Archive for category The Logos Doctrine (series)
“In the beginning was the Logos…”
Christianity is unique among the world’s great religions in that it is the only one with the revelation of God emptying himself of his divine prerogatives to incarnate as a person in order to save all humankind from a fallen imperfect state and lead them to ultimately attain to the likeness of God. The Logos Doctrine is essential to an understanding of that revelation.
Our discussion begins with the words of St. John in the prologue to his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Logos (Word)…”.
The New Testament was originally composed in Greek. The Greek word which is translated “Word” in most English Bibles is “Logos”. Many English speaking Christians are aware of this fact, but very few are aware of the ancient Christian Logos Doctrine to which it refers. The Logos Doctrine is so foundational to Christian theology that Protestant theologian Paul Tillich stated emphatically that, “He who sacrifices the Logos principle sacrifices the idea of a living God, and he who rejects the application of this principle to Jesus as the Christ rejects his character as Christ.” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, p. 288). With that crystal clear message from one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, let’s move on!
So, what is this Logos Doctrine?
Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus used the word Logos to describe what he envisioned as a universal force of reason which governed the universe. He felt that “all things happen according to this Logos”. Later, the philosophical school known as the Stoics expanded and popularized this idea in the ancient world.
Early Christians, including the Gospel writer John, adapted the Logos principle as a means to explain Jesus Christ in terms that the dominant Greco-Roman culture could understand and respect. In Greek Stoic philosophy, the concept of the Logos describes a universal principle. But, in the Christian context, in addition to that transcendent idea, the Logos also assumes a very personal character by being associated with the Son, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. So, in the following discussion of the pre-incarnational Christian Logos Doctrine, every time we see “Logos” or Word, we need to mentally add to it the “Son”, the second Person of the Trinitarian Godhead.
“The Logos is the universal principle of the self-manifestation of God…”
The Logos is the universal principle of the self-manifestation of God to himself, in himself. That means that whenever God appears, either to himself or outside himself, it is the Logos that appears. The Logos is the first “work” or generation of God as Father.
God the Father is often called eternal mind (nous). The Father, being eternal mind, has the Logos within himself. This means that he has the power of self-manifestation within him. A human analogy would be the fact that there is no mental process going on in a human except in silent words. Likewise, the inner spiritual life of God includes the silent Word within him.
The Logos is a spiritual procession that goes out from God the Father to the created world. It’s the way that God the Father manifests himself to the created world. This procession does not produce separation. The Logos of God is not identical to God; it is the self-manifestation of God. It is like the rays from the sun; it is not the sun, yet it cannot be separated from the sun. If you separate the Logos from God, it becomes empty and without content. As St. Justin Martyr (AD 100–165) says, “The Logos is different from God according to number, but not according to concept.” He is God; he is not the God (the Father), but he is one with God in essence.
The Logos is the principle which gives order the created cosmos. The Logos is the dynamic principle, the providentially working power which directs the natural and moral laws of the universe. It is the natural law to which everything is subject, both matter and living beings.
In the Christian Bible, Logos means both word and reason. In the context of the Old Testament, you would best translate Logos (memra in Aramaic) as word. In New Testament (Greek) terms, you would translate Logos in the more personal sense of reason. This is reason not in the sense of rational, logical “reasoning”, but more in the sense of the meaningful structure of reality. The Logos is present in and permeates throughout all creation; it is ubiquitous in the universe and yet also contains it without being bounded by it.
“This revelation is uniquely Christian.”
In terms of humankind, the Logos gives to every human being an intuitive knowledge of the existence of God and a culturally influenced knowledge of moral laws which we feel the obligation to fulfill in freedom. The Logos also gives structure to the mind or nous. The nous is not the Logos but it is the Logos that gives order to the contents of the nous.
Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) believed that humankind should live life according to the Logos (cf. Stromata, 3). Faith, in terms of assent and obedience, is the beginning, but it is not enough. Real participation in God requires the addition of knowledge. Clement does not feel that there is any conflict between faith and knowledge, between reason and revelation. Knowledge enters into faith as one of its constituent elements; reason and reflection are the avenues through which the divine revelation comes.
According to Justin Martyr, the spermatikos logos, the germinal or seminal word, is sown as conscience in the hearts of all humans. According to Justin, the use of reason by people, even in those without express faith in Christ, is already Christ the Logos at work in them. “We have been taught,” St. Justin declared, “that Christ is the First-born of God, and we have declared . . . that he is the Word [Logos] of whom every race of men were partaken, and those who lived reasonable are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists.” First Apology, 46.
The Incarnation of the Logos as a human, Jesus of Nazareth, is a unique revelation of Christianity. Jesus is unique in that he represents not only the incarnation of the Logos of God, but also the Christ (anointed one), the Hebrew Messiah. So, now when we use the word Logos in any post-incarnational discussion, we need to also mentally add “Jesus” and “Christ” to “Son” in our composite picture. To the Stoic idea of Logos as a universal, transcendent principle, Christianity added the very personal dimensions of Son of God and Jesus Christ. This revelation is uniquely Christian.
“…according to the Logos Doctrine, Christianity is very inclusive and universal.”
The incarnation of the Logos, the Son, as Jesus the Christ is a once-for-all event. It is not the incarnation of a particular characteristic or set of characteristics of God; it is the very Logos of God, center of divinity, which becomes incarnate. The incarnation initiates a series of events in the economy, or plan of God for the salvation of humankind.
The saving economy of Jesus Christ, the Logos, are is found in his incarnation which deified the fallen nature of humankind; in his ministry which gave us direct knowledge of God; in his death by which he redeemed us from the bondage of sin; and in the resurrection, which defeated death.
Jesus Christ, as Logos, is first of all a teacher in the sense of giving us existential knowledge and power through the Holy Spirit. Justin Martyr said, “the teachings of Plato are not alien to those of Christ, although not in all respects similar. For all the writers of antiquity were able to have a dim vision of the realities by the means of the implanted word [Logos].” 2nd Apology, 13.
So, you see, according to the Logos Doctrine, Christianity is very inclusive and universal; “catholic”, if you will. It is not the exclusive club, tribe, or competing religion than humans have made of it. Ancient Christianity was inclusive of all truth, regardless of source, place, or time. It included all of humankind, without distinction.
When seen from the viewpoint of the Logos Doctrine, the seemingly exclusive claims of John 14:6 become a declaration of inclusive, cosmic, universal truth. The verse reads: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’.” In paraphrase, I believe this means: “I am the Logos, the self-manifestation of God the Father. We are the same in essence, but the Father remains hidden from creation. The only possible way that humankind has to understand and know God is through understanding and knowing the Logos.” This is the cosmic Christ. This is the Way; the “finger pointing to the moon”!