John Bekkos: Apology

August 9, 2014

I know that I have neglected this blog for a long time: for that, I apologize. There are many reasons for this neglect, perhaps the main one being that my work as a teacher takes precedence. But I thought I would present readers of this blog with a translation I completed recently of a short work titled Apology, by John Bekkos. It was written during the mid to late 1270’s, perhaps circa 1276-77, and, as it takes the form of a public address, it may actually have been a sermon Bekkos delivered, whether publicly or, as some think, before a select audience of Constantinopolitan churchmen. In it, Bekkos rebuts the accusation that he means to add the Filioque to the Greek text of the Creed (though this was, in fact, what the popes who succeeded Gregory X were pressuring him to do, with increasing vehemence as the decade of the 1270’s wore on), and he defends his policy of détente with the West by appealing to the example of the Fathers of the Church, in whose steps he claims he is following. It is curious, and perhaps worth noting, that, in this work, Bekkos compares reconciliation with the West with the policy St. Basil directed in the late fourth century towards reconciling moderate Pneumatomachians, who, while acknowledging the Spirit’s divine attributes, were uneasy about applying to the Spirit the term “God”; the comparison cannot be seen as very flattering towards the Westerners.

Italicized numbers in brackets within the translation refer to pagination of the Greek text as given in Hugo Lämmer’s Scriptorum Graeciae Orthodoxae Bibliotheca Selecta (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, 1864). Lämmer republishes the text that was edited by Leo Allatius and originally published by him in 1659; that text is also to be found in Migne, Patrologia Graeca vol. 141, cols. 1009C-1020B. In one place, towards the end of this work, I have corrected a mistake in Allatius’s text by checking it against the earliest manuscript (Laurentianus plut. VIII.26).

I would only add that this translation, like all other materials on this blog, is copyrighted; if people want to quote from it, that is fine, but those who do so ought to cite their source and acknowledge the translator. I have had the unpleasant experience of finding my own translations quoted verbatim, without attribution, in at least one published academic book; those who do this should know that they risk legal action.


Apology

That an acceptance of the union of the Churches does not lead to the destruction of our traditions, but to peace in Christ, because the Churches agree in their understanding of doctrine.

[426] 1. “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.”[1] Today I call upon heaven and earth to hear my words. And how shall I succeed in uttering a voice that should make the ends of the earth resound? And if I fail to come by such a voice, how may I satisfy that desire which [427] has led me today to summon heaven and earth to hear my words? But he who chose the fishermen, and who so strengthened them in their weakness that “their sound went forth into all the earth, and their words were heard to the ends of the inhabited world,”[2] shall strengthen my weakness by the overflowing abundance of his power, and shall prepare the hearts of all who may hear an echo of my discourse, making them open to receiving the truth. For if he is a God of truth, one who rejoices in being called “the truth” (for David also teaches me to address him as “truth”[3]), he will cause our words to be communicated to the Christians throughout the inhabited world. And he will do this, because the promoter of lies has spread the nets of his slander against us upon the whole territory of those who are called by Christ’s name, not confining himself to specific peoples and towns, but ensnaring even those who dwell in caves and in mountains.

2. But what is the slander, and how do we make a defense of ourselves as to those things in which we have been slandered? Come and hear, all you nations; give ear, all you inhabitants of the world.[4] [428] All of you certainly know, and none of you is unaware, how the longstanding hatred between the Churches of Christ, between, I mean, the elder Rome and our new Rome, turned back again into the good estate of that ancient peace, by the favor of Christ the prince of peace, who reunites and links those things that were sundered. But you also know how Satan, who forever eyes the good with malice, who substitutes his own hatred in place of Christ’s peace, who, again, is always plotting and warring against those who belong to Christ, was tireless in whipping up multitudes to oppose the peace; and, although he failed to find a way to circumvent the good of the peace itself, out of all evil stratagems he discovered one worthy of his wickedness. And the stratagem is this: he causes a rumor to sound in the hearings of all, a rumor concerning the addition made by the Romans to the Creed, alleging that the bishop of Constantinople has been co-opted by the Church of Rome to persuade the Church of the Greeks to read this Creed with the same addition. And, once this rumor had taken wing, and had flown with unchecked force throughout the world, it filled everyone’s hearing with the slander against us.

[429] 3. That, then, is the slander. But our apology in response to it, on behalf of which we are summoning a world-wide hearing, will not be composed of plausible arguments of the sort used by those who attempt to win their case by showing off their expertise in employing human wisdom; but for demonstrating the truth it will make use of the things that were done and enacted by the luminaries and teachers of the Church; looking towards those things, as to a pattern, we came across those arguments which have been the occasion for the slander that everywhere resounds against us. For being ourselves simple, and wearing the simplicity of Christ as a coat, we shall make our apology with all plainness, once we have prepared the impartial judgment of the hearers to know and to assess, whether it is in line with the pattern handed down to the Church from the fathers that we advocate for the Church of Rome as regards the addition made by the Romans to the Creed or, instead, we are acting out of some privately adopted opinion and, as those who slander us say, with disrespect towards the fathers’ customs and institutions.

In the first place, then, we find that the most great Athanasius – that extraordinary man, the sun of the ecclesiastical firmament, whose word is unconquerable, [430] whose manner is inimitable – when in his days no minor scandal had broken out between these very same Churches which are the subject of our present discourse, brought about a reconciliation between them no otherwise than by acting as an advocate for the Roman Church (since the Easterners had judged those belonging to that Church to be their adversaries). And what was his advocacy? Let him be present here himself, and by the words expressed by his own tongue let him announce to us what it was. For in his Tome to the Antiochenes he speaks thus:

“For as to those whom some were blaming for speaking of three hypostases, on the ground that the phrase is unscriptural and therefore suspicious, we thought it right indeed to require nothing beyond the confession of Nicaea; but on account of the contention we made enquiry of them, whether they meant, like the Arian madmen, hypostases foreign and strange, and alien in essence from one another, … or whether, like other heretics, they meant three Beginnings and three Gods.”[5]

And after the interpretation brought forward by them of the words, in an orthodox sense, he adds:

“Having accepted then those men’s [431] interpretation and defense of their language, we made enquiry of those blamed by them for speaking of one hypostasis, whether they use the expression in the sense of Sabellius, to the negation of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”[6]

Then in his discourse he inserts also the apology these people made in response to this, and, in what follows, divinely adjuring [us] by the harmony of conception in the interchangeability of the words, he says:

“Well, thereupon they who had been blamed for saying there were three hypostases agreed with the others, while those who had spoken of one hypostasis also confessed the doctrine of the former as interpreted by them.”[7]

And going forward, he adds to those things already said:

“Those things then being thus confessed, we exhort you not hastily to condemn those who so confess and so explain the phrases they use, nor reject them, but rather to accept them as they desire peace and defend themselves, while you check and rebuke, as of suspicious views, those who refuse so to confess and to explain their language. But while you refuse toleration to the latter, counsel the others also who explain and [432] hold aright, not to enquire further into each other’s opinions, nor to fight about words to no useful purpose, but to agree in the mind of piety. For they who are not thus minded, but only stir up strife with petty phrases, … do nothing except ‘give their neighbor turbid confusion to drink,’ like men who grudge peace and who love schisms.”[8]

And again:

“Irreligiousness is utterly forbidden, though it be attempted to disguise it with artful expressions and plausible sophisms; but religiousness is confessed by all to be lawful, even though presented in strange phrases, provided only they are used with a religious view, and a wish to make them the expression of religious thoughts.”[9]

And again, after some other things:

“Therefore if they … make an excuse that the terms are strange, let them consider the sense in which the Council so wrote…, that, even if the expressions are not in so many words in the Scriptures, yet, as was said before, they contain the sense of the Scriptures, and expressing it, they convey it to those who have their hearing unimpaired for religious doctrine.”[10]

These, then, [433] are the echoing sounds that reverberate from Athanasius’s thunderous tongue. But, for our part, because we observed that that shining light of the inhabited earth effected a reconciliation of the Churches in his own days, using such acts of economy and such reasonings, and because we deemed it a great thing to walk in his footsteps and be illuminated, as by a guiding light, by those things which he effected for the edification of the Church, whose cornerstone and linking keystone is Christ God, we gave ourselves to the reconciliation with the Roman Church, despising empty logomachy and contentions over terms as utterly useless, given that we understood the Church of Rome to be in agreement with us in its conception of orthodoxy; we cast such logomachy away, so that we might not hear ourselves being called those who “stir up strife with petty phrases,” and who “give their neighbor turbid confusion to drink, like those who grudge peace and who stir up schisms.”

4. Come therefore, you hearers of my words, judge impartially before the Trinity itself, before every heavenly power, if those people who charge us with advocating for the Ro- [434] man Church, as though it were the greatest of accusations, cast their votes against us justly, given that that Church, as far as the meaning goes, confesses [the faith] in a most orthodox manner; for, although they are accused of thinking there are two origins and two causes in the blessed Trinity, they dispel that accusation insofar as they revere and confess one origin and one cause. Athanasius served as advocate for the Roman Church, although he had no pattern for his advocacy, and although, in advocating, he looked towards no other paradigm; and he did this when the Italians seemed to have erred with respect to the weightiest of matters. For their confession of “one hypostasis” in the Trinity presented a suspicion of Sabellianism. And, as for us, we are charged with transgressing the ordinances of the fathers, although we follow the teacher Athanasius as his disciple, and direct our actions by looking towards his, as to a paradigm and archetype.

Now I suppose no further arguments will be required of me to demonstrate that we did not act in error by advocating for the Roman Church, overlooking the lack of agreement in words, and grasping hold of the agreement in meaning, for the sake of the God- [435] beloved and legitimate good of peace. But if, on account of the gospel faith in what is said by two or three witnesses,[11] I be required to produce yet other advocates among orthodoxy’s teachers, advocates who indeed did not go so far as to change the opposing side into that for which they made advocacy, but advocates who directed the whole point of their own position towards the peace of both parties, as imitators of Christ the prince of peace who joins and unites things separated – both Basil, great in divine things, will here be presented, and Gregory who rightly bears the name Theologian will show his agreement with the things that are said. As for Basil, then, great in divine things, he eagerly strives to reconcile those who do not say that the Spirit is God with those who, in explicit language, proclaim him to be God and consubstantial with the Father and the Son. And Gregory also, pursuing the same path of reconciliation between these parties, adds to the things that Basil says. For he says that he would not reject the Jewish people if they wished to be united with us but sought, for awhile, to use the term “Anointed” rather than “Christ.”[12] [436] But neither did Athanasius, great in divine things, when advocating for those who said “one hypostasis,” advocate for them to the point that those who taught three hypostases should have adopted the confession of the others; nor did Basil the Great, when he was seeking a reconciliation between those who unequivocally confessed the Spirit to be God and those who did not say that he is God, hoping to effect a peace agreement by exhibiting the equality in other terms, so serve as advocate for those who did not call the Spirit God that he changed those who do call him God into adopting that other persuasion; but neither did he who is called the Theologian, when accepting, as far as it was up to him, the people of the Jews if they decided to be united with us but chose the word “Anointed” instead of “Christ,” so advocate for this word “Anointed” as though meaning to persuade those who did not yet say this to start employing this term. And therefore, when we advocate for the Church of Rome, we do not[13] advocate for them to this point, that those who from the beginning and up till now have read in the Symbol of Faith that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father should change this and start saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. [437] But just as those lights of the world showed their own zeal as advocates for peace by looking towards the harmony of meaning, so we too, as disciples following those teachers, make our whole advocacy for peace and reconciliation with the Church of Rome in this way, favoring not the word, but the concept. But as for those people who are eager to accuse, and are quick to slander all things, let them accuse, let them slander. There is a God who will judge. It is he, the ultimate arbiter, to whom we shall have to render account, both for our words and for our actions. But if we have spoken thus in making our present apology, it is so that those who are preaching nothing sound against us may place no stumbling-block in the way of the souls of simpler folk, who have been summoned by my discourse to give it a hearing. For, as stated at the outset of this present apologetic speech, we made our self-defense, not with plausible arguments of the sort used by those who attempt to win their case by showing off their human wisdom; but, in demonstration of the truth, we exhibited the things done and accomplished of old by the lights and teachers of the Church. [438] As for you, if, after receiving this apology of ours, you still require other witnesses beside the divine witness himself, may you not give heed to those who have readied their tongues for slander; but may you become discerning seekers of the truth, and may you hold to the peace of the Churches, knowing that a great reward is laid up for those who support it in the day of recompense from Christ, the prince of peace.

ENDNOTES

1) Deut 32:1; cf. Isa 1:2.
2) Ps 19:4.
3) Cf. Ps 31:5.
4) Cf. Joel 1:2.
5) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos 5, PG 26, 801A.
6) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos 6, PG 26, 801C.
7) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos, 6 PG 26, 801D.
8) Athanasius, Tomus ad Antiochenos 8, PG 26, 805 A-B; tr. NPNF ii.4, p. 485.
9) Athanasius, De Decretis 18; PG 25b, 448 B-C; tr. NPNF ii.4, p. 162.
10) Athanasius, De Decretis 21; PG 25b, 453 A-B; tr. NPNF ii.4, p. 164.
11) Cf. Mt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19.
12) See Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 43.68; PG 36, 588C. Two sentences before this, Bekkos appears to summarize St. Gregory’s account, in this same Funeral Oration on Basil, of Basil’s attempts to reconcile the Pneumatomachians.
13) Reading οὐκ ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον συνηγοροῦμεν, from the text at Laurentianus plut. viii.26, fol.45. Published editions lack the word οὐκ.

Don’t curse Plato

September 18, 2013

From time to time I had heard about this story from the desert fathers, but it is only today that I came across the actual passage. It is found in a work by St. Anastasius of Sinai, a seventh-century abbot of the Monastery of St. Catherine, titled Interrogationes et responsiones de diversis capitibus a diversis propositae, that is, Questions and answers on various topics, asked by various people (PG 89, 311A-824C); the passage cited is found at col. 764 B-D.

Note that St. Anastasius, at the end of the passage, explicitly rejects the view, still popular among many, that hell is only temporary, or that there is a possibility for repentance there; he says that the story about Plato shouldn’t be taken to imply this, as Christ went down to Hades only once.

Why the scholar cursed Plato exceedingly, the author doesn’t inform us.

ΕΡΩΤΗΣΙΣ ΡΙΑ´.

QUESTION 111.

Τί οὖν; καὶ τοῖς Ἕλλησι τοῖς τελευτήσασι πρὸ τῆς Χριστοῦ παρουσίας, δεῖ εὔχεσθαι, καὶ μὴ ἀναθεματίζειν;

What then? Must one pray also for the pagans who died before Christ’s coming, and not anathematize them?

ΑΠΟΚΡΙΣΙΣ.

ANSWER.

Μηδαμῶς ἀναθεματίσῃς ἄνθρωπον πρὸ τῆς ἐπιδημίας Χριστοῦ τελευτήσαντα· καὶ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ προσάπαξ καὶ μόνον ἐγένετο τὸ Χριστοῦ κήρυγμα. Προλαβὼν γὰρ Ἰωάννης ὁ πρόδρομος ἐκήρυξε κἀκεῖσε τὸν Χριστόν· καὶ ἄκουσον τοῦ ἁγίου Πέτρου λέγοντος περὶ Χριστοῦ, ὅτι «Πορευθεὶς, φησὶν, ἐκήρυξε καὶ τοῖς ἐν ᾅδῃ πνεύμασι τοῖς ποτε ἀπειθήσασι.» Καὶ νῦν φέρεται εἰς ἀρχαίας παραδόσεις, ὅτι τις σχολαστικὸς πολλὰ κατηράσατο τὸν Πλάτωνα τὸν φιλόσοφον. Φαίνεται οὖν αὐτῷ καθ’ ὕπνους ὁ Πλάτων λέγων· Ἄνθρωπε, παῦσαι τοῦ καταρᾶσθαί με, σεαυτὸν γὰρ βλάπτεις, ὅτι μὲν ἄνθρωπος ἁμαρτωλὸς γέγονα· οὐκ ἀρνοῦμαι. Πλὴν κατελθόντος τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ, ὄντως οὐδεὶς ἐπίστευσε πρὸ ἐμοῦ εἰς αὐτόν. Ταῦτα δὲ ἀκούων, μὴ νομίσῃς εἶναι πάντοτε ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ μετάνοιαν· ἅπαξ γὰρ καὶ μόνον τοῦτο γέγονεν, ὅτι Χριστὸς ἐν τοῖς καταχθονίοις κατελήλυθε, τοὺς ἀπ’ αἰῶνος κεκοιμημένους ἐπισκέψασθαι. By no means should you anathematize someone who died before the coming of Christ. Even in Hades the preaching of Christ came, one single time. For John the Forerunner, going there beforehand, preached Christ. And hear what St. Peter has to say about Christ: “Going forth,” he says, “he preached even to those in Hades, who were sometime disobedient” (cf. 1 Peter 3:19-20). Now then, it is found in old tradition that there was a scholar who cursed the philosopher Plato exceedingly. So, during his sleep, Plato appeared to him and said, “Man, stop cursing me, you are only harming yourself. That I was a sinful man, I do not deny. But when Christ came down to Hades, there was in fact no one who believed in him before I did.” But when you hear these things, do not assume that there always exists [a possibility for] repentance in Hades; for this happened only once, because Christ had descended to those beneath the earth, so that he might visit those who had fallen asleep from all ages.

As part of an ongoing series of lectures at my church here in Cleveland, I was asked to give a talk this past Sunday; I chose to do so on the topic of Creation and Evolution. Aside from certain initial problems connecting my laptop computer to the projector, the presentation went fairly well. I used the following outline as a basis for the talk, although it should be said that, because of time constraints, not everything in the outline was actually touched upon during the lecture.

Creation and Evolution: Some thoughts on Earth history and its significance for Orthodox Christianity (16 December 2012)

  1. Introduction
    1. Who am I, and why am I talking about evolution?
      1. Peter Gilbert. I teach these days at a private Catholic school in South Euclid; I also taught for seven years at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM, and, for three and a half years, I taught at the Orthodox seminary in Durrës, Albania.
      2. I am not a biologist. In matters of biology, I am what might be called an educated layman. My doctorate is in church history, from the Catholic University of America. However, last year at the Lyceum School I was asked to teach a biology class, amongst a number of other subjects.… I also taught biology from time to time at a college in New Mexico, St. John’s College (although the approach to the subject there differed from what you would find at most colleges; it does not presuppose biological expertise on the part of the instructor).
      3. Another personal note. Some twenty years ago, I taught in Albania at the Orthodox Seminary of the Resurrection in Durrës. Albania had recently emerged from forty years of Communism, of the most virulent kind; the persecution of religion in Albania was about as bad as it gets. And one result of the communist indoctrination that my students had been through is that almost all of them took it for granted that, if one accepts evolution as a fact, then one is an atheist; if one is a believer, then one rejects evolution. Because Fr. Luke Veronis knew that that was not my view, he asked me, at one point, to speak about this subject at a student forum at the University of Tirana. I did so. It wasn’t a very good lecture; it showed me, in fact, how little I really knew about this subject. But it did increase my interest in the question. The present forum is, in a way, an opportunity for me to revise the thoughts that I first tried to formulate then.
      4. One other thing. When I was four years old, I visited the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Queens, NY. It helped to produce an interest in dinosaurs that was probably my first scientific interest. That interest never entirely disappeared, although it was eclipsed by other things over time, and I did not, in the end, become a paleontologist.
    2. The importance of the question.
      1. Evolution is not merely a scientific issue, but is also a political one, particularly in the United States. It has been debated in American courts since the Scopes’ trial in the 1920s.
  2. The Earth History time chart


    1. A good synoptic presentation of the current scientific consensus view of geological chronology. Has the advantage that, unlike most such charts, it is to scale. It takes the form of a clock; thus, one can get a better sense of how short a time humanity has been upon the earth.
    2. Radiometric dating, based on a knowledge of the “half lives” of unstable elements, is one source of this chart. But, in fact, it brings together findings from numerous sources.
  3. The Tree of Life (include a slide of this as part of your presentation).
    1. Note that, when you were young, living things were divided into “Plants” and “Animals.” The biological consensus nowadays is that things are much more complicated than this. You might have to explain what the words “Prokaryote” and “Eukaryote” mean. (κάρυον = “nut”)

  4. Two meanings of the word “evolution”
    1. The two meanings are often confused, and this is one reason why much of the debate over whether evolution is or is not a “theory” is so pointless.
    2. On the one hand, the word refers to the claim that species have come into being and gone out of existence over the earth’s long history, and that new species in some way derive from earlier ones. This claim deserves to be called, not a theory, but a fact, testified to by all the evidence of geology and paleontology.
    3. On the other hand, a theory meant to account for the factual evidence. Usually refers to what Charles Darwin called “natural selection,” or, Descent with Modification. A theory first presented in 1859, jointly by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.
      1. This view claims that new species appear because certain individuals are better fitted to their environment, more able to survive, than others are and, thus, are better able to pass on their peculiar characteristics to their offspring. The claim is made that, over a series of generations, such peculiarities in the offspring can accumulate to the point where one must speak, not merely of a variant breed within the species, but of a different species.
      2. This is a theory, but it is a theory accepted by the vast majority of biologists as being consistent with observable facts: e.g., with the fossil record, with mutations seen in rapidly multiplying populations (like microorganisms), and with the evidence of genetics. It is a theory much in the same way that, say, quantum theory is a “theory”: there are still questions surrounding it, but virtually every working scientist accepts this hypothesis as basically correct and as accounting for the evidence. (People who say “only a theory” when talking about evolution do not know what science is.)
      3. There have been other theories of evolution besides the darwinian one. Notably, the view of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was that characteristics acquired during a creature’s lifetime were passed down to its offspring. Others in the eighteenth century (Lord Monboddo; Erasmus Darwin) also held various evolutionary views.
    4. Darwin’s theory of natural selection received substantial support in the mid-20th century with the growth of the study of genetics, in particular with the deciphering of the molecular structure of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) by Watson and Crick in the 1950’s. The union of darwinian theory with genetics constitutes what is usually called the modern evolutionary synthesis.
  5. Four theological attitudes towards evolution:
    1. Rejection (1): Young Earth Creationism
      1. Takes the biblical chronology literally (Archbp. James Ussher).
      2. Sees the earth to have been created in 4004 B.C.; takes the six days of Genesis ch. 1 as 24-hour days.
      3. Worth noting that some of the fathers of the Church, e.g., St. Augustine, already rejected this position, without the benefit of Geology.
    2. Rejection (2): “Intelligent Design”
      1. Might be called “Old Earth Creationism”: at least, most of those who hold this position are willing to concede the geological evidence that the earth is very old.
      2. Holds that natural causes cannot fully account for the complexity observed in life forms, and that an Intelligent Designer has to be posited, even on scientific grounds. (I.e., it posits the inadequacy of natural science, and naturalistic explanation, in the presence of the facts of biology.)
      3. Its favorite expression is “irreducible complexity.” One favorite example of this, an argument advanced by Michael Behe: the flagellum of a particular species of bacteria is described as a kind of perfect molecular machine, any of whose parts would be useless except as working in concert with the whole.
        1. I have read a response to this position by a biologist who is also a practicing Catholic, who points out that some of the parts of this machine have been observed in other organisms, serving entirely different functions, which undercuts the whole intelligent design argument. (Rather like the way the carpal bones, which in primates serve as fingers, function in bats as a support for wings.)
      4. Much of the activity of the advocates of Intelligent Design is meant (designed) to affect the science curriculum at public schools in the United States. Such attempts at influencing school curricula have generally been rejected in the courts, e.g. in the case Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover (December 20, 2005), which ruled that the school board’s biology curriculum, which included Intelligent Design as an alternative to the darwinian account, “violates the Establishment Clause” of the Constitution.
    3. Acceptance (1): Theistic Evolution
      1. Sees evolution as compatible with Christian belief (or Jewish or Muslim). Evolution, on this view, is God’s way of creating new species, just as natural geological processes may be held responsible for the present physical shape of the earth.
        1. For this reason, this view is sometimes called “evolutionary creationism.”
      2. Implies that certain passages of scripture must be read allegorically, a position which, it may be said, is nothing new; Origen, in the third century, said the same thing.
      3. The current pope and his immediate predecessor both expressed support for theistic evolution. So did Cardinal Newman in the 19th century; he thought Darwin’s theory could be accommodated within the doctrine of divine providence.
    4. Acceptance (2): Atheistic Evolution
      1. Sometimes called “radical Darwinism” or “Neo-Darwinism.”
      2. Examples: Richard Dawkins; Stephen Jay Gould
      3. Take the view that evolution is necessarily atheistic, that it rules out any divine action in the origination of species. Evolution, these authors stress, is a mechanical process, and depends on certain changes happening randomly and automatically, without design. Such authors love to point to apparently improvidential features in natural history, as a way of arguing that divinity had no hand in bringing about the forms of life we see.
        1. My own view is that, when biologists start making theological claims about what God can or cannot do, they usually show their theological incompetence. They make God out to be one observable cause among many. The presumption is that God can only act miraculously, outside of the normal order of things, and cannot act through this order, cannot, in fact, have set it up.
  6. Attitudes towards evolution taken by Orthodox theologians
    1. Against
      1. Fr. Seraphim Rose (wrote Genesis, Creation, and Early Man)
      2. One of the founders of the Discovery Institute (an Intelligent Design think tank) is an Orthodox Christian. (See if you can find out his name before the lecture.) [William Dembski]
      3. The late Patriarch of Moscow, Alexei II.
      4. Under Protestant influence, a creationist institute was established in Russia not long ago. Titled “Shestodnev” (Creatio), it was blessed in May 2000 by Patriarch Alexei II. It “conducts conferences, arranges disputes, publishes books, and is actively involved in Internet projects. It places itself as an orthodox society for the defense, study, and revealing the essence of [the] Holy Fathers’ doctrine about the Creation of the World.” As in the United States, attempts have been made in Russia in recent years to include “creation science” as part of the science curriculum in the public schools; one famous case involved a Maria Schreiber, who “refused to study biology in school, saying her world outlook is in contradiction to the one Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on.” The case was brought to court; on February 21, 2007, the Russian court rejected the girl’s case; it has been labeled the “Russian monkey trial.”
    2. For
      1. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. Metropolitan John Zizioulas. Most likely, the present Patriarch of Constantinople (the “Green” Patriarch).
        1. Metropolitan Kallistos:
        2. http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=DYKGPGNX
        3. “Religion and science are working on different levels and are following different methods, and using different kinds of evidence. And, indeed, what each is saying is relevant for the other, but we mustn’t confuse these two levels of discourse. The scientist is working from the evidence of our senses, the theologian, the religious thinker, is using the data of revelation, scripture. So here are two different forms of evidence, and two different ways of arguing. As I see it, there need not be any conflict between religion and science, if each is properly understood, because they are answering different kinds of question. The scientist is telling us what there is in the universe, and he is also saying, as far as we can discover, how the universe came to exist in the form which it now has, by what stages it developed. In the religious sphere, we are asking why was the world created, and what is the purpose of our life on earth. Now, in my view, those are not strictly scientific questions, and the scientist does not claim to answer them, though what he tells us about how the world is and how it came to be the way it is may help us to answer these religious questions. Some scientists would say that the question Why is there a universe, where did it come from, what existed before the Big Bang, some scientists would say that these are simply non-questions, which shouldn’t be asked. But in fact these are questions which as human beings we want to ask and need to ask. But I don’t think the scientist, simply on the basis of his scientific discipline, can answer them.

        1. What about the theory of evolution? Very many Orthodox reject this; some of them uphold a form of intelligent design; I don’t care very much for the theory of intelligent design, because I believe it is mixing the levels of science and religion in an unhelpful way. For myself as an Orthodox, I have no difficulty in accepting the evolutionary picture of the universe that is presented by modern science. And I think we shouldn’t say that evolution is merely a theory or speculation; the evidence is very powerful. I don’t find a problem here for my faith as an Orthodox Christian. It is possible for God to work through evolution. He did not have to create everything as it is now in the beginning; he could work through the evolutionary process. But of course, in saying that, we’re moving outside the realm of science, which is not going to make statements of that kind. Again, from the religious point of view, we wish to affirm that human beings have a unique status in the universe, because they are made in the image and likeness of God. The human being is not merely a superior ape. But again, using a phrase like ‘the image and likeness of God’ we are saying something about human beings that science can neither confirm nor deny. We are moving outside the scientific area. So, I believe that a correct understanding of science and the way it works can indeed help our task as religious thinkers, but we need to keep a proper distinction; and if the distinction is kept, I do not think we need see science as a threat. Thank you.”
      1. the late Theodosius Dobzhansky, geneticist and Russian Orthodox Christian (“nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”)
      2. Dr. George Theokritoff, geologist (a friend of mine who lives in New Jersey)
      3. Alexander Kalomiros.
      4. Fr. George Nicozisin. http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/dogmatics/nicozisin_creationism.htm
      5. “The Eastern Fathers, generally speaking, did not take a fundamentalist viewpoint of creation. For example, Vladimir Lossky, a great Orthodox theologian of the past century, says in his famous book, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, ‘The Church always freely makes use of philosophy and the sciences for apologetic (explanatory) purposes, but she never has any cause to defend these relative and changing truths as she defends the unchangeable truth of her doctrines.’”
      6. Sees the only possible conflict between the scientific account and Christian doctrine in connection with the understanding of Adam.
      7. Yours truly
    1. Some describe this difference as that between “dualism” and “compatibilism” — on the one hand, the view that view that science and faith are philosophically incompatible, that science rests upon a philosophical naturalism that denies faith necessarily; and, on the other hand, the view that both scripture and the physical world are divine revelation, and testify to the same God.
      1. The compatibilist position might be summed up by a statement of the late Pope John Paul II, who said (in connection with the question of evolution) that “truth cannot contradict truth.”
    2. My guess is that, at most Orthodox seminaries (certainly in America), the prevalent view accepts evolution as a scientific fact.
  1. Theological problems that evolution raises for Christian belief
    1. How to interpret the Genesis account(s) of creation. In particular:
      1. What is meant by the “days of creation”? (As mentioned, that already received an allegorizing response from the fathers of the church in the fourth and fifth centuries.)
      2. If human beings are descended from earlier forms of life, and if man is genetically related to all other known life forms, then how are we to understand the fundamental scriptural claim, that man is created “in the image and likeness of God”?
        1. Genetic inheritance does not preclude essential difference.
    2. Who was Adam?
    3. How to understand the doctrine of the fall of man.
      1. If the whole story of evolution presupposes death, how is one to understand the claim, that the sin of Adam and Eve brought death into the world?
    4. The official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is that, while one may accept evolution as an explanation for Adam’s body, one must hold that Adam’s soul was independently created, by a special act of God, and is not merely the result of natural evolution. Some Orthodox priests I have spoken to hold essentially the same position. Pope Pius XII also declared that one must hold Adam to have been a real individual person.
      1. This does raise the question, though, of the status of earlier hominids. For example, it is now known that Neanderthal DNA is present in both European and Asian human beings, constituting about 2% of their genome. Similarly, Australian aborigines have been found to possess DNA deriving from Denisovan man. Is one to include the Neanderthals and Denisovan man amongst the children of Adam?
      2. Some years ago, on the basis of a comparative study of mitochondrial DNA, it was announced that all current human beings could be traced back to a single mother.
  2. Final reflections.
    1. Why this question is important.
      1. At once a religious, a scientific, and a political question.
      2. If, like the present Patriarch of Constantinople, one is an environmentalist, one cannot ignore evolution. To understand how the world is in the present, one has to understand how it has been in the past.
      3. One’s attitude towards this question has a number of practical consequences. If one thinks that the earth is 6,000 years old, one will not be terribly concerned about, say, the inherent limitations in the earth’s supply of fossil fuels. If one is a new earth creationist, everything in the past is, in some sense, miraculous; the apparent necessity for hundreds of millions of years of geological processes for petroleum to be naturally produced is, on this reading, merely an illusion. Nor will one take much thought about global warming, or the idea that there have been, in the earth’s history, major extinction events, most of them having to do with changes in the earth’s climate.
    2. The debate concerns fundamental matters of faith, how one understands the world and God’s activity as “Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things, visible and invisible.” The issue is not going to go away.


A passage at the end of Book II of Pope Gregory the Great’s Dialogues on the Life and Miracles of the Italian Fathers reads as follows (PL 66, 204B and 203B):

Cum enim constet quia Paracletus Spiritus a Patre semper procedat et Filio, cur se Filius recessurum dicit, ut ille veniat, qui a Filio nunquam recedit?

Φανερὸν οὖν ὑπάρχει, ὅτι τὸ παράκλητον πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς προέρχεται, καὶ ἐν τῷ Υἱῷ διαμένει. Τίνος οὖν χάριν ἑαυτὸν ὁ υἱὸς πορευθῆναι λέγει, ἵνα ἐκεῖνος ἔλθῃ ὅστις οὐδέποτε ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ ἐχωρίσθη;

The Latin text may be translated as follows:
“For since it is certain that the Spirit, the Paraclete, always proceeds from the Father and the Son, why does the Son say that he is going to go away, so that that one (the Paraclete) may come, who is never absent from the Son?”

The Greek translation presents a significantly different meaning:

“It therefore stands as clear that the Spirit, the Paraclete, comes forth from the Father, and rests in the Son. For what reason, therefore, does the Son say that he himself is going away so that that one (the Paraclete) may come, who is never separated from him?”
A note on this is found in Migne, loc. cit.:

Hoc loco animadvertat lector, verba illa, Φανερὸν οὖν ὑπάρχει, ὅτι τὸ παράκλητον πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς προέρχεται, καὶ ἐν τῷ Υἱῷ διαμένει, id est, Aperte igitur patet, quod Paracletus Spiritus a Patre procedit, et in Filio permanet, longe aliter legi apud Gregorium Latine, nempe : Cum enim constet, quia Paracletus Spiritus a Patre semper procedat et Filio. Ex quo manifeste apparet, a Græcis postea Zachariæ papæ versionem fuisse depravatam, ut bene notavit Joannes diaconus lib. IV de Vita ejusdem B. Gregorii, cap. 75, de Dialogis loquens, his verbis : Quos libros Zacharias, sanctæ Ecclesiæ Romanæ episcopus, Græco Latinoque sermone doctissimus, temporibus Constantini imperatoris, post annos ferme 175, in Græcam linguam convertens, Orientalibus Ecclesiis divulgavit : quamvis astuta Græcorum perversitas in commemoratione Spiritus sancti a Patre procedentis, nomen Filii radens, abstulerit. Hæc Joannes diaconus. Hanc censuram attexere curarunt Romani sub Sixto V editores, et alii deinceps. Vide quæ de hoc argumento in præfatione jam præmisimus num. 26. At this juncture let the reader note that these words, Φανερὸν οὖν ὑπάρχει, ὅτι τὸ παράκλητον πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς προέρχεται, καὶ ἐν τῷ Υἱῷ διαμένει, that is, It therefore stands as clear that the Spirit, the Paraclete, comes forth from the Father, and rests in the Son, are read in a far different way in Gregory’s Latin text, namely: Cum enim constet, quia Paracletus Spiritus a Patre semper procedat et Filio (“For since it is certain that the Spirit, the Paraclete, always proceeds from the Father and the Son…”). From this it clearly appears that Pope Zacharias’s translation was afterwards corrupted by the Greeks, as John the Deacon properly notes in Book IV of his Life of the same Blessed Gregory, ch. 75, where, speaking about the Dialogues, he says: “Zacharias, the bishop of the Holy Church of Rome, a man most learned in both Greek and Latin, during the time of the Emperor Constantine, about 175 years afterwards, turned these books into Greek and published them in the Eastern Churches; nevertheless, the crafty perversity of the Greeks, erasing a word, caused the Son’s name to be taken out when mention was made of the Spirit’s proceeding from the Father.” Thus John the Deacon. The Roman editors under Sixtus V, and others afterwards, took care to add this censure in a footnote. See what we have already said upon this subject in the preface, par. 26.

It should be noted that Martin Jugie disagreed with this assessment about a corruption of the text of Pope Zacharias’ translation. In his work De processione Spiritus Sancti (Rome 1936), pp. 222-227, Jugie argues that the text we have is what Pope Zacharias wrote. However, he thinks that Zacharias’s interpretation means essentially the same thing as what Pope Gregory wrote: that is, he sees “rests in the Son” as implying a proceeding from both. Here is Jugie:

Ergo ad hanc devenimus conclusionem, quae nobis videtur omnino certa, scilicet quod ipse Zacharias proprio motu formulam latinam Gregorii ita graece reddendam iudicavit. Nec de hoc triumphum agere habent Photius eiusque sequaces. Formula enim graeca a Zacharia usurpata apud plures Patres graecos occurrit, quos ut disertos doctrinae catholicae testes supra laudavimus, v. g., apud Athanasium, Didymum, Cyrillum Alexandrinum, Ioannem Damascenum. Et revera haec quoad sensum formulae latinae: A Patre Filioque procedit respondet, quamvis aliqua obscuritate involvatur. Significat enim Spiritum Sanctum ex Patre quidem tanquam ex fonte originali, ex principio primordiali oriri; at vero per Filium quasi transire ut ad existentiam prodeat, nec ultra vel extra illum progredi, sed in ipso et quasi in eius sinu permanere ac requiescere, sicut ipse Filius in Patris sinu quiescit. Est alius modus exprimendi conceptum Graecorum eorumque diagramma trinitarium. lmmerito ergo ad auctoritatem Gregorii et Zachariae Photius provocavit, ut suam sententiam haereticam de processione Spiritus Sancti a Patre solo firmaret. “Therefore we are led to this conclusion, which appears to us entirely certain, namely, that Zacharias himself, on his own initiative, deemed that Gregory’s Latin expression ought to be rendered in Greek in this way. Nor on this account do Photius and his followers have the right to celebrate. For the Greek formula borrowed by Zacharias occurs in numerous Greek fathers, whom we earlier praised as express witnesses to the Catholic doctrine, e.g., in Athanasius, Didymus, Cyril of Alexandria, John of Damascus. And, in fact, it corresponds to the Latin formula A Patre Filioque procedit so far as its sense goes, even though enveloped in a certain obscurity. For it indicates that the Holy Spirit arises from the Father as from an original fount, as from a primordial principle; but also, that he, as it were, goes forth through the Son so that he may come forth into existence, nor does he go forward any further or beyond him, but he remains and rests in him, as it were in his bosom, just as the Son rests in the bosom of the Father. This is another way of expressing the concept of the Greeks and their trinitarian diagram. Without justification, therefore, did Photius appeal to the authority of Gregory and of Zacharias, so that he might establish his heretical proposition concerning a procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father alone.” Op. cit., pp. 225 f.

What, one might ask, does Pope Zacharias’s translation imply for the Filioque debate?

One possible reading of it, perhaps the simplest reading, is that Zacharias, knowing that controversy had already arisen over this issue and that an accurate translation of the passage was likely to offend many Greek readers of Pope Gregory’s Dialogues, chose to tone down Gregory’s language; that is, he substituted a theologically milder statement for a theologically more forceful one, not with the intention of denying Pope Gregory’s original claim, but simply because he knew that that original claim would be poorly received. If that is in fact what happened, then the differences between the Greek translation and the Latin original are not, theologically, very significant, because the translator, while not denying the truth of the original text, simply chose to say something else. The translator, in this case, would have made a prudential judgment; or, to put it differently, he purposely fudged the text to avoid stirring up a controversy.

On another reading, Pope Zacharias would have translated Pope Gregory’s language in this way because he believed he was accurately representing his predecessor’s meaning and intention. That is, he would have understood St. Gregory the Great to have been speaking only about a temporal going-forth of the Spirit when he wrote that the Paraclete “always proceeds from the Father and the Son.” One may note that the Greek translation not only replaces the “from the Father and the Son” language, but it also drops the semper: it suppresses the implication that what is being spoken about is an eternal coming forth. (One may further note that nothing in the manuscript tradition, aside from Pope Zacharias’s translation, gives any grounds for thinking that Pope Gregory did not write semper.) This is the reading that Photius favored. Perhaps there is some merit to it; if I say that I always drive on the right-hand side of the road, it doesn’t imply that I eternally drive on the right-hand side of the road; “always” here must be understood within a certain frame of reference (during my lifetime, when I am driving, when I am not in England or Japan…). On the other hand, one would not normally restrict the meaning of “always” to a temporal frame of reference when this term is applied to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, since they are, in fact, eternal, divine persons. It thus seems to me very unlikely that, when Pope Zacharias translated Pope Gregory’s text in this way, dropping the word “always” as well as modifying the language about the Spirit’s being from the Father and the Son, he did not know that he was subtly changing what his predecessor had said. He doubtless did not think he was saying something opposed and contradictory to what his predecessor had said. But, in his concern for ecclesiastical peace, he was willing to lay the more controversial language aside, at least for the purposes of his translation.

One other thought suggests itself. If Pope Zacharias is not simply fudging his translation to avoid a controversy, but if he actually wishes to make a doctrinal point, and is saying that, when the Latins say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, they mean precisely what the Greeks do when they say that the Holy Spirit comes forth from the Father and rests in the Son, then it would seem that, dogmatically, the Filioque amounts to the claim that the Son is logically implied when the Holy Spirit proceeds; the Son must already be present, as a recipient, if the Holy Spirit is to rest upon him. This would be like pointing out that, because the one from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds is called “Father,” the relationship to the Son is already presupposed. The likelihood of this interpretation satisfying both sides in the centuries-old debate may be doubted; but it is, at any rate, worth noting that this interpretation seems to have some measure of papal authority behind it.

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 771 B – 772 C.

Chapter Eight. That even the most eminent among theologians theologize on the basis of the creatures; and, as for the “back parts” of God, they are the creatures themselves, and their corresponding reasons.

Gregory the Theologian, in his Second Oration on Theology, says:

“I was disposed to lay hold on God, and thus I went up into the mount, and passed through the cloud.”

And a little after this:

“And when I looked a little closer, I saw, not* the first and unmingled nature, known to itself — to the Trinity, I mean; not that which abides within the first veil, and is hidden by the cherubim; but only that nature which at last even reaches to us. And that is, as far as I can learn, the majesty, or as holy David calls it, the glory which is manifested among the creatures, which it has produced and governs. For these are the back parts of God (Exod 33:23), which he leaves behind him, as tokens of himself, like the shadows and reflection of the sun in the water, which show the sun to our weak eyes, because we cannot look at the sun itself, for by its unmixed light it is too strong for our power of perception. In this way then you shall discourse of God; even if you were a Moses and a god to Pharaoh; even if you were caught up like Paul to the third heaven, and had heard unspeakable words; even if you were raised above them both, and exalted to angelic or archangelic place and dignity. For though a thing be all heavenly, or above heaven, and far higher in nature and nearer to God than we, yet it is farther distant from God, and from the complete comprehension of his nature, than it is lifted above our complex and lowly and earthward sinking composition.”

[2.8.1] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.3; PG 36, 29 A-B.

* Kyparissiotes actually has εἰς here, meaning "to" or "towards," rather than οὐ, "not." Torres, the Latin translator, takes this as a scribe's error, and I adopt his reading, since it is hard to make sense of the sentence otherwise.

And the great Athanasius says, as though inquiring:

“Given that God is bodiless and without shape, what were those ‘back parts’ which Moses saw?”

Then, resolving this, he says:

“We believe that the whole God is alone uncreated, [existing] before the ages and before all creatures. Whence it is apparent that the ‘back parts’ of God are the creatures and their reasons, which [God] looked to when setting [the creatures] forth. This is [what is meant by] the text, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

[2.8.2] Ps.-Athanasius, Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem, PG 28, 633 A-B.

And the divine Gregory of Nyssa, in his work On the Life of Moses, says:

“But the uncreated glory, that is to say, the divine nature, is, by itself, entirely ineffable and incomprehensible and invisible. Not one thing which that thing is in itself comes in its pure nakedness to the comprehension or the vision of bodily eyes in any way whatsoever, since it is uncreated, and what is uncreated is ungraspable by bodily eyes, even if a Moses or a Paul who ascends to the third heaven or an angel should be the one who catches hold of the divine vision. For that which is really real and existent is the true Life, and this, to angelic or human knowledge, is unattainable.”

[2.8.3] Not found. See below.

From these things it becomes clear that even the most eminent of theologians do not go beyond the creation in those things in which they see God, but what they have in view is this very thing — the creation — and the reasons proper to it. But if even men such as these theologize in this manner, it follows of necessity that apophatic theology is by far more valuable and more contemplative than the kataphatic kind.


Note on citation 2.8.3

As mentioned above, I was unable to trace this quotation back to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, or to any other known work. A general Thesaurus Linguae Graecae search failed to produce any results. Here are some possible explanations for this:

  • The passage actually is there in the present text of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, and I simply need to look harder. (TLG searches are notoriously temperamental.)
  • Kyparissiotes’s text of St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis differs significantly from the current text.
  • Kyparissiotes is quoting from a third source which attributes the passage to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis, but attributes it to this work mistakenly; Kyparissiotes failed to check his quotation against the original source.
  • Kyparissiotes is quoting from memory, and attributes to Gregory of Nyssa a passage that he has in fact read elsewhere.
  • Kyparissiotes has made up the quotation.

I think the last possibility is unlikely. Kyparissiotes wrote his book for a Byzantine audience, to whom the works of the fathers were well known and readily available; surely he would not have wanted to compromise his argument by knowingly introducing corrupted texts.

Bear in mind the circumstances under which Kyparissiotes wrote this book: in his Introduction, he states that he wrote it while in exile, using books that he had brought with him for other reasons:

“Perhaps, with God’s help, if we should come across copies of the requisite books, we shall treat also of these matters. For now, however, since we have been driven from our home, and are the object of universal vilification, we lack the resources and leisure to treat of these things and to look into making this a better book. As for these texts which we now present to the public, it is with great labor that we have collected them, since we brought the books with us for other uses and other occasions. Because of these things, we have been deprived of many aids that would have brought this work to a more perfect state; but, in the meantime, we have not strayed from stating those things which were of the greatest necessity.”

Given that he was unable to consult a proper library, it seems quite possible that, in the case of citation 2.8.3, Kyparissiotes is either quoting from memory, or, more likely, quoting from a third source that attributes the text to St. Gregory of Nyssa’s De vita Moysis, and he lacks the means to check up on the citation.

Here follows the Greek of the passage, from the manuscript Ottobon. gr. 99, fol. 126v:

Καὶ ὁ θεῖος Γρηγόριος Νύσσης ἐν τῷ εἰς τὸν βίον Μωσέως φησιν· ἡ δὲ ἄκτιστος δόξα ἤγουν ἡ θεία φύσις παντελῶς ἐστι καθ’ ἑαυτὴν ἄρρητος καὶ ἀκατάληπτος καὶ ἀόρατος. οὐδὲν ὅπερ ἐστιν αὐτὸ τοῦτο, καθ’ ἑαυτὸ γυμνὸν καθαρῶς εἰς κατάληψιν ἢ ὅρασιν ἔρχεται σωματικῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ὁπωσδήποτε, ἄκτιστον γάρ· τὸ δὲ ἄκτιστον σωματικοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἄληπτον, κἂν Μωσῆς κἂν Παῦλος ὁ εἰς τρίτον οὐρανὸν ἀνελθὼν κἂν ἄγγελος ἦ ὁ τῆς θείας θεωρίας ἁπτόμενος. τὸ γὰρ ὄντως ὄν, ἡ ἀληθής ἐστι ζωή, τοῦτο δὲ εἰς γνῶσιν ἀγγελικὴν ἢ ἀνθρωπίνην ἀνέφικτον.

From John Kyparissiotes, Decades, PG 152, 769 B – 771 B.

Chapter Seven. Upon what basis, then, must we theologize, and out of what things?

Dionysius the Great, in chapter 7 of his On the Divine Names, says:

“In addition, we must examine how we know God, who is an object neither of intellectual nor of sensible perception, nor is absolutely any one of the things that are. We must examine, then, whether it is not true to say that we know God, not from his own nature (for that is unknown, and surpasses all reason and mind); but, from his ordering of all things that are, as being projected from himself, and as containing certain images and similitudes of his divine exemplars, we ascend to that which is beyond all, as far as lies in our power, by a way and by order, namely, by way of abstracting all things, and by his pre-eminence over all things, and by his being the cause of all things.”

[2.7.1] Ps.-Dionysius, De divinis nominibus VII.3; PG 3, 869 C - 872 A.

And Gregory the Theologian, in his Second Theological Oration, says:

“Thus reason that is from God, that is implanted in everything from the beginning and is the first law in us, and is bound up in all, leads us up to God through visible things.”

[2.7.2] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 28.16; PG 26, 48 B.

And again, the same author says that what is divine is

“only adumbrated by the mind, and that very dimly and scantily, not out of those things he is in himself, but out of those things that are around him, one image being got from one source and another from another, and combined into some sort of presentation of the truth.”

[2.7.3] Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 38.7; PG 36, 317 B-C = or. 45.3; PG 36, 625 C.

And those who, after him, expound this passage say that

“God is not understood from those things which he is in himself, that is, from his substance, but from the things which are around him, that is, from the creatures.”

[2.7.4] Not found; but cf. Meletius Medicus, De natura hominis, ed. J. A. Cramer, Anecdota Graeca e codd. manuscriptis bibliothecarum Oxoniensium, vol. 3 (Oxford 1836; repr. Amsterdam 1963), p. 143: "Since 'No one has seen God at any time,' that is to say, according to his substance -- not from those things which he is in himself, but from those things which are around him. But the person who says that he has not seen God's substance does not confess that he does not know God; but he knows him out of his activities (or, energies, ἐνεργειῶν): as, that he is all-powerful," etc. And a little further down: "But, as for us, we confess that God exists, and we say that we recognize him out of his works; but, as for approaching his substance, we do not make it our business to do this."

And St. Maximus, in his Centuries on Theology, says that:

“[God] can in no way whatsoever be comprehended by anything that is; rather, he can only be known by faith; and this [is a knowledge] that he is, from the things that have been made; it is not a knowledge of him in respect of what he is.”

[2.7.5] Not yet found.

And again, the same father, in Century Three:

“That which exists, in an absolute sense, is known from that which exists in a non-absolute sense. It is not by the relation [it has] towards them that it is known that it exists — for how shall anyone in any way ever bring together what exists absolutely with things which do not exist absolutely? — but, in its incomparable superiority in respect of cause, it is known in an unknown way, since we can in no other way [know] what is beyond substance than by the obscure claim about it — that is, the mere claim that it exists — being demonstrated out of the things that are.”

[2.7.6] Not yet found.

And again, the same author, in the second century of his sayings on Love, in chapter 27:

“When you intend to speak about divinity, you should not seek for reasons according to [what it is] in itself, for no human mind can ever find this, nor can the mind of any other being that comes after God; but look carefully, so far as you are able, to those things that are around him: such as, the reasons concerning eternity and infinity and indefinability, and concerning goodness and power and wisdom, and concerning his abilities in creating and providing for and judging beings. For it is the person who finds out the reasons for these things, even if only to a limited extent, who is a great theologian among men.”

[2.7.7] Not yet found.

And again, the same author, in chapter 71 in his fourth Century:

“From the things that are, we know the cause of the things that are. And, from the diversity of the things that are, we are taught the enhypostatic Wisdom of He Who Is. And, from the natural motion of the things that are, we learn the enhypostatic Life of He Who Is, the life-creating power of the things that are, the Holy Spirit.”

[2.7.8] Not yet found.

From these things it becomes clear that God is known only from those things which are around him, which are the creatures, and that it is from this source also that he is theologized. Or, in other words, from images and likenesses of his divine exemplars, and those things which earlier were described as mirrors and enigmas. And so that no one may be at a loss to know how things which have the nature of images and likenesses and of things lacking in the real truth of being are fully suitable [bases] for theologizing of God, and lest anyone should go looking for greater things: it is necessary also, in the present investigation, to demonstrate that even those theologians who are most eminent do not go beyond that theology which is based upon the creation.

As many readers of this blog may already have heard, tomorrow, according to Family Radio (an Evangelical Christian radio network based in Oakland, California), is the end of the world. Or, more precisely, tomorrow, May 21, 2011, is predicted to be the date of Jesus’ Second Coming and the Rapture; the end of the world is not supposed to occur until October. These predictions, by 89-year-old Harold Camping, founder and president of Family Radio, have been broadcast repeatedly over Family Radio’s many stations, in this country and elsewhere, for many months now, and apparently the message is having an effect upon some people; one hears of anticipatory gatherings taking place in New York subway stations…. For myself, I intend to spend the day doing nothing extraordinary; I will be driving out to Long Island later today and, God willing, will celebrate my 52nd birthday on Sunday. I have heard enough of Mr. Camping to know that, on many points of theology and exegesis, he is simply wrong (e.g., his frequent claim that the Greek verb βαπτίζω means “sprinkle”); moreover, in the early 1990’s, he predicted that the end of the world would occur in the year 1994, which clearly did not happen. One might have thought that, after that, Camping’s followers would have inferred that he is a false prophet, and that his end-of-the-world predictions are not to be trusted; but, apparently, ownership of the means of mass communication is a great help for getting one’s opinions across.

What chiefly troubles me about these matters is that, for many people in America, Harold Camping is Christianity’s public voice; in the New York metropolitan area, Family Radio is one of the few radio stations broadcasting Christian content, and the same thing holds true throughout much of the urban Northeast. This, in spite of the fact that Camping now has no formal church affiliation — or, perhaps, that lack of church affiliation facilitates the spreading of his message: his radio station is his church. The likely effect of the likely non-occurrence of tomorrow’s predicted Rapture is a further discrediting of Christianity in the public eye. But perhaps it will cause some Christians to look elsewhere than Family Radio for a true understanding of the Gospel; one can only hope so.

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