More thoughts on person/nature distinction

This is from variou conversations with Protestants and Orthodox.

It’s similar to when a human person dies. We say the person has died, yet what death entails is the separation/division between the physical and non-physical aspects of the human nature (soul and body). This is true of the Logos to the extent that what constitutes personhood is a union of a hypostasis with a nature. The same principle occurs at the creaturely level when the Logos assumes a created nature (human flesh) and gets crucified in that nature. We must say that the person has died, since his personhood is now qualified by a human nature in addition to His divine nature. And since nature is always enhypostatized, killing the nature constitutes the death of the person even while person continues to transcend nature.

All of this goes back to the dispute between Nestorius and Cyril on the Virgin Birth as well, with Nestorius arguing that God wasn’t born in the flesh since only the flesh was created in the womb. Many Calvinists apply Nestorius’ argument to the Cross, arguing that the Logos didn’t die, only the human nature. God WAS born ACCORDING TO THE HUMAN NATURE, and the Logos DID die ACCORDING TO THE HUMAN NATURE.

since personhood is always qualified by nature, death cannot occur for a person except insofar as it involves the destruction of the union that once subsisted between the person and his/her nature.

What’s happening is they conflate nature and person in the divinity, but they separate them according to the humanity of Christ, and the unconscious assumption here seems to be that uncreated divinity and created humanity are incompatible entities. To argue that the Logos has died is (for them) to argue that the divine nature has expired. But divine personhood isn’t the same as the divine nature; it’s the same thing _______ couldn’t wrap his brain around. So what you’re left with are two natures (created and uncreated) existing in a kind of covenantal or legal union, rather than in a true, metaphysical union.


I am experimenting here. I had to go to “moderate comments” because some _________ linked a dangerous site in one of the comment boxes.

Christian Militarism

After the defeat of the Latin Christians at the Battle of Hattins, the Templar knights taken captive were given the choice between apostasy and death. None chose to deny Christ. All were decapitated by ecstatic Sufis on the order of Saladin. Saladin went on to gain a reputation as merciful and magnanimous in victory–another historical distortion. The Templars went on to gain an eternal reward.

Regine Pernoud

A Review of St Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality

The first half of this book deals with Eastern monastic practices, highlighting its strengths and perils. This section of the book is of interest primarily to academics who focus on monasticism. The second half of the book outlines St Gregory’s life, his conflict with Barlaam, and the resulting theology. The book concludes with a look at modern hesychasm in Russia.

Meyendorff notes that Palamas did not exactly oppose Aristotelianism, per se (thus blunting a common charge made by Catholic scholars, notably von Balthasar). He saw it as a useful system, provided that one did not get carried away into excesses with it.

I assume most readers are familiar with the details of Barlaam. Of importance is Barlaam’s actual theology. Barlaam, following a nominalistic agnosticism, thought that the monks were saying one could bodily see the divine essence. 1) Barlaam said that all knowledge is sense-perception. 2) God, being defined as a Platonic postulate, is beyond sense-perception. Therefore, any knowledge/communion with God can only come from “intermediaries” (102).

Palamas responds thusly:

He is going to say that we do have a direct experience with God but we do not know the “essence” of God. How can he say this? First, God is essentially apart from other creatures because he is “uncreated.” Therefore, when creatures participate in God, they participate in “uncreated life.” Still, this does not yet address Barlaam’s challenge. Palamas will thus say that revelation, participation, deification, is a free act (energy) of the living God (118-119).

Therefore, we see a distinction between the divine act of revelation and the unknowable essence. This does not introduce a fourth term in the Godhead since God in his simplicity is fully present both in the essence and the energy.

Conclusions and Implications of Palamism:

1. There is no autonomous reality between God and creatures because God himself, in his condescension, is that reality (122).

2. The victory of Palamism protected the East from the onslaught of the Renaissance (94).

3. Palamas reestablished the dignity of matter, since the body fully participates in the energies of God (108). A corollary of this is a revitalization in the sacraments, for the new life in Christ is present in the sacraments.

I close with a quote from Meyendorff,

A…decision was set before the Orthodox Church in the fourteenth century: a choice between a unitary (integral) concept of man based on the Bible, affirming the immediate efficacy of redemptive grace in every sphere of human activity, or the choice of an intellectualized spiritualism claiming independence for the human intellect…and denying that any real deification is possible here below. There is no doubt that the secularism of the modern age is the direct consequence of that second choice (171).

But Sophia is not Logos

Although I said that Sophianic categories can play the same roles as Logos categories per Greek philosophy, I do not mean that Sophia is correlate to the Logos. It goes that Christ is the Logos, yes? It does not follow that Sophia (Wisdom) is Logos.

It’s been a tempting interpretation in the Church that Christ is strictly identified with the Wisdom of God per Proverbs 8. I think this is problematic on several levels: First, this wisdom is created wisdom, and Christ isn’t created. Secondly, does this mean that the Father and the Holy Spirit are without Wisdom?

A Plea for Sophianic Categories

I am springboarding from Sergei Bulgakov’s thought.

It’s a common refrain that early Christianity used Greek (primarily Alexandrian Greek) categories to formulate their theology. Not least of which is “Logos” Christology. Fair enough. I agree. From that one could further postulate that extra-biblical categories are not necessarily wrong. Again, few can deny that.

I wonder if today’s Sophia, so beloved by the gnostics, feminists, and New Ager (but I repeat myself), might not offer something similar. Now, I am not advocating “Sophia” worship, and I must point out that Sophiology was in vogue long before these intellectual cretins came on the scene. Vladimir Solovyov, Feodor Dostoevsky, and Sergei Bulgakov used Sophianic categories (with varying degrees of success).

What is Sophia, and what it is not? I need to flesh that out. Basically Sophia, as it is used by the more orthodox Russian Sophiologists, is the bridge between heaven and earth, the interpersonal essence of the Trinity, the border of divinity, the divine glory. And while the next is more speculative (and was not St Gregory of Nyssa a speculative mystic at times?), one could say it is the “energies” ala the essence/energy distinction.

What it is not?
It is not the “fourth” person of the Godhead; it is not a “goddess.” It is not a justification of women dominating the church. It is not a capitulation to “feminism.” All of these are rejected.
Hopefully an outline later.