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EAST AND WEST ENRICH EACH OTHER plus SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS AND THE ORTHODOX EAST

Saturday, October 22, 2016 17:06
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(Before It's News)


Because of the years of dialogue after the second world war between the Catholic ressourcement theologians who were living under a cloud of Vatican suspicion in France, and  the refugee Russian Orthodox theologians of the Institut Saint-Serge who were also held in a certain amount of suspicion back home in Russia for the simple fact that they lived in the West, and because Archbishop Roncalli was papal nuncio in Paris at the time, all the ingredients were present that would result in a gradual coming together of Catholic and Orthodox thought.

Both groups of theologians, quite separately from one another, were greatly troubled at the lack of influence that their respective churches had on the modern world in which they lived.   Why  wasn't the Gospel heard in modern industrial France; and why had the Russian Church been no match to Bolshevism in gaining the allegiance of the Russian worker.  Being theologians,both groups blamed the current theology in their churches for being inadequate to support the mission of the Church in the modern world. 

 To their mutual surprise when they met, both had identified the same enemy, western scholastic theology as it was normally understood and taught.  Both saw an appeal to Tradition as the antidote; and, even though the Catholic theologians focused mainly on western patristic tradition, like St Augustine, St Bernard and a fresh look at St Thomas Aquinas and St Bonaventure etc, while the Orthodox concentrated on the eastern patristic tradition, like the Cappadocians, St Gregory Palamas and the Hesychasts,   nevertheless, they all recognised that eastern and western traditions originally formed a single complementary whole; and this gave them a lot to talk about.  Moreover, de Lubac and Danielou, two of the Jesuit theologians, started making patristic texts of East and West readily available in Sources Chretiennes

Archbishop Roncalli became Pope John XXIII and invited these French theologians out from the cold of Vatican disapproval and into his nice, warm council where they had the chance to apply the principles of ressourcement to the Church’s problems. Their influence in the Council increased as many highly gifted theologians joined them, including Wojtyla of Crakow and Joseph Ratzinger, and they brought with them the fruit of their grasp of the patristic theology and of their dialogue with the Orthodox. Eucharistic ecclesiology was officially endorsed in the very first document on the liturgy, and theosis or deification became central.
For them, Tradition arises out of the theological history of eucharistic communities which have their origin in the Apostolic preaching and where the Holy Spirit and the Church act in synergy to transform their members into the body of Christ. Thus, although all churches are identical as body of Christ so that Tradition forms a coherent whole worldwide because there is only one Holy Spirit, it arises from the life of each local church and bears its stamp. Regional differences are inevitable both in theological formulation, in the way the liturgy is celebrated, and in pastoral concerns. Nevertheless, there is a continuous quest for the inner coherence of all parts with the whole, a diversity in unity that reflects at all levels the life in the one Holy Spirit. The bishops who represent Catholicism in its local and regional form are enabled by communion with Rome to share a single life as a single organism in the unity of the Holy Spirit at a universal level.

Of course, all this is theory, and the reality is more complicated.   When East and West separated – there are different views as to when that was – neither side was aware of any break with the past, and, therefore, each side regarded the other as having left the Catholic Church of the Creed and came to regard its own tradition as whole and complete. 

This led to an impoverishment on both sides.  Both sides are  the body of Christ through the Eucharist which is the source of all their powers as Church.  They are thus embodiments of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church that is prayed for at the epiclesis and which gives their Tradition its authentic  character.  Each church should be able to recognise in the Tradition of the other its own authentic Catholicity; but there is one huge obstacle – the schism between them. 

Whatever the position that the Bishop of Rome plays as successor of St Peter, the schism means that he has been unable to represent Tradition as held by the East because the faith experience of the East has differed from that of the West because of different histories and different contexts. The same is true that much of western Tradition has been closed to the East. Each has held onto Catholic Tradition, but without the insights of the other side. Both have held on to the whole because the whole is not a set of true insights but the incarnate Lord; both have held onto doctrinal truth with the aid of the Holy Spirit; but their formulations and understanding of doctrinal truth lack the profundity and universal appeal that they would have had if there had been no schism.
Let us take papal primacy as an example. Vatican I defined it so:


9. So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.

This definition sees the Church as a society, bound together by law, with the pope as its head. Vatican II, on the other hand, had a different paradigm: the Church is a Communion in the very trinitarian life of God, the body of Christ, in which all its powers arise from its sacramental structure: “Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church.” We have seen the “Ressourcement” theologians, and their understanding of Tradition.
In a lecture on the ecclesiology of Vatican II, given in Graz, Austria, in 1976, Professor Joseph Ratsinger said the following:

Although it is not given to us to halt the flight of history, to change the course of centuries, we may say, nevertheless, that what was possible for a thousand years is not impossible for Christians today…Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967,…designated [the Pope] as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one who presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox in the form she has always had.

Source: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), page 199
 This principle, that what was allowable in the first thousand years must be possible ever afterwards is accepted by the theologians of the Eastern Orthodox – Catholic dialogue and is assumed in the “Chieti Declaration on Synodality and Primacy” of 2016.
This declaration shows that, by sifting through the Scriptural and Patristic evidence, Catholics and Orthodox are reading from the same script and basically have the same understanding of the Church. It begins: 


 ‘We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have communion [koinonia] with us; and truly our communion [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.’ (1Jn 1:3-4)1. Ecclesial communion arises directly from the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God, according to the goodwill (eudokia) of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. Christ, having come on earth, founded the Church as his body (cf. 1Cor 12:12-27). The unity that exists among the Persons of the Trinity is reflected in the communion (koinonia) of the members of the Church with one another. Thus, as St Maximus the Confessor affirmed, the Church is an ‘eikon’ of the Holy Trinity.1 At the Last Supper, Jesus Christ prayed to his Father: ‘Protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one’ (Jn 17:11). This Trinitarian unity is manifested in the Holy Eucharist, wherein the Church prays to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.2. From earliest times, the one Church existed as many local churches. The communion (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2Cor 13:13) was experienced both within each local church and in the relations between them as a unity in diversity. Under the guidance of the Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13), the Church developed patterns of order and various practices in accordance with its nature as ‘a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’

The declaration then goes on to speak of synodality and primacy:

3. Synodality is a fundamental quality of the Church as a whole. As St John Chrysostom said: ‘”Church” means both gathering [systema] and synod [synodos]’.(3) The term comes from the word ‘council’ (synodos in Greek, concilium in Latin), which primarily denotes a gathering of bishops, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for common deliberation and action in caring for the Church. Broadly, it refers to the active participation of all the faithful in the life and mission of the Church.

4. The term primacy refers to being the first (primus, protos). In the Church, primacy belongs to her Head – Jesus Christ, ‘who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence [protevon]’ (Col. 1:18). Christian Tradition makes it clear that, within the synodal life of the Church at various levels, a bishop has been acknowledged as the ‘first’. Jesus Christ associates this being ‘first’ with service (diakonia): ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’ (Mk 9:35).


It expands on these two themes and follows their development down the centuries. Then it comes up with a theological judgement and a historical judgement which, when taken together are a real bombshell.
  The first is theological and has been repeated several times since Professor Ratzinger first made it.

 7. The history of the Church in the first millennium is decisive. Despite certain temporary ruptures, Christians from East and West lived in communion during that time, and, within that context, the essential structures of the Church were constituted. The relationship between synodality and primacy took various forms, which can give vital guidance to Orthodox and Catholics in their efforts to restore full communion today.

The second contradicts the claim of Vatican I that papal jurisdiction was universally accepted in early Church:

 15. Between the fourth and the seventh centuries, the order (taxis) of the five patriarchal sees came to be recognised, based on and sanctioned by the ecumenical councils, with the see of Rome occupying the first place, exercising a primacy of honour (presbeia tes times), followed by the sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, in that specific order, according to the canonical tradition.(11) 16. In the West, the primacy of the see of Rome was understood, particularly from the fourth century onwards, with reference to Peter’s role among the Apostles. The primacy of the bishop of Rome among the bishops was gradually interpreted as a prerogative that was his because he was successor of Peter, the first of the apostles.(12) This understanding was not adopted in the East, which had a different interpretation of the Scriptures and the Fathers on this point. Our dialogue may return to this matter in the future.19. .. Such appeals to major sees were always treated in a synodical way. Appeals to the bishop of Rome from the East expressed the communion of the Church, but the bishop of Rome did not exercise canonical authority over the churches of the East.


Whatever the position that the Bishop of Rome plays as successor of St Peter, the schism means that he has been unable to represent Tradition as held by the East. The faith experience of the East has been closed to the West because of different historical contexts, different problems and needs arising from them, and they normally spoke different languages. It is also true that much of western Tradition has been closed to the East. Each has held onto Catholic Tradition, but without the insights of the other side. Both have held on to the whole because the whole is not a set of true insights but the incarnate Lord himself; both have held onto doctrinal truth with the aid of the Holy Spirit; but their formulations and understanding of doctrinal truth lack the profundity and universal appeal that they would have had if there had been no schism.
Let us take papal primacy as an example. Vatican I defined it so:

9. So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema. 

This definition sees the Church as a society, bound together by law, with the pope as its head. Vatican II, on the other hand, had a different paradigm: the Church is a Communion in the very trinitarian life of God, the body of Christ, in which all its powers arise from its sacramental structure: “Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church.” We have seen the “Ressourcement” theologians, and their understanding of Tradition.
In a lecture on the ecclesiology of Vatican II, given in Graz, Austria, in 1976, Professor Joseph Ratsinger said the following:

Although it is not given to us to halt the flight of history, to change the course of centuries, we may say, nevertheless, that what was possible for a thousand years is not impossible for Christians today…Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium. When the Patriarch Athenagoras, on July 25, 1967,…designated [the Pope] as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one who presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the essential content of the doctrine of primacy as it was known in the first millennium. Rome need not ask for more. Reunion could take place in this context if, on the one hand, the East would cease to oppose as heretical the developments that took place in the West in the second millennium and would accept the Catholic Church as legitimate and orthodox in the form she had acquired in the course of that development, while on the other hand, the West would recognize the Church of the East as orthodox in the form she has always had.

Source: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), page 199
 This principle, that what was allowable in the first thousand years must be possible ever afterwards is accepted by the theologians of the Eastern Orthodox – Catholic dialogue and is assumed in the “Chieti Declaration” of 2016.
This declaration shows, by sifting through the Scriptural and Patristic evidence, that Catholics and Orthodox are reading from the same script and basically have the same understanding of the Church. It begins: 

 ‘We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have communion [koinonia] with us; and truly our communion [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.’ (1Jn 1:3-4)1. Ecclesial communion arises directly from the Incarnation of the eternal Word of God, according to the goodwill (eudokia) of the Father, through the Holy Spirit. Christ, having come on earth, founded the Church as his body (cf. 1Cor 12:12-27). The unity that exists among the Persons of the Trinity is reflected in the communion (koinonia) of the members of the Church with one another. Thus, as St Maximus the Confessor affirmed, the Church is an ‘eikon’ of the Holy Trinity.1 At the Last Supper, Jesus Christ prayed to his Father: ‘Protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one’ (Jn 17:11). This Trinitarian unity is manifested in the Holy Eucharist, wherein the Church prays to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.2. From earliest times, the one Church existed as many local churches. The communion (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2Cor 13:13) was experienced both within each local church and in the relations between them as a unity in diversity. Under the guidance of the Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13), the Church developed patterns of order and various practices in accordance with its nature as ‘a people brought into unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ 

The declaration then goes on to speak of synodality and primacy:

3. Synodality is a fundamental quality of the Church as a whole. As St John Chrysostom said: ‘”Church” means both gathering [systema] and synod [synodos]’.(3) The term comes from the word ‘council’ (synodos in Greek, concilium in Latin), which primarily denotes a gathering of bishops, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for common deliberation and action in caring for the Church. Broadly, it refers to the active participation of all the faithful in the life and mission of the Church. 4. The term primacy refers to being the first (primus, protos). In the Church, primacy belongs to her Head – Jesus Christ, ‘who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence [protevon]’ (Col. 1:18). Christian Tradition makes it clear that, within the synodal life of the Church at various levels, a bishop has been acknowledged as the ‘first’. Jesus Christ associates this being ‘first’ with service (diakonia): ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all’ (Mk 9:35).


It expands on these two themes and follows their development down the centuries. Then it comes up with a theological judgement and a historical judgement which, when taken together are a real bombshell.
  The first is theological and has been repeated several times since Professor Ratzinger first made it.

 7. The history of the Church in the first millennium is decisive. Despite certain temporary ruptures, Christians from East and West lived in communion during that time, and, within that context, the essential structures of the Church were constituted. The relationship between synodality and primacy took various forms, which can give vital guidance to Orthodox and Catholics in their efforts to restore full communion today. The second contradicts the claim of Vatican I that papal jurisdiction was universally accepted in early Church:
 15. Between the fourth and the seventh centuries, the order (taxis) of the five patriarchal sees came to be recognised, based on and sanctioned by the ecumenical councils, with the see of Rome occupying the first place, exercising a primacy of honour (presbeia tes times), followed by the sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem, in that specific order, according to the canonical tradition.(11) 16. In the West, the primacy of the see of Rome was understood, particularly from the fourth century onwards, with reference to Peter’s role among the Apostles. The primacy of the bishop of Rome among the bishops was gradually interpreted as a prerogative that was his because he was successor of Peter, the first of the apostles.(12) This understanding was not adopted in the East, which had a different interpretation of the Scriptures and the Fathers on this point. Our dialogue may return to this matter in the future.19. .. Such appeals to major sees were always treated in a synodical way. Appeals to the bishop of Rome from the East expressed the communion of the Church, but the bishop of Rome did not exercise canonical authority over the churches of the East.  

 What can I, as a Catholic, say of these events?  The Chieti Declaration has been agreed by both Catholic and Orthodox theologians and has been published by the Vatican.  Where does it leave the Vatican I definition?

One of the principles of ressourcement interpretation is that Tradition in any century is the product of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church: in no particular generation or century is this more or less true.  In a particular instance, there may well be the need to interpret a particular text in the light of an earlier understanding of a truth. There is a solid reason why we should give special importance to the first milenium, as the Chieti Declaration says: all the elements of our common heritage were there and functioning; both sides were enjoying the fullness of Catholicism in the judgement of the other; and it is important to know what they held in common.
  A Catholic is not asked to accept as having been guided by the charism of infallibility the historical judgement contained in a papal definition, nor is he asked to accept that a truth is expressed in the best possible way. What he is challenged to accept is that an important truth is being expressed, one of lasting worth to the Church, even though in the unforeseen event of it having to be put in a wider ecumenical context it may have to be re-formulated, in the interests of the truth itself.
That, in fact is what is happening. Firstly it is being admitted that papal primacy requires episcopal synodality. Pope Francis, in the ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Synod of Bishops, said:

 The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the Church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission. It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium. What the Lord is asking of us is already in some sense present in the very word “synod”. Journeying together — laity, pastors, the Bishop of Rome — is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice.A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that listening “is more than simply hearing”.(12) It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7). The Synod of Bishops is the point of convergence of this listening process conducted at every level of the Church’s life. The Synod process begins by listening to the people of God, which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office”,(13) according to a principle dear to the Church of the first millennium: “Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari debet”. The Synod process then continues by listening to the pastors. Through the Synod Fathers, the bishops act as authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which they need to discern carefully from the changing currents of public opinion. On the eve of last year’s Synod I stated: “For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, so that with him we may hear the cry of his people; to listen to his people until we are in harmony with the will to which God calls us”.(14) The Synod process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called to speak as “pastor and teacher of all Christians”,(15) not on the basis of his personal convictions but as the supreme witness to the fides totius Ecclesiae, “the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church”.(16) 

After all this and much more, Pope Francis says that synodality is a constitutive of the Church, which is what Orthodoxy has been telling us all the time:

Synodality, as a constitutive element of the Church, offers us the most appropriate interpretive framework for understanding the hierarchical ministry itself. If we understand, as Saint John Chrysostom says, that “Church and Synod are synonymous”,(19) inasmuch as the Church is nothing other than the “journeying together” of God’s flock along the paths of history towards the encounter with Christ the Lord, then we understand too that, within the Church, no one can be “raised up” higher than others. On the contrary, in the Church, it is necessary that each person “lower” himself or herself, so as to serve our brothers and sisters along the way. 

Finally, Pope Francis speaks of the essential difference between secular authority and Christian authority. The late Roman Empire could not exercise its authority in the West because it lacked the power to enforce it; but Christ gave no such power to the Church. The basis of law is power. In contrast:

Let us never forget this! For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the cross. As the Master tells us: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Mt 20:25-27). It shall not be so among you: in this expression we touch the heart of the mystery of the Church, and we receive the enlightenment necessary to understand our hierarchical service. 

Orthodoxy looked at the papacy and saw earthly power and rejected it. In Christianity, “ the only authority is the authority of service, the only power is the power of the cross.” It may look the same as civil law, use the same legal tradition, express itself in the same language; but if it is not based on ecclesial love, if it is not exercised with ecclesial love, and if ecclesial love is not the goal, it is not the real thing.
In this article, I have tried to demonstrated how our understanding of the papacy has been enriched by dialogue with Eastern Tradition. It even explains to us how the papacy worked in the first milenium without any dogma about the papacy and how it would work if reunion happened without their accepting the Vatican definitions. Ultimately, the papacy is about ecclesial communion: when ecclesial communion works, when the impetus to command and to obey is ecclesial love based on mutual listening, then the papacy is not a problem. When the pope and those he opposes mount their high horses and hurl insults and excommunications at each other from afar, no papal dogma will help. It also shows how the pope can act as pope even when there is division. Pope Francis has said that arguments about the extent of papal power are only arguments about how many feet he can wash. If he loves the lot, no one will complain.
However, the petrine ministry is only an example. Precisely because Catholics and Orthodox participate in the same Eucharist, their versions of Tradition belong to one another. They become distorted when they are separate and can enrich each other immeasurably when united; and this is so, even if the union we pray for never happens. Even where we disagree, we can learn positive lessons as we examine these disagreements. These other articles continue on this theme.


   



Light from the Christian West: Aquinas and Eastern Orthodoxy


Marcus Plested has done some important work to try to correct the tendency among Eastern Orthodox Christians to look upon Thomas Aquinas as the arch-villein of Western theology.Plested is Vice-Principal and Academic Director for the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge. He is also the author of the book Orthodox Readings of Aquinas, which Andrew Louth summarized at First Things. Louth wrote:

The interest in Aquinas in the Byzantine East in the last century of the Byzantine Empire was not paralleled in the West, where Thomas’s star was already declining in the face of attacks by Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, the rise of nominalism in philosophy, and the dissolution of his rational metaphysics by the “two powers” doctrine in theology. It was only with Pope Leo XIII’s bull Aeterni Patris (1879) that Thomas’s role as the Catholic theologian, the doctor communis, became assured.… Enthusiasm for Thomas was felt throughout the intellectual world of late Byzantium… Despite the recent tendency in Orthodox circles to oppose Aquinas and Gregory Palamas, Hesychasm’s main theological defender, there is little sense of this in the fourteenth century. Prominent supporters of Palamas, such as Nicholas Cabasilas and Theophanes of Nicaea, made enthusiastic use of elements of Aquinas’s theology….
The astonishing receptivity to Aquinas among Orthodox thinkers seemed to falter in the last century. Aquinas became a cipher for the alleged failures of the West: a narrow, juridical rationalism, an overweening confidence in human understanding of God.

 I have not read Orthodox Readings of Aquinas, but I have read Plested’s essay “Byzantine Readings of Aquinas” in the volume Orthodox Constructions of the West. This book was put together from the papers presented at a conference sponsored by the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University in 2010, where various scholars attempted to critique the hermetic self-definitions of Orthodoxy that emerge from a simplistic approach to East-West narratives in theological discourse. In Plested’s essay on Aquinas, he summarizes evidence he amassed from painstaking study of theological writers during the late Byzantine empire, demonstrating that Eastern thinkers were able to have a sophisticated level of critical engagement with Aquinas’ thought. Significantly, only one Byzantine writer ever spoke of Aquinas as the apotheosis of Western error in the type of way that would become commonplace for twentieth-century Orthodox writers. Here is what Plested writes considering the reception of Aquinas into Byzantine scholasticism:


The Palamite party itself betrayed no particular animosity to Western theology per se. Palamas himself was impressed by Augustine, drawing discretely on Maximos Planoudes’s translation of the De Trinitate, and making intriguing use of some Augustinian themes and concepts. As heir to a long tradition of Byzantine Scholasticism, he vigorously defended in Aristotelian terms the proper use of reasoned argumentation against the theological agnosticism of Barlaam, even going so far as to defend the Latin use of the syllogism….the supposition of methodological incompatibility between East and West is deeply flawed. The considerable enthusiasm for Aquinas across party lines–Palamite and anti-Palamite, unionist and anti-unionist–shows that the situation is far more subtle and complex than such a supposition would imply. Indeed, I know of only one Byzantine critique of Thomas that asserts methodological incompatibility in wholly unambiguous terms. …instinctive hostility to the Scholastic method is, to repeat, relatively rare on the level of sustained theological discourse. It remained perfectly possible in the Byzantine world to receive Western theology sympathetically without compromising one’s Orthodoxy….


The Byzantines who welcomes Thomas did so in a critical fashion. They were quite capable of a sophisticated mode of reception that did not necessarily lead to any form of doctrinal compromise. They also welcomes him not as an alien import from a superior culture but as one of their own, as an exceptionally able exponent of traditional Christian Aristotelianism rooted in Scripture and in the Fathers. It is by no means far-fetched to see in this reception the recognition of the common tradition of Greek East and Latin West, a Christian universalism that was certainly disintegrating but was by no means dead in the water even in the fourteenth century.

Modern theologians, Orthodox and Catholic alike, have tended to take this disintegration of Christian universalism as a given, reading back into the last years of Byzantium a theological gulf that is simply not in evidence at the time. The Byzantine reception of Thomas must prompt us to seriously reconsider the whole issue of theological incompatibility between East and West….

If we are indeed to move beyond the dialectical theologizing that has characterized Orthodox theology in the twentieth century, then the Byzantine reception of Aquinas may serve as a useful starting-point…. It means, in short, regaining the ability to recognize orthodoxy in unfamiliar garb and eschewing any hermetic and reactive form of self-definition. Eastern Orthodoxy is of little value as long as it remains merely Eastern. If Orthodoxy is to have any real purchase in the twenty-first century it is going to have to be both oriental and occidental. Light from the East indeed, but also light from the West.




The Five Ways and Deification

Posted on 17 October 2016 by Fr Aidan Kimel
by David Russell Mosley, Ph.D.



Fr. Kimel has been hounding me for sometime (OK, maybe that’s not quite correct) to write a post for him here at Eclectic Orthodoxy. Sadly, all of my best ideas were going to my own blog and I was left bereft until I read a post by Fr. Kimel that began with a discussion of the Five Ways in Thomas’ Summa Theologiae. Here was an opportunity to dovetail with something Fr. Kimel has already written, but in a different way. So, today, I would like to discuss with you wonderful readers of Fr. Kimel’s blog the relationship between the Five Ways and deification.

I was first put onto the notion that there is a relationship between the Five Ways and deification by A. N. Williams in her excellent book The Ground of Union. There Williams writes:

The Five Ways thus establish both God’s aseity and his voluntary connectedness to all that exists. The Third and Fourth Ways, moreover, indicate that what God graciously shares with creation are those features of his own life that Aquinas has told and will tell us are most characteristic of divine nature: being, goodness, perfection. In seminal form, the Five Ways argue not only for God’s existence, but also the existence of a Thomistic doctrine of theosis. (p. 41)

For Williams, each of the Five Ways tells us, essentially, one of two things (perhaps sometimes both). On the one hand, God is qualitatively different from creation. He is not simply bigger and better than creation; he is utterly unique in relation to it. On the other hand, God shares his very uniqueness with creation. Put together, or so Williams argues, we see an argument for deification in Thomas Aquinas. Of course, however, we should not simply take her word for it, but investigate the question for ourselves and this is what I will humbly attempt in this post by looking at each of the Five Ways in turn.

The Five Ways, or Five Proofs for God’s Existence, come very early in the Summa Theologiae. This section can be found in ST Ia. 2, 3. It should be noted that the initial question Aquinas is answering in this section is whether or not God exists, not, whether or not the existence of God can be proven (not as we normally mean that today). That is, Aquinas is not so much interested in setting up a series of syllogisms that prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt that God exists. I mention this only because it comes up so often in debates surrounding apologetics. We must remember that the Summa was not written to convert atheists (not by itself, anyway) but to instruct.

The first of Five Ways is often called the argument from motion, though argument from change might be better. Aquinas argues that it is obvious that things move (and by move he does not simply mean locomotion, moving from one place to another, but also change, moving from one state to another, like moving from potentiality to actuality). Everything moves and everything that moves is put into motion by something outside of itself. Aquinas argues, however, that we cannot have an infinite regress. That is, we cannot say that there are an infinite number of movers going back into eternity. The reason there can’t is because if nothing starts the process then the process can never start. Think of it this way: consider the birth of an elephant. What made this elephant capable of being born is that its parents too were born, and so were their parents, and so were their parents’ parents, and so were their parents’ parents’ parents, and so on. However, if this went on into infinity then the baby elephant with which we began could never have been born, for there were no first elephants (or elephant like creatures) to serve as its greatest possible elephant ancestor. Evolutionary biology actually plays this out with the argument that all species derive from a common ancestor. There had to be a first something to crawl out of the primordial ooze to serve as the first parent to the rest of us. Similarly, God serves as the first mover, but in order to be first, he must, unlike everything else, be unmoved. Now, I’ve belabored the point here for this very reason, even the first speck to procreate in the primordial ooze came from something, it was moved, worked upon by outside forces. God is different. He is not worked upon by outside forces, he is unmoved and yet is the cause of all motion. God is qualitatively different from creation in the fact that he is not only the first mover in the series, but is himself unmoved (otherwise he could be first), that is, he is also outside of the series altogether. He is other than we are.

The Second Way is similar. Here God is described as the first, uncaused, efficient cause. I won’t go to the same pains to show why infinite regress cannot exist here as well. Rather what is necessary to understand is that this Way, like the previous, describes God as being intimately related to creation (he moves and causes it) but is also utterly distinct from creation. Traditionally, we would say that God is immanent and transcendent. The point Aquinas appears to be making is that it is God’s transcendence, his being utterly different from creation, that allows him to be immanent.

The Third Way solidifies for us that God is utterly distinct. He is the necessary being. That is, while we can imagine all sorts of things as not having existed and can thus conclude that they don’t need to exist, at one point didn’t exist, and will not always exist, in order for this to be true, there must be one who (or I suppose which) has always existed. That is, if we can imagine everything as not having existed, that means that one point nothing existed. And if nothing existed then there was nothing to bring everything into existence. Therefore, we must posit one who exists outside the possibility of not existing. This one would be utterly unique, totally different from everything else we know to exist since everything else is contingent and it is not. Not only is it not contingent, but it is the cause of all that exists. Aquinas writes, “Therefore we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity” (ST Ia. 2, 3). God is not only the necessary being, but he is the cause of all other beings.

The Fourth Way argues for God’s existence based on the fact that God is the source of created beings’ perfections. It is often called the argument from gradation for in it Aquinas argues that we say things are more or less good, or useful, beautiful. The idea of gradation implies a standard. The example Aquinas uses is fire. We call one fire hot and another hotter. Aquinas writes, “Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things” (ST Ia. 2, 3). While we now know from physics that friction, and not fire per se, is the cause of heat, Aquinas point still stands. Friction, ultimate friction, is the cause of all other frictions and it is how we denote one friction hotter than another. Aquinas then argues that there must be a maximum for all perfections, that is all ultimates, and this includes being. There must be a being who isn’t, properly speaking, a being at all, but the being, the source of all being (and thus all truth, goodness, beauty, unity, etc.). This being is God. Up to this point, with one caveat to make for the Third Way, Aquinas has been telling us that God is the utterly distinct being. God is not like a creature in creation, rather he stands outside of creation as the utterly unique one. However, now, and because of the Third and Fourth Ways we can see this more evidently in the First and Second, this utterly distinct one is the source of all that exists and shares his uniqueness with his creatures. He is not only the Unmoved and Uncaused, but the First Mover and First Efficient Cause. Not only that, but he is the Necessary Being, necessary because without him, nothing else would have being, which implies that God shares his being with everything else we believe to exist. That is, everything that has being does so by participation in the One who is Being (and yet is beyond being). He is also the source of all other perfections, goodness, truth, beauty. It is because of him that we are able to understand a good tree from a bad one, a hot fire from a hotter, a beautiful painting from an ugly one.

Finally, in the Fifth Way we get an argument from the final cause, that is the thing for which or toward which all things move. The essential idea is as follows: an acorn when it falls to the ground under the right conditions becomes an oak tree. This is not an accident. It isn’t as though it could fall to the ground and become a tiger (probably), or at least the reason it doesn’t do so is because, somewhere within the natural chain of events, it is decided that it won’t do so. The one deciding that is God. God is the one who directs all things to their final cause. Acorns into oak trees, eggs into birds (or breakfast), colts into stallions, fawns into bucks, pups into dogs, etc., etc. What Aquinas does not say directly here, but does say later in the Summa is that God is actually the final cause of all things. That is, not only is God the one directing all things to their final cause, but is, ultimately, their final cause itself (though this brings up against nature/grace debates I do not intend to invoke today).

Now, to turn us to deification. In all the Five Ways we see God described as the being who is utterly different from creation (as its Creator) and yet as the one who shares himself with creation by moving, causing, being its source, sharing his perfections, and serving as its final end. This is, in essence, a rather simplified view of deification. Deification (which in the Christian East is often defined as participation in God) can only happen because God is Uncreated and we are created. That is, a thing can only be deified if it isn’t God in the first place. So Aquinas shows us that we are not God, we are different from him because he is our mover, cause, etc., etc. This is what makes it possible for God to be close to us, to share himself with all creation in general way. And it is this that allows for humans (and to a broader extent all creation) to be deified. It is, of course, important to remember that the Five Ways only give evidence of a doctrine of theosis in Aquinas, they are not the only evidence, but I think them rather good and for this reason. When Aquinas sets out to describe God, using Aristotelian philosophy, he does so in a way that entails God as deifier. God as the one who, if he creates, does so in order to deify.

* * *

David Mosley has a PhD in theology from the University of Nottingham. His research focuses on theosis and the role it plays, and should play, in human life, particularly human creativity. He is the author of the just-published fantasy novel On the Edges of Elfland. His book Being Deified will soon be published by Fortress Press and can be pre-ordered at Amazon. David blogs at Letters to Elfland.

AQUINAS AND ORTHODOX TRADITION

ST GREGORY PALAMAS AND AQUINAS

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