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Archive for April, 2005

Vladimir Lossky: Essences and Energies

. . . [T]he theology of the Eastern Church distinguishes in God the three hypostases, the nature or essence, and the energies. The Son and the Holy Spirit are, so to say, personal processions, the energies natural processions. The energies are inseparable from the nature, and the nature is inseparable from the three Persons. These distinctions are of great importance for the Eastern Church’s conception of mystical life:

1. The doctrine of the energies, ineffably distinct from the essence, is the dogmatic basis of the real character of all mystical experience. God, who is inaccessible in His essence, is present in His energies ‘as in a mirror,’ remaining invisible in that which He is; ‘in the same way we are able to see our faces, themselves invisible to us in a glass,’ according to a saying of St. Gregory Palamas. [Sermon on the Presentation of the Holy Virgin in the Temple, edited by Sophocles, Athens, 1861, pp. 176-7.] Wholly unknowable in His essence, God wholly reveals Himself in His energies, which yet in no way divide His nature into two parts–knowable and unknowable–but signify two different modes of the divine existence, in the essence and outside of the essence.

2. This doctrine makes it possible to understand how the Trinity can remain incommunicable in essence and at the same time come and dwell within us, according to the promise of Christ (John xiv, 23). The presence is not a causal one, such as the divine omnipresence in creation; no more is it a presence according to the very essence–which is by defintion incommunicable; it is a mode according to which the Trnity dwells in us by means of that in itself which is communicable–that is to say, by the energies which are common to the three hypostases, or, in other words, by grace–for it is by this name that we know the deifying energies which the Holy Spirit communicates to us. He who has the Spirit, who confers the gift, has at the same time the Son, through whom every gift is transmitted to us; he also has the Father, from whom comes every perfect gift. In receiving the gift–the deifying energies–one receives at the same time the indwelling of the Holy Trinity–inseparable from its natural energies and present in them in a different manner but none the less truly from that in which it is present in its nature.

3. The distinction between the essences and the energies, which is fundamental for the Orthodox doctrine of grace, makes it possible to preserve the real meaning of St. Peter’s words ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ The union to which we are called is neither hypostatic–as in the case of the human nature of Christ–nor substantial, as in that of the three divine Persons: it is union with God in His energies, or union by grace making us participate in the divine nature, without our essence becoming thereby the essence of God. In deification we are by grace (that is to say, in the divine energies) all that God is by nature, save only identity of nature . . ., according to the teaching of St. Maximus. ['De ambiguis,' P. G. XCI, 1308 B.] We remain creatures while becoming God by grace, as Christ remained God in becoming man by the Incarnation.

These distinctions in God which are made by the theology of the Eastern Church do not in any way contradict its apophatic attitude in regard to revealed truth. On the contrary, these antinomical distinctions are dictated by a concern for safeguarding the mystery, while yet expressing the data of revelation in dogma. Thus, as we have seen in the doctrine of the Trinity, the distinction between the persons and the nature revealed a tendency to represent God as a ‘monad and triad in one’, with the consequence that the domination of the unity of the nature over the trinity of the hypostases was avoided, as was the elimination or minimizing of the primordial mystery of the identity-diversity. In the same way, the distinction between the essence and the energies is due to the antinomy between the unknowable and the knowable, the incommunicable and the communicable, with which both religious thought and the experience of divine things are ultimately faced. These real distinctions introduce no ‘composition’ into the divine being; they signify the mystery of God, who is absolutely one according to His nature, absolutely three according to His persons, sovereign and inaccessible Trinity, dwelling in the profusion of glory which is His uncreated light, His eternal Kingdom which all must enter who inherit the deified state of the age to come.

Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pp. 85-88.

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One does not normally associate theoretical or intellectual rigor with Orthodoxy. By that I don’t mean that Orthodoxy is incoherent, or doesn’t stand up to rigorous philosophical inquiry. After all, among the most brilliant of thinkers in the history of the Church are the Cappadocians, St. Maximus, and St. Gregory Palamas (who, I hasten to say aren’t Orthodoxy’s unique property, but are nonetheless integral to Orthodoxy in the way St. Augustine is to the West). But Orthodoxy is not a tight, architectonic system like Calvinism, nor does it have the sort of Aristotelian philosophical grid that Roman Catholicism post-Aquinas has. Orthodoxy’s greatest thinkers share no such system or grid.

No, in fact, Orthodoxy has, as Vladimir Lossky’s book title puts it, a “mystical theology.” Which simply means that Orthodoxy thinks in terms of her experience of the revelation of God in Christ. Orthodoxy is quintessentially an experiential religion. She thinks with her mind, but with a mind that has descended into her heart.

This is why, when I have spoken about my reasons for attraction to the Orthodox Church in the past, those reasons derived from the experience of the Faith. In December 2003, I finished up a nine-part post on the reasons I was attracted to Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church honors the past, respects the present, has a consistent theology, has the fullness of the Christian faith, has both an existential and objective worship and askesis, makes claims that are historically and objectively verifiable and theologically valid, and unites the home and family in the Church. Six months later, I added an additional post on my relief that Orthodoxy not only tells me what salvation is, but shows me how to acquire it. Today, nearly a year after that last post, and more than a year and a half since the last post of the original series, I want to add yet one more post answering, “Why Orthodoxy?” And today I want to talk about Orthodoxy in terms of intellectual consistency.

Let me say it clearly and starkly: Orthodoxy has a purity of thought unmatched by the Roman Catholic Church and by all of Protestantism. I don’t mean Orthodoxy has never had heretics. No, in fact, some of Orthodoxy’s heretics were the most highly-placed of her hierarchy. Rather, I mean that if one conforms one’s mind to Orthodoxy one will quite literally never go wrong.
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Tech Update

There have been several updates to software products that I use regularly, and I thought I’d alert you all to some fantastic, free software that is cutting edge.

OpenOffice.org

First, there is the OpenOffice Suite 2.0 Beta. The list of the enhancements will give you a good idea of what to expect. (A full list of features is here. The screenshots are here.) OpenOffice Writer has interoperability with Windows Doc files as well as WordPerfect files. OpenOffice Calc interoperates with Excel, OpenOffice Database works with Access, and OpenOffice Impress can open Powerpoint, and so on. Of course, it will not be absolutely seamless. There may be formatting issues between Writer and Word, for example. But from my limited experience, those things are minor.

There are downloads for Mac, Linux, as well as us MS whores. Be warned, however, the download is huge–85 MB. Not for dialup. Even my DSL at home took a while.

e-Sword

e-Sword is by far the best Bible software I’ve ever encountered. Simply on the basis of language and translation comparisons, it would serve you well. But it also has the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon and Thayer’s Greek lexicon, powerful searching, bookmarking, and listing capabilities. You can save your own study outlines and textual notes, and there is literally a seminary library available for you: all of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, the complete works of Philo and Josephus, and other commentaries (e. g., Calvin’s Institutes). If you have e-Sword, there’s an update–link opens in your download manager–to download. If you don’t have the program, you need to download the whole thing (17 MB). (Unfortunately, e-Sword is Windows only.)

Firefox

If you don’t have Mozilla.org’s Firefoxyou need to get with the program! You can get more Firefox info here. The download is 5 MB. There’s tabbed browsing–buh-bye IE! you ol’ clunker-clutterer. There’s a whole slough of extentsions, add-on software–so you can personalize your browser for what you need it to do for you. (I personally use FoxyTunes and Forecast Fox all the time.) There’s a built-in search box that has Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Dictionary.com, and eBay built right in. And if you store your internet links in Yahoo, or use Yahoo mail, there’s a Yahoo Companion toolbar and a Yahoo email notifier that you can add. There’s also a Gmail notifier.

Firefox has Windows, Mac and Linux downloads. I also use Thunderbird, Mozilla.org’s email program.

I’m tellin’ ya, folks. Open source is where it’s at.

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Deliberately Sinful, Deliberately Virtuous

I wanted to take the opportunity to offer another reflection on the “cash value” of the theological concepts on soteriology that have been discussed on this and other blogs over the last few weeks; namely, personhood, nature, will, choice and act.

Those who’ve followed the discussion will remember that my argument has been that it is persons who act, not natures, and that no matter what is one’s strongest inclination at the moment of willing, it is fundamentally the person who decides and chooses what act to do. In other words, this is a fundamentally libertarian understanding of free will. I have built this case on Trinitarian and Christological dogmas concerning personhood, nature and will, and how those apply (theologically and philosophically) to human persons. If you want to see the theoretical framework of my argument you can go here first, where it is summarized. (See also Robert Kane, “Two Kinds of Incompatibilism” in Agents, Causes, and Events, and his The Significance of Free Will.)

In this post, I want to look at these concepts from the practical arena of moral development, especially in light of a pop cultural understanding that our behaviors are greatly, even completely, determined by our genetic and/or psychological makeup.
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An Account of the Conversion of St. Vladimir the Great

From A. Mouravieff : Introduction of Christianity into Russia:

A certain philosopher, a monk named Constantine, after having exposed the insufficiency of other religions, eloquently set before the Prince those judgments of God which are in the world, the redemption of the human race by the blood of Christ, and the retribution of the life to come. His discourse powerfully affected the heathen monarch, who was burdened with the heavy sins of a tumultuous youth; and this was particularly the case when the monk pointed out to him on an icon, which represented the last judgment, the different lot of the just and of the wicked.

“Good to these on the right hand, but woe to those on the left!” exclaimed Vladimir, deeply affected. But sensual nature still struggled in him against heavenly truth. Having dismissed the missionary, or ambassador, with presents, he still hesitated to decide, and wished first to examine further concerning the faith, in concert with the elders of his council, that all Russia might have a share in his conversion. The council of the Prince decided to send chosen men to make their observations on each religion on the spot where it was professed; and this public agreement explains in some degree the sudden and general acceptance of Christianity which shortly after followed in Russia. It is probable that not only the chiefs, but the common people also, were expecting and ready for the change.

The Greek emperors did not fail to profit by this favorable opportunity, and the patriarch himself in person celebrated the divine liturgy in the Church of St. Sophia with the utmost possible magnificence before the astonished ambassadors of Vladimir. The sublimity and splendor of the service struck them; but we do not ascribe to the mere external impression that softening of the hearts of these heathens, on which depended the conversion of a whole nation. From the very earliest times of the Church, extraordinary signs of God’s power have constantly gone hand-in-hand with that apparent weakness of man by which the Gospel was preached; and so also the Byzantine Chronicle relates of the Russian ambassadors, “That during the Divine liturgy, at the time of carrying the Holy Gifts in procession to the throne or altar and singing the cherubic hymn, the eyes of their spirits were opened, and they saw, as in an ecstasy, glittering youths who joined in singing the hymn of the ‘Thrice Holy.'”

Being thus fully persuaded of the truth of the orthodox faith, they returned to their own country already Christians in heart, and without saying a word before the Prince in favor of the other religions, they declared thus concerning the Greek: “When we stood in the temple we did not know where we were, for there is nothing else like it upon earth: there in truth God has his dwelling with men; and we can never forget the beauty we saw there. No one who has once tasted sweets will afterward take that which is bitter; nor can we now any longer abide in heathenism.”

Read it all at the link above.

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Okay, I’m really not going to be able to deliver on the title of the post. But I do want to indicate in broad outline how it is that the recent posts on soteriology (human nature, person, will and freedom) with all their “high-falutin'” jargon actually matter in the here and now.

Take the thesis that I defended yesterday, namely that personhood precedes nature, existence precedes essence. This, to my mind, has profound implications for such social-moral matters as euthanasia, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, etc. For if a human is a being by virtue of being a person, then Christians (who derive that belief from the Trinity) are obligated by virtue of their faith to reject euthanasia (the active human intervention to make death–and not just a death–happen), abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and so forth.

If one argues that it is being a human being that gives rise to being a person, then one can argue that a embryo is human, but not yet a person. It is merely a potential person. Therefore, since it is not yet a person, we are justified in our utilitarian manipulation of this human thing. We may create as many of these human things as we want, and so long as we are only dealing with potential and not actual persons, we may feel free to do with them as we want. They’re mere property: we can will them to others, sell them, and patent the various genetic manipulations we are able to do on them.

But if embryos, by virtue of their conception are persons who are human, the whole ethical paradigm shifts. Now we are dealing with beings who are, from the start, persons, and entitled to all the protections, morally and legally, we as fellow persons are obligated to provide for them. We are morally prohibited from doing anything to them that is not intended to be for them. That is to say, they are not objects of research but subjects for care.

The implications for abortion are a no-brainer.

But what about severe incapacitation or so-called “end-of-life” issues? What about persons who everyone acknowledges are persons, but are incapacitated? What about persons whose bodies are dying? Indeed, what about the dead? Here the matter is even more clear. For if we are persons prior to any objectively measurable property by which we normally judge humans to be persons (for example, autonomy, which entails cognition, self-awareness) then we are persons posterior to any such measures as well. Thus, personhood is not a measure of cognitive abilities, self-awareness or other such canons. Personhood is the canon by which those properties themselves derive. Thus, those whose severe incapacitation renders them observably detached from their environment deserve as much attention and care as those who respond. The “detached” have no more ceased to be persons than have we who care for them.

Obviously, however, euthanasia advocates want to base personhood on nature, and thus, when persons lose the capacities inherent to human nature, they cease to be persons. From there the rest follows.

In other words, it is not human nature that guards personhood, as our current U. S. society makes all-too horrifyingly clear. Rather, it is personhood that guards what it means to be human. We are irreducably human because we are fundamentally persons.

And now I need to go help the little person trying to get my attention use the potty.

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A Nice Paper by Metropolitan JOHN Zizioulas

The abstract of On the Holy Spirit reads:

The only way for creation to be saved and deified is through communion with the uncreated. This communion is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is ‘life-giving’. Life and communion coincide only in the realm of the uncreated, since in creation death overcomes communion. The Spirit gives true life because he is uncreated and the communion he offers comes ‘from above’, from the uncreated God. The description of the Holy Spirit as ‘life-giver’ is another way of saying that he is God, this truth put in soteriological terms. On this description hangs the entire existential significance of the Pneumatology

Another good quote:

For the first time in the history of philosophy, particularly of Greek thought, we have an identification of an ontological category, such as hypostasis, with a notion, such as Person. In classical antiquity, both Greek and Roman, these terms always remained clearly separate and distinct. Hypostasis was identical with substance or ousia, and indicated that something is, and that it is itself, while prospon indicated, in a variety of nuances and forms, the way something relates the other beings. By calling the Person a ‘mode of being’ (tropos hyparxeos) the Cappadocians introduced a revolution into Greek ontology, since they said for the first time in history that a) prosopon, is not secondary to being, but is its hypostasis; and b) a hypostasis, ie an ontological category, is relational in its very nature, it is prosopon. The importance of this lies in the fact that Person is now the ultimate ontological category we can apply to God. Substance is not something ontological prior to Person (no classical Greek would say this), but its real existence is to be found in the Person.

Read the whole thing.

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