The Ontology of the Person and the Holy and Great Council
George Siskos, ThD (Doctor of Theology)
Translated into English, original text (in Greek):
Article translated into Romanian: „Ontologia persoanei” și Sfântul și Marele Sinod
An article with the title ‘Logomachy, Orthodoxy, and the Holy and Great Council’ dated 7/6/2016 by Protopresbyter Dr Doru Costache has been posted on the official website of the Press Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the Holy and Great Council ((https://www.orthodoxcouncil.org/-/logomachy-orthodoxy-and-the-holy-and-great-council), criticising the views of Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St Vlassios regarding the theology of the person, in accordance with his intervention in the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece on ‘The Essential Problems with the Holy and Great Council’ (http://www.parembasis.gr/images/AGIA_MEGALH_SYNODOS_2016/NAYPAKTOY-IEROTHEOY_AMSOE-problemata-1.pdf (Article in Greek)).
The article by the Romanian writer, with obvious irony and a tinge of journalistic oversimplification, reproaches the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos for an “anti-personalist crusade”, which he considers is “out of place these days” with regard to the Holy and Great Council, and which, according to his impression, actually betrays “human, all too human, passions” and power games. Set firmly within the atmosphere of American-Australian ‘culture’, the Romanian writer gives his criticism of the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos with regard to the ontology of the person (which formed part of the official letters to the Synod of the Church of Greece) the title “Game of Thrones”, which is the title of one of the worst American television series, in which innumerable assassinations, intrigues and all kinds of psychological distortions and carnal perversions take place between royal houses.
The Romanian writer’s article presents, among others, the following views. “The attack [by the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos] contains the outrageous statement that the theology of personhood, with its trademark, the freedom of personal will as distinct from the necessary character of the natural will, annihilates the Trinitarian God.” “By opposing the language of personhood as theologically valid, Metropolitan Vlachos denies contemporary theology its task to convey the wisdom of the ecclesial tradition in ways that take in consideration our current circumstances and reach out to audiences of today.” “The opposition of the Metropolitan to contemporary person-centred theology has no traditional ground and seems to depend on foreign ways of thinking.” “The Metropolitan outrageously affirms that ‘the link between will and person destroys the Trinitarian God by introducing tritheism.’” “The statements of Metropolitan Vlachos [are] attached to the Babylonian captivity of Orthodox theology to foreign, Western medieval ways of thinking.” “Metropolitan Vlachos is of the opinion, which derives from his naturalism or monophysitism (as defined above), that will belongs to nature and that there is no will of the person. Ecclesial tradition stands in firm and consistent opposition to his views.”
The Romanian writer’s obvious unawareness of the analysis of the rejection of personalistic vocabulary, which the Metropolitan made in the Synod (http://www.parembasis.gr/index.php/menu-teyxos-236/4432-2016-03-05) prior to the text “The Essential Problems with the Holy and Great Council”, is sufficient on its own to betray the ill-fated amateurism of the academic draft of the Romanian writer. The view of the Romanian writer that the criticism made by the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos is out of place and wrongly timed, and that it shows selfish interests and personal passions, unfortunately testifies that the consciousness of the Romanian writer himself is out of place and wrongly timed. The texts of the Council, if they stay as they are, are going to validate and institutionalise by conciliar decision a terminology, that of “the ontology of the person”, which has a series of theological significations for the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the concept of the primacy of the Orthodox Church, the concept of asceticism, the concept of nature, the concept of sin, the concept of deification, the concept of participation in the Trinitarian God, and many other things.
1. Methodology and Aim of Personalistic Hermeneutics
The way in which the Fathers adopted philosophical terminology has to do with innovating names in accordance with the truth of things in Christ. The method of personalistic hermeneutics, by contrast, is to adopt the patristic terms, change the patristic significations, and replace them with the significations of contemporary philosophy and every kind of contemporary thinking, which makes the personalistic fabrication attractive. Personalists often name this “pastoral sensitivity in imitation of the incarnation of the Word.” On the other hand, adhering to the patristic terms and their significations is characterised as love of antiquity, sterile historicism, and a museum display of dead civilisation.
The abyss of inadequate knowledge deepens when the personalistic narrative refers to the dialogue of the Fathers with the heretics of their age. This is an obviously over-simplified and tragically distorted version of historical reality, when one reads, for example, the prologues of the anti-heretical writings of St Athanasius against the Arians and of the Cappadocian Fathers against Eunomius, the letters of St Cyril to Nestorius, of St Maximus to Severus of Antioch and the Monothelites, and of St Gregory Palamas to the Latins.
The same applies, of course, to the other ideological tenet about the Fathers adapting themselves to the needs of their era by adopting philosophical terms. The Fathers themselves admit that they prefer the terms used in Holy Scripture, but they are obliged to use philosophical terms to refute heretics, as philosophical terms were being introduced unchanged, with all their first and last significations, by the heretics and were seeping into the Christian faith, altering its content. Classical instances of this are the philosophical preservation of the simplicity of the divine essence by the solutions of the dynamic and modalistic Monarchians; the philosophical introduction of ‘uncreatedness’ only for God the Father by Arians and Eunomians; and the philosophical axiom of the Antiochian tradition that every nature is necessarily manifested self-subsistently, which turned the Nestorians to terminal schism and the Anti-Chalcedonians to admit only one nature for Christ.
The method of specifically theological hermeneutics, which pervades the greater part of life in Christ, has existed only for a few decades, but it has already been subjected to very serious criticism by the Clergy and a considerable number of academics and theologians. The textual documentation for specifically theological hermeneutics is extraordinarily weak. Unfortunately, it is based on isolated passages that are linguistically suited its ideological aims. Of course, just by looking up the whole page of the passage referred to, one very soon notices the alteration of the meanings of the text in favour of the desired personalistic conclusions.
2. Person – Freedom – Will
The core of personalistic hermeneutics is the freedom of the Person. This is achieved in God Himself, through the will of God the Father, Who is freed from the necessity of His nature. The remaining Persons of the Holy Trinity exist from the freedom of the Father to beget the Son and to cause the procession of the Holy Spirit, whereas their existence remains free thanks to the communion of love, on account of the hypostatic will of each Person to choose this communion freely. Personalism speaks directly about three hypostatic wills. It comes as a surprise that the Romanian writer, with a thesis on St Maximus, is unaware (?) of the multiple references by St Maximus to the fact that three hypostatic wills entail tritheism and split the Triune God. If the will is hypostatic, as each hypostasis is different, the will of each Divine Person will also be different, which results in three different Gods. Lossky, to whom the writer refers, being honourable in his interpretation and a sincere Christian, mentions that the theology of the Person does not exist in the Fathers, but even more surprising is that he admits his perplexity in the face of the patristic attribution of the will to the nature.
Of course, personalists, including the Romanian writer, are so fatally attached to the priority of the person as against the nature, that they treat any assertion about natural will as Western essentialism. They are incapable of a balanced interpretation of nature and hypostasis. They verbally declare that there is no hypostasis without nature and vice versa, but in fact they remain so attached to the priority of the person, that every assertion about natural will and natural energies is stigmatised as scholastic essentialism. All the same, the natural origin of the divine will is asserted many times in the dialogue of St Maximus with Pyrrhus, in all the saint’s theological and polemical works, and above all in the anthology of the Lateran Council (649) and the Sixth Ecumenical Council, entitled On Natural Wills.
3. Nature and Necessity
The identification of nature and necessity, in other words, that everything natural constitutes a necessity, whereas the will that originates from the person is something free, was used by the Arians to demonstrate to St Athanasius the Great that the Son is begotten of the volition of the Father, in other words, He is a creature. It was used by Apollinarius of Laodicea to demonstrate that every human nous is necessarily sinful, so it is impossible that Christ assumed a human nous. It was used by Theodore of Mopsuestia to demonstrate that God does not dwell among human beings either according to His essence or according to His energy. It was used by Nestorius of Constantinople and Theodoret of Cyrrhus to demonstrate that the union according to hypostasis spoken of by St Cyril of Alexandria abolished the freedom of God the Word, therefore the only true union of God and man was the identity of volition between the two personal, hypostatic wills of the man Jesus and God the Word. It was used by the Monothelites to demonstrate that, if Christ had two wills, they would necessarily be opposed to one another, and that the human will would be sinful, so Christ must have one hypostatic will. What is more, it was used by the Monothelites to demonstrate that a human natural will, being subject to necessity, would bind Christ’s volition, so Christ must have one hypostatic will.
Personalism, by identifying nature with necessity, in other words, by asserting that everything natural constitutes a necessity, whereas the will that comes from the person is what safeguards freedom, often repeats the same arguments as the above. For personalism, the hypostatic will of the Father safeguards the freedom of the divine essence from any kind of necessity. The incarnation frees the Son from the necessity of His divine nature. The gnomic will of Christ (sic) is free from every necessity of divinity and humanity. And all this, although St Athanasius of Alexandria and the Cappadocians testify to the exclusion of any kind of necessity from the divine nature. In parallel, St Cyril of Alexandria and St Maximus the Confessor testify that no created noetic being is subject to necessity.
4. Identification of Createdness with Sin
In personalism, createdness is often identified with sin, on the basis of the interpretation of Romans 7: 14-24:
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practise; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practise. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
Personalists read into this passage the conflict between nature and person, that is to say, the conflict between innately sinful nature and the free person. Instead of seeing the law of sin that dwells in human beings, they see sin as human nature itself, from which they must be delivered. Most regrettably, the writer of the article himself affirms the truth of this by saying: “St Paul spoke to the Romans about the conflict of the ‘law of the mind’ and the ‘law of the body.’ Yes, he did not use the words person and nature, but one cannot expect that from a first century Christian anyhow. Nevertheless, is not his a distinction between personal freedom and natural determinism?” In other words, the law of sin is natural determinism. The question that easily arises is: Isn’t God who creates nature? Therefore, does God create sin? How far removed is this idea from Apollinarianism and its Manichaeistic consequences? The writer is not, of course, the only one who interprets in this way. It is obvious that these personalistic metaphors bear no relation at all textually to the theology of the Orthodox Fathers, never mind spiritually.
5. The Rejection of the Hesychastic Tradition
Over and above the unhistorical and textually arbitrary views about finding the relational ontology of the person in patristic texts, even so – textually arbitrarily, that is – no theological problem would arise with the specific significations and their use, if they did not serve to reject the meaning of the texts of the patristic tradition. By serving the view that the person is inconceivable without relationship, personalistic texts reject, for example, the Philokalia, the prayers before and after Holy Communion, and others, because in the opinion of the personalists these contribute to an individualistic salvation, which does not reveal the fundamental condition of the ontology of the person, namely, that the person exists in relation to another person. In other words, according to the personalist, these texts reek of an individualistic spirituality (as in the case of gurus), which serves the innate needs of instinctual religiosity.
6. The Marginalisation of Apophaticism and Theological Improvisation: Consequences
The distortion of facts and texts reaches its peak with citations of the type: “The critics of the ontology of the person are trapped in the Babylonian captivity of scholasticism.” Whereas the tradition of the Fathers of the Church, from St Athanasius the Great, the Cappadocians, St Maximus and St Symeon the New Theologian onwards, explicitly discourages every kind of intellectual interest in the mode of existence of the Divine Persons, personalistic hermeneutics is concerned with how the Divine Persons love each other, with the psychoanalysis of the Divine Persons, with the reason why God is necessarily Trinitarian, using scholastically specified outlines of the type: the Third Person is needed in order to transcend the egoistic love between the other two Divine Persons.
In this manner a personalistic anthropology and proposed way of life are drawn up, in season or out of season, which, completely by-passing the incarnate example of Jesus Christ and the apostles, martyrs, ascetics and saints who imitated Him, rests blissfully in the freedom of the relations of the Holy Trinity, according to which each one draws whatever anthropological conclusion that he wishes, and that suits him, for life in Christ, whereas with a parallel invisible and unincarnate (without Christ and His saints) doctrine of love according, once again, to the relations of the Holy Trinity, every anthropological problem is apparently solved, as well as ecclesiological issues about approaching other Christian Confessions. In this connection, sometimes in accordance with the personalistic perception, a faithful Christian who follows the writings of the saints, the Sacred Canons and the custom of the Church, is judged to be moralistic, Pharisaic, irrationally attached to and infatuated with spiritual elders, incapable of understanding the profound meaning of freedom in Christ, and reduced to the objectified forms of past tradition. Unfortunately, such things have been said even of recognised saints of the Orthodox Church.
On this subject, the Synodal announcement by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia is interesting. It makes precisely the same criticism as the Metropolitan of Nafpaktos with regard to the ontology of the person (http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/92464.htm). One reads there:
“The problems contained in the document ‘The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World’ are more subtle and theological in character …
The heart of the problem lies in the document’s persistent use of the term “human person” where it ought to use “man”, and grounding its humanitarian discussion in elaborations on this phrase. Usage of the term ‘person’ for man emerges within Orthodox discussion in a notable way only from the time of V. Lossky, who himself acknowledged the novelty of his employment of it; and while it has become almost normative in contemporary discussions, the Holy Fathers are consistent in employing the Scriptural and liturgical language of ‘man’. The term ‘person’ is chiefly used in Orthodox language in reference to the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity, in confessing the unique hypostatic being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as the singular hypostatic reality of the One Son in Whom both the divine and human natures co-exist ‘unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably’ (Definition of the Fourth Ecumenical Council). Almost never is the term applied to the human creature (in whom such distinctions do not exist), precisely as a way of noting the absolute distinction between that which is created and that which is Uncreated – for while man is ‘in the image and likeness of God’, he is in no wise comparable, in his createdness, to Him Who has no beginning…
The rise in misapplication of the term ‘person’ to man over the past seventy-five years has resulted in numerous perversions of theological language in the realm of doctrinal reflection, one of the most notable of which, the concept that there is a ‘communion of Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity’, is directly stated in the document… The precise theological discussions of the fourth and fifth centuries clarified that the Father, Son and Spirit are united in an eternal communion of essence (in the begottenness of the Son, the procession of the Spirit and the monarchia of the Father), but not a communion of Persons. Misapplication of the term ‘person’ to man has led, however, to considerations of the community of the human race being applied to the nature of the Holy Trinity in a manner that contradicts the clear teaching of the Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. Furthermore, such improper language of Trinity creates new anthropological problems that arise from seeing ‘the human person’ as ‘a community of persons in the unity of the human race reflecting the life and communion of the Divine Persons in the Holy Trinity’ (art. 2.i—one of the most problematic phrases in the document). While it is true that man’s freedom (the subject of Article 2) is a gift arising from his being created ‘in the image’ of God, neither his life in the broad community of the race of men, nor the freedom he exercises within it, are comparable to the freedom of the Divine Persons expressed in their eternal, mutual indwelling…
Yet when man is identified improperly as a human person reflecting an improper conception of a ‘communion of Divine Persons’ in the Trinity, his ‘lofty value’ is elaborated in necessarily inaccurate terms. Man’s value is indeed lofty, but the right foundation of his value lies precisely in his created distinction from the Persons of the Trinity, into Whose life he is nonetheless called and Whose image he yet mystically bears, rendering him unique among all creation in that he can attain the likeness of God through the deification of his nature…
The phrase ‘human person’ should be replaced throughout with the more satisfactory ‘man’, especially in key phrases like ‘the value of the human person’.”
7. The Case of Primacy in Personalism
Having done away with or, rather, given a new significance to the concept of apophaticism in the patristic tradition, the personalists, using Arian arguments, as they uphold a completely unsupported – textually – concept of the primacy of the person of God the Father (which has also been used lately by Muslims to uphold the monotheism of the Father and deny the Holy Trinity, that is to say, they use Orthodox texts to demonstrate the non-existence of the Holy Trinity), this concept of the primacy of God the Father over the other two Divine Hypostases is subsequently transferred to the bishop, in order to uphold a completely idiosyncratic primacy of the bishop and of the rank of the patriarchates in the Church. Mention is explicitly made to what is now a common personalistic position: that the primacy of the bishop, or of some patriarchates in relation to others, has a dogmatic foundation in the Holy Trinity. These were all inconceivable interpretations in the entire tradition until a few decades ago.
A concluding question: Is it not obvious that conciliar approval for this terminology by the Holy and Great Council will uphold these interpretations, which are, at very least, untraditional? If the writer of the article is woefully unaware of all the above points, he cannot characterise criticism of them as a “Game of Thrones”. If he is unaware of the criticism of the ontology of the person, as a professional academic he should search the bibliography of his colleagues. Most importantly, however, as a priest he should reflect on his responsibility and study seriously the texts of the tradition that he has been called to serve.
A final postscript: It makes a tragic impression that the writer appeals to the departed Romanian Elder, Father Arsenie Papacioc. All those interested should search on the internet for video recordings of the opinions of the Romanian father on the ecumenical movement, the concept of primacy and the pre-conditions for ecclesiastical dialogues, and they should compare them with the text ‘Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world’, as well as with the concept of primacy as this is expounded in Orthodox theological personalism. Perhaps they will discover there that the ‘logomachy’ is not about words but about the truth of things.
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