One of the stranger ideas that accompanied the Reformation, was the notion that miracles had ended at the time of the New Testament’s completion. Never stated as a doctrinal fact in the mainstream of Protestantism, it remained a quiet assumption, particularly when joined with an anti-Roman Catholicism in which the various visions, weeping statues, and saints lives were considered to be fabrications of a corrupt priesthood. Stories abounded during the Reformation about how this or that well-known miracle had been debunked. What replaced that Medieval world was the sober thought of the Bible as answer book.
Many held that miracles were quite unnecessary after the Bible was “completed,” since everything necessary for salvation was contained within its covers. Anglican ordinands (to this day) take an oath saying:
“I believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation.”
Miracles, visions or revelations from God were considered not only unnecessary but positively dangerous in that the faithful might imagine such things to carry an authority equal to or greater than the Scriptures.
Various groups within the Protestant world have actually codified this idea into a matter of their denominational doctrine. It is known as “Cessationism,” referring to the “cessation” of the gifts of the Spirit. The Modern Project itself, particularly in its secularized perception of the world, is a version of Cessationism. Indeed, the Cessationist ideas of early Protestantism were a primary force in the creation of the secular concept.
A secular worldview holds that things are just that – things. The world consists of a collection of self-existing objects (some of which breathe and think), that live within the bounds and limits of the “laws” of nature. If God is to be known or perceived, then either He must disturb the laws of nature or become an object among objects. The modern world, in the words of Max Weber, is “disenchanted.” It is as if you found your way into Narnia, only none of the animals speak, the trees have fallen asleep, and magic seems to have ceased.
This is the context in which we live. It is also a perception that, to a great extent, shapes how we ourselves perceive the world, whether we intend it or not. Secularism is the default setting for those born into modern culture. The world is mute.
This is in stark contrast to the traditional (Orthodox) Christian understanding. Only God is self-existing. Everything else not only depends on Him for its existence and continuation but is moment-by-moment sustained only by the will and goodness of God. As such, the world itself is a manifestation of the “divine energies” (the actions and working of God). Those actions and working of God are not something done “at a distance,” for His actions and works are themselves God. He is both essence and energies. And though the effects of His actions and works are not themselves God (the tree that He sustains is not Him), nevertheless, the effects cannot exist apart from Him (“in Him, we live and move and have our being” – Acts 17:28). Cessationism would be non-existence. Miracles not only continue, everything we see is a constant abiding miracle (including ourselves). There is only miracle.
The perception of God and our relationship with Him are inherently difficult for a modern or secular mind. For us, the world is mute, and we perceive God to be equally mute. As such, we think that He either does not exist or doesn’t wish to make Himself known. From the position of classical Christianity, just as there is only miracle, so there is only the action and working of God everywhere.
And so, we read such things in Scripture:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts; heaven and earth are full of Your glory!
Confessing this to be the case slowly brings a shift in our perception and represents the renunciation of the Modern Project. Another way of describing this would be to say that the whole of creation is a sacrament. The bread and wine of the Eucharist, as the Body and Blood of Christ, are not exceptions: they reveal the truth of creation. The whole of everything is given to us for communion.
The Eucharist also reveals something of the nature or character of God’s divine energies (His actions and will). The God made known in the Eucharist is Christ crucified and risen. It is the Paschal mystery, the God who empties Himself and enters the depth and emptiness of our suffering that He might fill all things with His love. The modern person, upon being told that everything is sustained by the will and action of God often leaps to the many tragic sufferings within the world – as though they contradict that reality or suggest God’s incompetence. But they imagine a God other than Christ crucified, a God apart from His Pascha.
The Resurrection of Christ is the revelation of the goodwill of God, the promise of the final outcome of all things. The world that is being “gathered together in one in Christ Jesus,” is, through His suffering and death (within them), being united to His resurrection.
This is the context in which we pray and worship and in which we come to perceive God (with what the fathers describe as the “noetic” faculty). We pray and we listen and we think there is only silence. This itself is the secular perception. Everything around us and we ourselves exist, sustained by the voice of God. Their existence is the eloquence of His good will.
But what of miracles? If the whole world is a miracle, then what of those things that are commonly described as miracles? First, they do not belong to a separate category. That someone is instantaneously healed of a disease does not belong to a category of exception: it is a miracle among miracles that happen in a way such that we see the truth that might otherwise seem hidden. The danger in miracles for the modern mind is to think of them as exceptional. In doing so, we imagine the world as divided into the miraculous and the ordinary.
When we pray, if we expect the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), we will grow weary with the ordinariness of our experience. We imagine that we hear nothing, for we have already decided that the sound of the ordinary is nothing miraculous. I always caution inquirers and catechumens in the Church to be prepared to be bored. Though Orthodox services can be beautiful and profound, they are no more beautiful and profound than the world around us. The modern mind becomes bored by the so-called “ordinary,” because it has become accustomed to distractions that play to our passions. “Boredom” is what you get when you are not being entertained – it is a modern phenomenon.
Christianity does not begin as a discussion of the inner life. The Christian faith begins with the death and resurrection of Christ. That reality, which spans and unifies all things, is both present as a point in history with abundant testimony of eye witnesses, and as an eternal and ever-present moment that exists before all things and for which all things exist. Regardless of our subjective questions, the concrete reality of Christ’s death and resurrection remains.
Subjectivity itself, the world as we experience it inside our heads, is notoriously changeable and fails every test of reliability. It is the chimera of our existence, and can never be its foundation.
Years ago, when I was in college, I suffered a severe bout of depression. I was hospitalized for a week. After the hospital, I “white-knuckled” my way through the world and found a path back to sanity. One of those paths was to distrust my subjective experience. Nothing “sounded like fun” (that’s the nature of depression). But I reasoned that I needed to have fun and decided to treat fun as an objective activity. My now-wife and I began doing things that were the “kind of things people do for fun,” in an effort to teach my brain and body how to do something they had lost. It was very therapeutic.
It is a great joy when our inner and outer world agree. The tradition describes a pattern of life that strengthens “noetic” perception, and thus our awareness of communion with God. Largely, that pattern consists of the quieting of the passions and the acquisition of inner stillness. But this pattern, or its result, is simply a description of something within the spiritual life that is of value – it is not its basis or foundation.
To a great extent, modern skepticism presumes a world whose “ordinary” existence has nothing to do with the miraculous. Our existence and the providential character of the world are thus reduced to the random workings of chance. The world is inert and opaque and says nothing about God. As such, only the extraordinary, the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), can reveal God. It is a demand that God should agree to be a secular God, to reject His world as sacrament.
The Orthodox life is a consent to the world as sacrament, inasmuch as it is revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Christ. We do not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because we see the world as sacrament, but the other way around. It teaches us that the fullness of our existence reaches beneath the surface into the providence of God’s goodwill at work everywhere and in all things. That we “see” this is always a gift and a joy. It is also a difficult thing in a world whose self-explanation has been 500 years of unrelenting disenchantment and anti-sacramentalism.
Will wonders ever cease?
I have not written this post as a response to Simon’s earlier questions, but it represents a meditation as I have thought about the whole of our conversation.
Great post Father. Many of my Protestant friends essentially believe miracles are impossible (as much so as atheists!) even though they may not necessarily state it that way. They would never be able to even consider the possibility of many of the miracles that occur in Orthodoxy.
Although I see the Charismatic movement as problematic in many ways, I cannot help but wonder if their motivation (if it was a reaction against rigid cessationism) was correct?
If it was not a correct response, it was, at least, a predictable reaction.
Fr. Stephen, thank you so much for writing this article. It was pure comfort and joy to read. Good News, indeed! ♥ I can’t wait to share it with my kids.
In Lutheranism we were taught that the verse “in many and various ways God spoke to His people of old, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” was the scriptural proof for cessation.
How exciting it was to learn in my conversion to Orthodoxy of the imminence of God every day, everywhere!
Thank you, Father!
It seems to me that if one has encountered problems in this life and responded to them with prayer, then one must believe in miracles. We only need to look around each day to see the beauty of nature, a new-born baby, successful surgeries, an unexpected encounter, to know God has a hand in it! These might be the smaller miracles. Sometimes miracles are more dramatic to emphasize a stronger message from God or to get our attention to be ready and focused – to remain in prayer. Of course we learn to accept the more difficult times as our Cross and lesson, however again in prayer we remember the miracles that we were blessed with! Thankyou…..
As always, well written. Sir. I agree that this perspectivism of a dis-enchanted world also self informs the juridical view of religion as a ‘legal contract’. You barter ‘here’ to get hopefully get ‘there’. A radical born-again Church near my house is always passing around what seem to be an endless supply of neat little brochures saying ‘Are you Good enough to go to Heaven?’ It is filled with the predictable rounding out of legal speak as ‘salvation’. Their building is naturally the best place to receive the proper legal council after you find out how terrible you are.
I know a lot of these people from said church. Prior to their ‘coming to Jesus’, many were completely out of control and constantly getting into a variety of trouble. It is no wonder to me the brand they would seek out would have the strictest legal speak. Because of the dis enchantment and reductionism, a life of ‘stuff’ is relegated to a means of self control and contract ‘buy outs’. I find many of their ‘good deeds’ do not come from the heart. They come from a place of either showing off how ‘good’ they can be, or they are trying to lock down their ‘salvation’ through said actions. It’s a strange model that leads to strange interactions from people driven by the need to self validate they are the only ones doing it right (how can anyone self appoint authority to know that?). Just some thoughts and observations. God bless.
This is such a superb angle of approach to tongue-tie the incessant contrariness of our secular unbelief.
It is a sad state of affairs that this prevalent, non-sacramental worldview has been elevated to such a pedestal, that exposures of its delusion (such as this post), or less diplomatic ones than this post, are criticised as themselves laughably deluded by the secular “…common-sense” assumptions…
However, the latent pride lurking in such assumptions, though it remains well camouflaged, is a certainty.
I guess that this classic saying applies even here too:
Dino, you dont see the irony in your comments do you?
I reject the idea that there is a latent pride in the demand that profound claims should supply profound evidence. In a world of charlatans it would be foolish to do otherwise. That isn’t prideful. But, if you’re one of the charlatans…maybe you need people to question the value of reason and common sense.
Thank you Father again for putting words to the thoughts swirling in my minds and heart.
“We do not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because we see the world as sacrament, but the other way around.”
I will pray that I can really know this, with all of me, so that it is possible to live in Him.
Pray for me.
I love what you wrote above. Thank you for sharing that quote from St. Anthony the Great. It brought to mind this one from Fr. Alfred Delp:
“The course of the liturgical year and the message continues, and we keep on doing things–but not for the sake of custom and tradition. It comes from a sense of certitude about things and mankind and revelation–things that are fixed and valid in and of themselves. These give mankind the right to light candles and to believe in the light and brightness of existence.” ~Fr. Alfred Delp (†1945) was a German Jesuit priest condemned to death by the Nazis in Berlin, Germany.
Thank you again, Fr Stephen. This is a joy to read this weekend; ten years ago I attended my first Orthodox Liturgy, at St Seraphim’s in Santa Rosa. These things, and so much more, were rolling around in my heart then, and for some time before that. The Church has given me words with which to both understand and express.
This posting and Original Incompetency are very important to me right now. I’m grateful.
There’s an idea out there that the universe is just some kind of simulation. There are esoteric proofs as to why that might be, but in a way, they might be right for the wrong reason. The basic “particles” of everything are just relationships between quantum fields. There is nothing solid–no “there” there. The apostle was correct in that it seems that God really has made all that is seen from that which is unseen and science can’t really tell us why it all holds together, so “by the Word of God” is just as good an explanation as any.
An appealing thing about Reformed theology is that everything is tightly ordered. There is science, religion, secular, and spiritual. A place for everything and everything in its place. It’s like Newtonian physics. The problem with it is that it can only explain the inconsistencies by proposing an idea like cessationism and when it’s obvious something odd is going on, call it demonic deception or plead ignorance. As I move forward in Orthodoxy, I find that the “fuzziness” of it is more suited to the world as it is. While it has its absolutes, the Church is an organism, not a machine.
What seems so difficult to you (and to me I must admit) can be made extremely easy by yourself alone – but it is not to be demanded from outside. If that does ever come ‘from outside’ (like it did to young Saint Paisios if you read that comment on the previous post, due to his unbelievably good will [despite been apparently God-forsaken]) is another matter:
The demand that “profound claims should supply profound evidence” is a camouflaging of a pride of sorts (and a self-censoring of the good-will we have within us), not camouflaging from others though, but from our own poor soul itself, that adheres to such demands from God. Do not assume that those who vehemently refuse to adhere to it have not suffered apparent ‘Godforesakeness’ as greatly as those who do however… It is often quite the contrary.
There is certainly an internal decision to make the arbiter of truth, not “Truth Himself” (Who is outside of me) [and His witnesses], but my mind’s reasonings instead. There would be humility in choosing the first and pride in going with the second (our own mind/ego). This might be (almost sanctimoniously nowadays) called ‘common-sense’, but it is also a pride of sorts. It already has decided (as Father explains) that “only the extraordinary, the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), can reveal God. It is a demand that God should agree to be a secular God”.
As Father wrote, ‘if we expect the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), we will grow weary with the ordinariness of our experience. We imagine that we hear nothing, for we have already decided that the sound of the ordinary is nothing miraculous.’
I did not understand Christ at all until I encountered the lives and miracles of contemporary Orthodox saints who had clearly acquired the Holy Spirit. I cannot tell you what a thrill it was to discover – through the witness of these individuals – that there was much, much more to this life than empty vanities.
A Saint once said, “we are not to THINK much; we are to LOVE much!
I reject the idea that there is a latent pride in the demand that profound claims should supply profound evidence. In a world of charlatans it would be foolish to do otherwise.
Pride is what holds us to ourselves; it is a refusal to be foolish. As Father notes in the article, We do not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because we see the world as sacrament, but the other way around. You are asking to see the world as sacrament, for “profound evidence”, in order to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ. I understand the why of that; it is, as we like to think, common sense.
I recall someone who posted once what it would take for him to believe in God. He listed a number of “proofs” that had to be met in a long, long list of “If this is to happen, then it should show this”. In the end, he spoke only of how God could submit Himself to him; the very definition of pride, although I doubt he realized it.
I take heart that you are seeking and I pray that you continue to love in all you do. God is a good God and will not leave you.
Please forgive me if I have spoken out of turn. May God have mercy. Glory to God in All Things!
The person with the long list of proofs needed from God is still a child of God who has not received grace and maturity to see God as perhaps we/others do. Some may say he still has a veil over his conscience. What is truly needed for this person, is for others to pray for him – that he will receive the grace and enlightenment to encounter God in his life. God bless you…..
I wish such comments didn’t come out sounding as suffering from irony, but I take solace in the fact that if St Paul’s words sound as ironic as they do, perhaps irony is not such a bad thing, or at least its complete absence isn’t possible :
Simon, in all fairness, you are justified in flipping Dino’s magnifying sear back upon his own worldview. Yet, the point still remains that there are ‘”secular common-sense assumptions” just the same as any other worldview. As someone whom has made a serious dwelling in both theistic and atheistic camps, I think that an important distinction to notice here is that the former (generally) admits that his is a position of faith, the latter is delusional and accepts his own subjectivity as reliable (he has no other option I suppose).
Apologies if I completely misinterpreted the scope or main idea of your response to Dino.
Simon, the trouble with your approach, in my experience, is that many define as “evidence” specific things and refuse to see the evidence that is literally all around us all the time. Not to mention the unadorned lives of the modern saints. Or even the experience of many common and ordinary people we know and see frequently.
My wife is a walking, breathing medical miracle. There have been at least six or seven times in her life when doctors, looking at the objective facts, told her she would die soon, or should have died. But “chance” intervened each time and she has not yet died. All of these things started occuring after a man with beautiful brown eyes, sitting in a big golden chair came to comfort her as a five year old girl hiding from her abusive father. She did not see that man again for many years until she came with me to my parish and saw Him sitting above our altar.
The actual numerous encounters that occur to many people all the time ought to be enough “evidence” for anyone I would think. Still such evidence is often denied as the wrong type of evidence or no evidence at all.
Or the evidence that my father as a young man in the early 20th century out on the high plains of eastern New Mexico, seeing, sensing and experiencing the presence of a personal God everywhere uniting all things for life’s sake. He later became a medical doctor as an intial response to that experience after studying bacteriology and chemistry.
The list even that I know is almost endless. There is deep and profound evidence, it is just ignored, rejected or despised by modernity. Just like our Lord on the Cross was ignored, mocked and despised.
Not much has changed. But then, what do we who accept such evidence do with it? Forgive me for being lukewarm and trusting too much in the wisdom of this world.
The “good will” that is judged as foolishness is well prtrayed by Dostoyevsky here:
“I want to say to you, about myself, that I am a child of this age, a child of unfaith and scepticism, and probably (indeed I know it) shall remain so to the end of my life. How dreadfully has it tormented me (and torments me even now) this longing for faith, which is all the stronger for the proofs I have against it. And yet God gives me sometimes moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, and more perfect than the Saviour; I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more: If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.”
Thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen.
It reminds me of a favorite quotation from a mystery novel by Fr. Andrew Greeley OBM (Roman Catholic). His main character is, in this book, a bishop who has a talent for solving locked room mysteries…and for communicating how passionately in love God is with us. Anyway, the quotation I’m thinking of is at the end of The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germaine:
“Bishop Blackie, we are so blind and deaf. The world is transparent. God is everywhere whispering to us, talking to us, shouting at us. Usually we do not hear. Sometimes we do. Then we know that everything is grace.”
May his memory be eternal. And may we always remember that everything is grace.
Aren’t we forgetting something? The Apostle Thomas said, “Unless I see the print of the nails in His hands and the wound in His side, I will not believe.” Jesus later showed him those things and said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed.” Thomas was with Jesus for three years. He’d seen Jesus do all sorts of wonders, yet he still couldn’t believe Jesus had resurrected until he’d seen the physical–maybe the wrong word for it, now–evidence. None of us are going to minister with Christ in the flesh for three years, see Him raise the dead, cast out demons, heal the sick, and multiply bread and fish. Jesus cut Thomas a lot of slack considering, but His implication was that most people wouldn’t see Him in that way, yet be blessed for believing in what they did not see.
I’ve read of wonderworking monastics who saw their gifts and visions as grave dangers because of the pride they could engender. When it comes to “seeing is believing,” we should be careful what we wish for. We all want a spiritual experience to validate something for ourselves, but there’s great risk to us if we’re not prepared. Occultism is seeking for spiritual experience outside of the boundaries of Christianity and it destroys people. Certain denominations seek “Christian” spiritual experiences as a matter of practice, but they are outside of Orthodoxy, so they are out playing in traffic. We can’t be sure of what they’re getting and even if it’s good, they’re unprepared. I don’t approach Orthodoxy hoping to see these things as a primary objective. Seeing, smelling, and touching a myrrh-streaming relic or icon or seeing the Mother of God sounds great, but it can be bad for me if it becomes a thing of pride or a distraction from the normal practice of Orthodoxy. I’d love to win the Mega Millions next week, but that could be immensely destructive to me, as well. I’m going to keep doing my morning and evening prayers, try to remember to pray at mealtimes, go to Matins or Liturgy, and try to root out my own sins. Dull, mundane stuff. Signs and wonders aren’t up to me and I don’t want them if I’m not ready for them. The saints who have experienced those things generally have been free of their passions. Who of us is close to that? There’s a lot of repetitive work in Orthodoxy. Jesus used the analogy of putting your hand to the plow. What did that involve? Walking behind a donkey or an ox all day. The scenery isn’t so good and neither is the smell.
I always thought getting behind the plow meant we need to be tilling the soil – which again means working our souls to have them cultivated and polished too! Preparing and ready to meet God. 🙂
Dino – I might not be Orthodox but for Dostoyevsky. I have been thinking of returning to him again. I am an intellectual, so I am naturally inclined to view everything as an intellectual problem. But finding God is not an intellectual exercise. It is a matter of experience. And reading Dostoyevsky is, for me, a transformative experience. Great religious fiction (C.S. Lewis also comes to mind), like a great icon, allows us to participate in the Truth, as opposed to merely hearing about it.
Kevin – Thomas is my favorite apostle, because I am just like him. In the same way, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Is one of my favorite verses.
Dino, JWs have a saying “Even if this isn’t the Truth this is still the best way of life!” And that is what your Dostoevsky quote is saying. I am not comfortable when our loyalties and beliefs trump truth. To be frank if I find myself wanting to believe something…I almost compulsively begin looking for reasons not to believe it.
When I found out Dostoevsky was Russian Orthodox I thought that was surely the final nail in my metaphorical conversion coffin. I have to admit Dostoevsky understands the human condition.
Outstanding article, as usual, which is why you’re one of my regular reads. I’m not entirely understanding what you mean by, “the world is mute.” Can you explain that one?
I remember the exact moment and place when you told us that church would be boring. I thought it odd and a bit off putting, but in context it is the truth of this miraculous life. Miracles that are hidden in the every day are beginning to show themselves to me in a very special way. I am thick headed and tainted by my years searching for the extravagant miracles that I forgot to note the smile of a child, the predictability of the seasons, the beauty of a greeting from a friend. I am learning that in the Divine Liturgy that the miracles are highlighted in the the rather ordinary acts of the both the people and the clergy. I have never counted the “Lord Have Mercies” on a given Sunday, but each Sunday it seems a different one grabs my heart and draws me to a sincere place of prayer. Ordinary but miraculous is the Epiclesis. Ordinary but miraculous are the readings. “Ordinary but miraculous” didn’t bring me to Orthodoxy, but it surely keeps me here.
Thank you Father for teaching me to pay attention to the mundane miracles. I forget often, but perhaps I am learning.
A Saint once said, “God can be found in the pots and pans of the kitchen!” 🙂
I appreciate Kevin’s words. I am reminded of several verses. In the letter of first John “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” If the things that are seen with the eyes and heard with the ears and touched by the hands aren’t important, then why does the apostle refer to these very things as a means of grounding his authority. He is clearly saying that unlike others who presume to know what they are talking about, he knows because he was there and saw the Teacher and learned what he knows from the Teacher himself. And in first Corinthians “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” That sounds exactly like the opposite of what I have heard. The very reason that signs accompany preaching is so that a person’s faith is not in the preaching and wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
Kevin, you are correct. But it also incumbent upon us to recognize God’s Providential hand in all things. The mind of the world constantly drums into us just the opposite. Indeed the ultimate message is that destruction and power and personal control are the way.
Nietzsche saw it clearly the vast difference between the Will to Power and the death and Ressurection of Jesus Christ are wholly incompatible.
To live in God’s Providence requires that we increase our awareness of it operating in all aspects of life while realizing that we deserve none of it. Still He gives and gives and gives–everything, to the just and unjust, the good and the evil whether we believe or not. Otherwise there would be nothing.
Deear Father Freeman, what you said about doing fun things with your wife when you were depressed to teach your body and mind reminded me of a video I just watched about the plasticity of the brain. It seems you can heal and even grow your brain by what you think and say and do.
Most churches I’ve been to are all about the sermon. Evangelicalism has no liturgy, so it has to be all about the preaching. The music, too. If the band stinks, people won’t stay. If the pastor doesn’t motivate, people won’t stay. There is little spiritual there. To them, icons, vestments, chants, incense, and prostrations are just non-essential trappings that distract from the preaching of the Word of God. Those things aren’t really distractions, though. They are cues for our spiritual attention. It’s as easy for the mind to wander during Matins as it is during a sermon, but the difference is that we’re already in a spiritual environment. The cues are right there to bring us back. In First Whatever Wherever, you’re just sitting there, maybe checking your phone. It’s hard to track a 30-45-60 minute sermon where the pastor is bouncing around the Bible and flashing charts and whatnot. Orthodoxy isn’t like that. Good preaching could take five minutes if it cuts right to the essence of what we need to know. How long is Chrysostom’s Paschal sermon? Like five minutes, right? Most Protestant pastors would save up a real stemwinder for Easter Sunday because that’s like the Superbowl.
Now, why don’t we see signs of power associated with Orthodox worship? It did happen in the early centuries, but it came at the price of persecution and martyrdom. It has happened where Orthodoxy is breaking into new territory or is under persecution. In “Orthodox countries” and in America, the lack of such signs of power are probably a symptom of spiritual malaise and disorder. Where Orthodoxy is cultural, it’s kind of like the prophet that gets no honor in his own country. There is also no need for signs because the gospel has been preached, believed, and then neglected. “You have Moses and the Prophets,” Jesus said. The 20th century was a bad time for Orthodoxy and in America, it left a lot of jurisdictional confusion and ethnocentrism. My impression is that for much of the 20th century in America, Orthodoxy was more Greek, Arab, Russian, and Serbian than anything else and many churches didn’t see the ripe fields right in front of them and didn’t change their focus from ethnic ministry to evangelism in time to answer a culture in flux in the middle of the century.
Would signs still be appropriate in America, though? I see that there have been miraculous icons, but I’d never heard of them before encountering Orthodoxy. Were those things for the faithful, or were they meant for everyone? I don’t know. Anyone who claims to find an image of Mary on a piece of toast is on TV in a nanosecond, but we never hear of a weeping icon. Orthodoxy has discretion, at least, even if it might be too much. That’s a delicate issue, though. There’s not much piety in America, but there’s a lot of nosiness. If you start waving around weeping icons, you’ll get a few pilgrims and a lot of idle curiosity. A certain level of faith is probably required in a culture for God to use signs. Pagans didn’t believe in Christ, but they were “devout” pagans and certainly understood signs. In the modern world, we’re conditioned to see it all as a trick or as something simply paranormal without any deeper spiritual meaning. I’m not sure what sort of signage Americans would even understand. Seventeen years ago, we watched thousands of fellow Americans die and a great landmark crash to the ground on live TV. Seven years later, our economic hubris almost crashed the global economy. Nothing much has changed and we are still closer to a societal unraveling today than ever. So, this generation seeks a sign? I’d rather not contemplate what the response could be.
Alleluia: Now is a miracle. Yesterday is a miracle. Tomorrow is a miracle. Always, and eternally is a miracle.
Thanks for this article,Fr. Freeman. This secular mindset has infected me all my life. As a Catachumen, I’m having to have my mind and my whole life reset. Please pray that God’s grace will be there for me. Thanks again, and God bless.
Interesting when you used the word “infected” – the secular world is very infected for sure and spreading more and more rapidly each day. We have to take steps to protect our souls and our families/friends through proper worship, sacraments, and prayer. When I experience the Divine Liturgy, all I can think of is how Jesus and the Apostles left this for us – not all that changed and came after. The Divine Liturgy has the mysticism that is missing in other denominations and once one experiences that, they never return to the watered-down empty way. It needs to be experienced but also the history has to be learned and understood to know and appreciate the roots, Tradition and Truth. Thankyou!
Kevin all good points brother. I think I agree with you on almost all counts.
The continual criticism. There is way more heresy, delusion and outright ignorance in the domain of religion than there is truth. So as far as I am concerned secular is and should be the default expectation. Secular people can love and appreciate beauty and even be profoundly affected by awe. But that doesn’t mean Zeus makes lightning. If religion wasn’t so utterly disappointing, if it wasnt responsible for so much ignorance and violence….then we wouldn’t have a secular society. Secularism is what results when rational people realize that religion has failed to deliver truth and peace. So Im a secular person and that’s a intelligent place to….which in not something I can say for hundreds of millions of people in religion. And mind you I was not always secular.
At the time I was desperate…and the approach seemed sensible. My plastic brain!
When I read Dostoevsky’s statement – it seems very “Russian” to me (rather than necessarily Orthodox). It is the statement of his soul – that there is something greater than reason, per se. It is, by no means, a rule of thumb or an Orthodox principle.
I think of a similar thing when Puddleglum, the Marsh Wiggle in one of Lewis’ Narnia books, uses much the same effort to break free of a spell cast by the White Witch. Normally, intuition and the deeper things of the heart are not so evident that we would ever use them to drive a car or do our daily stuff (or just going about the daily task of believing in God). But, there can arise situations where they are allowed triumph because their certainty is even stronger than reason…and, in such situations they most often seem to be correct.
My phrase for this is being “authentic.” There are choices and decisions I have made in my life in which the decisions was prior to, and greater than reason. Reason often works best for reflection. But there’s nothing that we can use as a general rule of thumb. So, we try to live authentically.
I meant that, from the secular perspective, the world does not speak. From within the faith and the life of providence, it shouts.
In today’s Gospel reading ( new calendar ) the parable of the sower provides a unique insight on the word of God, as a seed that has been dropped everywhere. This helped me understand the difference between Orthodoxy and religion.
Orthodoxy is the word of our Lord Jesus Christ falling into good soil and producing hundredfold. In my view the only reason anyone would be a Christian is because they trust and accept the word of Christ. Seeing Christ or experiencing miracles are not sufficient to make anyone accept Him ( many if His contemporaries did not accept Him ). Once inside the Church through baptism, a lifelong process of spiritual progress becomes possible, aiming to heal us and help us attain the likeness of Christ.
In religion, the sower is man, not God. I cannot help thinking that the devil is behind every man who sows seeds that are of their own word and not of God’s word. It started with Adam and Eve and continues to present day. This is why religion divides humanity and is the source of much suffering. Christianity has also suffered a lot from heretical views, the word of men who did not follow Christ.
By the prayers of the Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council (celebrated today), may the Lord protect us from religion and any type of false belief.
My former delusion pointed to Luke 16:31 as support for the end of miraculous events. “Scripture is all we need,” they would say.
I, having been a Reformed Christian for many years, was never that bothered by cessationism – but now I see it as a byproduct of Sola Scriptura. If there was a miracle, it would be a new form of revelation, which could be consider on par with Scripture. The miraculous for the Reformed was only given as evidence of Jesus’ divinity and of the Apostle’s teaching which needed no further affirmation after the Canon. This is how they often treat the Resurrection and when combined with Penal Substitution, the Resurrection can be de-emphasized with only the death of Christ having soteriological significance for the most part.
Just as determintal, to me, as a denail of the miraculous, is the denial of the work of Satan. Where are the exorcisms in Protestantism? The demonic was also seen as confirmation of the identity of the Messiah, of the Apostolic authority, and Satan takes a backseat.
But all of this flows from their soteriology. Really there is no need for the miraculous, for exorcism, when your real need is a legal declaration of righteous due to Total Depravity. This is why I constantly try and emphasize in my posts and conversations with other Orthodox that the root of all of the Protestant-Orthodox confusion on the Protestant side is Original Sin.
If Original Sin sets up the need for monergism, and it does whether synergism is affirmed here or there or not, then imaginatively you can razor off the unncessary; miracles, Satan, works, saints, etc…
Thank you Father for this excellent post!
I have been cautioned my whole life against spiritual delusion. First as a denominational Christian, regarding denominationally prescribed facts; than as I was exploring God, cautions of ontological delusion.
My take as I grow has become that by their fruits, you shall know them.
I don’t question delusions that bring me comfort in sadness, or those that push me to connect with others. Ones that convict me to repent when I do harm. I look to others who demonstrate the peace that I want, the Jerry Falwells, and the Jim and Tammy Fae Bakers of the world don’t demonstrate that peace; Fr Paisios did. The fruits of the Spirit are my guide, and I test them. In my mind, Satan gets no credit for them, and I ask myself what he might have to gain from them.
What I do know is that the biggest spiritual delusion I feel I face, and share with others, is the belief that I live in a dead world. A world subject to the deistic notion of a clockwork mechanism, left on its own to wind itself down. The whole of progress is aimed at forestalling that inevitable entropy. It’s the compelling spirit of our age, and the most powerful delusion I face. Until I break free from that delusion. I don’t worry much about the other stuff.
I do not think that believing in miracles means becoming superstitious, but it should make us less skeptical. We had in our former church, the son of an older couple who had stage 4 cancer (I don’t remember what type but it was untreatable) and after prayer was fully healed. We, like Father has said, suffer from dividing the world into supernatural and natural. Miracles are therfore regarded as outside the normal Newtonian way of things, God breaking his own laws of nature, etc. But if the entire world is sacrament, the entire world a Narnia, then whle there is every reason to be skeptical because of dishonesty, we should be able to be more open and less-critical of “miraculous” since the “miraculous” is in other another sense the ordinary.
I would recommend a 2 Volume set by Craig Keener, Miracles.
Also, none of this takes anything away from the fact that Jesus appealed to his own miracles as proof of who he was, or that the Resurrection is the reason to believe Jesus is the Messiah. It just means that is not the only function of miracles.
Last, I was expecially glad to find out some time ago, that Orthodox perform exorcisms over weeping icons and the like so be sure it is not a deception. So, the skepticism on the Orthodox part seems to be who’s behind a miracle where we have (speaking for myself) have trouble believing in miracles in general. You know the Jews never said that Jesus hadn’t performed miracles but that they were done by the power of Satan. G.K. Chesteron entertained the idea that maybe every sunrise God was saying, “Do it again.” If you’ve never read Orthodoxy by Chesterton, it is wonderfully refreshing.
God bless you,
You asked for arguments based upon reason and common sense. Therefore I shall appeal to logic, mathematics and science.
Firstly, logic. All of our experience reveals that our everyday reality consists of contingent, conditioned events. In short, everything depends on something else for its existence. For example, all of life on this planet depends upon the continuing existence of the esrth’s atmodphere. Without the presence of the atmosphere exerting pressure of approximately 15 pounds per square inch and providing us with oxygen and plants with CO2 all life on the earth would cease to be in a matter of moments.
But the atmosphere itself is a contingent conditioned reality, which depends for its existence upon the presence of nitrogen and oxygen molecules, which are themselves contingent, depending for their existence upon atoms, subatomic particles, quantum fields and undoubtedly a grand unified field that physicists are now looking for.
But every single one of the preceding realities is itself conditioned, depending for its continuing existence upon something else. But there cannot be an infinite regress of contingent, conditioned realities. One must admit that either the first contingent reality arises from nothing for no reason or that it is caused by an unconditioned necessary Reality, which everyone calls God. The former option is as absurd today as it was in the days of Parmenides and Heraclitus; Aristotle and Aquinas. Therefore there necessarily exists an uncondioned reality which constantly creates and sustains the reality thst we dwell in.
He is ipsum esse subsistens, the pure Act of existence as such. For a much more airtight pithy statement of the foregoing argument, please see the Summa Theologiae First Part, Q. 2 or 3, especially Aquinas’s Second and Third Wsys.
Sorry this post is already too long and I have covered only arguments based upon logic and metaphysics. Math and science must be addressed in a subsequent post.
When my son was finally diagnosed with pyloric stenosis, he was three months old and below birth weight. The medical personnel didn’t recognize the symptoms because he was breastfed (unheard of almost at that time and therefore I was accused as a ‘radical’ mother who was starving her child) and because their medical books said that the physical manifestation should be about the size of a walnut. Only because I stood in the doctor’s office and ‘demanded’ that my son be admitted into the hospital or that I be taken out of the office in a straight jacket (I was ready for that) did they admit him (perhaps just to get rid of me).
The radiologist in the ER said the barium swallow went no further than my son’s clavicle level in his esophagus and insisted that a surgeon see him. The surgeon saw him but the palpitation revealed nothing and I was told that it was probably nothing and that I might have to finally take responsibility for his deteriorating condition. My hopes lied in what the radiologist privately told me, and I promised him I would tell no one else, since my son was about to be operated on and that they would likely find out what had gone wrong.
He had the operation. They gave him no anesthetic because the medical field had proof that infants his age didn’t have a mature nervous system to perceive pain. One of the nurses told me screamed incessantly during the operation. I was told afterward what they did to him.
They found the pyloric stenosis. It was the size of a grapefruit, not a walnut. Then I was told I was such a good mom for keeping him alive when just hours before I was told how bad a mom I was.
I offer my opinion, for what it’s worth (nothing really ) now based not only on this experience but many years of work and study in the discipline of science. It is only when science, and the medical field that is dependent upon it, is treated as a ‘canon’ ie as a religion, that things go wrong. Of course that’s just part of my ‘hoary hypothesis’ ie opinion.
His survival seemed to me to be a miracle. But I wasn’t a believer in Christ, just a believer in God the creator, at the time. I didn’t need to go around trying to convince others that there are such things as miracles. Nor did I perceive myself to be something special (ie blessed) I just accepted it and moved on. But it was experiences such as this that kept me privately aware and grateful.
As always I’m grateful for your articles, Fr Stephen. This one in particular sheds a little more light on why I always regret when I tell stories such as this one. For most it’s only a story, perhaps something to be ‘consumed’ and nothing more. It seems that I waste my breath. Last, I ask for your prayers. I’m short on patience, lately. I’ve been in ‘teacher’ mode lately, and have been asked to conduct work this modality in my personal life. Sometimes I take that too seriously.
Lest I be misunderstood, treating science as a religion isn’t the only bad thing that we do but that among the things we do in science, treating it as a religion leads to much error.
Also, realizing the context of my submission, I believe it’s necessary to say that I’m not referring or responding to previous comments in this thread either. I sincerely appreciate all commentators’ words.
I just finished reading “A Man Is His Faith” by Fr. Alexey Young. It’s short and to the point. Simon may find it useful. The second half deals with the Orthodox mindset and its vast difference from Western philosophy. All of us, I presume, are products of modern philosophy even if we don’t realize it. We’ve grown up in “The Matrix.” Orthodoxy is the red pill…or was it the blue one?…my memory of the movie has faded. Learning the truth isn’t the end of the war. It’s just the beginning.
Thank you Father Stephen for sharing your meditations with us. What you say here blesses the soul. I am grateful for the hope you give in a seemingly hopeless world. What I have gathered after some reflection is that the eye that sees the world as sacrament (sacred space) is able to do so because it comprehends the significance Christ’s death and resurrection. (I recall Fr. Schmemann writing about the sacred and profane) And in that it knows the world as sacred, that is, redeemed, sees redeemed creation in Christ as death conquered and all things granted new life, miraculous. Thus, miracles are not looked upon as anomalies…a sacred act in a profane world, but are expected in a world redeemed by the crucified and risen Christ.
I would add that miracles (weeping icons, healings) are also given for us to know God as Love – acts of grace and mercy (uncreated energies) as He reveals Himself to us, in His love for mankind, not only to give Him praise, but that all who see would believe.
Dear Father, What influenced the Protestant reformers? Did they also study Classical Philosophy and tend toward Stoic thinkers rather than Platonists? I am supposing they had the normal education of their times!
It’s a question with a very complex answer. Both Luther and Calvin were trained in Medieval Scholastic thought. They were not particular philosophically trained in any of the schools. To a large extent, they would best be described as “Nominalists” – which was gaining strength at the time.
Luther’s work would have disappeared, most likely, has the timing been different. It was the sponsorship of a political power that gave him and audience and protection to do his work. The Reformation was at least as much about politics as it was about belief. It was the greatest political revolution, I think, of almost any time – giving birth to the modern world. Almost all of its effects were unintended.
I recommend the book The Unintended Reformation for a good, thorough, historical analysis of the Reformation.
Thank you, Father Freeman, for the reflections on miracles in your post. And since Dostoevski has already been quoted, here is what he, the author, says at the beginning of his last novel:
“… it seems to me that Alyosha was even more a realist than the rest of us. Oh, of course, in the monastery he believed absolutely in miracles, but in my opinion miracles will never confound a realist. It is not miracles that bring a realist to faith. A true realist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him. In the realist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith…”
The contrast between brothers in the novel is that both Ivan and Alyosha are realists. And while Ivan’s agony as a non-believer is more dramatic, it seems to me it is Alyosha’s path through that same agony that is more affirming, more applicable to our own modern day struggles. Because he succeeds, not from his own effort but by the gift of Grushenka’s onion – the most unlikely place to find grace in the context of the novel.
“Do you see this woman?”
Thank you Father for this well needed article. It seems as though cessationism contradicts itself to the degree of ignoring the commandments found in the New Testament Scriptures. For example we are commanded to go to the elders of the Church to pray over us and anoint us with oil if we are sick How can one reconcile their belief in the philosophy and heresy of cessationism after reading instructions from the scriptures, which would quite clearly have to be ignored.
Or how about when Paul encourages us to ask for the spiritual gifts? and by this I mean in the Orthodox Tradition. With cessationism this would be in vain, or would they argue it doesn’t apply to us today.
So with the philosophy of cessationism, there is the Ceasing of miracles; No commandments to follow; No grace, and in the end no God! It is the willful action in refusing to see and experience God’s grace at work through His people. Sounds like spiritual blindness par excellence.
Miracles have not ceased, neither through the Saints and recent elders and even faithful lay people. Our Holy Elder Sophrony of Essex was told he didn’t have long to live, and even though he had his stomach removed because of cancer he didn’t die till he was 97! (1896 to 1993) and many had been healed even when he was still alive on earth. The amazing thing was that even though his stomach was surgically removed, over time he had grown another, albeit a smaller one. Isn’t that incredible!
Seeing God’s providence in the sense of: wilfully shifting our focus away from wanting to be forcefully “hit by it in the face” in order to see it, towards trying to do ourselves what is in our power to see it, is not some delusion, but the genuine good-willed thankfulness that makes a saint of man in seconds. The acceptance of our powerlessness combined with gratefulness for all that God allows, is a jump from hell to paradise.
God will always be doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In AA they say if a recovering alcoholic grabs a bottle of booze that’s open and puts it up to his mouth defying God and men and all, God is so powerful and so unwavering in His unconditional love towards us that He clearly can knock that bottle right out, but statistically His providence doesn’t do it so obviously. What would addicts need the 12 Step programme for if God were going to do it all?
Let’s put it another way. Have you heard of ‘the bread of shame’? What’s the bread of shame? It’s kind of an unusual expression. Well, picture this story I came across. A young kid is on a baseball team, junior league, and he is hitting a home run with every single pitch. Every pitch! He knocks that ball right out of the field. The crowd is cheering. He wins the game for them! They lift him up. They carry him around. The crowd is cheering and he feels so wonderful. And then the next day, he finds that his father paid the pitcher to send him only good pitches and he paid the crowd to cheer, absolutely everything was rigged in his favour, and he goes into depression and shame. So, if God did all this for us, which He easily can (there is nothing else but God), then this would be the result.
God’s greatest individualised gift to us is this odd combo of our free-will with His providence. This way, when we’re eventually saved – by Him, yet with our small input too (which is choosing to allow God’s will to pass through us) – we experience this salvation, with this odd combo of ownership and utter humility.
I think the pitcher story is a helpful story, Dino. Thank you for that.
Yesterday at Coffee Hour after the Divine Liturgy I was, well, trying to socialize with some other 20somethings. I didn’t feel much connection unfortunately…In my old graceless I would have simply written these people off as not intentionally spiritual enough, or else we would have hit it off immediately. That’s an easy tangent. One of them remarked that while she has a severe gluten allergy, the weekly reception of the Eucharist never gives her any problems. I felt awe. What more does this traveller need to hold fast to regarding the Grace in the Church’s Mysteries, then a personal anecdote such as that? Humility! Wonders never cease.
Following up my previous post, it is interesting to observe that most of the Fathers and Scholastic Philosophers did not see any conflict between reason and faith, science and religion.
That confidence is amply justified. For example, contemporary physics confirms the patriotic bejiel that both the world and time itself have an absolute beginning. Three current scientific theories confirm the aforementioned belief.
Firstly, the Borde Vilenkin Guth theory holds that in any universe where the rate of expansion is greater then zero, there must exist a point at which everything began. Most contemporary cosmologists think that the beginning of everything was the Big Bang singularity, which occurred about 13.5 billion years ago. At the Big Bang singularity the laws of physics break down and the curvature of spacetime becomes infinite, which means that it does not make any sense to ask what happened prior to the Big Bang. Only a transcendent cause is a sufficient explanation of what set the Big Bang in motion.
Secondly, it is an observable fact that we live in a universe with extremely low entropy. Indeed, if the amount of disorder/entropy were greater, than galaxies, stars, plannets.and complex living organisms could not exist. The second law of thermodynamics states that the amount of entropy in our universe increases with the passage of time. So if one assumes that past time is infinite, than the universe would have reached a state of maximal entropy long ago. Meaning the current universe as we know it would have ceased to be long ago and therefore we would not be here either. Thus, the assumption that past time is infinite is obviously incorrect. Contrary to Aristotle’s belief, the world is not eternal, indeed contemporary physics shows that it cannot be.
Third and finally, it is also an observable fact that certain universal constants, like the value of the gravitational constant or the mass of a proton are finely tuned to support the existence of the current universe with its diverse galaxies, stars, plannets and intelligent life. If the value of the gravitational constant decreased even by a small amount, then galaxies, stars, etc. would not exist. Similarly, if the mass of a proton was slightly greater, than atoms/matter as we know it could not exist. This strongly suggests that the value of such universal constants was intentionally determined by an intelligent designer Who willed the universe to be in the form in which we find it. By the way, the odds that the constants just happened to randomly assume the values needed to support a universe hospitable to life are infinitesimal: something like 1 divided by 10 to the 23rd raised to 10 to the 23rd.
Just a note: the idea of a singularity before the “Big Bang” has disappeared in favor of “cosmic inflation” from a small, but definite, initial state to a state where matter and energy condense out, for lack of a better term, of the inflating universe. The analogy of the universe exploding into existence from a single point is outdated. If you think about it, a singularity has no volume. Nothing can come from zero, so there must be an initial volume. Practically, it’s the same, though. The state before “inflation” may remain unknowable.
Thanks Kevin interesting perspective. What the Stanford group has been doing of late involved singularity and I heard they got pushback.
I hope this isn’t too far off the target of Fr Stephen’s article, but since John and Kevin mention it, I have copied a link to a discussion for general lay public reading, put out by Stanford U. The article describes how distasteful it is for some physicists to find that some of our best theories of our universe’s origins take into consideration the anthropic principle. And it is interesting to note how a theory seems suspect because it appears to support the anthropic explanation. One description of this explanation is that of all universes that might be possible, the one we’re in just happens to have laws that support life capable of reflecting upon itself.
The very fact that this is simply the way things are is how most of us might think–not giving it more thought than that. But for scientists (physicists specifically) who want to describe the universe in the form of equations, taking account of the existence of life does put a monkey wrench into the works, so to speak. All that I’m doing by bringing this into the blog is to give a kind of bird’s eye view of what entanglements scientists get into when they want to avoid topics or theories that might be construed to resemble ‘intelligent design’.
Theories such as Landscape Theory, undergo heavy debate not just about the data (or the lack of it) itself, but what for it might suggest (ie intelligent design). And some theories (even while they appear to be supportive of an anthropic explanation) do not have corroborating evidence but are taken seriously (ie not treated as mere speculation) because of the explanatory power they offer. I’m saying all of this because I have had conversations here in this blog prior to this particular comment stream to suggest that when I do certain kinds of work in science (physical chemistry) that is not deductive but more inductive in nature, it’s taken as though I have stopped doing science altogether, as though I’m inventing some sort of fantasy. Such a response is somewhat insulting, but more than that, such a perspective doesn’t seem to have been introduced to the practice of science itself.
I’ll repeat what I’ve said in the past (several times now), science revealed the icon of Christ’s resurrection in nature to me. For that reason, among others, I have a great appreciation for Fr Stephen’s writings about modernism and its effects on our thinking about God and on our thinking about reality. Due to the historical impact of the Reformation that Fr Stephen describes, such an observation (of Christ’s icon in nature) seems far-fetched and contrived for some people in this society. Concomitant with that observation (that I’m living in a fantasy) is the assumption that science must be very circumscribed by very tight parameters of praxis. To some extent it is circumscribed by very tight parameters in the deductive modality. But the reality of doing science is simply not that alone. There’s actually a lot more to it than that.
For those interested here is the link:
I will also mention that I’m not responding to what John or Kevin have written specifically, but their comments have stimulated a memory of earlier conversations.
Fr Stephen, I’m thick-headed.
Your response to my question:
I meant that, from the secular perspective, the world does not speak. From within the faith and the life of providence, it shouts.”
Do you mean that the secular world cannot hear the shouts of the world, and that the faithful can?
Yes. Indeed. You’re not thick-headed – I’m just writing very thinly. 🙂
Andrew in BG – I have gluten intolerance also and take Holy Communion with no ill effects whatsoever. When I first considered becoming Orthodox, this was a huge concern of mine. My parish priest told me that the Church teaches that the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ and that NOTHING detrimental could ever come from partaking of the Holy Mysteries. He also told me that there were several other members of this parish who had celiac and took Holy Communion with no ill effects. I spoke with them and they shared their experiences with me. Several of them were eldlerly and several of them were children. None of them eat the prosphora or blessed bread. The mother of two of the children was blessed by our priest to make gluten-free prosphora for her children so they would not feel left out. I have been taking Holy Communion now for 13 years without ever experiencing any of the symptoms associated with my intolerance to gluten (terrible rash among other things). And yes, it has significantly increased my faith in Christ and the Truth of Who He is.
I cant help thinking that jokingly belittling “flying monks” and the like has quite a few scriptural testaments to the contrary
Philip in acts comes to mind.
” When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. “
That scripture doesnt say that Philip flew.
Thank you. I think I have always believed what you have written as truth but have been taught otherwise. What a joy to read this article! “There is only miracle”! Amen!
I would recommend the following 2 books to you; The Experience ofFod by DavidBentley Hart andNew Prrofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer, SJ. They are far better than I at responding to arguments raised by New Atheists and Secularists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Plus there are no typos;I apologize for the ones in my posts.
The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart and New Proofs for the Existence of God by Robert Spitzer, SJ.
That last post was particularly ugly. Definitely should not write during the morning commute on a small iPhone.
I am glad you provided that link. After the comments above regarding those particular theories, I wondered, in my mind, what is the purpose of all this knowledge. It is an innocent question, and asked in ignorance, coming from one who has no bent whatsoever in what I call the “hard sciences”. I believe it has a purpose, and trust it is a worthy one. So I look to learn, to the best of my ability. I have even read articles in the past about the theories mentioned in the link.
One of the thoughts I come away after reading the Sanford article is this: those scientists who are convinced that unseen energies which, for example, take the form of “strings” or do not even have form, i.e. a graviton really do exist, wouldn’t have to take too far of a leap to believe in miracles, nonetheless the existence of an Intelligent Designer. Again, I ask ignorantly….if it were as like you and Susskind say, that all the results point to intelligent design, are others who continually reject such a thing afraid their work will come to and end, or drastically change?
Thanks again Dee for your input. I appreciate your honesty.
Paula, Dee, et al,
I think that the more we read and understand the present serious discussions regarding cosmology (how things began and what they really are) the clearer it seems to me that the split between natural and supernatural or between normal and miracle are quite artificial, have no basis in reality and are an outmoded way of thinking about the world. And they are bad theology. 🙂
An interesting article that has something to say about Christian apologetics (also addresses some points Father made in his reflections):
Father…your comment above…I’d have to agree!
Thank you Paula for your good question. The reasons that scientists reject a theory because of its appearance to have an anthropic explanation, will likely vary with each scientist who reject a theory on that principle. When science is narrowly defined by a scientist, their own reasons for making such a definition so narrow (in contrast to what actually happens) is likely related to their desire to constrain their own and other’s practice of it. Or at the very least, to imagine that is all that is done by their definition, keeps it from being co-opted by interests and philosophies other than their own. But the narrow definition actually doesn’t operationally ‘protect’ the practice. It is done in the way that it is done for a host of reasons, including those that are honestly looking for a reasonably good explanation. Politics plays a part in the findings of science these days among other influences. In this latter situation I encourage the reading of Nature Journal, which has a wide (cross political boundaries) editorial board and peer review, before other journals which might be more easily influenced by local politics.
But in the end, I believe Fr Stephen’s description of the influence of modernity on the society at large, offers an explanation on why society itself and their scientists (physicists in this case) are uncomfortable with the anthropic explanation-leaning theories.
Thank you, Paula, for your interest in my comment!
I just saw your comment Fr Stephen, and yes, indeed.
Thanks so much Dee. You understood well my question where I sensed a “protection of the practice”. I appreciate your helpful response.
Thank you so much. You don’t “write thinly.” Your articles are always very clear and cogent. I’m just starting to get my senior brain is all.
At age 64, my brain is getting on with age, more wrinkles!
I’m only 55 and already walk like Fred Sanford. I don’t know if I’m pushing 60 or dragging 50. lol
Father Stephen et ominia –
I had been thinking a great deal about “common sense” and what it entails. My wife is from South America and it is common-sense for her not to serve the family foods that are incompatible; “hot” foods such as milk and cheese do not square with “cold” foods like fish or spinach. I learned this after making the whole family ill with a spinach souffle that, according to her, was prepared improperly owing to my gringo ignorance of the qualities of the ingredients involved. I have learned at least not to discount her concerns simply because I don’t understand them.
Her father has kept a diagnosis of prostate cancer at bay for 20 years by self-treating himself with a regimen of ‘cold’ Amazonian herbs and plants that I find dizzying, but which is common sense to him. He also does not ignore his American doctor’s advice to avoid meats and dairy, even though, like me, he doesn’t understand why it’s bad for him.
I guess “common sense” is part of the noia which we are supposed to meta
This topic is relevant to me at a fairly basic level, and speaks directly to the spiritual delusions I mentioned earlier. It is frequently assumed that I have not fully converted to the Orthodox Church because of my family.
That is not true.
When I visit the Church, and see the communicants venerate the icons, I have read and recognize the importance of what they do. That the worshipers are experiencing something is obvious, I believe that they experience a connection to another transcendent reality vital to their life and the life of the Church. Yet, growing up as I did, with the circumscribed God that I did, believing the things that I have, this is still something I cannot do. A part of me is still suspicious of giving myself over to this reality that frankly seems almost to good to be true.
Having lived with very “human” Gods who feel pride, anger, and indignation. I still feel as though I am an Other, something separate. Therefore, when I speak of my experiences, I speak of my inability to fully commit to the transcendent God that I want to believe exists within Orthodoxy.
I apologize I don’t remember whether you mentioned you’ve converted. But I think that it does take time, almost like being in a foreign country, to become accustomed to the ways of Orthodox worship and life ways. It’s somewhat funny to myself now, but when I first saw parishioners kissing the hand of the priest, I was absolutely certain I would never do that, nor kiss icons for that matter. My heart changed in the matter, but I really don’t know how it changed, as I’m not really inclined to do what others do, just to become ‘one of the pack’ so to speak.
But I am shy about kissing the priest’s hand in front of others who are not Orthodox. I find that curious and interesting too.
I’m not sure why someone would think you’re not Orthodox because of your family. Are you saying simply that you’re not ‘cradle’ Orthodox? If so then I get what you’re saying, I believe.
Also I can relate to what you’re saying in the last paragraph. Sometimes I struggle with the Old Testament stories because of the language used to describe God. That language is heavily imbued with a Protestant culture’s meaning. I hope I’m not sounding critical but I’m referring to our culture at large which has been heavily influenced by the (unintended) effects of the Reformation. I find I have to work to extract my brain from it, and I’m aware that I’m not always successful with that effort, either.
May God bless you Matthew and bring you peace.
The god of the OT is not a god anyone ought to worship. He is cruel and vindictive. The OC has a history of acknowledging that if the OT stories were intended top be taken literally then we should be offended. Now I believe that these stories were taken literally for hundreds of years–maybe as many as 1500 – 2000 years. The Church believes that not only can the OT be read allegorically, but it should be read allegorically. So, it isn’t just a Protestant reading of the OT that makes it offensive. That isn’t fair. In my opinion, when the OT is taken literally the god of the OT is indistinguishable from the devil. When read allegorically, or as they say noetically, the OT reveals Christ, God, and salvation. I thinkt hat is the most fair thing I can say about it.
I would have loved to have heard what Jesus said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He opened their understanding as He took them through Moses and the prophets pointing out the places which spoke of Him (still largely veiled without the Church’s understanding). My heart would have burned within me also upon hearing His interpretation! Indeed, the OT is only understood correctly through Christ and His Pascha.
The heretic Marcian didn’t like the OT and went so far as to say that it wasn’t even God in the OT, but something lower. Orthodox Christianity is a continuation of OT “Christianity.” The righteous of the OT were looking forward to Christ, but we have the privilege of being on this side of the Cross. We get to read the story from the end. We can’t disavow the OT. Unpleasant things happened, but why should that surprise or offend us? Christ had not come. Israel was in the midst of brutal, idolatrous nations. They became brutal and idolatrous at times, too. God commanded them to do some difficult things for particular reasons that only existed at those times. There was a time when it was right for the Allies to bomb Germans and Japanese. In May and August, 1945, it ceased being right. Christ put an end to the idea of Israel as an earthly kingdom. That kind of war is over. Orthodoxy retains the OT so that we can read it through the Cross on one level, but also take the good and bad examples from it on a practical level.
I’m no expert in patristic interpretation of the OT, but I think perhaps the Fathers did not even believe it necessary to justify OT history as that commanding genocide was “right for God to do at that time.” Christ is the key to the interpretation of the OT. He taught us to love even our enemies, and the Scriptures say, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” St. Paul wrote in Romans 8, “if God is for us, who can be against us.” An artist at the publisher where I used to work is widely known for his artistic calligraphy. He produced a piece when I worked there from this passage which simply read “God is *for* us.” That is a bottom line truth revealed in the gospel it seems to me we must not compromise by offering our own human rationalizations for why the OT writers wrote their narrative histories the way they did.
I largely missed most of this discussion in the other thread that prompted Fr. Stephen’s first comment on this thread, but have now gone back and gotten myself up to speed..
All modern (and all non-Orthodox) approaches to reading the Scriptures are riddled with potential hazards as you from your own experiences are all too keenly aware. The God who has revealed Himself in the Incarnation has revealed Himself as the Lover and Redeemer of all humanity, of even His enemies!
You are right to argue against literalist applications and readings of the OT. Keep focused on Jesus in the Gospels, and remember this is the greatest Revelation of what God is like ever given to humankind.
1. We *all* both love God and do not love Him (perfectly) at the same time. Any soul that yearns for wholeness, truth, beauty, connectedness, or who is capable of love for any other human being, etc., genuinely loves God as well.
2. God is present even when you do not see Him. He has carried you this far and I believe has freely and willingly committed Himself to go the distance with all of us and to complete the work He has begun in each of us—*especially* those of us who have been most wounded by our enemy and who feel the least capable of being pleasing to Him (“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”). Having pursued us all the way into Hell, He will never leave us nor forsake us, even though we dwell in the lowest parts of the earth. Do or say what you will, you will never, ever, EVER exhaust His patience or loving good will toward you.
3. I, alone in my family, was chrismated into Orthodoxy Holy Saturday 2007. My husband has remained Evangelical in a congregation where “believer’s baptism” is taught. Our children were ages seven and ten when I converted and we became a two-church family, having “dedicated” our children to God when they were infants. This left us in a quandary and in limbo about what we should do with our kids regarding their Christian baptism. I never felt right about pushing unilaterally for their baptism in the Orthodox faith, so I have just made all this a matter of prayer and we have always made it clear to our kids a) it is normal for Christians to be baptized, and b) if they desire baptism, we will support their decision to be baptized no matter which church they opt to be baptized in. My son (at age 21) for the time being has become one of the “nones”. He is agnostic about many aspects of traditional Christian teaching and has not been baptized. He is an amazing young man, and I am so proud to be his mom. I pray for his salvation every day, but no more so than for my own! We committed him to the care of the Lord (and to His Holy Mother) when he was little, and I know he will be ok, no matter what comes. My special needs daughter, at her request, was received by Holy Baptism into the Church at my parish this past August. It was a most blessed event. It was more than ten years in the making. As Fr. Stephen likes to remind us, “God is not in a hurry and neither need we be.” God is good all the time. We change, but He never does.
As always, you are in my feeble prayers as well. It is a privilege to be able to pray for and with those in this little online “community”. Kind regards….
It is frequently the case that the example of Marcion is misused – and any critical treatment of the OT lumped together with him. A very dangerous matter, in terms of the heart, is that Christians, driven by a mistaken understanding of Scripture, will find it necessary to justify genocidal actions as worthy of God – in the circumstances – as though He were just doing the best He could. I think this is both inadequate and, as noted, dangerous for the heart.
There is, throughout the Fathers and the early Church, a discomfort with things like the violence in the OT. They responded to that discomfort in a variety of ways – some more adequately than others. The fathers are not a single, solid, voice. They are more like a chorus and we have to listen to them as a whole.
I personally appreciate the distinction offered by both St. Maximus in the East and St. Ambrose in the West. They described the OT as “shadow,” the NT as “icon,” and the Age to Come as the Reality itself. As shadow, we can see only the “outlines” of the revelation in Jesus Christ – but such things as the violence, etc., certainly keep it hidden to some extent.
In Christ, we see the true image of our salvation, with great detail. In the age to come, we will know even as we are known.
Though it is perhaps correct to speak of OT and NT as One Church (Khomiakov famously did so), it is best, when saying this, to understand that the beginning of the Church is Christ’s Pascha and not that which, historically, went before Him. He is the Beginning and the End. We may say that the OT participates in that which is made known in Christ, though we must dig beneath the surface, or better, look to the icon of the NT and the Reality of the age to come, in order to discern the truth of the OT.
I am aware that, in saying this, I have some critics. I remain convinced that their arguments are far more in line with neo-Protestant readings and less with the Fathers – particularly as a chorus.
And that, of course, creates a problem. I’ve been confronted before with a long citing of quotes drawn from this place and another, that will seem like the “chorus.” I think that such florilegia are notoriously unreliable. If someone hears a different chorus than I do, then I will let God be the judge (and my bishops, whose judgment in this matter seems to be on my side).
Simon tends to state things a bit strongly (such is his temperament). But, it is hard to argue that the imagery drawn out in the OT (if not read through Christ’s Pascha) would hardly be the stuff that drew us to belief in the One true God. I would prefer that this not become a longer conversation, unless there are questions that need to be asked.
Just to make c comment about kissing the priests’ hand…
When one does kiss the hand of the clergy, is because this is the hand that administers the Eucharist. It has nothing to do with the western expression of kissing the ring of a hierarch.
Yes definitely Panayiota! I appreciate your elaboration on that. And for that reason, those who do not understand or who are not OC (or both) regarding the meaning and the receiving of the Eucharist, may misinterpret the kissing of the priest’s hand–which is I suppose one reason why I’m shy about doing it in front of others who are not in the faith.
I know what you mean Dee. Then there are those priest who quickly take away their hand so you don’t kiss it. It can be confusing even to us Orthodox.
We’re supposed to greet one another with the kiss of peace, but I have definitely noticed that makes people uncomfortable. They recoil:) not the reaction I intended.
I thought that we also kissed the Priest’s hand because he is a representative of Christ. Is this an incorrect understanding?
On the ideas of secularism, and Protestantism, my perspective (specific to my non-protestant and non-western european cultural history) is to see secularism as a very “protestant”-related perception. And in school, it was both my mother’s (and as a child, it became my own) perspective, that what I was supposed to learn in school was the protestant/secular understanding of the world. A Seminole view of the world (not originally Christian) is actually vastly different, from the secularist/protestant view. From the Seminole culture perspective, my capacity to successfully live in the ‘outer’ culture was to learn how to speak and navigate in the ideas of the greater culture. In the process of that navigation, secularism and protestantism were the same entity as they had come from the same source.
As I have participated in this blog, I have learned from Fr Stephen, that it isn’t only from the perspective of the Seminole culture, that there is a rather close relationship between the two, specifically between secularism and protestantism.
I’m not trying to assign some attribute to all Protestants. Not only is that not fair, but I don’t in the least believe it to be true. Nevertheless, having lived in the dominant culture for all my life, the effects of that world view have been noticed, primarily because I had originally a different cultural background as a child. Therefore I notice its effects and unintentionally drop into that perspective despite myself, out of long years of navigating in those waters.
Dee – During my college days, i found this book by Max Weber to be quite fascinating even though I was still a very long way from becoming a Christian of any kind, and I had no clue that Orthodoxy even existed. No idea if it would be of interest to you, but I share it just in case.
Thanks Esmee, I’ve taken a look and will read it in full later this evening. I really appreciate this.
Allow me to say that I have found allegorical interpretations of the OT very meaningful and insightful. Some years ago I read an article that a friend gave me on a Jewish mystical interpretation of Exodus. It mapped the stages of enslavement to breaking the yoke of Pharaoh to the sojourn through the desert to the conquest of the promised land to the stages of liberating the soul from the world to realization of the Immanence of the Divine. It seems to me that is the only proper way to understand those ‘myths.’ And if you look closely there is a strong mapping of those events to a person’s spiritual journey.
As for my temperament, my apologies. I don’t water down my indignation at the horrible things human beings have done in the name of God. I would rather feel the shock and horror than allow myself to become comfortable with the thinking that ‘Well, God knows best . If God ordered the genocide of those people, then they must have deserved it (shoulder shrug).’ There are people who think like that. I do not want to be one of those people.
I don’t see why we can’t interpret OT events allegorically without soft-pedaling the historical narrative. If we find the wholesale slaughter of a city distasteful, what about all the first-born Egyptians that God Himself struck down at Passover? How many people was that? Their sins may have been no better or worse than those of the Canaanites. I get the patristic idea of emphasizing the spiritual dimension of those events for the Church, but we also have modern scholars allegorizing the OT away almost entirely because their humanistic sensibilities are offended. In the 20th century, we saw “total war” and that leaves people with two opposing sentiments–horror at what was done and horror at the thought of what would have happened if it wasn’t done. Maybe I have a warped mindset, but I can read the OT and get the “logic” of what is described there given the course of Israel’s history after that time. Many Israelites were spiritually destroyed by the pagan religions of those nations they never completely dealt with and idolatry was an issue until the Babylonians exiled Judah. I suppose this is dealt with in another post and I’ll have to go digging for it rather than get it figured out here.
Father Stephen, some thoughts and a questions…
Maybe a better question would be, why does violence still continue to this day. Maybe the difficulty in trying to square the violence in the OT in light of the New is because we think the sharp division between the Testaments is with God. But yet we know He is of the same mind, in the Old and in the New. Only the the revelation of Himself in Christ is what changed for mankind. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. So would it be correct to say that as far as violence goes, it has not changed (in fact, some would say it has escalated), because God (the same yesterday, today and forever), from the beginning, is working for our salvation through every thought, word and deed of mankind that has and will come to pass ? Violence is still with us. The only difference, and literally a world of difference for us, is the revelation of Jesus Christ (the same yesterday, today and forever), Who has shown us the way to peace (which is really peace with God) in His passion. And in our earthly journey we look for the coming age when all will finally be gathered together in Christ and violence, sin, and all manner of evil will be no more. Yes?
What I’m trying to say is violence has always existed and still does. If some blame God, saying He allowed it to happen (in the OT)…well, do they now blame Christ for the OT violence and its continuation? If not, why? He was there too….
The same yesterday, today and forever.
Also Thanks Simon for the description of the teaching approach used regarding OT readings. We witness this approach frequently in how they are treated in the Liturgical services. And we might miss it unless we’re paying attention to the juxtaposition of the stories to the Gospel stories or to feast-related services.
I’ve learned a new word today: florilegia
I appreciate your helpful comment Fr Stephen, for many more reasons than that. But also enjoy learning new vocabulary too. Thank you!
Paula, I believe you raise an interesting question:
Since I wasn’t introduced to Protestant theology, I don’t know but sense that there is a perception that Christ ameliorated God’s wrath, and so the thinking is something like “that was the ‘old’ God and now due to Christ’s payment for our debts, God is now satisfied and we can now move on”. Also, I haven’t heard of a Protestant view that sees Christ as an ‘actor’ in the OT, since it’s seen as a historical work and “BC”.
I don’t want to encourage a discussion off of Fr Stephen’s article however. It is the case that we see (or don’t see) certain things (as also indicated in the article that Esmee linked) because of the limitation of the ‘eyes’ of the protestant view in this culture. And getting back to Fr Stephen’s point, these ‘eyes’ prevent us from seeing many things, including ‘mundane’ miracles, in a revelatory way.
Thanks Dee…yes, for 12 years I was in the non-denominational churches and as far as I can recall only the prophesies about Christ were spoken of. But you are right, no direct action on His part. I do remember one pastor touching on theophanies. He said they were “very interesting”, but didn’t go any further. It was as if the God in the OT we read of was God the Father, then when the time was right, He sent His Son. Although we believed in the Trinity, it was, how do I say, blurry concept.
I get the impression that some on the blog think that naturalism appeared on the world scene with the rise of modernity or in the West. That isn’t true. Daoism is a very naturalistic religion. Really, because Daoism is so completely naturalistic even in its metaphysic, what you see is a confidence that when you understand the ebb and flow of Yin and Yang, then Yin may be conserved and immortality achieved. In other words, when you understand how the system works, it can be controlled for good ends. Tai’Chi and the I Ching only make sense in a world governed by the deterministic nature of Yin and Yang, It isn’t that the Daoists don’t revere the gods. They do. But, even the gods are subject to the Dao. You know what the Daoists don’t fret over? Questions about why there is evil and human suffering in the world. The Dao is impersonal and the Yin and Yang ebb and flow naturally. Human suffering is problematic in Christianity because God is supposedly our Father who loves and cares for us, he is all knowing, all wise, and all powerful. If all these omni attributes are true, then why do the innocent suffer? Why doesn’t God help? It isn’t a mystery. At best it just doesn’t make sense and at worst it is an outright contradiction.
I can’t help but think that a significant interpretative principle, (i.e.: the temporality of our current experience of suffering which leads to an eternity of heavenly glory), one that classical Christianity always retained, is completely lost in the manner we criticise OT -or any other sufferings/violence etc. How can that be?
Kevin touched on it by mentioning our “humanistic sensibilities being offended”. He brought another ‘angle’ by reminding us that “in the 20th century, we saw “total war” and that leaves people with two opposing sentiments–horror at what was done and horror at the thought of what would have happened if it wasn’t done”.
Forgetting this principle makes for the “problematic” of what Simon described as” “human suffering is problematic in Christianity because God is supposedly our Father who loves and cares for us, he is all knowing, all wise, and all powerful. If all these omni attributes are true, then why do the innocent suffer? Why doesn’t God help? It isn’t a mystery. At best it just doesn’t make sense and at worst it is an outright contradiction”.
According to classical Christianity it is a mystery indeed!
So when temporal suffering, death etc is viewed by our (often secularly/humanistically influenced) lens, forgetting the classical Christian saying of virtually all martyrs:
we miss the mystery of mysteries and accuse God, like the tortures of the martyrs often did in the face of the unspeakable suffering and weakness they witnessed (while –few– others interpreted the same as unspeakable bravery), saying: “descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
There is no hard-and-fast rule about reading the OT and it is probably useless to belabor the point. It is sufficient to me that I see in a number of the Fathers a rejection of a literal reading when, as noted in a comment above citing Augustine, the literal reading would contradict the clear teaching of Christ. However, there are indeed others, including among the fathers, who are not troubled by this and do, more or less, what you are describing. We fail, I think, when we presume to force these readings on one another.
What we must do in common, however, is recognize that the OT is inspired Scripture – reading it – we can see Christ’s Pascha. We might see many other things, which, for me, is neither here nor there. It is Christ who said of the OT Scriptures, “These are they which testify of me.” That is sufficient.
As to why some are troubled with treating the violent accounts in a literal manner – is clearly because they have trouble with depicting God as the author of evil and are even more troubled with the notion of depicting God as the author of genocide. Given how many times in modern history such a depiction has been used to justify modern actions of genocide – that abhorrence seems warranted.
However, it is wrong to simply remove such passages or ignore them. They are Scripture for us. The allegorical treatment of say, “Dash their little ones’ heads against a stone” (Ps 137:9), reads it as dashing our little wicked temptations and thoughts against the rock of Christ. To read it literally is more than abhorrent. I do not think I have ever seen a Patristic treatment of that verse that is anything other than allegorical. There is no way, in heaven or in earth, in which that verse can be squared (on a literally level) with Christ. Not then, not now. No is “blessed” for smashing the head of a child. How could a Christian possibly think that?
Did the author think so? Probably. We do not read for “authorial intent.” We read for Christ.
These are matters that require a good amount of thought – and, I might say – a bit of adjusting on the part of modern readers. A book that I recommend, though it is not easy, is Discerning the Mystery by Fr. Andrew Louth.
Again, I would request that we not belabor this question in the thread.
Correction: *torturers of the martyrs.
To clarify we mustn’t in our offense at suffering throw out the baby with the bathwater forgetting the centrality of the (outwardly “foolishh” & contradictory) faith (that considers present sufferings as not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us, that our strength is found in our weakness), and then demanding the ‘descent now from the cross’, that we may see and believe…
I think it can be a hard word and a difficult approach – and – easily misunderstood. Christ’s Pascha, His union with us and everyone in our suffering, can be discerned in even the most troubling of passages. But I would caution, at least here in this setting, putting to much emphasis on paradox and contradiction. I would approach it differently – with different examples.
Fr., THANK YOU for that.
For me it is important that we be true to the complexity and complications that the world, the scripture, or anything else that is presented to us. If it hurts us, then let it hurt us. Accept it. Don’t rationalize it or dismiss it.
May I make a suggestion? Would it be helpful if you to put together a site of commonly asked questions and concerns that can be referenced? Just a thought.
It’s a good idea…but when my plate is much less full…
Dino, don’t you find it the least bit odd that an all-wisein being in working out our magnificent heavenly glory could forsee a world in which horrific suffering would emerge…and not find find some other way to get the job done?? How in the world is it possible that God could foreknow that this world was going to happen and he just let’s it happen? Are you telling me that the All-mighty, All-knowing God could not come up with another way of preserving free-will while at the same time not having a world glutted with suffering? If he couldn’t figure out a way to preserve those two conditions or he doesn’t have the ability, then somewhere along the way he lost one or more of his omni attributes. Now if God could have in all his wisdom and power found a way to secure salvation and protect free will without the emergence of suffering, then no matter how you look at it, God chose not to which means he chose this world. No one and nothing forced his hand.
My conclusion is that God in his infinite wisdom and power could have worked things out differently. In his wisdom and power he could have arranged for the preserving of free will, securing salvation, and prevented a world where children are sold into the hands of tormentors. He could have. But he didn’t. That you don’t see that as a problem, but as a mystery just tells me how powerful rationalization can be in attenuating the effects of dissonance.
What it tells me is that we are not dealing with the philosophers’ God, with the classical omni’s. The God we Know is made known in Christ’s Pascha. The other God is a non starter and a product of imagination.
I have some sense of what you are saying about the inadequacy of conceiving of an abstract god with abilities raised to an infinite degree. I don’t worship power. So, a know-it-all god with the biggest imaginable stick isn’t very inspiring. But, nonetheless I think that it’s a valid question: Couldn’t God have preserved free-will, saved humanity, and prevented a house of horrors? If he could have done all that. then why didn’t he? If we admit that this question has even a modicum of validity, then how does one escape the conclusion that the world is as it is because God made the choice for it to NOT be some other way? If God could have preserved free-will, saved humanity, and prevented a house of horrors and didn’t, then that’s fine. But why not just accept it and enter the crucible it presents for faith–if it presents such a crucible. I’m not sure that it does for all people. If someone completely accepts that suffering becomes the very means of salvation and sainthood, then why wouldn’t you want a world with lots of opportunity for suffering?
Of course I find it odd, especially when witnessing horrific suffering first hand. But I can’t be making a God out of my own philosophical workings.
Many Saints have extensively tackled this matter.
Speaking of their words, I am reminded of their saying that if all of scripture were to be lost and only the parable of the prodigal son was to be left, that would be sufficient for us to understand all we need…
This brings me back to the contradiction of the Father’s omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence, and His free creatures’ inevitable suffering.
He allowed his son to follow his way and it was only through suffering that he really became humbled and was changed.
Remember my earlier comment about the bread of shame?
[A young kid is on a baseball team, junior league, and he is hitting a home run with every single pitch. Every pitch! He knocks that ball right out of the field. The crowd is cheering. He wins the game for them! They lift him up. They carry him around. The crowd is cheering and he feels so wonderful. And then the next day, he finds that his father paid the pitcher to send him only good pitches and he paid the crowd to cheer, absolutely everything was rigged in his favour, and he goes into depression and shame. God’s wisdom and power is manifested in the way he brings about our salvation, but His respect of our freedom of self-determination is indeed a limit to His omnipotence, if we want it to work another way to how it works –one that would appease our temporal ‘issue’ with suffering in the now, which will only later come to light as our glorification.
I’m using my phone so my reply is limited. Again, I think that Simon’s question presumed a meaning and character of power that is flawed. Christ crucified is the “power” of God. That has to be pondered in very different terms.
What keeps me banging on in a sense is that we can’t eliminate the cross
Crucified power of God…I will attempt to sit silently with that.
Dino, I understand that you do not want to eliminate the cross. And I truly don’t want you too. I think it is related to what Fr. said about the crucified power of God.
Simon you’re not ascribing this to me specifically but to ensure that what I’ve written is not misunderstood: I refer to ‘western’ culture and I’m not talking about the ‘world scene’ regards to the impact of the Reformation on this culture.
It is only through the Cross which is at the core of creation that we can know and appreciate joy. That is the antinomical nature of the Christian faith. Nietzsche hated it because it denied power as the essential ingrediant for triumph.
Nietzsche didn’t really understand power. He understood it in the same way Satan did. It’s one thing to club somebody simply because you can. God can certainly snap His finger like Thanos and wipe us all out, but He didn’t. He came in the flesh and let us kill Him. And He still won. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Nietzsche.
Kevin, Simon, et al
Well, said, Kevin!
When St. Paul talks about the Cross (and describes it as the “power of God”) he notes that it is “foolishness” and “weakness.” This makes it impossible to engage in a normal syllogism – for syllogisms are wise. It is as you say, Simon, we can “sit quietly with it.”
One thought, however: “Why not create a world with lots of opportunities for suffering?”
In point of fact, we live in a world in which suffering is rather minimized (excluding the fact that everything dies). That we even exist points towards some sort of unthwarted drive which suffering has not managed to overcome.
There is plenty of suffering, but I would venture to say that it is constantly mitigated. Very, very few of us suffer the full consequences of our decisions, or the decisions of others. Though we suffer, there is something else at work as well.
If suffering itself were the means of salvation, then God could have just created a universe of pure suffering. But that is not the case.
Rather, I would say that the Cross makes salvation possible despite the suffering – or that the suffering is not vain – it has been turned into something that, rather than working against us, works within us for good (or it can).
There are depths and depths of mystery within all of this – nothing that admits of an easy statement. St. Paul’s foolishness and weakness seem quite apt. So, I sit and ponder.
In fact, even Nietzsche admitted that meaningful suffering is better than meaningless joy.
I have often come back to this maxim from the ancient Greeks:
“Man’s real problem isn’t suffering per se,
it is the lack of meaning (‘logos’ [λόγος] or ‘noima’ [νόημα]) in suffering.”
The mystery of the Cross, of course, is the mystery of the transformation of all suffering
through the endowment of meaning (‘Logos’ [Λόγος]).
This topic is the reason why I am Orthodox rather than anything else. I hope everyone understands that this is not just a matter of intellectual exercise for me. If it were, then this is a waste of time.
This for me is a matter meaning and identity.
It will and does define the kind of parent I want to be and how I will model for my son how to act in the world
I hope everyone gets that sense from the things I say.
The mystery of the Cross, of course, is the mystery of the transformation of all suffering
through the endowment of meaning (‘Logos’ [Λόγος]).
I feel like I need a little book of these kinds of expressions that I can just iterate over and over until it redefines how I think. I don’t mean brain washing. But understanding the value of certain expressions like this one will not just change years of thinking. There’s rewiring that has to be done. This has been quoted on the site before if I’m not mistaken.
I often think “If there is a hell, then I want to go to hell and stay there until I am the last one out.”
Is there anything wrong with that?
Wouldn’t that be an idea compatible with ascetic struggle? Is that what the most severe monks and nuns have in mind going in? To them, suffering is integral to their salvation and it’s not a meaningless suffering.
Speaking of parenting, I think that our consistency in our own daily internal fastening-to-Christ, curiously yields the integrity, tranquility, joyfulness, love, inspiration and discernment that can and will remain with our offspring – as a sort of guiding compass for their soul. Such ‘fastening’ requires that we heed not, the flow of ‘logismoi’ assailing us at all times, but struggle in the ascesis of faith (trust in God), hope(trust in God again) and love(trust in God once more).
There is also an element of (difficult) renunciation here: fastening-to-God means not having any competing attachments. Even our own offspring cannot be loved the right way by us (‘directly’), it’s our attachment to God, via God’s unconditional love for His child (‘loaned to us’ is I can use such an expression), that will be the right fuel for the noble and magnanimous love that we ought to have for our offspring and for all…
That thought has been expressed by any number of saints. It is a good thought.
I would rather feel the shock and horror than allow myself to become comfortable with the thinking that ‘Well, God knows best . If God ordered the genocide of those people, then they must have deserved it (shoulder shrug).’ There are people who think like that. I do not want to be one of those people.
I know people who think this way. I used to be one. I am thankful for the discussion here, which reflects the understanding I have found in Orthodoxy.
I commonly tell people who ask me the typical, “How can God allow evil/suffering/etc.?” that the answer is “God allows us.” I don’t elaborate; just let them chew on it for a bit. I don’t see us as “evil” but rather God’s long-suffering for us is related to His love for us. He allows us because He loves us and works for our salvation through all things. The mystery of the Cross.
Here also, is a post from another thread comment by Father on this topic.
It’s a good and fair question regarding God’s participation in evil by permitting it. It is…the point of Ivan Karamazov in his famous diatribe.
That God’s goodwill is at work **despite** evil is important. That He permits evil is obviously inherent in permitting our freedom, and even the freedom of a universe that is “subject to futility.” What kind of God is He is certainly made known in what He does. He is a God who permits freedom, on the one hand, and He is a God who interjects Himself into the consequences of that freedom. He is crucified in every moment of suffering by every and any human being. His suffering in every moment by every human being is also, like the Cross, the transformation of every suffering moment into the salvation of the Cross. The mystery of Pascha is present in everything.
It does not make any of the suffering good. But it makes the evil deeds of our freedom of no effect, ultimately. It is a redemption that preserves our freedom. That, I think, is the path of love.
There is a mystery in that “let it be.” Christ said, “Let it be” to his own crucifixion as well, and to the whole dirty history of the world. I do not think we solve that mystery from the outside – only from the inside. [It was] noted earlier, that we say “God permits” because it is obvious that He permits. These things have taken place and have been permitted to take place.
For myself, the mystery of His “let it be” is resolved in His Pascha. I can imagine a world in which bad things are never allowed to happen. If I allow myself to really think about it – it’s a version of hell. There would simply be no freedom – a sort of Stepford Wife existence for us all. Freedom is apparently truly necessary to the fullness of our existence – an inherent part of our salvation and the life of grace. And it comes at a frightful price – up to an including the suffering and death of God Himself.
It is, I believe, the path towards the fullness of our existence in His image. We must honor all of those who suffer, as though they had died for our sins (they did). Christ gathers all of our permitted freedom into Himself and His Cross. What was meant to us for evil (ultimately of our own devising) He has meant to us for good.
That is the mystery of the Cross. I think the only way around such a mystery would be to say that it would have been better if God never created the world – that the price of human existence in His image is too great. That ultimately is Ivan’s conclusion. Apparently, God disagrees. I think that the only way to fathom God’s understanding in this – why He does not see the price as too high – is to enter into the mystery and go deeper and deeper. I think that an approach to that can be found in the practice of thanksgiving for everything and always – it is not a confession that says “I like everything, it pleases me.” It is a confession of the paradox and contradiction and, by grace, allows us to enter into the hell of human suffering and not despair. The Elder Sophrony once said that Christ has entered into the very depths of hell and is waiting for His friends to meet Him there.
To glibly look at the suffering of the world and find a syllogism that allows us to walk away would be tragic and wrong. To say, “God permits,” as though that removes the agony, is a mistake. We can say, “God permits,” and then walk into the contradiction and meet Him there. Jonah sings from the belly of the whale. The Three Young Men sing in the fires of the furnace. We have to enter into the same place to find the song that is the mystery of God’s providence – the salvation of all things.
Thank you for sharing that. I am going to print it off and stick it in my wallet.
Now while I have something of positive value to savor I am bailing out on the rest of the discussion. I was looking for something of value and I have it. I just dont want to lose the sense of things that I have right now by rambling on.
Thank you for bearing with me.
Beautiful quote, thank you Byron, and Fr Stephen for your eloquence- a gift from God and borne in humility.
“The mystery of Pascha is present in everything.”
Fr Stephen’s comment on the theological “omni-‘s” of the logical West got me thinking – let’s coin some Orthodox Omni-s and create our own syllogism.
Premise 1: The Transcendent Particular is Omniagapic.
Premise 2: The Transcendent Particular is Omnikenotic.
Conclusion: Therefore, all creation is Omnipaschal.
There’s enough jargon in Orthodoxy without the extra effort of mashing Greek and Latin together. I just thank God that Christianity didn’t originate in China.
Kevin, of course Nietzche did not understand much of anything but he was prescient in that he saw the direction the world was going. His wrong, corrupt and evil philosophy dominates much of the world’s thinking. Unfortunately it can be seductive.
He got his idea of Christianity from the debased and deeply nominal Luthernism of his childhood. He rightfully rejected that but still believed it was authentic just as many today reject the God of Jonathan Edwards but think that is authentic Christianity and look no further.
What is needed is a Providential understanding.
Justin…I liked it. I often think of the big three–omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent–and reason from there. But, I like the idea of starting with a different triad and reasoning from there. What would an Orthodox set of omni-attributes look like and where do they lead?
Premise 1: The Transcendent Particular is Omniagapic.
Premise 2: The Transcendent Particular is Omnikenotic.
Premise 3: The Transcendent Particular is Omni-immanent.
Conclusion: Therefore, all creation is Omnipaschal.
I think the shift I need to make in my thinking is that God is kenotic. God did not employ a capacity for kenosis for only 33 and a half years. God is a kenotic being.
Alright, so…God is a kenotic being. God is love. Corollary: Love and kenosis are complementary. In a one story universe God is immanent. Ergo, kenotic love is immanent/intrinsic to the universe. Ergo, the essential nature of the universe (creation) is Paschal.
We usually mistake love’s enemy for hate, when, practically, love’s enemy is the misrepresentation of love (perhaps mixed with a tiny bit of ‘love’ there).
Only when witnessing a saints’ noble love does this become completely clear.
Unfortunately our daily experience of our own “loves” (attachments might be more appropriate a word), is usually an experience of the practical nemesis of love: namely, ‘love’ that does not utterly respect freedom of the other while continuing to love in doing so.
No wonder we struggle to remember kenotic love as being sacrificial –not just in the sense of suffering for the loved one, but in the sense of suffering for the permission of the freedom of the loved one (without becoming indifferent as a result of such a permission).
People, fortunate to spend time seeing holy people in their everyday living, [often folk that have gone way out of their way to spend much time in monasteries and the like] often end up using adjectives to describe such saints (as regards to how they would relate to others) that tend to be in pairs considered contraries…: “approachable yet dispassionate, joyous yet earnest, relaxed yet vigilant, free yet attentive, fearless yet careful, radiant yet compunctionate, ascetic yet open, soft-spoken yet magnetic, warm yet discerning, sensitive yet magnanimous, poor yet rich, accommodating yet uncontaminated”. A mosaic of an icon of Christ, as applied in the daily behaviour of a fellow human, despite the very human and ordinary aspect this invariably comprises.
I think seeing what such authentic, kenotic love practically looks like in a fellow human being, how they deal with issues of the day, is invaluable and it is a pity that we probably witness less of such integrity, in hands-on action around us, in our times.
Maybe the next best thing to first-hand observation is research.
Im so glad Dino that you could spend time in the monastery and so that now you truly know what love looks like. Good for you!
Here are people who live in isolation away from the world and its problems and theyre the exemplars in love?? They have left theyre families behind. Wont even leave to visit dying parents and theyrs the exemplars of love. I do not believe it.
Dino…for as eloquent and knowledgeable as you are with Orthodoxy, sometimes your words can be quite irritating. What is it called when someone pours out well meant words which flow so impressively and when finally they are finished you sit uncomfortable…like you just tasted something that was about to go bad…it’s not quite rancid yet, but real close.
Should I look at this as a test of strength, that will help me forgive when insulted, like you often remind us we need to do. What is it called when the person who teaches these virtues is the one doing the insulting, intentionally or not. Please don’t tell me this is the way the monastic elders deal with their “students”. And please don’t tell me about my ego. I know very well about my ego.
Really….is the problem here a cultural thing? What is it? Are you going to turn this around and blame me for not being whatever ?
It just gets old after a while…..
But go ahead…carry on…..
I cannot get Simon’s comment, “I reject the idea that there is a latent pride in the demand that profound claims should supply profound evidence,” out of my head. It leaves me speechless. The universe and life itself constitute profound evidence of the love of God. He created the universe and then brought each of us out of nonexistence into being to live and love within it. Excuse me, but is Simon claiming God should do something more profound than that for us? It’s enough for me, thank you.
David, you are asking a different question than the one I was asking. My “father” paid all the bills, he bought me food, he paid for my clothes…did he love me? I dont know. Do you burn the people you love? Do you watch them suffer? So, the question I was asking at bottom wasnt about whether or not God exists, but whether or not God exists as you imagine him to.
Simon, and Paula AZ,
I am very sorry my comment came out so annoying and tasteless.
For me, I find inspiration that is applicable in seeing how a saint deals with everyday mundane matters – and it’s very difficult to come by.
Next best thing is researching, reading about them.
I’ve been accused of that before so there’s a good chance the problem is as you say it is, I haven’t trodden as courteously as I should have.
David, I would take issue with the religious sentiment that we should be thankful for life. For me it is not obvious that that is a sentiment I should share. My personal experience of the world would lead me to infer the existence of a god who creates and abandons what he has created. He moves on. But as far as I can see…there is no loving father. Even as I entertain of the kenotic God, God is still far removed. If God inserts himself in our suffering, then I have never had a sense of that at all.
Im very sorry to say that.
Dino….I do not think your intent is to be discourteous. But there seems to be a disconnect at times. There are so many things that enter into a conversation besides the conversation itself. For one, we are all grappling for contentment within, and peace with God and others, all the while ourselves confused and disintegrated (to varying degrees). So, you know…on a blog as intense as this (blessed) one, this is bound to happen. Hopefully, I will learn…something…many things. Needful things. May we all, in these difficult times.
I think that there’s some miniscule, yet crucially determinative power within us, to try to see the ‘glass half-full’ or to allow us to see it ‘half-empty’, perhaps even in our greatest tribulations.
If there wasn’t, we would be far more justified in our complaints for our ordeals, and all who find a way to hold on to that rare faith, even with the skin of their teeth at times, which enables them to struggle to be able to say, ‘thank you God, I trust your plans even if I understand nothing of them at all now’, would not be meritorious for doing so, it would have been entirely God’s grace doing that for them.
Thinking out loud here…
You’re not the only person participating in this discussion who has suffered as you have. May God bless you with peace and discernment.
In the intensity of the moment of suffering (now), I attempt to embrace God, but not in some abstract manner. It seems to be in the moment of suffering love itself helps to move my heart out of a state of victimization. Since I’m not a psychologist, nor philosopher, nor theologian, I really don’t know in an abstract manner how this happens. I am grateful for it but saying that doesn’t mean my suffering is over. As a victim, I could react and fight back, or leave. I’m not leaving and I’m not fighting. Since it isn’t appropriate to describe these circumstances I can’t be particular in my description here, but be assured this current situation is not my ‘home’ situation, whereas in the past, many many years ago, it was.
I notice that when I’m in the midst of circumstances of suffering I may be able to embrace the suffering and the circumstances themselves, and then later I become angry. I believe this is associated with the toxic shame you have described for us in previous articles, doesn’t it?
“As to why some are troubled with treating the violent accounts in a literal manner – is clearly because they have trouble with depicting God as the author of evil and are even more troubled with the notion of depicting God as the author of genocide. Given how many times in modern history such a depiction has been used to justify modern actions of genocide – that abhorrence seems warranted.
However, it is wrong to simply remove such passages or ignore them. They are Scripture for us. The allegorical treatment of say, “Dash their little ones’ heads against a stone” (Ps 137:9), reads it as dashing our little wicked temptations and thoughts against the rock of Christ. To read it literally is more than abhorrent. I do not think I have ever seen a Patristic treatment of that verse that is anything other than allegorical. There is no way, in heaven or in earth, in which that verse can be squared (on a literally level) with Christ. Not then, not now. No is “blessed” for smashing the head of a child. How could a Christian possibly think that?”
What amazes me in these comments is the assumptions made regarding the O.T.
1) That if evil existed in the OT, God created it.
2) That there ever was a “genocide” in the O.T. – genocide is never attempted or accomplished in the O.T. – you would need proof of that to make it such a common assertion.
3) A good old commentary will show that David’s prayer was not a delight in the idea of baby-head smashing. It is a prayer that the Babylonians, who had smashed Israelite infants, should be punished appropriately. “The vile practice of destroying infants (which is done all of the time in America yet nobody is nearly offended at this – my comment, not to you Fr. Freeman) is well attested in the ancient world (2 Kings 8:12, Hos. 10:14, 13:16, Homer’s Iliad 22.63) and was therefore foretold of the fall of Babylon. Further, the Babylonians had apparently done this to the Judeans (as the connection with Psalm 137:8 suggests), and the prophets led the people to await God’s justice (Isa. 47:1-9, Jer. 51:24). In this light the Psalm is not endorsing the action in itself, but is instead seeing the conquerors of Babylonians as carrying out God’s just sentence (even unwittingly)”
Now, can we get some sympathy here for David? Imagine someone conquers your little American suburbian Disneyland with your children’s heads opened up all over the pavement – will you just kneel down and say “Father forgive them” – that is an option, but you may desire justice – is that an evil impulse?
So, Fr. Freeman you are wrong. The verse can be squared with Christ. Christ can sympathize with the pain of the childless conquered, he can sympathize with those who have been radically traumatized by war, he can sympathize with our desire for justice and for language which shows the depth of our hurt. In Revelation we have the saints under the altar saying, “How long..” And what follows in so many of the judgments is a response to their just prayer. How long? Our desire for Christ’s return will mean judgment for evil doers when it occurs.
What troubles me most, in so many of these conversations is that God seems to be reduced to a force, but not a person. Judgment is depicted as something foreign to God when I read authors like yourself – which makes every instance of it in the Bible an anthropomorphism, and an incorrect one. Yet Jesus never does anything to correct the Jewish understanding of the O.T. except when it comes to sin (adding commandments, having escape clauses to get out of sins like no-fault divorce for men or ducking out of taking care of your family, what the Sabbath is all about, ethnic pride to the exclusion of the Gentiles, etc.). I really wonder how we can say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit….who spake by the Prophets” – if they were just anthropomorphically confused -worse, dead wrong – who needed a complete overhaul in understanding after Christ. Then how could Paul tell Timothy (or who-ever wrote Timothy since that’s probably on the table) to entrust himself to the O.T. that could lead him to salvation? Timothy would have to be an allegorical genius before the Fathers could help him out.
Seriously, it’s a joke for us “middle-class”, never having seen-war, never having experienced barbarians to read our Bibles this way. Unfortunately most Orthodox that I’ve encountered don’t know how to read the Old Testament like Origen, with a literal meaning (based on the genre/context of the text, there’s no need to stress over if Jesus is a door or not), and with the deeper spiritual meaning that will push someone into depth of communion with God.
Father, I apprecaite you and firmly disagree with you. I agree with your heart that God not be the author of sin or genocide, but that is not the only way to read the text that forces it to that conclusion. St. John Chryssostom upheld the literal meaning of these texts but also embraced allegorical or analogical applications.
Matthew Lyon says:
October 9, 2018 at 9:12 am
Often when Orthodox expounded on the conquest narratives, taking a symbolic/allegorical approach, that we are commanded to dash our passions on the rocks – I see the application, but sometimes they seemed to de-historicize the events. But, if there is truth to a race of men, who are somehow in existence due to demonic activity however that worked out, then there exists an analogy that really makes sense and maybe some of them knew this, some of the fathers who were aware of the second temple worldview and who had embraced it.
Again, if Joshua was dealing with real demonic beings, and if our passions are aroused through demons, then it is by analogy that Joshua has a Christian application instead of by allegory. The baptismal liturgy with it’s exorcism prayers, following Jesus’ example, and an understanding like you said, of how sacred space was now to spread outside Israel, could move into geographically occupied territory of Satan with no need to conquer them physically (not that the Nephilim would have still been in existence) but with repentance, faith, baptism/exoricism. The Christus Victor theme is only reasonable/Biblical – not an optional take on atonement.
Fr. Stephen De Young says:
October 9, 2018 at 10:32 am
I think you’re tracking with this correctly. As an example, Origen, the prime example of allegorical interpretation, says at the beginning of his commentary on Joshua that the teaching of the book would be horrible if it did not ‘have the figure (figura) of spiritual warfare’. Figure here is often understood in line with the English word ‘figurative’, as if Origen is saying that essentially Joshua is worthwhile because he’s found a way to interpret it ahistorically. However, elsewhere Origen makes it clear that he accepts the existence of the giants and the traditions discussed in this blog post. So the Latin ‘figura‘ would probably be better translated as ‘character’; that the narratives of Joshua have the character of spiritual warfare. So, you are correct, the Fathers in these instances are using something more akin to an analogy than to allegory.
Again, reading the OT as a Jewish person would have in Jesus time, and Christian interpreters following in the tradtion of second temple Judaism would shed a lot of light on all of these issues.
Thank you for all you do! I hope you can take this in love (while it is frustrated love, if that’s a thing).
Thank you for your comment. I agree wholeheartedly. Everyone carries a cross in life and we should not presume ours is heaviest… it is most likely not.
When I first saw Dino’s comment early this morning, I was going to thank him for that beautiful list of “contrasting attributes”, as something worthy of printing out and putting in the wallet for future reference (such beautiful things to strive for!). But but the time I got to work and to the computer, there is a full-force pushback… Truly, I do not understand.
I never presumed my cross was the heaviest.
I merely stated…never mind.
I always appreciate your comments. I too have drenched myself in the Lives of the Saints and contemporary Elders and Edlresses who have not yet been sanctified but most likely will be at some fiture time. I have received incredibly strength and inspiration from their words and experiences. They truly love unconditionally through the grace of the Holy Spirit. However, I have an Orthodox friend who’s response to these stories and counsels is exactly the opposite. He finds them hard to believe and he feels criticized and judged by them because he cannot live up to their examples. He will not read them anymore because they actually make him feel bad. It greatly saddens me that this is the case, but it is his experience and I have to accept and respect that. My only explanation for our very different experiences is that he was horribly abused and neglected as a child and I was raised in a very loving environment. I can read about the asceticism and virtues of these holy men and women, and even though I am not able to emulate them them as I would wish, I do not see it as a criticism or judgment of me personally like my friend does. And when I have tried to share some of their words or stories with him verbally, they just irritate him, much the same way several readers here have been irritated by your words. I am learning that the best way I can help this person is simply to pray for him, and maybe that is the lesson in all this for me. “Pray More. Talk Less.” May God continue to guide all of us on our journey towards Him.
-Love in Christ, Esmée
I am talking about myself, not you… I presume that often.
But it’s only by learning to how to think the way Christ teaches us to think in the Gospels that we can overcome such things, and learn to engage that “crucially determinative power within us, to try to see the ‘glass half-full’ or to allow us to see it ‘half-empty’, perhaps even in our greatest tribulations.”
Where would we learn that if not from the Saints that devoted their lives to it fully? (such as monks away from the world?) Here in the world we are crushed under the weight of our daily life, but death still awaits each one of us. If we don’t know (and thank, and glorify) God in this life, how can we hope to manage in the next?
Well, monastics do, in a sense, leave the world behind. Yet most have a stream of continual visitors so the world comes to them. The demands these visitors can make on the nuns can be quite vexing. Besides all this they have daily chores to do…milking goats, cooking for many, keeping up a garden, cleaning the churches and meeting rooms, sewing, washing, attending services, going on at most 6 hours sleep, broken into segments, their own private prayers, etc. Then they have tensions living with 30 others, in close quarters. They are under strict obedience to the abbess. I have never seen anyone, man or woman, work harder than these nuns do. I say this with 40 years of work experience. It is no fairytale existence! And I have known of nuns visiting sick relatives. These are some observations I’ve made over the past 15 years working and worshipping along side them. Without much love and forgiveness none of this would work.
Let me add that I was a firefighter for four and a half years. Each shift was 24 hours of tight living with 5 others. Tension and interpersonal conflicts could easily occur. Yet monastics are 24/7 for life, in very close space/relationships that can also be tense at times. But what a commitment to Christ and His Church! They are really not that much different than many of us. Just that their life is lived under very different circumstances.
Everyone is different, but I think you make a notable point in mentioning abuse as a factor in the occasional uneasiness when hearing about these examples of saints, especially when such standards get an unwarranted citing.
I believe it can be a far more significant element –in prompting a frustrated reaction– than the foreignness of such concepts.
I dont value the opinions of monastics. I value the input of people who are actually dealing with the messiness of the world and understand the difficulties of the human condition.
I dont see the lives of the saints as a judgment of me. Not even a little bit. Neither do I find them inspiring. These are people who have chosen to something with their lives just like everyone else finds something to do with their lives. That’s fine. People do all kinds of things with their lives. But I dont have any reason to believe that they occupy some privledged position or an underprivileged position. But what I do not believe is that it’s their prayers that are keeping the world going.
Dee – You mentioned “Nature Journal.” Is that something other than the journal entitled “Nature?”
I hear what you say. I was saying these words myself a few years ago….
The difficulties of my life seemed insurmountable and unsolvable (both with family issues, health issues, financial issues, professional issues). It was my ‘rock bottom’ and I was utterly alone, with no one to help me and nowhere to turn. So I turned to God out of sheer despair… And He heard me, and “He lifted up my life”…
It’s still hard most of the time, but with Him in my heart, I don’t fear anything, especially not death. It makes life beautiful to live, if only on the inside and unknown to anybody else. I pray St. Silouan’s prayer for ‘all people to come to know God’ like that.
You are always in my prayers.
I did not see your second comment before I sent mine…
It may be that it is only *YOUR* prayer that is keeping this world going… Or mine….
God is waiting for every human being to offer Him true repentance (that changing of our mind in how we think about Him) and is waiting for us to come to Him, because all others have already done so…
What if He is waiting for us, you and me?
Thank you for your thoughts and quotes. I am not anthropomorphizing or doing quite the things you imagine or accuse me of. What difficulties I express with the text, on a certain level, is not unknown within the Fathers. I noted that passages could be found elsewhere in the Fathers that disagree. However, I think your error is in assuming that such questions are only rightly treated in one manner and not another – or a pure insistence on what I think is a problematic reading. I appreciate it – but assure you that I am writing well within the Tradition.
I would suggest, as I did above, reading Discerning the Mystery by Fr. Andrew Louth. This topic of hermeneutics is not as simple as you’ve described it, I think. I’m also not at all sure that Fr. Stephen De Young’s reading on Origen in any way raises the historical over the allegorical.
Chrysostom is a preacher, neither a scholar among the Fathers, nor very given to mystical readings at all. He is among the most literal interpreters in the East (perhaps because he was from Antioch). I’ve had this conversation with some serious patristic scholars – such as my Archbishop, Alexander Golitzin, whose breadth and depth of knowledge and reading extends well beyond what any of us parish priests can claim. Again, how I have treated these things lies well within the bounds of the Tradition.
I might add that we live and believe in a context that has been poisoned with 500 years of historical literalism whose legacy has been the destruction of Christianity and, often, the destruction of the world as well. If present Orthodox interpreters lean more towards the figurative reading – there’s a darned good reason. Frankly, many of the arguments I encounter about interpretive matters sound like a rehash of Reform arguments. They leave me flat.
But, I won’t belabor this.
These latest elements of the discussion/conversation seem somewhat beside-the-point to me. I am not surprised that some people “choke” on some monastic teaching/stories. It is, indeed, largely cultural. If those stories were actually effective in the world to which I minister, the blog would simply feature those stories. As occasionally flavoring, they’re fine, but we should not be offended or surprised that someone has difficulty with them, nor suggest to them that the reason is something wrong about their spiritual life. That, I’m afraid, is counter-productive to our lives.
On the other hand, Simon, when you speak dismissively of the saints lives, or of the monastic tradition – you’re speaking to a lot of folks who clearly think otherwise. All that you get from that is some push-back, which is of no benefit to you or them. It’s not a fruitful conversation.
It is nowhere stated in the “Rules of the Blog,” but I will observe that when a comment is directed towards someone, with a criticism, it is loaded. First, it may very well carry a message of shaming – which, I think, is sin. Disagreement is an art (one that is quickly being lost) that should be practiced “artfully,” with care and politeness.
I have not mediated this problem as carefully as I should, I think. But when I encounter unpleasant disagreements within the comments, I confess that I feel a pain that is almost physical. We fail to consider the harm we do. I need the blog to be safe – emotionally, psychologically, doctrinally, or it utterly fails in its intended ministry.
So, head’s up.
Esmée – Thanks for the link to the article on Max Weber
Matthew, a few more thoughts.
I think a problem arises when we ask what are essentially modern questions of the text and the fathers. The modern anxiety is about history as the place where truth resides (it’s part of its secular view of the world). It’s not the primary question or even a major question among the fathers. It’s not their anxiety the way it has come to be ours.
Origen, for example, can easily say that Joshua needs to be read figuratively (spiritual warfare), and later talk about giants once roaming the planet. But they both rest inside his head in a way that they both rarely reside within ours.
He sees the text as authoritative because it is Scripture. We tend to see the text as authoritative because it is a literal account of something else. The truth isn’t in the Scripture, but in what it is about.
There are obvious places where history is crucial – for example – the death and resurrection of Christ. On that point, St Paul not only recites the Tradition which he had received, but goes on to name eye-witnesses in a manner that would fit the strictest historical model.
But this same St. Paul can invoke allegory without blushing and in a manner that is not, I think, actually about the historical. I’m sure Sarah and Hagar are historical – though i think it’s not terribly important that the details of their story are verbatim, etc.
Moderns, I think, have forgotten how to read Scripture as Scripture and get tangled up in interminable arguments that are mostly little more than fideistic pronouncements. At least the best of the Fathers really engaged the text and asked hard questions.
There is St. Isaac of Syria who is deeply beloved among the later Fathers:
That he can say such a thing suggests that there was some leeway within the Tradition. I’ll rest with St. Isaac.
“On the other hand, Simon, when you speak dismissively of the saints lives, or of the monastic tradition – you’re speaking to a lot of folks who clearly think otherwise. All that you get from that is some push-back, which is of no benefit to you or them. It’s not a fruitful conversation.”
Simon – I am disappointed that you chose to interpret my comments on the miraculous nature of life and the universe as expressions of “religious sentiment.” Please be advised that religious sentimentality offends me. I have gone through too much hell to put up with that kind of . . . animal waste. (Because I am a visitor in someone else’s forum, I am not using the terms I would naturally use if this were a face-to-face discussion.)
My comments were made in a good faith effort to honestly convey my present life experience. It has not always been like this. I have suffered and struggled for decades to get where I am today, and it is only by the grace of God made manifest in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ that I am finally able to enjoy the miraculous nature of the world and my life in it. He has truly trampled down death by death and restored life to those in the tombs, of which I was one.
I am tempted to share the details of my struggles here, but my guardian angel is reminding me that this is not about me. It is about you. Simon.
I respect the hell you have been through and the legitimacy of the struggles you are having today. We all do. So, please forgive me for suggesting that you might be a bit more respectful of the struggles and experiences of others, especially the saints and monastics who you have most recently treated with disdain. They were in their own hells too, Simon, but they found a way out. I respect them for that, and I am grateful that they decided to share their journey with me. They help me see the way.
That’s enough. I have said too much. Please forgive me for running off at the mouth.
You are always in my prayers.
That quote from ‘Isaac of Nineveh’ has very similar affects on my thinking to that of ‘Plato’s Cave’. The difference being the additional added character of God actively intervening in the cave to free our fixed gaze from staring at the shadows on the wall. (Or maybe there was a character like that? I can’t recall).
David, there is nothing wrong in anything you have said to me. You are being honest and forthright. What is there to forgive?
At the end of the day I don’t know how anyone can chafe at the thought that subjective experiences and values might be sentimental. I am intensely sentimental. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with it. The first time we took Micah to one of the local rivers he picked up a rock and gave it to me. I have carried that rock with me ever since. I’m sentimental. I don’t understand why that is so offensive.
As far as the monks and saints go I have no choice, but to accept the stories about them as hearsay. That’s it. That’s all I’m really saying, brother. Maybe they know God maybe they dont. I would have to take your word on that. That’s what I hear people say.
How is it hearsay, Simon, if it is written in their own words? If you have not read Wounded By Love by Saint Porphyrios, I would highly recommend it.
Simon – I was using the term “sentimental” in the sense of “sentimentality,” i.e., “an appeal to shallow, uncomplicated emotions at the expense of reason,” “resulting from feeling rather than reason or thought,” and I thought you were doing the same. It was in that sense that I said that I have no time for religious sentiment. Its hogwash to me. Appealing hogwash? Definitely. But hogwash just the same.
Life is suffering. The Buddha knew that. And Jesus certainly understood it, since he came down from heaven and joined us in it. There is nothing sentimental about that.
He suffered and died the most horrific and humiliating death imaginable. Nothing sentimental about that, either. Then he went to hell! How unsentimental can you get?
So I want nothing to do with religious sentiment or sentimentality.
My God suffered humiliation, pain, death and hell for me. I found Him in hell and He restored me to life. That is not a religious sentiment. That’s a fact, Jack.
BTW: I have many physical mementos of children, grandchildren, parent, and others. They are very important to me. In fact, they are sacred. The sacramentality of the material world is a big part of what I am talking about. These material objects are especially sacred to me because of their connection to those I love so much. That love comes from God, who is love. So I would not say that I am sentimental about them. My love for these things is not a result of “feeling rather than reason or thought,” It is the result of my God-given understanding of what the universe really is.
I better shut up before I embarrass myself any further.
Love you, man. Thank you for your kind words to me.
David, Thank you for your question to clarify. Yes the journal Nature:
I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure that this benefits anyone, but for whatever reason I’m compelled to write this. I’m not so convinced of my righteousness whatsoever. When I contemplate what happened to the children who were fed to the ovens in the Nazi concentration camps, I see myself as the child who was delivered to the fire and I see my self as having the hands that put the child in the flames.
One thing that happened before I was baptized was a small miracle that enabled me to be able to say with complete sincerity: I am the chiefest of sinners. I’m indeed grateful for this miracle. Until it happened I wasn’t sure I could say that prayer with sincerity. And I had wondered without such sincerity whether I was ready for baptism. Thankfully, the Lord answered my prayers ‘big-time’. When I had confessed this ‘miracle’ my confessor, he said something to the effect (paraphrasing), “Welcome to the arena”.
Simon, David, Dino
I have removed this last bit of conversation. I do not want to see a replication of Ivan Karamazov’s dilemma rehashed on the blog. Simon, the dismissal of monastics is simply unnecessary and inflammatory and does nothing for the conversation. I have requested and request again that the emotional tone of comments be dialed down. Thank you.
Thanks for your reply. I am concerned to recover the mind of second temple Judaism which the Apostles and Jesus took as the presupposition for their worldview – which is reflected in the Fathers who came before Augustine. After Augustine (not to mention everything else he gets pegged for) – things like believing in the story found in 1 Enoch/Deut 32/Psalm 82 and how it formed the thought of what was going on in the work of the Messiah – had widespread acceptance even though 1 Enoch and others were not considered canonical in the end. These things, when seen through their worldview, makes room for analogical readings of Scripture which eliminate much of the need for allegorical readings – while giving allegorical readings their place.
Matthew – my caveat about what you are describing is that it is very difficult to actually discern what that generation “believed” about the stories of Enoch, etc. The modern mind is ultimately secular – “believing” that something is true only in a historical sense. It is their capacity to do something else that is lost on us. For example, moderns still think that allegory is a literary technique. It is not. It is the discernment of something that is real and true and actually there. It is not something that is merely “required” because we don’t like the literal – it is to be discerned because it is true and real. It is that mind that is lost. And that mind is likely present in a large measure in the readings of Enoch, etc.
Also, from an Orthodox perspective, we are not Protestants trying to recover some golden age. Enoch, as intriguing as it is, does not form part of the canon (except for Ethiopia) and for likely good reason. The study of Second Temple thought is interesting, and even useful, but does not represent some great wonder that must be recovered. Its study becomes part of the greater conversation.
I wish it was clearer in your writing that you are contrasting schools of interpretation. You seem to have little appreciation for the Antiochian school but at the same time do not acknowledge that the Alexandrians didn’t deny a literal meaning but believed in a deeper meaning and sought it. I just finished listening to Fr. Hopko https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/war_and_violence_in_the_ot and he and many others I’ve read would be in complete disagreement with you. But it seems you gloss over the fact that these two schools exist, are fully Orthodox, and then accuse the other side of believing things that could never be consistent with Christianity. Those are very loaded claims.
My objections are not to allegory, but to allegory as an apologetical back-up plan for everything uncomfortable due to the fact that there is a binary option imposed on the text of Scripture: either uphold that David delights in baby-head smashing or allegorize – that’s an imposition that is unwarranted. We both know that until recently our understanding of second temple Judaism (as well as much of the contextual content of the OT) was lacking – but it was not lacking in the first 3-4 centuries, it was their world. So, there is no need to return to a golden age, and I never suggested Enoch or like material be canonical, but this was their world. These interpretive options fell out of favor with Augustine (but I believe they provided the basis for Orthodox soteriology) and later the memory of these interpretations were lost – which often gives you the binary options, which really aren’t binary, people force them artificially. For example there is no command to genocide, but it’s stated as an either/or, God commands genocide or Joshua is ahistorical – all the while there was never a command to genocide.
As an aside, I believe fully that the reason Orthodox soteriology is the way it is (the Saints/Mary’s participation in our salvation, explanations for human depravity that take Satan seriously but do not deny free will, Christus Victor, missionary expansion, on and on when I’m not as tired) are explained by, and can be proven successfully, by returning to the original worldview of the N.T. and early Fathers. If we can criticize the Reformer’s for neglecting 1500 years of history, how can we be safe of such criticism if we neglect the worldview of Jesus, the Apostles, and the first 3-4 centuries which laid the basis for Canon, liturgy, etc. The first 3-4 centuries again, give us Bible, liturgy, developed Christology. Why would we not want to have their mind if we could? So, no return to a golden age, but a recovery of the Apostolic mind that gave us everything.
You didn’t respond to my original post, but again, if we know now that David is calling out in pain, the pain of his people and community, of Israel – that God would do justice for his people – in the depth of despair, I am pretty sure Christ can enter into that, and you, from all I’ve read from you, you would be the first to say, yes, Christ enters the despair of the heart, the frustration and exhaustion that evil excises us with. If we ourselves had ever lived in a darkness so bleak, that child-sacrifice, glee-filled child-head bashing to decimate a population, was an experiental memory, I think we would have more room to talk on what is Christian and what is not. Many people on this blog talk about suffering abuse at the hand of others. If there was no reason to hope for repentance in another person because the darkness in them was so extensive that they could gleefully smash children, I think asking for justice to be an appropriate response that needs no allegory. In fact, if you took someone’s story of horrific abuse, and then talked to them about it as an allegory, what abuse would you be engaging in? So, there is an interpretation consistent with history, with Christianity, and that has a deeper meaning in two ways: consolation, and the inner fight with our own passions and actual demons. Never was there a need to allegorize. Now, if there really was only two ways to read Joshua, imprecatory Psalms, etc, then I suppose I would side with you. That’s just not the case. That’s why most of the time I think what is really set before us in typology, is analogy, not allegory.
Last, on St. Isaac of Syria, of course he is correct that God has no anger, etc, in his essence – but in his energies, that is another thing. It would be just as appropriate to say, correct me if I’m wrong, that God is timeless in his essence, but in his energies he enters time and space. It seems to me that the essence/energies distinction upholds God as personal and also unknowable which removes our abilty to ascribe attributes to his essence. I’m sure you much better read than I am on these things though. What do we make of Jesus anger toward the money-changers? Is it inappropriate to ascribe anger to Christ or any emotion life in him for that matter? Of course not, otherwise we’d need a gnostic Christology. And that’s where I feel like this all leads maybe, gnosticism/Marcionism. I’m not calling you a heretic so please don’t respond as if I did. But I do think Christology should have some influence on what we can say about God in his energies. If Christ can sob, ball, over the fate of Jerusalem, we can say God has no such sobbing in his essence, but Christ in his union with humanity, can and does express every emotion we have, such that he can fully sympathize with us in every possible way being perfected as our high Priest. To deny this in his person would be some form of gnosticism. To deny that God in his energies has any emotional life leaves us with a god who cannot relate to humanity.
I will look into his writings more fully.
Thanks for your time and effort with me. If you truly believe I’m in the wrong place, pray for me. God knows I don’t want to be wrong about who he is.
This has been interesting to follow. Coming, slowly, towards Christianity from a completely inimical and antagonistic standpoint would have been impossible for me without readings of the Saints and monastics. Experiencing many recent points in life where nudges from Saints I prayed for (not to) led to a deeper and more profound sense of reality and helped me open my heart to the reality of God.
As far as prayers and keeping the world going. I dunno. Even ‘science’ is leaning towards a consciousness model, breaking their own former models. It only takes seeing prayer manifest a change in reality one time and then all bets are off. I think it’s liberating and exciting to consider prayer as a ‘reality battery’. Being in the presence of a holy person or site… it unpacks itself right in front of you. That’s pretty special.
I’ve stated this significant interpretational component before, but appears overlooked: the OT suffering and death (whether of guilty adults or innocent children) that is so unsettling to our sensibilities might, especially in the Light of Christ’s harrowing of Hades, all fall under the ‘umbrella’ that St Paul describes as: “sufferings of this present time” which will pale into insignificance “compared with the glory which shall be revealed.” (Romans 8:18)
If this is the case, the tragedy we perceive in the barbaric practices of the OT times might be a little like Plato’s cave’s projected shadows too.
A day will come when sufferers will look back and (as CS Lewis says) will be able to say that their sufferings were more than worth it.
Simon, really good. Thank you
There’s no way to circumvent saints and monastics in Orthodoxy, hey! the overwhelming majority of all hymnography of our Church, every single day, each Vespers, every Matins of the Year, are mainly about them (and by them). The Orthodox Church is the Church of the Saints – no rest is found by those who are unsettled and unversed with this, until they reconcile themselves with it.
Although Simon, I am forced by your description into reevaluating the term fathead. I have always thought of it as a pejortive. Perhaps it ought to become a compliment praising some on for their brains? As in “Wow, to come up with that idea, you must be a real fathead!”
Michael, the lipids act as insulators to the neurons just as nylon thermoplastic insulates electrical conductors in your home.
Dino, I get the feeling that you think that it is only through the weakness of our emotions that causes people to be unsettled by suffering. I just want you to know that truthfully from the bottom of my heart if remaining orthodox means that I will eventually be like you—then I am GONE. If the destruction of human life is something that we can just pass off as just some temporary inconvenience, then what are doing here?
I appreciate the questions and the conversation. This response will probably not be sufficient to all of your points and questions, but I hope it will help to suggest something of what I am doing and what I think.
First, the so-called Antiochene/Alexandrian split – the “two schools” – that represent different proper poles of Biblical exposition is, I think, largely a fiction of German Protestant historical studies that sought to dismiss the allegorical method and exalt the German historical approach. It is a common trope that has been repeated so many times that it can be found in many places and everyone just assumes it to be true.
I would suggest a good read on the Antiochene School: Fr. John Behr’s The Case Against Diodore and Theodore. I found it a slog to read, but worth the effort. Solid, patristic scholarship rather than German mythology.
The fact is that the Antiochene School was largely Nestorian in thought and method and did not form one of two poles in the Church’s thought. Their use of historia, was actually bizarre, in many cases utterly refusing to see anything(!) in the OT as actually referring to Christ, other than the few prophecies that seemed undeniable. They divorced the OT from the NT in many ways – not unlike their fissure between the humanity and divinity in Christ.
But, for Protestant thought, the historical was championed because it divorces the Scriptures from the Tradition of the Church (and its authority in reading it). Protestantism want a Bible that was, more or less, independent of the Church, and more subject to reason – hence the development of various historical methods of reading. The Antiochene School was something that was latched on to as a justification.
The Liturgical life of the Church and the Church’s use of the OT in its worship life and texts is dominantly more allegorical (I’m using this in the broadest sense of the word) than historical. Indeed, the Church’s whole eschatological understanding, in which the Lamb is slain before the foundation of the earth, etc., represents a triumph of a Christological reading over the kind of pure historicism of the Antiochene approach. That is to say, their work does not play an important role in the dogmatic and hermeneutical work of the Church.
Having said that, it is obvious that the texts have a literal and historical meaning. It can be seen. However, it does not form a proper basis for dogmatic construction and understanding – nor can it because, taken alone, and apart from a Christological reading, it is but shadow. If it were otherwise, then how is it we are no longer under the Law, and how is it that the Laws are not applied to the Church?
The movement away from a historical reading begins in the NT. How could the Gentiles not be circumcised unless there is something greater by which we read those texts?
That’s some suggestions on that matter.
As to the energies and essence and emotions. Christ is fully human as well as fully God. As human, He has emotions. He is not, however, ruled by the passions. The emotions He has are whole, complete, good and without sin (rarely the case for us). The anger of Christ is, I think, often misused to justify our anger, when our anger is rarely anything other than sinful (being a product of shame).
God does not have an “emotional” life – I’m not at all sure what saying that He did would even mean. When we speak of His wrath, etc., the words are our effort to describe something that is, at best, analogous, but not properly described as an “emotion.”
God knows us utterly. When you suggest that He must have emotions in the manner we do in order to relate to us is an importation of modern psychological assumptions into somewhere they do not belong. First, “emotion” itself is a modern term that, in the theory of personality is by no means something we necessarily can point to as consitutive of what it means to be “person.” I do not mean that we will not “feel,” nor that we should not “feel,” etc., but that those very things are quite complex and bound up with a host of problems. It is we who need God to heal us – which He does by becoming human – but without sin. I’m not certain that I’ve ever had an emotion that wasn’t somehow also tied up in my brokenness and sin. I would love to know what it is to sorrow as Christ sorrowed. It was pure, unalloyed with sin. Our sorrow is pretty much never so clean.
Fr. Thomas Hopko and I differ, I think, on the thing about violence. Indeed, I was sort of surprised when he first did some talks on it, in that they seemed to contradict some things he had said at an earlier time. I wasn’t sure whether it was a new thought, a reaction to something he perceived as an error, or whether it was something he had always thought but not said as clearly. I wish I had had an opportunity to discuss it with him more deeply. I’ve talked to others about it – some of whom shared my reaction.
As to Marcionism/Gnosticism. I hear that criticism frequently as a defense of the vital importance of a historical reading of the OT. Oddly, Origen, whatever one might say of him, was neither a Marcionite nor a Gnostic, nor did anyone ever charge him with such. But, I’ve seen where the exaltation of the historical reading goes – it runs in the two directions of Protestantism, either a dead fundamentalist defense of the text with things as silly as a 7,000 year-old earth, or a triumph of historical-critical method in which everything dissolves into nothing.
The texts of Scripture are only rightly read dogmatically, from the point of view of the faith of the Church as it has been revealed. Whatever serves that understanding is acceptable. If a literal treatment is of use (as in the frequent use of OT illustrations for moral exhortation) then that’s fine. But it is the Christological reading, in whatever manner, that is ultimately authoritative in the life of the Church.
I do not believe in the Two-Schools theory. That’s not really an Orthodox idea.
In your last point – to know God is something that comes for us by keeping the commandments of Christ, and being immersed in the life of the Church – its prayers, its sacraments, its practices. That alone gives the light of Christ in which we read the Scriptures.
Now – for what I think I’m doing:
I write in a world dominated by the modernist assumptions of Protestantism, often in a secularized form. Most people have never heard of or seen the typical Orthodox treatment of the OT – nor seen how it is used in that manner (in the wide varieties of allegorical or Christological interpretation). I think the Orthodox use of Scripture belongs to neither of the Protestant schools (literalism vs. historical-critical) but is something entirely different. If I come down strongest on a certain point or emphasis, it is what I generally deem most important for someone to see and hear in order to understand Orthodox thought.
I hope that is useful in our conversation – to promote mutual understanding.
Thank you so much for your response to Matthew…and thank you Matthew for your questions. I’ve said it before, Father, but your comments at times are more pithy and cogent to me than your articles. Thanks!
If this life is really of so little value that its only meaning is found in being completely forfeited for the future life, then why are we here? Just to show that we would make the forfeit? Why did Jesus cry at the death of Lazarus? Stupid me thought that it was because human life had value and when its lost there is something of a tragedy in that. Of course, if every loss in next to nothing in value when compared to the glory of heaven, then why not march into the city and just kill everyone in it?
Simon, there were early martyrs who thought this way (concerning their own lives) and they were reprimanded for it. The Church values what it has received and it has received Life. And not just life as a gift of existence but the very Life of God. This Life is never of little value (as I know you do not believe, but I want to respond to your question); death is never what the Church chooses because it recognizes the Life of God sustaining all things.
The problem of pain, without publcly going into personal issues, is one I was forced -like many others- to “study” again and again and again. Especially its impact on our perception of God’s love for us. And especially what it is that is within man’s feeble powers to do about it – what God does is God’s business. This drives a great deal of what i keep returning to as i hope it can help oters too.
Nothing we can do will stop God loving us, but, He will also stop at nothing (other than our free-will) to make us worthy of our high calling. God is desperate for us to give Him a reason (from within our own freedom of self-determination-towards-Him) to save us.
The least inclination –hatched inside a soul– to surrender our wretched self-will (something man will normally never even begin to attempt), will be instantly seized by God and exploited to save: it will be used to assist us in turning genuinely towards Him and away from our egos/selves.
This can seem most difficult for us at times though, and the way it is brought to fruition without, abolishing free-will, can be ‘crucificially’ painful for us at times.
The more positive and benign the ‘methods’ required, and which are deemed sufficient enough to bring about change in us, (for our entire being to turn Godwards), the better it is for us of course.
An awareness of our utter weakness, merged with thankfulness for God’s eternal mercies, (brought about through a variety of methods) instantly causes this vital, salvific reorientation of our entire being Godwards. However, the ‘inverse’ subjective interpretation of the ‘methods’ used to bring this about, i.e.: a negative view of ‘how things are’: one of intense self-will, further self-centerdness, suspicion and distrust of God’s providence, plant us firmly in a camp of insolence and undermine our own interest.
Its true that my many mistakes and sins themselves eventually, can sometimes indirectly show me some of the force of my God-spurning self-absorption, (through their painful consequences). However, the weightier the sins are, the less I normally suspect their profundity while still wallowing in them; this is because they are a ‘disguised evil’.
Pain however, (whether as consequence of sin or not), is an exposed evil, an unmistakeable evil; who doesn’t know that something is wrong when they are being hurt? So the pain and suffering that plague our lives, are but another tool in God’s hands for salvation and the more we strive to interpret it this way, the better for our soul’s direction.
Our dangerous and unbeknown to us self-absorption is given a disruption, a chance, an upset, by this tool, as it forces us to consider this (self-absorbed) life’s futility.
Now, far more practically, what we ought to do in the face of this agony and pain is just this: what a child does when it gets scared and turns to look at its mother… It does not look at what is scaring it, contemplating the thing or dissenting at its own mother about it.
So we do best to simply turn to Christ, away from angst, stress, downheartedness and mutiny, without self-repression but with trustful gratitude no matter what the challenge to the contrary might be. It is a most simple counsel that unfortunately creates push-back in its simplicity. We somehow leave it last, after we have tried all other ideas that come to our heads and they have all failed us. Then and only then do we realise that ‘thinking much’ is no match to trusting, believing and humbly loving, which we (other than painstakingly scrutinising these notions and failing) never risked surrendering to. The truth that there can be times when our push-back stems from our approach to the fearful place of “my God why hast Thou forsaken me?” does not mean we must make a huge chapter of it alone. That would put us in a most perilous position…. That we will have suffering, we have been warned about by Christ, let us focus on the rest of His admonition which can truly help us though : “take courage for I have overcome”.
Simon – Christ freed me from my hell and He continues to do so. (My response to the fellow on the street is , “Yes, I am saved. And I am being saved and I hope to be saved at the end of my life.”) When Simon rails own about the suffering of little children, I see my Lord and Savior in those children, as He has taken upon Himself the pain and suffering of all mankind. For Simon to suggest and for you to agree that, to be truly Orthodox, I must take upon myself the suffering of all mankind was more than I could bear. I cannot bear my Lord’s burden for Him. I can only praise and thank Him for bearing mine.
First, Simon, you mainly missed the thrust of what I was saying. I would just be re-writing what I said to respond. David’s prayer, in a defeated state of depression on behalf of Israel, is something Christ can sympathize with. Our enemies, and we live in a Disneyland where we have none and have no way to sympathize with such an “un-Christian” prayer, Christ can conquer. Our enemies, our sin, which leave us tormented by guilt for sin, Christ can forgive. On and on, I could keep going and I never needed to deny David the validity of his prayer – or a consistently Christian application of it. Again, what will you do with the Saint’s blood under the sacrificial altar, calling out, “How long…? It’s the same sort of prayer. It’s a prayer for the inequity to be done away with and there are only two ways: repentance (which in Revelation is the point of all the judgment as in the OT), and judgment – unless we want some more hermeneutical gymnastics.. God delivers people over to Satan in Corinth so that they will come back – and often they do. Judgment is hard love.
I feel as if the commonality I share with you has been underestimated and downplayed. Of course I see that the proper way of reading the OT, what you call an allegorical reading, is the reading that interprets the OT through the lens of Christ’s Pascha (and his entire life for that matter). The difference for me, is that most of the time I see it by analogy. Christ is analogous to the sacrificial system, but in a greater way. I want to preserve the analogy and I believe it is being broken by people who often deny the reality of an event or ascribe error to the theology contained in something recorded (Joshua was never commanded to do x,y,z, David was sinful or stupid when he talks about baby smashing). I see an allegory between pagan religion and Christ, but an analogy between the OT (in large part, not exclusively) and Christ and for an analogy to exist – you have to have some basis in reality which you have denied in other places – where I said there must be a Passover to get a Pascha. If you need an analogy, you need a Passover. If you allegorize you don’t technically. It leaves the OT on par with the best of pagan writings – that’s how it comes across in your responses.
You have to admit that for many interpreters they were faced often with only two ways of reading a text (since contextual information into the OT was lacking; either take it at face value or try and interpret it anew with a view to the Cross/Resurrection while lacking such contextual information). Origen was very different in this manner. He did both and more. Why in the world would he write all those commentaries, be the father of textual criticism, compile the Hexapla. He did it all. All I’m saying, is that in many cases, especially where we are dealing with an apologetic issue – because when anyone reads God’s wrath in the OT they are faced either corporately or personally with an apologetic issue because a question arises regarding the goodness of God – that this is a false dichotomy to choose only between false theology and Christian allegory. This is often the motive behind allegory as it relates to wrath and it moves on from their to other “attributes”. (Aquinas and others didn’t believe God had any wrath, love, etc. – that’s just how we experienced him.) And it is the same concern in Protestant circles. I’m already aware of the conservative Protestant concerns, how they relate to Sola Scriptura. The questions that arise from viewing God as angry and vengeful are shared alike by Protestants/Orthodox and atheists who love to quote-mine the Bible for God’s dirty work. Then there is the work of OT specialists who provide context and understanding into the way in which the original hearer would have processed what was going on. To say these people provide no value, because as you have said, we don’t care about authorial intent, is a fundamentalism of another sort to me. The move away from 6 Day Creationism in conservative Protestant circles (and you know it exists in Orthodoxy so another false comparison) was due to science but also very much in seeing the literary differences in Genesis. That’s a good thing I would think.
The mark of a prophet was a direct revelation of God which is the same goal of theosis. If we can say that the prophets saw God, recorded what God gave them or their best effort aided by the Spirit to communicate their experience, I find it hard to believe they got so much so wrong.
I don’t claim you are anthropomophizing, it’s that you are saying the prophets were. Again, I find it very hard to say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit… who spake by the Prophets”, if the Holy Spirit inspired errors or inspired false anthropomorphisms. As you do not wish this Alexandrian/Antiochian split forced on you, I also do not find it fair to now lump me into a Protestant/liberal Protestant dichotomy.
More, I don’t feel as if you personally have been as upfront with your own conditioning. All of us, myself included, have been conditioned one way or another and we often withhold our own preferences/prejudices to interpret the Bible this way of that because we want to look objective. I was thoroughly Calvinistic before coming to Orthodoxy and extremely conservative, you were a mixture of a fundamentalist and a liberal Protestant who I believe attended a liberal-Protestant seminary. Neither of us can escape our past, I know I can’t. But leaving my Calvinism and Protestant baggage didn’t force me into liberal-Protestant concerns or, binary options. Many conservative Protestants were convinced that Reformation theology was wrong due to people like N.T. Wright who showed contextually that the Reformer’s assumptions were wrong and that they were answering questions that the Bible didn’t pose – and they have been led into the Church. I know Wright is part of the reason I’m Orthodox. But, for most Orthodox as well – since I listen to lectures from their seminaries – usually they will listen to “authorial intent” interpretations and can often see that Tradition was more influenced by “authorial intent” – which elaborates and elucidates the typology of Israel and Christ, why the early Fathers thought they way they did, etc.. You and I are a product in many ways, as much as we both hate it I’m sure, of our time. Can you really say, well, I know you can’t from other posts – that archaeology, evolution, the ancient near-Eastern context the Bible was written in, cosmology, etc. – have not biased us toward interpretive directions? Of course not. The mainline Protestant takes evolution as the way of things, de-historicizes much of the OT, discards the theology as being an infantile process, understands God only as love, and are by and large Universalists. Why should they arrive at such a similar understanding of God as many Orthodox? Think about it, it would be far easier for a liberal Protestant to accept your theology than a conservative Presbyterian who is not a fundamentalist. Why is that? When the mainline Churches ditched Sola Scriptura, inerrancy, they were left with the same apologetical (by apologetical I mean it as defined above, mainline Churches have by and large no need for apologetics) concerns as anyone else who picks up the Bible. Treat it as pagan literature, an infantile process, etc. When the reason for allegory is apologetic, while there may still be a valid application derived, the analogy is destroyed – true typology is destroyed. Say we believed, as many do, that the sacrificial system was a concession by God to do the pagan thing they were used to – now Christ is analogous to a mistaken people, by allegory he could be like any pagan sacrifice – which is why we get Penal Substitution. Plus, your Universalist tendencies are very obvious among your posts – which would make sense of your preference for what you have said are passages with no possibility of reconciliation with Christianity when taken literally.
So it would be fair if you gave me similar treatment, noticing how I have may have been conditioned. I don’t want to make assumptions about you but to emphasize the lack of bias in each of us. According to Simon anyone who would uphold God as having wrath – needs to believe in such a God – and is a fundamentalist.
My comments on God’s emotional life did not need disection, you knew what I meant. God in his energies is dynamic, personal, interactive, changing. If Christ is fully personal or relatable to human existence and he portrays the full range of human emotion – then when he calls his Father kind, loving, tender, wrath-withholding, wrath-abiding, etc. – then, while Christ must relate to us in our limited state – it is no violene to God to say he has an emotional life. It’s not a modern projection and it’s not fully anthropomorphic.
I never suggested Christ’s anger was a justification for our anger, I’m not sure why you included that, I never inferred such a thing.
I think, it would satisfy me to have you say, yes, there is a way to preserve history, God’s commands that sound like genocide (but are not, when we read them in the context of their situation, that we lack their “supernatural” worldview which included demons, people sold fully into demonic captivity, that since Israel was in some ways synoynomous with Israel violence against them was against God, that repentance was preferred over killing, that when people come into your town smashing your children – which I doubt anyone commenting here has taken some time to digest what an experience that may be – that they may be justified in asking for justice – and that typology, practical application, deeper truths are all still there and when understood correctly are fully Christian. Otherwise, the whole history of Orthodox interpretation that agrees with me, or I with them, is not consistent with Christianity.
God bless you Father,
Juliania- Thank you for sharing on The Brothers K. It was very helpful to me.
I’ve run the gamut from Catholic to Calvinist, but when a priest gave me an hour and a half introduction to Orthodoxy, I realized that I couldn’t carry my old “passport” into this country. Orthodoxy existed outside of the stream of Western philosophical debate, so any preconceptions I brought in would be useless or harmful. Reading my upbringing or my 21st century notions into ancient teachings would only lead to delusion. I know that there are a number of 20th century converts who have written books about Orthodoxy, but I’ve only read “The Orthodox Church.” I’m hesitant to read others because even though they have converted, I can’t be sure they’ve “de-Westernized” their basic way of thinking. I’m much safer going back to older material. About “The Problem of Pain,” that is a relatively early work of C.S. Lewis. I’ve heard that later in life, he rethought much of that and saw it as youthful inexperience. Besides, he was still a thoroughly Western man and his thinking remains within that box.
Is there something wrong with challenging the anti-Western sentiments in Orthodoxy?
I apologize for any unfairness or inferences that were wrong. I don’t think I meant to do that, but it’s easy to not get these things right. Please note that I removed Simon’s comment, in that I thought it did not advance the conversation – but added to the confusion. Sorry.
I will say carefully, at the outset, that what you’ve said regarding the validity of David’s prayer is a very good and valid point and well worth making – as well as your thoughts viz. genocide. The historical has an importance – one that at least deserves fair treatment and careful study and not to be too easily dismissed as it often is. And I can see how some of my work and responses could be taken too much in that direction.
Since you mention being upfront with my own conditioning – I’ll start there. All of this I hope will be by way of conversation and not by way of point-counter-point or argument. So, let’s start again.
1.Fundamentalism and Liberalism – I’ve never been either, but have had lots of experience of being surrounded by both and exposed to them. By fundamentalism, I mean a kind of literalism regarding the text in which everything is utterly, historically accurate, precisely as stated and can only be examined in that light (I don’t know if that’s a sufficient description). By liberalism, I mean someone who does not think that the Scriptures are authoritative and that they are filled with factual errors and bad ideas, etc. The first was the world of my childhood (at least at Church) though not in my home. My parents were never fundamentalists. They would have been called “moderates,” I suppose, though they didn’t think very much about any of these things.
The liberalism I encountered in college and seminary (Anglican) in abundance. I thought it was bankrupt and I generally couldn’t see why anyone who thought in that manner bothered to be a Christian. I knew priests and professors who did not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. Again, this never held any attraction for me.
So, I found myself, for a very long time, in a crack between two worlds, both of which I found wanting. But, no doubt, their questions have influenced me, and how I think about what seems important.
I should say that I’ve never been exposed much to Reform or Calvinist thought, other than with unpleasant arguments that have arisen from time-to-time on the internet.
But the two ends of the Protestant spectrum have raised certain questions for me:
1.If there is historical uncertainty within some of the texts of Scripture, are they fatally flawed, or is there a way to read them authoritatively?
I suppose that it is that question that drew me towards what I often encountered in the Fathers – their ability to handle the text in a manner that transcended the problems created by modern historical questions.
2.What is the relationship between text and history?
This is a question that is obviously related to the Protestant spectrum, a good portion of which is generated by the nature of modern historical research and studies and the critical approach associated with it.
It has seemed to me that both ends of the spectrum treat the history itself (the events on the ground) as the essential matter – and the question being whether the text is a reliable account of those events. I am no doubt affected by this process. I’ve seen and read and heard many of the varied historical arguments regarding various texts, besides the more obvious ones. I’ve been exposed to enough of that to know (or believe) that trying to defend the faith on this basis simply makes the text hostage to the historical arguments (one way or another). This has seemed like a problem that is distinctly modern and a mistake, if adopted by an Orthodox Christian.
My reason for this is that I do not think the text has a careful one-on-one relationship with the events it reports – at least not always – and for a variety of reasons. The text is primarily written from a doctrinal/revelatory/liturgical direction in which accounts are shaped in a manner that strict historiography would not always approve. This, to my mind, in no ways affects the text’s reliability as authoritative Scripture (useful for “doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” 2 Tim. 3:16)
Saying that, of course, can make it seem like I do not value the historical question or reading at all, or enough. If so, that’s my fault, and I can only plead the inadequacy of my own explanations as well as my concern that the text not be hostage to historical arguments.
I think, to be fair, that you are not arguing for such a hostage relationship, but that the historical reading be given more weight and proper attention. I cede the point.
Allegory, Typology, Analogy, etc.
I want to be a little more clear about what I’m trying to say regarding the use of allegory. I have used the term in its largest sense (similar to Paul’s), in which the term includes the various means that may be hidden within or beneath the literal. Typology is a form of allegory in this classical meaning of the word – and perhaps my use of the term is confusing. I apologize – but I’m not sure I have a better word, as yet.
I do not follow the argument, which I’ve seen before, that the thing read in a typological manner must be a historical fact for the typology to be true. At least that’s a question I’ve heard raised. I don’t know if that is your concern or not. What we have is the text – and what is described in the text is the type – the historical question is not uninteresting or unimportant, but is not a sine qua non in the matter.
The primary criticism of the allegorical method that I have seen in the Fathers, is a criticism of its excesses. Let’s say someone read “bush” in the text, but said the bush was “the virtues.” There are lots of sort of specious examples in some allegorical treatments, including Origen. No, the bush must be a bush in order to be a type. The burning bush is a type of the Virgin Mary, for example, who, like the bush, bears fire but is not consumed (she is ever-virgin). I have no problems about the historical question of Moses seeing a burning bush (I believe it), but what we have is the text – and it is the description in the text that serves as the type. I do not have to have an argument about bushes.
I go a step further than mere analogy or literary typology – and this, I think, is also a way of taking the history seriously. I see the Christological reading as similar to the sacraments. I see bread and wine, but I believe and know it to be Christ’s Body and Blood. The truth of the bread and wine are sacramental. Christ is truly there – not allegorically, not analogically, etc. By the same token, the Christological reading is a discernment of what is truly there, beneath and within the letter (and within the history). It is the primary meaning – though not destroying or discarding the other. Thus, the Virgin Mary is truly present in the Burning Bush. She is not inferred or merely seen by analogy – but is truly there, beneath and within the letter.
I think this agrees with a patristic understanding – I have in mind this passage from St. Irenaeus:
This has come out of conversations and correspondence with Fr. John Behr. He describes this as “reading the Scripture as Scripture.” It also reminds me of this in St. Maximus:
Am I overly concerned with the Scriptures being held “hostage to history?” That could be, and you would be correct to point at my background experience as something that has shaped that concern. My attempt at understanding has been to remove the question and the Scriptures outside of the entire conversation between conservative and liberal Protestantism. I think they both crash and burn in the end.
On the emotions of God – I’m not sure I responded well or with understanding on that matter, and I ask your forgiveness. I suspect that a face-to-face conversation would be required to really get at what we both want to say and understand each other.
I appreciate your persistence and take it to mean that this matters to you – that what I think and say matters to you – and that this is worth spending the time and effort on. I pray God’s blessings for you!
Not on the face of it. But I think it takes us in a direction that I don’t want to go. It’s a different conversation.
Thank your for the thoughtful response and the time you put into it. I very much appreciate it. God bless you and your flock.
I’d like to know if anything within my response seems problematic or inadequate. I’m interested.
I realized as well that I did not respond to your observations on my “universalist leanings.” Briefly: I think God is a universalist, in the sense that “He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That is also balanced with the fact that He wills for us to become “by grace what He is by nature” – that He wills us to be friends, and, in that sense, treats us as equals (cf. my recent article on Face to Face). That being said, our freedom is allowed a god-like power (such is His love). That we might refuse His welcome is thus a distinct possibility. I have never denied that.
But, and this is where I think my “leanings” are most evident: I believe that my heart should be like God’s – always willing the salvation of everyone. That, for me, means holding some form of hope that it is actually possible, even though I have no evidence to claim that I know it will become fact. I simply observe that many who do not hold that hope seem to develop something within their heart that is at peace with the loss of some – i.e. something goes wrong in their heart. That’s not necessarily the case – but I observed it rather commonly.
There is no teaching of the Church that proclaims universalism, however. On the contrary, there are some strong voices in the other direction. It is the thin voice of a few (St. Isaac, Nyssa, and a few others) that makes me know that at least voicing the hope is not out of bounds. I generally do not voice it very loudly or firmly – but, mostly, as a “leaning.” Mostly it is as a pushback against those who too easily want to crush the hope.
I should add that though universalism would be (and is) a popular liberal notion, for their own reasons, my reasons have nothing in common with theirs. Having endured and suffered at the hands of liberals across my 20 years as an Anglican priest, I can say that there is very little in common with them in anything. I paid a price to be where I am, and did not do so only to become what I loathed.
I hope that this is helpful, at least in understanding why I say what I say – its intent. Again, I appreciate the time you’ve put into this conversation, and welcome any feedback or thoughts.
I appreciate everything you write and I very much appreciated the added clarity of these comments too. I always trusted that these notions were the foundation of your (truly tradition-aligned) ‘phronema’ in all your communication here and suspected that they were as you describe them here, but it is also useful for everyone to know them spelled out so.
I have just read the exchange between Father and Matthew Lyon and found it to be quite edifying, to say the least. This kind of exchange is what I am here for. I started to read this blog many years ago and have learned much not only from Father’s commentary, but from the exchanges between Father and commentators, and exchanges between the commentators themselves. I would not be Orthodox but for this blog. My wife will not even set foot in an Orthodox church, so this blog is still my primary Orthodox community. Thank you all, especially Father Stephen, for all you do for me and the many, many others who read without commenting. Glory to God for all things, indeed!
David and Dino,
I want to join you thanking Matthew and Father for this conversation.
These sentences in your comment are some of the most beautiful words I have ever read on this blog:
“Why would we not want to have their mind if we could? So, no return to a golden age, but a recovery of the Apostolic mind that gave us everything.”
“Thanks for your time and effort with me. If you truly believe I’m in the wrong place, pray for me. God knows I don’t want to be wrong about who He is.”
Thank you so much for these words…
No, I did not find anything problematic. I have concerns when issues regarding the goodness of God put us in a place of judgement over the Scriptures by steering us in interpretive directions – often when the dilemma is unnecessary due to not having the context or worldview of the original hearers. I suppose we are all prone to do this, but I am very concerned about balance and I trust you are as well. Do I wish everyone to be saved, yes, but I don’t know how that could be possible without denying free will – yet I don’t consider it an impossibility, but it runs contrary to a robust notion of free will. I gave up a rigid Calvinism to become Orthodox which affirmed free will but said it was useless when it came to salvation.
I cannot help seeing universalism as a byproduct or sister to a Calvinistic mindset because both systems negate the functionality of free will as having (over even having the capability of having) a determinative value in their salvation; people get saved whether their will is involved or not in both systems. So, surely this all colors my thinking. I think it is likely, very likely, that people who lean universalist would more readily allegorize “hard” passages because it is inconsistent with their prejudice. I would have a much easier time embracing annihilation because it leaves free will in tact and the rationale flowing from man’s goal in theosis: man had conditional immortality but never reached the goal. Hell would be non-existence, an eternal loss, an end to an opportunity for theosis. But still I feel outside the bounds of Orthodox theology, though I have this hopefulness – it does steer my interpretations I’m sure, but more so, free will guides them.
I would think that an annihilationist and someone who believes in an eternal hell (whatever that may be) would not be as likely to feel a need to allegorize hard passages – but this is not because of a lack of love, or due to a desire to see God be vengeful since I would be the first to deserve justice. It would really come down to seeing man and his decisions carrying extreme weight – and at the same time these “stakes” are part of what establishes man as different from the rest of creation and worthy of respect and sacrifice. But I have to look my kids in the eye, one of which asked me if we could die in hell. I asked him if he thought he would go to hell and I think it was an open question for him (he is 9). I assured him of God’s love, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and that he is constantly patient with us :”If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us.” The greatest challenge to your theology is how it applies to your children I am inclined to think.
But coming to a belief in real free will (as opposed to an artificial distinction raised by Reformed theologians) was a radical shift coming from my background. Sometime, if you want to acquaint yourself with a good introduction to Reformed soteriology, and I’m sure you could quickly see the flaws, pick up a used copy of Lorraine Boettner’s, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (and then think hard about how every Evangelical and Protestant once held this theology and then only modified it). I did think the other day though, and maybe this is worth pursuing even though it is sci-fi, but in a multiverse (which I don’t believe in, this is just hypothetical) you could have universal salvation if God chose the correct “us” out of each world. So, I don’t lean that way theologically, but emotionally I do. I believe that God loves everyone equally and it is our calling to do the same and to hope/strive for every person’s salvation indiscriminately.
Again, I want to thank you for the time and effort you give to this blog. I know my Priest puts in quite a workload so to do this on top of your other responsibilites is commendable. I am in full agreement that our hearts should never withhold or resist the active of love that is to move through us from God towards all his creatures, including those who are still without knowledge of Him – whether or not that is a difficult or an easy thing.
I felt quite relieved and satisfied after your post, myself having some investment in the conversation time-wise. So, thank you again. I’m going to take a little break from posting but will return before long.
God bless you Father,
I don’t know what to think of it and am sometimes almost suspicious of its ‘niche’, but there does exist a free -will-retaining-universal-apokatastasis in St Isaac the Syrian. He sees Hell as a truly unbearable suffering who’s function is eventually purgatorial, making even Satan come to his senses and repent in free will. I have heard solid argumentation from saints both ways though.
Matthew Lyon and Dino,
Dino is correct (thanks, by the way). I think there is a difference between an apokatastasis (final reconciliation of all things) as an eschatological outcome, and an apokatastasis as a final necessary outcome. St. Isaac’s view is rooted in God’s patience and goodness, but not any way in a lack of freedom, etc. It is a statement of what the St. believed will happen rather than must happen. It is St. Isaac’s thought that undergirds a notion of hope. The other take, would be the sort of thing that has been condemned by the Church.
Regarding free will, the type of Christian Universalism I have seen in no way postulates God’s override of the unrepentant will, but rather its transformation through the sufferings of Hell. Those who hold this understanding also point out there is a problem with our modern voluntarist notions of “freedom”, where that is defined as the choice between options. Fr. Stephen will have to correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is the biblical and genuinely Christian understanding is that a sinful state represents not freedom, but the bondage of the will and a darkened mind from which Christ came to set us free, since we could not save ourselves. True human freedom of will is when we will in accord with the true good and purpose of our own human nature.
I may be wrong but if one has had a meeting with the Lord and maintains a conscious rememberance of that meeting a goo d bit of the theology is moot.
It can be helpful in setting boundaries that must not be crossed and helpful in directing one’s thoughts and beliefs and actions but it too shall pass away.
Bad theology does more harm than correct theology does good, I think. Even good theology can be a block in some people’s hearts to actually encountering Jesus Christ.
The actual meeting and inter-relationship confirms the good theology in a synergistic manner.
Jesus is really who He says He is. He is faithful, merciful and just as is His Father even when He temporarily brings destruction. A destruction that even the most innocent among us is heir to except for the Cross.
Wow unto me when I forget or am neglectful of my Lord. Worse yet when I rebel.
Our world is both a fore taste of hell even in it’s highest pleasures and of the Kingdom even in deepest suffering. We can only serve one master.
Father et al,
What you wrote made me reflect how St Isaac’s view of apokatasis is of a piece with his utter trust in God’s providence that: the Lord always allows evil (born of free-wills) only inasmuch as good can come from it (Genesis 50:20). So, even the most unbearable suffering, even gehenna is part of this for him. It is eventually proved, only with the benefit of hindsight, to have been pedagogic. St Isaac is sublime.
(On a very different note:)
Of course, philosophically, there is a whole different aspect to all this that one can (philosophically) get really badly caught up on: that of time (and the different types of it if you like) and how intelligible beings’ participation in it, or not, affects their eternal state…
Lossky covers those notions in some detail: Eternity (created) for the intelligible world is “aeonic” (from aion/ αἰῶν) eternity. It began as time, passing from non-being to being, to a non-temporal immutable existence. For Maximus, the interpenetration of the aion is “immobile time”, and of time is “the moving aion”. The interpenetration of the two can make time thinkable.
The angelic world and human beings both partake of time and of the aion, but in different manners. Human condition is temporal, but in a time rendered intelligible by the aion. Angels knew of the free choice of time only at the moment of their creation: a type of instantaneous temporality from which they left for an aion of praise and service, or else of revolt and hatred. However a process exists in the aion, since angelic nature can ceaselessly increase in acquiring eternal benefits but without temporal succession.
As for divine eternity, it cannot be defined either by the change proper to time or by immutability proper to the aion. It transcends both. It is apophatic for us, as we cannot even think of the living God according to the eternity of mathematical laws.
The uncreated surpasses all oppositions.
So, the creation from nothingness of ‘other-than-God’ time-space-matter beings, called to enter His eternity according to the divine will, makes our current understanding of what might be in the eschata always speculative (due to this added problem that we cannot know what sort of time/change/immutability etc we are talking about).
Now what some God-seeing saints have had revealed to them is clearly of interest, but this is one of the areas where there is disparity.
Michael Batman – Amen, my friend. Amen.
Michael, I don’t think you’re wrong. 🙂
Beautiful Michael, thank you!
This is over my nous.
What you are describing is a purgatorial view of hell. I’ve read defenses of it and I sympathize with it. For me, the “hiddenness” of God is explained by his desire to uphold our free will. If God overwhelmed us with “proof” of his existence, we would be forced to believe, and would probably see him as brute force – we would believe unwillingly. God, if he appeared to us as such a “force” would more resemble a love-crazed stalker, constantly loving us, trying to convince us that life with him is best for us, and he wouldn’t give up until we were convinced – regardless of if we wanted him or not. It seems this is the reason he does not overwhelm us by forcing us to believe, either instantaneously or over a long, indefinite period of time. Instead, he expects our synergy with the measure of revelation we have. Yet we have the example of what became the demonic realm who enjoyed such a closeness (in what measure we do not know) with God and yet did not want him in the end – the experience of God was not enough to keep them. So, imaginatively, I cannot see how a purgatorial hell, could result in a completely universal reconciliation. If God is hidden from us to uphold free will, so as not to force our obedience, he upholds synergy. At the same time, when God is manifest to the non-terrestrials, it is not enough to keep them. I cannot help but feel that synergy is destroyed by universalism – but at least a purgatorial view upholds free will to a much better extent that an instantaneous, born-again moment for everyone.
My other concerns with universalism are practical. Since most laity, and I feel I have to include myself in their lot, are still in “purification”. Most of us will never reach glorification, at least according to history few do. So, preaching that comes from a presupposition of universalism (which affects the entire reading of Scripture, which Fathers to gravitate towards, which theories of this or that we adopt) will be less likely to warn, exhort, create moments of crisis which lead to repentance and lead us to illumination. I don’t mean scaring people with hell and judgment as a tactic for a holier flock, but the realization of the holiness of God: Peter in the boat saying, “Depart”, but a God who doesn’t depart. When the Church is described as hospital, it means ER and ICU just as much as a physical.
When people are not motivated initially by the fear of God during the first stages of Christian development they see their sins as trivial, optional indulgences in something “unhealthy” – like eating too much cheesecake. This is why Chrysostom is so practical and probably never revealed much of his theological genius – his desire was to awaken repentance in a “worldly” congregation. As long as people are in purification, we need to be awakened to our sinfulness – not for guilt – but for a proper understanding of our relation to God in his holiness. If a universalist tendency deadens this concern for purification, it should be seriously examined. I don’t typically listen to Fr. Freeman’s homilies except when I have AFR playing via stream so I’m not pointing any fingers – but I feel I have experienced it for myself in Orthodox settings. And again, this is very much a Protestant/liberal Protestant concern just as much as it is a conservative Catholic/progressive Catholic or conservative Orthodox/whatever you call it Orthodox, one.
If anything leads a Priest to deaden the concern for purification in their flock (whether physchology, philosophy, their beliefs in hell and how those beliefs require them to interpret the Scripture according to them, whatever) the flock will often be reassured in their sin, saved in their sins.
Again, these are the concerns, they are warranted but they may not apply broadly – but a belief in universalism is a presuppostional one, and all presuppositonal views affect the rest of thinking – unlike a belief in something like a literal millenium.
I know! those things make the little hair left on my head ache…
I often hear that practical argument against the strong assertion of universal apokatastasis too. Although to me it is not a crucial concern. Mainly because I perceive any chastisement that goes by the name of unbearable gehenna/hell, whether (1)purgatorial/temporary or (2)eternal, as more than capable of doing that job to those who listen (and neither of the two does anything as a thought to those who don’t.)
I well understand the concerns. As both preacher and confessor within a congregation, I think I get a very accurate feel for what is or isn’t being engendered in the life of the congregation. I do not mean that defensively. What I think I see is that sin creates its own misery and that people are largely motivated towards repentance for the same reasons that we are motivated towards health in our lives. Nothing sends us to the doctor quicker than a bout of misery. A difference, and a concern, is that I sometimes encounter people who, nurtured in a culture of Christian “warning,” do not feel that God is on their side. Instead, particularly in American culture, they feel that their spiritual lives are just one more place where they need to measure up and are falling short.
I am unrelenting in the proclamation of the goodness of God and that He wants our healing far more than we do and that He gains nothing by our illness and sin. I preach against sin and for God.
I do not preach universalism – or really even deal with the topic in my preaching. It is one for discussion (such as these), but I’m not sure how I could preach it as such with authority – since that authority has not been given.
But, I will say that over the years, those who see their Christianity (or their purification) as largely dependent on them, make miserable Christians. Most, I think, when they invoke synergism are closer to Pelagian than not. Our efforts consist in saying “Yes,” to God. But only grace can purify or deify. Our efforts of repentance and asceticism are efforts to yield ourselves to God – they do not create purity or divinity – nor can they.
Frankly, I’ve seen more damage done in the name of purification than otherwise…but that is mostly based on my experience as a confessor and through my correspondence with people over the years. I’m not sure if this is because of the history and mindset of our culture. I simply know that the preaching of Christianity has been so distorted in our land as to produce rampant atheism. At least, that’s my experience.
Universal reconciliation or Full restoration of God’s order in a newness of all things that is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful with out confusion?
Do not know the Greek.
Thank you Fr Stephen for your paper ! It has been translated into french by Claude Lopez-Ginisty, and it is a good thing. Thank you again
Many thanks. I am always grateful to hear of translation efforts.
As I read all these comments (not quite done) I see Jacob wrestling with God. Pondering that picture, I realize it’s not sin to wrestle with God. In fact, God says, “Bring it. I can go all day. It is in struggling with me that you find me. Fight with me and I will give you rest. I am rest. I am love.”
I saw that as well, Jeff. Thank you. And God bless.☦️
And God bless you, David. May He ever be praised.