митрополит Иоанн Зизиу́лас

2. Truth and Communion

I. Introduction: The Problem of Truth in the Patristic Era

Christology is the sole starting point for a Christian understanding of truth. Christ’s claim to be the truth (John 14:6) constitutes a fundamental presupposition for Christian theology. On this point, both East and West have always been in agreement. It would serve no purpose to make reference to concrete examples from the history of Christian thought to demonstrate this common presupposition to all the Christian traditions. Nevertheless, this presupposition is by no means easy to interpret. How should one understand Christ to be the truth? “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Christ left Pontius Pilate’s question unanswered, and throughout the ages the Church has not answered it with one voice. Our problems today concerning truth appear to stem directly from these different understandings of truth in the course of the Church’s history.

The fundamental distinctions which are made in connection with this subject appear to date back to the first encounter of Christianity with Greek thought. Even though we must always keep in mind the fact that in the Bible itself Greek thought is very often mixed up with what is customarily termed Semitic thought, or the Jewish mentality,71 we should nevertheless be aware of the existence of a particular thought-form which could be called “Hellenic” and which tends to assert its own characteristics in its encounter with the Gospel. This being said, it would be wrong to deduce too easily, as many scholars have done, that biblical thinking, particularly in its New Testament form, is to be identified with what one would call Hebrew or Jewish thought-forms. When St Paul presents the cross of Christ as the content of his preaching, he stands against the Greek and Jewish mentalities simultaneously. The Christian message may be confused neither with the “wisdom” of the Greeks nor with the Jewish preoccupation with “signs” (I Cor. 1:22).

This confrontation between the Christological content of the Gospel message on one hand, and on the other the Jewish as well as the Greek mentality, is directly connected with the problem of truth. It is usually felt that the principal characteristic of Hebrew thinking as opposed to that of the Greeks resides in the Jews’ interest in history. The “signs” which the Jews seek, says St Paul, are precisely the manifestations of God’s presence and His activity in history. By and in these “signs,” truth makes itself known historically as God’s faithfulness towards His people. When in the Old Testament the ῑ᾽emeth of God is proffered, it follows that the Word of God is sound, certain and consistent.72 Truth thus becomes identical with the “oath” of God who goes back on nothing (Ps. 132:11) and for this reason offers security.73 All this takes place within the field of a history which is created by God’s promises to His People. Consequently, the people’s response itself forms part of this definition of truth. Loyalty to God, the carrying out of His will or the fulfilling of His Law amount to “doing the truth.”74 According to this way of understanding truth, it is God’s promises which may be considered as ultimate truth, and these promises coincide with the goal or fulfilment of history. It is in short an eschatological truth which orients the human spirit towards the future.

The Greek mind, for its part, seeks truth in a way which transcends history. Starting from the observation of the world, Greek thought raises the question of being in a way which is organically and inseparably connected with the observing and perceiving mind. In the presocratic period Greek thought concentrated on the basic link between being (εῑναι) and thought (νοεῑν).75 Despite later developments, and many variations throughout its history,76 Greek thought never abandoned the unity existing between the intelligible world (νοητά), the thinking mind (νοῡς) and being (εῑναι).77 Thanks to the unity between these three elements, the Greek mind achieved a wonderful sense of κόσμος, a term which signifies harmony and beauty. It is precisely in this unity, that truth is to be found. Truth is essentially identical with virtue (ἀρετὴ) and beauty (τὸ καλόν).78

This is why truth for the Greeks is primarily a cosmological question.

As a consequence of this way of thinking, the place of history is problematical in Greek ontology. Historical events either have to be explained by some λόγος, that is, they must be attributed to some cause which accounts for them,79 or else explained away, i.e. dismissed as having no meaning in existence.80 To explain history or to explain it away are not as different as might appear at first sight. The Neoplatonism, which explains away history and matter was as Greek in mentality as the great historians and artists of the classical period. Both sides shared the same ontological presupposition which assumed that existence constituted a unity, a closed circle81 which is formed by the λόγος and the νοῡς. History and matter either had to conform to this unity or else fall from existence. History insomuch as it is the domain of freedom, where the person – divine or human – seems so often to be operating “irrationally” and arbitrarily, thus contradicting the closed ontological unity created by the conjunction of being and λόγος, could not be the basis for and approach towards truth.82

This “closed ontology” or monism of the Greek mind constitutes in our opinion the crucial point of conflict between Greek thought and biblical thought in the period of the Greek Fathers. It is this point which, with the inseparably linked problem of history and matter, illustrates the challenge hurled at the Bible by Greek thought concerning truth, not just in the period of the Greek Fathers but also in the Middle Ages and in modern times, including our own era. The problem may thus be presented as follows: How can a Christian hold to the idea that truth operates in history and creation when the ultimate character of truth, and its uniqueness, seem irreconcilable with the change and decay to which history and creation are subject?

The New Testament way of understanding truth, with its christological character, seems to contradict both the Jewish and Greek ideas of truth such as have been presented here. By referring to Christ as the Alpha and Omega of history, the New Testament has transformed radically the linear historicism of Hebrew thought, since in a certain way the end of history in Christ becomes already present here and now. Likewise, in affirming that Christ, i.e. a historical being, is the truth, the New Testament hurls a challenge to Greek thought, since it is in the flow of history and through it, through its changes and ambiguities, that man is called to discover the meaning of existence.83 If, therefore, we want to be faithful to the christological character of truth, we must affirm the historical character of truth and not despise it for the sake of its “meaning.” In this connection, the reactions in our time against certain “demythologizing” approaches to the New Testament are clearly justified.84 Nevertheless, it must be affirmed that if by this “historicity” of the truth we understand a linear, Jewish historicism, for which the future constitutes a reality still to come, as though it had not at all arrived in history, then we are departing radically from the conception of the truth found in the New Testament. Thus, the problem which the christological character of truth has presented to the Church from its earliest days may be summarized in the following question: How can we hold at one and the same time to the historical nature of truth and the presence of ultimate truth here and now? How, in other words, can truth be considered simultaneously from the point of view of the “nature” of being (Greek preoccupation)85 from the view of the goal or end of history (preoccupation of the Jews), and from the viewpoint of Christ, who is both a historical person and the permanent ground (the λόγος) of being (the Christian claim) – and all while preserving God’s “otherness” in relation to creation?

The intention of this study is to try to give an answer to this question, with the aid of Greek patristic thought. We believe that the question and also the answer worked out by the Greek Fathers for their age are extremely meaningful for ourselves today. We also think that the idea of “communion” has been the decisive tool in the hands of the Greek Fathers to allow them to answer this question, and that it continues to be the key to our own answer to the problem today. And so we shall try first to understand the efforts of the Greek Fathers, their failures and their successes, in arriving at an understanding of truth which might have meaning for a person of Greek mentality, without betraying or distorting the message of the Bible. From there we shall pass on to apply this understanding of truth to the essential requirements of the Christian faith, that is, to the relationship between truth and salvation. Finally, we shall try to see the importance of all this for ecclesiology, in both its theoretical and its practical implications for the structure and ministry of the Church.

II. Truth, Being and History: The Greek Patristic Synthesis

1. The “Logos” Approach

One of the most dramatic attempts to reconcile the Greek idea of truth with the Christian claim, that Christ is the truth, was that made in the first three centuries with the help of the idea of logos. This attempt seems to have originated with the Greek apologists, particularly Justin, but found its most audacious representatives among the Alexandrian theologians: Clement and above all Origen.

It is well known that the concept of logos became in the hands of Philo an instrument for harmonizing Greek cosmology with the Old Testament (Gen. 1: the world was created by the logos of God). By applying this idea to Christ, on the basis of the prologue to the Fourth Gospel, Justin established a foundation from which to communicate to the Greeks the affirmation that Christ is the truth. But although this offered the possibility of converting Greek thought to Christianity and made all Christians debtors to the apologists, it was nevertheless full of danger for the Christian gospel. This becomes clear when we consider the question of truth.

In declaring that Christ is the truth just because He is the logos, in and through whom the world was made and existence finds its foundations and meaning, Justin developed an idea of truth similar if not identical to that of Platonism. God, as ultimate truth, is understood to be “he who is always the same in himself and in relation to all things”86 and who is known “only through the mind.”87 Truth is thus taken in the Platonic sense of something fixed which establishes its links with the world in and through the mind. This mind (νοῡς) was given, according to Justin, simply “in order to contemplate (καθορᾱν) that same being who is the cause of all intelligent beings (νοητῶν).”88

The significant point about this way of approach to truth is that the possibility of knowing God, the truth, for Justin is due to the συγγένεια (relationship of an ontological character) between God and the soul or νοῡς.89 In a typically Platonic manner, Justin attributes error, or ψεῡδος, entirely to the presence of things of the senses, and to the body especially. The νοῡς is present equally for all men, and the bond (συγγένεια) between God the truth and man is permanent. It suffices that man should liberate himself from the influences of the body in order to “behold” truth.90 From what we have just said, it is clear that underlying Justin’s way of understanding truth is not only the dualism between things of the senses and of the intellect but – more importantly – the ontologically necessary link between God and the world.91 The permanent συγγένεια between God and man through the medium of νοῡς leads us to take the idea of logos, employed by Justin in a christological sense, as the bond between God and the world, between truth and the mind. Christ, as the logos of God, becomes this very link between truth and the mind, and the truth of philosophy is nothing less than part of this logos.92

The danger of monist ontology is evident in all this, but in this case the danger was not apparent at the level of constituting a problem for the Church. The reason is probably that Justin neither elaborated theologically upon the basis of this monism nor claimed any official place for philosophy in the life of the Church. This was done by Clement of Alexandria, who introduced philosophy officially into the Church,93 and by Origen, who tried to elaborate a theological system starting from Greek philosophy. The application of the logos concept in this context led to the crisis of Arianism, which compelled the Church to revise the concept radically.

Clement’s way of understanding truth develops along the direction mentioned in connection with Justin.94 The influence of Greek thought on Clement’s conception of truth can be seen in his way of envisaging the idea of God – truth as the “nature” of being. This viewpoint was to have a decisive importance for later theology in the East, as we shall see,95 and equally in the West.

In the fragments of Clement which the works of St Maximus the Confessor have preserved for us, “nature” is equivalent to “the truth of things.”96 This concept of truth as “nature” leads Clement to understand the nature of God as “spirit” (based on Jn. 4:24).97 Consequently, “spirit” is defined as “nature” which leads to the idea developed by Origen that “spirit” is God’s corporal “substance.”98

Origen, by contrast with Clement, did not wish to be a philosopher but an ecclesiasticus, a man of tradition. He therefore tried to construct a system based on the creed, denying nothing which the Church professed, but attempting to explain tradition in a philosophical manner. Whether he managed to do this while preserving the biblical perspective on truth can be decided only after examining two fundamental aspects of his teaching: the doctrine of creation, and the interpretation of Scripture.

Despite his doctrine of creation ex nihilo, Origen connected the idea of God so closely with that of creation that he came to speak of eternal creation, arguing that God would not be eternally omnipotent with no object on which to exercise his power.99 God thus becomes eternally a creator, and the link between the logos of God and the logoi of creation thus comes to be organic and unbreakable, as in the Greek idea of truth.100 The interpretation of the Scriptures in Origen likewise implies an idea of truth which is essentially Greek. Although Origen does not deny the reality or historicity of the biblical events, what definitely counts when interpreting the Bible is the meaning of these events. Even the cross of Christ is the symbol of something higher, and only the simpliciores can be content with the pure fact of the crucifixion.101 Truth resides in the meaning of things, and once this meaning has been grasped, the things bearing it lose their importance.102 In quite an interesting way, this leads Origen to place the accent on eschatology, although this eschatalogy is oriented not towards a consummation of history, but towards the eternal significance of events.

This view of things has very clear implications concerning the understanding of Christ’s claim to be the truth. Christ is “truth itself” (αὐτοαλήθεια),103 but not because of his humanity. “No one among us is so simple minded as to think that the essence of truth was not in existence before the moment of its manifestation in Christ.”104 This does not mean that Christ’s humanity is to be rejected, but that in its relation to truth, it is “true” only in so far as it participates in the truth.105

The crucial point enabling us to judge Origen’s position on this delicate topic is precisely the importance for truth of the historical Christ. Interpreting John 1:17 (“…the truth came (ἐγένετο) by Jesus Christ.”) and attempting to reconcile this with John 14:6 (“I am the truth”), Origen writes: “Nothing is produced by its own intermediary. But this (i.e. the word ἐγένετο) must be taken as meaning that truth, itself, the essential (οὐσιώδης) truth… the prototype of the truth which is found in spiritual souls, this truth of which a kind of image has been imprinted in those who think according to the truth, has not been produced by the intermediary of Jesus Christ, nor by any other intermediary, but has been actualized (ἐγένετο) by God.106 Origen thus appears to understand the “came” of John 1:17 not as a historical event, such as the incarnation, but in cosmological terms;107 the truth has been directly imprinted by God – evidently in the eternal creation of the world. For this reason, truth exists as the very nature of being (οὐσιώδῶς).108 “Every man of wisdom, in the measure of his participation in wisdom, participates in the Christ who is wisdom.”109 Our remark here, delicate but fundamental, is that “wisdom” does not depend on the Christ-event, but, in a sense, Christ participates in wisdom. We cannot invert the assertion “Christ is the truth” and say “the truth is Christ,” since the historical Christ appears to be the truth precisely because of his participation in truth, being the logos of creation – not because he is Jesus of Nazareth.

Thus, the problem which Origen and the whole current of logos theology leave unanswered is: how can we understand the historical Christ to be the truth? If the historical Christ is the truth by virtue of his being simultaneously the logos of God and of creation, it seems to indicate that the incarnation does not realize the truth in a fundamental way, but merely reveals a pre-existing truth. This idea of revelation seems to lie at the very heart of the problem, since revelation always unifies existence, through an idea or a meaning that is singular and comprehensive, forming a connection between created and uncreated rationality. One of the criticisms which modern theology can make of Origen is that if he undermined the historical Christ, it is because he was preoccupied above all with revelation.110 It is an essential point, and the criticism is fully justified, because there appears to be an intrinsic contradiction between revelation and history,111 in that the former tends to lead to a unification of existence so that its meaning can be apprehended, while the latter presents existence in the form of fragmentations and antinomies. If an interest in truth as revelation eclipses an interest in truth as history, it inevitably results in the human mind becoming the ground of truth, the crucial bond between truth and creation. This brings us back to the problem presented in our introductory comments, regarding the synthesis between the idea of truth as being and of truth as history. From what we have just seen, we can state that the way in which the apologists and Origen approached the problem did not succeed in creating this synthesis. Let us now pass on to other currents of Greek patristic thought to see how the synthesis was performed.

2. The Eucharistic approach

While an interest in knowledge and revelation and the search for the meaning of existence led the logos theologians of the first three centuries to understand truth in terms of cosmology, the bishops’ absorption in the life and struggles of their communities led them into an entirely different approach to the idea of truth. Already in the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch,112 it is made clear that the idea of truth is not primarily a matter of epistemology – in the strict sense of the word – but is connected with what we might саll life. In our Western minds the use of the word “life” implies the idea of something “practical” as opposed to “contemplative” or “theoretical,” and thus the use of this word brings us automatically back to the Old Testament idea of truth as praxis. This takes us away from the ontological problem of truth and deprives the gospel of all real contact with Greek thought. But why should life be put in opposition to being? In actual fact, are not life and being identical?

The problem reappears along with the Greek conception of existence which has found a place in our western minds, particularly in its Aristotelian form. For Aristotle, life is a quality added to being, and not being itself. The truth of being is not found in life, but precedes it; a lifeless stone can claim for itself the verb “to be” just as much as an animal can. That an animal should have life, and the stone not have it, is something else. With being we use the verb to be while with life we use the verb to have: life is possessed by being, just as a movement or telos is possessed by things in general (en-tel-echeia).113 It is precisely because life is something possessed, and cannot precede being, that truth as the meaning of being relates ultimately to being as such, and not to life. Now if a Greek mind was unable to say in the same breath “being and life,” the Christian had to say both at once. This identification of being with life affected the idea of truth in a decisive way. This can be seen in the current of Greek patristic thought which developed in the second century. We have already pointed out that Ignatius of Antioch prefers to speak of truth in connection with life. In fact, this is only the continuation of the Fourth Gospel’s definition of knowledge as “eternal life” or “true life.” (Jn. 3, 15, 36; 14:6; 17:3).114 But while the Johannine definition of knowledge lends itself to an understanding of truth as praxis in the Old Testament sense (an understanding which specialists tend to accept too readily, neglecting the differences between Old and New Testament thought), Ignatius’ way of combining knowledge with life points more clearly towards an ontological approach to truth. It is this which should be seen in Ignatius’ concern with immortality and incorruptibility. For Ignatius, life signifies not only praxis but being for ever: i.e. that which does not die.115 Here we have the first profound identification of being with life.

The theme re-appears in a more elaborate form in the theology of St Irenaeus. The Greek concern with being becomes more evident, yet the response to it remains entirely biblical. Irenaeus likewise makes use of the idea of incorruptibility.116 He sees Christ as being the truth not of the mind – his fight against Gnosticism, the most rationalistic movement of the period, leads him away from this – but of the incorruptibility of being. This was an extremely profound assimilation of the Greek concept of truth as the “nature” of things with the Johannine and Ignatian concept of truth as life. Christ is the truth not because he is an epistemological principle which explains the universe, but because he is life and the universe of beings finds its meaning in its incorruptible existence in Christ,117 who takes up into Himself (ἀνακεϕαλαίωσις) the whole of creation and history. Being is inconceivable outside of life, and because of this the ontological nature of truth resides in the idea of life.

This identification of being with life is so decisive for the history of Christian theology that, in our opinion, it is solely upon this basis that the greatest achievements of Trinitarian theology of the fourth century can be judged to their full value. It is therefore important to consider the reasons for this phenomenon. What was it among the Greek Fathers that made it possible to identify being with life?

This question cannot be answered by attempting to associate the ideas of Ignatius and Irenaeus with some intellectual movement, for the simple reason that such a movement did not exist. What seems to have formed the foundation of these two Fathers’ thought is not an intellectual tradition, but their common experience of the Church as a community, and especially as a eucharistic community. The role played by the eucharist in the theology of Ignatius is so decisive that it would be surprising if it had not had an influence on this identification of existence with life. In fact, we meet the idea of immortality in his writings in connection with the eucharist.118 In Irenaeus we find the same centrality of the eucharist, and there is no doubt that this is what influenced his conception of incorruptibilty,119 with its ontological connotations, since this emerges from the relationship which he establishes between creation and the eucharist.120

How could a theology of the eucharist lead to an identification of existence with life? The answer is found firstly in the biblical roots of the relationship between the eucharist and life. The Fourth Gospel provides an adequate base to establish this relationship. Secondly, both Ignatius and Irenaeus have to fight on behalf of the reality within the eucharist – the former in combating docetism121 and the latter in combating gnosticism.122 If the eucharist is not truly Christ in the historical and material sense of the word “truth,” then truth is not life and existence at the same time, since for both men the eucharist imparts life. Thus truth had to become historical without ceasing to be ontological.

Finally there was the understanding of the eucharist as community.123 The life of the eucharist is the life of God Himself, but this is not life in the sense of an Aristotelian movement which flows out mechanically from the interior of existence. It is the life of communion with God, such as exists within the Trinity and is actualized within the members of the eucharistic community. Knowledge and communion are identical.124

All this leads naturally to the theological developments of the fourth century. But it must be strongly underlined that without this foundation of the Church’s eucharistic experience, such as exhibited in Ignatius and Irenaeus, the trinitarian theology of the fourth century would remain a problem. We must therefore pause briefly on this point before passing to the fourth century.

The identification of existence with life through the idea of immortality and incorruptibility will lead naturally into trinitarian theology. If incorruptibility is possible only in and through communion with the life of God Himself, creation or being can exist and live only insofar as the source of being – God – is Himself life and communion. The eucharistic experience implies that life is imparted and actualized only in an event of communion,125 and thus creation and existence in general can be founded only upon this living God of communion. Thus the divine act that brings about creation implies simultaneously, the Father, the Son and the Spirit.126

Irenaeus seems to stop here. He is concerned mainly with created being and sees existence as ultimately dependent upon the Trinity. But what about uncreated being? Could it not be said, perhaps, that in the last resort, i.e. in our reference to God as being, being precedes life and life springs from being? Is it not possible, in other words, to postulate a divine nature (ϕύσις – ούσία) as the ultimate ontological truth, and to make life and communion depend upon it under the form of the Trinity? The answer to this question is given by the Greek Fathers in their historic attempt to press the identification of being and life with communion to the ultimate point of existence, God Himself. This came about in the fourth century.

3. The Trinitarian Approach

The Arian crisis highlighted the need for radical revision of Origen’s teachings and the cosmological approach to truth. This could be achieved only through a revision of the doctrine of the logos, and Arianism provided the appropriate opportunity. Could the doctrine of the logos be of use in talking about ultimate being, the truth of the Greeks? For an instant, the Church found itself shaken with uncertainty, but the answer came from the great Alexandrian theologian St Athanasius. His answer, which was the theological basis for the definition of Nicaea, was in the affirmative, but subject to one essential condition: the doctrine of the logos can be maintained only if the logos becomes identical with the Son as part of the Trinity.

Athanasius’ standpoint, which proved crucially important in the Church’s struggle against Arianism, was a direct consequence of the ontology of communion formed within the current of eucharistic theology that connected Ignatius, through Irenaeus, up to Athanasius. That Athanasius belongs theologically to this movement, rather than to the catechetical tradition of Alexandria, follows clearly from a general study of his theology. It will be sufficient for our present purposes to consider his way of using ontological ideas in his struggle against Arianism. It is interesting to note the points where his thought is indebted to the ontological ideas of Ignatius and Irenaeus of which we have attempted a presentation in this study.

In his fight against Arianism, Athanasius developed an ontology whose characteristics are as follows:

First, he made a clear distinction between substance, which he regarded as ultimate, and will,127 attributing to being the same ultimate character which it had always enjoyed in Greek thought. This distinction was needed in order to make it plain that the being of the Son in his relation to God was not of the same kind as the being of the world. The Son’s being belongs to the substance of God, while that of the world belongs to the will of God. It was a distinction needed in order to argue against the Arians, but its importance went far beyond the particular occasion. Its wider significance rests in the fact that, through this distinction between substance and will, Athanasius was in a position to break out of the closed ontology of the Greeks which linked God to the world by an ontological syggeneia. He thus avoided the trap into which Justin and Origen had fallen, not by abandoning ontological thought but, on the contrary, by raising it up to the ultimate character which its nature requires.128 To be is not the same as to will or, hence, as to act. This assertion, apparently Greek and not Hebrew, presented itself as the means for protecting the biblical roots of the Gospel from the dangers of Greek ontology. God’s being, in an ultimate sense, remained free in relation to the world, in such a way that the Greek mind could identify it as “being” without having to link it with the world out of an ontological necessity.

But this was not all. By connecting the Son’s being with the very substance of God, Athanasius also transformed the idea of substance. And it is here that his departure from the cosmological thinking of Justin and Origen appears to be actually an adoption of the eucharistic thinking of Ignatius and Irenaeus. To say that the Son belongs to God’s substance implies that substance possesses almost by definition a relational character. “Has God ever existed without His own (Son)?”129 This question has an extreme ontological importance. The word “ever” in the sentence is used of course not temporally but logically, or rather ontologically. It refers not to a time in God, but to the nature of His being, to His being qua being. If God’s being is by nature relational, and if it can be signified by the word “substance,” can we not then conclude almost inevitably that, given the ultimate character of God’s being for all ontology, substance, inasmuch as it signifies the ultimate character of being, can be conceived only as communion?130

Whether this involves a revolutionary change concerning the meaning of substance in Greek thought, or whether it actually has a basis in aspects of the latter which have escaped our attention, are questions which it is not the author’s present intention to follow up.131 However, a fairly clear conclusion emerges from a study of Athanasius, that a distinction between “primary” and “secondary” substance, which certain specialists have employed to interpret the Greek Fathers’ trinitarian theology132 is in fact erroneous. As we shall notice again in a brief treatment of the Cappadocians, such a distinction does not make sense and creates serious problems when considering the relationship within the Trinity between substance and person.

This is Athanasius’ principal contribution to the development of Christian ontology. Aided by the idea of communion which had acquired an ontological significance in and through the eucharistic approach to being, Athanasius develops the idea that communion belongs not to the level of will and action but to that of substance. Thus it establishes itself as an ontological category. This was significant progress towards an ontology founded on biblical premises, a decisive step towards a Christianization of Hellenism. But without denigrating Athanasius’ greatness or his importance as a theologian, we must recognize that in this ontology he left a number of basic problems unanswered. One concerns the ontological status, as it were, which we are to attach to that being which does not come out of substance but out of will and action: namely, creation. If the world’s being is a product not of God’s substance but of His will, what is then its ontological base?

If we say that this base is the will of God, do we not once more risk attributing an ontological content to the will of God, thus making almost useless the distinction that was developed to confront the Arian position? This is such a difficult and fundamental question as to lend support to the ontological monism of the classical Greeks as a more sensible alternative to a Christian ontology based on God’s ontological otherness. It is the question of knowing whether otherness can make sense in ontology, whether ontology can do anything more than rest on the idea of totality. To a large extent this is still an open question133 – even though the first attempt towards answering it was made long ago by St Maximus the Confessor, when he employed (and radically transformed) the idea of ekstasis from pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

The second problem raised by Athanasius’ ontological basis concerns the being of God Himself. Athanasius’ ontology rests, as we have just seen, on the assertion that between God and the world there exists an otherness founded on the fact that the world’s being is based on the will, not the substance, of God. In this sense, the use of the idea of substance in theology played an indispensable part in the development of an ontology along biblical lines. But what about the otherness within the very substance of God which is implied by Athansius’ assertion that the Son has “always” belonged to God’s being? Athanasius demonstrated that ontological otherness is an inevitable result of the distinction between will and nature, but he does not show to what extent “interior” communion within one substance implies otherness at an ontological level.

Such a fundamental question cannot be answered without clarifying further the idea of relational substance which was developed in the eucharistic approach to ontology, and exploited by Athtanasius. This was to be the great contribution of the Cappadocian Fathers. Let us now turn briefly to their views.

One of the difficulties in developing an ontology of communion which possessed clarity was the fact that, as an ontological category, substance did not differ essentially from hypostasis. Athanasius lets us clearly see that for him – and for his contemporaries – ousia and hypostasis mean exactly the same thing.134 And so, if it is desired to speak of an “interior” otherness within one substance (i.e. an otherness not based on will), how can this be expressed? Anyone who studies the history of this period knows the confusion and misunderstanding that terminology was able to generate then. A term such as “person” smacked of Sabellianism and was insufficiently ontological for some, while for others hypostasis implied tritheistic views. But the significant thing is that the solution developed by the Cappadocians led, in fact, to a further stage in the revision of Greek ontology and the formation of a Christian ontology.

Up until the period when the Cappadocians undertook to develop a solution to the trinitarian problems, an identifying of ousia with hypostasis implied that a thing’s concrete individuality (hypostasis) means simply that it is (i.e. its ousia). Now, however, changes occurred. The term hypostasis was dissociated from that of ousia and became identified with that of prosopon. But this latter term is relational, and was so when adopted in trinitarian theology. This meant that from now on a relational term entered into ontology and, conversely, that an ontological category such as hypostasis entered the relational categories of existence. To be and to be in relation becomes identical. For someone or something to be, two things are simultaneously needed: being itself (hypostasis) and being in relation (i.e. being a person). It is only in relationship that identity appears as having an ontological significance, and if any relationship did not imply such an ontologically meaningful identity, then it would be no relationship.135 Here is certainly an ontology derived from the being of God.

What was the importance of this stage in ontology, reached by the Cappadocians? Above all, it was that the being of God became placed on a new and more biblical foundation. By usurping, as it were, the ontological character of ousia, the word person/hypostasis became capable of signifying God’s being in an ultimate sense. The subsequent developments of trinitarian theology, especially in the West with Augustine and the scholastics, have led us to see the term ousia, not hypostasis, as the expression of the ultimate character and the causal principle (ἀρχὴ) in God’s being. The result has been that in textbooks on dogmatics, the Trinity gets placed after the chapter on the One God (the unique ousia) with all the difficulties which we still meet when trying to accommodate the Trinity to our doctrine of God. By contrast, the Cappadocians’ position – characteristic of all the Greek Fathers – lay, as Karl Rahner observes,136 in that the final assertion of ontology in God has to be attached not to the unique ousia of God but to the Father, that is, to a hypostasis or person.

This identification of God’s ultimate being with a person rather than with ousia not only makes possible a biblical doctrine of God (= the Father, in the Bible), but also resolves problems such as those inherent in the homoousion concerning, for example, the relation of the Son to the Father. In making the Father the “ground” of God’s being – or the ultimate reason for existence – theology accepted a kind of subordination of the Son to the Father without being obliged to downgrade the Logos into something created. But this was possible only because the Son’s otherness was founded on the same substance. So, whenever the question of the ontological relationship between God and the world is raised, the idea of hypostasis, from now on ontological in an ultimate sense, must be completed with that of substance if we do not wish to fall back into ontological monism. The identification of God with the Father risks losing its biblical content unless our doctrine of God includes not just the three persons, but also the unique ousia.137

4. The “Apophatic” Approach

In the development of apophatic theology, the Platonic / Origenist understanding of truth was recovered only to be denied at its very heart, in its epistemological and ontological claims. While for Origen the highest way of indicating and expressing truth is by means of the prefix αὐτο- (“itself”: e.g. αὐτοαλήθεια, αὐτο δικαιοσύνη, etc.), for the apophatic theologians the preferred expression is the prefix ὑπερ- (“beyond,” “above”: e.g. ὑπεραλήθεια, ὑπερουσία etc.). This implies a radical reorientation in regard to knowledge and a removal of truth from its Greek base. For Greek thought was satisfied with indicating truth through the term auto– and furthermore it would never have proceeded beyond the nous, which for the Greeks was permanently attached to truth as to its ultimate ontological ground.138

The message of apophatic theology was precisely that the closed Greek ontology had to be broken and transcended, since we are unable to use the concepts of the human mind or of creation, for signifying God – the truth. The absolute otherness of God’s being which is found at the heart of biblical theology is affirmed in such a manner that the biblical approach to God contrasts acutely with that of the Greeks.139 Apophaticism rejects the Greek view of truth, emphasizing that what we know about being – about creation, that is – must not be ontologically identified with God. God has “a simple, unknowable existence, inaccessible to all things and completely unexplainable, for He is beyond affirmation and negation.”140 And therefore truth lies beyond the choice between affirmation and negation.141 Neoplatonic imagery of a “hierarchy” used in the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite has misled those specialists who have spoken of a Neoplatonic influence on his writings. The importance of this imagery is not in the imagery itself, but in the meaning which it clothes in these writings. The essential point concerning this imagery is that, by contrast with the emanations of the Neoplatonists, the Dionysian “hierarchy” does not imply the emergence of lower existence out of a higher one.142

This can be better understood only through a careful consideration of two characteristic features of apophatic theology which appear especially in Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor, namely the ideas of ekstasis and of the distinction between essence and energy in God.

The idea of ekstasis signifies that God is love, and as such He creates an immanent relationship of love outside Himself. The emphasis placed on the words “outside Himself” is particularly important, since it signifies that love as ekstasis gives rise not to an emanation in the neoplatonic sense, but to an otherness of being which is seen as responding and returning to its original cause.143 In Maximus this idea receives a more complete and definite treatment, because his approach is not ultimately related to cosmology, as in Dionysius, but to the trinitarian being of God.144 Likewise, the distinction between essence and energy in God serves to indicate the relationship between God and the world as ontological otherness bridged by love, but not by “nature” or by “essence.”145 This distinction, moreover, joined to the idea of ekstasis, represents the first attempt in the history of Christian thought to reconcile on a philosophical basis the biblical idea of God’s otherness with the Greeks’ concern for the unity of existence. This is a philosophically worked out development of what was implicit in the eucharistic and trinitarian approaches which we have studied above. The importance of all this will become better apparent when we consider the relationship between truth and human existence.

Thus, the apophatic theology of this period by no means implies a theological agnosticism, if carefully studied in its essential aims.146 The principal object of this theology is to remove the question of truth and knowledge from the domain of Greek theories of ontology in order to situate it within that of love and communion. That apophatic theology founds itself on love is something so evident as to be the necessary key to its understanding and assessment. The perspectives offered by an approach to being through love, as arrived at by the mystical and ascetic theologians of the period, led by another route to the same conclusion that the eucharistic and trinitarian approaches of the previous period reached: it is only through an identification with communion147 that truth can be reconciled with ontology. That this implies neither agnosticism nor a flight outside matter and history emerges from the thought of Maximus the Confessor. The great achievement of this thinker was to attain the most developed and complete reconciliation between the Greek, Jewish and Christian concepts of truth. It is in this father’s theology that the question we asked in our introduction seems to find its most all-encompassing answer.

5. The Christological Approach

We have seen that in the theology of the first three centuries, the approach to the idea of truth through the logos failed in two ways in its attempt to link the biblical concept of truth with that of Greek thought: it did not reconcile the Greek concept of being with the ontological otherness of God’s being, and it did not fully identify the ontological content of truth with Christology in its historical aspect. The idea of logos helped to explain the unity of God and creation, but not the difference that there is between the two. Thus patristic theology was led to abandon this idea, and the problem remained unanswered: how can the truth of created and historical existence be an ontological truth while fully maintaining the ontological otherness of God’s being in relation to creation and history? How, in other words, can ultimate truth be linked up ontologically with creation and history in such a way that creation may keep its own, distinct being, while God remains the ultimate truth of being?

The solution to this fundamental problem, as we have seen, was not completely absent from Greek patristic thought before St Maximus, but lacked development and, above all, explanation in philosophical terms. We have tried to show that the beginnings of a solution to the question were found in the eucharistic theology of Ignatius and Irenaeus, with whom we find for the first time the identification of being with life; and that this solution was then made deeper by the fourth century trinitarian theologians, through the identification they made between life, communion and the being of God Himself. But if truth is in the last resort identifiable with being only in and through communion, what prevents us from returning to the Greek ontology of the logos, and uniting God with the world precisely by virtue of the identification of being with communion? In fact, it was because of the idea of participation that Origen made wide use of the idea of the logos to link God with the world. This led to the question: in what way does “participation” differ from “communion”?

The answer to this crucial question was given in the fourth century by the way in which the two terms “participation” (μετοχὴ) and “communion” (κοινωνία) were employed. At first sight these terms seem to be interchangeable in the Greek Fathers; however a clear distinction was deliberately and significantly made in their use: participation is used only for creatures in their relation with God, and never for God in his relation to creation.148 This became especially apparent in the fourth century in connection with the christological controversies and their implications for the eucharist.149 If we consider what this distinction entails for the idea of truth, our conclusion has to be: the truth of creation is a dependent truth, while, the truth of God’s being is communion in itself.

As well as the ontological priority of the divine truth, this conclusion implies that reality or the truth of created existence cannot affirm itself by itself. God and the world cannot be ontologically placed side by side as self-defined entities. Creaturely truth is dependent upon something else, in which it participates; this is truth as communion by participation (as compared with God, who is truth as communion without participation150). Thus we cannot say that creation is truth according to its own “nature.” Once more, the idea of truth leads us ultimately not to the “nature” of things, as with the Greeks, but to life and communion of beings.

These remarks, which can be derived from a study of the fourth century Greek Fathers, seemingly offer an explanation for the way in which ultimate ontological truth links to the truth of creation without destroying the otherness of God’s being. The question remaining unanswered here is that of the relationship between truth and history. How does ultimate ontological truth link up with that of creation when the latter is approached not as a static thing but as a movement in time and as decay? It seems that St Maximus the Confessor was the first in the history of Christian thought to work out an answer to this question.

The way by which the Greek Fathers distinguished themselves in their approach to history is that they considered the latter in close connection with ontology. In contrast with the approach to this problem found in the West since St. Augustine,151 the problem of the relationship between truth and history is tackled not from the viewpoint of time in relation to eternity, but from that of being and life in relation to death and decay. And the crucial point of this approach lies in the idea of movement of being: Can there be truth in the movement of being, when in history this movement is associated with death and decay?

Maximus had inherited from Origenism a description of creation as a triad – becoming-rest-motion (γένεσις-στάσις-κίνησις) – in which the ultimate characteristic of movement (placed after rest) is understood to offer an indication of the sinful nature of creation which, according to Origen’s mythology of the Fall, was patterned after eternal rest or stillness.152 This view of things is consciously wrecked by Maximus, who places rest after motion (γένεσις-κίνησις-στάσις).153 This change has a twofold result. On the one hand it makes history into something provisional, and therefore impossible to take within the existence of God; while on the other, it makes history meaningful because it possesses а πέρας, that is to say an end in the positive sense of this word (“fulfilment”).154

This takes the concept of history back to its Old Testament basis, with the difference however that history is now viewed ontologically. The truth of history is identical with that of creation itself, both being oriented towards the future. Perfection is not an original state to which creation is bidden to return, but a πέρας which summons from ahead.155 The truth of time is not as it were an ontologically inexplicable intermediary between beginning and end, the domain of a psychological anamnesis of the past and an equally psychological expectation of the end. The truth of history lies in the future, and this is to be understood in an ontological sense: history is true, despite change and decay, not just because it is a movement towards an end, but mainly because it is a movement from the end, since it is the end that gives it meaning. If the consummation of historical existence is not an existence without decay and death (such is the significance of placing the στάσις after the movement), then it is inevitable that being should come to cease to be, and we should have to conclude that history leads to non-entity and non-truth. The truth of history is identified thus with the truth of being simply because history is the movement of being towards and from its end which gives it meaning.

But if the meaning of history is understood in this way, how do we find the proper and decisive place owing to Christology in our conception of truth? The problem becomes complex when a connection with ontology is sought: how can the “end” of history be identical, as truth, with history’s own process (the incarnation) and also with the permanence of being?

The importance and unique character of Maximus’ theology rest in his success in developing a christological synthesis within which history and creation become organically interrelated. Helped by his courageous salvaging of the logos concept from its long period of disuse due to the dangers accompanying it, Maximus arrived at this christological synthesis: Christ is the logos of creation and one must find in him all the logoi of created beings.156 The apologists and Origen had also said this, but Maximus parted from them by making the logos concept pass from cosmology into the incarnation by means of the dynamical ideas of will and love.157 In this way, neither the logoi of things nor the logos of God are conceivable apart from the dynamical movement of love. The substratum of existence is not being but love. The truth possessed by the logos of existence depends only upon love, and not upon some objective structure of a rational kind which might be conceivable in itself. This is extremely important for an understanding of the logos concept, for it leads to an identification of the logoi of things not with nature or being itself, but with the loving will of God. For example, if one approaches the logos concept from the viewpoint of “nature” one is forced to say that God knows created beings according to their own nature. Maximus puts his finger on the crucial point here and objects forcefully: “God does not know things according to their own nature, but He recognizes them as the realizations of His own will (ἰδία θελὴματα) since He makes them through His will (θέλων).”158 His knowledge is nothing other than His love. If He ceases to love what exists, nothing will be. Being depends on love.

This is a radical departure from the Greek idea of truth, because the logoi of things are no longer a necessity for God. But what is important is that this departure was performed christologically, and it is this which leads to a synthesis of truth as being and history simultaneously. Since God knows created beings as the realizations of His will, it is not being itself but the ultimate will of God’s love which unifies beings and points to the meaning of being. And precisely here is the role of the incarnation. The incarnate Christ is so identical to the utlimate will of God’s love, that the meaning of created being and the purpose of history are simply the incarnate Christ. All things were made with Christ in mind, or rather at heart, and for this reason irrespective of the fall of man, the incarnation would have occurred.159 Christ, the incarnate Christ, is the truth, for He represents the ultimate, unceasing will of the ecstatic love of God, who intends to lead created being into communion with His own life, to know Him and itself within this communion-event.

All this removes truth from its Platonic unchangingness and, equally, from the necessity implicit in the Aristotelian “entelechy.” History is neither banished in a platonic manner, nor transformed into a movement inherent in being or “nature” itself.160 The truth of history lies simultaneously in the substratum of created existence (since all beings are the willed realizations of God’s love); in the fulfilment or the future of history (since God’s love, in His will and its expressions – namely, created existence – is identifiable with the final communion of creation with the life of God); and in the incarnate Christ (since on God’s part the personification of this loving will is the incarnate Christ). Whereby Christ becomes the “principle” and “end” of all things, the One who not only moves history from within its own unfolding, but who also moves existence even from within the multiplicity of created things, towards the true being which is true life and true communion.

So truth is located simultaneously at the heart of history, at the ground of creation, and at the end of history: all this in one synthesis which allows us to say “Christ is the truth” for Jews and Greeks at the same time. It is perhaps the first time in the whole history of philosophy that such a thing could be expressed, because as far as we know, there is no other case where philosophical language has succeeded in uniting the beginning and the end of existence without creating in this way a vicious circle. Maximus succeeded in nothing less than the miracle of reconciling a circle with a straight line. The way whereby he worked out a relationship between ontology and love, and developed an ontology of love out of the idea of ekstasis, may have immense value even in the theology and philosophy of our own days.

The Approach through the “Eikon”

If Christ makes history into truth and truth into part of the unfolding of history, and if this is simply because Christ is the “end” of history, the truth of history seems to remain paradoxical: determined by its end while the end is a part of its unfolding. How can this be expressed in theological terms? It will suffice to quote here a passage of Maximus. “The things of the Old Testament are shadow (σκιά); those of the New Testament are image (εἰκών); and those of the future state are truth (ἀλήθεια).161

At first sight, this is а curious assertion which makes the incarnation a less true reality than the second coming. Accustomed to an idea of reality determined by rationalism and historicism, we tend to consider as “truths” and “facts” the things which experience verifies or which correspond to certain norms and concepts “grasped” by us as true. But in the present case, the use of the term εἰκών does not signify this kind of factual truth, nor any lack of reality. For all the Greek Fathers except those of the Origenist school, εἰκών always means something real and as true as ἀλήθεια. The long fight over the place of icons in the Church during the eighth and ninth centuries was centered precisely on the question of ascertaining whether it is in any way possible to present truth in the form of an icon, and the demarcation line between the two parties lay precisely in the acceptance or rejection of the truth of the incarnation in its relationship to history and creation.162 Those who fought against the icons took their arguments from the school of Origen, whose conception of history has been already discussed here; while those who defended the icons insisted precisely upon the fact that the incarnation makes it not merely possible, but quite unavoidable, to understand truth in the manner of an icon.163 But if the εἰκών, or truth in history, is no less true than that of the eschaton, in what sense is the word “truth” applied to the “future state”?

The idea of εἰκών in the Greek Fathers is often understood along Platonic lines. The passage of Maximus quoted above shows clearly that this is wrong. In the Platonic way of thinking, the image must not have its reality in the future; it is always the past which is decisive, making truth a matter of ἀνάμνησις, a connecting of the soul to the pre-existing world of ideas. The authentic Greek patristic tradition never accepted the Platonic notion – adopted by Origen and St Augustine among others – in which perfection belongs to the original state of things. The Greek patristic tradition also showed no tendency to understand the εἰκών in a retrospective psychological sense, and at the Council in Trullo explicitly rejected symbolism in iconography. In this crucial passage, Maximus shows once more that truth in Greek patristic thought is very different from that of Platonism. We must search elsewhere for the roots of the iconological language of the Fathers.

Of course this is a very complex problem, and cannot properly be dealt with here. Suffice it to say by way of suggestion, that the iconological language of the Greek Fathers makes increased sense if seen in the light of primitive apocalyptic theology, such as first developed within the primitive Syro-palestinian tradition and penetrated throughout the eucharistic liturgies of the East. This tradition presents truth not as a product of the mind, but as a “visit” and a “dwelling” (cf. Jn. 1:14) of an eschatological reality entering history to open it up in a communion-event. This creates a vision of truth not as Platonic or mystical contemplation understands it but as picturing a new set of relationships, a new “world” adopted by the community as its final destiny.

So, through its apocalyptic roots, iconological language liberates truth from our “conception,” “definition,” “comprehension,” of it and protects it from being manipulated and objectified. It also makes it relational, in the sense that the truth of one being is able to be “conceived” only in and through the mirror of another. To use a remarkable explanation of the idea of εἰκών given by Athanasius, when he refers it to God, the Son is the εἰκών of the Father precisely because it is in Him that the Father sees Himself as “truth.”164 Iconological language emerges after truth becomes identified with communion. Eikon is the final truth of being communicated in and through an event of communion (liturgical or sacramental), anticipating the “end” of history from within its unfolding.

* * *

In summarizing this attempt at a synthesis of Greek patristic thought concerning truth, we can say that the Greek Fathers’ main success in this area rests in the identification of truth with communion. Here we must clearly emphasize the word identification, because this synthesis must not be confused with other associations of truth with communion which have arisen during the history of Christian theology. If communion is conceived as something additional to being, then we no longer have the same picture. The crucial point lies in the fact that being is constituted as communion; only then can truth and communion be mutually identified.

This identification forms theology’s hardest problem, as is to be observed in the application of truth to human existence. Our state of fallen existence is characterized precisely by the fact that in our approach to truth, being is constituted before communion. Salvation through the truth thus depends in the last resort upon the identification of truth with communion. The next part of our study will be dedicated to this problem. The Greek patristic synthesis which we have attempted to present in this section will serve as a background to the two following sections.

III. Truth and Salvation: The Existential Implications of Truth as Communion

1. Truth and Fallen Existence: the Rupture between Being and Communion

For the Greek Fathers the fall of man – and for that matter, sin – is not to be understood as bringing about something new (there is no creative power in evil), but as revealing and actualizing the limitations and potential dangers inherent in creaturehood, if creation is left to itself. For since the fall results from the claim of created man to be the ultimate point of reference in existence (to be God), it is, in the final analysis, the state of existence whereby the created world tends to posit its being ultimately with reference to itself and not to an uncreated being, God. Idolatry, i.e. turning created existence into an ultimate point of reference, is the form that the fall takes,165 but what lies behind it is the fact that man refuses to refer created being to communion with God. In other words, viewed from the point of view of ontology, the fall consists in the refusal to make being dependent on communion, in a rupture between truth and communion.

This rupture between being and communion results automatically in the truth of being acquiring priority over the truth of communion. This is natural for created existence. It is inevitably the case when you have a created being as the ultimate point of reference, because “created” means “given”: man may wish to make communion ultimate but the fact of existence is a “datum” with which he is presented, and thus he can never escape from the fact that being precedes relationship. The “substance” or ousia of things becomes the ultimate content of truth, if truth is to relate to being. The only alternative to this would be to make communion constitutive of being, but in this case a denial of the fall – or a redemption from it – would be implied.

Given the fact that communion is no longer constitutive of being in a fallen state of existence, and that the being of things must be recognized before a relationship can take place, every single being acquires an ontological status, so to say, on its own merit. Thus the world consists of objects, of things whose ontological status one has to recognize before one can relate to them. The truth of these “objects” becomes, therefore, a provocation for the knower; the known and the knower exist as two opposite partners; the res and the intellectus must somehow reach an adaequatio,166 the subject and the object constitute a pair whose presence determines epistemology.

Inherent in all this is the decisive role of the notion of individuality in ontology. This, too, must be ultimately explained by reference to the rupture between being and communion. Since the being of things is ultimate and prior to communion, and everything that exists posits its own being as something “given” to man, the world ultimately consists of a fragmented existence in which beings are particular before they can relate to each other: you first are and then relate. This ultimacy of the individual in ontology is connected, as we shall see, with the problem of creation par excellence, which is death, but it also results in the challenge that truth represents for the freedom of man. For he is asked to submit to, i.e. compulsorily to acknowledge, the truth of being of whatever is other than himself, whether fellowman or thing. The authority of truth becomes in this way authoritarian and repulsive, but because, as we have noted, it is so firmly grounded upon the nature of created existence, upon the truth of being, any attempt to ignore or reject it amounts to absurdity. Ever since Kierkegaard,167 modern existentialist thought has not ceased to underline the impasse which created existence reaches whenever truth and freedom have to come to terms with each other.168 Again, everything seems to go back to the rupture between being and communion, which implies the priority of the former over the latter.

Another consequence of this situation is displayed in the relationship between truth and love. In associating truth with the nature or substance of things and with the kind of understanding which is inherent in this individualism of existence, man restricts himself to reaching a relationship between communion and love only after obtaining a(?) knowledge of the “object” of his love. The “other,” whether in the form of a “person” or a “thing,” is present as an object of knowledge before any relationship of communion can take place. Knowledge precedes love, and truth precedes communion. One can love only what one knows, since love comes out of knowledge (except that this happens in our fallen condition, and ought not to be turned into an element of our metaphysical anthropology or, even less, of our approach to trinitarian theology, as in the case of Thomas Aquinas169). This dichotomy between love and knowledge implies a separation not just between person and nature, but also between thought and action in the very heart of human existence. And since the possibility of knowledge appears to precede the act of communion (love) and to be independent of it, it becomes possible for man to dissociate his thought from his action and thus to falsify truth. Man thus becomes a hypocrite, and it is indeed only man, i.e. a person, that is capable of hypocrisy.

The consequences of this appear clearly when one considers the problem of the relationship between truth and action or praxis. “Doing the truth,” which is a biblical theme, becomes impossible for man precisely because faith and praxis in his fallen existence are able to coincide only for “a moment,” and this “moment of existence” simply reveals what “existence” implies but does not attain. Kierkegaard’s discovery of the authentic moment of existence struck the greatest blow against the West’s subject-object structuring of truth, but led only to an identification of truth with doubt. In this situation an alternative has been offered to man, if he wishes to identify truth with praxis, to arrive at a Marxist identification of truth with human activity in the form of the development of man in his society.170

We could continue to list the consequences of the individualization of being in our fallen existence in relation to truth, but the most tragic of them must be seen in the fact of death. There is no plainer falsification of truth on the ontological level than a “dying being”; this is a contradiction in the absurdest terms. The problem of death is connected with truth in existence precisely through the truth’s identification with nature itself, accompanied by the individualization and fragmentation of this nature. When we are told that Adam died because he fell by making himself into God, we are being correctly told that making onself God – i.e. the ultimate reference-point of existence – is something on the level of ontology, not psychology. Death intervenes not as the result of punishment for an act of disobedience but as a result of this individualization of nature to which the whole cosmos is subjected. In other words, there is an intrinsic connection between death and the individualization into which we are born through the present form of procreation, and it is this which shows precisely what it means to have a life which is not the “true life” (ζωὴ ἀληθινή).

To be saved from the fall, therefore, means essentially that truth should be fully applied to existence, thereby making life something true, i.e. undying. For this reason the Fourth Gospel identifies eternal life, i.e. life without death, with truth and knowledge. But it can be accomplished only if the individualization of nature becomes transformed into communion – that is, if communion becomes identical with being. Truth, once again, must be communion if it is to be life.

2. Truth and the Person

The most immediate area for passing beyond the state of fallen existence just described is the reality of the person. The significance of the person rests in the fact that he represents two things simultaneously which are at first sight in contradiction: particularity and communion. Being a person is fundamentally different from being an individual or a “personality,” for a person cannot be imagined in himself but only within his relationships. Taking our categories from our fallen state of existence, we usually identify a person with the “self” (individual) and with all it possesses in its qualities and experiences (the personality). But modern philosophers recall with good reason that this is not what being a person means. What is the relationship between personal existence and truth, in its particularity and in its communion?

The essential thing about a person lies precisely in his being a revelation of truth, not as “substance” or “nature” but as a “mode of existence.”171 This profound perception of the Cappadocian Fathers172 shows that true knowledge is not a knowledge of the essence or the nature of things, but of how they are connected within the communion-event. We saw above that the theme of ekstasis was a key idea in the Greek patristic concept of truth, but in its application to the idea of “person” it needs to be completed by another theme, that of hypostasis. While ekstasis signifies that a person is a revelation of truth by the fact of being in communion, hypostasis signifies that in and through his communion a person affirms his own identity and his particularity; he “supports his own nature” (ὑπο-στάσις) in a particular and unique way. The person is the horizon within which the truth of existence is revealed, not as simple nature subject to individualization and recombination but as a unique image of the whole and the “catholicity” of a being. In this way, if one sees a being as a person, one sees in him the whole of human nature. Thus to destroy a human person is to commit an act of murder against all humanity: in the final analysis, a denial of the truth of man’s being. The mystery of being a person lies in the fact that here otherness and communion are not in contradiction but coincide. Truth as communion does not lead to the dissolving of the diversity of beings into one vast ocean of being, but to the affirmation of otherness in and through love. The difference between this truth and that of “nature in itself” lies in the following: while the latter is subject to fragmentation, individualization, conceptualization, comprehension, etc., the person is not. So in the context of personhood, otherness is incompatible with division.173

This identification of otherness with unity is incompatible with fallen existence, into which we are born as individuals with a clear tendency to seize, dominate and possess being. This individualized, and individualizing Adam in us is our original sin, and because of it the “other,” i.e. beings existing outside ourselves, in the end becomes our enemy and “our original sin” (Satre).174 A human being left to himself cannot be a person. And the ekstasis of beings towards humanity or towards creation alone leads to “being-into-death.”175 For this reason, all attempts to define truth as “being-into-life” require automatically the idea of being beyond created existence.

3. Truth and the Savior

When Christ says He is the truth and at the same time the life of the world, He introduces into truth a content carrying ontological implications. If the truth saves the world it is because it is life. The christological mystery, as declared by the Chalcedonian definition, signifies that salvation as truth and life is possible only in and through a person who is ontologically true, i.e. something which creation cannot offer, as we have seen. The only way for a true person to exist is for being and communion to coincide. The triune God offers in Himself the only possibility for such an identification of being with communion; He is the revelation of true personhood.

Christology is founded precisely upon the assertion that only the Trinity can offer to created being the genuine base for personhood and hence salvation. This means that Christ has to be God in order to be savior, but it also means something more: He must be not an individual but a true person. It is impossible, within our experience of individualized existence to find any analogy whatsoever with an entity who is fully and onlologically personal. Our experience of personhood through communion and love gives an idea of this kind of existence, but without offering full ontological content. True life, without death, is impossible for us as long as our being is ontologically determined by creaturehood. Thus, with the aid of love as an analogy, we shall be able to reach an understanding of the Christology of the cross (a person who loved us so much as to die for us); but without an ability to follow it into the resurrection (a person who conquered death) Christology brings with it nothing ontological. Christ is the truth precisely because in Himself He shows not just being, but the persistence, the survival of being; through the resurrection, Christology shows that created existence can be so true that not even human freedom can suppress it,176 as was actually attempted on the cross. Truth and being are existentially identified only in Christ’s resurrection, where freedom is no longer fallen, i.e. no longer a threat to being.

Christology, therefore, removes the problem of truth from the realm of the individual and of “nature” to the level of the person.177 One must see in Christ a person in whom the division of natures is changed into an otherness through communion.178 This shift of Christology away from our individualized existence seems to many to lead to a picture of a Christ who is not “human”; nevertheless, what we have just said shows that, unless in Christology this “de-individualization” of Christ takes place, its existential implications will no longer have any ontological importance.179

The fact that an individualization of Christ creates insurmountable problems in Christology, in view of the existential implications of the assertion that Christ is the truth, can be seen clearly in relation to ecclesiology. For if Christ’s being is established after the manner of an individual, i.e. as an entity conceivable in itself, the inevitable question arises: How can man, and creation in general, be connected with this individual existentially, i.e. not just psychologically or morally, but ontologically?180 This whole problem is linked with the relationship between Christology and pneumatology, and we must look at it before we are able to see how the Church can take up her position in presenting Christ as truth and communion.

IV. Truth and the Church: Ecclesiological Consequences of the Greek Patristic Synthesis

1. The Body of Christ formed in the Spirit

The christological starting point of our understanding of truth, or rather the identification of our concept of truth with Christ, raises the question as to what kind of Christology we have in mind when making this identification. It is possible to envisage at least two kinds of Christology here. Firstly, we may understand Christ as an individual, seen objectively and historically, presenting Himself thereby for us as the truth. With this way of understanding Christ, the distance between Him and us is bridged by the aid of certain means, which serve as vehicles for truth to communicate itself to us: for example, His spoken words incorporated within the Scriptures and perhaps tradition – transmitted, interpreted, or even expounded through magisterium – all being realized with the assistance or under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, it is possible to envisage a type of Christology in which Christ, although a particular person, cannot be conceived in Himself as an individual. When we make the assertion that He is the truth, we are meaning His whole personal existence, in this second type of Christology; that is, we mean His relationship with His body, the Church, ourselves. In other words, when we now say “Christ” we mean a person and not an individual; we mean a relational reality existing “for me” or “for us.”181 Here the Holy Spirit is not one who aids us in bridging the distance between Christ and ourselves, but he is the person of the Trinity who actually realizes in history that which we call Christ, this absolutely relational entity, our Savior. In this case, our Christology is essentially conditioned by Pneumatology, not just secondarily as in the first case; in fact it is constituted pneumatologically. Between the Christ-truth and ourselves there is no gap to fill by the means of grace. The Holy Spirit, in making real the Christ-event in history, makes real at the same time Christ’s personal existence as a body or community. Christ does not exist first as truth and then as communion; He is both at once. All separation between Christology and ecclesiology vanishes in the Spirit.

Such a pneumatologically constituted Christology is undoubtedly biblical. In the Bible Christ becomes a historical person only in the Spirit (Matt. 1:18 – 20; Luke 1:35) which means that Christology’s very foundations are laid pneumatologically. The Holy Spirit does not intervene a posteriori within the framework of Christology, as a help in overcoming the distance between an objectively existing Christ and ourselves; he is the one who gives birth to Christ and to the whole activity of salvation, by anointing Him and making Him Χριστὸς (Luke 4:13). If it is truely possible to confess Christ as the truth, this is only because of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:3). And as a careful study of I Cor. І2 shows, for St Paul the body of Christ is literally composed of the charismata of the Spirit (charisma = membership of the body).182 So we can say without risk of exaggeration that Christ exists only pneumatologically, whether in His distinct personal particularity or in His capacity as the body of the Church and the recapitulation of all things. Such is the great mystery of Christology, that the Christ-event is not an event defined in itself – it cannot be defined in itself for a single instant even theoretically – but is an integral part of the economy of the Holy Trinity. To speak of Christ means speaking at the same time of the Father and the Holy Spirit.183 For the Incarnation, as we have just seen, is formed by the work of the Spirit, and is nothing else than the expression and realization of the will of the Father.

Thus the mystery of the Church has its birth in the entire economy of the Trinity and in a pneumatologically constituted Christology. The Spirit as “power” or “giver of life” opens up our existence to become relational, so that he may at the same time be “communion” (κοινωνία, cf. II Cor. ІЗ: 13). For this reason the mystery of the Church is essentially none other than that of the “One” who is simultaneously “many” – not “One” who exists first of all as “One” and then as “many,” but “One” and “many” at the same time.184

In the context of a Christology constructed in this pneumatological manner, truth and communion once more become identical. This happens on the historical and anthropolgical levels alike. While the Christ-truth, as existence in the Spirit, cannot be imagined individualistically, truth itself is inevitably and constantly realised in the Spirit, i.e. in a pentecostal event. In the description of Pentecost in Acts 2, the significance of the event seems related as much to history as to anthropology: through the outpouring of the Spirit, the “last days” enter into history, while the unity of humanity is affirmed as a diversity of charisms. Its deep significance seems to lie in the fact that this takes place in Christ, viewed both historically and also anthropologically, as a here-and-now reality. The objectivization and individualization of historical existence which implies distance, decay and death is transformed into existence in communion, and hence eternal life for mankind and all creation. In a like manner, the individualization of human existence which results in division and separation is now transformed into existence in communion where the otherness of persons (“on each of them separately,” Acts 2:3) is identical with communion within a body.185 Christ’s existence, as described above, is thus made historical and personal through the same movement of the Spirit of God which made Christ Himself into a historical being. The truth seen as Christ and the truth seen as the Holy Spirit are identical, and therefore the Spirit himself is called “the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:17, 15:26, 16:13). Only the mode of the operation of truth differs, a Christ-mode and a Spirit-mode, such that the one divine love may accommodate itself (the economy) to our needs and limitations.

Now, the description of the pentecostal event in Acts 2 proceeds to show the same thing more concretely. Christ’s existence is applied to our historical existence not in abstracto or individualistically, but in and through a community. This community is formed from out of ordinary existence, through a radical conversion from individualism to personhood in baptism. As death and resurrection in Christ, baptism signifies the decisive passing of our existence from the “truth” of individualized being into the truth of personal being. The resurrectional aspect of baptism is therefore nothing other than incorporation into the community. The existential truth arising from baptism is simply the truth of personhood, the truth of communion. A new birth (ἀναγέννησις) is required for this, simply because birth by normal procreation, as stated in the previous chapter, is for created beings a cause of individualization and is thus a birth of beings destined to death. Eternal life needs the new birth of baptism as a “birth in the Spirit,” just as Christ’s own birth was “in the Spirit,” so that each baptized person can himself become “Christ,”186 his existence being one of communion and hence of true life.187

The application of Christ’s existence to ours then amounts to nothing other than a realization of the community of the Church. This community is born as the Body of Christ and lives out of the same communion which we find in Christ’s historical existence. His “true life” is identical with the eternal life of the Triune God; the community itself thus becomes “the pillar of truth” in an existential sense. All this, having its ἀλήθεια in the eschata, is given to it sacramentally as an “eikon,”188 so that it may realize in itself the truth of Christ in the form of faith, hope and love, as a foretaste of eternal life, making it aspire towards the transfiguration of the world within this communion which the Church herself experiences.

But this experience of truth in the Church’s existence is realized to its maximum, in the course of her historical life, in the eucharist. The eucharistic community is the Body of Christ par excellence simply because it incarnates and realizes our communion within the very life and communion of the Trinity, in a way that preserves the eschatological character of truth while making it an integral part of history. So if we wish to see how Christ the truth is united to the Church we can only begin by considering the holy eucharist.

2. The Eucharist as the Locus of Truth

How does the eucharist reveal Christ as the truth? What does the statement that Christ is the truth mean for the life and structure of the Church in the light of its eucharistic experience? Here we will make the following observations:

(a) The eucharist reveals the Christ-truth as a “visitation” and as the “tabernacle” (Jn. 1:14) of God in history and creation, so that God can be held in the glory of His truth and partaken of within His communion of life. The Church has therefore no other reality or experience of truth as communion so perfect as the eucharist. In the eucharistic assembly God’s Word reaches man and creation not from outside, as in the Old Testament, but as “'flesh” – from inside our own existence, as part of creation. For this reason, the Word of God does not dwell in the human mind as rational knowledge or in the human soul as a mystical inner experience, but as communion within a community. And it is most important to note that in this way of understanding Christ as truth, Christ Himself becomes revealed as truth not in a community, but as a community. So truth is not just something “expressed” or “heard,” a propositional or a logical truth; but something which is, i.e. an ontological truth: the community itself becoming the truth.

Because the Christ-truth is not only revealed but also realized, in our existence, as communion within a community, truth is not imposed upon us but springs up from our midst. It is not authority in the sense of auctoritas but is grace and love, embracing us in its being which is bound to us existentially. Yet this truth is not the product of a sociological or group experience; it comes clearly from another world, and as such is not produced by ourselves.

(b) This kind of truth does not come to us simply as the result of a historical transmission. The problem here becomes very delicate, and needs careful consideration.

It is certain that Christianity is founded on historical fact, and the Church Fathers were those Christians of their era who thought most along historical lines, if we compare them with the heretics whom they fought against. (Heresy, for the Fathers, is “innovation”). Nevertheless history understood in the light of eucharistic experience is not the same as history as normally understood; it is conditioned by the anamnetic and epicletic character of the eucharist which, out of distance and decay, transfigures time into communion and life. Thus history ceases to be a succession of events moving from past to present linearly, but acquires the dimension of the future, which is also a vertical dimension transforming history into charismatic – pentecostal events. Within history thus pictured, truth does not come to us solely by way of delegation (Christ – the apostles – the bishops, in a linear development). It comes as a pentecostal event which takes linear history up into a charismatic present-moment. The ordination of a bishop takes place exclusively during the eucharist (and in the Eastern liturgy, the feast of Pentecost is celebrated at each episcopal ordination) for this reason.

This illuminates our understanding of the Church’s “infallibility” and its expression through certain ministries. Already Irenaeus speaks of bishops as possessing a certain charisma veritatis; the primitive Church developed the idea of apostolic succession though the bishops just as it did conciliarity, also through the bishops. Why was the bishop from the earliest days associated with veritas? In the approach presented here, this association cannot be understood as a delegation of the truth to official ministers. The fact that every bishop receives the charisma veritatis only within the eucharistic community, and as a Pentecost-event, shows that the apostolic succession has to pass to the community through communion. The bishop in his junction is the apostles’ successor inasmuch as he is the image of Christ within the community: the primitive church was unable to see the two aspects (Christ-apostles) separately.189 Similarly, the councils were expressions of the truth simply because the bishops were the heads of their communities, which is why diocesan bishops alone can take part in councils. The communities’ unity in identity is the foundation of conciliar infallibility.

(c) Similar observations could be made about the formulation of truth in the Church. If truth as communion is not to be separated from the ontology of life, then dogmas are principally soteriological declarations; their object is to free the original εἰκών of Christ, the truth,190 from the distortions of certain heresies, so as to help the Church community to maintain the correct vision of the Christ-truth and to live in and by this presence of truth in history. The final intention of all this is to lead to communion with the life of God, to make truth into communion and life. This is why the ancient councils ended their definitions with anathemas, as if the main aim of the council were not so much definition as anathema. Excommunication had from then on a pastoral basis, that of protecting the community from distortions of the εἰκών of truth, so as not to endanger the truth’s soteriological content. If communion was no longer possible after a council’s definition and anathema, it was because the eucharist requires a common vision (εἰκών) of Christ. The councils’ aim was eucharistic communion, and in producing or adopting creeds the intention was not to provide material for theological reflection, but to orientate correctly the eucharistic communities. Thus it may be said that the credal definitions carry no relationship with truth in themselves, but only in their being doxological acclamations of the worshiping community.

However, the “definitions” do have a certain reality of their own. What relationship with truth do these forms bear, in the light of the eucharistic vision of truth? We have here another delicate problem to consider. Throughout this account, we have insisted that truth is not “comprehensible” and thus cannot be objectified and defined. How are dogmas to be seen if not as “formulations” or “definitions” of the truth, making this truth a captive to the bonds of historical and cultural forms?

If we start our reflection from the understanding of dogmas in their soteriological and doxological character mentioned above, then these dogmas represent a form of acceptance, sanctification, and also transcendence of history and culture. It is a form similar to that of the eucharist itself, borrowing its basic elements from creation and the ordinary life of the people, and transcending them in communion. What happens in a dogmatic formulation, as it passes through the charismatic process of a council, is that certain historical and cultural elements become elements of communion, and thus acquire a sacred character and a permanence in the life of the Church. Here, history and culture are accepted but at the same time eschatologized, so that truth shall not be subjugated through being incarnated in history and culture. To illustrate this, we can again return to certain terms and concepts which the Church borrowed from Greek culture for dogmatic purposes. Take, for example, the term καθολικὸς or πρόσωπον or ὐπόστασις. Historically and culturally, they are Greek words. Would Aristotle have understood their meaning, had he been given the Nicene Creed to read? He would have if the words were history and culture solely. If not, as one has the right to suspect, then something crucial must have happened to these historical and cultural elements through the fact of their being associated with the thought-structure and life of the Church. It is in this sense that we would understand faithfulness to dogmas. Not because they rationalize and set forth certain truths or the truth, but because they have become expressions and signs of communion within the Church community. Communion, being relational, is inescapably of an incarnational nature, which is why it actualizes truth hic et nunc by accepting history and culture. At the same time, there is a prophetic and critical element in truth as communion. This comes about through the acceptance, not the rejection, of historical forms. Christ, the truth, is judge of the world, by the very fact of having taken it upon Himself.

This means that any breaking of the bond between dogma and community amounts to a breaking of the bond between truth and communion. Dogmas, like ministries, cannot survive as truth outside the communion-event created by the Spirit. It is not possible for a concept or formula to incorporate the truth within itself, unless the spirit gives life to it in communion. Academic theology may concern itself with doctrine, but it is the communion of the Church which makes theology into truth.191 This type of approach to the dogmas maintains the vigilance which the Greek patristic synthesis held against conceptualizing truth, yet without leading to any rejection of the truth’s historicity.

(d) The eucharist shows that truth is not just something concerning humanity alone, but has profound cosmic dimensions. The Christ of the eucharist is revealed as the life and recapitulation of all creation. One of the basic difficulties inherent in the Greek conception of truth is that it implies that truth can be grasped and formulated by human reason. But, as the eucharistic reveals, this human “reason” must be understood as the element which unifies creation, and refers it to God through the hands of man, so that God may be “all in all.” This eucharistic or priestly function of man reconnects created nature to infinite existence, and thus liberates it from slavery to necessity by letting it develop its potentialities to the maximum. If as we have insisted in this account, communion is the only way for truth to exist as life, the nature which possesses neither personhood nor communion “groans and is in travail” in awaiting the salvation of man, who can set it within the communion-event offered in Christ. Man’s responsibility is to make a eucharistic reality out of nature, i.e. to make nature, too, capable of communion. If man does this, then truth takes up its meaning for the whole cosmos, Christ becomes a cosmic Christ, and the world as a whole dwells in truth, which is none other than communion with its Creator. Truth thereby becomes the life of all that is.

The implications of this go beyond theological truth, in the narrow sense of “theological,” and extend to the truth of the natural sciences. Science and theology for a long time seemed to be in search of different sorts of truth, as if there were not one truth in existence as a whole. This resulted from making truth subject to the dichotomy between the transcendent and the immanent, and in the final analysis from the fact that the “theological” truth and the “scientific” truth were both disconnected from the idea of communion, and were considered in terms of a subject-object framework which was simply the methodology of analytical research. The revolution that Einstein effected in science, however, has meant a radical re-orientation of the scientific search for truth.192 The final consequences are still to be realized, but one thing seems clear, which is that the Greek conception of being has been critically affected by the idea of relationship: for the natural sciences in the post-Einstein period, existence has become relational.193 This essentially leads scientific truth back to the final position of the Greek Fathers194 on the philosophical level, and makes it possible to speak of a unique truth in the world, approachable scientifically or theologically. If theology creatively uses the Greek patristic synthesis concerning truth and communion and applies it courageously to the sphere of the Church, the split between the Church and science can be overcome. The scientist who is a Church member will be able to recognize that he is carrying out a para-eucharistic work, and this may lead to the freeing of nature from its subjection beneath the hands of modern technological man. The eucharistic conception of truth can thus liberate man from his lust to dominate nature, making him aware that the Christ-truth exists for the life of the whole cosmos, and that the deification which Christ brings, the communion with the divine life (II Peter 1:4), extends to “all creation” and not just to humanity.195

(e) Finally, a eucharistic concept of truth shows how truth becomes freedom (Jn. 8:32). As we remarked in connection with the relation between truth and the fallen condition of existence, freedom normally means in this context a choice between different possibilities or between negation and affirmation, good and evil. The possibility of choice is based on the individualizations and divisions within being, which are born out of man’s insistence on referring all of being ultimately to himself. The overcoming of these divisions is the precise meaning of what we call the “catholicity” of existence within Christ and His Body, the catholic Church. It is this sort of catholicity of existence which the eucharistic community exhibits in its own structure.196 And the freedom given by the Christ-truth to creation is precisely this freedom from division and individualization, creating the possibility of otherness within communion.

But if this is truth’s foundation as freedom within the Church, then clearly a new concept of freedom is being born, determined not by choice but by the movement of a constant affirmation, a continual “Amen.” The people of God gathered together in the eucharist realize their freedom under the form of affirmation alone: it is not the “yes” and the “no” together which God offers in Christ, but only the “yes,” which equates to the eucharistic “Amen” (II Cor. 1:19, 20).197 So it is clear that the eucharist contains an idea of truth which is not of this world, and which seems unrealistic and inapplicable to life. But as we have emphasized above in connection with Christology, you do not do justice to truth’s ontological content by implying that our fallen state of existence is all there is. The individualization of existence by the fall makes us seek out security in objects or various “things,” but the truth of communion does not offer this kind of security: rather, it frees us from slavery to objective “things” by placing all things and ourselves within a communion-event. It is there that the Spirit is simultaneously freedom (II Cor. 3:17) and communion (I Cor. 13:13).

Man is free only within communion. If the Church wishes to be the place of freedom, she must continually place all the “objects” she possesses, whatever they may be (Scripture, sacraments, ministries, etc.) within the communion-event to make them “true” and to make her members free in regard to them as objects, as well as in them and through them as channels of communion. Christians must learn not to lean on objective “truths” as securities for truth, but to live in an epicletic way, i.e. leaning on the communion-event in which the structure of the Church involves them. Truth liberates by placing beings in communion.

* * *


See J. Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961), and recently the massive study by M. Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, І – II (1974).


I Kings 2:4; II Kings 20:3; Is. 38:3; Ps. 86:11, etc.


E.g. Parmenides, Fragments 5d, 7: “Thought and being are one and the same. Thought and that for which thought. exists are one and the same.” Cf. Plato, Parmenides 128b. Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. VI.


On the nuances of the relationship between εῑναι and λόγος, see M. Heidegger’s observations in his Einfübrung in die Metaphysik (1953), esp. p. 88f.


This is found as late in the history of Greek thought as the Neoplatonic period. See e.g. Plotinus, En. V, 1, 8, etc. Cf. K. Kremer, Die neuplatonische Seinsphilosophie und ihre Wirkung auf Thomas von Aquin (1966 [1971]), p. 79ff. Concerning the fact that we have here a survival of the original monism of Greek thought, see C.J. De Vogel, Philosophia І, Studies in Greek Philosophy (Philosophical Texts and Studies, 19) I (1970), pp. 397 – 416. Cf. on these problems Chapter I of this book.


The idea of the good appears also to be identical with truth, and it is the λόγος which creates this identity so that ἀρετὴ and γνῶσις become one and the same (e.g. throughout the Meno and in the Republic of Plato).


Greek classical historiography used this method. See. C.N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture (1944), p. 457ff.


Neoplatonic thought betrays this attitude. According to his biographer Porphyry, Plotinus was ashamed of his body and refused to speak of his ancestors or to pose for a sculptor or painter. (Porphyry, Vita Plot. I).


Cf. E. L. Mascall, The Openness of Being (1971), p. 246f., who refers to classical Greek thought, Platonic and Aristotelian alike, as holding a doctrine of “closed” natures. For all pagan Greeks “everything had a nicely rounded- off nature which contained implicitly everything that the being could ever become… What Greek thought could not have tolerated… would have been the idea that a being could become more perfect in its kind by acquiring some characteristic which was not implicit in its nature before.”


It is noteworthy that, whatever notion of history one encounters in Middle Platonism, one is always faced with the conviction that the original truth suffers a sort of deprivation or “fall” when it passes through history. See, for example, concerning Celsus, C. Andresen, Logos and Nomos: Die Polemik des Kelsus wider das Christentum (1955), pp. l46ff., or concerning Nemesius, J. H. Waszink, Timaeus a Calcidio Translatus (1962), pp. XLIIff.


For a Greek like Plato, for example, truth is not only one but also stable and unchanging. As such it belongs to the world of ideas and not to history or the world of sensible reality: to the latter belongs only opinion (δόξα).


See e.g. W. Pannenberg, Grundzüge der Christologie (1964), p. 97; also his “Die Aufnahme des philosophischen Gottesbegriffs als dogmatisches Problem der früchrist. Theologie,” in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 70 (1950), pp. 1 – 45.


The association of truth with the “nature” of being (ϕύσις) in the Christian tradition arises out of the Greek concept of truth. Cf. T. F. Torrance, “Truth and Authority: Theses on Truth,” in The Irish Theological Quarterly 39 (1972), p. 222. This is established principally through Aristotle, whose metaphysics “is not torn between ontology and theology, as is often still asserted, following Jaeger, but find its centre of gravity in ousiology,” substance being for Aristotle the foundation for all ontology:” H. Barreau Aristotle et l’analyse du savoir (Philosophie de tous les temps 81) I (1972), p. 113. The problem thus made out, and the way that the Greek Fathers overcame it, will be discussed in part II, 3 of this chapter.


Justin, Dial. 3, 5: “Tὸ κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ καὶ ὡσαύτως ἀεὶ ἔχον” c.f. Plato, Republic 6.4846: “τοῡ ἀεὶ κατὰ τὰ αὐτὰ ὡσαύτως ἔχοντος.” The reading τὸ ὂν instead of Θεόν, which is preferred by some, does not affect in any essential way what we are seeking to show here.


Ibid. 3, 7 “τὸ θεῑον… μόνον νῷ καταληπτόν.” Compare this with the Greek Fathers’ idea of the “incomprehensibility” (ἀκατάληπτον) of divine nature.


Ibid. 4, 1.


Ibid. 4, 2.


Ibid. 4, 3.


This must be emphasized as against attempts to dissociate Justin from Platonism. See e.g. J.N. Hydahl, Philosophie und Christentum: Eine Interpretation der Einleitung zum Dialog Justins (1966). As H. Chadwick says in Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (1966), p. 12: “For a Platonist to accept Christianity, as Justin himself has done, is no revolutionary step involving a radical rejection of his earlier world view.”


Hence Justin’s idea of the λόγος σπερματικὸς (Apol. I, 44, 10). He considers that philosophers depart from the truth only when they disagree with one another (ibid.). The distinction between the λόγος σπερματικὸς and the σπερματα τοῡ λόγου made by R. Holte (“Logos Speermatikos, Christianity and Ancient Philosophy according to St. Justin’s Apologies,” in Studia Theologica 12 [1958] p. 170ff.) and which led J. Danié1ou (Message evangelique et culture béllénistique [1961] p. 45) to a kind of deplationization of Justin, must be seen within the framework of the συγγένεια between mind and God which Justin seems to hold to. Whether the Logos implants the seed of truth or whether these seeds are part of the human logos, the fact remains that for Justin it is this fundamental συγγένεια which makes the work of the incarnate Logos possible.


Cf. G. Kretschmar, “Le dévéloppement de la doctrine du Saint-Ésprit du Nouveau Testament à Nicée,” in Verbum Caro 22 (1968) p. 20.


The idea that truth exists “partially” (μερικῶς) outside Christ (cf. p. 58 n. 4??) continues to play a fundamental role, also in Clement. See J. Daniélou, op. cit. pp. 50ff and 67ff.


See below, section II § 3.


Maximus the Confessor, Op. th. et pol., PG 91: 254: “ϕύσις ὲστιν ἡ τῶν πραγμάτων ἀλήθεια.”


See Fragm. in the edition of O. Staehlin, Clemens Alexandrinus (1909), p. 220.


Origen, De Princ., I, 1, 4. This is the result of Stoic influence (G. Kretchmar, op. cit. p. 23) but clearly displays the difficulties inherent in approaching God by means of His “nature.” See below, section II, §§ 3 – 4.


Origen, De Princ. I, 4, 3.


See J. Daniélou, Origéne (1948), p. 258, on the Stoic influence on Origen in this area.


In Jo. I, 9: To preach “Christ and Christ crucified” is the “somatic gospel” aimed at the simple people, while for the “spiritual” the Gospel is that of the Logos and its being in God since the beginning. Cf. G. Florovsky, “Origen, Eusebius and the Iconoclastic Controversy,” in Church History 19 (1950), pp. 77 – 96, esp. p. 88.


Thus the Old Testament prophets in effect knew the truth essentially as much as the apostles themselves. See in Jo. I, 24, cf. G. Florovsky, op. cit. p. 89.


In Jo. VI, 6.


Contra Celsum VIII, 12.


See H. Crouzel, Origéne et la connaissance mystique (1961), p. 34, on the idea of participation and its place in Origen’s conception of truth.


In Jo. VI, Praef. 8.


See E. Von Ivanka, Hellenisches und christlisches in frühbyzantinischen Geistesleben (1948), ch. I, on the essentially cosmological nature of Origen’s thesis.


Note how the idea of “nature” reappears when truth is approached from a cosmological viewpoint. Cf. above, and notes 85, 97, 99.


In Jo. I, 34.


E. de Faye, Origéne, sa vie, son oeuvre, sa pensée III (1928), p. 230. Cf. H. Koch, Pronoia und Paideusis: Studien über Origenes und sein Verhältnis zum Platonismus (1932), p. 63.


An important attempt in modern theology to overcome this contradiction is found in W. Pannenberg; see especially his Revelation as History (London, 1969).


Ignatius, Magn. 1, 2; Eph. 3:2, 7:2, 20:2; Sm. 4:1, etc.


Aristotle, De Anima, 402a-b, 431b, 434b.


Cf. among others, C. Maurer, Ignatius von Antiochien und das Johannes-evangelium (1949), on Ignatius’ knowledge of the Fourth Gospel.


Ignatius, Eph. 17:1, 20:2. Truth is identical with the “teaching of incorruptibility” (διδαχὴ ἀϕθαρσίας) Magn. 6:2.


E.g. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III, 19:1, IV, 38:4.


Ibid. IV, 36:7.


Ignatius, Eph. 20:2.


Note the remarkable parallel between the understanding of the eucharist as “medicine of immortality, an antidote against death” in Ignatius (ibid.), and its description in Irenaeus as antidotum vitae (Adv. Haer. III, 19:1).


Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. IV, 18: 4 – 5, V, 2:2, IV, 17:5, IV, 18: 1, 4. Cf. A.W. Ziegler, “Das Brot von unseren Feldern: Ein Beitrag zur Eucharistielehre des hl. Irenäus,” in Pro mundi vita (Festschrift zum eucharistischen Weltkongress I960), pp. 21 – 43.


Ignatius, Sm. 7:1.


Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. IV, 20:5.


For a detailed discussion of sources concerning this aspect of the problem, see J.D. Zizioulas, The Unity of the Church in the Eucharist and the Bishop during the first three Centuries (1965, in Greek) esp. pp. 87 – 148.


Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. IV, 20:5.


This has to be emphasized in connection with Ignatius and Irenaeus. Both these Fathers have been presented, especially by Biblical scholars, as having introduced more or less pagan notions into the eucharist. One such case, for example, would be Ignatius’ famous expression “medicine of immortality.” A careful study of. Ignatius’ thought as a whole, however, reveals that the eucharist for him is not ϕάρμακον ἀθανασίας by virtue of possessing in its “nature” a potential for life or a possibility of life, in the sense suggested by the Greek idea of ϕύσις. The eucharist as defined by Ignatius is above all a communion expressed by the assembly of the community around the bishop. The “immortality” of the eucharist is to be sought in this communion-event and not in the “nature” of the eucharist as such.


Irenaeus Adv. Haer. V, 28:4; cf. IV, Praef. 4.


Contra Arianos I:33, II:2, etc. Cf. G. Florovsky, “The Concept of Creation in St. Athanasius,” in Studia Patristica IV (ed. F. L. Cross, 1962), pp. 36 – 57.


Ibid., II:2.


Ibid., I:20.


The following passages, among others, support our interpretation of Athanasius in a striking way. Without the relationship between the Father and the Son “the perfectness and fullness of the Father’s substance is depleted (or eliminated = ἀϕαιρεῑται)”; Contra Arianos I:20. This leads Athanasius to make the extraordinary statement “If the Son was not there before He was born; there would be no truth in God,” which implies that it is the Father-Son relationship that makes God be the truth eternally in Himself.

Any identification between Platonic and Athanasian ontology (see, for example, E.P. Meijering, Orthodoxy and Platonism in Athanasius: Synthesis or Antithesis [1968]) collapses at this point. There are many similarities between Athanasius and Middle Platonic or Neoplatonic ontology. (Meijering’s work is extremely successful in bringing these out.) But nowhere in Platonic or, for that matter, ancient Greek thought in general can we find the view that the perfectness and fullness of a substance is depleted (or eliminated), if a certain relationship is absent from it. Athanasius himself (De Syn. 51) is conscious of this difference between his ontology and that of the Greeks as he rejects any notion of divine substance per se, i.e. without its being qualified with the term Father, calling it the way of thinking “of the Greeks” (Έλλήνων ἑρμηνεῑαι). But “Father” is by definition a relational term (no father is conceivable without a son), and it is precisely this that makes the use of “substance” by Athanasius un-Greek. It is clear that we have here the emergence of a new ontology (cf. below).


In his profound analysis of Aristotle's idea of substance, Prof. D.M. Mackinnon (“Aristotle’s Conception of Substance,” in R. Marbrough, ed., New Essays on Plato and Aristotle, [1965], pp. 97 – 11a) has revealed to us the subtleties of this idea in Aristotle, and it would be extremely wise for historians of doctrine to take these seriously into their consideration. See also his “Substance in Christology: A Crossbench View,” in S.W. Sykes and J.P. Clayton, eds., Christ, Faith and History (Cambridge Studies in Christology, 1972), pp. 279 – 300.


See G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic thought (1936), p. 245 f., and J.N.D, Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (1950), p. 243f.


Here Christian theology can benefit considerably from E. Levinas’ remarkable work Totalité et Infini (1971).


See Athanasius, Ep. ad episc. etc., PG 26: 1036.


The Cappadocians arrived at this through their thesis that no nature exists “in the nude” but always has its “mode of existence” (τρόπος ὑπάρξεως) See e.g. Basil, Ep. 38:2, PG 45: 337.

It is interesting to take up G.L. Prestige’s criticism (op. cit. p. 233) of St Basil’s idea that in God there is a coincidence between nature and person. This, he says, makes it hard to defend the unity of the Godhead, because it implies a shift of the meaning of substance from the sense of primal substance into that of secondary substance. But this shows precisely why the application of this distinction becomes questionable in the case of the Greek Fathers.


See K. Rahner, The Trinity (1970), passim and esp. p. 58f.


The homousion presupposes that ousia represents the ultimate ontological category. There seems to be no doubt that this is the view of Athansius. If, however, we take into account the relational character of ousia in Athanasius, we can conclude that the Cappadocians do not depart from Athanasius’ thought but simply draw the consequences that Athanasius’ theology had for the doctrine of God’s being. Athanasius’ relational notion of substance becomes through the creative work of the Cappadocians an ontology of personhood.


It is true that philosophers of the Platonic, Neoplatonic and Gnostic schools spoke of a “departure” (ἐκδημία) of beings, some of them using the prefix ὑπὲρ in their vocabulary. But the significant thing is that for these philosophers, the “departure” was not a movement beyond the nous, but always a movement away from other things to enable the nous to arrive at its pure state. (It is in this sense that we must understand also the well-known phrase ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας).

In the Greek philosophical tradition, at this point, also including Origen and his followers, the nous always remains capable of knowing God (cf. above). Apophatic theology parted radically from this position as is shown by the fact that truth, for it, resides not in the nous but beyond it. (See Ps. Dionysius, De myst. theol. 1:3, PG 3:1001A. Cf. I. Hausherr, “Ignorance infinie,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica (1936), p. 357; also for the texts R. Roques, “Contemplation, extase et ténébre selon le Ps. Denys,” in Dict. Spir. (1952), col. 1898.


The lively opposition between this apophaticism and the Greek approach to God appears clearly in an examination of the idea of God in Plato. In Plato, we arrive at the idea of God by firstly considering the “soul,” especially as it becomes “generation,” providing “a continual flow of being,” and then by considering “the order inherent in the movement of the stars” – that is, “the intelligence that establishes the whole in order” (Laws 966d).


Maximus, Myst., Praef.


The deeper meaning of this idea rests in detaching truth from a fallen sitation where choice imposes itself between the “true” and the “false” (cf. below, section III, 1 – 2). This is essential for maintaining the identification of truth with God Himself, since God exists beyond the possibility of choosing between the “true” and the “false.” In a profound passage (Amb., PG 91:1296C) Maximus makes precisely this remark about truth: The Logos is ὑπὲρ αλήθειαν because there exists nothing which may be examined beside Him and compared with Him, whereas the “truth” of which we have experience is opposed to “falsehood.”


See R. Roques, L’univers dionysien: Structure hiérarchique du monde selon le Ps. Denys (1954), p. 77 n. 6 and p. 135 n. 3.


Dionysius the Areopagite, De div. nom. 4:14, also Maximus, Amb. 23: “God moves inasmuch as He implants an immanent relationship of eros and love in those capable of receiving it; He moves in attracting naturally the desire of those who are moved towards Him.”


Cf. P. Sherwood, St. Maximus the Confessor: The Ascetic Life – The Four Centuries on Charity (Ancient Christian Writers 21, 1955), p. 32.


The roots of this distinction are to be found in Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. 38:7). Its development leads to the theology of St Gregory Palamas. Cf. V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (1957). The intention behind this distinction was to safeguard the otherness between Creator and creation: see P. Sherwood, op. cit. p. 32 and J. Meyendorff, The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church, [1982] pp. 191 ff.


To equate “apophatic” with “negative” can lead to error. See Dionysius” repeated expressions οὐ κατ’ ἒλλειψιν (De div nom. 3:2, PG 3:869A) μὴ κατὰ στέρησιν (Ep. 1, PG 3:1065A) etc., through which he seeks to indicate the positive content of theology, which is theology καθ’ ὐπεροχὴν (De div. nom. 312). It is a theology that transcends the opposition “positive versus negative” or “knowledge versus ignorance,” etc.


Note the importance of the prefix συν- in Ps. Dionysius’ use of ekstasis (De div. nom. 3:1 – 2, PG 3:681, 684). It signifies communion within which each partner’s distinctness is maintained. Cf. R. Roques, “Contemplation.” (n. 138 above), col. 1899 ff.


E.g. Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1:9, 46 – 48, III:40; Basil Contra Eun. 2:22. Cf. A. Houssiau, “Incarnation et communion chez les Péres grecs” in Irénikon 45 (1972), pp. 457 – 468.


Cf. H. Chadwick, “Eucharist and Christology in the Nestorian Controversy,” in Journal of Theological Studies N.S. 2 (1951) pp. 145 – 164. Also A. Houssiau, op. cit., p. 463 ff.


Cf. St Cyril of Alexandria’s distinction between “communion κατὰ ϕὐσιν (Christ’s communion with God), and “communion κατὰ μετοχὴν (our participation in the incarnation). For the texts see Houssiau, op. cit. p. 477.


With the idea of history removed since St Augustine from ontology to psychology, the path was prepared for the modern conflict between history and nature, the former being exclusively a characteristic of the human being.


Cf. P. Sherwood, op. cit. p. 47 ff.




Maximus based all this on the idea that will involves motion. Helped by Aristotle, he defines motion as “a natural force tending towards its own end”; he qualifies this, however, with the ideas of will and love, which take motion away from its Aristotelian foundation. See esp. Amb. 1 and 23. Cf. above, the distinctiveness of the idea of ekstasis (section II § 4).


See esp. Ques. ad. Thae. 60. Here Maximus essentially recovers Irenaeus’ theme about Adam’s childhood, on which basis he develops a theology of history. Compare this with the Augustinian concept of man having been created perfect.


Cf. I. H. Dalmais, “La théorie des logoi des creatures chez S. Maxime le Confesseur,” in Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques (1952), pp. 244 – 249.


See e.g. Amb. 23.


Amb. θελὴματα and προορισμοὶ are synonymous in the thought of Maximus. See e.g. Quaest. ad Thal. 60.


A discussion of the texts will be found in G. Florovsky, “Cur Deus Homo? The motive of the Incarnation in St. Maximus the Confessor,” in Eucharisterion (Melanges H. Alivisatos, 1958), p.76 ff.


The idea of history as Heilsgeschichte, developed by O. Cullmann, leads in fact back to Aristotle, as is shown by J. McIntyre, The Christian Doctrine of History, (1957) pp. 42 ff.


Maximus, Sch. in eccl. hier. 3, 3:2.


See J. Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought (1969), pp. 132 – 148.


For the sources, see J. Meyendorff, ibid.


Athanasius, Contra Arianos I:20 – 21.


Cf. L. Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, 1966, p. 238 f.


Cartesian philosophy provides a good example of this. When Kant defines the ad aequatio as “agreement with the laws of the intellect” (Critique of Pure Reason, B, 350), he introduces the transcendental dimension of truth. However, this does not rescue the concept of truth from what is described here as the fallen condition of existence, since according to Kant it is the integrated unity of human experience which determines in the last resort what truth is (ibid. B, 197).


According to Kierkegaard (see e.g. Existence I, II) truth is the act of an individual, and its basis is existence; but “doing the truth” is an existential paradox which makes faith and christianity as a whole incompatible with reason.


See below, notes 174 and 176.


See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol. Ia IIае 4. This derives from Augustine (De Trin. 10).


According to Marx (see e.g. his Second Thesis on Feuerbach) truth arises from praxis in its evolution with society.


On this point, see Ch. Yannaras, The Ontological Content of the Theological Concept of the Person (1970, in Greek). The distinction which he makes between ousia and par-ousia is particularly illuminating for the subject.


Cf. supra, section II, § 3 and ch. I of this book.


The distinction between “otherness” (διαϕορὰ) and “division” (διαίρεσις) is developed by St Maximus on the basis of Chalcedonian Christology. Concerning these terms and their synonyms in Maximus, see L. Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator: The Theological Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor (1965), p. 54 ff. Cf. also Yannaras, op. cit., p. 73 ff.


J.-P. Sartre, L'Êtrе et le Neant (1949), p. 251.


This observation of M. Heidegger is of great importance for an ontology of the world taken as it is, i.e. without reference to a beyond.


Dostoevsky unveils the ontological implications of freedom in presenting the attempt to terminate existence by self-annihilation as an expression of human freedom of self-affirmation. As it is put by Kirilov in The Possessed, man can prove that he is God – i.e. the ultimate reference-point of existence – only if he can put an end to his existence by killing himself. The fact that existence continues despite a man’s capacity to kill himself is the ontological proof that man is subject to individualization and not the final ground of being, despite the threat he represents for being in having the possibility of destroying beings by death. We should note the importance of all this for the ontological implications of the cross and resurrection of Christ.


A defence of the use of the term substance in Christology will be found in D. M. Mackinnon, “Substance in Christology,” pp. 279 – 300. The purpose of this defence is to show the immediate and direct character of God’s presence in Christology and to answer the fundamental question: How can a particular act be that of one who is related to the Father, identical to the Father, if it is not within the nature of His relationship? One cannot but positively appreciate these aims, in the context of western thinking which tends to separate being or ousia from relationship and personhood. What we are trying to show here on the basis of Greek patristic thought (cf. supra, section II, § 3) is that being and relationship must be mutually identified and that it is only within the “mode of existence” that “nature” or “substance” is truth.


The patristic idea of hypostatic union, such as developed principally by Cyril of Alexandria, makes the person (hypostasis), and not the natures, the ultimate ground of Christ’s being. Here there is a subtle but significant distinction to be made between this view and that suggested by the idea of communicatio idiomatum, which seems to assign, or at least to assume, an ontological status in each nature taken in itself.


All christologies wishing to take the human person as the basis of Christ’s identity may offer a soteriology of the ethical or psychological type, but remain irrelevant for ontology. The problem of death as a threat to personal being cannot be resolved if the hypostasis of the Savior is subject to the individualism and the ontological necessity of the biological hypostasis (see Chapter I).


The problem also involves logical and experiential difficulties which Christology cannot resolve for man today as long as it pictures Christ as an individual. How can an individual who lived in Palestine so many years ago have a relationship with me here and now? To introduce the Holy Spirit as a deus ex machina to resolve this problem creates extra ones which it does not resolve, and in any case does not seem persuasive at the existential or the ontological level. The only obvious alternative in the context of this individualistic type of Christology is to understand our relationship with Christ as an imitatio Christi, or in terms of substitutional theories of soteriology. Any attempt to understand the relationship as ontological necessarily leads to the abandonment of an individualistic conception of Christ (cf. the biblical idea of ‘'corporate personality”).


Cf. the Christology of D. Bonhoeffer (Gesammelte Schriften III I960, pp. 166, 242) where this is used as a key expression. This view of Bonhoeffer’s is very important in that it steers clear of Reformation theories of soteriology and theology based more on Christ’s activity than his person. The pneumatological dimension, however, is lacking throughout all Bonehoeffer’s work, and this makes the idea of “pro-me” into a scheme without ontological content.


Cf. Chapter VI below.


The unity of the divine activity ad extra is emphasized very strongly by the Fathers. See e.g. Athanasius, Ad. Serap. I:20; Basil, De Spir. 19:49; Cyril of Alexandria, In Jo. 10 etc. This is also true of the Western Fathers. Cf. Y. Congar, “Pneumatologie ou ‘Christomonism’ dans la tradition Latine?» in Ecclesia a Spiritu Sancto edocta (Melanges G. Philips, 1970), pp. 41 – 63.


This is discussed at greater length in J.D. Zizioulas, “Die Pneumatologische Dimension der Kirche,” in Communio (1973).


Cf. above, section III, 1.


Cf. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catech. 21:1; Теrtullian, De Bapt. 7 – 8; Const. Apost. III, 16.


This “de-individualization” of Christ, His identification with a pneumatic “body,” makes sense only if the echatological realities are introduced into history. The Spirit is associated with the “last days” (Acts 2:17) and a pneumatic Christology draws its “truth” only from the fact of the resurrected Christ, i.e, from the historical “verification” of this eschatological truth. If one accepts the resurrected Christ, then it is no longer possible to have an individualistic Christology. Any reference to the person of Christ will inevitably imply what we have called here a de-individualization, i.e. it will present Christ as a person (not an individual), as a being whose identity is established in and through communion. The New Testament was written by those who had accepted Jesus’ resurrection as a historical fact, and therefore Christ’s identity is always presented in the New Testament in pneumatological terms (for some Gospel writers, such as Matthew and Luke, even from the moment of Jesus’ biological conception). Given this, it was now impossible for the Church to speak of Christ other than in terms of communion, i.e. identifying Him with the “communion of the saints.” The pneumatological and eschatological approaches to Christ equally imply His community. The raised Christ is unimaginable as an individual; He is the “first-born of many brothers,” establishing His historical identity in and through the communion-event which is the Church.


Cf. supra, section II, § 6.


This is particularly clear in Hippolytus, Trad. Apost. 3 (prayer of ordination of a bishop).


Cf. W. Elert, Der Ausgang der alt-kirchlichen Christologie (1957), where the important point is made concerning the role of the Christusbild as contrasted with that of the Christusbegriff in the development of classical Christology.


This explains the fact that the primitive Church expressed its faith officially through councils of bishops, i.e. of the presidents of eucharistic communities, and not through theologians.


Cf. T. F. Torrance, Space, Time and the Incarnation (1969).


Einstein showed that certain aspects of reality are intrinsically relational, rather than absolute, as a Greek might have expected. These comprise certain attributes of a thing – position, velocity, etc. – which now are definable only in relation to other things. However, two reservations need to be made: (a) the basic ontology of the thing is unaffected by all this, since it still retains an “identity” in absolute terms; and (b) the subject-object distinction also remains unchanged. A further step towards the kind of rapprochement between science and theology envisaged here may perhaps be found in quantum mechanics. In this branch of physics, it is shown that the observer is involved in his measurement in an essential way. Subject and object are now related, thus bridging the hitherto unbrigeable gap between the two. However it must he added that the philosophical interpretation of quantum mechanics is still a matter of some dispute (P. J. Bussey).


Cf. T.F. Torrance, op. cit.


Cf. Athanasius, Ad. Serap. I, 23.


A more detailed discussion of this point will be found in Chapter ІV below.


In the light of Greek patristic thought as we have attempted to present it in this study, freedom is situated higher than what we call “moral freedom.” The possibility of choice which defines moral freedom arises from the individualization of being, inherent in the fall (see above, Section III, 1) and is in fact a limitation of freedom because it rests on possibilities that are given and, consequently, constraining. In placing God’s being above the level of will (Athanasius) or above affirmation and negation (Maximus) – see above, Section II, 3 – 4 – the Greek Fathers were wishing to situate freedom itself above the limitations inherent in choice and in the “given.” God is truly free because He is confronted with nothing “given” before Him, so that He exists above all affirmation and negation. But this must not remain a negative statement. God is truly free in a positive sense, because “eternally” (i.e. without being confronted with anything “given,” as any being would be who had a beginning) He affirms His existence by a communion-event. He is the Father because He eternally has a Son through whom He affirms Himself as Father, and so on. So the being of God appears truly free as regards “given” things, and through an otherness which is not individualization. A freedom of this kind is offered to man in Christ as the eschatological “glory” of the “children of God.” The Spirit allows a “foretaste” to be had of this as he leads the community of the Church in history, and in this sense the eucharistic communion, which is the Church’s eschatological event par excellence, is an affirmation, an “Amen,” and reveals a state of existence free from the possibility of denial, and even free as regards that denial of being and life which is death. A freedom resting on affirmation through communion is a freedom in regard to individualization and death, and is thus an affirmation of being. This is not moral but ontological freedom, deriving from the identification of being and truth with communion.

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