Christ in Eastern Thought: Desert Spirituality (6)

Theme:  Spirituality and soteriology are tied together.  Further tying these two are three sub-themes:  doctrine of the imago dei, rejection of original sin, and deification (114).

Meyendorff begins with this interesting concession:  “There is no patrum consensus for a complete exegesis of Genesis 1:26-27) (114).   Another point where Orthodox Bridge is wrong.

“Image implies a participation in the divine nature” (114).  Commenting on Cyril, Meyendorff says “It appears from this passage that the proper dignity of human nature, as conceived by God and realized by Adam, consists of going beyond itself and receiving illuminating grace” (115).  This is the Eastern version of the Latin donum superadditum.

On freedom:  “The original existence of man presupposed a free participation in God through the intermediary of the superior elements of the human composite, essentially the intellect” (116; cf. McCormack essay and comments on Damascene).

Sin, for Cyril, is conceived as an illness (117).

A Thought:  If salvation is simply participation, does this mean that salvation is in some sense an arising upward of the inner man?  How does this square with the extra nos that comes by preaching?  Further, how does it escape Feuerbach’s critique?

Prayer: principal means of liberating the mind.  “This liberation implies for Evagrius a dematerialization…a prelude to the immaterial gnosis” (121).

Meyendorff is aware that desert spirituality, which seem a communion in the Archetype, borders on semi-Pelagianism.  He assures us this is not the case, for this is a real communion between image and archetype (125).  Perhaps, but if this paradigm is seen to be nonbiblical and neo-Platonic, then it is in trouble.

Rather than shying away from this neo-Platonic language, Meyendorff embraces it:  “All things exist by participation in the Only Existing One, but man has a particular way in which he participates in God, different from that of other beings. He communicates with him freely, for he carries in himself the image of the Creator.  Deification is precisely this free and conscious participation in the divine life” (128-129).

Review of Bulgakov’s Lamb of God

This is the hallmark of Bulgakov’s “Sophiology” project. Since it is prone to misunderstanding, and those councils  which condemned it likely lacked the philosophical tools to evaluate it, it would be wise to state what Bulgakov means by “Sophia.” The short answer: Imagine what would happen if Platonism and Hegelianism had a child. Longer answer: Sophia is the divine prototype. To speak even more loosely, it is the receptacle and vehicle of God’s divine nature (Bulgakov, 98ff). It is the divine glory. Bulgakov even says it is “the divine world.” He then moves to identify Sophia as the “pre-eternal humanity in God” (113).

Whether we agree with him or not, Bulgakov’s comments gain new relevance after we explore what he calls “The Patristic Dialectic.” The heretic Apollinaris was the first to identify the problematic: What is divine humanity and how is the Incarnation possible (4ff)? He, in good Alexandrian fashion, denies a duality of personal principles. He argues, rather, that two perfect principles cannot become one. Thus, how can one understand the union without transforming it into a duality?

We reject Apollinaris’s heretical teaching, but we must admit he formulated it on very good grounds: the union cannot be of two whole integral persons, which is why Apollinaris dropped the human nous from the humanity. Aside from the comments on the nous, this isn’t that different from Chalcedon (11)!

Cyril responds to this by giving his famous answer: there is one nature of the enfleshed Logos. Cyril now has several difficulties: in order for this statement to be Orthodox, we have to reinterpret what we mean by “phusis.” It is also worth pointing out that Cyril is ideologically dependent on his opponents, which likely prevented him from developing a full, positive alternative to Nestorius.

Bulgakov’s genius (if he proves successful) is to solve the dialectic in this manner: man contains within himself the receptacle of divinity. This is so because he is created on the divine proto-image. In other words, there is a mediating principle between divinity and humanity. It will be Bulgakov’s argument that this is what preserves Chalcedon: the third-term mediation allows a true union and avoids duality.

An Analysis and Critique

Strictly judged on Platonic grounds, it’s hard to argue with him. Without agreeing with him on all specifics (heavy Mariology), I have to admit his project seems to ‘work.’ He gives a very beautiful and engaging discussion on creation, time, and eternity.

His heavy Platonizing could be forgiven if it weren’t for the occasional foray into Gnosticism. He identifies the Logos with the “Demiurgos” (111). This isn’t that different from the god of Freemasonry and Egyptian magic religion. It is an “architect” that merely re-shapes dead matter.  And that is what magic essentially is:  the manipulation of dead matter.  He runs into other dangers with loose terminology: he speaks of a tri-hypostasis, a feminine hypostasis of Sophia, but at other times he denies that Sophia is en-hypostasized. He gives an impressive defense of Orthodox Eucharistology, but I do not think it holds water. He rightly argues that the Ascended Christ is bodily in heaven, notwithstanding any difficulties that entails. The problem for his Eucharistology is that how can the bodily Christ stay in heaven and be physically present in the elements? Bulgakov responds by saying…I kid you not…”He comes down without leaving heaven.” Understandably, some won’t be convinced.

I think Bulgakov successfully defended himself from charges of heresy. Further, if one is committed to substance-ontologies, then it’s hard to avoid Bulgakov’s proposal. If there remains some truth in Hegel, then Bulgakov’s ideas could prove quite valuable. At the end of the day, though, many are nervous about employing a heavily Platonic schemata in our theology

What I did learn from the Anchorites


Patristics:  While the idea of the patrum consensus is demonstrably false, studying Patristics is extremely valuable.   The Orthodox guys loved to talk about acquiring the mind of the Fathers.  It sounds noble but it is hard to pin down. Comparing the chiliasm of Irenaeus with the vague idealism of SCOBA Orthodoxy with the manly and rugged Russian apocalypticism of the Jordanville school will show that there is no unified consensus, at least with regard to eschatology. Still, I liked the idea at the time.  At the time (Fall, 2009) was running a sale on Schaff’s church fathers series.  With each volume costing around $4, I bought up as many as I could.  I immediately devoured Cyril of Jerusalem and Gregory of Nazianzus.   Cyril isn’t particularly deep, but he is systematic.   Gregory is deep but often at the expense of clarity (and Bulgakov is the only one who understood him on the monarchia!).
I then moved on to Athanasius, Basil, Hilary, and Gregory of Nyssa.  Each has his important points, but no one was entirely adequate.  Basil framed the knowledge of God on agnosticism.  He also said non-Orthodox were not heretics (yeah, deal with that, you rad trads! (NPNF Series 2, 8:223-228.   Basil completely destroys the exclusivism of the convertskii.  And John McGuckin also agrees with me.  He calls your view inhumane. Which it is.   I remember reading a rather rabid convertskii gloat on how my Huguenot ancestors were in hell for busting relics, so-called (never mind King Josiah did the same thing).  Athanasius and Hilary taught the Filioque.  Gregory taught universalism (and David Bentley Hart’s exposition of Gregory on this point is spot-on).   Maximus the Confessor suggested that the Christian faith was a synthesis of paganism (cf Henri Cardinal de Lubac’s defense of Maximus on that point, Catholicism:  Christ and the Common Destiny of Man).  He also suggested that there was no distinction of sex and gender before the Fall. Semper ubique, anyone?
Still, if you want to learn the basics of person, nature, Triadology, and Christology, you have to go to the Fathers for counsel.  Good luck getting a definition of what a person or nature is, though!
Avoiding the Worst of Fundamentalism:   When I was at Reformed Seminary and Louisiana College I became slightly enamored of the Vision Forum catalogue.  When I began reading the EO guys I realized I had no use for these fundamentalists.  Perhaps I rejected them for the wrong reasons, but reject them I did.   I also saw that the hyper-Patriarchal prairie muffin model, whether right or wrong, was simply unworkable in a modern, technological society.  And it really can’t explain the prophetess Deborah.  Therefore, when the recent sex scandal came out, I wasn’t affiliated with the movement at all.
Skeptical of political ideologies:  Take note of many convertskii and see if they become attached to the idea of Mother Russia.  It’s an enchanting narrative. The culture is beautiful.  Further, when you compare Vladimir Putin with Barack Obama, you can’t help but become a partial Russophile. One is a patriot who stands for his people and his country’s values.  The other is an Indonesian Islamist who openly campaigned on the destruction of the middle class, America, the white race, and the marginalization of Christianity.   It’s almost an unfair comparison.
Apropos of the above point, many of the anti-NOW Russophiles pointed out many diabolical nexuses within the American system.  (By the way, every conspiracy theory I’ve held to over the past five years has come true).  One of the end results is a healthy skepticism towards political idolatry during a time of America’s worst politics.  Of course, in line with the Russian narrative, convertskii need to explain the connection between the hyper-canonization of hundreds of Russian saints in the 1500s with the oppression of Ukrainians by these same saints.


Church Fathers on the Filioque

At the so-called Orthodox Bridge, they are discussing the (de)merits of the Filioque clause.   Where do I stand on it?  I agree with the soteriological truth behind what the filioque is getting at.  I fully admit that Protestant defenses of it have been woefully lacking (and I suspect that not a few Reformed systematics don’t even understand it, as Wayne Grudem nearly concedes).  When I used to be a critic of the Filioque, the one point that troubled me is that it didn’t seem like Augustine and Rome invented it.  In fact, I saw a number of church fathers, even some Eastern ones, espouse the Filioque.

We need to be clear on what we aren’t saying.  For the sake of argument I will grant that phrases “through the Son” do not necessarily teach double-origination.  That said, though, I don’t think anyone at OB truly understood Bulgakov‘s critique. Sure, he was a Hegelian and probably a Gnostic, but that doesn’t change the logical problems he raised (there goes that pesky logic thing again).  So I will be using evidence that looks like double-origination.

Hilary of Poitiers

“Concerning the Holy Spirit . . . it is not necessary to speak of him who must be acknowledged, who is from the Father and the Son, his sources” (The Trinity 2:29 [A.D. 357]).

Didymus the Blind

“As we have understood discussions . . . about the incorporeal natures, so too it is now to be recognized that the Holy Spirit receives from the Son that which he was of his own nature. . . . So too the Son is said to receive from the Father the very things by which he subsists. For neither has the Son anything else except those things given him by the Father, nor has the Holy Spirit any other substance than that given him by the Son” (The Holy Spirit 37 [A.D. 362]).

Epiphanius of Salamis

“The Father always existed and the Son always existed, and the Spirit breathes from the Father and the Son” (The Man Well-Anchored 75 [A.D. 374]).

Ambrose of Milan

“The Holy Spirit, when he proceeds from the Father and the Son, does not separate himself from the Father and does not separate himself from the Son” (The Holy Spirit 1:2:120 [A.D. 381]).

Cyril of Alexandria

“Since the Holy Spirit when he is in us effects our being conformed to God, and he actually proceeds from the Father and Son, it is abundantly clear that he is of the divine essence, in it in essence and proceeding from it” (Treasury of the Holy Trinity, thesis 34 [A.D. 424]).

Athanasius (and this is the most damaging piece of evidence.  Athanasius specifically identifies the Son as the Source of the Holy Spirit.  One cannot simply gloss it as “the Son’s temporal sending of the Spirit.” Besides begging the question, Athanasius gives no indication of speaking temporally and he precisely uses the language of origination).

PG 26:1000A]: “David sings in the psalm [35:10], saying: ‘For with You is the font of Life;’because jointly with the Father the Son is indeed the source of the Holy Spirit.”

Addendum on Cyril

I had used a quote by Cyril at OB.   The initial response from OB was anger.  One priest then pointed out that the Schaff translation has Cyril speaking of mission.  That could be so, but it’s hard to gloss all of these quotes as missional.

East: Patriarch St. Cyril I of Alexandria (Doctor of the Incarnation) 6/27
34. St. Gregory Palamas (Second Sunday of Great Lent) says that the energies of the Holy Spirit, not the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit, proceed from the Father through the Son; this is how he explains the teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria.{1} But in many places, the great St. Cyril of Alexandria, who distinguished between the divine essence and the divine energy,{2} affirms the distinctively Catholic (Western–BH) teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit, rather than just an energetic procession, meaning that the Palamite interpretation is inadequate. He accurately restricts εκπορευσθαι to the relation of origin of the Holy Spirit to the Father, the sole αἰτία, i.e., ἀρχὴ-ἄναρχος.

35. In 427 the holy Doctor of the Incarnation says in Commentary on the Prophet Joel 35 [PG 71:377D],

For, in that the Son is God, and from God according to nature (for He has had His birth from God the Father), the Spirit is both proper to Him and in Him and from Him, just as, to be sure, the same thing is understood to hold true in the case of God the Father Himself.

In 429 St. Cyril says in Thesaurus 34 [PG 75:576B], “Thus, Paul knows no difference of nature between the Son and the Holy Spirit, but because the Spirit exists from Him and in Him by nature, He calls Him by the name of Lordship.”

36. In the same part of the same work [PG 75:600D], St. Cyril says, “Therefore, when Christ lays down the law, He lays it down that His Spirit naturally exists in Him and from Him.”

37. Lest anyone think that, from the Son’s sending of the Spirit in the economy, we cannot infer the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, the holy patriarch says in On the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten [PG 75:1241A], “Freeing from sin the one who adheres to Him, He anoints him, again, with His own Spirit, infusing Him Himself (is this the language of origination or sending? Indeed), since He is the Word from God the Father, and from His own nature He causes Him to fountain upon us.” Since the Son sends the Holy Spirit [Jn 15:26], He must have some authority over the Holy Spirit. But it cannot be authority of dominion (e.g., King St. Vladimir I the Great rules Russia), superiority (e.g., John is holier than Jack), or seniority (e.g., a general is ranked higher than a colonel). Therefore the authority must be one of origin, so that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is how St. Thomas Aquinas argues in Summa Contra Gentiles.

38. He also expresses the complementarity and equivalence of the Latin and Greek formulae when he says [On Worship and Adoration in Spirit and Truth 1 in PG 68:148A],

The Spirit is assuredly in no way changeable; or even if some think Him to be so infirm as to change, the disgrace will be traced back to the divine nature itself, if in fact the Spirit is from God the Father and, for that matter, from the Son, being poured forth substantially from both, that is to say, from the Father through the Son.

Christology and the Instrumentalization Thesis

Chalcedon followed St Cyril in saying that the acting subject was the divine Logos, the Logos asarkos.  This was a clear rejection of Nestorius’ two-sons Christology and an admitted throwback to Apollinaris. This had the effect of viewing the human nature of Christ instrumentally (for a discussion of organon and its uses in Christology, see Anatolios, 71)..  The human nature on this model cannot act of its own. It has no acting principle.  Just how the Logos acts upon the human nature instrumentally is less clear, but the main point is already established.  Further, as Anchoretic apologists are wont to point out:  all of these fathers interpreted the union in divinization models.   I think they are correct with that reading, though they are largely unaware of the problems it entails.

Does this prove the death knell to Reformed Protestantism?  It is true that the Chalcedonian tradition operated off of divinization models.   Further, a strict divinization soteriology is at odds with forensic justification.  How can Protestantism be salvaged?  Protestants would be wise to avoid attaching themselves blindly to creeds.  We love to spout “sola scriptura” but few of us really know how that helps us.  I will try to show.  Before someone accuses me of rejecting the creed, I accept what Chalcedon coherently delivers: Christ had a two-ness element and he did represent humanity fully.  I reject the divinization presuppositions behind this model and will show how these presuppositions are in tension one with another.

1. Is the acting subject really the Logos asarkos or is it the God-man?  Formally, Cyrillians say the former, but then when we talk about the communication of attributes, we notice a subtle shift to the latter, and the reason is obvious:  any communication of human attributes to the Logos Asarkos destroys impassibility; therefore, the communicatio is simply the transfer of some divine attributes to the human side of the God-human Jesus.  But problems remain:  what right do they  have to shift terms midway in the debate?

2.  Apropos of (1), did God die on the cross? Anchorites love to make fun of RC Sproul Jr on this one, and true, I don’t think he really understands the Patristic issues in the debate, but any answer to this question will be a bad answer–at least while we are still on this plane of presuppositions.  On their gloss, Did God-the-Logos-Asarkos experience death on the cross? If so, how do you maintain your doctrine of impassibility?  Or did God-the-divine-human die on the cross, with only the human nature experiencing death? If the latter, can we really say that God died?  If not, how are you different from Sproul?  Further, how is this different from the charges that Reformed soteriology is Nestorian?  On both glosses, something is affirmed as true which is not true of the taxonomy.

3.  How does the Logos act instrumentally upon the human nature of Christ?   Anatolios attacks Grillmeyer’s contention that the Logos acts mechanistically, and perhaps Grillmeyer’s phrasing is a bit crude, but it’s hard to see any other alternative.  If the human nature of Christ does not have a self-determining principle, which it mustn’t if we are to avoid Nestorianism, and the only acting principle is the Logos asarkos, making the human body the instrument (organon, pace Athanasius et al), then how are we to avoid Grillmeyer’s conclusion:  the Logos acts mechanistically upon the human nature/body?

4.  If (3) then we have precisely the thesis that they attack Calvinists of.

5.  If (4), how is the 6th Ecumenical Council (Dyotheletism) not Nestorian?  Remember, in order to avoid Nestorianism, the Cyrillenes insisted that the human nature of Christ had no self-activating principle.  By the time of the 6th Council, however, we are moving closer to that position.  If the human nature has a will that always acts in synergy with the divine will, how is this not a self-activating principle?

6.  Further reflections on (5): modern understandings of the human person, though they may not always be biblical,  are the way we use the term person today.  Such a use, however, appears to posit a principle of emotional maturation and self-activation in that what it means to be human.  Further, the Jesus in the New Testament appears as a guy who underwent emotional maturation (grow in the knowledge of God, etc) and acted in the power of the Holy Spirit (of course, all the while remaining of one nature with the Father).


Is there a way out?  I think so, and I think we can still maintain the same truths that Chalcedon wants to.   In a future post I hope to reconstruct the doctrine of the Logos asarkos as the Logos incarnandus.  In any case, if any Calvinist is being attacked by Anchorites on these points, then hopefully this post will provide a handy cheat sheet.

Be not glib in speaking of the fathers

As far as Presbyterian scholarship goes, Robert Letham is probably the best.   He’s actually read (if not always understood) the Church Fathers and their leading interpreters, usually going across traditions to understand them (something unheard of in Calvindom).   His book on Eastern Orthodoxy, while deeply flawed at the basic level of argumentation, is mainly  backhanded praise for Orthodoxy (I still don’t know how the Reformed church didn’t bring him up for trial for that book; Leithart has been grilled for less).

Speaking psychologically of others is dangerous, for who can see inside another’s head?  (Incidentally, that sentence refutes all of psychology as a scientific discipline; as magical arts psychology might have some validity, but not as “science”).   That said, I think I know why Letham continues these backhands of Orthodox fathers.  First, we must consider some things Letham has said.  In his other books Letham has come very close to denying the heart of Western theology: The Filioque.  He admits most of the problems in Western theology (and offers no real solution), which seems to lean him towards Orthodoxy.  Letham sees the difficulty of his position.

Anyway, to the passage in question.   It is found in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church periodical New Horizons.  Letham is offering a list of books to read on Christology.  He mentions St Cyril of Alexandria’s On the Unity of Christ and has this to say of Cyril, “One of the Church’s most brilliant theologians and most vicious thugs,” p.13).  I know I should be careful in speaking of elders in the Church, but should not the elders be careful in speaking of the holy fathers?

This is wrong on so many levels.  For one, I have worked with thugs and Cyril is not one of them!  If Cyril is a thug for out-politicking Nestorius, then John Calvin is a mafia don for what he did to Servetus!*  Why is Letham calling Cyril a thug?  It seems like Cyril played unfairly with Nestorius, having called a council while Nestorius was still traveling to it.  As John McGuckin makes clear, Nestorius was already summoned by the emperor and delayed leaving; therefore, Cyril was justified in his actions.

Just because Cyril looked overly efficient in marginalizing Nestorius doesn’t mean he was a thug.  Nestorius ridiculed popular piety (and Orthodox belief), used hair-splitting distinctions, and spoke on a quasi-scholastic level that few could understand.  He was destined to lose this battle.  Cyril didn’t engage in thuggery; he simply allowed Nestorius to show himself for what he really was.

*Most Orthodox people like to rail on Calvin for what he did to Servetus and Geneva.  While I have no love for Calvin or Geneva, I’m not too bothered by the fact.  Calvin had little political power in Geneva (he wasn’t even a citizen of the city!) and was unable to do most of what he wanted in the city (he couldn’t even have communion on a weekly basis for the city authorities forbade it).   Anyway, it seems the Code of Justinian made idolatry on Servetus’ level a capital crime.


Letham, Robert. “Four Favorites:  Books on Systematic and Historical Theology.”  New Horizons April 2011: 13. Print.

Did Calvin Confuse Person and Nature?

The irony is that I am now reading Calvin more carefully (and sometimes more eagerly) than the days when I was a Calvinist.  The following is from his commentary on Matthew 24:36 (good luck finding it;  “Harmonies” of the Gospels are useless and make research and cross-referencing virtually impossible.  That said, if you have the 30 odd volume Commentary set published by Baker or Hendrickson, look for volume 17, page 154.

For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially  the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator.

We can note several things here:

  • The Person of Christ as subject (per Cyril) is pushed to the background and emphasis is on the Office of Mediator.
  • We see an explicit statement that natures, not Persons, act.   This is an open confusion of person and nature.  I suppose one could reply that Calvin really meant that the person acts, and the first sentence of the quote does suggest that Calvin thought he was being faithful to the Tradition.  That said, given the later Calvinian emphasis on the extra calvinisticum, Calvin’s words here are internally consistent (if wrong).
  • Some people think that Nestorianism means “two persons of Christ.”  It does not.  It means “two subjects.”   Cyril’s theology was that the Logos is the sole subject of all Incarnate actions.  Nestorious explicitly rejected that point.  If Calvin has natures acting, then he is positing multiple sources in his Christology.  The structure of his Christology is openly Nestorian.

I will admit, though, I do not yet know what Calvin means by the divine nature is in a state of repose.

EDIT:  I actually do know what Calvin means by the “state of repose.” The extra calvinisticum is clearly wrong, but that’s not my contention here.