Empirical Dogmatics, George S. Gabriel, Hesychasm, James L. Kelley, Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Noetic Faculty, Protopresbyter John Romanides, St. Gregory Palamas, St. Symeon the New Theologian
Central Points in the Teaching of Protopresbyter John S. Romanides
by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Empirical Dogmatics
The teaching of Fr. John Romanides is in accord with the teaching of the Fathers of the Church, which he presented in a contemporary way to his students, his audiences and those to whom he spoke, as well as through his writings. Anyone who met him and conversed with him for a few minutes could go away with some concentrated teaching. He had the ability to convey the essence of his teaching concisely and simply in a very short time.
The ten central points of his teaching, as I perceive them, are set out below.
1. The God of the Orthodox Church is the God of revelation, the God Who revealed Himself to the Prophets, Apostles and saints of every age, who are described as glorified and are friends of God. The God of the Church is not the God of philosophers and speculative thinkers, but the God of our Fathers. He is revealed to the glorified, to those in a high enough spiritual state to be aware of communion with Him.
This spiritual state is called theoria; those who behold God see Him in the Light of His glory. This vision is communion, communion offers knowledge, and this knowledge is above human knowledge. During theoria, the one who is glorified has no concepts and participates in the Light. After theoria, however, he records his experience in words and images that he takes from his surroundings. God is Light, the saints live within the Light, and subsequently they describe this uncreated reality in terms of created reality. The word ‘uncreated’ means ‘not made’, ‘not created’. There is a great difference between what is uncreated and what is created, and the glorified perceive this in the course of their experience of seeing God.
The knowledge of God, which is given with uncreated words, is passed on with created words, concepts and images in order, on the one hand, to instruct the faithful to travel the path to glorification and, on the other hand, to confront heretics. Thus the dogmas of the Local and Ecumenical Councils were drawn up. The dogma of the Holy Trinity is not the same thing as the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Consequently the God of the Church is not the God of speculative thinkers or philosophers, but the God of our Fathers.
2. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament refer to the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Not only does the New Testament speak of God the Holy Trinity, but so does the Old Testament. The Persons of the Holy Trinity have a common essence-nature and particular hypostatic properties, which are the ‘unbegotten-ness’ of the Father, the ‘begottenness’ of the Son and the ‘procession’ of the Holy Spirit.
God transcends all the categories of human and created existence. He is visible and invisible, known and unknown, describable and indescribable, so personalistic categories cannot be applied to Him.
Thus God reveals Himself to man while concealing Himself, but also hides while manifesting Himself. God is a mystery. He is not merely a ‘person’, in the sense that we assign to the concept of ‘person’ in our anthropomorphic expressions; He is something beyond this. In the state of divine vision, all concepts cease and God is partaken of as hypostatic Light.
Within the Holy Trinity there are things that are common and others that are incommunicable. The essence, nature, energy and glory are common, whereas unbegottenness, begottenness and procession are incommunicable. The Father shares His essence with the Son by generation and He shares His essence with the Holy Spirit (through the Word) by procession. Thus within the Triune God there is communion of nature-essence and energy, but not communion of Persons. There is mutual interpenetration between the Persons, but not communion of Persons, as the incommunicable properties are not shared.
Knowledge of the Triune God comes about during the experience of beholding God, when God is seen as Light, through the Light and in the Light. The Light is God’s uncreated energy.
3. The God Who reveals Himself to the Prophets of the Old Testament is the unincarnate Word, the Angel of Great Counsel, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. A clear distinction is made in the Old Testament between the Angel of Great Counsel (the uncreated Word) and created angels. The Prophets in the Old Testament see the Father through the unincarnate Word in the Holy Spirit. In this sense the Triune God is revealed in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament the uncreated Word is revealed in the flesh, as He takes human nature from His All-Holy Mother. The unincarnate word becomes incarnate; the Angel of Great Counsel becomes Christ, which means Messiah in Hebrew. The word ‘Christ’ signifies that the human nature was anointed by God. God Himself (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) anointed the human nature. In the New Testament we see the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. When Philip said to Christ, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us”, Christ replied, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8-9).
4. God created the world and man is His most perfect creation. God is uncreated, whereas the world is created. This means that it has a specific beginning, it is subject to corruption and it has an end. The human soul is a creation of God, and as it is created it ought to have an end. However, the soul does not have an end because God willed differently. Man’s soul is immortal according to grace and not according to nature. So there is no distinction in man between a soul that is immortal by nature and a body that is mortal by nature. The whole human being, consisting of soul and body, is a positive creation of God and is called to live eternally with Him.
Adam and Eve had souls and bodies, but also the grace of God. This does not mean that they were made up of three parts, because human beings have a body and a soul, but that real human beings also have God’s grace. Adam and Eve in Paradise were the most natural human beings.
God made man in His image and likeness. The actual image of the invisible God is the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Man is not the image of God but is in the image of God, that is to say, in the image of the Word. Man is in the likeness of God when he attains to participation in the glory of God. The original state of man, when he was created in God’s image and in His likeness, also included communion with the Holy Spirit, as “the Spirit Who renders incorruptible makes man in God’s image and likeness”. Thus the authentic human being is someone who lives in Christ and in the Holy Spirit, within the Light and glory of God.
This is why man is not a person in the image of the Triune God, but is the image of the Word, because there is no analogy between God and man, between what is uncreated and what is created. The only bridge between created and uncreated is the God-man Christ and His friends. The Fathers did not develop particularly the theory of man as person, because they knew that man is in the image of God and he must attain to being in his likeness, to glorification-theosis. For that reason they did not say that man is a person, but that all human beings have a noetic faculty, which ought to be activated, so that they reach glorification and become glorified.
5. The Fall of man is the loss of God’s glory, according to the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Death was not created by God, but came by the advice of the devil, and as a result of man’s departure from the glory of God. The inheritance of ancestral sin is not the inheritance of guilt, but the inheritance of the results of man’s departure from God, which are death.
What exactly happened with regard to ancestral sin is clear from the teaching of the Fathers about man. According to this, the human soul has two parallel energies: the noetic faculty and the rational faculty. The noetic faculty (nous) was darkened by sin and ceased to be in communication with God. Through sin the ‘wild beast’ of death entered fallen man and threatens his life. There is spiritual and physical death. Thus man lost the remembrance of God and lives by his rational faculty and imagination.
The Prophets and the righteous in the Old Testament cleansed their heart from passions and their nous was illuminated by the grace of God. They reached theoria and saw the glory of God. We see this clearly in the Prophet Moses. For that reason, when St Gregory of Nyssa was going to present the model of the perfect human being, he described Moses.
The Prophets and the righteous in the Old Testament are friends of God. They were reconciled with God and arrived at participation in His glory; but they could not overcome death, so they went down into Hades. Through the vision of God that they experienced, they overcame spiritual death, though only temporarily, but they could not conquer physical death. Through Christ’s descent into Hades, He liberated His friends from the dominion of death.
6. The unincarnate Word of the Old Testament took flesh. He assumed the passible and mortal aspects of human nature, without sin, in order to conquer death in His body and thus to deliver human beings from the power of death – not from the wrath of God, as the Franco-Latins assert.
Christ taught the people in parables and He revealed the mysteries of the glory and rule (vasileia) of God to the Disciples, who had forsaken everything and followed Him. Some of these He led into the glory and rule of God, the uncreated Light of the divinity, as happened on Mount Tabor.
The mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ frees the glorified from sin, the devil and death. The mystery of the Cross was also active in the Old Testament, because through it the Prophets and the righteous became His friends. However, it did not release them from the domination of death. This came about through the historical event of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ, and their life in the Church.
The stages of spiritual perfection – purification, illumination and glorification – are a common characteristic of both the Old and New Testaments. Because the Protestants rejected monasticism and adopted Calvin’s theories of absolute predestination and Luther’s teaching on man’s salvation through faith alone, and because they also rejected the Franco-Latins’ theories about merits and purifying fire, they inveighed against purification, illumination and glorification as allegedly originating from the idolaters.
However, the teaching about purification, illumination and glorification, in a different sense from that given by the Neoplatonists to these terms, is the common tradition of the Prophets, Apostles and saints as a therapeutic method and a method of knowing God. This is Orthodox asceticism.
7. The Church also existed in the Old Testament as communion of the righteous and the Prophets with the Angel of Great Counsel. With the incarnation of Christ, however, the Church becomes His body and He becomes its Head. This is “all truth”, which the Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost. Beyond this there is no other truth.
In the Old Testament the uncreated grace of God is “indivisibly divided among divided beings” and “is multiplied without becoming many”. In the New Testament this also happens with the theanthropic body of Christ, which He assumed from the All-Holy Virgin, and it became a source of God’s uncreated grace. Thus in the life of the Church the Body of Christ is also divided indivisibly among divided beings and multiplied without becoming many. This is the fullness of truth and there is nothing else beyond this. Within the Church we know and live the truth and Christ.
The Church in the New Testament is the Body of Christ, which is united with Christ, the Head. It does not symbolise the Holy Trinity. Of course, the glorified know the Father through Christ and have communion with the Holy Spirit. They participate in the uncreated energy of God, but they do not share in the Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Through Holy Baptism and Holy Chrismation the Christian becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, once the noetic faculty of the soul is activated and noetic prayer begins, and through the Divine Eucharist he partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ. Then he tastes the first resurrection. The Divine Eucharist, prayer and reading Holy Scripture, which is analysed by Prophets, are central to ecclesiastical life. Thus we have the Divine Eucharist and the rule of prayer and services, as found in the Great Prayer Book and the decisions of the Ecumenical and Local Councils. The Divine Eucharist is inseparably linked with the other Mysteries and the divine services, but also with the Orthodox dogmas and the Orthodox hesychasm that they presuppose.
The Church, as the Body of Christ, cures man through the Mysteries and the therapeutic method of the hesychastic tradition. It brings him back to Adam’s state in Paradise and lifts him even higher, as it unites him with the God-man Christ and conquers death. In Paradise Adam was in the state of illumination of the nous and glorification. After the Fall he lost contact with God and his nous was darkened. As a consequence, the nous was identified with the rational faculty, the passions and the surroundings. The restoration of human nature should take place within the Church. The heart must be cleansed from passions, the nous must be illuminated, and man should reach glorification. This is what is meant by being cured. In this sense the Church is the spiritual therapeutic centre, the spiritual hospital.
Noetic prayer indicates that someone is a temple of the Holy Spirit and shares in Christ. Within the Church there is both rational worship and noetic worship. Noetic worship is offered without ceasing. The nous must be purified of every thought and in it only the ‘single-thought prayer’ should remain. One word should be there: the remembrance of God.
The Church has two aspects – one negative and one positive. The positive aspect is Christology: that it is the Body of Christ and a communion of glorification, as human nature was united with the divine nature in the Person of the Word and was glorified, “at the same time as it was assumed” “from the earliest moment of conception”. The negative aspect is demonology, as it battles against the devil, sin and death, and cures man by delivering him from “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). This is also clear from the work of Christ, Who came into the world “that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), as the Gospels show. What is strange and surprising is that the more a Christian is aware of and experiences the negative aspect of the Church – in other words, the more he fights against the devil and conquers him in Christ – the more he experiences the positive aspect of the Church, Christology. He senses the love of Christ and is united with Him. This is essentially what is implied by the degrees of the spiritual life: purification, illumination and glorification. The struggle against the devil, of course, is waged in Christ.
Warfare against the devil is continuous at every stage of the spiritual life. The devil fights each one according to his spiritual level. The glorified, however, discern his wiles, because their nous is illumined by the grace of God. Even when the devil appears “as an angel of light” (cf. 2 Cor. 11:14), the glorified realise that this light is not experienced through union, as happens with the uncreated Light, but in conjunction, as the created light of the devil is alongside man and outside him.
As the Christian strives in Christ and lives within the Church, he progresses from being in God’s image to being in His likeness, from selfish love to unselfish love. He is changed from a servant into a hired worker, and into a friend of Christ. He lives the mystery of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection as the mystery of his reconciliation with God, and becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. Then he becomes a true theologian and can carry out the work of a spiritual father.
Heresy is a denial of the methodology for knowing God. It replaces purification, illumination and glorification with speculation and moralism, so it produces distorted results. Anyone who speculates about God will necessarily end up with mistaken ideas about God and construct his own God in accordance with his conjectures and imagination. Such a god is non-existent.
The glorified do not accept speculation in Orthodox theology or moralism in practical life. Instead of Western speculation and moralism they accept hesychasm. Dogma is the formulation of the revelation and is connected with asceticism, which leads man to the revelation.
8. Eschatological life is not life after death and after the Second Coming of Christ. It is life in Christ, as Christ, Who is “the first and the last”, has come into the world. The glory and rule (vasileia) of God has entered the world and history, and man can share in it. This means that those who behold God share from now in the glory and rule of God and are not simply waiting for the future. This is the first resurrection and the second resurrection will follow after the resurrection of bodies, when God’s glory and rule will be experienced by the whole human being, soul and body.
Participation in the glory and rule (vasileia) of God is participation in God’s uncreated glory in the Light in the Person of the Word. The glory and rule of God is not a created reality but glorification, the vision of the divinity of Christ in His glorified flesh.
Everyone who sees God in the New Testament is a member of the Body of Christ. When he sees the uncreated Light invisibly and knows it without knowledge, he participates in the uncreated energy of God.
The vision of the Light comes from within him through glorification, but also from within the theanthropic Body of Christ, as he is a member of the Body of Christ.
9. Paradise and Hell exist from man’s point of view but not from God’s point of view. God will appear to all human beings. Some will see God as Light, since they have cleansed the noetic aspect of their souls and have acquired a self-revealing eye; this is Paradise. Others will see God as fire, and this is Hell. If someone sits in the sun and opens his eyes, which are unable to endure this sight, he will be blinded. This is Hell. In this sense God is said to be both light and fire, because He brings light to some and burns others.
When Christ spoke about Hell in His teaching, He used the words “darkness” and “fire”. However, darkness perceptible to the senses is not the same as fire, which gives light, and when there is fire there is no darkness. Thus Hell is neither fire nor darkness as we know them in created reality. Rather, it is the experience of uncreated Light as darkness, on account of man’s infirmity. God did not make Hell, but man experiences God as Hell. Hell is not a created reality; it is God’s uncreated grace that is experienced as consuming fire. God will love all human beings, the just and the unjust, but the unjust will not be able to understand God’s love.
The saints in the glory and rule (vasileia) of God will continuously advance in participation in God’s glory; there will not be a static state of happiness. The damned will be hardened and will participate in God as fire. There is no repentance after death, but there is progress in repentance. This means that, if someone begins to repent in this life, his repentance will be completed in the next life.
10. Through His incarnation Christ became man and entered his tory. The Church, as the Body of Christ, lives within history and sanctifies it. The saints, too, live in history, even after their death, as their relics prove.
History will not be abolished at the Second Coming of Christ, but it will be transformed. Christ has human nature always united with the divinity in His Person, “unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly and inseparably”. After the resurrection, human beings will have their own bodies, but they will be transformed. Thus history is not abolished, nor is there a post-historic era, but history is transformed.
The Church lives within time and history, and through the Fathers it adopted some elements from its surroundings to express revealed truth. It took elements from Jewish and Greek thought and from Roman culture and transformed them. In this way a particular culture was created, which is the spiritual garment of revealed truth. This is the Roman tradition. The basis of the Roman tradition is purification, illumination and glorification. This was expressed in a particular area through its cultural tradition, and is called Christian Roman theology, Christian Roman culture.
The early Church in both the West and the East had one single tradition and, most importantly, a single methodology for arriving at participation in God, which was expressed by purification, illumination and glorification. Augustine was different from the other Western Fathers, because of his Neoplatonic and Manichaean background, and because he did not know Greek. The Frankish theologians in the court of Charlemagne made excessive use of the views of Augustine; in fact, it is thought likely that they were pushed to do this by Alcuin, Charlemagne’s royal theologian.
On the basis of these theories, at the Council of Frankfurt in 794 the Franks condemned the decisions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, introduced the theory of eternal happiness in God, the methodology of conjecture to attain knowledge of God, and, by inference, rejected the method of purification, illumination and glorification. They abolished the distinction between essence and energy in God (actus purus) and brought in the theory of the knowledge of God’s essence, the filioque, and so on.
These views were further analysed by theologians in the West: Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas and other scholastic theologians, such as Barlaam. As a result another cultural tradition took shape, a different culture, which is the opposite of the Orthodox Roman tradition. The Western theologians actually reached the point of thinking that the Eastern Fathers had introduced various heresies into their theology, as they did not agree with their own views; the writings called Contra Errores Graecorum (Against the Errors of the Greeks) are well known.
The discussion and conflict between St Gregory Palamas, who represented the Orthodox Roman tradition, and Barlaam, who represented Western scholastic theology, should be seen in this context. The Orthodox Church upheld the teaching of St Gregory Palamas through Councils, and condemned Barlaam and those like him.
These were the ten central views of Fr. John Romanides. It is significant that Fr. John arrived at this entire theology for many different reasons. The first is that he had inherited an oral Roman tradition from his parents. The second reason is that in America, where he lived, he knew the Western tradition, as expressed by Papal Christians and Protestants. In the dialogues in which he took part he became familiar with the spirit of Western Christianity. As a result, he looked for the core of Orthodox teaching in the Apostolic Fathers, the Prayer Book of the Church and its hesychastic tradition. Later he extended his search to include the Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas and the Philokalia. The third reason is that he studied in major academic centres of the Western world, such as the Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston, Yale University, Columbia University, St Vladimir’s Theological Seminary in New York, the Theological Institute of St Sergios in Paris, Munich University, the Theological School in Athens and Harvard University, and he was acquainted with all the theological, social and cultural trends. At the same time, he taught the subject of dogmatics at the Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston, the Theological School in Thessaloniki, and the Balamand Theological School in Lebanon. The fourth reason is that he had an investigative spirit, and his first and subsequent theological articles, as well as his classic thesis on ancestral sin, should be seen in this perspective. The fifth reason is that he had exceptional intellectual qualities and a capacious nous – which is why he also received, as St Maximos says, the spiritual gift of theology – and also that he met Fathers who practised noetic prayer and had theoria of God, and humbly learnt from them.
The theology of Fr. John Romanides is prophetic, apostolic, patristic, in other words, ecclesiastical. He was very insistent on the subject of purification, illumination and glorification, which is the method of Orthodox theology. This method was used by the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers and produces results, as the holy relics show. At the same time, he was also insistent with regard to the Roman tradition, which preserves the essence of revealed truth. This Roman tradition was altered by the Franco-Latin tradition.
Everything that has been mentioned is a brief reference to the memory of this great theologian of our era. As time passes he will take his rightful place in the spiritual firmament of our Church, because he was in accord with the spirit of the Orthodox patristic tradition and expressed its core.
May the memory of the reposed Protopresbyter John Romanides, the teacher of hesychasm and the empirical dogmatic theology of the Orthodox Catholic Church be eternal.