Book Review: The Orthodox Way
by Hieromonk Patapios
IN A PREVIOUS ISSUE of Orthodox Tradition (Vol. XVI, No. 1 ), we reviewed
the new edition of The Orthodox Church,
by Timothy Ware, now Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia (under the jurisdiction
of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Great Britain), a countryman of mine
and an Oxford scholar and Orthodox clergyman of deserved renown. We now feel
it necessary to say something about another book by His Grace which has become,
in many ways, a companion volume to the aforementioned book; viz., The Orthodox
Way (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Press, 1985), written while he was still
an Archimandrite. Like its predecessor, it is a veritable curates egg.* Although
we gladly admit that there is much of value in The Orthodox Way, it is
nonetheless marred by some serious dogmatic errors. In our review of The
Orthodox Church, we noted that "as the standard introduction to Orthodoxy,
it is to be found in almost any academic or public library and certainly in
any decent bookstore." The same is certainly true of The Orthodox Way,
even though it has been reprinted far less often than the earlier work.
Now, let me say that neither of these books is simply an item that one
can easily find in a bookstore or library. Each of them is frequently assigned
as required reading for introductory courses on Eastern Orthodoxy in universities,
colleges, and seminaries, and not just in the English-speaking world. Some years
ago, when he was a visiting professor at the University of Uppsala, Archbishop
Chrysostomos was told by one of the senior members of the Theological Institute
that only three English-language texts had, at that time, been officially endorsed
by the faculty for use in courses on Eastern Orthodoxy: The Orthodox Church
and The Orthodox Way, by Bishop Kallistos, and On Prayer, by
Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh. This same professor did not hesitate
to inform His Eminence that The Orthodox Way was his personal favorite
among these books. One would think that the excellent writings of Professor
Constantine Cavarnos (which are uncompromisingly Orthodox in their content and
many of which have appeared at least in Finnish translation), to cite but one
example, might also have been selected as introductory texts; but evidently
even back in the 1980s, they were either downplayed or for some reason deemed
Drinking from the wrong wells
In his introduction to
The Orthodox Way, Bishop Kallistos makes some very astute observations
about how Orthodoxy is, above all, a way of life and something that has to be
experienced if it is to be understood to any degree. He admits that very little
is said in his book about the Church, the communion of Saints, the sacraments
(as he persists in calling the Mysteries), or liturgical worship, and hints
that he might subsequently devote a separate book to these issues. This is all
well and good, but how can one possibly accurately portray the Orthodox Faith
and life without at least some extended attention of to matters of ecclesiology
and worship? It is impossible for someone to be Orthodox if he does not belong
to the Orthodox Church or partake of Her Mysteries on a regular basis. Indeed,
in one of his few passing comments on ecclesiology, His Grace acknowledges that
any traveller on "the Way" (an ancient name for Christianity) must
be a member of the Church and that "the Orthodox tradition is intensely
conscious of the ecclesial character of all true Christianity" (p. 143).
He should, then, have taken this opportunity to make it clear that the Church
in question is the Orthodox Church and that true Christianity is nothing other
The author of the Book of Proverbs has this sage advice to offer:
"Drink waters out of thine own vessels, and out of thine own springing
wells. Let not waters out of thy fountain be spilt by thee, but let thy waters
go into thy streets. Let them be only thine own, and let no stranger partake
with thee" (5:15-17). One of the attractive features of The Orthodox
Way is the selection of quotations at the beginning and end of each chapter,
most of which are taken from liturgical and Patristic texts. One of them, an
excerpt from a letter written at Pascha by an Orthodox Christian imprisoned
in a Soviet gulag for his faith, never fails to move me. Among the other Orthodox
authors cited, we find the following names: Iulia de Beausobre, Nicholas Berdyaev,
Archpriest Sergius Bulgakov, Olivier Clment, Archpriest Alexander Elchaninov,
Paul Evdokimov, Mother Maria of Normandy, Mother Maria (Skobtsova) of Paris,
Vasilii Rozanov, Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann, and Father Dumitru Staniloae.
All of these people were admittedly Orthodox in terms of their ecclesiastical
allegiance, but some of them espoused (or espouse) ideas at odds, to one degree
or another, with the spirit of Orthodoxy.
Let us see just how
of these individuals are in their thinking. Olivier Clment has stated, among
other things, that the Orthodox Church should affirm the "orthodoxy"
not only of the first millennium of Latin Christianity, when it was still in
communion with the Eastern Churches, but also of the second millennium, with
all of its heresies and deviations from the pristine standard of Holy Orthodoxy.
As is well
known, Father Sergius Bulgakov was condemned by both the Moscow Patriarchate
and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad for his heretical "Sophiology."
He was also condemned in print by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco and
the Blessed Archbishop Seraphim (Sobolev) of Bogucharsk, the spiritual Father
of the Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Bulgaria. An avid ecumenist, who advocated
"intercommunion" with the Anglican members of the Fellowship of St.
Alban and St. Sergius, Father Bulgakov went so far as to compose an "ecumenical"
communion prayer for the Fellowships annual conferences. Here is an extract
O Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, thou didst promise to abide with
us always. Thou dost call all Christians to draw near and partake of thy Body
and Blood. But our sin has divided us and we have no power to partake of thy
holy eucharist together. We confess this our sin and we pray thee, forgive us
and help us to serve the ways of reconciliation according to thy will. (See
Militza Zernov, "Unity and Disunity Today," Sobornost, Vol.
VIII, No. 1 , pp. 2327.)
At the annual conference of the Fellowship in
1987, which I myself attended, this curious prayerwhich rightly places the
responsibility for divisions in Christianity on human sin, but which likewise
implies that dogmatic differences are of little momentwas read aloud during
the Divine Liturgy, following the Slavic practice, in place of the customary
"I believe, O Lord, and I confess..."!
With regard to Father Sergiuss
speculations on Sophia (Wisdom), Archimandrite Luke of Jordanville recently
pointed out that there are some significant similarities between Sophiology
and New Age philosophy. The heretical notion that Sophia, the Wisdom of God,
is a fourth Hypostasis of the Trinity and a female entity in effect "divides
the simple essence of God into two principlesthe male and the female"
("New Age Philosophy, Orthodox Thought, and
Life, Vol. XLVII, No. 3 , p. 34). In its 1935 Ukaz condemning
Bulgakovs errors, the Moscow Patriarchate notes that it is not a long step
from this dualistic conception of God to a "deification of sex"
as it was understood by "some of our secular writers such as V.V. Rozanov"
(ibid. [emphasis ours]). Father Luke clarifies this intimation when
he explains that, "If in God there is male and female and if in His image
in man there is also male and female, one may conclude that if male and female
unite in carnal relations they are reflecting the Divine" (ibid., p.
35). Rozanov, incidentally, was not only a precursor of Sophiology and the "sexualization"
of Orthodox theology, but was also a virulent anti-Semite who hated the Old
Testament and who, throughout his life, had a lovehate relationship with the
As for the other writers cited in Bishop Kallistos bibliography,
with the exception of Father Staniloae, they were all associated, to a greater
or lesser degree, with the liberal intelligentsia of the "Paris
an association which adversely affects their presentation of Orthodoxy. Not
wishing in any way to condemn them for their personal failings, we are, nonetheless,
bound to observe that both Mother Maria of Paris and Iulia de Beausobre were
somewhat eccentric in their understanding of Orthodoxy. To be sure, Mother Maria
was selfless in her devotion to serving the destitute of Paris and died an
heroic death in the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbruck. However, by the
admission of her own spiritual Father, Metropolitan Evlogy, she knew next to
nothing about monasticismindeed, she called herself a "secular monastic",
and in one review of Father Sergei Hackels biography of her, she is characterized
as a "rather scruffy, cigarette-smoking poet-nun" (see Sobornost,
Vol. III, No. 2 , p. 246).
De Beausobre was married to Sir Lewis Namier,
an English historian of Jewish descent who became an Anglican but who never
converted to Orthodoxy. This latter marital irregularity aside, de Beausobre
certainly held some rather bizarre opinions, as we can see from one of the passages
quoted by Bishop Kallistos at the end of the third chapter of his book. In this
passage, she argues that, since good and evil are inextricably bound up together
on earth, "[e]vil must not be shunned, but first participated in and understood
through participation, and then through understanding redeemed and transfigured"
(p. 86). Has any Father of the Church ever taught such a thing? Father Staniloae,
some of his fine articles on Trinitarian theology notwithstanding, was also
actively involved in the ecumenical movement and, towards the end of his life,
openly advocated, in the official journal of the Romanian Patriarchate, intercommunion
between Orthodox and the heterodox. And Berdyaev, according to one source,
expounded "a spiritual Christianity which has no need of doctrinal definitions,"
being indebted for some of his ideas to the likes of Bhme and Nietzsche (Dictionary
of the Ecumenical Movement, ed. Nicholas Lossky, Jos Miguez Bonino, John
S. Pobee, Tom F. Stransky, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Pauline Webb [Geneva: WCC
Publications, 1991], p. 93). The only authors in this list who could be considered
genuinely Orthodox are Fathers Elchaninov and Schmemann, and even they had their
shortcomings (regarding the latter, for example, see a brilliant article by
Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, "The Liturgical Theology of Father A.
Schmemann," The Orthodox Word, Vol. VI, No. 6 [NovemberDecember
Worse than all of this, however, and truly astonishing, is the fact
that among the ostensibly Orthodox authors whom he cites in his book, His Grace
includes Origen and Synesios of Cyrene. Origen was condemned as a heretic by
the Fifth cumenical Synod for teaching the Platonic doctrine of the preexistence
of souls and the doctrine of universal salvation, according to which the demons,
and even Satan himself, will be purified at the end of the world. The Holy Synod
had this to say in its First Anathema against Origen: "If anyone asserts
the fabulous preexistence of souls, and shall assert the monstrous restoration
[apokatastasis] which follows from it: let him be anathema" (A Select Library of the Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,
Vol. XIV [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 318). Similarly, St. John of
Damascus affirms that "the body and the soul were formed at the same timenot
one before and the other afterwards, as the ravings of Origen would have
it" ("Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," II.12, Patrologia
Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 921A [emphasis ours]). Origen should not be cited
as an Orthodox Father.
As for Synesios, although Consecrated Bishop of Pentapolis
by Patriarch Theophilos of Alexandria, he was more a Platonist than a Christian.
Indeed, he only agreed to be Consecrated on two conditions: "...that he
should be permitted to continue his marriage, and should not be forced to abandon
his philosophical opinions regarding the preexistence of the soul, the eternity
of creation and the allegorical concept of the resurrection of the flesh"
(Johannes Quasten, Patrology, Vol. III [Westminster, MD: Christian Classics,
1992], p. 107). In the passage from Synesios that His Grace cites, we read,
among other things, that the Father is the power of the Son and that the Holy
Spirit is the bond between the Father and the Son; Synesios also asks Christ
to send the Father to his soul. According to Orthodox teaching, it is the Son
Who is the power of the Father: "Christ the Power of God, and the Wisdom
of God" (I Corinthians 1:24). Moreover, the idea that the Spirit constitutes
some kind of bond between the other two Persons of the Trinity, while perhaps
susceptible of an Orthodox interpretation, is rather peripheral to the mainstream
of Patristic Triadology. Its incautious application is also one of the roots
of the Filioque heresy. Finally, as St. John the Theologian tells us,
it is the Father Who sends the Son, not vice-versa: "He that honoureth
not the Son honoureth not the Father Which hath sent Him" (St. John 5:23);
"For I came down from Heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of
Him that sent Me" (St. John 6:38).
In order to avoid causing confusion,
Bishop Kallistos would surely have done better to organize his bibliography
differently and to have exercised greater caution in choosing his Patristic
and theological sources. He could have divided it into ancient and modern authors,
without prejudging whether such figures as Origen and Synesios are "Greek
Fathers," as he characterizes them. While none of the authors cited in
the "Non-Orthodox" section is Orthodox, not a few of those whom he
classifies as "Orthodox" were in fact, as I have said, very dubious
in their Orthodoxy, if not outright heretics. Origen and Synesios could perfectly
well have been called "ecclesiastical writers," for that is precisely
what they were; they were definitely not "Fathers."
add, so as to dispel any appearance of bigotry towards things Western, that
His Grace is not to be faulted in principle for quoting non-Orthodox sources,
since these are in some cases appropriate for expressing a particular point,
and in such a way as to make Orthodoxy more accessible to those raised in a
Western milieu. George Bernard Shaw, William Blake, and T.S. Eliot, for example,
are all familiar authors, whose words serve to convey some fairly difficult
ideas in a succinct and appealing fashion. In Chapter Three, however, he seems
to cite non-Orthodox sources rather more frequently, and not always to the point.
Again, we are not opposed in principle to drawing upon writers outside the
Orthodox tradition, since there are undoubtedly vestiges of the truth not only
in other Christian confessions, but even in non-Christian religions. If we can
allow, as the Church has always done, that pagan philosophers like Plato and
Aristotle had some perception, albeit shadowy, of the eternal verities, then
we can certainly extend this to thinkers outside our present-day circles. But
once more, let us emphasize that His Grace has undertaken to write a book on
the Orthodox, as opposed to the Christian or the Religious, Way,
and not an essay in comparative religion. Interestingly enough, in a review
of this book in Sobornost, Sister Benedicta Ward, in fact, wrote that
she was "...tempted to suggest that the title of the book might have been
The Christian Way," and this precisely because His Grace drew upon
"the riches of the West" and used "the insight of other traditions,"
thereby giving The Orthodox Way "its special claim to be a book
of spiritual authority and perception" (Vol. II, No. 1 , p. 207).
Special claims aside, Wards comments are compelling.
Furthermore, when Bishop
Kallistos cites the Talmud to the effect that the glory of God is man,
and then goes on to quote the famous statement of St. Irenus of Lyons that
"the glory of God is a living man," can he be sure that, despite their
external similarity, the same intention lies behind both of these remarks (one
clearly Christocentric and the other obviously not), or that they really mean
the same thing? If he cannot be sure, then what is the relevance of the quotation
from the Talmud? In a meditation for March 2 in his Prologue from
Ochrid, the Blessed Bishop Nikolai of Zica asserts that there is no greater
folly than for someone who calls himself a Christian "to go and glean miserable
proofs of God and of eternal life from other faiths and philosophies,"
for "he who does not get gold from a rich man is not likely to have it
from a poor one" (Birmingham: Lazarica Press, 1985; Part I, p. 239). Christianity,
as Bishop Nikolai points out, is not a religion, but rather "Revelation,
God's Revelation" (ibid.). Absolutely inexcusable, however, is
the citation by His Grace, in Chapter Six (p. 152), from the Gospel of Truth
on the subject of nepsis (sobriety or wakefulness): the "neptic"
man is "like one who awakens from drunkenness, returning to himself....
He knows where he has come from and where he is going." And what is this
"Gospel of Truth"? He neglects to inform his readers that it is a
Gnostic text; indeed, "a meditation on the Gnostic gospel of salvation"
(Encyclopedia of Early Christianity [New York: Garland, 1990], p. 373),
probably the work of Valentinus (ibid., p. 923). Since he makes no
mention of it at all in the bibliography, we are inclined to wonder whether
he simply forgot that he had quoted from this work in the body of the text or
deliberately refrained from indicating its heretical provenance. In either
case, this should not appear under the aegis of Orthodox Patristic wisdom.
is amazed by the complete absence in The Orthodox Way of references to,
or quotations from, such beacons of Orthodoxy as St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite,
St. Cosmas Aitolos, St. Nectarios of Aegina, the Blessed Justin (Popovich)
of Chelije, St. John of Shanghai and San
Francisco, the Blessed Elder Philotheos
(Zervakos) of Paros, Elder Hieronymos of Aegina, or Father Seraphim (Rose) of
Platina, to name but a few of the more surprising omissions. It is particularly
surprising that His Grace does not mention St. John of San Francisco. After
all, when he was a layman in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, he knew him
personally, and he is certainly aware of St. Johns sanctity (see his article,
"The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity," in J. Garvey (ed.),
Modern Spirituality: An Anthology [Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers,
1985], p. 58). However, perhaps we should not be so surprised, given that all
of these Saints were notable for their staunch opposition to ecumenism and modernism
in Church life, both deviations to which the ecclesiastical jurisdiction to
which His Grace belongs has fallenand this with a loud crash.
flaw in what Bishop Kallistos has undertaken by way of this book is that he
does not appear content with what the Holy Fathers have handed down to us. In
The Orthodox Church he urges us to "re-experience the meaning of
Tradition in a manner that is exploratory, courageous, and full of imaginative
creativity" (2nd ed. , p. 198). He has obviously taken this advice
to heart in The Orthodox Way, as we shall subsequently see. But contrast
this attitude to the profound humility of the approach taken by the Blessed
Archbishop Theophan of Poltava (1940), who had this to say, in a sermon that
he delivered on the Feast of Pentecost, about how one should look upon Tradition
and the Churchs teachings:
The teaching of the Holy Trinity is the pinnacle
of Christian theology. Therefore I do not presume to set forth this teaching
in my own words, but I set it forth in the words of the holy and Godbearing
theologians and great Fathers of the Church: Athanasius the Great, Gregory
the Theologian, and Basil the Great. Mine are only the lips, but theirs the
words and thoughts. They present the Divine meal, and I am only the servant
of their Divine banquet. (Cited by Hieromonk Seraphim [Rose] in The Holy
Fathers: Sure Guide to True Christianity [Etna, CA: West Coast Orthodox
Supply, 1983], p. 16.)
Faith and doubt
The first chapter of The
Orthodox Way, "God as Mystery," is very good on the whole. His
Grace gives due emphasis to the apophatic way of theologizing, and explains
very clearly the Essence-Energies distinction, without apologizing for it and
without trying to find Western parallels for it. What he says about faith and
doubt is not erroneous per se, but it does call for some clarifications.
Quite rightly, he argues that to believe in God is to believe in a Person,
since "God is not the conclusion to a process of reasoning, the solution
to a mathematical problem" (p. 19). Just as there is a mysterious polarity
between darkness and light in our knowledge of God, so there is a polarity between
faith and doubt. Even if we have a childlike faith, we are all open to being
assailed in various circumstances of life by doubts about those very teachings
that we believe we have already accepted with certainty. Doubt is not, in and
of itself, a sin. As Bishop Kallistos points out, it can be a creative force,
if it leads us to a deeper faith. There are other kinds of positive doubt, too.
One mayindeed shouldhave doubts about his own worthiness, and one may even
doubt the mystery of the Incarnation as something incredible. Even the Theotokos
and St. Joseph the Betrothed expressed feelings of doubt, the former about
the possibility of a seedless conception and the latter about the cause of
her pregnancy, as we read in the Akathistos to the Theotokos. Such
doubt, however, is perhaps more akin to wonder than to disbelief.
in both of the cases just cited, the doubts of the Mother of God and St. Joseph
were resolved; and this is a point on which His Grace is not sufficiently clear
in his discussion of faith and doubt. He also fails to note that doubt, while
sometimes yielding positive results, can also quite often be demonic
in origin and nature. Let us recall, for example, that in the Icon of the Nativity
of Christ, the Devil is portrayed as an old shepherd who sows doubt and confusion
in the mind of St. Joseph as he ponders on the meaning of the recent events
in his life. The classic case of doubt in the New Testament is, of course,
that of the Holy Apostle Thomas, who is commonlythough inaccuratelyknown as
"Doubting Thomas." In a homily on the relevant passage of St. Johns
Gospel, St. John Chrysostomos interprets Christs injunction to St. Thomas,
"and be not faithless, but believing" (St. John 20:27), as a "sharp
rebuke." He goes on to explain that the Apostles doubt "proceeded
from unbelief," adding that this "...was before he had received the
Spirit; after that, it was no longer so, but, for the future, they [i.e., the
Apostles] were perfected" ("On the Gospel according to St. John,"
Homily 87.1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LIX, col. 473). The Apostles were
perfected at Pentecost, after which they went forth into all the earth to preach
the Good News of Christ. Certain instances of doubt, then, are clearly worthy
of chastisement and represent the unrestored man. Indeed, there is not so much
as a hint in the life of St. Thomas that he ever subsequently experienced the
kind of doubt recorded in the Fourth Gospel. And so it is with us who have received
Holy Baptism. Prior to our illumination, we may have doubts about this or that
aspect of the Faith. But once we have been Baptized, we must recognize that
whatever uncertainties may come our way, they are most likely attempts by the
Evil One to divert us from the "good part" that we have chosen. If
we have doubts, we must bring these before our spiritual Father, seeking his
aid in combatting them. Once we have put our hands to the plow, we must not
allow ourselves to look back (St. Luke 9:62).
Let us reiterate: we are not condemning
all doubt as sinful, but simply observing that doubt can have evil origins,
too, and can often be ruinous to ones faith, if it is not checked and scrutinized.
Overlooking the negative side of doubt, as well as the spiritual turmoil to
which it gives rise, Bishop Kallistos ends his brief section on doubt by quoting
two heterodox writers, one an Anglican and the other a Roman Catholicnamely,
Bishop John Robinson and Father Thomas
Merton. Robinson, the author of a once-notorious
book, Honest to God (and many others like it), in which he challenged
many aspects of traditional Christian doctrine and ethics, is scarcely a reliable
guide to any area of theology, and certainly does not belong in a book entitled
The Orthodox Way. For his part, Father Merton was a deeply troubled
man who came to entertain many serious doubts about his own monastic vocation
and who died in circumstances that are still as highly mysterious as they were
tragic. He, likewise, is not the kind of source that Bishop Kallistos should
be citing in a book about Orthodox Christianity. He might better have handled
the issue of faith and doubt with reference to the Patristic witness. This would
have been a great deal more edifying than the half-baked ideas of Robinson and
Merton. And it would have been a course less dangerous and misleading than
the one which His Grace took.
A kinder, gentler Devil?
"God as Trinity," and Chapter Three, "God as Creator," are
among the best parts of The Orthodox Way. We are thankful to report
that there is very little in them that is open to question. Bishop Kallistos
gives a lucid presentation of the doctrine of the Trinity, unequivocally rejecting
the Latin heresy of the Filioque, something which, unfortunately, he
singularly fails to do, as I have pointed out, in the new edition of The
Orthodox Church. He also makes no apologies for the masculine language used
by the Church to characterize the Hypostases of the Trinity, arguing
cogently that such language has been revealed to us both in Scripture and Tradition,
and that if we were to alter the opening clause of the Lord's Prayer, "Our
Father, Which art in the Heavens," to "Our Mother, Which art in the
Heavens," we would be "replacing Christianity with a new kind of religion."
"A Mother Goddess," he continues, "is not the Lord of the Christian
Church" (p. 43). Except for the curious citation from Synesios of Cyrene,
which we have already mentioned, he relies almost entirely on the Greek Fathers
for his exposition of Trinitarian theology. So far, so good.
From what tainted
well, however, did His Grace draw the idea that the Devilthe very author of
evil and father of liesis perhaps "not as black as he is usually painted"
(p. 74)? Having stated, quite correctly, that according to Orthodox teaching
there was a twofold fall, first of the Angels and subsequently of mankind, he
postulates that Satanand, by implication, his minions, the demonshas "a
direct relationship with God, of which we know nothing at all and about which
it is not wise for us to speculate" (ibid.). It would be far wiser
for us not even to mention such a curious and bizarre idea, especially when
we have no grounds for holding it in the first place. If we know nothing about
such a relationship, how do we know that it exists at all? Moreover, where,
in any recognized and right-believing Patristic source, can one find any support
for such troubling and frightful speculation?
Bishop Kallistos does cite the
opening chapters of the Book of Job as evidence of this "relationship"
between God and Satan, presumably because the Devil is portrayed as standing
together with the Angels in the presence of God. In the extant fragments of
his commentary on Job, however, St. John Chrysostomos explains that the Devil
is in no way on a par with the Angels, in the first two chapters of this book.
He is simply a servant of God, who answers to God and who is able to tempt mankind
only to the extent that God allows him. His relationship is not special, but
one of subservience and one clearly inferior to that of the Angels. Unlike
the Angels, he does not dwell in Heaven and certainly does not stand beside
the Throne of God's majesty. Indeed, St. John observes that Heaven is inaccessible
(abaton) to Satan and that, after his fall from God, he was condemned
to a perpetual and humiliating nomadic existence (see Patrologia Græca,
Vol. LXIV, cols. 521-525).
A suffering God?
At the end of the third
chapter of his book, Bishop Kallistos ventures once again into the realm of
speculation, and in such a way, sadly, as to invite serious misgivings about
the extent to which he is willing to waver from the established witness of
the Church. One must regret lapses in fidelity even in the face of a contemporary
preoccupation with creativity. He asks whether our sin causes sorrow "to
the heart of God" and whether He suffers when we suffer. The Fathers, he
goes on, in their desire to safeguard the Divine transcendence, insisted that
God is impassible, that is, that He is not subject to change or emotion. As
God-Man, Christ also, of course, His Grace avers, suffersbut in His humanity
and not in His Divinity. He then comments: "Without denying the Patristic
teaching, should we not also say something more than this?" (p. 82).
second clause in this sentence is alarming, to say the least. Why should we
try to say more than the Holy Fathers? Is this a traditional Orthodox pursuit?
Is it prudent? Or is it a formula for deviation from the Royal Path of Patristic
truth, believing ourselves to exceed the Patristic consensus in wisdom? From
what sorts of wells are we to imbibe this "something more"? In support
of the "something more" that he has to say about God's suffering for
man, Bishop Kallistos quotes the following statement from The Book of the
Poor in Spirit, a German mystical treatise from the fourteenth century:
"Love makes others sufferings its own." He reasons that if this is
true of human loveas, indeed, it is, then it must be even more true of God's
love, such that our misery "causes grief to God" and the "tears
of God are joined to those of man" (ibid.).
His Grace admits that
we should be cautious about ascribing human feelings to God "in a crude
or unqualified way." But in saying that God sheds tears or experiences
grief over our unhappiness, he is surely guilty of gross anthropomorphism andworse
stillof confusing What is Uncreated with what is created. As St. Gregory Palamas
so succinctly observes, "Every created nature is far removed from and completely
foreign to the Divine nature. For if God is nature, other things are not nature,
just as He is not a being if all other things are beings. And if He is a being,
then all other things are not beings" ("Topics of Natural and Theological
Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts,"
78, in The Philokalia, Vol. IV, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard,
and Kallistos Ware [London: Faber and Faber, 1995], p. 382). The Fathers, beyond
whose reliable testimony Bishop Kallistos desires to go, are unambiguous in
affirming that God is not subject to passion or suffering. Here are just a few
(1) "We...have now, through Jesus Christ, learned
to despise [the gods of Greek mythology], though we be threatened with death
for it, and have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impassible God"
(St. Justin Martyr, "First Apology," 25.2, The AnteNicene Fathers,
Vol. I [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 171).
(2) "According to Scripture
God sleeps and is awake, is angry, walks, has the Cherubim for His Throne. And
yet when did He become liable to passion, and have you ever heard that God
has a body? This then is, though not really fact, a figure of speech. For we
have given names according to our own comprehension from our own attributes
to those of God" (St. Gregory the Theologian, "Fifth Theological
Oration," 31.22, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXVI, col. 157B).
also is said to be jealous, not that anyone should suppose passion (for the
Godhead is impassible [apathes to Theion]), but that all may know that
He does all things from no other regard than their sakes over whom He is jealous;
not that He Himself may gain anything, but that He may save them" (St.
John Chrysostomos, "Homilies on II Corinthians," 23.1, Patrologia
Græca, Vol. LXI, col. 553).
(4) "It is of Him Who was made flesh that
he here speaks, and it was said for the full assurance of the hearers, and on
account of their weakness. That is (he would say), He went through the very
experience of the things which we have suffered; now He is not ignorant of
our sufferings; not only does He know them as God, but as man, also, He has
known them, by the trial wherewith He was tried; He suffered much, He knows
how to sympathize. And yet God is incapable of suffering [apathes]: but
he describes here what belongs to the Incarnation, as if he had said, Even
the very flesh of Christ suffered many terrible things. He knows what tribulation
is; He knows what temptation is, not less than we who have suffered, for He
Himself also has suffered" (St. John Chrysostomos, "Homilies on Hebrews,"
5.2, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXIII, col. 48; commenting on the verse:
"For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor
them that are tempted"[Hebrews 2:18]).
(5) "For [God] does not simply
provide for us, but He does so by loving us, and by loving us exceedingly, with
a love that is infinite, a love that is passionless [apathe], but most
fervent and intense" (St. John Chrysostomos, "Address To Those Who
Have Been Scandalized," 6, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LII, col. 488).
(6) "Since God is good, He is the Author of all good and is not subject
to malice or to any passion. For malice is far removed from the Divine Nature,
which is the impassible and only good" (St. John of Damascus, "Exact
Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," I.1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV,
col. 792A; cf. ibid., I.8, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 808C).
To the foregoing quotations we may add a splendid passage from the treatise
On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life by St. Anthony the Great,
in which he affirms that God is impassible and explains how, given this impassibility,
it is possible to speak of God as being angry with sinners without attributing
passion to Him: God does not literally become angry with us, "but it is
our own sins that prevent God from shining within us and expose us to demons
who torture us" (150, in Philokalia, Vol. I [Athens: Astir, 1974],
p. 24). (This text, incidentally, was relegated to an appendix in the now standard
English version of the Philokaliaof which Bishop Kallistos is one of
the primary translators, on the curious assumption that it is not the work
of St. Anthony, nor even of a Christian author, but rather a cento of philosophical
sayings drawn largely from the Stoic tradition.)
In all of these citations,
we see that the attribution of human emotions to God, whether of a negative
kind or borne of sympathy for human suffering, is foreign to Orthodox theology.
The impassive nature of the Godhead does not suggest insensitivity, of course,
but moves us away from imagining that mere human emotions or sentimentality
are adequate to grasp or express the expansive, transcendent aspects of the
Godhead, including Divine Love. We must not trifle with Patristic wisdom in
the service of a desire to "humanize" God.
Did the Logos assume fallen human nature?
Chapters Five and Six, in which the author
deals with God as Spirit and God as prayer, are both generally fine. It is in
the fourth chapter, however, that he commits several frightful theological blunders
and, once again, departs from the exactitude of Patristic thinking. One must
question the prudence of presenting an impeccably Orthodox account of the Holy
Trinity, while in this chapter departing significantly from a correct exposition
of Orthodox Christology. In this regard, His Grace indeed succumbs to ideas
and speculation that many Orthodox would find as innovative as those which eventually
led the Monophysites and Nestorians from orthodoxy to wrong belief.
In a section
entitled "Salvation as Sharing," Bishop Kallistos begins his discourse
by defining salvation in terms of sharing, solidarity, and identification;
paraphrasing the classic dictum of St. Athanasios, he states that Christ
"became what we are, so as to make us what he is" (p. 97). He interprets
salvation as participation in God's glory, that is, as deification. Up to this
point, there is absolutely nothing objectionable in what he says. Next, he
observes, again quite correctly, that the Logos had to assume not only
human flesh, but also a human soul, if precisely because Adams sin was
spiritual rather than physical in origin. Citing St. Gregory the Theologians
cardinal soteriological principle, that what is unassumed is unhealed (Epistle
101, "To Cledonios," Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXVII, col. 181C),
he argues that Christ had to assume our humanity in its entirety in order to
heal us. "If we believe that Christ has brought us a total salvation,
then it follows that he has assumed everything" (p. 99 [emphasis
in the text]).
It is here that problems start to emerge. Does "everything"
include sin? His Grace seems to reject such an idea, for he quotes a crucial
verse from the Epistle to the Hebrews: "For we have not an high priest
which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all
points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (4:15). Nonetheless, immediately
before this, he asserts that Christ "assumed not just unfallen, but
fallen human nature" (ibid. [emphasis in the text]). Now,
does he mean by this that Christ assumed not only unfallen, but also
fallen human naturewhich sounds like a contradiction in terms, or that He
assumed not unfallen, but rather fallen human nature? Given the
ensuing argument, he seems to want to have it both ways.
Needless to say, we
are dealing with an extremely complex and delicate theological issue, on which
all of the major Fathers wrote at great length and in great detail. It is both
noticeable and disturbing that Bishop Kallistos does not cite any Patristic
evidence for his ideas. He gives us a clue that he is heading into uncharted
territory when he says that "many have been reluctant to say...openly"
(ibid.) that the Logos assumed fallen, rather than, or as well
as, unfallen, human nature. It is not clear whom he means by "many,"
nor does he divulge the identity of the few who presumably have said this openly.
His Grace correctly points out the Christ was not Himself sinful, but goes on
to maintain that "in his solidarity with fallen man he accepts to the
full the consequences of Adams sin" (ibid.). Now by "consequences"
he understands not only the physical kind, such as weariness, bodily pain, and,
eventually, death, but also the moral variety, "the loneliness, the alienation,
the inward conflict" (ibid., p. 100). But alienation from whom or
from what? From God? In the next section, he goes so far as to say, on the basis
of Christs words on the Cross, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken
Me?" (St. Matthew 27:46), that Jesus truly experienced "the spiritual
death of separation from God" (ibid., p. 106). As we shall see,
this is wholly at odds with Orthodox teaching, and all the more astounding for
the fact that it comes from the pen of an Orthodox Hierarch and a renowned Patristic
scholar. That our Lord experienced some degree of loneliness is undeniable.
Perhaps the best example of this is the episode in the garden of Gethsemane,
where He chided the three chief Apostles for their inability to stay awake:
"And He cometh unto the Disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto
Peter, What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?" (St. Matthew 26:40).
We can hardly begin to imagine what Christ underwent during those anxious moments,
when He permitted His human will to give expression to its feelings of weakness
in the midst of the unfolding drama of His Passion: "O My Father, if it
be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou
wilt" (St. Matthew 26:39). This kind of loneliness is not only perfectly
understandable, but it is, more importantly, innocent; it is not sinful. There
is another kind of loneliness, however, which is either sinful, or which at
least has the potential to become sinful; and that is when someone who makes
no effort to interact with other human beings indulges in self-pity over what
he perceives as abandonment by his fellow men. Christ did not experience this
kind of loneliness. He deliberately sought solitude so that He could
devote Himself to prayer, away from the crowds that habitually followed Him
wherever He went.
Bishop Kallistos assertion that Christ experienced "inward
conflict" is without any foundation in the New Testament. Worse still,
it is something that we encounter in the blasphemous novel by Nikos Kazantzakis,
The Last Temptation of Christ, which aroused such a furor in the late
1980s, when a film based on the novel was released to an international audience.
Among the scenes that caused the greatest offense to traditional Christians,
Orthodox or otherwise, were those in which Jesus was portrayed as undergoing
sexual temptations and entertaining serious doubts about His Messianic calling.
Some of the same ideas were espoused by the heretic Theodore of Mopsuestia,
whose name was frequently raised in theological circles in connection with the
aforementioned film. According to Father Georges Florovsky, Theodore taught
that Christ "struggled trying to overcome passion and even lust,"
in which He was "assisted by the Spirit with Its "moral influences."
The Spirit "illuminated Him and strengthened His will in order to destroy
sin in the flesh, to curb its lust with a light and noble force." Only
in death did Christ attain "perfect purity and unalterability of thoughts."
(See The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth Century [Vaduz: Bchervertriebsanstalt,
1987], p. 208.)
It is strange that a theologian of Bishop Kallistos stature
should not make any mention, in this regard, of the perfectly Orthodox view
set forth by St. John of Damascus: that in assuming human nature, the Logos
also freely assumed what St. John calls the "unblameworthy passions,"
such as "hunger, thirst, weariness, labor, tears, decay, shrinking from
death, fear, agony with the bloody sweat, succor at the hands of Angels because
of the weakness of nature, and other such like passions which belong by nature
to every man" ("Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" III.20,
Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1081AB). St. John says nothing here
about inner conflicts or alienation, let alone alienation from God. At the
end of this chapter, the Saint explains, further, that these "innocent"
or natural passions were according to nature and above nature
in Christ: according to nature, "when He permitted the flesh to
suffer what was proper to it," but above nature "because that
which was natural did not in the Lord assume command over the will. For no
compulsion is contemplated in Him but all is voluntary. For it was with His
will that He hungered and thirsted and feared and died" (ibid., Patrologia
Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1084A). This idea is also to be found in an epistle
by St. Cyril of Alexandria, in which he points out that Christ allowed Himself
to experience hunger, weariness, sleep, and sorrow in order to give assurance
of His humanity, just as He also performed miracles, raised the dead, and rebuked
the winds and the sea in order to demonstrate His Divinity (Epistle 45, "To
Bishop Succensus," Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXVII, col. 236A).
very difficult question is raised by this useful distinction: Is the assumption
by our Lord of the unblameworthy passions consistent with His assumption of
unfallen human nature? To be sure, no such problem arises for those who believe,
as Bishop Kallistos apparently also believes, that He assumed fallen human
nature. These passions are clearly one of the physical consequences of Adams
sin, and as such, they were unknown to our first parents prior to their expulsion
from Paradise. Moreover, as His Grace argues, had Christ assumed pre-lapsarian
human nature, "then he would not have been touched with the feeling of
our infirmities, nor would he have been tempted in everything exactly
as we are. And in that case he would not be our Saviour" (The
Orthodox Way, op. cit., p. 100 [emphasis in the text]).
In our century,
however, in keeping with the Patristic witness, at least two prominent Orthodox
theologians have vehemently maintained that Christ assumed our unfallen
human nature, that of pre-lapsarian man. Father Florovsky, for example,
asserts that "in the Incarnation the Word assumes the original human nature,
innocent and free from original sin, without any stain." "This,"
he continues, "does not violate the fullness of nature, nor does it affect
the Saviours likeness to us sinful people. For sin does not belong to human
nature, but is a parasitic and abnormal growth" (Creation and Redemption
[Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1976], pp. 97-98). Further on in the same paragraph,
he reiterates this point: "In the Incarnation the Word assumes the
human nature, created in the image of God, and thereby the image of God is
again reestablished in man" (ibid.). Vladimir Lossky, for his part,
following St. Maximos the Confessor (Questions to Thalassios, 21), states
that our Lord's humanity "had the immortal and incorruptible character
of the nature of Adam before he sinned, but Christ submitted it voluntarily
to the condition of our fallen nature" (The Mystical Theology of the
Eastern Church [Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1976], p.
142). Like St. John of Damascus, Lossky emphasizes that Christ voluntarily
experienced the infirmities of our post-lapsarian nature; He did not assume
an infirm nature. By His human will, Christ "accepted what was contrary
to incorruptible and deified humanity"that is, the unblameworthy passions
(ibid., p. 148). There is, therefore, no contradiction between the assumption
by Christ of unfallen human nature and His acceptance of the physical consequences
of our fallenness. And thus Bishop Kallistos thoughts on this matter derive
from a false theological dilemma and wander from the Patristic path.
A Godforsaken God-Man?
There are two other serious errors in Chapter Four
of this book, and it is with a refutation of these that we will conclude our
review of The Orthodox Way. We have already mentioned the verse from
St. Matthews Gospel, in which Christ asks His Father why He has forsaken Him.
Before citing this verse, Bishop Kallistos distinguishes two kinds of death:
physical death, which involves the soul being separated from the body, and
spiritual death, which involves the soul being separated from God. Now, it is
quite obvious that Christ voluntarily took the first kind of death upon Himself.
But did He suffer the second kind of death as well?
Noting that the Gospels
do not tell us much about Christs inward suffering, His Grace provides the
reader with two "glimpses" into the anguish that Christ endured before
and during His Crucifixion. First, regarding the agony in Gethsemane, His Grace
quotes the eighteenth-century Anglican divine, William Law, to the effect that
our Lord experienced "the anguishing terrors of a lost soul..., the reality
of eternal death" (p. 105). Such a statement is absolutely incredible,
not to say blasphemous, implying, as it does, that Christ fell into a state
of total despair. Since despair is a sin, the implication is that Christ was
not free from that sin! Bishop Kallistos, building on this astonishing passage,
goes so far as to say that Jesus identified Himself "with all the despair
and mental pain of humanity" (ibid.). Secondly, and worse still,
he interprets the cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
(St. Matthew 27:46), as "the extreme point of Christs desolation, when
he feels abandoned not only by men but by God" (p. 106). His Grace admits
that "we cannot begin to explain how it is possible for one who is himself
the living God to lose awareness of the divine presence," but he nonetheless
insists that when Christ uttered these words, "Jesus is truly experiencing
the spiritual death of separation from God...; for our sakes he accepts even
the loss of God" (p. 106). One is left speechless, despite the fact that
few, if any, have commented on this remarkable flaw in Bishop Kallistos theology.
About the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, we will observe only that His Grace
has once again been drinking from a poisoned well, whereas he could so easily
have treated us to the sublime exegesis of this tremendously difficult passage
by St. Maximos the Confessor. It is quite probable that William Law, who, as
a Non-Juror, would have been much more receptive to Orthodox theology than most
of his coreligionists, had some good ideas, but when there is such a wealth
of Patristic sources from which he could have drawn, and with which he is certainly
familiar, why does Bishop Kallistos not make use of these? Let us see what some
of the Orthodox Fathers have said about our Lord's cry from the Cross. They
do not support at all the notions presented in The Orthodox Way.
"And that the words Why hast Thou forsaken Me? are His...(though He suffered
nothing, for the Word was impassible), is notwithstanding declared by the Evangelists;
since the Lord became man, and these things are done and said as from a man,
that He might Himself lighten these very sufferings of the flesh, and free it
from them. Whence neither can the Lord be forsaken by the Father, Who is ever
in the Father, both before He spoke, and when He uttered this cry. Nor is it
lawful to say that the Lord was in terror, at Whom the gatekeepers of Hades
shuddered and set open Hades, and the graves did gape, and many bodies of the
saints arose and appeared to their own people" (St. Athanasios the Great,
"Discourses against the Arians," III.29, A Select Library of the
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. IV [Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 1978], p. 424).
(2) "Yet, I suppose, you [Arians who argued that
the Logos was not coeternal with the Father, on the ground He displayed
signs of weakness] will arm yourselves also for your godless contention with
these words of the Lord, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? Perhaps
you think that after the disgrace of the Cross, the favour of His Fathers help
departed from Him, and hence His cry that He was left alone in His weakness.
But if you regard the contempt, the weakness, the cross of Christ as a disgrace,
you should remember His words, Verily I say unto you, From henceforth ye shall
see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds
of Heaven" (St. Hilary of Poitiers, "On the Trinity," X.31,
A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,
Vol. IX [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 190).
(3) "And thus, He
Who subjects presents to God that which He has subjected, making our condition
His own. Of the same kind, it appears to me, is the expression, My God, My
God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? It was not He who was forsaken either by the
Father, or by His own Godhead, as some have thought, as if It were afraid of
the Passion, and therefore withdrew Itself from Him in His sufferings (for who
compelled Him either to be born on earth at all, or to be lifted up on the Cross?).
But as I said, He was in His own Person representing us. For we were the forsaken
and despised before, but now by the Sufferings of Him Who could not suffer,
we were taken up and saved. Similarly, He makes His own our folly and our transgressions;
and says what follows in the Psalm, for it is very evident that the
Psalm refers to Christ" (St. Gregory the Theologian, "Fourth Theological
Oration," 30.5, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XXXVI, col. 109A).
saith, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that unto His last breath they might
see that He honors His Father, and is no adversary of God. Wherefore also He
uttered a certain cry from the Prophet, even to His last hour bearing witness
to the Old Testament, and not simply a cry from the Prophet, but also in Hebrew,
so as to be plain and intelligible to them, and by all things, He shows how
He is of one mind with Him that begat Him" (St. John Chrysostomos, "Homilies
on St. Matthew," 88.1, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LVIII, col. 776).
(5) "The cry My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? is the utterance
of Adam, who trampled on the commandment given to him and disregarded God's
Law; thus did God abandon human nature, which had become accursed. When the
Only-begotten Word of God came to restore fallen man, the abandonment entailed
by that curse and corruption had to come to an end. My God, My God, why hast
Thou forsaken Me? is the voice of Him Who destroyed our forsakenness, as if
He were imploring the Father to be gracious to mankind. When, as man, He asks
for something, it is for us; as God, He was in need of nothing" (St. Cyril
of Alexandria, "Second Oration to the Empresses on the True Faith,"
18, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXVI, col. 1357A.) Elsewhere, St. Cyril interprets
this verse as proof that Christ was truly man ("Thesaurus Concerning the
Holy and Consubstantial Trinity," 24, Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXV,
col. 397D) and portrays Christ as the Second Adam, Who cleansed human nature
of the corruption to which it became subject through Adams fall into disobedience
and Who restored it to its pristine purity and dignity ("That Christ Is
One," Patrologia Græca, Vol. LXXV, cols. 1325C-1328A).
cry of Forsaken on the Cross was to teach us the insufficiency of the human
nature without the Divine. Hence it is that the Lord Jesus Christ, our Head,
representing all the members of His body in Himself and speaking for those whom
He was redeeming in the punishment of the Cross, uttered that cry which He had
once uttered in the Psalm, O God, My God, look upon Me; why hast Thou forsaken
Me? That cry, dearly-beloved, is a lesson, not a complaint. For since in Christ
there is one Person of God and man, and He could not have been forsaken by Him
from Whom He could not be separated, it is on behalf of us, trembling and weak
ones, that He asks why the flesh that is afraid to suffer has not been heard"
(St. Leo the Great, "Homily," 67.7, A Select Library of the Nicene
and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. XII [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1978], p. 179).
(7) "Further, these words, My God, My God, why hast Thou
forsaken Me? He said as making our personality His own. For neither would
God be regarded with us as His Father, unless one were to discriminate with
subtle imaginings of the mind between that which is seen and that which is thought,
nor was He ever forsaken by His Divinity: nay, it was we who were forsaken
and disregarded. So that it was as appropriating our personality that He offered
these prayers" (St. John of Damascus, "Exact Exposition of the Orthodox
Faith," III.24, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 1093A).
citations it is quite clear that the Fathers all view Christs apparent despair
as an example of the oikonomia that characterizes the entire Incarnation.
That is to say, Christ quoted this verse from Psalm 21 for our benefit, to show
that He was truly man, that it was none other than He about Whom the Prophets
had spoken, and to demonstrate His genuine solidarity with the wretched plight
of fallen humanity. There is not even a hint in any of these sources
that Christ, as God, experienced the loss of God. At best, Bishop Kallistos
is simply being careless when he claims that, "Jesus is truly experiencing
the spiritual death of separation from God," and that, "for our sakes
he accepts even the loss of God." If one is to make bold statements of
this kind, it is better to say, as did St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco,
that, "so as to feel the full weight of the consequences of sin, the Son
of God would voluntarily allow His human nature to feel even the
horror of separation from God" ("What Did Christ Pray About in the
Garden of Gethsemane?" Living Orthodoxy, Vol. XV, No. 3 [May-June
1993], p. 6 [emphasis ours]). This is far more in line with the Patristic consensus
than the dubious speculations advanced by Bishop Kallistos.
Hell as the total absence of God
Finally, we must address some comments that His Grace
makes immediately upon offering his Christological reflections. He asks whether
the phrase in the Apostles Creed (recognized as being of authentic provenance
by the Orthodox Church, but never used by Her liturgically), "He descended
into hell," means only that Christ went to preach to the departed spirits
between Great Friday evening and Pascha morning, as St. Peter relates (I St.
Peter 3:19). "Surely it also has a deeper sense" (p. 106). Does he
mean that the interpretation given by St. Peterand, of course, by the Fathers,
toois insufficient? If so, where does all of this "creative" theologizing
end? With such thinking, one can very easily, and with good intention, eventually
find himself outside the secure boundaries which the Holy Fathers, in their
wisdom, established for us.
Without a single citation from the Fathers, His
Grace baldly asserts that Hell is "the place where God is not"
[emphasis in the text]). He then notes, parenthetically, that "God
is everywhere!" If God is everywhere, as the doctrine of Divine omnipresence
entails, then how can there be any place from which He is absent? And yet, Bishop
Kallistos reasons, if Christ descended into Hell, He must have descended into
the depths of the absence of God. There are problems, here, not only with regard
to an Orthodox understanding of Heaven and Hell, but also in terms of His Graces
misuse of terminology; that is, as we shall see, his failure to distinguish
between Hell as a place of torment for unrepentant sinners and Hades as the
place where death prevailed over man before the Resurrection. These words are
used interchangeably, we admit, and the distinction to which we have referred
is a subtle one; however, it is one essential to any response to the innovative
and theologically troublesome idea that Christ, descending into Hades, supposedly
went to a place from which God was absent.
Now, St. John of Damascus explains
God's omnipresence in this way: "God, then, being immaterial and uncircumscribed,
has not place. For He is His own place, filling all things and being above all
things, and Himself maintaining all things" ("Exact Exposition of
the Orthodox Faith," I.13, Patrologia Græca, Vol. XCIV, col. 852A).
Are we, therefore, to suppose that God is in Hell in the same way that He is
in Heaven? But is God in Heaven as opposed to some other place? Problems inevitably
arise when we understand noumenal realities too literally. We are not denying
that, in a certain sense, both Heaven and Hell are places. They are not simply
states of mind or soul, as heterodox theologians commonly aver today.
In fact, Constantine Cavarnos furnishes abundant proof of this from Holy Scripture
and the hymnography of the Church (see The Future Life According to Orthodox
Teaching [Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1985], pp.
34-35). However, Heaven and Hell are also ways in which souls relate to God.
According to Father Florovsky, Hell is, aside from a place, "...a spiritual
mode of existence, determined by the personal character of each soul" ("On
the Tree of the Cross," St. Vladimirs Seminary Quarterly, Vol.
I, Nos. 34 , p. 20). Father John Romanides explains this idea:
Orthodox Tradition, both the just and the unjust will have the vision of God
in His uncreated glory, with the difference that for the unjust this same uncreated
glory of God will be the eternal fires of hell. God is light for those who learn
to love Him and a consuming fire for those who will not ("Remarks of an
Orthodox Christian on Religious Freedom," The Greek Orthodox Theological
Review, Vol. VIII [Summer 1962Winter 196263], p. 130).
Towards the end
of his book, Bishop Kallistos shows that he is fully aware of the arguments
of Fathers Florovsky and Romanides. He admits that God, out of His love for
mankind, is, in some sense, with those who choose to remain in Hell. This is
something that he could easily have made clear when discussing the Descent into
Hades (not Hell, as he erroneously states). He is surely familiar with the teaching
of St. John of Damascus on this subject, namely that Christs soul, "when
it was deified, descended into Hades, in order that...He might bring light to
those who sit under the earth in darkness and the shadow of death" ("Exact
Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," III.29, Patrologia Græca, Vol.
XCIV, col. 1101A). His Grace is, of course, far from being the only theologian
who confuses the Hell of torment and the Hades into which Christ descended in
his salvific and life-giving death. Nonetheless, Father Florovsky pointedly
remarks that: "It is hardly possible to identify that Hell, or Hades, or
the subterranean abodes to which the Lord descended, with the hell of sufferings
for the sinners and the wicked." It is inconceivable, he continues, that
"the souls of the unrepentant sinners, and the Prophets of the Old Dispensation,
who spake by the Holy Spirit and preached the coming Messiah, and St. John
the Baptist himself, were in the same hell." ("On the Tree of the
Cross," op. cit., p. 20). It is not only inconceivable, but also
blasphemous to suppose that the holy Patriarch Abraham, whose faith "was
counted unto him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3), and in whose bosom Lazarus
reposed (St. Luke 16:23), endured the torments of the damned while under the
shadow of the dominion of death.
As Father Georges puts it, "The descent
of Christ into Hell [or Hades] is the manifestation of Life amid the hopelessness
of death[;] it is the victory over death" (ibid., p. 21). It is
definitely not "the taking upon Himself by Christ of the hellish torments
of God-forsakeness, " as Calvin and certain other Reformers taught (ibid.).
Bishop Kallistos does not express this idea in so many words, but if Christ
descended into the depths of the absence of God, having previously experienced
the loss of God and spiritual death on the Cross, as he contends, then is His
Grace not in danger of departing from Orthodox teaching? Interestingly enough,
incidentally, even Calvins teaching on this aspect of Soteriology was condemned
by most of his contemporaries, both Protestant and Catholic, as a "new,
In spite of all that we have said, The Orthodox Way is, on the whole, a valuable book. If we
have expressed ourselves somewhat harshly in places, it is only out of concern
both for the author and for his readers. Bishop Kallistos is, to quote my review
of The Orthodox Church, "a Christian gentleman of the highest caliber
and an Orthodox scholar who has done much to make our Faith better known in
the West" (p. 39); and I stand by this judgment. It is precisely for this
reason, however, that I find it painful to see a man so eminently
to write excellent books and articles on Orthodoxy making careless lapses on
elementary points of theology and especially when they smack of the odious
influence of the religious relativism so beloved of the ecumenism in which
his ecclesiastical jurisdiction is mired. Should His Grace choose to share
his more adventurous speculations with colleagues over a glass of port in the
Senior Common Room, no one can object. But one must be more cautious, and especially
if he is a Shepherd of the flock, when presenting a popular account of the
Faith for Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, lest he "offend one of these
little ones which believe in" Christ; "for it must needs be that offenses
come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!" (St. Matthew
We can, and do, expect more of an author to whom we are forever indebted for
his superb and pioneering contributions to an understanding of Orthodox theology
in the West, including such liturgical classics as the Festal Menaion and
the Lenten Triodion.
* The reference here is to a
well-known illustration from the British satirical weekly, Punch. It
portrays a skittish curate having breakfast with his bishop. Asked by the Bishop
whether he liked his egg, which had gone bad, he nervously blurted out, stammering
in his terror, "Parts of it are excellent." Editor.
From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVI, Nos. 3&4, pp. 30-51.