Theological Articles of Fr. George Florovsky





The Idea of Creation in Christian Philosophy


Creation and Creaturehood


The last things and the last events

Eschatology — an unpopular topic. Why an “end”? The Second Coming.



The Idea of Creation

in Christian Philosophy

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands. — Isaiah xlix; 16.


The idea of Creation is one of the main distinctive marks of the Christian mind. It was foreign and alien to the Greek mind. Perhaps, the true point of discrimination between the two systems was exactly this idea of Creation. It was much more than the answer to the problem of origins. In this answer the whole further development is already implied. Charles Renouvier, the great French philosopher of the last century, was undoubtedly right in suggesting a dichotomic classification of philosophical systems (“une division binaire”). Philosophical systems, he contended, could not be arrayed in a linear order, as if they were but steps in the formation of some ultimate and all-inclusive synthesis. There was, in his opinion, no linear progress in philosophy, even no dialectical one. There was a radical opposition and an irreconcilable conflict of the two visions of the world, an ultimate opposition of sic and non, an ultimate either — or. One of the main antitheses was for Renouvier precisely this: evolution or creation. Renouvier was not a Christian philosopher himself, he was decidedly anti-Christian. But paradoxically, on main burning issues of metaphysics he was unexpectedly closer to the truth of Revelation than many of those who had claimed for themselves the honorific title of Christian thinkers. And his monumental Esquisse d'une classification systematique des doctrines philosophiques (1866, 2 vols.) is an excellent guide through the labyrinth of metaphysical controversies. Now, the two visions of the world Renouvier was speaking of, are in the last resort precisely the Greek and the Christian. The idea of Creation was, in fact, a striking Christian innovation in philosophy. No wonder it is still a stumbling-block for philosophers. For, as a rule, philosophers, up to the present day, are thinking in Greek categories. Time and again, various attempts were being made to tame or reduce this startling idea, to sterilize it, as it were, to take the sting out of it, or else to explain it away altogether. Yet, an adequate idea of Creation is the distinctive test of the integrity of Christian mind and faith. An inadequate conception of Creation, on the contrary, is inevitably subversive of the whole fabric of Christian beliefs.


To say: the world is created is, first of all, to emphasize its radical contingency and precisely — a contingency in the order of existence. Or, in the other words, a created world is a world which might not have existed at all. Perhaps, this is the best definition of Creation. On one hand, it is to say that the Universe has in itself no sufficient reason for existence — cur potius sit quam non sit. It is to say, that the world is, utterly and entirely, ab alio, and in no sense a se. It is a derived and depended existence, it is not self-explanatory. The very existence of the world points out to Another, to the existence of God. “Behold, there exist the sky and the earth. They cry out that they have been made... They cry out also that they did not make themselves: we are because we have been made; we were not before we were, to be able to be made by ourselves.” — Ecce sunt coelum et terra, clamant quod facta sunt… Clamant etiam quod se ipsa non fecerint: ideo sumus quia facta sumus; non ergo eramus, antequam essemus, ut fieri possemus a nobis. Et vox clamantium est ipsa evidentia (St. Augustine, Conf. xi, 4). On the other hand, it is to say that God, as it were, could not have created any world at all. The world had been brought into existence out of nothing by the free act of God, and not by any “necessity” inherent in His own being. It was a libertas contradictionis. God was ultimately and absolutely free either to create or not to create at all, without any prejudice or detriment to His supreme perfection and plenitude. Let us quote Etienne Gilson: “God added nothing to Himself by the creation of the world, nor would anything be taken away from Him by its annihilation — events which would be of capital importance for the created beings concerned, but null for Being Who would be in no wise concerned qua being.” Thus, the contingency is double; on the part of the Created, and on the part of the Creator Himself. Neither should be overlooked or underestimated. The true reality of the Universe is secured, in a startling way, precisely by its being unnecessary to God's own being. Otherwise it would have been but a shadow. The existence of the world is the miracle of the Divine Freedom.


The idea of Creation implies therefore some ultimate duality in existence. God and the Creature. This and is an “and” of absolute freedom. God is for the world exactly “the Other,” and the world is for God an outside. The Creation is precisely the Creation of this mysterious “outside.” There is an absolute and ultimate distance between God and the created world, an utter and ultimate hiatus — and it is a distance in nature, in the phrase of St. John Damascene: πανδα απεχει Θεου ου τοπω, αλλα φυση (de fide orth. i, 13). This duality of God and the world is not a logical antithesis of the Absolute and the relative, of the Infinite and the finite; in such an antithesis the terms are correlative and mutually complementary — they are only possible together. No more is it duality of principles ; the Creature is not an autonomous principle, there is but one true “principle” — God Himself. But there are two natures — this terminology has been authorized and consecrated by its use in the christological definition of Chalcedon. We may say: there is a second nature, and it is (or exists) beside and outside God. The existence of this “second” nature constitutes the proper mystery of Creation. Again, this “outside” is, in the strictest sense, an ultimate and contingent “surplus” of existence. These two adjectives: “ultimate” and “contingent” may seem to be rather contradictory and incompatible. Surely, they are antinomical. Yet, this antinomy is exactly the basis of the created existence. The mystery of the Creation consists precisely in that what might not have existed at all — by the supreme and inscrutable Will of God — does actually and really exist. The idea of Creation itself is basically antinomical. And this is antinomy of freedom. Freedom is always essentially antinomical. The creative fiat of God is a free, but ultimate act of God. God has created the world simply for existence: εκτισε γαρ εις το είναι τα παντα (Wis. i, 14). There was no provision for recalling in this creative decree. “The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent” (Ps. 110: 4). “The world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved” (Ps. 93; 1). The sting of the antinomy is exactly here: the world has a contingent beginning, but no end. Here is the whole novelty of the Christian conception. For the Greeks “beginnings” and “ends” were intrinsically interconnected: an “end” was implied in any “ beginning,” and “no end” could mean automatically “no beginning.” Or again, in the Greek conception, only that what was “necessary" could claim a true and permanent “existence.” This was inevitable in the monistic system of metaphysics. Now, the whole perspective has been changed in the light of the Revelation.


Contingency implies a “beginning.” The world has been begun. It has had a chronological beginning. Of course, the world is created not in time, but rather with time. “The beginning of time is not yet time and not even the least particle of it,” says St. Basil — just as the beginning of the road is not yet the road itself, and again “the beginning, in effect, is indivisible and instantaneous (αμερες τι και αδιαστατον, in Hexaemeron, hom. 1, 6). St. Augustine was also emphatic on this point; procul dubio non est mundus factus in tempore, sed cum tempore; quis non videat quod tempora not fuissent, nisi creatura fieret? (Civ. Dei, i i; 6). The created world alone exists in time, as in a real succession or duration. The creation of the world therefore is the creation of time also. Yet, the created world can exist also in another manner, once it bad been created. This mode of existence is still inconceivable for us now. But, after the General Resurrection, suggested St. John Damascene, there will no longer be any succession of moments, of days and of nights, even for the creatures, but for the righteous there will be one eternal day, and for the wicked and condemned — one endless night (de fide orth. 2; 1). The sequence of moments, the temporal series itself, will have its last term. But, let us remember, the end of time will not be the end of the creaturely existence. This again is the Christian innovation. The temporal series had its first term. We can imagine this beginning of time only in a retrospective manner, by remounting the series of successions — this was precisely the method of St. Basil (Hexaem. 1; 6 — "ascending into the past"). And then, we come ultimately to the point at which we have simply to stop, or rather we postulate the halt. This is the absolutely first term of the temporal series, or the last of our mental retrogression. Before it, or beyond it, there are no terms at all, i.e. no terms or moments of the temporal series, because there was no time before the time begun. For time is precisely “the number of movement, estimated according to its before and after" (Aristotle, Phys. 4: 3). We cannot visualize this first beginning directly. Yet, we can visualize it by the contrary, by discovering and postulating the impossibility of infinite retrogression. It matters little, whether we can really measure the time elapsed since this beginning exactly in centuries or days. What does really matter is just this postulate of the halt. This postulate means also that the “number” of the times past is a finite number. Surely, time was not begun in time, for there was simply nothing to precede time in time. An “empty time “ is but a fiction. It is highly inaccurate to say that God was before the time begun. The word “before” implies just the sequence of instants, it is an utterly temporal expression. But God does not precede the created world in time. “Nor dost Thou by time precede time; else shouldest Thou not precede all times. But Thou precedest all things past by the sublimity of an ever present eternity — celsitudine semper presentis aeternitatis... Thy years are one day; and Thy day is not daily, but To-day... Thy To-day is eternity “ (St. Augustine, Conf. 11; 16). We cannot understand the transition from the Divine Eternity to duration or the succession of times — precisely because there is no homogeneous transition, but an ultimate hiatus and rupture. “Eternity” and “time” are two different modes of existence. They differ essentially — in quality, not just in measure or length. And Omne tempus would not be the true Semper, to quote St. Augustine once more (Civ. Dei 12; 15. But time began. This beginning of time, with the created world, is an absolute beginning — the beginning of all that begins, that is begun. Time and eternity cannot be added together: they have no common measure, they are, as it were, different dimensions of existence. “We are dealing with two orders of being not to be added together nor subtracted; they are, in all rigour, incommensurable, and that is also why they are compossible.”


The Fathers of the fourth century, in their struggle against Arian heresy, were especially concerned with a clear definition of Creation. As St. Athanasius puts it, created things have nothing in common with God κατουσιαν, and are constituted outside of Him (εξωσεν), being created by His grace and will χαριτι και βουλησει), so that they could even cease to exist if He would wish so (c. arian. 1; 20). Creation, first of all, excludes all “consubstantiality” of the productive Cause and the things produced. It is to be strictly distinguished from another mode of self-production which would have for origin its own proper nature. The Word of God is eternally born εκ της μακαριας εκεινης και αει ουσης ουσιασ, but the world is created εκ βουλησεος (c. Arian. 2; 2; cf. 3; 60-6). We find again the same distinction in St. Cyril of Alexandria: ετερον γαρ τι εστιν παρα το κτισμα το γεννυμα, το μεν γαρ εκ της ουσιας του γεννωντυς προεισι φυσικος, το δε εξωθεν εστιν, ως αλλοτριον (Thes. ass. 15, M.G. 75, 276; cf. ass. A, 313; το με γαρ ποιειν ενεργειας εστιν φυσεως, δε το γενναν, φυσις δε και ενεργτια ου ταυοτν). Finally, St. John of Damascus sums up the established patristic tradition in the following concise statements. “For we hold that it is from Him, that is, from the Father's Nature, that the Son is generated… For creation, even though it originated later, is nevertheless not derived from the essence of God (ουκ εκ της του Θεου ουσιας); but is brought into existence out of nothing by His Will and power (βουλησει και δυναμει). For generation means that the begetter produces out of his essence offspring similar in essence (το εκ της ουσιας του γεννωντος προαγεσθαι το γεννωμενον ομοιον κατουσιαν); But creation and making mean that the Creator and maker produces from that which is external, and not of his own essence, a creation of absolutely dissimilar nature (ουκ εκ της ουσιας του κτιζοντος και ποιουντος γενεσθαι το κτιζομενον και ποιουμενον ονομοιον παντελως)… But generation in Him is without beginning and everlasting, being the work of nature and producing out of His own essence (αναρχος και αιδιος, φυσεως εργον ουσα και εκ της ουσιας αυτου προαγουσα)… While creation in God (επι Θεου), being the work of will (θελησεως εργον ουσα), is not co-eternal with God.” (de fide orth. 1; 8). By virtue of His natural fecundity (της φυσικης γονιμοτητος) the Father has begotten His eternal Son. “Natural fecundity” is precisely a capacity to beget of Himself, of His own substance or nature — to beget consubstantials. There is, as it were, something of “natural” or essential necessity. The eternal Generation and Procession are realized within the Divine nature (or “essence”). But Creation is an act of will, an act and action entirely and essentially free. And by this creative act God brings into being things wholly dissimilar to Himself. As a work of the will, not of the substance of God, the creature is not at all consubstantial or even similar to the Creator. “In the creature there is nothing appertaining to the Trinity save that the Trinity formed it,” says St. Augustine: non de Dei natura sed a Deo sit facta de nihilo, nibilque in ea esse quod ad Trinitatem pertineat, nisi quod Trinitas condidit (de Gen. ad litt. lib. imp., c. I, M.L. 34: 221).


The world is created — it means; it is brought into existence by freedom pure and absolute, ex mera libertate, or liberrimo consilio. Duns Scotus, doctor subtilis, formulated this thought with a very subtle clarity: God created things, not by a necessity either of essence or of prescience or of will, but by a pure liberality, which nothing outside Him constrains to cause what He creates. Procedit autem rerum creatio a Deo non aliqua necessitate vel essentiae, vel scientiae, vel voluntatis, sed ex mera libertate, quae non movetur et multo minus necessitatur ab aliquo extra se ad causandum (Duns Scotus, Quaest. disp. de rerum principio, qu. 4, art. I, n. 3). Yet, it is not enough to exclude all external constraint. Obviously, no such constraint was ever possible before the “outside” itself was created. Before creation nothing existed beside God. As it has been already pointed out, Creation is precisely the first positing of an “outside” in relation to God — of course, not as any limit or restriction of the Divine being and nature, but in the sense that another nature is brought into existence beside God, that a new mode of existence, of a derived existence, is initiated. Doubtlessly, in the act of Creation God is only determined by Himself. Now, we have to make one step still further: He is not even determined or moved to creation by any internal necessity. Or, in other words, God qua God is not inevitably Creator. He might not have created at all, without any diminution of His supreme fullness or of His superabundant perfection. Or again, in the phrase of E. Gilson, “it is quite true that a Creator is an eminently Christian God, but a God whose very essence is to be a creator is not a Christian God at all.” But precisely at this very point we have to face the greatest antinomy of all — nodus totius tbeologiae intricatissimus, as Billuart hast styled it. It has been plainly stated already by Origen, but, unfortunately, his own solution of the problem was wrong and misleading. Origen begins with the analysis of the name Almighty, and proceeds as follows. “As no one can be a father without having a son, nor a master without possessing a servant, so even God cannot be called omnipotent unless there exists those over whom He may exercise His power; and therefore, that God may be shown to be almighty, it is necessary that all things should exist. For if anyone would have some ages or portions of time, or whatever else he likes to call them, to have passed away, while those things which were afterwards made did not yet exist, he would undoubtedly show that during those ages or periods God was not omnipotent, but became so afterwards, viz. from the time that He began to have persons over whom to exercise power; and in this way He will appear to have received a certain increase, and to have risen from a lower to a higher condition; since there can be no doubt that it is better for Him to be omnipotent than not to be so. And now how can it appear otherwise than absurd, that when God possessed none of those things which it was befitting for Him to possess, He should afterwards, by a kind of progress, come into the possession of them? But if there never was a time when He was not omnipotent, of necessity those things by which He receives that title must also exist; and He must always have had those over whom He exercised power, and which were governed by Him either as king or prince” (de princ. 1:2-10). God is unchangeable. Now, He is the Lord of creation. Is it conceivable, asks Origen, to admit that He began to be a Lord? Again, one is a Lord of somebody else. is it not inevitable that this somebody should exist from all eternity, if God is to be the Lord at all ? Is it not inevitable for God to have an eternal companion, if He has to have a companion at all? But there is a companion, the created Universe. Can we escape the conclusion, that the Universe existed always? Origen returns once more to the same question. He had to face the following objection: “ if the world had its beginning in time, what was God doing before the world began? For it is at once impious and absurd to say that the nature of God is inactive immovable, or to suppose that goodness at one time did not do good, and omnipotence at one time did not exercise its power.” Origen had nothing to offer except an evasive suggestion that there were “other worlds” before the present world had been started. “We can give a logical answer in accordance with the standard of religion, when we say that not then for the first time did God begin to work when He made this visible world; but as, after its destruction, there will be another world, so also we believe that others existed before the present came into being” (de princ. 3; 5, 3). Origen's difficulty was real. St. Augustine has faced the same problem. Cum cogito cujus rei Dominus semper fuit, si semper creatura non fuit, affirmare aliquid pertimesco (Augustine, Civ. Dei, 12: 15). Origen has complicated the problem by his inadequate conception of the eternal time, i.e. of an infinite sequence of instants or duration. But the core of the problem was not there. He has admitted much more than what could be imposed upon him by this erroneous conception of time. He went to insist on the intrinsic necessity for God to be revealed ad extra, on the intrinsic inevitability to have realized from all eternity at least implicitly everything that could be realized at all. If the world had to exist at all, it had to be created eternally. The main reason of Origen was precisely the Divine immutability. He had to come to the conclusion that some co-eternal non-ego was necessary for God, as a condition of the Divine fullness and perfection. At this point he was unable to overcome the limitations of the Greek mind and apprehend the novelty of Christian Revelation in its full and mysterious depth. He failed to understand the very point of the doctrine of Creation. Yet, even if we reject Origen's conception of an eternal and infinite time, it remains questionable, whether at least the idea of the world does not ultimately belong to the unconditional fullness of the Divine Being. Let us take for granted, that the real, or “the visible world,” as Origen used to say, has had really a true beginning with time, and one can pretend that there was when it had not existed. Still, we have to face the deeper challenge: is not the idea of the world ever present in the Divine mind, does it not belong to the unchangeable fullness of the Divine self-knowledge and selfdetermination ? It is a subtle and delicate question indeed. But we can hardly avoid it. The true antinomy can be stated in this way. “To be creator” is not an “essential” or constitutive attribute of God, of the Divine being — God creates in perfect and unlimited freedom. The omnipotence of God must be defined not only as the supreme power to create, but also as an absolute power not to create at all. God might have tolerated that nothing should exist outside Himself (we have already stressed this point). To create and not to create are for God, as it were, equal goods, and it is useless to seek a “sufficient reason” for' the Divine choice, because the creative act has not been imposed upon God in any sense, even by His own goodness or His own superabundant perfection. In His full and infinite beatitude God has need of nothing. Rather it is a miracle and mystery that God should have reasons to create. There is no imperative or necessary link between the Divine Nature (or Essence) and the creative decree. But, if God is not necessarily Creator, by His own nature or essence, did He begin to create? An absurd and impious supposition indeed, because, God is above all change, and in Him “there is no shadow of turning” (Jam. 1:17). But again, if He did not begin to be creator, if His creative Will is eternal, as it obviously is, does He then create ab aeterno and is the creature coeternal with God? An affirmation still more absurd, since it is the distinctive characteristic of the creature, as such, to be begun, to come into existence out of nothingness. "Nulla fiebat creatura, antequam fieret ulla creatura,” as St. Augustine says (Conf. 11: 12). The world was begun — with Time itself. And God did not begin to create. There is here a sharp enough antinomy. It is much more than “a sacred puzzle,” aenigma sacrum. And it cannot be solved or simply dismissed by a distinction between the eternal will and its temporal accomplishment. Obviously, there is no difficulty at all in conceiving an eternal disposition of effects to be produced in time, i.e. in temporal order and sequence. But the true knot of problem is not there. The real problem is precisely this: what is the relation between the eternal essence of God and His eternal Will. Or, in other words, the ultimate antinomy is implied in the conception of the eternal freedom. Or again, how can we reconcile the perfect Immutability of God with His creative Freedom? I mean, how can we escape ascribing the unchangeable God some inevitable plan of Creation? be it only a plan of a possible creation. Even in such an assumption some necessity would be already implied.



The Divine creative thought is eternal. “God,” says St. John Damascene, “contemplated everything before creation, thinking outside time (αχρονως εννοησας); and everything comes to pass in its time according to His timeless volitional thought, which is predetermination and image and pattern κατά την θελητικην ουτου αχρονον εννοιαν, ηυις εστι προορισμος, και εικων, και παραδειγμα (de fide orth. 1; 9). These “images” and “patterns” constitute the eternal and immutable counsel of God, in which all that is foreordained by God and is being unfailingly realized is eternally figured, εχαρακτηριξετο η βουλη αυτου η προαιωνιος και αει ωσαυτως εχουσα (St. John Damasc. de imagin. 1, 10). This “counsel” of God is eternal and has no beginning (αναρχος), because everything is immutable in God. It is “the image of God,” the second type of the Divine images, oriented ad extra (de imag. 3:10 δευτερος τροπος εικονος, η εν τω Θεω των υπ’αυτου εσωμενων εννοια τουτεστιν η προαιωνιος αυτου βουλησις, η αει ωσαυτως εχουσα, ατρεπτον γαρ το Θειον, και η βουλησις αυτου αυτουαναργος). St. John quotes Pseudo Dionysius. “And we give the name of “Exemplars" to those laws which, pre-existent in God as an Unity, produce the essences of things; laws which are called in theology “Preordinations” or Divine and benevolent Volitions, laws whereby the Super-Essential pre-ordained and brought into being the whole Universe" (de div. nomin. 5; 8 παραδειγματα δε φαμεν είναι τους εν Θεω των οντων ουσιοποιους και ενιαιως προυφεστωτας λογους, ους η θεολογια προορισμους καλει, και θεια και αγαθα θεληματα των οντων αφοριστικα και ποειτικα, καθ’ ους ο Υπερουσιος τα οντα παντα και προωρισε και παρηγαγεν). These “ideas” and “pre-ordinations” are, in the phrase of St. Maximus the Confessor, perfect and eternal notions of the Eternal God, νοησεις αυτοτελεις αιδιοι του αιδιου Θεου (schol. in div. nom. 5; 5, M.G. 4: 317 C). We have now to ask and to answer two different questions, and it is highly important not to confuse them, for they belong ultimately to different levels or theological contexts. First, what is the relation between these “pre-eternal patterns” of the world and the temporal world actually in existence ? Secondly, what is its relation to the very essence and being of God. The first belongs to the sphere of the Divine economy, the last to theology proper. Let us begin with the former.



God has constituted the creature in His idea — from all eternity. But it was not yet the creature itself. It was only an image, a sketch, a plan, a proposition of the creature. The creatures before they were created — with time — existed and did not yet exist, as St. Augustine admirably suggested: they existed in the prescience of God, but they did not exist in their proper nature. — Haec igitur antequem fierent, utique non erant. Quomodo ergo Deo nota erant quae non erant ? Proinde, antequam fierent, et erant et non erant; erant in Dei scientia;.non erant in sua natura (St. Augustine, de Gen. ad. litt., 5; 18). The term "exist” is ambiguous and misleading just at this very point. Properly speaking, the creatures simply do not exist before they come to existence in their own and temporal nature. The idea of the world is not yet the world itself. And there is an absolute and qualitative hiatus, a true distance of nature — there is no continuous or inevitable passage between the two. Transition from the “notion” or “pattern” (the Divine εννοημα) to the “act” and actualization (εργον) is not a process in the Divine idea, but exactly the emergence, creation and first positing of the new reality, that, in the strictest sense, simply did not exist at all or, as it were is preceded on its own level and in its own kind, by “nothingness” (“out of” which it first emerges), i.e. precisely by nothing at all. As we have already stated, it is an absolute beginning in the order of existence, or a beginning of the new order of existence itself. The Divine idea remains outside the world, that is created according to it. The idea itself does not enter into the temporal process, into the process des Werdens. God created according to His idea or ideas and not out of His idea. The Divine Idea is an eternal prototype in God's own mind, in accordance with which all that is produced is produced, shaped and formed. It is a transcendent plan of creation. This was precisely the conception of St. Augustine, Sant namque ideae principales formae quaedam, vel rationes rerum stabiles atque incommutabiles, quae ipsae formatae non sunt, ac per boc aeternae ac semper eodem modo se habentes, quia in Divina mente continentur. Et cum ipsae neque oriantur, neque intereant; secundum eas tamen formari dicitur omne quod oriri et interire potest, et omne quod oritur et interit (St. Augustine, de div. quaest. 83, qu. 46; 2, M.L. 40: 30). The idea of the world is in God, and the world itself is outside God. The fundamental error of the pantheists consists exactly in their identifying the idea and this existential "itself”: then it would be the Divine idea as such which would be developed in time and be the subject of the temporal process; then again, the “substance” of things would be a “substantial” revelation of God's own being and existence; then God Himself would be involved into the process of the world. On the contrary, we have to insist on the basic fact that the idea is not the germ of things at all. The “germ” of things comes precisely out of nothing, i.e. is created. The idea of things is their transcendent “image” or exemplar, and their norm — not an immanent one. Creation consists in God's calling, “out of nothing” (εξ ουκ οντων) into existence a new reality, which becomes the bearer or carrier of His idea, without being ever existentially identified with it — which must and can actualize the idea, in the creaturely order of existence, by its own proper becoming what it was meant and foreordained to become. The created world is an "exterior” object of the Divine thought, and not this thought itself. It participates in the idea, in so far as it is conformed to it. But even in this participation there is no confusion of the orders of existence, Thus the own reality of the created world is fully secured.


And now we come to the crucial point. We have to turn to our second question. — The idea of Creation, of a Divine “outside,” a Divine “non-ego,” obviously does not belong to the intrinsic plenitude of the Divine being — it is not produced in virtue of the “natural fecundity” of God, for in this case it would be a sort of “fourth hypostasis,” — a supposition impious and sacrilegious. It has been produced from all eternity, but in a supreme freedom, by an act of will. We can dare to say that this idea might not have been produced as well. Certainly it is for us a casus irrealis, a wholly formal possibility. But it helps us to understand the full meaning of the idea of Creation. We may say also that the Trinitarian being is an intrinsic revelation of the Divine essence, that it is eminently necessary — and perhaps, there is nothing necessary, in the strict and ultimate sense, except the Holy Trinity, consubstantial and indivisible. God is Trinity. And He has His idea of the Creation — from all eternity. Still, there is an ultimate difference between the "is” and the "has.” Otherwise we would deny His creative freedom, which is not only a libertas specificationis, but, above all and ultimately, a libertas contradictionis. God has invented His idea of the world — from all eternity. That is to say at once that He had supreme reasons for positing it and that He was not constrained in this eternal act, even by His own Goodness and Love. We cannot say that God created the world with the same “necessity” with which He loves Himself. The Love of God, His blessed goodness, cannot be augmented by the contemplation of all the finite existences which can be brought out of nothingness to participate in the Divine grace. No more can the superabundant beatitude of God be limited by the absence of these existences, or even by the absence of the idea of their essence. God is supremely αυταρκης. He has no need of any non-ego, even imagined, even in idea. God does not think in antitheses. He has not to oppose Himself to another, to raise Himself above another, God is supremely free in regard to possible creatures. There is no cause weighing down His will. God is eminently free in regard even to the very possibility of creatures. There is then a clear distinction between the necessity of the Divine nature and the absolute freedom of His beneficent will. Or else, there is a distinction between His being and His will. God is not, strictly speaking, causa sui — He is Who is. But He is causa mundi — precisely in the order of existence. This distinction is not, of course, a division — there is no division, no interval in the Divine Life. Moreover, the Divine Will reveals the Divine Nature. Let us quote, at this point, St. Gregory of Nazianzus. “God invented (or imagined) the angelic and heavenly powers, and this imagination became deed,” και το εννοημα εργον ην (orat. 45, in S. Pascha, 5). Imagined — it is the very word. From all eternity, “before” creation, says St. Gregory on another occasion, the thought of God “contemplated the splendour ardently desired of His goodness, the equal and equally perfect splendour of His tri-hypostatic Divinity, as it is known to God Himself and to him to whom He deigns to manifest it. The Intelligence which gave origin to the world scanned also in its sublime conceptions the forms of this world” (carm. 4, de mundo, vv. 60-9). These forms do not belong to the perfect splendour of the tri-hypostatic Divinity.. The creative initiative is surely eternal, but it comes, as it were, second. We have to admit some mysterious gradation in the eternal life of God. With a daring, but tolerable inexactitude we may say perhaps, that creative intention is eternal and yet not co-eternal with God. That is not to say that it is accidental, but to emphasize that it is free. Of course, there is a limit to our logical understanding: here every word becomes dumb and inexact — all words have here a value rather apophatic, prohibitive or exclusive, than positive and cataphatic. Yet, cataphatic theology itself ever needs an apophatic correction. The world, even in the Divine idea of it, is an absolute surplus, a superadded reality, or rather a superadded gift, free and generous, of the almighty freedom and superabundant Love of God. That means exactly that the world is created. This may seem enigmatic, paradoxical, antinomical. Now, creation is indeed paradoxical, miraculous, mysterious, and enigmatic. The natural reason of man seeks always reasons, necessary and sufficient, imposing themselves inevitably. There is no such reason for the Creation. Surely, the creature cannot exist without the Creator, but the Creator is free not to create — this means exactly that He is a Creator. It does not mean only a possibility of not executing the eternal plan in time, but also of not having or setting up any plan at all. This plan is obviously eternal, like all the designs of the Divine Will. Yet, and just in order to escape the dangerous confusion, we have to distinguish, as it were, two modes of eternity: the essential eternity in which only the Trinity lives, and the contingent eternity of the free acts of Divine grace.


All that we affirm positively about God does not reveal His very nature, but only "what has reference to it,” τα παρι την φυσιν (St. John Damasc. de fide orth. 1:3). St. John here sums up the typical motives of the Greek theology (St. Augustine diverges radically from it just at this point). It is according to St. Athanasius that God presents Himself in all things by His power and goodness, but remains outside everything in His own proper nature, εξω δε των παντων --- κατά την ιδιαν φυσιν (de decr. 2). It is according to St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa that in the world only the Divine energies, the active forces of the Divine goodness, are manifested and operate; and it is only these energies which are comprehensible and accessible to us in our relations with God (St. Basil, adv. Eun. 1:32 δυναμεως γαρ, και σοφιας, και τεχνυς, ουχι δε της ουσιας αυτης ενδεικτικα εστιν ποιηματα, cf. bom. inillu Vol. etc., M.G. xxxi, 216 A; εκ των ενεργειων γωωριζεται μονον, St. Gregory of Nyssa, in Cant. cant. II, M.G. xlix, 1013 B: την θειαν φυσιν ακαταληπτον ουσαν παντελως και ανεικαστον, δια μονης ενεργειας γινωψκεσθαι). Yet, these energies are God Himself. The depths of the essence of God, dwelling in light unapproachable, are closed for us for ever. But what is comprehensible of Him, God has revealed by His operations in the world. By them we can contemplate His eternal Divinity and power (Rom. 1; 19-20). But the Nature of God is ineffable and inaccessible — it is only accessible to God Himself, as St. Basil says (adv. Eun. 1:14). We only know the Divine actions — ”something which follows on His nature,” according to St. John of Damascus (τι των παρεπουμενων τη φυσει, de fide orth. I; 9)τα περι αυτον, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus says (orat. 38:7). We can only touch His grace, but Himself is there; He descends to us by His energies, but we can never approach His nature, says St. Basil (ep. 234, ad Amphil., M.G. xxxii, c. 869 A-B: αι μεγαρ ενεργεια αυτου προς ημας καταβαινουσιν, η δε ουσια αυτου μενει απροσιτος). It was the common opinion of the Greek Fathers of the fourth century (St. John Chrysostom included; cf. his de incompr. Dei natura 3; 3, M.G. xlviii, 722). — grace is in no way separated from God, it is Himself. But, perhaps, we have to say it is the face of God turned outwards — ad extra, towards the creature, or just the Right Hand of God which creates and preserves. These are not vain and anthropomorphic metaphors. There is no better way to emphasize the distinctive difference between that which is strictly essential (and in this sense “necessary”) and what which is eminently free in God. This difference is of course not a division. Divine Nature and Divine grace are utterly indivisible, in the unity of the Divine being. Yet, we have to distinguish them. This distinction is implied already in the traditional distinction of Theology (in the proper sense) and Economy, θεολιγια and οικονομια, which distinction we can trace back to the early date. The Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church from the early times distinguished with care that what is to be said of God Himself and that which is said (and should be said) of His voluntary condescendence (beginning precisely with the Creation itself). One basic difficulty was inherent in this distinction. We know God only through His revelation, i.e. precisely in so far as He is, as it were, turned towards us or the created world in general. We know Him only in His relation to us. Even more, He is knowable only in His “economy.” Our theological vocabulary is inevitably “relative,” i.e. presupposes our own existence. Therefore, “theology” in the strict sense is inevitably apophatic and analogical. All theological terms are anthropomorphic, and we can transcend this anthropomorphic limitation only by a combined use of negation and sublimation, by a double way negationis and eminentiae. In the Ante-nicene period this distinction was never carried up to the full clarity. Doctrine of Holy Trinity was not yet completely liberated from cosmological motives, and the Word of God was described usually in the context of the Divine Revelation, exactly as the God of Revelation. There was an inherent danger of Subordinationism implied in this approach itself. There was some ultimate ambiguity in the whole doctrine of the Logos, as it had been developed by the Apologists and the Alexandrians. This ambiguity was finally overcome only in theology of the fourth century. We can properly understand the Cappadocian distinction between the Divine ουσια and ενεργεια only in this historical perspective and context. The whole Patristic doctrine on this subject was summed up later on by St. Gregory Palamas. The doctrine of the Divine “energies” was elaborated and formulated at the Councils of Constantinople in the fourteenth century (1341, 1347, 1351, 1352). There is no need, for our immediate purpose, to go into details of this doctrine. It is enough to recall the main features. The Divine ουσια is absolutely incommunicable to the creatures, absolutely inaccessible for them, αμεθεκτη. Yet, God is still accessible to His creation — in His “energies.” The creatures never partake in the very “essence” of God, but only in the Divine “energy” — yet, this participation in grace means precisely their intimate and true communion with God. The energy of God is the very source and supreme principle of the “deification” (θεωσις) of the creation (St. Gregory Palamas, Capita, 75, M.G. CL, 1173; 78, 1176; 92 — 3, 1188; also Tbeoph. c. 912). This distinction has been already suggested by St. Maximus the Confessor (apud Euthym. Zygaben., Panoplia dogmatica, tit. 3, M.G. cxxx, 132; μεθεκτος μεν ο Θεος κατά τας μεταδοσεις αυτου, αμεθεκτος δε κατά το μιδεν μετεχειν της ουσιας αυτου). The Divine Energy differs from the intrinsic essence of God, but is in no sense divided or separated from it (Theoph. c. 940), it is exactly a "natural and indivisible energy” of God (Council of 1352, in Triodion, ed. Venice 182, p. 170 φυσικη και αχωριστος ενεργεια και δυναμις του Θεου). Nor is the Energy merely “an accident" (ουτε συμβεβηκος — Cap. 127, c. 1209), for it is absolutely unchangeable and eternal (αμεταρλγτον), without beginning and end, co-eternal and pre-eternal (Cap. 140, c. 1220: η δε του Θου ενεργεια ακτιστος εστι και συναιδιος Θεω; cf. The Tbeoph. c. 953 ακτιστος και αιδιος ως δυναμις θεοπρεπη περι τον Θεον ουσα και προ της του κοσμου συστασεως; Council Of 1351, M.G. cli, c. 736). It is an eternal. revelation of the creative will of God, or the eternal power of God (Tbeoph, C. 956 η προνοια φυσικη και ουσικοδης ενεργεια; Cap. 135, c. 1216). It is again an eternal προοδος of God, His eternal “coming-forward” (Tbeoph. c. 937). Both the idea and the term itself are traditional and can be traced back to Pseudo-Dionysius and his early commentators (cf. especially Scholia in De div. nom. 1: 5 and 5; 1, M.G. iv, 205-8 and 309; προοδον δε την θειαν ενεργειαν λεγει, ητις πασαν ουσιαν παρηγαγε; cf. also St. John Damascene, de fide orth. 1:14 εν γαρ εξαλμα και μια κινησις, η θεια ελλαμψισκαι ενεργεια). "Essence” and “energy” differ, but without any prejudice to the Divine “simplicity.” We have not to overlook that God is the Living God, the Holy Trinity, and not simply an Absolute — He Who Is, and not merely the Being. The ultimate purpose of the Palamite distinction between the “essence” and “energy” in God was exactly to safeguard the Divine freedom and aseity. Denial of this difference seems to imply that the whole “economy” of God is but His “natural” act, i.e. to say “necessary,” or constitutive of His own being, as it were, imposed upon Him. The difference between “Generation” and “creation” would be then obscured, the one and the other being equally acts of the essence or nature. Again, the difference between the ουσια and the θελυσις of God would be obscured also. There would be no clear distinction between the Divine Prescience and the actual Creation: would not the actual creation itself become eternal or sempiternal? Briefly, the Freedom of God will be dangerously compromised (Capita, 96 ss., c. 1181 ff.; cap. 135, c. 1216; cf. also Mark of Ephesus, Capita syllog. 13 ss., ed. W. Casz, Die Mystik des Nicolas Cabasilas, Greiszwald, 1849, Appendix II, s. 217 ff.; St. Gregory Palamas refers himself to the authority of St. Cyril of Alexandria, Thesaur. ass. 18, M.G. lxxv, 313; το μεν ποιειν ενεργειας εστιν, φυσεως δε το γενναν, φυσις δε και ενεργεια ου ταυτον). The only means to escape or to avoid these dangerous implications and consequences was precisely to draw a clear distinction between the “nature” or “essence” and the “energy.” This was also the next step of the radical adaptation of the Greek philosophy to the new requirements of Christian mind.


We have to keep in mind the basic distinction between “theology” and “economy.” God is eminently free in His creative operations. Therefore all cosmological motifs should be most carefully avoided in the theological doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The slightest shadow of cosmology would introduce contingency of will into the mutual relations of the Divine Hypostases, and then the perfect “consubstantiality” of the Holy Trinity will be compromised. Clear expressions had to be found for formulating the mystery of the Trinity as a sempiternal and constitutive law of the Divine Essence, abstraction made of all “economic” motifs or aspects, whether cosmological or soteriological. As we have already mentioned, the teachers of the Early Church sought and found classic expression which mark this difference and exclude all “economy” from the Trinitarian dogma. In order to understand aright and to confess in adequate terms the true Divinity of the Only Begotten Son, we must eliminate not only the Plotinian and Philonic motifs from the doctrine of the Divine Logos, but even all “christological” elements as well. In the course of theological reflexion, it is exactly the Person, of the Incarnate Word which is the starting-point. But for formulating triadological faith, abstraction must be made of Christology too. The relations of the Three Divine Hypostases must be defined without any relation to the creature, preconceived, realized, fallen into sin, saved, or sanctified. The demiurgic role of the Divine Word is certain, it is certified by St. John (1: 3-4), it is confessed in the Creed: by Whom all things were made — surely, not only because He is God, but also because He is the Word and the Son, the hypostatic Wisdom of God. Yet, this demiurgical moment itself must be eliminated in explaining the eternal Generation of the Son. If the world had not been created, the Son would none the less have existed, because He is the Son by nature, κατά φυσιν. It was one of the principal thoughts of St. Athanasius. “The Divine Word did not receive existence because of us; on the contrary, we received it because of Him. Not for our infirmity did He, the Mighty, receive existence from the Father alone, so that by Him as instrument the Father might create us. God forbid. It is not so. For even had it seemed good to God not to make the creatures, yet none the less the Word was with God, and the Father was in Him." Although “for the creatures it was impossible to receive existence without the Word” — or “impossible to receive existence otherwise than by Him” — His own hypostatic existence does not at all depend on the creative will of the Father concerning the creation of the world. And it is impious to think, as the arians do, that “the Son Himself has received existence because of us” and that the Father “desiring us created Him because of us” (St. Athanasius, c. arian. 30 and 31). The creation is only realizable by the Word, but the Word is not begotten in order that the creatures might be created. The hypostatic distinction and properties of the Word must be envisaged in their relation to the intimate life of the Divine Being, abstraction having been made of the destinies of the (created or to-be-created) world. Nicene theology insists that the Trinity would be even if there were no creature at all — but since the world is created, we observe everywhere the manifestations of the Holy Trinity, vestigia Trinitatis, and certain Divine operations should be appropriated to the particular Persons of the Trinity. Again, in the same manner, all soteriological motifs must be eliminated. Of course, the Divine plan of the Redemption and of the Incarnation is an eternal decree (κατά προθεσιν των αιωνων, Ephes 3;11), an “economy” of the mystery hidden since the beginning of the ages (v. 9), a decree of the Divine Prescience (Acts 2: 23). The Son of God was eternally predestined to the Incarnation, or even to Calvary, and in virtue of this eternal predestination He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revel. 13; 8) and the eternal High-Priest (St. Polycarp, Philipp. 12; και αυτος ο αιωνιος αρχιερευς), “the Priest for ever” after the order Of Melchisedec. Yet this “economic” predestination does not belong to the intimate life of the Holy Trinity, in so far as its intrinsic being is concerned — this predestination, προθεσις, is a free act of the mercy and the grace of God, not an aspect of His essential Being. The way of Incarnation is not, as it were, pressed upon Divine Will — that is to say, the Incarnation is not necessary for God to be true God, the Blessed Trinity. It is a work of the “economic” condescendence, not of the nature, as St. John Damascene puts it (c. Jacobitas, 52, M.G. xciv, 1464: ου φυσεως εργον η σαρκωσις, αλλα τροπος οικονομικης συνκαταβασεως). And more than that. The Word is only Priest in virtue of the Incarnation — before becoming Incarnate, He was not priest. To sum up, all Revelation, all “Economy,” is a manifestation of the supreme and absolute freedom of God. It is not absolutely “necessary.” God does not need exterior revelation. It is what we can dare to name the Divine Contingency. But it is contingency modo Divino. And since, in His mysterious freedom, God has chosen and decreed creation, all is accomplished according to His designs and His prescience, and the whole creation manifests the Glory of its Creator. The contingent but eternal decree is an unalterable decree, because the Divine does not change or alter. Yet this unalterability must not be identified with natural necessity. On the contrary, the unalterability of the Will of God is based exactly on His supreme freedom — because, in His sovereign freedom, He has so decided unalterably — from all eternity. This eternal unalterability does not annul the freedom. We may recall at this point the scholastic distinction between the absolute and ordained power — potentia absolula and potentia ordinata.


From all eternity God has “imagined” or “invented” the idea of the creature. And with time itself the creature was brought out of nothingness to existence, or rather the new existence has been posited. The chain of times begun. In the historic process the creature, or rather the creatures, had to be realized according to the Divine Plan and to the Divine prototypes. But these “prototypes” are not exactly inescapable “laws of nature.” They are designs and calls. They are to be realized in freedom, in obedience and submission, but ultimately by free efforts of the created beings. There is a problem to solve, and not merely a germ to make evolve. Let us risk the unusual term: a transcendent entelechy. That is why the historic process is, as it were, an imitative creation. Of course, there are inferior creatures which simply evolve, which have only to develop themselves, i.e. to realize the potentialities hidden in their own nature; that is precisely Nature, the Cosmic existence. But man is more than a “natural being” only, and it is in him that the general idea of creation is fully revealed or disclosed — man is a “little world,” a microcosm. And man cannot realize himself by an evolution of his innate potentialities only. His goal is exactly to surpass himself and to rise towards God, and even more than that — to partake in the Divine Life. It is only by this participation that man becomes fully himself. In this rising he realizes himself, as it were, creates himself. However, for the full realization the free effort of man must be corroborated by the condescendence of grace. Again, by the free effort of man not only are the innate germs developed, but also new realities are produced. The free effort and the grace are not separable in this ontological ascent or growth of the “reasonable beings” — yet there is no confusion, nor composition — as it were, no “transubstantiation” of the creature. The “deification,” θεωσις, is precisely, so to say, an impregnation with grace, εκ χαριτος (the terms are of St. Maximus; cf. St. Anastasius Sinait., Hodegos, M.G. lxxxix, c. 77: η επι το κρειττον υψωσιςη μεταστασις, ου μεν της οικειας φυσεος αλαωθεν). At this level of his ascent man becomes truly conformed with these uncreated prototypes, with the idea that God has of him from eternity — conformed, but never identical. By the hypostatic Incarnation of the Word the way of the ascent is reopened for the redeemed humanity. For men are given (again) “the power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12), the possibility of becoming members of Christ, i.e. members of His Mystical Body. In the course of the history of the Church, human nature is formed, constituted, and realized — it is being realized for total conformity to its eternal predestination, to become the vessel of grace Divine. And here we have to face once more an antinomy, or rather the eschatological aspect of the same basic antinomy of creation. The unalterable decree and design of God is not simply forced upon the created existence, the design itself is at once a mighty and effective fiat, and a call and appeal to the created freedom. Historical process is ultimately dyotheletic, and Will of God is mediated through the will of men. The true existence and proper subsistence of the creation are certified in the first place precisely by its freedom. Of course, freedom is more than the free will of indifference or merely the possibility of choice — yet the choice too belongs somehow to the very essence of the created freedom, i.e. of the freedom of created beings. There are indeed two ways open before the creature: towards God and away from God — the way of Union (or Participation) and the way of separation (or estrangement). In obedience and disobedience, in acquisition and spoliation, the same freedom is manifested and realized. Surely, the two cases are not exactly parallel. Only in the Union with God is the creaturely freedom truly actualized, and a thoroughgoing self-renunciation is the only way of access; yet the renunciation itself must be free, if it is to be freedom and productive. On the other hand, the abuse of freedom which drives man away from God, culminates ultimately in bondage of sin and passions, and kills freedom altogether. But again, the abuse itself is a free venture, and a sinner is responsible for his failure. After all, the Fall is a failure of freedom to make the right choice or to respond duly to the creative appeal. Man has capacity and power not only for the choice, but for the perseverance in the choice once made. The duality of the ways is not a formal or logical possibility only, it is a real possibility first of all. Doubtless, the ascent towards God is only realizable under the condition of reciprocal Divine condescendence, of the aid of Grace. But even this Divine aid leaves man in his freedom, and God produces nothing in man without the consent (and even co-operation) of the human will. “The ancient law of human freedom,” as St. Irenaeus says, excludes all constraint or violence of grace. Again, the way of separation is ultimately a way of perdition and death. Strangely enough, man has this paradoxical capacity for ontological suicide and power for committing it. Freedom in man is ever ambiguous and ambivalent. Now, in this freedom is manifested the ultimate reality of created “nature.” Doubtless again, the creature is produced and fore-ordained for a union with God, for a participation in the Divine Life and Glory. Yet, this participation is not a necessity of the created nature. It is a supernatural perfection. It is rather a norm, apart from which the creatures cannot realize themselves, since the creature's realization consists precisely in surpassing itself; however, the spurning of this norm does not automatically imply the annihilation of the fallen creature. There is a call — to perfection, an appeal to freedom. There is freedom in the world precisely because the world is created and therefore — contingent. There was no room for freedom in the closed and static world of the Greek philosophy. There is no freedom in the world of emanation. Man is free because he is not divine by nature, and his goal of perfection is above his nature, and he has to overgrow and overcome himself. Man can only realize himself by surmounting his own “natural” limits, or rather, he can only become truly himself by mounting beyond his own nature, i.e. in the communion with God. But if the creature, or a creature, does not realize this end, if it deviates, if it resists, if it contradicts or neglects the Divine call — and by this obstinacy and resistance in a certain sense ceases to live — still it never ceases to exist. For, as St. Augustine says, for the creature “ being is not the same thing as living” — non hoe est ei esse quod vivere (St. Augustine, de Gen. ad litt. 1: 5). Creatures have the freedom for ontological suicide, i.e. for an ultimate frustration of their existence, but cannot have a power to annihilate themselves, to free themselves from existence. Cannot, precisely because they do not exist by themselves, their existence being given to them, as it were, from “outside,” i.e. by the Other. By the creative fiat of God the world is unalterably determined for existence. The created world will not be annihilated, although it will be finally reshaped by its Maker. If the creatures fail to rise towards God — if they turn away from Him — they stay in their narrow limits, but never descend below that mysterious line which divides existence from non-existence. Eternal death itself is not an annihilation, or a ceasing of existence, but rather a depraved mode of existing, in the outer darkness of the ultimate estrangement from God. There is, as it were, no exit out or from existence, since the divine decree of Creation is given once for all. It is perfectly true, in a certain sense, evil is only the privation or lack of being, it has no proper essence or nature, it is utterly “essenceless,” ανουσιος, in the phrase of St. John Damascene (c. Manich. 14, M.G. xciv, 1597). Yet, it is real as an active force, it is real in its results — destructive but definitive. Evil has a negative or privative character, but still it is real in its terrifying void. It has the enigmatic power of imitating creation, and this perverse imitation is productive in its destructions, Evil devastates and distorts things, but, in the case of persistence in evil, an these devastations and perversions will persist, i.e. these distorted existences will enter into “eternity,” though the eternity of hell. Evil is a void of nothingness, but, paradoxically, a real void. It engulfs beings. It is more than simply the lack of being, it is, as it were, a positive nothingness — the phrase is paradoxical, just as the phenomenon of evil is paradoxical itself. Evil has a quasi-productive power, it produces new realities in the world — false realities, of course, but none the less real and existent. It adds new aspect to what is produced by God — as it were, it can “create” what is not created by God, nor willed by God — namely itself. Sin and death, they are quasi-additions to being, a novelty in the created world. Sin as set up for the world new laws, it has produced death, and has subjected to it the whole creation. This false production will undergo the last judgement of the Creator, but the power of Divine Love, as we are positively instructed by the Scripture, will not surpass either the resistance of the “ sons of perdition “ or the ravages produced by sin. Perseverance in evil will not be overcome by an indiscriminate forgiveness. Estrangement of those who had chosen it will continue in the world to come. Eschatology is full of mysteries and antinomies, and for us too often mysteries look like riddles. But all eschatological antinomies are already hidden and implied in the primordial mystery and antinomy of Creation.



Creation and Creaturehood

Translated from Russian

"Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands, and thy walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:16).





The world is created. That means: the world came out of nothing. That means there was no world before it sprang up and came into being. It sprang up and came into being together with time. Because when there was no world, there was no time. Because “time is reckoned from the creation of the heavens and the earth,” as St. Maximus the Confessor said.1 Only the world exists in time — in change, succession, duration. Without the world there is no time. And the genesis of the world is the beginning of time.2 This beginning, as St. Basil the Great explains, is not yet time, nor even a fraction of time, just as the beginning of a road is not yet the road itself. It is simple and uncomposite.3 There was no time; and suddenly, all at once, it began. Creation springs, comes into being, passes from out of non-being into being. It begins to be. As St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “The very subsistence of creation owed its beginning to change,”4 “the very transition from non-entity to existence is a change, non-existence being changed by the Divine power into being.”5 This primordial genesis and beginning of change and duration, this “transition” from void to existence, is inaccessible to human thought. But it becomes comprehensible and imaginable from its opposite. We always calculate time in an inverse order, back from the present, retreating into the depths of time, going backwards in the temporal sequence; and only secondarily do we think in terms of consecutive reckoning. And going backwards into the past, we stop at some determinate link, one which is calculated and calculable from within the series, with a clear consciousness that we have to stop. The very notion of the beginning of time is this necessity of stopping, is the very impossibility of an infinite regression into the past. It makes no difference whether we can or cannot compute this limit of retreat in terms of centuries or of days. The prohibition itself remains in full force. A first unit is absolutely postulated in the temporal series, before which there are no other links, no other moments of time, because there was no change, and no sequence whatever. It is not time that precedes time, but “the height of ever-present eternity” transcending duration — celsitudo semper praesentis aeternitatis, as St. Augustine used to say. Time began. But there will be a time “when time shall be no more” — "oti hronos uketi estin” (“οτι χρονος ουκετι εσται” Rev. 10:6). Change will cease. And according to St. John Damascene, “Time, after the resurrection, will no longer be numbered by days and nights; rather, there will be one day without evening.”6 The temporal sequence will be broken; there will be a last unit in it. But this end and cessation of change does not indicate the abolition of what began with time, of what was and existed in time; it does not suggest a return or relapse into nothingness. There will be no time, but creation will be preserved. The created world can exist even not in time. Creation began, but it will not cease.7 Time is a kind of line segment, with a beginning and an end. And therefore it is incommensurate with eternity, because time has a beginning. And in eternity there is no change, neither a beginning. The whole of temporality does not coincide with eternity. “The fullness of the times” (omne tempus) does not necessarily mean “always” (semper), as Augustine has pointed out.8 Infinity or endlessness does not necessarily imply beginninglessness. And creation may be compared to a mathematical “bundle of rays,” halves of straight lines extending from their point of origin to infinity. Once brought out of nothingness and non-being, the world has in the creative fiat an immutable and final foundation and support for its existence. “The creative word is like an adamantine bridge upon which creatures are placed, and they stand under the abyss of the Divine Infinitude, over the abyss of their own nothingness,” said Metropolitan Philaret. “Because the word of God must not be imagined as like the spoken word of man, which, when it has been pronounced, straightway desists and vanishes in air. In God there is nothing of cessation, nothing of vanishing: His word proceeds but does not recede: "The word of the Lord endureth for ever (1 Peter 1:25).”9 God “Created all things, that they might have their being’" (Wis. Solomon 1:14). And not for the time being, but for ever did He create: He brought creation into being by His creative word. "For He hath established the world, so that it shall not be moved” (Ps. 93:1).

The world exists. But it began to exist. And that means; the world could have not existed. There is no necessity whatsoever for the existence of the world. Creaturely existence is not self-sufficient and is not independent. In the created world itself there is no foundation, no basis for genesis and being. Creation by its very existence witnesses to and proclaims its creaturehood, it proclaims that it has been produced. Speaking in the words of Augustine, “[It] cries out that it has been created — it cries out that it did not create itself: [I] exist because I am created; and I was not before I came to be, and I could not issue from myself...” — clamant quod facta sunt. Clamant etiam quod seipsa non fecerint: ideo sumus, quia facta sumus; non eramus ante quam essemus, ut fieri possemus a nobis...10

By its very existence creation points beyond its own limits. The cause and foundation of the world is outside the world. The world's being is possible only through the supra-mundane will of the merciful and Almighty God, "Who calls the things that be not, to be” (Rom. 4:17). But, unexpectedly it is precisely in its creaturehood and createdness that the stability and substantiality of the world is rooted. Because the origin from out of nothing determines the otherness, the “non-consubstantiality” of the world and of God. It is insufficient and inexact to say that things are created and placed outside of God. The “outside" itself is posited only in creation, and creation “from out of nothing” [ex nihilo] is precisely such a positing of the “outside,” the positing of an “other” side by side with God. Certainly not in the sense of any kind of limitation to the Divine fullness, but in the sense that side by side with God there springs up an other, a heterogeneous substance or nature, one different from Him, and in a certain sense an independent and autonomous subject. That which did not exist springs now up and comes forth. In creation something absolutely new, an extra-divine reality is posited and built up. It is precisely in this that the supremely great and incomprehensible miracle of creation consists — that an “other” springs up, that heterogeneous drops of creation exist side by side with “the illimitable and infinite Ocean of being,” as St. Gregory of Nazianzus says of God.11 There is an infinite distance between God and creation, and this is a distance of natures. All is distant from God, and is remote from Him not by place but by natureu topo alla physi (ου τοπω αλλα φυσει)— as St. John Damascene explains.12 And this distance is never removed, but is only, as it were, overlapped by immeasurable Divine love. As St. Augustine said, in creation “there is nothing related to the Trinity, except the fact that the Trinity has created it” — nihilique in ea esse quod ad Trinitatem pertineat, nisi quod Trinitas condidit...13 Even on the most exalted heights of prayerful ascent and intimacy there is always an impassable limit, there can always be perceived and revealed the living duality of God and creation. “He is God, and she is non-God,” said Macarius “the Great” of the soul. “He is the Lord, and she the handmaid; He the Creator, and she the creation; He the Architect, and she the fabric; and there is nothing in common between Him and her nature.”14 Any transubstantiation of creaturely nature into the Divine is as impossible as the changing of God into creation, and any “coalescence” and “fusion” of natures is excluded. In the one and only hypostasis and person of Christ — the God-Man — in spite of the completeness of the mutual interpenetration of the two natures, the two natures remain with their unchanged, immutable difference; “without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the specific property of each nature being preserved” (“Ουδαμου της των φυσεων διαφορας ανηρημενες δια τυν ενωσιν σωζομενης δε μαλλον της ιδιοτητος εκατερας φυσεως” the Oros [ορος] of Chalcedon). The vague “out of two natures” the Fathers of Chalcedon replaced by the strong and clear “in two natures,” and by the confession of the double and bilateral consubstantiality of the God-Man they established an unshakeable and indisputable criterion and rule of faith. The real existence of a created human nature, that is, of an other and second nature outside of God and side by side with Him, is an indispensable prerequisite for the accomplishment of the Incarnation without any change in or transmutation of the Divine nature.

What is created is outside of God, but is united with Him. The Fathers of the fourth century, moved by the Arian controversy to define the concept of creation in a clear and precise manner, stressed above all else the heterogeneity of the created and Creator in counter distinction to the “consubstantiality” of generation; and they corrected this heterogeneity with the dependence of creation upon the will and volition. Everything created, wrote St. Athanasius the Great, “is not in the least like its Creator in substance, but is outside of Him,” and therefore also could have not existed.15 Creation “comes into being, made up from outside.”16 And there is no similarity between that which bursts forth from nothing and the Creator Who verily is, Who brings creatures out of nothing.17 Will and volition precede creating. Creating is an act of will [ek vulimatos, εκ βουληματος], and therefore is sharply distinguished from the Divine generation, which is an act of nature [genna kata physin, γεννα κατα φυσιν].18 A similar interpretation was given by St. Cyril of Alexandria. The generation is out of the substance, kata physin (κατα φυσιν). Creating is an act, and is not done out of the creator's own substance; and therefore a creation is heterogeneous to its creator.19 Summarizing the patristic interpretation, St. John of Damascus gives a following definition: “Begetting means producing from the substance of the begetter an offspring similar in substance to the begetter. Creation, or making, on the other hand, is the bringing into being, from outside and not from the substance of the creator, an actor of something, entirely unlike [by nature].” Generation is accomplished “by a natural power of begetting,” (“της γονιμοτητος φυσικης”) and creating is an act of volition and will —theliseos ergon (θελησεως εργον).20 Creaturehood determines the complete dissimilarity of the creation and God, its otherness, and hence its independence and substantiality. The whole section of St. John is actually an elaborate rejoinder to arguments of Origin.

Creation is not a phenomenon but a “substance.” The reality and substantiality of created nature is manifested first of all in creaturely freedom. Freedom is not exhausted by the possibility of choice, but presupposes it and starts with it. And creaturely freedom is disclosed first of all in the equal possibility of two ways: to God and away from God. This duality of ways is not a mere formal or logical possibility, but a real possibility, dependent on the effectual presence of powers and capacities not only for a choice between, but also for the following of, the two ways. Freedom consists not only in the possibility, but also in the necessity of autonomous choice, the resolution and resoluteness of choice. Without this autonomy, nothing happens in creation. As St. Gregory the Theologian says, “God legislates human self-determination.”21 “He honored man with freedom that good might belong no less to him who chose it than to Him Who planted its seed.”22 Creation must ascend to and unite with God by its own efforts and achievements. And if the way of union requires and presupposes a responsive prevenient movement of Divine Mercy, “the ancient law of human freedom,” as St. Irenaeus once put it, is not undermined by this. The way of disunion is not closed to creatures, the way of destruction and death. There is no irresistible grace, creatures can and may lose themselves, are capable, as it were, of “metaphysical suicide.” In her primordial and ultimate vocation, creation is destined for union with God, for communion and participation in His life. But this is not a binding necessity of creaturely nature. Of course, outside of God there is no life for creation. But as Augustine happily phrased it, being and life do not coincide in creation.23 And therefore existence in death is possible. Of course, creation can realize and establish herself fully only by overcoming her self-isolation, only in God. But even without realizing her true vocation, and even opposing it, thus undoing and losing herself, creation does not cease to exist. The possibility of metaphysical suicide is open to her. But the power of self-annihilation is not given. Creation is indestructible — and not only that creation which is rooted in God as in the source of true being and eternal life, but also that creation which has set herself against God. “For the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Cor. 7:31), and shall pass. But the world itself shall not pass. Because it was created “that it might have being.” Its qualities and properties are changeable and mutable, and do change; but its “elements” are immutable. And immutable above all is the microcosm man, and immutable are men's hypostases, sealed as they are and brought out of nothing by the creative will of God. Indeed, the way of rebellion and apostasy is the way of destruction and perdition. But it leads not towards non-being, but to death; and death is not the end of existence, but a separation — the separation of soul and body, the separation of creation from God. In fact, evil “is not an entity.”24 Evil has no “substance” — it is anusion (ανουσιον) according to St. John Damascene.25 Evil has a negative and privative character, it is the absence and privation of true being. And at the same time, as St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “in its very non-being it has its being.” (εν τω μη ειναι εχει)26 The root and character of evil is delusion and error. Evil, in the incisive phrase of one German theologian, is “a mythopoeic lie” ["eine dichtende Lüge" — F. Staudenmeier]. It is a kind of fiction, but a fiction loaded with enigmatic energy and power. Evil is active in the world, and in this actuality is real. Evil introduces new qualities into the world, as it were, adding something to the reality created by God, a something not willed and not created by God, although tolerated by Him. And this innovation, in a certain sense “non-being,” is in an enigmatic fashion real and powerful, "For God made not death” (Wis. Sol. 1:13), and nevertheless the whole creation is become subject to futility, and to the bondage of corruption (Rom. 8:20-21). By sin death spread to all men (Rom. 5:12), and sin, being itself a fictitious innovation in the world, the spawn of the created will and of human devices, creates death and as it were sets up a new law of existence for creation, a kind of anti-law. And in a certain sense, evil is ineradicable. Yet, because the final perdition in eternal torment provoked by evil in “the resurrection unto judgment” does not mean total annihilation nor the total suppression of evil beings, it is impossible to ascribe to evil such anti-creative power which would overcome the creative power of God. By its devastation of being, evil does not wipe out being. And, such a devastated, distorted, deceitful, and false reality is mysteriously received into eternity, even though in the torments of unquenchable fire. The eternity of torments that will come upon the sons of perdition points out with a special urgency and sharpness the reality of creation as a second and extra-divine reality. It is provoked by a persistent though free rebellion, by a self-assertion in evil. Thus, as in becoming, so in dissolution — as in holiness, so in perdition — as in obedience, so in disobedience — creation manifests and witnesses to her own reality as the free object of the divine decrees.

The idea of creation is alien to the “natural” consciousness. Classical, Hellenistic thought did not know it. Modern philosophy has forgotten it. Given in the Bible, it is disclosed and manifested in the living experience of the Church. In the idea of creation are juxtaposed the motif of the immutable, intransitory reality of the world as a free and active subject (more precisely, as a totality of interacting subjects) and the motif of its total non-self-sufficiency, of its ultimate dependence upon Another higher principle. And therefore any supposition of the world's beginninglessness, the necessity of its existence, and any admission of its elimination are excluded. Creation is neither self-existent being, nor transitory becoming; neither eternal "substance,” nor illusory "appearance.” In creaturehood a great wonder is revealed. The world also might not have existed at all. And that which might not have existed, for which there are no inevitable causes or bases, does exist. This is a riddle, a “foolishness” for “natural” thought. And hence comes the temptation to attenuate and blunt the idea of creation, to replace it by other notions. Only by the contrary approach can the mystery of creation be clarified, by the exclusion and suspension of all evasive speculation and conjecture.


God creates in perfect freedom. This proposition is framed with remarkable precision by the “Subtle Doctor” of the Western middle ages, Duns Scotus: Procedit autem rerum creatio a Deo, non aliqua necessitate, vel essentiae, vel scientiae, vel voluntatis, sed ex mera libertate, quae non movetir et multo minus necessitatur ab aliquo extra se ad causandum. “The creation of things is executed by God not out of any necessity, whether of essence or of knowledge or of will, but out of a sheer freedom which is not moved — much less constrained — by anything external that it should have to be a cause.”27 Even so, in defining God's freedom in creation it is not enough to do away with crude conceptions of compulsion, of external necessity. It is obvious that we cannot even speak of any kind of external compulsion, because the very “outside” itself is first posited only in creation. In creation God is determined only by Himself. But it is not so easy to demonstrate the absence of any internal “necessity” in this self-determination, in the revelation of God ad extra. Here, the thought is beset by alluring temptations. The question may be put in this manner: Is the attribute of Creator and Sustainer to be considered as belonging to the essential and formative properties of the Divine Being? The thought of the Divine immutability may prevent us from giving a negative answer. Precisely so did Origen reason in his time. “It is alike impious and absurd to say that God's nature is to be at ease and never to move, or to suppose that there was a time when Goodness did not do good and Omnipotence did not exercise its power.”28 From the perfect extra-temporality and immutability of the Divine Being, Origen, in the words of Bolotov, draws the conclusion “that all His properties and predicates always belong to God in a strict sense — in actu, in statu quo."29 Here, “always” for Origen has the meaning of “extra-temporal eternity,” and not only “the whole of temporality.” — “Just as nobody can be a father without having a son, nor a lord without holding a possession or a slave,” reasons Origen, “so too we cannot even call God Almighty — Pantocrator if there are no creatures over whom he can exercise His power. For if anyone would have it that certain ages, or periods of time, or of Divine Omnipotence — whatever he cares to call them — elapsed during which the present creation did not exist, he would undoubtedly prove that in those ages or periods God was not Almighty but that He became Pantocrator afterward, that He became Almighty from the time when he began to have creatures over whom he could exercise power. Thus God will apparently have experienced a kind of progress, for there can be no doubt that it is better for Him to be Almighty than not to be so. Now how is it anything but absurd that God should at first not possess something that is appropriate to Him and then should come to possess it? But if there was no time when God was not Almighty, there must always have existed the things in virtue of which He is Almighty; and there must always have existed things under his rule, over which He is their Ruler.”30 In view of the perfect Divine immutability, “it is necessary that the creatures of God should have been created from the beginning, and that there should be no time when they were not.” Because it is inadmissible to think that, in time, God “would pass from inaction to action.” Hence it is necessary to recognize “that with God all things are without beginning and are co-eternal.”31

It is not simple or easy to escape from Origen's dialectical nets. In this very problematic there lies an incontestable difficulty. “When I think what God was Lord of from eternity, if creation be not from always,” exclaimed Augustine, “I fear to affirm anything.” Cum cogito cuius rei dominus semper fuit, si semper creatura non fuit, affirmare aliquid pertimesco...32 Origen complicated his question by his inability to extricate himself completely from time as change.

Together with the sempiternal and immobile eternity of the Divine Being, he imagined an endless flow of ages which had to be filled. Furthermore, any sequence in the Divine predicates appeared to him under the form of real temporal change; and therefore, having excluded change, he was inclined to deny any sequence at all to, or interdependence among, those predicates taken as a whole; he asserted more than the mere “co-eternity” of the world with God; he asserted the necessity of the Divine self-disclosure ad extra, the necessity of the revelation and out-pouring of Divine goodness upon the “other” from all eternity, the necessity of the eternal realization of the fulness and of all the potentialities of Divine power. In other words, in order to comply with the notion of the Divine immutability, Origen had to admit the necessity of a conjointly ever-existent and beginningless “not-I” as a corresponding prerequisite to and correlative of the Divine completeness and life. And here is the ultimate sting of the question. It was also possible that the world might not have existed at all — possible in the full sense of the word only granted that God can also not create. If, on the other hand. God creates out of necessity, for sake of the completeness of His Being, then the world must exist; then it is not possible that the world might not have existed. Even if one rejects the Origenistic notion of the infinitude of real past time and recognizes the beginning of time, the question remains: Does not at least the thought of the world belong to the absolute necessity of the Divine Being?

We may assume that the real world came into being together with time, and that “there was when it was not,” when there was no temporal change. But the image of the world, does not this remain eternal and everlasting in the Divine knowledge and will, participating immutably and ineluctably in the fulness of the Divine self-knowledge and self-determination? On this point St. Methodius of Olympus had already put his finger, against Origen, stressing that the Divine All-Perfectness cannot depend on anything except God Himself, except on His own nature.33 Indeed, God creates solely out of His goodness, and in this Divine goodness lies the only basis of His revelation to the “other,” the only basis of the very being of that “other” as recipient and object of this goodness. But should we not think of this revelation as eternal? And if we should — since God lives in eternity and in unchangeable completeness — would not this mean that in the final analysis “the image of the world” was present, and conjointly present, with God unchangingly in eternity, and moreover in the unalterable completeness of all its particular predicates? Is there not a “necessity of knowledge or will?” Does not this mean that God in His eternal self-contemplation also necessarily contemplates even what He is not, that which is not He, but other? Is God not bound in His sempiternal self-awareness by the image of His “Non-I” at least as a kind of possibility? And in His self-awareness is He not forced to think of and to contemplate Himself as a creative principle and as the source of the world, and of the world as an object of and participant in His good pleasure? And on the other hand, over the whole world there lies imprinted the Divine seal, a seal of permanence, a reflection of the Divine glory. The Divine economy of the world, the unchanging and immutable Providence of God, conveys — to our vision — perfect stability and wise harmony — and also a kind of necessity. This vision hinders our understanding and apprehension of the claim that the world also might not have existed. It seems we cannot conceive the world as non-existing without introducing a kind of impious fortuitousness or arbitrariness in its existence and genesis, either of which is contradictory and derogatory to the Divine Wisdom. Is it not obvious that there must be some kind of sufficient cause for the world, cur sit potius quam non sit? And that this cause must consist of the unchangeable and sempiternal will and command of God? Does it not follow that once the world is impossible without God, God also is impossible without the world? Thus the difficulty is only shelved, but not solved, if we limit ourselves to the chronological beginnings of the actual existence of the world, since, in this case, the possibility of the world, the idea of the world. God's design and will concerning it, still remains eternal and as though con-jointly everlasting with God.

And it must be said at once that any such admission means introducing the world into the ultra-Trinitarian life of the Godhead as a co-determinant principle. And we must firmly and uncompromisingly reject any such notion. The idea of the world, God's design and will concerning the world, is obviously eternal, but in some sense not co-eternal, and not conjointly everlasting with Him, because “distinct and separated,” as it were, from His “essence” by His volition. One should say rather that the Divine idea of the world is eternal by another kind of eternity than the Divine essence. Although paradoxical, this distinction of types and kinds of eternity is necessary for the expression of the incontestable distinction between the essence (nature) of God and the will of God. This distinction would not introduce any kind of separation or split into the Divine Being, but by analogy expresses the distinction between will and nature, the fundamental distinction made so strikingly explicit by the Fathers of the fourth century. The idea of the world has its basis not in the essence, but in the will of God. God does not so much have as “think up” the idea of creation.34 And He “thinks it up” in perfect freedom; and it is only by virtue of this wholly free “thinking up” and good pleasure of His that He as it were “becomes” Creator, even though from everlasting. But nevertheless He could also not have created. And any such “refraining” from creation would in no way alter or impoverish the Divine nature, would mean no diminution, Just as the very creation of the world does not enrich the Divine Being. Thus by way of opposites we can come close to an understanding of God's creative freedom. In a sense, it would be “indifferent” to God whether the world exists or not — herein consists the absolute “all-sufficiency” of God, the Divine autarchy. The absence of the world would mean a kind of subtraction of what is finite from the Infinite, which would not affect Divine fulness. And conversely, the creation of the world would mean the addition of what is finite to the Infinite, which in no way affects Divine plenitude. The might of God and the freedom of God must be defined not only as the power to create and to produce but also as the absolute freedom not to create.

All these words and presuppositions, obviously, are insufficient and inexact. They all have the character of negations and prohibitions, and not of direct and positive definitions; but they are necessary for the testimony to that experience of faith in which the mystery of Divine freedom is revealed. With a tolerable inexactitude, one could say that God is able to permit and tolerate the absence of anything outside of Himself. By such a presumption the whole immeasurability of the Divine love is not diminished, but on the contrary is thrown into relief. God creates out of the absolute superabundance of His mercies and goodness, and herein His good pleasure and freedom are manifest. And in this sense, one could say that the world is a kind of a surplus. And further, it is a surplus which in no way enriches the Divine fulness; it is, as it were, something “supererogatory” and superadded, something which also could not have existed, and which exists only through the sovereign and all-perfect freedom and unspeakable good pleasure and love of God. This means that the world is created and is “the work of” God's will, theliseos ergon (θελησεως εργον). No outward revelation whatever belongs to the “necessity” of the Divine nature, to the necessary structure of the intra-Divine life. And creative revelation is not something imposed upon God by His goodness. It is executed in perfect freedom, though in eternity also. Therefore it cannot be said that God began to create, or “became” Creator, even though “to be Creator” does not belong to those definitions of Divine nature which includes the Trinity of Hypostases. In the everlasting immutability of God's Being there is no origination whatsoever, nor any becoming, nor any sequence. And nevertheless there is a kind of all-perfect harmonic order which is partially knowable and expressible on the level of the Divine names. In this sense St. Athanasius the Great used to say that “to create, for God, is secondary; and to beget, primary,” that “what is of nature [essence]” is antecedent to “what is of volition.”35 One has to admit distinctions within the very co-eternity and immutability of the Divine Being. In the wholly simple Divine life there is an absolute rational or logical order [taxis, ταξις] of Hypostases, which is irreversible and inexchangeable for the simple reason that there is a “first principle” or “source” of Godhead, and that there is the enumeration of First, Second, and Third Persons.36 And likewise it is possible to say that the Trinitarian structure is antecedent to the will and thought of God, because the Divine will is the common and undivided will of the All-Holy Trinity, as it is also antecedent to all the Divine acts and “energies.” But even more than this, the Trinity is the internal, self-revelation of the Divine nature. The properties of God are also revelations of the same sort, but in their particular disclosure God is free. The unchanging will of God freely postulates creation, and even the very idea of creation. It would be a tempting mistake to regard the “thinking up” of the world by God as an “ideal creation,” because the idea of the world and the world of ideas are totally in God, εν τω Θεω, and in God there is not, and there cannot be, anything of the created. But this ambiguous notion of an “ideal creation” defines with great clarity the complete distinction between the necessity of the Trinitarian Being on the one hand and the freedom of God's design — His good pleasure concerning creation — on the other. There remains an absolute and irremoveable distinction, the denial of which leads to picturing the whole created economy as made up of essential acts and conditions which disclose the Divine nature as though of necessity, and this leads to raising the world, at least the “intelligible world” [kosmos noitos, κοσμος νοητος] to an improper height. One might, with permissible boldness, say that in the Divine idea of creation there is a kind of contingency, and that if it is eternal, it is not an eternity of essence, but a free eternity. We could clarify the freedom of God's design — His good pleasure — for ourselves by the hypothesis that this idea need not have been postulated at all. Certainly, it is a casus irrealis, but there is no inherent contradiction in it. Certainly, once God “thought up” or postulated such an idea, He had sufficient reason for doing so. However, one thinks that Augustine was right in prohibiting any search for “the cause of God's will.”37 But it is bound by nothing and preordained by nothing. The Divine will is not constrained by anything to “think up” the world. From eternity, the Divine Mind, rhapsodized St. Gregory the Theologian, “contemplated the desirable light of His own beauty, the equal and equally-perfect splendor of the triple-rayed Divinity... The world-creating Mind in His vast thoughts also mused upon the patterns of the world which He made up, upon the cosmos which was produced only afterwards, but which for God even then was present. All, with God, lies before His eyes, both what shall be, and what was, and what is now... For God, all flows into one, and all is held by the arms of the great Divinity.”38

"The desirable light” of the Divine beauty would not be enhanced by these “patterns of the world,” and the Mind “makes them up” only out of the superabundance of love. They do not belong to the splendor of the Trinity; they are postulated by His will and good pleasure. And these very “patterns of the world” are themselves a surplus and super-added gift or “bonus” of Him Who is All-Blessed Love. In this very good pleasure of His will to create the world the infinite freedom of God is manifest.

So St. Athanasius says, “The Father creates all, by the Word, in the Spirit,”39 — Creation is a common and indivisible act of the All-Holy Trinity. And God creates by thought, and the thought becomes deed (κτζει δε ενοων και το εννοημα εργου υφισταται), says St. John Damascene.40 "He contemplated everything from before its being, from eternity pondering it in His mind; hence each thing receives its being at a determinate time according to His timeless and decisive thought, which is predestination, and image, and pattern” (κατα την θελητικην αυτου αχρονον εννοιαν ητις εστι προορισμος και παραδειγμα).41 These patterns and prototypes of things that are to be constitute the "pre-temporal and unchangeable counsel” of God, in which everything is given its distinctive character [echarakterizo, εχαρακτειριζετο] before its being, everything which is preordained by God in advance and then brought to existence (η βουλη αυτου η προαιωνιος και αει ωσαυτως εχουσα).42 This “counsel” of God is eternal and unchanging, pre-temporal and without beginning — [anarhos, αναρχος] — since everything Divine is immutable. And this is the image of God, the second form of the image, the image turned towards the creation.43 St. John Damascene is referring to Pseudo-Dionysius. These creative patterns, says the Areopagite, “are creative foundations pre-existent together in God, and together compose the powers that make being into entities, powers which theology calls ‘predestinations,’ Divine and ‘beneficient,’ decisions which are determinative and creative of all things extant, according to which He Who is above being has preordained and produced all that exists” (Παραδειματα δε φαμεν ειναι τους εν Θεω των οντων ουσιοποιους και ενιαιως προυφεστωτας λογους, ους η Θεολογια προορισμους καλει, και Θεια και αγαθα θεληματα, των οντων αφοριστικα και ποιητκα καθ ους ο Υπερουσιος τα οντα παντα και προωρισε και παρηγαγεν).44 According to St. Maximus the Confessor these types and ideas are the Divine all-perfect and everlasting thoughts of the everlasting God (νοησεις αυτοτελεις αιδιοι του αιδιου Θεου).45 This eternal counsel is God's design and decision concerning the world. It must be rigorously distinguished from the world itself. The Divine idea of creation is not creation itself; it is not the substance of creation; it is not the bearer of the cosmic-process; and the “transition” from “design” [ennoima, εννοημα] to “deed” [ergon, εργον] is not a process within the Divine idea, but the appearance, formation, and the realization of another substratum, of a multiplicity of created subjects. The Divine idea remains unchangeable and unchanged, it is not involved in the process of formation. It remains always outside the created world, transcending it. The world is created according to the idea, in accordance with the pattern — it is the realization of the pattern — but this pattern is not the subject of becoming. The pattern is a norm and a goal established in God. This distinction and distance is never abolished, and therefore the eternity of the pattern, which is fixed and is never involved in temporal change, is compatible with temporal beginning, with the entering-into-being of the bearers of the external decrees. “Things before their becoming are as though non-existent,” said Augustine, utiquae non erant. And he explains himself: they both were and were not before they originated; “they were in God's knowledge: but were not in their own nature” — erant in Dei scientia, non erant in sua natura.46 According to St. Maximus, created beings "are images and similes of the Divine ideas,”47 in which they are “participants.”48 In creation, the Creator realizes, “makes substantial” and “discloses” His knowledge, pre-existent everlastingly in Himself.49 In creation there is projected from out of nothing a new reality which becomes the bearer of the Divine idea, and must realize this idea in its own becoming. In this context the pantheistic tendency of Platonic ideology and of the Stoic theory of “seminal reasons” [spermatiki logi, σπερματικοι λογοι] is altogether overcome and avoided. For Platonism the identification of the “essence” of each thing with its Divine idea is characteristic, the endowment of substances with absolute and eternal (beginningless) properties and predicates, as well as the introduction of the “idea” into real things. On the contrary, the created nucleus of things must be rigorously distinguished from the Divine idea about things. Only in this way is even the most sequacious logical realism freed from a “pantheistic flavor; the reality of the whole will nevertheless be but a created reality. Together with this, pan-logism is also overcome: The thought of a thing and the Divine thought-design concerning a thing are not its “essence” or nucleus, even though the essence itself is characterized by logos λογος, [logikos, λογικος]. The Divine pattern in things is not their “substance” or “hypostasis;” it is not the vehicle of their qualities and conditions. Rather, it might be called the truth of a thing, its transcendental entelechy. But the truth of a thing and the substance of a thing are not identical.50


The acceptance of the absolute creatureliness and non-self-sufficiency of the world leads to the distinguishing of two kinds of predicates and acts in God. Indeed, at this point we reach the limit of our understanding, all words become, as it were, mute and inexact, receiving an apophatic, prohibitive, not a cataphatic, indicative sense. Nevertheless, the example of the holy Fathers encourages a speculative confession of faith. As Metropolitan Philaret once said, “We must by no means consider wisdom, even that hidden in a mystery, as alien and beyond us, but with humility should edify our mind towards the contemplation of divine things.”51 Only, in our speculation we must not overstep the boundaries of positive revelation, and must limit ourselves to the interpretation of the experience of faith and of the rule of faith, presuming to do no more than discern and clarify those inherent presuppositions through which the confession of dogmas as intelligible truths becomes possible. And it must be said that the whole structure of the doctrine of faith encourages these distinctions. In essence, they are already given in the ancient and primary distinction between “theology” and “economy.” From the very beginning of Christian history, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church endeavored to distinguish clearly and sharply those definitions and names which referred to God on the “theological” plane and those used on the “economical.” Behind this stands the distinction between “nature” and “will.” And bound up with it is the distinction in God between “essence” [usia, ουσια] and “that which surrounds the essence,” “that which is related to the nature.” A distinction, but not a separation.

“What we say about God affirmatively shows us,” as St. John Damascene explains, "not His nature, hut only what is related to His nature” (ου τυν φυσιν, αλλα τα περι τυν φυσιν),52 “something which accompanies His nature” [u physin, alla ta para physin, τι των παρεπομενων την φυσει].53 And “what He is by essence and nature, this is unattainable and unknowable.” 54 St. John expresses here the basic and constant assumption of all Eastern theology: God's essence is unattainable; only the powers and operations of God are accessible to knowledge.55 And as matters stand, there is some distinction between them. This distinction is connected with God's relation to the world. God is knowable and attainable only in so far as He turns Himself to the world, only by His revelation to the world, only through His economy or dispensation. The internal Divine life is hedged by “light unapproachable,” and is known only on the level of “apophatic” theology, with the exclusion of ambiguous and inadequate definitions and names. In the literature of the ante-Nicene period, this distinction not seldom had an ambiguous and blurred character. Cosmological motives were often used in the definition of intra-Trinitarian relations, and the Second Hypostasis was often defined from the perspective of God's manifestation or revelation to the world, as the God of revelation, as the Creative Word. And therefore the unknowability and inaccessibility were assigned primarily to the Hypostasis of the Father as being un-revealable and ineffable. God reveals Himself only in the Logos, in “the spoken Word” [logos prophorikos, λογος προφορικος], as “in the idea and active power” issuing forth to build creation.56 Connected with that was the tendency to sub-ordinationism in the ante-Nicene theological interpretation of the Trinitarian dogma. Only the Fathers of the fourth century obtained in their Trinitarian theology the basis for an adequate formulation of God's relation to the world: the whole entire and undivided “operation” [energie, ενεργειαι] of the consubstantial Trinity is revealed in God's acts and deeds. But the single “essence” [usia, ουσια] of the undivided Trinity remains beyond the reach of knowledge and understanding. His works, as St. Basil the Great explains, reveal the power and wisdom of God, but not His essence itself. 57 “We affirm,” he wrote to Amphilochius of Iconium, “that we know our God by His energies, but we do not presume that it is possible to approach the essence itself. Because although His energies descend to us, His essence remains inaccessible.” And these energies are multiform, yet the essence is simple.58 The essence of God is unfathomable for men, and is known solely to the Only-begotten Son and to the Holy Spirit.59 In the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, the essence of God is “the Holy of Holies, closed even to the Seraphim, and glorified by the three ‘Holies’ that come together in one ‘Lordship’ and ‘Godhead.’” And the created mind is able, very imperfectly, to “sketch” some small “diagram of the truth” in the infinite ocean of the Divine entity, but based not upon what God is, but upon what is around Him [ek ton peri avton, εκ των περι αυτον].60 “The Divine essence, totally inaccessible and comparable to nothing,” says St. Gregory of Nyssa, “is knowable only through His energies.”61 And all our words concerning God denote not His essence but His energies.62 The Divine essence is inaccessible, unnameable, and ineffable. The manifold and relative names referring to God do not name His nature or essence but the attributes of God. Yet the attributes of God are not just intelligible or knowledgeable signs or marks which constitute our human notion of God; they are not abstractions or conceptual formulae. They are energies, powers, actions. They are real, essential, life-giving manifestations of the Divine Life — real images of God's relation to creation, connected with the image of creation in God's eternal knowledge and counsel. And this is “that which may be known of God” (το γνωστον του Θεου, Rom. 1:19). This is, as it were, the particular domain of the undivided but yet “many-named” Divine Being, “of the Divine radiance and activity,” — η Θεια ελλαμψις και ενεργεια, as St. John Damascene says, following the Areopagitica.63 According to the Apostolic word, “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Godhead” (η τε αιδιος αυτου δυναμις και Θειοτης, Rom. 1:20). And this is the revelation or manifestation of God: "God hath shewed it unto them” (Rom. 1:19; ephanerosen, εφανερωσεν). Bishop Silvester rightly explains in commenting on these Apostolic words: “The invisible things of God, being actually existent and not merely imaginary, become visible not in a kind of illusory way, but certainly, veritably; not as a mere phantom, but in His own eternal power; not merely in the thoughts of men, but in very fact — the reality of His Divinity.”64 They are visible because manifested and revealed. Because God is present everywhere, not phantasmally, not in remoteness, but really present everywhere — “which art in all places, and fillest all things, the Treasury of good things, and Giver of life.” This providential ubiquity (different from the “particular” or charismatic presence of God, which is not everywhere) is a particular “form of existence” for God, distinct from the “form of His existence according to His own nature.”65 And furthermore this form is existentially real or subsistent — it is an actual presence, not merely an omnipraesentia operativa, sicut agens adest ei in quod agit. And if we “do not particularly understand” (in the phrase of St. Chrysostom66) this mysterious omnipresence, and this form of the Divine Being ad extra, nevertheless it is indisputable that God “is everywhere, whole and entirely,” “all in all,” as St. John Damascene said (ολον ολικως πανταχου ον, ολον εν πασι).67 The life-giving acts of God in the world are God Himself — an assertion which precludes separation but does not abolish distinction.68 In the doctrine of the Cappadocian fathers concerning “essence” and “energies” we find in an elaborate and systematic form the mysterious author of the Areopagitica that was to determine the whole subsequent development of Byzantine theology. Dionysius bases himself on the strict distinction between those “Divine Names” which refer to the intra-Divine and Trinitarian life and those which express the relation of God ad extra69 But both series of names tell of the immutable Divine reality. The intra-Divine life is hidden from our understanding, is known only through negations and prohibitions,70 and in the phrase of St. Gregory the Theologian “one who by seeing God has understood what he has seen, has not seen Him.”71 And nevertheless God really reveals Himself and acts and is present in creation through His powers and ideas — in “providences and graces which issue from the incommunicable God, which pour out in a flooding stream, and in which all existing things participate,”72 “in an essence-producing procession,” [usiopion proodon, ουσιοποιον προοδον], in “a providence that works good things,” [agathopion pronian, αγαθοποιον προνοιαν], which are distinguishable but not separable from the Divine entity “which surpasses entity,” from God Himself, as St. Maximus the Confessor says in his scholia.73 The basis of these “processions” and of the, as it were, procession of God in His providences out of Himself — [eks eavtu genete, εξω εαυτου γινεται] — is His goodness and love.74 These energies do not mix with created things, and are not themselves these things, but are only their basic and life-giving principles; they are the prototypes, the predeterminations, the reasons, the logi (λογοι) and Divine decisions respecting them, of which they are participants and ought to be “communicants.”75 They are not only the “principle” and the “cause,” but also the “challenge” and beckoning goal which is beyond and above all limits. It would be difficult to express more forcefully both the distinction between and the indivisibility of the Divine Essence and the Divine energies than is done in the Areopagitica (το ταυτον και το ετερον).76 The divine energies are that aspect of God which is turned towards creation. It is not an aspect imagined by us; it is not what we see and as we see it, but it is the real and living gaze of God Himself, by which He wills and vivifies and preserves all things — the gaze of Almighty Power and Superabundant Love.

The doctrine of the energies of God received its final formulation in the Byzantine theology of the fourteenth century, and above all in St. Gregory Palamas. He bases himself on the distinction between Grace and Essence, “the divine and deifying radiance and grace is not the essence, but the energy of God” (η Θεια και Θεοποις ελλαμψις και χαρις ουκ ουσια αλλ ενεργια εστι Θεου)77 The notion of the Divine energy received explicit definition in the series of Synods held in the fourteenth century in Constantinople. There is a real distinction, but no separation, between the essence or entity of God and His energies. This distinction is manifest above all in the fact that the Entity is absolutely incommunicable and inaccessible to creatures. The creatures have access to and communicate with the Divine Energies only. But with this participation they enter into a genuine and perfect communion and union with God; they receive “deification.”78 Because this is “the natural and indivisible energy and power of God,” (φυσικη και αχωριστος ενεργεια και δυναμις του Θεου)79 “it is the common and Divine energy and power of the Tri-Hypostatic God.”80 The active Divine power does not separate itself from the Essence. This “procession” [proiene, προιεναι] expresses an “ineffable distinction,” which in no way disturbs the unity “that surpasses essence.”81 The active Power of God is not the very “substance” of God, but neither is it an “accident” [symvevikos, συμβεβηκος]; because it is immutable and coeternal with God, it exists before creation and it reveals the creative will of God. In God there is not only essence, but also that which is not the essence, although it is not accident — the Divine will and power — His real, existential, essence-producing providence and authority.82 St. Gregory Palamas emphasizes that any refusal to make a real distinction between the “essence” and “energy” erases and blurs the boundary between generation and creation — both the former and the latter then appear to be acts of essence. And as St. Mark of Ephesus explained, “Being and energy, completely and wholly coincide in equivalent necessity. Distinction between essence and will [thelisis, θελησις] is abolished; then God only begets and does not create, and does not exercise His will. Then the difference between foreknowledge and actual making becomes indefinite, and creation seems to be coeternally created.”83 The essence is God's inherent self-existence; and the energy is His relations towards the other [pros eteron, προς ετερον]. God is Life, and has life; is Wisdom, and has wisdom; and so forth. The first series of expressions refers to the incommunicable essence, the second to the inseparably distinct energies of the one essence, which descend upon creation.84 None of these energies is hypostatic, nor hypostasis in itself, and their incalculable multiplicity introduces no composition into the Divine Being.85 The totality of the Divine “energies” constitutes His pre-temporal will, His design — His good pleasure — concerning the “other,” His eternal counsel. This is God Himself, not His Essence, but His will.86 The distinction between “essence” and “energies” — or, it could be said, between “nature” and “grace” [physis, φυσις and haris, χαρις] — corresponds to the mysterious distinction in God between “necessity” and “freedom,” understood in a proper sense. In His mysterious essence God is, as it were, “necessitated” — not, indeed, by any necessity of constraint, but by a kind of necessity of nature, which is, in the words of St. Athanasius the Great, “above and antecedent to free choice.”87 And with permissible boldness one may say: God cannot but be the Trinity of persons. The Triad of Hypostases is above the Divine Will, is, as it were, “a necessity” or “law” of the Divine nature. This internal “necessity” is expressed as much in the notion of the “consubstantiality” as in that of the perfect indivisibility of the Three Persons as They co-exist in and intercompenetrate one another. In the judgment of St. Maximus the Confessor, it would be unfitting and fruitless to introduce the notion of will into the internal life of the Godhead for the sake of defining the relations between the Hypostases, because the Persons of the All-Holy Trinity exist together above any kind of relation and action, and by Their Being determine the relations between Themselves.88 The common and undivided “natural” will of God is free. God is free in His operations and acts. And therefore for a dogmatic confession of the reciprocal relations between the Divine Hypostases, expressions must be found such as will exclude any cosmological motives, any relation to created being and its destinies, any relation to creation or re-creation. The ground of Trinitarian being is not in the economy or revelation of God ad extra. The mystery of the intra-Divine life should be conceived in total abstraction from the dispensation; and the hypostatic properties of the Persons must be defined apart from all relationship to the existence of creation, and only according to the relationship that subsists between Themselves. The living relationship of God — precisely as a Triad — to the creation is in no way thus obscured; the distinction in the relations of the different Hypostases towards the creation is in no wise obscured. Rather, a fitting perspective is thus established. The entire meaning of the dogmatic definition of Christ's Divinity as it was interpreted by the Church actually lay in the exclusion of all predicates relative to the Divine condescension which characterize Him as Creator and Redeemer, as Demiurge and Saviour, in order to understand His Divinity in the light of the internal Divine Life and Nature and Essence. The creative relationship of the Word to the world is explicitly confessed in the Nicene Creed — by Whom all things were made. And “things” were made not only because the Word is God, but also because the Word is the Word of God, the Divine Word. No one was as emphatic in separating the demiurgical moment in Christ's action from the dogma of the eternal generation of the Word as St. Athanasius the Great. The generation of the Word does not presuppose the being — and not even the design — of the world. Even had the world not been created, the Word would exist in the completeness of His Godhead, because the Word is Son by nature [Yos kata physin, υιος κατα φυσιν]. “If it had pleased God not to create any creatures, the Word would nevertheless be with God, and the Father would be in Him,” as St. Athanasius said; and this because creatures cannot receive their being otherwise than through the Word.89 The creatures are created by the Word and through the Word, “in the image” of the Word, “in the image of the image” of the Father, as St. Methodius of Olympus once expressed it.90 The creation presupposes the Trinity, and the seal of the Trinity lies over the whole creation; yet one must not therefore introduce cosmological motifs into the definition of the intra-Trinitarian Being. And yet one may say that the natural fulness of the Divine essence is contained within the Trinity, and therefore that the design — His good pleasure — concerning the world is a creative act, an operation of the will — an abundance of Divine love, a gift and a grace. The distinction between the names of “God in Himself,” in His eternal being, and those names which describe God in revelation, “economy,” action, is not only a subjective distinction of our analytical thinking; it has an objective and ontological meaning, and expresses the absolute freedom of Divine creativity and operation. This includes the “economy” of salvation. The Divine Counsel concerning salvation and redemption is an eternal and pre-temporal decree, an "eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11), "the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Eph. 3:9). The Son of God is from everlasting destined to the Incarnation and the Cross, and therefore He is the Lamb "Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:19-20), "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). But this “purpose” [prothesis, προθεσις] does not belong to the “essential” necessity of the Divine nature; it is not a “work of nature, but the image of economical condescension,” as St. John Damascene says.91 This is an act of Divine love — for God so loved the world ... And therefore the predicates referring to the economy of salvation do not coincide with those predicates by which the Hypostatic Being of the Second Person is defined. In Divine revelation there is no constraint, and this is expressed in the notion of the perfect Divine Beatitude. Revelation is an act of love and freedom, and therefore introduces no change into the Divine nature.92 It introduces no change simply because there are no “natural” foundations for revelation at all. The sole foundation of the world consists in God's freedom, in the freedom of Love.


From eternity God “thinks up” the image of the world, and this free good pleasure of His is an immutable, unchangeable counsel. But this immutability of the accomplished will does not in the least imply its necessity. The immutability of God's will is rooted in His supreme freedom. And therefore it does not bind His freedom in creation, either. It would be very appropriate here to recall the scholastic distinction between potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata.

And in conformity with the design — the good pleasure of God — creation, together with time, is “built up” from out of nothing. Through temporal becoming, creation must advance by its own free ascent according to the standard of the Divine economy respecting it, according to the standard of the pre-temporal image of and predestination for it. The Divine image of the world always remains above and beyond creation by nature. Creation is bound by it unchangeably and inseparably, is bound even in its very resistance to it. Because this “image” or “idea” of creation is simultaneously the will of God [thelitiki ennia, θελητικη εννοια] and the power of God by which creation is made and sustained; and the beneficent counsel of the Creator is not made void by the resistance of creation, but through this resistance turns out to be, for rebels, a Judgment, the force of wrath, a consuming fire. In the Divine image and counsel, each creature — i.e., every created hypostasis in its imperishable and irreproducible form — is contained. Out of eternity God sees and wills, by His good pleasure, each and every being in the completeness of its particular destiny and features, even regarding its future and sin. And if, according to the mystical insight of St. Symeon the New Theologian, in the age to come “Christ will behold all the numberless myriads of Saints, turning His glance away from none, so that to each one of them it will seem that He is looking at him, talking with him, and greeting him,” and yet “while remaining unchanged. He will seem different to one and different to another”93 — so likewise out of eternity, God in the counsel of His good pleasure, beholds all the innumerable myriads of created hypostases, wills them, and to each one of them manifests Himself in a different way. And herein consists the “inseparable distribution” of His grace or energy, “myriadfold hypostatic” in the bold phrase of St. Gregory Palamas,94 because this grace or energy is beneficently imparted to thousands upon myriads of thousands of hypostases. Each hypostasis, in its own being and existence, is sealed by a particular ray of the good pleasure of God's love and will. And in this sense, all things are in God — in “image” [en idea ke paradigmati, εν ιδεα και παραδειγματι] but not by nature, the created “all” being infinitely remote from Uncreated Nature. This remoteness is bridged by Divine love, its impenetrability done away by the Incarnation of the Divine Word. Yet this remoteness remains. The image of creation in God transcends created nature and does not coincide with “the image of God” in creation. “Whatever description may be given to the “image of God” in man, it is a characteristic moment of his created nature — it is created. It is a “likeness,” a mirroring.95 But above the image the Proto-Image always shines, sometimes with a gladenning, sometimes with a threatening, light. It shines as a call and a norm. There is in creation a supra-natural challenging goal set above its own nature — the challenging goal, founded on freedom, of a free participation in and union with God. This challenge transcends created nature, but only by responding to it is this nature itself revealed in its completeness. This challenging goal is an aim, an aim that can be realized only through the self-determination and efforts of the creature. Therefore the process of created becoming is real in its freedom, and free in its reality, and it is by this becoming that what-was-not reaches fulfilment and is achieved. Because it is guided by the challenging goal. In it is room for creation, construction, for re-construction — not only in the sense of recovering, but also in the sense of generating what is new. The scope of the constructiveness is defined by the contradiction between the nature and the goal. In a certain sense, this goal itself is “natural” and proper to the one who does the constructive acts, so that the attainment of this goal is somehow also the subject's realization of himself. And nevertheless this “I” which is realized and realizable through constructiveness is not the “natural” and empiric “I,” inasmuch as any such realization of one's self” is a rupture — a leap from the plane of nature onto the plane of grace, because this realization is the acquisition of the Spirit, is participation in God. Only in this “communion” with God does a man become “himself;” in separation from God and in self-isolation, on the contrary, he falls to a plane lower than himself. But at the same time, he does not realize himself merely out of himself. Because the goal lies beyond nature, it is an invitation to a living and free encounter and union with God. The world is substantially different from God. And therefore God's plan for the world can be realized only by created becoming — because this plan is not a substratum or substantia that comes into being and completes itself, but is the standard and crown of the “other's” becoming. On the other hand, the created process is not therefore a development, or not only a development; its meaning does not consist in the mere unfolding and manifestation of innate “natural” ends, or not only in this. Rather, the ultimate and supreme self-determination of created nature emerges in its zealous impulse to outstrip itself in a kinisis yper physin κινησις υτερ φυσιν, as St. Maximus says.96 And an anointing shower of grace responds to this inclination, crowning the efforts of the creatures.

The limit and goal of creaturely striving and becoming is divinisation [theosis, θεωσις] or deification [theopiisis, θεοποιησις]. But even in this, the immutable, unchangeable gap between natures will remain: any “transubstantiation” of the creature is excluded. It is true that according to a phrase of St. Basil the Great preserved by St. Gregory the Theologian, creation “has been ordered to become God.” 97 But this “deification” is only communion with God, participation [metusis, μετουσια] in His life and gifts, and thereby a kind of acquisition of certain similitude to the Divine Reality. Anointed and sealed by the Spirit, men become conformed to the Divine image or prototype of themselves; and through this they become “conformed to God” [symmorphi Theo, συμμορφοι Θεω].98 With the Incarnation of the Word the first fruit of human nature is unalterably grafted into the Divine Life, and hence to all creatures the way to communion with this Life is open, the way of adoption by God. In the phrase of St. Athanasius, the Word “became man in order to deify [theopiisi, θεοποιηση] us in Himself,”99 in order that “the sons of men might become the sons of God.” 100 But this “divinization” is acquired because Christ, the Incarnate Word, has made us “receptive to the Spirit,” that He has prepared for us both the ascension and resurrection as well as the indwelling and appropriation of the Holy Spirit.”101 Through the “flesh-bearing God” we have become “Spirit-bearing men”; we have become sons “by grace,” “sons of God in the likeness of the Son of God.”102 And thus is recovered what had been lost since the original sin, when “the transgression of the commandment turned man into what he was by nature,”103 over which he had been elevated in his very first adoption or birth from God, coinciding with his initial creation.104 The expression so dear to St. Athanasius and to St. Gregory the Theologian, Theon genesthe (Θεον γενεσθαι),105 finds its complementary explanation in a saying of two other Cappadocian Saints: omiosis pros ton Theon (ομοιωσις προς τον Θεον).106 If Macarius the Egyptian dare speak of the “changing” of Spirit-bearing souls “into the Divine nature,” of “participation in the Divine nature,”107 he nevertheless understands this participation as a krasis di olon κρασις δι ολον, i.e., as a certain “mingling” of the two, preserving the properties and entities of each in particular.108 But he also stresses that “the Divine Trinity comes to dwell in that soul which, by the cooperation of Divine Grace, keeps herself pure — He comes to dwell not as He is in Himself, because He is incontainable by any creature — but according to the measure of the capacity and receptivity of man.109 Explicit formulae concerning this were not established all at once, but from the very beginning the impassable gulf between the natures was rigorously marked, and the distinction between the notions kata usian, κατ ουσιαν (or κατα φυσιν) and kata metusian, κατα μετουσιαν was rigorously observed and kept. The concept of “divinization” was crystallized only when the doctrine of God's “energies” had been explicated once and for all. In this regard the teaching of St. Maximus is significant. “The salvation of those who are saved is accomplished by grace and not by nature,”110 and if “in Christ the entire fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily according to essence then in us, on the contrary, there is not the fulness of the Godhead according to grace.”111 The longed-for “divinization” which is to come is a likeness by grace (και φανωμεν αυτω ομοιοι κατα την εκ χαριτος θεωσιν).112 And even by becoming partakers of Divine Life, “in the unity of love,” “by co-inhering totally and entirely with the whole of God,” (ολος ολω περιχωρησας ολικως τω Θεω) by appropriating all that is Divine, the creature “nevertheless remains outside the essence of God.”113 And what is most remarkable in this is the fact that St. Maximus directly identifies the deifying grace with the Divine good pleasure as regards creation, with the creative fiat.114 In its efforts to acquire the Spirit, the human hypostasis becomes a vehicle and vessel of Grace; it is in a manner imbued with it, so that by it God's creative will is accomplished — the will which has summoned that-which-is-not into being in order to receive those that will come into His communion. And the creative good pleasure itself concerning each and every particular is already by itself a descending stream of Grace-but not everyone opens to the Creator and God Who knocks. Human nature must be freely discovered through a responsive movement, by overcoming the self-isolation of its own nature; and by denying the self, as one might say, receive this mysterious, and terrifying, and unspeakable double-naturedness for sake of which the world was made. For it was made to be and to become the Church, the Body of Christ.

The meaning of history consists in this — that the freedom of creation should respond by accepting the pre-temporal counsel of God, that it should respond both in word and in deed. In the promised double-naturedness of the Church the reality of created nature is affirmed at the outset. Creation is the other, another nature willed by God's good pleasure and brought forth from nothing by the Divine freedom for creation's own freedom's sake. It must conform itself freely to that creative standard by which it lives and moves and has its being. Creation is not this standard, and this standard is not creation. In some mysterious way, human freedom becomes a kind of “limitation” on the Divine omnipotence, because it pleased God to save creation not by compulsion, but by freedom alone. Creation is “other,” and therefore the process of ascent to God must be accomplished by her own powers — with God's help, to be sure. Through the Church creaturely efforts are crowned and saved. And creation is restored to its fulness and reality. And the Church follows, or, rather, portrays the mystery and miracle of the two natures. As the Body of Christ, the Church is a kind of “plenitude” of Christ — as Theophan the Recluse says — “Just as the tree is the ‘plenitude’ of the seed.”115 And the Church is united to Her Head. “Just as we do not ordinarily see iron when it is red-hot, because the iron's qualities are completely concealed by the fire,” says Nicholas Cabasilas in his Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, “so, if you could see the Church of Christ in Her true form, as She is united to Christ and participates in His Flesh, then you would see Her as none other than the Lord's Body alone.”116 In the Church creation is forever confirmed and established, unto all ages, in union with Christ, in the Holy Spirit.




The last things and

the last events


"Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5)



Content: Eschatology — an unpopular topic. Why an “end”? The Second Coming.



Eschatology — an unpopular topic.

Eschatology was for a long time a neglected field in modern theology. The arrogant phrase of Ernst Troeltsch — “The bureau of eschatology is for the most part closed” — was distinctively characteristic of the whole liberal tradition, since the Age of the Enlightenment. Nor is this neglect for eschatological issues fully overcome in contemporary thought. In certain quarters eschatology is still regarded as an obsolete relic of the forlorn past. The theme itself is avoided, or it is summarily dismissed as unreal and irrelevant. The modern man is not concerned with the last events. This attitude of neglect was recently reinforced by the rise of theological Existentialism. Now, Existentialism does claim to be itself an eschatological doctrine. But it is a sheer abuse of terms. Eschatology is radically interiorized in its existentialist reinterpretation. It is actually swallowed up in the immediacy of personal decisions. In a sense, modern Existentialism in theology is but a fresh variation on the old Pietistic theme. In the last resort, it amounts to the radical dehistorization of the Christian faith. Events of history are eclipsed by the events of inner life. The Bible itself is used as a book of parables and patterns. History is no more than a passing frame. Eternity can be encountered and tasted at any time. History is no more a theological problem.

On the other hand, precisely in the last few decades, the basic historicity of the Christian faith has been reassessed and reaffirmed in various trends of contemporary theology. This was a momentous shift in theological thinking. Indeed, it was a return to Biblical faith. Of course, no elaborate “philosophy of history” can be found in the Bible. But there is in the Bible a comprehensive vision of history, a perspective of an unfolding time, running from a “beginning” to an “end,” and guided by the sovereign will of God toward the accomplishment of His ultimate purpose. The Christian faith is primarily an obedient witness to the mighty deeds of God in history, which culminated, “in those last days,” in the Advent of Christ and in His redemptive victory. Accordingly, Christian theology should be construed as a “Theology of History.” Christian faith is grounded in events, not in ideas. The Creed itself is a historical witness, a witness to the saving or redemptive events, which are apprehended by faith as God’s mighty deeds.

This recovery of the historic dimension of the Christian faith was bound to bring the eschatological theme into the focus of theological meditation. The Bible and the Creed are both pointing to the future. It has been recently suggested that Greek philosophy was inescapably “in the grip of the past.” The category of the future was quite irrelevant in the Greek version of history. History was conceived as a rotation, with an inevitable return to the initial position, from which a new repetition of events was bound to start again. On the contrary, the Biblical view opens into the future, in which new things are to be disclosed and realized. And an ultimate realization of the divine purpose is anticipated in the future, beyond which no temporal movement can proceed — a state of consummation.

In the witty phrase of von Balthasar, “Eschatology is the ‘eye of the storm’ in, the theology of our time” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Eschatologie,” Fragen der Theologie Heute. Feiner, Trütsch, Böckle, editors (Zürich: Köln, 1958), pp. 493-421). Indeed, it is a “subtle knot” in which all lines of theological thinking intersect and are inextricably woven together. Eschatology cannot be discussed as a special topic, as a separate article of belief. It can be understood only in the total perspective of the Christian faith. What is characteristic of contemporary theological thought is precisely the recovery of the eschatological dimension of the Christian faith. All articles of faith have an eschatological connotation. There is no common consensus in the contemporary theology of “the Last Things.” There is rather a sharp conflict of views and opinions. But there is also a new widening of the perspective.

Emil Brunner’s contribution to the current discussion was both provocative and constructive. His theology is a theology of hope and expectation, as it befits one who stands in the Reformed tradition. His theology is inwardly oriented toward “the Last Events.” Yet, at many points, his vision is limited by his general theological presuppositions. Indeed, his theology reflects his personal experience of faith.


Why an “end”?

The mystery of the Last Things is grounded in the primary paradox of Creation. According to Brunner, the term Creation, in its Biblical use, does not denote the manner in which the world did actually come into existence, but only the sovereign Lordship of God. In the act of Creation God posits something totally other than Himself, “over against” Himself. Accordingly, the world of creatures has its own mode of existence-derivative, subordinate, dependent, and yet genuine and real, in its own kind. Brunner is quite formal at this point. “A world which is not God exists alongside of Him.” Thus, the very existence of the world implies a certain measure of self-imposed “limitation” on the side of God, His kenosis, which reaches its climax in the cross of Christ. God, as it were, spares room for the existence of something different. The world has been “called into existence” for a purpose, in order that it manifest the glory of God. The Word is the principle and the ultimate goal of Creation.

Indeed, the very fact of Creation constitutes the basic paradox of the Christian faith, to which all other, mysteries of God can be traced back, or rather in which they are implied. Brunner, however, does not distinguish clearly, at this point, between the very “being” of God and His “will.” Yet, the “being” of God simply cannot be “limited” in any sense. If there is a “limitation,” it can refer only to His “will,” insofar as another “will” has been “called into existence,” a will which could not have existed at all. This basic “contingency” of Creation testifies to the absolute sovereignity of God. On the other hand, the ultimate climax of the creative kenosis will be reached only in “the Last Events.” The sting of the paradox, of the kenosis, is not in the existence of the world, but in the possibility of Hell. Indeed, the World may be obedient to God, as well as it may be disobedient, and in its obedience it would serve God and manifest His glory. It will be not a “limitation,” but an expansion of God’s majesty. On the contrary, Hell means resistance and estrangement, pure and simple. However, even in the state of revolt and rebellion, the world still belongs to God. It can never escape His Judgment.

God is eternal. This is a negative definition. It simply means that the notion of time cannot be applied to His existence. Indeed, "time" is simply the mode of creaturely existence. Time is given by God. It is not an imperfect or deficient mode of being. There is nothing illusory about time. Temporality is real. Time is really moving on, irreversibly.

But it is not just a flux, as it is not a rotation. It is not just a series of indifferent “time-atoms” which could be conceived or postulated as infinite, without any end or limit. It is rather a teleological process, inwardly ordained toward a certain final goal. A telos [an end] is implied in the very design of Creation. Accordingly, what takes place in time is significant — significant and real for God Himself. History is not a shadow. Ultimately, history has a “metahistoric” goal. Brunner does not use this term, but he stresses strongly the inherent “finitude” of history. An infinite history, rolling on indefinitely, without destination or end, would have been an empty and meaningless history. The story is bound to have an end, a conclusion, a katharsis, a solution. The plot must be disclosed. History has to have an end, at which it is “fulfilled” or “consummated.” It has been originally designed to be “fulfilled.” At the end there will be no history any more. Time will be filled with eternity, as Brunner puts it. Of course, eternity means in this connection simply God. Time has meaning only against the background of eternity, that is — only in the context of the divine design.

Yet, history is not just a disclosure of that primordial and sovereign design. The theme of actual history, of the only real history we know about, is given by the existence of sin. Brunner dismisses the query about the origin of sin. He only stresses its “universality.” Sin, in the biblical sense of the term, is not primarily an ethical category. According to Brunner, it only denotes the need for redemption. Two terms are intrinsically correlative. Now, sin is not a primary phenomenon, but a break, a deviation, a turning away from the beginning. Its essence is apostasy and rebellion. It is this aspect of sin that is emphasized in the biblical story of the Fall. Brunner refuses to regard the Fall as an actual event. He only insists that without the concept of the Fall the basic message of the New Testament, that is — the message of salvation would be absolutely incomprehensible. Yet, one should not inquire into the “when” and “how” of the Fall.

The essence of sin can be discerned only in the light of Christ, that is — in the light of redemption. Man, as he can be observed in history, always appears as sinner, unable not to sin. The man of history is always “man in revolt.” Brunner is fully aware of the strength of evil — in the world and in the history of man. He commends the Kantian notion of radical evil. What he has to say about the Satanic sin, as different from man’s sin, about the super-personal Satanic power, is impressive and highly relevant for theological inquiry, as much as all that may inevitably offend and disturb the mind of modern man. But the major question remains still without answer. Has the Fall the character of an event? The logic of Brunner’s own argument seems to compel us to regard it as event, as a link in the chain of events. Otherwise it would be just a symbol, a working hypothesis, indispensable for interpretative purposes, but unreal. Indeed, the end of history must be regarded, according to Brunner, as “an event,” howsoever mysterious this event will be. “The beginning” also has the character of “event,” as the first link in the chain. Moreover, redemption is obviously “an event” which can be exactly dated-indeed, the crucial event, determinative of all others. In this perspective it seems imperative to regard the Fall as event, in whatever manner it may be visualized or interpreted. In any case, redemption and Fall are intrinsically related to each other, in Brunner’s own interpretation.

Brunner distinguishes clearly between the creatureliness as such and sin. Creatures come from God. Sin comes from an opposite source. Sinfulness is disclosed in events, in sinful acts and actions. Indeed, it is an abuse of power, an abuse of freedom, a perversion of that responsible freedom which has been bestowed upon man in the very act by which he was called into existence. Yet, before the abuse became a habit, it had to have been exercised for the first time. The revolt had to have been started. Such an assumption would be in line with the rest of Brunner’s exposition. Otherwise one lapses into some kind of metaphysical dualism which Brunner himself vigorously denounces. In any case, creatureliness and sinfulness cannot be equated or identified.

Indeed, Brunner is right in suggesting that we must start from the center, that is, with the glad tidings of redemption in Christ. But in Christ we contemplate not only our desperate “existential predicament” as miserable sinners, but, above all, the historical involvement of men in sin. We are moving in the world of events. Only for that reason are we justified in looking forward, to “the Last Events.”

The course of history has been radically challenged by God — at one crucial point. According to Brunner, since the coming of Christ, time itself has been charged, for believers, with a totally new quality — “an otherwise unknown quality of decision.” Ever since, believers are confronted with an ultimate alternative, confronted now — in this “historic time.” The choice is radical — between heaven and hell. Any moment of history may become decisive — for those who are bound to make decisions, through Christ’s challenge and revelation. In this sense, according to Brunner, “the earthly time is, for faith, charged with an eternity-tension.” Men are now inescapably called to decisions, since God has manifested His own decision, in Christ, and in His Cross and Resurrection. Does it mean that “eternal decisions” — that is, decisions “for eternity”— must be made in this “historic time?” By faith — in Jesus Christ, the Mediator — one may, already now, “participate” in eternity. Since Christ, believers dwell already, as it were, in two different dimensions, both inside and outside of the “ordinary” time — this universal time, or age, in which the dying give place to those being born (St. Augustine, Civ. Dei, XV.I). Time has been, as it were, “polarized” by Christ’s Advent. Thus, it seems, time is related now to eternity, that is to God, in a dual manner. On the one hand, time is always intrinsically related to the eternal God, as its Creator: God gives time. On the other hand, time has been, in those last days, radically challenged by God’s direct and immediate intervention, in the person of Jesus Christ. As Brunner says himself, “temporality, existence in time, takes on a new character through its relationship to this event, Jesus Christ, the eph hapax of history, the once-for-all quality of His cross and Resurrection, and is newly fashioned in a paradoxical manner that is unintelligible to thinking guided by reason alone” (Brunner, Eternal Hope (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 48). We have reached the crucial point in Brunner’s exposition. His interpretation of human destiny is strictly Christological and Christocentric. Only faith in Christ gives meaning to human existence. This is Brunner’s strong point. But there is an ambiguous docetic accent in his Christology, and it affects grievously his understanding of history. Strangely enough, Brunner himself addresses the same charge to the traditional Christology of the Church, claiming that it never paid enough attention to the historic Jesus. It is a summary charge which we cannot analyze and “refute” just now. What is relevant for our purpose now is that Brunner’s Christology is obviously much more docetic than that of the Catholic tradition. Brunner’s attention to the historical Jesus is utterly ambiguous. According to Brunner, Christ is a historic personality only as man. When He “unveils Himself” — that is, when He discloses His Divinity to those who have the eye of faith — He is no more a historical personality at all. In fact, Christ’s humanity, according to Brunner, is no more than “a disguise.” The true self of Christ is divine. To faith Christ discards His disguise, His “incognito,” to use Brunner’s own phrase. “Where He discloses Himself, history disappears, and the Kingdom of God has begun. And when He unveils Himself, He is no longer an historical personality, but the Son of God, Who is from everlasting to everlasting” (Brunner, The Mediator (London: Lutterworth Press, 1949), p. 346). This is a startling language, indeed.

Actually, Christ’s humanity is just a means to enter history, or rather — to appear in history. God’s relation to history, and to human reality, is, as it were, no more than tangential, even in the crucial mystery of Incarnation. Actually, Christ’s humanity interests Brunner only as a medium of revelation, of divine self-disclosure. Indeed, according to Brunner, in Christ God has really found a firm footing in humanity. But this does not seem anything more than that God has now challenged man in his own human element, on his own human ground and level. In order to meet man, God had to descend — to man’s own level. This may be understood in a strictly orthodox way. Indeed, this was the favorite thought of the ancient Fathers. But Brunner denies any real interpenetration of divine and human aspects in Christ’s person. In fact, they are no more than “aspects.” Two elements meet, but there is no real unity. Christ of faith is only divine, even if in a human disguise. His humanity is just a means to enter history, or rather — to appear in history. Is history just a moving screen on which divine “eternity” is to be projected? God had to assume a beggar’s robe of man, for otherwise He would be unable to encounter man. There was no real “assumption” of human reality into the personal experience of the Incarnate. The role of Christ’s humanity was purely instrumental, a disguise. Basically it is a sheer “Docetism,” however much attention may be given to “historic Jesus.” After all, “historic Jesus” does not belong, in this interpretation, to the realm of faith.

Real decisions are not made on the plane of history, says Brunner. “For that is the sphere in which men wear masks. For the sake of our “masquerade,” that is, for the sake of our sinful mendacity, Christ also, if I may put it like this, has to wear a mask; this is His Incognito” (Ibid, p. 346). Now, in the act of faith, man takes away his mask. Then, in response, Christ also discards His mask, His human disguise, and appears in His glory. Faith, according to Brunner, breaks down history. Faith itself is a kind of a “metahistoric” act, which transcends history, or even discards it. Indeed, Brunner stresses the uniqueness of God’s redemptive revelation in Christ. For man it only means that the challenge is radical and ultimate. Man is now given a unique opportunity, or occasion, to make his decision, to overcome his own limited humanity, and even his intrinsic temporality — by an act of faith which takes him beyond history, if only in hope and promise, till the final keros [time] has come. But is human history ultimately just a masquerade? According to Brunner’s own emphatic statement, temporality as such is not sinful. Why, then, should divine revelation in Christ discard history? Why should historicity be an obstacle to God’s self-revelation, an obstacle that must be radically removed?

In the last resort, the radical change in history — the New Age, released by Christ’s Advent — seems to consist only in the new and unprecedented opportunity to take sides. God actually remains as hidden in history as He has been before, or, probably, even more than before, since the ultimate incommensurability of divine revelation with the human masquerade has been made self-evident and conspicuous. God could approach man only in disguise. The actual course of history has not been changed, either by God’s intervention, or by man’s option. Apart from the decision of faith, history is empty, and still sinful. The intimate texture of actual historic life has not been affected by the redemptive revelation. Nevertheless, a warning has been given: The Lord comes again. This time He is coming as judge, not as Redeemer, although judgment will actually accomplish and stabilize redemption.

By faith we can now discern an “eschatological tension” in the very course of history, although it would be idle and in vain to indulge in any kind of apocalyptic calculations. This tension seems to exist on the human level alone. The eschatological interim is the age of decisions — to be taken by men. God’s decision has been already taken.

As a whole, Christian history, according to Brunner, was a sore failure, a history of decay and misunderstanding. This is an old scheme, firmly established in Protestant historiography at least since Gottfried Arnold. The primitive Christian community, the ecclesia, was a genuine Messianic community, “the bearer of the new life of eternity and of the powers of the divine world,” as Brunner puts it. But this primitive ecclesia did not survive, at least as an historic entity, as an historic factor. Brunner acknowledges partial and provisional “advents” of the Kingdom of God in the course of history. But all these “advents” are sporadic. Where faith is, there is ecclesia or Kingdom. But it is hidden, in the continuing “masquerade” of history. Ultimately, the ongoing history is a kind of testing ground, on which men are challenged and their responses are tried and tested. But does the “saving history” still continue? Is God still active in history, after the First Advent — or is history now left, after the great intervention of Christ, to man alone, with that eschatological provision that finally Christ comes again?

Now, history is obviously but a provisional and passing stage in the destiny of man. Man is called to “eternity,” not to “history.” This is why “history” must come to its close, to its end. Yet, indeed, history is also a stage of growth — the wheat and the tares are growing together, and their ultimate discrimination is delayed — till the day of harvest. The tares are growing indeed, rapidly and wildly. But the wheat is growing also. Otherwise there would be no chance for any harvest, except for that of tares. Indeed, history matures not only for judgment, but also for consummation. Moreover, Christ is still active in history. Brunner disregards, or ignores, that component of Christian history. Christian history is, as it were, “atomized,” in his vision. It is just a series of existential acts, performed by men, and, strangely enough, only negative acts, the acts of rebellion and resistance, seem to be integrated and solidarized. But, in fact, ecclesia is not just an aggregate of sporadic acts, but a “body,” the body of Christ. Christ is present in the ecclesia not only as an object of faith and recognition, but as her Head. He is actually reigning and ruling. This secures the Church’s continuity and identity through the ages. In Brunner’s conception Christ seems to be outside history, or above it. He did come once, in the past. He is coming again, in the future. Is He really present now, in the present, except through the memory of the past and the hope of the future, and indeed in the “metahistoric” acts of faith?

Creation, according to Brunner, has its own mode of existence. But it is no more than a “medium” of divine revelation. It must be, as it were, transparent for divine light and glory. And this strangely reminds us of the Platonizing gnosis of Origen and his various followers. The whole story is reduced to the dialectics of eternal and temporal. Brunner’s own term is “parabolic.”


The Second Coming

The notion of "the end" — of an ultimate end — is a paradoxical notion. An "end" both belongs to the chain or series, and breaks it. It is both "an event" and "the end of all events." It belongs to the dimension of history, and yet it dismisses the whole dimension. The notion of "the beginning" — first and radical — is also a paradoxical notion. As St. Basil has said once, "the beginning of time is not yet time, but precisely the beginning of it" (Hexaem. 1.6). It is both an "instant" and more than that.

Of the future we can speak but in images and parables. This was the language of the Scripture. This imagery cannot be adequately deciphered now, and should not be taken literally. But in no sense should it be simply and bluntly “demythologized.” Brunner is formal at this point. The expected Parousia [the appearance]of Christ must be regarded as “an event.” The character of this event is unimaginable. Better symbols or images can be hardly found than those used in the Bible. “Whatever the form of this event may be, the whole point lies in the fact that it will happen” (Brunner, Eternal Hope, p. 138). The Christian kerygma is decisive at this point: “the ultimate redemptive synthesis has the character of an event.” In other words, the Parousia belongs to the chain of historic “happenings,” which it is expected to conclude and to close. “A Christian faith without expectation of the Parousia is like a ladder which leads nowhere but ends in the void.” At one point, in any case, we can go beyond images: it is Christ that is coming. The Parousia is a “return,” as much as it is an ultimate novelty. “The Last Events” are centered around the person of Christ.

The end will come “suddenly.” And yet it is, in a certain sense, prepared inside of history. As Brunner says, “the history of man disclose radically apocalyptic traits.” At this point he indulges in metaphysical speculations. “The swing of the pendulum becomes ever faster.” This acceleration of the tempo of human life may reach the point at which it can go no further. History may simply explode suddenly. On the other hand, and on the deeper level, disharmonies of human existence are steadily increasing: there is “an everwidening split in the human consciousness.” Of course, these suggestions have no more than a subsidiary or hypothetical value. Brunner tries to commend the paradoxical concept of the end to the modern mind. But they are also characteristic of his own vision of human reality. History is ever ready to explode, it is vexed and overburdened with unresolved tensions. Some years ago a Russian religious philosopher, Vladimir Th. Ern, suggested that human history was a kind of “catastrophical progress,” a steady progression toward an end. Yet the end was to come from above, in a Parousia. Accordingly, it was to be more than just a “catastrophe,” or an immanent or internal “judgment” — a disclosure of inherent contradictions or tensions. It was to be an absolute judgment, the Judgment of God.

Now, what is judgment? It is no less “an event” than the Parousia. It is an ultimate encounter between the sinful humanity and the Holy God. First of all, it will be an ultimate disclosure or manifestation of the true state of every man and of the whole mankind. Nothing will be left hidden. Thus, judgment will terminate that state of confusion and ambiguity, of inconclusiveness, as Brunner puts it, which has been characteristic of the whole historic stage of human destiny. This implies an ultimate and final “discrimination” — in the light of Christ. It will be an ultimate and final challenge. The will of God must be finally done. The will of God must be ultimately enforced. Otherwise, in the phrase of Brunner, “all talk of responsibility is idle chatter.” Indeed, man is granted freedom, but it is not a freedom of indifference. Man’s freedom is essentially a responsive freedom — a freedom to accept God’s will. “Pure freedom” can be professed only by atheists. “To man is entrusted, of man is expected, merely the echo, the subsequent completion, of a decision which God has already made about him and for him” (Ibid, p. 178). There is but one fair option for man — to obey; there is no real dilemma. Man’s purpose and goal are fixed by God.

All this is perfectly true. Yet, at this very point, the vexing question arises. Will actually all men accept, at the Last Judgment, God’s will? Is there any room for radical and irreversible resistance? Can man’s revolt continue beyond judgment? Can any creaturely being, endowed with freedom, persist in estrangement from God, which has been persistently practiced before, that is — to pursue its own will? Can such a being still “exist” — in the state of revolt and opposition, against the saving will of God, outside God’s saving purpose? Is it possible for man to persevere in rebellion, in spite of the call and challenge of God? Is the Scriptural picture of separation — between the sheep and the goats — the last word about man’s ultimate destiny? What is the ultimate status of creaturely “freedom?” What does it mean that finally the will of God must and will prevail? These are queer and searching questions. But they cannot be avoided. They are not dictated only by speculative curiosity. They are “existential” questions. Indeed, the Last Judgment is an awful mystery, which cannot, and should not, be rationalized, which passes all knowledge and understanding. Yet, it is a mystery of our own existence, which we cannot escape, even if we fail to comprehend or understand it intellectually.

Brunner emphatically dismisses the “terrible theologoumenon” of double predestination, as incompatible with the mind of the Bible. There is no eternal discrimination in God’s creative design. God calls all men to salvation, and for that purpose He calls them into existence. Salvation is the only purpose of God. But the crucial paradox is not yet resolved. The crucial problem is, whether this only purpose of God will be actually accomplished, in all its fullness and comprehensiveness, as it is admitted and postulated in the theory of universal salvation, for which one may allege Scriptural evidence. Brunner rejects the doctrine of the Apokatastasis, as a “dangerous heresy.” It is wrong as a doctrine. It implies a wrong security for men — all ways lead ultimately to the same end, there is no real tension, no real danger. And yet, Brunner admits that the doctrine of the forgiving grace, and of the justification by faith, leads logically to the concept of an universal redemption. Can the will of the omnipotent God be really resisted or, as it were, overruled by the obstinacy of feeble creatures? The paradox can be solved only dialectically — in faith. One cannot know God theoretically. One has to trust His love.

It is characteristic that Brunner discusses the whole problem exclusively in the perspective of the divine will. For that reason he misses the very point of the paradox. He simply ignores the human aspect of the problem. Indeed, “eternal damnation” is not inflicted by “the angry God.” God is not the author of Hell. “Damnation” is a self-inflicted penalty, the consequence and the implication of the rebellious opposition to God and to His will. Brunner admits that there is a real possibility of damnation and perdition. It is dangerous and erroneous to ignore that real possibility.

But one should hope that it will never be realized. Now, hope itself must be realistic and sober. We are facing the alternative: either, at the Last Judgment, unbelievers and unrepentant sinners are finally moved by the divine challenge, and are “freely” converted — this was the hypothesis of St. Gregory of Nyssa; or their obstinacy is simply overruled by the divine Omnipotence and they are saved by the constraint of the divine mercy and will — without their own free and conscious assent. The second solution implies contradiction, unless we understand “salvation” in a forensic and formalistic manner. Indeed, criminals may be exonerated in the court of justice, even if they did not repent and persevere in their perversion. They only escape punishment. But we cannot interpret the Last Judgment in this manner. In any case, “salvation” involves conversion, involves an act of faith. It cannot be imposed on anyone. Is the first solution more convincing? Of course, the possibility of a late “conversion” — in “the eleventh hour,” or even after — cannot be theoretically ruled out, and the impact of the divine love is infinite. But this chance or possibility of conversion, before the Judgment-Seat of Christ, sitting in glory, cannot be discussed in abstracto, as a general case. After all, the question of salvation, as also the decision of faith, is a personal problem, which can be put and faced only in the context of concrete and individual existence. Persons are saved, or perish. And each personal case must be studied individually. The main weakness of Brunner’s scheme is in that he always speaks in general terms. He always speaks of the human condition and never of living persons.

The problem of man is for Brunner essentially the problem of sinful condition. He is afraid of all “ontic” categories. Indeed, man is sinner, but he is, first of all, man. It is true, again, that the true stature of genuine manhood has been exhibited only in Christ, who was more than man, and not a man. But in Christ we are given not only forgiveness, but also the power to be, or to become, children of God, that is — to be what we are designed to be. Of course, Brunner admits that believers can be in communion with God even now, in this present life. But then comes death. Does faith, or — actually — one’s being en Christo, make any difference at this point? Is the communion with Christ, once established by faith (and, indeed, in sacraments), broken by death? Is it true that human life is “a being unto death.” Physical death is the limit of physical life. But Brunner speaks of the death of human persons, of the “I.” He claims that it is a mystery, an impenetrable mystery, of which rational man cannot know anything at all. But, in fact, the concept of this “personal death” is no more than a metaphysical assumption, derived from certain philosophical presuppositions, and in no way a datum of any actual or possible experience, including the experience of faith. “Death” of a person is only in the estrangement from God, but even in this case it does not mean annihilation. In a sense, death means a disintegration of human personality, because man is not designed to be immaterial. The bodily death reduces the integrity of the human person. Man dies, and yet survives — in the expectation of the general end. The ancient doctrine of the Communion of Saints points to the victory of Christ: In Him, through faith (and sacraments), even the dead are alive, and share — in anticipation, but really — the everlasting life. Communio Sanctorum is an important eschatological topic. Brunner simply ignores it altogether — surely not by accident but quite consistently. He speaks of the condition of death, not of personal cases. The concept of an immortal soul may be a Platonic accretion, but the notion of an “indestructible person” is an integral part of the Gospel. Indeed, only in this case there is room for a general or universal judgment, at which all historic persons, of all ages and of all nations, are to appear — not as a confused mass of frail and unprofitable sinners, but as a congregation of responsive and responsible persons, each in his distinctive character, congenital and acquired. Death is a catastrophe. But persons survive, and those in Christ are still alive — even in the state of death. The faithful not only hope for life to come, but are already alive, although all are waiting for Resurrection. Brunner, of course, is fully aware of this. In his own phrase, those who believe “will not die into nothingness but into Christ.” Does it mean that those who do not believe “die into nothingness?” And what is “nothingness” — “the outer darkness” (which is probably the case) or actual “nonbeing?”

It is also true that full integrity of personal existence, distorted and reduced by death, will be restored in the general Resurrection. Brunner emphasizes the personal character of the Resurrection. “The New Testament faith knows of no other sort of eternal life except that of the individual persons” (Ibid, p. 148). The flesh will not rise. But some kind of corporeality is implied in the Resurrection. All will rise, because Christ is risen. Now, Resurrection is at once a Resurrection unto life — in Christ, and a Resurrection — to Judgment. Brunner discusses the general Resurrection in the context of faith, forgiveness, and life. But what is the status of those who did not believe, who did not ask for forgiveness, and never knew of the redemptive love of Christ, or probably have obstinately denounced and rejected it as a myth, as a fraud, as a deceit, or as an offense for the autonomous personality ?

And this brings us back again to the paradox of the judgment. Strangely enough, at this point Brunner speaks more as a philosopher than as a theologian, precisely because he tries to avoid metaphysical inquiry, and all problems which have been suppressed reappear in disguise. Brunner puts the question in this way: how can we reconcile divine Omnipotence and human freedom, or — on a deeper level — divine holiness (or justice) and divine merry and love. It is a strictly metaphysical problem, even if it is discussed on the scriptural basis. The actual theological problem is, on the other hand: what is the existential status of unbelievers — in the sight of God, and in the perspective of the human destiny? The actual problem is existential — the status and destiny of individual persons. For Brunner the problem is obscured by his initial choice — his sweeping bracketing together of all men as sinners, without any real ontic or existential discrimination between the righteous and the unrighteous. Indeed, all are under the judgment, but, obviously, not in the same sense. Brunner himself distinguishes between those who fail being tempted, and those who choose to tempt others and to seduce. He knows of deliberate perversion. But he does not ask, how an individual human person may be affected, in his inner and intimate structure, by deliberate and obstinate perversion, apostasy and “love for evil.” There is a real difference between weakness and wickedness, between frailty and godlessness. Can all sins be forgiven, even the non-avowed and non-repented? Is not forgiveness received only in humility and in faith? In other words, is “condemnation” just a “penalty,” in the forensic sense, or a kind of negative “reward?” Or is it simply a manifestation of what is hidden — or rather quite open and conspicuous in those who have chosen, by an abuse of “freedom,” that wide path which leads into Gehenna.

There is no chapter on Hell in any of Brunner’s books. But Hell is not just a “mythical” figure of speech. Nor is it just a dark prospect, which — one wants to hope — may never be realized. Horribile dictu — it is a reality, to which many human beings are even now committed, by their own will, or at least — by their own choice and decision, which may mean, in the last resort, bondage, but is usually mistaken for freedom. “Hell” is an internal state, not a “place.” It is a state of personal disintegration, which is mistaken for self-assertion — with certain reason, since this disintegration is grounded in pride. It is a state of self-confinement, of isolation and alienation, of proud solitude. The state of sin itself is “hellish,” although it may be, by an illusion of selfish imagination, mistaken for “Paradise.” For that reason sinners chose “sin,” the proud attitude, the Promethean pose. One may make of “Hell” an ideal, and pursue it — deliberately and persistently.

Indeed, ultimately, it is but an illusion, an aberration, a violence, and a mistake. But the sting of sin is precisely in the denial of the divinely instituted reality, in the attempt to establish another order or regime, which is, in contrast with the true divine order, a radical disorder, but to which one may give, in selfish exaltation, ultimate preference. Now, sin has been destroyed and abrogated — it can not be said that “sin” has been redeemed, only persons may be redeemed. But it is not enough to acknowledge, by faith, the deed of the divine redemption — one has to be born anew. The whole personality must be cleansed and healed. Forgiveness must be accepted and assessed in freedom. It cannot be imputed — apart from an act of faith and gratitude, an act of love. Paradoxically, nobody can be saved by love divine alone, unless it is responded to by grateful love of human persons. Indeed, there is always an abstract possibility of “repentance” and “conversion” in the course of this earthly or historic life. Can we admit that this possibility continues after death? Brunner will hardly accept the idea of a “Purgatory.” But even in the concept of Purgatory no chance of radical conversion is implied. Purgatory includes but believers, those of good intentions, pledged to Christ, but deficient in growth and achievement. Human personality is made and shaped in this life — at least, it is oriented in this life. The difficulty of universal salvation is not on the divine side — indeed, God wants every man “to be saved,” not so much, probably, in order that His will should be accomplished and His Holiness secured, as in order that man’s existence may be complete and blessed. Yet, insuperable difficulties may be erected on the creaturely side. After all, is “ultimate resistance” a greater paradox, and a greater offense, than any resistance or revolt, which actually did pervert the whole order of Creation, did handicap the deed of redemption? Only when we commit ourselves to a Docetic view of history and deny the possibility of ultimate decisions in history, in this life, under the pretext that it is temporal, can we evade the paradox of ultimate resistance.

St. Gregory of Nyssa anticipated a kind of universal conversion of souls in the afterlife, when the Truth of God will be revealed and manifested with compelling evidence. Just at that point the limitation of the Hellenic mind is obvious. Evidence seemed to it to be the decisive motive for the will, as if “sin” were merely ignorance. The Hellenic mind had to pass through a long and hard experience of asceticism, of ascetic self-examination and self-control, in order to overcome this intellectualistic naïveté and illusion and discover a dark abyss in the fallen soul. Only in St. Maximus the Confessor, after some centuries of ascetic preparation, do we find a new and deepened interpretation of the Apokatastasis. Indeed, the order of creation will be fully restored in the last days. But the dead souls will still be insensitive to the very revelation of Light. The Light Divine will shine to all, but those who once have chosen darkness will be still unwilling and unable to enjoy the eternal bliss. They will still cling to the nocturnal darkness of selfishness. They will be unable precisely to enjoy. They will stay “outside” — because union with God, which is the essence of salvation, presupposes and requires the determination of will. Human will is irrational and its motives cannot be rationalized. Even “evidence” may fail to impress and move it.

Eschatology is a realm of antinomies. These antinomies are rooted and grounded in the basic mystery of Creation. How can anything else exist alongside of God, if God is the plenitude of Being? One has attempted to solve the paradox, or rather to escape it, by alleging the motives of Creation, sometimes to such an extent and in such a manner as to compromise the absoluteness and sovereignty of God. Yet, God creates in perfect freedom, ex mera liberalitate, that is, without any “sufficient reasons.” Creation is a free gift of unfathomable love. Moreover, man in Creation is granted this mysterious and enigmatic authority of free decision, in which the most enigmatic is not the possibility of failure or resistance, but the very possibility of assent. Is not the will of God of such a dimension that it should be simply obeyed without any real, that is, free and responsible, assent? The mystery is in the reality of creaturely freedom. Why should it be wanted in the world created and ruled by God, by His infinite wisdom and love? In order to be real, human response must be more than a mere resonance. It must be a personal act, an inward commitment. In any case, the shape of human life — and now we may probably add, the shape and destiny of the cosmos — depends upon the synergism or conflict of the two wills, divine and creaturely. Many things are happening which God abhors — in the world which is His work and His subject. Strangely enough, God respects human freedom, as St. Irenaeus once said, although, in fact, the most conspicuous manifestation of this freedom was revolt and disorder. Are we entitled to expect that finally human disobedience will be disregarded and “dis-respected” by God, and His Holy Will shall be enforced, regardless of any assent? Or it would make a dreadful “masquerade” of human history? What is the meaning of this dreadful story of sin, perversion, and rebellion, if finally everything will be smoothed down and reconciled by the exercise of divine Omnipotence?

Indeed, the existence of Hell, that is, of radical opposition, implies, as it were, some partial “unsuccess” of the creative design. Yet, it was more than just a design, a plan, a pattern. It was the calling to existence, or even “to being,” of living persons. One speaks sometimes of the “divine risk,” says Jean Guitton. It is probably a better word than kenosis. Indeed, it is a mystery, which cannot be rationalized — it is the primordial mystery of creaturely existence.

Brunner takes the possibility of Hell quite seriously. There is no security of “universal salvation,” although this is, abstractly speaking, still possible — for the omnipotent God of Love. But Brunner still hopes that there will be no Hell. The trouble is that there is Hell already. Its existence does not depend upon divine decision. God never sends anyone to Hell. Hell is made by creatures themselves. It is human creation, outside, as it were, of “the order of creation.”

The Last Judgment remains a mystery.