митрополит Иоанн Зизиулас


I. The Doctrine of Creation

The doctrine of creation can be found in the Creed of the Church from the earliest times. The first article states: ‘I believe in one God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.’ Historically, the reference to creation is an addition to the first Creed, which was first a confession of faith in the three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Reference to creation was added because the Church had to show how the Christian doctrine of creation was distinct from other views of the cosmos. As usual, we not only have to say how the doctrine came to be articulated, but also what its significance is for us today.

To examine the development of the doctrine within the early Church, we need to give some account of the rival theories of creation in that period. Gnosticism was the first theory in broad circulation to which the Church had to respond. Gnosticism began from the premise that the world we know is fraught with evil, which reflected the widespread pessimism of the time. The question asked was whether, if the world is full of evil, it really could have been God who created it. Concerned to preserve God’s purity and transcendence, Gnosticism denied that God was directly responsible for the creation of this world. Instead, the world was the creation of another being, which it called not ‘God’ but simply the ‘Creator’, the lowest of the eons that made up a long hierarchy that separated God from the world. The Church declared that the very opposite was true: it was God himself who had created the world. The Church declared in its creed that the one God, the Father Almighty, was ‘Creator of all things visible and invisible.’ The Father, God himself, is the Creator. The Church responded to Gnosticism by saying that the relationship that God has with the world is direct and immediate.

Gnosticism isolated God from the world. If the Church had conceded that God had had no involvement in the creation of the world this would put God’s omnipotence in doubt. It would also have cast doubt over the love of God, because it would mean that God has no personal relationship with the world. Then there would he the issue of whether the world would ever be rid of evil, or whether evil was an inseparable part of creation. However, since the Church upheld the view that God Himself created the world, it insisted that evil is therefore not part of creation’s true nature. To Gnosticism’s question about how evil appeared in the world, the Church said that evil was one outcome of the freedom given to man. The world is not intrinsically evil. God has an immediate concern for it and has the power to come to creation’s aid: God is Almighty, as the Creed puts it, with power and authority over all things. God creates something outside himself and sustains the world in its relationship with himself.

The next question was whether the world can be perceived as an extension of God, or as something which God simply formed and shaped. This theory originated with Plato, although it had undergone considerable development, principally at the hands of Philo, by the time that the creed was being formulated. Plato dedicated a dialogue, the ‘Timaeus’, to the issue of creation. Plato was himself responding to the view that the world was not created by anyone but was simply a random occurrence, either in the sense of being a function of chance as the Epicureans understood it, or in the sense that God is identified with the laws of nature. God would then be the logical and cohesive force contained within nature. Plato believed that the world was created by someone whom he named ‘Father’. In ‘The Laws’ he set out severe penalties for atheists, by which he had in mind those philosophers of nature who were his contemporaries. Because Plato insisted that the world was created by God, Christians came to regard him as a believer amongst the pagans and a theologian before Christ.

However, the Christian doctrine of creation is very different from the account of the world presented by the ‘Timaeus’. Although he claimed that the world was created by God, what Plato meant was that God created in the sense that an artist creates. He has ideas and, with the materials available to him, he portrays the form he has in mind. The ‘Timaeus’ portrayed God, whom Plato referred to as ‘Mind’ (Nous), as taking existing matter and ideas and then situated the world in the void as though on a kind of canvas, and giving the world all the beauty and harmony that belongs to it. Thus the God of the Timaeus creates out of elements already in existence. Plato believed that this explains why, though not perfect, this world is the best that could have been made of the material. The laws of space and matter resist the Creator’s efforts to conform them completely to the perfect forms. Perfection remained with the ideas, in the realm above creation.

Plato and the ancient Greeks regarded the world as fundamentally good but they did assume that a tendency to evil could be attributed to matter. The more we descend towards matter, the more we distance ourselves from the perfection that the artist Creator was aiming for.

In the first century, Philo attempted to synthesise Plato’s insights with the cosmology of the Scriptures of Israel. Philo realised that there were problems with Plato’s account because it assumed that God was confronted by the existence of matter as by a given. Who created matter? Philo took the step of declaring matter to be a creation of God, in this way securing God’s independence of it. But there was also the problem of ideas. For Plato, ideas also just existed, so God found them ready-made. Philo’s solution was to turn the ideas into the thoughts of God. The ideas were not above God but within him.

The ancient Greeks longed to get beyond the changes and decay of this world and so they attributed stability to the realm of ideas, which represents the truth and the unity above all this chaos. The objects we see may change too slowly for us to perceive, but they change nonetheless and one day they will exist no more. So, for example, the table we see before us is in process of decay. We are only able to refer to it as a table because somewhere above there is the true and unchanging table, from which all the tables we see source their existence. If this constant and ideal table is not real, no table can truly exist. The ideas are the source of all that we experience and they secure the identity and truth of all the fragmentary things that we can name. Every entity exists because of its connection to its idea, its rationality or logos. According to Plato, God found the ideas and made use of them, so the ideas of things were independent of God. In the ‘Timaeus’ the Creator did whatever the ideas directed him to; they dictated the form of creation, although matter prevented creation from achieving a perfect correspondence with the ideas.

Philo realised that these theories were not suited to the freedom of God, so he modified Platonism by transferring these ideas into the mind of God. He decided that the entire world, inclusive of all the ideas, and the purposes of things, had its existence and stability within the mind (Nous) of God. In this way Philo believed that he had solved the problem of God’s freedom with respect to the ideas. In fact, he had created another problem.

The neo-platonist worldview of the second and third centuries regarded the world as an emanation of God or an expression of the thoughts of God in the multiplicity of the world. Origen also linked the logoi of beings within God to the world of created beings. The ancient Greeks had believed that the world was eternal, as were the logoi, which were the source of each thing that came into existence and gave that thing its shape and purpose. The ideal form from which the world came was understood to be eternal.

Origen believed that there were two aspects to creation. One form was eternal creation, where God eternally thought of this world, and his thoughts were then the rationality (logoi) of those beings, which come together in the one Logos, who is the Son. With the Logos of all beings, with the one Logos, God created the world at the level of eternity. Then over time a second stage occurred in which a subordinate creation, the material world that we experience, came into being, this second creation representing a falling away from the perfection of the first. The souls were created in the original eternal creation, so Origen considered the souls to be eternal and linked them with the incorporeal spirits, the angels, and with the ideas. However, a deterioration and decline took place when the souls in this incorporeal, ideal creation took on materiality and flesh. The materiality of the world represents a fall. The spiritual world of angels and souls is eternal, the material world is perishable; the spiritual is superior, the material world inferior.

Origen’s doctrine of creation brings with it a whole spirituality. Creation needed to be purged of its materiality. The material body is the prison of the soul, so souls have to be released from the body. Salvation was thus a return to the initial state in which souls and spirits were devoid of corruption and matter. Man can only approach God when he has rid himself of all matter and become as incorporeal as the angels.

We saw that although Philo had tried to free God from creation, he had actually confined him to it. Philo made the world necessarily present to God, ever-present within him in the form of the logoi, the thoughts of God. If God creates eternally, beside or within God there is something else, a second self of God, which determines God’s existence. The result is simply that God cannot be imagined without the world. It is impossible to speak of God without speaking of the world at the same time. It is impossible for God to exist, without the world existing along with him. This is not very different from the theory of the world of ideas of Plato’s ‘eternal creation’. In their different ways Plato and Origen had confined the freedom of God. What was needed was a way to show that God’s relationship to creation is not binding on God. The existence of the world had to be understood as the result of his own freely-milled decision to create. This was what the Fathers expressed by their opposition to Plato. To distinguish the teaching of the Church from that of the gnostics, it is not enough simply to say that the world is the creation of God. We must go on to say that it is created ex nihilo, from nothing.

The idea of the world being created from nothing was developed by Irenaeus and Theophilos of Antioch. In his letter to ‘Autolykos’ (2.4), Theophilos says that God created what he wanted out of nothing and so created it as he wished it to be. We have said that if ideas were thoughts in the mind (nous) of God, the world would always have existed in God’s thoughts. If the thoughts of God are eternal, and the world exists as the thoughts of God, this makes the world eternal too.

To this Saint Maximus in the seventh century gave a comprehensive reply (‘Ad Thalassium’ 60). God had eternally willed the world and for God, notions of ‘before’ and ‘after’ have no significance. However, to have willed it eternally does not mean that God instantly brought it into existence. We should distinguish between ‘will’ and ‘existence’: God may have willed the existence of the world eternally, but when the world was created, that act of creation was no necessary extension of God’s eternal will. This eternal will did not make creation inevitable. The Logos through whom God created the world is the Logos with whom God has the eternal loving relationship of Father to Son. The existence of the world was not a necessary outcome of this love of Father for Son, even if the will to create the world was eternal. Maximus’ distinction between God’s will and its realisation means that we do not have to conclude that the world had some eternal existence in the thoughts of God.

Maximus insisted that, because it was the outcome of God’s will, the world was not eternal. To establish this, Maximus made bold use of the concept of the Logos, with all its very ambigious history. There is a relationship of love between God and his Word, the Father and his Son, and the world is created in and through this Word. The relationship between God and the world is now freely willed. God’s will is eternal, but this does not mean that God’s thought is instantly extended. Maximus refers to the logoi as the wills of God, not the thoughts of God. God exercises his will in deciding to create the world at the time of his choosing.

This is a revolution. It prevents its from imagining that existence is an extension of the thoughts of God. A will may be realised or it may not. This is the fundamental difference between a thought, which is realised in being thought, and a will, which, precisely because it is a will, is not the necessary consequence of a thought. Even a will that is realised is not realised by necessity.

By relating the logoi, the reasons for things, to wills, Maximus managed to separate creation from necessity. Creation is brought into being because God has willed it, not because he has thought it. Because it comes from a free decision it is not a matter of necessity.

The Christian doctrine of creation began in response to Gnosticism and Platonism. To Gnosticism, the Church responded by linking the ‘Creator’ to the ‘Father’ to stress the direct involvement of God in creation. The Church responded to Platonism with the expression ‘creation from nil’ meaning from no existing material or ideas. It responded to middle Platonism and neo-platonism by stating that the world did not eternally exist as a thought of the mind (nous) of God, but that its existence was the result of the will of God. Because this will was related to the Son of God, the Logos, creation took place and the world became a real entity through a relationship of love, without ever constituting a necessity for God.

Saint Athanasius taught that the Son exists from the substance of the Father, while the existence of the world is owed to the Father’s will. Maximus gave a philosophical account of what had until then been merely an intuition. Things exist because God wills that they do.

II. Creation EX NIHILO

Christian doctrine is formulated in response to the challenges other worldviews make to the teaching of the Church. The doctrine of creation was the response the Church made to the Platonist account of creation. Let us review what the Church meant by creation ex nihilo, from nothing.

The first thing this doctrine tells us is that the world is not eternal. If it was eternal it would not need to be created. If it were not created from nothing, this would mean that it was created from something that had some other existence. If this something had already been in existence it must have done so prior to the creation of the world, in which case this something could not be within the limits of time or truly created. It would have to be an eternal creation which would make the world necessarily eternal, as Origen believed, and ancient Greeks had believed long before him.

But the Christian Church rejected these ideas. It taught that the world is not eternal, but that ‘there was a time when it was not’ (Ην ποτέ ότε ουκ ην). If the world ‘was not’, had no existence, what was there? God was there. There was nothing other than God. This is the first consequence of the term ex nihilo.

A second consequence is that if the world was created from nothing, it is also possible that it will return to nothing. If something is not eternal, it cannot live eternally. The world always exists in some relation to this nothing, remains exposed to it and liable to revert to nothing. Athanasius says in ‘On Incarnation’ that the nature of every creature has within it this nothingness that can bring about its own termination. Since nothing eternal can be created, creation must be mortal and its own dissolution is latent everywhere within it.

If the world came out of nowhere and is destined to disappear back into nothingness again, what real existence does it have? Can this disappearance and death be avoided? If God created a world out of nothing, that world is liable to return to nothing. But God did not make the world with the intention that it would disappear, but that it should have life. Its own nature does not enable the world to survive. When God created the world for life and with the intention that it would transcend nothingness, he did not give its nature the means to secure its immortality. That would have rendered the world eternal, which would mean that it was no longer creation, but immortal and thus a god in its own right. If God had given creation the power to ensure its own survival, though it began in nothing, the world would be able to become eternal by nature. This would mean that God would have created another, eternal, god.

On the one hand we have God, who is alive in himself eternally. On the other we have a world that is without its own means of life, and so without eternity. Nothing within it can enable its permanent survival. The processes of our dissolution and death begin at the moment we are born. All the laws of life and nature are also laws of death. Life and death run in parallel. The only way that something created can transcend death and deterioration is to remain in constant communion with the eternal God. God and the world have to be in communion, and the means chosen for this communion is mankind.

Communion with God is the purpose of man’s creation. Why did God choose man rather than any other being for this communion? Since his body is made up of all material elements, man is linked to all creation, and all creation has a share in man. Because of the bond represented by man’s body, the entire created world can come into communion with God and receive life from that communion. If God had chosen incorporeal powers, angels, there would have been no place in this communion for the material world.

Man was created at the end of all creation so that he would bring all that is created to the uncreated God and unite them in permanent relationship. When the created world is in relationship with the uncreated, eternal God, its life will not come to an end; this relationship will not allow it to die. The creation of man gives creation its meaning. In ‘On the incarnation of the Word’, Athanasius showed that God chose this form of incarnation for the Logos so the world would always overcome nothingness and have life without end. Man is the only creature who both includes the material world and also exceeds it. Angels have no link to the materiality of creation. We share creation’s mortality: since death is transmitted by our own bodies we die just as every other living creature does, and so we share in the created world’s experience of death.

Man was created to unite all nature to God, but man refused to accept that this was his purpose. He decided not to follow this plan, but to make another in which he would become God himself. Adam believed that by becoming God, the world would be able to surmount the nothingness and live on without limit, and that he would live forever too. This is what we know as ‘the Fall’. Adam had been given freedom and with it the ability to say ‘no’. So Adam said ‘no’ simply because he could, and this was the way in which Adam exercised his freedom.

The doctrine of creation brings the question of why man has freedom. Why did God not make things in such a way that this project could not fail? Perhaps we cannot ask God why he did things one way rather than another, but we can recognise what would have happened if God had done things differently. If man had been created without the freedom to choose or refuse, this union would have taken place because the world would have been tunable to avoid it. But God did not intend for the world a relationship that made freedom impossible. He made the world an entity utterly distinct from himself, not so that it could function as a mechanism driven by its own necessity, but so that it would have its own real independence and function of its own free will, just as God does.

God did not intend a world that had no will to exist. It is no act of love to force a relationship on someone who does not want that relationship. God desired to create a world that would want to exist, and this is the reason why he gave man the freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this project. The fact that man chose ‘no’, and continues to choose ‘no’ even when he is fully aware that it will lead to his death, tells us that God did not want a world that would exist without freedom. The world has the freedom to decide against its own life. So it seemed that Adam’s choice was not to take up this relationship and so to turn down life.

The world was allowed to exist, without any further intervention by God. But it is important to realise that if creation had been abandoned to the form of freedom that Adam chose that the world would come to an end. Adam’s choice was respected by God, but God never ceased to work to help the world to live, and this is where the doctrines of providence and salvation come in God deals with the consequences of Adam’s choice, so that the whole world will not unravel as a result of it.

III. The Significance of the Doctrine of Creation

We have looked at two approaches to the doctrine of creation. We have seen that the gnostic view isolated God from the world, but when the gnostic view is reversed, the world is turned into an eternal creation of God. If creation is an emanation of him it would mean that God creates because he cannot not create.

The Church was determined to remove all sense of necessity from the doctrine of creation, and it did so by insisting that the world was created from nothing. Creation is not an extension of God and it was not created either from existing matter or from ideas with an eternal existence in the mind of God. The world had no form of previous existence whatsoever, not even as the thoughts of God. The world could just as easily not have come into being. The fact that it does exist, is the result of God’s good and free will.

The idea that the world might never have come into existence was incomprehensible to the ancient Greeks. In their view, if the world did not exist, something else must have existed in its place, and this something must have had some relation to God. There are therefore two ways of talking about what existence creation has. In one, creation must always have existed, no matter what. In the other, creation had no existence of its own, so it owes its existence to a will that was entirely free. Everything that exists because it is called into existence by will, the Fathers referred to as ‘created’. They called the one who always existed, no matter what, and who does not owe his existence to any other will, the ‘Uncreated’.

Everything that exists is either created or uncreated. There is no intermediate category. Something either exists because someone willed it to exist, which means that it could also cease to be willed, and as a consequence it would cease to exist. Or something exists because it willed itself to exist. The uncreated is that which exists because it decides for itself to do so. It does not exist because nature makes it do so, or because someone else decides it should do so. We exist because someone other than ourselves has decided that we should exist: our existence is the outcome of their will, not our own. But God does not exist because someone or something else obliges him to do so. In our case existence is forced on us. It is easy to assume that if it is necessary for us, existence must be necessary for the one who has brought us into existence, but we cannot infer one from the other. Because we received it, from God who preceded us, existence is a given for us. But God exists freely, he did not receive his existence from anyone, there being no one before him. These two categories of the created and the uncreated enable us to set out the doctrine of creation.

We said that the ancient Greeks believed that the world was eternal. They made no radical distinction between created and uncreated. When they talked about the creation of a thing, they meant only that it used to exist in a form different from its present form. An ancient Greek could accept that this table had a beginning, and that someone made it, but before this table had the form we see today, it existed in some other form. There was the timber, and before it was timber it was a tree, and before it was a tree, it was a seed, and all the other inputs of sun, water and minerals. It is part of a transmutation of elements without beginning or end.

But it is the Church’s doctrine that before creation there was absolutely nothing: no existent thing had any previous existence. This view confounds our own familiar logic so it appears very strange to us. How can what exists now have had no previous existence at all? This is a difficult thought even for contemporary science, though contemporary cosmology, with its Big Bang theories of the origin of the universe, no longer finds it unthinkable that there was indeed nothing before the universe.

The universe must not in any way be viewed as an extension of God himself. Our world is created because someone wills it to exist, so its existence is not free. God, the uncreated, is not the result of any other will, so he exists freely, solely because he wills to do so. The necessity of existence is a function of the actual event of existence and of the fact that something exists at this moment. But it is not necessary that anything exists at all.

Since what is created has come out of nothing, nothingness will always be lurking behind it. If the created world could just as easily not exist, what prevents it from disappearing right now? It is only the goodwill of God that keeps it in existence. What is created has a dependent existence and must remain in relationship with the uncreated if it is to survive. If the relationship is severed, the world returns to nothingness. Whatever is created lives under the permanent threat of non-existence. When it severs its bond with the uncreated, turns towards itself and seeks to draw its powers of survival from its own self, it is deceived and its dissolution begins.

We can perhaps imagine a bond between the created and the uncreated which could never be severed in any way. God could have created a world with no desire for any relationship with God, but this would mean that its relationship with God would be one of necessity, not of freedom. This would mean that God had created another ‘God’, one that would live eternally because it would have an eternal and necessary relationship with the uncreated. But to talk about God creating another ‘God’ who did not start out as a ‘God’ makes no sense. The eternity of this ‘God’ would have been created by time, since he first was not eternal, and then was eternal after all. The word ‘God’ would apply both to a being that exists without having being created by someone else, and to a being that was created by someone else. Then we would need another word to describe that being who is God without having been created by someone else.

When we accept that this creation was created by someone and that that someone in fact exists, we need to find two different words to describe these two things. We cannot refer to the created being as ‘god’, and the uncreated also ‘God’. We cannot say that a created thing is made eternal by God: what is created does not have eternity, so it is cut off from God, it would relapse into non-being. Only an unbroken relationship with God sustains the world and prevents it from reverting back to nothing. But in this relationship with God that allows it to endure, creation must also have freedom. The doctrine of creation is not only about the world, but also about freedom, and therefore about the role of man within the world. We must examine the possibility of beings within creation that are free.

The relationship with the uncreated God must be a voluntary, freely willed relationship. A relationship that was necessary would turn creation into a second ‘God’. But if this relationship is to be freely willed, there must be free beings in creation. For its continued existence the created world needs beings who can affirm their relationship with God in freedom. Creation does not consist of material creatures only. The doctrine of creation refers to two sorts of creature that are free, those with, and those without, a material body. Those who possess a material hypostasis are ourselves, while those without material hypostasis are those incorporeal beings we know as angels, who exist in blessedness that they receive through their relationship with God. They are creatures, and subject to the same conditions as material bodies. To be subject to death is not a consequence of materiality, for it is our createdness, not our materiality, which makes us subject to death. Just as it is not evil, materiality is not the cause of death. It is because they had a beginning, and came out of nothing, that death is always a possibility for creatures.

So far we have said that the purpose for which free beings were brought into existence was to unite the created with the uncreated, willingly and freely. The created cannot be united with the uncreated by force but without this union, creation will eventually disappear. It is the vocation of free beings to allow creation to survive. All creation hangs on their exercise of freedom on its behalf. If they do so in the manner that brings the created into relationship and union with the uncreated, all that is created will live. If they exercise their freedom in any other way, catastrophe threatens. Though free, the angels cannot fulfil this role because they do not have our materiality and so cannot bring the material creation into relationship with God. But because he has a body, man participates in the materiality of creation and so he is able to bring about this relationship of the created with the uncreated. Only through man can creation survive.

It should be clear now why ‘all creation groans and suffers’ (Romans 8.22) as it looks forward to man’s reconciliation with the uncreated. Creation needs beings who can turn freely towards God, accept their existence from him and enter relationship with him. This immense mission belongs to man.

Man appears for the first time at the end of creation. This is a fundamental difference between Christianity and the philosophical and gnostic systems of the period when the Christian doctrine of creation was being articulated. Gnostic systems begin with the creation of man and end with the creation of matter and other inferior beings, believing that creation began with higher beings and that all subsequent movement represent deterioration into inferior and more material forms of being.

But in the biblical view we find no such contempt for the material world. The appearance of man at the end of creation indicates that man is the highest of all creatures and that God intended the material world for him. He is the creature who is to bring the entire material world into communion with God. The position of man at the end of creation also points to his exercise of freedom on behalf of the material world. Because be is created with freedom, man may set himself for the world or against it. He can either receive it as good, or he can decide that he does not want to receive it at all. Man is the ‘crowning glory’ of creation, as some of the Fathers put it: endowed with the freedom that no other creature possesses, he can rule over the entire material world and use it in whatever way he desires. Man is created to fulfil the destiny of the created world, and he does this both by giving his consent on behalf of creation and by the authority he has to make use of creation. ‘Dominion over the earth’ means he is made responsible for it.

We have spoken about the mission of man in creation and highlighted the difference between man and the rest of the created order. Now we take up the concept of the ‘image’, for man was created ‘in the image and likeness of God’ (Genesis 1.26). Though they display a range of views, the Fathers often suggest that ‘in the image’ expresses the perfect state of man at the beginning of creation, the way he was created by God, while ‘in the likeness’ refers to the state that man will achieve at the end of time, when he finally looks upon God face to face and the communion of created and uncreated is complete. Then, in the eschaton, man will also be ‘likeness’ of God, for he will be free, like God.

Some Fathers considered that man is already the ‘image’ of God and understood ‘likeness’ to refer to the end of times, while for others ‘image’ refers to the rationality of man. Gregory of Nyssa used it to refer to the human capacity of self-government. The difference is not hugely significant because those Fathers who relate the ‘image’ to the logos and rationality of man understand that the logos of man is his freedom, which is what self-government is. So we fairly represent the Patristic tradition as a whole when we see the element of freedom or self-government as the difference between man and the rest of the material creation.

We must see what constitutes this freedom of man, and how it serves creation. Freedom is the prospect open to creatures. When they have freedom, they will be like God. Our existence is not free, because for us existence is a given fact. This is the supreme challenge that creatures are faced with. We exist necessarily. But the ‘image’ means that we may have our existence, not because we are obliged to by the ways things are, but because we are able to receive it for ourselves willingly and freely.

Man’s freedom can be exercised in two ways. It can be exercised negatively, when man decides to despise creation and disdain its Creator. Man can say that he does not acknowledge God as Creator, and that he does not consider this creation to he any concern of his. But equally there is the possibility that man will not reject creation.

Man will of course wish to create his own world, analogous to the way that God creates. This impulse of man is the only determinant difference between him and every other animal. We cannot talk about the doctrine of creation without some reference to biology and evolution. Darwin’s account of evolution prevails in biology. His theory caused panic among theologians of the nineteenth century, because up until that time, and even to this day for many people, what distinguished man from all other animals was his rationality and self-awareness. In The Origin of Species, Darwin very convincingly demonstrated that these characteristics are found in other animals too. Other animals possess them to a lesser degree, but this means that the difference between man and the other animals is a difference of degree. Darwin demonstrated that animals have consciousness, are able to achieve some level of organisation, have their own societies and even use instruments. Darwin has us obliged to review the whole question of what makes man distinct from all other animals.

While many continue to see the difference as one of rationality, contemporary anthropology has now described the difference in a way that renders Darwin’s theory entirely innocuous to theology. The difference between man and all other animals is freedom. An animal may have the ability to adapt to its environment, but it does not set out to re-create its own environment. An animal cannot create a world of its own: this is only a possibility and a temptation for man. You and your cat see the same tree. As a botanist you can analyse that tree and construct an entire science of ecology that describes it exhaustively, and your knowledge of that tree will still be just of a different degree, not of a different kind, from that of your cat.

But when you decide to draw a tree and so to make your own tree or a world of trees that is your own creation, you are doing something that makes you utterly different from any animal. An animal cannot be an artist. To reject the existing world and create a world of its own, which will bear its personal stamp, is a characteristic only of man, and it can be observed from man’s very first steps.

Contemporary psychology observes that when an infant takes any raw material into its hands, he it will shape it and put his own stamp on it. In this way he shows that he does not have to admit that the world is simply something that he has to adjust to, whether he wants to or not. He wants to make a world of his own. Art creates new worlds, and so art is the practice of man’s freedom. There is a tension between man’s freedom and his created status: man cannot create from nothing, but is obliged to rely on given images and materials. This is why properly creative art, particularly contemporary art, strives for autonomy and attempts to break up the forms it inherits. Michaelangelo complained that his greatest obstacle was the marble which came between him and his art-work. Picasso and other contemporary artists rebel against all inherited forms because they hinder their freedom. To represent the table as it is, is not a work of creative art, but simply to produce a replica of the object. Art is not about copying the given world, and neither is it about extracting a spirit, or meaning, or essential beauty from nature, as the Romantics believed. Such conceptions are not about freedom or creativity. Art bears a restlessness that is directed towards finding a greater freedom by breaking up forms to find the new thing the artist desires, something so deeply personal that no one else can recognise it. He creates something which he may even call a table, but which looks nothing like a table to the rest of us, and this makes art difficult and sometimes even repellant.

I hope we have established that Christian doctrine is linked to man’s search for freedom and that freedom is a central concern of the doctrine of creation. It points towards a creature who, though within God’s given world, has no wish to accept it or preserve it as it is delivered to him, but wishes to put his own stamp on it. Man begins by denying the world he finds himself in. To demonstrate his freedom man can either deface the world until perhaps he eventually destroys it, or he can take it and affirm it of his own free will. Though there are many degrees of response, man lives in the space between these two possibilities. Man must never surrender his freedom, for the moment, he is tempted to do so, he demotes himself to the status of an animal, and creation’s hope of participating in freedom and life through him is lost.

Here lies a problem. if Man’s freedom is exercised and respected, creation is in danger. It is particularly crucial to say this, now that we really have become a threat to our natural environment as a whole. The invitation to ‘subdue the earth’ has allowed us to make a reckless use of the environment. Why have we been entrusted with this dangerous freedom? The answer is that freedom is the one means by which creation can he in communion with God and live on.

Freedom is never simply positive freedom. From the moment it was given, it also means that man has the freedom to bring the world to an end. For God there is only positive freedom, God does not want the destruction of the world. Our whole problem stems from the reality of being created, and the difference between the created and the uncreated.

In the act of creation, God did not have to deal with a given situation. Whatever he had was the result of his will. God affirmed what he made: he gave it his ‘yes’. For God ‘no’ is not the exercise of freedom. There is no choice of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for God, because there is no given to which God might say ‘no’. There is only a possibility of saying ‘no’ when there is something to say ‘no’ to, a situation created by someone else. The freedom God has given to his creature takes the form of a choice between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and the freedom of the creature consists in his being able to decide between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in each situation. The Law given at the moment of man’s creation in the Garden of Eden, in the image of the tree, was the meats by which man could exercise his freedom. God did not provide the Law in order to take freedom away from man but precisely in order to give him this freedom. Freedom is the law, that is the invitation and command, that God gives man. Now we must examine how this freedom was exercised in man’s decision against the world and against God, as we turn to the doctrine of the fall of man.

IV. The Fall

It was the freedom of man that made the fall possible. Without this freedom there would be no sin and no evil. Man can sin, animals cannot, for it is the exercise of freedom rather than the act itself that makes something sinful.

Man has the freedom which every other created being in the material world lacks, and he exercises it by accepting or rejecting each given event or situation. In order to continue in existence, and overcome his limits and the eventual dissolution that they bring, the creature has to be in relationship with the uncreated God. Although he was created to bring the created into union with the uncreated, man decided to exercise his freedom by saying ‘no’ to this relationship, and setting out to unite the created, not to the uncreated, but to himself. Adam succumbed to the temptation to declare himself ‘God’ and set out to redirect creation from the uncreated God to his own, created self. In deciding that everything should refer to him, his fall was also the fall of creation.

Related to God, creation would have life without limit. But man turned creation from God to himself. The first consequence was that man came to believe that he could rule creation as though he had created it himself. He set nature against himself and created a conflict and because man was no longer in harmony with it, nature became a cause of misery to him. Persons were set against nature, so man could survive in this world only by struggling against it.

A second consequence was that man attributed nature with the characteristics that belong to God. Since conflict with nature made man realise how much weaker he is, he began to believe himself to be inferior to nature. Overawed by them, he began to divinise the forces of nature and then to placate them, so that idolatry became another consequence of man’s fall. In his conflict with it he regarded nature as a god, or indeed as many gods. When he feared the thunderstorm that he knew was beyond his control, man deified the storm and ‘exchanged the Creator for the creatures’ (Romans 1.23). The deification of creation is a tragedy for mankind and for nature too. Nature relies on man directing himself to God, because it is only through man that nature can come into communion with God and so preserve its existence. But when man took God’s place and turned himself to nature, all creation became victim to man’s delusion. Man and creation have together become confined to a life determined by the laws of nature. Though biological life seems to point towards life without limit, it only takes them in the direction of eventual dissolution.

Among our everyday assumptions is the belief that death takes place at the end of life. We say that someone died aged eighty, as though death suddenly made its appearance in his eighty-first year. In reality however man begins to die the moment he is born. Biology sees death as a process that begins at birth, and links ageing to reproduction. The mystery of life and phenomenon of death are bound together, for life bears death within itself. The physical processes are finally all-significant: the organism ages, but because we cannot bring ourselves to think clearly about death, we give only intellectual assent to this fact. The truth of life is that things are beyond our control. We are confined within this counterfeit life and filter out the vastness of the God-determined dimensions of reality. The fall of man threatens to bring about an end to man. Without the relationship with the unconfined and unlimited life found in relationship with the uncreated, nature lost touch with the truth of life. Man is under the impression that he is in possession of life, but what he calls life is in fact no more than a process of dissolution… Death masquerades as life: its claim to be life is a tragic consequence of the fall.

The Gospel points to real life. When the bible talks about eternal life, it does not mean some life other than our present one, but simply the reality of life. The reality of life is ‘spiritual’, because it is given by the Holy Spirit. This life does not die and does not share in the deception of that life that leads to death. Real life cannot be brought to an end by death and will never prove false. Real life springs from the resurrection, which is to say from Christ who himself transcends biological death. This does not mean that we are trying to ignore biological death or to substitute some other life for it. On the contrary, the afterlife, as it is called, is the truth and fullness of which the life we presently experience is just a part. This counterfeit life with which we are presently content, and which carries death within it, is the outcome of the fall. It is a poor, evil and intolerable form of life. The Christian view is that death is never good; it is always an outrage.

The gospel is the breaching and breaking of death. The resurrection is the promise that the confusion of real life by false life will come to an end and be entirely succeeded by the life that is real. The false life to which we are subject will be removed, to leave only the reality and truth of life. What is true and real can never he delimited, or broken off or brought to an end, nor will we ever run out of it. Life that is real is not finite, but unlimited and eternal.

The New Testament understands eternity simply as life, without death or any other interruption. When the life we already experience now in a fragmentary way is renewed by God so that it continues without limit, life will be eternal. Time, history and the whole course of the material world are positive aspects of creation, and eternity is time, redeemed for us by God. It is Platonism that sets eternity and time in opposition, and regards time as a misfortune. It asserts that we are trapped in time, and must be released from it, and move up to another, timeless, level above. Many Christians think in terms that are more Platonist than Christian. When people commiserate with one another you hear them say, ‘Has he passed away? Consider him blessed, since he has left from this poor world of time and gone to eternity.’ Such ideas are not Christian. Our hope in the resurrection anticipates that death will be broken, and that life will suffer no further interruption or threat. We must rid ourselves of this concept that time is a misfortune, and grasp the truth, which is that real life, which is what eternity is, is entirely unmixed with death.

There is nothing behind the created world. Since the world is not simply one large thing, but a vast profusion of wonderful entities, nothingness fills the space between each of these entities. Between A and B is space and time, and it is this that gives A and B their individuality and particularity. Space and time both connect them and separate them: the space between us both makes us separate beings and it divides us and makes us subject to dissolution. A and B are composites, made up of smaller elements, so when their dissolution reaches a certain point there is no more connection or communication between them. One form of separation is when A and B lose touch with each other and their relationship ends. The other is when the whole person of A disintegrates into his composite elements, the unity that time and space gave his body is dissolved, and he ceases to exist.

Time and space simultaneously compose and constitute beings, and decompose them and de-constitute them. The life that we know is a mixture of life and death, and a process of composition and dissolution. When our composite world breaks up into its constitutive elements we will disappear again: death is this disintegration. All beings are vulnerable to the nothingness from which they came and which is present in them. In contrast, the real life that comes from the Holy Spirit is entirely free of nothingness, and is unassailable to the farces of dissolution.

When he refused relationship with God, man was left quite helplessly exposed to the processes of dissolution. Man was deceived, and he continues to be deceived, into believing that he is alive when the processes of dissolution are working away within him and will soon make an end of him. Man is tempted to believe that, given more time or more resource, he could establish himself more permanently. But we would be mistaken if we think that eternity can be secured through the processes of history, that given just a little more time we could reach eternity and permanence. We can believe this only by being blind to the processes of death, and ignoring the fact that all beings wear out and pass away. Some try to deal with the problem by transferring the question from the survival of the individual to survival of humanity as a whole. Christian dogmatics however must take the threat to our existence very seriously. It must insist that the death of every single person, even of every single entity, is an outrage, and say clearly that creation has become captive to death.

V. Christology

Creation came from nothing, and since it is permeated with the forces of dissolution, it always faces the prospect of reverting hack to nothing. But as long as they are in communion with what is not created, created beings are safe from all such forces. Man was created to provide this communion. He was to be the mediator between the material world and God, and so he was created at the end of creation, when everything else was ready for him. This privilege was given to man rather than to any other free and rational being because as a material being, man is able to unite created materiality with the uncreated, and so to secure the continued life of the material creation. If man is to endure, all creation must endure, for man cannot live without creation. If man is to survive death, all creation has to be transformed so that no part of it succumbs to death.

There are two possible misconceptions here. One is the belief that death entered the world as the punishment for disobedience and the fall, which is to say that God introduced it to creation and imposed it on man. We have seen that death has always been the natural condition of created beings, and since all that is finite has an end, death is inevitable for creation – unless man exercises his freedom positively, for creation and himself. If man does so, the life of creation is sustained endlessly through infinite communion with the infinite God. The fall is the term we give to man’s refusal to exercise his freedom in this positive way; the consequence of his refusal is that the death of creation, and of man, remains inevitable. Death is a corollary of finitude, and so is universal for all created things; when we concede the truth of this we are able to come into conversation with biology, which understands that death is a universal natural phenomenon.

A second misconception is that immortality relates chiefly to the soul. Accordingly, when death is abolished at the end of time, it is thought that people’s souls will live on, and though the bodies of these souls might live on too, the rest of the world would die. But this view is mistaken too. Death is a biological phenomenon, which if it is to be transcended at all, must be transcended by creation as a whole. The refusal of man to host the meeting of createdness with the uncreated God, makes the continuation and redemption of creation impossible.

The salvation of the world must be salvation from death. Let us start with some general observations. When we diagnose a sick person we identify their disease. The disease here is death, so a cure for death is what we are looking for. Salvation has often been set out in moral and judicial terms, in which death has been caused by man’s act of disobedience. But it was not our disobedience that caused this evil; it just made its cure impossible. The problem cannot be put right simply by our obedience. Athanasius pointed out that if the problem could be solved simply by forgiving Adam his sin, God could have done so. Adam could have repented, and indeed he did weep and regret what he had done. God could have forgiven him, and all would have been well. But Athanasius showed that the heart of the problem was not obedience or disobedience, because this was not a moral but an ontological problem. What was required was for the Logos to come to man, and indeed to become man, so that all that has been created can be united to the uncreated. For death to be overcome, the created has to come into relationship with the uncreated, and source its life from it.

Salvation involves a relationship between persons. Man alone was given the privilege of being this bodily and material union of creation with Creator. Man’s material body and entire psycho-somatic being have to participate in this union, so that all creation to which we are linked is able to participate in it too. For the world to be saved, man has to mediate between creation and God. No other being could do this, and it could not be done by God simply saying from a distance ‘Be saved!’ The logic demanded that God become one of us. The inevitable dissolution of creation could not have been averted even if, after his fall, man had been saved and thereafter not fallen again. The incarnation is not simply a response to the fall. Maximus makes it very clear that the incarnation would have taken place, even if man had not fallen. It was inconceivable that this world could endure when nothingness and dissolution are inherent to it. Only when this material creature who unites in himself the material creation to the uncreated God can the uncreated pass life uninterruptedly to the created. The mediation of man is thus the central requirement for the salvation of creation.

A second factor is the fact that man on his own is not capable of transcending death. Transcendence of death cannot be achieved by any creature, and even less so when man fell and became a prisoner of the counterfeit life, which is life permeated by death. From the moment that man became trapped in this cycle of life and death, it was impossible for him to free himself. So the uncreated God took the initiative.

There are two elements that take us to the mystery of the incarnation of Christ. The first is the initiative taken by God, and the second is the need for a union rather than a mere submission or forgiveness, between the creature and his Lord. Christ fulfils the two requirements. The Word became a human being, for Christ must be human rather than an angel or any other creature. Christ is God, and because he is God he is not entangled in this vicious circle of life and death himself. The incarnation of the Word is the salvation of the world, and every creature in it, from death.

The Word becomes incarnate as that creature whose being and identity are primarily determined by his relationship with God, rather than by his relationship with any other creature. The second condition, a consequence of the first, is that this Saviour is not conceived in the way that every other human creature is conceived. The doctrine of the non-biological conception of Christ by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary is essential to the Christian faith. If Christ had been born in the same biological manner that we are, he would have been confined within the same cycles of counterfeit life-in-death that we are, and he could not have been the solution to our problem. The role of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s conception is therefore essential. Only the uncreated Spirit could take this initiative; this event could be free because it was not bound by any of the limits that creation represents, because the Son is not created. It had to he free both on the part of the Word who became flesh, and free on the part of created humanity in the person of the Virgin.

God had given Adam the freedom to inaugurate the salvation of the world but, in his freedom, Adam did not do so. Nonetheless, it would have been unthinkable for God to take man’s freedom away by intervening and compelling him to do so. Man did not want to preserve the world, but God did not therefore decide to preserve the world, and man himself, despite man. The freedom of man had to be safeguarded by the form that incarnation took. The complete and proper expression of human freedom came at last in the unforced ‘yes’ given by the Virgin Mary to God’s call to carry through this mystery of Christ. Mary could have refused to take part in such a plan that utterly conflicts with our self-directed logic, but her reply was not ‘no’, but ‘yes’. Her consent was the free consent of humankind to the initiative of God.

Adam survives in the person of Christ and, in Christ, Adam is free. Christ has now become the human, Adam, whose creaturely life is no longer constituted solely by his biology and thus by necessity. Though Adam still labours, he is nevertheless a free being now because he originates in this freely-willed human consent. That Christ is born in this manner is the condition by which all that we have said so far about the personal relationship between God and the world holds true. The incarnation of Christ is different from all the various other incarnations and rebirths of gods observed in other religions. All such births and theogonies represent natural phenomena and natural laws, and are the function of necessity, rather than of a free, personal consent on the part of humankind.

Christ is not born the product of natural laws, for this would have signified conformity to the necessary laws of nature which involve death. This would have been a reversion from the initial freedom which God bestowed on humanity, to the life under compulsion brought about by the withholding of Adam’s consent. All that God intended had been brought to nothing as a result of Adam’s exercise of freedom. But the freedom received in the consent of the Virgin permeates the entire mystery of Christ and of our salvation. This freedom is seen in Christ’s incarnation from conception and birth to resurrection and all that happens after it. This freedom that Mary exercised in receiving the incarnate Son in her body is honoured in every phase of the mystery, of our salvation.

VI. Salvation

We have looked at the relationship of the doctrines of the incarnation and creation. God created the world so it would participate in his own glorious life. To bring the world into a living relationship with him, God gave man God’s own freedom and self-government, and made him a link between God and the material world which has no self-government and therefore no freedom of its own. Man was the point through which all nature was to participate in God’s self-government and life.

But in his freedom, man decided in relate the world to himself instead of God. By his decision to direct nature to himself, man confined himself and nature within the laws that govern creation. Since it came from nothing and nothingness permeates it, the being of every creature is always being worn away. Man was unable to overcome the constraints to which all creatures are subject. It is an extraordinary mystery that by his possession of this God-given freedom, man was able to halt God’s plan.

God did not intend this hold-up, but he did not ignore it either. Though his plan had stalled, God’s intention remained unaltered. It took a new course to relate to the changed situation. This is the logic Saint Athanasius sets out in his ‘On the Incarnation of the Word’.

We would still be talking about the incarnation even without Adam’s fall, but Adam’s fall determined the form that the incarnation had to take. Had he not fallen, Adam would eventually have brought all creation into this union with God through his own person. This union would have enabled the overcoming of the boundaries of a created being, represented by death: Christology would simply have meant the transformation of man into Christ. By exercising his liberty affirmatively, as Christ, man would have made the existence of the world no longer subject to the constraints of a created entity, decay and death. This Christ would have existed in time and space, as Saint Maximus assures us.

But it was no longer possible for this union between the created and the uncreated to be attained through man, without it passing through the dissolution and death into which man had fallen. Adam’s failure obliged God to reach this end by another means, that which involved Christ coming into the broken condition of man, so the incarnation takes the form of this passion which Christ suffers. God never suspended his respect for man’s freedom. He chose the Virgin Mary to speak for all mankind, and by giving her assent to it in complete freedom, Mary made possible for Christ to come by this new course that involved taking on our broken condition. Only Mary’s freely given ‘yes’, which affirmed and demonstrated the freedom of mankind, opened this new way by which Christ could come to creation and creation could come to God.

This entrance of God into the world, the penetration of the uncreated into creation to unite the two, was performed by one person of the Trinity. By entering creation, the Son created a bridge between creation and God. The persons of the Trinity are not separated from one another, so through the action of one, the entire Trinity participates in the event of Christ. Each person undertakes a particular role: the Son enters the fallen reality of the created world, taking on its decay and pain, and its sorrow and death. But the Son did this because the Father, in his mercy, made this initiative.

We can only understand the incarnation of Christ by reference to the Father and to the Spirit. It is the Father who initiates the incarnation. It was the error of earlier generations of Christian dogmatics to separate Christology first from the doctrine of God and then from the doctrine of the Spirit. It is the Father from whose will all things come. As the very existence of God comes from the goodwill of the Father, so the whole economy and work of Christ also come from the will of the Father. The Father intends that this incarnation should take place; the Son assents to the Father’s will and enters the fallen reality of the creature. In love the Father initiates and participates in this event, while the Son assents and acts. The Holy Spirit carries this plan through, supporting the Son through the pain of this exchange and union, in which the Son takes on the fallen state of creation. The Holy Spirit stands with Christ in all the decisions by which he affirms his freedom, and he liberates the Son from the consequences of his giving of himself to us. The Spirit, who sustains all freedom, ensures that Christ’s decisions are free. Wherever the Spirit is, the constrictions of nature are overcome, and so we are liberated from all that confines us. Though he is with Christ throughout his existence, the Holy Spirit is most characteristically present at those moments in which the progress of God’s plan for the salvation of the world is decided.

The Spirit is present at every one of the critical points that determine the course of the incarnation. He is present at the Virgin Mary’s ‘yes’ and the conception of the Son of God by the holy Mother of God. The Holy Virgin conceives through the Holy Spirit. If it were merely a matter of divine intervention the Logos could have inhabited the holy Virgin on his own and there would have been no need for the Spirit. But the Virgin conceived by the Holy Spirit, which means that there was no intrusion into the created by the uncreated, so what took place did so in freedom. Any direct intervention by the uncreated would necessarily overcome the created, for wherever one force is much greater than another, the lesser will he overwhelmed. But the presence of the Holy Spirit prevents the lesser force of the creature from being crushed by the greater force of God. The Holy Spirit never makes the creature aware of his presence, so the creature is not overawed, but simply aware that all other pressures are taken off, so that they are able to make a decision that is entirely free. In the presence of the Spirit, the Virgin Mary is able to decide in complete freedom, and thus the incarnation of Christ takes place in true creaturely freedom. The Spirit ensures that what is created is not crushed by the presence of what is uncreated.

The contribution of the Holy Spirit is therefore to allow each agent to act as a person, unconstrained by all limits and pressures. The Holy Spirit frees Christ from the confines of history and is with Christ at every critical juncture. He accompanies Christ in the conflict with Satan in the desert so that, when his preparation and testing are complete, Christ is able to say ‘yes’ freely to God as a human, and so to act on behalf of all humans. From within them, Christ is able to surmount the bounds of biology and history, and act in freedom. As the title ‘Christ’ tells us, Jesus is anointed by the Spirit and accompanied by him always.

The Spirit is present at Gethsemane, where the all-important decision to drink down the cup, despite all its horror, is taken. The Spirit enables the Lord’s free decision to go to the cross, and the Spirit raises Christ from the confines of death. The resurrection and defeat of death is the Spirit’s act in transcending all limits, and all dissolution and death. Though Christian dogmatics have not always been very clear about this, the Bible tells us that it was ‘the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead’ (Romans 8.11). Just like the conception and birth, and the ministry, passion and resurrection of Christ take place by the Holy Spirit.

Why is it the Holy Spirit who raises Christ from the dead? Christ is God, so death could never have held him, so why is there this need for the Spirit? The Holy Spirit makes the whole incarnation an expression of the freedom in which, because of Christ, man now participates. The Spirit who liberates all that is created from trials and from deterioration and death, has in Christ passed into humanity. Once dissolution and death are transcended in Christ, the Holy Spirit makes Christ that body within which all mankind begins to experience freedom from death. The Spirit makes Christ’s resurrection the liberation from death, not just for Jesus but for all humanity. For Christ’s resurrection would make no sense without our resurrection (1Corinthians 15,13–20).

The Holy Spirit has made Christ the universal being in whom the boundaries of the created are transcended. Christ ceases to be an individual and has become the truth of human existence, so his life has universal reach. He has broken out of the nature-determined constraints that make him merely one person, separated by nature from all other persons. As Christ took on the fate of creation, creation is taking on the fate of Christ, being liberated from its confines and redeemed. Creation is no longer a form of enforced confinement for humanity so each person can receive every other creature in complete freedom.

Christ has broken through these boundaries for created mankind, not as one person alone, but in the Holy Spirit, for all. The Holy Spirit makes Christ the Christ by making him inclusive of all humanity, indeed of all creation. The Holy Spirit goes on to make Christ the source of the spiritual gifts so that together mankind is no longer held within those confines but is free to receive the full dimensions of the person of Christ. The role of the Holy Spirit, though all-important, has been, so underestimated that we could even say that it has been suppressed. The incarnation requires the whole doctrine of God. Trinity begins with the goodwill of the Father, continues with the Son taking on the fate of fallen creation and ends with Christ gathering us and all creation up by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit always acts through Christ, because Christ is the point where all mankind and all creation are gathered up and brought into living communion with God on whom there are no confines. The incarnation is therefore not just about Christ’s receiving the Holy Spirit, but also about Christ giving the Holy Spirit to all mankind, as we shall see as when we come to the subject of ecclesiology.

Salvation is the union of the created with the untreated. This union is not mechanical or magical; there is no synthesis of these two natures, as though a quantity of divine nature added to a quantity of human nature brings about the admission of man to the communion of God. The role of the Father and of the Holy Spirit are crucial in this union. The mystery of Christ begins with the Father and ends with the Father, because the Son and Holy Spirit obey the Father in bringing about the whole reality of the union between the created and the untreated. Considered as a whole, the incarnation is a movement from the Father back to the Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Christology tends to be discussed only in terms of natures, divine and human, but Christology is always a matter of relationships of persons acting in freedom.

The Son of God took on the fallen nature of man. This raises the huge issue of how it is possible for the impassive God to become subject to the consequences of the fall. How should we understand the involvement of God in the suffering, self-emptying and even death of Christ?

The Son, one person of the Trinity, empties himself of glory. His relationship with the Father and Spirit is not broken, but he alone undertakes the fate of the created, making it his own fate. This is uniquely his act, for each of the persons of the Trinity is a complete and free-acting being. As a person complete in himself the Son freely accepted for himself the fate of the world in its fallen form and worked through this world in order to carry through the plan of God the Father. Freely the Son took on all the consequences of entering the fallen reality of the world’s existence and, equally freely, the Holy Spirit worked with him so that all three persons participated, each in his own way.

Creation had become trapped within its own boundaries, and was bound for dissolution and death. But as the Word became flesh, becoming a single human being, and taking on the constraints of flesh, he too became subject to hunger and thirst, to tiredness, and so he suffered, until even this life was finally taken away from him. All his suffering was entirely real. For the whole ancient world it was an established principle that God is impassive and cannot suffer pain or death. But the Church dismissed the temptation to regard Christ’s sufferings as a matter of mere appearances, that is to say, of illusion or pretence, regarding such a ‘docetic’ Christology as an evasion of the truth. However difficult and counterintuitive it was to say that it was truly God who suffered all those things, the Church nevertheless insisted that the Son of God was fully involved in this sorrow, suffering and death.

Since the Church was clear that the pain and anguish of the Son were real it had to reconcile them with the impassivity of God. Twentieth-century Christology was inclined to read back into the eternal life and being of God what we see in the economy of God for us. It decided that the passion was directly related to the nature of God and that on account of his love God suffers as soon as he sees mankind suffering and even that he is ‘eternally’ familiar with sorrow. His love for mankind means that the cross is a part of his eternal existence and that there is no intrinsic conflict between the cross and the nature and being of God. But the Fathers of the Church took quite a different view.

The Fathers insisted that such an understanding cannot fit with God because in his eternal existence he is not bound by the constraints of creaturehood. God is free of the limitations experienced by all created things: this is what it means to he uncreated. if the concept of passion indicates a characteristic of divine nature, this is completely inappropriate here.

The Church teaches us that all that happened to Christ, including the pain, sorrow and death that he underwent, must be understood as an extreme and incomprehensible act of freedom and love. This passion is Christ’s action, and a most dynamic and active work. We stand before the mystery of the incarnation and wonder how God could act in this way to become passive to all that man could inflict on him. We cannot explain how Christ could suffer, but must say that it is the love of God that has brought this about and so we can only express our thankfulness. It is extremely important therefore for us to be clear that Christ does not suffer because suffering is part of his divine nature, but that he suffers despite his divine nature. He does so because he decides to do so, not because his nature compels him. He freely decided to undergo these things for our sake, and at each moment of his ministry demonstrated his willing engagement in taking on all that belonged to his incarnation among humankind.

Some theologians stress the self-emptying (kenosis) involved in the incarnation and suggest that in suffering these things for our sake, Christ gave up his divinity. But his divinity is simply personal relationship with the Father, and the relationship of the Son with the Father is in no way altered by the incarnation. His nature, which is the nature he has with the Father, and which is common to them both, exists without interruption. He suffered because he took human nature and remained obedient to its confines. In Christ we have the whole fullness of God: nothing of his divinity receded or was withdrawn in the incarnation. He was completely human and completely God. We have to affirm this, but beyond a certain point we can offer no further explanations. We can explain it only in terms of the liberty of God who is free to exercise his power and his love and to exercise it in the form of weakness. Thus the Council of Chalcedon (451) stated that in Christ we acknowledge complete divinity and complete humanity, nothing missing in either respect.

That Council went on to say that the union of the divinity and humanity is complete, so Christ’s divine and human natures are united indivisibly. This union involved no mixture or synthesis of the two natures; there was no confusion so these natures could always be distinguished, one from the other, ‘distinct’, as the Council put it. We have two natures, divine and human, joined inseparably while remaining distinct. The third point that the Council made was that the union of these two natures took place in the person of the Son of God. There was no creation of a new, human person: we do not have two persons but the one person of Christ. The union of the two natures is personal because it is a person who is this union, the specific person of the Son of the Trinity. The crucial point is that we are not ultimately dealing with natures, but with persons as the focus of unity.

The Church’s insistence on the singularity of the person of Christ contrasted with a position advanced by Nestorius. Nestorius wanted to preserve the humanity of Christ in full. He was afraid that if we do not say that the person of Christ is human the humanity of Christ would he diminished. The Church at Chalcedon took the position that we are not dealing with a human person but simply with one single person, and that this person is divine. Does this demote the humanity of Christ? We said that Christ is fully God and fully human, so surely it is right to say that his person is a human person?

A person is an identity formed through a relationship. We are persons because our distinct identity is given by our various relationships, biological relationships with our parents, natural relationships with our environment, and a vast complex of other social and political relationships. All these make us the person we are. But each particular person also substantiates these relationships and makes them his own. All we say and do in the course of a lifetime subtly determines the environment which shapes us. Each of us is enabled by the community among which he was born and brought up, but equally through all his life he adds something to that community, by which he alters slightly what those who come after him are able to do. We receive our personhood from the whole vast community around us, and by participating in that community, we contribute to it and in some untraceably small way change it too. So though we receive our personhood from the community, the community also receives its identity from us, so the person has a part in determining the community that determines him.

Each person can assume many relationships and to some degree arbitrate between them. We can decide which relationship is most important and even which is ultimate for us. Only one relationship by definition can finally be the most significant and decisive for us, and this is the relationship that makes me myself rather than someone else. If, for example, I decide that my relationship with my parents is the definitive one, then all of my other natural, social relationships will be mediated through this relationship with my parents. One decisive relationship makes me who I am and is the criterion for all other relationships that contribute to my total identity.

If I do not desire to make the personal relationship with my parents the decisive element for my personal identity, I find others to whom I transfer my affection. And this is something that indeed occurs as we grow: the child gradually transfers its decisive relationship from its mother and family to others, so its personal identity is not longer given entirely by its family, but also by a much wider circle of relationships. If we relate our identity unduly to what we wear, or what we eat or the car we drive, these things will come to determine our entire identity.

Our personal identity is a matter of relationships. When you are in love with someone, this relationship is decisive for the way in which you see the world and all other relationships at that time. So then relationships give us our identity and make us persons. One of these relationships will eventually determine and incorporate all the other relationships. Now what makes Christ a person is the relationship through which all his other relationships pass and by which they are determined. What finally determines the identity of Christ, is his relationship with the Father.

In the incarnation, Christ took on other relationships. He had a relationship with his mother, Mary, with his people, teachers and disciples and with the natural and social environment of Israel. He ate and took his place in the economy and ecology of the land of Israel and had relationships with the entire people of Israel and all those others that shared that land. He takes on all that is common to humanity and nothing that is created is foreign to him. All these relationships belong to his personal identity, and they are all judged by the decisive relationship that Christ has with the Father. When we explain what the Church Fathers achieved by their statement at Chalcedon, we have to show the significance of their statement that Christ is one person with two natures. His divine and human natures, along with all the relationships with the created order, come within the one relationship with the Father that determines Christ’s identity. Thus, despite the new relationships that he takes on in his incarnation, he is, and remains, the Son of the Father.

In our case the centre of our identity shifts as we take on new relationships. The ‘I’ changes, when the ‘you’ changes. When someone we love dies, we will eventually have to find some other love to replace it. If that love is not replaced through other relationships it will become impossible for us to connect to others, to sustain our other relationships and our identity will be endangered. As long as all our relationships are focused through the love of someone who is no longer alive, all our relationships and our entire identity are threatened.

What should we say about the identity of Christ and about his own understanding of his identity? When Christ says ‘I’, what does he mean? Where does he get his consciousness of himself from? There was a long discussion, chiefly in Roman Catholic theological circles, of whether Christ had two kinds of consciousness, a divine consciousness and a human one. But we must remember that it is impossible to be conscious, to be a self, without a relationship. I am me because I am related to my brother, my nephew, my neighbour, my employer or whoever. We always are what we are as we relate to someone who is not ourselves. You cannot say ‘me’, in the complete absence of any ‘you’. After many centuries, some twentieth-century philosophers at least have made the discovery that there is no ‘I’ without a ‘you’.

Christ draws his consciousness of himself from his relationship with the Father. This is why the person of Christ has only this single self-consciousness, which is determined by this single relationship. If he had drawn his identity equally primarily from Mary, Christ would have self-consciousnesses, and thus been two equally fundamental sets of relationships and so would have been two persons. Then Nestorius’ position would have been valid: we would have had one human with two persons: one relationship from here, and another relationship from there – equally giving him his identity. Two relationships cannot equally determine an identity: only one relationship can be ultimately determinative. The truth of this can be seen in iconography. In Western portraits of Christ and the Virgin Mary, Christ is portrayed as a baby alone with his mother. The maternal relationship gives the identity of the baby. But in a Byzantine icon, the painter wants to show us that the child is God, so the baby is not defined by the Virgin. Although the relationship with his mother is real enough, his identity comes from another relationship, the relationship he has with the Father.

What is it that decides our personal identities? They are determined by the attitudes we take through the course of our lives. If the Father were to ask the Son to go the Cross and the holy Mother begged him, as every mother would, not to go, the Son would respond by obeying one of them. Or if he had decided at Gethsemane to follow his own will and not the will of the Father, he would not have gone to the cross. Had he not gone to the cross, the person of Jesus would be defined by his relationship either to himself (self-love) or to his mother and perhaps to the rest of humankind, but not by his relationship to the Father.

Our personal identity is being constantly determined through how we respond and enter relationships. The one who finally determines our personal identity is the one to whom we offer our existence. The saints and martyrs are witnesses to this. A martyr experiences communion with God, theosis, because at that moment in which his life is taken from him, he is related single-mindedly to Christ, so all other relationships are subordinated to this one. The martyrs made the relationship with God the relationship that determined their identity, just as Christ had, and so God sees the person of his Son in them. They did what the Son did, and were acknowledged by God as sons, and so they were able to acknowledge God as Father, and attain theosis, sealing their lives for eternity.

Christ, however, did not attain theosis by transferring his allegiance from human relationships to relationship with God. The relationship with the Father was first: he simply continued to acknowledge the Father as determinative of his identity. Christ does not acquire an identity from a created being, though the created element is embodied within his identity. He does not allow his own will or interests to become the source of his own identity. In this he was utterly unlike Adam who put himself in God’s place and determined his identity from his own self.

Christ subordinated all other relationships to his relationship with the Father, and, being thus included within this relationship, all these other relationships were liberated from the restrictions to which they were subject. They are all set free and are included within his body, as part of his identity.

So it is vital that we respect the decision of the Council of Chalcedon that Christ’s person is one, the person of the Son of the Father. Only within the Son is mankind brought into all relationships that are made possible when God is God. If a separate human person is attributed to Christ, the definition of man would be restricted to man and remain governed by his biological limitations.

By accepting one person, the divine person of the Son, we allow mankind infinite possibilities, so this is not a reductive view but a very high view of man. We not only have no demotion of mankind but the raising of mankind to life in the Holy Spirit, in free relationship with all humanity and with all creation. The teaching of the Church at Chalcedon sets out the meaning of the person and so demonstrates that freedom is fundamental to human beings and to creation as a whole.

VII. Communion

We have been asking how Christ can be perfect and at the same time experience suffering? How can he be God who is impassive and Christ who suffers all that we inflict on him? This is the question asked about the Christology of the Council of Chalcedon. We have seen that a person is not confined to, or exhausted by, one nature. We are not defined just by human nature, but since we are animals, by an animal nature too. We are constituted by the whole ecology of the living world, of plant life itself constituted by all the non-living materiality of the minerals that make up our material bodies. We share the whole range of natures of which creation is made up.

If we said that, because Christ possesses a perfect human nature, he must necessarily possess a human person, we would be subordinating the person, Christ, to a nature – human nature. Of course, there can be no nature that does not exist in some specific person. Nature is represented by persons, but a person can represent more than one nature. Nature does not determine the person, but each person lives within a set of relationships.

The Son of God, who is eternally this divine person and an instance of the divine nature, now assumes and represents human nature too. Human nature is not diminished by this, but is elevated to the vastly greater status of life with the persons of God. The human being is raised to participate in the life of God, and to develop the likeness of God and so become God-like. Human nature has no independent definition of its own, for any such definition would prevent it from this participation in the life of God (theosis). In all this we are simply saying that without God, there is no creature called man. Man exists truly in unbroken relationship with God. We therefore have here an extremely high view of the human calling. We are not demoting man: this is an anthropological maximalism, not minimalism. The true definition of man is the creature who participates freely in the life of God – not a creature who lives from some resources of his own.

Divine nature did not ‘become’ human nature, as a result of the hypostatic union. Each of the two natures retained its natural characteristics, but, when the two natures came together in the same person, without undergoing any change or ceasing to be what they are each nature assumed the characteristics of the other: this is termed the ‘communication of attributes’, or the ‘wonderful exchange’.

The union in the one person of Christ brings this ‘exchange of attributes’ about. Whatever Christ did, became the reality of his humanity too. Everything he did as a human was equally a divine act, but the divine nature was not the agent here. It was this person who acted; these were all the acts of the Son. If natures were to impart their particular characteristics to each other, those characteristics or attributes would also be shared by the other persons of the Trinity, the Father and the Spirit – who are one nature with the Son. If it were the natures that were united and exchanged we would be able to make no distinction between what the Son did and what the Father did. So we must be clear that it is not the Father or the Spirit who became incarnate. The deification (theosis) of human nature, which is to say of humanity in general, is not attributed to man’s union with ‘God’ in general, but only because man becomes united with the Son. In other words, theosis is union in Christ. All humanity exists in Christ.

Christ is always in relationship with all other humans, and thus to humanity and human nature in general. He is never an individual in isolation who subsequently comes into a variety of relationships. He cannot be known apart from his body, the communion of those made holy in him, so there is no Christ without his Church. He is the head that sustains his body. Christ does not stand at a distance from the Church, so we cannot contrast it with him, but he is the Church’s true identity, and the source from which it comes. The Church is therefore nothing other than the kingdom of God in which Christ reigns. The Church is holy because ‘One is holy, One is the Lord, Jesus Christ.’ Despite all the sinfulness of its members, the Church remains holy because Christ is its ‘person’ and its identity.

Another consequence is that whoever is brought into relationship with God comes simultaneously into relationship with all humanity. The true form of humanity and the reality of human nature is found in relationship with Christ. Humanity in Christ is the true, and ultimately the only humanity. There is no participation in the communion of God outside the Church, because there is no Church without Christ and no Christ without his Church. Man ultimately exists only within Christ. Christ is the whole territory, within which each human being can be distinctly himself or herself, and can receive and give their otherness among all other created persons. Christ is the truth of man, his gathering and redemption. Christology therefore inevitably takes us to communion and ecclesiology, and Christology is always accompanied by ecclesiology. The notion of ‘Christ’ without the Church is inconceivable, and our understanding of the Church must he shaped by all the Christology we have discussed. The Church is no interim arrangement that is intended to hold good just between the resurrection and the end of time. The Church refer to a Christ-centered reality, the body of Christ, which exists even after the resurrection and will continue to exist, forever.

The distinction between the persons of God is of immense significance for theology. Each of the persons has his own role in the economy and in the Eucharist. The Son presents everything to the Father, while the Father receives and accepts the offering that the Son makes. It was the Father who inaugurated the entire plan of the economy, so the whole economy of our creation and redemption his act of love. The economy began with the ‘good pleasure’ of the Father and he will receive it again. With the Holy Spirit the Son carries the Father’s will forward, and when it is complete he will return all creation to the Father. The Son presents us to the Father together with all creation as his own body. The Eucharist is this presentation and offering of the body of Christ to the Father; the eschatological and final offering is that return to the Father.

The body of Christ is brought into being for us on earth in the Eucharist. It is Christ who prays and worships in the Eucharist. The prayer of the Anaphora that begins with the words ‘Let us thank the Lord’ is addressed to the Father. In the Divine Liturgy of Basil the Great, it is clear that it is the Father who receives the prayer of offering. The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom underwent changes in its offertory prayer after the fourth century, with the addition of: ‘Thou (the Father), and Thy Only-begotten Son, and Thy Holy Spirit’. The whole Trinity is named, so the priest should not turn to the icon of Christ when uttering the words ‘Let us thank the Lord’. The words ‘Let us thank the Lord’ which start the Eucharist receive the response: ‘Worthy and just’ and from then on the words are addressed to the Father. It is Christ who is praying in the Eucharist, and the worshipping Church stands in the person of Christ.

Christ, the head of the Church, prays and presents the whole economy of creation to the Father, and the Church is part of the Son as he prays to the Father. The Son leads us before the throne of God, where God accepts us as members of his Son, and this way we are joined to God. This means that in the Offertory (Anaphora) prayer the Church has no separate identity of its own. When the priest sings ‘Holy gifts for holy people’, the people respond with ‘One is Holy’, by which they mean that those who are going to participate in this holy communion are holy, or are to become holy, not because of their personal holiness but because of the holiness of Christ. As we acknowledge that the Son is one with the Father, and holy as the Father is holy, we ourselves are being made holy through him and being made sons of God. In Christ we will be one with God, and holy as he is holy.

The one who is doing the offering in the Eucharist, the bishop in the ancient Church and, in his absence, the priest, is an image of Christ within that liturgical assembly. He brings the entire Church into one body, summing up and recapitulating all creation in this body, which he then presents to the Father. Though the bishop is making the offering in the Eucharist, in prayer before the Offertory he declares ‘for it is you, O Christ, our God, who offer arid are offered, who receive and are received’ (Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom). Though the people see only the bishop, he declares that it is Christ who is making the offering. Christ, in the Holy Spirit, makes the bishop his own visible form for the sake of the congregation. The bishop who presides at this Eucharist makes visible for us the invisible Christ, even while he is fully conscious that he himself is not Christ. This dialectical relationship between Christ and his icon, the bishop, is intristic to the Eucharist in which the whole people are being made one with Christ.

There is no distance between Christ and his body in the Eucharist. All prayers presuppose the unity, or even identity, of the Church with Christ, and are addressed to the Father or to all divine persons together. This unity of head and body generates a dialogue between Christ together with his body and the Father. There was a debate in the twelfth century, led by Nicholaos of Methoni, about whether Christ offers the divine Eucharist to the Father but does not himself receive it. The answer the Church gave was that Christ both offers the divine Eucharist and receives it too. The Father accepts the Eucharist in the presence of the Son and the Spirit, so the Holy Trinity as a whole is involved in the Eucharistic event.

Christ is visible for us therefore only as the Church, and the Church cannot be seen without Christ. The Father accepts the body which Christ offers during the Eucharist. The Son offers this body, as he is united with our humanity, and together with the Father he accepts it. The Church has no other identity than Christ. This means that whatever comes into the Church in the Eucharist becomes ecclesialised, rendered ‘Church’, as it relates to the Father in Christ in the divine Eucharist. By ‘Church’ we mean that all creation is brought into relationship with God through the human being. So whatever a person brings as his offering, even if simply his own physical presence, he brings the whole created world along with him. He takes it with the bread and wine, and with whatever other offerings there are, and these are all ‘Christ-ed’ , that is redeemed into the body of Christ. In the Eucharist these offerings, along with those who offer them, are sanctified, so they are no longer constituents that we can investigate sociologically, economically or legally, because they are no longer subject to the principles that govern created nature. They are accepted, sanctified, become holy and in this way come to share in the relationship of Father and Son in the Spirit.

The expression ‘One is holy’ means that the entire assembly, together with its bishop and its offering, is holy and indivisible. The divine Eucharist unites all these in the person of the Son. All the created elements and persons brought into the divine Eucharist are brought into that new reality and are no longer constituted by any other social or created reality. All created reality is brought into direct relationship with God from whom and through whom it takes its life and will always return thanksgiving and praise to him. The human creature will freely participate in the life of the persons of God and so all creation will be saved in and through man in Christ.

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