Thursday, June 3, 2010

Romanides: A Sympathetic but Critical Reading

The late Protopresbyter John Romanides (+2001) is, in my estimation, the most influential Greek Orthodox theologian of the twentieth century. Even those who have not read his books themselves (and they tend to be dense) have found his insights second-hand in the works of theologians such as Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos, Metropolitan Athanasius of Lismassol (the hero of The Mountain of Silence), Fr George Mettalinos, and many others. The only other figure whose influence even compares with that of Fr Romanides is that of Metropolitan John (Zizoulas) of Pergamon. Loyalties tend to be sharp: either one accepts Romanides with intense loyalty or one rejects him altogether.

I myself was once very much of a Romanides-ite, back in the days when his works were available mainly by photocopy (now nearly all his English-language works have been assembled on this website; see also his lectures, which have been recently published by Uncut Mountain Supply). I met him several times in Paris in 1989-90. My own theological mindset has since gradually grown away from that of Fr Romanides. Rather than expound my own criticisms, however, I though I’d reproduce below the very sympathetic yet critical reading offered by one of his former students, Fr Theodore G. Stylianopoulos, in his work The New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective, Volume One, Scripture, Tradition, and Hermeneutics. Fr Stylianopoulos turns to Fr John after a summary treatment of a number of other contemporary Orthodox theologians:

The hermeneutical position of Father John Romanides, the final one to be reviewed here, in part answers the last questions. Such questions could be addressed if one could point to a living authority which would combine in itself the mystical and the discursive, the transcendent and the practical, and thus act as normative criterion and unfailing discernment of Christian truth in the every changing present and unknown future. This is exactly the hermeneutical position of Father Romanides, who constructs an entire theological and biblical hermeneutic based on the model of the charismatic saint. [1] The following paragraphs summarize his position.

For Professor Romanides, the saints par excellence were the prophets and the apostles, those who had direct experiences of God in a continuous and dynamic state of glorification, which is called by the Church fathers theoria or theosis by grace. According to Professor Romanides, the sublime revelatory experiences of the prophets and the apostles were beyond speculative concepts and images, granting to the beholders immediate knowledge of God and enabling them to guide others toward God infallibly to through concept-bearing words and images appropriate to the level of understanding of their hearts. This tradition of the vision of God and participation in the divine glory is a living tradition in Eastern Christianity, continuing in a presumably limited number of known and unknown saints today – an ongoing Pentecost that constitutes the highest revelation and knowledge of God. An intriguing point by Father Romanides is that the true meaning of sola Scriptura is none other than theosis, deification by grace, summing up the God among prophets, apostles, and saints. The same unitive experience is the “key to opening the Bible’s secrets... [without which] the Bible remains a hidden mystery even to biblical scholars,” [2] whether Orthodox or not. For Romanides, only the true saint (“saint alone?”) – the one who has moved beyond the stage of purification and has reached the stage of illumination and perfection – can unerringly interpret biblical revelation at the level of words and concepts by virtue of enjoying the “same species of knowledge” as did the prophets and the apostles themselves.

Professor Romanides’ hermeneutical proposal vigorously claims independent theoretical aspects and practical applications [3], that is, it advocates a unity of the mystical and the practical. On the practical side, one can find today unnamed saints who have attained theoria, are wholly liberated from the enslavement of sin, the devil, and selfish love; and who, in God’s glory and selfless love are infallible witnesses and instructors of the ways of God. They are theologians in the classic sense of the word – authoritative knowers and spokespersons of God not by speculative reason but by direct experience of God in the manner of the prophets and the apostles. Such persons and only such persons, who have been cleansed of their evil passions and have reached at least illumination and the discernment of spirits, if not actual theosis, can be true guides in biblical interpretation. All others are only “so-called theologians,” presumably imposters and perverters of truth in varying degrees. According to this “theoria – based theology,” learning and application go together. The student must attach himself to a teacher who has experienced illumination. The teacher, as spiritual father, can guide the student but cannot actualize in him theoria, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit alone. Nevertheless, all this means that
an Orthodox theologian and spiritual father is the same thing. One cannot be a theologian without being a spiritual father and one cannot be a spiritual father without being a theologian. [4]

On the theoretical side, Father Romanides offers equally important observations. He raises the critically presuppositions of theologizing as such. According to Father John, the Augustinian approach to Scripture and theology departed from the biblical and patristic experiential model and lost sight, as well of the decisive distinction between Creator and creature. It assumed in platonic fashion the existence of eternal archetypes or uncreated universals, and thus presupposed a real similarity or analogy between the uncreated and created orders of being, as if both belonged to a single system of truth, which could be penetrate by the human intellect. In specific moments of inspiration, so Augustine taught, according to Professor Romanides, God infallibly conveyed what he wanted to the biblical authors in concept-bearing words and images that the authors themselves did not necessarily fully understand. In this Augustinian perspective, the Bible was identified with created forms of divine revelation. Revelation itself was erroneously identified with the very words of Scripture. Consequently, the human intellect, ever probing the world of immutable divine truths, could gradually gain higher knowledge of the eternal archetypes, including the mystery of the Holy Trinity – a knowledge that could be even superior to that of the prophets and the apostles themselves. This Augustinian epistemology, according to Professor Romanides, is the fatal substructure of all Western speculative thought, which necessarily cracked in modern centuries as philosophical nominalism and scientific study of the flux of all things “weakened the idea of unchanging and immutable truths so dear to western philosophical and theological systems.” In these terms, one could also quite likely explain the general collapse in Western culture of belief in the existence of absolute truth, law, and moral norms as criteria of thought and conduct. [5]

Here is how Professor Romanides sums up his hermeneutical position:

Dialectical speculation can never become the source of authoritative teaching as though the Church, whether by means of a Pope, or Councils or Protestant Biblical scholars, could transform research into dogma...

The authority for Christian truth is not the written words of the Bible themselves which cannot in themselves either express God or convey an adequate concept concerning God, but rather the individual Apostle, Prophet and Saint who is glorified in Christ and united in this experience of glory to all the friends of God of all ages.

Thus the Bible, the writings of the Fathers and the decisions of the Councils are not revelation, but about revelation. Revelation itself transcends words and concepts although it inspires those participating in divine glory to express accurately and unerringly what is inexpressible in words and concepts...

For the Fathers authority is not only the Bible, but the Bible plus those glorified... The Bible as a book is not in itself either inspired or infallible. It becomes inspired and infallible when the communion of the Saints who have the experience of divine glory described in, but not conveyed by, the Bible. To those outside of the living tradition of theoria the Bible is a Book which does not unlock its mysteries. [6]

Professor Romanides‘ hermeneutical thought is incisive in both its biblical focus on the direct experience of God which is the heart of biblical revelation, as well as in its philosophical sophistication, a radical liberation of thought from platonist epistemology. As regards the latter, to affirm that trust must be sought in personal and relational terms rather than abstract and eternal archetypes, is simultaneously relief from the anguish of a philosophical deadend and, as well, the opening of new horizons in the search for lived truth. As regards the former, to lift up the significance of the immediate and direct experience of God is to engage the substance of Scripture’s witness and, as well, the essence of the common human odyssey. For nothing is more profound and urgent than for each human being to gain personal intimations of the living God.

Indeed, the personal-experiental and the nominalist-philosophical perspectives are integrated in a most intriguing way by Professor Romanides, a way that simply rings true and gives his thought a powerful and attractive unity. It is certainly a worthy witness of the great Church fathers who, as philosophical sophisticates in their age, increasingly turned their back to Plato and deliberately followed the biblical way of knowing God. Not the least of Professor Romanides‘ merits is to remind modern scholars of the essential continuity and coherence of biblical and patristic theology. In his own efforts to exorcise the platonist ghost that always drives persons to relate more to abstract truths and absolute values rather than the living God himself, he has clearly discerned what is the core of patristic thought, namely, the scriptural content and vision. The way of the fathers is the way of Scripture. One could add that faithfulness to Scripture was precisely the driving force that pushed back the horizons of platonism in the thought of ancient Christian thinkers, an interesting way of thinking about how “Moses overcame Plato,” that is, how platonist ontology gave way to biblical personalism. [7]

However, the hermeneutical proposal by Professor Romanides is burdened by one-sidedness in its own way because of certain unnecessarily extreme claims that detract from the value and persuasiveness of Father John’s thought. On the philosophical level, leaving aside the question of the interpretation of Augustine to experts in this area, a radical kind of nominalism must be tempered with the consideration that “concept-bearing words and images” carry a certain stability of meaning. While rejecting the idea of eternal universals and archetypes, one must still take account of the biblical and patristic view that there are in Scripture clear and abiding teachings about God and his ways accessible to all. One does not necessarily have to adopt platonist metaphysics about immutable truth to affirm that the Bible, at the communication level of words and images, contains abiding insights, principles, and truths concerning such things as God and idols, grace and free will, love and hate, honesty and lying, forgiveness and retaliation, justice and exploitation, giving and selfishness, hope and despair.

One does not have to read very far in the theological and practical writings of the Church fathers, such as Basil and Chrysostom, to see the massive authority they attached to the letter and plain meaning of Scripture as secure instruction about God and his will for all. These fathers relied heavily on the clarity and stability of meaning resident in the biblical text they derived by grammatical exegesis and assumed that any reader could follow without esoteric techniques. To claim that “the Bible is not inspired” as it stands is to fly into the face of the whole patristic tradition and undercut Scripture’s plain witness to God’s dealing with all people. To seem to claim that stable and secure meaning at the level of words and images cannot at all be gained by ordinary human understanding is to undercut at once human communication, scholarship, as well as the hope of meaningful dialogue and possible reconciliation between disputants, whether orthodox or heretical. We are not saying that the plain meaning of word and images available to all is everything but that it is an integral part of that same truth about God and of God, which all are invited to seek.

The central difficulty of Professor Romanides‘ proposal is the extreme convergence on the charismatic saint who seems to be raised above the Bible, above the Councils, and even above the Church. We do not question the rich and valued tradition of spiritual fathers in Eastern Christianity. [8] Nor do we question the foundational role of the key biblical figures and of the great saints in the total life of the people of God. What we do question is the exclusivity of the charismatic model, which seems to raise the saint to a theological super figure. One is tempted to compare the vagueness of the ideal saint of whom so much is required to the vagueness of the Protestant emphasis on the word of God to which similar superiority is attributed.

But who are these supreme saints who enjoy an exactly identical experience of God and can communicate unerringly between them and with others who are not blessed with theoria? After the experience of the transfiguration of Jesus, John and James were not above looking for special honors in the coming kingdom they apparently still awaited in earthly form (Mk 10:35ff.). Despite their unarguable stature, the apostles Peter and Paul could have a striking difference on an important matter of ecclesial life, which compelled Paul to face up to Peter (Gal 2:11-14). [9] The Book of Acts also reports “a sharp contention” between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark’s instability which caused their separation in missionary work (Acts 15:36-41). If such disputes occurred among the apostles, one would not be hard pressed to provide numerous examples from among the Church fathers themselves. In fact, most heretics could be described as charismatic figures.

What evidence does Professor Romanides provide for the above hermeneutical model? Three references from St Gregory the Theologian about the impossibility of conceiving God and the necessity of spiritual cleansing when seeking knowledge of the sublime mystery of God. [10] He also refers to the verb thereo (“observe,” “perceive,” “behold,” etc.) used in the Gospel of John in connection with seeing and knowing Christ. Father Romanides takes the liberty of translating this verb as a noun (“may have theoria,” Jn 17:24) and thereby injecting in it the technical patristic meaning. But the noun is never used in the Gospel of John and only once in the entire New Testament and there with a different nuance (Lk 23:48), hardly sufficient scriptural evidence for a technical, heightened understanding of theoria. In fact, the Fourth Gospel offers an abundance of gnosiological terms (eidenai, gignoskein, pisteuein, blepein, oran, theorein, etc.), all of them applied indiscriminately to Christ’s relations to all, believers and unbelievers.

With regard to Gregory, the intent of the first two cited orations is that, duly cleansed, let us philosophize within our proper bounds” [11] because “the divine nature cannot be apprehended by human reason.” [12] Gregory is talking about proper use of reason fulfilled by faith. [13] His appeal to mystical knowledge is over against Arian and Eunomian rationalism, not the ordinary use of reason in gaining knowledge about God, which is available to all. Gregory himself makes ample use of both reason and rhetoric gained from his classical Greek education, not least in his use of the Greek notion of theosis which, to be sure, he fills with biblical meaning. All this is by no means to deny that the experiential and mystical dimension is unimportant in either the Fourth Gospel or Gregory. On the contrary, we affirm its importance in both. However, it is to point out that neither the Fourth Gospel, nor Gregory, in their overall witness raise the charismatic believer or saint as the infallible criterion of the knowledge of God and about God above Scripture and above the Church. The total testimony of the Bible and the fathers does not support such an exclusive model as a hermeneutical criterion.

In biblical and theological hermeneutics, we cannot be satisfied with a proposal that seems to suggest that the authoritative charismatic figure is beyond critique, a position open to the charge of arbitrariness and subjectivism. The charismatic figure is important in the Judeo-Christian tradition but cannot be separated from the people of God, the realm of the faith community whose corporate character is the prevailing point of reference. The apostolic advice is: “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world (Jn 4:1).” Among the Church fathers, St Symeon the New Theologian advocated, as perhaps no other Orthodox saint, the unerring wisdom and even sinlessness of the beholder of Christ’s glory, and himself claimed to be such. Nevertheless, despite his strong statements about the spiritual blindness of all others, he invites his hearers, who had not yet beheld the glory of the risen Christ, to judge for themselves the truthfulness of his own words. For example, he writes: “This, in my opinion, is the truth of the matter, and such is God’s counsel toward us... You, on your part, must see and test that which we say.” [14]

Charismatic claims must be tested out by the communal tradition and life of the Church as the final criterion. Experience of God belongs to the whole Church and not only to an elite group, which would smack of gnosticism. Personal mystical cognition has significance, especially for the beholders of the glory of God, but cannot exclusively either dominate or absorb access to knowledge of God available to all. For otherwise, not only would the faithful be deprived of their role of guardian of the faith but also the Church would be cut off from communication with the world to which it is charged to preach the gospel meaningfully. Rather, a hermeneutical model is needed that takes into account a greater balance between faith and reason, mystical cognition and scholarship, individual and faith community, Church and culture, according to the testimony of the Church fathers.


[1] A comprehensive statement of his position may be found in his length article “Critical Examination of the Applications of Theology,” in Proces-Verbaux du deuxieme Congres de Theologie Orthodoxe, ed, Savas Agouridis (Athens, 1978), pp. 413-441). Father Romanides many years ago was my first theology professor at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and he opened my eyes to exciting theological insights and to the necessity of paying close attention to “presuppositions.” To him I owe my foundational theological thinking, albeit qualified by critical historical scholarship of the Bible and the Church fathers. Father Romanides is now retired but still active in Greece and abroad. [He reposed in 2001 -- F.C.]

[2] Ibid., p. 423 and more broadly pp. 421-426.

[3] Father Romanides time and again confidently parallels his theological and hermeneutical approach to the experimental method of the hard and soft sciences, involving both interdependent theorizing and actual testing by observable and measurable standards, pp. 413, 423, 432, and 436-437.

[4] Ibid., p. 434. See also pp. 432-433.

[5] Ibid., pp. 413, 416, 418-421.

[6] Ibid., pp. 427 and 432.

[7] J. Pelikan, The Christian Tradition 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), p. 33, writes that, according to the Eastern fathers, “theology was not a science of divine ontology but of divine revelation.” This patristic emphasis on faith and Scripture, rather than on reason and philosophical speculation – while viewing the two perspectives as complementary and mutually supportive, not antithetical – is more fully laid out by Pelikan in his Christianity and Classical Culture. In contemporary Orthodox theology, biblical and patristic personalism as contrasted to Greek philosophical ontology is the touchstone of the work of John D. Zizoulas, Being as Communion (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985) and Christos Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality, trans. Elizabeth Briere (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984).

[8] See Kallistos Ware, “The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity,” CC (Summer/Fall, 1974), pp. 269-312, and Irenee Hausherr, S. J., Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990), with a foreword by Kallistos Ware. Douglas Burton-Christie, The Word in the Desert, ends his study on the ancient monastic use of Scripture by underscoring the significance of persons who lived Scripture and were “Christ-bearers” and “mediators of God to humanity.” His ending sentence reads: “The ultimate expression of the desert hermeneutic was a person [his emphasis], one who embodied the sacred texts and who drew others out of themselves into a world of infinite possibilities,” p. 300.

[9] One can understand but not accept the interpretation of some Church fathers, going back to Origen, that Peter and Paul simulated the conflict in order to teach a lesson to Jewish and Gentiles Christians. But, on the premise of the dignity and unfailing agreement between apostles, would not these Christians also be offended even by a simulated conflict, just as later Christians were apparently offended who took the disagreement as real?

[10] Theological Orations, 1.3; 2.3, and 2.14.

[11] Theological Orations, 1.5.

[12] Ibid., 211.

[13] See Faith Gives Fullness to Reasoning: The Five Theological Orations of Gregory of Nazianzen by Frederick W. Norris who lifts up the following Gregorian citation, p. v: “When we abandon faith to take the power of reason as our shield, when we use philosophical enquiry to destroy the credibility of the Spirit, then reason gives way in the face of the vastness of realities... Give way it must... [being] the frail organ of human understanding. What happens then? The frailty of our reasoning looks like a frailty in our creed. Thus it is that as Paul too judges, smartness of argument is revealed as a nullifying of the Cross. Faith, in fact, is what gives fullness to our reasoning” (Oration 29.21).

[14] C. J. deCatazaro, trans. Symeon the New Theologian: Discourses, p. 354


Anonymous said...

Quoting Fr Romanides:

"Christ, the Lord (Yaweh) of Glory, offers communion with His uncreated Glory and Rule to all, but only those who are participating in this cure by means of the purification and illumination of their hearts are participating in reality... The Bible calls the center of the human personality the 'spirit' of man which the Fathers also call 'noera energia (noetic energy)'... Not understanding this reality about the human personality, Protestants, Latins and some so-called Orthodox Bible scholars are unable to read either the Bible or the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils correctly... Bible Professor Theodore Stylianopoulos has been trying hard to throw aspersion on this tradition by calling it 14th century "Palamism," even though it is generally accepted that this was the practice of such earlier Fathers as St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Macarius of Egypt, St. John Cassian, St. Patrick of Ireland and all writers whose works on the subject are to found in the Philokalia."

Therefore, we know where Fr Stylianopoulos is coming from. Enough said.

Felix Culpa said...

Yes, but what of his arguments?

Becoming said...

Just curious, where does this quote come from Anonymous?


Paul said...

This is my first time posting, so I'm going to be bold and probably go overboard by typing too much...

I was a student of Fr. Stylianopoulos at one time and respect much about him. I remember the specific day and lecture in which he explained the views on Fr. Romanides that he expresses in his book. At the time, I was unsure about them and cautious; after some time and study, I now pretty firmly disagree with them. There are various places in which I think that Fr. Stylianopoulos' understanding of Fr. Romanides is off. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1) Fr. Stylianopoulos writes that one must admit that "there are in Scripture clear and abiding teachings about God and his ways accessible to all." He then lists the topics: "God and idols, grace and free will, love and hate, honesty and lying, forgiveness and retaliation, justice and exploitation, giving and selfishness, hope and despair." In each of these cases, however, I can think of a person or denomination which holds a false, distorted, or misunderstood vision. The topics and their exceptions might look like this: God and idols- iconoclasts. Grace and free will-Luther and Calvin. Love and hate-contemporary responses to homosexuals as Hell-deserving. Forgiveness and retaliation-'Just war' theory. Justice and exploitation-Liberation theology. Etc etc etc... Though some distortions or misinterpretations may seem clear to us, to others they have not been; further, some are downright theologically confusing topics. Without a God-bearing saint to sort these things out and raise up the truth, multi-denominational Christianity makes sense as a result.

2) Fr. Stylianopoulos seems to understand Fr. Romanides as saying that the charismatic elder is to be taken as infallible. Based on what I've read of Fr. Romanides, however, it is not the charismatic elder that he understands as infallible but the Spirit of God, the Tradition of the Church, in which he lives. This is why saints can disagree with one another. When the consciousness of the Church is revealed, the saints humbly submit to it (Hence, Sts. Peter and Paul). Thus, to say that Fr. Romanides raises the charismatic saint "above the Bible, above the Councils, and even above the Church" is incorrect; the Spirit of God, in which the saints live, is the Interpreter of Scripture, the Verification of Councils, and the Spirit and Breath of the Church. It is not that the charismatic saint is above these things, but he/she resides in this same holy Spirit WITH ALL THE SAINTS.

Paul said...

3) Fr. Stylianopoulos does not appear to understand the word "charismatic" in the way in which Fr. Romanides means it. When he (Fr. Stylianopoulos) writes that "most heretics could be described as charismatic figures," my response is that they certain could not (at least, not in the way in which Fr. Romanides intends the term). This, in fact, is Fr. Romanides' whole point. The heretic places his intellect above his nous, his mind above his heart. He does not express revealed theology but philosophized (purely speculative) theology. This is what separates a theologian from a "theologian-so-called." Not all of the latter are heretics, buy they keep from being so by following - intellectually - the theology expressed and learned - experientially - by the Saints before them. Had the heretics achieved theoria or theosis (and thus become defined as "charismatic"), they would have fled their heresy.

4) Fr. Stylianopoulos seems to think that Fr. Romanides is disparaging formal education and intellectual knowledge. This, I don't believe, is the case. Fr. Romanides himself was a brilliant and learned scholar. However, intellectual knowledge itself is not enough, and it often leads to improper interpretation and theology. The Fathers of the Church would still have been great theologians without their secular education; however, they might not have been so well-known or involved in the theological battles of their day. Their education, however, allowed them to express what they learned through experience. Hence, we see St. Athanasius, the greatest fighter of Arianism, going to St. Anthony for advice about the heresy. St. Athanasius, himself a Divine-bearning man, saw the spiritually advanced state of St. Anthony who, though a great theologian, was not in the position to write against the Arians in the same way. Education helped St. Athanasius do what many great theologians have done: put into the best possible words what, in reality, is inexpressible. The experience is still necessary. It is interesting that Fr. Stylianopoulos quotes St. Gregory the Theologian. We except him today as such an authority not because of his secular knowledge but because he was a theologian in the truest sense; he experienced that which he theologized.

Paul said...

5) Finally, Fr. Styliapoulos insists that the "experience of God belongs to the whole Church and not only to an elite group, which would smack of gnosticism." I doubt that Fr. Romanides would disagree; this is, thus, an unfair argument. Fr. Romanides, as Anonymous showed, believed that the experience of God belonged to all people; however, very few of us actually experience and live it in this life. We look to those who have for answers to our theological questions. This is absolutely not to take away the collective authority of the people of God. However, we cannot go to the opposite extreme and say that, as an Orthodox Christian, we automatically become guardians of all Truth and can be seen as authorities on theological topics. It was St. Maximus - a charismatic saint - who had to argue AGAINST the "people of God," the bishops, scholars, and "theologians" of the Church. I hate to write this, but I think that, if a great heresy were to invade the Church today, the vast majority of the faithful would not know where to stand. Where would they turn but to the living saints of our age? This is not setting the saint apart from and above the Body of Christ; it is recognizing him/her as one who has been transfigured, one who lives in Christ and in whom Christ lives. We are all struggling toward this; we look to those who have accomplished it for our purest voice.

In the end, I think that we always want secular knowledge mixed with our charismatic elders. The greatest saints of our day - Sts. Nektarios or Justin Popovich, for instance - were both scholars and had achieved theoria. However, if I had to choose between an education-lacking Saint or a Grace-lacking scholar, I would choose the former.

These are just a few of my objections to what Fr. Stylianopoulos has written here... Though I have various others, I think that I have exhausted my welcome for a first post... technically posts.

Felix Culpa said...

Paul: Thanks for your incisive comments, which are very helpful in gaining a balanced view of the question.

What do you think, in sum, lies at the heart of the argument between Frs Romanides and Stylinopoulos?

And did the latter address the historical views (Franks and Romans and all that) in class?

And you're always more than welcome to comment!

Anonymous said...

** The Divine Darkness **

St. Dionysios Areopagite ( Διονύσιος ὁ Ἀρεοπαγίτης ) distinguishes two possible theological ways. One – that of cataphatic or positive theology – proceeds by affirmations; the other – apophatic or negative theology by negations. The first leads us to some knowledge of God, but is an imperfect way. The perfect way, the only way which is fitting in regard to God, who is of His very nature unknowable, is the second – which leads us finally to total ignorance. All knowledge has as its object that which is. Now God is beyond all that exists. In order to approach Him it is necessary to deny all that is inferior to Him, that is to say, all that which is. If in seeing God one can know what one sees, then one has not seen God in Himself but something intelligible, something which is inferior to Him. It is by unknowing (αγνοία) that one may know Him who is above every possible object of knowledge. Proceeding by negations one ascends from the inferior degrees of being to the highest, by progressively setting aside all that can be known, in order to draw near to the Unknown in the darkness of absolute ignorance. For even as light, and especially abundance of light, renders darkness invisible; even so the knowledge of created things, and especially excess of knowledge, destroys the ignorance which is the only way by which one can attain to God in Himself.

excerpt – Vladimir Lossky chapter 2 /The Divine Darkness/ Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

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Thomas Hamilton said...

It seems to me that we actually must affirm such universals and eternal archetypes, but we do not affirm them impersonally- rather, we understand these to be the logoi, the divine processions which are called by St. Gregory Palamas the energies/activities of God. Because the Father always energizes in and through the Son, all of the logoi are summed up in the Son, who is therefore called the Logos, Wisdom, and Truth of God. Language, moreover, is not an accidental means of communication which God has appropriated in a necessarily imperfect way. Rather, language itself, the unique capacity of man as the Image of the Logos, is a divine creation designed to give the mind of man the capacity to make intelligible the inner coherence of the creation. Thus, St. Ephrem the Syrian states of Scripture that the Logos has "clothed Himself in our language." The mind must be reoriented and redirected by the spirit in communion with the Holy Spirit in Christ- but it is the mind nevertheless. Reason is not an accidental property of mankind, but an essential aspect of man's being as the Image of God. Hence, the great theological teachers of the Church were men of tremendous personal sanctity and scholarly learning. The wisdom of God is foolishness to this age, and will bring laughter from the unbelieving academic- but it is wisdom, which the reason of the reborn man makes intelligible through the Spirit and in language.