Archive for August, 2016

Met. Kallistos (Ware) – “The true aim of theology…”

Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia –  (b. 1934) is a titular metropolitan of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain. From 1966-2001, he was Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University, and has authored numerous books and articles pertaining to the Orthodox faith.

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“The true aim of theology is not rational certainty through abstract arguments, but personal communion with God through prayer.”

– Met. Kallistos Ware

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Met. Hierotheos (Vlachos): “Man has two cognitive centers.”

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) – (1945-    ) is a Greek Orthodox metropolitan and theologian. He graduated from the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki and is one of the finest Patristic scholars living.

hierotheos vlachos“Man has two cognitive centers.  One is the nous, the organ suited for receiving God’s revelation which is then formulated by our reason, while the other is reason, which knows the tangible world around us.  With our nous we acquire knowledge of God, while with our reason we acquire knowledge of the world and the learning offered by the science of sensory things.”  From The Person in the Orthodox Tradition, trans by Esther Williams, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1998.  p. 28

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Romanides: “What is the Human Nous?”

John Romanides (1927 – 2001) was a prominent 20th century Orthodox Christian theologian, priest, and writer.  He was Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Holy Cross Theological School in Brookline, MA and later Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

 

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“The chief concern of the Orthodox Church is the healing of the human soul. The Church has always considered the soul as the part of the human being that needs healing because She has seen from Hebrew tradition, from Christ Himself, and from the Apostles that in the region of the physical heart there functions something that the Fathers called the nous. In other words, the Fathers took the traditional term nous, which means both intellect (dianoia) and speech or reason (logos), and gave it a different meaning. They used nous to refer to this noetic energy that functions in the heart of every spiritually healthy person. We do not know when this change in meaning took place, because we know that some Fathers used the same word nous to refer to reason as well as to this noetic energy that descends and functions in the region of the heart.

So from this perspective, noetic activity is an activity essential to the soul. It functions in the brain as the reason; it simultaneously functions in the heart as the nous. In other words, the same organ, the nous, prays ceaselessly in the heart and simultaneously thinks about mathematical problems, for example, or anything else in the brain.

We should point out that there is a difference in terminology between St. Paul and the Fathers. What St. Paul calls the nous is the same as what the Fathers call dianoia. When the Apostle Paul says, “I will pray with the spirit,”[1] he means what the Fathers mean when they say, “I will pray with the nous.” And when he says, “I will pray with the nous,” he means “I will pray with the intellect (dianoia).” When the Fathers use the word nous, the Apostle Paul uses the word “spirit.” When he says “I will pray with the nous, I will pray with the spirit” or when he says “I will chant with the nous, I will chant with the spirit,” and when he says “the Spirit of God bears witness to our spirit,”[2] he uses the word “spirit” to mean what the Fathers refer to as the nous. And by the word nous, he means the intellect or reason.

In his phrase, “the Spirit of God bears witness to our spirit,” St. Paul speaks about two spirits: the Spirit of God and the human spirit. By some strange turn of events, what St. Paul meant by the human spirit later reappeared during the time of St. Makarios the Egyptian with the name nous, and only the words logos and dianoia continued to refer to man”s rational ability. This is how the nous came to be identified with spirit, that is, with the heart, since according to St. Paul, the heart is the place of man’s spirit.[3]

Thus, for the Apostle Paul reasonable or logical worship takes place by means of the nous (i.e., the reason or the intellect) while noetic prayer occurs through the spirit and is spiritual prayer or prayer of the heart.[4] So when the Apostle Paul says, “I prefer to say five words with my nous in order to instruct others rather than a thousand with my tongue,”[5] he means that he prefers to say five words, in other words to speak a bit, for the instruction of others rather than pray noetically. Some monks interpret what St. Paul says here as a reference to the Prayer of Jesus, which consists of five words,[6] but at this point the Apostle is speaking here about the words he used in instructing others.[7] For how can catechism take place with noetic prayer, since noetic prayer is a person”s inward prayer, and others around him do not hear anything? Catechism, however, takes place with teaching and worship that are cogent and reasonable. We teach and speak by using the reason, which is the usual way that people communicate with each other.[8]

Those who have noetic prayer in their hearts do, however, communicate with one another. In other words, they have the ability to sit together, and communicate with each other noetically, without speaking. That is, they are able to communicate spiritually. Of course, this also occurs even when such people are far apart. They also have the gifts of clairvoyance and foreknowledge. Through clairvoyance, they can sense both other people’s sins and thoughts (logismoi), while foreknowledge enables them to see and talk about subjects, deeds, and events in the future. Such charismatic people really do exist. If you go to them for confession, they know everything that you have done in your life before you open your mouth to tell them.”

Endnotes

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:5.
  2. Romans 8:16.
  3. This means that the Spirit of God speaks to our spirit. In other words, God speaks within our heart by the grace of the Holy Spirit. St. Gregory Palamas in his second discourse from “In Behalf of the Sacred Hesychasts” notes that “the heart rules over the whole human organism”. For the nous and all the thoughts (logismoi) of the soul are located there.” From the context of grace-filled prayer, it is clear that the term “heart” does not refer to the physical heart, but to the deep heart, while the term nous does not refer to the intellect (dianoia), but to the energy/activity of the heart, the noetic activity which wells forth from the essence of the nous (i.e., the heart). For this reason, St. Gregory adds that it is necessary for the hesychasts “to bring their nous back and enclose it within their body and particularly within that innermost body, within the body that we call the heart.” The term “spirit” is also identical with the terms nous and “heart.” Philokalia, vol. IV (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), p, 334.
  4. Cf. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, who notes: “Man has two centers of knowing: the nous which is the appropriate organ for receiving the revelation of God that is later put into words through the reason and the reason which knows the sensible world around us.” The Person in Orthodox Tradition, trans. Effie Mavromichali (Levadia: Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos, 1994), p. 24.
  5. 1 Corinthians 14:19.
  6. In Greek, the Prayer of Jesus consists of exactly five words in its simplest form, which in English is translated as “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” “TRANS.
  7. “Thus as Saint John of Damascus puts it, we are led as though up a ladder to the thinking of good thoughts”. Saint Paul also indicates this when he says: “I had rather speak five words with my nous”.” St. Peter of Damascus, “The Third Stage of Contemplation,” in Philokalia, 3, page 42 [my translation: cf. also English Philokalia, vol. XXX, p. 120] and St. Nikitas Stithatos, as cited below.
  8. With respect to this, Venerable Nikitas Stithatos writes, “If when you pray and psalmodize you speak in a tongue to God in private you edify yourself, as Saint Paul says. ” If it is not in order to edify his flock that the shepherd seeks to be richly endowed with the grace of teaching and the knowledge of the Spirit, he lacks fervor in his quest for God”s gifts. By merely praying and psalmodizing inwardly with your tongue, that is, by praying in the soul ” you edify yourself, but your nous is unproductive [cf. I Corinthians 14:14], for you do not prophesy with the language of sacred teaching or edify God”s Church. If Paul, who of all men was the most closely united with God through prayer, would have rather spoken from his fertile nous five words in the church for the instruction of others than ten thousand words of psalmody in private with a tongue [cf., I Corinthians 14:19], surely those who have responsibility for others have strayed from the path of love if they limit the shepherd”s ministry solely to psalmody and reading.” St. Nikitas Stithatos, “On Spiritual Knowledge,” in The Philokalia, vol. 4, pp. 169-170.

From “Patristic Theology – The University Lectures of Father John Romanides”, (Thessaloniki, Greece: Uncut Mountain Press, 2008), pp. 19-23.

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Maximus: “Silence and Unknowing in Prayer”

From “The Writings of Maximus the Confessor” by Saint Maximus –

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“Perfect silence alone proclaims Him, and total and transcendent unknowing brings us into His presence.”

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hilastérion (ἱλαστήριον): Propitiation or Expiation?

The Greek word ἱλαστήριον, transliterated as hilastérion (hil-as-tay’-ree-on) is translated into English as both “propitiation” and “expiation”.  Hilastérion and it variants are found in the New Testament rarely, but there are three citings that are particularly important to the topic of atonement:  Rom 3:25; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10:

(1) Rom 3:25: “…whom God displayed publicly as a/an _____________ in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed”

(2) 1 John 2:2: “…and He Himself is the ______________ for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

(3) 1 Jn 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an ______________ for our sins.

So what’s the difference between “propitiation” or “expiation”, the English translations of the Greek word hilastérion? A short passage from “Reconciliation,” in Colin Brown, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. III, p. 151 (hereafter referred to as DNTT) summarizes:

“In discussing reconciliation and atonement it has become customary to draw a distinction between propitiation and expiation. In propitiation the action is directed towards God, or some other offended person. The underlying purpose is to change God’s attitude from one of wrath to one of good will and favor. In the case of expiation, on the other hand, the action is directed towards that which has caused the breakdown in the relationship… In short, propitiation is directed towards the offended person, whereas expiation is concerned with nullifying the offensive act” (DNTT, Vol. III, p. 151).

Given the above, “propitiate,” would indicate that God is changed; whereas “expiate” would indicate that the repentant sinner is changed. But, this raises another serious theological question: Does God change?   On this question, we will take the traditional classical Christian position that “God does not change”.

Having introduced the question of change, we can now return to the original question at hand: In the New Testament, is the meaning of hilastérion more closely approximated by “propitiation” or “expiation”?

Summarizing the first 1,000 years of Christian patristic theology, Orthodox theologian and Bishop Kallistos Ware insists that Christ did not become incarnate to heal God the Father: He became incarnate to heal us. According to the Orthodox, the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Christ represent the “mercy seat” (Gk. hilastérion/ Heb. kippur) upon which our sins are “wiped away”/”expiated” by God, restoring us to His covenant love.  This “expiation”, or removal of sin as an obstacle between man and God, transforms repentant sinners into His divine likeness and nature (2 Cor 3:18; 2 Pet 1:4 etc.).  So, it is we who change rather than God.  Orthodoxy emphatically supports the divine attribute of constancy of God (Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17).

If we concede the classical Christian position that God never changes and remains ever constant, then we must conclude that divine “propitiation” – a change in attitude from one of wrath to one of good will and favor- cannot be attributed to God; for He is, by definition, changeless.  God cannot have been “propitiated” ontologically by having “a change of attitude” unless God Himself changed ontologically.

There is one final point to be made from the perspective of New Testament exegesis. In the case of “expiation”, “the action is directed towards that which has caused the breakdown in the relationship… In short, “propitiation” is directed towards the offended person, whereas “expiation” is concerned with nullifying the offensive act” (DNTT III, 173).

So, to what do the three New Testament passages using hilastérion and variants, cited above, refer to? Do they refer to God (as in God’s wrath being “propitiated”) or to the sins of man being wiped away and removed as an obstacle to union with God (“expiation”)?  Clearly, in all three of the passages in question, hilastérion is used directly in reference to humankind’s sins as an obstacle to our union with God.  They do not refer to God as an object of “propitiation”.   This is not a “propitiation” for the Father,” but rather “expiation” “for our sins.”

In referring to the patristic theology of the first Christian millennium we should emphasize this is not an exclusively patristic or Orthodox view.  Some leading academic scholars and some major Protestant scholars have held hilastérion is best understood as “expiation” – a change in man, wiping away his sin; rather than “propitiation” – a change of God, changing His disposition from anger to affection.  God is constant and changeless.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It is humankind who must be transfigured by the changeless grace and mercy of God.

The Latin Western tradition, by contrast, has insisted since the Middle Ages on defining hilastérion in the sense of “propitiation”, including the traditional Calvinist interpretation. Historically the emphasis upon a change in God’s attitude rather than man’s condition arose from St. Augustine in the 5th century, but reached its zenith in the 11th century with Anselm of Canterbury.  According to Anselm, man had broken honor with his liege Lord (God).  And because his honor was slighted, “satisfaction” had to be made; in this case, by the death of his own son, (Jesus Christ).

The Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition bypassed this particular Western interpretation entirely.  They never adopted a soteriology of merit/satisfaction (ala Anselm).  To the Orthodox, the atonement is purely grace/gifting from God rather than a merit/earning system imposed on humankind.

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Met. Kallistos: “The ‘Heart’ in Christian Contemplative Prayer”

The following is an excerpt from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (b. 1934) in his Introduction to On the Prayer of Jesus , by Ignatius Brianchaninov, Kallistos Ware, Father Lazarus.

kallistosware“Ignatius [Brianchaninov] distinguishes three main stages or levels on this journey inwards, which he describes as “oral”, “mental”, and “cordial”; that is to say, prayer of the lips, prayer of the mind, and prayer of the heart”.

“The third degree of prayer is attained when not only does the mind or intellect [nous] recite the Jesus Prayer with full attentiveness, but it also descends into the heart and is united with it. In this way our invocation [of Lord, Jesus, Christ, Son of God] becomes prayer of the heart, or more exactly prayer of the mind in the heart. When the hesychast tradition speaks of the “heart” in this context, the word is to be understood in its full Hebraic sense, as found in Scripture: it signifies, not merely the emotions and affections, but the moral and spiritual center of the total person, the ground and focal point of our created being, the deep self. Prayer of the heart, then, is no longer prayer of the faculty alone, but prayer of the entire person, spirit, soul, and body together. It is precisely at this stage that prayer becomes not just something that we do but something that we are – something, moreover, that we are not just from time to time but continually. In this way St. Paul’s injunction becomes a realized fact: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Nor is this all. Since the heart is not only the center of our created personhood but also the place where Christ and the Holy Spirit dwell within us, prayer of the heart is not so much something that we do as something that God does; not so much my prayer as the prayer of Christ in me (Gal. 2:20).”

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Image and Likeness of God in Genesis 1:26

Genesis 1:26: Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Every human being is created in the image of God and it is the purpose of each of us to attain to His likeness, that we may be “partakers of the divine nature” (cf. 2 Peter 1:4).

Bishop Kallistos (Ware), in his classic book “The Orthodox Church”, tells us, “According to most of the Greek Fathers, the terms image and likeness do not mean exactly the same thing. ‘The expression according to the image,’ wrote John of Damascus, ‘indicates rationality and freedom, while the expression according to the likeness indicates assimilation to God through virtue’ (On the Orthodox Faith, 2, 12 (P.G. 94, 920B)). The image, or to use the Greek term the icon, of God signifies man’s free will, his reason, his sense of moral responsibility — everything, in short, which marks man out from the animal creation and makes him a person. But the image means more than that. It means that we are God’s ‘offspring’ (Acts 27:28), His kin; it means that between us and Him there is a point of contact, an essential similarity. The gulf between creature and Creator is not impassable, for because we are in God’s image we can know God and have communion with Him. And if a man makes proper use of this faculty for communion with God, then he will become ‘like’ God, he will acquire the divine likeness; in the words of John Damascene, he will be ‘assimilated to God through virtue.’”

This “optimistic anthropology” of the Eastern Orthodox with its “original blessing” in the creation of Adam and, by extension, of all humankind, differs markedly from the “pessimistic anthropology” of the Western church with its emphasis on “Original Sin” and its logical extensions.  Bishop Kallistos observes, “This picture of Adam before the fall is somewhat different from that presented by Saint Augustine and generally accepted in the west since his time.”

It is not surprising, then, that many Western theologians consider the Hebrew words for image (tselem) and likeness (demuth) to be synonyms; and their use in Gen. 1:26 to be a simple example of Hebrew synonymous parallelism.  Eastern Orthodox theologians disagree, citing a distinction in meaning between tselem and demuth.

To the Orthodox, the words, “image and likeness” are used to indicate two different aspects of the “image” of God.

  1. Image is the Hebrew word tselem, צֶ֫לֶם, and always indicates a “physical” or structural image of some kind.
  2. Likeness is the Hebrew word demuth, דְּמוּת, and usually refers to some kind of “functional” image, likeness or expression.

There seems to be a clear distinction between the two words tselem and demuth as used in the Hebrew Bible.

  •  tselem indicates a “physical” image or structure and would refer to the “structural” image of the Godhead
  • demuth indicates a “functional” likeness, similitude – the idea of “acts like.”

What do the Greek translations of tselem and demuth in the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Hebrew Bible (ca. 300 BC) tell us about image and likeness in the light of the use of these Greek words later in the New Testament?

In the Septuagint, at Genesis 1:26, the LXX translates tselem as εἰκόνα, eikona

In the 23 New Testament occurrences of eikōna and its derivatives, it appears that there is no clear distinction in what eikōna references regarding the two aspects of God’s image.

At Gen. 1:26, the LXX translates demuth as ὁμοίωσιν, homoiōsin.

Used one time in the New Testament at James 3:9, “men, who have been made in the likeness (homoiōsin) of God.” Indicates the present status of mankind. They were created originally and all men are presently “in” the image of God.

Since homoiōsis is only used one time, we should probably interpret James as focusing on the fact that men have all been created in the “functional” image of God, that is with the purpose of bringing glory to Him.

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