Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Essays about Orthodoxy - Philosophy


Is the teaching of the Orthodox Fathers of the Church Platonic?

by Papyrus 52




1.   Introduction, and a general position of the Orthodox on the matter of Theology-Philosophy relations
2.   The meaning of źimmortality of the soul in Orthodox Theology
3.   The Bible not only teaches that the soul exists separately from the body, but also that it does not die along with the body
4.   The Fathers invoke the Bible and the Apostles in their teachings regarding the immortality of the soul źthrough Grace╗
5.   The age-old faith of Orthodoxy: Justin
6.   The age-old faith of Orthodoxy: Theophilos of Antioch
7.   The age-old faith of Orthodoxy: Irenaeus
8.   Was there ever an issue of dualism and a źPlatonic type of underrating of the body by the Fathers?
9.   The dogmas of the Church are neither a źspeculation nor a źphilosophical occupation
10. The tripartite element of the soul in the New Testament and the Fathers
11. Epilogue
1.   Introduction, and a general position of the Orthodox on the matter of Theology-Philosophy relations

It is a fact that the question is often posed as to how Christianity related to ancient Hellenic philosophy and if the theological thought of the Church Fathers was influenced by Platonic philosophy, resulting in Orthodoxy adulterating the delivered Apostolic faith.

This question is often posed to the Orthodox, be it by representatives of other dogmas (mainly Protestants and Jehovah's Witnesses), or by agnostics and atheists - who focus their critique on specific areas of Orthodox teaching which they consider are not aligned with the (supposedly, in their opinion) expected theological positions that Orthodoxy should have.

Some of those areas - which will be analyzed in this article - are:

a) the advent of philosophical terminology in the theological language of the Church,

b) the belief in the so-called źimmortality of the soul╗,

c) the teaching that pertains to the źtripartite status of the soul╗ and

d) the matter of whether there ever was a Platonic-type underrating of the body by the Fathers of the Church and the acceptance of dualism (aka "diarchy") between the spiritual and the material worlds.

A general placement on the part of the Orthodox on the matters of relations between Philosophy and Theology is as follows:

The matter of synthesis and convergence between the two most significant magnitudes of History - Hellenism and Christianity - is usually regarded as an achievement of the 4th or 5th century A.D..  However, the dynamic synthesis of Hellenism and Christianity and the parallel course of these two powerful spiritual currents during the unfolding of History was apparent from the very first decades after the death and the Resurrection of Christ.

As noted by professor George Martzelos: "The use of contextual representations and images in order to render dogmatic truths comprehensible by people with different cultural backgrounds is often not only legitimate, it is even imperative. This is a fundamental missionary and educative principle, which is deeply rooted in the History and the life of the Church. However, the use of these contextual representations and images needs to be confined, only to the morphology of the dogma, leaving its essence intact and unalloyed. This is precisely the stance that was upheld by both the Apostles and the Fathers of the Church; although borrowing virtual representations and terminology from the contextual cultural background of the Hellenic world, they nevertheless confined themselves exclusively to the morphological level and did not alter the message of the divine Revelation [...]  Characteristic examples are in both the characterization of the Son of God by John the Evangelist with his Stoic or Philonian term "Logos", as well as the usage of the Stoic perceptions of the poets Aratus and pseudo-Epimenides by the Apostle Paul during his oration on the Hill of Aries, in order to highlight the omnipresence of God and His relation to the human race." [1].

We find something similar in the Apostle Paul also, where we read the following:

"The heavens shall pass away with a great sibilant noise and the elements shall dissolve with fire, and the earth and the works that are in it shall be completely burned [...] the heavens fired shall be dissolved and the elements burning shall melt away. New heavens and a new earth...we look forward to..."  (2 Peter 3:10-13)

In these verses "we have a description of the destruction of the heavens, the earth and the elements - which is analogous to that of Helleno-Roman eschatology [...] Furthermore, in the epistle is described the annihilation of evil, in a manner similar to that of the Stoic texts.." [2].

Professor Basil Tsakonas also notes that "the term 'awareness' (ˇ§Ýň▀ńšˇÚ˛), albeit unknown in the Old Testament is nevertheless used broadly by the Stoics." [3].

And he continues:

"Where has Paul drawn the term 'awareness' from? Assuredly from the Hellenistic environment... not only the term 'awareness' but also many other terms that were in use during those years.  However he transforms the content of those terms to such an extent, that they are rendered purely Christian-centered and they have discarded their philosophical and specifically Stoic character.  The terminology is common, but that which renders it different is the new spirit which is given to those terms under the influence of the new religion." [4].

Another well-known scholar, Claude Tresmontant, wrote:

"Paul sometimes utilizes Stoic terminology - a terminology that somehow permeated the atmosphere - and he uses meanings of mystic religions [...] Futhermore, Paul's language is sometimes laden with the weight of philosophical or religious notions of Hellenism. Nevertheless, his thought remains wholly biblical. In his case, language is nothing more than a wrapping."[5].

It is therefore obvious to students that the presence of Hellenic philosophy in the texts of the New Testament pertained only to the usage of its terminology and verbal forms, and not an acceptance of ancient Hellenic theological thought.

That was exactly the road that the Fathers of the Church also followed:

"The enlightened thought of the Fathers... was able to acclimatize the biblical and revealed truths about the person, the opus and the teaching of Christ... inasmuch as expressing and formulating them within the spiritual clime of that era, when Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy prevailed and held a central place [...] This is a natural, living and very legitimate function of theological thought [...]  Besides, even in the Holy Bible [...] God speaks with our tongue and not with His. That is how patristic theology accomplishes the enlightened feat of transforming the philosophical meanings"[6], literally transforming the philosophical language into a theological one" [7].

Inside the official dogmatic text of the Church known as the źSynodicon of Orthodoxy╗ (it can be found in full, in the ecclesiastic book used in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy and is titled "Triodion") is "codified the age-old, holy patristic stance which differentiates between the study of Hellenic Philosophy - that is, its educational usage - and the acceptance of its theology."[8].

The following excerpt from the Synodicon of Orthodoxy is a characteristic one:

"Anathema to those who study Greek lessons and do not use them solely for educating themselves, but who also follow their redundant teachings and accept them as truths, and in fact actually confess their faith in them."

Therefore, the officially determined place of the Orthodox Church with regard to the texts of ancient Hellenic literature is that they can be used for people's education, but under no circumstance can the acceptance of their theological content be tolerated.

And of course from the words of the major Fathers of the Church it becomes obvious that Orthodoxy has unswervingly upheld the aforementioned canon.  Indicatively, in the 4th century Basil the Great writes the following, when addressing youngsters:

źů you daily attend schools, and through the written words that they left behind them, you communicate with the most significant of the ancient sages." [9].

But he goes on to say the following : "before all else, we shall in no way pay attention to whatever they say about the gods"[10].

Another important Father of the Church, Gregory the Theologian, albeit strongly protesting to the emperor Julian about the fact that he had forbidden the Christians to teach about the ancient Hellene authors [11], this did not hinder him from pointing out in an absolute manner that whatever those ancient Hellene authors did say "regarding the gods" (and in fact he even mentions their names - Pythagoras, Plato, Epicurus, Aristotle, the Stoics, e.a.), they are merely "monstrosities and unsavory prattling"...[12]

Thus, for Orthodoxy it is quite clear that the theology of the ancient philosophers was absolutely condemnable. The only thing that was -justifiably- utilized in the Hellenistic environment that Christianity found itself in, was the philosophical terminology, whose content was of course wholly transformed so that it can remain faithful to the facts of Divine Revelation.  That is why Athanasius the Great also speaks of the term "homoousios" (=of the same essence) - a term that is not found exactly like that in the Bible but was nevertheless used, on the basis of all that was delivered to the Church by Christ the Saviour Himself and by the Holy Bible.  (PG 25,468C).

And of course when John the Chrysostom talks about the "homoousion", he invokes biblical verses: "whosoever has seen Me, has seen the Father" (John 14:9); "Me and My Father are one" (John 10:30); "just as the Father raises the dead and revives them, thus also shall the Son revive those whom He wants." (John 5:21); "All honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whosoever does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father" (John 5:23), etc..[13].

On the contrary, for the Orthodox, the only things that remain totally trapped inside ancient Hellenic theological thought are the heresies.  One example alone is enough to confirm this.

One of the well-known heresies was Arianism, which did not accept the divinity of Christ, even though it is clearly stated in the Gospel (see John 1:1, 5:18, 10:30, 10:33, 20:28, Acts 20:28, Romans 9:5, Philippians 2:6, Colossians 2:9, 2 Thessalonians 1:12, Hebrews 1:8, 2 Peter 1:1)

The reason they (heresies) did not accept Christ's divinity was the deeply-rooted influence of Platonic theology, one of the basic axioms of which was that "god does not blend in with mankind", as written by Plato in his work "Symposium" (verse 203a). Those "theologizing" with a Platonic mindset were unable to imagine in the true Orthodox manner the incarnation of the Lord, and were thus led to the heresy of Arianism.  But, because Orthodoxy's teaching springs from within the witness of the Church and not from just anyone's philosophical speculations, it confirms Biblical tradition and - according to the Oros (clause) of Faith of the 4th Ecumenical Council - teaches that:

źWe confess one Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; the perfect God and perfect man; the same, as a uniform and indivisible Person" [14].

With this, Orthodoxy demolished that greatest of Platonic axioms, by proving that it had no dependence whatsoever on Platonic theology, and that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it was able to move within the Hellenistic environment and utilize the language of its cultural environment, without budging in the least from Biblical theology.


2.   The meaning of źimmortality of the soul in Orthodox Theology.

As noted above, the use of philosophical terminology by the authors of the New Testament proves that it doesn't matter what something may "resemble" or what the words of an ancient author are "reminiscent of"; what matters is the content-context that is given to it, by the one who is re-using it.

Therefore it is a fact, that the term "immortality of the soul" had been used by Plato; however, we shouldn't be preoccupied by whose idea it was to use that phrase first, but rather, what content it was given every time.  And we shall see that Plato's phrase was used by the Fathers, not in connection to its idolatrous content of course, but as a linguistic formulation - as an external phrasal form.

Let's therefore examine what Plato's belief was with regard to the Soul, and what he meant when he spoke of the "immortality of the soul":

źEach soul is immortal. Because that which is perpetually-moving is immortal [...] Only... that which moves itself... never ceases to move... and for all the other moving things, it is the source and the principal of their motion.  The principal is something unborn... everything that is made... is made by a principal, but the principal itself by no-one... because it is something unborn, it is necessarily also incorruptible... that, therefore, CAN NEITHER BE LOST, NOR CAN IT BE MADE╗[15].

So, what will someone say, who has an elementary knowledge of Orthodoxy, when reading this text by Plato? He will of course say that Plato ascribed characteristics to the soul which - for the Church - are characteristics that only the Holy Trinity has!  Because for the Bible and the Church, nothing else is "Unborn", "Uncreated" and "Principal". Do the Orthodox perhaps believe the soul to be their God?  We think it would be totally absurd to propose anything like that!

So, what is it all about, and how does Orthodoxy differentiate itself from Platonic theology?

According to the teaching of the Bible - the way that the Fathers of the Church interpret it - ONLY two "things" are existent:

a) God (that is, the Holy Trinity), and
b) all else apart from God, which are creatures, creations[16].

As Basil the Great says:  "Two are the things that exist: divinity and creation" (Basil the Great, "Against Eunomius", PG 29, 660┴).

Thus, the Fathers begin with an unprecedented (for philosophers) view of the Bible: that "both the material AND the spiritual world are created", and that includes the earth, the angels, the body AND the soul! [17]

The soul according to Plato źCANNOT BE MADE/CREATED╗.

But notice what the Fathers say, in ABSOLUTE antithesis to Platonism: źThe soul was CREATED, simultaneously and at the exact same moment with the body, and not first the one, then the other, the way that Origen vapidly prattles╗ (John of Damascus, PG 94,921A).

Therefore, to Orthodoxy the soul is something that was created, and indeed simultaneously with the body, and consequently did not preexist - something that would have been UNTHINKABLE for Plato!  Moreover, when examining John the Damascene's reference in the "Prattlings of Origen", we can understand how wrong it would be, to speak of Origen's "influence" in Patristic theological teachings regarding the soul...

It is obvious that the Fathers were well aware of the heretical positions that Origen was introducing and as such, he never therefore caused them any "confusion" in that area.  For example, we see Gregory of Nyssa doubting and condemning the teachings of Plato on the soul, but also of Origen (who in certain points was obviously influenced by the Hellene philosopher.) The Orthodox position with regard to the (time of) appearance of the body and the soul is that both of them are CREATIONS and thus, that źsoul and body come into existence simultaneously[18].

Gregory of Nyssa says: źůwe do not regard it correct, that the soul exists prior to the body, nor that the body exists without a soulů╗[19]. źBoth theories are equally rejected[20].

As noted by him, he does not accept the position of Origen and Plato, źwhoůthink that souls pre-exist, as though they are a populace in a peculiar city-state╗. This theological position is clearly recognized by Saint Gregory as an idolatrous one, which is why it is stressed that źit is not rid of the Hellenic dogmas[21].   Gregory rejects the theories of źthose who mythologize that souls previously live in a particular state[22], and thus, he outrightly names Plato and Origen as mythologizers and crushes yet another basic axiom of Platonic philosophy - the one regarding the eternal and uncreated divine soul - which for Christianity is demoted to the level of a creation that has a beginning and an end, just like all creations.

And to continue:

We are furthermore told by Plato that the Soul - apart from not being something that can be created, źCANNOT POSSIBLY BE LOST EITHER╗.

Let us see what Athanasius the Great has to say about this:

źAs for things that are made, the verb Ĺ­´Úň▀ˇŔßÚĺ (to make) is used, which implies that they are creations; but for the Son, neither the term Ĺ­´▀šˇÚÝĺ (to make) nor the term ĹŃňÝޡŔßÚĺ (to originate) are used; instead, the term 'ß└ńÚ´Ý' (eternal). [...] The creator is one thing, and the creations another, and it does not say that 'He is God on the one hand, while they are creations fashioned from nil' [...] that 'they will be destroyed'; it does not say this in order to imply that Creation took place for it to be destroyed, but rather to indicate what the nature of originated things is, by the ending that they will have. Because even those things that are potentially destructible (even if they are not destroyed, on account of the grace of Him who created them) have nevertheless been created out of nonexistence, and this bears witness to the fact that they once did not exist.  That is therefore why - on account of their nature  - it is said of the Son that 'You, however, remain': it is in order to make manifest His eternicity. Because...He does not have the potential to be destroyed, the way it happens with the creations; instead, He has the attribute of eternity.╗ (Athanasius the Great, ĹAgainst Ariansĺ Essay ┴┤, 58. PG 26,133).

And what does Plato say about the soul?  źIT IS NOT POSSIBLE FOR IT TO BE MADE, OR TO BE LOST╗.

Whereas the Fathers - as we saw - say the exact opposite: źThe soul was CREATED╗ and that źit has the potential to be destroyed╗.

As analyzed by professor John Zizioulas:   źThe soul is not - by nature - immortal, because it is not eternal but created.   Consequently, it is likewise subject to the fate of a creation, which, according to Saint Athanasius, can be restored to its "non-being" [...]  If the soul, as a created thing, is not immortal, then it is NEVER - ontologically speaking of course - immortal.  To actually become immortal DOES NOT ALLOW US (logically) TO SAY THAT IT IS IMMORTAL. On the contrary, when we accept that the soul CAN BECOME immortal - through Grace - then we have automatically ACKNOWLEDGED THAT IT IS NOT IMMORTAL [...]  For one to even speak -ONLY- of the "immortality of the soul", even if by Grace, is MISLEADING, because it would be like acknowledging attributes (that is, natural characteristics) of immortality, especially to the soul╗! [23]

And he continues:

źThe nature of the created does not have within it any power of survival [...] To be created automatically means you are mortal, that you are subject to the threat of complete and absolute extinction.╗[24] źThe nature of the created is mortal (Athanasius the Great)╗; źit can, at any given moment, cease to exist╗[25].  

This is the exact same way that the well-known theologian Georges Florovsky approaches the issue, according to whom, the soul (according to the Fathers) is by nature MORTAL, and the so-called "immortality of the soul" taught by the Fathers is an ANTI-PLATONIC teaching:  

źThe whole of Creation was 'brought into being' and was preserved 'in its state of being' by the grace and the favour of God alone - by His authoritative will.  Existence has always been a gift of God. Based on this point of view, even the human soul was 'mortal' by nature; its immortality was a potential, since - being likewise a creation itself - it was kept in place by the grace of God. Saint Justin had spoken very clearly and accurately on this point - as opposed to the Platonic arguments pertaining to "immortality"! [26]

So, while for Platonism the immortality of the soul is an intrinsic element in the NATURE of the soul, for the Fathers NO creation bears immortality inside itself, but on the contrary, it bears within it BY NATURE the "potential to vanish".


3.   The Bible not only teaches that the soul exists separately from the body, but also that it does not die along with the body.

The teaching that as soon as it is separated from the body the soul continues to live, is a purely Biblical one.

The Apostle Paul tells us that immediately after the death of the body, God preserves the soul alive:  źshould our earthly home of our body dissolve, we have a building by God [...] an eternal abode in the heavens [...] for this we groan, yearning to be clothed with our heavenly house [...] For we who are in this tabernacle groan, being burdened; not for wishing to be unclothed, but to be clothed, so that the mortal one be swallowed by life[27] (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).

And elsewhere:  źI knew a man in Christ fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such a one was caught up to the third heaven.[ů]╗ (2 Corinthians 12:2-3)[28]

The related passages are indeed many.

Therefore there is "something", which continues to live on, even without the body.  That "something" - the soul - is found inside the body; it has self-awareness, and when the body is dissolved it moves on, to a celestial abode as the Apostle Paul tells us, or as Ecclesiastes tells us: ź...then shall the dust return to the earth, as it was, and the spirit shall return to God, Who gave it╗ (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

The same thing is also indicated by Luke of course:  źand as they stoned Stephen, he called upon God and said "Lord Jesus, accept my spirit"╗ (Acts 7:59).

In the New Testament it is clearly mentioned that the "soul" or otherwise "spirit" is something different than the body:   źJesus said...: ĹWeep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth'. They laughed at Him in scorn, certain that she was dead. After sending them all out, Jesus took the girl by the hand and cried out: 'Maiden, arise!'  And HER spirit returned and she arose straight away.'╗ (Luke 8:52-55).

The same thing is noted in the Old Testament:  ź[...] and he invoked the Lord with these words: ĹLord, my God, let the soul of this child return to itĺ. And it happened thus, and the child cried out [...].╗ (3 Kings 17,21).

Therefore the źsoul╗ or źspirit╗ is something which continues to exist after bodily death, which is why it can also RETURN to it, while it is also obvious that in such cases God does not give a new źbreath╗ of life (as asserted by Jehovah's Witnesses); rather, it is THEIR OWN existing soul - THEIR OWN existing spirit - that returns.  To Orthodox theologians it is clear that the teaching of the one soul, which is kept alive by God after the death of the body, has its source in the Bible:

Theologian Panagiotis Trembelas writes the following:

ź...Ecclesiastes: a) Accepts the immortality of the soul and believes in the coming judgment. He may not give a full and explicit definition of the "immortality of the soul", but, with what he has written, he expresses the essence of the matter, which agreed with the ideas of his time.  It was possible for Ecclesiastes to deny the immortality of the soul, because the Jews even from the time of Moses already strongly believed in it.  What could be more explicit than the verse itself of Ecclesiastes 12:7?[29].

Jeremiah Foundas also tells us of the origin of the belief on the soul that lives on after the death of the body, from within the Old Testament:

źOne is also especially impressed by the manner that the great leader addresses God: 'The Lord God of spirits and of every flesh', or, as the Hebrew text says: 'The Lord God of the spirits of every flesh' (Numbers 27:16).  In this invocation by Moses, God is presented as the God of all mankind; however, by stressing the meaning of man's soul (of his 'spirit', as mentioned here), he is actually transcending death.  In fact, according to the Hellenic text, it appears as though a distinction is being made between the living and the dead. But God is the God of both the living AND the dead, whose flesh has of course undergone deterioration but whose spirits live, in God, to Whom they belong!  This marvelous phrase has also been adopted by the Church, in Her benedictions for the deceased[30].

The same thing is noted by professor Stavros Kalantzakis:

źThe belief in the resurrection of the dead - and in fact of their bodies - is of course linked to the belief in the immortality of the soul. It has long since been the prevalent conviction of ancient Israel that the soul (nephesh) of man carried within it the seed of immortality.  Biblical references such as "liveth thy soul" and "liveth the Lord and liveth thy soul" confirm this in the most categorical manner [31].


4.   The Fathers invoke the Bible and the Apostles in their teachings regarding the immortality of the soul źthrough Grace╗.

We need to also point out that even the Fathers of the Church - when referring to the teaching regarding the soul and the body - tell us explicitly that it is drawn from within the Bible.  Thus, Gregory of Nyssa says:

źOur nature, according to the Apostolic teaching, is understood as twofold; in other words, it is comprised of the manifest and the latent man[32] (by "twofold", Gregory implies the body and the soul[33]). Furthermore, when saint Gregory theologizes and speaks of the soul that lives after the death of the body, he bases it on verses of the New Testament, such as - for example - Acts 7:59 (ref. "On Saint Stephen the First-Martyr" - PG 46, 725B).

The same of course is done by all of the Fathers and ecclesiastic authors, when they theologize about the soul:

- Gregory the Theologian refers to the matter of the soul returning to God (ref. "To Caesarion, his brother, an Epitaph", PG 35, 784A), basing himself on the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor.5:1-2.

- John the Chrysostom theologizes on the soul that continues to live after its separation from the body (ref."On the four-day Lazarus", PG 48, 784), on the occasion of the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) which he of course links to Mark 5:41-42 and the parallel narration of Luke 8:54-55 (PG 48, 782).

- John of Damascus (ref. "Precise publication of the Orthodox Faith",  PG 94,1208C) mentions the źraising of a dead person╗ by the Prophet Elijah in 3 Kings 17, 22. For the Damascene źraising╗ also meant the following: źhow are the dead raised? [PG 94,1225┴] ů by their souls again being united with their bodies [PG 94,1228┴]╗.

- Olympiodorus (ref. źMemoranda on Ecclesiastes╗, PG 93, 621A), whose opus is a significant one because he has written memoranda based on older interpreters, interprets Eccles.12:7 as the return of the soul to God.

- Theophylaktos of Bulgaria (ref. źAn interpretation on the Gospel according to Luke╗, PG 123, 812D), also interprets the immortality of the soul on the basis of Luke 8:55.


5.   The age-old faith of Orthodoxy: Justin.

Undoubtedly, the matter of źthe immortality of the soul╗, i.e., the soul that is kept alive by God, is not something that we encountered in the 4th century, for, even as early as the 2nd century (135-165 A.D.), Justin had written:

źThat the soul LIVES, NOBODY will DENY.  If it lives, it does not live as though itself IS life, but as something that partakes of life [...] The soul partakes of life, because God WANTS IT TO LIVE[34].

This theology is the same as that of the later Athanasius the Great, who said that the soul and all creations are not destroyed, źdue to the grace of the One Who created them╗, which Justin had expressed with the phrase źThe soul partakes of life, because God WANTS IT TO LIVE╗.


6.   The age-old faith of Orthodoxy: Theophilos of Antioch theologizes Orthodoxically on the soul, as early as the end of the 2nd century

Furthermore, professor Demetrius Tsamis wrote the following about Theophilos of Antioch:

źHe stressesů that the immortality of the soul is not one of its natural attributes, but a gift of God[35].

To begin with, according to Theophilos of Antioch man is comprised of body and soul. In his wok "To Autolykos" (1:2), the perpetual references to soul and body indicate that these are the two components of man.  As for man's immortality as body and soul, he tells us that:

źNeither did He fashion him (man) as immortal, nor of course as mortal, but... receptive to both states[36].

Consequently in man (as body and soul), there does not exist any inherent immortality, of the Platonic kind.


7.   The age-old faith of Orthodoxy: Irenaeus theologizes Orthodoxically on the soul, as early as the end of the 2nd century

In the same way, Irenaeus in his work źExamination and reversal of pseudo-knowledge╗ theologizes Orthodoxically about the soul and says:

źSouls go to a place designated by God, where they await resurrection; thereafter they are united with bodies and their bodily resurrection takes place, the way it did with the Lord╗ (PG 7,1209C).


8.   Was there ever an issue of dualism and a źPlatonic type of underrating of the body by the Fathers?

We sometimes hear mentioned that the Fathers of the Church adopted the źPlatonic diarchy╗. However this is not the reality of the matter.  źPlatonic diarchy╗ accepts that the soul of man exists źas though exiled, in a cosmos radically different to itself, and as an eternal essence of an incorruptible and unchangeable world[37].

The Fathers, however, had never mentioned anything like that. On the contrary, they teach that Creation is a single cosmos of creations. Whether it be the earth, or the body, or the soul, or the angels, ALL THESE TOGETHER comprise the ONE, overall Creation. As mentioned earlier on, according to Basil the Great ("Against Eunomius", PG 29, 660A), źfor there are two things one can speak of: divinity and creation╗.   In other words, on the one hand there is the Uncreated/Unmade God, and on the other hand, there are ALL the creations, which are entirely different to the essence of God, be they tangible/material ones or intangible/spiritual:  they are all creations.

As Oscar Cullmann wrote:

źThe Hellenic dogma on immortality and the Christian hope in the Resurrection differ between them so radically, precisely because Hellenic thought has such an absolutely different interpretation of Creation.  The Jewish and the Christian interpretation of Creation precludes altogether the overall Hellenic dualism between body and soul. Because according to this interpretation, the visible, the physical and the carnal are equally a divine creation, as are the invisible and the spiritual. God is the Creator of the body. The body is not the prison of the soul, but rather, its temple, as  Paul says: "the temple of the Holy Spirit"[38].

At any rate, it is blatantly obvious that there is a bridgeless gap that separates Plato's theology from the theology of the Fathers.

To Plato,  źThe soul is man╗ ("Alcibiades", 130C).
The Fathers on the contrary said:
źMan is not only the soul, but the soul AND the body╗ (John Chrysostom, PG 50,430).
źThe whole of man is the blending of soul and body╗ (Gregory of Nyssa,ĹTo Eunomius, words of objection', 12, 174).
źGod has called man to life and resurrection, not in part but as a whole; that is, as a soul and a body╗ (Justin, PG 6,1585C).
źWe do not name "man" as being only the soul, or only the body, but both of them together╗ (Gregory Palamas, PG 150, 1361C).

So, where is that Platonic dualism? 

The Orthodox do not believe in the Platonic immortality of the soul, but in the Resurrection; and "resurrection" signifies that the body and the soul - joined together in the one man - will be living in the kingdom of God.  The soul will NOT be living alone in some supposed cosmos of its own, which is different to the cosmos of the body, as Plato's diarchy asserts.

It is equally unfounded to claim that the Orthodox depreciate the body the way that Plato does!  There is a vast difference between the Patristic teaching that man must conquer the passions of the body, and what Plato taught. How could the Fathers possibly demote the body, and at the same time teach people how to protect it and preserve it, away from passions?   How is it possible for the Fathers to underrate the body, and yet partake of the Body and the Blood of Christ?  How is it possible for the Church to underrate the body, but honour the Crucified one?  Is it ever possible for the naked body of Christ on the Cross to be perceived as an.... underrating of the body?  How can the Fathers ever underrate the body, when the Church venerates the Holy Relics of the bodies of Saints, which constitute living testimonies of the words of 1 Cor. 6:19: źor do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Who is within you?╗;

This is what Saint John of Damascus teaches us:

źEven when they were alive here, the saints were replete with holy spirit; and even after they fell asleep in the Lord, the grace of the holy spirit remained in their souls, but also in their bodies which were in tombs╗ (PG 94,1249D).  In fact, the veneration of a martyr's body is an age-old practice of the Church, as preserved in the "Martyrdom of Polycarp" (2nd century), which makes mention that the źbones╗ of the martyr, which are źmore precious than precious stones╗ (PG 5,1044).

This is what Serapion of Thmuis tells us:

źThe bodies of the saints were venerated and they are full of divine power╗ (PG 40, 909A).

This is also taught to us by Dionysius the Areopagite:

źIf the deceased had lived - in soul and in body - a God-pleasing life, then along with his blessed soul, his body which had toiled along with it is also worthy of honour╗ (PG 3,565B).

This is also taught by saint John the Chrysostom:

źI refer to the bodies of the saints as "spiritual founts, roots and fragrances╗ (PG 50,600).

Basil the Great reproaches all those who attempt to vilify the body, as though it is the "leader of malice", because źmalice is nothing more than the absence of virtue╗ (PG 31,1344).

Elsewhere, he notes emphatically:

źIf all things originate from God, how can evil spring from within good?  Because nothing vulgar can spring from within good╗ (PG 31, 341).

And John of Damascus makes absolutely clear that:

źMalice does not come from within the body, but from within the soul╗ (ĹDialogue Against Manicheansĺ, PG 94,1533C).

Moreover, when commenting on the aforementioned verse, professor N. Matsoukas notes the following:

ź...An anti-Platonic view, by far.  Matter is not the source of evil in rational beings; rather, it is the soul[39].

This same źanti-Platonic╗ position is also formulated by Gregory of Nyssa:

źDisobedience as a result of intention is not a sin of the body, since intention is a quality of the soul (Gregory of Nyssa,ĹTo Eunomius, words of objection', 12, 174).

And again, this same źanti=Platonic╗ view is formulated also by Cyril of Alexandria, who, following the praise (literally) that he wrote regarding the human body and its marvelous construction and function, ("On the body", PG 33, 484), notes the following:

źThe body does not sin of its own accord, but through the body, the soul╗ (PG 33,485┴).


9.   The dogmas of the Church are neither a źspeculation nor a źphilosophical occupation.

As appropriately representing the sum of the Orthodox theologians, John Romanides notes that there has never been an issue of źinfluence╗ in the Orthodox Church's Theology by the theology of Platonism.  źThe Fathers had attained the "in-Christ theory ("sighting") of the glory of the Father in the Holy Spirit... through enlightenment and theosis (deification)... that is, they theologized as men of "God-seeing" (theopty), not as speculators [...] (and) have rejected the ontological-metaphysical-philosophical method of theologizing[40].

Naturally, these are not the words of contemporary theologians only; they are the genuine position of Orthodox Tradition:  źWe do not regard as true the opinion that springs from speculations, but that which is proven from within acts and from within the very life of a person, and that is what makes an opinion true, unerring and unchanging╗ (Gregory Palamas, ĹFor those seeking sacred quietudeĺ, 1,3,13).

The greatest of speculators-"theologians" of antiquity are mere "infants", without the content that is given to things by Jesus Christ's Revelation:

źAnd even philosophers are regarded as infants unless they mature from within the teaching of Christ╗ (Clement of Alexandria, ĹStromateisĺ, Homily ┴', PG 8,752A).

As correctly observed by Andreas Theodorou:

źThe theology of the ancient Church has always been cautious towards Hellenic philosophy... She censured those philosophical ideas that conflicted with Her dogmatic convictions...  accepted all the teachings which were found to be in accordance with the revealed divine truth [...] the influences of philosophy were basically morphological...╗[41].

Methodios Fougias, like everyone else, denies every possibility of regarding philosophy as a "source" of Orthodox theology:

źI do not intend to examine the views of those who maintain that there is a direct or indirect influence on the New Testament by various religions [...] Nor do I accept Hellenic philosophy as... a means of progressively comprehending God through human intellect [...]  Indeed, Christianity did not introduce new words, new linguistic forms and new media for the presentation of ideas; rather, (it introduced) a new content, which it placed in the older, pre-existing forms[42].

Linguistic phenomena, such as the expression "immortality of the soul", preserve an external similarity and never pertain to the content - as already demonstrated - and correctly pointed out by Basil Tatakis:

źIt is understood that Hellenic thought - even when conveyed verbatim - assumes a totally different meaning, given that the base of the edifice to which it is incorporated is entirely different[43].

In the Church there is no speculating in order to discover dogmas. We never see any of the holy Fathers of the Church sitting around and philosophizing in order to produce dogmas. Dogmas are the result of experience, and they were experienced once, with the presence of Christ. No-one concocted them.  As summarily noted by Georges Florovsky, in a dogma there is no though or cogitation. A dogma is like testimony in a courtroom:  it is demanded of the witness to describe ONLY what he knows, with absolute certainty, from his own experience, and not what he imagines: 

źThe dogma is only an attestation... it testifies to the unalterable truth... which was revealed and has been safeguarded from the beginning[44].

Excellently formulated by Socrates regarding the Orthodox, that they are źthose who guard the faith which was delivered from above by God and from the beginning by the apostles; a faith that was validated in the 1st Ecumenical Council of Nicea╗ (Ecclesiastic History 5, 6).


10. The tripartite status of the soul in the New Testament and the Fathers.

Before concluding our article we will also refer to yet another matter, which pertains to the formulations by the Fathers with regard to the "tripartite status of the soul" - a perception that was broadly accepted at the time in the Hellenistic environment.

Of course for the Church the term "tripartite" status of the soul does not pertain to any "sections" or "pieces" of the soul, but only to human energies and reactions.

As noted by the renowned canonologist John Zonaras in his dictionary:

źIt is called tripartite, not because it is comprised of parts (given that it is incorporeal), but for its energies; that is, the intelligent (logistikon), the appetitive (epithymetikon), and the incensive (thymikon)[45].

We need to keep in mind that in their works, the ancient philosophers not only noted down the cogitations regarding the interpretation of life, religion or morality; they also incorporated the scientific observations of their time.  These can be found scattered throughout their works. Therefore, their philosophical texts were not wholly theological in themselves, which is why (as already mentioned earlier) the dogmatic texts of the Church do not condemn those who utilize philosophical works źonly for their educative needs╗, but only condemn those who believe as true the remaining beliefs that are contained therein - as in the case of Platonic ideas[46].

The concerns therefore of the Church were mainly in regard to idolatrous theology.  From there on, as Andreas Theodorou tells us, the Church źaccepted all those teachings that were in agreement with the revealed divine truth[47].

As for the human energies therefore, Plato had observed that the most basic were three:  logic, desire and anger, which were called: the intelligent (logistikon), appetitive (epithymetikon), and the incensive (thymikon)╗.

Let us give an example:

Supposing that a person is extremely thirsty and is near a source of water which he knows is polluted; we will observe the following displays in his behaviour:

1. The person's appetitive desire is to drink water because he is very thirsty (źň­ÚŔ§ýš˘ÚŕŘ╗).

2. At the same time, his intelligence-rationale hinders him from drinking, because the water is polluted (źŰ´ŃÚŕŘ╗).

3. Rationale can be imposed, but incensiveness-irascibility (źŔ§ýÚŕŘ╗) - that is, a decisive move to act - is required, which is a part of man's willpower.

In the terminology of the time, rationale was also referred to as the źlogical aspect of the soul╗, whereas anger and desire were regarded as the źirrationalor źpassive aspects of the soul╗.  This human behaviour had no need to be "borrowed" from some philosopher in order to render it palpable.  Orthodox ascetics had ample experiences during their years of spiritual labours to fully uphold the will of God, which rendered them in a position to recognize all the expressions of human behaviour.  They didn't have to "borrow" any analysis of human behaviour.  They had sufficient experiences of their own which verified it through their own ascetic labours.  And of course this analysis of human behaviour was not accepted as a product of philosophical cogitation, but within an absolutely Biblical context.

The healthy state of human behaviour is when:  źit contemplates virtue through the faculty of intelligence-rationale; when it loves God through the faculty of appetitive desire; and when its incensiveness-irascibility is turned upon the demons and is emboldened against them╗ (Anastasius the Sinaite, PG 89, 80C).

Saint Filotheos the Sinaite (after the 7th century) teaches us the following:

źChrist legislates by means of the commandments the three aspects of the soul, which are irascibility, desire and rationale. Pay attention to the saying: "Whosoever becomes angered against his brother for no reason is in danger of being judged" (Matth.5:22) and to His following commands: they are the cures for irascibility [...] What has the divine magisterial command ordered? "Whosoever looks upon a woman with desire has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matth.5:28) [ů] Which is now the commandment that prompts our rationale? "I tell you to take no oath at all" (Matth.5:34) "Let your communication be yea or no" (Matth.5:37) "Whosoever has not denied everything and does not follow me, is not worthy of me" (Matth. 10:37-38) "Pass through the narrow gate" (Matth.7:13)[48].

In the same manner, saint Peter of Damascus has interpreted the "Makarismoi" as a path to the cure of anger, the catharsis (cleansing) of the nous (rationale), and the withering of man's evil desire.[49].

Therefore, according to the ascetic Fathers of the Church, man's rationale remains in its correct course towards God through constant prayer. In that way, it can constantly remember God and direct all of man's powers towards Him. The irascible aspect can be harnessed through ascetic labours and man's movement towards a tangible expression of love, so that irascibility does not overtake man in a negative way, instead, become a defensive tool so that he can express himself in a healthy manner, by channeling it only against sin.  Then the aspect of desire is also tamed and cured, through continence.

And all the above are definitely not Platonic theology, but merely simple ascertainments based on experience and observation, and always within the ecclesiastic and the biblical framework.

The Fathers of the Church needed to make only one basic differentiation:  that under no circumstance whatsoever do they accept even the slightest inference that the passive "part" of the soul could signify that the soul has something "evil" within it.

Saint Diadochus of Fotiki tells us that źthere are some who supposed that within the nous (mind), sin is there, together with grace; however, nothing like that occurs, because the soul źdoes not produce evil notions by nature, but only by the memory of evil, which had deceived it in the beginning (the original sin) [...]  it  apprehends most of the other wicked thoughts from the wickedness of the demons[50].

In closing the section on the tripartite aspect of the soul, let us remind the reader that those who had accepted the existence of ACTUAL parts/sections in the soul by cutting it into pieces were the heretics:

źApollinarius [ů] argues that the Logos assumed a body without a rational soul - in other words, a body that did not have a mind. Thus, it is about the matter of assumption, and the integrity or completeness of the human nature of Christ[51].

This was the renowned źtripartite matter of the soul, which, as we saw, had nothing to do with the acceptance of Platonic theology.


11. Epilogue

We believe that all of the above will help us understand that the notion of "idolatrous theological loans" never applied to Orthodoxy.  From the very beginning, the Church confronted and unreservedly condemned the idolatrous theology to all its extent. From the time of the New Testament, She has never borrowed any term with its original nuances; instead, the only thing She did was to transform the ones She encountered in Her historical environment and give them a new, Biblical meaning.  Something similar was implemented, not only with philosophical terminology but also in other instances, as for example with the celebration of the Birth of Christ, which She placed on the 25th of December in order to replace and neutralize the pagan worship of those times.




[1] G.D.Martzelos, in the magazine. źKath Odon╗, Issue No.4 (Jan-Apr 1993), Thessaloniki, Paratiritis publications, pp.105-106.
[2] Charalambos ┴tmatzidis, źEschatology in Epistle 2 of Peter╗, Pournaras Publications, Thessaloniki 2005, p.179.
[3] Basil G. Tsakonas, źThe Teaching on Conscience by Apostle Paul╗, Library of Athens Educative Society #51, Athens 1968, p.66.
[4] Basil G. Tsakonas, źThe Teaching on Conscience by Apostle Paul╗, Library of Athens Educative Society #51, Athens 1968, p.68-9.
[5] Claude Tresmontant, źPaul╗, Organization for Classical Studies, Athens 1970 (c1967), p.34-35.
[6] Commentary by prof. Nicholas Matsoukas on: John of Damascus, źPrecise Publication of the Orthodox Faith╗, Pournaras Publications, Thessaloniki 1992, pp. 477-478.
[7] Commentary by prof. Nicholas Matsoukas on: John of Damascus, źPrecise Publication of the Orthodox Faith╗, Pournaras Publications, Thessaloniki 1992, p. 482.
[8] George D. Metallinos, źPaganist Hellenism or Hellenic Orthodoxy?╗, 3rd Ed., Armos Publications, 2003, pp. 53-54.
[9] Basil the Great, źTo the Young, for the beneficial study of Hellenic texts╗, Patrologia Graeca (PG) 31,565.
[10] Basil the Great, źTo the Young, for the beneficial study of Hellenic texts╗, Patrologia Graeca, (PG) 31,569.
[11] Gregory Theologian, źAgainst Julian╗, ┴┤, PG 35,536.
[12] Gregory Theologian, źTheological, First╗, PG 36,24.
[13] See Adamantios Apostolopoulos (archimandr.), źThe Trinitarian Dogma╗, Nektarios D.Panagopoulos Publications, Athens 1990, p.17 onwards.
[14] John Karmiris, źThe dogmatic and symbolic monuments of the Orthodox Catholic Church╗, vol.┴, 2nd ed., Athens 1960, p.175.
[15] From Plato's "Phaedros" (245c-246a), to: Stovaios, źSelections, Quotes, Trusts╗, vol.#3. źFirst Book (ch. xlix)╗ (series: źThe Hellenes╗ #327), Kaktos Publications, Athens 1995, pp. 36-39.
[16] źMy Lord and God, there is no-one else alike to You╗ (2 Kings 7:22), źLord, alike to you there is none other╗ (Jer. 10:6). As Prophet Elijah also says, źunto whom have you likened Me?╗ (Isa.46:5), which is interpreted by the Father of the Church, Cyril of Alexandria, as: źGod, by the mouth of Isaiah, says: 'what is that to which you were able to equate Me, Who in nature/essence differs from everything?╗ (źExegesis on the Prophet Isaiah╗, PG 70,993D).
[17] Nicholas A. Matsoukas, źUniversal Theology╗, Pournaras Publications,  Thessaloniki 2005, p. 194.
[18] Commentary by Panagiotis Christou, in:  "The Works" of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, No. 5, (Hellenic Fathers Series), Patristic Publications "Gregory Palamas", Thessaloniki 1987, p.207, note #40.
[19] "The Works" of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, No. 5, (Hellenic Fathers Series), as above, p.209.211.
[20] "The Works" of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, No. 5, (Hellenic Fathers Series), as above, p.207.
[21] "The Works" of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, No. 5, (Hellenic Fathers Series), as above, p.203.
[22] "The Works" of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, No. 5, (Hellenic Fathers Series), as above, p.201.
[23] Magazine źSynaxis╗, Issue No.3 (1982), p.80.
[24] John Zizioulas, Magazine źSynaxis╗, Issue No.2 (1982), p.15.
[25] John Zizioulas, Magazine źSynaxis╗, Issue No.2 (1982), as above   
[26] Georges Florovsky, źThemes of Orthodox Theology╗, 2nd Ed. "Artos Zois" Publications, Athens  1989, p.11.
[27] The verses that we use here that are translated directly originate from the collective work: źThe Holy Bible (Old and New Testament)╗, Translated from the original texts, Biblical Society, Athens  1997.
[28] The difficulty of this verse the  heretics strive to ovecome by saying that it was an illusion! Quite simply, it was tooůrealistic, which is why Paul narrates it źas though it were╗ a realityů
[29] Panagiotes N. Trembelas, źThe Old Testament with a Brief Interpretation╗ (the poetic or sophiological books, Vol. ┬┤), "O Sotir" publications, Athens  1976, p.159.
[30] Jeremiah Foundas (Archm,), źInterpretation of the Old Testament - Book of Numbers╗, Apostoliki Diakonia publications, Athens  2006, p.195.
[31] Stavros E. Kalantzakis, źNew Heart and New Spirit - The Theological Ideas of the Prophet Ezekiel╗, reprint of 1st ed., Thessaloniki 1998, p.342-343.
[32] Gregory of Nyssa, źOn the fashioning of Man╗, PG 44,236. See also: Saint Gregory of Nyssa, źWorks╗, No. 5, (Hellenic Fathers series), Patristic publications ĹGregory Palamasĺ, Thessaloniki 1987, p.208.
[33] See Gregory of Nyssa, źObjective Word against Apollinarius╗, PG 45,1257┴.
[34] Justin, źDialogue with Tryphon the Jew╗ 5,5 - 6,1. PG 6, 488C-489A.
[35] Demetrius G. Tsamis, źEcclesiastic Grammatology╗, Pournaras Publications, Thessaloniki 1996 (c1983), p.63.
[36] źTo Autolykos╗ 2,27. PG 6, 1093┬.
[37] Nicholas A. Matsoukas, źWord and Myth on the basis of ancient hellenic philosophy╗, 3rd ed., Pournaras Publications, Thessaloniki 1997, p.172.
[38] Oscar Cullmann, źImmortality of the soul, or Resurrected from the Dead?; (The Witness of the New Testament)╗, 2nd ed., corrected, "Artos Zois" publications, Athens  2004, p.45.
[39] John of Damascus, ź╔. Dialogue Against Manichaeans, ╔╔. To those vilifying the Holy Icons (transl. N.Matsoukas), Pournaras publications, Thessaloniki 1988, p.84, note #16.
[40] John S. Romanides, źDogmatic and Symbolic Theology of the Orthodox Catholic Church╗, vol.┴┤, Pournaras publications, Thessaloniki 1999 (c1973), p. 254 & 255, footnote #3.
[41] Andr. Theodorou, źHistory of the Dogmas╗ - Vol.1, Part 2, The History of the dogma from the era of the Apologetes up to 318 A.D., Gregoris publications, Athens  1978, p.519.
[42] Methodios Fougias, źThe Hellenic infrastructure of Christianity╗, Apostoliki Diakonia Publications, Athens  1992, p.141.
[43] Basil Tatakis, źByzantine Philosophy╗, Society for Neo-Hellenic Cilization Studies and General Education, Athens 1977, p.23.
[44] Georges Florovsky, źThe Byzantine Fathers of the 5th century╗, Pournaras Publications, Thessaloniki 1992, p.45.
[45] Vocabulary entry: źTripartite╗ in: John Zonaras' źLexicon╗, vol.2, publ.by J.A. Henricus Tittmann, Leipzig 1808, p.1743.
[46] From the źSynodicon of Orthodoxy╗, in the liturgical book źTriodion╗, p.160.
[47] Andr. Theodorou, źHistory of the Dogmas╗ - vol.1, part 2, as above, p.519.
[48] Philokalia of the blessed Neptics (transl. Anthony G. Galitis), vol.3, 3rd ed., "Perivoli tis Panagias" publications, Thessaloniki 1997, p.19-21.
[49] Philokalia of the blessed Neptics (transl. Anthony G. Galitis), vol.3, 3rd ed., "Perivoli tis Panagias" publications, Thessaloniki 1997, as above, p.84-91.
[50] Translation from ch.83, in: Saint Diadochus of Fotiki, źThe hundred Gnostic Chapters╗, 2nd, Orthodoxos Kypseli Publications, Thessaloniki 1990, p.188-189.
[51] Nicholas A. Matsoukas, źOrthodoxy and Heresy in the Ecclesiastic Authors of the 4th, 5th, 6th century╗, 2nd ed., Thessaloniki 1992, p.282.


Translation by A. N.


Article published in English on: 26-4-2011.

Last update: 26-4-2011.