Chapter 4: The Church as the Instrument for Preserving Revelation

As Bishop BASIL (Essey) introduced Fr. Zacharias to his clergy during one of their retreats, he made mention of the idea of paradosis (παρὰδοσις, the Greek word we usually translate as “tradition”).  Not so much like links in a chain but strands in a tapestry, is the way in which the tradition of the Church is passed from person to person, from group to group, from generation to generation.

An icon written on a woven piece of cloth.

It is with this in mind that we move on into chapter four of Dumitru Staniloae’s Orthodox Dogmatics.  “Tradition”, Fr. Staniloae states, “cannot exist without the Church (p. 53).”  The Church, it must be understood, is the community that came into existence at the time of the Apostles, and continues — being formed by tradition, and also forming tradition:  “The Church begins with tradition, tradition begins with the Church (p. 53).”

The Church is also bears the work of the Holy Spirit, which means that God’s action (as evidenced in natural and supernatural revelation)  is also an integral part of tradition (p.53).  God acts, and the community continually works to reflect in better ways the manner in which God is acting.

There is a mutually dependent connection between the Church, tradition, and it’s subset, Scripture.  The Church is the agency through which Scripture is “activated”.  Tradition is the lens through which Scripture is comprehensible.

Fr. Stanlioae notes with particular emphasis that the Protestant Church’s rejection of the Church has resulted in a loss of παρὰδοσις, the handing off of the faith from one person to another, which is an integral part of the continuity of tradition. Also, the rejection of the Church means that whenever Scripture is interpreted in the Protestant world, it is done without the fullness of tradition, which by extension means that the depths of the Scriptures themselves are not fully understood or plumbed.

This obviously stands in direct opposition to any notion of Sola Scriptura, the foundation of many of the disparate Protestant denominations.  Scripture is understood as self-interpreting, or the interpretation of Scripture is left up to the individual.  The Church is not necessary for correct interpretation to occur.  Paraphrasing Luther, a layman with the Scriptures is superior to any Pope without them.

Some, like the Methodists and their notion of the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” (which was not Wesley’s at all), expand the sources of authority to include not only Scripture and tradition, but reason and experience as well.  Putting the four on an equal footing shows the same diminution of the Church and the tradition of the Church, because experience can be either individual or corporate, and reason can be intra or extra ecclesial.  Quoting Stanley Hauerwas, “I was raised a Methodist. That means before I was twelve I had already had all the experience I could take…. Methodists should not be allowed to use the word ‘experience’ because they usually mean by that salvation consists in having the right feelings at the right time and in the right place. Rather than our confrontation with God being an occasion for challenging our endemic narcissism, the emphasis on experience thus only underwrites our fatal narcissism [cf. Michael Cartwright, “Afterward: Stanley Hauerwas’s Essays in Theological Ethics: A Reader’s Guide”, in John Berkman and Michael Cartwright, eds., The Hauerwas Reader (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001), pp. 650-51.].” The problem then is that a person left on their own to determine the meaning of existence can easily fall prey to self-deception. An Orthodox (or Catholic – note that Fr. Staniloae is only criticising Protestantism at this point) vision of Church as Staniloae presents it, defining and being defined by tradition, providing context and meaning for revelatory experience, enables a person to narrate (Hauerwas’s word) one’s own experiences truthfully.

Ultimately, the plan of salvation and deification is found in tradition, Scripture, and the Church and is the reason why they are of any importance anyway.  Dogmas are the points at which salvation and deification are preserved within tradition.  Dogmas are revealed either naturally or supernaturally.  These revelations occur between two actors who are open to one another, through a tangible relationship.  This openness implies a certain degree of vulnerability: defenses are dropped, so if trust is not a part of the relationship, a person can get hurt.  The trust is brought about by faith, that the relationship will lead to theosis, rather than to destruction.  Faith and revelation are mutually dependent.

Dogmas themselves have been the focal point of a great deal of derision over the last several centuries.

The examples of this are legion. From David Hume, whose theological convictions were vague at best, to Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, adherence to the dogmas spelled out in the Ecumenical Councils hold little weight. Dogmas are seen as restrictive or outdated/outmoded. A classic example of this is found in Charles Ketcham’s A Theology of Encounter (University Park, PA and London: Penn St. University Press, 1978) where he argues that classical philosophical categories found in Plato and Aristotle are no longer relevant or sufficient and that what is needed is a re-presentation of concepts like revelation, justification and salvation based on new philosophical approaches (Buber, Heidegger and Husserl) are required.  While this book itself is somewhat obscure (he was my first religion professor), the opinions expressed are much more far-reaching.

Properly understood, dogma is neither restrictive nor constraining, but rather dogma preserves the capacity for spiritual development within human beings (p. 65). Dogma is not limiting, it is freeing.  It presents the opportunity for human beings to be in communion with God the Person.  So while dogma presents the domain of faith (and therefore it circumscribes certain aspects of the faith) it also places Christians in a position where they can be in direct relationship with the Supreme and Divine Person, which in itself is the epitome of freedom (ibid).

Dogmas in the Christian context are not just a set of teachings, constrained by a person’s sitz im leben.  Rather, they provide the context or the framework for the divine-human relationship.  Dogmas are the interpretation of Christ’s reality as this reality is being extended in human lives…. Christ is the living dogma, universally comprehensive and at work to bring about the whole of salvation (p.67, emphasis mine).”

The content of Christian dogma centers on the Holy Trinity.  In that the Son reveals the Father and the Spirit, the Holy Trinity is the perfection of communion.  Thus, through the divine community of the Holy Trinity, humanity is raised up into eternal and divine communion.

This communion is dialogical and interpersonal.  Fr. Staniloae notes that this dogmatic understanding is unique when compared to faiths apart from Christianity.  Pagan beliefs in a god hold that the persons of gods ultimately dissolve into an impersonal essence.  Judaism and Islam maintain that God is so closed up in Himself that for man no communication with God is possible.

So far it’s been established that in the Christian dogmatic sense man’s relationship with God is interpersonal and dialogic.  In the dogma of the Holy Trinity, “God is a Trinity of persons who have all in common, that is, their entire being, yet are not confused with one another as persons. This implies perfect love (p. 68).”  This also means perfect community and perfect relationship, and the ultimate end for humanity as well, when man and God will be united in perfect community as well.

The dogma of the Incarnation is another crucial matter.  God is not merely united with a man (p.69).  Were this to be so, Christ, as man, would not be in the full communion with the Holy Trinity.   So the two natures – divine and human – are united in one hypostasis, one Person.  “The hypostasis of Christ is the basis of this highest union between two different natures just as a common nature is the bridge that unites persons of the same nature (p. 69).”

So Christ does not become a new species.  He is fully Divine, He is fully human.   As such He becomes the real mediator of our communion with God (ibid), bringing our humanity to Divinity and Divinity to our humanity.  Through Him, then, we experience the fulfilment of our yearning for ultimate meaning (p. 70).

This eternal communion is our because of the resurrection of our Lord.  The resurrection along with the Holy Trinity are what Saint Cyril of Alexandria calls the fundamental dogmas of our faith.  The Father raised the Son, not because the Son was unable to raise Himself, but because whatever the Son does out of love for the Father and obedience to His will  (p. 72).

Fr. Staniloae’s discussion of St. Cyril is worth noting, because he shifts the emphasis found in him and elsewhere within the patristic corpus from incorruptibility to perfected communion: “Living as they did in a period when the ideas of person and of interpersonal communion were still not very well developed, the Fathers, in their treatment of the resurrection, placed greater emphasis on the share that human nature had in the incorruptible divine life. (p. 73)”

This is a very interesting comment, since a great deal of modern or  neo-patristic thought has returned to this emphasis on incorruptibility at the deficit of perfect communion.

The remainder of the chapter is an emphasis on the perfection of communion that comes from union with God, the need for the human body to be perfected in order to participate in the divine communion and the hell that awaits those who do not live in communion with God, a resurrection of eternal solitude (p. 75).

So in this chapter, Fr. Staniloae creates his framework for the need for the Church to be the locus of the tradition of the faith, how it both forms and and is informed by tradition as it progresses.  Moreover, he emphasizes the  central role of natural and supernatural dogma as it helps to set the framework for humanity to progress along the road to theosis and perfect communion with the Divine Person.  This Person, of course, is the Holy Trinity, the ultimate expression of perfect community.  Humanity has access to this participation in divine community through the completely human, completely divine Christ, the Son of the Father, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity.  Through the resurrection,  which is the complete work of the entire Trinity, perfection is then communicated to the whole human race.

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 “original autographs”) is joined by “sola fidei” (exclusion of the necessity of human work); “sola gratia” (exclusion of synergia); “solus Christus” (exclusion of human priesthood and, most likely, the possibility of sacrament); and “soli Deo gloria” (exclusion of veneration to the Theotokos, saints and angels).

Generally, the refutations of sola scriptura focus upon the inconsistencies, if not outright impossibilities, that accrue to the Protestant history of interpretation. It is difficult to proceed under the hermeneutical rubric of “Scripture interpreting Scripture” without at least implicitly referring to some external reference. Some times, that external reference is to an artifact of doctrinal Tradition, which is often referred to as “small o orthodoxy.” This “orthodox” reference accounts for the persistence in Protestantism of doctrines like the Trinity, the Person and work of Christ, and the canonical arrangement of the New Testament. Other times, however, that external reference involves (perhaps unwittingly) the inclusion of a contemporary cultural trend that is contrary to Tradition. Fr John Romanides famously discerned a patterned reference that involved “Frankish” dominance, which seems to account for everything wrong with the West.[i] Other critiques have discerned external references that presently involve an increasing identification with the dominant materialistic worldview.[ii]

But Staniloae responds to the deeper claim of “sole divine agency,” a claim that lies at the heart of the heterodox rejection of the Church and her Tradition. While everything in the Church’s existence (including Scripture) relies upon the complete sufficiency of God, human participation is necessary — both in the writing of Scripture form the Tradition of the Apostles, and in its Apostolic interpretation. There is never a “sole divine agency” in Economy, in which the human is a passive object. There is always a person who says, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1.28).

Christ is always the Revealer, through the “radiation of the Holy Spirit”:

The Word and the Holy Spirit are the two persons who together accomplish and jointly bring to fulfillment the whole of revelation and of its efficacy until the end of the world … Between the Word and the Holy Spirit exists a continuous reciprocity of revelation and both bring about a common revelation of the Father, and a common spiritualization of creation.[iii]

Here it is plain that revelation – both natural and supernatural – continues to be active. In fact, Staniloae’s tone suggests that revelation can only gain in force and depth as it continues through the space-time inaugurated at Creation. Any revelation – especially the written supernatural revelation that is Scripture – cannot be objectified and rendered static in examination. Just at the Epistle to the Hebrews says: For the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4.12 Douay-Rheims)

But not only is revelation active, it is also personal. Revelation is never an impersonal dynamic or force: neither is it a phenomena framed by a historic narrative and imposed violently upon its members; nor is it an esoteric gnosis reserved for those pre-determined before birth. Revelation is nothing less, and nothing anything else, than a personal work of Christ that is “irradiated” by the Spirit in the Church.

Revelation is given only through communion – and Staniloae has made it very clear that only persons can commune. In natural revelation, the communion between the Creator and His creatures is indirect. But what distinguishes supernatural revelation is that the communication is direct (e.g., I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you – John 15.15 KJV).

Language is the rational memory of communion: and here is the haunting semantic coincidence whereas Christ is known principally as the “Word” of God. He can only be the Father’s revelatory initiative to us. So he penetrates into our consciousness, and reveals God in experience and is remembered in thoughts.

And those thoughts are written in human art. Again, this is the synergistic communion of persons: on one the infinitely transcendent side is God, and on the other is the creature, Man. God reveals personally: Man personally remembers and writes. The significance and necessity of the written word should not be surprising: written language is a relatively unchanging solidification of commonly held memory through history. And Scripture is the written memory of special revelation that is fulfilled and closed in Christ.

As Staniloae puts it: Sacred Scripture is the Son and Word of God who translated himself into words in his work of drawing close to men so that he might raise them up to himself, until the time of his incarnation, resurrection, and ascension as man. Through these words by which he is translated, Christ words upon us to bring us also to that state which he has reached.[iv]

That last statement marks the third characteristic of the agency of the Church in interpreting Scripture: the written narrative of the supernatural revelation of Christ not only reveals the identity of Christ, but also clearly describes His intentions for humanity and all creation. Salvation can be nothing less and nothing other than deification: it is Staniloae’s considerable genius to define revelation in terms not only of Cyrillian Christology, but also of theosis.

In effect, the special revelation that is narrated in the written text of Scripture can only be expressed as a whole by the ecclesial culture of deification – that is, the community that preserves Tradition. Staniloae contends that the Church and Tradition were inaugurated simultaneously, one sustaining the other: in concert, Scripture is interpreted and made meaningful to contemporaneity through the Church’s rhetoric of peace and beauty.

Staniloae suggests, in this chapter, that there is a double peril that results from the fact that Christ is the “active Revealer” of Himself (through the Spirit) in Scripture, in the Church. First: a Christ that is not expressed (i.e., through Tradition and Scripture) does not manifest his effectiveness. And second: the Church is alone capable of understanding and interpreting Scripture effectively.

This not only rules out the possibility of sola scriptura and the idea of “sole divine agency” behind it, but it makes uncertain the ecclesial identity of any community that does not express Him.

Now to the final point: what is the genealogy of Scriptural disregard? That is, the failure to “express Him”? Is it possible that this disregard could have occurred only after the disregard of Tradition?

It seems so. One could take, prima facie at least (a “plain reading of the text”), such a lesson from the story of the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip in Acts 8.30-31: So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him (NKJV). Someone had to elucidate the meaning, and Philip did so allegorically, but only within the parameters of a community that had been infused with revelation, natural and supernatural.

Had it been otherwise, that this community would have ever discarded the oral tradition of the Apostles, there would have been no written tradition to speak of.

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[i] An interesting exemplary quote from Fr Romanides: The attitudes of the West and East Franks toward the Papacy and the Filioque were different, the first being mild, and the second fanatically hard. One of the important reasons for this is that, after 920, the new reform movements gained enough momentum to shape the policies of the East German Franks who took over the Papacy. When the Romans lost the Papacy, the Filioque was introduced into Rome for the first time in either 1009, or at latest by 1014. In the light of the above, we do not have the situation usually presented by European, American, and Russian historians in which the Filioque is an integral part of so-called “Latin” Christendom with a “Greek” Christendom in opposition on the pretext of its introduction into the Creed. (The addition to the Creed was supposedly opposed by the popes not doctrinally, but only as addition in order not to offend the “Greeks.”) What we do have is a united West and East Roman nation in opposition to an upstart group of Germanic races who began teaching the Romans before they really learned anything themselves. Of course, German teachers could be very convincing on question of dogma, only by holding a knife to the throat. Otherwise, especially in the time of imposing the Filioque, the theologians of the new Germanic theology were better than their noble peers, only because they could read and write and had, perhaps, memorized Augustine.

— from Franks, Romans, Feudalism, and Doctrine, part 3 (“The Filioque”), from http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.03.en.franks_romans_feudalism_and_doctrine.03.htm#s16 (retrieved 7/15/2014)

[ii] Pontifical Biblical Commission, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (preface by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger). Presented on March 18, 1994. Retrieved 7/15/2014 at http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/pbcinter.htm. This is a superior descriptive catalog of various and current hermeneutical approaches to Scripture.

[iii] Staniloae, Experience of God, p30.

[iv] Ibid., p40.

THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD VOLUME 1, CHAPTER 2

Creation-Icon

Staniloae’s theological universe seems drastically opposed to his Swiss contemporary Karl Barth. As we have found in chapter 2, Staniloae’s world is alive with the signs of God. This is no mere romanticism, where we find the infinite in the awesome expanses of landscapes or in the flowering of the inner recesses of the heart. No, Staniloae is representative of an older theological age – the ordered and empowered universe of the Fathers. The universe is meaningful because its creator, sustainer, and consummation is the Triune God. The infinite is bound up in every instance and in every thing.

sta_barth

My understanding of natural revelation has been bound my theological heritage, Western and flowing from two trajectories: Augustine/Aquinas & Barth and Post-Barth. Staniloae’s critique of Western theology I think is spot on. “Western theology has accustomed us to hold, that in natural revelation man is the only active agent. This separation of God from nature, a nature through which God speaks and works…has easily led to various kinds of conceptions that have sought to explain the world exclusively on the basis of an immanent reality” (21). I believe what Staniloae is pointing to when he characterizes Western theology as seeing man as the only active agent in natural revelation is the extreme rationalism found in “natural theology” in the West. (Not that these types of theology have not arisen in the East and/or thrive there) For example, think of the post-Cartesian search for indubitably true proofs for the existence of God. Or, think of anything like Josh McDowell and the evangelical or fundamentalist desire for truth claims based solely in amassing data or driven by an apologetics that creates an iron fortress of “t”ruth around faith. It seems to me that Staniloae sees in this a denial of the graced nature of reality. This brings us to the second half of the quote above. The natural theology that I believe Staniloae is pointing to is a theology that is purely logos and no theos.

Revelation is not something completely alien to humanity. We swim in a world alive with the glory of God. It is either the hardening of our hearts through an over attachment to the lust of the eyes and flesh (which I would argue is not just due to individuals but also emanates in cultures), or the separation of God from the world through the intellect (again, also a cultural emanation as well). Staniloae’s whole cosmology is then quite different than many modern conceptions. There is no supreme gulf between humanity and God – in fact, in Staniloae’s understanding God is constantly present to us, it is the fault of our darkened hearts and weakened wills that we are unable to commune with him personally. We know this because we feel the pangs of regret (18) in our conscience and because we innately pursue meaning (15). We learn a lot about God through natural revelation but it is only through supernatural revelation that the truth of God and our end within Him is clear.

Staniloae’s characterization of Western theology as making natural theology bereft of God may seem odd to those on this side of the 20th century – but if we are aware of the nature and grace debates within Roman Catholic circles and of certain aspects of Lutheran and Reformed theology this characterization stands. I began with mentioning Karl Barth because of his notoriety for rejecting natural theology and the tone that this set for later 20th century theology (Protestant & Catholic (Von Balthasar). Staniloae is not afraid of natural theology because he does not see “natural theology” in the way that Barth and others do. Staniloae is aware of these debates and comes to them from a serious immersion in the fathers of East. Especially important here is St. Maximos the Confessor, who is mentioned multiple times within the second chapter. St. Maximus’s Christo-centric cosmology takes to heart the Pauline and Johannine ideas of Christ as Logos and Mediator and systematizes them in a magnificent way. The salvific economy of Jesus Christ is to come into the world and to raise it back into communion with the Triune God. As the Spirit rests upon the Son in eternity so the Spirit rests upon the Son in His actions for our salvation. The Son has plunged fully into the material world in taking upon himself human nature and has therefore, through the power of the Holy Spirit, confirmed and fully revealed the meaning of creation (35). Nature is not at odds with God but is the very material through which God communicates and communes. Let us not think of “nature” as those with the low-fi vision of scientism do. Rather, nature is creation – not inert matter ready to be poked, prodded and organized. Instead, it is ultimately to be consecrated, elevated, and consumed as our eucharist. Reality now has meaning, not plagued by death or fatigued by an abyss of meaninglessness, but is an eternal communion of love between humanity and God.

How could we dispense with natural theology if this is a key way in which God brings us up in the ways of our Lord? “…the revealed Christ remains and goes on working within creation, that is, he makes the entire revelation perpetually effective to lead believers towards union with himself and towards deification” (36).

On another front – I find it extremely interesting that Staniloae begins his dogmatics by discussing revelation. This fact seems to indicate that Staniloae is quite aware of modernity’s challenges while at the same time not capitulating to modernity’s terms. I mean specifically the modern desire to place an incredible weight on epistemology – how we know what we know – without addressing other issues – e.g. ontology – what is. Again, to bring Barth back into the conversation, we find in Barth’s theological trajectory an intense focus on God revealing God’s self in the face of historicism and modern skepticism. Barth’s move is to abdicate the world of any of God’s presence (at least the earlier Romerbrief Barth). It would then become necessary for T.F. Torrance (referencing Fr Aidan’s comment on Chapter 1) to bridge Barth’s lacunae. Let me quote it here:

I do not deny that there is a proper place for rational argumentation in what is traditionally known as ‘natural theology’, for I find it contradictory to operate with a deistic disjunction between God and the universe, which presupposes belief in the existence of God but assumes at the same time that he is utterly detached and unknowable. Genuine argumentation must take place within the active interrelation between God and the universe, and is argumentation in which theoretical and empirical components in knowledge operate inseparably together, much as they do in the indissoluble fusion of geometry and physics in a ‘relativistic’ understanding of the universe. This demands of us, doubtless, a proper natural theology in which form and content, method and subject-matter, are not torn apart–that is, not a ‘natural theology’ as an independent conceptual system, antecedent to actual or empirical knowledge of God upon which it is then imposed, quite unscientifically, as a set of necessary epistemological presuppositions! (Space, Time and Resurrection, p. 1)

It would also be the impetus as to why Sarah Coakley would argue that if Barth lived now he would not have rejected natural theology.

For Orthodox theology it would be impossible to be faithful to the faith of the Fathers and put aside some form of natural theology. Because of the challenge of scientism, atheism, nihilism, and our generally materialistic society Staniloae’s work is essential for modern Orthodox to engage with in order for us to be able to adequately engage with our challenges now. Or so it seems to me.

 

 

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Chapter four of Theology and the Church by Staniloae entitled “Revelation Through Acts, Words and Images” would be quite beneficial to read alongside these chapters on revelation here in the first volume of the dogmatics. 

The Experience of God Volume 1, Chapter 1

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.

 

 

 

 

 


ENDNOTES

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.

Dumitru Stăniloae

dsThere are few Orthodox scholars who match the level of respect, the breadth of perspective or the intellectual depth of Romanian priest, scholar and theologian Dumitru Stăniloae.  His life stands out because like many Romanian priests and scholars, he was persecuted to the point of imprisonment, intimidation and physical abuse.  Yet despite the abuses endured, he was a prolific writer, authoring commentaries, many periodical articles, a highly augmented rendering of the Philokalia in Romanian, and, key to our concerns at present, an Orthodox “dogmatic theology” (Teologia dogmatică ortodoxă).

Fr. Dumitru, though thoroughly Orthodox in his theology and fully patristic in his approach, did not limit the scope of his studies to only Orthodox writers, or only writers from the first seven or eight centuries of the Church.  He read Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner and Hans Küng.  Likewise he was familiar with earlier “western” saints like Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine and St. Vincent of Lérins, as well as the modern Orthodox thinkers like Lossky, Evdokimov and Yannaris.

What better a starting place, then, for a collection of people seeking points of commonality between eastern and western Christianity than a man who arguably is the preeminent Orthodox scholar of the 20th century?  a man who earned the respect of both east and west?

With all of this in mind, let the journey begin.