Hindrances to Theosis: Inroads of Western Scholasticism in Orthodox Theology
The author of "Christian" textual criticism, and especially the justification for the use of secular methods to help explain the Scriptures is not the Holy Spirit. Rationalism is neither noetic nor neptic knowledge. It is not the flowering of healed human expression, of pro-creation. It is the wisdom of this world.
By the things created we see they were not created in a vacuum, but for the express purpose of allowing man-as-image to pro-create and care for the created order in co-operation with God, revealing a relationship between God and man, and showing that man, being both flesh and spirit, is the bridge between the Creator and His creation. Pre-fallen Adam was never perfected or completed in his sinless state. God always intended to lead Adam into Theosis, into fullness of relationship. Theosis wasn’t God’s plan B for mankind after the Fall, but God’s singular will for His creation from the beginning. The Fall did little to change God’s plan for mankind. St Maximus the Confessor writes in his To Thalassius that the Incarnation is the:
ineffable and incomprehensible hypostatic union of the Divine and humanity. This is the great and hidden mystery. This is the blessed destiny for which all things have been constituted. This is the premeditated divine plan in which all things have their beginning and which we speak of as the prescient purpose. It is the cause of all things and caused by none of them. With this purpose in view, God brought into being the substances of all things. This is the primary object of the prescience and forethoughts according to which all things made by God are recapitulated in Him. This mystery encloses all the ages, showing forth the infinite great counsel of God that surpasses infinity and preexists the ages eternally. The great counsel's Angel, the Word consubstantial with the Father, became a man. And He made the innermost depths of the Father's goodness apparent and showed in Himself the purpose for which indeed all creatures received their existence. Therefore, for Christ and in the mystery of Christ, all the ages and all things in them received their being and purpose. The union of limitation and limitlessness, of measure and measurelessness, of finiteness and infinity, of the creator and creation, of stillness and motion was deliberated prior to the ages. And in the last days, this [union] was revealed in Christ, in itself giving fulfillment to the foreknowledge of God. (Quote taken from Mary the Untrodden Portal of God, by George S. Gabriel, Zephyr Publishing, 2000).
Before the Fall, Man was set above creation, to be master over it. But after the Fall, Man became subject to creation. Man’s perceptions were enslaved to created things including time and space. Fallen man no longer thinks in terms of eternity, no longer has the perspective of (to use C.S. Lewis’ words) an amphibian. In other words, fallen Man stopped thinking as though he was the Crown of Creation, the bridge between Creation and the Creator.
Before I converted to Orthodoxy, I was an apologist for Cornerstone Magazine
. I dealt with incursions of neo-Orthodoxy within the Evangelical milieu. A lot. As well intended as I was, I realized I was in the same boat as the neo-Orthodox scholars because we both held to the same premise regarding faith: faith is something you have that is special, unique, and above reason, but it is something that never runs contrary to reason, or better, never runs contrary to our ability to grasp and enact that faith.
Using these same presuppositions, the neo-Orthodox went looking for a hidden god, and I justified the faith of the god I could grasp with my mind. Unfortunately for the neo's, theirs was a confession of faithlessness in anything other than the journey it takes to find their hidden god, the "Other," or, the "Thou." On the Evangelical side, reason allowed me to buttress my preconceptions of who God is and what He wants me to do. Yes, we had the Bible in common, but not the interpretation. It never occurred to me that not only could the reasonings of the Germans be amiss, but mine could as well. We both had the Bible, but we both were missing one very important thing: we went looking for the god we were expecting to see instead of being discovered by the One True God. On His terms. Not ours. I laughed at the German hidden god but was scared to death of the judging god, the god that must be appeased, the god that tolerated you so long as you didn't choke on a chicken bone or sneeze too loudly.
We both, like the philospher and heretic Barlaam maintained:
that holiness and perfection cannot be found “without division, reasoning, and analysis,” so he held that anyone desiring to possess perfection and holiness must be taught “methods of distinction, reasoning and analyzing.” But St. Gregory Palamas opposed this view as “a heresy of the Stoics and Pythagoreans.” “We Christians,” he taught, “do not regard as true knowledge that which is found in words and reasonings, but that demonstrated by deeds and life, which is not only true but also sure and irrefutable.” He goes on to say that no one can know himself through distinctions, reasonings and analyses unless his nous has been made free of conceit and evil by severe penitence and intensive asceticism. No one who has not freed his nous from conceit and evil, that is to say, who has not purified his nous, is going to be aware of his poverty, which is a useful beginning for self-knowledge. (Excerpts of St. Gregory Palamas’ Triads, Book One, 3:13 as found in Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers, Metropolitan HIEROTHEOS of Nafpaktos, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery Press, 2002)
My discoveries had the same weight as Barth, or Brunner, or for that matter, Hans Urs Von Balthassar, Aquinas, or Arius. Each of us, in our journey of scientific, philosophical, and historical discovery had ourselves and our opinions as the only real basis for determining faith. What we perceived simply was. Our reasonings, our perceptions, were our standard. God, and the things of God, were only objects to be grasped. If we could not grasp an idea of God with our minds, or found opinions that differed from our own, they were simply dismissed because they did not match up with the fruits of our labors. And who was to say differently? Aquinas and I might never have agreed on everything, but I couldn’t say he wasn’t of God because if I did that, I would call my own methods of discovering God into question, and that wasn’t going to happen.
The God of Orthodoxy is a personal God; a God Whose intention for mankind was and is to have a relationship with man; in Orthodox-speak to deify man:
I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. John 17:20-26
It seems such a waste of time to talk about God as the scholastics do so very well, when instead we should be talking to God. And when we actually know God, He makes it clear to others that we are in a relationship with Him. And from the relationship then, when we do discuss with others what we know of God, we are not like the scribes and scholars but speak with authority, from relationship. From the beginning of the created order until now, this is the only authentic way to speak of the things of God. Those who just rely on their minds to gobble up and regurgitate facts about God via systematic theologies and the like aren't necessarily anymore alive to God than the books they get their information from.
A person can rationalize and justify anything. This is why we have thousands of "Christian" denominations around the world. A true conversion to God doesn't come by assent to a carefully stated set of syllogisms -- even the Muslims do this much -- but from being embraced by the Living God. To be embraced by Him, to have a relationship with Him, cannot be measured by scientific means, nor are the justifications and rationales for the relationship ever going to be satisfactory to logicians, epistemologists, and empiricists. Therefore, their objections are ignored, and we Orthodox open our arms to them, inviting them to "taste and see that the Lord is good."
The Church is built by the historical work of the Divine economy but leads finally to the vision of God "as He is," to the vision of the Triune God in His eternal existence.
This meta-historical, eschatological and iconological dimension of the Church is characteristic of the Eastern tradition, which lives and teaches its theology liturgically; it contemplates the being of God and the being of the Church with the eyes of worship, principally of Eucharistic worship, image of the "eschata" par excellence. It is for that reason that Orthodoxy is thought of, or presented by its spokesmen, as a sort of Christian Platonism, as a vision of future or heavenly things without an interest in history and its problems. By contrast, Western theology tends to limit ecclesiology (and even the whole of theology) to the historical content of the faith -- to the economy -- and to project realities belonging to history and time into the eternal existence of God. The Church ends by being completely "historicized;" it ceases to be the manifestation of the eschata and becomes the image of this world and of historical realities. Ecclesial being and the being of God are no longer organically bound; ecclesiology no longer has a need for "theo-logy" to function. (From Being as Communion, Bp. JOHN Zizioulas, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993, pp. 19-20)
Since the West is so busy trying to scientifically re-create historical reality there is no need to see facts as anything more than that. In Orthodoxy we see life in the Son as something that doesn't stop once it gets started. After all, the fathers of the "patristic era" are not just the fathers of the past, but of the present and the future, unto the endless ages. We dare to think this way because being Christified, we begin to think noetically and neptically like Himself:
But Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living." Matthew 22:29-32
Man is finite, mortal. But by grace, by relationship with the Living God, man becomes eternal, and throughout the relationship not only lives eternally but begins to think and act with eternal perspective, even within the confines of time and space. From this eternal, relational perspective we are compelled to reject any knowledge of God so-called that is not based in this relationship as it causes a wedge between the Lover and the Beloved if left unrebuked.
Such wedges are textual criticism, hermeneutics, and archaeology as applied to Scriptures, the view of the fathers as speaking only to their own time and therefore not relevant to those who come after them (a hallmark presupposition of the ecumenism and branch-theory heresies), and the idea that our perspective on life should be reduced to what we can perceive with our five senses and ponder with our limited perspectives (general fallen nature, scientism). This of course can apply to any expression of idolatry, but for the purposes of this paper it applies to any scholarly knowledge that puffs itself up against the knowledge of God. We are to neptically bring into captivity every thought into the obedience of Christ. Treating Holy Writ or the Church like any other quaint-but-significant historical religious document and institution is not of God. When Orthodoxy embraces Holy Writ, she embraces much more than the historical underpinnings and circumstances surrounding the texts. It is on the basis of these differences that the fathers, and the vast majority of Orthodox believers today, view Scriptures. Scholasticism endeavors to find the truth behind the creation and dissemination of the writings. Christians endeavor to pay attention to what is said and give their energies into doing what is written. It is the difference between admiring a stop sign and obeying it. One is intellectually and aesthetically satisfying, the other is life saving if and when obeyed.
The Church isn’t an institution of antiquity. The Church is the expressed, visible presence of the Triune God in living relationship with His creation. Holy Writ is a part of this relationship, as are the writings of the Fathers as seen in all their glorious expressions. A father may or may not be a scholar. The credibility of any one of us, really, depends not so much on how much we know about God as much as how much we know God. These are two completely different things.
On the 11th of October
The Feast of the Synaxis of the Venerable Fathers of Optina