|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Selections on Philosophy|
on the existence of God and on the creation of the world
By Protopresbyter fr. John S. Romanides (+)
The difference between Theology and Philosophy is that Theology proceeds to formulate things that have become known through actual experience; hence, its formulations are a reflection of something real.
On the other hand, by formulating various thoughts and research “from below upwards” - and frequently ignoring basic issues – Philosophy will inevitably draw inadequate or mistaken conclusions.
This subject is in some way interwoven with, yet also independent of, the philosophical problem regarding the existence of God. The philosophical arguments put forth by Paganists opposing the existence of the Christian God were the same as their philosophical arguments that opposed the dogma on Creation.
In other words, Paganists assert that: Christians claim that there is a Creator God, and that this God is perfect. But, if this God was indeed perfect, then what would this God’s need have been, to create the world? A creating of the world philosophically proves that a “world-less” God is not the same as a God with a world. Because, if God were indeed perfect and entirely blissful within Himself – i.e., if He possessed “self-love” (if we were to use the Christian characterizations of love) – He would not have had the need to create the world. Hence, it is because He is not perfect, that He appears to have created the world.
This use of philosophical arguments against the Christian faith was based on the philosophical distinction between God’s essence and His energy.
However, the ecclesiastic distinction is not a philosophical one; it is derived from God’s Revelation of Himself to mankind. In other words, it is an empirical distinction. This is the way the Church proves the difference between the essence and the energy of God: by relying on the personal experiences of those who attained theosis. It has also proved the existence of God, in the same way. To the Fathers of the Church, perhaps the sole argument that evidences the existence of God is only an actual event, and not any dialectic, logical surmising of it. What “event” are they referring to? It is the fact that there is a category of people called Prophets, Apostles and Saints – all of whom had seen God. To a philosopher or a scientist, whether atheist or not, this allegation (that the Prophets, the Apostles and the Saints had actually seen God) needs to be confronted. One cannot bypass it with indifference.
In other words, they must either believe (and hence accept) that those people had indeed seen God, or, they will proceed to discuss the issue, that is, whether the state of enlightenment and theosis is a reality or not. But, in order for this to take place, there are certain prerequisites involved; there must also be certain common criteria. A proper scientific discussion cannot take place with “sloganeers”, because a sloganeer will declare “yes” or “no” in advance; he will have prejudged the outcome before the discussion has even begun.
A faithful Orthodox who, for example, was raised inside the Sanctum of a church, holding the censor for the priest from his childhood years (as an altar boy); one who grew up going to Church and enjoyed partaking of Holy Communion because that little sip of wine was ever so sweet, and who also looked forward to receiving the Holy bread after the Sunday Service (because he could feel the hunger pangs while patiently waiting for the Divine Service to end), who then later in his life became a cantor etc.; a person who had grown up with an absolute conviction of the Orthodox dogma’s veracity; who also believed in the given correctness of the Orthodox way of worship in which he participated all his life from his youth, which correctness he does not doubt in the least – that is to say, that everything Orthodox which he believes in and imagines is wonderful and correct - one who therefore leaves no margins for examination and research regarding the correctness and the veracity of what he believes and has not doubts whatsoever about them –nor ever had; one who has also perhaps reached even University level without any doubts whatsoever about these issues and who is only interested in focusing on his lessons and acquiring a diploma that will gain him a position in the Greek educational system (whether he does this for personal security, or, if he eventually enters the clergy, to attain the highest available payroll status and be located in a parish, have a smooth life, and later marry off his children), well, this kind of person naturally does not have the prerequisites for a scientific discussion. To people like this, everything they believe in is wonderful, and even more so, when they are backed up by the Armed Forces.
But it is not only the Orthodox who are pious or zealous Christians, with an absolute conviction of their faith; there are also non-Orthodox believers such as the Muslims for example, who have a similar spirit, as for example are Homeini’s Persians, who believe that if they guard the true faith, God will grant them a relative material bliss etc..
When one however moves outside the territory of Greece, where there is no protection by the Armed Forces, things are entirely different. Every Church lives in its own territory with its own powers, and their individual struggles are based on ideas and convictions. Overseas, the Western Churches of Scholastic Tradition and of Protestant Tradition have been finding things somewhat difficult during the past years and a significant turn towards Orthodoxy has been observed.
In Germany alone, there are two hundred thousand Germans who have become Orthodox. However, they had gone to the Russian Church to be baptized, because the Ecumenical Patriarchate had come to an agreement with the local Greek Orthodox Church of Germany –which belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate- to not accept any proselytes and to not ordain them as clergy. But I am not sure that this is valid, from the aspect of Canonical Justice. Because, according to the Canons of the Church, each bishop has a responsibility within his jurisdiction to lead heretics or non-Christians into Orthodoxy. He is obliged to do this. And any bishop that refuses to accept a repented heretic into the Orthodox Church should - according to the Canons – be unfrocked. It appears however that the Ecumenical Patriarchate believes that heretics no longer exist...
At any rate, in places beyond Greece such as these, the problems pertaining to the creation of the world and the philosophical aspect of this issue play a very important role. It suffices for one to study philosophy in the West, from the years following the Scholastic period up to contemporary times, to see how they incessantly preoccupy themselves with this simple problem from a philosophical point of view; in other words, how can a perfect God be considered the Creator of the world, and also, what is meant by “creation from nothing”, in the sense that “nothing” implies nonexistence and yet God brought all beings into existence out of nonexistence, while He Himself always existed.
The basic distinction of Orthodox theology in this instance is between “created” and “uncreated”. The term “created” refers to that which springs from nonexistence, from non-being, while the “uncreated” is that which is not a creation, which has forever existed and which will continue to exist forever. Everything uncreated has always existed and will forever exist, while everything created has been brought to being from nonexistence, and will continue to exist in the future, only if that is God’s will.
This teaching is the teaching of the Holy Bible, as well as the teaching of Hebrew tradition (i.e., before the drafting of the Old Testament); but it is also the teaching of the Church. However, from the moment that someone attempts to philosophize on this teaching, he will be confronted by the difficulties that we just described. In other words, difficulties are the outcome of philosophizing of this teaching.
But someone might ask: How did the Prophets, the Apostles and the Saints know of these dogmas on “Creation out of nonexistence”, on the “created”, on the “uncreated”, etc.? They would have firstly known these things from the Holy Bible, after it had been written. But what about the period prior to the Holy Bible – how did the Prophets know of these dogmas? What was there, before the Holy Bible? There was the verbal Tradition of the Hebrews, from Adam up to Moses. What was the nucleus of this verbal Tradition? Who were the personages that were its bearers? They were the Patriarchs and the Prophets. The Patriarchs existed, even before the written text of the Old Testament. But why were they the bearers of Tradition? And how did the Patriarchs differ from other people? They differed, in that they had experienced a "sighting" of God. They had seen God. Even Adam and Eve were “God-beholders”. The nucleus of this Tradition therefore, is the “beholding” of God – a meeting of God with His friends, who are the Patriarchs and the Prophets. The nucleus of Tradition has therefore to do with actual experience.
We know from the experience of the Fathers of the Church and the Saints – from their lives – that they too had ascertained -during their personal experiences of theosis- that there is no similarity between the created and the uncreated and that God is self-existent, since He bears no similarity to created beings and furthermore, the cause of His being is not located in nothingness; in other words, that God’s existence is “cause-less”;  that God the Father exists, on account of His very existence . Furthermore, that the archetype Light is the Cause of the Logos’ existence ( the existence of the incarnate image of the Light, or Christ ), as well as of the Holy Spirit’s. They furthermore ascertained –during their experiences of theosis- that the glory of all three Personae of the Holy Trinity is one, as is Their Essence.
Naturally, the Fathers and the Saints do not have any experience of the Essence of God ( as no man has ever acquired an experience of the Essence ); they had only experienced the energies of God’s Essence, which are referred to as the “glory of God” . In other words, they ascertained through their experience that we have a thrice-illuminated God in one Godhood – or one Light. In other words, it is one Light, which is comprised of three Lights, which are nonetheless not three, separate Lights. Those who had experienced theosis “saw” within one Light, and through another Light, the archetype Light. That was the basis of their experience.
They also ascertained however that all created beings indeed sprang from non-being. All created beings exist, in accordance with the volition of God. They did not spring from within God, i.e. from within the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but from nonexistence. This too was verified, through the experience of theosis.
We can thus see the sameness of this experience, from the Patriarchs and Prophets, through to the Fathers of the Church and the Saints. All of them discerned the same truths. Thus, the distinctions that exist between the hypostases of God, between the essence and the energy of God, between the incarnate Logos and God, and between the theosis of the incarnated Logos as compared to the theosis of mankind, all of these have the experience of theosis as their basic foundation. This is why the distinction that the Church makes between the essence and the energy of God is not a philosophical one, but a strictly empirical one.
By John Romanides, Patristic Theology, “Parakatatheke” Publications, 2004, Prologue by Protopresbyter George D. Metallinos – Commentary: Monk Damascenos of the Holy Mountain.
 In 1983, when these things were said, the impressions of Ayiatollah Homeini’s Islamic revolution in Persia (Iran) in 1979 were still freshly imprinted in mind.
 The law of cause and result does not apply.
 Ref.: «I Am He Who Is».
 Of course, the term “essence” is attributed to Tradition, and not the Holy Bible.
Translation by: A. N.
Article published in English on: 5-6-2006.
Last update: 5-6-2006.