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

The Sole Forum Where Creation Can Examine Itself


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

The thinking man, if he wants his thought about freedom to be complete, must also 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. 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).”

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. For this reason, man is the only being capable of perverting what God has made.

The human being is also the only part of the created Universe where thoughts—both interpretive ideas and thoughts of resolve—are deliberately chosen. 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.

In this respect, 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 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 .

Saints Paul and Irenaeus argued that the Universe had to be “re-headed” by Christ, the incarnate Logos. The Universe can only head in the right direction, they believed, when it receives its proper Head.

From Cosmology we should go on to speak of History. But to speak of History, we must speak of language. There is no separating the two. None of the foregoing activity—thought, reflection, consciousness, choice—is possible without language, and language, in its turn, is inherited. It is derived from History. It is through language that Cosmology and History converge in human consciousness.

There is an obvious corollary to this observation: History, as an object of man’s knowledge, must actually precede Cosmology; man cannot think about the world until he has, at least for a while, lived in it. Israel certainly regarded reality in the sequence from-History-to-Cosmology. In the New Testament, likewise, the thinking of the Church worked—backwards, as it were—from the historical experience of the Man Jesus to the contemplation of the eternally begotten Word, in whom

“all things came to be (panta egeneto).”

The importance of these considerations is apparent if we bear in mind that a major underlying assumption of Christian Theology is—and here we come to the nub—the historical nature of Revelation and Redemption. Indeed, this assumption has the quality of a principle.

In the biblical faith man neither seeks nor receives “deliverance” by escaping from history and time. In the Bible “deliverance” comes only in and through a historical process; indeed, it is found only within a specific line of history.




On the Virgin Birth and the Creation of Woman

Apse flyer628

by St. John Chrysostom

It was fitting that the Giver of all holiness should enter this world by a pure and holy birth. For He it is that of old formed Adam from the virgin earth, and from Adam without help of woman formed woman. For as without woman Adam produced woman, so did the Virgin without man this day bring forth a man. For it is a man, saith the Lord, and who shall know him [Jer. 17:9]. For since the race of women owed to men a debt, as from Adam without woman woman came, therefore without man the Virgin this day brought forth, and on behalf of Eve repaid the debt to man.

That Adam might not take pride, that he without woman had engendered woman, a Woman without man has begotten man; so that by the similarity of the mystery is proved the similarity in nature. For as before the Almighty took a rib from Adam, and by that Adam was not made less; so in the Virgin He formed a living temple, and the holy virginity remained unchanged. Sound and unharmed Adam remained even after the deprivation of a rib; unstained the Virgin though a Child was born of her.

+ St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”




The Divine Plan: The Simple Elegance of Creation and Freedom

hand of god

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Let us make man in Our Image, suggested He-Who-Is. We are under no constraint to do so, obviously, but We will do it anyway. It will be an exercise in freedom.

The entire enterprise would be rather pointless, moreover, unless We give man the capacity for freedom. Man’s attainment of freedom, then, will be the object of Our act.

We run something of a risk here. Man, not knowing all things, may be tempted to confuse his capacity for freedom with freedom itself. He may start to imagine that freedom consists in the mere ability to make choices. If so, he will divorce freedom from intentional goodness. Our own freedom with respect to man, after all—of which man’s freedom will be an image—is not a choice simply for the sake of a choice. It is, rather, a freedom to love, and we freely make man in order to love him and to teach him to love.

Indeed, continued the Wisdom-from-on-high, we make man in such a way that he can know himself to be the object of Our love. We will endow him with a heart, an intuitive and impulsive principle that will find no rest except in the discovery of this love. And, in the service of this heart, man must have an intellect capable of reflective thought. This means we must also confer on man the ability to speak, because he will not be able to think except with words.

We will not make man exactly like the angels. Them, too, We endowed with freedom, and each of them has already made a choice for or against Our love. Because the angels are pure spirits, that choice happened very fast; it was made in an instant, an irreducible moment, in the very likeness of eternity.

We will do it differently this time. We will make man in such a way that We will “grow” on him. We will reveal Ourself to him, not all at once, but bit-by-bit. This will require making time, the experience of sequence and memory, an essential component of his existence. As We diffused our eternal love to the angels in an instant, we will share that love with man through the duration of a lengthy process—well, at least it will seem lengthy to man.

Thus, man will learn Our love through a completely new thing, which he will call “history.” He will need to control his experience of history by the measurement of time. (This really will be new. There has never been any “time” before.) He will call his measurement of time “chronology.” Chronology will be one of the most important components of his consciousness and thought. Without it, man’s mind will sink into a lethargic state, a nirvana he may confuse with eternity.

In man’s existence things will “happen.” There will be “events” as well as sequence. Indeed, We will make certain events to be the medium of the revelation of Our love for man. A combination of sequence and events will form a revelatory pattern, from which man’s language and thought will give shape to a narrative.

Our Holy Spirit must inspire and control this narrative, conferring on it an authority over man’s memory, reflection, and moral life. This Spirit-sustained narrative will find structural expression in a body of Writings, through which We will continue to speak to the human heart from age to age.

But perhaps We are getting ahead of Ourself. This process must start with first and basic steps. Since events happening in time will be the medium of Our revelation, We will begin by doing something to draw man’s attention to the sequential quality of time. We will construct his world in such a way that he will be encouraged to observe the passage of time, to record its phases, to measure its comings and goings, and to reflect on both its structure and its relationship to his thought.

We will start this with a plan so simple We wonder why We never considered it before. We will place man’s life on a spinning ball, located at some distance from two light sources (throwing in millions of stars by way of wild, improbable embellishment). As the ball spins, half of it will be illumined by the shining of the greater light source. Half the ball, at any one time, will be in relative darkness, half in light. To relieve man’s potential boredom with life on a spinning ball, We will wobble it a bit, to give seasonal variations. Man will count and record these transitions, and those measurements will provide the basic components of the chronology required to structure his narrative of history.

Let’s see, We calculate six days will be enough to complete this arrangement.

God and Man in Composite Creation


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

The apostles, when they went forth to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus, consistently placed that message in a particular context: the cosmology of the Bible, based on the doctrine of Creation. Although the dominical mandate the apostles received did not explicitly say so (Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15; Lk 24:46-48; Acts 1:8), they quickly sensed that the Gospel of redemption could not be safely proclaimed without the dogma of Creation.

This is one of the reasons, surely, that the Gospel, as it spread through the Greco-Roman world, first took root in the synagogues of the Diaspora, where the biblical thesis of Creation was already taken for granted.

Elsewhere in that culture, this was not always—or, even, often—the case. The biblical doctrine of Creation was only one of several types of cosmology known around the Mediterranean Basin. For this reason Paul, when he addressed the Stoics and Epicureans at Athens, was obliged to begin with the

“God who made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24).

Those who argued for the truth of the Gospel throughout the early centuries of the Church were obliged to return, again and again, to the biblical teaching on Creation. Apologists like Tatian (Discourse to the Greeks 5) and Irenaeus (Against the Heresies 3.10.1-4) perceived that the correct Christian doctrine of redemption absolutely demanded the Jewish format of the created order. Any other cosmological framework would inevitably destroy the Gospel. Very quickly in Christian history the initial article of the Creed spoke of God as

“Creator of heaven and earth.”

The Church Fathers were not content, however, simply to affirm the fact of creation; they also pondered its meaning and reflected on its implications. For instance, treatises on the six days of creation (In Hexaemeron) were prominent in the works of churchmen like Basil and Ambrose.

St. Gregory the Theologian, who remained steadfastly apophatic when speaking about God in Himself, spoke more directly when he came to treat of God as Creator. It is in the work of creation, where God is revealed “outside Himself,” that man first knows Him.

Expanding and synthesizing what the Bible says of the created order, Gregory elaborates three stages in its structure. When He

“went outside Himself to multiply the objects of His kindness,”

God first created the realm of

“the heavenly and angelic powers” (Orations 38.9).

Although Genesis does not speak of their creation, many biblical passages speak of them as God’s creatures and servants. They are the first creatures capable of thought (28.31).

Second, God created the physical universe, the realm of matter,

“a compound of earth and sky and everything in between.”

Whereas the angelic creation was like unto (oikeios) God, the material world is alien (xsenos) to Him. And whereas the angelic order is possessed of “mind” (nous), the material world is structured in “harmony” (aesthesis) (38.9). These two orders, says Gregory, stand opposite (enantios) to one another, having nothing in common.

Third, God created a new being, possessed of the qualities of the other two. This third creature is the human being, who combines both the other natures in a synthesis of matter and spirit, exhibiting both the nous of the angels and aesthesis of the physical world.

Man’s spiritual nature, however, is not bequeathed to him from the angelic world but directly from the “creating Word” (technites Logos). Whereas man’s physical nature is derived from the matter (hyle) of the material world, his spiritual aspect comes from God’s breathing into him an “intelligent soul (noera psyche) and the image of God (eikon Theou).” Man is made a “new angel,” as it were, a “composite worshipper,” both “earthly and heavenly,” a “king on the earth.”

Whereas the first chapter of Genesis pictures man as the pinnacle of the physical world, Gregory’s speculation goes further. For him the creation of the human being represents the perfection of all creation. Man,

“defied by his God-ward disposition,”

was created for immortality, even in his bodily existence (38.11). Such is Gregory’s view of man in the order of creation.

It is a proper setting for the theology of salvation.



The Once and Future Darkness


by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

From the first page of Holy Writ, the reader is left with no doubt about the nature of the world and humanity’s place within it. These themes are made very plain.

Perhaps it is less obvious that a certain polemical concern is active in the mind of the Hebrew author (let’s call him Moses); he is at some pains to declare that God is the Creator of all things, even those things which many non-Hebrews commonly regarded as gods.

Although, for instance, the Babylonians set their sun god, Shamash, high in the pantheon, Moses treated Shemesh (“sun”) as simply a big light God placed above the earth on Creation’s fourth day. And although most of their neighbors regarded the earth as a divine mother, the Hebrews treated it as simply a creature on which other creatures walked about. In short, the Bible treats no part of Creation as divine. Only God, ultimately, is the king.

I write “ultimately,” however, because there is a qualification to be considered. Under God, and only by God’s command, Adam also functions on the earth in a royal capacity, having dominion over the other creatures. God assigned him this task when He created man in His own image, after His own likeness. According to the Bible, man is not simply one within a multitude of creatures. He is God’s vice-regent over Creation.

The Bible-reader must be clear about man’s vice-regency in Creation: It is entirely one of stewardship. At no point can it challenge or diminish the proclamation, “the earth is the Lord’s.” Adam’s is a delegated royalty, a custodial responsibility. Whatever authority he has in the world, he has only for the sake of his duties.

According to Genesis, Adam’s regal state is expressed in tending and caring for Creation. He is to treat it as a garden, a place of nourishment and beauty. Much of his time, in act, is spent in the pursuit of agriculture, the indispensable basis of all culture.

Adam’s stewardship in the world, however, was not merely physical. It was also-and preeminently-intellectual and moral. When, on the first day, God established the order of Creation on the principle of “light,” He had in mind to form the single creature, Man, who would be able to discern that created light within its sundry expressions-its “kinds”-among the other creatures.

This is why we observe Adam functioning in Creation, not only as a king, but as a philosopher/king. He ruled the world by understanding it and taking its proper measure. When God formed each creature different “according to its kind,” He intended for Adam’s mind to discern those differences. And Adam clearly did this, when he assembled the animals and gave a specific name to each kind.

The names Adam gave to the creatures were not arbitrary. On the contrary, as God’s vice-regent over Creation, he recognized in each creature its specific logos, and he named every one of them kata logon, “according to its logos.” Adam thus became mankind’s first cataloguist, the father of scientific and analytical study, the very founder of philosophy.

Adam received these God-given abilities for the sake of his God-given responsibilities. Enabled to discern the differences between light and darkness, day and night, firmament and earth, sea and dry land, swimming fish and flying bird, male and female-Adam’s mind (nous) was instructed how to discern the differences separating true and false, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, right and wrong. Adam’s conscience, thus, was educated for moral discernment and choice.

Adam knew this. Unlike every other creature in the cosmos, he was gifted-burdened!-with the ability to decide. The Creator gave no other creature the capacity to reflect critically on what it knows and how it knows what it knows. Adam’s mind was the only place in Creation where epistemology was possible.

The proper prayer of this philosopher/king was,

“Bless the Lord, o my soul, and let all that is within me bless His holy name.”

This kol qerabai, this reflective inner life of thought, freedom, and resolve was the basis of Adam’s unique place as ruler of the world. If, at any point, however, this

“all that is within me”

were to cease blessing the Lord, not only would Adam fail as the head of Creation, but Creation itself would fall with him.

A terrible cosmic darkness would ensue.

Nothing Created by God is Evil

maximus_the_confessorby St. Maximus the Confessor

Nothing created by God is evil. It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. It is only the misuse of things that is evil, not the things themselves.



The Political God is the Buffoon King


foolish king 2

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

The account of Esther commences with an emperor and his empire. This emperor’s original-Persian-name was Xsayarsa. The Babylonians called him Achshiyarshu, which gave rise to the Hebrew version in the Massoretic text, Akhashverosh. Jerome, in his Latin translation from Hebrew, transliterated this to Ahasuerus, the name maintained in most English translations of Holy Scripture.

In the LXX this emperor is known as Artaxerxes. From the Book of Esther it is not clear whether this is Artaxerxes I (465-424) or Artaxerxes II (404-359). The question of his identity does not matter in the slightest to our understanding of the book. For what the author of the Book of Esther has to say, it could be either man . . . or neither.

Ahasuerus is, and remains, the utterly dominant figure throughout the Book of Esther. Because he is the most predictable, he is also the least interesting. From the opening verses of the book we learn several things about him.

First, Ahasuerus assumes the place of God. While it has long been noted that God (or prayer or anything religious) is not so much as mentioned in this book, it has only more recently become clear that Ahasuerus serves as God’s “replacement.” He is a political god, providing the sort of idolatry, Tertullian observed, that is most dangerous. Ahasuerus is portrayed as all powerful; his personal will is the source of all law, and everyone in the story is dependent on his favor.

Ahasuerus rules over all the earth-at least over all the earth considered in this book;

“this was the Ahasuerus,” we are told, “who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia.”

These two regions lie directly outside the extreme southern points of the Fertile Crescent.

If it seems that the biblical author is making fun of this emperor, let me suggest that the impression is accurate. Artaxerxes is portrayed as a consummate buffoon.

When things go badly in the story, the cause can normally be traced to some royal decision; he is forever promulgating insane decrees. When things go well, the emperor is never the cause of it. Throughout the book, the all-powerful king fails to make a single wise decision. Later in this chapter, for instance, he will forbid Queen Vashti to come into court, as a punishment for her failure to come into court!

This book is both a comedy and a tragedy, both a farce and a melodrama. The author seems to have his tongue in his cheek most of the time. It is a book to be enjoyed. Only after the reader has appreciated the humor should he start to look at its themes more seriously.

The emperor begins the action by hosting two large banquets. Let us note in passing that this format of two banquets will find its parallel, near the end of the book, in two suppers hosted by Esther herself.

The first banquet is for all the

“officials and servants-the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces”

of the large realm. The purpose of this feast was for the emperor to show off

“the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty.”

As it turned out, these riches were so extensive that it required 180 days for these political officials to see them all. Evidently the workings of the empire were sufficiently stable that all the regions were able to dispense with local government for six months! The reader begins to suspect that there is something farcical about this story. As one reads this book he will observe other evidence to support the suspicion.

The second banquet is, in its further details, even more impressive. We observe, for instance, that it is held for seven days and in a garden. The parallel with the Creation account is striking. Both stories involve seven days and a garden.

Certain features of this garden deserve further comment. We observe, for instance, that it was adorned with

“white and blue linen hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars.”

These details, which put the reader in mind of the furnishings of the Lord’s Tabernacle in Exodus 26, also convey am impression of satire; the king’s garden becomes a parody of God’s Sanctuary. The goblets used in this garden party are made of gold, like those of the Temple.