The Blessed Doubt of the Apostle Thomas

John 20:19-31

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my   finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

The “blessed doubt” of the Apostle Thomas.   St. John of Karpathos wrote:

“‘ Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed’ (John 20:29). Blessed also are those who, when grace is withdrawn, find no consolation in themselves, but only continuing tribulation and thick darkness, and yet do not despair; but, strengthened by faith, they endure courageously, convinced that they do indeed see Him who is invisible.” (St.John of Karpathos in The Philokalia Volume 1 – The Complete Text, pg. 315)

From the ancient Church we also find this on doubt:

“There are some who, even though they have begun to develop a taste for divine things, nevertheless are disturbed and hassled by the adversary, so that they are surprised (still lacking experience) that after the divine visitation, they should still harbor doubts about the mysteries of the Christian religion. Those who have grown old in them are not surprised at all. As skilled farmers from long experience, if they have had a year of bountiful harvest, they do not live without some planning, but they foresee the time of dearth and tight times.

On the contrary, if famine and penury hit them, they do not become despondent, as they think positively about the future. It is the same way with things in the spiritual world. When the soul falls into various temptations (Jb 1:1), it is not surprised, not does it lose all hope, because it knows that by God’s permission it is being exposed to trials and is being disciplined by evil. Nor does it forget other circumstances when things go well and there is consolation, but it expects the time of trial.

 The sun, being a material, created thing, shines down also upon swampy places full of mud and slime and yet is not affected or defiled. How much more the pure and Holy Spirit that is joined to the soul which still is afflicted by evil, without himself being tainted by the evil. For: ‘The light shines in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not’ (Jn 1:5).” (Psuedo-Macarius, The Fifty Spiritual Homilies and the Great Letter, pg.130)

The Incarnate God: Savior of Humans

The Human Soul

             “Do not, best beloved, consider lightly

                        the intellective value of the soul.

            The human soul, immortal-of itself

                        a precious vessel-has obtained

            the God’s inestimable love. Witness

                        the glory of the heavens and the earth,

            and know that God took little pleasure

                        in them, preferring you. And note

            your worth to Him, considering

                        how-not for the sake of angels,

            but for you-He came to your assistance,

                        called you back when you were lost,

            when you were wounded, ill, and how

                        He then restored you to your first, created

            State-as righteous Eve and Adam savoring

                        the garden, unencumbered, unimpaired, free

            of mark or stain.”

Love’s Immensity by Scott Cairns, pg.29)

The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (B)

This is the 34th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (A).

St. Symeon in the passage below gives us further clarification regarding his understanding of Adam’s condition when he was first created.  Symeon sees Adam’s body as having been created incorruptible, however he was still in need of perfection in as much as his body was created material but not yet spiritual.  In the Fall, Adam loses his incorruptible vesture (the garment of glory) and is clothed instead in mortality (the garments of skins).

“It is thus the case that Adam was created with an incorruptible body, though one which was material and not yet spiritual, and was established by God the Creator as the immortal king of an incorrupt world, and I mean by the latter everything under heaven and not just Paradise.  … Adam chose not to believe the words which his Maker and Lord had spoken to him …  Immediately, he was stripped of his incorruptible vesture and glory, and clothed with the nakedness of mortality. … And God tries to bring him to repentance by asking: ‘And who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat.’  But Adam will not admit that he has sinned.   Instead, he tries to put the blame on God Who had made all things ‘very good,’ … and the woman in her turn ascribes blame to the serpent, and because both of them absolutely would not repent and fall down before their Master to ask His forgiveness, He removes them and throws them out of the royal palace, the dwelling-place of nobility—I mean Paradise—so that they must live afterwards on this earth as foreigners and exiles.  … It was therefore altogether fitting that Adam, who had been brought down to corruption and death by his own transgression, should inhabit an earth become in like manner transitory and mortal, and that he should worthily partake of its food.  Since unrestricted pleasure, and an incorrupt and effortless way of life had led him to forget that every good thing had come from God, and had brought him to despise the commandment which had been given him, he was justly condemned to work the earth with effort and sweat, and to draw from it, as from some niggardly steward of an estate, his daily bread.  Do you see how the earth, now cursed and deprived of its spontaneous germination, received the transgressor?  What for and why?  So that, worked by him with labor and sweat, it should provide its fruits in a manner proportionate to his needs, but , without cultivation, that it should remain without fruit, productive only of thorns and thistles.”   (St. Symeon the New Theologian, ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE  Vol 1, pp 26-29)

Basically St. Symeon sees the good things of Paradise as lulling Adam into a state of self-satisfaction and taking all of Paradise for granted.  Adam apparently lost sight of the fact that Paradise was a gift which God shared with Adam but which  could be taken away because Adam was a guest in Paradise not its owner.  Adam also was given a responsibility of stewardship in the Garden of Delight, which he failed to exercise – the ease of life there made him forget his responsibilities.

Adam, now mortal, is placed on earth in which mortality is part of the landscape – this several Fathers assumed was done so that humans wouldn’t live in a place where everything was more spiritual than themselves.  Now Adam cannot simply sit back and enjoy the blessings of Paradise which God had given him.  Now humans have to work hard to produce the good things of the earth.  This was meant to bring us to repentance – we are to regret the loss of Paradise, regret our own laziness and self-satisfaction, regret our ingratitude: this in order to bring us to repentance.

Next:  The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (C)

Salvation in Christ

“In Christ we have everything….

If you want to heal your wound, he is the doctor.

If you are burning with fever, he is the fountain.

If you are in need of help, he is strength.

If you are in dread of death, he is life.

If you are fleeing the darkness, he is light.

If you are hungry, he is food: ’O taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy are they who take refuge in him’ (Psalm 34:8)

(Ambrose of Milan in the book The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Oliver Clément, pg.56)

the rIsIng tIde of narcIssIsm

I have often said that the opposite of late is not hate but self-love.  Love is always other directed – it is a coming out of oneself to be with, care for, give to, provide for, sacrifice for, protect, honor and serve the other.   Self-love on the other hand is totally self oriented, it’s never about the other but only about the self.  Christ taught love; much human sinfulness involves selfish, self centered, self love.

Nathan DeWall, associate psychology professor at the University of Kentucky, says that “lyrics in pop music from 1980 to 2007 reflect increasing narcissism in society.”     DeWall was interviewed by NPR’s Michelle Norris:  Study: Narcissism on the Rise in Pop Lyrics . DeWall says song lyrics are cultural artifacts that reveal trends in culture.  Love songs used to be about we and us, today singers croon about how great they are.  DeWall says about the increased narcissism in culture:

“It reinforces this idea in American culture that we really need to focus on how people feel about themselves. You know, we can’t really threaten other people’s self-esteem. We can’t give them accurate feedback about who they really are. People who are very narcissistic, they come off as very confident, but if you insult them or provoke them in any way, it sort of breaks their bubble, and they’re very fragile people.”

Personally I think narcissism and post-modernism go hand in hand.   In post-modern literature there often are no clearly defined good guys and bad guys because everything is simply perspective.  Good and bad depend upon who is evaluating but is always merely personal, the assessment of an individual, but not an objective value.

It is narcissistic in the sense that the only reference point is “I“.  Truth, good or evil are all completely seen as what is true to ME, what is good to ME, what is evil to ME.   There is no recognition that truth, good or evil might have real meaning apart from the self or that they can be shared values of society or by like-minded people.

The pre-postmodern view did hold that there are some universal truths:  murder is wrong for example.  It is wrong not because “I” agree that it is wrong, it is wrong for everyone.  It is a recognized evil.

Postmodernism says there is no one meta-narrative that ties us all together, rather each person lives their life story while bumping into others who are living their stories.   But Christianity (so too Islam and Judaism,  fascism, communism and many other -isms) says there is a meta-narrative which ties all of our lives together.  There are common and shared values.  So there is truth, good, evil and reality beyond the I.

Even evolution is a meta-narrative that ties us all together.  And though pure Darwinism avoids putting value on traits that have evolved/emerged in humans, yet it do recognize that some things are valuable to human survival and some things will hasten the demise of the species.  The things that help a species survive become part of that species’ behavior.  So even if it is only because a gene causes us to be empathetic or compassionate or socially conscious, this trait apparently helps the human species survive and so has a value to them.

It is not surprising that pop songs reflect an increasingly narcissistic attitude in the culture.  It is just another manifestation of the extreme individualism that causes us to forget that we are social beings, created to live in relationships with one another, created to love.

The Defeat of Death

“Death is a much of a mystery as life itself-a mystery that neither natural nor divine science is able to explain. As the Anglican theologian Austin Farrer so right said, ‘God does not give us explanations; he gives up a Son.’ The Christian faith is not a theodicy; it provides no final rationale or explanation for death. At the core of the Christian vision of death lies Scriptures’s proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ. Death is an evil that is defeated once and for all by the willing sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross and by his glorious resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.” (Vigen Guroian, Life’s Living Toward Dying, pg.41)

The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (A)

This is the 33rd  blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam’s Expulsion in Later Patristic Writings.

The 11th Century  St. Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022AD) like many of the Orthodox theologians of the Patristic era wrote extensively about Adam and his expulsion  from Paradise as the basis for understanding salvation in Christ.  In this and the next 2 blogs we will consider some of his thinking about the first humans and their role in shaping our world.  Like St. Dorotheos of Gaza, St. Symeon believed Adam was created immortal, becoming mortal only through sin.  St. Symeon believed Adam had a spiritual way of perceiving reality – through the eye of his soul.  In eating the forbidden fruit, Adam’s physical eyes were open, but he lost the use of the eye of the soul and no longer could see things as God created them.

“So, being made of dust from the earth, and having received a breath of life which the word calls an intelligent soul and the image of God, he was placed in the garden to work and given a commandment to keep.  How so?  So that, as long as he did keep it and work, he would remain immortal and compete everlastingly with the angels, and together with them would praise God unceasingly and receive His illumination and see God intelligibly, and hear His divine voice.  But in that same hour that he should transgress the commandment given him and eat of the tree from which God had commanded him not to eat, he would be given over to death and be deprived of the eyes of his soul.  He would be stripped of his robe of divine glory; his ears would be stopped up, and he would fall from his way of life with the angels and be chased out of paradise.   This indeed did happen to the transgressor, and he fell from his eternal and immortal life.  For once Adam had transgressed God’s commandment and lent his ear for the deceitful devil to whisper in, and was persuaded by him on hearing his cunning words against the Master Who had made him, he tasted of the tree and, perceiving with his senses, he both saw and beheld with passion the nakedness of his body.  He was justly deprived of all those good things.  He became deaf.  With ears become profane he could no longer listen to divine words in a manner which was spiritual and adequate to God, as such words resound only in those who are worthy.  Neither could he see the divine glory any longer, in that he had voluntarily turned his intellect away from it and had looked upon the fruit of the tree with passion, and had believed the serpent who said: ‘In that now that you eat of it, you will be as gods, knowing good and evil’ (Gen 3:5).”   (St. Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022AD), ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE  Vol 2, p 165)

According to St. Symeon the immediate result of the Fall was that humanity could no longer see God or hear His Word for now humanity heard and saw only with their physical senses, but no longer spiritually through the soul.   This shortcoming would be corrected in the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ for then humans could both see God and hear His Word.   Thus today for all Christians the proclamation of the Gospel and the reading of all of the Scriptures allows us to hear the Word of God, and in iconography we can see the Word made flesh.  God has ended the complete separation of humanity from Himself.

Next:  The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (B)

Resurrection in the Body

“The Son of God, who in His compassion became man, died so far as His body was concerned when His soul was separated from His body; but this body was not separated from His divinity, and so He raised up His body once more and took it with Him to heaven in glory. Similarly, when those who have lived here in a godly manner are separated from their bodies, they are not separated from God, and in the resurrection they will take their bodies with them to God, and in their bodies they will enter with inexpressible joy there where Jesus has preceded us (Heb. 6:20) and in their bodies they will enjoy the glory that will be revealed in Christ (Pet. 5:1). Indeed, they will share not only in resurrection, but also in the Lord’s ascension and in all divine life.” (St. Gregory Palamas [d. 1359AD] in the Philokalia, The Complete Text, Volume 4 compiled by St.Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St.Makarios of Corinth, pg.298)

Adam’s Expulsion in Later Patristic Writings

This is the 32nd blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is The Effects of the Expulsion from Paradise in Patristic Thinking.

In the writings of St. Dorotheos of Gaza (6th Century), we see some of the diversity in Patristic thinking when it comes to Adam.  Unlike some of the other Fathers we have already read in this blog series, Dorotheos sees Adam as created not merely possessing potential goodness and immortality, but rather already possessing “every virtue” and created immortal from the beginning.  Thus Adam did not simply fail to attain his potential good, he actually lost his position and fell to an unnatural state.  Once in this unnatural state, Adam/humanity quickly became enamored with and enslaved by this Fallen world, and so continued transgressing against God.

“In the beginning when God created man he set him in paradise (as the divine holy scripture says), adorned with every virtue, and gave him a command not to eat of the tree in the middle of paradise.  He was provided for in paradise, in prayer and contemplation in the midst of honor and glory; healthy in his emotions and sense perceptions, and perfect in his nature as he was created.  For, to the likeness of God did God make man, that is, immortal, having the power to act freely, and adorned with all the virtues.  When he disobeyed the command and ate of the tree that God commanded him not to eat of, he was thrown out of paradise and fell from a state in accord with his nature to a state contrary to nature, i.e. a prey to sin, to ambition, to a love of the pleasures of this life and other passions; and he was mastered by them, and became a slave of them through his transgression.  Then little by little evil increased and death reigned.”  (St. Dorotheos of Gaza , DISCOURSES AND SAYINGS, p 77)

Of interest, For Dorotheos there was a process of decline for the humans, “little by little evil increased”, which eventually resulted in death reigning over humanity.  But in the Fall, the humans lose their natural freedom – for instead of having dominion over creation, they have become subject to it, and now are slaves to it.  Only Christ restores freedom from enslavement to this world.

St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) sees humans as losing their divine likeness but not their divine image in the Fall.  The first death the humans experienced was the soul’s separation from God; only later did humans experience physical death.

“After our forefather’s transgression in paradise through the tree, we suffered the death of our soul – which is the separation of the soul from God – prior to our bodily death; yet although we cast away our divine likeness, we did not lose our divine image.  Thus when the soul renounces its attachment to inferior things and cleaves through love to God and submits itself to Him through acts and modes of virtue, it is illuminated and made beautiful by God and is raised to a higher level, obeying His counsels and exhortations; and by this means it regains the truly eternal life.”    (St. Gregory Palamas  in THE PHILOKALIA  Vol 4, p 363)

For St. Gregory the path back to becoming truly human is to fully love God and obey Him through a virtuous life.  Christ has shown us this way of love.

St. Gregory Palamas draws on the image of a coiling snake as the means to show just how “twisted in character” the serpent that tempted Eve was.  The snake is not Satan incarnate, for Satan cannot become incarnate, but a deception to prevent Eve from knowing to whom she was speaking.  God allows the deception as the humans had to make the right choices in life to preserve their natural goodness.  Unfortunately, according to St. Gregory, Adam and Eve fail to recognize the deception, fail to see the superiority of God’s own counsel and subject themselves to a creature, abandoning their proper relationship with the Creator.

“The mediator and cause of death, twisted in character and inordinate in craftiness, once insinuated himself into a twisting serpent in God’s paradise.  He did not himself become a serpent (nor could he, except in an illusory form; and this he preferred not to adopt at that time, for fear of being detected; but, not daring an open confrontation, he chose a deceitful approach…) . . .  God permitted this so that man, seeing counsel coming from a creature inferior to himself – and, indeed, how greatly is the serpent his inferior – might realize how completely worthless this counsel was and might rightly reject with indignation the idea of submitting to what was clearly inferior to him.  In this way he would preserve his own dignity and at the same time, by obeying the divine commandment, would keep faith with the Creator.”  (St. Gregory Palamas in THE PHILOKALIA  Vol 4, p 365)

Thus humans ended up living in this fallen world based upon choices we have made while ignoring God’s commandments for a better life.

Next:  The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (A)

Christ is risen…

“Christ is risen, releasing from bondage Adam the first-formed man and destroying the power of hell. Be of good courage, all ye dead, for death is slain and hell despoiled; the crucified and risen Christ is King. He has given incorruption to our flesh; He counts worthy of His joy and glory all who, with a faith that wavers not, have trusted fervently in Him.” (Sticheron at the end of Matins of Saturday of the Dead, from the book Festival Icons for the Christian Year by John Baggley, pg.76)