Theological Articles of Fr. George Florovsky
Message and Witness. History and System.The Lost Scriptural Mind
Modern Man and Scripture. Preach the Creeds! The Tradition Lives. What Chalcedon Meant. Tragedy in a New Light. A New Nestorianism. A New Monophysitism. The Modern Crisis. The Relevance of the Fathers.
I. Revelation. II. Philosophy. III. Theology.
Revelation and Interpretation
For what if some did not believe?
Shall their unbelief make the faith
of God without effect? (Rom. 3:3)
Message and Witness.
What is the Bible? Is it a book like any other intended for any occasional reader, who is expected to grasp at once its proper meaning? Rather, it is a sacred book addressed primarily to believers. Of course, a sacred book can be read by anyone as well, just 'as literature.' But this is rather irrelevant to our immediate purpose. We are concerned now not with the letter but with the message. St. Hilary put it emphatically: Scriptura est non in legendo, sed in intelligendo. [Scripture is not in the reading, but in the understanding.] Is there any definite message in the Bible, taken as a whole, as one book? And again, to whom is this message, if any, properly addressed? To individuals, who would be, as such, entitled to understand the book and to expound its message? Or to the community, and to individuals only in so far as they are members of that community?
Whatever the origin of particular documents included in the book may have been, it is obvious that the book, as a whole, was a creation of the community, both in the old dispensation and in the Christian Church. The Bible is by no means a complete collection of all historical, legislative and devotional writings available, but a selection of some, authorized and authenticated by the use (first of all liturgical) in the community, and finally by the formal authority of the Church. And there was some very definite purpose by which this "selection" was guided and checked. "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:30-31). The same applies, more or less, to the whole Bible. Certain writings have been selected, edited and compiled, and brought together, and then commended to believers, to the people, as an authorized version of the divine message. The message is divine; it comes from God; it is the Word of God. But it is the faithful community that acknowledges the Word spoken and testifies to its truth. The sacred character of the Bible is ascertained by faith. The Bible, as a book, has been composed in the community and was meant primarily for its edification. The book and the Church cannot be separated. The book and the Covenant belong together, and Covenant implies people. It was the People of the Covenant to whom the Word of God had been entrusted under the old dispensation (Rom. 3:2), and it is the Church of the Word Incarnate that keeps the message of the Kingdom. The Bible is the Word of God indeed, but the book stands by the testimony of the Church. The canon of the Bible is obviously established and authorized by the Church.
One has, however, not to overlook the missionary background of the New Testament. "The Apostolic Preaching," therein embodied and recorded, had a double purpose: the edification of the faithful and the conversion of the world. Therefore the New Testament is not a community-book in the same exclusive sense as the Old Testament surely was. It is still a missionary book. Yet it is no less fenced-off from the outsiders. Tertullian's attitude to the Scriptures was typical. He was not prepared to discuss the controversial topics of the faith with heretics on the Scriptural ground. Scriptures belonged to the Church. Heretics' appeal to them was unlawful. They had no right on foreign property. Such was his main argument in the famous treatise: De praescriptione haereticorum. An unbeliever has no access to the message, simply because he does not "receive" it. For him there is no "message" in the Bible.
It was no accident that a diverse anthology of writings, composed at various dates and by various writers, came to be regarded as a single book. Ta biblia is of course plural but the Bible is emphatically singular. The scriptures are indeed one Holy Scripture, one Holy Writ. There is one main theme and one main message through the whole story. For there is a story. Or, even more, the Bible itself is this story, the story of God's dealings with his chosen people. The Bible records first of all God's acts and mighty deeds, Magnalia Dei. The process has been initiated by God. There is a beginning and an end, which is also a goal. There is a starting point: the original divine fiat — "in the beginning" (Gen. 1:1). And there will be an end: "even so come" (Rev. 22:20). There is one composite and yet single story — from Genesis to Revelation. And this story is history. There is a process going on between these two terminal points. And this process has a definite direction. There is an ultimate goal, an ultimate consummation is expected. Every particular moment is correlated to both terms and has thereby its proper and unique place within the whole. No moment therefore can be understood except in the whole context and perspective.
God has spoken "at sundry times and in divers manners" (Heb. 1:1). He was revealing himself through ages, not once, but constantly, again and again. He was leading his people from truth to truth. There were stages in his revelation: per incrementa. This diversity and variety should not be ignored or overlooked. Yet it was ever the same God, and his ultimate message was ever the same. It is the identity of this message that gives to the various writings their real unity, despite the variety of manners. Different versions were taken into the book as they stood. The Church has resisted all attempts to substitute a single synthetic Gospel for four differing Gospels, to transform the Tetraevangelion into a Dia-tessaron, in spite of the difficulties implied in the "contradictions of the Evangelists" (with which St. Augustine was wrestling). These four Gospels did secure the unity of the message well enough, and perhaps in a more concrete form than any other compilation could afford.
The Bible is a book about God. But the God of the Bible is not Deus absconditus, but Deus revelatus. God is manifesting and revealing himself. God intervenes in human life. And the Bible is not merely a human record of these divine interventions and deeds. It is a kind of divine intervention itself. It carries with itself a divine message. God's deeds constitute themselves a message. No need therefore to escape time or history in order to meet God. For God is meeting man in history, i.e. in the human element, in the midst of man's daily existence. History belongs to God, and God enters human history. The Bible is intrinsically historical: it is a record of the divine acts, not so much a presentation of God's eternal mysteries, and these mysteries themselves are available only by a historical mediation. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18). And he declared him by entering history, in his holy incarnation. Thus the historical frame of the revelation is not something that ought to be done away with. There is no need to abstract revealed truth from the frame in which revelations took place. On the contrary, such an abstraction would have abolished the truth as well. For the Truth is not an idea, but a person, even the Incarnate Lord.
In the Bible we are struck by the intimate relation of God to man and of man to God. It is an intimacy of the Covenant, an intimacy of election and adoption. And this intimacy culminates in the incarnation. "God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Gal. 4:4). In the Bible we see not only God, but man too. It is the revelation of God, but what is actually revealed is God's concern about man. God reveals himself to man, "appears" before him, "speaks" and converses with him so as to reveal to man the hidden meaning of his own existence and the ultimate purpose of his life. In Scripture we see God coming to reveal himself to man, and we see man meeting God, and not only listening to his voice, but answering him too. We hear in the Bible not only the voice of God, but also the voice of man answering him — in words of prayer, thanksgiving and adoration, awe and love, sorrow and contrition, exultation, hope or despair. There are, as it were, two partners in the Covenant, God and man, and both belong together, in the mystery of the true divine-human encounter, which is described and recorded in the story of the Covenant. Human response is integrated into the mystery of the Word of God. It is not a divine monologue, it is rather a dialogue, and both are speaking, God and man. But prayers and invocations of the worshipping psalmist are nevertheless "the Word of God." God wants, and expects, and demands this answer and response of man. It is for this that he reveals himself to man and speaks to him. He is, as it were, waiting for man to converse with him. He establishes his Covenant with the sons of men. Yet, all this intimacy does not compromise divine sovereignty and transcendence. God is "dwelling in light unapproachable" (1 Tim. 6.16). This light, however, "lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9). This constitutes the mystery, or the "paradox" of the revelation.
Revelation is the history of the Covenant. Recorded revelation, i.e. the Holy Scripture, is therefore, above all, history. Law and prophets, psalms and prophecies, all are included and, as it were, woven into the living historical web. Revelation is not a system of divine oracles only. It is primarily the system of divine deeds; one might say, revelation was the path of God in history. And the climax was reached when God entered history himself, and for ever: when the Word of God was incarnate and "made man." On the other hand, the book of revelation is as well the book of human destiny. First of all, it is a book which narrates the creation, fall and salvation of man. It is the story of salvation, and therefore man organically belongs to the story. It shows us man in his obedience and in his obstinate rebellion, in his fall and in his restoration. And the whole human fate is condensed and exemplified in the destiny of Israel, old and new, the chosen people of God, a people for God's own possession. The fact of election is here of basic importance. One people has been elected, set apart from all other nations, constituted as a sacred oasis in the midst of human disorder. With one people on earth only did God establish his Covenant and grant his own sacred law. Here only a true priesthood has been created, even though but a provisional one. In this nation only true prophets were raised, who spoke words inspired by the Spirit of God. It was a sacred, though hidden centre for the whole world, an oasis granted by God's mercy, in the midst of a fallen, sinful, lost and unredeemed world. All this is not the letter, but the very heart of the Biblical message. And all this came from God, there was no human merit or achievement. Yet, all this came for the sake of man, "for us men and for our salvation." All these privileges granted to the Israel of old were subordinate to the ultimate purpose, that of a universal salvation: "For salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). The redeeming purpose is ever universal indeed, but it is being accomplished always by means of separation, selection or setting apart. In the midst of human fall and ruin a sacred oasis is erected by God. The Church is also an oasis still, set apart, though not taken out of the world. For again this oasis is not a refuge or shelter only, but rather a citadel, a vanguard of God.
There is a centre in the Biblical story, or a crucial point on the line of the temporal events. There is a new beginning within the process, which does not, however, divide or cut it into parts, but rather gives to it an ultimate cohesion and unity. The distinction between the two Testaments belongs itself to the unity of the Biblical revelation. The two Testaments are to be carefully distinguished, never to be confused. Yet they are organically linked together, not as two systems only, but primarily in the person of the Christ. Jesus the Christ belongs to both. He is the fulfiller of the old dispensation and by the same act that he fulfills the old, "the Law and the prophets," he inaugurates the new, and thereby becomes the ultimate fulfiller of both, i.e. of the whole. He is the very centre of the Bible, just because he is the archē and the telos — the beginning and the end. And unexpectedly this mysterious identity of the start, the centre and the goal, instead of destroying the existential reality of time, gives to the time-process its genuine reality and full meaning. There are no mere happenings which pass by, but rather events and achievements, and new things are coming to existence, that which never existed before. "Behold I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).
Ultimately, the Old Testament as a whole has to be considered as "a book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham" (Matt. 1:1). It was the period of promises and expectation, the time of covenants and prophecies. It was not only the prophets that prophesied. Events also were prophecies. The whole story was prophetical or "typical," a prophetical sign hinting forward towards approaching consummation. Now, the time of expectation is over. The promise had been accomplished. The Lord has come. And he came to abide among his people for ever. The history of flesh and blood is closed. The history of the Spirit is disclosed: "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). But it was an accomplishment, not destruction of the old. Vetus Testamentum in Novo patet. [The Old Testament extends into the New]. And patet means precisely: is revealed, disclosed, fulfilled. Therefore, the books of the Hebrews are still sacred, even for the new Israel of Christ — not to be left out or ignored. They tell us still the story of salvation, Magnalia Dei. They do still bear witness to Christ. They are to be read in the Church as a book of sacred history, not to be transformed into a collection of proof-texts or of theological instances (loci theologici), nor into a book of parables. Prophecy has been accomplished and law has been superseded by grace. But nothing has passed away. In sacred history, "the past" does not mean simply "passed" or "what had been," but primarily that which had been accomplished and fulfilled. "Fulfilment" is the basic category of revelation. That which has become sacred remains consecrated and holy for ever. It has the seal of the Spirit. And the Spirit breathes still in the words once inspired by him. It is true, perhaps, that in the Church and for us now the Old Testament is no more than a book, simply because the Law and the Prophets were superseded by the Gospel. The New Testament is obviously more than a book. We do belong to the New Testament ourselves. We are the People of the New Covenant. For that reason it is precisely in the Old Testament that we apprehend revelation primarily as the Word: we witness to the Spirit "that spake through the prophets." For in the New Testament God has spoken by his Son, and we are called upon not only to listen, but to look at. "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you" (1 John 1:3). And, furthermore, we are called upon to be "in Christ."
The fullness of revelation is Christ Jesus. And the New Testament is history no less than the Old: the Gospel history of the Incarnate Word and the beginnings of church history, and the apocalyptic prophecy too. The Gospel is history. Historic events are the source and the basis of all Christian faith and hope. The basis of the New Testament is facts, events, deeds — not only teaching, commandments or words. From the very beginning, from the very day of Pentecost, when St. Peter as an eye-witness (Acts 2:32: "whereof we are all witnesses," martyres) witnessed to the fulfilment of salvation in the Risen Lord, apostolic preaching had emphatically an historical character. By this historical witness the Church stands. Creeds have an historical structure too, they refer to the events. Again, it is a sacred history. The mystery of Christ is precisely in that "in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). This mystery cannot be comprehended within the earthly plane alone, there is another dimension too. But historical boundaries are not obliterated, not dimmed: in the sacred image historical features are dearly seen. Apostolic preaching was always a narrative, a narrative of what had really happened, hic et nunc. But what happened was ultimate and new: "The Word was made flesh" (John 1:14). Of course, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension are historical facts not quite in the same sense or on the same level as the happenings of our own daily life. But they are no less historical for that, no less factual. On the contrary, they are more historical — they are ultimately eventful. They cannot obviously be fully ascertained except by faith. Yet this does not take them out of the historical context. Faith only discovers a new dimension, apprehends the historical datum in its full depth, in its full and ultimate reality. The Evangelists and the Apostles were no chroniclers. It was not their mission to keep the full record of all that Jesus had done, day by day, year by year. They describe his life and relate his works, so as to give us his image: an historic, and yet a divine image. It is no portrait, but rather an ikon — but surely an historic ikon, an image of the Incarnate Lord. Faith does not create a new value; it only discovers the inherent one. Faith itself is a sort of vision, "the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1: St. John Chrysostorn explains elenchos precisely as opsis). The "invisible" is no less real than "visible" — rather more real. "And yet no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor. 12:3). It means that the Gospel itself can be apprehended in all its fulness and depth only in spiritual experience. But what is discovered by faith is given in very truth. The Gospels are written within the church. In this sense they are the witness of the Church. They are records of church experience and faith. But they are no less historical narratives and bear witness to what had really taken place, in space and in time. If "by faith" we discover much more than what can be detected "by senses," this only discloses the utter inadequacy of "senses" in the knowledge of spiritual matters. For what had really happened was the mighty deed of the Redeeming God, his ultimate intervention in the stream of historical events. One should not divorce the "fact" and the "meaning" — both are given in reality.
Revelation is preserved in the Church. Therefore, the Church is the proper and primary interpreter of revelation. It is protected and reinforced by written words; protected, but not exhausted. Human words are no more than signs. The testimony of the Spirit revives the written words. We do not mean now the occasional illumination of individuals by the Holy Ghost, but primarily the permanent assistance of the Spirit given to the Church, that is "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). The Scriptures need interpretation. Not the phrasing, but the message is the core. And the Church is the divinely appointed and permanent witness to the very truth and the full meaning of this message, simply because the Church belongs itself to the revelation, as the Body of the Incarnate Lord. The proclamation of the Gospel, the preaching of the Word of God, obviously belongs to the esse of the Church. The Church stands by its testimony and witness. But this witness is not just a reference to the past, not merely a reminiscence, but rather a continuous rediscovery of the message once delivered to the saints and ever since kept by faith. Moreover, this message is ever re-enacted in the life of the Church. Christ himself is ever present in the Church, as the Redeemer and head of his Body, and continues his redeeming office in the Church. Salvation is not only announced or proclaimed in the Church but precisely enacted. The sacred history is still continued. The mighty deeds of God are still being performed. Magnalia Dei are not circumscribed by the past; they are ever present and continued, in the Church and, through the Church, in the world. The Church is itself an integral part of the New Testament message. The Church itself is a part of revelation — the story of "the Whole Christ" (totus Christus: caput et corpus, in the phrase of St. Augustine) and of the Holy Ghost. The ultimate end of revelation, its telos, has not yet come. And only within the experience of the Church is the New Testament truly and fully alive. Church history is itself a story of redemption. The truth of the book is revealed and vindicated by the growth of the Body.
History and System.
We must admit at once that the Bible is a difficult book, a book sealed with seven seals. And, as time runs on, it grows no easier. The main reason for that, however, is not that the Book is written in an "unknown tongue" or contains some "secret words that man may not repeat." On the contrary, the very stumbling-block of the Bible is its utter simplicity: the mysteries of God are framed into the daily life of average men, and the whole story may seem to be all too human. just as the Incarnate Lord himself appeared to be an ordinary man.
The Scriptures are "inspired," they are the Word of God. What is the inspiration can never be properly defined — there is a mystery therein. It is a mystery of the divine-human encounter. We cannot, fully understand in what manner "God's holy men" heard the Word of their Lord and how they could articulate it in the words of their own dialect. Yet, even in their human transmission it was the voice of God. Therein lies the miracle and the mystery of the Bible, that it is the Word of God in human idiom. And, in whatever the manner we understand the inspiration, one factor must not be overlooked. The Scriptures transmit and preserve the Word of God precisely in the idiom of man. God spoke to man indeed, but there was man to attend and to perceive. "Anthropomorphism" is thus inherent in the very fact. There is no accommodation to human frailty. The point is rather that the human tongue does not lose its natural features to become a vehicle of divine revelation. If we want the divine word to ring clear, our tongue — is not to leave off being human. What is human is not swept away by divine inspiration, it is only transfigured. The "supernatural" does not destroy what is "natural": hyper physin does not mean para physin. The human idiom does not betray or belittle the splendour of revelation, it does not bind the power of God's Word. The Word of God may be adequately and rightly expressed in human words. The Word of God does not grow dim when it sounds in the tongue of man. For man is created in the image and likeness of God — this "analogical" link makes communication possible. And since God deigned to speak to man, the human word itself acquires new depth and strength and becomes transfigured. The divine Spirit breathes in the organism of human speech. Thus it becomes possible for man to utter words of God, to speak of God. "Theology" becomes possible — theologia, i.e. logos peri theou. Strictly speaking, theology grows possible only through revelation. It is the human response to God, who has spoken first. It is man's witness to God who has spoken to him, whose word he has heard, whose words he has kept and is now recording, and repeating. Surely this response is never complete. Theology is ever in the process of formation. The basis and the starting point are ever the same: the Word of God, the revelation. Theology witnesses back to the revelation. It witnesses in divers manners: in creeds, in dogmas, in sacred rites and symbols. But in a sense Scripture itself is the primary response, or rather Scripture itself is at once both the Word of God and the human response — the Word of God mediated through the faithful response of man. There is always some human interpretation in any Scriptural presentation of the divine Word. So far it is always inescapably "situation-conditioned." Is it ever possible for man to escape his human situation?
The Church has summarized the Scriptural message in creeds, and in many other ways and methods. Christian faith has developed or grown into a system of beliefs and convictions. In any such system the inner structure of the basic message is shown forth, all particular articles of faith are presented in their mutual interdependence. Obviously, we need a system, as we need a map in our travels. But maps refer to a real land. And any doctrinal system too must be related to the revelation. It is of utter importance that the Church has never thought of her dogmatic system as a kind of substitute for the Scriptures. Both are to be kept side by side: a somewhat abstract or generalized presentation of the main message in a creed or in a system, and all particular documents referring to the concrete instances of revelation. One might say a system and the history itself.
Here a problem arises: how, and to what extent, can history be framed into a system? This is the main problem of theological hermeneutics. What is the theological use of the Bible? How should the divers and concrete witnesses, covering hundreds of years, be used for the construction of a single scheme? The Bible is one indeed, and yet it is, in fact, a collection of various writings. We are not entitled to ignore that. The solution depends ultimately upon our conception of history, upon our vision of time. The easiest solution would have been indeed if we could simply overlook or overcome the diversity of times, the duration of the process itself. Such a temptation faced Christianity from an early date. It was at the root of all allegorical interpretations, from Philo and Pseudo-Barnabas to the new revival of allegorism in post-Reformation times. It was a permanent temptation of all mystics. The Bible is regarded as a book of sacred parables, written in a peculiar symbolical language, and the task of exegesis is to detect their hidden meaning, to detect the eternal Word, which happens to have been uttered in divers manners and under divers veils. The historical truth and perspective are irrelevant in this case. Historical concreteness is no more than a pictorial frame, a poetical imagery. One is in search of eternal meanings. The whole Bible would be then reconstructed into a book of edifying examples, of glorious symbols, which point out the supertemporal truth. Is not the truth of God ever the same, identical and eternal? In that mood, it is but natural to look in the Old Testament for the evidences of all distinctive Christian beliefs and convictions. Two Testaments are as it were melted into one, super-temporal, and their distinctive marks obliterated. The dangers and shortcomings of such a hermeneutical approach are too obvious to need an extensive refutation. But the only real remedy against this temptation would be the restoration of historical insight. The Bible is history, not a system of belief, and should not be used as a summa theologiae. At the same time, it is not history of human belief, but the history of the divine revelation. The basic problem remains, however, still unsolved: for what purpose do we need both system and history? By what reason and for what purpose did the Church keep them always together? Again, the easiest answer to this question is the least satisfactory: one may suggest at once that the Scriptures are the only authentic record of the revelation, and everything else is no more than a commentary thereupon. And commentary can never have the same authority as the original record. There is some truth in this suggestion, but the true difficulty we have to face is elsewhere. Why are not the earlier stages of the revelation superseded by the later ones? Why do we still need the law and the prophets even in the new covenant of Christ, and, to a certain extent, on the same level of authority as the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament writings? I mean, as chapters of the same unique book, as it were. For, obviously, they are included in the canon of Scripture, not as historical documents only, not as chapters on the stages of history already passed away. This applies particularly to the Old Testament. "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John" (Matt. 11:13). Why do we still keep both the law and the prophets, and in what sense? What can be the right use of the Old Testament in the Church of Christ?
First of all, it needs to be an historical use. Yet, again this history is a sacred history — not a history of human convictions and their evolution, but a history of the mighty deeds of God. And these deeds are not disconnected irruptions of God into human life. There was an intimate unity and cohesion. They led and guided the chosen people into God's supreme purpose, unto Christ. Therefore, in a sense, the earlier ones were reflected, as it were, or implied in the later ones. There was a continuity of the divine action, as there was an identity of the goal and purpose as well. This continuity is the basis of what was called the "typological" interpretation. Patristic terminology was at that point rather fluent. Still, there was always a clear distinction between two methods and approaches. "Allegory" was an exegetical method indeed. An allegorist dealt primarily with the texts; he searched out the hidden and ultimate meaning of Scriptural passages, sentences and even particular words, behind and beneath "the letter." On the contrary, "typology" was not an exegesis of the texts themselves, but rather an interpretation of the events. It was an historical, and not merely a philological method. It was the inner correspondence of the events themselves in the two Testaments that had to be detected, established and brought forward. A typologist looked not for the "parallels" or similarities. And not every event of the Old Testament has its "correspondence" in the New. Yet there are certain basic events in the old dispensation which were the "figures" or "types" of the basic events in the new. Their "correspondence" was of divine appointment: they were, as it were, stages of a single process of the redemptive Providence. In this manner "typology" was practiced already by St. Paul (if under the name of an "allegory": Gal. 4:24: Hatina estin allegoroumena). There is an identical purpose of God behind all his mighty interventions, and in full it has been revealed in Christ. St. Augustine put it very clearly: "in ipso facto, non solum in dicto, mysterium requirere debemus [We ought to seek the mystery not just in word, but in the fact itself] (in ps. 68, sermo, 2, 6). And "the mystery" of the Old Testament was Christ; not only in the sense that Moses or the prophets "spoke" of him, but primarily because the whole stream of sacred history was divinely oriented towards him. And in this sense he was the fulfilment of all prophecies. For that reason, it is only in the light of Christ that the Old Testament can be properly understood and its "mysteries" unveiled — they were, in fact, unveiled by the coming of him "who should come." The true prophetic meaning of the prophecies is clearly seen only, as it were, in retrospect, after they have been actually fulfilled. An unaccomplished prophecy is always dim and enigmatic (so are the prophecies of the Book of Revelation, which point to what is still to come, "at the end"). But it does not mean that we simply put arbitrarily a new meaning into the old text: the meaning was there, though it could not yet be seen clearly. When, for instance, we, in the Church, identify the Suffering Servant (in the Book of Isaiah) as Christ the crucified, we do not simply "apply" an Old Testament vision to a New 'Testament event: we detect the meaning of the vision itself, although this meaning surely could not have been clearly identified in the times preceding Christ. But what had been first just a vision (i.e. an "anticipation") has become an historical fact.
Another point is of utter importance. For an "allegorist" the "images" he interprets are reflections of a pre-existing prototype, or even images of some eternal or abstract "truth." They are pointing to something that is outside of time. On the contrary, typology is oriented towards the future. The "types" are anticipations, pre-figurations; their "prototype" is still to come. Typology is thus an historical method, more than a philological one. It presupposes and implies intrinsically the reality of history, directed and guided by God. It is organically connected with the idea of the covenant. Here the past, the present and the future are linked in a unity of divine purpose, and the purpose was Christ. Therefore typology has emphatically a Christological meaning (the Church is included here, as the Body and the Bride of Christ). In practice, of course, a true balance was never strictly kept. Even in patristic use typology was variously contaminated by allegorical deviations or accretions, especially in the devotional and homiletic use. What is, however, of importance is that in the catechetical tradition of the Early Church, closely related to the administration of the sacraments, this balance was always kept. This was the tradition of the Church, and deviations were due more to the curiosity or imagination of individual scholars. The Church was, in full sobriety, historically minded. Along with a presentation of the doctrine (i.e. a system) the Holy Bible was always read in the churches, with the deliberate purpose of reminding the faithful of the historical basis and background of their faith and hope.
St. Augustine suggested that the prophets spoke of the Church even more clearly than of Christ himself, i.e. of the Messiah (in ps. 30.2, enarratio, 2, M.L., 36, 244). In a sense, this was only natural. For there was already a Church. Israel, the chosen people, the people of the covenant, was much more a Church than a nation, like other "nations." Ta ethne, nationes or gentes — these kindred terms were used in the Bible (and later) precisely to describe the heathen or pagans in contrast to the only nation or people that was also (and primarily) a Church of God. The Law was given to Israel just in her capacity as a Church. It embraced the whole life of the people, the "temporal" as well as the "spiritual," precisely because the whole of human existence had to be regulated by the divine precepts. And the division of life into "temporal" and "spiritual" departments is, strictly speaking, precarious. In any case, Israel was a divinely constituted community of believers, united by the Law of God, the true faith, sacred rites and hierarchy — we find here all elements of the traditional definition of the Church. The old dispensation has been, accomplished in the new, the covenant has been reconstituted, and the old Israel was rejected, because of her utter unbelief: she missed the day of her visitation. The only true continuation of the old covenant was in the Church of Christ (let us remember that both terms are of Hebrew origin: the Church is qahal and Christ means Messiah). She is the true Israel, kata pneuma. In this sense already St. Justin emphatically rejected the idea that the Old Testament was a link holding together the Church and the Synagogue. For him the opposite was true. All Jewish claims were to be formally rejected: the Old Testament no longer belonged to the Jews, as they had not believed in Christ Jesus. The Old Testament belonged now to the Church alone. Nobody could any longer claim Moses and the prophets, if he was not with Jesus the Christ. For the Church was the New Israel and the only heir of the promises of old. A new and important hermeneutical principle was implied in these rigoristic utterances of the early Christian apologist. The Old Testament was to be read and interpreted as a book of the Church. The book on the Church, we should add.
The Law was superseded by the truth, and in it has found its accomplishment, and thereby was abrogated. It no longer had to be imposed upon the new converts. The New Israel had its own constitution. This part of the Old Testament was antiquated. It proved to be basically "situation-conditioned" — not so much in the sense of a general historical relativity as in a deeper providential sense. The new redemptive situation had been created or inaugurated by the Lord: a new situation in the sacred perspective of salvation. Everything that belonged essentially to the previous stage or phase had now lost its meaning, or rather kept its meaning as a prefiguration only. Even the Decalogue perhaps was not exempt from this rule and was overruled by the "new commandment." The Old Testament is now to be used solely in its relation to the Church. Under the old dispensation the Church was limited to one nation. In the new all national discriminations are emphatically abrogated: there is no more distinction between a Jew and a Greek — all are indiscriminately in the same Christ. In other words, one has no right to isolate certain elements of the old dispensation, apart from their immediate relation to the life of the Church, and set them as a Scriptural pattern for the temporal life of the nations. The old Israel was a provisional Church, but she was not a pattern nation. One may put it this way. Obviously, we can learn a lot from the Bible on social justice — this was a part of the message of the Kingdom to come. We can learn a lot about a particular political, social and economic organization of the Jews through the ages. All that may possibly be of great help in our sociological discussions. And yet it is hardly permissible to detect in the Bible (viz. in the Old Testament) any permanent or ideal pattern of political or economic settlement for the present or for any other historical realm at all. We may learn quite a lot from Hebrew history. This will, however, be only a historical lesson, not a theological one. Biblical fundamentalism is no better in sociology than anywhere else. The Bible is no authority on social science, as it is no authority on astronomy. The only sociological lesson that can be extracted from the Bible is precisely the fact of the Church, the Body of Christ. But no reference to the Bible in "temporal" affairs can be regarded as a "Scriptural evidence." There are "Scriptural evidences" only in theology. It does not mean that no guidance whatever can be found or even sought there in the Bible. In any case, such a search will not be a "theological use" of the Bible. And perhaps the lessons of the old Hebrew history are on the same level as any other lessons of the past. We have to distinguish more carefully between what was permanent and what was but provisional (or "situation-conditioned") in the old covenant (and first of all we have to overcome its national limitations). Otherwise we would be in danger of overlooking what was new in the new covenant. In the New Testament itself we have to make a clear distinction between its historical and prophetical aspects too. The true theme of the whole Bible is Christ and his Church, not nations or societies, nor the sky and the earth. The old Israel was the "type" of the new, i.e. of the Church Universal, not of any particular or occasional nation. The national frame of the provisional Church has been done away by the universality of salvation. There is, after Christ, but one "nation," the Christian nation, genus Christianum — in the ancient phrase, tertium genus — i.e. precisely the Church, the only people of God, and no other national description can claim any further Scriptural warrant: national differences belong to the order of nature and are irrelevant in the order of grace.
The Bible is complete. But the sacred history is not yet completed. The Biblical canon itself includes a prophetical Book of Revelation. There is the Kingdom to come, the ultimate consummation, and therefore there are prophecies in the New Testament as well. The whole being of the Church is in a sense prophetical. Yet, the future has a different meaning post Christum natum. The tension between present and future has in the Church of Christ another sense and character than it had under the old dispensation. For Christ is no more in the future only, but also in the past, and therefore in the present also. This eschatological perspective is of basic importance for the right understanding of the Scriptures. All hermeneutical "principles" and "rules" should be re-thought and re-examined in this eschatological perspective. There are two major dangers to be avoided. On the one hand, no strict analogy can be established between the two Testaments, their "covenantal situations" being profoundly different: they are related as "the figure" and "the truth." It was a traditional idea of patristic exegesis that the Word of God was revealing himself continuously, and in divers manners, throughout the whole of the Old Testament. Yet all these theophanies of old should never be put on the same level or in the same dimension as the incarnation of the Word, lest the crucial event of redemption is dissolved into an allegorical shadow. A "type" is no more than a "shadow" or image. In the New Testament we have the very fact. The New Testament therefore is more than a mere "figure" of the Kingdom to come. It is essentially the realm of accomplishment. On the other hand, it is premature to speak of a "realized eschatology," simply because the very eschaton is not yet realized: sacred history has not yet been closed. One may prefer the phrase: "the inaugurated eschatology." It renders accurately the Biblical diagnosis — the crucial point of the revelation is already in the past. "The ultimate" (or "the new") had already entered history, although the final stage is not yet attained. We are no more in the world of signs only, but already in the world of reality, yet under the sign of the Cross. The Kingdom has been already inaugurated, but not yet fulfilled. The fixed canon of Scripture itself symbolizes an accomplishment. The Bible is closed just because the Word of God has been incarnate. Our ultimate term of reference is now not a book, but a living person. Yet the Bible still holds its authority — not only as a record of the past, but also as a prophetical book, full of hints, pointing to the future, to the very end.
The sacred history of redemption is still going on. It is now the history of the Church that is the Body of Christ. The Spirit-Comforter is already abiding in the Church. No complete system of Christian faith is yet possible, for the Church is still on her pilgrimage. And the Bible is kept by the Church as a book of history to remind believers of the dynamic nature of the divine revelation, "at sundry times and in divers manners."
The Lost Scriptural Mind
"As the Truth is in Jesus" (Ephesians 4:21).
Christian ministers are not supposed to preach their private opinions, at least from the pulpit. Ministers are commissioned and ordained in the church precisely to preach the Word of God. They are given some fixed terms of reference — namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ — and they are committed to this sole and perennial message. They are expected to propagate and to sustain "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." Of course, the Word of God must be preached "efficiently." That is, it should always be so presented as to carry conviction and command the allegiance of every new generation and every particular group. It may be restated in new categories, if the circumstances require. But, above all, the identity of the message must be preserved.
One has to be sure that one is preaching the same gospel that was delivered and that one is not introducing instead any "strange gospel" of his own. The Word of God cannot be easily adjusted or accommodated to the fleeting customs and attitudes of any particular age, including our own time. Unfortunately, we are often inclined to measure the Word of God by our own stature, instead of checking our mind by the stature of Christ. The "modern mind" also stands under the judgment of the Word of God.
Modern Man and Scripture.
But it is precisely at this point that our major difficulty begins. Most of us have lost the integrity of the scriptural mind, even if some bits of biblical phraseology are retained. The modern man often complains that the truth of God is offered to him in an "archaic idiom" — i.e., in the language of the Bible — which is no more his own and cannot be used spontaneously. It has recently been suggested that we should radically "demythologize" Scripture, meaning to replace the antiquated categories of the Holy Writ by something more modern. Yet the question cannot be evaded: Is the language of Scripture really nothing else than an accidental and external wrapping out of which some "eternal idea" is to be extricated and disentangled, or is it rather a perennial vehicle of the divine message, which was once delivered for all time?
We are in danger of losing the uniqueness of the Word of God in the process of continuous "reinterpretation." But how can we interpret at all if we have forgotten the original language? Would it not be safer to bend our thought to the mental habits of the biblical language and to relearn the idiom of the Bible? No man can receive the gospel unless he repents — "changes his mind." For in the language of the gospel "repentance" (metanoeite) does not mean merely acknowledgment of and contrition for sins, but precisely a "change of mind" — a profound change of man's mental and emotional attitude, an integral renewal of man's self, which begins in his self-renunciation and is accomplished and sealed by the Spirit.
We are living now in an age of intellectual chaos and disintegration. Possibly modern man has not yet made up his mind, and the variety of opinions is beyond any hope of reconciliation. Probably the only luminous signpost we have to guide us through the mental fog of our desperate age is just the "faith which was once delivered unto the saints," obsolete or archaic as the idiom of the Early Church may seem to be, judged by our fleeting standards.
Preach the Creeds!
What, then, are we going to preach? What would I preach to my contemporaries "in a time such as this?" There is no room for hesitation: I am going to preach Jesus, and him crucified and risen. I am going to preach and to commend to all whom I may be called to address the message of salvation, as it has been handed down to me by an uninterrupted tradition of the Church Universal. I would not isolate myself in my own age. In other words, I am going to preach the "doctrines of the creed."
I am fully aware that creeds are a stumbling block for many in our own generation. "The creeds are venerable symbols, like the tattered flags upon the walls of national churches; but for the present warfare of the church in Asia, in Africa, in Europe and America the creeds, when they are understood, are about as serviceable as a battle-ax or an arquebus in the hands of a modern soldier." This was written some years ago by a prominent British scholar who is a devout minister too. Possibly he would not write them today. But there are still many who would wholeheartedly make this vigorous statement their own. Let us remember, however, that the early creeds were deliberately scriptural, and it is precisely their scriptural phraseology that makes them difficult for the modern man.
Thus we face the same problem again: What can we offer instead of Holy Scripture? I would prefer the language of the Tradition, not because of a lazy and credulous "conservatism" or a blind "obedience" to some external "authorities," but simply because I cannot find any better phraseology. I am prepared to expose myself to the inevitable charge of being "antiquarian" and "fundamentalist." And I would protest that such a charge is gratuitous and wrong. I do keep and hold the "doctrines of the creed," conscientiously and wholeheartedly, because I apprehend by faith their perennial adequacy and relevance to all ages and to all situations, including "a time such as this." And I believe it is precisely the "doctrines of the creed" that can enable a desperate generation like ours to regain Christian courage and vision.
The Tradition Lives.
"The church is neither a museum of dead deposits nor a society of research." The deposits are alive — depositum juvenescens, to use the phrase of St. Irenaeus. The creed is not a relic of the past, but rather the "sword of the Spirit." The reconversion of the world to Christianity is what we have to preach in our day. This is the only way out of that impasse into which the world has been driven by the failure of Christians to be truly Christian. Obviously, Christian doctrine does not answer directly any practical question in the field of politics or economics. Neither does the gospel of Christ. Yet its impact on the whole course of human history has been enormous. The recognition of human dignity, mercy and justice roots in the gospel. The new world can be built only by a new man.
What Chalcedon Meant.
"And was made man." What is the ultimate connotation of this creedal statement? Or, in other words, who was Jesus, the Christ and the Lord? What does it mean, in the language of the Council of Chalcedon, that the same Jesus was "perfect man" and "perfect God," yet a single and unique personality? "Modern man" is usually very critical of that definition of Chalcedon. It fails to convey any meaning to him. The "imagery" of the creed is for him nothing more than a piece of poetry, if anything at all. The whole approach, I think, is wrong. The "definition" of Chalcedon is not a metaphysical statement, and was never meant to be treated as such. Nor was the mystery of the Incarnation just a "metaphysical miracle." The formula of Chalcedon was a statement of faith, and therefore cannot be understood when taken out of the total experience of the church. In fact, it is an "existential statement."
Chalcedon's formula is, as it were, an intellectual contour of the mystery which is apprehended by faith. Our Redeemer is not a man, but God himself. Here lies the existential emphasis of the statement. Our Redeemer is one who "came down" and who, by "being made man," identified himself with men in the fellowship of a truly human life and nature. Not only the initiative was divine, but the Captain of Salvation was a divine Person. The fullness of the human nature of Christ means simply the adequacy and truth of this redeeming identification. God enters human history and becomes a historical person.
This sounds paradoxical. Indeed there is a mystery: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifested in the flesh." But this mystery was a revelation; the true character of God had been disclosed in the Incarnation. God was so much and so intimately concerned with the destiny of man (and precisely with the destiny of every one of "the little ones") as to intervene in person in the chaos and misery of the lost life. The divine providence therefore is not merely an omnipotent ruling of the universe from an august distance by the divine majesty, but a kenosis, a "self-humiliation" of the God of glory. There is a personal relationship between God and man.
Tragedy in a New Light.
The whole of the human tragedy appears therefore in a new light. The mystery of the Incarnation was a mystery of the love divine, of the divine identification with lost man. And the climax of Incarnation was the cross. It is the turning point of human destiny. But the awful mystery of the cross is comprehensible only in the wider perspective of an integral Christology; that is, only if we believe that the Crucified was in very truth "'the Son of the living God." The death of Christ was God's entrance into the misery of human death (again in person), a descent into Hades, and this meant the end of death and the inauguration of life everlasting for man.
There is an amazing coherence in the body of the traditional doctrine. But it can be apprehended and understood only in the living context of faith, by which I mean in a personal communion with the personal God. Faith alone makes formulas convincing; faith alone makes formulas live. "It seems paradoxical, yet it is the experience of all observers of spiritual things: no one profits by the Gospels unless he be first in love with Christ." For Christ is not a text but a living Person, and he abides in his body, the church.
A New Nestorianism.
It may seem ridiculous to suggest that one should preach the doctrine of Chalcedon "in a time such as this." Yet it is precisely this doctrine — that reality to which this doctrine bears witness — that can change the whole spiritual outlook of modern man. It brings him a true freedom. Man is not alone in this world, and God is taking personal interest in the events of human history. This is an immediate implication of the integral conception of the Incarnation. It is an illusion that the Christological disputes of the past are irrelevant to the contemporary situation. In fact, they are continued and repeated in the controversies of our own age. Modern man, deliberately or subconsciously, is tempted by the Nestorian extreme. That is to say, he does not take the Incarnation in earnest. He does not dare to believe that Christ is a divine person. He wants to have a human redeemer, only assisted by God. He is more interested in human psychology of the Redeemer than in the mystery of the divine love. Because, in the last resort, he believes optimistically in the dignity of man.
A New Monophysitism.
On the other extreme we have in our days a revival of "monophysite" tendencies in theology and religion, when man is reduced to complete passivity and is allowed only to listen and to hope. The present tension between "liberalism" and "neo-orthodoxy" is in fact a re-enactment of the old Christological struggle, on a new existential level and in a new spiritual key. The conflict will never be settled or solved in the field of theology, unless a wider vision is acquired.
In the early church the preaching was emphatically theological. It was not a vain speculation. The New Testament itself is a theological book. Neglect of theology in the instruction given to laity in modern times is responsible both for the decay of personal religion and for that sense of frustration which dominates the modern mood. What we need in Christendom "in a time such as this" is precisely a sound and existential theology. In fact, both clergy and the laity are hungry for theology. And because no theology is usually preached, they adopt some "strange ideologies" and combine them with the fragments of traditional beliefs. The whole appeal of the "rival gospel" in our days is that they offer some sort of pseudo theology, a system of pseudo dogmas. They are gladly accepted by those who cannot find any theology in the reduced Christianity of "modern" style. That existential alternative which many face in our days has been aptly formulated by an English theologian, "Dogma or… death." The age of a-dogmatism and pragmatism has closed. And therefore the ministers of the church have to preach again doctrines and dogmas — the Word of God.
The Modern Crisis.
The first task of the contemporary preacher is the "reconstruction of belief." It is by no means an intellectual endeavor. Belief is just the map of the true world, and should not be mistaken for reality. Modern man has been too much concerned with his own ideas and convictions, his own attitudes and reactions. The modern crisis precipitated by humanism (an undeniable fact) has been brought about by the rediscovery of the real world, in which we do believe. The rediscovery of the church is the most decisive aspect of this new spiritual realism. Reality is no more screened from us by the wall of our own ideas. It is again accessible. It is again realized that the church is not just a company of believers, but the "Body of Christ." This is a rediscovery of a new dimension, a rediscovery of the continuing presence of the divine Redeemer in the midst of his faithful flock. This discovery throws a new flood of light on the misery of our disintegrated existence in a world thoroughly secularized. It is already recognized by many that the true solution of all social problems lies somehow in the reconstruction of the church. "In a time such as this" one has to preach the "whole Christ," Christ and the church — totus Christus, caput et corpus, to use the famous phrase of St. Augustine. Possibly this preaching is still unusual, but it seems to be the only way to preach the Word of God efficiently in a period of doom and despair like ours.
The Relevance of the Fathers.
I have often a strange feeling. When I read the ancient classics of Christian theology, the fathers of the church, I find them more relevant to the troubles and problems of my own time than the production of modern theologians. The fathers were wrestling with existential problems, with those revelations of the eternal issues which were described and recorded in Holy Scripture. I would risk a suggestion that St. Athanasius and St. Augustine are much more up to date than many of our theological contemporaries. The reason is very simple: they were dealing with things and not with the maps, they were concerned not so much with what man can believe as with what God had done for man. We have, "in a time such as this," to enlarge our perspective, to acknowledge the masters of old, and to attempt for our own age an existential synthesis of Christian experience.
"The Lost Scriptural Mind" originally appeared in the December 19, 1951 issue of The Christian Century as "As the Truth is in Jesus." Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation.
The Work of the Holy Spirit in Revelation.
From "The Christian East" Journal
Vol. XIII No. 2 (pages 49–64) 1932
"Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb.13:8)
It is always the first definitions which are the most difficult. Here we have nothing to which we can refer, nothing from which we can draw deductions. We must not prove, but show; we must look and see.
And just now I am very keenly conscious of the difficulty of speaking of initial principles.
Revelation is a primordial fact, the initial gift of Christianity, of Christian life and faith. "But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God... The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (I Cor. 2:10–11). And again: "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (I Cor. 12:3).
In our usual conception of Revelation there is a certain heterogeneity, even a certain ambiguity. And the first thing we have to do is to find out in what this heterogeneity consists, and how we are to set it aside. In a certain sense the whole world is the Revelation of God. The creation of the world is a revelation, "a manifestation of God," in "conceivable images." The whole world testifies of God, of His Wisdom, Mercy and Love. This is generally named: "Revelation through Nature." This is Revelation in matter, so–to–say, the Revelation which is immanent in the very nature and essence of things; which is inscribed and implanted there. Above all, it exists in the nature of man himself; man, who was created and made in God’s image and likeness. This is the "Law of God" "Written in the hearts of men" (Rom. 2:15).
But strictly speaking this is not Revelation in the direct meaning of the word. It is better to speak here not of Revelation, but of God's manifestation. In Nature, visible and invisible, God is manifested, not revealed. In Nature and in the human soul we find only "certain traces of God," "vestigia Dei naturalia." But, so far, this is no theophany. This is only a testimony (Testmonium) of God; and from it the human mind may conclude or presuppose God's existence; may become conscious of God; may divine God in His works. This gives birth to "seeking after God," to religious longing, to religious needs, still unclear and wavering: "That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us" (Acts, 17:27). But so far this is not yet knowledge of God, it is not seeing or knowing. Strictly speaking Revelation is not the fundamental essence of every religious life. Even more, we have a right to say that Revelation is, in general, not religion, but it is greater than religion. It is something different, something apart from religion. It is not the manifestation of God in his creation, in the beings created by Him, but a direct vision of God granted to man. God is manifested in all and always. Here we stand before a certain continuity, the continuity of Divine Omnipresence of Him "who is omnipotent and omnipresent."
But not everywhere and not to all is this vision of God granted. There is no continuity in theophanies. Here we are in a realm of rupture and interruptions, of interruptions in the continuous stream of the world’s natural order, though this too is established by Divine command and by Divine Providence, by the Providence of the Omnipotent Creator. This is the realm of the supernatural, and only the "supernatural" is the Revelation of God in the real meaning of the word. In the "Religion of Nature" man recognizes and divines God; seeks after Him and reaches out for Him, for "He be not far from every one of us." But this is only the path of man towards God. Revelation is the path of God towards man. This is above nature, supernatural, this is something new and different, something greater than that force of movement and life which has been implanted in every created being by the pre–eternal and creative "Fiat."
Or, in other words, in Nature God is manifested as the Creator of vitality, the Giver of existence and of life. But in the supernatural, in what is above nature, God in His transcendence appears and is revealed as He who spake; "Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son" (Heb. 1:1–2). God is revealed in the Word, and only God’s word is Revelation in its direct and exact meaning. Revelation is the Divine Voice, the Voice of God, speaking to man. Man hears this Voice, listens to it, accepts it, and understands the Divine Word. For God speaks so that man should hear Him. God created man in His image and likeness that man should listen for His Voice and Word, should hear it, and, even more, that he should treasure it, remember it, and keep it. When we speak of Revelation, we have in mind just the Word of God that has been heard by us. Some heard it direct, without any intermediary; these were the great initiated and prophets. Others heard of it through the mediation of those who were commanded by God and by the power and aid of the Holy Ghost to repeat what they had heard and seen themselves. The Holy Scriptures are the written record of the Revelation they heard, and it was God who gave them the Strength, through the outpouring of His Holy Ghost, to bear and write down His words. The sacred mystery of Divine inspiration cannot be completely fathomed by us. We cannot fully understand in what manner "God’s Holy men" heard the Word of their God and how they repeated it in the words of their own tongue. But even in their transmission it was the Voice of God, the Voice of the Holy Ghost, that was heard, and the feeble human voice, the voice of flesh and blood, had no part in it. Therein lies the miracle and mystery of the Bible that it is the Word of God, the Word of the Spirit, who "spake by the prophets," and yet it is the Word of the Spirit in a human tongue. And whatever the manner in which we understand the Divine inspiration of Scripture, one thing is important. The scriptures transmit and preserve for us the Divine Voice in the tongue of man. The scriptures transmit and preserve for us the Divine Word such as it had been heard, such as it sounded in the receptive soul of man. The mystery of Divine inspiration is not only that God spoke to man, but also that man was listening to God and heard him. God descends to man, shows his Face to man; speaks to him. And man sees God, is lost in the vision of God, and describes what he has seen and heard, bearing witness to what has been revealed to him. Therein lies the significance of the Old Testament Divine visions, of the Old Testament Revelations. In them there is a certain essential anthropomorphism, and this not so much because of the weakness of human understanding, or from a sense of "adaptability," but as a foretaste of the coming incarnation. It is already in the Old Testament that the Divine Word becomes human, is incarnated in the human tongue. And there is another point of great importance. If we want the Divine Word to ring clear, the human tongue must not lose its natural qualities. It must not leave off being human. What is human is not suppressed or swept away by Divine inspiration; it is only transfigured. The supernatural does not go counter to what is natural.
Therefore, it is that God chooses to speak in the human tongue, that through Divine inspiration, through the Breath of the Spirit of Omniscience and Wisdom, human nature should be completed, fulfilled. The human tongue does not weaken or belittle the absoluteness of Revelation; it does not limit the power of God's Word. The Word of God may be exactly and strictly expressed in the language of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God; in the image of God’s Word, as was taught by some of the Fathers of the Church. The Word of God does not grow dim because it sounds and is pronounced in the tongue of man. On the contrary, the human word becomes transfigured, transubstantiated, because God deigned to speak in the human tongue. The Divine Spirit breathes in the organism of human speech, in the substance of human words. And therefore the tongue of man acquires force and firmness. It becomes possible for the word of man to speak of God. Theology becomes possible.
Strictly speaking theology grows possible only through Revelation. It is the answering speech of man to God, as man’s witness of God who had spoken to him; whose voice he had heard and remembered, and whose words he had kept and was repeating. So–called "natural theology" is no theology in the true sense of the word. It is rather a philosophy, a word about the "Unknown God," towards whom the restless human soul reaches out but has not yet found; frequently it loses its way in its search. This is the "Word about a God who has not yet revealed Himself; about whom man can so far say nothing, unless it be that his soul panteth for Him and longeth for Him as the hart panteth for the spring of water." And it is only through Revelation that true theology becomes possible. For the first time in answer to Revelation true prayer is poured out in words of testimony, words of adoration, of thanksgiving and of petition. Again it is an answer to the Word of God.
In Sacred Scripture we are, first of all, struck by the intimate relation of God to man and of man to God. In Scripture we see not only God, but man as well. It is the Revelation of God, but it is also a revelation concerning man. God reveals Himself to man, appears before him, becomes visible to him, speaks with him, so as to reveal to man the hidden meaning of his existence, to show him the path and meaning of human life. In Scripture we see God coming to reveal Himself to man, and we see man meeting God and not only listening to His Words, but answering them. In Scripture we not only hear the Voice of God, but also the voice of man answering Him — in words of prayer, thanksgiving, adoration, sorrow, and contrition. God wants, and expects, and demands this answer. It is for this that He speaks with man. He expects man to answer Him. He is waiting for man to talk with Him. And He draws up His covenant with man.
Revelation is the history of this covenant. Recorded Revelation — Sacred Scripture — is, first of all, history. Law and prophets, psalms and prophecies are included and woven into the living historical web.
Scripture is history, the history of the world created by God, and the history of man who is called to be the priest, the prophet, and the king of this world. Scripture begins with the creation of the world and is brought up to the eve of the new creation: "Behold I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). Between these two extreme points, that of the first creative, "Let there be," and that of the latest prophecy, the living web of Sacred Scripture dynamically unfolds itself. Revelation is not only a system of Divine words, but, above all, the system of Divine works. This is the reason of the extension of time in Sacred Scripture. We might say that Revelation was the path of God in history. And the culminating point is reached when God enters history for all time; when the Word is incarnated, when God–Man is revealed.
Revelation is also the book of human fate. First of all, it is the book which narrates the fall and the salvation of man. It speaks of the first created paradise, of Adam's expulsion from it as a consequence of his sin; of the first promise of salvation, the so–called "First Gospel" (Gen. 3:15). It speaks of the path fallen man had to tread upon earth, of the new promises, and, at last, of the chosen "Father of all the faithful," Abraham, and of the covenant made with him. It is from here that the actual Old Testament begins. The Old Testament is the sacred history of Israel, the history of that unique people, the people chosen by God, with whom God concluded his covenant. Here the most important thing is the fact of election; the separation of Israel, the setting Israel apart from all other peoples. Israel is the grace–given, sacred oasis in the history of fallen mankind. Only with one people on earth did God conclude a covenant and give it His own law, Divinely inscribed on tables of stone. God establishes in the midst of this people a true priesthood, even though only a temporal and prophetic one. He raises from among it the prophets, who speak words inspired by the Spirit of God. Before Christ it was in Israel alone that there existed a true priesthood and not only an idolatrous one. Therefore it was only there that true Divine service was performed. Here alone was sacrifice, pleasing in God's eyes, offered. Here alone was there a true temple of God, the only temple of the sort in all the world. It was a sacred center for all the world — an oasis granted by the Grace of God, in the midst of a sinful, unredeemed world. It is from here that sanctification begins. "The cloud filled the house of the Lord" (I Kings, 8:10). This election and separation of Israel is easily understood and explained from an historical standpoint, from the historical mission of Israel. Israel is the first–fruit of mankind. Its historical mission leads to the birth in its midst of the world’s Savior. In it was to be accomplished the last limit of the final Revelation of God, the incarnation of the Word. It was because of this that the legislation of Mount Sinai was granted to this people; because of this the prophets spoke. The Sacred meaning of the Old Testament is that it is the history of the ancestors of our Savior, and therefore it is by mentioning them that the Gospels begin their narrative: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, time son of David, the son of Abraham," (Math. 1: 1). "For salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). The Old Testament is the period of the Messianic expectation, the time of covenants and prophecies. It is not only the prophets that prophesy. Events also become prophecies. The Old Testament history, as a whole, is a kind of fore given image, an historical symbol, a looking forward towards approaching events. St. Augustine said: "The New Testament is contained within the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. In Vetere Testamento Novumlatet, in Novo Testamento Vetus patet; and the Messianic tense expectation culminates in the appearance of the God–Man: "But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman" (Gal. 4:4). The time of expectation is passed; the promise has been accomplished; the Lord has come. He has come to abide and remain with those who believe in Him: "Always, even unto the end of the world" (Math. 28:20). The Old Testament history is finishing — the history of flesh and blood. The history of the Spirit is beginning — the Kingdom of Truth and Grace is opened (John 1:17). And yet the law is not destroyed, but fulfilled (Math. 5:17), and the prophecies have been accomplished and did not prove vain. The Old Testament was fulfilled, revealed, and completed in the New, in Novo patet. And therefore the books of the Hebrews are still sacred for Christians. Not only, because once, in olden times, God spoke to Israel, but also because now, too, the Word of God is to be heard in the Bible, and now through this eternal, eternally living book, God's Revelation continues coining down to us. It is therein that the mystery of the Bible consists; this is the mystery of the inspired, transfigured, transubstantiated word. This does not mean that time Bible is used in the Church as a book of parables, as a book of historical examples and cases, a collection of texts or theological instances (Loci Theologici). No, the Bible remains history, and it is just as a book of sacred history that it preserves all its power. The law is already set aside and is replaced by something higher. The temple exists no more in Jerusalem and the House of Israel is empty (Luke, 13:35). Prophecy has been accomplished.
However, in sacred history events not only take place and pass away, but they are accomplished and fulfilled, they are completed. The Past does not mean "passed" or "was," but, above all, has been fulfilled. Fulfillment is the fundamental essence of Revelation. That which has become sacred remains Holy for always and without change. It has the seal, the sign, and the blessing of the Holy Ghost. For even to the present moment the Spirit breathes in the words once inspired by it. The Old Testament is, above all, a book for us. The New Testament is more than a book. In the Old Testament we see most clearly the meaning of the Revelation as of a Word. Therefore we witness to the Spirit "that spake in times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets" (Heb. 1:2). In the New Testament God hath spoken to us by his Son, and we are bound not only to hear, but to see, too.
We admit that the Old Testament is a difficult book. And, as time runs on, it grows no easier. Perhaps, on the contrary, it is more difficult for us to read it than it was for our ancestors. This is not the time or place to ask and discuss the question concerning the "historical authenticity" of the Old Testament. There is no time here to unravel the complex and difficult problem of the so–called "Higher Criticism." It would involve us in giving too much time to it in this paper. But all these critical investigations do not touch upon the fundamental principle of Revelation; do not deflect from its Divine inspiration. Scientific criticism cannot prove the sacred value of the Bible; cannot refute it. Divine inspiration is not a category of autonomous science. The reason of man, left to itself, cannot feel inspiration. Divine inspiration presupposes a certain rupture in the natural order. We need a special method of seeing to be able to recognize it. This in no wise means that faith and reason cannot be united, and that reason knows no religious truths and postulates; that religious truth, the truth of Revelation, is not obligatory or convincing for reason. On the contrary! But to achieve this, reason itself must be transfigured. Out of a world of two dimensions we must pass over into one of three; we must feel depth. Herein lies the nucleus of the theological question of Higher Criticism. To be able to feel the breath of the Spirit in Sacred Scripture, we must "strive after the Spirit," we must possess spiritual intuition and insight. We must learn to discern profanum et sacrum; we must know and feel what is profanum and what is sacrum; we must admit and know that there is a sacrum, quite apart from profanum. And this transfiguration of our consciousness can he accomplished only in the Church, in its spiritual charismatic completeness. Revelation has been granted to the Church not to individuals. In the Old Testament also "God’s Words" were entrusted not to individuals, but to God’s people (Rom. 3:2). Revelation has been given only to the Church, and only in the Church is it accessible to us; i.e., it can be accessible only in the fullness of spiritual life. Outside the Church, for outsiders, it becomes unclear, unconvincing. This unclearness is the nether side of our inattention, of our absence of intuition.
The apex of Revelation is in the Gospels. For the fullness of Revelation — is Christ. The New Testament is also, first of all, history — the Gospel history of the incarnated Word and of the beginning of the history of the Church, which is now expecting its apocalyptic fulfillment. The basis of the New Testament is facts, events, realities, commandments, teaching, and words. Here the basis is Christ and the Church, His Body. "The fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:23). The Gospel is history. Historical events are the subject and source of Christian faith and Christian hope. From the beginning, from the very day of Pentecost, when the Apostle Peter as an eye–witness, ("Whereof we are all witnesses," Acts 2:32), witnessed to the fulfillment of salvation, apostolic preaching had an historical character. But again it is a sacred history. The Apostles always speak of concrete historical facts and events. They bring vividly before the consciousness of their hearers the image of Christ, they make it live anew, and they show who He was. The uniqueness, the marvel of this historical Figure consists in the fact that He who became visible, whom we saw, was the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Therefore it is that human limits, belonging to a world of two dimensions, cannot encompass this Image. It transcends them; and within historical boundaries we see what is super–historical, what is above the earth. But the boundaries are not obliterated, not wiped away, not dimmed; in the sacred Image historical features are still visible. Therein lies the meaning and importance of apostolic preaching that it is a narrative, a narrative of what the Apostles themselves heard and saw, of what was fulfilled and accomplished, hic et nunc. "Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled" (I. John, 1:1). But what happened was unheard of: "The Word was made flesh" (John 1:14). Therefore this narrative is more than merely a narrative; it relates not only something that took place, but something that was realized and completed. Through historical vision we catch sight of what is visible only to the eyes of faith, what only the few saw and recognized during the lifetime of the Savior; what even the Apostles saw and recognized fully only later, after His resurrection, when He had opened their understanding that they might understand "The mysteries of the Kingdom" (Luke, 24:45). The Gospel is a narrative and an image, but it is the narrative about God–Man. And just because it is a narrative and an historical witness there is a certain reserve in it. The scope of faith is more than reminiscence. Faith grows living, in creative recognition of what it has seen and heard in communion with Christ. The Gospels give us a unique, integral image, an image both Divine and human — the image of God become man. For those whose capacity of perception is not fine enough this image often appears as two separate images, just as it did to those who saw Him in the flesh, as long as their hearts had not been enlightened by faith. The Evangelists and the Apostles were no chroniclers. It was not their mission to relate all that had been done by Jesus, day by day, year by year. They described His image and related His works, so as to give us His image; an historical, yet a Divine image. The Gospels may be called "An historical icon," an icon in words not in lines and colors, yet a picture of His face. Or, to be more exact, the Gospels are not one, but four icons, a four–fold icon of God–Man. And this icon has been delineated by the power of the Spirit. The gospels are the records of the apostolic "good tidings," and the preaching of the Apostles was contained not "in the doubtful words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1Cor. 2:4), in the numerous separate reminiscences the figure of Jesus grows living and the sensitive heart recognizes in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, the Savior of the world and the God–Man. The earthly plan of the Gospel is always mysteriously transparent, and through the historical evidence we see the glimmering of Divine reality. It is true that not all see this, just as not all saw it then; and not "flesh and blood," but the Father which is in heaven hath revealed that He was the Son of the living God (Math. 16:16–17). In the mysterious blending of the double features the Face of God–Man has been drawn, seen, and recognized. For thus it was described by the Evangelists. The whole of the New Testament throbs with historical fulfillment of what has been and is accomplished. But this is no historically isolated earthly stream of events, of "natural events." The narrative of what took place is a realistic narrative. It was, it happened, this meeting of the sky and the earth, of God and man. The meeting and the union: "And the Word was made flesh" (John 1:14) "And yet no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (I Cor. 17:3). It means that revelation becomes clearly heard by us in all its fullness only in spiritual experience. Therefore the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, has been sent down to us that He "Will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13), that He should "bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you'' (John 14:26). And to the present day, "The same anointing teacheth, you all things" (1 John 2:27). The Gospels are written within the Church. They are the records of the apostolic "good tidings," of the apostolic preaching, and the strength of this preaching built up the Church: "Go ye, therefore, and teach." The Gospels are the records of Church experience and faith, records of what is visible in the experience of the Church. It is the living Image of Christ which the Church has contemplated from the beginning; and it is only within the Church that this Image is fully and wholly accessible. St. Athanasius the Great says: "It is the direct and living meeting with Christ, into whom all the faithful are clothed in the sacrament of Holy Baptism; we are satisfied by the Spirit; we drink Christ."
Divine Revelation is preserved in the Church. It is protected arid strengthened by the words of Scripture; it is protected, but not exhausted. The words of Scripture do not exhaust the whole fullness of Revelation; do not exhaust the whole fullness of Christian experience and of the charismatic reminiscence of the Church. The experience of the Church is wider than its direct testimony. Therefore those who abide in the Church know infinitely more and quite otherwise than "outsiders." For those who abide within the Church, the testimony of the Spirit makes the Scriptures a clearer, a fuller thing; this testimony once more lives in their own personal experience. And this is why we must not speak of the "self–sufficing quality" of Scripture. For Scripture is not only preserved by the power of human memory; it is also protected by the power of Grace in the charismatic life of the Church. In the Church, Revelation becomes an inner spiritual experience. The Church in itself is already a Revelation_ From the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost entered the world to abide in it, Revelation has become an uninterrupted continuity. The fiery baptism of the created world was accomplished. It was represented by the twelve Apostles and those that were with them, as the chosen first–fruit (Math. 3:2). At any rate the Scriptures demand that they should he expounded and explained. And a true explanation will be one that proceeds from the realities described in the Scriptures. It must be no outward, but an inward explanation, growing out of the depth of spiritual experience. And here we do not so much speak of the personal spiritual intuition of every separate expounder, as, above all, of the living of the fullness of the spiritual experience of the Church itself. For in this experience the Scriptures become vivified by the same Spirit who had once inspired them. When the Church expounds Scripture it bears witness to that of which the Scriptures testify. But frequently new words are used. Revelation is received in the silence of faith, the silence of contemplation — such is the first silently receptive moment of theology. And in this receptive silence of contemplation the whole fullness of Truth is contained and given. But Truth must still be expressed and pronounced. Because man is called not only to receive Truth attentively, but also to witness of it. Silencium mysticum does not exhaust the complete calling of man. He is called to creative activity, above all, to the building up of his own self. God’s Word must become evident in the reality of human thought; God’s Word must give birth to human thought. This is the creative or positive moment of the knowledge of God. Divine reality revealed in the experience of the Church may be described in manifold ways. Either in images and symbols, in religious poetry and religious art — such was the language of the Old Testament prophets; thus frequently spoke the Evangelists, thus preached the Apostles, and thus the Church is still preaching in the songs and hymns of its Divine service, in the symbolic meaning of its rites. This is the tongue of preaching or witnessing; it is the tongue of charismatic theology. Or, Divine reality may be described in the conceptions of the mind, in research. This is the language of dogma, of dogmatic theology. "Preaching" and "Dogma" are the two ways in which the Church bears witness to Truth, to that inner Revelation which is still continuing in the Church by the power of the Spirit abiding in it (cp. St. Basil the Great concerning the Holy Ghost) This Revelation, this deepening and growing into "The Knowledge of Truth," is the life of the Church: "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13)
Dogma is thought witnessing to Revelation, to what it has seen, to what was revealed to it, to the visible and the contemplated in the Catholic experience of the Church. And this witness is expressed in definitions and conceptions. Dogma is the sentence of experience, the mental vision, true contemplation. We may name it the "logical image," the "logical icon" of Divine reality. And, at the same time, dogma is a definition. Therefore it is that both the logical form of dogma, that "inner word" which is fixed and made definite in outward expression, and the outward choice of words, which are so important in dogma.
Dogma is no new Revelation; dogma is only a witness, a witness of the mind, such as is worthy of the experienced and recognized Divine Revelation, a Revelation granted and revealed in the charismatic experience of faith, of the mysteries of life eternal, such as has been shown by the Holy Ghost. All dogma is revealed by experience, in true contact with "things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
This is the source of dogmatic decisive authority and of the unchangeableness of Truth, revealed and preserved from the beginning. Dogmas are not developed or changed. They are inviolable, even in their outward choice of words. Perhaps it may sound paradoxical, but it is still true to say that dogma can arise, can be established and expressed, but they cannot be developed. A dogma once established is an eternal inviolable "rule of faith" and the measure of it. Of course this does not mean that something new, some "new truth" is being revealed; but it does mean that such a truth is being expressed and pronounced. In its dogmatic witness the Church is expressing and pronouncing truths preserved within its fold. And its aim is to find and establish the exact words, which should truly express the experience of the Church. These words must be able to transmit the "vision of the mind," which is being revealed to the faithful spirit in experience and contemplation. There is a pre–dogmatic period of Church consciousness; then the language chosen is one of images and symbols. But after this comes the time for bearing dogmatic witness. For truth of faith is truth of reason as well, and thought must enter "into the knowledge of truth." In doing this it becomes creatively transfigured, the very realm of thought becomes transfigured, sanctified, and renewed. When Divine Truth is pronounced and expressed in the human tongue, the very words are transfigured, and the fact that the Truths of Revelation are imparted in logical images and conceptions witnesses to the transfiguration of word and thought, words become sacred. The words of dogmatic definitions, frequently taken from the habitual philosophic vocabulary, are no more simple, casual words, which might have been and still may be replaced by some others. No, they have grown to be eternal, irreplaceable words. This signifies that in the adequate expression of a Divine Truth certain words, i.e., definite conceptions and ideas, or a definite train of thought have been eternalized and stabilized. This means that eternal and absolute ideas are being sought; therefore the Truth of Revelation may be and is adequately expressed in them. This Truth of Revelation has been positively granted, and not only postulated. Not something to be sought, but something given. However incommensurable our present knowledge "in part" is to the promised knowledge that is to be "face to face," — still, now as always, it is full and perfect. Truth is being revealed in Catholic experience and is being expressed in dogmatic definitions. The dogmas of the Fathers repeat in categories of thought the unchangeable contents of "apostolic preaching," they express "in words of reason dogmas which once were narrated in simple words by fishermen, who had received wisdom thereto by the power of the Spirit."
By the power of the Spirit. In the dogmatic definitions of the Church we again feel the life–giving power of the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Wisdom. Dogmas are pronounced not by the arbitrary desire of man, but by the inspiration of the Spirit. Usually this was done during the Ecumenical Councils, but sometimes also through the silent reception of "ecclesiœ sparsœ."
And again; dogmas do not exhaust the experience of the Church; just as Revelation is not exhausted in the words or the "letter" of Scripture. In dogmatic definitions the Truth of experience is only determined and protected, but not exhausted. The experience and faith of the Church are fuller and wider than its dogmatic word. There is much to which the Church witnesses even to the present day in images, symbols, and similes, in symbolic theology. Probably this will exist to the end of time, i.e., to the last passing over from here to the beyond (see St. Gregory the Theologian). From the very beginning the Church was given the fullness of Truth. But it is only gradually and "in part" that this fullness is being expressed. In general all our knowledge here, is always a knowledge "in part." The exhaustive fullness will be revealed only in the beyond, in the Second Advent, in the "meeting with Our Lord." From here proceeds the dogmatic incompleteness of the Church’s witness; this is also caused by the Church being "in a state of pilgrimage," "in via"; that it is still being "completed and maketh increase" (Eph. 4:16). The human spirit and reason are still "increasing." The historical aims of the knowledge of God, of understanding Revelation, are still facing us. There is much that is still to be accomplished. However the incompleteness and the inexhaustibleness of our knowledge here does not weaken its truth, its finality, the impossibility of replacing it; does not deprive it of the finality which has been attained. Within the limits of Church experience there are many mysteries for us to contemplate, mysteries for which no dogmatic words have been found so far. Here there is scope for "theological opinions" and research. There can also exist freedom in the understanding of established dogmas. Of course there is no room here for subjective arbitrary mental choice. Theology must always remain vital, intuitive; it must be nourished by the experience of faith, and must not be split up into autonomous isolated dialectic conceptions. Once more we want to remind you that the dogmas of faith are the truths of experience and of life — therefore they can he unfolded through no logical synthesis and analysis, but only through spiritual life, through actual participation in the fullness of Church experience. A lawful "theological opinion" can he attained not through any logical deduction, but only through direct vision, and this again can only be attained through strenuous prayerful effort, through a striving after the Spirit, through personal spiritual growth, through living communion with the constant Catholic experience of the Church.
Theology can be realized only through a Catholic transfiguration of those who are striving to attain knowledge. Catholicity is a victory over all manner of separatism. Catholicity strives against all kinds of individual isolation, against the self–assertion of exclusiveness and isolation. Catholicity is a certain attitude of consciousness, the measure and limit of spiritual growth. In this Catholic transfiguration, personality grows complete and receives the faculty and strength of feeling and expressing the consciousness and life of the whole. And those, who, in striving to attain Catholic development, have gained this power, accept it as a gift of the Spirit. We name those who express the experience and consciousness of the Church, "Fathers and Teachers of the Church"; because from them we hear not only their own personal professions, but also the witness of the Church. It is out of Catholic fullness that they speak. In their words we feel the breath of the Spirit. The fullness of Revelation is assimilated by the Church in the measure of its spiritual growth. And this gradualness in the profession of faith is connected with the dynamic growth of Church existence, with the process of vital salvation, sanctification, and transfiguration. Perhaps it is not by chance that it is just those dogmatic definitions which treat of the building up of the "new creation" and of the final fate of the Church, which have not yet been expressed. Because this has not yet been fulfilled in time, because we are still seeing its fulfillment: and therefore we know not all about it, and can speak of it only in prophecies and symbols. In those dogmas which have already been established, that which pertains to the future is but partially visible. We possess no categorical definitions concerning the abiding of the Holy Spirit in the world, the action of the Holy Spirit in it; not of the life of the saints and sinners beyond the tomb, nor of much else that is awaiting its accomplishment. Here the Church often limits itself to dogmatic negation, i.e., it witnesses in an authoritative manner to what we are not allowed and must not think. And this witness proceeds from the depth of that experience which has not yet been and cannot be expressed. But the Church does not hasten to establish in dogmatic formulae positive theological opinions of the future. And this not because it does not know, but because the time has not yet come for it to pronounce itself. The Church witnesses in a categorical manner to that which is ever present, to that which does not belong to time (as for instance the dogma of the Holy Trinity); or to that which has already been revealed, seen, and accomplished (the dogma of the Person of Our Savior). And in the dogma of Christ the first things defined were those which pertained to the past, in so far as they belonged to time (Incarnation, reality of the sufferings and death on the cross, Resurrection, Ascension); or again it witnesses to that which was revealed direct by Our Savior himself (the Second Advent, universal resurrection, the Day of Judgment). Of all else the Church prefers to bear testimony in symbols and similes, but liturgically; as when it establishes the solemn festivals of Ascension and Transfiguration; or that of the Life–giving Cross. Here the Church testifies to much that has not yet found its final dogmatic expression; to much that is bound up with the sanctification, i.e., the perfection of the world; a sanctification that is being, but has not yet been, accomplished. The mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord can be fully revealed only at the Second Advent "When He shall so come in like manner, as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts, 1:11). For only then, and in the resurrection of all, will the created body be fully re–established and become incorruptible. The mystery of the Lord's Transfiguration is also closely connected with this. We catch but a glimpse of it in the witness of the Light of Mount Tabor, given by the Byzantine Councils of the XIV century. There is no doubt that much has been given us only as foreknowledge. However, this does not mean that we have the right to form whatever opinion we like concerning the truths that have not been expressed; or that here there is nothing obligatory for us. The realm of foreknowledge is no "doubtful realm" (Dubitum) in which unlimited "freedom" is permitted us (In dubiis libertas). The absence of "dogmatic" definitions does not indicate absence of knowledge, and does not authorize complete reserve from all judgment. For that which has not been given in dogma has been given us in an experience, which is the source of the dogmatic definitions of the Church. It has also often been given in written recorded Revelation, which is not exhausted in dogmatic expressions, and which is full of mystery and prophecies. Not all that is known and revealed is proclaimed dogmatically by the Church, but all is given in the dialectic experience of the Church, which indissolubly abides with its head, Jesus Christ, and is unchangeably enlightened and inspired by the Life–giving Spirit.
Father Sergius Bulgakov expressed himself very adequately when he said: "He who has once met Christ, His Savior, on his own personal path, and has felt His Divinity, has, in that very moment, accepted all fundamental Christian dogmas — Virgin Birth, incarnation, Second Glorious Advent, the Coming of the Comforter, the Holy Trinity." (S. Bulgakov: "The Undying Light."1917, p.57). To this I want to add: "Or else he has not yet met Christ, or, at any rate, has not recognized him." "The Spirit abideth with us now, and, in the striving after the Spirit, the path towards the fullness of the knowledge of God is opened to us." (St. Gregory the Theologian).
God speaks to man through His Spirit; and only in the measure in which man abides in the Spirit does he hear and understand this voice: ''The wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). There are no isolated paths of spiritual life. Since the Day of Pentecost the Spirit abideth in the Church, where God hath ordained "the action of the Spirit"("Omnem operationem Spiritus," as St. Ireneus of Lyons said). Here, by the power of the Spirit, is every soul quickened. Here the Word of God rings and is heard — all the words pronounced since the beginning. Here is the fullness and the path of knowledge. The striving after the Spirit, the prayer for the granting of the Spirit, is the path in which we can glorify God. Through the Breath of the Spirit God’s Revelation will be eternally vivified and will be built up into the living organism of the one and undivided Truth
The Church teaches us to pray:
"Our Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Omnipresent and All–fulfilling, Treasure of all Good, and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, cleanse us from all evil, and save, O All–merciful, our souls."
Revelation, Philosophy and Theology
This article originally appeared as "Offenbarung, Philosophic und Theologie" in Zwischen den Zeiten, Heft 6 (München, 1931). Translated from the German by Richard Haugh.
There are two aspects of religious knowledge: Revelation and Experience. Revelation is the voice of God speaking to man. And man hears this voice, listens to it, accepts the Word of God and understands it. It is precisely for this purpose that God speaks; that man should hear him. By Revelation in the proper sense, we understand precisely this word of God as it is heard. Holy Scripture is the written record of the Revelation which has been heard. And however one may interpret the inspired character of Scripture, it must be acknowledged that Scripture preserves for us and presents to us the voice of God in the language of man. It presents to us the word of God just as it resounded in the receptive soul of man. Revelation is theophany. God descends to man and reveals himself to man. And man sees and beholds God. And he describes what he sees and hears; he testifies to what has been revealed to him. The greatest mystery and miracle of the Bible consists of the fact that it is the Word of God in the language of man.
Quite properly the early Christian exegetes saw in the Old Testamental Scriptures an anticipation and prototype of the coming Incarnation of God. Already in the Old Testament the Divine Word becomes human. God speaks to man in the language of man. This constitutes the authentic anthropomorphism of Revelation. This anthropomorphism however is not merely an accommodation. Human language in no way reduces the absolute character of Revelation nor limits the power of God's "Word." The Word of God can be expressed precisely and adequately in the language of man. For man is created in the image of God. It is precisely for this reason that man is capable of perceiving God, of receiving God's Word and of preserving it. The Word of God is not diminished while it resounds in human language. On the contrary, the human word is transformed and, as it were, transfigured because of the fact that it pleased God to speak in human language. Man is able to hear God, to grasp, receive and preserve the word of God. In any case, Holy Scripture speaks to us not only of God, but also of man. Furthermore, God himself speaks in his Revelation not only about himself but also about man. Thus historical Revelation fulfills itself precisely in the appearance of the God-Man. Not only in the Old but also in the New Testament we see not only God, but also man. We apprehend God approaching and appearing to man; and we see human persons who encounter God and listen attentively to his Word — and, what is more, respond to his words.
We hear in Scripture also the voice of man, answering God in words of prayer or of thanksgiving or of praise. It is sufficent to mention the Psalms in this connection. And God desires, expects, and requires this response. God desires that man not only listens to his words but that man also responds to them. God wants to involve man in "conversation." God descends to man — and he descends in order to elevate man to him. In Scripture one is astounded, above all, by this intimate nearness of God to man and of man to God, this sanctification of all human life by the presence of God, this overshadowing of the earth with Divine protection.
In Scripture we are astonished by the very fact of sacred history itself. In Scripture it is revealed that history itself becomes sacred, that history can be consecrated, that life can be sanctified. And, to be sure, not only in the sense of an external illumination of life — as if from outside — but also in the sense of its transfiguration. For Revelation is indeed completed with the founding of the Church and with the Holy Spirit's descent into the world. Since that time the Spirit of God abides in the world. Suddenly in the world itself the source of eternal life is established. And Revelation will be consummated with the appearance of the new heaven and the new earth, with a cosmic and universal transformation of all created existence. One can suggest that Revelation is the path of God in history — we see how God walks among the ranks of men. We behold God not only in the transcendent majesty of his glory and omnipotence but also in his loving nearness to his creation. God reveals himself to us not only as Lord and Pantocrator but, above all, as Father. And the main fact is that written Revelation is history, the history of the world as the creation of God. Scripture begins with the creation of the world and closes with the promise of a new creation. And one senses the dynamic tension between both these moments, between the first divine "fiat" and the coming one: "Behold, I make all things new" (idu, kena pio panda, ιδου καινα ποιω παντα Revelation 21:5).
This is not the place to treat in detail the basic questions of Biblical exegesis. Nevertheless one thing must be unconditionally stated. Scripture can be viewed from a double perspective: outside of history or — as history. In the first case the Bible is interpreted as a book of eternal and sacred images and symbols. And one must then unravel and interpret it precisely as a symbol, according to the rules of the symbolical or allegorical method. In the ancient Church the adherents of the allegorical method interpreted the Bible in this manner. The mystics of the Middle Ages and of the era of the Reformation understood the Bible also in this manner. Many contemporary theologians, especially Roman Catholic theologians, also lean toward such an understanding. The Bible appears then as a kind of Law Book, as a codex of divine commandments and ordinances, as a collection of texts or "theological loci," as a compilation of pictures and illustrations. The Bible then becomes a self-sufficient and self-contained book — a book, so to speak, written for no one, a book with seven seals ...
One need not reject such an approach: there is a certain truth in such an interpretation. But the totality of the Spirit of the Bible contradicts such an interpretation; it contradicts the direct meaning of Scripture. And the basic error of such an understanding consists in the abstraction from man. Certainly the Word of God is eternal truth and God speaks in Revelation for all times. But if one admits the possibility of various meanings of Scripture and one recognizes in Scripture a kind of inner meaning which is abstracted and independent from time and history, one is in danger of destroying the realism of Revelation. It is as though God had so spoken that those to whom he first and directly spoke had not understood him — or, at least, had not understood as God had intended. Such an understanding reduces history to mythology. And finally Revelation is not only a system of divine words but also a system of divine acts; and precisely for this reason — it is, above all, history, sacred history or the history of salvation (Heilsgeschichte), the history of the covenant of God with man.
Only in such an historical perspective does the fulness of Scripture disclose itself to us. The texture of Scripture is an historical texture. The words of God are always, and above all, time-related — they have always, and above all, a direct meaning. God sees before him, as it were, the one to whom he speaks, and he speaks because of this in such a way that he can be heard and understood. For he always speaks for the sake of man, for man. There is a symbolism in Scripture — but it is rather a prophetic than an allegorical symbolism. There are images and allegories in Scripture, but in its totality Scripture is not image and allegory but history. One must distinguish between symbolism and typology. In symbolism one abstracts from history. Typology, however, is always historical; it is a kind of prophecy — when the events themselves prophesy. One can also say that prophecy is also a symbol — a sign which points to the future — but it is always an historical symbol which directs attention to future events. Scripture has an historical teleology: everything strives toward an historical boundary-point, upward toward the historical telos. For this reason there is such a tension of time in Holy Scripture. The Old Testament is the time of messianic expectation — this is the basic theme of the Old Testament. And the New Testament is, above all, history — the evangelical history of the Divine Word and the beginning of the history of the Church, which is directed anew to the expectation of Apocalyptic fulfillment. "Fulfillment" is in general the basic category of Revelation.
Revelation is the Word of God and the Word about God. But, at the same time, in addition to this, Revelation is always a Word addressed to man, a summons and an appeal to man. And in Revelation the destiny of man is also revealed. In any case the Word of God is given to us in our human language. We know it only as it resounds through our receptiveness, in our consciousness, in our spirit. And the substance and objectivity of Revelation is apprehended not by man's abstracting himself from himself, nor by depersonalizing himself, nor by shrinking to a mathematical point, thereby transforming himself into a "transcendental subject." It is precisely the opposite: a "transcendental subject" can neither perceive nor understand the voice of God. It is not to a "transcendental subject," not to any "consciousness-in-general" that God speaks. The "God of the Living," the God of Revelation speaks to living persons, to empirical subjects. The face of God reveals itself only to living personalities. And the better, the fuller and the clearer that man sees the face of God, so much the more distinct and living is his own face, so much the fuller and clearer has the "image of God" exhibited and realized itself in him. The highest objectivity in the hearing and understanding of Revelation is achieved through the greatest exertion of the creative personality, through spiritual growth, through the transfiguration of the personality, which overcomes in itself "The wisdom of flesh," ascending to "The measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (εις μετρον ηλικιας του πληρωματος του Χριστου Ephesians 4:13). From man it is not self-abnegation which is demanded but a victorious forward movement, not self-destruction but a rebirth or transformation, indeed a theosis (θεωσις). Without man Revelation would be impossible — because no one would be there to hear and God would then not speak. And God created man so that man would hear his words, receive them, and grow in them and through them become a participator of "eternal life." The Fall of man did not alter the original intention of God. Man has not lost completely the capacity of hearing God and praising him. And finally — the dominion and power of sin has ceased. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ... and we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The way of life and light is open. And the human spirit has anew become capable of hearing God completely and of receiving his words.
But God spoke to man not only so that he would remember and call to mind His words. One can not just keep the "Word of God in his memory. One must preserve the Word of God, above all, in a living and burning heart. The Word of God is preserved in the human spirit as a seed which sprouts and brings forth fruit. This means that the truth of divine Revelation must unfold within human thought, must develop into an entire system of believing confession, into a system of religious perspective — one may say, into a system of religious philosophy and a philosophy of Revelation.
There is no subjectivism in this. Religious knowledge always remains in its essence heteronomous, since it is a vision and a description of divine reality which was and is revealed to man by the entrance of the Divine into the world. God descends into the world — and unveils not only his countenance to man but actually appears to him. Revelation is comprehended by faith and faith is vision and perception. God appears to man and man beholds God. The truths of faith are truths of experience, truths of a face. It is precisely this which is the foundation of the apodictic certainty of faith. Faith is a descriptive confirmation of certain facts — "thus it is," "thus it was," or "thus it will be." Precisely for this reason faith is also undemonstrable — faith is the evidence of experience.
One must distinguish clearly between the epochs of Revelation. And one ought not ascertain the essence of the Christian faith on the basis of Old Testamental precedents. The Old Testament was the time of expectation; the entire pathos of Old Testamental man was directed toward the "future" — the "future" was the basic category of its religious experience and life. The faith of Old Testamental man was expectation — the expectation of that which was not yet, of that which had not yet come to pass, of that which was also "invisible." Indeed the time of expectation came to an end. The prophecies are fulfilled. The Lord has come. And he has come in order to remain with those who believe on him "Always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:20). He has given man "the power to become children of God" (John 1:12). He has sent the Holy Spirit into the world to lead believers "Into all truth" (John 16:13), and bring to remembrance all that the Lord has said (John 14:26: εκεινος υμας διδαξει παντα και υπομνησει υμας παντα α ειπον υμιν εγω). For this reason the believers have "the anointing by the Holy Spirit, and know all ... and have no need that any one should teach them" (1 John 2:20, 27). They have the "unction of truth," charisma veritatis, as St. Irenaeus states. In Christ the possibility and the path of spiritual life opens itself to man. And the height of spiritual life is knowledge and vision, gnosis (γνοσις) and theoria (θεωρια). This alters the meaning of faith. The Christian faith is not directed primarily toward "the future," but rather toward that which was already fulfilled — more properly expressed, toward that Eternal Present, toward the divine fulness which has been and is being revealed by Christ. In a certain sense one can say that Christ made religious knowledge possible for the first time; that is, the knowledge of God. And this he accomplished not as preacher or as prophet, but as the "Prince of Life" and as the High Priest of the New Covenant. Knowledge of God has become possible through that renewal of human nature which Christ accomplished in his death and resurrection. This renewal was also a renewal of human reason and of the human spirit. That meant again the renewal of man's vision.
And the knowledge of God has become possible in the Church, in the Body of Christ as the unity of the life of grace. In the Church Revelation becomes an inner Revelation. In a certain sense Revelation becomes the confession of the Church. It is very important to remember that the New Testamental writings are younger than the Church. These writings are a book written in the Church. They are a written record of the faith of the Church, of the faith which is preserved in the Church. And the Church confirms the truth of Scripture, confirms its authenticity — verifies it by the authority of the Holy Spirit who dwells in the Church. One should not forget this with regard to the Gospel. In the written Gospels the image of the Saviour is held firm, that same image which lived from the very beginning in the living memory of the Church, in the experience of faith — not just in the historical memory but in the very memory of faith. This is an essential distinction. Because we know Christ not just from memories and accounts. Not only is his image living in the memory of believers — he himself abides among them, standing always before the door of each soul. It is precisely in this experience of the living community with Christ that the Gospel becomes alive as a holy book. Divine Revelation lives in the Church — how else should it be able to preserve itself? It is sketched and strengthened by the words of Scripture. To be sure, it is sketched — but these words do not exhaust the entire fulness of Revelation, do not exhaust the entire fulness of Christian experience. And the possibility of new and other words are not excluded. Scripture, in any case, calls for interpretation.
And the unalterable truths of experience can be expressed in different ways. Divine reality can be described in images and parables, in the language of devotional poetry and of religious art. Such was the language of the prophets in the Old Testament, in such a manner the Evangelists often speak, in such a way the Apostles preached, and in such a manner the Church preaches even now in her liturgical hymns and in the symbolism of her sacramental acts. That is the language of proclamation and of good tidings, the language of prayer and of mystical experience, the language of "Kerygmatic" theology. And there is another language, the language of comprehending thought, the language of dogma. Dogma is a witness of experience. The entire pathos of dogma lies in the fact that it points to Divine reality; in this the witness of dogma is symbolic. Dogma is the testimony of thought about what has been seen and revealed, about what has been contemplated in the experience of faith — and this testimony is expressed in concepts and definitions. Dogma is an "intellectual vision," a truth of perception. One can say: it is the logical image, a "logical icon" of divine reality. And at the same time a dogma is a definition — that is why its logical form is so important for dogma, that "inner word" which acquires force in its external expression. This is why the external aspect of dogma — its wording — is so essential.
Dogma is by no means a new Revelation. Dogma is only a witness. The whole meaning of dogmatic definition consists of testifying to unchanging truth, truth which was revealed and has been preserved from the beginning. Thus it is a total misunderstanding to speak of "the development of dogma." Dogmas do not develop; they are unchanging and inviolable, even in their external aspect — their wording. Least of all is it possible to change dogmatic language or terminology. As strange as it may appear, one can indeed say: dogmas arise, dogmas are established, but they do not develop. And once established, a dogma is perennial and already an immutable "rule of faith ("regula fidei;" o kanon tis pisteos, ο κανων της πιστεως). Dogma is an intuitive truth, not a discursive axiom which is accessible to logical development. The whole meaning of dogma lies in the fact that it is expressed truth. Revelation discloses itself and is received in the silence of faith, in silent vision — this is the first and apophatic step of the knowledge of God. The entire fulness of truth is already contained in this apophatic vision, but truth must be expressed. Man, however, is called not only to be silent but also to speak, to communicate. The silentium mysticum does not exhaust the entire fulness of the religious vocation of man. There is also room for the expression of praise. In her dogmatic confession the Church expresses herself and proclaims the apophatic truth which she preserves. The quest for dogmatic definitions is therefore, above all, a quest for terms. Precisely because of this the doctrinal controversies were a dispute over terms. One had to find accurate and clear words which could describe and express the experience of the Church. One had to express that "spiritual Vision" which presents itself to the believing spirit in experience and contemplation.
This is necessary because the truth of faith is also the truth for reason and for thought — this does not mean, however, that it is the truth of thought, the truth of pure reason. The truth of faith is fact, reality — that which is. In this "quest for words" human thought changes, the essence of thought itself is transformed and sanctified. The Church indirectly testified to this in rejecting the heresy of Apollinarius. Apollinarianism is, in its deepest sense, a false anthropology, it is a false teaching about man and therefore it is also a false teaching about the God-Man Christ. Apollinarianism is the negation of human reason, the fear of thought — “it is impossible that there be no sin in human thoughts” (“αδυνατον δε εστιν εν λογισμοις ανθρωπινοις αμαρτιαν” Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Apollin. II, 6, 8; I, 2). And that means that human reason is incurable — atherapevton esti, αθεραπευτον εστι — that is, it must be cut off. The rejection of Apollinarianism meant therefore, at the time, the fundamental justification of reason and thought. Not in the sense, of course, that “natural reason” is sinless and right by itself but in the sense that it is open to transformation, that it can be healed, that it can be renewed. And not only can but also must be healed and renewed. Reason is summoned to the knowledge of God. The "philosophizing" about God is not just a feature of inquisitiveness or a kind of audacious curiosity. On the contrary, it is the fulfillment of man's religious calling and duty. Not an extra-achievement, not a kind of opus supererogatorium — but a necessary and organic moment of religious behavior. And for this reason the Church "philosophized" about God — "formulated dogmas which fishermen had earlier expounded in simple words" (from the service in honor of the Three Hierarchs), The "dogmas of the Fathers" present again the unchanging content of "apostolic preaching" in intellectual categories. The experience of truth does not change and does not even grow; indeed, thought penetrates into the "understanding of truth" and transforms itself through the process.
One can simply say: in establishing dogmas the Church expressed Revelation in the language of Greek philosophy — or, if preferable: translated Revelation from the Hebraic, poetic and prophetic language into Greek. That meant, in a certain sense, a "Hellenization" of Revelation. In reality, however, it was a "Churchification" ("Verkirchlichung") of Hellenism. One can speak at length about this theme — indeed, much and often has this theme been taken up and discussed — indeed, it has been discussed and disputed too much and too often. It is essential here to raise only one issue.
The Old Covenant has passed. Israel did not accept the Divine Christ, did not recognize Him nor confess Him and "the promise" passed to the Gentiles. The Church is, above all, ecclesia ex gentibus. We must acknowledge this basic fact of Christian history in humility before the will of God, which is fulfilled in the destiny of nations. And the "calling of the Gentiles" meant that Hellenism became blessed by God. In this there was no "historical accident" — no such accident could lie therein. In the religious destiny of man there are no "accidents." In any case the fact remains that the Gospel is given to us all and for all time in the Greek language. It is in this language that we hear the Gospel in all its entirety and fulness. That does not and cannot, of course, mean that it is untranslatable — but we always translate it from the Greek. And there was precisely as little "chance" or "accident" in this "selection" of the Greek language — as the unchanging proto-language of the Christian Gospel — as there was in God's "selection" of the Jewish people — out of all the people of antiquity — as "His" People — there was as little "accident" in the "selection" of the Greek language as there was in the fact that "salvation comes from the Jews" (John 4:22). We receive the Revelation of God as it occurred. And it would be pointless to ask whether it could have been otherwise. In the selection of the "Hellenes" we must acknowledge the hidden decisions of God's will. In any case, the presentation of Revelation in the language of historical Hellenism in no way restricts Revelation. It rather proves precisely the opposite — that this language possessed certain powers and resources which aided in expounding and expressing the truth of Revelation.
When divine truth is expressed in human language, the words themselves are transformed. And the fact that the truths of the faith are veiled in logical images and concepts testifies to the transformation of word and thought — words become sanctified through this usage. The words of dogmatic definitions are not "simple words," they are not "accidental" words which one can replace by other words. They are eternal words, incapable of being replaced. This means that certain words — certain concepts — are eternalized by the very fact that they express divine truth. This means that there is a so-called philosophia perennis — that there is something eternal and absolute in thought. But this does not at all mean there is an "eternalization" of one specific philosophical "system."
To state it more correctly — Christian dogmatics itself is the only true philosophical "system." One recalls that dogmas are expressed in philosophical language — indeed, in a specific philosophical language — but not at all in the language of a specific philosophical school. Rather, one can speak of a philosophical "eclecticism" of Christian dogmatics. And this "eclecticism" has a much deeper meaning than one usually assumes. Its entire meaning consists of the fact that particular themes of Hellenic philosophy are received and, through this reception, they change essentially; they change and are no longer recognizable. Because now, in the terminology of Greek philosophy, a new, a totally new experience is expressed. Although themes and motives of Greek thought are retained, the answers to the problems are quite different; they are given out of a new experience. Hellenism, for this reason, received Christianity as something foreign and alien, and the Christian Gospel was "foolishness" to the Greeks (εθνεσιν δε μωιαν 1 Corinthians 1:23).
Hellenism, forged in the fire of a new experience and a new faith, is renewed; Hellenic thought is transformed. Usually we do not sufficiently perceive the entire significance of this transformation which Christianity introduced into the realm of thought. This is so, partially because we too often remain ancient Greeks philosophically, not yet having experienced the baptism of thought by fire. And in part, on the contrary, because we are too accustomed to the new world-view, retaining it as an "innate truth" when, in actuality, it was given to us only through Revelation. It is sufficient to point out just a few examples: the idea of the creaturehood of the world, not only in its transitory and perishable aspect but also in its primordial principles. For Greek thought the concept of "created ideas" was impossible and offensive. And bound up with this was the Christian intuition of history as a unique — once-occurring — creative fulfillment, the sense of a movement from an actual "beginning" up to a final end, a feeling for history which in no way at all allows itself to be linked with the static pathos of ancient Greek thought. And the understanding of man as person, the concept of personality, was entirely inaccessible to Hellenism which considered only the mask as person. And finally there is the message of Resurrection in glorified but real flesh, a thought which could only frighten the Greeks who lived in the hope of a future dematerialization of the Spirit.
These are some of the new vistas disclosed in the new experience, out of Revelation. They are the presuppositions and categories of a new Christian philosophy. This new philosophy is enclosed in Church dogmatics. In the experience of faith the world reveals itself differently than in the experience of "natural man." Revelation is not only Revelation about God but also about the world. For the fulness of Revelation is in the image of the God-Man; that is, in the fact of the ineffable union of God and Man, of the Divine and the human, of the Creator and the creature — in the indivisible and unmerged union forever. It is precisely the Chalcedonian dogma of the unity of the God-Man which is the true, decisive point of Revelation, and of the experience of faith and of Christian vision.
Strictly speaking, a clear knowledge of God is impossible for man, if he is committed to vague and false conceptions of the world and of himself. There is nothing surprising about this. For the world is the creation of God and therefore, if one has a false understanding of the world, one attributes to God a work which he did not produce; one therefore casts a distorted judgment on God's activity and will. In this respect a true philosophy is necessary for faith. And, on the other hand, faith is committed to specific metaphysical presuppositions. Dogmatic theology, as the exposition and explanation of divinely revealed truth in the realm of thought, is precisely the basis of a Christian philosophy, of a sacred philosophy, of a philosophy of the Holy Spirit.
Once again it must be stressed: dogma presupposes experience, and only in the experience of vision and faith does dogma reach its fulness and come to life. And again: dogmas do not exhaust this experience, just as Revelation is not exhausted in "words" or in the "letter" of Scripture. The experience and knowledge of the Church are more comprehensive and fuller than her dogmatic pronouncement. The Church witnesses to many things which are not in "dogmatic" statements but rather in images and symbols. In other words, "dogmatic" theology can neither dismiss nor replace "Kerygmatic" theology. In the Church the fulness of knowledge and understanding is given, but this fulness is only gradually and partially disclosed and professed — and, in general, the knowledge in this world is always only a "partial" knowledge, and the fulness will be revealed only in the Parousia. "Now I know in part" — (“αρτι γινωσκω εκ μερους...” 1 Corinthians 13:12).
This "incompleteness" of knowledge depends upon the fact that the Church is still "in pilgrimage," still in the process of becoming; she witnesses to the mystical essence of time in which the growth of mankind is being accomplished according to the measure of the image of Christ. And furthermore: the Church does not endeavor at all to express and declare everything. The Church does not endeavor to crystallize her experience in a closed system of words and concepts. Nevertheless, this "incompleteness" of our knowledge here and now does not weaken its authentic and apodictic character, A Russian theologian described this situation in the following way: "The Church gives no fixed plan of the City of God to her members but rather she gives them the key to the City of God. And he who enters, without having a fixed plan, may occasionally lose his way; yet, everything he sees, he will behold as it is, in full reality. He, however, who will study the City according to plan, without possessing the key to the actual city, will never get to the City" (B. M. Melioranskii, from the Lectures on the History of the Ancient Christian Church, "Strannik," June, 1910, p. 931, in Russian).
Revelation is preserved in the Church. It was given by God to the Church, not to separate individuals. Just as in the Old Testament "the words of God" ("τα λογια του Θεου,” ta logia tu Theu — Romans 3:2) were entrusted not to individuals but to the People of God. Revelation is given, and is accessible, only in the Church; that is, only through life in the Church, through a living and actual belonging to the mystical organism of the Body of Christ. This means that genuine knowledge is only possible in the element of Tradition.
Tradition is a very important concept, one which is usually understood too narrowly: as oral Tradition in contrast to Scripture. This understanding not only narrows but also distorts the meaning of Tradition. Sacred Tradition as the "tradition of truth," — traditio veritatis, as St. Irenaeus stated — is not only historical memory, not simply an appeal to antiquity and to empirical unchangingness. Tradition is the inner, mystical memory of the Church. It is, above all, the "unity of the Spirit," the unity and continuity of the spiritual experience and the life of grace. It is the living connection with the day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended into the world as the "Spirit of Truth." The faithfulness to Tradition is not a loyalty to antiquity but rather the living relationship with the fulness of the Christian life.
The appeal to Tradition is not so much the appeal to earlier patterns as it is an appeal to the "catholic" experience of the Church, to the fulness of her knowledge. As the well-known formula of St. Vincent of Lerins states: quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditum est — in this formula, to which one so often appeals, there is an essential ambiguity. "Semper" and "ubique" must not be understood literally and empirically. And "omnes" does not include all who claim to be Christian but only the "true" Christians who preserve the right doctrine and interpret it correctly. Those, however, who are "heretics," who are misled, and those who are weak in faith are not included in the concept of "all." The formula of St. Vincent is based on a tautology. The scope of Tradition cannot be established simply by historical research. That would be a very dangerous path. That would mean a complete disregard for the spiritual nature of the Church. Tradition is known and understood only by belonging to the Church, through participation in her common or "catholic" life.
The term "catholic" is often understood wrongly and imprecisely. The katholikos (καθολικος) of kath olu (καθ ολου) does not at all mean an external universality — it is not a quantative but rather a qualitative criterion. “Catholic” does not mean “universal;" katholikos is not identical with ikumenikos (οικουμενικος). The "Catholic Church" can also historically turn out to be the "small flock." There are probably more "heretics" than "Orthodox believers" in the actual world and it can turn out that "heretics" are "everywhere" — ubique — and the true Church is pushed into the background of history, into the "desert." This was often the case and it may happen again. But this empirical limitation and situation does not in any way destroy the "catholic" nature of the Church. The Church is catholic because she is the Body of Christ, and in the unity of this Body the reciprocal co-growth of individual members takes place; mutual seclusion and isolation is overcome, and the true "community" or the "common life" — kinonia or kinovia — is realized. And that concerns thought also. In the unity of the Church the catholicity of consciousness is realized. In this the true mystery of the Church is contained: "that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us...so that they may become perfectly one..." ("ινα παντες εν ωσιν—ινα ωσιν τετελειωμενοι εις εν” John 17:21, 23).
This "fulness of unity" in the image of the Trinity is precisely the catholicity of the Church. In explaining the High Priestly prayer of our Lord, the late Metropolitan Anthony of Kiev stated: "This prayer concerns nothing else other than the establishment of a new, united existence of the Church on earth. This reality has its image not on earth, where there is no unity but only division, but rather its image is in heaven where the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit unites Three Persons in one Being. Thus there are not three Gods but One God who lives One life. The Church is the completely new, particular, unique existence on earth, a unique existence which one cannot define clearly by certain concepts taken from profane life. The Church is an image of Trinitarian existence, an image in which many persons become one being. Why is such an existence, as also the existence of the Holy Trinity, new and, for ancient man, inaccessible? For this reason; because in the natural self-consciousness a person is enclosed within himself and is radically opposed to every other person" (Archbishop Anthony Khrapovitskti, Collected, Works, II, 2; St. Petersburg, 1911, — "The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Church," pp. 17 and 18; in Russian). Elsewhere Metropolitan Anthony states: "The Christian therefore must free himself, in the measure of his spiritual perfection, from the direct opposition of "I" and "non-I" — to transform from its very foundation the structure of human self-consciousness" (Ibid., p. 65).
Such a transformation of "human self-consciousness" also takes place in the Church, in the "catholic" or "communal" consciousness of the Church. "Catholic" consciousness is not a collective-consciousness, not a universal or profane community-consciousness — neither is it a conglomerate of single conscious individuals; it is not an impersonal "consciousness-in-general." "Catholicity" is the concrete "unity of thoughts" and "community of persons." "Catholicity" is structure and style, "the determination of personal consciousness," which overcomes its limitation and isolation and matures to a "catholic" height — "catholicity" is the ideal standard or boundary-point, the "telos," (τελος) of personal consciousness which is realized in the affirmation, not in the abolition, of personality. And the measure of "catholicity" can only be fulfilled through life in Christ. And not because we realize in our consciousness an abstract "consciousness-in-general" or an impersonal nature of logical thought, but rather "catholicity" is realized by concrete experience or by the Vision of the Truth. Unity is realized through participation in the one truth; it realized itself in the truth, in Christ. And therefore consciousness transforms itself. As the clearest expression of this transformation one must recognize that mysterious overcoming of time which takes place in the Church.
In Christ the believers of all eras and generations unify and unite themselves — meeting each other, as it were, as mystically united contemporaries. In this consists precisely the religious and metaphysical meaning of "the communion of the saints" — communio sanctorum. And therefore the memory of the Church is oriented not to the past which has passed away but rather to what has been achieved or "completed" — the memory of the Church is turned toward those of the past as contemporaries in the fulness of the Church of the Body of Christ, which embraces all times. Tradition is the symbol of this "all-time-ness."
To know or perceive through Tradition means to know or perceive from the fulness of this experience of "all-time-ness." And this can be known within the Church by each person in his personal experience, according to the measure of his spiritual maturity. To turn oneself toward Tradition means to turn oneself toward this fulness. The "Catholic transformation" of consciousness makes it possible for each person to know — not in fact for himself only but for all; it makes the fulness of experience possible. And this knowledge is free from every restriction. In the catholic nature of the Church there is the possibility of theological knowledge and not just something founded upon theological "opinions." I maintain that each person can realize the catholic standard in himself. I do not say that each person does realize it. That depends upon the measure of one's spiritual maturity. Each person is, however, called. And those who realize it we call Fathers and Teachers of the Church, for we hear from them not simply their personal opinions but the very witness of the Church — because they speak out of the Catholic fulness. This fulness is unexhausted and inexhaustible. And we are summoned to testify about this and in this the vocation of man is fulfilled. God revealed and reveals himself to man. And we are called to testify to that which we have seen and see.
Translated from the German by