An Uncomplicated Truth


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

It is reasonable, I suppose—or at least natural—for modern students of religion to wonder how the earliest Christians, all of them Jews, were able to reconcile their belief in the divinity of Christ with the monotheism enshrined in Israel’s Sh’ma’. Indeed, historians of Christian thought have devoted many studies to that inquiry.

Looking at the apostolic writings through the lens of this inquiry, I gain an interesting impression of the earliest Christians: Their confession of the divinity of Jesus, while it was difficult, seems not to have been complicated.

First, the recorded difficulty of the apostles was not an impasse of reason (“How can this Jesus be both God and man?”) but a failure of perception (“They did not understand about the loaves, because their hearts were hardened”—Mark 6:52; Cf. 8:13-21).

Second, when they did arrive at this profession, in due course, the journey was not complicated. Their arrival did not result from a subtle mental process (“Well, let’s see, perhaps He is one person in two natures.”) but from an immediate experience involving both Jesus’ identity and their own destiny:

“You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God (ho Hagios tou Theou)” (John 6:68-69).

It is most significant that the two verbs introducing Peter’s confession—“to believe and to know”—are expressed in the Greek perfect tense: pepistevkamen kai egnokamen. The nuance of the expression is subtle; the apostles, when they reflect on what they now confess, perceive that they already know the identity of Jesus. Even though they have not figured it out, they discover it is already an established conviction—a prior, implicit knowledge of Jesus’ identity. Peter, faced abruptly with the question of leaving Jesus (“Will you also depart?”), immediately discerns why he and the others cannot do it: They know who He is! Abandoning Him, they would forfeit eternal life.

We should go further in this reflection, I think. Why else would Jesus ask the apostles, “Will you also depart”? Jesus needs information on this score? Hardly. He poses the question, rather, and thus puts the apostles on the spot, precisely in order to bring their minds to the realization of what, in fact, they have already come to know. His question to them raises to the conscious surface of the apostles’ minds a conviction to which they already adhere. It is not proper to speak, in this case, of “doctrinal development.” The apostles are not trying to find the right words to confess a complex and knotty idea.

The apostles are making, rather, a basic creedal statement. In its full form it runs like this: “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.” He is one Lord, because—as all Jews know (and would lovingly die for)—

“the Lord is one,” ‘Adonai ‘ehad (Deuteronomy 6:4; Ephesians 4:5).

Jesus is identified in the terms of the Sh’ma’. In the Bible, monotheism is about identity.

The apostles make this step in response to Jesus’ assertion,

“I came forth from the Father,” (exselthon para tou Patros) (16:28).

They affirm this claim, not because of a religious theory that warrants it, but because, as they watch and listen to Jesus, they discern in Him the One who sent Him:

“”He who sees Me sees Him who sent Me” (John 12:45).

“He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (4:49).

Modern students of religion, regarding the matter as an intellectual dilemma, try to imagine how the apostles, when they affirmed Jesus’ divinity, were able—as a point of logic—to reconcile that affirmation with their monotheism. In the apostolic corpus, however, there is not the slightest indication that the apostles experienced Jesus’ divinity as an intellectual dilemma. What, then, did the apostles suppose that modern students of religion do not suppose?

It is this: For modern students of religion—generally speaking—monotheism involves a fundamentally mathematical thesis There is one God, as distinct from “more or fewer” than one God; start counting gods, and when you get to one, stop. Consequently, all those who believe in one God must logically believe in the same God.

This approach to monotheism is what allows our contemporaries to speak of “the monotheistic religions.” Their thesis is simple: ‘Since there is only one God, all those who believe in one God believe in the same God. Their differences are those of development and/or expression.’

This thesis is not only simple; it is simply absurd. Biblical monotheism is not about mathematics; it is about God’s identity: Who is this one God? Who He is, is the essential question. I cite a noted authority on the point,

’im Adonai (IHWH) ’Elohim l-ku ’aharaiv; v-’im ha-Ba‘al l-ku ’aharaiv—

“If the Lord is God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).

Elijah knew, of course, that Baal belonged to a pantheon, but this consideration was not the point. Baal was not a false god because he had relatives. He was a false god because he was not

“the Lord, our God.”

Elijah’s monotheism was not a matter of counting but of identifying.

The question was not, How many gods? but who is God?

And this is the reason the confession of Jesus never became, in the eyes of the Church, a challenge to biblical monotheism. In the Orthodox faith Jesus is divine because He pertains to—is included in—the identity of God. Gradually this truth became perfectly clear to a certain fishermen, an improbable tax collector, and some women of their company. Their conviction on the point was a big and difficult step, but it wasn’t complicated.



An Uncomplicated Truth


The Holy Eucharist: A Live Coal


By Fr. Patrick Reardon

Speaking of the Holy Eucharist, the Fathers and early liturgical texts of the Church have recourse to the metaphor of the flaming coal (anthrax, pruna) in reference to the Lord’s body. For instance, with Isaiah 6:7 obviously in mind, The Liturgy of St. James refers to

“receiving the fiery coal” (labein to pyrinon anthrax)

from the Eucharistic altar. Indeed, even without using this word, those same doctrinal sources regularly appeal to Isaiah’s experience, when they speak of the Holy Eucharist. Thus, in The Liturgy of S. John Chrysostom, when the Christian has received the Holy Communion, the priest tells him:

“Lo, this has touched your lips and has taken away your iniquity.”

In comparing the sacramental body of Christ to Isaiah’s living coal, these texts testify that the flesh of the risen Christ bears the fire of the Holy Spirit, drawn from the hearth of the heavenly altar.

It is through this purifying and sanctifying coal that we are deified in the Holy Eucharist. Thus, St. John of Damascus wrote,

“Let us draw near to Him with burning desire and…let us take hold of the divine coal [tou theiou anthrakos], so that the fire of our longing, fed by the flame of the coal, may purge away our sins and enlighten our hearts. Let us be enkindled by touching this great divine fire, and so come forth as gods” (The Orthodox Faith 4.13).

In addition to the symbolism of the fiery coal from the altar, the Eucharistic bread itself seems naturally to evoke the image of the oven. This image is amply justified in the Epiclesis, the prayer that asks the Father to send down the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Lord’s Body and Blood. Rupert of Deutz perceived this truth, when he wrote,

“The Virgin conceived Him of the Holy Spirit, who is the eternal fire; and through the same Holy Spirit He offered Himself as a living victim to the living God, as the Apostle says [Ephesians 5:2]. Accordingly, on the altar He is immolated by the same fire. For it is by the operation of the Holy Spirit that the bread becomes the body, and the wine the blood, of Christ” (On Exodus 2.10).

The Divine Liturgy, we may say, is the oven of the Holy Spirit. That grain of wheat, which was sown in the earth on Good Friday, sprang forth as the infinite Paschal harvest and now abides forever in the granary of heaven.

Christ our Lord is not content, however, simply to abide in His glorified body. In this body, Christ can be found in only one place. He is needed, however, in many places, and this is the reason He provided a new, sacramental mode of presence. In the Holy Eucharist, He lives on thousands of altars at once, available–edible!–for the myriads of believers who draw near in the fear of God and with faith and love.

In the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, the wheat, which is Christ’s glorified body, is baked in the oven of the Holy Spirit, so that the nutritive energies of God may pass into those who receive Him in faith. Through the cells and sinews of our own flesh there course those divine energies that transform and deify our bodies and souls–our whole being–with the dynamism of immortality–  eternal life.

Commenting on the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, St. Clement of Alexandria plays on the image of fire stimulating the yeast in the dough, as heat raises the sown seed:

“Here is observed the sacrament of the bread [to mystikon tou artou], for He says it is His flesh and as manifestly raised up; just as fire raises up the sowing from corruption [ek phthoras kai sporas], so like baked bread it has truly been raised up through fire for the enjoyment of the Church” (The Teacher 1.6).

St. Clement likewise speaks of this sacramentally conferred immortality in connection with the Lord’s blood, which we receive from the Chalice. Recalling, with Leviticus 17:11, that

“the life of the flesh is in the blood,” he comments: “To drink of the blood of Jesus means nothing less than to participate in the Lord’s incorruption [tes kyriakes metalabein aphtharsias]. For the Spirit is strength to the Word, just as the blood to the body” (op. cit. 2.2).

This Eucharistic participation in the fire of Spirit is symbolized in the boiling water added to the Chalice right before the reception of Holy Communion. As the deacon pours this water into the blood of Christ, he identifies its symbolism:

“The fervor of faith, the fullness of the Holy Spirit.”




The Holy Eucharist: A Live Coal

The Subjectively Conscious Part of the Cosmos


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

The thinking man, if he wants his thought about freedom to be complete, must reflect—on the basis of his own experience—that freedom is inseparable from consciousness and the conscious experience of pursuing and discerning truth. If freedom is really free, it must be part of self-reflective thought, or logos; otherwise freedom would be identical with chaos. (The deliberate choice of evil or untruth is not, in the full sense, an exercise of freedom; it is an expression of willful slavery.) To say that man is truly free, then, implies that he is gifted with the ability to think reflectively. He is self-determined because he is self-conscious.

In this consideration we are touching man’s special place in the Universe. According to St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395), this complex psychological quality is what confers on the human being his dominance over all other things. Adam was—and knew himself to be—the head of the Cosmos, its sole deliberative agent.

“Self-governed and directed autocratically by his own will,” man’s “nature was, from the beginning, crafted for royalty (tyrannis)” (De Opificio Hominis 4).

The human being, then, is not only a part of the Universe; he is also the thinking part. Human thought is the only place where the Cosmos is conscious, critical, self-reflective, and free. The human mind is the sole forum where Creation can examine itself, render an assessment, and even make cognitive adjustments as they are required.

The human being is also the only part of the created Universe where thoughts—both interpretive ideas and thoughts of resolve—are deliberately chosen. (For this reason, man is the only being capable of perverting what God has made.) Man’s mind, we noted, is conscious of being free; indeed, cognitive freedom and critical self-reflection are so bound together that man may experience them as identical.

For this reason, man’s mind is the sole portion of the Universe where “effects” cannot be adequately explained by purely physical causes. Man is innately aware of this freedom, nor does it take him very long to infer the moral responsibility it imposes upon his life. He is the only being in the Universe that can choose, but his choices are felt everywhere.

(The experience of freedom is a source of ongoing frustration in modern science. Since the methodology and presuppositions of the scientific endeavor are quantitative and objective, the very concept of “subjectivity” is troublesome. Action theorists, for instance, desperate to reconcile the experience of choice to a cause/effect model, reduce it to the category of motive, while neurologists continue to search for the “freedom gene.” Permit me to mention a penetrating critical analysis of the underlying problem: Roger Scruton, “Scientism in the Arts and Humanities,” The New Atlantis, Fall 2013, pages 33-46.)

The human being, then, is the only place where the Cosmos itself can deliberately, intentionally change its mind. Man’s organic and formal cohesion to the rest of material Creation is the reason Adam, when he fell, took the Universe down with him. For all of its brevity Genesis 3:6—

“she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat”

—identifies the metaphysical mix-up of Creation itself. When the Universe fell into confusion and death, it fell head first.

Saint Paul is explicit on this point.

“Through one man,” he wrote, “he hamartia eis ton Kosmon eiselthen, sin entered into the Cosmos, and, by sin, death” (Romans 5:12).

In Adam everything—ta panta—succumbed to mortality and metaphysical bondage, and the very Universe became a medium of confusion and corruption. From that point on, “death reigned” (5:14).

So why did God, with a view to redeeming that hopeless situation,

“give his only begotten Son”?

Very simply, says Saint John,

“because God so loved the Cosmos”— Houtos gar egapesen ho Theos to Kosmon


The Subjectively Conscious Part of the Cosmos

How Intercessory Prayer Works in Christ According to the Bible


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Does the Bible tell us to go ‘directly to Jesus’, or is there something else it reveals about Christian intercessory prayer?

Among those sections that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, independent of Mark, have in common, almost all are directly didactic. That is to say, those sections almost invariably consist of the explicit teachings of Jesus, with no attention to events in Jesus’ life. Those shared sections convey, for instance, the sort of material we find in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7) and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (6:20-49). When, on the other hand, Matthew and Luke do tell a common story about Jesus’ life, Mark has that story too.

The clear exception to this pattern is Matthew’s and Luke’s narrative of the centurion who sought healing for his cherished servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). As an account of a person beseeching the Lord on behalf of someone else, this shared narrative resembles other stories in the gospels, such as Jairus and the Syro-Phoenician woman praying for their daughters (Mark 5:23; 7:24-30), and another man and a centurion pleading for their sons (9:17; John 4:46-53). These are all accounts of intercessory prayer on behalf of loved ones, especially parents praying for their children.

Such stories surely had a great influence on the patterns of Christian intercessory prayer. We note, for instance, that the petitions in these accounts are addressed to Jesus. Although in Jesus’ specific teaching about prayer, the normal emphasis was on prayer addressed to the heavenly Father (Luke 11:2) in Jesus’ name (John 15:16), the emphasis is different in these particular gospel stories. One of their singular values is that they unambiguously answer a practical question that might arise among Christians, namely,

“If one of your children gets sick, is there some special Trinitarian protocol to follow, or is it all right just to take the problem right to Jesus?”

However, the idea of taking one’s problems “right to Jesus” is surely not to be understood in the sense of foregoing the mediating prayer of others. It is not as though the unique mediation of Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 2:5) excludes certain saints from mediating on behalf of other saints, and these various Gospel stories are the proof of it. In fact, it is the entire point and the whole business of the foregoing stories to validate such mediation. This is called intercessory prayer.

To see how this works out, let us return to the story of the centurion pleading on behalf of his servant. If we compare the differing accounts of this event in Matthew and Luke, we first observe that Matthew’s is the shorter and simpler version. In this account the centurion simply goes to Jesus, requesting that the Lord speak the commanding word, so that the servant will be healed. It takes only six verses.

In Luke, however, the story requires ten verses and is considerably more complicated. First, the centurion himself does not approach Jesus directly. He sends some friends who will speak for him. Now this is interesting, because it introduces another level of mediation. The friends are interceding for the centurion, who is in turn interceding for his servant. We have here the beginnings of a prayer list, as it were.

Then, when Jesus starts moving towards the centurion’s home, the latter dispatches still another group of friends, who will speak the famous words that characterize this story:

“I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.”

It is surely significant that the centurion does not speak these words, deeply personal as they are, to Jesus directly. Others say them to Jesus on the centurion’s behalf. In Luke’s version of the story, in fact, there is no face-to-face encounter of the centurion with Jesus at all. The centurion’s faith is conveyed by those he chooses to intercede for him.

Finally, in Luke’s version of the story, there is a striking parallel, surely deliberate, between this centurion and Cornelius in Chapter 10 of the Acts of the Apostles. Both of these centurions send others to speak on their behalf, and in each case the one solicited—Jesus in the first and Simon Peter in the second—goes immediately to respond to the need. At this point the two stories start to form a contrast.

In the first instance the centurion, wanting to spare Jesus the uncleanness of entering a gentile house, solicits His aid from a distance.

In the case of Peter and Cornelius, however, the barrier between Jew and gentile has now been removed forever, and Peter comes to his home.



How Intercessory Prayer Works in Christ According to the Bible

The Analogy of Freedom

analogy of freedom

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Human freedom is an experience before it is a concept. Indeed, even as concept, freedom is extremely elusive. It is hardly surprising that modern science, concerned with precision and objectivity, is distinctly uncomfortable with it. The “scientific method,” with its emphasis on measurement and predictability, finds it much easier to deny the existence of freedom than to account for it.

If we search for the reason for this experience of freedom, we find ourselves stymied; we know, first, that freedom is a given. We cannot explain it without running into an intractable psychological—and, perhaps, logical—puzzle. Whatever freedom is, it is simply because it is. Freedom exists for the sake of free, intelligent choice; freedom is, in its origin, self-referential. A free choice is its own cause.

In this respect freedom bears the character of a tautology: We human beings choose because we choose. Indeed, if our act is compelled, it is not really a choice. We have motives, of course, but free choice is, as such, self-caused. The why of a free choice is simply the freedom of the choice. The determination of a free choice is not reducible to a psychological motive. If it were, that would be the end of what we call the “justice system.”

It further occurs to us to reflect that if freedom is a given, it must also be a gift. And if freedom is a gift, then surely there must be a giver. And that giver must, in turn, be free. To put the matter in theological terms, only Someone supremely free can give freedom to those outside Himself.

When man goes on to examine the created Cosmos, he reaches the further conclusion that he—the human being—must be very special in this world, inasmuch as he detects no evidence that anything else in existence is endowed this self-conscious experience of freedom. Every other creature in existence is reducible to the causes brought to bear upon it. Only in the case of human choice, then, do we speak of “responsibility.” Only the human being has the capacity to respond in freedom.

Everything else that takes place in the Universe takes place as an inevitable effect of some external cause. Everything else in the Universe is driven; whatever every other creature does is the result of the determining influences brought to bear upon it. Planets move because something, a very long time ago, set them moving. Plants grow because of an inherent dynamism over which they have no control. Man, alone within the Universe, has the capacity for self-determination.

Consequently, when the human being declares that God made the Universe in freedom, he is basing this declaration on an analogy; he is saying that in God there is something very much like man’s own experience of freedom. And, since God is the creating source of man’s freedom, freedom must start with God, not with man. Any “analogy of freedom” in man’s thought must confess that the radical origin of freedom is the infinite and wise freedom of God. Man, in his own freedom, bears some likeness to God.

When we recite the Creed we begin by speaking of God in His eternal being (“the Father almighty”), and then we go on to declare what God does outside of His eternal being (“Creator of heaven and earth”). Two things are affirmed here: With respect to eternity, God is the Father almighty. With respect to time, He is the Creator of heaven and earth.

The first affirmation is a metaphysical given; God cannot not be the Father Almighty. This is what He must be. The second affirmation, however, involves God’s free decision:

“let US make . . .”

What God does outside of Himself—His Creation—He is not obliged to do. It is His free act.

Moreover, these reflections shine an important light, not only on the Creator, but also on the creature. When we declare that God created the Cosmos in freedom, we mean that nothing outside of God had to be, no more than God had to create it. Things outside of God are contingent on His election.

Yet, the things outside of God certainly exist. Why is there something instead of nothing? This sober and sensible question springs from the plain insight that nothing we see in the Universe really has to be.

The biblical doctrine of Creation, to which the Church is committed by Tradition and Creed, finds the root of all created things in the intelligent freedom of the Creator. Things are, because God caused them—thoughtfully!—to be. He creatively conceived them. All created things are the embodiments of His thought. Outside of the being of God, to be is to be creatively thought. Thus, all created things embody intelligibility at their root. The freedom of God is not detachable from His Logos.



The Analogy of Freedom

Freedom and Man’s Fall


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

It is important that Christians, when they speak of “human nature,” understand this expression in a biblical sense. And when they are told that “human nature does not change,” they should recognize the assertion as more Aristotelian than Christian. When God created human beings, it was precisely for the purpose of making them something more. Their destiny is not defined by human nature.

That is to say, it is not of the nature of human beings that their existence is circumscribed within a fixed and predetermined set of expectations. Unlike oak trees and the birds that nest in them, human beings are endowed with freedom of choice. The behavior of plants and animals, inasmuch as their existence is determined by native tropisms and instincts operating within a physical environment, is fairly predictable. Men are called to become something more.

Although it has become common to speak of “natural history,” the noun in this expression is used improperly. History, as this term has been understood ever since Herodotus used it this way, consists in the rational consideration of sequential events. There is no history without rational memory.

In nature—apart from human beings–there are no events. Things happen in nature, but it is not proper to call them events. An earthquake or a solar eclipse, apart from an interpretive regard by human beings, is not an event. When a landslide destroys a tree, the surviving trees do not record its demise, nor do they compose ballads to lament the tragedy. Birds, likewise, if a mighty wind should blow away their nest, do not fabricate new models, designed on better architectural principles. In nature everything remains the same.

Things human, on the other hand—the res humanae—do not remain the same, because human beings make choices. A potential for history is rooted in man’s capacity for free choice.
God gave human beings the gift of free choice—ultimately—for one purpose: so that they could freely choose Him. This purpose, however, does not change freedom into a necessity. Man’s free invitation to theosis (union with God forever) implies the possibility of damnation (the loss of God forever). Free to choose God, man is also able not to choose God.

Thus, the very gift of freedom could become the instrument of man’s Fall. The goodness God put in man, wrote Gregory the Theologian, was not a thing

“sown by nature alone (ou physei monon kataspeiromenon), but as something to be cultivated by our choice (proairesei georgoumenon).”


“movements of [man’s] self-determination go in both directions (tois ep’ ampho tou avtexsousiou kinemasin) (Orationes 2.17).”

But God could hardly have left Adam and Eve to figure this out on their own. Their choices required some concrete matter (hyle) on which to be exercised. If they were to choose wisely, they would need instruction, and this was the function of the law, or commandment, that God gave them in the Garden. God was determined, in the very act of creating free human beings, to make sure that they would always know the path to their proper destiny.

Indeed, the concept of freedom includes the imperative of law. At absolutely no point in his history—not even in Eden—has man been deprived of the guidance of “law” (45.28).  It is God’s second gift, the necessary supplement to freedom.

How, then, did it happen that man fell? Endowed with a relentless

“quest for God” (28.15),

what prompted him to deviate from the true course of his destiny?

If Gregory had followed the common attempt to find the origins of the Fall in man’s place in the “second stage of Creation” (the world of matter), he would have traced the problem to the physical side of man’s composition. In this he would have shared common ground with Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Manichaeism, and other dualistic theories prevalent during the golden age of patristic theology.

However, the path to man’s Fall, Gregory believed, did not lie through what was lower in him, but in what was higher. It was in man’s spiritual and noetic nature that he deviated from his destiny. Man’s fall was not occasioned by the world of matter but through the temptation of an apostate angel, the very creature who, in the instance of their creation, most resembled God. Indeed, it was his resemblance to God, his theotes, that enticed Satan to defy God and claim equality with Him (40.10).

And Satan, after his rebellion, enticed human beings, as well, through their own divine vocation, to choose a disobedient and deviant path to their destiny.

“You shall be as gods,”

he promised Adam and Eve. This was the

“deception of the adversary” (klope antikeimenou) (22.13).


Freedom and Man’s Fall


The Truth of Orthodox Anthropology


Transfiguration plays a major role in understanding mankind, the reality and quality of freedom, and the intention of God in the creation of the Universe.

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Gregory the Theologian placed the synthetic —body and soul—quality of human existence in the larger context of the whole created order, within which he distinguished three stages. The first stage, he said, was the creation of the angels, described as a created projection of the “first light,” which is God Himself (Orationes 40.5).

These creatures are the most like God, Gregory declared, noetic spirits described in Holy Scripture as an immaterial form of fire. Indeed, so great was Gregory’s awe of the angelic nature, he confessed, that he would have thought angels incapable of falling, except that they did, in fact, fall!

Rebelling against the eternal light, they became powers of darkness and evil—in truth,

“our tempters” (38.9).

Creation’s second stage, according to Gregory, was that of the material universe, a compound of such physical elements as earth, water, and sky. Although lower than the order of angels, this physical universe was blessed with beauty, harmony, and order. Until God created human beings, however, there was nothing in the material world capable of thinking; purely material creatures are the least like—and the furthest removed from—God (38.10).

The third stage of the created order began on the sixth day of Creation, when God formed the human being in His own image and likeness. Man, the being created in this third stage, combines in his own existence the diverse qualities of the other two stages, the spiritual and the material.

Man is the only sub-angelic creature endowed with the faculties requisite for free, conscious, and sequential thought. Unlike other physical creatures, which are governed entirely by environment and instinct, human beings are able to make choices. Their deliberate decisions transcend the influences brought to bear upon them. This is what distinguishes man from the other creatures with whom he shares the earth. Thus, unique among God’s creatures, man is distinguished by a capacity for historical experience.

Indeed, the very notion of “history”—as something distinct from “nature”—is meaningless without man’s ability to choose a direction for his existence. When God created man, He created him, the Fathers declared, avtexsousios, “possessing self-determination.” This distinctly human quality, freedom of will, pertained to man’s very being from the beginning. It is presupposed in the very fact that God gave Adam and Eve a command—and, therefore, a choice whether or not to obey it—in the original Garden of his existence.

Early Christian witnesses to this thesis include the second century Bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, who cited the Lord’s many commandments as proof of man’s to avtexsousion,

“self-determination” (Against the Heresies 4.37.3).

Why would the Creator have given a “law” to man unless man was able to make a choice with respect to that law? There is “no coercion in God,” Irenaeus reasoned;

“God made man self-determining (avtexsousios) from the beginning” (4.37.1).

Irenaeus went on to declare that Man’s freedom of choice is modeled on the very freedom of God,

“in whose likeness man was created” (4.37.4).

Gregory the Theologian followed Irenaeus and other Church Fathers very closely on this question. The commandment given to Adam and Eve in the Garden was not intended to limit man’s freedom but to provide him with the opportunity to use that freedom:

“[God] gave him a law as the matter (hyle) upon which to exercise his self-determination (avtexsousion) (Orationes 38.12).

Although the final purpose of their creation was not manifested until its culmination in Christ, God made human beings in order that they might seek Him, adore Him, and, by obeying Him, to be like Him and to become united to Him (39.7, 13; 45.28). In short, man was made for deification, theosis. This is the true destiny of

“the living being, placed here but transported elsewhere, and, to perfect the Mystery, destined to be deified (theoumenon) through his attraction to God” (38.11).

Gregory provides an integrated picture of the narrated historical process through which human beings, endowed with free well in their very creation, may grow to the final perfection of that endowment through theosis—likeness to God and union with God. God, who freely gives Himself to man, summons and enables man to give himself back to God. Only theosis explains man’s original endowment with freedom. For Gregory, the significance of freedom does not lie in a mere possibility among choices but in the potential for a transformed and transfigured life. Theosis is what God had in mind when He determined,

“let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”

True anthropology means deification.


Freedom and True Orthodox Anthropology

Body and Soul, and the School of Synergy

body and soul

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

The Church Fathers sometimes use the word synthesis when they speak of the mutual relationship of man’s soul and body (E.g., Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 4.26; Cyril of Alexandria, Letters 45; Maximus the Confessor, Letters 15). When they treat of the synthetic quality of human nature, however, they are not content to describe it in the static terms favored in classical philosophy. In the Fathers, the union of the soul and body in man is portrayed, rather, as a dynamic conjunction directed towards a further fullness that transforms them both. Thus, in patristic literature, classical Greek psychology is reshaped by the biblical perspective of linear history and eschatology.

Without the authority of the Bible, it did not occur to classical philosophy to study psychology through the lens of history. Plato, for instance, thought of the soul’s union with the body as “unnatural” to the soul’s proper experience and destiny; the thrust of the soul was upward, while the body savored things of earth. Aristotle, with a more generous assessment of the union of soul and body, treated them, respectively, as the form (morphe) and the matter (hyle) of the human composition.

For the Church Fathers, however, the very relationship of soul and body in man provides his native preparation for a higher calling; this historical vocation of the human being is the basis for the union of soul and body. It is not static; it is directed towards human destiny itself, the fulfillment of human history through union with God.

We may take the thought of Gregory the Theologian as an illustrating example. Adam and Eve, according to Gregory, when God placed them in the original Garden, did not simply enjoy an ongoing natural beatitude. In their very nature they were summoned to an existence infinitely superior. Body and soul, conjoined in each human being, were the instruments and signs of a far greater conjunction, the union of man with God.

The soul, Gregory writes,

“is from God and is of God (ten ek Theou kai theian).”

Even as the soul is joined to the body, which is “something inferior” (cheironi synedethe), it “shares in a higher nobility” (tes anothen eugenias metechousin). The soul’s likeness to God, moreover, is not stationary. It confers an existence directed towards that further reality (pros ekeinen epeigenomenen). The synthetic being of man is dynamic; it points and pushes him toward a goal that will perfect its innate unity.

This happens in two ways, Gregory suggests:

First, man’s body and soul, inasmuch as they are different, tend toward different things. For this reason, their unity is not without struggle and strife, and the soul is thereby tested like gold in the furnace. Thus, the soul obtains the objects of its hope (elpizomena), not only by God’s gift, but through the exertion of virtue (aretes athlon). The native goodness conferred on the human being in his creation must be brought to perfection by his deliberate choice (proairesis).

Second, the soul not only resists the impulses of the body; it also draws the body toward God, so that “what God is to the soul, the soul would be to the body” (hosper esti Theos psyche, touto posyche somati). Thus, the soul

“accustoms its fellow-servant [the body!] to God” (oikosousa Theoi ton homodoulon).

In this text (Orationes 2.17), Gregory seems to assess the body’s role, with respect to the soul, as that of a resistant and rebellious underling, whose only contribution to the process was its antithetical impulse.

This was not, however, Gregory’s final word on the subject. He speaks elsewhere (14.7) of this bodily “co-worker” (synergos) in a more positive way. Even as it pulls the soul down, the body performs the valuable function of discouraging the soul from becoming pretentious. Without this struggle provided by impulses of the body, the soul—knowing its resemblance to God—might become puffed up with an unwarranted pride.

After all, the soul’s distance below God is vastly greater than its distance above the body. Indeed, the arrogance of the soul is more dangerous than the appetites of the body. Man is more at peril from what is higher in his nature than from what is lower.

In humbling the soul, then, the body acts as a

“well-disposed enemy and a plotting friend” (echthros estin eumenes kai philos epiboulos).

The believer makes the most of what is both

“a joint yoking and an estrangement” (tes syzygias kai tes allotrioseos).

Their complex relationship directs both soul and body to God.

“What,” asks Gregory, “is this wisdom in my make-up (he peri eme sophia)? And what a great mystery (mysterion) is this?”



Body and Soul and the School of Synergy