Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics

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We have seen so far that Creation - as something that came from nil – contains both deterioration and death within it.  We clarified the Why and the How.  The fact that it originated from nil inevitably meant that it was subject to death, because “death” is the disintegration and the division of beings.  We also saw how the only way to avert death, to transcend it, is for the created to be in constant communion and association with the Uncreated.  Man was therefore created for this precise role, and this is why he was created towards the end of Creation, when everything else was completed: so that he might become precisely the link between the material world and God.  We examined the privilege given to Man, as compared to the other logical and free beings, such as the Angels.  The privilege was that Man also partakes of the material world and as such, he has the potential to unite the created to the uncreated, and to also unite the material world.  Consequently, death, of all Creation, could only be overcome through Man alone.  Because, I will repeat, the very important point that we tend to forget is that death is not something that concerns Mankind only.  Man does not die alone. He dies, because death permeates all of Creation. Therefore, for Man to overcome death, it is imperative that all of Creation overcome death.  A Creation that undergoes death in all of its material beings with......the exception of Man, is inconceivable.  Unless Creation as a whole is transformed so that nothing dies, Man’s immortality cannot be realized.

Two mistakes must be noted here, which began from the West with Augustine and gradually infiltrated us Orthodox.  The one mistake is to believe that death entered the scene as a punishment for Man’s Fall; as something that God imposed, in order to punish Man for his Fall, without death previously existing in Creation.  This is wrong.  God did NOT introduce death as a punishment.  “Death” was a natural condition for a created being. Because, as we already clarified this extremely difficult topic, a creation from Nil entails the infiltration of Nil amongst beings.  Thus, even prior to the arrival and the Fall of Man, death was already a reality for Creation. Death WAS NOT introduced upon the Fall of Mankind; that which was introduced, was Man’s incapacity to thereafter TRANSCEND death, i.e., Creation was eventually rendered incapable of averting death. This is why death became a permanent characteristic of Creation.  This was the one mistake.  And this mistaken concept was introduced by Augustine in one of his interpretations of the Old Testament (which of course allows us to interpret it, however, the Old Testament was never interpreted in such a way at this point, by any of the Hellenic Fathers).

The other mistake is that Augustine (once again), being influenced by Platonism, had accepted immortality (which is bestowed as the salvation of Creation and Mankind) as a matter that relates to Man’s soul.  In other words, at the End of Time, when death will be abolished altogether, it will mean that the people’s souls will live on, and that the people’s bodies may possibly live on, but as for the rest of the world, Nature will be subjected to death.  This too is wrong.  We need to see death – as we have already said – as a uniform phenomenon, throughout all of Creation.  In this way, Theology can converse with Biology, otherwise, Theology would be turning Biology into Mythology, given that Biology also sees death as a uniform phenomenon; just as a cat dies, so does a person.  Both of them die for the same reasons. And as we said, the process called “death” is inherent with birth.  So, we see that death is a general, biological phenomenon and in order for it to be transcended, it must be transcended by all of Creation; Creation must be transformed in general.  Well, Man’s Fall rendered this transformation of Creation impossible, for the reasons that we already mentioned and will briefly outline once again.

Man, as the link between God and Creation, would have united all of Creation to God, and since Creation would thenceforth be in a communion with God, the world would have acquired eternal life. Man rejected this mission. Instead of relating Creation to the Creator in order to unite it with God, he made himself a god, and thus related Creation to his own person. But, being himself a creation, he in effect related Creation to a created being.  Death, therefore, was inevitable for Creation.  Death could not be overcome, because it is inherent in everything created. Thus, with the Fall of Man, the incapability to overcome death was brought on, as well as a fake “life”; in other words, this biological life was created, which, from its very first cell contains death.  If we bear in mind all this pathology of Creation that brings on death - this sickness of Creation - we come to realize that the cure for this condition must be analogous to the sickness.  You cannot give medicine to a sick person, without previously making a diagnosis of his ailment.  Diagnosis, therefore, is very important; it must be performed correctly. I am hoping that from our last lessons, the diagnosis will have been adequate, so that we may proceed to the matter of therapy.

Therapy is, precisely, the salvation of the world.  A few general observations here first. When dealing with a sick person who has a problem, according to our diagnosis we shall not focus on anything else except the curing of his problem. In this case, the problem is, as we mentioned, death: the par excellence issue.  “Salvation”, therefore, cannot be referring to anything else, except the transcendence of death.  I am stressing this, because there is quite some confusion as to what “salvation” is, and what we are being saved from. The confusion arose from the fact that we did not observe this diagnosis; instead, we focused on moral and juridical presuppositions.  In other words, we saw the Fall of Man as a delinquency, a disobedience (and when I say “we saw”, again these things began with Augustine) and we were given the impression that the cause of evil – the root of evil – was this delinquency, this disobedience, when in fact this was not the cause or the root of evil.  This evil (death) existed as a possibility even before.  What Man’s disobedience accomplished, was to render impossible the curing of the evil, the transcending of the evil that already existed.  Nevertheless, the problem cannot automatically be solved with obedience. The Hellenic Fathers were especially sensitive in this area.  Athanasius the Great clearly stresses that if the problem of Adam’s delinquency was a problem of absolving sins, God could have forgiven him. Adam could have repented and wept, as indeed he wept - he departed from Paradise and wept bitterly: he regretted what he had done.  And God could have forgiven him, and all would have been well. But Athanasius wrote an entire book, to show that the problem did not lie there.  It wasn’t enough.  What was necessary was for the Logos to come - to become incarnate - in order for the created to become re-united with the Uncreated. In other words, the problem was not obedience, nor was it disobedience; the problem was not a moral one – it was an ontological one.   This union of the created with the Uncreated had to take place, in order for death to be overcome.

Consequently, “Salvation” is not a moral issue. It is not a matter of doing or not doing something.  Salvation has to do with a relationship, a personal union, and –as we said– man alone was given the privilege of a bodily, material union.  It is imperative that the body (=matter) also partake of this union (i.e., the entire psycho-somatic being) and naturally through this, all of Creation, because we are linked psycho-somatically to all of Creation.

(I would like to insert a parenthesis here, to reiterate on a topic that we have already touched on. We have isolated Science, into Botanical and Zoological, inasmuch as declaring that Botany deals with flowers and Zoology with the bees.  That was a mistake, and it is only recently that Science has begun to acknowledge this mistake, because a bee visits a flower and obtains its nourishment from the pollen, therefore between the bee and the flower there exists an organic bond; if this factor is not taken into account, then you will not comprehend any of the things that take place: you will not comprehend the bee, if you don’t comprehend the flower, nor the flower, if you don’t comprehend the bee. In other words, Botany and Zoology comprise a unity. We need to abandon this segregated view of beings. We have lost the unity of beings, with this scientific method that we have been pursuing.)

I mentioned this, in order for you to understand that a Man (and not an Angel) was the one who would unite all of Creation.  Why?  Because it is Man who has a psycho-somatic union with God and who, thanks to this union, can ensure that all of Nature will be saved.  I will therefore repeat that the issue is neither a juridical one, nor a moral one.  “Salvation” is not a salvation from the sins and the trespasses of Adam – of every Adam – but a salvation from this sickness called “death”; a salvation that is achieved through the union of the created with the Uncreated.  A union that will include all of material creation and all material, somatic energies.

The conclusion from all the above is:  Firstly, in order for the world to be saved, Man definitely had to mediate. No other being could save the world. Not even God on His own. There was no way for God to say from afar: “Be saved!”  For God to forgive Man from afar, it would have to be a moral or a juridical issue; an issue of trespassing.  Nor could an Angel save the world, as angels are not corporeal entities; they could not interface with material Creation.  Thus, the need for God to become a Man for the requirements of salvation, and the fact that things could not be otherwise, is the result of logic such as the one we have expounded. And it is not simply a matter whereby Man fell and he must be saved through Man, and even if Man didn’t fall, again the transcendence of death would be achieved through him. On this point, Saint Maximus for example is very clear, when he states that the incarnation would have taken place, even if Man hadn’t fallen. It was inconceivable for this world to overcome the (inherent to its nature) elements of death and deterioration - the inherent deterioration that was not attributed to the Fall of Man.  This element would have been impossible to overcome, if Man –in his person– did not unite material Creation with the Uncreated God.  Therefore, the first basic conclusion or observation is that Man is the key point, upon which salvation is consummated.

Thus, the first prerequisite, the first element necessary for salvation, is Man’s mediation.  The second element is the fact that with his Fall – and even before his Fall – Man was incapable of transcending death on his own, on account of his being a creation. The transcendence of death could not be accomplished by a creation; especially when Man fell and thereafter became a prisoner of this false “life” (given that this biological life –as we mentioned earlier- is a false life permeated by death).  From the moment therefore that Man became trapped in this cycle of life-death, it was impossible for him to free himself; hence, an initiative had to be taken – an intervention by the Uncreated, Who is not entangled in this whole process of “false life”.

Two, therefore, are the elements that lead us to the mystery of Christ, or the incarnation of the Logos:  the initiative taken by the Uncreated, and the need for a union (not a mere submission or forgiveness) between the created and the Uncreated. That the salvation of the created, of the world – the salvation from death – can be attained only through Christ, is attributed to the fact that only in Him do the aforementioned prerequisites exist.  Christ is a human. He did not become an Angel. He did not become anything else; only a human.  Christ is God, and He must be God in His hypostasis, so that He doesn’t have to be entangled in this vicious circle of life and death from the start. Given these prerequisites, there could be no other solution to the created’s problem, than the incarnation of the Logos.

The incarnation of the Logos, or Christology” as we call it, must also comply with these prerequisites.  One prerequisite is that it must be an incarnation into a human, who must not have the personal hypostasis of a creation, but must have the hypostasis of an uncreated.  The second prerequisite –as a consequence of the first one- is for this Saviour not to be born in the manner that a created man is born. Thus, the dogma on Christ’s conception in a non-biological manner – as described in the Gospel, i.e.: by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary – is an essential element in this faith, because if Christ had been born in the biological manner that we are born, then He would have likewise been confined by this recycling – this false “life” which has engulfed death – and He would have been unable to provide the solution to the problem.  The conception therefore of Christ by a Virgin is an essential element in Dogmatics; we cannot disregard it. Having this in mind, the question that is now posed is why the Lord’s conception by a Virgin occurred in the manner that it did, i.e., by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.  The reason is that not only was it imperative for the Uncreated to take the initiative (and Christ was uncreated in His hypostasis), but also that it was necessary for this procedure to take place freely. Freely on the part of the Logos, Who became incarnate, and freely on the part of created humanity (the Virgin).  Because it would have been unthinkable, at the stage where God wished to mend the situation (given that God had given Adam the freedom to materialize the plan for salvation and he freely denied to materialize it), to withdraw Man’s freedom and to personally intervene in an illiberal manner Himself. In other words, for God to say “Adam doesn’t want to save it, Man does and doesn’t want to save it, therefore I shall intervene and save the world Myself.”

We can see how the rule – the condition– of freedom was respected, by the manner in which the Incarnation was effected, and moreso by the role that the Holy Virgin undertook.  We need to persist here; we need to stress the significance of the Virgin’s role; a significance comprised of a voluntary “Yes” with which She responded to God’s calling for the realization of this mystery of Christ.  The Virgin’s “Yes” was Man’s expression of freedom: the freedom of Man’s acceptance, of his consenting to this initiative by God.  This is of extreme importance, because the Virgin Mary could have responded with a “No”. This invitation on God’s part for Mary to offer Herself for such a plan naturally conflicts with human logic to such a degree, that one would have expected the normal, the logical response by the Virgin to have been a “No”, as it would not have been logical, without a transcendence of logic, without faith as we defined it earlier, for the Virgin to have assented to this calling by God.

In this way, Adam in his free state survives, in the case of Christ. Christ has now become Man – an “Adam” – whose very biological composition is not a compulsory one; who labours if the need arises but is nevertheless a free being; a being that has sprung from a freely willed consent by Man.  That Christ is born in this manner is consequently another prerequisite, in order for everything that we have said in Dogmatics so far to apply; in other words, a personal relationship between God and the world.  Christ’s incarnation is consequently different to the various other incarnations that we observe in other religions and different to the various births and rebirths of gods through natural phenomena, as all of those births, every “Theogony” and whichever other births in religions are compulsory births – are births that are not based on a free, personal consent on the part of Man.  They are all dependent on natural laws.

Christ is born in this manner, without the intervention of natural laws, not only to demonstrate His power, that He is indeed God (because many people interpret His birth in this way), but because a non-miraculous birth of Christ would have signified a conforming to the compulsory biological laws of Nature.  The birth of Christ would not have been a product of freedom, nor would the Person of Christ. We would thus have deviated from that initial condition, in which God had left everything in freedom, to the point that Adam overthrew all of His plans. Everything that God had thought of was overthrown, because of Adam’s freedom.  This freedom of the Virgin giving Her consent is a freedom which continues to permeate the entire mystery of Christ; the entire mystery of salvation. And we shall now observe it, in close association with what is accomplished by the incarnation of Christ, after His conception, after His birth –His biological birth- through to His Resurrection, as well as what happens in this mystery of Salvation, even after the Resurrection of Christ.  We shall see that the factor “freedom” is strictly respected, in all the major phases of the mystery of Salvation.


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Transcript by N. R.

Translation by A. N.

Article published in English on: 11-12-2006.

Last update: 21-12-2006.