In the rather frenetic initial scenes of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, Holmes holds Watson back from attacking Lord Blackwood, not so much for kindness to Blackwood but because of the glass spike protruding out from Blackwood’s hands that would have seriously hurt Watson if he had moved in any closer. “Observe,” says Holmes as the spike comes into focus. “How did you see that?” asks Watson. Holmes responds, “Because I was looking for it.”
In a sense, this is similar to how Fr. Dimitru Stăniloae understands the idea of natural revelation.1 The imprint of God, who is the creator of the cosmos and the world in which we live (and us as well), is evident in all things. As an Orthodox Christian whose understanding is that there really is no separation between natural and supernatural (or biblical) revelation, God’s creative act is everywhere revealed. We see it because we know to look for it. [p. 1]
Fr. Stăniloae presents natural revelation in a sort of hierarchy. First there is the cosmos and all within it, including the world in which we live. It is rational (meaning, as I understand it, able to be understood and adapted), because it created by the conscious Reason, and so naturally it bears the marks of the One that created it. Alongside the cosmos there is humanity, which, like the cosmos is rational. Unlike the cosmos, however, humanity is able to know its own nature. This means that humanity is superior to, or at a higher level than, the cosmos. [p. 3-4]
Both the cosmos and humanity are at a lower level, however, than the One who created both. A hierarchy is presented then, where the cosmos are at the lowest level, then man, then God.
As Fr. Stăniloae presents the Orthodox understanding of natural revelation, humanity is tasked with the responsibility of transforming the world — adapting it and learning about it, because in discovering more about the world, man learns more about himself. Ultimately, however, this brings about the question of meaning: what’s the point of all of this and what is humanity’s ultimate destination? Learning more about self, learning more about the world, would be rather pointless, circular and dead-ended if that’s all there was. Questions about meaning and reason inevitably lead to questions about eternity and also to the One who created everything. And this is where exploration and understanding of the Personal Reality (the One who created everything) moves beyond the simple discovery or uncovering of the effects of His creative act to a much more personal and relational association between God and His creation, man.
In this world, man embarks on a continuous quest for meaning, never really reaching any kind of satisfactory conclusion. This lack of conclusion creates a yearning in man, a desire in his heart for ultimate meaning. This quest for meaning is only fulfilled when man participates fully and eternally in the infinity of the supreme Personal reality (God – the eternal participation we would call theosis.) [cf. p. 11].
Evident throughout this chapter is the dominance of the thought of Saint Maximos the Confessor, especially in several passages of the Ambigua. Many references with respect the relationship between God and His creation, and the revelation of God by analogy within the creation can be found there.2
Ultimately, this chapter can be summarized thus: God created man and the cosmos. The cosmos is intelligible and can be transformed by man. Man has the same rationality but also is endowed with freedom, conscience and reason, putting him at a higher level than the cosmos. Man is on a quest for meaning, and God’s creative act is detectable in both the cosmos and man himself. Man’s quest for meaning leads to ultimate questions of eternity and the One who exists beyond (at a higher level than) either the cosmos or man. This then leads to a yearning for the eternal relationship with God, who is Personal Reality. Ending with the beginning, God is so evident in the cosmos and man that there is really no distinguishing between what is naturally revealed and what is supernaturally revealed.
1 Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae, The Experience of God, Volume 1. (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1994). All references will be quoted in the text of this study.
2 An excursus on the text found in the Ambigua of St. Maximos will be forthcoming and linked here. Likewise, some thoughts on the idea of Analogia Entis, unless someone beats me to it.