Human nature as unity

Berkouwer notes “Scripture doesn’t talk about man in the abstract, but man in his relation to God” (195).

Biblical use of the word “soul.”

Sometimes it is “nefesh,” meaning life and can refer to man himself.  Berkouwer rejects that “soul” is a “localized religious part of man” (201).  The Bible’s interchangeable usage between soul and life should draw attention to the fact that the “heart” is of primary importance:  “The heart shows forth the deeper aspect of the whole humanness of man, not some functional localization in a part of man which would be the most important part” (202-203).

Concerning anthropological dualisms

Such a view sees the soul as the “higher” part, closer to God.  Leads to ascetism.  However, evil in the bible is never localized in a part of man.

Bavinck attacks trichotomy because Scripture knows of no original dualism between spirit and matter (209).    The trichotomist sees the soul as mediating between body and spirit (find Damascene’s comment that the soul is higher point, cf Bruce McCormack, Engaging the Doctrine of God).

Dualism and duality are not identical (211).  We can speak of a duality in God’s creation man and woman, without positing an ontological dualism between them (this is where Maximus and Jakob Boehme err).  “Duality within created reality does not exclude harmony and unity, but is exactly oriented towards it” (211).

Does soul and body involve a tension, and if so that would make it a dualism?  If it does involve a tension, we must reject not only trichotomy, but dichotomy.

Per the confessions and creeds, “there is a great difference between non-scientific references to a dual aspect of human nature and a thesis that man is composed of two substances, body and soul” (213-214).

The Dooyeweerdians

They oppose the idea that all the rich variation of humanness can be forced into two substantial categories.

Hendrik Gerhardus Stoker defines substance as the “systatic core of man, that which functions in all spheres” (H.G. Stoker, Die nuwere Wijsbegeerte aan die Vrije Universiteit, 1933, 40ff.).

For the Dooyeweerdian critique, matter can never be an independent counter-pole to form.

Immortality of the Soul

Genuine and real life in Scripture is life in communion with God.  The philosophical notion of “immortality of the soul” calls death a lie and misunderstands the judgment of God (250).

The main contention of Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd whether there was a natural immortality based on an essence abstracted from its relation to God, from which we can draw further conclusions, such as the soul’s “indestructibility” (249).

Per Van der Leuw, there is no continued existence of the soul as such after death, “but a continuation of the contact point by God even though death” (Onsterfelijkheid of Opstanding, 25 quoted in Berkouwer 252).

  • The problem of what happens when we die does not involve a purely spiritual salvation but can only be answered in the context of death and the Day of Judgment (Althaus).

Is immortality of the soul correlative with the substantial dualism of mind-body?  This dichotomy raises substantial (pun?) problems and questions (255):

  • When the “soul” is separated from the body, what activities is it still able to carry out?
  • If the body is the organ of the soul (as in Aquinas), and the soul needs the body to carry out its functions, how can the soul know or do anything after death?
    • Dooyeweerd notes that the psychic functions are indissolubly connected with the total temporal-cosmic relationship of all modal functions and cannot be abstracted from this relationship.
    • Thus, we have a “living soul” which does not live.
    • Rather, with Dooyeweerd we should speak of a duality which is supra-temporal in the religious center of man (heart) and the whole temporal-functional complex.
    • Dooyeweerd does say that the soul continues as a form of existence with an individuality structure (Berkouwer 257n. 33).

Does Dooyeweerd’s school give us a “psychology without a soul?”

  • No, for Dooyeweerd says we cannot view man’s essence “in itself” and then tack it onto a relation with God.

And people say I read chain of being into everything

(And lest I am misunderstood, my target audience was not originally the Orthodox, though my comments directly apply to them.  Rather, some Reformed guys took issue with my Covenantal Ontology and didn’t believe that chain of being was a real deal).

“The Old Testament makes the body obedient to the intelligence and raises it up towards the soul by means of the virtues, preventing the intellect from being dragged down towards the body. The New Testament fires the intellect with love and unites it to God. Thus yet Old Testament makes the body one in its active with the intellect; the New Testament makes the intellect with God through the state of grace.”-

St. Maximos the Confessor ( Philokalia Vol. 2, Fourth Century of Various Texts)

But anyone who is a “portion of God,” on account of the logos of virtue that exists in God, as was explained above, and who abandons his own origin, is irrationally swept away toward non-being, and thus is rightly said to have “flowed down from above,” since he did not move toward his own origin and cause, according to which, by which, and for which, he came to be.

“Flowing down from above” in this manner, he enters a condition of unstable deviations, suffering fearful disorders of soul and body, failing to reach his inerrant and unchanging end, [1085A] by freely choosing to turn in the direction of what is inferior. Here the sense of “flowing down” can be understood literally, for though such a person had it well within his power to direct the footsteps of his soul to God, he freely chose to exchange what is better and real for what is inferior and non-existent.

St Maximos the Confessor, Ambiguum 7. Translation by Fr Maximos (Nicholas Constas)

10.74} As for Elijah, he is the image of nature, not simply because he preserved inviolate the principles of his own nature (along with the deliberative frame of mind appropriate to these principles) free from any change due to passion, but because he taught by judging, like a kind of natural law, those who twist nature to unnatural ends. For such is nature, punishing those who undertake to violate it to the degree that they actually live in unnatural opposition to it, by not allowing them to acquire naturally all of nature’s power, for they have been partially deprived of its very integrity and for this they are punished, since it is they themselves who pointlessly and foolishly [1164D] have procured this lack of existence by inclining toward non-being.

Ambiguum 10

>>>>Elijah was free from passions? Didn’t he call down fire on the king’s army?

>>>>Notice how he says “inclining toward non-being.”  That is about as stark an admission of chain of being that I have ever seen.  I did worry at a time that I might be reading chain of being into ancient sources.  That is no longer the case.  You do not get any clearer than that.  In fact, this is far clearer than Plato ever was.

29. Just as evil is a privation of good, and ignorance a privation of knowledge, so non-being is a privation of being – not of being in a substantive sense, for that does not have any opposite, but of being that exists by participation in substantive being. The first two privations mentioned depend on the will of creatures; the third lies in the will of the Maker, who in His goodness wills beings always to exist and always to receive His blessings.

St Maximos Four Hundreds Texts on Love, Third Century. Philokalia v 2


Christ Eastern Thought: Maximus (7)

“Being implies movement, but gives to that movement an opposite direction; movement does not consist in a fall, as in Origen, but of a movement upward toward God” (133-134).

Man’s will:  possesses a natural will, and that will is a freedom of nature in conformity with divine freedom and unable to lead to anything but the Good (137).

“For Maximus, and for the monastic tradition he represented on that point…the enjoyment of the senses is now more or less identified with the idea of sexual pleasure, and as such expresses what is corrupted in human nature from the moment of sin” (142).

Logos-tropos distinction:  every being posseses in himself a natural law but concretely exists only according to a mode of existence (145).

Gnomic will:  gnome reflects hypostasis or will, but Maximus is not saying that will is hypostatic.  It is the free will of created hypostases.  It is on a level with movement.  The point he wants to make is that sin is a personal action, not a natural one.  Christ did not possess a gnomic will (which raises the question, is he really consubstantial with our humanity?).

Alarmingly, Maximus writes, “Our salvation depends on our will” (149, Liber Asceticus, col. 953b).  “Spiritual life…supposes the transformation of our gnomic will into a ‘divine and angelic gnome'” (149).  Maximus goes on to say that union with God is natural to man, meaning that our nature points to it.


It’s a beautiful metaphysics, maybe the most beautiful.   While he did cut Origenism off at the knees, the spectre of Neo-Platonism and Ps. Dionysius haunts the realm.   We hear absolutely nothing of the gospel proclamation extra nos.  Meyendorff is quick to assure us that Maximus is no Pelagian.  Fair enough (though see comments by Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, 17), but is he a semi-Pelagian?

Christ in Eastern Thought: Origenism (3)

This chapter deals with the post-Chalcedonian problems created by Origen’s disciples.  I don’t have a dog in this fight since I think Origen’s own views are clear enough.  I think Maximus the Confessor and Gregory of Nyssa are far closer to Origen than many would care to admit.

“From its origin, monastic asceticism had suffered the temptation of Platonic spiritualism” (50).

Meyendorff insists that the anathemas of the Fifth Council refute the notion that Byzantine Christianity is Hellenistic (57).  He cites O. Cullman who argues that biblical time contrasts with Greek time, the latter being a circle and the former an ascending line.   True, the council did condemn some of the worst aspects of Hellenism.  I just maintain that the Byzantine church never made a full break with it (and for proof see the fathers on the goodness of married sexual intimacy).

Evagrian Spirituality

“Man, a fallen intellect, is called to come back to his primitive state, that is, a state of purely intellectual activity” (59).  Admittedly, much of Evagrian spirituality was condemned by the council.   Still, he remained influential in the east.  Meyendorff notes that for this tradition we see

“detachment from the passions, continuous concentation, the fight against all distraction, the superiority of mental prayer over psalmody (!!!!), the fear of any concept provoked by imagination, and the return of the mind upon itself as a condition of its union with God” (59-60)

There is nothing remotely Christian (or even Hebraic) about that sentence.  This was the teaching adopted by Maximus, Climacus, and Palamas.   They did make one key change:  intellectual prayer became “the Jesus Prayer…The heart, not the intellect–takes the central place” (60).

The chapter ends with a fine discussion of enhypostasis:  no nature without a hypostasis–the existence “within something” (67).

On not praying to angels

A prior note on terminology.  Anchorites will insist they don’t worship angels the same way they worship God.  The Bible, however, collapses the distinction between doulia (reverence by way of service) and latria (proper worship).  God specifically tells his people neither to worship these gods (however you want to define that term) or serve them.   Further, the claim that praying to an angel is no different from asking your friend to pray for you won’t hold up.  If you examine these prayers, besides the fact it is nowhere commanded by God, the angels are simply asked to intercede, but to act in such a way that they have power to do x and y.  That is simple Paganism.

Old Creation Judged and Gone

Angels ruled the Old Creation.   That has since been destroyed in the Death-Resurrection of Christ and the Death of Jerusalem.  Why would we pray/invoke entities who no longer rule?   Does not the New Covenant say The “lights” of creation (day 4) were designed to rule (thus the language of greater lights ruling over the lesser lights).   Lights (e.g., the sun) manage time, and so also in the Old Creation they are connected with Festivals.

Before Jesus humanity was under angelic tutors. Psalm 104:3-4 (and Heb. 1:7) connects angels with the natural forces.  Further, this is also connected with Torah.  The law was to shut the whole world under sin (Gal. 3:22-23) and was given by angels (Acts 7:53).  Thus we can conclude that the angels had some authority over the world which was connected with Torah.   Paul further connects Torah and Angels with “elementary principles” (stoichea, Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8).  We may further conclude that any attempt to live under the guidance of angels, however slight, is seeking to go back to the stoichea and is elsewhere condemned in the book of Hebrews.  Oliver O’Donovan even notes that Paul connects both Torah with the stoichiea. In fact, Paul even notes (Galatians 4) that the Gentiles were in bondage to Stoichea.  This is shocking.  No one ever accused the pagan Gentiles of being too much under Stoichea. It’s not as shocking as it seems:  apart from Christ both Torah and the stoichea appear to us as a threat (RMO, 22).  This conclusion of Paul’s only makes sense if we keep in mind that Angels, Torah, and Stoichea are interconnected under the Old Creation.

Forms, Realism, and Nominalism

One thing I noticed in recently reading Homer and Vergil is that the pagan deities were often invoked as powers.  This is not that different from the language of Forms.  Forms in this philosophy is not simply an idea of x, but that the higher form causes and acts in such a way that is is a power to the lower forms.  Paul Tillich made the interesting connection that ancient Christianity simply baptized the older view of Forms with the newer view that these forms were saints and angels, which form a hierarchy of being to God.

Tillich’s suggestion makes sense.  After Plato and the skeptics, few Greeks and Romans were stupid enough to believe that Athena sprang from Zeus’ head.  However, Greek mythology did have a lot of explanatory power.  It might have been philosophically naive to suppose that the pantheon was rule, but it was philosophically astute to transpose that understanding of deity to the realm of the Forms.

Maximus the Confessor famously (though not originally) spoke of the distinction between Logos and Logoi.   Jesus is the Form in whom all the forms exist.  He is the inter-causal causal cause.  It’s beautiful philosophy.  It runs into problems with the Forms are identified with the stoichea.

This is why I am neither realist nor nominalist, but covenantal verbalist.
Nota Bene:  I wonder if this is why demon-possession stories are so common in Catholic and Orthodox lands (see Seraphim Rose, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future and  The Soul After Death).  They are playing too close to the elementary principles of the Old Creation, which God has specifically condemned.  If they get too close to these principles, then God just might let them get close indeed.

Palamas: A Critique

Part One.

Some questions:

  1. If the breathing technique is so important to prayer, how come none of the apostles ever mentioned it?  Granted, one can agree that Scripture doesn’t say everything, but still, this is a rather important omission.  The disciples asked Jesus a very specific question on how to pray and Jesus gave them a very specific answer.  It didn’t include anything about breathing techniques.

  2. To the degree that the hesychasts follow in the best of the Evagrian tradition (Meyendorff, 2-3), one must ask if this would have ever gotten off of the ground were it not for Origen.  If this genealogy is true, then we are faced with the troubling implication that not only is this tradition of prayer not apostolic, but it comes from a rather suspect source!

  3. If both Persons and Nature are hyper-ousia (cf. Triads III.iii.17-20, which this text doesn’t include), precisely how is it possible to know them?

  4. If grace is already inherent in nature, then what was originally wrong or inadequate with nature that it required grace?  (And the distinction between prelapsarian and postlapsarian man is irrelevant.)

  5. How coherent is it to call the energies “hypostatic” (p. 57, II.iii.8) while insisting that hypostasis does not mean what hypostasis means when it refers to the Trinity?  I realize that Meyendorff glosses “hypostatic” to mean “real existence” (p. 131 n .2), but in the context of the Trinity we now have nature, hypostases, and hypostatic energies (which are not the same as hypostases.  Is it any wonder that Latin critics drew the inference of a “fourth hypostasis?”

    True, Palamas explains this by saying the light is “enhypostatic” .  Robert Jenson has suggested that Palamas places the divine energies outside the gospel narrative (Jenson 157).  I do not think Palamas’s move is as crass as Jenson suggests, but the problems are there. Following Maximus, it appears that Palamas sees the events in the gospel narratives as symbols of higher reality (3.i.13, p. 74).

  6. Does it really make sense to say that God is both beyond knowledge and beyond unknowing (p. 32; 1.iii.4)?   I realize Meyendorff glosses this as a Ps. Dionysian move, which it is, but that only raises further problems.  If God is ineffable (Meyendorff, 121 n.9), then what’s the point of even speaking of God?  I simply do not accept that the “knowledge-which-transcends” apophatic and cataphatic knowledge is not merely another form of cataphatic knowledge, for it ends with positive descriptions of God.  That’s not a problem, but we need to call it what it is.

  7. And a common criticism of Palamas:  If God’s essence is unknowable, how does Palamas know that it is unknowable (Lacugna)?  To be fair, Palamas does anticipate this criticism.  Palamas notes that any answer he gives must be “tentative.”  He then gives a very important answer–we know God “by the disposition of created things” (2.iii.68, p. 68).  In other words, we know God by his works, not by peering into his nature.   There is an important truth to this, and Palamas would have done well to finish the thought:  if we are truly to know God by his works then we must look to his covenant and to the finished work of Christ.   Of course, such a move is counter to any talk of apophaticism and essence-beyond-essence.  Palamas does not continue the thought.

  8. Can simplicity be maintained?   A common Thomist critique of Palamas is that it compromises God’s simplicity.   Palamites are quick to respond that they do not hold to the Thomistic version of simplicity.  However, Palamas himself thought he held (and one should hold) to simplicity.  He asserts, quoting Maximus:  “These realities, though numerous, in no way diminish the notion of simplicity.”  They may not, but it’s hard to see how they don’t beyond merely asserting it.

  9. Strangely, Palamas break with the Pseudo-Dionysian ontology at a key point:  Said model posits a number of descending hierarchies from The One.  Each hierarchy mediates to the one below it.  And for the most part Palamas, and much of East and West at this time, do not challenge this model (for a very beautiful application of it, see John Scotus Eriguena).  Barlaam raises an interesting question, though:  If the divine energies are fully God, then how can they appear to the saint without the mediation of hiearchies?  Palamas answers with an analogy:  An Emperor can speak to a common soldier without raising him to the rank of general (3.iii.5; p. 103).   Palamas’ analogy shows us that we can’t simply accuse the essence/energies distinction of being fully neo-Platonic.  It’s not.  Still, if Palamas is right, and I think he actually makes a perceptive point here, it’s hard to see how he can simultaneously affirm Pseudo-Dionysius’s model.  If fact, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t completely negate it.  This is indeed Colin Gunton’s argument in The Triune Creator.

  10. Now to the heart of the criticism:   ousias do not have “interiorities.”  In other words, there is not a subsection of ousia apart from the life of that ousia.   As Heidegger reminds us, “ousia” is always “par-ousia,” being present.  If Palamas wants to say that the energies make the ousia present, fine.   But if he says that, then one really doesn’t have warrant to speak of a superessential, ineffable ousia by itself, for the very point of the energies and of ousia in general is that it is not by itself.

  11. Perhaps the most damaging criticism of Palamas is the divorcing of economy and ontology. Related to this is that the energies seem to replace the role of the Persons in the divine economy.  For example, the energies are not unique to a single person but common to all three who act together.  This is not so different from the standard Western opera ad intra indivisible sunt.  Catherine Lacugna, quoting Wendebourg, notes, “the proprium of each person…fades into the background” (Lacugna, 195).  By contrast, the Cappadocians would say we distinguish the Persons by their propria–by their hypostatic idiomata.  In Palamas, though, this role has been moved to the energies.   This is further confirmed by the fact that Palamas has the persons as hyperousia.

  12. Apropos (11), and echoing Robert Jenson, if the Persons are eclipsed by the energies and remain in the realm of hyperousia and “above” the biblical narrative, in such case that we can no longer identity the persons by their hypostatic propria, we can only conclude that Palamism, despite its best intentions, is a more frozen form of modalism than anything Augustine or Aquinas ever dreamed of.

Without endorsing his theology, Paul Tillich made a pertinent comment regarding East and West.  For the former, reality and salvation is vertical–union with the divine.  For the latter it is horizontal–the kingdom of God in history.   Perhaps an overstatement, but certainly a warranted one.

Reviewing a Manichean Dialogue

One of my favorite pieces on Manicheanism is written by Vladimir Moss.  Moss re-enacts a discussion between an Orthodox Christian and his Manichean priest.   The discussion is mostly brilliant, but there are a few parts where the “good guy” effectively surrendered the debate.

Orthodox. You do surprise me, Father! Tell me: do you believe that the Apostle Peter was a Christian?

Manichaean. I know what you’re going to say: that he was married. But after becoming an apostle he lived with his wife as brother and sister.

Orthodox. Yes, but he did not have to.

The “Orthodox” initially moves in for a “kill shot.”  This would have effectively ended the debate.  The Manichean responds with some (convenient!) “oral tradition.”    Instead of calling shenanigans on it, the Orthodox agrees and in effect loses the entire thrust of the argument.

Further, and while I have taken a lot of flak from the Humeans at Puritanboard for believing in miracle stories, it should be noted that not every miracle story is to be taken at face-value.   Miracle stories from 1200 years ago in a mostly illiterate culture should be taken with a grain of salt.  There is simply no way of empirical verification.  This is quite different from the well-documented prophecies of Richard Cameron (finally, the Humeans on Puritanboard essentially conceded that Maurice Grant was making this up; that is a polite way of calling him either stupid or a liar).  In any case, the “Orthodox” tries to clinch his argument by these hagiographical stories.   In his context, that will work, I suppose.  The Manichean would also hold to them.

Here is another area where the “orthodox,” for all of his good points, implicitly agrees with the Manichean.

Manichaean. Are you saying that it is possible for there to be no lust in the sexual act?

Orthodox. In practice, because of our fallen state, it is almost impossible to clearly separate the elements of love and lust in the sexual act, just as it is almost impossible to separate greed from restoration of the organism in the act of eating, or sinful anger from righteous anger in the disciplining of children and subordinates

The Reformed Protestant has a healthy response:  why call it lust?  The problem is that the ancient tradition, whether Eastern or Latin, simply could not affirm the…(lack of a better phrase)…loss of momentary control that happens in the act.  One should remember the origins of the word “Ecstatic” to fully appreciate what the Orthodox are saying (I think they are wrong, but this is worth explaining.   The climax of the act is ecstasy, ek-static, which in Greek is a “standing outside of oneself.”)   So they called it lust.   Augustine was fully in line with the Greek fathers on this point. There was no way the Tradition could get around calling the ek-stasis “lust,” and lust is sin.  So if you define the ek-stasis in sexual intercourse, even married intercourse, as lust, then you can’t avoid the charge that it is tainted with sin.

The Reformed simply denied the premise and didn’t have the problem.

Further, the Manichean scores huge points when he brings Maximus the Confessor into the discussion.

Manichaean. Well, you must remember that, according to St. Maximus the Confessor, pleasure and pain were introduced into the world as a result of the fall.

For all of the Orthodox’s good intents, to the degree that Maximus is representative of the tradition, to that degree the Manichean is right.  At this point the Orthodox is simply left in the untenable position of lobbing counter-quotations.  So much for Patrum Consensus.  Further, the Manichean is right in that the fathers seem to view Adam and Eve’s relationship before the Fall as sex-less (Maximus is mostly clear on this point.  Cooper labors very hard to exonerate him on this.   I don’t think he is successful).

At the end of the discussion the Manichean, given the shared anchoretic presuppositions, completely clinches the debate:

If virginity is higher than marriage, the transition from virginity to marriage must be a transition from the higher to the lower, which is sad.

Please consider the logic:  if virginity is higher than marriage, and then you marry, you have definitionally fallen.