Divine Incarnation, Empirical Dogmatics, Eunomians, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Patristic Theology, Protopresbyter John S. Romanides, Protopresbyter Peter Heers, Romanides, Uncut Mountain Press
Now there is no similarity whatsoever between this uncreated glory of God and creation. The Fathers say that, although we do not know God’s essence, we do know some, and only some, of God’s energies. When they say this, however, they are not using the verb ‘to know’ in the standard sense of the word. They are not making any analogy or contrast. When we Orthodox say that we know the energy of God, this does not imply that our knowledge of God’s energy is like our knowledge of the energy of created things. For example, our knowledge of God’s glory is not like the knowledge of nature’s energies (for example, nuclear energy, thermal energy, solar energy, kinetic energy, the force of gravity, and so forth) studied by biologists, physicists, astronomers, archaeologists, and others, because when we say ‘we know’ something in the sciences, it means that we have knowledge about some object or phenomenon that we can describe. The known object is describable. We know its description and are able to describe it. But what enables us to describe it? Its resemblance to another object that we already know. A similarity exists between the object we want to describe and something else.
Another aspect of knowledge is difference. Similarity and difference form the basis of human created knowledge. When similarity and difference are present, an object can be described. Similarity and difference make an object susceptible to description and classification according to genus, species, et cetera. These categories of similarity and difference are the foundations of human knowledge.
But according to Aristotle’s logic, the law of contradiction also applies in the sphere of human knowledge. This law states that it is impossible for a thing to be simultaneously its opposite. (*It is impossible for p and not p to be true.—TRANS.) For example, it is impossible for an object to be totally white and totally black at the same time. It will either be white or it will be black. In a similar way, it is impossible for an object to be simultaneously big and small, heavy and light, existent and non-existent, good and bad, and so on.
But the Fathers do not observe this law of Aristotle if they are speaking about God. Although this law is invalid in Patristic theology, the heretics both accepted it and used it. But why don’t the Fathers observe Aristotle’s law of contradiction, this axiom from Aristotle’s logic? Because there is no similarity whatsoever between the created and the Uncreated. And since no similarity whatsoever exists, no description of the Uncreated whatsoever can be made. Furthermore, since there is no similarity, there also cannot be any difference.
Created things are relatively similar and relatively different. But what makes up this similarity among created things? First of all, they are similar in substance. All created and material things are composed of the same essence or universal substance, including all visible and material substances such as the earth, clouds, mist, air, stars, stones, plants, animals, as well as the various forms of energy such as light, heat, and so forth. Einstein proved this with his law of mass-energy equivalence. (*Einstein’s law E=mc2 shows that energy and mass are equivalent physical concepts differing only by the choice of their units. The older concept of the universal substance or ether was abandoned as unnecessary on account of Einstein’s theory. However, Father John seems to be saying that from a historical perspective the universal substance has been replaced by the new concept of variable mass.—TRANS.) In philosophy, the common name for this universal substance is matter. It is the dust, clay, and earth mentioned in theological texts.
Secondly, material and visible things are similar in structure. All material bodies are made up of atoms and all atoms resemble each other to a certain degree. So from this point of view, all material things are relatively similar.
What makes material things different is the form of the universal substance and the structure of the atoms. That is, two objects may differ because one is in the form of energy and the other is in its condensed state as matter or because of differences in the composition of individual atoms and their collective arrangement within a lattice structure.
The same phenomenon is observed in the cells of living organisms. They are also relatively similar and relatively different. Irrational living organisms (plants and animals) and human beings are relatively similar insofar as they are structurally and materially made up of the same basic building blocks (that is, atoms and cells). They differ insofar as humans by nature have an immortal soul formed in the image of God and capable of noetic activity, while other living beings do not.
Angels and human beings are relatively similar in terms of immortality, the ability to reason, to be depicted, to be self-determining, and so forth. Yet they differ in terms of glory, immateriality, and the like. Angels and demons are relatively similar in nature, but differ in glory (angels are glorified by Grace, whereas demons are deprived of Divine Glory).
Now God and creation have absolutely no similarity. This means that when we say that the uncreated differs from the created, we are not using the concept of difference the way we would in science or philosophy (speaking about relative differences). We are talking about an absolute difference. (*…Christ is the one bridge between the created and the uncreated) This is why the Fathers went so far as to say, presence of the vision of God. (*”In regard to the names which we apply to God, these reveal His energies which descend to us, yet do not draw us closer to his essence, which is inaccessible. For Saint Gregory of Nyssa, every concept relative to God is a simulacrum, a false likeness, an idol. The concepts, which we form in accordance with the judgment and understanding which are natural to us, basing ourselves on an intelligible representation, create idols of God instead of revealing to us God Himself. There is only one name by which the divine nature can be expressed: the wonder which seizes the soul when it thinks of God.” Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, New York : Saint Vladimir’s Press, 1998), pp. 33-34.)
St. Dionysios the Areopagite has written a very beautiful passage that is cited by the Fathers. It tells us that in the final analysis God is neither Unity nor Trinity, (*”It is not something, neither is it any kind of degree; it is not mind; it is not soul; it is not moved, nor again does it remain still; it is neither in space nor in time; it is in itself of one kind, or rather without kind being before all kind, before movement, before stillness, for all these things concern being and make it many.” “When we make affirmations and negations about things which are inferior to it, we affirm and deny nothing about the Cause itself, which, being wholly apart from all things is above all affirmation, as the supremacy of Him Who, being in His simplicity freed from all things and beyond everything is above all denial.” Vladimir Lossky quoting St. Dionysios the Areopagite, in The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pp. 30 and 29 respectively.) because God does not correspond to anything the human mind conceives or could possibly conceive. For example, we say that there is one God. Of course, when we say the word ‘one,’ we visualize a number or a unit. We imagine that there is one God just like any isolated individual is one person. The same thing happens when we say that God is three Persons. But God is not three anything. He is not three subjects. He is not three objects. He is not one subject and He is not one object.
Whenever we think, we always think in terms of a subject and an object. The subject is what observes while the object is what is observed. But when we say that the Father loves the Son, we are not dealing with a subject-object relationship as Augustine mistakenly thought. In this case, the Father is not the subject or the One Who loves and the Son is not the object or the One Who is loved. Augustine called God “Love that loves itself and used this subject-object relationship in order to construct a theology of the Holy Trinity. (*Cf. Augustine, On the Trinity, Book VIII, Chapter 8, §12.—TRANS.) But since God is neither a subject nor an object, He cannot be construed as the subject of His love or the object of His love. So in God, there are not three Persons like three persons in a family.
Now there are certain Orthodox theologians of Russian descent who claim that God is a personal God. They claim that God is not the God of philosophy, a construction of human philosophical thought, but that He is a personal God. Western tradition makes similar statements. (*It is worth noting that personalism, which claims that the real is the personal, is itself a school of philosophy, usually idealist, sometimes theistic. Important representatives include the American philosopher of religion Borden Brown, the Roman Catholic theologian Rev. Karl Rahner, the Orthodox theologian Rev. John Meyendorff, and many Methodist thinkers.—TRANS.) But in the Patristic tradition, God is not a personal God. In fact, God is not even God. God does not correspond to anything that we can conceive or would be able to conceive. The relationship between God and man is not a personal relationship and it is also not a subject-object relationship. So when we speak about a personal relationship between God and man, we are making a mistake. That kind of relationship between God and human beings does not exist. What we are talking about now has bearing on another error that some people make when they speak about a communion of persons and try to develop a theology based on a communion of persons using the relations between the Persons in the Trinity as a model. The relations between God and man are not like the relations between fellow human beings. Why? Because we are not on the same level or in the same business with God.
What we have just said holds true until the Incarnation. However, after the Incarnation of God the Word, we can have a personal relationship with God by means of and on account of the Incarnation. But this relationship is with God as the God-man (as the Son of God and the Son of man).
Since God became man, the Incarnation brought about a special relationship between God and man or Christ and man, a relationship that is nevertheless non-existent when we consider the Holy Trinity as a whole. We do not have a relationship with the Holy Trinity or with the uncreated Divinity that is like our relationship with Christ. In other words, our relationship with the Father or with the Holy Spirit is not like our relationship with Christ. Only with Christ do we have a personal relationship. The Holy Trinity came into personal contact with man only through the Incarnation, only through Christ. This relationship did not exist before the Incarnation, because we did not have a relationship with God as we do with other people before the Incarnation.
Being uncreated, God is accordingly not a human being. That is, in His uncreatedness God neither is a human being nor resembles a human being. So when God became man, He did not become something that He already resembled. Incarnation does not mean that God assumed a nature that was somehow similar to His own. There is absolutely no similarity whatsoever between human nature and divine nature.
This is the reason why the Fathers stress that man is not the image of God. Only the Word or Son is the exact image of God. The Word is the image of the Father. And since the Word is the image of the Father, Christ as the Word is also the image of the Father. But since there is an interchange of properties (*Communicatio idomalum (Latin) or apodosis idiomaton (Greek) is the theological consequence of the union of the two natures in the Person of Christ. When the Word became flesh, the flesh also became Word. In the person of Christ, human nature remains human, but is penetrated by divine nature.—TRANS.) between die two natures in Christ the incarnate Word Who is also human, the very humanity of Christ is also the image of the Father. So the human nature of Christ is the image of the Father on account of the Incarnation. Man is not the image of God. Although some people certainly refer to man as the image of God, it is improper to do so. Literally, man is fashioned in the image of God, but he is not the image of God. (*Christ is the image of God and man is the image of Christ. In other words, man is the image of the image, that of Christ.) Although the Bible relates that “in the image of God created He him,” precisely what is meant by this verse was fully revealed only in the Incarnation, (*In other words, in the Incarnation, it was finally revealed that man had been created in the image of Christ, his chronologically subsequent prototype.) because from the very beginning human destiny was to become like Christ, to become god by grace, and to attain the state of being “in the likeness.” A person actively becomes “in the image” when he becomes like Christ in compassion. So when someone manages to imitate Christ, he also begins to become an image of the Father by grace as he partakes of the glory of Christ. In this way, someone who attains to a state of theosis, in other words, a state of being “in the likeness” of Christ, becomes Christ by grace and god by grace. That is when he becomes like Christ and differs from Christ only in terms of nature. Notwithstanding, Christ is God by nature, not by grace.
When the Word became flesh, He became human by nature. The Word did not become human by grace. He became human by nature. The Incarnation does not imply a mere adoption of human nature. God the Father did not adopt a human being through the Incarnation in order to dwell within him and in so doing to make that human being God. Rather, through the Incarnation, the very Word and Son of God became human by nature.
In this way, divine and human natures were united in the person of Christ. The divine nature of the Word and human nature coexist in the person of Christ in a union without confusion, without alteration and without division. Christ is not merely a man. He is the God-man. He is simultaneously both God and man with the distinct properties of both natures. When we look upon Christ, we are gazing at the incarnate Son of God. After the Incarnation, the Word and Son of God is united once and for all with human nature in the person of Christ. (* “… St. Gregory the Theologian said in his Discourse on the Nativity of Christ, ‘He came forth then, as God, with that which He had assumed; one Person in two natures, flesh and Spirit, of which the latter deified the former.’… Although the Apostles were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word, they did not recognize that the human nature He assumed was deified. And if they were scandalized by the human and blameless passions that they saw Him experience, how much more were most people unable to recognize this theosis.
“When the Lord was transfigured, His countenance shone like the sun and His garments became as white as light. In this way, the inward theosis of His human nature by the hypostatic union of God the Word could be recognized by the outpouring of divine rays. Hence, John from Damascus celebrates the feast with the following words: ‘the flesh is simultaneously glorified by being brought from non-being into being, while the glory of the Divinity becomes the glory of the humanity, for both are one in Christ Who is consubstantial with the Father and of one nature with the human race. Although His Holy Body always participated in and was made rich by the divine glory by virtue of the ultimate hypostatic union with the glory of the invisible Divinity, so that the glory of the Word and the glory of the flesh were one, nevertheless this glory was not obvious in the appearance of His body, for those who were not capable of beholding it…. It is not that He transfigured what He had not assumed or transformed, but what appeared to His familiar disciples was transfigured. What did the human nature of the Lord enjoy on account of this divine work? By communion, His human nature directly enjoyed the advantages and the magnificence of the divinity, so that His human nature became life-giving, all-powerful, all-knowing… “We must know that although the nature hypostatically united to God the Word was deified, it nevertheless remained unchanged and did not lose its natural characteristics — that is, being subject to suffering, corruption, mortality, and the other natural and so-called blameless passions. It continued to have these characteristics even after its theosis so that first of all they would make Christ’s Incarnation believable and people would not consider it to have been imaginary…. Secondly, so that by these sufferings the Lord would heal what we suffer, irradiate the irrational passions by the natural ones, and, simply, so that He might be victorious as a man and grant the victory to us His relatives who share His human nature.” St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite, The Way of the Feasts (Thessalonica: Orthodox Kypseli, 1987), vol. 3, p. 234 [in Greek].
Now when someone attains to a state of illumination, he becomes by grace “a temple of the Holy Spirit.” When he attains to a state of theosis, he becomes god by grace and like Christ by grace, but never by nature. This is why the union between all other human beings and God is not hypostatic, as it is in the case of Christ. There is only one hypostatic union between God and man and that takes place in the person of Christ through the union of the Son and Word of God with human nature.
Man is united only with the energy or grace of God. Man is never united with the essence of God or with the hypostasis of the Word. He is only united with the human nature of Christ during Holy Communion. In other words, man is united with the deified, resurrected, and glorified human nature of Christ and thereby he is united with the uncreated energy of the human nature of Christ (*On account of the hypostatic union with God the Word, human nature is a fount of uncreated glory.) or uncreated divine grace. This grace from Christ’s humanity is what saves, resurrects and heals man, body and soul.
—Protopresbyter John S. Romanides