and a general position of the Orthodox
on the matter of Theology-Philosophy
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.
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
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
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."
something similar in the Apostle Paul also, where we read
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.."
Tsakonas also notes that "the term 'awareness' (ˇ§Ýň▀ńšˇÚ˛),
albeit unknown in the Old Testament is nevertheless used
broadly by the Stoics."
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."
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.".
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.
exactly the road that the Fathers of the Church also
"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",
literally transforming the philosophical language into a
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.".
excerpt from the Synodicon of Orthodoxy is a characteristic
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."
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
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
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."
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".
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
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
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...
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
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:
one Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; the perfect God and perfect
man; the same, as a uniform and indivisible Person"
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,
was able to move within the Hellenistic environment and
utilize the language of its cultural environment, without
budging in the least from Biblical theology.
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.
examine what Plato's belief was with regard to the Soul, and
what he meant when he spoke of the "immortality of the
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╗.
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
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.
As Basil the
Great says: "Two are the things that exist: divinity
and creation" (Basil the Great, "Against Eunomius",
PG 29, 660┴).
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!
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).
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,
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╗.
Nyssa says: źůwe do not regard it correct, that the soul
exists prior to the body, nor that the body exists without a
źBoth theories are equally rejected╗.
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╗.
Gregory rejects the theories of źthose who mythologize that
souls previously live in a particular state╗,
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.
furthermore told by Plato that the Soul - apart from not
being something that can be created, źCANNOT POSSIBLY BE
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 ĹŃňÝŢˇŔßÚĺ (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╗.
Fathers - as we saw - say the exact opposite: źThe soul was
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╗!
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
źThe nature of the created is mortal (Athanasius the
Great)╗; źit can, at any given moment, cease to exist╗.
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"!╗
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
Bible not only teaches that the soul exists
separately from the body, but also that it
does not die along with the body.
that as soon as it is separated from the body the soul
continues to live, is a purely Biblical one.
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 ╗
(2 Corinthians 5:1-4).
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)
passages are indeed many.
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).
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:
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?╗.
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╗.
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╗
Fathers invoke the Bible and the Apostles in
their teachings regarding the immortality of
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:
according to the Apostolic teaching, is understood as
twofold; in other words, it is comprised of the manifest and
the latent man╗
(by "twofold", Gregory implies the body and the soul).
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,
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
- 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,
- 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┴]╗.
(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.
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.
age-old faith of Orthodoxy:
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
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╗.
faith of Orthodoxy:
Theophilos of Antioch theologizes
Orthodoxically on the soul, as early as the
end of the 2nd century
professor Demetrius Tsamis wrote the following about
Theophilos of Antioch:
that the immortality of the soul is not one of its natural
attributes, but a gift of God╗.
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╗.
man (as body and soul), there does not exist any inherent
immortality, of the Platonic kind.
faith of Orthodoxy:
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
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
there ever an issue of dualism and a
of underrating of the body by the
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╗.
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.
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"╗.
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╗
The Fathers on the contrary said:
is not only the soul, but the soul AND the body╗
(John Chrysostom, PG 50,430).
whole of man is the blending of soul and body╗
(Gregory of Nyssa,ĹTo Eunomius, words of objection', 12,
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).
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
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╗
This is what
Serapion of Thmuis tells us:
źThe bodies of
the saints were venerated and they are full of divine power╗ (PG
This is also
taught to us by Dionysius the Areopagite:
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).
źIf all things
originate from God, how can evil spring from within good?
Because nothing vulgar can spring from within good╗ (PG 31,
And John of
Damascus makes absolutely clear that:
not come from within the body, but from within the soul╗
(ĹDialogue Against Manicheansĺ, PG 94,1533C).
commenting on the aforementioned verse, professor N.
Matsoukas notes the following:
anti-Platonic view, by far. Matter is not the source
of evil in rational beings; rather, it is the soul╗.
źanti-Platonic╗ position is also formulated by Gregory of
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,
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╗
dogmas of the Church are neither a
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
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
philosophers are regarded as infants unless they mature from
within the teaching of Christ╗ (Clement of Alexandria, ĹStromateisĺ,
Homily ┴', PG 8,752A).
observed by Andreas Theodorou:
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...╗.
Methodios Fougias, like everyone else,
denies every possibility of regarding philosophy as a
"source" of Orthodox theology:
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╗.
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:
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
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
dogma is only an attestation... it testifies to the
unalterable truth... which was revealed and has been
safeguarded from the beginning╗.
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).
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:
is called tripartite, not because it is comprised of parts
(given that it is incorporeal), but for its energies; that
the appetitive (epithymetikon),
and the incensive (thymikon)╗.
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
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
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),
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
appetitive desire is to
drink water because he is very thirsty (źňÚŔ§ýš˘ÚŕŘ╗).
At the same time, his
hinders him from drinking, because the water is polluted
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 źirrational╗
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
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
the 7th century) teaches us the
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"
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..
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╗.
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:
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
This was the renowned źtripartite╗
matter of the soul, which, as we
saw, had nothing to do with the acceptance of Platonic
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.