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Protopresbyter John S. Romanides

Modern science has arisen by the accumulated techniques of testing with the aid of instruments the imaginative theories proposed by the intellect. Observation by means of these man-made instruments has opened up vast areas of knowledge which would have been absolutely impossible for the intellect to even begin to imagine.

The universe has turned out to be a much greater mystery to man than anyone was ever able to imagine, and indications are strong that it will yet prove to be an even greater mystery than man today can yet imagine. In the light of this, one thinks humorously of the bishops who could not grasp the reality, let alone the magnitude, of what they saw through Galileo’s telescope. But the magnitude of Frankish naiveté becomes even greater when one realizes that these same church leaders who could not understand the meaning of a simple observation were claiming knowledge of God’s essence and nature.

The Latin tradition could not understand the significance of an instrument by which the prophets, apostles, and saints had reached glorification.

Similar to today’s sciences, Orthodox theology also depends on an instrument which is not identified with reason or the intellect. The Biblical name for this is the heart. Christ says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” [Matthew 5.8]

The heart is not normally clean, i.e., it does not normally function properly. Like the lens of a telescope or microscope, it must be polished so that light may pass through and allow man to focus his spiritual vision on things not visible to the naked eye.

In time, some Fathers gave the name nous (νοῦς) to the faculty of the soul which operates within the heart when restored to normal capacity, and reserved the names logos (λόγος) and dianoia (διάνοια) for the intellect and reason, or for what we today would call the brain. In order to avoid confusion, we use the terms noetic faculty and noetic prayer to designate the activity of the nous in the heart called (noera euch).

The heart, and not the brain, is the area in which the theologian is formed. Theology includes the intellect as all sciences do, but it is in the heart that the intellect and all of man observes and experiences the rule of God.

One of the basic differences between science and Orthodox theology is that man has his heart or noetic faculty by nature, whereas he himself has created his instruments of scientific observation.

A second basic difference is the following: By means of his instruments, and the energy radiated by and/or upon what he observes, the scientist sees things which he can describe with words, even though at times inadequately. These words are symbols of accumulated human experience.

In contrast to this, the experience of glorification is to see God who has no similarity whatsoever to anything created, not even to the intellect or to the angels. God is literally unique and can in no way be described by comparison with anything that any creature may be, know or imagine. No aspect about God can be expressed in a concept or collection of concepts.

One can readily see why Plato’s theory of ideas, even in Augustinian form (whereby creatures are literally copies of real archetypal prototypes in the divine mind), are consistently rejected by the Fathers of the Church.

Thus, the experience of glorification has no room either for Augustine’s speculation about God by the use of psychological analogies, nor for the claim of some Russian theologians that the Fathers of the Church allegedly theologize about God on the basis of some kind of ‘personalism.’ Neither the term, nor the concept, is ever applied to God by the Fathers. The reason is clear. All the Fathers emphasize, and mean what they say, that there is absolutely no similarity between God and any of His creatures. This means that the names of God or language about God are not intended to be the means by which the human intellect can attain to concepts which reveal the essence of God to the intellect. Rather, the purpose of language about God is to be a guide in the hand of a spiritual father who leads his student through various stages of perfection and knowledge to glorification where one sees for himself what the saints before him insisted upon — that God is completely different from concepts used about Him.

It is for this reason that positive statements about God are counterbalanced by negative statements, not in order to purify the positive ones of their imperfections, but in order to make clear that God is in no way similar to the concepts conveyed by words, since God is above every name and concept ascribed to Him.

The Fathers insisted against the Eunomian heresy that language is a human development and not created by God. Arguing from the Old Testament itself, Saint Gregory of Nyssa claimed that Hebrew is one of the newer languages in the Middle East, a position considered today correct. Compare this with Dante’s claim that God created Hebrew for Adam and Eve to speak, and preserved it so that Christ would speak this language of God also. Of course, Christ did not speak Hebrew, but Aramaic.

Nyssa’s analysis of Biblical language has always been dominant among East Roman writers. I have found Dante-type theories so far only among the Eunomians and Nestorians. Given such presuppositions, one can see why the Fathers insist that to study the universe, or to engage in philosophical speculation adds nothing to the stages of perfection leading to glorification.

The doctrines of the Holy Trinity and of the Incarnation, when taken out of their empirical or revelatory context, become and have become ridiculous. The same is true of the distinction between the essence and uncreated energy of God. We know this distinction from the experience of glorification since the time of the prophets. It was not invented by Saint Gregory Palamas. Even (some) modern Jewish theologians continue to see this clearly in the Old Testament.

Although God created the universe, which continues to depend on Him, God and the universe do not belong to one category of truth. Truths concerning creation cannot apply to God, nor can the truth of God be applied to creation.