was presented to me as a “traditional value”. Sadly, I think these traditional values only extend back as far as *Leave it to Beaver*.

    So to that end, I can see a redefinition of gender experience to represent a rejection of these inventions. However I am fairly removed from all redefinitions, and appreciate the shared perspective.

  6. Excellent article!

    (One typo: The Fibonacci sequence begins with a pair of 1’s: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5….)

    A Community College professor for over 25 years (teaching mathematics), I’ve often thought that the root of mathematics lies in the mind’s ability to distinguish natures (“This is not that, while these are the same kinds of things”). This lead to comparing (“There are more people in the next village than ours”), then to counting (“How many more?”)

  7. I’ve worked with many math folks over the years who classified themselves as nonreligious. However, the awe and wonder math inspired in them almost resembled worship. One man once told me: “I don’t have a God, I have math.”

  8. Discovery is an aspect of tradition, the experience we have when we confront that which is handed down or given to us. And it is worth noting, that this is simply part of how the world actually is. Its givenness is its primary quality and our discovery of its givenness is a primary quality of our sanity.

    The reverse way of wording this is also true (and already insightfuly implied with the last word [sanity]), i.e.: inventing our own reality and trying to deny ‘giveness’ is the root of all [modern] stress, angst, and ultimately of hell…

  9. Love this one, Father. You’ve really been on a roll of late. Thank you! I especially like this:

    “Though the scientific community is divided over the nature of numbers, many mathematicians are not. As one mathematician put it, “When I’m working out a problem, the experience is one of discovery, not invention.” Discovery, not invention. This is the point and a very, very great point.”

    Here is a little poetic attempt I once made in understanding the numbers:

    Fractal Webs

    “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” – Isaac Newton, The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy

    Spider webs
    Engage in precise
    Fractal mathematics spun
    Perfectly
    By instinctive
    Arachnid skill, implanted
    Hidden wonders hung,
    Tied between
    Unsuspecting branches,
    Particular self-similar repetitions
    Iterated, innate stories told in
    Increasing
    Small
    Or larger scales,
    Mathematical formulas
    Creating infinite artform equations,
    Snowflakes, clouds, far galaxies,
    Shells, ferns & hurricanes, webs
    Selecting algorithm rules,
    Calculating infinite
    Detail,
    Magnified without limit
    In micro or macro
    Expression,
    The Thumbprint of God,
    His hidden wisdom revealed
    In plain sight,
    In long silver strands
    Blown right onto
    Our unwary
    Faces.

  10. …and it amazes me how the most important “discovery” can come unlooked for when someone who is not a mathematician “follows the numbers” (in retrospect anyway).

  11. You might find this interesting father: JRR Tolkien said, when Bilbo first put on the Ring, that he was as surprised as anyone else when Bilbo did that.

    There is an article you might enjoy titled “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics”

  12. The power and abiding relevance of math, at least or perhaps particularly in the philosophical sense, is math’s expression of metaphysical truths – truths that are said to be true in every possible (and imaginable) world. For instance, 2+2=4 is such a metaphysical truth.

  13. Fr., I am baffled by this posting. Is gender discovered or invented? While “sex” is biological, gender is social; i.e., it is created. While there are universal similarities to this, there are also cultural differences/cultural variation. Do we discover or invent something we create? I generally have troubles with Christian Orthodox weighing in with American cultural war debates. It gets us into trouble. You are assuming that the traditional is not maintained through coercion and oppression. But it is. Many may not experience it as such but those whose lives are negatively affected by what is called “tradition”al cultural behaviors know this. Theologians do not make good political commentators. I think we should stick to saving souls, not making ideological commentaries couched in theology.

  14. My apologies, I was too quick above. There are universal similarities and variation to gender, and this is what makes it difficult to figure out whether it is discovered or invented; it’s a little of both. But the idea that there have been people who do not fit well into these categories is not new nor is it limited to the US. We know the source of sexuality is spirit, gender identity is similarly sourced. So why not pray rather than make political proclamations and contribute to the ideologies that are hurting people. I keep thinking Jesus’ words, there is no marriage in heaven. Sex, sexuality, gender identity, these are all worldly things that with God’s help we can shed and leave behind us when God calls our name. There are traps here for all of us, just different kinds of trappings. I think we need to somehow focus on this in our prayers.

  15. “Sex, sexuality, gender identity, these are all worldly things ”

    Not so fast! Where are you getting that from? The preclusion of marriage does not necessarily preclude sexuality and gender identity.

    And what may be the ideology to which you refer, that is hurting people?

  16. I always find your articles refreshing in thought.
    The part of this article I found the most intriguing was the discovery (or revelation) of God. There is something quite categorically distinct about this topic.
    I wish you had uncovered more on this subject: for how can anyone discover the God Who IS to the extent that we are not (Palamas)? How can one conceive of the inconceivable? etc… There seems to be something sympathetic in this kind of discovery.

    Now, I have no intention of disrespect; however, I’m not convinced of mathematics being described in terms of discovery vs invention.
    I’ve always found mathematics to be more concerned with eternal beauty. The categories of discovery or invention really never had an impression on me when proving something. Even when looking at two proofs of the same theorem, one proof can be more beautiful than another.
    What makes one better than another? The criteria strike me as aesthetic in nature.
    And there have been times where historically mathematicians, I think, did struggle over mathematics being invented, and I’m not sure “discovery” wholly won the coin-toss. For example, Zero or “i” (the imaginary number. i^2=-1) caused some problems.
    For this reason, I didn’t find the discussion of mathematics viz. discovery vs invention to really help with the later part of the article. Rather, I found it a distraction.

    And just a friendly note: 2+2=4 is not a metaphysical truth, per se.
    One always needs a system of reference – a world so to speak – to contextualize it. One can easily construct a world where 2+2=1 (a clock with 3 points); or where the Pythagorean theorem doesn’t hold (geometry on a globe); or an infinite number of unique functions, each one of which, when multiplied by itself, becomes the identity function (a system in Quantum mechanics).

  17. Menowanna,
    Well, I’m a parish priest. And in conversations with others, we’re seeing our middle-schoolers discussing “gender bending” and many other cultural confusions. It is messing up their young lives in some very tragic ways. It needs to be clearly addressed. I have written carefully about gender and marriage and will continue to do so. To be silent in this is derelict. Sorry.

  18. To menowannaknow, I’m not sure I understand: would you kindly explain?

    First off, I would not agree that “We know the source of sexuality is spirit…”. That is an assumption, that many – like myself – wouldn’t agree with. Perhaps I’m naive, but I find the source of my sexuality is the fact that I’m physically born with certain sexual parts, and they are naturally disposed for procreation.

    But if what you say is true that “the source of sexuality is spirit”, how is it that “Sex, sexuality, gender identity… are all worldly things that with God’s help we can shed”?

  19. The discoveries keep coming; just when someone says, everything is discovered (or invented), a new discovery pops up.

    For instance the new material “graphene” was a chance discovery In its perfect crystalline form, graphene (a one-atom-thick carbon layer) is the strongest material ever measured, as the Columbia Engineering team reported in Science in 2008—so strong that, as Hone observed, “it would take an elephant, balanced on a pencil, to break through a sheet of graphene the thickness of Saran …May 31, 2013

    This discovery was in 2013 and then in 2014, guess what, another discovery

    New Supermaterial Carbyne is the World’s Strongest Material, Beats Out Graphene and Diamond. A new research paper published on Arxiv describes in detail the properties of Carbyne, a supermaterial that is stronger than graphene and diamond, and that can be synthesized and stabilized at room temperature. Carbyne is stiffer than anything that scientists have seen before, and it could potentially have a wide variety of applications in nanomechanical systems and electromechanical devices.

  20. Herb,

    I certainly didn’t mean to say that different values cannot be ascribed to signifiers – that is a completely different matter. It is not to difficult to say that me mean “1” when we use the symbol “2” and thus render the statement 2+2=4 incorrect. That is a function of language, to which I was certainly not referring, and not that of metaphysical truths of mathematical propositions.

  21. menowannaknow:
    The distinction between gender and sex is itself a recent invention, one necessitated by the rejection of the realities of embodied existence as man and woman. While it’s true that culture does, to some extent, channel and shape the expressions of maleness and femaleness, to reject them altogether is a leap into unreality (in this case an unreality known as individualistic nominalism [think Anthony Kennedy’s “right to define one’s own concept of existence”]).

  22. Dear Robert, you misunderstood me. I wasn’t playing with symbols.

    When I mentioned a three pointed clock,I meant exactly that.
    For example, in our standard 12 point clock, 2+2=4; but, 11+2=1. This is because 13 o’clock is 1 o’clock. It’s not a game of semantics, this is an aspect of math, a small example of abstract algebra.
    I was simply trying to express the idea that many concepts we consider truths are embedded within a “world.” Not in the sense that one can simply change the signifier and be done with it.
    And I think we’re in agreement here, I just think you misunderstood me. Perhaps I was unclear.
    I think in the present context, this important. Being born materially a male doesn’t allow me to wake up one day and just call myself… I dunno… any of the multitude of labels that seem to have been created. What I wish to do with the fact that I’m born male is another matter; but, in no way can one simply ignore that material fact of one’s gender and create a “world” to cohere with that fiction. It’s a form of insanity to do this.

  23. You are assuming that the traditional is not maintained through coercion and oppression. But it is. Many may not experience it as such but those whose lives are negatively affected by what is called “tradition”al cultural behaviors know this.

    Menowannano, I would point out that, while (Orthodox) Tradition may be experienced negatively, that is not the fault of the Tradition itself but of those who attempt to maintain it (or anything else) “through coercion and oppression”.

    It should also be noted that those who wish to change Tradition based on their own desires and passions will likely be negatively affected by Tradition–but that is because they seek to deny the truth that is carried by it in order to validate their own personal agenda(s) (whatever those may be). In other words, they inflict that “negative” upon themselves; holding to and speaking Truth within Tradition does not inflict it upon them.

    I agree with Father that it is important to speak the Truth within Tradition even though Society wishes to not hear it and people wish to turn away from it to validate themselves. It is equally important to speak this Truth in Love.

  24. In response to the objections of menowanna, which seems to reflect the background noise of my everyday life outside of work and church (and often in church too), I think we can at least all agree that there are things along a range between mere invention and mere description of observed nature itself.

    Some examples of each:

    1 – Invention: (I know for sure this is an invention because I’m making it up fictitiously for the purposes of this discussion) “Between them” can refer to a group of more than two if they are all female, but otherwise “among them” must be used. (Violation: actual English usage)

    2 – Recent arbitrary tradition: Pink is for boys and blue is for girls. (Violation: the reversal of this that happened sometime in the 19th-20th century)

    3 – Arbitrary tradition: A garment to cover the crotch and at least part of the legs that encompasses both legs together with no fabric joining in between, is something worn only by women. (Violation: kilts, cassocks(?))

    (3.1 – Old arbitrary tradition?: Women are to wear head coverings in church. (Violation: not doing so, or men doing so))

    4 – Natural tradition: (I suspect half my friends will give me an earful for not using scare quotes around “natural” if they see this) If a sperm and egg fuse to form a zygote as a result of heterosexual sexual intercourse, it is typically expected that this will happen in the woman’s body and not the man’s. (Violation: MtF impregnates FtM, “man” and “woman” in the preceding being understood to reflect the parties’ professed identities)

    5 – Nature: The presence of a Y chromosome in a mammalian embryo should cause the release of hormones that typically promote the formation of testes rather than ovaries.

    I don’t think anyone is trying to defend the likes of the first two. The fights seem to take place over whether the likes of 3 are worth defending and whether any given thing is more like 3 or more like 4.

    (An example of a similar disagreement, without the sex part that so quickly darkens the intellect on one or both sides, might be whether Herb’s 11+2=1 is just “semantics” or part of a deeper understanding of algebra.)

    The question then becomes where to fit things like gender identity, gender expression, and marriage.

    There is no Scriptural or Traditional support for the proposition (as I had once believed) that the gender binary is a mere garment of skin, the law of death given to us to preserve us until we can be saved (nor, one level further down, merely something derived from our use of that garment of skin).

    However: Christ’s answer to the Sadducees which reads on its face as implying (the way “I ate the last donut” implies “there are no donuts left”) that gender will be abolished – or at least made substantially irrelevant to everyday life for any purpose known to us now – in the Resurrection. But even there it’s clearly shown throughout that the salvation we find in the last judgment is not simply being restored to Adam and Eve’s state in the Garden, so this answer does not really contradict the previous finding in any way.

    So identity and marriage are pretty solidly and inextricably a part of the faith. But what of gender expression?

    Would a parish that otherwise is OK with women wearing pants during the service have to draw a line at wearing men’s pants (because, e.g., the parishioner in question can’t stand those awful fake pockets in women’s pants)? Someone who for purely aesthetic reasons isn’t dressed in any way that makes them obviously one or the other? I would think that most thoughtful priests would be primarily paying attention to the intent of the parishioner (because seriously those fake pockets are awful) but to have to do a thorough inquiry of everyone who steps in seems almost as much a distraction as the “skirt police” I’ve heard about in some parishes.

    Sorry if I ramble, but it is hard not to think of these things in the current political climate.

  25. Call it what you will the mystery of male and female is at the heart of the visible creation and absolutely necessary in our interrelationship with our creator.

    Many languages other than English recognize the gender of things in the structure of the language.

    Male homosexuals are still men. Bruce Jenner is still a man and always will be.

    It is central to who God created us to be. A big part of my journey toward and with God is learning how to be a man. I have learned that what our culture teaches is largely wrong.

    A significant part of my learning to appreciate women. The Theotokos has helped me quite a bit.

    I am grateful for the strong women who I have known who have the patience to put up with me and teach me too.

  26. Father Stephen, I’m sorry. I keep re-reading your responses. First, thank you for taking the time to respond. Second, I’m not myself sure where I stand on this. I am caught between those young people experiencing the “I’m caught in the wrong body” syndrome and the need to discuss these issues with the young. There has to be a way to discuss these without causing further harm to those who are experiencing the “dysphoria”.
    BTW, it’s not a recent phenomenon, there are countless cases anthropologists have discovered universally; e.g.: hijdas in India, (cultural/religious, men who give us living as men and dedicate their lives to the deity of fertility, i.e., self sacrifice for others’ fertility), the genetic disorder found in Salinas, D.R., etc. This sex/gender thing is a quite complex phenomenon and not an invention of Western culture.
    I think we need to familiarize ourselves with the medical as well as spiritual and cultural identity issues, it could be the identity issues are more closely related to medical issues that we have not yet identified.
    Anyway, I know some transgender people, I work in a quite diverse environment. They don’t deserve the finger pointing and condemnation that so often comes their way. That is all.
    I’m sorry, I did not mean to put you on the spot or the defense. I myself am struggling with how to approach this issue.

  27. Another Robert, I’m not rejecting or denying the reality of maleness/femaleness. They are very real. And I’m not denying that there is a relationship between biology and gender (if there were none, then transgendered people would not try to achieve the body of the gender they desire). I think transgendered people highlight the relationship between body and gender, regardless of what the ideas trying to “justify” or “explain” “transgendered-ness” try to teach/inform us.

  28. Herb, maybe I wasn’t clear, my apologies. To make sense of this transgender phenomenon within a Christian framework, I am reminded of Jesus’ words that there is no marriage, i.e., no sex, in heaven.
    We know that sex is a this worldly phenomenon for procreation. As someone explained to me, “there’s nothing wrong with sex itself, he just twisted it”.
    All this, we leave behind us when our journey here is done and God calls us. We don’t take sex with us, we don’t take our sexuality with us. Gender in terms of energy, i.e. male or female energy, etc. yes, God for example is male, Jesus is male, Theotokos is female, etc. but not sexuality itself (sorry, I don’t know how else to explain it since we don’t have sexual bodies when we’re in the heavens, in God’s presence). (This is clearly a very lay person’s attempts to understand what is going on without necessarily creating categories that will condemn people.)

    I think I said enough, I will wait for responses and probably return to my usual “just read” mode, lol.

  29. One last point: as a woman and a feminist, I have great problems with men who “feel like they’re women trapped in men’s bodies” trying to define for me and other women what a woman is. We have heard these statements of who we are or we are supposed to be from men, all of our lives. Now there is a group of men who are redefining for us the only realm over which women had some cultural/medical/ethical, etc. control: our identities as women. Women and feminists who point this out are called bigots and essentialists. On the other hand, those of us who try to be respectful of transgendered people and others call us a whole host of other names. At the same time, I am not to judge the one who does this or anything. Sin is sin and we are all sinful, their sins are no greater than mine or yours and vice versa. On the other hand, the issues do have to be addressed as Father Stephen said because they are causing confusion among the young.
    So engaging in these cultural debates is not easy. Now please, try to incorporate this into my comments above, because as I said earlier, I still do not know how to approach this. Unlike many of you here, I do not have any answers.

  30. menowannaknow ,
    I think that our vast distance from holiness might be the main issue here. It is the lack of this that makes other things become inflated and take centre-stage. If we were to pursue it, to hunt union with the One Who hunts union with us, all these [gender etc.] issues would cease to be problems with little effort on our part. I don’t know if this is right but it seems as if the legion of these types of issues that arise within the secular framework of modern affairs resembles those issues that people who ‘have everything’ (materially) often encounter, and push them to a greater (subjectively experienced) despair than those who are even living in war zones. These problems call for discernment, which only comes when our first concern is union with God. To start being human we need to be on the path of holiness. It is a given, that it is our love of neighbour [with their ‘issues’] that will –perhaps above all- bring down and retain the Grace for this union, but our ‘concern’ is another thing than our love and this is a fine distinction. To see the escatological raison d’être behind everything sheds the necessary light, and that light comes from ‘the one thing needful’…

  31. Dear menowannaknow ,
    I appreciate your desire to dialogue without any sense of hostility or a desire to simply disrespect the Church and its adherence to tradition.
    I truly hope you find peace, which doesn’t necessarily mean you find all the answers you’re looking for, but simply a sense of peace.
    With that in mind, I hope you can find a priest with whom you can trust with your internal conflicts; one who will tell you what you need to hear, and not simply one who tells you what you want to hear.

    But to reply briefly to your comment addressed to me, I’m still not sure how a reference in the bible to no marriage in heaven relates to how we identify our sexuality and gender in the here-and-now.
    Or to put it another way, how does a reference to one’s glorified state in heaven – without marriage – tell us anything about how we ought to be in the present in one’s unglorified state, especially in terms of sex, sexuality, or gender-identity?
    There is no connection.

    On the contrary, some monastic traditions use this reference to there being no marriage in heaven to explain their celibacy; their celibacy is intended to mimic (or perhaps to mystically participate in) this glorified-state. I am not aware of this passage ever being used for gender-identity issues, because there is no connection.
    And the appeal to gender-energy (if I”ve got that right) is simply circular reasoning, you’re assuming the answer in your question.

    But… people are not won over by argumentation, so I’ll stop.
    I can only hope that you will find peace. God be with you.

  32. menowannaknow: I think I understand what you’re saying. I have a gay daughter, who has several friends that are in the transgender process. I don’t understand their lives, but I pray for them every day.
    It’s one thing for our priests and spiritual elders to counsel sinners (no matter what that sin is), to hear confessions, and to help us struggle with whatever we do wrong. It is quite another thing to hear Christians make “jokes” about gays and transgenders!
    As we call out sin, we must also remember that each of us is the chief of sinners.
    Please don’t stop commenting! We need each other to work things out with love. I know that as I type, my thoughts don’t always come out as I mean them, and I can’t hear the voice of the person commenting. I try to not take offense at replies. God bless you!

  33. Laura & menowannaknow,
    I might come across as idealistically out of touch in our modern ‘secular Christianity’ world, but I genuinely think that Christ is the solution to any problem and consequently our own repentance, our tighter union to Him alone, is the answer even to ‘seemingly-unrelated-to-my-repentance’ problems. The more one realizes that, above all, “I am the absence of Him”, that I am but a fake ‘reality’ of a lie while Christ is the Truth, that I am the quintessence of unendurable meaninglessness and He is the only Meaning [Logos] of all that exists, that I am Hell and deserving of nothing other than Hell and Christ is Paradise and the Kingdom of Heaven is Him, the more Christ’s loving descent into the death that I, myself am, brings me, his unworthy disciple, to life; and it is through his repentant disciples that this life shines upon all others as [a very distinctive] joy; Christ’s joy and integrity emanates from his disciples’ humility – and this is the testimony that evangelizes the nations: our joy and peace despite our tribulations. Our tribulations nowadays might not be famine and pestilence or even direct persecution. They might often be angst, uncertainty, distraction, the complete endorsement and assertion of sinfulness by those closest and dearest to us. The more we enter the deepest recesses of the heart in repentant yearning for Christ and His Kingdom, the more ‘all else shall be added’ (Matthew 6:33). I do not know of another solution.

    “And I said, “Perhaps darkness shall cover me,”
    But the night shall be light to my delight;
    For darkness shall not be dark because of You,
    And the night shall be bright as day;” (Psalm 138)

  34. Father,

    Please do keep commenting on these issues. As the Roman Catholic Bishop of New York recently said, those of us with a variety of sex and gender related “abnormalities” who are struggling to follow the Church’s tradition are really, really hurt by the culture today. We are part of a ridiculed, marginalized, and even hated minority in today’s society, and we need all the support we can get. Indeed, it is a good time to be a Christian!

  35. Menowanna,
    Thanks for your careful comments and their reflection.

    One thing that comes to mind has to do with “not causing pain.” We should not try to add needless pain to the suffering of others. But I think the “no pain = good” that has become a hallmark of the modern world is simply false. The truth of our existence and its fullness is found in the Cross. Our only way forward is to enter the Cross and serenely bear the pain that is there. And Christ joins us and gets us through. That is the Christian way. “The way of shame is the way of the Lord,” Elder Sophrony said.

    The many forms of cruelty we heap on one another are simply sin. But, if I love someone and work with them towards their salvation then that will also mean not denying their suffering, or participating in efforts to pretend nothing is wrong. To be out of sync with your body must be a terrible thing to endure. There are many, many other terrible things to endure for everyone. And we, with love, need to help them “bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to themselves” (St. Therese).

    This is very difficult.

  36. “But I think the ‘no pain = good’ that has become a hallmark of the modern world is simply false. The truth of our existence and its fullness is found in the Cross. Our only way forward is to enter the Cross and serenely bear the pain that is there. And Christ joins us and gets us through. That is the Christian way. ‘The way of shame is the way of the Lord,” Elder Sophrony said.”

    This is a hard truth. I have explored a number of false spiritualities out there that promise a way around it. But there is no way around it. The most powerful expression of this reality that I have read is by Seraphim Rose in this book: http://tinyurl.com/p9sgrlr though I will hasten to add that clinical depression can and should be treated as Father has said previously, if memory serves.

    I would love to read a meditation of the application of this truth to the business/corporate world. I think that the Catholic Church has some top-down stuff on this.

  37. A thought on the difference between coercion and experiencing the natural and logical consequences of being out of line with the created order:

    Coercion as I understand it is the effort to subject someone else to your own desires and will . If that effort is unsuccessful punishment, even destruction follows.

    Those with authority to bind and loose given to them by Jesus, if they are using their authority properly will not be coercive, but simply apply remedies for the healing of a person’s soul. Living in a fallen existence, human coercion will come into play for sure. That does not make the process invalid, only makes it more necessary to be vigilant, humble and obedient (the root of obey is to listen and hear).

    To say carte blanche that all tradition is coercive is to mistake both the nature and purpose of tradition. Tradition is a the handing down of an ordered existence and in the case of the Orthodox Church, a path to holiness, tried and true over centuries. The modern world’s desire to destroy all such order and holiness replacing them with nothingness is where the coercion lies.

    The homosexual rights movement is one such example. Indeed, the whole concept of ‘rights’ was invented to replace the Christian understanding of giving thanks to God for the gifts He has given us. Even our struggles are a gift, maybe the greatest gift, for they show us where our separation from God lies. The false promise of modernity to relieve all pain, challenge and even offense from our lives is an echo of satan’s lie in the Garden that we would not die if we believed him, that God was simply trying to coerce us and keep us in subjection. All such movements leave those they purport to champion devastated and destroyed in the end.

    Jesus Christ in His passion voluntarily took on, experienced and overcame on the Cross all of those struggles. If we seek union with Him, as Dino says, we too will participate in that victory. It is simple, but not simplistic. Only our continued efforts to ‘find our own way’ prolong our suffering. That is why we pray as part of our tradition: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

    That portion of the Lord’s Prayer is a direction and a promise to us. It guides us in our efforts at living sacramental lives in praise of Him who gives us life despite our best efforts to throw that gift away and the confusion and pain that comes from “doing our own thing” in ignorance of the truth.

  38. Thank you, Father, for the thoughtful reflections about discovery vs. invention. I appreciate how you took this principle from math and physical world and extended it to social world and discovery of God.

  39. A dialogue above:

    “Sex, sexuality, gender identity, these are all worldly things.”

    “Not so fast! Where are you getting that from? The preclusion of marriage does not necessarily preclude sexuality and gender identity.”

    The creation story in Genesis contemplates an essential complementary division of humanity into two sexes. (“Male and female he created them . . .” Gen. 1:27.) I think it would be a mistake to ignore sex as a component of the identity of each person, especially if we accept the resurrection of the body. Under Christian anthropology, we are not sexless souls arbitrarily inhabiting meat puppets, and eternal life is not spent as a disembodied soul. It therefore seems necessary to conclude (if we accept Christianity) that our sex survives into eternity, and that it transcends mere biology.

    Now, many of our beliefs about the sexes may be “worldly things”—things shaped by culture, time, place and circumstance. But our tendency to attach irrelevant criteria to an underlying reality does not undermine that reality. Neither does our culture’s current desire to deny or modify that reality. Neither does the fact that there have been individuals throughout history who have not fit in to their culture’s definition of the roles appropriate to their biological sex, or even that there are those who at a deep level identify with the sex other than that of their bodies.

    (As an aside, and for what it’s worth, I have come to despise the use of the word “gender” as a euphemism for the word “sex.” Traditionally, the former word was used primarily as an expression of certain grammatical concepts (and perhaps to a lesser extent, cultural attributes associated with the sex of a person). Its use as a synonym for “sex” undermines clarity, and gives us a two dollar word in place of a perfectly serviceable single syllable Anglo-Saxon one.)

  40. To Frank Attanucci:

    When I learned that Fibonacci sequences appear all over the place in nature, I was amazed. Still am. The Universe is a marvelous place.

  41. EPG:

    …But our tendency to attach irrelevant criteria to an underlying reality does not undermine that reality. …

    Thank you! You got to the point with that paragraph a lot better than I did.

    (Re: sex/gender, the distinction as I’ve been taught is that the former refers to physiological biology and the latter to the institutional trappings relating to the sexes. A materialist would say that only sex is real (provided they allow the critical anti-nominalist concession that the distinction is real) and there’s no reason why we can’t do whatever with gender we want; an idealist of the modern sort would say only gender matters (and we’re still free to do whatever with gender we want and sex should always be made to give way to it); a non-extremist would consider that even under this definition “gender” includes both inventions and traditions, both good and evil, and no categorical value judgment should be made about gender generally.

    By the way, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary “sex” is not only Latinate, it’s actually more recent to English usage (14-16C from Latin) than “gender” (13-15C from French) 🙂 )

  42. Matt — thank you for your gentle correction of my hasty effort at etymology yesterday. I should remember to look things up : ) —

    In any event, I do find the word “gender” used in contexts in which, a few decades ago, the word “sex” would have invariably been used, including contexts in which biology, rather than social roles, was the sole matter at hand? My birth certificate has an M in the box marked “sex.” Now I hear people ask of a newborn, “What is the gender?” And I have heard people refer to the “gender” to which someone “was assigned at birth,” as though blue and pink cards were handed out somewhat randomly and rather carelessly by obstetricians at the end of delivery. We live in strange times.

  43. Maria,
    I met Dr. Mamalakis a couple of weeks ago and was very impressed. He has a book coming out on raising children in an Orthodox home somewhere around Christmas this year. It’s on my list of must have’s.

  44. EPG,
    I very much agree that “gender” is being turned into a term that is merely psychological, when it is pretty much nothing of the sort. There is so much, overwhelming evidence that “gender dysphoria” is a disorder, just as the desire to have a limb amputated, etc. It is to be treated with the same kindness and care and sympathy that we would extend to any person with an affliction. But the madness of our culture is the new demand that someone’s psychological disorder become the reality for others around them.

    I have yet to see any research to document the number of “trans” in our culture. But I’ll bet a dollar to a dime that the number is increasing and will for a while, precisely because it is a psychological disorder that can be deeply influenced by cultural fashions. As such, the present trend of cultural affirmation is harmful rather than helpful.

    It’s also difficult to have social norms dictated simply by what someone says is real in their heads. The truth is, this is insanity. We must be compassionate. We must not go crazy.

  45. Hello Fr. Stephen,

    During my times of philosophizing about the nature of the universe and it’s various forces that we call laws like gravity, I often have wondered about, and posed the question to others, whether or not these forces exist because of the universe or independent of the universe. Stephen Hawking said in his book The Grand Design that the universe came from nothing. But if you read what he says you’ll find that he believes the universe came into being via gravity. So, if gravity was present before the universe existed, then can it really be said that the universe came into existence from nothing? But for me this raises a much more significant question than that. If gravity existed before the universe existed, then from where did this force come from? Indeed, do all the laws of nature depend upon the universe for their existence, or does the universe depend upon them? It seems to me that the forces of nature do exist independent of the universe, and that the universe and everything within it is shaped by them. I spoke to a physicist about this one day and he seemed to have never thought about this before. I said to him that we have all of these various formulas describing these forces of nature, but the formulas are not the forces themselves. They are merely our human way of expressing that which already exists. Like the law of gravity. Sir Isaac Newton wrote the formula for the law of gravity, but this didn’t create gravity, it simply expressed in human terms the force that had always been present. It was a discovery.

    Scientists are so confident in their understanding of the laws of nature, because they understand how they work, or rather they understand that they work a cretain way. But it seems to me that they haven’t asked the real question regarding them: where did these forces come from in the first place? Forces like electromagnetism, the nuclear forces, the laws of thermodynamics, entropy, gravity, and a whole host of others. They can explain why light vanquishes shadows for instance, how it happens, but from where did this phenomena originate from? They can explain why and how two or more objects are affected by gravity, but where did the force called gravity originate from? Did it originate from the big bang? How could it if it was essential to the big bang? Gravity would have to have pre-dated it, already existing before it to make it possible. As already noted before, Mr. Hawking in his book said that the first particle was created via gravity. How could gravity be dependent upon the universe if the universe is dependent upon it?

    And so I’ve been left to wonder about these things we call forces of nature, laws of nature. What are they really, and from where do they really come from? Would you, as an Orthodox Christian, say that the forces of nature are God’s energies? Or would they be something else that He created? They seem to be “God-like” in that they are apparently immaterial, neither matter nor energy, and yet they have a constant dramatic affect on all matter and energy in the universe. The whole thing strikes me as rather odd, to be honest.

    Thanks for any insights you or anyone else on here can offer!

  46. Upon reviewing this thread and my comment, I’m not so sure it was really an appropriate topic to bring up. There seems to be a lot of talk about sexuality and gender identity. However, it was your focus on mathematics in your article, and whether it is an invention or discovery, that prompted my thoughts, since it is via mathematics that we humans express the laws of nature. Still, if it is out of place, please forgive and ignore it. Thanks!

  47. DMA, I don’t see your comment as being inappropriate. It is not unusual for several “cultural” topics to be discussed within the framework of the comments but that does not mean that any other topics are not allowed.

    I myself would say to your question concerning the “laws of nature” (to use, in my opinion, a poor phrase) that, as God empowers reality’s existence, these thing only exist from Him in relationship to each other (much the way we exist). It’s not really a matter, to me, of which came first (to address Hawking in a way) but rather that all hold their being in God and exist and interact only because of Him. Just my thoughts though. Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood what you are asking. Blessings!

  48. I have yet to see any research to document the number of “trans” in our culture. But I’ll bet a dollar to a dime that the number is increasing and will for a while, precisely because it is a psychological disorder that can be deeply influenced by cultural fashions.

    This is very true. That there are, it will be claimed, “significant numbers” will undoubtedly be used to validate any number of societal claims in the near future. In other words, the situation will undoubtedly grow worse as time goes by. But this should not be a surprise. Much prayer is needed.

  49. DMA,
    Not only appropriate but far more to the point!

    I think it’s an extremely good question. I would tend to say that yes, these “laws” are the Divine Energies, “In Him we live and move and have our being,”(Acts 17:28) and “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
    And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Col 1:16-17)”

  50. Fr. Stephen,

    Would you say that this is the general understanding of Orthodox Christianity, that the laws of nature’s are the divine energies of God, or more of a personal opinion? I’m asking because I guess I’ve never seen it addressed before. I suppose I’ve heard that these laws were created. But if they are the divine energy of God as you say, then they can’t be created things. They must be uncreated like God is. This would help explain why they are neither matter nor energy, since these two things are created and are directly impacted by these laws. But I have a problem with understanding them as God’s energies. If they are, then wouldn’t it mean that anyone negatively affected by them, such as falling off a cliff to their death via gravity, that it is a direct result of God’s power or something? Wouldn’t that make God culpable in a whole host of things that happen to people via natural phenomena? And that sounds rather akin to the ancient pagan Greek notion of someone getting struck by lightning as coming from Zeus or something. “Oh, he must’ve angered the gods to incur their wrath!” But Jesus appeared to discount this view when He spoke about the tower of Siloam killing the eighteen in Luke 13:4. The words you quoted from the apostle Paul that we live and move and have our being in Him I have taken in a more panentheistic way. But I haven’t considered something like gravity to be a part of that. I’m also confused a bit about why my questions are “more to the point”. Would you please elaborate on that? Thanks for your time!

  51. DMA/Fr Stephen,

    Pardon the interjection – I don’t think there’s justification in Scripture or elsewhere in Tradition to identify ‘laws of nature’ with the uncreated energies of God. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that these laws have their subsistence in God’s energies following their logoi?

    Be it as it may DMA, Holy Tradition is unequivocal in regards to the contingency of all things seen and unseen – they have their origin in God, the Creator of all. Gravity may or may not be prior to the Big Bang, regardless it is a “creature”. There is no support whatsoever for philosophical materialism (or variants: naturalism, physicalism) – this is precisely where the clash of worldviews occurs with the likes of Hawking.

  52. DMA, your question about gravity is more to the point of Fr Stephen post, because gravity is discovered, not invented.
    This is to affirm a form of realism (philosophical/theological realism) – that reality exists independent from our perception of it. This is in sharp contrast to nominalism which holds that reality is invented by our thoughts, perception, language.

  53. Robert,
    Have you read St. Maximus thoroughly enough to draw such a conclusion about the Tradition? He would not have spoken of “laws of nature.” An identity between the logoi and the energies is not out-of-line. What is contrary to the Tradition is positing a nature that functions in some manner apart from grace (and grace=the Divine Energies). Read more Maximus.

  54. menowwannaknow,

    First, EVERY sin (that which takes us away from unity in God and toward chaos or non-being) can be seen as fluid or existing on a continuum. Sexual perversion is not unique in that regard.

    Second, that old Leftist trick of making up words and reframing the narrative might fool some people, but it does not fool all. There is no such thing as a transgendered individual. What exists are mentally ill individuals who have butchered their bodies with surgeries and flooded their bodies with hormones.

  55. Father, would it be out of line to say that what we perceive as “laws of nature” are merely God ordering His creation and using His energies to do so?

  56. Michael,
    I think that is true and correct. Only, I would be careful about the language of “using His energies.” God’s energies are also God Himself. He is both essence and energies.

    When most people hear the language of the “Divine Energies,” they literally think of something like a Divine Force emanating from God. But “energies” can also simply be translated as “actions.” The difference is that, theologically, God’s actions are also God Himself.

    This is also true of human beings. I just ate lunch. The eating was not something other than me. The eating is truly me, in my energies.

    The Fathers say that God can only be known in His energies. We only know God by what He does, not as He is (in His essence). But God is truly His energies, so that we truly know Him.

    His love, His care, His sustaining, etc., are His energies. They are not a force emanating from Him, but are God Himself. Grace, especially, is understood to be synonymous with the Divine Energies.

    That is why when we say that “in Him all things consist,” we cannot separate the consisting of all things from the Divine Energies. His God is making all things to hold together, to exist, to move or behave in a certain way, etc., then the making all things hold together, to exist, to move or behave is the Divine Energies.

    When we perceive the creation, we are indeed seeing God. He is not creation itself, but creation immediately reflects and reveals God’s actions (energies). It cannot exist without them.

    From an Orthodox perspective, our existence is itself proof of God’s existence. And we cannot get “behind” God’s energies to know Him in another manner.

    Christ is the incarnation of God. We know Him and He reveals God to us. But we know Christ, the Person of Christ, through His energies. I know you through your energies. I don’t perceive your “essence.” I perceive what you do. We can include your being physically present as an action (and thus an energy).

    Just a short lesson on the Divine Energies.

  57. I tend to see the “laws” of creation in this sense:

    God speaks this world into existence by his Word (logos) and breath (Spirit). If He stopped speaking all things would cease to exist.

    The evidence of God that we may discern in this world are His energies which emanate from everything, especially in 1) fecund life which delights to continue breathing and moving, in 2) orderliness or patterns that can be rationally discerned, and in 3) an amazing array of creaturely natures that reproduce their own kind.

    The cosmos is orderly because it is formed by God’s words. His logoi imprints indelibly on all creatures such that they respond according to the logoi given them, each in its own unique ways, or else they deviate which is corrupting to their nature.

    Natural “law” is a misnomer unless we mean to say it is the law of God FOR nature. We can perceive consistency and orderliness in some rational measure only because God’s logos shapes everything and His grace animates everything. Math is merely a rational artifact of cosmic (orderly) being.

  58. Father, I did not say the logoi cannot be identified with the uncreated Energies of God (as St Maximus quite clearly affirms this). However, I stated that the creature (e.g. gravity) cannot be identified with God, neither in Essence nor Energy.

    But I may be wrong, if you know of any patristic writings that state otherwise, please let me know.

  59. Thank you Fr. Stephen, Robert, and MichaelPatrick for your insights. It helps!

    Perhaps instead of referring to these phenomena as “laws” they could be referred to as the “energeia” of nature? That God, via His own energeia (i.e. His Life, Spirit, Word, Truth, Way, etc.), quickens and vitalizes nature (read all of creation) granting it an energeia consistent with Himself? I’m using the Greek term energeia instead of energy or energies because the modern terms have been pigeoned-holed, so to speak, into a certain way of meaning that doesn’t seem to grasp the Greek term’s at-work-ness which is really what defines something. That energeia is not simply a current or flow of power (such as the force in Star Wars), or even something that a thing does, but rather the life or way of being. In other words, the energeia of something reveals the Truth of that something. Only creatures are capable of denying their energeia. Only God, who is uncreated, and thus never-changing, whose energeia is Love, is consistent with Himself. There is no shadow of turning with Him. But for us, our lives are filled with shadows. Only by uniting ourselves with His Light will our shadows be driven away, and we will exist in harmony with our energeia. And our energeia is the same as that of God, Love, because we are formed in His image (i.e. icon).

  60. Sorry, meant to end that comment with a ? I just wanted to make sure that I understand what it is you guys are talking about. Anyways, if there is anything I said in my comment that was off, please let me know. Thanks again!

  61. I looked up the word energeia on Wikipedia and under the heading “Actuality” I found the following and believed it so fascinating in relation to Christian thought that I believed it would be great to post it here and see what you guys think about it:

    Entelechy or entelechia

    Entelechy, in Greek entelécheia, was coined by Aristotle and transliterated in Latin as entelechia. According to Sachs (1995, p. 245):

    “Aristotle invents the word by combining entelēs (ἐντελής, “complete, full-grown”) with echein (= hexis, to be a certain way by the continuing effort of holding on in that condition), while at the same time punning on endelecheia (ἐντελέχεια, “persistence”) by inserting “telos” (τέλος, “completion”). This is a three-ring circus of a word, at the heart of everything in Aristotle’s thinking, including the definition of motion.”

    Sachs therefore proposed a complex neologism of his own, “being-at-work-staying-the-same”. Another translation in recent years is “being-at-an-end” (which Sachs has also used).

    “Entelecheia, as can be seen by its derivation, is a kind of completeness, whereas “the end and completion of any genuine being is its being-at-work” (energeia). The entelecheia is a continuous being-at-work (energeia) when something is doing its complete “work”. For this reason, the meanings of the two words converge, and they both depend upon the idea that every thing’s “thinghood” is a kind of work, or in other words a specific way of being in motion. All things that exist now, and not just potentially, are beings-at-work, and all of them have a tendency towards being-at-work in a particular way that would be their proper and “complete” way.”

    Sachs explains the convergence of energeia and entelecheia as follows, and uses the word actuality to describe the overlap between them:

    “Just as energeia extends to entelecheia because it is the activity which makes a thing what it is, entelecheia extends to energeia because it is the end or perfection which has being only in, through, and during activity.”

  62. It reminds me of Jesus’ comment to the Jews when He told them He was breaking the Sabbath by working because His Father has been working until now (cf. John 5:17). Would this “working” that Jesus was referring to be equivalent with God’s energeia? Also, would it be correct to understand that we achieve (for lack of a better word) entelecheia when we are in harmony with our energeia? Thanks again!

  63. DMA,

    The theology of logoi is quite complex and nuanced and does not lend it self to a ‘quick and dirty’ summary – at least not without doing injustice to the subject and running the danger of misunderstanding, or worse running into heresy and/or half-truths. It assumes a firm grasp of a wide range theological concepts, and there are no shortcuts here, but, as Fr Freeman exhorted me, to “read more Maximus” (and the Cappadocians, Palamas, Lossky, Florovsky, Loudovikos and so forth). Take it as an encouragement, not a dismissive.

  64. Hi Robert,

    I didn’t take what Fr. Stephen said as dismissive at all. I was merely desiring clarification on my understanding if I had not seemed to grasp what was being discussed. Perhaps you could let me know if I have misunderstood something. Thanks!

  65. DMA,

    Loudovikos points out the distinction made between the logoi and God’s uncreated energies, a distinction that is not “real” but functional in that the energies precede the logoi. This is based on the hypostatic character of God, and the distinction made between the essence and will in God as explicated by St Athanasius and the Cappadocian Fathers. Refer to Loudovikos “A Eucharistic Ontology” especially chapter 2 for an in-depth discussion on this matter. Of course Maximus “Difficulty 9” is the prime source material in regards to his theology of the logoi.

    One must keep in mind the impersonal energea of the Greek philosophers was superseded by the understanding of the patristic theology of logoi. So one has to keep this in mind when reading Aristotle.

    Hope that helps!

  66. My impression of those polemics Father (if you are referring to his critique of his two teachers –Met. Zizioulas and Fr JmRomanides) is that he gave in and became involved in what was already happening around him with a certain desire to minimize the damage in this process. I think he has true insights, however, expressed uniquely (but I can only take it in in Greek) though.

  67. Dino,
    I’m not nearly well-versed enough in the issues to have more than a cursory opinion – though I tend to pay attention to my “gut” in these things. He is very cumbersome in English, and seems to get lost in minutiae. Zizioulas clearly has some problems, not the least of which being a tendency over the years to become something of a “court” theologian (or should I just say “Phanar”). He has a tendency to abstract an idea, then build a theology on the idea, which, oddly is just Protestantism with an Orthodox flavor. He is by no means a Protestant, but I can see why some would want to critique him. I think Romanides rode the same horse too far in one direction, and others have since ridden the horse nearly out of sight. So, corrections are necessary.

    I think he’s worth reading and spending time with. He’s on my list.

  68. Father Stephen, you know I love you, but when you mention Fibonacci numbers I love you even more!

    A Greek bishop who is also a celebrated scientist once said to a youth who wanted hard evidence for the existence of God:
    – Do you understand triple integrals?
    – No, the young man replied.
    – Shame, because the proof I have requires triple integrals (sums of space and volume) 🙂

    Also from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus:
    – No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

    “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:19-31.

    So I am deleting all of the Fibonacci sequence “proofs” of beauty that I see around me. Mathematicians according to the French author of “the birth of a theorem” Cedric Villani, are more faithful than physicists. At the bottom of this informal classification lie the biologists. Some mathematicians, he says, believe they receive inspiration directly from God, “that he was whispering to them”.

    I find this to be true, as it is true of all truth seekers. Including St Paul. Perhaps, as Father Stephen has written, this is not up to us – but up to God. Our mission is not salvation, but spiritual struggle – God saves us. He leans to us and whispers.

    Those struggling for a lifetime to understand the world, to prove beyond any doubt a theorem in mathematics, in cosmology will be visited by God somehow. My theory is that mathematicians see absolute solutions in their work – once proven, you cannot disprove a mathematical proof. All other scientists lie in doubt – and are surrounded by belief. Even the militant atheists spend their lives believing passionately in fairy tales, some pretty bad ones, too.

    I still cannot imagine how anyone who has seen the beauty of creation cannot believe in God! From the macrocosm to the micro – one must truly try to ignore how wisely it has all been created.

    Glory to God for all things, and all equations!

  69. Fr. Stephen, please pardon this essay-length note. You know my interest in this subject; and as it seemed relevant to the topic of your post, I thought it might be of interest to other readers. Please do not hesitate to delete it if it seems counterproductive.

    Around 300 BC Euclid of Alexandria, in his famous textbook, “The Elements,” laid out the plan for how to do mathematics. First, define your terms. Next, state your axioms, those propositions (statements) you accept as true without proof. Finally, apply the rules of deductive logic to your axioms to prove the truth of new propositions (theorems—statements true because we have proved them). In Book I Euclid begins with ten axioms (statements like “given two points we can draw the line segment between them” and “things equal to the same thing equal each other”) and proceeds to deduce forty-eight new theorems covering much of what you would find in a high school geometry course, including the Pythagorean Theorem. This is still how mathematics is done, making mathematics an extended meditation on the word “implies” (that is, mathematics seeks to determine when some truths guarantee (imply) other truths).

    About a century later Archimedes of Syracuse applied this approach to the study of a physical object, the lever. Imagining an ideal lever that does not slip or bend or add physical irregularities to the problem, he takes as axioms some obvious properties of levers: Objects of equal weight at equal distances from the fulcrum balance. If objects balance and you move one of them toward the fulcrum, the lever tips toward the other side. Etc. Using deduction as in Euclid’s geometry, he proceeds to deduce new properties of his ideal lever, most notably the Law of the Lever, that objects balance when the products of their weights and distances from the fulcrum are equal. (A 60-lb. child 4 feet from the fulcrum can see-saw with an 80-lb child 3 feet from the fulcrum since 60×4=240=80×3). In doing this, Archimedes made the world’s first mathematical model, identifying a real object with an axiomatic system (in the manner of Euclid’s geometry) whose theorems then predict the behavior of the object.

    At some point (the end of the Renaissance?) it seems we came to identify (in the deepest sense of that word) axiomatic models with reality or even to take them as ideals in Plato’s sense, truer than the material reality they model. I have read that it was René Descartes who first wanted to mathematize all knowledge, believing mathematical results to be the only certain truth. Reflecting this, science became a search for observed regularities (“physical laws”) suitable to serve as axioms for our “geometric” models. Newton’s Laws of Motion (e.g., “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”) and his Law of Gravity (“two bodies attract each other with a force proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them”) have the form of Euclid’s axioms. We then apply deduction to these axioms to predict what else must be true in the physical world (e.g., predicting the existence of Pluto or of new subatomic particles or of time dilation). Many people take these models, these ideals, as our creators, via a Big Bang resulting from physical laws.

    Taking this approach to other aspects of life, we believe that making government just is a matter of adopting the right model (e.g., a constitutional republic in which the Constitution provides the axioms). The Reformation seems to identify Christianity with an axiomatic model of Christianity (in which, according to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, the Holy Scriptures provide the axioms). The social “sciences,” to the extent that they are sciences, must attempt to build axiomatic models of man.

    These axiomatic models have produced remarkable results, at least in terms of engineering and technology. More than that, the models themselves are beautiful, as scientists and mathematicians relate. This is hardly surprising: the priesthood and Tabernacle of the Old Testament were a kind of model, a shadow, of heavenly worship; and they reflected, in a glass darkly, the glory of heaven. The Creation, too, is glorious, revealing the Creator for the salvation of man. Quite naturally, then, the beauty of the models reflects something of that glory.

    Models, however, are not reality, and we run into trouble when we identify them with reality. Mathematicians had to abandon the idea that Euclidean geometry was “real” when they discovered non-Euclidean geometries that were as logically consistent as Euclid’s geometry and yet contradictory to it. Models are not “true” or “real” but, at best, “consistent.” A model reduces a real object to a “variable of interest,” a reduction that strips away the nature of the object. Thus models help us to predict and manipulate the Creation, to impose our will on it; and this is good and proper to some extent. Yet it is the nature of the object that reveals God’s glory for our salvation. The model, like the shadow of the Law, like the icons we venerate, must point us to the reality beyond itself.

    Orthodoxy invites me to go past the models of Creation to the Creation itself, past the models of Church to the Church itself, and past the models of Christianity to Christianity itself. The net effect of this has been to disabuse me of my erstwhile pretensions to understanding much of anything, leaving me mostly confused. But this invitation was compelling in my conversion to Orthodoxy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *