Paradosis and its Noetic Base: Towards a Spiritual Statement of Tradition in Orthodox Thought
Reaching, as we have, a decisive point in the development of
our discussion of Scripture and Tradition in the Eastern Church,
it is perhaps judicious to recapitulate the major themes of the
foregoing chapters. In so doing, we might also stress that no
single chapter in our presentation is meant to preponderate;
rather, we have presented, in each chapter, topics which all form
a crucial piece of the composite mosaic which the section at hand
designs to portray. In chapter one we set forth the basic problem
under Investigation: the role of Scripture and Tradition as
sources of authority in the Church. This problem was delimited by
a brief historical treatment of the development of the canon of
Scripture, rendering two critical observations. Firstly, it was
noted that the canon of Scripture was established by the Early
Church Councils' pronouncements on the "inspiration" of
various among the books then in circulation in the Christian
community. Secondly, we pointed out that the pronouncements of
the Church on the canon of Scripture were deictic in nature; they
were directives which carried with them authority. Thus in
defining the Scriptural rule of faith, the Church became, in a
very special and spiritual sense, the source of that rule. These
two considerations, taken together, shaped the contour of our
examination of the interplay between the Traditional authority of
the Church and the Scriptural rule of faith.
We maintained, in chapter two, that Scripture and Tradition
were essentially equal in authority, in the view of the Early
Church Fathers. This perspective we characterized as the consensus
patrum, the unified voice of the Fathers confessing that
Christian truth is revealed both through Scripture and Tradition.
And the unified voice of the Fathers, we further argued, is
nothing more than the "general conscience of the Church [he
genike syneidesis tes ekklesias]."  The Patristic
consensus expressed the authority of the Church. In chapter three
we accentuated the Orthodox acceptance of the unity of authority
in Scripture and Tradition together, by a comparison with Western
perspectives on the nature of that authority. It was pointed out
that the Protestant notion of the separability of Scripture and
Tradition is unacceptable to the Orthodox. The Roman Catholic
view of Scripture and Tradition, formulated on a legalistic
interpretation of their interconnection and tied, as it is, to
the papal magisterium, was deemed equally
discordant with the Orthodox outlook.
Chapter four was intended to survey the thought of
contemporary Orthodox theologians on Scripture and Tradition.
Prefatory to that survey we argued that Orthodox theology, in its
strictest sense, proceeds from the Patristic witness, from the
"canon of theology" found in the consensus patrum. In
any consideration of the authoritative relationship between
Scripture and Tradition, we then maintained, the purpose is not
one of understanding the theoretical relationship between
Scripture and Tradition (from the standpoint of reconciling
them), but is, rather, an attempt to understand why the Fathers
accepted them as joint sources of authority and insisted on
speaking of their unity. The question is one of understanding the
consensus patrum from the thinking of the Fathers
themselves, not one of recognizing a consensual stand among the
Fathers and then accounting for such a stand by virtue of
arguments extraneous to the thinking of the Fathers. This latter
focus we portrayed as the aim par excellence of Orthodox
theology: to capture the "mind" of the Fathersto
understand the unity of Scripture and Tradition from the visional
perspective of the Fathers.
In the actual survey, in chapter four, of contemporary
Orthodox theologians, one figure stood forth as having faithfully
followed the course of theology which we consider to be genuinely
Orthodox: Father Georges Florovsky. Instead of offering a
theologically speculative explication of the unity of Scripture
and Tradition, Father Florovsky treats their unity as an idee
fixe, in the Fathers' thinking, which needs no justification.
His attention is consequently turned to the "mind" of
the Fathers, to their consensus in thought itself. He rightly
observes, in this context, that the Fathers conceived of the
unity of Scripture and Tradition, not because they came to some
common understanding (or common speculative formulation)
regarding that unity, but simply because they expressed the
universal "mind" of the Church. That is, they immersed
themselves in the mystical "general conscience of the
Church" [vide supra], which was the same
authority that proclaimed the Scriptural canon. The Fathers have
by nature, then, the very authority of Scripture, since both
originate in the same source: the phronema tes ekklesias. As
we noted, in Father Florovsky's own words, "'the mind of the
Fathers' is an intrinsic term of reference in Orthodox theology,
no less than the word of Holy Scripture, and indeed never
separated [emphasis ours] from it."  Tradition and
Scripture are related one to another in the sense of one aspect
of the Church recognizing another aspect. Their joint authority
and truth lie in the Church.
We come now to a traditional, spiritual understanding of the
authoritative interrelation between Scripture and Tradition. For
the Orthodox, Scripture and Tradition are not separate sources of
authority as such; they are two aspects of authority drawn from a
single source. This affirmation is at very core of the consensus
patrum to which we have invariably turned. The problem of
Scripture and Tradition is not one of understanding the nature of
their unity, but of apprehending the spiritual source from which
their authority arises. It is one of knowing the nature of
Scripture and Tradition from within their source. The practical
question, "authority by Scripture or Tradition?,"
becomes, "by what authority can we identify Christian truth,
both as Scripture and Tradition?" The question sine qua
non is, given the absolutely unified witness of Scripture and
Tradition for the Orthodox, one of recognizing true Scripture and
Tradition, of separating truly "inspired" Scripture and
Tradition from merely human writ and customof capturing
As we commented, Father Florovsky has contended that the
authority of Scripture and Tradition rests ultimately in the
"mind" of the Fathers [ie., the "mind" of the
Church]. How do we know that the writings of the Fathers
themselves, the liturgical practices and customs of the Church,
and even Scripture itself are true and inspired? Not alone by the
decrees of the first seven cumenical Synods accepted by the
Orthodox, Father Florovsky argues;  certainly, as we have
maintained, not by some idea of the teaching authority of the
Church or a personal magisterium [the papacy]; but by the
"mind" of the Fathers [which is the "mind" of
the Church]. The "mind" of the Fathers is the source
and manifestation of truth, a faculty for acknowledging,
recognizing, and affirming truth that is universal, that speaks
through all of the Fathers "as though with one mouth."
 It is a faculty which constitutes a Tradition above and
beyond tradition as we normally define it. As one spiritual
writer of the Orthodox Church defines the "official
expression" of this Tradition, it includes, "... first,
the Word of God laid down in Holy Scripture; secondly, the
definitions of the Councils... ; thirdly, the liturgical texts;
and, lastly, the writings of the Fathers."  The Tradition
embodied in the "mind" of the Fathers encompasses,
unifies, and is the source of all ecclesiastical Tradition and
of Scripture. It is the criterion by which valid revelation
is judged, the faculty, as Lossky writes, "of judging in the
Light of the Holy Spirit." 
Tradition, then, we can understand as the faculty for knowing
truth that resides in the "mind" of the Fathers and of
the Church. Tradition is, as one Orthodox theologian views it,
"the measure and the criterion of the presence and action of
God, through the Church, as well as of the genuineness of the
penetration of the wishes and the pursuits of the human spirit by
the 'true Knowledge."'  Truth, in short, is judged by
Tradition. Tradition is the faculty for recognizing truth; but
more than this, Tradition is itself a mystical truth. The
"mind" of the Fathers is the "mind" of the
Church. And the "mind" of the Church is part of the
mystical Body of Christ, which constitutes the Church. Thus
Tradition not only serves to make truth self-evident, but it can
also serve to generate the very same self-evident
truth. It can, in fact, bear forth every true tradition and
expression of the Churchindeed, Scriptures themselves.
Nowhere is this better stated than by Archimandrite Sophrony:
Suppose that for some reason the Church
were to be bereft of all her liturgical books, of the Old and
New Testaments, the works of the Holy Fatherswhat would
happen? Sacred Tradition would restore the Scriptures, not
word for word, perhapsthe verbal form might be
different but in essence the new Scriptures would be the
expression of that same 'faith which was once delivered unto
the saints.' They would be the expression of the one and only
Holy Spirit continuously active in the Church, her foundation
and her very substance. 
In the last chapter, it will be recalled, we pointed out the
failure of Father Florovsky, in his discussion of Palamite
theology, to link theosis, or divinization, with the
direct reception of Christian truth (with the "mind" of
the Fathers and of the Church, with that "mind of
Christ" to which St. Paul alludes [I Corinthians 2:16]). We
wish to suggest that the noetic faculty, the source of spiritual
vision for the divinized man, is the very "mind" of the
Fathers. The universal and consensual acceptance by the Fathers
of Church customs and traditions and of Scripture reflects their
noetic vision. Thus their witness, on the noetic level, Is a
single one; they embody truth at that level. To follow the
Fathers is to attain their spiritual vision, through theosis,
and to know the crucial, veritable elements of revelation,
from Tradition to Scripture. In Orthodoxy, one follows the
Fathers faithfully, not because they have some legalistically
formulated authority, but because one shares, in noetic
awareness, their vision and perspective. One appropriates that
"mind" in which Scripture and Tradition have their
authority and, thereby, continues in an unbroken succession of
spiritual practices. To perpetuate Church customs is not to
adhere blindly to what is ancient, or to what the Fathers have
done in the past; it is to live (and repeat) the behavior of the
Fathers simply because one takes upon himself the Tradition of
their perception. 
Let us investigate further the nature of divinization and
noetic vision. We have elsewhere observed that the Athanasian
aphorism, that God became man that man might become divine, is
the Ursprung of Orthodox theology.  This notion of the
divinization of man is, for the Orthodox Church, not merely
rhetorical. We might stress this point by reference to Origen's
treatise against Celsus. He rebukes Celsus for interpreting the
meaning of the Incarnation as the necessity of God, on account of
the fact that He is "difficult to see," becoming man so
that mortals might "hear Him and become acquainted with
Him."  Origen insists that God did not become incarnate
simply "...because God was 'difficult to see'..., [for] ...
the Son also is 'difficult to see,' because He is God the Word,
through whom all things were made, and who 'tabernacles among
us.'"  Orthodox, along with (and more accurately than)
Origen, envision the Incarnation in a much more profound manner.
For them, Christ became man so that man, in a very literal sense,
might reach divinity through Grace. 
The divinization of man is a primary goal of Orthodox
spiritual practice. The formalization of such practice is clearly
epitomized in the hesychastic exercises of St. Gregory Palamas.
Palamite hesychasts engage in a number of physical disciplines
(prostrations, fasting, and regulated breathing among them)
connected with the repetition of the "Jesus Prayer."
This prayer usually takes the following form: "Lord Jesus
Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." The mastery
of "unceasing prayer" (I Thessalonians 5:17), or the
constant repetition of the prayer, activates the noetic faculty.
In this process,
the noetic faculty is liberated by the
power of the Holy Spirit from the influences of both the body
and the discursive intellect and engages uninterruptedly and
ceaselessly in prayer alone. The fascinating thing about this
actual state of prayer ... is that, although the physical
and intellectual faculties no longer exercise any influence
whatsoever on the noetic faculty, they are themselves,
however, dominated by the noetic faculty's unceasing prayer
in such a fashion that they are spiritually cleansed and
inspired and at the same time may engage in their normal
The activation of the noetic faculty, culminating in theosis,
cleanses and inspires the physical and intellectual
faculties. But more importantly, that activation brings one into
conformity, as we have said, with the "mind" of the
Fathers, of the Church and of Christ, George Barrois has
succinctly described this process in affirming that " . . .
man is called to partake vitally of the divine energy... . This
is real, not a hyperbolic manner of speech... . It spells
nothing less than the conformity of the Saints with Christ. . .
."  Thus the Fathers are regarded as authorities because
Christ has come to live in them, to transform them. Because of
the divinity which fills these men, they can do nothing but
reflect and affirm the words of Christ and the Apostles. So it is
that "Jesus is the same yesterday and today and
forever" (Hebrews 13:8). The Holy Fathers might differ in
style, and even sometimes in nomenclature, but at the deepest and
most authentic level, at the noetic level, they, the Apostles,
and Christ are stating together the same thing, proclaiming a
single truth in a Tradition, the true paradosis, which bespeaks
We have written in another place that the teachings of St.
Gregory Palamas denounce any idea of innovation in spiritual
life.  This ostensible tenor of conservatism is thought by
many to characterize the Orthodox insistence on Tradition.
However, we have argued, in relation to Palamite hesychasm, that
innovation is alien to Orthodox spiritual practice because the
activation of the noetic faculty affords a conformity, albeit
mystical in nature, both in thought and action. The physical and
mental faculties of man come to serve the universal, corporate
" mind" of Christa "mind" exemplified
in the consensus patrum and actualized in the Church. By
the same token, the Orthodox insistence on the witness of
Tradition is based, not in some exclusivistic intransigence but
on a profound concept of the reflection, in external customs and
practices (traditions), of the noetic Tradition of the Holy
Spirit. All traditions, all acts, customs, and experiences of the
Church, are united in a perfect harmony in Tradition. Tradition,
as Father Pomazansky has hinted, is the internal force which
guides and determines the externals of the Church. As the
externals reach a final form, they make manifest the content of
Tradition. It is a noetic understanding of customs and
practices in the Church [of traditions] that reveals their source
in Tradition. And, paradoxically, the noetic vision itself is
part of Tradition: the truth of the Church is revealed by a
vision encompassed by that truth.
With a noetic outlook on the Patristic witness, we come to a
clearer understanding of the consesus patrum. The consensio
of St. Vincent Lérins, that which is believed "ubique,"
"semper, " and "ab omnibus," 
takes on a new meaning when seen in the light of noeticism. His
appeal, we think, is to the universal "mind" of the
Church, which indeed unites all in a single belief which is
always and everywhere the same. St. Irenaeus' "canon of
truth"  we see as none other than the noetic faculty,
rendering, as it does, St. Athanasios' "scope of
faith."  "Speaking by the spirit,"  as St.
John expresses it, or, as St. John Damascus writes, following the
"teaching of the Holy Spirit,"  all of the Fathers
constitute a noetic Tradition. It is in this way that all of the
Church speaks, again, "as though with one mouth." 
Or, as St. Paul so eloquently writes,
... be transformed by the renewal of your
mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good
and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
1. Papadopoulos, "New Testament and Holy Tradition,"
2. Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition, p. 107.
3. Ibid., p. 111. We might add that Father Florovsky
very correctly remarks on the relatively modern formula by which
some Orthodox theologians imagine that the whole of Orthodox
theology is based on the infallibility of the first seven
cumenical Synods. In addition to being a gross misunderstanding
of the Orthodox acceptance of the authority of the Councils, this
crude theory, in the words of Father Florovsky, "tends ...
to restrict or limit the Church's spiritual authority to the
first eight centuries" [ibid.]. In fact,
"the Church is still fully authoritative as she has been in
the ages past" [ibid.]. Neither is the truth,
for Orthodox, defined in the automatic acceptance of certain
ecumenical decrees as infallible, not is its true source limited
by historical boundaries.
4. Velichkovsky, "Procession," p. 203.
5. A Monk of the Eastern Church, Orthodox Spirituality:
An Outline of the Orthodox Ascetical and Mystical Tradition.
London, 1968, p. vii.
6. Lossky, Vladimir, In the Image and Likeness of God,
Ed. John H. Erikson and Thomas E. Bird, New York, 1974, p. 155.
Lossky speaks of this faculty as constituting Tradition, which he
sharply distinguishes from the historical traditions of the
Church: "...One does not remain in ... [this]... Tradition
by a certain historical inertia, by keeping as a 'tradition
received from the Fathers' all that which, by force of habit,
flatters a certain devout sensibility. On the contrary, it is by
substituting this sort of 'traditions' for the Tradition of the
Holy Spirit living in the Church that one runs the most risk of
finding oneself finally outside the body of Christ" [p.
165]. While we follow Lossky's understanding of Tradition as a
faculty of judgment, we do not, in our distinction, mean to imply
that historical traditions [tradition] are [is] separate from
Tradition. They proceed from that Tradition and manifest, as it
were, its content.
Professor Constantine Cavarnos, in a brilliant review of
Professor Losskys In the Image and Ukrness of God [see
The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. XX, Nos. I and
2 (Spring-Fall 1975), pp. 85-86] has also taken issue with the
nature of Lossky's distinction between Tradition and traditions.
However, Professor Cavarnos contends that the very distinction
itself is not Patristic. He writes that in his "extensive
reading of the Fathers" [p. 87] he has not encountered such
a distinction, and chides Lossky for having failed to support his
view from the Fathers' writings. One might take exception, in
this latter sense, with an unequivocal acceptance of Dr.
Cavarnos' statement. Citing a number of contemporary Orthodox
theologians and Patristic sources for the notion of an
ecclesiastical faith [Tradition] and variable ecclesiastical
customs, Prof. Bebis ("Concept of Tradition," p. 42),
for example, argues that a distinction between Tradition and
tradition is not wholly without Patristic fidelity. In
understanding Tradition as a faculty for judging the validity of
historical traditions we are in concord with Bebis in insisting
that ". . Tradition and traditions lead to each other and
none can survive without each other" [ibid.]. It is
on this point exactly that we differ with Lossky.
7. Kaloghirou, John, "Sacred Tradition: Its Sources and
Its Task in the Church," The Greek Orthodox Theological
Review, Vol. XI, No. 1 (Summer 1965). p. 116.
8. Archimandrite Sophrony, The Monk of Mount Athos: Staretz
Silouan (1866-1938), Tr. Rosemary Edmonds. Crestwood. N.Y.,
1973, p. 55.
9. Our argument here stresses in another way the point made in
note three immediately above, that truth, for the Orthodox, is
not limited by historical boundaries. The "mind" of the
Fathers is not something of antiquity or of some Patristic
"Golden Age." It is a mind beyond historical limits and
normal temporal parameters.
10. Archimandrite Chrysostomos, Contemporary Thought.
11. See the text, "Origen Against Celsus," in
Roberts, Fathers, IV, p. 605.
13. We cannot overemphasize the deep spiritual reality of the
nature of theosis. This is not to belabor the point
needlessly. Being alien to a Western theological outlook, the
spiritual sense of theosis, as found in the Patristic
literature, is often even distorted as witnessed by various
indefensibly mistranslated passages from the Greek. An egregious
example of this tendency is found in Schaff and Wace's English
presentation of St. Gregory Nazianzus' first oration, "On
Easter and His Reluctance" (Fathers, VII, pp.
203-204). St. Gregory is quoted as exhorting us to "become
God's for His sake, since He for ours became man" [p. 203].
This incredible translation is a rendering of the Greek, "genometha
theoi di' auton, epeide kakeinos di' emas anthropos" (PG.
XXXV, col. 397). We find the following the only suitable
translation: "Let us become gods for Him [His sake], since
He for us [our sake] became man." It is simply impossible to
find in the words "genometha theoi di' auton"
genitive expression "become God's [emphasis ours] for
His sake." We can only presume that the theological
sensibilities of the translator prevailed over good scholarship,
resulting in a fraudulent translation.
14. Romanides, "Palamite Controversy," p. 229.
15. Barrois, George. "Palamism Revisited," St.
Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, Vol. IXX, No. 4 (1975). p.
16. Archimandrite Chrysostomos, Contemporary Thought.
17. Pomazansky, "Liturgical Theology," ut supra.
18. PL. L. col. 640.
19. PG. VII, cols. 545-546.
20. PG. XXVI. col. 400.
21. Schaff, Fathers, XIII. p. 36.
22. Schaff and Wace, Fathers, p. 79.
23. Velichkovsky. "Procession," p. 203.
Ch. V of Scripture and Tradition
(Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies,
1994 ), 67-75.