The historical outline found in the first nine chapters of this book was an attempt to cover the theological controversies, the distinctive tendencies, and the basic sources of the theological thought in Byzantium. We now turn to a more systematic picture of Byzantine theology. The East was less prone than the West to conceptualize. It preferred to maintain its faithfulness to the "mind of Christ" through the liturgy of the Church, through the tradition of holiness, through a living gnosis of the Truth. In any systematic presentation of Byzantine theology, there is therefore a danger of forcing it into the mold of rational categories foreign to its very nature. This is precisely what occurred in many textbooks of dogmatic theology, which appeared in the Orthodox East after the eighteenth century, which claimed to remain faithful to the theology of the Byzantine Fathers. They have been ably characterized by Georges Florovsky as expressions of a "Western captivity" of the Orthodox mind, for it is not enough to quote an abundance of proof-texts from patristic or Byzantine authors: true consistency requires a unity of method and congeniality of approach.
I have attempted to achieve this by adopting in the following chapters a plan of exposition which conforms to the content of the Christian experience itself: man, created and fallen, meets Christ, accepts the action of the Spirit, and is thus introduced into communion with the Triune God. The reader judges for himself whether this plan is or is not more adequate than the other to the subject matter itself.
Inevitably, a systematic exposition of doctrinal themes in Byzantine theology requires frequent reference to writings, which sometimes fall outside the chronological limits defined in the Introduction. It is impossible, for example, to speak of either anthropology or Trinitarian theology in Byzantium without referring to Origen and to the doctrines of the great Fathers of the fourth century, whom the Byzantines recognizes as their teachers par excellence.
It was also inevitable, on the other hand, that my treatment of the Byzantine authors be influenced by the fact that, as an Orthodox theologian, I personally see the great tradition of the undivided Church as continuing in Byzantium and through it carrying its message to modern times as well.
Patristic thought on creation developed within the framework of age-long polemics against Origenism. The issue in the debate was the Greek concept of an eternal cosmos and the Biblical linear view of history, which began with the creative fiat. The starting point of Origen’s view on the origin of the world was that the act of creation was an expression of God’s nature and that, since this nature is changeless, there could never be a "time" when God would not be creating. Consequently, the world has always existed because God’s goodness has always needed an object.1 In Origenism, eternity of creation was, in fact, ontologically indistinguishable from the eternity of the Logos. Both proceeded eternally from God. This identification led Arius after his rejecting the eternity of creation to the concept that the Logos had also been generated in time. The anti-Arian theology of Athanasius of Alexandria defined the categories which became standard in later Byzantine authors: the distinction between generation and creation.
Creator and Creatures.
For Athanasius,2 creation is an act of the will of God, and a will is ontologically distinct from nature. By nature, the Father generates the Son — and this generation is indeed beyond time — but creation occurs through the will of God, which means that God remains absolutely free to create or not to create and transcendent to the world after creating it. The absence of a distinction between the nature of God and the will of God was common to Origen and to Arius. To establish this distinction constitutes the main argument of Athanasius.
It is totally impossible to consider the Father without the Son because "the Son is not a creature, which comes into being by an act of will; by nature, He is the proper Son of the essence [of the Father]."3 The Son therefore is God by nature while "the nature of creatures, which come into being from nothing, is fluid, impotent, mortal, and composite."4 Refuting the Arian’s idea that the Logos is created in view of the world, Athanasius affirms that "it is not He who was created for us, but we were created for Him."5 In God, the order of nature precedes the order of volitive action6 and is both superior to and independent of it. Because God is what He is, He is not determined or in any way limited in what He does, not even by His own essence and being.
Divine "nature" and created "nature" are therefore separate and totally dissimilar modes of existence. The first is totally free from the second. Yet creatures depend upon God; they exist "by His grace, His will, and His word..., so that they can even cease to exist if the Creator so wishes."7 In Athanasius, therefore, we have advanced quite far from Origen’s cosmos, which was considered a necessary expression of God’s goodness identified with divine nature itself. At this point one discovers that the notion of creation, as expressed by Athanasius, leads to a distinction in God between His transcendent essence and His properties, such as "power" or "goodness," which express His existence and action ad extra, not His essence.
The difference in nature between God and His creatures, as well as the distinction between the "natural" generation of the Son by the Father, and creation "by act of will," is emphasized by both Cyril of Alexandria8and John of Damascus.9 The difference also represents the ontolojKcal raison d’etre of the Chalcedonian definition on the "two natures" of Christ. The two natures can be understood as being in "communion" with each other, as "hypostatically" united, but they can never be "confused" — i.e., considered as "one nature."
Athanasius’ insistence on the transitory character of creation should not mislead us. What he wants to show is a contrast between the absolute, self-sufficient nature of God and the dependence upon Him of all created nature. He certainly does not want to reduce created existence to a mere "phenomenon." God’s creative act produced a new "created" order, another "essence" distinct from His own, an "essence" worthy of God deserving of His love and concern and fundamentally "very good." God does not create, as in Origen, simply a collection of equal intellects, which find a meaning of existence only in contemplating the essence of God and which are diversified only as a consequence of their Fall. Because creation is an essence and not simply a phantom or a mirage, there is a sense in which its meaning is found in itself, for even God "loves" the world, i.e., considers it as a reality vis-a-vis Himself. Even when it is assumed by the Logos in a hypostatic union, the created nature, according to the Chalcedonian definition, "preserves its properties." The implication of this created autonomy was developed in particular by Maximus the Confessor and by the Orthodox theologians of the iconoclastic period. Let us only emphasize here that the very ideas of providence, love, and communion, which reflect the creator’s action toward the world, presuppose difference and distinction between Him and His creation.
The Divine Plan.
Creation in time — i.e., the possibility of a true beginning of created existence — presents the major cleavage between Greek thought and Biblical Revelation. But the idea of an eternal plan which God put into effect when He created the world in time is not inconsistent with the concepts found in the Jewish "wisdom" literature, even more concretely in the Johannine theology of the Logos, and responds to at least some preoccupations of Greek philosophical thought.
Throughout its history, Byzantine theology, both "Greek" and Biblical as it was, struggled with the possibility of integrating into a consistent Christian view of creation, a theory of divine "ideas" about the world. The Platonickosmos noẽtoshad to be rejected inasmuch as it represented an eternal reality outside of God, both impersonal and "substantial," which would have limited the absolute freedom of the creative act, exclude creation ex nihilo, and tend to diminish the substantial reality of visible creation by considering it only as a shadow of eternal realities. This rejection was accomplished implicitly by the condemnation of Origen in 553 and explicitly in the Synodal decisions against John Italos in 1081. Meanwhile, patristic and Byzantine thought developed in reaction to Origenism. Gregory of Nazianzus, for example, speaks of "images of the world" as thoughts of God.10 These "thoughts" do not limit the freedom of a personal God, since they remain distinct from His nature. Only when He creates in time, they become "reality."11The thoughts are the expressions also of divine will,12 not of divine nature; they are "perfect, eternal thoughts of an eternal God."13 Since there cannot be anything created "in God," the thoughts, or ideas about the world, are uncreated expressions of divine life, which represent the unlimited potentiality of divine freedom. God creates the world not "out of them" but out of nothing. The beginning of the world is the beginning of a totally new reality put forward by the act of creation, which comes from God and conforms to His eternal plan.
The existence in God of eternal, uncreated "potentiality," which is not God’s essence, either the world’s nor an essence in itself, but which implies a certain contingency toward creation, presupposes an antinomical concept of God, which finds different forms of expression in Byzantine theology. To describe it, Georges Florovsky writes that "we have to distinguish as it are two modes of eternity: the essential eternity in which only the Trinity lives and the contingent eternity of the free acts of Divine grace."14 Actually on this point, Byzantine theology reached a direct sense of the difference between the impersonal philosophical notion of God as an absolute and the Biblical understanding of a God: personal transcendent and free.
To express the relationship between creator and creatures, the great Maximus the Confessor uses the old theology of the Logos as centre and living unity of the logos of creation. The terminology already existed in Philo and Origen. But whereas for Origen, the logoi as logoi exist only in an essential unity with the one Logos, for Maximus — their real and "logical" existence is also expressed in their diversity. The great difference between Origen and Maximus is that Maximus rejects Origen’s view of visible creation as diversified only through the Fall. The "goodness" of creation, according to Maximus, resides in creation itself, and not only in its unity with divine essence. But creation cannot be truly "good" unless its differentiated logoi, which pre-existed as "thoughts" and "wills" of God, are fixed in Him and preserve communion with the one "super-essential" divine Logos.15
Creatures therefore do not exist only "as logoi" or only by the fact that God eternally "knows them;" they exist "by themselves" from the very moment when God put His foreknowledge into action. In His thought, eternally, creatures exist only potentially while their actual existence occurs in time. This temporal, actual existence of created beings is not autonomous but centred in the one Logos and in communion with Him. There is a sense, therefore, in which "the one Logos is many logoi, and the many are one;" "the One is many according to creative and unifying procession of the One into the many, but the many are One according to the providence, which leads the many to turn up toward the One as their all-powerful principle."16 Paradoxically, therefore, the creatures are one in the one Logos, who however is "super-essential" and above participation.17 "Thus, the logoi are, to Maximus, not identical either with the essence of God or with the existence of the things in the created world. In fact, an apophatic tendency is combined, in Maximus, with an anti-pantheistic tendency... This is affected, above all, thanks to the understanding of the logoi as decisions of God’s will."18
By remaining faithful to the Athanasian distinction between nature and will, Maximus succeeds in building an authentically Christian ontology of creation, which remains throughout the history of Byzantine thought, a standard and virtually unchallenged authority.19 This ontology presupposes a distinction in God between "nature" (or "essence") and "energy," a distinction, which would later be called "Palamism." It presumes a personal and dynamic understanding of God as well as a dynamic, or "energetic," conception of created nature.
The Dynamism of Creation
For Origen, the original, intellectual creation is static. It finds its true logical existence in the contemplation of God’s essence, and its firstmovementis a form of rebellion against God. Change and diversity in creation are consequences of the Fall and therefore fundamentally evil. For Maximus and the entire Byzantine theological tradition, the movement (kynesis) of creatures is the necessary and natural consequence of their creation by God.20 God therefore in creating the world placed outside of Himself a system of dynamic beings, which were different from Him in that they changed and moved toward Him.21 The logos of every creature consists, therefore, in being essentially active;22 there is no "nature" without "energy" or movement.
This dynamic conception of created nature constitutes Maximus’ main argument against the "Monoenergists" of the seventh century whose Christology consideres Christ’s humanity as having lost its genuinely human "energy" or will because of its union with divinity.
But for Maximus, created nature would lose its very existence if it is deprived of its proper energy, its proper purpose, and its proper dynamic identity. This proper movement of nature however can be fully itself only if it follows its proper goal (skopos), which consists in striving for God, entering into communion with Him, and thus fulfilling the logos, or divine purpose, though which and for which it is created. The true purpose of creation is, therefore, not contemplation of divine essence (which is inaccessible) but communion in divine energy, transfiguration, and transparency to divine action in the world. We shall discuss later the anthropological and Christological dimensions of this concept of creation. But it also has obvious cosmological implications.
In general, the Byzantines accepted cosmological concepts inherited from the Bible or from antiquity. So hesitant were to push scientific knowledge further that it had even been written that "the meager accomplishment of the Byzantines in the natural sciences remains one of the mysteries of the Greek Middle Ages."23 In any case, it does not seem that Byzantine theology is to blame for that failure, for theology affirmes the dynamism of nature and therefore containes the fundamental incentive for studying and eventually controlling its development.
During the entire Byzantine Middle Ages, Basil’s homilies On theHexaemeronwere the standard and most authoritative text on the origin, structure, and development of the world. Supporting Athanasius’ opposition to the Hellenic and Origenistic concept of creation as an eternal cyclical repetition of worlds and affirming creation in time, Basil maintains the reality of a created movement and dynamism in creatures. The creatures do not simply receive their form and diversity from God; they possess energy, certainly also God-given, but authentically their own. "Let the earth bring forth" (Gn 1:24): "this short commandment," says Basil, "immediately became a great reality and a creative logos, putting forth, in a way, which transcended our understanding, the innumerable varieties of plants... Thus, the order of nature, having received its beginning from the first commandment, enters the period of following time until it achieves the overall formation of the universe."24
Using scientific knowledge as it existed in his time as well as the Stoic terminology of the "seminal reasons," Basil remains theologically independent from his non-Biblical sources. For example, he rejects the Stoic idea that the logoi of creatures are the true eternal essences of beings, a concept which could lead to the eternal return "of worlds after their destruction."25 Like Athanasius and Maximus, Basil remains faithful to the Biblical concept of absolute divine transcendence and freedom in the act of creation; divine providence, which gives being to the world through the logoi, also maintains it in existence but not at the expense of the world’s own created dynamism, which is part of the creative plan itself.
The existence of the world as dynamic "nature" (i.e., as a reality "outside of" God — for whom it is an object of love and providence), following its own order of evolutive growth and development, implies the possibility of purely objective scientific investigation of creatures by the human mind. This does not mean however that created nature is ontologically "autonomous." It has been created in order to "participate" in God, who is not only the prime mover and the goal of creation but also the ultimate meaning (logos) of its permanence. "God is the principle, the centre and the end," writes Maximus, "insofar as He acts without being passive... He is the principle as creator, He is the centre as providence, and He is the end as conclusion, for all things come from him, by him, and toward him [Rm ll:36]."26 A scientific knowledge, which would ignore this ultimate meaning of creation, would therefore be dangerously one-sided.
Sanctification of Nature.
In its present, defective state, created nature fulfils its destiny quite inadequately. The Biblical, anthropocentric concept of the world is preserved in Greek patristic literature: nature suffers from the Fall of man, the "microcosm," to whom God has granted the control of nature and who, instead, prefers to be controlled by it. As a result instead of revealing through its internal meaning (logos) and purpose (skopos), the divine plan for creation and through this — God Himself, nature became the domain and instrument of Satan: throughout creation, the "natural energy," which conforms to the original divine plan, is in struggle with the destructive forces of death. The dramatic character of the present existence of creation is generally taken for granted by Byzantine theologians, but it is most explicitly formulated in liturgy and spirituality.
The Byzantine rite of Baptism has inherited from Christian antiquity the strong initial emphasis on exorcism. The deliberate renunciation of Satan, the sacramental expulsion of the forces of evil from the soul of the candidate for baptism, implies a passage from slavery under the "prince of this world" to freedom in Christ. Liturgical exorcisms however are concerned not only with the demonic forces controlling the human soul.
The "Great Blessing of Water" on the Feast of the Epiphany exorcises the cosmos whose basic element, water, is seen as a refuge of "nestling dragons." The frequent mention of the demonic forces of the universe in liturgical and patristic texts should be understood in a theological context, for they cannot be reduced to Biblical or Medieval mythologies alone even if they often reflect mythological beliefs. The "demonic" in nature comes from the fact that creation has fallen out of its original meaning and direction. God had entrusted control over the world to man — His own "image and likeness." But man chose to be controlled by the world and thereby lost his freedom. He then became subject to cosmic determinism to which his "passions" attach him and in which ultimate power belongs to death. This is the interpretation which Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus apply to the passage of Genesis 3:21 about the "garments of skin" given to Adam and Eve after the Fall. Rejecting Origen’s identification of the "garments" with material bodies — an interpretation based upon the Origenistic idea on the pre-existence of souls, Maximus describes the change in man’s situation only in terms of a new dependence upon the animal side of the world’s existence. Instead of using the potentialities of his nature to raise himself and the whole of creation to God, man submitted himself to the desires of his material senses.27As a result, the world which was originally created by God, as "very good" became for man a prison and a constant temptation, through which the "prince of this world" establishes his reign of death.
By sanctifying water, food, and plants as well as the results of man’s own creativity such as works of art or technology (the Byzantine liturgy is very rich in sacramental actions of sanctification, or blessing), the Church replaces them all in their original and true relation, not only to God but also to man, who is God’s "image," to proclaim God’s control over the universe as the Blessing of Epiphany does, and amounts, in fact, to affirming that man is no longer a slave to cosmic forces:
The immaterial powers tremble before Thee; the sun praises Thee; and the moon worships Thee; the stars are Thy servants; and light bows to Thy will; the tempests tremble and the springs adore Thee. Thou didst spread out the heavens like a tent; Thou didst set the land upon the waters... [Therefore,] heeding the depth of Thy compassion, Ο Master, Thou couldst not bear to see humanity defeated by the devil, and so Thou didst come and didst save us. ... Thou didst free the children of our nature...
Thus, sanctification of nature implies its demystification. For a Christian, the forces of nature cannot be divine; neither can they be subject to any form of natural determinism: the resurrection of Christ by breaking the laws of nature has liberated man from slavery to nature, and he is called to realize his destiny as lord of nature in God’s name.
Byzantine liturgy, when it proclaims the sanctification of the cosmos, frequently mentions, not only the demonic powers, which have usurped authority over the world but also the "bodiless powers of heaven," cooperates with God and man in the restoration of the original and "natural" order in the world. Yet Byzantium has never had a universally accepted system or description of the angelic world with the exception of the Celestial Hierarchy of pseudo-Dionysius in which each of the nine orders of angels is considered as an intermediary between the highest power above it and the form of existence below. The goal of Dionysius is to preserve inside an outwardly Christian system of thought a hierarchical concept of the universe adopted from Neo-Platonism.
In spite of its very widespread but rather peripheral influence, the Dionysian concept of the angelic world never succeeded in eliminating the more ancient and more Biblical ideas about the angels. Particularly, striking is the opposition between the very minor role ascribed by Dionysius to the "archangels" (second rank from the bottom of the angelic hierarchy) and the concept found in Jewish apocalyptic writings including Daniel, Jude, and Revelation where the archangels Michael and Gabriel rank is the "chief captains" of God’s celestial armies. This idea has been preserved in the liturgy, which should be considered as the main and most reliable source of Byzantine "angelology."
Involved in the struggle against the demonic powers of the cosmos, the angels represent, in a way, the ideal side of creation. According to Byzantine theologians, they were created before the visible world,28and their essential function is to serve God and His image, man. The scriptural idea that the angels perpetually praise God (Is 6:3; Lk 2:13) is a frequent theme of the Byzantine liturgy, especially of the Eucharistic canons, which call the faithful to join the choir of angels — i.e., to recover their original fellowship with God. This reunion of heaven and earth, anticipated in the Eucharist, is the eschatological goal of the whole of creation. The angels contribute to its preparation by participating invisibly in the life of the cosmos.
The view of man prevailing in the Christian East is based upon the notion of "participation" in God. Man has not been created as an autonomous or self-sufficient being; his verynatureis truly itself only inasmuch as it exists "in God" or "in grace." Grace therefore gives man his "natural" development. This basic presupposition explains why the terms "nature" and "grace" when used by Byzantine authors have a meaning quite different from the Western usage; rather than being in direct opposition, the terms "nature" and "grace" express a dynamic, living, and necessary relationship between God and man, different by their natures but in communion with each other through God’s energy, or grace. Yet man is the centre of creation — a "microcosm," and his free self-determination defines the ultimate destiny of the universe.
Man and God
According to Maximus the Confessor, God in creating man "communicated" to him four of His own properties: being, eternity, goodness, and wisdom. 1O of these four divine properties, the first two belong to the very essence of man; the third and the fourth are merely offered to man’s willful aptitude.
The idea that his "participation" in God is man’s particular privilege is expressed in various ways but consistently, in the Greek patristic tradition. Irenaeus, for example, writes that man is composed of three elements: body, soul, and Holy Spirit;2 and the Cappadocian Fathers speak of an "efflux" of the Holy Spirit in man.3Gregory of Nyssa in his treatise On the Creation of Man in discussing man before the Fall attributes to him the "beatitude of immortality," "justice," "purity." "God is love," writes Gregory, "and source of love. The creator of our nature has also imparted to us the character of love... If love is absent, all the elements of the image are deformed."4 Jean Danielou’s comments on this passage may, in fact, be extended to Greek patristic thought as a whole:
Gregory identifies realities which Western theology considers distinct. He ascribes to man certain traits such as reason or freedom which the West attributes to the [created] spirit; others such as apatheia or love (called grace by Westerners), he attributed to divine life as well as the effects of final glorification: incorruptibility and beatitude. For Gregory, the distinctions do not exist.5
Thus, the most important aspect of Greek patristic anthropology, which is taken for granted by the Byzantine theologians throughout the Middle Ages, is the concept that man is not an autonomous being, his true humanity is realized only when he lives ‘in God" and possesses divine qualities. To express this idea, various authors use various terminologies: Origenistic, Neo-Platonic, or Biblical; yet there is a consensus on the essential openness of man, a concept, which does not fit into the Western categories of "nature" and "grace."
As we have seen in the passage of Maximus’ citation at the beginning of this section, the "natural" participation of man in God is not a static giveness; it is a challenge, and man is called togrowin divine life. Divine life is a gift but also a task, which is to be accomplished by a free human effort. This polarity between the "gift" and the "task" is often expressed in terms of the distinction between the concepts of "image" and "likeness." In Greek, the termhomoiōsis, which corresponds to "likeness" in Genesis 1:26, suggests the idea of dynamic progress ("assimilation") and implies human freedom. To use an expression of Gregory Palamas’: Adam, before the Fall, possessed "the ancient dignity of freedom."6 Thus, there is no opposition between freedom and grace in the Byzantine tradition: the presence in man of divine qualities, of a "grace," which is part of his nature and makes him fully man, neither destroys his freedom nor limits the necessity for him to become fully himself by his own effort; rather, it secures that cooperation, or synergy, between the divine will and human choice, which makes possible the progress "from glory to glory" and the assimilation of man to the divine dignity for which he was created.
The understanding of man as an "open being" naturally possessing in him a divine "spark" and dynamically oriented toward further progress in God has direct implications for the theory of knowledge and particularly for the theory of the knowledge of God. Western Scholasticism has assumed that this knowledge is based upon revealed premises — Scripture or church magisterium, — which serve as a basis for development by the human mind in conformity with the principles of Aristotelian logic. This concept of theology, which presupposes the autonomy of the human mind in defining Christian truths on the basis of Revelation, is the initial issue in the controversy between Barlaam the Calabrian and Gregory Palamas in the fourteenth century. According to Barlaam, the natural human mind could never reach divine truth itself but only draw conclusions from revealed premises. In cases when revealed premises specifically affirmed a given proposition, a logical intellectual process could lead to "apodictic" conclusions, i.e., to intellectually evident truths. If a theological affirmation could not be based on revealed premises however it could not be considered as "demonstrated" but only as "dialectically possible."
To refute these views, Palamas developed an experiential concept of our knowledge of God based upon the notion that God is not known through a purely intellectual process, but that man when he is in communion with God (i.e., restored to his natural state) can and even must enjoy a direct knowledge and experience of his creator. This direct knowledge is possible because man since he is not an autonomous being but an image of God "open upward" possesses the natural property of transcending himself and of reaching the divine. This property is not simply intellectual; it implies purification of the whole being, ascetical detachment, and ethical progress: "It is impossible to possess God in oneself," writes Palamas, "or to experience God in purity, or to be united with the unmixed light unless one purify oneself through virtue, unless one get out or rather above oneself."7
Obviously, this Palamite understanding of knowledge coincides with Gregory of Nyssa’s concepts of "the sense of the heart" or the "eyes of the soul"8and with Maximus’ identification of the knowledge of God with "deification." For the entire patristic and Byzantine tradition, knowledge of God implies "participation" in God — i.e., not only intellectual knowledge but a state of the entire human being transformed by grace and freely cooperating with it by the efforts of both will and mind. In the monastic tradition of Macarius, reflected, for example, in the writings of Symeon the New Theologian, this idea of "participation" is inseparable from the idea of freedom and of consciousness. A true Christian knows God through a free and conscious experience; this is precisely the friendship with God, which was man’s state before the Fall, the state in which God wanted man to live, and which was restored in Jesus Christ.
Man and the World.
The "image and likeness" of God in man implies, not only an openness of man toward God, but also a function and task of man in the whole of creation.
Against Origen, the Fathers unanimously affirmed that man is a unity of soul and body. On this point, the Biblical view decidedly overcame Platonic spiritualism; by the same sign, the visible world and its history were recognized as worthy of salvation and redemption. If, in the Origenistic system, the diversity of visible phenomena was only a consequence of the Fall and of the bodily nature of man — an "engrossed" and defective mode of the soul’s existence, the only true and eternal reality being spiritual and divine, — the Biblical and Christian concept understood the universe in its entirety as "very good;" and this concept applied first of all to man.
According to Maximus the Confessor, body and soul are complementary and cannot exist separately.9If primarily directed against the Origenistic idea of the pre-existence of souls, this affirmation raises the issue of the soul’s survival after death. This survival is not denied, of course, but neither is it understood as "liberation" from the body, in a Platonic sense. The separation of body and soul at death is as contrary to "nature" as death itself, and the ultimate and eternal survival of the soul is possible only if the whole man is raised from death at the resurrection. Yet the soul’s immortality is not only directed toward the resurrection of the whole man; it is also conditioned by the soul’s relationship to God. The spiritual literature of the Byzantine East frequently speaks of the "death of the soul" as a consequence of rebellion against God, i.e., of sin. "After the transgression of our ancestors in Paradise," writes Gregory Palamas, "…sin came into life. We ourselves are dead; and before the death of the body, we suffer the death of the soul; that is to say: the separation of the soul from God."10
Obviously, the dual nature of man is not simply a static juxtaposition of two heterogeneous elements, a mortal body and an immortal soul; it reflects a dynamic function of man between God and creation. Describing the anthropology of Maximus, Lars Thunberg is fully justified when he writes, "Maximus seems to stress the independence of the elements [i.e., soul and body], not primarily in order to maintain the immortality of the soul in spite of its relationship to the body but in order to underline the creative will of God as the only constitutive factor for both as well as for their unity."11 We are here back to the point made at the beginning of this section: man is truly man because he is the image of God, and the divine factor in man concerns not only his spiritual aspect — as Origen and Evagrius maintained — but the whole of man, soul and body.
This last point is the reason why a majority of Byzantine theologians describe man in terms of a trichotomist scheme: spirit (or mind), soul, and body. Their trichotomism is very directly connected with the notion of participation in God as the basis of anthropology.
We have seen that this theocentrism appears in Irenaeus’ use of Pauline trichotomism: Spirit, soul, and body.12 Under Origenistic influence, the Fathers of the fourth century, followed by the later Byzantine authors, preferred to speak of mind (nous), soul, and body. The desire to avoid ambiguity concerning the identity of the "spirit" and to affirm the created character of the human "spirit" may also have contributed to this evolution. But even then, Origenistic and Evagrian terminology was unsatisfactory because the concept of the nous was connected with the myth of eternal pre-existence, original, Fall and disincarnate restoration. Although it reflected satisfactorily the theocentric aspect of patristic anthropology, this terminology failed to emphasize the function of man in the visible world. Thus, in Maximus the Confessor, the human mind, though certainly understood as the element par excellence connecting man with God, is also seen as a created function of man’s created psychosomatic unity.
Thenous, therefore, is not so much a "part" of man as (1) the ability which man possesses to transcend himself in order to participate in God, (2) the unity of man’s composite nature when it faces his ultimate destiny in God and in the world, and (3) the freedom of man, which can either fully develop if it finds God or become defective if it submits itself to the body. "The spirit (nous) in human nature corresponds most nearly to the person," writes Vladimir Lossky.13 The judgment of Lars Thunberg on Maximus is valid for the entire Byzantine tradition: "Maximus is able to express his conviction that there is a personal aspect in man’s life, which goes, as it were, beyond his nature and represents his inner unity as well as his relationship to God."14 This concept of the person or hypostasis, irreducible to nature or to any part of it, is a central notion in both theology and anthropology, as we shall see later in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity.
As image of God, man is lord of creation and "microcosm." This second concept, which is widely used in Platonism and Stoicism, is adopted by the Cappadocian Fathers and given a Christian dimension: man is a "microcosm" because (1) he unites in his hypostatic existence the intelligible and sensible aspects of creation, (2) he is given by God the task and function to make this unity ever more perfect, especially after the Fall, when forces of disintegration and division are also actively at work in creation. On this point and especially in Maximus the Confessor, we find another aspect of the polarity of image-likeness: God’s gift to man is also a task and a challenge.
Maximus in a famous passage of Ambigua 41:16 lists five polarities, which are to be overcome by man: God and creation, the intelligible and the sensible, heaven and earth, paradise and world, man and woman. The polarities have been sharpened by sin and rendered insuperable by human capabilities alone. Only the man Jesus, because He is also God, is able to overcome them. He is the new Adam; and in Him, creation again finds communion with the creator and harmony within itself.
The central role of man in the cosmos is also reflected — better perhaps than in any system of concepts — in the Byzantine liturgy with its emphasis on the union of heaven and earth, its sacramental realism, its rites of blessing food, nature, and human life as well as in the affirmation that by nature man is closer to God than the angels themselves are. The idea originates in Hebrews 1:14 and is developed by Gregory Palamas in the context of an Incarnational theology:
"The Word became flesh to honour the flesh, even this mortal flesh; therefore, the proud spirits should not consider themselves and should not be considered worthy of greater honours than man nor should they deify themselves on account of their incorporality and their apparent immortality."16
Among creatures, there is no greater glory than to be the lord of all creation: man is given this glory if he preserves in himself the image of God — i.e., if he partakes in the life and glory of the creator Himself.
In order to understand many major theological problems, which arose between East and West both before and after the schism, the extraordinary impact upon Western thought of Augustine’s polemics against Pelagius and Julian of Eclanum must be fully taken into account. In the Byzantine world where Augustinian thought exercised practically no influence, the significance of the sin of Adam and of its consequences for mankind was understood along quite different lines.
We have seen that in the East man’s relationship with God was understood as a communion of the human person with that, which is above nature. "Nature" therefore designates that, which is, in virtue of creation, distinct from God. But nature can and must be transcended; this is the privilege and the function of the free mind made "according to God’s image."
Now, in Greek patristic thought, only this free, personal mind can commit sin and incur the concomitant "guilt" — a point made particularly clear by Maximus the Confessor in his distinction between "natural will" and "gnomic will." Human nature as God’s creature always exercises its dynamic properties (which together constitute the "natural will" — a created dynamism) in accordance with the divine will, which creates it. But when the human person, or hypostasis, by rebelling against both God and nature misuses its freedom, it can distort the "natural will" and thus corrupt nature itself. It is able to do so because it possesses freedom, or "gnomic will," which is capable of orienting man toward the good and of "imitating God" ("God alone is good by nature," writes Maximus, "and only God’s imitator is good by his gnome");17 it is also capable of sin because "our salvation depends on our will."18 But sin is always a personal act and never an act of nature.19 Patriarch Photius even goes so far as to say, referring to Western doctrines, that the belief in a "sin of nature" is a heresy. 20
From these basic ideas about the personal character of sin, it is evident that the rebellion of Adam and Eve against God could be conceived only as their personal sin; there would be no place, then, in such an anthropology for the concept of inherited guilt, or for a "sin of nature," although it admits that human nature incurs the consequences of Adam’s sin.
The Greek patristic understanding of man never denies the unity of mankind or replaces it with a radical individualism. The Pauline doctrine of the two Adams ("As in Adam all men die, so also in Christ all are brought to life" [1 Co 15:22]) as well as the Platonic concept of the ideal man leads Gregory of Nyssa to understand Genesis 1:27 — "God created man in His own image" — to refer to the creation of mankind as a whole.21 It is obvious therefore that the sin of Adam must also be related to all men, just as salvation brought by Christ is salvation for all mankind; but neither original sin nor salvation can be realized in an individual’s life without involving his personal and free responsibility.
The scriptural text, which played a decisive role in the polemics between Augustine and the Pelagians, is found in Romans 5:12 where Paul speaking of Adam writes, "As sin came into the world through one man and through sin and death, so death spreads to all men becauseall men have sinned [eph ho pantes hemarton]". In this passage there is a major issue of translation. The last four Greek words were translated in Latin as in quo omnes peccaverunt ("in whom [i.e., in Adam] all men have sinned"), and this translation was used in the West to justify the doctrine of guilt inherited from Adam and spread to his descendants. But such a meaning cannot be drawn from the original Greek — the text read, of course, by the Byzantines. The form eph ho — a contraction of epi with the relative pronoun ho — can be translated as "because," a meaning accepted by most modern scholars of all confessional backgrounds.22 Such a translation renders Paul’s thought to mean that death, which is "the wages of sin" (Rm 6:23) for Adam, is also the punishment applied to those who like him sin. It presupposed a cosmic significance of the sin of Adam, but did not say that his descendants are "guilty" as he was unless they also sinned as he did.
A number of Byzantine authors, including Photius, understood the eph ho to mean "because" and saw nothing in the Pauline text beyond a moral similarity between Adam and other sinners in death being the normal retribution for sin. But there is also the consensus of the majority of Eastern Fathers, who interpret Romans 5:12 in close connection with 1 Corinthians 15:22 — between Adam and his descendants there is a solidarity in death just as there is a solidarity in life between the risen Lord and the baptized. This interpretation comes obviously from the literal, grammatical meaning of Romans 5:12. Eph ho, if it means "because," is a neuter pronoun; but it can also be masculine referring to the immediately preceding substantive thanatos ("death"). The sentence then may have a meaning, which seems improbable to a reader trained in Augustine, but which is indeed the meaning which most Greek Fathers accepted: "As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men; and because of death, all men have sinned..."
Mortality, or "corruption," or simply death (understood in a personalized sense), has indeed been viewed since Christian antiquity as a cosmic disease, which holds humanity under its sway, both spiritually and physically, and is controlled by the one who is "the murderer from the beginning" (Jn 8:44). It is this death, which makes sin inevitable and in this sense "corrupts" nature.
For Cyril of Alexandria, humanity after the sin of Adam "fell sick of corruption."23 Cyril’s opponents, the theologians of the School of Antioch, agreed with him on the consequence of Adam’s sin. For Theodore of Mopsuestia, "by becoming mortal, we acquired greater urge to sin." The necessity of satisfying the needs of the body — food, drink, and other bodily needs — are absent in immortal beings; but among mortals, they lead to "passions," for they present unavoidable means of temporary survival.24 Theodoret of Cyrus repeats almost literally the arguments of Theodore in his own commentary on Romans; elsewhere, he argues against the sinfulness of marriage by affirming that transmission of mortal life is not sinful in itself, in spite of Psalm 51:7 ("my mother conceived me in sin"). This verse, according to Theodoret, refers not to the sexual act but to the general sinful condition of mortal humanity: "Having become mortal, [Adam and Eve] conceived mortal children, and mortal beings are a necessary subject to passions and fears, to pleasures and sorrows, to anger and hatred."25
There is indeed a consensus in Greek patristic and Byzantine traditions in identifying the inheritance of the Fall as an inheritance essentially of mortality rather than of sinfulness, sinfulness being merely a consequence of mortality. The idea appears in Chrysostom in the eleventh-century commentator Theophylact of Ohrida 27, who specifically denies the imputation of sin to the descendants of Adam,26 and in later Byzantine authors, particularly in Gregory Palamas.28 The always-more-sophisticated Maximus the Confessor, when he speaks of the consequences of the sin of Adam, identifies them mainly with the mind’s submission to the flesh and finds in sexual procreation the most obvious expression of man’s acquiescence in animal instincts; but as we have seen, sin remains, for Maximus, a personal act, and inherited guilt is impossible.29 For him as for the others, "the wrong choice but not inherited guilt made by Adam brought in passion, corruption, and mortality."30
The contrast with Western tradition on this point is brought into sharp focus when Eastern authors discuss the meaning of baptism. Augustine’s arguments in favour of infant baptism were taken from the text of the creeds (baptism for "the remission of sins") and from his understanding of Romans 5:12. Children are born sinful not because they have sinned personally, but because they have sinned "in Adam;" their baptism is therefore also a baptism "for the remission of sins." At the same time, an Eastern contemporary of Augustine’s, Theodoret of Cyrus, flatly denies that the creedal formula "for the remission of sins" is applicable to infant baptism. For Theodoret, in fact, the "remission of sins" is only a side effect of baptism, fully real in cases of adult baptism, which is the norm, of course, in the early Church and which indeed "remits sins." But the principal meaning of baptism is wider and more positive:
"If the only meaning of baptism is the remission of sins," writes Theodoret, "why would we baptize the newborn children who have not yet tasted of sin? But the mystery [of baptism] is not limited to this; it is a promise of greater and more perfect gifts. In it, there are the promises of future delights; it is a type of the future resurrection, a communion with the master’s passion, a participation in His resurrection, a mantle of salvation, a tunic of gladness, a garment of light, or rather it is light itself."31
Thus, the Church baptizes children not to "remit" their yet nonexistent sins but in order to give them a new and immortal life, which their mortal parents are unable to communicate to them. The opposition between the two Adams is seen in terms not of guilt and forgiveness but of death and life. "The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven; as was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven" (1 Co 15:47-48). Baptism is the paschal mystery, the "passage." All its ancient forms, especially the Byzantine, include a renunciation of Satan, a triple immersion as type of death and resurrection, and the positive gift of new life through anointing and Eucharistic communion.
In this perspective, death and mortality are viewed not as much as retribution for sin (although they are also a just retribution for personal sins) but as means through which the fundamentally unjust "tyranny" of the devil is exercised over mankind after Adam’s sin. From this, baptism is liberation because it gives access to the new immortal life brought into the world by Christ’s Resurrection. The Resurrection delivers men from the fear of death and, therefore, also from the necessity of struggling for existence. Only in the light of the risen Lord the Sermon on the Mount does acquire its full realism: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body — more than clothing?" (Mt6:25).
Communion in the risen body of Christ, participation in divine life, sanctification through the energy of God, which penetrates true humanity and restores it to its "natural" state rather than justification, or remission of inherited guilt, — these are at the centre of Byzantine understanding of the Christian Gospel.
The New Eve
As early as Justin and Irenaeus, primitive Christian tradition established a parallel between Genesis 2 and the Lucan account of the Annunciation and the contrast between two virgins, Eve and Mary, to symbolize two possible uses of created freedom by man: in the first — a surrender to the devil’s offer of false deification, in the second — humble acceptance of the will of God.
Although it was superseded after the Council of Ephesus by the veneration of Mary as Mother of God, orTheotokos, the concept of the New Eve, who on behalf of all fallen humanity was able to accept the corning of the new "dispensation," was present in the patristic tradition throughout the Byzantine period. Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople (434-446), frequently used the idea in his homilies. The Virgin Mary is viewed as the goal of Old Testament history, which began with the children of Eve:
"Among the children of Adam, God chose the admirable Seth," writes Palamas, "and so the election, which had in view by divine foreknowledge her who should have become the Mother of God, had its origin in the children of Adam themselves, filled up in the successive generations, descended as far as the King and Prophet David... When it came to the time when this election should have find its fulfilment, Joachim and Anna, of the house and country of David, were chosen by God. ... It was to them that God now promised and gave the child who would be the Mother of God."32
The election of the Virgin Mary is therefore the culminating point of Israel’s progress toward reconciliation with God, but God’s final response to this progress and the beginning of new life comes with the Incarnation of the Word. Salvation needed "a new root," writes Palamas in the same homily, "for no one, except God, is without sin; no one can give life; no one can remit sins."33 This "new root" is God the Word made flesh; the Virgin Mary is His "temple."
Byzantine homiletic and hymnographical texts often praise the Virgin as "fully prepared," "cleansed," and "sanctified." But these texts were to be understood in the context of the doctrine of original sin, which prevailed in the East: the inheritance from Adam was mortality, not guilt, and there was never any doubt among Byzantine theologians that Mary was indeed a mortal being.
The preoccupation of Western theologians to find in Byzantium ancient authorities for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary has often used these passages out of context. And, indeed, Sophronius of Jerusalem († 638) praises Mary: "Many saints appeared before thee, but none was as filled with grace as thou... No one has been purified in advance as thou hast been..."34 Andrew of Crete († 740) is even more specific, preaching on the Feast of the Virgin’s Nativity: "When the Mother of Him who is beauty itself is born, [human] nature recovers in her person its ancient privileges and is fashioned according to a perfect model, truly worthy of God. ... In a word, the transfiguration of our nature begins today..."36 This theme, which appears in the liturgical hymns of the Feast of September 8, is further developed by Nicholas Cabasilas in the fourteenth century: "Earth she is because she is from earth; but she is a new earth since she derives in no way from her ancestors and has not inherited the old leaven. She is... new dough and has originated a new race."36
Quotations can easily be multiplied, and they give clear indications that the Mariological piety of the Byzantines would probably have led them to accept the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as it has been defined in 1854 if only they shared the Western doctrine of original sin. But it should be remembered — especially in the context of the poetical, emotional, or rhetorical exaggerations characteristic of Byzantine liturgical Mariology — that such concepts as "purity" and "holiness" could easily be visualized even in the framework of pre-Christian humanity, which is considered as mortal but not necessarily "guilty." In the case of Mary, her response to the angel and her status as the "new Eve" gave to her a special relation to the "new race" born of her. Yet never does one read in Byzantine authors any statement, which would imply that she receives a special grace of immortality. Only such a statement would clearly imply that her humanity does not share the common lot of the descendants of Adam.
In order to maintain a fully balanced view of Byzantine Mariology, it is necessary to keep in mind the essentially Christological framework of the veneration of the Theotofos in Byzantium (a point, which is stressed in the next chapter). Yet the absence of any formal doctrinal definition on Mariology as such allowed the freedom of poets and orators as well as the reservation of strict exegetes. They always had available in hundreds of copies the writings of the greatest of Byzantine patristic authorities, John Chrysostom, who found it possible to ascribe to Mary not only "original sin," but also "agitation," "trouble," and even "love of honour."38
No one, of course, would have dared to accuse the great Chrysostom of impiety. So the Byzantine Church wisely preserving a scale of theological values, which always gave precedence to the basic fundamental truths of the Gospel, abstained from enforcing any dogmatic formulation concerning Mary, except that she was truly and really the Theotokos, "Mother of God." No doubt, this striking title, made necessary by the logic of Cyrillian Christology, justified her daily liturgical acclamation as "more honourable than the Cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim."
What greater honour could be rendered to a human being? What clearer basis could be found for a Christian theocentric anthropology?
Fr. J.Meyendorff. Professor of Byzantine History at Fordham University, from 1967.