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Is it Christian, to accept ONLY what the Holy Bible says?
On divine inspiration
By protopresbyter John S. Romanides (+)
Unfortunately, in our time there have been papist and protestant influences exerted on Orthodoxy. They strive to convince us, either that the Holy Bible is the only source of our faith, or that only the “trained” and the “educated” can interpret it.
In reality, the only criterion for interpreting Divinely inspired scriptures is Enlightenment and Theosis. If one isn’t in these states, then any attempt to interpret will most probably fall short of its goal. Naturally, it was not only the ancient Fathers who were in a state of enlightenment or theosis; there are latter-day fathers also. But there are many today who - without having anything to do with all this – are under the illusion that they are able to FULLY interpret the Divinely inspired texts. This is attributed quite simply to their ego and their pride.
People like Teillard de Chardin, in the papist Church, managed – by implementing a forged “scientism” –to introduce anti-Christian, NEW AGE perceptions. Some of our own Orthodox would like to be doing the same.
As Saint Simeon the New Theologian also says:
"for what can be more foul, tell me, than those who attempt to teach with conceit and pride the things of the Spirit, without any Spirit? What could be more profane than the unrepentant and self-purging person, who, despite this, and with only his pseudo-knowledge and externally acquired wisdom, wants to preach Theology, and to audaciously converse on beings and the eternally being?
(Theological, 1, 271-277, S.C. 122, 116)
We see how Theological interpretation without being cleansed of our passions is considered a sin, a MIASMA according to the Saint.
Elsewhere, he says:
"For if the realization of true wisdom and the Knowledge of God was intended to be given to us through letters and lessons, my brothers, then what need would there be for faith, or divine baptism, or the partaking of those sacraments? None whatsoever.”
(Theological and practical chapters 3, 84-86, S.C. 51, 106-108)
us see what father John Romanides says about the
meaning of Divine inspiration.
Let us now go the subject of divine inspiration. An impression has been created among Papists and Protestants – which has greatly influenced modern Orthodox thought – that God gave the Holy Bible to the Church. This is a point that everyone agrees on: Protestants, Papists and Orthodox. Furthermore, both the Orthodox and the Papists agree that God also gave Holy Tradition to the Church. On the issue of Tradition, Protestants appear to be revising some of their views.
It so happens that today, the Orthodox Church is facing a peculiar phenomenon: both in the Old and the New Testament, as well as in Tradition, one encounters viewpoints that for at least 150 years have been proven incorrect, by the progress that mainly positive sciences had achieved. This of course creates a serious problem to someone who doesn’t properly comprehend what the Fathers mean when they speak of divine inspiration. This problem mainly pertains to the study of the Holy Bible.
In the Frankish Tradition that followed Augustine, the book of Revelations was identified as a revelation of meanings by God addressed to mankind. In fact, they were not just meanings, but also sayings; in other words, they were terms and words that accompanied those sayings. However, if one accepts this viewpoint, then we have a case of so-called literal divine inspiration of the Holy Bible, during which God appears to be somehow dictating those meanings and sayings to the scribes of the Holy Bible. But from the moment that this line of thinking is adopted, then it must be surmised that the author of the Holy Bible is essentially God Himself, and not the Prophets or the Evangelists.
Now, because Western theology followed this line, an immense problem upon the appearance of modern science, which overthrew certain positions of the Holy Bible, such as the age of the world, which makes God sound like a liar in those things that He had dictated in older times.
The common viewpoint that has prevailed on the subject of divine inspiration is that the work of divine inspiration is confined only to that which has been testified within the Holy Bible. When we say divine inspiration, the Holy Bible immediately comes to mind, i.e., the Prophets and the Apostles. Now, if someone is more conservative, he may possibly also bring to mind an Ecumenical Council (Synod), apart from the Holy Bible. Because to a person like this, the rulings of the Ecumenical Councils are also divinely inspired. If he is more conservative, he will bring to mind the Fathers of the Church. If he is even more conservative, he will bring to mind the Canons of the Church, the Liturgical life of the Church, as well as the vestments of the cleric. So, if the basis is 50 and the maximum is 100, he will score 100. He has 100 kilos of conservativism!
What has significance however, is this: Divine inspiration has prevailed as an impression that it covers a large portion of ecclesiastic life, if not all of it. As for contemporary Orthodox Theology, there is tremendous confusion on this issue; what divine inspiration is, what it means and where it is found.
The point that all Christians – Orthodox and heretics - agree on, is that the Holy Bible is divinely inspired. We aren’t as yet examining what divine inspiration is, i.e., to what degree the Holy Bible is actually divinely inspired. For the time being, let us hold on to this: That the Holy Bible is divinely inspired.
Therefore on this basis, that which is mentioned in the Holy Bible applies; i.e., that Christ had promised the Apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit, Who would lead them “to the entire truth” (John 16:13)
So, Christ is the One who sends the Holy Spirit and, the Holy Spirit is the One who leads us to the entire truth.
But now, we have the question: to whom exactly does Christ send the Holy Spirit, and who exactly are they that are led to the entire truth?
The Papists reply that the Holy Spirit was initially given to the Apostles, and through the Apostles, it is transmitted to all bishops when they are ordained, and that priests also participate in this in some way. This Papist conviction is evident in the way they ordain their bishops, where the ordaining bishops say to the ordained: “Receive Holy Spirit!” This leaves the impression that the ordained has lived his entire life to that moment without the Holy Spirit and that he receives it during that moment of his ordination.
The interpretational task of the Holy Bible is undoubtedly a task of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that guides the interpreters to the correct interpretation of the Holy Bible. But how does this happen?
It is usual in medical science, when we say that a certain medication cures a certain disease, we know from prior research how the medication acts therapeutically on the organism. In every science, whenever we say that something has happened, that something can be verified.
But here, we have the following question: How does the Holy Spirit guide, who does He guide and what is this guidance comprised of? The assertion, that when an Ecumenical Council rules on something, that something is infallible because the Ecumenical Council is divinely inspired etc., is as though we are being compelled to accept as an infallible teaching everything that is ruled and proclaimed by an Ecumenical Council. This is precisely the spirit that governs Papal infallibility.
It is of course correct that an Ecumenical Council is infallible, that it teaches infallibly, that it is beneficial to our faith etc. Yes, but how can it be infallible? Why are its rulings infallible?
Contemporary Orthodox theology speaks extensively of divine inspiration. From what I have read, I see them speaking of divine inspiration but I haven’t found any description of the divine inspiration that they speak of. We already said that the Orthodox, the Papists and the Protestants all agreed that the Holy Bible is divinely inspired.
But what is divine inspiration? And if it is preserved somewhere, where is it preserved?
Someone might say: Very well, but were only the Prophets and the Apostles divinely inspired? Don’t we have any divinely inspired people after the Apostles? Don’t we have any divinely inspired writings apart from the Holy Bible? And if yes, who are these divinely inspired people? And if they exist, how do we know they are divinely inspired? We know that the Prophets were divinely inspired; so were the Apostles. Apart from them, who else was or is divinely inspired? And what are the various stages of this divine inspiration? How are they discerned? How is man inspired by God and how do we know that someone is inspired by God and not the Devil or by persistent fantasies?
When Christ said that He would send us the Holy Spirit, which would guide us to the entire truth, He was not talking about Ecumenical Councils; that is, He didn’t say that it would happen during the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. In other words, this novelty of the Ecumenical Councils’ infallibility is not included anywhere in the Bible.
Christ had simply said that the Holy Spirit would be the One Who would lead us to the entire truth. But prior to that, He had said that “if you have love amongst you, my Father and I shall come and reside amongst you”, and He also said that “now you see me, but later you will not see me. But if you have love, you will see me again. And the Spirit will then come and reside amongst you and will lead you to the entire truth.”
All these things that Christ said and are mentioned in the Gospel of John and are read by priests on Easter Thursday, are basic chapters. But why are they basic? Why does Jesus’ prayer – the Hieratic prayer – have such significance? Why does Jesus pray for the unity of the Apostles? What unity is He praying for? Could it be the unity of the Church? And what unity is that? When Christ says “will lead you to the entire truth”, He obviously means it within a certain framework. What is this framework?
These chapters 14 to 17 of John’s Gospel give a detailed description of the Apostles’ spiritual condition with respect to love and they define what the results of love are. But the complete form of love is revealed in the experience of theosis. Theosis is the complete form of love. It is with this love, which springs from the experience of theosis, that man is completely cured.
This love becomes activated when the Holy Spirit enters man, thus making man the residence and the temple of the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit arrives and resides inside the person, it brings with Him the Father as well as the Son.
Then the entire Holy Trinity resides inside the man. But how does man know that he has become a temple of the Holy Spirit? How does he determine this?
A true spiritual father knows when a spiritual child of his has received the Holy Spirit and has become the temple of the Holy Spirit. We have specific Patristic criteria on this matter. What are they?
When Christ spoke of the effusion of the Holy Spirit in the Church and the faithful, He didn’t speak vaguely; He didn’t say that he would send it to all of the Church in general. Nor because bishops and priests may have a certain succession through ordination will the entire Church receive it in general. Nor did He imply that because of bishops’ ordinations there is a certain guarantee that the Holy Spirit will reside permanently inside the Hierarchy. The existence of a bishop is no guarantee that a Council will be animated by the Holy Spirit. Proof of this, is that there have been many bishops in the Church who have been condemned as heretics. If those bishops had the Holy Spirit, they would not have fallen into heresy. Hence, the ordination of someone as bishop is neither proof nor a guarantee that the Holy Spirit definitely resides inside that bishop. Therefore it is not the Grace of High Priesthood that leads the Church “to the entire truth”.
Christ here speaks of something else. The Fathers clearly specify that Christ here is speaking of two situations. On the one hand He is speaking of enlightenment and on the other, e is speaking of theosis. When Christ says “so that everyone becomes one”, who is He referring to? To the Apostles of course. He is asking the Father that the Apostles “be as one, just as we are as one” (John 17:11). He doesn’t say as one (person), but as one (whole).
But how can the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be one (whole)?
Reply: They are united as one, in their glory (energy) and in their essence. As Personae, hypostases, they are not united. Because the Personae in the Holy Trinity – according to the Fathers – are not in communion with each other. The common things in the Holy Trinity are the essence and the natural energy of essence, i.e. the Glory.
And how can the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be as one – the same “one” that we shall become one with – that is, between ourselves as well as the Holy Trinity? What will that common feature be? Answer: It is the ‘one’ in Glory
In other words, just as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are as one in glory – because they have glory in common – thus we shall become as one, when we are participants in God’s glory; that is, when all of us (or the ones who become worthy) become participants in the Grace of the Holy Spirit – the uncreated Light. Because when a man becomes glorified, he becomes a communicant of the uncreated glory of the Holy Trinity and thus is also united with the Holy Trinity as well as those fellow men who are also united with the glory of God.
Therefore, that which Christ prays for during the Last Supper is, firstly, for their catharsis, then their enlightenment and finally their theosis.
Thus, the “leading you to the entire truth” is not referring to all people in general, but specifically to those who are going to participate in the experience of theosis. In other words, it is only when man reaches theosis, that he is led to the entire truth.. Subsequently, the entire truth (not of the created world, but of God) can be realized only inside the experience of theosis.
Because all of the Fathers had this experience or a similar one, being either in a state of enlightenment or theosis, for this, they also all had exactly the same perception of the Holy Bible and hence gave the same interpretation of the Holy Bible in its basic points, and the same interpretation of the texts of the other Fathers of the Church.
What do we surmise from the above? That whoever is in a state of enlightenment or theosis are divinely inspired, or not? Answer: They are most assuredly divinely inspired. Because divine inspiration means what? It means that someone is inspired by God. As opposed to what? As opposed to someone being inspired by the devil and the demons. He will be devilishly inspired and demonically inspired.
The sublimest form of Revelation with regard to divine inspiration, was that which occurred to the Apostles on the day of the Pentecost. The key, therefore, to Orthodox theology with regard to divine inspiration, is the Pentecost. If one can comprehend the significance of the Pentecost to Patristic tradition, then, even if he is not a theologian, at least he will know what Theology is and what a theologian is. Just as one doesn’t have to be a doctor to know what medical science is and what a doctor is, in the same way, one can know what Theology is, who the theologian is, and who the ‘theologizer’ is, without necessarily being a theologian or a ‘theologizer’ himself.
John S. Romanides, "Patristic Theology", Parakatathiki Publications, 2004, pages 115 –124, Prologue by Protopresbyter George Metallinos, Dean of Athens University; Supervision-Commentary: Damascenos, Holy Mountain Friar
Translation by A.N.
Article published in English on: 23-8-2005.
Last update: 23-8-2005.