Humanity as the unity between the physical and spiritual realms (methorios in Maximus the Confessor and the fall of all creation).

[Question: why the apparently necessary connection between human moral failure (in the Garden of Eden) and so-called ‘natural evil’ (i.e., tsunamis and cholera)?  Here David Bentley Hart touches on an often overlook aspect of patristic theological anthropology which explains this necessary connection].

“Nevertheless, and disturbing as it may be, it is clearly the case that that there is a kind of “provisional’ cosmic dualism within the New Testament: not an ultimate dualism, of course, between two equal principles, but certainly a conflict between a sphere of created autonomy that strives against God on the one hand and the saving love of God in time on the other. It is a patristic notion (developed with extraordinary profundity by Maximus the Confessor) that humanity was created as the methorios (the boundary or frontier) between the physical and the spiritual realms, or as the priesthood of creation that unites earth to heaven, and that thus, in the fall of man, all of material existence was made subject to the dominion of death” (David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea, pgs 62-63).

Summary and Outline of St. Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation”

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Summary of St. Athanasius’ ‘On the Incarnation’

“His treatise on the Incarnation of the Word of God, though written quite early in his life, and before the rise of Arianism, is the best example of his theology, and is of special interest in modern times from its breadth of view and thoroughly philosophical standpoint. It is well worthy of his Alexandrian training and traditions. The Incarnation, he teaches, culminating in the death on the Cross, was not primarily a propitiation or the averting of a penalty. What is known as the “forensic” theory Athanasius avoided. It was rather a restoration from death to life. Human nature through sin was in corruption, and must be healed, restored, recreated. A true theory of Creation is given, in opposition to the views of the Epicureans, the Platonists and the Gnostics. Men were created above all the rest, in God’s image, with even a portion of His own Word, so that having a sort of reflexion of the Word, and being in fact made rational (λογιχοι), they might be able to abide ever in blessedness (c. 3). But if they did not obey His laws, they were to fall into and remain in death and corruption—a negative state; for what is good is, what is evil is not; evil is the negation of good, death of life, etc. Man turning to the evil partook of negative things, evil, corruption, death, and remained in them: he lost the image, and lost the life in correspondence with God (c.5). The handiwork of God was in process of dissolution (6). God could not justly prevent this, seeing that He made the law, nor could He leave man to the current of corruption, and watch His work being spoilt. Even repentance by itself was useless (7), for it did not alter the nature, or stay the corruption. Only He could restore or Continue reading “Summary and Outline of St. Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation””

Frederick Copleston on the limits of human language and metaphysics

“Language is primarily designed to refer to the objects of our sense-experience, and is very often found inadequate for the precise expression of metaphysical truths. Thus we speak, and cannot well help speaking, of “God foreseeing,” a phrase that, as it stands, implies that God is in time, whereas we know that God is not in time but is eternal. We cannot, however, speak adequately of the eternity of God, since we have no experience of eternity ourselves, and our language is not designed to express such matters. We are human beings and have to use human language — we can use no other: and this fact should make us cautious in attaching too much weight to the mere language or phrases used by Plato in dealing with abstruse, metaphysical points.”

Copleston, Frederick Charles. A History of Philosophy: Volume 1. Garden City, NY: Image, 1962. 165. Print.

What is Holiness?

“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.” Leviticus 20.26

 [I genuinely wish that great minds from the past were alive now to consider these things. I believe the Church needs an Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Augustine or even a CS Lewis or Chesterton, to think and write about all of this… In the meantime, I want to try and get my mind around some things, so far as I am able, for my own benefit, and for those to whom and with whom I minister…]

Holiness is a vast and well-explored topic, yet often it seems to be misunderstood. What ought to be a glorious and beautiful reality is often mired in preconceived notions of mere religious observance and legalism. To be holy is often confused with ‘living in accordance with Christian values’, or merely ‘doing good things’. A basic definition of holiness is needed for the purpose of this site. It will also put into clearer focus as to why I’m bothering to consider holiness in relation to New Media.

Holiness, simply understood, is the setting aside or devoting of things and actions for some purpose (whether that purpose is oriented towards some deity, or is of local cultural or community importance). For the human being this has involved many forms of worship in all sorts of different religions, and non-theistic worldviews, down through the millennia.[i]

For the Christian, however, holiness is understood primarily in terms of ‘being’. Ontology is the technical word for it, and it is something that Christian theology, philosophy, and any proper understanding of holiness needs to regard as a starting point.

We are commanded to ‘be holy’ because God ‘isholy’. There is a Greek philosopher named Christos Yannaras who has written much about this from an eastern Christian perspective. If we think ‘holiness’ is about conduct that favourably measures up to certain ideals established within a particular religion, this may actually be an evasion of the truth of who we are and how we are to be in the world.[ii] First of all, we need to consider who God is, and then what sort of being we are, as created in his image. Once we have some idea regarding the first two considerations we can think about conduct. However, the initial considerations open up upon vistas of their own. In asking what sort of being a human is, we must ask why we exist at all? What sort of dignity was bestowed upon us in the first place? Is this dignity a gift unrevoked? Is the dignity an ultimate expectation? How did we bring ruin upon ourselves? How does that ruin affect us individually and as a species? What did the Lord do for us in order to restore to us our dignity? These questions about our own being lead us inevitably to questions about ultimate reality, and the source of being. From whom is this gift and mystery of being derived? How does creation relate to God? Who is this God to whom the whole of creation is oriented, ourselves included? What is the final purpose of humanity and creation? An understanding of what holiness is must include these questions.

Continue reading “What is Holiness?”

Yannaras – ‘God’ is first and foremost a ‘person’

“The one God is not one divine nature or essence, but primarily one person: the person of God the Father. The personal existence of God (the Father) constitutes His essence or being, making it into ‘hypostases’: freely and from love He begets the Son and causes the Holy Spirit to proceed. Consequently, being stems not from the essence, which would make it an ontological necessity, but from the person and the freedom of its love which “hypostasizes” being into a personal and trinitarian communion. God the Father’s mode of being constitutes existence and life as a fact of love and personal communion” (Christos Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality, pp. 17-18).

Meaning of ‘Hypostasis’ – Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity

“As a technical term, hypostasis is found first in the Greek natural sciences, meaning sediment in a liquid. Behind this is a twofold idea, solidification and visibility, which appears in every use of the word, with one aspect or the other predominating. Thus in the Greek Bible, hypostasis refers in particular to true reality (see Heb 1:3; 3:14; 11:1); the Stoic tradition sees in the hypostasis the last individualization of the primordial essence; it is likewise present in Neoplatonic tradition, i.e., from Porphyry on–not yet in Plotinus–though on an entirely spiritual level and with a nuance of progression. The same is true for the technical use of the term which the Christian authors employ–always confronting the three traditions mentioned–in trinitarian theology and then in christology. Taken up by the Origenian tradition, just as ousia in order to emphasize the three divine realities in an anti-Sabellian way, hypostasis found a more ample consensus in the Synod of Alexandria (362). The Cappadocians, who contrasted the three hypostases with the one nature, the formula sanctioned also by the Council of Constantinople (381), nevertheless explained the term by emphasizing its characteristic aspect, individuality. Based on the new interpretation of the concept of hypostasis, Basil, and later Cyril of Alexandria, compared the trinitarian usage with the Porphyrian doctrine of the three hypostases. In the same period, Apollinaris of Laodicea introduced the term in christology, emphasizing by it the one reality of Christ. Hypostasis with this meaning became prominent through Cyril of Alexandria. Clearly distinguished from “nature,” it entered also into the faith of Chalcedon (DS 302). Nevertheless, in later discussions, in which there was an awareness that both of the natures in Christ, as Nestorius had intended, must be hypostatic, i.e., individual, the Byzantine authors emphasized in the hypostasis the aspect of subsistence, as well as that of characterizing property, so as to be able to use the term justly in both trinitarian theology and christology” (B. Studer, Encyclopedia of Ancient Christianity, vol 2, p. 308).

Yannaras and morality as an evasion of Being

“If we accept morality simply as man’s conformity to an authoritative [supreme, infallible, Divine] or conventional [socially constructed, utilitarian] code of law, then ethics becomes man’s alibi for his existential problem. He takes refuge in ethics, whether religious, philosophical or even political, and hides the tragedy of his mortal, biological existence behind idealized and fabulous objective aims. He wears a mask of behavior borrowed from ideological or party authorities, so as to be safe from his own self and the questions with which it confronts him” (Christos Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality, p15).

David Bentley Hart on Heidegger and the ‘evasion of the mystery of being’ in the west

“Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) –a morally problematic figure, admittedly, but not to be dismissed–was largely correct in thinking that the modern West excels at evading the mystery of being precisely because its governing myth is one of practical mastery. Ours is, he thought, the age of technology, in which ontological questions have been vigorously expelled from cultural consideration, replaced by questions of mere mechanistic force; for us, nature is now something “enframed” and defined by a particular disposition of the will, the drive toward dominion that reduces the world to a morally neutral “standing reserve” of resources entirely subject to our manipulation, exploitation, and ambition. Anything that does not fit within the frame of that picture is simply invisible to us. When the world is seen this way, even organic life–even where consciousness is present–must come to be regarded as just another kind of technology. This vision of things can accommodate the prospect of large areas of ignorance yet to be vanquished (every empire longs to discover new worlds to conquer), but no realm of ultimate mystery. Late modernity is thus a condition of willful spiritual deafness. Enframed, racked, reduced to machinery, nature cannot speak unless spoken to, and then her answers must be only yes, no, or obedient silence. She cannot address us in her own voice. And we certainly cannot hear whatever voice might attempt to speak to us through her” (David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, pp. 311-312).

Anglican perspective on ‘double predestination’

“”But what becomes of the non-elect?” You have nothing to do with this question, if you find yourself embarrassed or distressed by the consideration of it. Bless God for his electing love, and leave him to act as he pleases by them that are without. Simply acquiesce in the plain scripture account, and wish to see no farther than revelation holds the lamp. It is enough for you to know that the Judge of the whole earth will do right” (A. M. Toplady, The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination, pgs 18,19).

Maximus the Confessor on the Incarnation

… On the incarnation being part of God’s divine plan from all eternity, irrespective of humanity’s primal disobedience.

“He who, by the sheer inclination of his will, established the beginning of all creation, seen and unseen, before all the ages and before that beginning of created beings, had an ineffably good plan for those creatures. The plan [even before the sin and fall] was for him to mingle, without change on his part, with the human nature by true hypostatic union, to unite human nature to himself while remaining immutable, so that he might become a man, as he alone knew how, and so that he might deify humanity in union with himself. Also, according to this plan, it is clear that God wisely divided “the ages” between those intended for God to become human, and those intended for humanity to become divine” (Maximus the Confessor, Ad Thalassium 22, as quoted in Harink’s commentary on 1 Peter, pg 40).