Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

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I. On cognizance

4. Cognizance in person


Part 2 : The element of Love

Another basic element is the element of love.  Once again, we are not referring to an emotion. There are certain words that we must constantly interpret. We are also not referring to a relationship that arises from a compulsory state, with no liberty. And be careful here, because this is so very profound, that it escapes us.   Every relationship contains a compelling factor when it is governed by laws, like for instance the laws of biology. Or aesthetic laws for Plato and especially for the Ancient Greeks for whom Eros was a basic element. Sykoutris analyzes this very capably; you should also definitely read Plato’s Symposium in your free time – especially its Introduction.  It discerns between Christian Love and Platonic Eros. And it proves that in Platonic Love, the attraction to something good - which was understood to be beauty - is irresistible. It wasn’t possible to not love a good thing, or not be attracted by good. We therefore have an aesthetic necessity here, which was prevalent in ancient Hellenism. You can furthermore have a moral necessity; one cannot avoid loving a good person.  Or even, a biological necessity… Wherever we encounter a necessity, we cannot acknowledge a case of “love” therein.

And how do we prove that there is no necessity, or that it does indeed exist?  Or, how do we prove that in a certain instance I do not have any such necessity?   Only when one can reverse the conditions, and this is exactly where the Gospel introduced the greatest revolution. Sykoutris mentions in a footnote that, If Satan asked God “why do You love people? Tell me, give me one reason, knowing how humans are thus and thus and thus…  and even though You can see their pitiful state..”,  he would have put God in a tight corner.  What sort of excuse would there be for such a love? Where would you find a reason to justify His love towards a sinner, where everything, simply everything indicates that he is worth despising and not loving? Well, it is exactly then that you have proved that you love, of your own free will.  You do not love because you have to love; you love because you willingly want to love.  Well, I am saying all this to show that when we speak of knowledge that contains love, we must concede that it also has to contain the element of freedom.  We are subsequently speaking of a love that does not arise from any necessity whatsoever, of any kind, even the most delicate kind and the most spiritual, or moral, as we would call it.  God loves in exactly this manner, and this is exactly what Christ reveals to us. He reveals a Love of God that is liberal to such an extent, that it is not hampered by man’s sinfulness. If you remove the love towards a sinner from the Gospel, the entire notion of the liberty within God’s love will fall through.  Because, to love a just person and a good person is almost inevitable; however, to love a sinner and to die for a sinner as Christ did, well that may be sheer madness or foolishness, but it is surely an expression of liberty.

The third element that comprises love – which we are describing as a means of cognizance – and notice carefully how we are slowly reaching the crucial point, that is, that one comes to know God only through a lattice of relationships.  If there is no loving relationship, if there is no love, no-one can ever know God. And here we stand at a point so outstandingly obvious in the New Testament.  We could examine several verses that mention this curious albeit simple point: that if someone does not love God, he will never know God.  Paul, in his 1st Epistle to Corinthians – which, as I have said in the past, deals chiefly with the issue of cognizance, and has been elaborated on with precision – concludes that “  ….many boast that they have knowledge..” !!  And of course, we must examine what it means, to have knowledge.  Paul says in chapter 8: “ knowledge provides something physical, whereas love provides something constructive” . And he mentions the phrase “ if one believes he knows something, he has never known anything whatsoever, in the way that it should be known;  if one loves God, he shall be known by Him” (Cor.A’ 8.2-4).

Pay attention to this verse, which is pure gnosiology. “if one believes he knows something, he has never known anything whatsoever…..”.  A complete absence of knowledge.  Then he goes to the point where “if one loves God, he shall be known by Him…”. Even in the critics’ edition, you might observe that many manuscripts have omitted the word “God”, and they may quite possibly be the most ancient ones. It thus becomes obvious that “…. if one loves, he shall be known by God”.  That is, love is a prerequisite. As for “known by God” , it basically means (as Paul says elsewhere, in the Galatians Epistle  “… having known God…” but afterwards immediately correcting it and saying “… or rather, being known by God..”), that you cannot meet God unless He has acknowledged you; because we - as creatures – do not have the liberty of knowledge that the uncreated God has.

Now, God knows us primarily, and He reveals Himself to us; but this cannot occur if the prerequisite of love is not there. If man cannot love, he cannot meet God.   When we go to John Ch.1, it becomes quite clear.  He says there “.. he that loveth not, knew not God, for God is love “ (John, 1.4,8).  The words “ he that loveth not” have a special meaning in this chapter, in this epistle. It denotes the relations within a community, a congregation. One must exist, one must belong in such a lattice of relations, within a congregation. We shall hence examine the significance that ecclesiology has in Gnosiology. It may be quite specific there, in John’s words, but there is also something else that we should also observe.

Immediately after he spoke these words, he continued with an explanation of what “God is love” means; this is something that we have frequently misinterpreted.   “…. In this, God’s love was made apparent…..”.  “….. that God is love…”   because   “…. He sent forth His only-begotten Son….”.

God’s love is not an emotion, nor is it something that flows from His nature, as we sometimes say “God loves us by nature”.  The Fathers were also very careful and retracted all such expressions. Because even the ancient Greeks and Plato used to say that God is love, and that He exudes love from His nature. Gregorios Nazianzenos does not acknowledge this either, and attacks it, because as you may remember, it was the cause of the problems created by Eunomius.  He attacks precisely this idea of Plato’s.  He refers to “the Greek philosopher”, and states that for us, God’s love is not “an effusion from a crater”. It does not proceed from His nature.  God’s love consists of His being a Father and having a Son; just as I mentioned shortly before.  And this Son “He gave to us”.  The Father’s love is His Son; it is a person,  a personal relationship, which henceforth is offered to us also, as a means of knowing God.  The conclusion therefore that is reached, is that knowledge springs solely from a love relationship, which God Himself commenced to offer.  We cannot begin this relationship ourselves in a state of liberty.

This gives rise to a huge philosophical problem;  why don’t we as creatures freely know anything?. Why is everything to us a given thing? Well, that is exactly what it means to be a creature, to be something created and not uncreated.  In reality, even your very existence is a given thing. Therefore, you are subject to compulsory knowledge. You cannot know anything in absolute liberty. God therefore, who is the only absolutely free Being, is the only One who can love freely.  That is why He initially volunteers knowledge of Himself.  He acknowledges us as His sons, through His own Son, which is what Paul meant when he said “or rather, being known by God”, and through this means, we henceforth know Him as Father.

I will therefore finish off, with the following conclusion.  The cognizance of God involves an accession into the love relationship between the Father and the Son in liberty, under our own free will. This relationship is free and not compulsory, because God is not obliged to love us; He does it, of
His own free will.  Neither are we obliged to love Him. We also enter this relationship voluntarily. Therefore the accession into a loving relationship such as this, contains the potential for the ontological identification of God as existing “in the person of Jesus Christ”.  Because, for us, God exists within this relationship to such an ontological degree, that if this ceased to be, our very existence would also cease to be.

In reality, this means that if we don’t accede into the relationship of love that exists between the Father and the Son, we cannot ever know God. We shall know Him in thousands of philosophical ways, pagan ways or mystic ways, but not as a Father; that is, as the Father of the specific Son - a person - and subsequently as our own Father, because we have related to the person of the Son as being our father….

The second element is that love should be the factor that creates the lattice of these relations, where all those who acknowledge God as the Father in this manner, through Christ , find themselves in a state of existential inter-dependence amongst themselves.  Therefore, one must belong inside the community, inside the body that is formed by these relations.  You cannot approach God from outside this body of persons who acknowledge Him in the way the Son does. And this means that God is known fully, only within the Congregation. Only in this way. Otherwise, He will be acknowledged as something else, but not as the Father.  But God is the Father.  It is how He reveals Himself. It is how He wants to reveal Himself. I don’t know what else He is. He may be many other things, but because – as I said – knowledge presupposes willful revelation, this is the way that freely reveals God to us as the Father.

For these things to happen, a cleansing is imperative.  You cannot reach this point of knowing God, of knowing Him in this manner, without clearing up your relationship in general; it is because in knowledge, there is interference by all kinds of relationships.  In order for me to know about this table, the relationships that I have with the overall physical environment will need to interfere:  with colors, with shapes, with everything.  We never truly know about an object, without these general empirical relationships. Well, the same thing applies, when attempting to know God.  Our entire existence, along with all our empirical relationships, is entangled in the quest to know God.  I know God, through all my relationships, through things, through nature, through my senses, through objects.  This is not a knowledge that flows only through my mind, nor only through my heart as an emotional center.  It is a broader, existential knowledge, which engulfs my entire identity.  My identity itself is linked to all the relationships that I have with things, with faces, with objects, with everyone; but especially with my personal relationships, because they can affect my identity.  All of these things must therefore undergo a filtering, a cleansing, in order to determine to what extent they can be included in this relationship with God, through which His Son will reveal Him, and make Him known to us in this way.  This is where we shall discover that things are not so easy, and that they truly require cleansing.    I would say that this is what ascetic living is all about.  What is known as cleansing of passions is exactly this clearing up of our existential relations with everything that is entangled in our personal identity.  This clearing up is a necessary prerequisite.

At this point, the words of Saint Gregorios the Theologian acquire immense significance, as I mentioned in the previous lesson:  “…… it is not for everyone…. to philosophize about God..”, but “… for those who have undergone scrutiny and have lived in theory of things, and who have previously cleansed or detached both body and soul….”.  But we should not read the Fathers by isolating quotations. Saint Gregorios himself stressed in another of his speeches the same thing that I have tried to extensively analyze here; that is, in order to know God the prerequisite may be cleansing, but it inevitably relates to loving.  He writes:  “… God may be the ultimate radiance ….. which becomes imaginable as we incessantly detach ourselves, it becomes loved as we incessantly envisage it, and, by incessantly loving, it becomes self-evident..”.  Thus, cleansing is not a purpose on its own; An ascetic life will not reveal God to us. Neither do we automatically meet God by cleansing ourselves of our passions.  God becomes known, through our communion within the body of Christ; by involving ourselves in the relationships that are created by this body.  That is when God reveals Himself, and that is when our relationship with God is an actual relationship between a Father and a Son. And this is what gives a special meaning to what we say (unfortunately only in words most of the time), when we are asked  “what is the difference between an ascetic Christian and a guru?”.  We often hear the response “but we live that way in Christ”.   What do we mean, “in Christ”?  Do we simply respond with a word, a name, and the matter is settled?  All the rest of the story is Buddhist, and from that point onwards we insert a name – Christ –and that’s the end of the story?  What sort of existential face value does Christ have, that makes Him the determining factor?  If we don’t set down these elements of Christ’s body, of the relations that Christ creates within the community of His body – the Church – we shall not be able to locate this determining factor in all these issues.   So what? A Buddhist comes to know God by cleansing himself of his passions; therefore, his ascetic lifestyle is obviously not his ultimate goal. The cognizance of God does not spring from, nor depend on, nor is it accomplished automatically, by cleansing one’s passions. There must be the positive element of accession into the body in which Christ reveals Himself as a community of many persons who are inter-connected by love, and can therefore see God’s presence, in Christ.  And I shall once again reiterate, from another long and tiresome road this time, to something that I mentioned in a previous lesson, with regard to dogmas:  That dogmas are interpreted within the Church, and specifically during the Eucharist. It is only here, that God is acknowledged in the fullest possible way that we have.  All other ways are provisional, and although I do not disavow their importance and their significance, but, for fear that we are in danger of making them an end in themselves, I am obliged to stress that they are not ends in themselves.

Cognizance, therefore, of God presupposes our willing accession into the loving relationships that God Himself has created with us, in Christ.  “If God loves my brother in Christ and I hate my brother, I cannot get to know God.” It is imperative that I have the same kind of love for my brother that God has for him.  The cognizance of God moves along this crooked path, which is not simply a perpendicular between my heart and God, but something that also has a horizontal dimension to it . That is why “….. he that loveth not, knew not God, for God is love”.

Before closing the topic of Gnosiology, we need to clear up the issue of  negation, based on everything that we have talked about.  With the pretext of Lossky’s writings in his “Mystic Theology” where he has mainly referred to the Cappadocian Fathers and Saint Gregorios of Palamas, the ignorance aspect has become overstressed.  Indeed, in their task of refuting Eunomian theories, the Cappadocian Fathers had overstressed the idea that God could not become known, no matter how close one may seem to have approached Him:  “ ….  Even if one becomes greater than him (Paul) and reaches even closer to God, having attained a smaller distance from Him and from perfect knowledge, or even if he has surpassed us with regard to the complex and humble and earth-infested alloy…..”  (Gregorios the Theologian).   But we must not forget the following, basic points:

a)     the ignorance of God is described by the Fathers as “incomprehensibility” or the “incomprehensible” notion of God.  It does not therefore imply a denial of any kind of knowledge of God (if this were the case, then the Lord’s words ‘so that they may know You as the only true God’ etc would have no meaning); it rather implies a special kind of knowledge, that of “comprehensibility” which is also an impossible thing. This kind of knowledge – which Eunomians allowed – is the kind that we analyzed above as the “knowledge of things”, and we saw how and why it cannot be applied in the case of God.

b)     That which the Fathers do not accept, is the knowledge of the nature or of the essence of God;  to actually comprehend the “first and unalterable nature, as it is known within the Trinity” (Gregorios the Theologian). This doesn’t mean that the Fathers refuse any talk of God as a Trinity. By relating the nature or the essence of God with the Father, the Eunomians caused confusion by admitting that, if we could know God as the Father, we can also know the nature of God (since divine essence and Father are fully aligned notions).  The distinction between essence and the Father, on which the Cappadocian Fathers insisted, ruled out any confusion. Thus, by saying that we do not know God in essence, does not automatically imply that we do not know Him as the Father (or as a Trinity of persons). And reversely, to say that we know God as the Father, does not automatically imply that we know Him in essence or by nature.

All of these indicate that the foregoing analysis is in accordance with patristic gnosiology:  that God can only be known “in person”, as persons, and not by nature or in essence.  Patristic literature does not provide us with any existential analysis of what it means to know “in person” or as persons. It does, however, furnish us with the basic principle that there is a fundamental distinction gnosiologically between nature and the person,  since there is absolutely no way of knowing the nature of God, whereas it is possible to acknowledge His personal existence. Subsequently, negation that refers to the nature of God should not be generalized as negation and incomprehensibility with regard to His personal existence.

Beyond this general principle of distinction between the essence of God – something that is utterly inconceivable - and His personal-triadic existence which is made known to us through His Son in the Spirit, the Fathers do not offer us – as we said – an analysis of what it means to know God “in the person of Jesus Christ” and as a Trinity of persons.  This analysis was not deemed necessary in the years of the Fathers, but that doesn’t mean it should never be done over the centuries. On the contrary, it is an obligation of Dogmatics – as we said during the first lessons – to proceed to interpret dogmas, provided it doesn’t betray or distort the spirit of the Fathers. That is what all the greater Fathers did: they interpreted their predecessors, according to the needs of their own time, and they sought to analyze basic terminology.

One such necessity that historical needs imposed with regard to Gnosiology was, during the Patristic years, the distinction between the essence and the energy of God. This distinction, which appears somewhat hazily in Saint Athanasios and more clearly in the Cappadocian Fathers, is extensively developed by Saint Gregorios of Palamas, as we know. In this way, the Patristic principle of the “incomprehensibility” of God’s essence is preserved, and the energy or the energies of God are offered as a basis of gnosiology.

Thus, negation is again confined to the essence of God.  The persons, as well as the energies of God, which are both uncreated, allow us to know God and to theologize. But in this case, as we saw from the preceding analysis, cognizance cannot be perceived as comprehension. It is a kind of knowledge that needs analyzing, if the Fathers’ aspect were to be interpreted.  This is the analysis that we attempted here.


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Greek text

Translation by A.N.

Article published in English on: 4-7-2005.

Last update: 4-8-2005.