Bishop Alexander of the Russian Orthodox church
Content: The Sources of Christian Doctrine. Dogmas. The Sources of Dogmas. Sacred Scripture. Sacred Tradition. The Catholic Consciousness of the Church. Expositions of Christian Teaching. The Symbolical Books. Dogmatic Systems. Dogmatic Theology. Dogmatics and Faith. Theology and Science. Our Knowledge of God. The Dogma of Faith. Belief or Faith as an Attribute of the Soul. The Power of Faith. The Source of Faith. The Question of Dogmatic Development. Philosophy and Theology. The Religious‑Philosophical System of V.S. Soloviev. The Teaching of the Wisdom of God in Holy Scripture.
FROM THE FIRST DAYS of her existence, the Holy Church of Christ has ceaselessly been concerned that her children, her members, should stand firm in the pure truth.
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth,” writes the holy Apostle, John the Theologian (3 John 4). “I have written briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand,” says the holy Apostle Peter in concluding his catholic epistle (1 Peter 5:12).
The holy Apostle Paul relates concerning himself that, having preached for fourteen years, he went to Jerusalem by revelation with Barnabas and Titus, and there he offered-especially to the most renowned citizens‑ the gospel which he preached, “lest by any means I should run, or bad run, in vain” (Gal. 2:2). “Instruct us in Thy path, that we may walk in Thy Truth” — is the first petition in the priestly prayers (the Prayers at Lamplighting 2) in the first Divine Service of the daily cycle, Vespers.
The true path of faith which has always been carefully preserved in the history of the Church, from of old was called straight, right, in Greek, orthos — that is, “orthodoxy.” In the Psalter‑from which, as we know from the history of the Christian Divine services, the Church has been inseparable from the first moment of her existence‑we find such phrases as the following — “my foot hath stood in uprightness” (Ps. 26:12 [LXX-25:10]); “from before Thy face let my judgment come forth” (Ps. 17:2 [LXX-16:2]); “praise is meet for the upright” (Ps. 33:1 [LXX-32:1]); and there are others. The Apostle Paul instructs Timothy to present himself before God “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing (that is, rightly cutting with a chisel, from the Greek orthotomounta) the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). In early Christian literature there is constant mention of the keeping of “the rule of faith,” the “rule of truth” The very term “orthodoxy” was widely used even in the epoch before the Ecumenical Councils, then in the terminology of the Ecumenical Councils themselves, and in the Fathers of the Church both of the East and of the West.
Side by side with the straight, or right, path of faith there have always been those who thought differently (heterodoxountes, or “heterodox,” in the expression of St. Ignatius the God-bearer), a world of greater or lesser errors among Christians, and sometimes even whole incorrect systems which attempted to burst into the midst of Orthodox Christians. As a result of the quest for truth there occurred divisions among Christians.
Becoming acquainted with the history of the Church, and likewise observing the contemporary world, we see that the errors which war against Orthodox Truth have appeared and do appear a) under the influence of other religions, b) under the influence of philosophy, and c) through the weakness and inclinations of fallen human nature, which seeks the rights and justifications of these weaknesses and inclinations.
Errors take root and become obstinate most frequently because of the pride of those who defend them, because of intellectual pride.
SO AS TO GUARD the right path of faith, the Church has had to forge strict forms for the expression of the truths of faith: it has had to build up the fortresses of truth for the repulsion of influences foreign to the Church. The definitions of truth declared by the Church have been called, since the days of the Apostles, dogmas. In the Acts of the Apostles we read of the Apostles Paul and Timothy that “as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees (dogmata) for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4; here the reference is to the decrees of the Apostolic Council which is described in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts). Among the ancient Greeks and Romans the Greek word dogmat was used to refer a) to philosophical conceptions, and b) to directives which were to be precisely fulfilled. In the Christian understanding, “dogmas” are the opposite of” opinions,” that is, inconstant personal conceptions.
ON WHAT ARE DOGMAS FOUNDED? It is clear that dogmas are not founded on the rational conceptions of separate individuals, even though these might be Fathers and Teachers of the Church, but, rather, on the teaching of Sacred Scripture and on the Apostolic Sacred Tradition. The truths of faith which are contained in the Sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Sacred Tradition give the fullness of the teaching of faith which was called by the ancient Fathers of the Church the “catholic faith,” the “catholic teaching” of the Church. The truths of Scripture and Tradition, harmoniously fused together into a single whole, define the “catholic consciousness” of the Church, a consciousness that is guided by the Holy Spirit.
BY “SACRED SCRIPTURE” are to be understood those books written by the holy Prophets and Apostles under the action of the Holy Spirit; therefore they are called “divinely inspired” They are divided into books of the Old Testament and the books of the New Testament.
The Church recognizes 38 books of the Old Testament. After the example of the Old Testament Church, several of these books are joined to form a single book, bringing the number to two books, according to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. These books, which were entered at some time into the Hebrew canon, are called “canonical.” To them are joined a group of “non‑canonical” books‑that is, those which were not included in the Hebrew canon because they were written after the closing of the canon of the sacred Old Testament books. The Church accepts these latter books also as useful and instructive and in antiquity assigned them for instructive reading not only in homes but also in churches, which is why they have been called “ecclesiastical.” The Church includes these books in a single volume of the Bible together with the canonical books. As a source of the teaching of the faith, the Church puts them in a secondary place and looks on them as an appendix to the canonical books. Certain of them are so close in merit to the Divinely‑inspired books that, for example, in the 85th Apostolic Canon the three books of Maccabees and the book of Joshua the son of Sirach are numbered together with the canonical books, and, concerning all of them together it is said that they are “venerable and holy.” However, this means only that they were respected in the ancient Church; but a distinction between the canonical and non‑canonical books of the Old Testament has always been maintained in the Church.
The Church recognizes twenty‑seven canonical books of the New Testament. Since the sacred books of the New Testament were written in various years of the apostolic era and were sent by the Apostles to various points of Europe and Asia, and certain of them did not have a definite designation to any specific place, the gathering of them into a single collection or codex could not be an easy matter; it was necessary to keep strict watch lest among the books of apostolic origin there might be found any of the so‑called “apocrypha” books, which for the most part were composed in heretical circles. Therefore, the Fathers and teachers of the Church during the first centuries of Christianity preserved a special caution in distinguishing these books, even though they might bear the name of Apostles. The Fathers of the Church frequently entered certain books into their lists with reservations, with uncertainty or doubt, or else gave for this reason an incomplete list of the Sacred Books. This was unavoidable and serves as a memorial to their exceptional caution in this holy matter. They did not trust themselves, but waited for the universal voice of the Church. The local Council of Carthage in 318, in its 33rd Canon, enumerated all of the books of the New Testament without exception.
St. Athanasius the Great names all of the books of the New Testament without the least doubt or distinction, and in one of his works he concludes his list with the following words: “Behold the number and names of the canonical books of the New Testament. These are, as it were, the beginnings, the anchors and pillars of our faith, because they were written and transmitted by the very Apostles of Christ the Savior, who were with Him and were instructed by Him” (from the Synopsis of St. Athanasius). Likewise, St. Cyril of Jerusalem also enumerates the books of the New Testament without the slightest remark as to any kind of distinction between them in the Church. The same complete listing is to be found among the Western ecclesiastical writers, for example in Augustine. Thus, the complete canon of the New Testament books of Sacred Scripture was confirmed by the catholic voice of the whole Church. This Sacred Scripture, in the expression of St. John Damascene, is the “Divine Paradise.”
IN THE ORIGINAL PRECISE meaning of the word, Sacred Tradition is the tradition which comes from the ancient Church of Apostolic times. In the second to the fourth centuries this was called “the Apostolic Tradition.”
One must keep in mind that the ancient Church carefully guarded the inward life of the Church from those outside of her; her Holy Mysteries were secret, being kept from non‑Christians. When these Mysteries were performed‑ Baptism or the Eucharist‑those outside the Church were not present; the order of the services was not written down, but was only transmitted orally; and in what was preserved in secret was contained the essential side of the faith. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (4th century) presents this to us especially clearly. In undertaking Christian instruction for those who had not yet expressed a final decision to become Christians, the hierarch precedes his teachings with the following words: “When the catechetical teaching is pronounced, if a catechumen should ask you, 'What did the instructors say?' you are to repeat nothing to those who are without (the church). For we are giving to you the mystery and hope of the future age. Keep the Mystery of Him Who is the Giver of rewards. May no one say to you, 'What harm is it if I shall find out also?' Sick people also ask for wine, but if it is given at the wrong time it produces disorder to the mind, and there are two evil consequences; the sick one dies, and the physician is slandered” (Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures, ch. 12).
In one of his further homilies St. Cyril again remarks: ” We include the whole teaching of faith in a few lines. And I would wish that you should remember it word for word and should repeat it among yourselves with all fervor, without writing it down on paper, but noting it by memory in the heart. And you should beware, lest during the time of your occupation with this study none of the catechumens should hear what has been handed down to you” (Fifth Catechetical Lecture, ch. 12). In the introductory words which he wrote down for those being “illumined!” — that is, those who were already coming to Baptism, and also to those present who were baptized — he gives the following warning: “This instruction for those who are being illumined is offered to be read by those who are coming to Baptism and by the faithful who have already received Baptism; but by no means give it either to the catechumens or to anyone else who has not yet become a Christian, otherwise you will have to give an answer to the Lord. And if you make a copy of these catechetical. lectures, then, as before the Lord, write this down also” (that is, this warning, End of the Prologue to the Catechetical Lectures).
In the following words St. Basil the Great gives us a clear understanding of the Sacred Apostolic Tradition: “Of the dogmas and sermons preserved in the Church, certain ones we have from written instruction, and certain ones we have received from the Apostolic Tradition, handed down in secret. Both the one and the other have one and the same authority for piety, and no one who is even the least informed in the decrees of the Church will contradict this. For if we dare to overthrow the unwritten customs as if they did not have great importance, we shall thereby imperceptively do harm to the Gospel in its most important points. And even more, we shall be left with the empty name of the Apostolic preaching without content. For example, let us especially make note of the first and commonest thing, that those who hope in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ should sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross. Who taught this in Scripture? Which Scripture instructed us that we should turn to the east in prayer? Which of the saints left us in written form the words of invocation during the transformation of the bread of the Eucharist and the Chalice of blessing? For we are not satisfied with the words which are mentioned in the Epistles or the Gospels, but both before them and after them we pronounce others also as having great authority for the Mystery, having received them from the unwritten teaching. By what Scripture, likewise, do we bless the water of Baptism and the oil of anointing and, indeed, the one being baptized himself Is this not the silent and secret tradition? And what more? What written word has taught us this anointing with oil itself? Where is the triple immersion and all the rest that has to do with Baptism, the renunciation of Satan and his angels to be found? What Scripture are these taken from? Is it not from this unpublished and unspoken teaching which our Fathers have preserved in a silence inaccessible to curiosity and scrutiny, because they were thoroughly instructed to preserve in silence the sanctity of the Mysteries? For what propriety would there be to proclaim in writing a teaching concerning that which it is not allowed for the unbaptized even to behold?” (On the Holy Spirit, ch. 27).
From these words of St. Basil the Great we may conclude: first, that the Sacred Tradition of the teaching of faith is that which may be traced back to the earliest period of the Church, and, second, that it was carefully preserved and unanimously acknowledged among the Fathers and teachers of the Church during the epoch of the great Fathers and the beginning of the Ecumenical Councils.
Although St. Basil has given here a series of examples of the “oral” tradition, he himself in this very text has taken a step towards the “recording” of this oral word. During the era of the freedom and triumph of the Church in the fourth century, almost all of the tradition in general received a written form and is now preserved in the literature of the Church, which comprises a supplement to the Holy Scripture.
We find this sacred ancient Tradition
· in the most ancient record of the Church, the Canons of the Holy Apostles;
· in the Symbols of Faith of the ancient local churches;
· in the ancient Liturgies, in the rite of Baptism, and in other ancient prayers;
· in the ancient Acts of the Christian martyrs. The Acts of the martyrs did not enter into use by the faithful until they had been examined and approved by the local bishops; and they were read at the public gatherings of Christians under the supervision of the leaders of the churches. In them we see the confession of the Most Holy Trinity, the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, examples of the invocation of the saints, of belief in the conscious life of those who had reposed in Christ, and much else;
· in the ancient records of the history of the Church, especially in the book of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Caesarea, where there are gathered many ancient traditions of rite and dogma‑in particular, there is given the canon of the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments;
· in the works of the ancient Fathers and teachers of the Church;
· and, finally, in the very spirit of the Church's life, in the preservation of faithfulness to all her foundations which come from the Holy Apostles.
The Apostolic Tradition which has been preserved and guarded by the Church, by the very fact that it has been kept by the Church, becomes the Tradition of the Church herself, it “belongs” to her, it testifies to her; and, in parallel to Sacred Scripture it is called by her, “Sacred Tradition.”
The witness of Sacred Tradition is indispensable for our certainty that all the books of Sacred Scripture have been handed down to us from Apostolic times and are of Apostolic origin. Sacred Tradition is necessary for the correct understanding of separate passages of Sacred Scripture, and for refuting heretical reinterpretations of it, and, in general, so as to avoid superficial, one‑sided, and sometimes even prejudiced and false interpretations of it.
Finally, Sacred Tradition is also necessary because some truths of the faith are expressed in a completely definite form in Scripture, while others are not entirely clear and precise and therefore demand confirmation by the Sacred Apostolic Tradition.
The Apostle commands, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and bold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).
Besides all this, Sacred Scripture is valuable because from it we see how the whole order of Church organization, the canons, the Divine Services and rites are rooted in and founded upon the way of life of the ancient Church. Thus, the preservation of “Tradition” expresses the succession of the very essence of the Church.
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH of Christ is the Body of Christ, a spiritual organism whose Head is Christ It has a single spirit, a single common faith, a single and common catholic consciousness, guided by the Holy Spirit; and its reasonings are based on the concrete, definite foundations of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Apostolic Tradition. This catholic consciousness is always with the Church, but, in a more definite fashion, this consciousness is expressed in the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. From profound Christian antiquity, local councils of separate Orthodox Churches gathered twice a year, in accordance with the 37th Canon of the Holy Apostles. Likewise, often in the history of the Church there were councils of regional bishops representing a wider area than individual Churches and, finally, councils of bishops of the whole Orthodox Church of both East and West. Such Ecumenical Councils the Church recognizes as seven in number. The Ecumenical Councils formulated precisely and confirmed a number of the fundamental truths of the Orthodox Christian Faith, defending the ancient teaching of the Church against the distortions of heretics. The Ecumenical Councils likewise formulated numerous laws and rules governing public and private Christian church life, which are called the Church canons, and required the universal and uniform observance of them. Finally, the Ecumenical Councils confirmed the dogmatic decrees of a number of local councils, and also the dogmatic statements composed by certain Fathers of the Church — for example, the confession of faith of St. Gregory the Wonderworker, Bishop of Neo‑Caesarea, the canons of St. Basil the Great, and so forth.
When in the history of the Church it happened that councils of bishops permitted heretical views to be expressed in their decrees, the catholic consciousness of the Church was disturbed and was not pacified until authentic Christian truth was restored and confirmed by means of another council. One must remember that the councils of the Church made their dogmatic decrees a) after a careful, thorough and complete examination of all those places in Sacred Scripture which touch a given question, b) thus testifying that the Ecumenical Church has understood the cited passages of Sacred Scripture in precisely this way. In this way the decrees of the councils concerning faith express the harmony of Sacred Scripture and the catholic Tradition of the Church. For this reason these decrees became themselves, in their turn, an authentic, inviolable, authoritative, Ecumenical and Sacred Tradition of the Church, founded upon the facts of Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition.
Of course, many truths of the Faith are so immediately clear from Sacred Scripture that they were not subjected to heretical reinterpretations; therefore, concerning them there are no specific decrees of councils. Other truths, however, were confirmed by councils.
Among all the dogmatic decrees of councils, the Ecumenical Councils themselves acknowledge as primary and fundamental the Nicaeo‑Constantinopolitan Symbol of Faith and they forbade any change whatsoever in it, not only in its ideas, but also in its words, either by addition or subtraction (decree of the Third Ecumenical Council, repeated by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Councils).
The decrees regarding faith which were made by a number of local councils, and also certain expositions of the Faith by the holy Fathers of the Church, are acknowledged as a guide for the Whole Church and are numbered in the second Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council (in Trullo).
In ecclesiastical terminology dogmas are the truths of Christian teaching, the truths of faith, and canons are the prescriptions: relating to church order, church government, the obligations of the church hierarchy and clergy and of every Christian, which flow from the moral foundations of the evangelical and Apostolic teaching. Canon is a Greek word which literally means “a straight rod, a measure of precise direction.”
For guidance in questions of faith, for the correct understanding of Sacred Scripture, and in order to distinguish the authentic Tradition of the Church from false teachings, we appeal to the works of the holy Fathers of the Church, acknowledging that the unanimous agreement of all of the Fathers and teachers of the Church in teaching of the Faith is an undoubted sign of truth. The holy Fathers stood for the truth, fearing neither threats nor persecutions nor death itself. The Patristic explanations of the truths of the Faith 1) gave precision to the expression of the truths of Christian teaching and created a unity of dogmatic language; 2) added testimonies of these truths from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and also brought forth for them arguments based on reason. In theology, attention is also given to certain private opinions of the holy Fathers or teachers of the Church on questions which have not been precisely defined and accepted by the whole Church. However, these opinions are not to be confused with dogmas, in the precise meaning of the word. There are some private opinions of certain Fathers and teachers which are not recognized as being in agreement with the general catholic faith of the Church, and are not accepted as a guide to faith.
The Catholic consciousness of the Church, where it concerns the teaching of faith, is also expressed in the Orthodox Divine Services which have been handed down to us by the Ecumenical Church. By entering deeply into the content of the Divine service books we make ourselves firmer in the dogmatic teaching of the Orthodox Church.
The content of the Orthodox Divine services is the culminating expression of the teaching of the holy Apostles and Fathers of the Church, both in the sphere of dogma and of morals. This is splendidly expressed in the hymn (the kontakion) which is sung on the day of the commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils: “The preaching of the Apostles and the dogmas of the Fathers have imprinted upon the Church a single faith which, bearing the garment of truth woven of the theology from above, rightly dispenseth and glorifieth the great mystery of piety.”
THE INTERPRETATIONS of the Symbol of Faith, or the “Symbolic Guides” (from the Greek symballo, meaning “to unite”; symbolon, a uniting or conditional sign) of the Orthodox Faith, in the common meaning of this term, are those expositions of Christian faith which are given in the Book of Canons of the Holy Apostles, the Holy Local and Ecumenical Councils, and the Holy Fathers. The theology of the Russian Church also makes use, as symbolical books, of those two expositions of the Faith which in more recent times were evoked by the need to present the Orthodox Christian teaching against the teaching of the unorthodox confessions of the second millennium. These books are: The Confession of the Orthodox Faith compiled by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Dositheus, which was read and approved at the Council of Jerusalem in 1672 and, fifty years later, in answer to the inquiry received from the Anglican Church, was sent to that church in the name of all the Eastern Patriarchs and is therefore more widely known under the name of “The Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith.” Also included in this category is The Orthodox Confession of Peter Mogila, Metropolitan of Kiev, which was examined and corrected at two local councils, that of Kiev in 1640 and Jassy in 1643, and then approved by four Ecumenical Patriarchs and the Russian Patriarchs Joachim and Adrian. The Orthodox Christian Catechism of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow enjoys a similar importance in the Russian Church, particularly the part which contains an exposition of the Symbol of Faith. This Catechism was “examined and approved by the Holy Synod and published for instruction in schools and for the use of all Orthodox Christians.”
THE ATTEMPT at a comprehensive exposition of the whole Christian teaching we call a “system of dogmatic theology.” A complete dogmatic system, very valuable for Orthodox theology, was compiled in the eighth century by St. John Damascene under the title Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. In this work, one may say, St. Damascene summed up the whole of the theological thought of the Eastern Fathers and teachers of the Church up to the eighth century.
Among Russian theologians, the most complete works of dogmatic theology were written in the nineteenth century by Metropolitan Macarius of Moscow (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, two volumes), by Philaret, Archbishop of Chernigov (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, in two parts), by Bishop Sylvester, rector of the Kiev Theological Academy (Essay in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, With an Historical Exposition of the Dogmas, five volumes), by Archpriest N. Malinovsky (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, four volumes, and A Sketch of Orthodox Dogmatic Theology in two parts), and by Archpriest P. Svietlov (The Christian Teaching of Faith, an Apologetic Exposition).
THE DOGMATIC LABOR OF THE Church has always been directed towards the confirmation in the consciousness of the faithful of the truths of the Faith which have been confessed by the Church from the beginning. This labor consists of indicating which way of thinking is the one that follows the Ecumenical Tradition. The Church’s labor of instructing in the Faith has been, in battling against heresies: to find a precise form for the expression of the truths of the Faith as handed down from antiquity, and to confirm the correctness of the Church's teaching, founding it on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. In the teaching of the Faith, it is the thinking of the holy Apostles that was and remains the standard of the fullness and wholeness of the Christian world view. A Christian of the twentieth century cannot develop more completely or go deeper into the truths of the Faith than the Apostles. Therefore, any attempt that is made‑whether by individuals or in the name of dogmatic theology itself — to reveal new Christian truths, or new aspects of the dogmas handed down to us, or a new understanding of them, is completely out of place. The aim of dogmatic theology as a branch of learning is to set forth, with firm foundation and proof, the Orthodox Christian teaching which has been handed down.
Certain complete works of dogmatic theology set forth the thinking of the Fathers of the Church in an historical sequence. Thus, for example, the above‑mentioned Essay in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Bishop Sylvester is arranged in this way. One must understand that such a method of exposition in Orthodox theology does not have the aim of investigating the “gradual development of Christian teaching”; its aim is a different one: it is to show that the complete setting forth, in historical sequence, of the ideas of the holy Fathers of the Church on every subject confirms most clearly that the Holy Fathers in all ages thought the same about the truths of the Faith. But, since some of them viewed the subject from one side, and others from another side, and since some of them brought forth arguments of one kind, and others of another kind, therefore the historical sequence of the teaching of the Fathers gives a complete view of the dogmas of the Faith and the fullness of the proofs of their truth.
This does not mean that the theological exposition of dogmas must take an unalterable form. Each epoch puts forth its own views, ways of understanding, questions, heresies and protests against Christian truth, or else repeats ancient ones which had been forgotten. Theology naturally takes into consideration the inquiries of each age, answers them, and sets forth the dogmatic truths accordingly. In this sense, one may speak about the development of dogmatic theology as a branch of learning. But there are no sufficient grounds for speaking about the development of the Christian teaching of faith itself.
DOGMATIC THEOLOGY is for the believing Christian. In itself it does not inspire faith, but presupposes that faith already exists in the heart. “I believed, wherefore I spake,” says a righteous man of the Old Testament (Ps. 116:10 [LXX-115:1]). And the Lord Jesus Christ revealed the mysteries of the Kingdom of God to His disciples after they had believed in Him: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68‑69). Faith, and more precisely faith in the Son of God Who has come into the world, is the cornerstone of Sacred Scripture; it is the cornerstone of one's personal salvation; and it is the cornerstone of theology. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His Name” (John 20:31), writes the Apostle John at the end of his Gospel, and he repeats the same thought many times in his epistles; and these words of his express the chief idea of all of the writings of the holy Apostles: I believe. All Christian theologizing must begin with this confession. Under this condition theologizing is not an abstract mental exercise, not an intellectual dialectics, but a dwelling of one's thought in Divine truths, a directing of the mind and heart towards God, and a recognition of Gods love. For an unbeliever theologizing is without effect, because Christ Himself, for unbelievers, is “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2:7‑8; see Matt. 21:44).
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEOLOGY and the natural sciences, which are founded upon observation or experiment, is made clear by the fact that dogmatic theology is founded upon living and holy faith Here the starting point is faith, and there, experience. However, the manners and methods of study are one and the same in both spheres; the study of facts, and deductions drawn from them. Only, with natural science the deductions are derived from facts collected through the observation of nature, the study of the life of peoples, and human creativity; while in theology the deductions come from the study of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The natural sciences are empirical and technical, while our study is theological.
This clarifies the difference also between theology and philosophy. Philosophy is erected upon purely rational foundations and upon the deductions of the experimental sciences, to the‑ extent that the latter are capable of being used for the higher questions of life; while theology is founded upon Divine Revelation. They must not be confused, theology is not philosophy even when it plunges our thinking into profound or elevated subjects of Christian faith which are difficult to understand.
Theology does not deny either the experimental sciences or philosophy. St. Gregory the Theologian considered it the merit of St. Basil the Great that he mastered dialectic to perfection, with the help of which he overthrew the philosophical constructs of the enemies of Christianity. In general, St. Gregory did not sympathize with those who expressed a lack of respect for outward learning. However, in his renowned homilies on the Holy Trinity, after setting forth the profoundly contemplative teaching of Triunity, he thus remarks of himself “Thus, as briefly as possible I have set forth for you our love of wisdom, which is dogmatical and not dialectical, in the manner of the fishermen and not of Aristotle, spiritually and not cleverly woven according to the rules of the Church and not of the marketplace” (Homily 22).
The course of dogmatic theology is divided into two basic parts: into the teaching 1) about God in Himself and 2) about God in His manifestation of Himself as Creator, Providence, Savior of the world, and Perfector of the destiny of the world.
THE FIRST WORD of our Christian Symbol of Faith is “I believe.” All of our Christian confession is based upon faith. God is the first object of Christian belief. Thus, our Christian acknowledgment of the existence of God is founded not upon rational grounds, not on proofs taken from reason or received from the experience of our outward senses, but upon an inward, higher conviction which has a moral foundation.
In the Christian understanding, to believe in God signifies not only to acknowledge God with the mind, but also to strive towards Him with the heart.
We believe that which is inaccessible to outward experience, to scientific investigation, to being received by our outward organs of sense. St. Gregory the Theologian distinguishes between religious belief — “I believe in someone, in something” — and a simple personal belief — “I believe someone, I believe something.” He writes: “It is not one and the same thing ‘to believe in something' and ‘to believe something.' We believe in the Divinity, but we simply believe any ordinary thing” (“On the Holy Spirit,” Part III, p. 88 in the Russian edition of his Complete Works; p. 319 in the Eerdmans English text).
CHRISTIAN FAITH IS A MYSTICAL revelation in the human soul. It is broader, more powerful, closer to reality than thought. It is more complex than separate feelings. It contains within itself the feelings of love, fear, veneration, reverence, and humility. Likewise, it cannot be called a manifestation of the will, for although it moves mountains, the Christian renounces his own will when he believes, and entirely gives himself over to the will of God. “May Thy will be done in me, a sinner.” The path to faith lies in the heart; it is inseparable from pure, sacrificial love, “working through love” (Gal. 5:6).
Of course, Christianity is bound up also with knowledge of the mind, it gives a world view. But if it remained only a world view, its power to move would vanish. Without faith it would not be the living bond between heaven and earth. Christian belief is something much greater than the “persuasive hypothesis” which is the kind of belief usually encountered in life.
THE CHURCH of Christ is founded upon faith as upon a rock which does not shake beneath it. By faith the saints conquered kingdoms, performed righteous deeds, closed the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the sharp sword, were strengthened in infirmity (Heb. 11:33‑38). Being inspired by faith, Christians went to torture and death with joy. Faith is a rock, but a rock that is impalpable, free of heaviness and weight, that draws one upward and not downward.
“He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture bath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,” said the Lord (John 7:38); and the preaching of the Apostles, a preaching in the power of the word, in the power of the Spirit, in the power of signs and wonders, was a living testimony of the truth of the words of the Lord. Such is the mystery of living Christian faith.
“If ye have faith, and doubt not... if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea — it shall be done” (Matt. 21:21). The history of the Church of Christ is filled with the miracles of the saints of all ages. However, miracles are not performed by faith in general, but by Christian faith. Faith is a reality not by the power of imagination and not by self‑hypnosis, but by the fact that it binds one with the source of all life and power ‑ with God. In the expression of the Hieromartyr Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, faith is a vessel by which water is scooped up; but one must be next to this water and must put the vessel into it: this water is the grace of God. “Faith is the key to the treasure-house of God,” writes St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ, Vol. I, p. 242 in the Russian edition).
Faith is strengthened and its truth is confirmed by the benefits of its spiritual fruits which are known by experience. Therefore the Apostle instructs us, saying, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Yet, it is difficult to give a definition of what faith is. When the Apostle says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1), without touching here on the nature of faith, he indicates only what its gaze is directed towards: towards that which is awaited, towards the invisible; and thus he indicates precisely that faith is the penetration of the soul into the future (“the substance of things hoped for”) or into the invisible (“the evidence of things not seen”). This testifies to the mystical character of Christian faith.
THE QUESTION OF DOGMATIC development has long been a subject of discussion in theological literature: Can one accept, from the Church's point of view, the idea of the development of dogmas? In the majority of cases this is essentially a dispute over words; a difference occurs because the word “development” is understood in different ways: Does one understand “development” as the uncovering of something already given, or as a new revelation?
In general, the view of theological thought is this: the Church's consciousness from the Apostles down to the end of the Church's life, being guided by the Holy Spirit, in its essence is one and the same. Christian teaching and the scope of Divine Revelation are unchanging. The Church's teaching of faith does not develop, and the Church's awareness of itself, with the course of the centuries, does not become higher, deeper, and broader than it was among the Apostles. There is nothing to add to the teaching of faith handed down by the Apostles. Although the Church is always guided by the Holy Spirit, still we do not see in the history of the Church, and we do not expect, new dogmatic revelations.
Such a view on the question of dogmatic development was present, in particular, in the Russian theological thought of the 19th century. The seeming difference in the opinions of various persons on this question was a matter of the circumstances under which it was discussed. In discussions with Protestants it was natural to defend the right of the Church to “develop” dogmas, meaning by this the right of Councils to establish and sanction dogmatic propositions. In discussions with Roman Catholics, on the other hand, it was necessary to oppose the arbitrary dogmatic innovations made by the Roman Church in modern times, and thus to oppose the principle of the creation of new dogmas which have not been handed down by the ancient Church. In particular, the Old Catholics nearer to Orthodoxy, with both sides rejecting the Vatican dogma of papal infallibility‑strengthened in Russian theological thought the conservative point of view on the question of dogmatic development, the view which does not approve of the establishment of new dogmatic definitions.
In the 1880's we see a different approach to this question. V. S. Soloviev, who supported the union of Orthodoxy with the Roman Church, desiring to justify the dogmatic development of the Roman Church defended the idea of the development of the Church's dogmatic consciousness. He argues thus: “The Body of Christ changes and is perfected” like every organism; the original “basis” of faith is uncovered and clarified in the history of Christianity; “Orthodoxy stands not merely by antiquity, but by the eternally living Spirit of God.”
Soloviev was inspired to defend the point of view of “development” not only by his sympathies for the Roman church, but also by his own religious-philosophical outlook‑his ideas on Sophia, the wisdom of God, on God-manhood as a historical process, etc. Carried along by his own metaphysical system, Soloviev in the 1890's began to put forth the teaching of the “eternal feminine,” which, he says, “is not merely an inactive image in God's mind, but a living spiritual being which possesses all the fullness of power and action. The whole process of the world and history is the process of its realization and incarnation in a great multiplicity of forms and degrees... The heavenly object of our love is only one, and it is always and for everyone one and the same, the eternal Femininity of God.”
Thus, a whole series of new concepts began to enter Russian religious thought. These concepts did not evoke any special resistance in Russian theological circles, since they were expressed more as philosophy than as theology.
Soloviev by his literary works and speeches was able to inspire an interest in religious problems among a wide circle of Russian educated society. However, this interest was joined to a deviation from the authentic Orthodox way of thinking. This was expressed, for example, in the Petersburg “religious‑philosophical meetings” of 1901‑1903. At these meetings, such questions as the following were raised: “Can one consider the dogmatic teaching of the Church already completed? Are we not to expect new revelations? In what way can a new religious creativity be expressed in Christianity, and how can it be harmonized with Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, with the decrees the Ecumenical Councils, and the teachings of the Holy Fathers?” Especially symptomatic were the disputes concerning “dogmatic development.”
In Russian religious and social thought, at the beginning of the present century there appeared an expectation of the awakening of a “new religious consciousness” on Orthodox soil. The idea began to be expressed that theology should not fear new revelations, that dogmatics should use a more broadly rational basis, that it cannot entirely ignore the personal prophetic inspiration of the present day, that there should be a broadening of the circle of fundamental dogmatic problems, so that dogmatics itself might present a complete philosophical‑theological world‑view. The eccentric ideas expressed by Soloviev received further development and changes, and the first place among them was given to the problem of sophiology. The most outstanding representatives of the new current were Priest Paul Florensky (The Pillar and Foundation of the Church and other works) and Sergei N. Bulgakov, who was later an Archpriest (his later sophiological writings include The Unsetting Light, The Unburnt Bush, Person and Personality, The Friend & Bridegroom, The Lamb of God, The Comforter, and The Revelation of John).
In connection with these questions it is natural for us to ask: Does dogmatic theology, in its usual form, satisfy the need of the Christian to have a whole world outlook? Does not dogmatics, if it refuses to acknowledge the principle of development, remain a lifeless collection of separate dogmas?
With all assurance one must say that the sphere of revealed truths which enter into the accepted systems of dogmatic theology gives every opportunity for the formation of an exalted and at the same time clear and simple world‑view. Dogmatic theology, built on the foundation of firm dogmatic truths, speaks of a Personal God Who is inexpressibly near to us, Who does not need intermediaries between Himself and the creation: it speaks of God in the Holy Trinity “Who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:6), of God Who loves His creation, Who is a lover of mankind and condescending to our infirmities, but does not deprive His creatures of freedom; it speaks of man and of mankind, of his high purpose and exalted spiritual possibilities, and at the same time of his sad moral level at the present time, of his fall; it presents ways and means for the return to the lost paradise, revealed by the Incarnation and the death on the Cross of the Son of God, and the way to acquire the eternal blessed life. All these are vitally necessary truths. Here faith and love, knowledge and its application inaction, are inseparable.
Dogmatic theology does not pretend to satisfy on all points the curiosity of the human mind. There is no doubt that to our spiritual gaze Divine revelation has revealed only a small part of the knowledge of God and of the spiritual world. We see, in the Apostle's words, “through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). An innumerable number of God's mysteries remain closed for us.
But one must state that the attempts to broaden the boundaries of theology, whether on a mystical or on a rational foundation, which have appeared both in ancient and modern times, do not lead to a more complete knowledge of God and the world. These systems lead into the thickets of refined mental speculations and place the mind before new difficulties. The chief thing, however, is this: nebulous opinions about the inner life in God, such as are to be seen in certain theologians who have entered the path of philosophizing in theology, do not harmonize with the immediate feeling of reverence, with the awareness and feeling of God's closeness and sanctity, and indeed, they stifle this feeling.
However, by these considerations we do not at all deny every kind of development in the sphere of dogma. What, then, is subject to development in dogmatics?
The history of the Church shows that the quantity of dogmas, in the narrow sense of the word has gradually increased. It is not that dogmas have developed, but that the sphere of dogma in the history of the Church has broadened until it has come to its own limit, given by Sacred Scripture. In other words, the increase has been in the quantity of the truths of faith that have received a precise formulation at the Ecumenical Councils, or in general have been confirmed by Ecumenical Councils. The work of the Church in this direction has consisted in the precise definition of dogmatic statements, in their clarification, in showing their basis in the word of God, in finding their confirmation in Church Tradition, in declaring them obligatory for all the faithful. In this work of the Church the scope of dogmatic truths always remains in essence one and the same, but in view of the irruption of unorthodox opinions and teachings, the Church sanctions some dogmatic statements which are Orthodox and rejects others which are heretical. One cannot deny that thanks to such dogmatic definitions the content of faith has become more clear in the awareness of the people of the Church and in the Church hierarchy itself.
Further, theological learning itself is subject to development. Dogmatic theology can use various methods; it can be supplemented by material for further study; it can make a greater or lesser use of the facts of exegesis (the interpretation of the text of Sacred Scripture), of Biblical philology, of Church history, of Patristic writings, and likewise of rational concepts; it can respond more fully or more timidly to heresies, false teachings and various currents of contemporary religious thought. But theological learning (as opposed to theology proper) is an outward subject in relation to the spiritual life of the Church. It only studies the work of the Church and its dogmatic and other decrees. Dogmatic theology as a branch of learning can develop, but it cannot develop and perfect the teaching of the Church. (One may see an approximate analogy of this in the study of any writer: Pushkinology, for example, can grow, but from this the sum of the thoughts and images placed into his work by the poet himself is not increased.) The flowering or decline of theological learning can coincide or fail to coincide with the general level, with the rise or decline of spiritual life in the Church at one or another historical period. The development of theological learning can be impeded without loss to the essence of spiritual life. Theological learning is not called to guide the Church in its entirety; it is proper for it to seek out and to keep strictly to the guidance of the Church's consciousness.
It is given to us to know what is necessary for the good of our souls. The knowledge of God, of Divine life and Divine Providence, is given to men in the degree to which it has an immediate moral application in life. The Apostle teaches us this when he writes: “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness ... giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:3‑7). For the Christian the most essential thing is moral perfection. Everything else which has been given to him by the word of God and the church is a means to this fundamental aim.
INTO CONTEMPORARY THEOLOGICAL thought there has penetrated the view that Christian dogmatic theology should be supplemented, made “fruitful,” enlightened by a philosophical foundation, and that it should accept philosophical conceptions into itself.
“To justify the faith of our Fathers, to raise it to a new degree of rational awareness” — this is the way V.S. Soloviev defines his aim in the first lines of one of his works, The History and Future of Theocracy. In the aim thus formulated there would be nothing essentially worthy of blame. However, one must be careful not to mix together two spheres‑dogmatic learning and philosophy. Such a mixture is liable to lead one into confusion and to the eclipsing of their purpose, their content, and their methods.
In the first centuries of Christianity the Church writers and Fathers of the Church responded broadly to the philosophical ideas of their time, and they themselves used the concepts which had been worked out by philosophy. Why? By this they threw out a bridge from Greek philosophy to Christian philosophy. Christianity stepped forth as a world‑view which was to replace the philosophical views of the ancient world, as standing above them. Then, having become in the fourth century the official religion of the state, it was called by the state itself to take the place of all systems of world‑views which had existed up to that time. This is the reason why, at the First Ecumenical Council in the presence of the Emperor, there occurred a debate of the Christian teachers of faith with a “philosopher.”
But there had to be not simply a substitution (of Christian philosophy for pagan). Christian apologetics took upon itself the aim of taking possession of pagan philosophical thought and directing its concepts into the channel of Christianity. The ideas of Plato stood before Christian writers as a preparatory stage in paganism for Divine Revelation. Apart from this, in the course of things, Orthodoxy had to fight Arianism, not so much on the basis of Sacred Scripture as by means of philosophy, since Arianism had taken from Greek philosophy its fundamental error‑namely, the teaching of the Logos as an intermediary principle between God and the world, standing below the Divinity itself. But even with all this, the general direction of the whole of Patristic thought was to base all the truths of the Christian faith on the foundation of Divine Revelation and not on rational, abstract deductions. St. Basil the Great, in his treatise, “What Benefit Can Be Drawn from Pagan Works,” gives examples of how to use the instructive material contained in these writings. With the universal spread of Christian conceptions, the interest in Greek philosophy gradually died out in Patristic writings.
And this was natural. Theology and philosophy are distinguished first of all by their content. The preaching of the Savior on earth declared to men not abstract ideas, but a new life for the Kingdom of God; the preaching of the Apostles was the preaching of salvation in Christ. Therefore, Christian dogmatic theology has as its chief object the thorough examination of the teaching of salvation, its necessity, and the way to it. In its basic content, theology is soteriological (from the Greek soteria, “salvation”). Questions of ontology (the nature of existence), of God in Himself, of the essence of the world and the nature of man, are treated by dogmatic theology in a very limited way. This is not only because they are given to us in sacred Scripture in such a limited form (and, with regard to God, in a hidden form), but also for psychological reasons. Silence concerning the inward in God is an expression of the living feeling of God's omnipresence, a reverence before God, a fear of God. In the Old Testament this feeling led to a fear of even naming the name of God. Only in the exaltation of reverent feeling is the thought of the Fathers of the Church in some few moments raised up to beholding the life within God. The chief area of their contemplation was the truth of the Holy Trinity revealed in the New Testament, and Orthodox Christian theology as a whole has followed this path.
Philosophy goes on a different path. It is chiefly interested precisely in questions of ontology: the essence of existence, the oneness of existence, the relation between the absolute principle and the world and its concrete manifestations, and so forth. Philosophy by its nature comes from skepsis, from doubt over what our conceptions tell us; and even when coming to faith in God (in idealistic philosophy), it reasons about God “objectively,” as of an object of cold knowledge, an object which is subject to rational examination and definition, to an explanation of its essence and of its relationship as absolute existence to the world of manifestations.
These two spheres‑dogmatic theology and philosophy‑are likewise to be distinguished by their methods and their sources.
The source of theologizing is Divine Revelation, which is contained in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. The fundamental character of Sacred Scripture and Tradition depends on our faith in their truth. Theology gathers and studies the material which is to be found in these sources, systematizes this material, and divides it into appropriate categories, using in this work the same means which the experimental sciences use.
Philosophy is rational and abstract. It proceeds not from faith, like theology, but seeks to base itself either on the indisputable fundamental axioms of reason, deducing from them further conclusions, or upon the facts of science or general human knowledge.
Therefore one can simply not say that philosophy is able to raise the religion of the Fathers to the degree of knowledge.
However, by the distinctions mentioned above, one should not deny entirely the cooperation of these two spheres. Philosophy itself comes to the conclusion that there are boundaries which human thought by its very nature is not capable of crossing. The very fact that the history of philosophy for almost its whole duration has had two currents‑ idealistic and materialistic‑shows that its systems depend upon a personal predisposition of mind and heart; in other words, that they are based upon something which lies beyond the boundaries of proof. That which lies beyond the boundaries of proof is the sphere of faith, a faith which can be negative and unreligious, or positive and religious. For religious thought, what “is above” is the sphere of Divine Revelation.
In this point there appears the possibility of a union of the two spheres of knowledge, theology and philosophy. Thus is religious philosophy created, and in Christianity, this means Christian philosophy.
But Christian religious philosophy has a difficult path: to bring together freedom of thought, as a principle of philosophy, with faithfulness to the dogmas and the whole teaching of the Church. “Go by the free way, wherever the free mind draws you,” says the duty of the thinker; “be faithful to Divine Truth,” whispers to him the duty of the Christian. Therefore, one might always expect that in practical realization the compilers the systems of Christian philosophy will be forced to sacrifice, willingly or unwillingly, the principles of one sphere in favor of the other. The Church consciousness welcomes sincere attempts at creating a harmonious, philosophical Christian world view; but the Church views them as private, personal creations, and does not sanction them with its authority. In any case, it is essential there be a precise distinction between dogmatic theology and Christian philosophy, and every attempt to turn dogmatics into Christian philosophy must be decisively rejected.
THE IMPULSE FOR THE NEW CURRENTS of Russian philosophical thought was given, as was said, by Vladimir S. Soloviev, who set as his aim “to justify the faith of the Fathers” before the reason of his contemporaries. Unfortunately, he made a whole series of direct deviations from the Orthodox Christian way of thinking, many of which were accepted and even developed by his successors.
Here are a series of points in Soloviev's philosophy which are most evidently distinct from, and even directly depart from the teaching of faith confessed by the Church:
1. Christianity is presented by him as the highest stage in the gradual development of religions. According to Soloviev, all religions are true, but one‑sided; Christianity synthesizes the positive aspects of the preceding religions. He writes: “Just as outward nature is only gradually revealed to the mind of man and to mankind, and as a result of this we must also speak of the development experimental or natural science, so also the Divine Principle is gradually revealed to the consciousness of man, and we must speak of the development of religious experience and religious thinking ... Religious development is a positive and objective process, a real mutual relationship between God and man‑the process of God‑manhood. It is clear that ... not a single one of its stages, or a single moment the religious process, can in itself be a lie or an error. 'False religion' is a contradiction in terms.”
2. The teaching of the salvation of the world, in the form in which it is given by the Apostles, is put aside. According to Soloviev, Christ came to earth not in order to “save the human race.” Rather, He came so as to raise it to a higher degree in the gradual manifestation of the Divine Principle in the world‑the process of the ascent and deification of mankind and the world. Christ is the highest link in a series of theophanies, and He crowns all the previous theophanies.
3. The attention of theology according to Soloviev is directed to the ontological side of existence, that is, to the life of God in Himself; and because of the lack of evidence for this in Sacred Scripture, his thought hastens to arbitrary constructions which are rationalistic or based upon imagination.
4. In the Divine life there is introduced an essence which stands at the boundary between the Divine and the created world; this is called Sophia.
5. In the Divine life there is introduced a distinction of masculine and feminine principles. In Soloviev this is a little weak. Father Paul Florensky, following Soloviev, presents Sophia thus: “This is a great Royal and Feminine Being which, being neither God nor the eternal Son of God, nor an angel, nor a holy man, receives veneration both from the Culminator of the Old Testament and from the Founder of the New” (The Pillar and Foundation of the Truth).
6. In the Divine life there is introduced an elemental principle of striving, which compels God the Logos Himself to participate in a definite process and subordinate Him to this process, which is to lead the world out of a condition of pure materiality and inertia into a higher, more perfect form of existence.
7. God, as the Absolute, as God the Father, is presented as far away and inaccessible to the world and to man. He goes away from the world, in contradiction of the word of God, into an unapproachable sphere of existence which, as absolute existence, has no contact with relative existence, with the world of phenomena. Therefore, according to Soloviev, there is necessary an Intermediary between the Absolute and the world. This Intermediary is called the “Logos,” who was incarnate in Christ.
8. According to Soloviev, the first Adam united in himself the Divine and human nature, in a way similar to their mutual relationship in the God-manhood of the incarnate Word; however, he violated this mutual relationship. If this is so, then the deification of man is not only a grace‑given sanctification of man, but is a restoration in him of this very God‑manhood, a restoration of the two natures. But this is not in accordance with the whole teaching of the Church‑a teaching that understands deification only as a receiving of grace. St. John Damascene writes: “There was not and there will never be another man composed of both Divinity and humanity,” apart from Jesus Christ.
9. Soloviev writes: “God is the Almighty Creator and Pantocrator, but not the ruler of the earth and the creation which proceeds from it.” “The Divinity ... is incommensurable with earthly creatures and can have a practical and moral relationship (authority, dominion, governance) only through the mediation of man, who as a being both divine and earthly is commensurable both with Divinity and with material nature. Thus, man is the indispensable subject of the true dominion of God” (The History and Future of Theocracy). This affirmation is unacceptable from the point of view of the glory and power of God and, as has been said, it contradicts the word of God. Indeed, it does not even correspond to simple observation. Man subjects nature to himself not in the name of God, as an intermediary between God and the world, but for his own purposes and egotistic needs.
The few points here noted of divergence between the views of Soloviev and the teaching of the Church indicate the unacceptability of the religious system of Soloviev as a whole for the Orthodox consciousness.
THE WORD SOPHIA, “wisdom,” is encountered in the sacred books both the Old Testament (in the Greek translation) and of the New Testament. In the New Testament Sacred Scripture it is used in three meanings:
1. In the usual broad meaning of wisdom, understanding: “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and grace” (Luke 2:52); “But wisdom is justified of all her children” (Luke 7:35).
2. In the meaning of the wise economy of God expressed in the creation of the world, in His Providence over the world, and in the salvation of the world from sin: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counselor?” (Romans 11:33‑34). “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7).
3. In relation to the Son of God as the Hypostatical Wisdom of God: “But we preach Christ crucified ... Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23‑24); “Who of God is made unto us wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:30).
In the Old Testament Sacred Scripture we find in many places statements concerning wisdom. Here also there are the same three meanings for this term. In particular, wisdom is spoken of in the book of Proverbs and in two of the Apocryphal books: the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Joshua, Son of Sirach.
In the majority of cases, human wisdom is presented here as a gift of God which one must hold exceptionally dear. The very titles of the books, the “Wisdom” of Solomon and the “Wisdom” of Joshua, Son of Sirach, indicate in what sense‑namely, in the sense of human wisdom ‑ one must understand this word here. In other Old Testament books separate episodes are cited which specially depict human wisdom ‑ for example, the famous judgment of Solomon,
The above‑named books introduce us to the direction of thought of the God‑inspired teachers of the Jewish people. These teachers inspire the people to be guided by reason, not to give way to blind inclinations and passions, and to hold firmly in their actions to the commands of prudence, correct judgment, the moral law, and the firm foundations of duty in personal, family, and public life.
A large part of the ideas in the book of Proverbs is devoted to this subject. The title of this book, “Proverbs,” forewarns the reader that he will find in it a figurative, metaphorical, and allegorical means of exposition. In the introduction to the book, after indicating the neglect of it, which is “understanding, wisdom, and instruction,” the author expresses the assurance that “a wise man... will understand a parable, and a dark speech, the sayings of the wise also, and riddles” (Prov. 1:6, Septuagint) — that is, he will understand its figurativeness, its allegoricalness, its “hard saying” (Prov. 1:3), without taking all the images in a literal sense.
And indeed, in the further reasoning of the book, there is revealed an abundance of images and personifications in the application of the wisdom that man can possess. “Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding... Say unto wisdom, thou art my sister, and call understanding thy kinswoman” (Prov. 7:4). “Forsake it not, and it shall cleave to thee; love it, and it shall keep thee ... Secure it, and it shall exalt thee; honor it, that it may embrace thee; that it may give unto thy head a crown of graces, and may cover thee with a crown of delight” (Prov. 4:6-9, Septuagint). “For she sits by the gates of princes, and sings in the entrances” (Prov. 8:3, Septuagint). The same kind of thinking about human wisdom is contained in the Wisdom of Solomon.
It is clear that all these sayings about wisdom in no way can be understood as a teaching of a personal Wisdom, the soul of the world, in the sophiological sense. A man possesses it, obtains it, loses it; it serves him; its beginning is called “the fear of the Lord”; and side by side with wisdom there are also named “understanding” and “instruction” and “knowledge.”
And where does wisdom come from? Like everything else in the world, it has a single source: God. “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His presence come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6).” God is “the guide even of wisdom and the corrector of the wise” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:15).
A second group of utterances in Holy Scripture refer to this wisdom of God, which is the wisdom in God Himself. Ideas of the wisdom in God are interspersed with ideas of the wisdom in man.
If the dignity of understanding and wisdom in man are so exalted, then how majestic they are in God Himself! The writer uses the most majestic expressions possible in order to present the power and grandeur of the Divine wisdom. Here also he makes broad use of personification. He speaks of the grandeur of the Divine plans which, according to our human conceptions, seem to have preceded the creation; because the wisdom of God lies at the foundation of all that exists, therefore it is before everything, earlier than everything that exists. “The Lord made me the beginning of His ways for His works. He established me before time was in the beginning, before He made the earth, even before He made the depths ... Before all hills, He begets me... When He prepared the heaven, I was present with Him” (Prov. 8:22‑25, 27, Septuagint). The author speaks of the beauty of the world, expressing in images what was said of the creation in the book of Genesis (it was very good). He says on behalf of wisdom: “I was by Him, I was that wherein He took delight; and daily I rejoiced in His presence continually” (Prov. 8:30).
In all the above‑cited images of wisdom, and other similar ones, there are no grounds for seeing in a direct sense any personal spiritual being, distinct from God Himself, a soul of the world or idea of the world. This does not correspond to the images given here: an ideal “essence of the world” could not be called “present” at the creation of the world (see the Wisdom of Solomon 9:9); only something outside both the Creator and the creation could be “present.” Likewise, it could not be an “implement” of the creation itself if it itself is the soul of the created world. Therefore, in the above‑cited expressions it is natural to see personifications (a literary device), even though they are so expressive as to be near being made into hypostases or actual persons.
Finally, the writer of the book of Proverbs is prophetically exalted in thought to the prefiguration of the New Testament economy of God which is to be revealed in the preaching of the Savior of the world, in the salvation of the world and of mankind, and in the creation of the New Testament Church. This prefiguration is to be found in the first verses of the ninth chapter of Proverbs: “Wisdom has built a house for herself, and set up seven pillars. She has killed her beasts; she has mingled her wine in a bowl...” (Prov. 9:1‑6, Septuagint). This magnificent image is equal in power to the prophecies of the Savior in the Old Testament prophets.
Since the economy of salvation was performed by the Son of God, the Holy Fathers of the Church, and following them the Orthodox interpreters of the book of Proverbs in general, refer the name “wisdom of God,” which essentially belongs to the Holy Trinity as a whole, to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God, as the Fulfiller of the Counsel of the Holy Trinity.
By analogy with this prophetic passage, the images in the book of Proverbs which were indicated above as referring to the wisdom in God (in chapter 8) are also interpreted as applying to the Son of God. When the Old Testament writers, to whom the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity was not entirely revealed, say “In wisdom hath He made them all” — for a New Testament believer, a Christian, in the name “Word” and in the name “Wisdom” is revealed the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God.
The Son of God, as a Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, contains in Himself all the Divine attributes in the same fullness as do the Father and the Holy Spirit. However, as having manifested these attributes to the world in its creation and its salvation, He is called the Hypostatic Wisdom of God. On the same grounds, the Son of God can also be called the Hypostatic Love (see St. Symeon the New Theologian, Homily 53); the Hypostatic Light (“walk [in the light] while ye have the light,” John 12:35); the Hypostatic Life (“Thou hast given birth to the Hypostatic Life”‑Canon of the Annunciation, Canticle 8); and the Hypostatic Power of God (“We preach... Christ the power of God” 1 Cor. 1:24).
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