All posts by Fr. Jonathan Tobias

The Spiritual Attributes of God: notes on mind-bending chapter nine

Watersplash The attributes discussed last chapter -- infinity, eternity, supraspatiality, omnipotence -- were formal “structural” attributes that could be experienced “externally.” They could be observed in what is commonly called “general revelation.” But the attributes discussed in this chapter (omniscience, justice and mercy, holiness and love) are experienced “internally,” through the spirit of man. They are the manifestations of what God is in His essence, in which the “self-sacrifice” of the Three Persons is absolutely complete, so that there is no movement to cover any interval, but there is, instead, a “stability.” Frequently, Staniloae is not at all shy about saying that God “cannot” do something. When he says that God “cannot” do something -- like “he cannot make them to be as he himself is, that is uncreated and sources of existence” (p216) -- we misinterpret “cannot” as a limitation, and as a contradictory constraint upon God’s infinity. Actually, however, the “cannot” refers to the infinitely transcendent gulf between the created and the Creator, and so the “cannot” -- far from being a contradiction of the infinite -- is actually an enlarging indicator of the infinite. The spiritual attributes which “bridge” this gulf between … Continue Reading ››

Infinity, Eternity, Supraspatiality and Omnipotence: Staniloae on the Super-Essential Attributes of God


Neagoe Basarab and his wife, Milica Despina; Below (from the left to the right): Petru, Ioan, Teodosie, Angelina, Ruxandra and Stana, their children. The worthy Voivode Neagoe will be, toward the end, cited with less than unbridled  enthusiasm.

(reflections on the 8th chapter of Staniloae's The Experience of God) Salvation is the only reason for theological thinking. Theology cannot be an activity without this being the ultimate concern. If theology were only a series of facts, or even propositions, then it would be information, but not theology. On the other hand, theology is, in its widest sense, salvation itself. Knowing God -- that is, detaching our attention from lesser things, recognizing His beauty in all creation and finally entering into complete communion with the Holy Trinity -- comprises spirituality. In turn, spirituality is the experience of, and is aimed at, nothing less than the deification of the the soul, and with it the body: only in this sense can we say, with confidence, that salvation is deification, and deification is salvation through the Cross. Fr Dumitru Staniloae, mainly following St Maximos the Confessor, puts salvation at the very center of his dogmatic theology. But salvation is presented here in … Continue Reading ››

Surefire Defense

nietzsche1 Surefire defense vs "semi-ism" (my neologism -- blame me): kind of a heaving mass of semi-arianism churned up with semi-gnosticism, along with a practical* belief in being-as-power: "... if the beauty of material existence is not merely the overflow of a self-enclosed, strictly unitary, and entirely spiritual beauty into the confining channels of material deformity, but is the unnecessary, untrammeled, and contingent expression of a divine delight that is always already 'differential,' created difference is loosed, as univocally good in its creatureliness, though it is analogically imparted; and when Christian thought replaced the identist and substantial analogy Platonism presumed between the world and 'God' with a genuinely ontological analogy between creatures who own no substantial claim on being at all and a God who is the utterly transcendent and absolutely immediate actuality of any being's existence, every form of metaphysical reasoning had to be recast." -- DBH, Beauty of the Infinite, pp104-5 Please forgive the tentative nature of these propositions, but they are thoughts that have percolated through various "strata of consciousness" over time. What a context we have to deal with. On one side, we have a population who is allergic to non-material concepts … Continue Reading ››

The Knowledge of God (chapter 6 of Staniloae’s “Experience of God”)

dionysios converting the pagan philosophers   “… it is not the same to say something about God as it is to gain and see God.” So St Gregory Palamas said to Barlaam (The Experience of God, p115). Here is Fr Staniloae’s central note about the Knowledge of God — that at its highest point and most essential depth, it is beyond experience and inexpressible, that it is a “trans-apophaticism” that extends even beyond via negativa, and finally and climactically, it is the ineffable experience of God as Person (only, of course, in the extent of God’s energy, never His essence). In the most valuable accessible survey of the patristic tradition of the Knowledge of God, Fr Staniloae moves from Gregory the Theologian to Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysios the Areopagite, Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory Palamas (referring to Maximus the Confessor along the way). His discussion of the Areopagite in particular, if for no other part of this chapter, is a most helpful corrective to the contemporary Orthodox discussion of knowledge (especially in the shadow of a “Western captivity” of Orthodox academia). As in any other Orthodox discussion of the Knowledge of God, Fr Staniloae contrasts the two … Continue Reading ››

The Experience of God vol 1, chapter 3: Scripture and Tradition

Icon_Philip There are probably too many essays already that refute (or at least attempt to refute) the Protestant tradition of sola scriptura. The third chapter of Staniloae’s Experience of God – “Scripture and Tradition” – never explicitly names this most important of the Protestant “five solae,” but he certainly answers it, as he responds to its parallel (and, in a morose note, consequential) tradition of scriptural disregard. Many of us who are products of a Protestant and particularly Evangelical upbringing can remember the old motto “Scripture interpreting Scripture.” This motto attempts to surmount the obvious problem raised by the Reformers (i.e., Luther et al) – if Holy Tradition (or the Magisterium in the West) is to be discarded as an interpretative framework of Scripture, then what should take its place? The Reformed answer is that Scripture interprets itself, and thus there is no need for a human intermediary. The familiar explanation is that the Holy Spirit Himself is the sole agent of interpretation. This concept of “sole divine agency” is what unifies all five “solae” of the Reformation, in which “sola scriptura” (exclusion of Tradition, especially in human history after the writing of the … Continue Reading ››