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

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).