Thursday, February 26, 2004


I just posted a comment to David Talcott's post of February 07 dealing with Hillsdale College's Dr. Brad Birzer, myth and realism, salvation, faith, works and grace. I paste a portion of it below, as it describes my basic objection to the essential doctrine of Calvinism.

3) Your position on grace and works and salvation summarizes all that I have always been unable to stomach about the strict Augustinian/Calvinist position. If one claims that salvation is completely dependent upon God, having absolutely nothing to do with a man's response to His grace, then God, and God alone, has directly and personally damned the majority of humanity to be separated from him forever. It would take a lot more than Romans 9 to convince me that this is the correct way to interpret Scripture--it seems to me itself a clear distortion of Scripture (after all, there are other ways of interpreting Romans 9 that are more consistent with the rest of Scripture).

I'm not trying to attack you--I simply do not understand how you can force yourself to believe this. If I'm misunderstanding, please explain. Somehow communicate why you feel you must believe this. It is beyond my comprehension.

Why is it impossible to say simply that man is utterly dependent upon God for salvation, yet that the simple act of depending upon Him is itself an act (an active Faith, if you wish) the absence of which is what damns the damned? Why is it so necessary to insist on a series of doctrines which bear no other logical conclusion but that it is God Himself who damns them, that they were created with absolutely no hope of salvation, that Christ did not die for all men?

Simply say that Salvation is a purely a gift from God. Add only that man has to open his hand to receive it, and the problem disappears. Even say that he cannot open his hand without the help of God's grace--that even in his simple abasement of himself he is dependent upon God, that he cannot even fall at God's feet unless God helps him. Surely this meets the requirement you have that man be able to do nothing to save himself. Surely this is fully consistent with Scripture.

But please, do not say that God damned so much of humanity before He even created us. The very idea makes me retch.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


Also, my wife and I just got back from viewing Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. Hopefully we'll both get a chance to post our thoughts on the movie sometime in the next few days.
Ok, here's the promised paper. Yes, it's long, but it contains some interesting stuff. Let me know what y'all think.

Many thanks.

Captured in Time and Space

Modern physicists conceive of time within strictly defined parameters—their perception may be crudely characterized by describing time as the fourth dimension of the cosmos, intimately connected with the created order and well within scientific parameters. The concept of time, notwithstanding their theories and data, remains one of the most inscrutable to mankind, sometimes feared, sometimes struggled against, and always heavily used in works of science fiction and speculation.

Theologically speaking, the question of time is one upon which modern Christians have failed to come to a consensus. Within all traditions, confusion may be found. This monastic may be found speaking of hell as timeless (so that Christ’s presence therein at the Harrowing of Hades was witnessed by the damned of all time). That Evangelical may assert that fortune-telling is demonic because the demons, being spiritual beings, operate outside of time (or at least freely within it) and can thus tell the future. And of course there are the Calvinists and Arminians on either side of the inevitable and eternal argument about what it means for God to have pre-destined men to salvation—for all too often both sides seem to assume that said action occurred within time (as is implied by the word pre-destined). And yet, for all this confusion, it is difficult to say that any of these is speaking truly heretically. Inconsistently, yes—but none of them, when pressed, would assert anything other than that God is outside of time and utterly uncircumscribable. They simply do not possess a theology systematic and consistent enough to know what to say when asked what is the relation of time to God, or to matter and creation (or whether there is even a distinction between these latter two).

To find such a consistent theology, one must return to the early centuries of Church History—yet strangely, even there one cannot initially find a straight answer. One may discern a variance, perhaps even a confusion faintly analogous to the modern situation outlined above, in the voices of early Christian thinkers. One cannot doubt that they were faithful Christians—but the question of what effect the Christian faith would have on philosophy and cosmology had yet to play itself out in the minds and hearts of the early saints and Christian thinkers. The matter was complicated by the latent (or not-so-latent) Platonism of the Hellenistic mindset. The world in which the early Christians lived was rife with it—in vocabulary, in rhetoric, in life itself the Platonistic distinctions between matter and spirit were matters of almost unquestioned dogma. In the words of patristics scholar Brooks Otis, as delivered in a paper presented at the Sixth International Conference on Patristic Studies at Oxford in 1971, “to the Platonist, as to the Gnostic, the created, material and temporal world was an inferior copy of the uncreated, immaterial and eternal world of the divine ideas or pleroma. The one was genetic—subject to birth, death, change and time; the other agenetic or changeless and eternal, that which simply is and never becomes or alters” (Otis 329).

As decades and centuries passed and Christians worked more and more to speak in the Hellenistic language of their time, this Platonist schema proved increasingly problematic to them. To the Hellenist, the genetic world and the agenetic were utterly incompatible—thus the Christian was presented with a baffling problem in explaining how genetic men could enter into such an intimate communion with an agenetic God as was insisted upon by fundamental Christian doctrine.

Earlier efforts are fascinating studies in the first Christian engagements with this worldview, a close-up of the struggles of the countless men writing on countless subjects, striving to express in the precise philosophical language of the Greeks an all-consuming Truth absolutely uncontainable by the neat definitions and syllogisms of Aristotle and Plato. For example, in the second century Irenaeus posited that the admittedly imperfect origin of man in creation is simply the beginning of a journey which ends in the man coming to be in some sense himself Uncreated, agenetic. This was made possible by the Incarnation of Christ, as in the Athanasian formula “God became man so that man might become a god.” Within the Platonic schema, however, this idea would imply that men can in some fashion grow outside of time.

His contemporary Origen went farther than that, suggesting instead that all souls are pre-existent and hence naturally agenetic. Brooks Otis summarizes Origen’s system of thought nicely:

“He posited an eternal cosmos—a pleroma of rational spirits consisting of the Trinity and all other true minds or logikoi—and a strictly temporal and material cosmos that had been created to hold and deal with the lapsed or derogate logikoi but was not in any sense identical with them. Origen held that all the spirits—except God the Father himself—had been created and therefore, with two exceptions, possessed an inherently unstable nature—since their very beginning was due to a change from nothingness to real existence—but he considered them, even if formally or strictly genetic, to be akin to the Platonic ‘agenetic’ or inherently eternal element of the universe since they were in fact co-eternal with the Father: there had never been a time when his goodness could have been without them and above all without the ‘Son’ (Christ) who was his perpetual agent in the process of their salvation from lapse. Origen’s world was thus quite as unhistorical as Plato’s: while, unlike Plato, he did not think of the genetic order as uncreated, he regarded the whole process as essentially endless or timeless, since the lapsing and returning was continuous and Christ was ever born or reborn to save the lapsed. While God the Father had created everything, including his Logos or son, he nevertheless preserved the Platonic or indeed Gnostic dualism: the souls or spirits who fell were not an integral part of the material-temporal or fallen cosmos. Though their essential instability and freedom made them fall, their essential reason or logos—their possession of the divine image—made them recover and leave the material world” (Otis 330).

To the modern Christian understanding, this “lava lamp” theology is rife with problems, particularly in its denigration of the material order, the implication that all souls are as pre-existent as the Son and Spirit (or, stated conversely, that the Son and Spirit are as genetic as are the souls of humanity and the angels), and the resulting failure to establish any truly meaningful distinction between God and man. But these difficulties were not initially so obviously problematic. Origen’s theology was controversial during his life, it is true, yet his synthesis of Hellenism and Christianity was tremendously effective. Speaking specifically of Origen’s exegetical method, John Meyendorff says, “As an apology for Christianity, Origen’s method proved to be an extraordinary missionary success. Under his influence generations of Greeks accepted the cultural humiliation of having to look for Truth in Jewish Scriptures” (Meyendorff 35). The same words may apply to his entire philosophical system.

At the same time, however, it is possible to blame that very system, and the progressive Hellenization of Christianity which it exemplifies, for the heresies which plagued the Church for the next several centuries, and most particularly for Arianism—Brooks Otis makes a strong case for the accusation.

Arius was seemingly the first to openly and insistently reject Origen’s definition of Christ’s origin as “eternally created by the Father” (aeigenetos) as a rather Plotinian ‘first emanation.’ His objection, like ours, lay in the fact that Origin’s suggestion that ALL spirits (including the angels and humanity) were likewise created in an agenetic manner by emanation, as it were, removes any meaningful distinction between Christ’s nature and ours, so that, once the doctrine of emanations as a means of connecting the agenetic Father with the genetic Spirits is removed, one ends in making all into mere creatures, including the Son and the Spirit. Arius, in articulating this, boldly and insistently, sounded the death-knell of both Origenism and the Platonistic Christianity championed by Origen.

While the decrees of Nicaea rejected Arius’ assertion and established the logical refutation of his doctrine—that Christ is of one essence with the Father, co-eternal with Him, uncreated and never having not-been—they had no philosophical system to back them and explain them. The rejection of Origen’s systematic theology left the Church with a definition, but no explanation of how it could be. The protracted controversy regarding Nicaea that followed the Council itself was a simple consequence of this—fully Christian bishops, priests and laymen were left in a philosophical vacuum following the wholesale abandonment of the systems that had tied the intellectual tenets of the Faith together for the Hellenistic mind. In these systems, says Otis, Christ was able to save by mediating between God the Father and mankind, sharing in the nature of both from the beginning, or perhaps better described as being himself the emanation lying between God and man—and mankind was save-able largely because it was not separated from God by the gulf between genetic and agenetic, but simply by an emanation or two in a progression of basically agenetic beings. The doctrine of homoousios, then, undermined the soteriological framework of an entire generation by its firm establishment of the genetic/agenetic gulf between God and man—and with that, it brought immediately to the fore the question of time and its relation to the two realms. As Otis says, “…if the novelty of the creation were no longer to be disguised by a theory of its eternity, then its very novelty and temporality—its very difference from eternity—had to be accounted for” (Otis 335). It was only with the work of the Cappadocian Fathers that a system was developed to replace Origen and the other early apologists—hence it is only because of their work that the Council of Constantinople in 381 ratified the definitions of Nicaea.

For it was they who first made the distinction between the temporal and non-temporal order the same as that between creation and Creator, in their writings against the heresy of Eunomius (who asserted that Christ was fully genetic). The distinction is common to all three, but it is best articulated by St. Gregory of Nyssa, and it is his works to which Otis refers in his discussion of the Cappadocian conception of time.

Gregory, beginning with the gulf between genetic and agenetic, posits that time is itself the insurmountable limit (diastema, in Greek) between God and Creation—the fourth dimension common to all created beings. Therefore, it is impossible for humans (or angels) ever to completely comprehend God—they exist within Time, God without. Gregory thereby asserted that God is truly and completely, indeed metaphysically, infinite—and did so to a degree unprecedented by those before him. But that very infinity of God gives room for Time itself and the entire created order, led by man exercising his proper priesthood and kingship over Creation, to grow eternally into a greater and greater comprehension of the Infinite Divinity. Man, according to Gregory, is indeed captured in time and space—but that captivity is ultimately flexible, becoming the sine qua non of growth in the knowledge and love of Christ. That which has no boundary, after all, cannot grow.

Thus, in Gregory’s schema, the genetic order ceases to be an evil—Creation is truly good, not a burden or a prison hindering those who are being saved by Christ’s Incarnation, but itself the beneficiary of His saving work through the priesthood of mankind, destined to be eternally inducted into the Divine Perichoresis of Love through Christ, so that God may become All in All. No longer the enemy, but rather the victim, no longer the defeated, but rather the saved, genetic creation is not to become agenetic—rather, the agenetic Logos enters into Creation, enlivens it and enables it to grow in His inexhaustible Love.

This became the linchpin of Orthodox soteriology—God became man so that man could become Divine—but not in such a way that man should achieve Divinity and cease growing, but that he should forever be growing in the image and likeness of Christ, a process having no end because its Great Prototype is, in a very real sense, Infinity Himself. It is a magnificent vision, giving, as Otis says, “a supremely dynamic character to both salvation and creation. For the first time the Church possessed a doctrine that gave meaning to the agenetic-genetic dichotomy of Platonism as well as to the creator-creature dichotomy of the Bible” (Otis 342). It simply required that Platonism shed the idea of the inferiority of the Created order—and to this day, orthodox Christians, whatever their communion, affirm the inherent goodness and redeemability of all Creation, through the Grace of God and the Power of the Incarnation of Christ.

I might well conclude here. All this has at least begun to answer the question of Time in Christian cosmology. But it begs another question: if this doctrine was not defined until the fourth century, if the earliest Fathers of the Church did not understand time in this manner, what is one to say about their orthodoxy? What is one to do with Irenaeus and Origen? They were not Orthodox according to the standards of our day—their ideas, taken to their logical conclusions, produce heresy. The facts create a conundrum for the traditional Christian wishing to hold in honour all the early Fathers of the Church—for their articulations of the Faith appear to conflict.

The matter is difficult, with serious ramifications for the present day (for it affects how one views communions different from his own and their variant doctrinal systems and schemata), but we may give at least the beginning of a response.

The Christian Faith is not a matter of words, doctrines or definitions. It is fundamentally personal, experiential, existential. God descended to earth and became knowable to humanity—as St. John the Theologian writes, our Faith is based on “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled…” (1 John 1:1). The true theologian is one who walks with God in prayer at every moment of the day—only the friend of God can be said to truly know anything about Him. The articulated truths of the Christian Faith, spoken or written, are the words of men who have known God face to face. The Faith is simply the relationship of men with God.

God, of course, is absolute, immutable and perfect. Human language is not. Therefore, however true the Faith of any man may be, the language he uses to speak of his relationship will always be defective. There can be no perfect philosophy, no perfect theology, because there is no perfect language. All these limited words can do is point the way. Some will do so better than others. Some will completely fall off the path and begin pointing to something else. But certainly none will ever be perfect or eternally sufficient.

Thus one can look at the work of Irenaeus, and even Origen, and discern behind their words the Truth of an encounter with God. Their words are not intended to define God, but merely to draw those outside into the sphere of the love and mercy and knowledge of God. Both Irenaeus and Origen succeeded at least in this. Through them, and others like them, Rome herself bent knee before the Creator of all—and thus thousands, even millions, were caught up to the utmost limits of human capacity and stood face to face with Almighty God. Therefore, whatever else we may say about them, only He can judge them.

But with that in mind, we would do well to remember that definitions and creeds do not tell the whole story. If the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed cannot save, then neither can the Westminster Confession damn. All depends on the orientation of the human heart to God. Orthodox would do well to remember this in their encounters with those outside the bounds of the Church. And all should remember that unity in word will follow naturally when all seek God with all their hearts.

Let us therefore pray, and never cease until the Spirit is born with power in our hearts. May God grant it so.


Works Cited

Gregory of Nyssa and the Cappadocian Conception of Time: by Brooks Otis in Studia Patristica Volume XIV, edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1976.

Meyendorff, John. Catholicity and the Church. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Crestwood, New York: 1983.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004


Ok, so I've not posted for a few days. I've got some ideas cooking, but mainly, I just remembered a paper that I wrote for last semester which I promised to post several months ago. I'll be putting that up here hopefully later today, when I have time to edit it. It deals with time and Christian cosmology as it developed over the first four centuries of Church history.

So check back later.

Friday, February 20, 2004


I stayed up after my wife went to bed tonight to help a fellow-seminarian study for a Greek exam tomorrow. Then, like a fool, I decided to read through the 56 comments on Seraphim's blog and see what I thought--things have gotten very heated over there, and he asked me to read it and see what I thought. My writing was interrupted by a fire alarm at 1:30--I went to bed after that, so have only had a chance to post this now. I still have a lot of work to do, so I'll try to remain brief.

With accordant brevity, then, I don't think he was out of line. Yet I can see where those who objected found offense, and can sympathize. As Seraphim said himself in his final apology for the extent to which the discussion went, he can as well. He and I are both converts. The issues and problems and difficulties which are created by a strict adherence to the Canons of the Church apply to us as much as to anyone else. When we write about theological issues, here or elsewhere, it is not (at least not only, God forgive us) out of a desire to see ourselves in print--we are grappling as if for our lives with these questions. Certainly we are not sitting in our cloistered little rooms and figuring out what is the letter of the law to which we will soon subject the lowly foolish paeons of middle America, just as soon as we can find a bishop who will give us the official authority to do so. On the contrary, the thought of being the person responsible for directing ANYONE in their walk towards and with God terrifies me. When I write regarding the Church, I am, as it were, thinking aloud, trying to figure out just what one should say to this or that question.

On the other hand, I confess uncertainty and deep uneasiness about the various Canons of the Church. I present a recent dilemma by way of example. Grant for the moment that, as many have said, the Canons and the Church Tradition expressly require that an Orthodox Christian is to be baptized, that this baptism is the laver of regeneration, that as many as have been baptized have put on Christ, that baptism is the only means by which one may become a member of Christ's Church, the strait gate of salvation. Further, grant that the only true baptism is the Orthodox baptism, triple immersion in the name of the Holy Trinity, performed by a legitimate Orthodox priest or bishop--as I indeed believe. Well and good. I have just articulated a standard. This is the Faith of the Apostles. This is the Faith which has established the world. This is the Faith--and the only Faith--of the Orthodox.

Just one problem. I wasn't baptised. I was Chrismated--and that not even according to a complete rule. I was never exorcised. I was never anointed with oil. And now I commune of Christ's Holy Eucharist.

Does that mean I commune to my damnation? Does that mean my salvation is in jeopardy? Is the grace of God withheld from me because of this?

I don't think it is. It makes no sense to me to be baptized now--in so doing I would both be disobeying my bishops and disregarding other Canons of the Church which allow for the reception of converts by Chrismation. But it's a question which demands my attention. So too are the questions of marriage, communion, confession, etc. All too often, I hear conflicting stories. This does not damage my Faith--I know that these conflicting stories are, for the most part, all legitimate expressions of the fundamental, unchanging truth of the Orthodox Faith. The question is simply which expression properly expresses the Faith that is born of a true and full communion with and of and in the Holy Trinity now, in America, in the 21st century. It is undeniable that the manner in which these specifics are approached has changed and continues to change. But the essence remains the same.

Now, I have to admit that this problem didn't really need to concern me so much. In a very large degree, I have brought it upon myself. It is perfectly possible, even perhaps necessary, for a layman in a parish to submit to those over him spiritually--that submission and obedience, even if those over him err, is an act of humility and submission to God through the authorities ordained by God, and hence is an act leading to salvation. But I, and my friends here at the seminary, are forced to ask questions which we would often rather not ask--the kernel of which is, purely and simply, to whom and to what are we to submit? Because the answer to that question will determine how we answer when, should God will that we be ordained, WE are the ones being asked those questions which bear on the salvation of others. And, should we lead others astray, it has been said that it would be better for us to be cast into the sea with a millstone around our necks. Not exactly the sort of thing to take lightly.

So please, do not judge us, do not take umbrage at us when we fail, but rather pray for us. Pray that we abandon our pursuit of this vocation if we find we are not called to it. Pray that we may learn to rightly teach the word of Truth if we are so called. Pray that we may be granted the spiritual insight to discern the right way in these difficult times. And pray that we may remain humble--for that is the most important and the most difficult thing of all.

After all, even baptism will not save a man who thinks himself worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Even communion in the Holy Eucharist will not save a man who does not realize that he is in desparate need of that communion. Even perfect obedience to the Holy Canons will not save a man who thinks that by his obedience he is saved. And if the holiest men to ever live have died with a final plea for God's mercy on their lips, how can we neglect this humility?

May God have mercy on us all.

Monday, February 16, 2004


Check out this article--kindly brought to my attention by Mr. Will Farnham. You gotta love it.

I got to visit that Papyrology department my sophomore year of college with Dr. Holmes' third semester Greek class. I envy the kid the chance to dig around in there. Lucky stiff.

And I like his hat.

Sunday, February 08, 2004


I'm going to go out on a limb here and follow in the Ockhamist's footsteps. Larknews is a barrel of laughs.

Check out the new TV filter, made especially for KJV only Christians.

Or, rather, Rise from thy hindquarters, friend, and exert thyself, and choose ye this day where thou shalt click. Forsooth, click above, friend!

Bob should also check out this article, a brilliant expose of the terrifying alliance between an evil regime and Jack Chick.


Sunday, February 01, 2004


"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go."

The time when a man grows old can come sooner or later. This is sooner.

It is hard to submit and love.

Heru, lavalm!