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Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Panentheism Explained — June 29, 2017

Panentheism Explained

Panentheism is a belief system which posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well. Panentheism is distinguished from pantheism, which holds that God is synonymous with the material universe.

In panentheism, God is viewed as creator and/or animating force behind the universe, and the source of universal truth. This concept of God is closely associated with the Logos as stated in the 5th century BC works of Heraclitus (ca. 535 BC — 475 BC), in which the Logos pervades the cosmos and whereby all thoughts and things originate; e.g., “He who hears not me but the Logos will say: All is one.” A similar statement attributed to Jesus by the John 10:30.

While pantheism asserts that God and the universe are practically the same thing, panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe and that the universe is contained within God. Panentheism holds that God is the “supreme affect and effect” of the universe.

In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, creation is not “part of” God, and the Godhead is still distinct from creation; however, God is “within” all creation, thus the parsing of the word in Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christianity is “pan-entheism” (God indwells in all things) and not “panen-theism” (All things are part of God but God is more than the sum of all things). This does not mean, however, that the creation is wholly separated from God, because the creation exists in and from the divine energies.

These energies are the natural activity of God and are in some sense identifiable with God, but at the same time the creation is wholly distinct from the divine essence. God creates the universe by His will and from His energies. It is, however, not an imprint or emanation of God’s own essence, the essence He shares pre-eternally with His Word and Holy Spirit. Neither is it a directly literal outworking or effulgence of the divine, nor any other process which implies that creation is essentially God or a necessary part of God. The use of the term “panentheism” to describe the divine concept in Orthodox Christian theology is problematic for those who would insist that panentheism requires creation to be “part of” God.

God is not merely Creator of the universe, as His dynamic presence is necessary to sustain the existence of every created thing, small and great, visible and invisible.[34] That is, God’s energies maintain the existence of the created order and all created beings, even if those agencies have explicitly rejected him. His love for creation is such that He will not withdraw His presence, which would be the ultimate form of annihilation, not merely imposing death, but ending existence altogether. By this token, the entirety of creation is fundamentally “good” in its very being, and is not innately evil either in whole or in part. This does not deny the existence of spiritual or moral evil in a fallen universe, only the claim that it is an intrinsic property of creation. Sin results from the essential freedom of creatures to operate outside the divine order, not as a necessary consequence of having inherited human nature.

 

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Debunking Sola Scriptura —

Debunking Sola Scriptura

Contra Sola Scriptura by Robert Arakaki

Book Review: The Shape of Sola Scriptura. By Keith A. Mathison.  (2001)

Keith Mathison’s book The Shape of Sola Scriptura is an apologia for the classic Protestant dogma of sola scriptura (the Bible alone).  The book is timely because in recent years a growing number of Protestants have become Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.  Many of these former Protestants left because of a theological crisis, including the loss of confidence in sola scriptura.  These conversions have given rise to a stream of apologetics materials challenging Protestant theology, sola scriptura in particular.  Mathison’s book is needed because Protestantism must be able to provide a reasoned defense of its foundational tenets if it is to stop the exodus to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, and present itself as a reasonable faith.

Dr. Mathison structures his book along three lines: (1) the historical argument — the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is consistent with the teachings of the early Church Fathers, (2) the biblical argument — the New Testament teaches sola scriptura, and (3) the pragmatic argument — sola scriptura is capable of providing church unity.  He also makes use of Heiko Oberman’s categories of Tradition I (one source theory) for Protestantism and Tradition II (two source theory) for Roman Catholicism (Mathison p. 48).  He then creates a new category Tradition for modern Evangelicals.  The new category was created to distinguish classical Protestants who respect the historic creeds from modern Evangelicals who disdain them.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Answering Sola Scriptura —

Answering Sola Scriptura

Response to David Roxas (1 of 4)

Robert

Re your statement “The fact is, imposing sola scriptura on the early Church Fathers IS a highly disputed matter, and does not hold up under scrutiny. Where is the supporting evidence?” I have a question or two.

1. Absent a body of oral tradition and the corpus of the church Fathers, which both developed over centuries and which the Fathers themselves did not have (Irenaus was not reading the Cappadocian Fathers nor was he celebrating the liturgy of Chrysostom) what is the source of Christian knowledge of God, the law, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? From whence did the later developed corpus of the Fathers and the oral tradition receive it’s knowledge of the Gospel?

2. Irenaus writes: “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.” Adv. Her. 3.1.1

Are you contradicting the above statement of Irenaus which says the Scriptures are “the ground and pillar of our faith” or do you equate the later corpus of the Fathers and the body of oral (and mostly liturgical) tradition with Scripture? Are the writings of the Fathers and the liturgy of the church “theopneustos?” How does the Confession of Dosiethus agree with Irenaus when said confession is adamant that Christians should not read the Scriptures because they are obscure and require initiation into the secrets of theology?

3. Do you affirm or deny that the Scriptures are the revelation of God to man? If you affirm then what exactly is it you are rejecting when you reject and claim the Fathers rejected the principle of Sola Scriptura as being the source of our knowledge of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Did the Fathers derive their knowledge of God and Christ from some other source than scripture and if so what was it? 

David Roxas

[Note: This comment has been published as it was received.  The only modifications are the emphasis in bold font.]

My Response (1 of 4)

Thank you for engaging Orthodoxy with an open mind and a sincere heart.  What struck me as I read your comment was how your questions about sola scriptura and Tradition are so inescapably connected to epistemology.  How we know what we know about God, Christ, Scripture, and the Church, touch on issues relating to the philosophy of knowledge.  Rather than address your concerns in the comment section, I decided that many readers would benefit from a more extensive response in a separate article subdivided into several postings.

I will be addressing your questions in reverse order because the issue of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture is foundational to our understanding of the Church Fathers and Apostolic Tradition.  This past feast day of Pentecost offers us a salient context for your questions. This is because Christian epistemology cannot be separated from Christ’s promise that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all Truth (John 14:26, 16:13). While Pentecost provides the context for reflecting on Orthodoxy’s understanding of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, it also raises questions about Protestantism’s tenet of sola scriptura.

 

Does Orthodoxy Believe Scripture to Be Divinely Inspired?

You asked: 3. Do you affirm or deny that the Scriptures are the revelation of God to man?

Answer: Yes. The Orthodox Church affirms the Bible to be God’s revelation to man.  Furthermore, the Orthodox Church affirms Scripture to be divinely inspired.  I do not reject Scriptures as God’s revelation to man when I reject sola scriptura. That is not the central issue here.  What is central here is that nowhere do the Holy Scriptures attest that they alone are God’s revelation to man.  Christ assured the Apostles that they would be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8) and that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all Truth (John 16:13). Nowhere do we read of Christ’s promising that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles in writing the divinely inspired New Testament which would be the exclusive source of doctrine and practice for the Church. Thus, Scripture never stood alone. It derives from a prior Holy Tradition which is inspired revelation of God. Scripture and Tradition always go together. This is not unique to the New Testament, but also true of the Old Testament. Moses, in writing the Pentateuch, drew on an ancient Tradition received from the Patriarchs and even Adam.

 

Oral Tradition – Apostle Paul preaching at Athens

The Biblical Witness to Oral Tradition

You asked: 3. Did the Fathers derive their knowledge of God and Christ from some other source than scripture and if so what was it? (Emphasis added.)

Answer: Yes. That other source is oral Apostolic Tradition.  The reason why I no longer hold to sola scriptura is that the Bible teaches the authority of oral Apostolic Tradition.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:13, we read that Apostle Paul considered his oral teachings to be the “word of God,” not mere human tradition.

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who also believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13; NIV; emphasis added)

The phrase “which you heard from us” indicates oral Tradition.  I have used the capitalized form “Tradition” in light of Paul’s description of his oral teachings being “the word of God.” Twice!  Here we have Scripture bearing witness to oral Tradition.

For Apostle Paul, oral Tradition was not an optional add-on, but essential to being a Christian.  He exhorted the Christians in Thessalonica:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.  (2 Thessalonians 2:15; NIV: emphasis added)

The phrase “word of mouth” indicates oral Tradition and “letter” refers to Scripture.  By his use of the word “whether,” Paul assigns equal authority to oral and written Tradition.  Here we see Paul making an explicit reference to Tradition.  The original Greek “παραδόσεις” means “tradition.”  The popular New International Version Bible attempts to avoid this embarrassing fact by rendering the word as “teachings” and relegating “traditions” to the footnote.

We learn from 1 and 2 Thessalonians two important facts: (1) what the Thessalonian Christians heard from Paul (oral Tradition) is just as much the word of God as what Paul wrote to them (written Tradition), and (2) both oral and written Tradition were to be held onto steadfastly by Christians.  This obligation to adhere to Tradition applies to laity, e.g., the Thessalonian Christians.  This obligation applies to church leaders as well.  Paul admonished Bishop Timothy:

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.  Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (2 Timothy 1:13-14; NIV; emphasis added)

Here we see the origins of oral Tradition and its subsequent transmission via the ordained bishops. In 1 Timothy, we learn that what Timothy had heard from Paul – oral Tradition, he was to safeguard.  In 2 Timothy 2:2, we learn that Paul intended for this oral Tradition to be passed on via the bishops to future generations.  Where the priest’s responsibility pertains to the local congregation, the bishop’s scope of responsibility is broader, often encompassing a network of local churches.  The job of the bishop was not to “theologize” (create new doctrine) but to safeguard the “good deposit” he had received from his predecessors.  It should be noted that in 1 and 2 Timothy there is no suggestion Paul ordering Timothy to write down what he had heard from Paul.

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. (2 Timothy 2:2; NIV; emphasis added)

We learn from 1 and 2 Timothy four critical exegetical facts: (1) that the “pattern of sound teaching” and the “good deposit” that Timothy had heard from Paul comprised oral Tradition; (2) this oral Tradition was not a secret teaching, but one that was heard by “many witnesses”; (3) Timothy was commanded by Paul – no mere suggestion – to pass on this oral Tradition to “reliable men” laying the foundation for apostolic succession via the office of the bishop; and (4) Timothy was to do all this with the help of the Holy Spirit. Thus, oral Tradition is not mere “tradition of man,” but rather apostolic instructions inspired by the Holy Spirit, which the Apostles committed to their disciples, the bishops. Orthodoxy has a succession of bishops whose lineage can be traced back to the Apostles; Protestantism cannot make this claim.

If we examine 1 and 2 Timothy carefully, we find not a single verse that teaches sola scriptura.  The two verses, 2 Timothy 3:15-16, that many Protestants like to quote pertain not to the New Testament, but to the Old Testament.  That is not the Bible as we know it today.

. . . and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness . . . . (2 Timothy 3:15-16; NIV; emphasis added)

The fact that Timothy was half-Jewish helped prepare him to receive Jesus as the Messiah.  He grew up exposed to the God-breathed Jewish Torah – mostly likely having heard it read out loud in the local synagogue.  Protestants need to beware of assuming that Timothy as a little boy grew up reading the King James Bible.  What many Protestants have done with respect to 2 Timothy 3:15-16 is eisegesis – reading Protestantism’s sola scriptura into Paul’s letters.  If Protestants wish to prove sola scriptura from 2 Timothy 3:15-16, they must be able to exegete the following conclusions from the passage: (1) that Scripture stands apart from the Church, (2) that Scripture is the highest authority for Christian doctrine and practice, and (3) that Scripture is the standard for correcting the Church when it falls into error.

Another favorite bible passage of Evangelicals is the Great Commission.  This passage also provides important support for the traditioning process.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20; NIV; emphasis added)

What is important to note about the Great Commission is that nowhere does Christ say anything about putting his teachings into written form.  This omission makes sense in light of Jesus’ ministry as a first-century Jewish rabbi. When we look at church history we see that early on the Apostles relied on the oral proclamation of the Gospel and oral instruction on the Christian way of living. Then, in due course, the Apostles would instruct their followers through letters and other writings.  Nowhere do we find the Apostles saying anything like: “This written letter has greater authority than the verbal instructions that I gave earlier.” Indeed, as seen above, we find just the opposite to be true.

Regrettably, the way in which Mr. Roxas set up his questions in effect divorces both Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition from Pentecost, that is, from the Holy Spirit’s pedagogical presence in the early Church.  It is a fact that for the first several centuries, the Church functioned successfully and grew phenomenally without a formalized biblical canon.  The Holy Spirit – over several decades – inspired the Apostles as they wrote what would be the New Testament, then the Holy Spirit – over the next several centuries – guided the disciples of the Apostles, i.e., the bishops, in discerning which of all the writings circulating were indeed inspired Scripture. Protestantism promotes a naive and implicitly ahistorical attitude toward what was a long process that spanned several centuries and deeply involved the Church Catholic.

One of the assumptions underlying sola scriptura seems to be that the Bible alone is divinely inspired and everything else is human, flawed, and to be viewed with distrust.  This separation of Scripture from Tradition creates for Protestantism a black-and-white dichotomy in the way it does theology and views church history.  Yet, the Apostles did not insist on separating Scripture from Holy Tradition, then denigrating Tradition to a subordinate position.  Neither did the Apostles elevate Scripture over the Church.  What we find in the New Testament and the writings of the Church Fathers is Scripture and Holy Tradition in complementary juxtaposition to each other.

Via – Sola Scriptura’s Epistemological Problems by Robert Arakaki

Explaining the Trinity — May 12, 2017

Explaining the Trinity

Eastern Orthodoxy believes in one triune God. This doesn’t mean we believe in three separate Gods but that there are three Persons who comprise one God. Orthodox teaching of the trinity is also a bit distinct from how most Western Christians perceive it. Here’s how:

1) Essence and Energies

In Orthodoxy, God is distinguished into into the different parts: His three hypostases, His essence, and His energies. The Son and the Holy Spirit are “personal processions” while the energies are “natural processions.” However all three, the hypostases, essence/nature, and energies, are inseparable from each other. According to the notable 20th century Orthodox theologian, “these distinctions are of great importance for the Eastern Church’s conception of mystical life.” He lists out the following

“1. The doctrine of the energies, ineffably distinct from the essence, is the dogmatic basis of the real character of all mystical experience. God, who is inaccessible in His essence, is present in His energies ‘as in a mirror,’ remaining invisible in that which He is; ‘in the same way we are able to see our faces, themselves invisible to us in a glass,’ according to a saying of St. Gregory Palamas. (Sermon on the Presentation of the Holy Virgin in the Temple). Wholly unknowable in His essence, God wholly reveals Himself in His energies, which yet in no way divide His nature into two parts–knowable and unknowable–but signify two different modes of the divine existence, in the essence and outside of the essence.

2. This doctrine makes it possible to understand how the Trinity can remain incommunicable in essence and at the same time come and dwell within us, according to the promise of Christ (John xiv, 23). The presence is not a causal one, such as the divine omnipresence in creation; no more is it a presence according to the very essence–which is by definition incommunicable; it is a mode according to which the Trinity dwells in us by means of that in itself which is communicable–that is to say, by the energies which are common to the three hypostases, or, in other words, by grace–for it is by this name that we know the deifying energies which the Holy Spirit communicates to us. He who has the Spirit, who confers the gift, has at the same time the Son, through whom every gift is transmitted to us; he also has the Father, from whom comes every perfect gift. In receiving the gift–the deifying energies–one receives at the same time the indwelling of the Holy Trinity–inseparable from its natural energies and present in them in a different manner but none the less truly from that in which it is present in its nature.

3. The distinction between the essences and the energies, which is fundamental for the Orthodox doctrine of grace, makes it possible to preserve the real meaning of St. Peter’s words ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ The union to which we are called is neither hypostatic–as in the case of the human nature of Christ–nor substantial, as in that of the three divine Persons: it is union with God in His energies, or union by grace making us participate in the divine nature, without our essence becoming thereby the essence of God. In deification we are by grace (that is to say, in the divine energies) all that God is by nature, save only identity of nature . . ., according to the teaching of St. Maximus (De ambiguis). We remain creatures while becoming God by grace, as Christ remained God in becoming man by the Incarnation.

These distinctions in God which are made by the theology of the Eastern Church do not in any way contradict its apophatic attitude in regard to revealed truth. On the contrary, these antinomical distinctions are dictated by a concern for safeguarding the mystery, while yet expressing the data of revelation in dogma. Thus, as we have seen in the doctrine of the Trinity, the distinction between the persons and the nature revealed a tendency to represent God as a ‘monad and triad in one’, with the consequence that the domination of the unity of the nature over the trinity of the hypostases was avoided, as was the elimination or minimizing of the primordial mystery of the identity-diversity. In the same way, the distinction between the essence and the energies is due to the antinomy between the unknowable and the knowable, the incommunicable and the communicable, with which both religious thought and the experience of divine things are ultimately faced. These real distinctions introduce no ‘composition’ into the divine being; they signify the mystery of God, who is absolutely one according to His nature, absolutely three according to His persons, sovereign and inaccessible Trinity, dwelling in the profusion of glory which is His uncreated light, His eternal Kingdom which all must enter who inherit the deified state of the age to come.” (The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church; pg. 85-87)

2) One Essence or Two?

Fourth out of the “big seven” ecumenical councils dealt with the christology of Christ, namely the third to sixth. It started with the heretical bishop, Nestorius, claiming that there are two distinct hypostases in the Incarnate Christ, the one Divine and the other human. The teaching of all churches that accept the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus is that in the Incarnate Christ is a single hypostasis, God and man at once. That doctrine is known as the Hypostatic union.

Instead Nestorianism believes the human and divine essences of Christ are separate and that there are two persons, the man Jesus Christ and the divine Logos, which dwelt in the man, thereby detaching Christ’s divinity and humanity into two persons existing in one body, thereby denying the reality of the Incarnation.

By the time of the fourth ecumenical a new, but opposite, heresy had arisen. Monophysitism. Its chief proponent was the monk Eutyches, who stated that in the person of Jesus Christ the human nature was absorbed into the divine nature like a cube of sugar dissolves in a cup of water. Therefore, Christ was left with only one essence, the Divine (Greek mono- one, physis – nature/essence).

Eutyches formulated this as a response to Nestorianism. He had thought he was elaborating the points of St Cyril of Alexandria. But this is completely wrong, Cyril never wrote that Christ’s human nature “dissolved” leaving him only with a divine one.

Instead, the Alexandrian state established the christology known as miaphysitism. That in the one person of Jesus Christ, Divinity and Humanity are united (not dissolved) in one “nature” (“physis”), the two being united without separation, without confusion, and without alteration.

In other words, the incarnate Christ has one essence, but that essence is of the two essences, divine and human, and retains all the characteristics of both. This is exactly what the fourth ecuenical council affirmed in condemning the monophysites:

while Christ is a single, undivided person, He is not only from two natures but in two natures. The bishops acclaimed the Tome of St. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome (died 461), in which the distinction between the two natures is clearly stated, although the unity of Christ’s person is also emphasized. In their proclamation of faith they stated their belief in ‘one and the same son, perfect in Godhead and perfect in humanity, truly God and truly human… acknowledged in two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference between the natures is in no way removed because of the union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature is preserved, and both combine in one person and in one hypostasis.

3) A Triune God

From LAcopts.org

“God is one in essence, yet three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in persons. There is eternally in God true unity, combined with genuinely personal differentiation: the term ‘essence’, ‘substance’, ‘being’, or ‘nature’ indicates the unity, and the term person indicates the differentiation.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in essence, not merely in the sense that all three are examples of the same group or general class (as with human beings), but in the sense that they form a single, unique, specific reality. There are no variety packages of non-essential characteristics. There is in this respect then an important difference between the sense in which the three divine persons are one, and the sense that three human persons may be termed one. Humans, however closely they co-operate, each retain their own will and their own energy. In short, they are three men and not one man. But in the case of the three persons of the Trinity, there is distinction but never separation. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, have only ONE will and not three, only ONE energy and not three. None of the three ever acts separately, apart from the other two. They are not three Gods, but one God.

Yet, although the three persons never act apart from each other, there is in God genuine diversity as well as specific unity. We believe that this threefold differentiation in God’s outward action reflects a threefold differentiation in His inner life. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not just “modes” or “moods” of the Divinity, not just masks God assumes for a time in His dealings with creation and then lays aside. They are on the contrary coequal and coeternal persons.

A human father is older than his child, but when speaking of God as ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ we are not to interpret the terms in this literal sense. We affirm of the Son, “There was never a time when he was not.” And the same is said of the Holy Spirit.”