The Maker of Heaven and Earth

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made..  (Nicene Creed, emphases added)

In the Nicene Creed we profess a belief that God created everything and everyone.  St John Chrysostom says this fact has an implication for all of us and how we approach the created world we live in (as stewards entrusted with God’s property gifted to us) and how we approach all the people we encounter (as fellow neighbors sharing God’s earth).  For Chrysostom there is only one thing we really own – our good deeds.  Our deeds are our only true possession and the only thing we really can offer to God.

“… Chrysostom … felt that there was but one owner of all things in the world – God Himself, the Maker of all.  Strictly speaking, no private property should exist at all.  Everything belongs to God.  Everything is loaned rather than given by God in trust to man, for God’s purposes.  Chrysostom would add: Everything is God’s except the good deeds of man – it is the only thing that man can own.

As everything belongs to God, our common master, everything is given for common use.  Is it not true even of worldly things? Cities, market-places, streets – are they not a common possession?  God’s economy is  of the same kind.  Water, air sun and moon, and the rest of creation, are intended for common use.  Quarrels begin usually when people attempt to appropriate things which, by their very nature, were not intended for the private possession of some, to the exclusion of others. …

Chrysostom was after justice in defense of human dignity.  Was not every man created in God’s image?  Did God not wish salvation and conversion of every single man, regardless of his position in life, and even regardless of his behavior in the past?  All are called to repentance, and all can repent.  There was, however, no neglect of material things in his preaching.  Material goods come also from God, and they are not bad in themselves.  What is bad, is only the unjust use of goods, to the profit of some, while others are left starving.  The answer is love. Love is not selfish, ‘is not ambitious, is not self-seeking.‘ ” (Georges Florovsky, ASPECTS OF CHURCH HISTORY Vol 4, pp 84-85)


Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Antiquity Alone Does Not Confirm Truth or Tradition

The Orthodox Church prides itself on faithfulness to Tradition.  We often boast about how old some of our liturgical practices are.  Yet, even in the ancient Church they recognized that the age of a practice does not guarantee its correctness.  St. Vincent of Lerins (d. 445AD)  famously defined Tradition as “that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”  But he already in the  5th Century said that just because practices come down to us from antiquity doesn’t prove they were right in the first place.  There are ancient sins which continue to be commonly practiced and there are ancient heresies which people tenaciously hang on to.  Georges Florovsky writes:
However, “antiquity” by itself is not yet an adequate proof of the true faith. Archaic formulas can be utterly misleading. Vincent himself was well aware of that. Old customs as such do not guarantee the truth…
12th Century Byzantine Icon
12th Century Byzantine Icon
Thus, “tradition” in the Church is not merely the continuity of human memory, or the permanence  of rites and habits. Ultimately, “tradition” is the continuity of divine assistance, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The Church is not bound by “the letter.” She is constantly moved forth by “the spirit.” The same Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, which “spake through the Prophets,” which guided the Apostles, which illumined the Evangelists, is still abiding in the Church, and guides her into the fuller understanding of the divine truth, from glory to glory.  (Aspects of Church History, pp. 15-16
12th Century French Icon
12th Century French Icon

The Truth About Dogma

“And the unalterable truths of experience can be expressed in different ways. Divine reality can be described in images and parables, in the language of devotional poetry and of religious art. Such was the language of the prophets in the Old Testament, in such a manner the Evangelists often speak, in such a way the Apostles preached, and in such a manner the church preaches even now in her liturgical hymns and in the symbolism of her sacramental acts. That is the language of proclamation and of good tidings, the language of prayer and of mystical experience, the language of ‘Kerygmatic’ theology. ‘

And there is another language, the language of comprehending thought, the language of dogma. Dogma is a witness of experience of experience. The entire pathos of dogma lies in the fact that it points to Divine reality; in this the witness of dogma is symbolic. Dogma is the testimony of thought about what has been seen and revealed, about what has been contemplated in the experience of faith – and this testimony is expressed in concepts and definitions.

Dogma is an ‘intellectual vision,’ a truth of perception. One can say: it is the logical image, a ‘logical icon’ of divine reality. And at the same time a dogma is a definition – that is why its logical form is so important for dogma, that ‘inner word’ which acquires force in its external expression. This is why the external aspect of dogma – its wording – is so essential. Dogma is by no means a new Revelation. Dogma is only a witness. The whole meaning of dogmatic definition consists of testifying to unchanging truth, truth which was revealed and has been preserved from the beginning. Thus it is a total misunderstanding to speak of ‘the development of dogma.’ Dogmas do not develop; they are unchanging and inviolable, even in their external aspect – their wording. Least of all is it possible to change dogmatic language or terminology. As strange as it may appear, one can indeed say: dogmas arise, dogmas are established, but they do not develop. And once established, a dogma is perennial and already an immutable ‘rule of faith’, Dogma is an intuitive truth, not a discursive axiom which is accessible to logical development. The whole meaning of dogma lies in the fact that it is expressed truth. Revelation discloses itself and is received in the silence of faith, in silent vision.”    (Georges Florovsky, Creation and Redemption, pp 29-30)

Christ was Born to Die

“Christ is risen indeed, and the sting of death has been taken away. The power of death was radically broken, and Life Eternal manifested and disclosed, in Christo. The ‘last enemy’, however, is still active in the world, although death does not ‘reign’ in the world anymore. The victory of the Risen Christ is not yet fully disclosed. Only in the General Resurrection will Christ’s redemptive triumph be fully actualized. […] Christ had to die in order to abrogate death and corruption by His death. Indeed, death was that ‘last enemy’ which he had to destroy in order to redeem man out of corruption. This was one of the main arguments of St. Athanasius in his De Incarnatione. ‘ In order to accept death He had a body’ (de incarn.21). And St. Gregory of Nyssa says the same: ‘if one inquires into the mystery, he will say rather , not that death happened to Him as a consequence of birth, but birth itself was assumed on the account of death’ (orat. cat. 32)”  (Georges Florovsky, Aspects of Church History, pg. 67)

A Few Final Thoughts from Fr. Florovsky

This is the 8th blog in this series which began with A Quest to Know What It Means to be Human, and the immediately preceding blog is Scripture is Not the Text, but the Reading by God’s People.  In this blog and the next, I am looking at the writings of Fr. Georges Florovsky on the meaning of revelation, Scriptures, the Church and Tradition, as well as the relationship of these terms to each other.   The quotes from Fr. Florovsky come either from his book BIBLE, CHURCH, TRADITION: AN EASTERN ORTHODOX VIEW (from now on referred to as BCT:AEOV) or from his article “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revelation”, THE CHRISTIAN EAST, Vol  XIII, No. 2 (1932) (referred to as TWHSIR). 

In Fr. Florovsky’s thinking, the Scriptures serve as a witness to Christ –they help us to see what the original disciples themselves saw: that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God (Mark 1:1). 

“The Evangelists and the Apostles were no chroniclers.  It was not their mission to keep the full record of all that Jesus had done, day by day, year by year.  They describe his life and related his works, so as to give us his image: an historic, and yet a divine image.  It is no portrait, but rather an ikon – but surely an historic ikon, an image of the Incarnate Lord.”  (BCT:AEOV,  p 25)

“Scripture is a God-inspired scheme or image (ikon) of truth, but not truth itself.” (BCT:AEOV, p 48)

The incarnation makes Christianity a visible faith – we are not based mostly in ideas or philosophy but in the reality of God in the flesh – both capable of being seen and touched (1 John 1:1).  Christian Scriptures are not just commandments to be obeyed, for they are revelation:  they reveal to us the Trinitarian God and the incarnation of the Word of God.

“The basis of the New Testament is facts, events, deeds – not only teaching, commandments or words.”  (BCT:AEOV,  p 24)

The Scriptures of the Jews and of the Christians are a witness to God’s own actions and God’s revelation.  They however require a people prepared to receive the message and to interpret its meaning.  The incarnation of the Word of God is the most explicit interpretation of the Scriptures that is possible.  The Jewish Scriptures bore witness to God’s Word and were in a sense a pre-incarnation of the Word of God.  The key to understanding their meaning, to unlocking their message and manifesting the previously hidden revelation of God is Jesus Christ.  He is the meaning of the Scriptures, its full interpretation, its hermeneutic.   In Christ the full revelation of God is made manifest, and the Scriptures are revealed as bearing witness to this revelation.

St. Jerome wrote, “We do not think that Gospel consists of the words of Scripture but in its meaning; not on the surface but in the marrow, not in the leaves of sermons but in the root of meaning.”  (BCT:AEOV, p 91)

Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, is the fulfillment and meaning of all the Scriptures – poetry, history, prophecy, typology, promise, allegory.   The Word become flesh is the interpretation of all of the Scriptures.  The Scriptures thus bear witness to Christ with the Old Testament being for humanity the continued presence of God’s Spirit/breath AND prefiguring in anticipation the incarnation of the Word; and the New Testament giving us a visible icon of the incarnation.  However, as Florovsky notes, the Bible is not the ultimate authority on every form of knowledge. For example,

“The Bible is no authority on social science, as it is no authority on astronomy.” (BCT:AEOV,  p 34) 

To try to use the Bible, as some literalists want to do, to be the source for our knowledge of archeology, biology, astronomy, geography, and every natural or social science is to miss the main purpose of the Scriptures (see John 5:39-40), which is to bring us to and to reveal to us the incarnate Christ.  The task of the Church is to help us do what Jesus Christ Himself said the Scriptures are to do:

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).

The Church has the role of preserving the true interpretation of the Scriptures.

“Tertullian….’For only where the true Christian teaching and faith are evident will the true Scriptures, the true interpretations, and all the true Christian traditions be found.’”( BCT:AEOV,  p 77)

The Church as the Body of Christ finds the words and images to express the right interpretation of the Scriptures.

“Perhaps it may sound paradoxical, but it is still true to say that dogmas can arise, can be established and expressed, but they cannot be developed.  A dogma once established is an eternal inviolable ‘rule of faith’ and the measure of it.”  (TWHSIR)

Dogmas, the teachings of the Church which maintain faithfulness to the preaching of the apostles, can develop in order to clarify and preserve the unchanging revelation.   They don’t develop because they are not offering something new that was never previously taught, but they arise from time to time to help new generations comprehend God’s revelation to the world.

“Tradition is not limited to Church archeology. . . . Tradition is not a principle striving to restore the past, using the past as a criterion for the present. … Tradition is authority to teach, potestas magisterii, authority to bear witness to the truth.  The Church bears witness to the truth not by reminiscence or from the words of others, but from its own living, unceasing experience, from its catholic fullness. …  Tradition is a charismatic, not a historical, principle.”  (BCT:AEOV, pp 46-47 )

Scripture is Not the Text, but the Reading by God’s People

This is the 7th blog in this series which began with A Quest to Know What It Means to be Human, and the immediately preceding blog is Florovsky: The Church, the New Testament, & Christ.  In this blog and the next, I am looking at the writings of Fr. Georges Florovsky on the meaning of revelation, Scriptures, the Church and Tradition, as well as the relationship of these terms to each other.   The quotes from Fr. Florovsky come either from his book BIBLE, CHURCH, TRADITION: AN EASTERN ORTHODOX VIEW (from now on referred to as BCT:AEOV) or from his article “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revelation”, THE CHRISTIAN EAST, Vol  XIII, No. 2 (1932) (referred to as TWHSIR). 

The Christian and Jewish Scriptures are written within human history by humans and for humans. 

“Scripture is a God-inspired scheme or image (eikon) of truth, but not truth itself.” (BCT:AEOV,   p 48)

Sts. Peter & Paul

The Scriptures did not exist before God created humans; they were not written from all eternity before the world existed (that is what some claim of the Q’uran – there is an eternal copy somehow existing in the divine eternity with the earthly ones being merely copies of the eternal one).  The history of mankind was not pre-written by God before anything existed – a divine script in which humans are mere automatons, reading their lines of the script and acting according to the direction already determined by the Author and Director, God.   Christians clearly believe in human free will – the Scriptures record from a human point of view but inspired by God the interaction between God and His creatures.

“God speaks to man through His Spirit; and only in the measure in which man abides in the Spirit does he hear and understand this voice…”  (TWHSIR)

The story of creation in Genesis 1-3 was written after the fact, not before.  Only long after the creation came into existence was the narrative of the Creation story created and then written down.  The story itself was conceived for humans, as revelation, so that humans could understand their origins, so humans could understand their role in creation, and to know their Creator.  The creation accounts in Genesis were not written before the events happened, nor even as the events happened, but only much later when there were people to write them down and they were written for humanity, not for God.   The creation accounts of Genesis 1-2 obviously weren’t written from all eternity, for they describe the existence of the world only once time existed and had elapsed.  The only eternal Word is Jesus, Son of God, who became incarnate for the salvation of the world.

“At any rate the Scriptures demand that they should be expounded and explained. … When the Church expounds Scripture it bears witness to that of which the Scriptures testify. … man is called not only to receive Truth attentively, but also to witness to it. … God’s Word must become evident in the reality of human thought.”  (TWHSIR)

Humans are the apex of the creation story, its goal and crescendo.  Scriptures were written after humans existed to record for posterity and to bring to all generations the revelation God.  The Scriptures require not only humans inspired by God to record them, but also humans inspired by God’s Spirit to read and interpret them.

St. Hilary put it emphatically… Scripture is not in the reading, but in the understanding…” (BCT:AEOV,  p 17)

So what is necessary for all believers is not simply to possess the text of the Bible, but to hear the text with the community of believers and within the people of God in order to come to the proper understanding.  The Bible was not written with individualism in mind, and the interpretation of Scripture is not done by any one person alone. 

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God”   (2 Peter 1:20-21)

For St. Irenaeus,

“’Tradition’ was…a living tradition… entrusted to the Church as a new breath of life, just as breath was bestowed upon the first man.   …. Scripture without interpretation is not Scripture at all; the moment it is used and becomes alive it is always interpreted Scripture.”  (BCT:AEOV,  p80)

Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation because by itself it remains a text, consider the words of St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:2-8 (NRSV):

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.  … our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.   Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory … how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory?”

Note St. Paul’s downplaying of the written word/scriptures.  It is the people of the church at Corinth who are really his scriptures, written not with ink but with the Spirit, not on tablets of stone but on human hearts.  The real scriptures are a living personal witness.   God has chosen disciples to be ministers of a new covenant, but again not of written letters/scripture, but of the spirit – the scripture kills!   And finally the 10 Commandments written by God on stone are called the “ministry of death”!  The written word alone is not sufficient for salvation in the mind of St. Paul the Apostle to the nations.

. Next:  A Few Final Thoughts from Fr. Florovsky

Florovsky: The Church, the New Testament & Christ

This is the 6th blog in this series which began with A Quest to Know What It Means to be Human, and the immediately preceding blog is Florovsky: Scripture and the Church.  In this blog and the next, I am looking at the writings of Fr. Georges Florovsky on the meaning of revelation, Scriptures, the Church and Tradition, as well as the relationship of these terms to each other.   The quotes from Fr. Florovsky come either from his book BIBLE, CHURCH, TRADITION: AN EASTERN ORTHODOX VIEW (from now on referred to as BCT:AEOV) or from his article “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revelation”, THE CHRISTIAN EAST, Vol  XIII, No. 2 (1932) (referred to as TWHSIR). 

The Nativity in the flesh of Jesus, Son of God

Prior to the coming of Christ – the incarnation of God the Word – the Scriptures had a particular role to play and were to be read and appreciated as the continued work of God’s Spirit/breath in the life of God’s people.  With the arrival of the Messiah Jesus, the Scriptures have been fulfilled and they are shown to be a witness to Jesus, pointing Him out as God’s plan of salvation (see Simeon’s prayer in Luke 2:29-32 and also Christ’s own words in John 5:39-40).

“Jesus … is the fulfiller of the old dispensation and by the same act that he fulfills the old, ‘the Law and the prophets,’ he inaugurates the new, and thereby becomes the ultimate fulfiller of both, i.e. of the whole.  He is the very centre of the Bible, just because he is the arche and the telos—the beginning and the end. … the Old Testament as a whole has to be considered as a ‘book of the generations of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham (Matt 1:1).  … The whole story was prophetical or ‘typical,’ a prophetical sign hinting forward towards approaching consummation.  Now, the time of expectation is over.  The promise has been accomplished. … the history of flesh and blood is closed.  The history of the Spirit is disclosed.  …  the books of the Hebrews…are to be read in the Church as a book of sacred history, not to be transformed into a collection of proof-texts or of theological instances…, nor into a book of parables…. In sacred history, ‘the past’ does not mean simply ‘passed’ or ‘what had been,’ but primarily that which had been accomplished and fulfilled.  “Fulfilment’ is the basic category of revelation.  … it is precisely in the Old Testament that we apprehend revelation primarily as the Word: we witness to the Spirit that ‘spake through the prophets.’  For in the New Testament God has spoken by his Son, and we are called upon not only to listen, but to look at.”  (BCT:AEOV,  pp 22-24)

 “The New Testament is also, first of all, history—the Gospel history of the incarnated Word and of the beginning of the history of the Church. . . The basis of the New Testament is facts, events, realities; not only commandments, teaching, and words.  Here the basis is Christ and the Church, His Body. . . . Therein lies the meaning and importance of apostolic preaching that it is a narrative, a narrative of what the Apostles themselves heard and saw, of what was fulfilled and accomplished. . . ‘Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled’ (1 John 1:1).”  (TWHSIR)

As the Old Testament bore witness to the coming of the Messiah, so the New Testament bears the witness of those who saw, spoke with and touched Christ.  The importance of the text is by giving us the history which His witnesses and disciples recorded, it offers to us the revelation which God made known to the world in Jesus Christ.

“Divine Revelation is preserved in the Church.  It is protected and strengthened by the words of Scripture; it is protected, but not exhausted.  The words of Scripture do not exhaust the whole fullness of Revelation; do not exhaust the whole fullness of Christian experience and of the charismatic reminiscence of the Church.”  (TWHSIR)

St. Paul, Apostle to the Nations

The Scriptures do not exists alone.  They are not something which existed from all eternity and then suddenly God dictated to a few men to record.  The Scriptures contain the human interaction with God as God revealed Himself and the Scriptures are the human co-operation with God in recording and understanding this revelation.  The Scriptures thus exist in and are produced by and for the people of God.  The preservation of God’s revelation is accomplished by the faithful.  The Bible’s truthfulness is testified to by the people of God, and for any to know God’s revelation they need both the Scriptures and the Church, the people to whom God entrusted His revelation.  Christ did not leave a book behind for the world to read, rather He chose apostles to bear witness to Him as truth, and the apostles were inspired to write, edit and chose which books belong to the Scriptures of God’s people.

“And the Church is the divinely appointed and permanent witness to the very truth and the full meaning of this message, simply because the Church belongs itself to the revelation, as the Body of the Incarnate Lord. … Salvation is not only announced or proclaimed in the Church, but precisely enacted. … The Church is itself an integral part of the New Testament message.  The Church itself is a part of revelation—the story of ‘the Whole Christ’…” (BCT:AEOV,  p 26)    

Christians (=the Church) bear witness to the truth of the Scriptures and testify to that truth as is manifested in the life of the Church.

Next:  Scripture is Not the Text, but the Reading by God’s People

Florovsky: Scripture and the Church

This is the 5th blog in this series which began with A Quest to Know What It Means to be Human, and the immediately preceding blog is Florovsky: Scripture and Tradition

In this and the next 2 blogs, I am looking at the writings of Fr. Georges Florovsky on the meaning of revelation, Scriptures, the Church and Tradition, as well as the relationship of these terms to each other.   The quotes from Fr. Florovsky come either from his book BIBLE, CHURCH, TRADITION: AN EASTERN ORTHODOX VIEW (from now on referred to as BCT:AEOV) or from his article “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revelation”, THE CHRISTIAN EAST, Vol  XIII, No. 2 (1932) (referred to as TWHSIR).  God creates beings capable of receiving and bearing His revelation – humans.   God creates language as the means to convey revelation to these creatures.  Language too is capable of bearing not only the divine intent but divinity itself.  

 

Matthew 28:20

“The Scriptures transmit and preserve the Word of God precisely in the idiom of man. … What is human is not swept away by divine inspiration, it is only transfigured. The ‘supernatural’ does not destroy what is ‘natural. … Scripture itself is at once both the Word of God and the human response – the Word of God mediated through the faithful response of man.  There is always some human interpretation in any Scriptural presentation of the divine Word.’”     (BCT:AEOV,  pp 27-28) 

When God spoke in Genesis 1, His Divine will created that which was capable of bearing divinity yet was not divinity.  When God said, “let there be light”, there was light.   His spoken word became empirical reality; and this created world was the original theotokos: God bearer.  This is God’s plan: God speaks His Word which calls all things into being; and this creation is capable of bearing divinity.   This creation is not God, yet not separated from God.   The humans are created precisely to carry out God’s will, to bear His Word and to put it into action.   “In Scripture we see not only God, but man as well.”  Humanity is revealed in scripture by God’s revelation.  For the human is exactly to whom God chooses to reveal Himself.    The bodiless powers may to this day be in God’s presence continually, but humans rely on God’s revealing Himself to them, espcially since the time of the Fall.  The humans are the mediators of God’s word and will to the rest of creation, over which they were to have dominion.   

 

Creation of Adam & Eve

“… God reveals Himself to man, appears before him, becomes visible to him, speaks with him, so as to reveal to man the hidden meaning of his existence, to show him the path and meaning of human life.  In Scripture we see God coming to reveal Himself to man, and we see man meeting God and not only listening to His Words, but answering them. … God wants, expects and demands this answer.  It is for this that He speaks with man.  He expects man to answer Him.”    (TWHSIR)

“The Bible is by no means a complete collection of all historical, legislative and devotional writings available, but a selection of some, authorized and authenticated by the use (first of all liturgical) in the community, and finally by the formal authority of the Church.  …  The message is divine; it comes from God; it is the Word of God.  But it is the faithful community that acknowledges the Word spoken and testifies to its truth. … It was the People of the Covenant to whom the Word of God had been entrusted under the old dispensation (Rom 3:2), and it is the Church of the Word Incarnate that keeps the message of the Kingdom.  The Bible is the Word of God indeed, but the book stands by the testimony of the Church.  The canon of the Bible is obviously established and authorized by the Church.”  (BCT:AEOV,  p 18)

“It was not enough just to read and to quote Scriptural words—the true meaning, or intent, of Scripture, taken as an integrated whole, had to be elicited. … it was the faith of the Church, rooted in the apostolic message, or kerygma, and authenticated by it.  … With them (those outside the church) Scripture was just a dead letter, or an array of disconnected passages and stories, which they endeavored to arrange or re-arrange on their own pattern, derived from alien sources.”  (BCT:AEOV,  p 76)  

Possessing the Scriptures (the written word) is not enough for holding the truth.  It is in the meaning/understanding/interpretation of the text – wherein we encounter the mind of Christ.  Literalism is not the key – the words by themselves are not sufficient to come to know truth (false interpretation is possible).  Scriptures are used to proclaim the kerygma, but the kerygma is the interpretation of the Scriptures which is authoritative.  You must have the correct scriptures, but that alone does not guarantee correct kerygma or understanding.  Remember kerygma predates the Scriptures – the apostles proclaimed the Truth many years before they wrote it down.  Thus God’s revelation is to a people, not to a book.  It is the people who recorded and authenticated the written record of God’s revelation.  It is to these people to whom God spoke that He also entrusted they would faithfully and correctly understand, interpret and proclaim the revelation.  Scriptures were never envisioned to be a truth that stands alone apart from God’s people.  The scriptures alone save no one for they must be read, encountered, engaged, interpreted and lived.  Jesus chose disciples to follow Him; He did not write anything, nor did he indicate that simply following some written texts would make holiness or orthodoxy possible.   The texts he said witness to Him (John 5:39-40) and it is to Him that we must go in order to understand the revelation of God.  The written word kills as St. Paul says the Jews discovered, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6). 

Next:  Florovsky:   The Church, the New Testament & Christ

Florovsky: Scripture and Revelation

This is the 4th blog in this series which began with A Quest to Know What It Means to be Human, 2nd was Genesis 6:3 and John 1:32-34, then Prophets & Scriptures: The Continued Presence of God’s Spirit

Theophany

In Genesis 6:3, God says that His Spirit will no longer permanently abide in His human creatures since they have rebelled against Him.  In John 1:32-34, the Messiah comes and is recognized because the Spirit descends on Him and remains, thus undoing the curse which had fallen on humankind as a result of the Ancestral Sin.   Prior to the Incarnation of God in Christ, God has allowed humans continued access to the Spirit through the Prophets by whom the Holy Spirit spoke and through the inspired Scriptures in which were recorded the words of the prophets, God’s revelation to humankind.   Jesus, the Word of God become flesh, restores humanity to its proper relationship with God in the Spirit.   The Scriptures, sacred to Jews and Christians are revealed as prefiguring the incarnation of the Word and of witnessing to the Christ.    In this and the next 2 blogs, we will consider the words of Fr. Georges Florovsky on revelation, Scriptures, the Church and Tradition.   The quotes from Fr. Florovsky come either from his book BIBLE, CHURCH, TRADITION: AN EASTERN ORTHODOX VIEW (from now on referred to as BCT:AEOV) or from his article “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revelation”, THE CHRISTIAN EAST, Vol  XIII, No. 2 (1932) (referred to as TWHSIR).

Sunrise

Fr. Florovsky considers “revelation” to be a specific experience of God – not learning something about God.   Things about God might be manifest to us through nature or other people, but he says this is not revelation.  “In Nature, visible and invisible, God is manifested, not revealed”   (TWHSIR).    Here Florovsky takes Romans 1:19 to mean that nature can tell us ABOUT God (manifest the existence of God to us), but this is not a direct experience of God (which is revelation proper).   These traces of God we can see in creation, things that might make us think about a Creator, or things which make us conscious of His existence, don’t directly reveal God to us.  They may be a witness to us about God’s existence and perhaps reveal things ABOUT God to us, however, this does not give us a vision of God, a Theophany, though it might serve as reason for us to seek this God whose existence is manifested to us in “shadows.”

“In the ‘Religion of Nature’ man recognizes and divines God; seeks after Him and reaches out for Him, for ‘He be not far from every one of us.’  But this is only the path of man towards God.  Revelation is the path of God towards man.” (TWHSIR)

Revelation proper occurs not in nature but in the supernatural, in the transcendent.  God’s Word is supernatural & transcendent, but if we encounter it in Scriptures, in the written Word, that is a manifestation of God, which might lead to revelation.  We seek out God because we hear of His existence from others or see traces of Him in the world around us, but in Scripture as well as in the people of God it is possible that God will come to us to reveal Himself.

“Revelation is not only a system of Divine words, but, above all, the system of Divine works.”  (TWHSIR)

“Revelation … is primarily the system of divine deeds; one might say, revelation was the path of God in history.  And the climax was reached when God entered history himself, and for ever: when the Word of God was incarnate and ‘made man.’  On the other hand, the book of revelation is as well the book of human destiny.  First of all, it is a book which narrates the creation, fall and salvation of man.  It is the story of salvation, and therefore man organically belongs to the story.”  (BCT:AEOV,  p 21)

 
 

John 15:16

“God is manifesting and revealing himself.  God intervenes in human life.  And the Bible is not merely a human record of these divine interventions and deeds.  It is a kind of divine intervention itself.  …  No need therefore to escape time or history in order to meet God.  For God is meeting man in history, i.e. in the human element, in the midst of man’s daily existence.  History belongs to God, and God enters human history.  The Bible is intrinsically historical:  it is a record of the divine acts, not so much a presentation of God’s eternal mysteries, and these mysteries themselves are available only by a historical mediation. … There is no need to abstract revealed truth from the frame in which revelations took place.  … For the Truth is not an idea, but a person, even the Incarnate Lord.”

  (BCT:AEOV,   p 20) 

The Bible reveals God, not dogma about God but God acting and God’s actions.  This in turn reveals God in dogma – for dogma is the interpretation of what God is doing in history that reveals God (and God’s being) to us.

“It is the revelation of God, but what is actually revealed is God’s concern about man.  God reveals himself to man, ‘appears’ before him, ‘speaks’ and converses with him so as to reveal to man the hidden meaning of his own existence and the ultimate purpose of his life. … There are, as it were, two partners in the Covenant, God and man… Human response is integrated into the mystery of the Word of God.  It is not a divine monologue, it is rather a dialogue, and both are speaking, God and man.  But prayers and invocations of the worshipping psalmist are nevertheless ‘the Word of God.’  God wants, and expects, and demands this answer and response of man.  It is for this that he reveals himself to man and speaks to him.” (BCT:AEOV,  pp 20-21)  

God chooses to reveal Himself – humanity is essential to this process.  God creates us to have beings to whom He can reveal Himself.  God makes our role essential to His will and desire!  The facts that God calls light into existence from the beginning and that God is love are both signs that God is a God of revelation and He wants beings to whom He can reveal Himself.  He in turn then invites us not only into a relationship with Him, but to share His very nature as God.

Next: Florovsky:  Scripture and the Church

A Quest To Know What It Means To Be Human

When I was a student at St. Vladimir’s Seminary in the mid-1970’s I had a great interest in understanding, “what does it mean to be human?”  I had started my college career as a chemistry major (and considered myself an atheist) and then became more interested in anthropology, sociology and psychology.  The more I became interested in the humanities as well as in humanity, the more I became open to theology.  The fact that theology and science were antagonistically colliding and separating in academia was not much of a concern to me – I was trying to pull my realms of knowledge together even if some felt this an inconceivable impossibility.  In the early 1970’s I wrote a paper in an anthropology class at Ohio State on Teilhard de Chardin, only to discover that teleology of any kind was not considered science, even though Teilhard was a well known and respected anthropologist.   I was trying to pull together pieces of the intellectual world around me, while these same forces were pushing away from each other as forcefully as Newton’s Third Law of Motion suggests.  I had come to believe that the scientific effort to understand the world while completely dismissing even remotely theological ideas was an incomplete way of comprehending the universe.  Humans were in fact more than mere chemical reactions; even though we could precisely determine the chemical composition of a human,  that in itself was inadequate for explaining what a human is or what it means to be human.  And so I left my secular pursuit to look at humanity through the lens of theology. 

At seminary I discovered there was not much interest in science –  Orthodoxy was keeping a distance from heterodoxy and science wasn’t even on the radar.   While the faculty was not promoting  biblical literalism, there was an obvious tension when secular or heterodox biblical scholarship was brought to bear on various scripture passages.  The faculty might be engaging the intellectual world all around as they traveled throughout the country representing Orthodoxy, but the seminary itself was preserved as a tiny Orthodox island in a vast sea of American, Western, modern, Enlightenment, heterodox thinking.   Roman Catholic Teilhard de Chardin was no more welcomed here than in secular academia.  I was struggling with how to bring together the knowledge I had from science and my secular education with the knowledge given through theology, even while others were working hard to keep these realms of knowing separate from each other.

I had a question which I wanted to work on while I was at seminary, but the pursuit of that question was visibly discouraged.  My question:  Was John 1:32-34, John the Forerunner’s witness that the Spirit descended and REMAINED on Jesus the undoing of God’s removing the Spirit from humanity in Genesis 6:3?   My proposal that this be my thesis project was rejected, though I wasn’t told why.

I am guessing now that the reason the faculty was not willing for me to explore my question had to do with their own desire to quash any search that even remotely related to Fr. Sergius Bulgakov’s Sophiology.  I knew nothing back then of the controversies swirling around Sophiology or Bulgakov.   But having read some of his works more recently, it struck me that he was the reason I was not given encouragement back then to pursue my interest, for certainly had I pursued the study I would have soon come to Bulgakov’s writings as they were perhaps among the few directly related to my question.  But having read (though not comprehended) Bulgakov now, I do not find the idea of Sophiology attractive nor of particular interest to my question about the relationship of Genesis 6:3 to John 1:32-34, nor to what I still find intriguing about the question, “what does it mean to be human?”

Fr. Georges Florovsky

There are a certain group of Russian Orthodox Christian intellectuals of the last 2 centuries whose writings are immensely attractive and persuasive to me.  I thank them for having made it possible for me to find my way to Christ and the Holy Trinity.  Their ideas certainly were quite active in St. Vladimir’s Seminary in the 1970’s as some of the faculty there were certainly steeped in this tradition.   They were for me a lifeblood – for they did attempt to tie together the cosmos which we experience and attempt to comprehend through science with the knowledge offered through the social sciences and theology.  I am forever grateful to all of these people for their efforts.  You can read about some of them in recent books like Michael Plekon’s TRADITION ALIVE: ON THE CHURCH AND THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IN OUR TIME, Nicholas Afanasiev’s THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SPIRIT , or  THE TEACHINGS OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY ON LAW, POLITICS AND HUMAN NATURE.  

I intend in this series of blogs to explore my questions about what it means to be human and the relationship of Genesis 6:3 and John 1:32-34.  I will do so by especially concentrating on the writings of Fr. Georges Florovsky who certainly is in that Russian Orthodox Christian intellectual tradition which drew me to Christianity as I tried to understand what it is to be human.  I will be focusing on two of Florovsky’s writings:  BIBLE, CHURCH, TRADITION: AN EASTERN ORTHODOX VIEW (especially chapters 2-5), and on his article “The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revelation”,  which appeared in THE CHRISTIAN EAST, Vol  XIII, No. 2 (1932).  [I want to give a special thanks to Eleana Silk, Librarian at St. Vladimir’s Seminary for her help in locating this article].   

Next:  Genesis 6:3 and John 1:32-34