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What it Means to be Human – East and West – 1

What it Means to be Human: Christian Anthropology, East and West

Before the 5th century, there was a general consensus amongst all five Patriarchates of the united Christian Church (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, and Jerusalem) on what it means to be human (anthropology).  So, before AD 400 there was no significant variation in Christian Anthropology.

I will present a brief summary of that common doctrine as a baseline to explain and contrast the alternative anthropology developed mainly by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, of the Roman Patriarchate, around the beginning of the 5th century.  Augustine’s unique views on anthropology became dogma in the Roman Patriarchate and later Roman Catholic Church after the Great Schism divided the united Christian Church in 1054. Augustine’s doctrines continue to dominate Roman Catholic and Protestant theology to this day.

For simplicity, I will refer to the original anthropology of the Christian Church as the Eastern Greek doctrine and the 5th century Roman alternative anthropology as the Western Latin doctrine.

In the next post in this series, we will discuss Eastern Greek Anthropology.

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What it Means to be Human – East and West – 2

Eastern Greek Anthropology

Human beings are dignified creatures created by God. This very positive view of humanity was the position of all early Christian authorities and remained the conviction of the unified Church for nearly five centuries.  The doctrine included the following points from Genesis 1:26:

  • God created humankind intentionally.  Humans are not an accident of evolution.
  • God created humans in his image and likeness

This means that humanity is theomorphic, having the form, image, or likeness of God.  This is a very optimistic and positive view of anthropology.

Some of the Greek Fathers made a distinction between image (Heb. צֶ֫לֶם – tselem; Grk. εικονα –eikona) and likeness (Heb. דְּמוּתdemuth; Grk. ομοιωσιν – homoiosin) in Gen 1:26. They argued that image and likeness were not synonymous or rhetorical equivalents.  They pointed out that in Hebrew, image (tselem) always indicates a “physical” or structural image of some kind. This distinguishes it from likeness (demuth), which usually refers to some kind of “functional” image, to be like, or resemble.  I bring this up to point out that later Western Latin theologians would attempt to refute the distinction between image and likeness, calling it a simple example of rhetorical Hebrew parallelism or hendiadys.

To illustrate the Eastern Greek understanding, I quote St. Basil the Great (c. 330-c. 379), who said this about God’s image and likeness:

“Let us make the human being [he quotes God] according to our image and according to our likeness”.  [Then he continues] By our creation, we have the first, and by our free choice we build the second.  In our initial structure co-originates and exists our coming into being according to the image of God.  By free choice, we are conformed to that which is according to the likeness of God.

Note also in this quote, Basil also alludes to two other very important early doctrines; “free choice” (free will) and “conformed… to the likeness” (synergy).  We will encounter both of these doctrines further on.

This made human beings inherently valuable and dignified.  This was the theological position of the early Church Fathers such as Sts. Basil and Ephraim in the East and St. Ambrose in the West. 

For many Fathers, the metaphor of the Tree of Life served as a symbol and expression of humankind’s communion with God, participating in the very life of God in paradise.

But humankind was expelled from paradise when it freely chose to live without God, when it chose death over life in God.  This is the “Fall”, the primordial sin.   

So, expelled from paradise and stripped of his dignity, humankind suffered what St. Athanasius (c. 298— 373) described as an anthropological catastrophe. It disrupted and disfigured the intention of God for the human race.  Athanasius wrote, “Because death and corruption were gaining ever firmer hold on them, the human race was in the process of destruction.”  He termed this the “De-humanization of man”.  Humanity suffered and waited for God to act.

God did respond and he responded positively through the Incarnation of his Son, the Logos, the Christ, to defeat sin and clearly teach humanity the path of salvation, to a restoration of a life in God.  John the theologian describes it in John 1:14, “the Logos became flesh and tabernacles among us”.  Through Christ man is re-created.  In a famous passage from his book, “On the Incarnation”, Athanasius echoes the words of St. Irenaeus and other Fathers before (and after) him:

 “God became man that man might become god.” 

In other words, the early church Fathers declared that the deification of humanity was possible.  This is a very, very positive affirmation of the dignity, value, and potential of every human being.

The Fathers of the Eastern Greek Church described salvation in many different ways. There was more than just one image of salvation, but one of the most common, compelling, and powerful was that of the forementioned deification (Grk, theosis), or union with God.

The role of baptism was vitally important to the early church in the process of salvation of man through deification.  It was not just for the forgiveness of sins that baptism imparted, but also for the impartation of deification and the experience of paradise, bringing a person into the light of God himself.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386) explains:

Great indeed is the baptism which is offered you.  It is a ransom to captives, the remission of offenses, the death of sin, the regeneration of the soul, the garment of light, the holy seal indissoluable, the chariot to heaven, the luxury of paradise, a procuring of the kingdom, and the gift of adoption.

St, Cyril also talks about the rite of chrismation, the impartation of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  That distinct rite always followed baptism immediately.  Effectively there was no separation of the two rites in terms of time.  This is a further indication that baptism is not just for the remission of sins but also a gift of life in the kingdom of heaven; the opportunity for deification.

Again, we are presented with a very positive view of the human person.

There is another doctrine critical to an understanding of salvation as the deification of humanity: the understanding of the essence and energies of God.  Appropriated from Aristotelian metaphysics by the early Greek Fathers, this doctrine states that God in his essence is simply unknowable to humanity, so great and so far beyond human comprehension that he will never be knowable.  However, God, through his actions and activity in creation, shares his energies with human beings made in his image and likeness to know him and participate in his life. 

Basil tells us:

While we affirm that we know our God in his energies, we scarcely promise that he may be approached in his very essence.  For although his energies descend to us, his essence remains inaccessible.

As a result of this doctrine of divine essence and energies the Greek Fathers described how humans could experience the immanent presence and life of an otherwise transcendent and unknowable God: deification.

Yet again, a very positive, optimistic view of humanity.

There are two more doctrines which complete the Eastern Greek understanding of anthropology; Free will and Synergy.  Humans possess free will (not to be confused with autonomy) and can exercise it in a way as synergy, or cooperation, with the energies God.  So, human beings are assigned a great dignity as they participate with God in their own salvation, even if in an asymmetrical way (God initiates everything!).  Part of this synergy requires a deep desire on the part of the believer for a purification (katharsis) that leads to an experience of God (theoria), and ultimately union with God (theosis).

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-c.395), brother of St. Basil, sums it up beautifully:

The Lord does not say that it is blessed to know something theoretically about God, but to possess God in oneself.

This demonstrates that the Greek East maintained a very positive view of the inherent dignity and value of humanity, a very optimistic anthropology. 

Again, I must emphasize that this positive, optimistic anthropology was the prevailing position of the united universal Christian Church for the first 400 years of its existence.  In fact, it remains the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day, including all five of the original Patriarchates of the united Church, with the notable exception of Rome.  

We will deal with the anthropology of the Latin West, next.

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What it Means to be Human – East and West – 3

Western Latin Anthropology

We now examine the Latin West and the foundation of an alternative anthropology, which became increasingly pessimistic about the human condition.  This pessimism would grow to have a profound impact upon the Middle Ages and lead to the large-scale abandonment of traditional Christianity during the Renaissance. 

The foundation of this pessimistic anthropology is based on the early 5th century thought of St. Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo Regius, in the Roman Province of Numidia on the North African coast (modern north-east Algeria).

Augustine outweighs, by far, the collective influence of all the other Latin Fathers (e.g., St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, Gregory the Great) and dominates the theological thinking and tradition of Western Latin Christianity from the 5th century all the way up to the present.  By Western Latin Christianity I include the Roman Catholic Church and the vast majority of the 35,000+ denominations contained within Protestantism.  As we shall see, the Protestant Reformer John Calvin will make much use of Augustine’s thought.

Augustine’s own life experiences, detailed in his book Confessions, and his disputes with British-born heretic Pelagius (c. 354- c.418) and his disciples did much to influence his thinking on the human will and grace.

Pelagius believed that humans are self-willed and autonomous in relationship to God. He even had a slogan for this belief: A deo emancipatus homo est.  Man is emancipated from God. 

How different this is from the Greek patristic understanding of human free will in synergy with God and totally dependent on God, finding fulfillment only in divine life. 

But Augustine engaged Pelagius very differently.  He took the opposite view of the human will from Pelagius, developing a doctrine of heteronomy; being ruled by another than oneself.  Augustine believed that humans possess a free will, but that it has been vitiated, that is weakened and undermined and functionally powerless.  Based on that conclusion, Augustine came up with his own slogan: non posse non peccare.  [Man is] not able not to sin.

Not a very optimistic or positive view of humanity.

Therefore, to Augustine, salvation comes to depend on divine intervention in the form of a grace from God that precedes any action from a human being toward good; it came to be known as prevenient grace.  It is prevenient grace that causes the human will to do good.  Augustine saw this grace as created, and not God himself.  How different this is from the Greek patristic doctrine of grace as the uncreated energies that really are God and penetrate and deify the believer and bring them ever more fully within the life of God himself. 

To Augustine, if the human will is good, then it is through God and his prevenient grace activating the will.  Of course, according to Augustine’s doctrine of heteronomy, there is the other (hetero) that could activate the human will as well.  That would be the will of the devil.  But in either case, it’s not the human will, but the will of another that leads the human in the direction he takes in life.

As a corollary, Augustine also developed the doctrine of “predestination”, which declares that, given that the human will as vitiated and powerless, God predestines those whom he has chosen as elect to save.

Again, not a very optimistic or positive assessment of the human will.

Augustine’s doctrine of predestination goes further than anything discussed to this point in undermining a belief that humans possess a free will and that they can work out their salvation in cooperation, or synergy, with God.

More than 1,100 years later, Protestant Reformer John Calvin would double-down and fully develop Augustine’s doctrine of predestination.  If you believe that Augustine’s influence was limited to the Roman Catholic church and did not effect Protestant theology, I invite you to consider Calvin’s T.U.L.I.P., a summary of his principle doctrines; Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Calvin drew directly from Augustine and is perhaps the most consistent theologian under his influence during the 16th century Protestant Reformation in the West. The Protestant Reformation bought Augustinian theology, pretty much in whole or at least in part.

Augustine, while rightly defending Orthodoxy against the anthropological heresy of Pelagius, had unfortunately taken positions that put him at odds with the consensus of the early unified church, East and West, concerning the condition of humanity, its inherent value and dignity, its place in this age, and the possibility of experiencing the divine, paradise itself, even in this world.

The last of Augustine’s unique doctrines we will discuss is arguably his most controversial; original sin.  This doctrine goes well beyond the conception of the Fall and primordial sin of Adam and Eve that had been developed by Eastern Greek Fathers and even by Western Latin Fathers before the 5th century.  For Augustine, the Fall resulted in humankind’s actual participation in the guilt of Adam’s original sin.  This is a fundamental difference between the Eastern Greek patristic understanding of the Fall and the subsequent Western Latin Augustinian understanding.

This gets a little tedious but stay with me.

Augustine was led to this interpretation of the Fall by the translation of the Bible that was now being used in the West in his time. In the fourth century, St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin (the Latin Vulgate bible), and in a very important passage from the epistle of Paul to the Romans 5:12, the original Greek was mistranslated by Jerome.  Scholar David Bentley Hart, author of the recent The New Testament, a Translation, remarks that this “notoriously defective rendering in the Latin Vulgate (in quo omnes peccaverunt) constitutes one of the most consequential mistranslations in Christian history.” Below is the original Greek of Romans 5:12 (underline mine):

Διὰ τοῦτο ὥσπερ δι’ ἑνὸς ἀνθρώπου ἡ ἁμαρτία εἰς τὸν κόσμον εἰσῆλθεν καὶ διὰ τῆς ἁμαρτίας ὁ θάνατος, καὶ οὕτως εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν ἐφ’ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον

The key here is that in the original Greek, above, the word “ἐφ’ ᾧ” (transliterated as “ef ho”), underlined near the end of the passage, is usually translated as “because” in English, as you can clearly see, underlined in the New King James Version (NKJ) translation, below:

Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because all sinned… 

So, “Death and sin entered the world and spread to all human beings because all sinned.”

But in the Latin Vulgate, Jerome mistranslated “ef ho” and entirely changed the meaning of Romans 5:12.  Jerome’s Latin translation of “ef ho” was “in quo”, which means “in whom”, and relates, in this passage, to Adam himself.  This would mean that entire human race itself participated in Adam’s sin, in a willful act of transgression.

Augustine’s poor skills in Greek would not allow him to read the original Greek New Testament, so he was forced to rely solely on Jerome’s Latin Vulgate.

So, with this flawed translation of Romans 5:12 in hand, Augustine was able to assert that in Adam, in the person of Adam and in his very act of willful rebellion against God in the Fall, in the original sin, all human beings have sinned; all human beings have willfully participated, as descendants of Adam, in Adam’s personal sin.

Adam’s sin, for Augustine, was grounded in his concept of concupiscence, or evil desire.  As a result, all of Adam’s descendants (all of humanity) participated in that act of will and are personally guilty for the transgression.  His inclination toward this interpretation of the Fall came from his doctrine of grace and free will, that he had worked out early in his life in response to his personal experiences with lustful desires (cf. Confessions) and from his response to the earlier Pelagian controversy (both earlier in this summary).

It goes without saying that this reflects a negative, pessimistic view of humanity.

Augustine’s doctrine of original sin had important corollaries that were worked out in the Western Latin church over time.  Some of these corollaries were worked out by Augustine himself.  For example:

1.  One corollary states that: if all human beings have sinned in Adam through original sin and been conceived in sin and have therefore come into the world personally guilty of original sin, then all human beings are deserving of punishment by God.  The human condition is understood as one deserving of punishment, universal punishment.

2.  Another corollary that grew out of Augustine’s doctrine of original sin was that unbaptized infants who died before they could be baptized were destined for hell because they were born with the guilt of Adam and, not having that guilt washed away by baptism, were destined to be punished in hell for it.

3.  Yet another corollary to the doctrine of original sin is that baptism increasingly becomes understood as a sacrament exclusively of washing away, of remission of sins.  Baptism lost its earlier traditional aspect of also imparting deification, the gift of the Holy Spirit deifying the believer.

4.  Finally, a corollary to Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is that humanity became characterized by the condition of depravity: a moral bankruptcy.  Augustine used the term massa damnata, a damned mass, for the entire human race awaiting punishment were it not for the life-creating sacraments of the Church.

Augustine’s anthropological pessimism saw the human condition in the world as one of misery, almost unmitigated misery.  Salvation was seen as a release from punishment in the afterlife.

As Augustine reflected on these miseries, which result from the reality of original sin, he also discussed the role of punishment and the value of punishment, arguing that punishment can, and often does, play a valuable role in bringing the saints who have been predestined for paradise to that experience which awaits them after their death.

So, paradise, from which humanity was expelled, has no place in this world.  It is something predestined saints will experience after death in this world.  This life is penal, a place of punishment.  But that punishment is good, purificatory, for the numbered elect saints being prepared for paradise.

For everybody else, it’s just punishment.

A very negative and pessimistic anthropology, indeed.

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Trisagion Processional Cross from 6th-century Syria

Above is a composite image of what the original cross may have looked like. You can see that all that remained of the cross was the right arm (on the left as you view it) and about ¾ of the bottom. The Trisagion (Thrice Holy) Hymn, first attested to in the mid-5th century, is inscribed on the cross. The hymn is a supplication to the Trinitarian God; “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.” It is still chanted in every Orthodox Divine Liturgy service. The text is uncial Greek (all uppercase letters, no spacing between words, no diacriticals), the standard until the 9th century. It is inscribed in the order that an Orthodox person holding the cross would cross themselves: top to bottom, right shoulder to left.

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Recovering from the Council of Chalcedon, AD 451

Two Families of Orthodox

The following is excerpted from the website of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii (http://lacopts.org/orthodoxy/orthodox-life/two-families-of-orthodox/)

“For over fifteen hundred years the Eastern (Byzantine) Orthodox churches and the Oriental Orthodox churches have remained separated. Only thirty years ago they came together for the first of four unofficial theological consultations : Aarhus (1964), Bristol (1967), Geneva (1970) and Addis Ababa (1971).

These were followed by the establishment of a Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, which has held four meetings : Chambesy, Geneva (December 1985), Anba Bishoy monastery, Egypt (June 1989), Chambesy II (September 1990) and Chambesy III (November 1993). Ignorance of the remarkable advance towards the eventual reunion of the “two families” is still widespread and it is a sad reflection on the lack of understanding of what has been agreed already that some journals, commenting on the recent reception of the British Orthodox Church by the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, are still impugning the Orthodoxy of the Oriental Orthodox churches with accusations of the Monophysite heresy.

There is, of course, always the zealot fringe, which has rather foolishly and improbably attempted to stigmatise the deep and careful deliberations of the Joint Commission as just another step in the liberal, ecumenist sell-out, preferring – for its own reasons – to re-open old wounds rather than pour out the healing balm of charity and truth. In accordance with the Bulletin’s declared policy of explaining our common understanding of the Orthodox faith, we published in this issue the key texts issued by the Joint Commission.

Members of the Joint Commission included official representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, the Supreme Catholicosate of All Armenians at Etchmiadzin, the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of the East and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from the Oriental Orthodox family; the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, the Russian Patriarchate, the Romanian Patriarchate, the Serbian Patriarchate, the Bulgarian Patriarchate, the Georgian Patriarchate, the Church of Cyprus, the Church of Greece, the Church of Albania, the Czechoslovakian Orthodox Church, the Polish Orthodox Church and the Finnish Orthodox Church from the Byzantine Orthodox family.

First Agreed Statement (1989)

We have inherited from our fathers in Christ the one apostolic faith and tradition, though as Churches we have been separated from each other for centuries. As two families of Orthodox Churches long out of communion with each other we now pray and trust in God to restore that communion on the basis of the common apostolic faith of the undivided church of the first centuries which we confess in our common creed. What follows is a simple reverent statement of what we do believe on our way to restore communion between our two families of Orthodox Churches.

Throughout our discussions we have found our common ground in the formula of our common father, St. Cyril of Alexandria : mia physis hypostasis (he mia hypostasis)[1] tou Theou Logou sesarkomene, and in the dictum that “it is sufficient for the confession of our true and irreproachable faith to say and to confess that the Holy Virgin is Theotokos” (Hom : 15, cf. Ep. 39).

Great indeed is the wonderful mystery of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one True God, one ousia in three hypostases or three prosopa. Blessed be the Name of the Lord our God, for ever and ever.

Great indeed is also the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, for us and for our salvation.

The Logos, eternally consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit in His Divinity, has in these last days, become incarnate of the Holy Spirit and Blessed Virgin Mary Theotokos, and thus became man, consubstantial with us in His humanity but without sin. He is true God and true Man at the same time, perfect in His Divinity, perfect in His humanity. Because the one she bore in her womb was at the same time fully God as well as fully human we call the Blessed Virgin Theotokos.

When we speak of the one composite (synthetos) hypostasis of our Lord Jesus Christ, we do not say that in Him a divine hypostasis and a human hypostasis came together. It is that the one eternal hypostasis of the Second Person of the Trinity has assumed our created human nature in that act uniting it with His own uncreated divine nature, to form an inseparably and unconfusedly united real divine-human being, the natures being distinguished from each other in contemplation (theoria) only.

The hypostasis of the Logos before the incarnation, even with His divine nature, is of course not composite. The same hypostasis, as distinct from nature, of the Incarnate Logos, is not composite either. The unique theandric person (prosopon) of Jesus Christ is one eternal hypostasis Who has assumed human nature by the Incarnation. So we call that hypostasis composite, on account of the natures which are united to form one composite unity. It is not the case that our Fathers used physis and hypostasis always interchangeably and confused the one with the other. The term hypostasis can be used to denote both the person as distinct from nature, and also the person with the nature, for a hypostasis never in fact exists without a nature.

It is the same hypostasis of the Second Person of the Trinity, eternally begotten from the Father Who in these last days became a human being and was born of the Blessed Virgin. This is the mystery of the hypostatic union we confess in humble adoration – the real union of the divine with the human, with all the properties and functions of the uncreated divine nature, including natural will and natural energy, inseparably and unconfusedly united with the created human nature with all its properties and functions, including natural will and natural energy. It is the Logos Incarnate Who is the subject of all the willing and acting of Jesus Christ.

We agree in condemning the Nestorian and the Eutychian heresies. We neither separate nor divide the human nature in Christ from His divine nature, nor do we think that the former was absorbed in the latter and thus ceased to exist.

The four adverbs used to qualify the mystery of the hypostatic union belong to our common tradition – without commingling (or confusion)

(asyngchytos), without change (atreptos), without separation (achoristos) and without division (adiairetos). Those among us who speak of two natures in Christ, do not thereby deny their inseparable, indivisible union; those among us who speak of one united divine-human nature in Christ do not thereby deny the continuing dynamic presence in Christ of the divine and the human, without change, without confusion.

Our mutual agreement is not limited to Christology, but encompasses the whole faith of the one undivided church of the early centuries. We are agreed also in our understanding of the Person and Work of God the Holy Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father alone, and is always adored with the Father and the Son. [2]

Second Agreed Statement (1990)

The first Agreed Statement on Christology adopted by the Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, at our historic meeting at the Anba Bishoy Monastery, Egypt, from 20th to 24th June 1989 forms the basis of this Second Agreed Statement on the following affirmations of our common faith and understanding, and recommendations on steps to be taken for the communion of our two families of Churches in Jesus Christ our Lord, Who prayed “that they all may be one”.

1. Both families agree in condemning the Eutychian heresy. Both families confess that the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, only begotten of the Father before the ages and consubstantial with Him, was incarnate and was born from the Virgin Mary Theotokos; fully consubstantial with us, perfect man with soul, body and mind (nous); He was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead on the third day, ascended to the Heavenly Father, where He sits on the right hand of the Father as Lord of all Creation. At Pentecost, by the coming of the Holy Spirit He manifested the Church as His Body. We look forward to His coming again in the fullness of His glory, according to the Scriptures.

2. Both families condemn the Nestorian heresy and the crypto-Nestorianism of Theodoret of Cyrus. They agree that it is not sufficient merely to say that Christ is consubstantial both with His Father and with us, by nature God and by nature man; it is necessary to affirm also that the Logos, Who is by nature God, became by nature Man, by His Incarnation in the fullness of time.

3. Both families agree that the Hypostasis of the Logos became composite (sunqetoj) by uniting to His divine uncreated nature with its natural will and energy, which He has in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit, created human nature, which He assumed at the Incarnation and made His own, with its natural will and energy.

4. Both families agree that the natures with their proper energies and wills are united hypostatically and naturally without confusion, without change, without division and without separation, and that they are distinguished in thought alone (th qewria monh). 20

5. Both families agree that He Who wills and acts is always the one Hypostasis of the Logos incarnate.

6. Both families agree in rejecting interpretations of Councils which do not fully agree with the Horos of the Third Ecumenical Council and the letter (433) of Cyril of Alexandria to John of Antioch.

7. The Orthodox agree that the Oriental Orthodox will continue to maintain their traditional Cyrillian terminology of “one nature of the incarnate Logos” (“mia fusij tou qeou Logou sesarkwmenh”), since they acknowledge the double consubstantiality of the Logos which Eutyches denied. The Orthodox also use this terminology. The Oriental Orthodox agree that the Orthodox are justified in their use of the two-natures formula, since they acknowledge that the distinction is “in thought alone” (th qewria monh). Cyril interpreted correctly this use in his letter to John of Antioch and his letters to Acacius of Melitene (PG 77, 184-201), to Eulogius (PG 77, 224-228) and to Succensus (PG 77, 228-245).

8. Both families accept the first three Ecumenical Councils, which form our common heritage. In relation to the four later Councils of the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox state that for them the above points 1-7 are the teachings also of the four later Councils of the Orthodox Church, while the Oriental Orthodox consider this statement of the Orthodox as their interpretation. With this understanding, the Oriental Orthodox respond to it positively.

In relation to the teaching of the Seventh Ecumenical Council of the Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox agree that the theology and practice of the veneration of icons taught by that Council are in basic agreement with the teaching and practice of the Oriental Orthodox from ancient times, long before the convening of the Council, and that we have no disagreement in this regard.

9. In the light of our Agreed Statement on Christology as well as of the above common affirmations, we have now clearly understood that both families have always loyally maintained the same authentic Orthodox Christological faith, and the unbroken continuity of the apostolic tradition, though they have used Christological terms in different ways. It is this common faith and continuous loyalty to the Apostolic Tradition that should be the basis for our unity and communion.

10. Both families agree that all the anathemas and condemnations of the past which now divide us should be lifted by the Churches in order that the last obstacle to the full unity and communion of our two families can be removed by the grace and power of God. Both families agree that the lifting of anathemas and condemnations will be consummated on the basis that the Councils and Fathers previously anathematized or condemned are not heretical.”

 

 

 

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Rohr: “Third Eye Seeing”

Fr. Richard Rohr – is a Franciscan priest, Christian mystic, and teacher of Ancient Christian Contemplative Prayer.  He is the founding Director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.

 

Rohr1“In the early medieval period, two Christian philosophers offered names for three different ways of seeing, and these names had a great influence on scholars and seekers in the Western tradition. Hugh of St. Victor (1078-1141) and Richard of St. Victor (1123-1173) wrote that humanity was given three different sets of eyes, each building on the previous one. The first eye was the eye of the flesh (thought or sight), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or reflection), and the third was the intuitive eye of true understanding (contemplation). 

I describe this third eye as knowing something simply by being calmly present to it (no processing needed!). This image of “third eye” thinking, beyond our dualistic vision, is also found in most Eastern religions. We are onto something archetypal here, I think!

The loss of the “third eye” is at the basis of much of the shortsightedness and religious crises of the Western world, about which even secular scholars like Albert Einstein and Iain McGilchrist have written. Lacking such wisdom, it is hard for churches, governments, and leaders to move beyond ego, the desire for control, and public posturing. Everything divides into dualistic oppositions like liberal vs. conservative, with vested interests pulling against one another. Truth is no longer possible at this level of conversation. Even theology becomes more a quest for power than a search for God and Mystery.

One wonders how far spiritual and political leaders can genuinely lead us without some degree of contemplative seeing and action. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that “us-and-them” seeing, and the dualistic thinking that results, is the foundation of almost all discontent and violence in the world.  It allows heads of religion and state to avoid their own founders, their own national ideals, and their own better instincts. Lacking the contemplative gaze, such leaders will remain mere functionaries and technicians, or even dangers to society.

We need all three sets of eyes in both a healthy culture and a healthy religion. Without them, we only deepen and perpetuate our problems.”

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Evagrius Ponticus: “If you are a theologian you truly pray.”

Evagrius Ponticus (c. 346-399) – was originally from Pontus, on the southern coast of the Black Sea in what is modern-day Turkey. He served as a Lector under St. Basil the Great and was made Deacon and Archdeacon under St. Gregory of Nazianzus. He was also greatly influenced by Origen of Alexandria and St. Gregory of Nyssa.  In about 383, Evagrius left Constantinople, eventually retreating to the Egyptian desert and joining a cenobitic community of Desert Fathers. As a classically trained scholar, Evagrius recorded the sayings of the desert monks and developed his own theological writings.

 

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“If you are a theologian you truly pray.  If you truly pray you are a theologian.”

from “The 153 Chapters on Prayer”, Chap. 60.

 

 

 

Note:  This chapter is one of the key passages for the full understanding of the Evagrian identification of contemplation with prayer.  It is also important to understand what Evagrius meant by the term “theologian”.  According to David W. Fagerberg, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, to Evagrius, a “theologian is someone who has been shaped by the cooperative exercise of grace and ascetical submission, whose eyes can see after their light has been restored, whose heart wills only one thing, whose mind has changed, whose life has been reconnected to the source of life. This does not require a PhD, it requires a conversion of life.”

 

 

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Gregory of Sinai: “True ministry”

St. Saint Gregory of Sinai (1260s – November 27, 1346) – was a well traveled Orthodox monk and was a contemporary of St. Gregory Palamas. He was instrumental in the emergence of Athonite Hesychasm on Mt. Athos in the early 14th century. Note his requirement for theoria (illumination) as a prerequisite for any Christian ministry.

Dover Beach

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“According to St. Paul (cf. Rom. 15:16), you “minister” the Gospel only when, having yourself participated in the light of Christ, you can pass it on actively to others. Then you sow the Logos like a divine seed in the fields of your listeners’ souls. ‘Let your speech be always filled with grace’, says St Paul (Col. 4:6), ‘seasoned’ with divine goodness. Then it will impart grace to those who listen to you with faith. Elsewhere St. Paul, calling the teachers tillers and their pupils the field they till (cf. II Tim. 2:6), wisely presents the former as ploughers and sowers of the divine Logos and the latter as the fertile soil, yielding a rich crop of virtues. True ministry is not simply a celebration of sacred rites; it also involves participation in divine blessings and the communication of these blessings to others.”

Saint Gregory of Sinai

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St. Cyril of Alexandria: “But wholly incomprehensible is the mode of the Union.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria (376 – 444) – was Patriarch of Alexandria 412-444 and articulated the highest Christology of the undivided Church.

“Godhead and manhood are one thing and another, according to the mode [of being] existing in each, yet in Christ have they come together, in unwonted wise and passing understanding, unto union, without confusion and turning [τροπῆς] . But wholly incomprehensible is the mode of the Union.”   

From “On the Unity of Christ

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Cyril of Alexandria: “The Lord of the universe took the form of a servant and brought the good news to the poor”

St. Cyril of Alexandria (376 – 444) – was Patriarch of Alexandria 412-444 and articulated the highest Christology of the undivided Church.

Eclectic Orthodoxy

Desiring to win over the whole world and bring its inhabitants to God the Father, raising all things to a higher condition and, in a sense, renewing the face of the earth, the Lord of the universe took the form of a servant and brought the good news to the poor. This, he said, was why he had been sent. Now by the poor we may understand those who were then deprived of all spiritual blessings and who lived in the world without hope and without God, as scripture says. He came to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of retribution. They are those among the Gentiles who, enriched by faith in Christ, have gained the divine, the heavenly treasure, which is the saving proclamation of the gospel. Through this they have become sharers in the kingdom of heaven and companions of the saints. They have inherited blessings impossible…

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