God and Death: A Non-Dialectical Relation

“Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring on destruction by the works of your hands; because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.  For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them,  and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal. ”

The Wisdom of Solomon, 1:13ff

“For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Be’lial?”

2 Cor 6:14ff

“For God did not create death, neither does He take delight in the destruction of living things. But death is the work rather of man, that is, its origin is in Adam’s transgression, in like manner as all other punishments.”

St. John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 2, 28.

34 Responses to God and Death: A Non-Dialectical Relation

  1. Dr. Farrell believes dialectic is useful and descriptive for the analysis in the scientific field of a FALLEN world…which has definite connections with his later more highly speculative studies.

    Which I hope you will share with us since his works are so hard to come by.

    btw, I’m not sure if my Wesley comment was exactly accurate, I think disappointment is too negative a word for my response to an apophatic approach to God. I love Dr. Farrell’s line that says, “Why do We seek His Face when the sight of it is death? And why do We not seek, when this, too, is death? We cannot see It, We dare not see It, We must see It.”

  2. Lee says:

    Thanks, George!

  3. George says:

    Lee,

    Finally got the ball rolling. I made an attempt at an answer your question
    over here.

    For what it’s worth.

  4. […] A gentleman named Lee, who lately has been asking some interesting questions over at Energetic Procession, asked me “Do the Orthodox consider themselves […]

  5. Lee says:

    George – sure, but you’ll have to get the ball rolling on your side 🙂

    Perry – given the specificity of “or its absorption into one divine singularity” overlaid with what I’ve been reading here about deification, I gather it’s a little more nuanced than what you wrote – but we’ll hie ourselves to George’s blog.

  6. Lee,

    We are not mystics in the sense of negating reason or thinking that salvation comes through the abolition of personhood or its absorption into one divine singularity. Mystical refers to mysteries or the sacraments so in that sense the Orthodox are “mystical.”

  7. George says:

    Lee,

    “George – Do the Orthodox consider themselves mystics?”

    The term is loaded, and I fear we’ve gone far off topic from the original post here. If you’d like to continue on this topic, please feel free to drop a line over at http://grovny.wordpress.com/.

    Regards.

  8. Inquirer,

    The purpose of the soliloquy is to show that the method of dilaectic fails in producing theologically true statements about Theology AND Economy.

    Dr. Farrell believes dialectic is useful and descriptive for the analysis in the scientific field of a FALLEN world…which has definite connections with his later more highly speculative studies.

    Photios

  9. Inquirer,

    Perhaps Answers.com can help:

    paradox

    a statement or expression so surprisingly self‐contradictory as to provoke us into seeking another sense or context in which it would be true (although some paradoxes cannot be resolved into truths, remaining flatly self‐contradictory, e.g. Everything I say is a lie). Wordsworth’s line ‘The Child is father of the Man’ and Shakespeare’s ‘the truest poetry is the most feigning’ are notable literary examples. Ancient theorists of rhetoric described paradox as a figure of speech, but 20th‐century critics have given it a higher importance as a mode of understanding by which poetry challenges our habits of thought. Paradox was cultivated especially by poets of the 17th century, often in the verbally compressed form of oxymoron. It is also found in the prose epigram; and is pervasive in the literature of Christianity, a notoriously paradoxical religion. In a wider sense, the term may also be applied to a person or situation characterized by striking contradictions.

    paradox
    Apparently self-contradictory statement whose underlying meaning is revealed only by careful scrutiny. Its purpose is to arrest attention and provoke fresh thought, as in the statement “Less is more.” In poetry, paradox functions as a device encompassing the tensions of error and truth simultaneously, not necessarily by startling juxtapositions but by subtle and continuous qualifications of the ordinary meanings of words. When a paradox is compressed into two words, as in “living death,” it is called an oxymoron.

    For more information on paradox, visit Britannica.com

  10. Lee says:

    George – yes, that was one of the gnostic heresies John was combating in 1 John (starting in I John 1:1, actually). The other was the teaching of Cerinthus, who taught that deity came upon Jesus at His baptism and left him at the crucifixion, thereby solving (for Cerinthus) the evil/sin-association-with-a-holy-God problem.

    Both types of gnosticism tried to deal with that same problem differently, and I do believe it is possible to meld John’s responses across the whole book – though my understanding is quite different from yours.

    Do the Orthodox consider themselves mystics?

  11. Inquirer says:

    Photios,
    I read Farrell’s soliloquy and, while I found it very interesting, I don’t fully understand it. When can we say to someone, you are holding two ideas that are contradictory and therefore your position is absurd, and when can we say that two seemingly contrary ideas can be held together because we should not place them in a dialectical frame? What is the difference between dialectic and simply distinguishing things, and when is it proper or not proper to employ dialectic? Sorry if I phrased the questions sloppily.

  12. George says:

    Lee,
    “And Maximus delivered. But how did he reconcile the position quoted in Andrea Elizabeth’s blog with 1 John 1:8”

    I don’t know how St. Maximus deals with that, not having read more than a few Ambiguum and some of the Ad Thallasium writings so far. But consider that his whole discourse was in answer to his friend’s question, “how are we who are born of God through baptism still able to sin?”.

    The supposed difficulty isn’t just between Maximus and John, it’s between “he who is born of God does not sin, because his seed dwells in God, and he cannot sin” (1 Jn 3:9) and “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8). We could have an issue also with 1 Jn 2:1 “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.”

    To extract a small passage or verse without the context of the issue that the author was dealing with can lead to lots of “but what about”s. We have to assume that St. John is consistent with himself.

    One of the worst threats when St. John wrote this epistle was that of Gnosticism, especially syncretic sects that wrapped gnostic doctrine inside Christian terms. The whole section of 1 John 1:6 through 2:2 is a corrective against gnostic teachings, one of which was that there is no sin. St. John stomps on that error, and at the same time exhorts the faithful to strive diligently toward not sinning, and he makes clear that confession is the appropriate remedy when we do fall. See what you think if you re-read John in this light, and reconsider St. Maximus’ exhortation – I find them to be very consistent.

  13. Lee says:

    I did ask for it, didn’t I! And Maximus delivered. But how did he reconcile the position quoted in Andrea Elizabeth’s blog with 1 John 1:8, just a few verses over? (He asks in spite of your last paragraph – a very accurate one!)

  14. George says:

    Lee,

    You said,
    “George – based on what you’ve added from Ad Thalassium, it almost seems like St. Maximus is asserting Christian perfection. Either that, or at the end of their life, those who have fought the good fight have basically entirely taken over the job of maintaining their day-to-day holiness. But I’m probably still missing some context…”

    OK, you asked for it.
    The same Apostle who wrote that whoever is born of water and Spirit is himself born of God (Jn 3:5-6), also said, “he who is born of God does not sin, because his seed dwells in God, and he cannot sin” (1 Jn 3:9)
    We look again to St. Maximus for help on this. He says that the Spirit converts the willing will toward deification.
    “Whoever has participated in this deification through cognizant experience is incapable of reverting from right discernment in truth, once he has achieved this in action, to something else besides, which only pretends to be that same discernment.”
    “It is like the eye which, once it has looked upon the sun, cannot mistake it for the moon or any of the other stars in the heavens.”
    You can read the entire discourse at Andrea Elizabeth’s blog here – http://bloggingsbetter.wordpress.com/2007/10/15/on-the-grace-of-holy-baptism/

    You had asked earlier whether Maximus was addressing Romans 8:3 in part of his Ad Thallasium 61. I neglected to tell you that Ad Thallasium 61 in whole is a commentary on 1 Peter 4:17-18. I wouldn’t have understood the passage the way Maximus did, at least not from where I am now. One thing you should know about Orthodox interpretation of scripture… it doesn’t always make sense on the surface of it to those of us who aren’t “living there”. We only accept as theologians those who are steeped in living it – not like the head of Notre Dame who said that the university is where the church does her thinking. So we place huge value on the way someone like St. Maximus interprets for us, since we know that he’s talking about things he lived, as you read above. Not to say that Maximus or any given Church Father got everything right every time (Maximus himself revised some of what he said later in life). But on the whole, the Church provides the only right thinking about Scripture, and any attempt to understand any part of Scripture outside of what we’re taught by the Fathers, the hagiography, the hymnography, the Liturgy… is fraught with peril.

    I think it’s always been that way, (which is why the Jews have an Oral Law), and history shows us that individual interpretation often leads one the wrong way. Why did so few of the Jews rightly interpret the Hebrew scriptures with regard to Messiah; why did the right-meaning and probably intelligent disciples on the road to Emmaus not understand until Christ himself walked them through it line by line. Apparently it’s not just there waiting for any intelligent person to figure it out on their own.

    I bring this up because you often in these comment threads appeal to this or that verse, which is really an appeal to an understanding of that passage from your conceptual framework… and you may find some frustration in what seem like oblique responses, and in the way we use words differently than you might expect. That was my experience anyway when I first started looking at the Orthodox viewpoint.

  15. Photios,

    Inigo Montoya: Who are You, I must know

    Wesley: Get used to dissapointment

    Ok

    : )

  16. Benjamin,

    Folling up in Arin’s post, the energies are not some dollup of cosmic divine goop that floats around God. The energies are the personal actions or activities of the Trinity. To think of them as somehow separable from the actions of the Trinity is to miss the concept and to fall into Platonism. This seems to be how Leithart is thinking of them, namely as impersonal platonic emanations.

    It seems strange that when the Orthodox affirm that our knowledge of God is limited to his energies the Reformed have a scholastic cow, which indicates how indebted they STILL are to Catholic scholasticism and Platonism. The minute the Orthodox say that our knowledge of God is limited to revelation they grow confused and the schizophrenia is apparent.

  17. David Richards says:

    I have to say I am a fan of Dr. Farrell’s soliloquies. 🙂

  18. Andrea,

    Have you ever read this little parody by Dr. Farrell? It’s a fictional monologue, but the point that comes across is undoubtedly true.

    http://www.mytholog.com/poetry/farrell_5_soliloquy_leo.html

    Photios

  19. I’m wondering how to reconcile “death is evil” with “God and Death: A Non-Dialectical Relation”. It sounds contradictory – like God doesn’t oppose evil.

  20. Erik says:

    Perry, I knew you at Fullerton in CA, then studied in Rome. We took a class with Merrill Ring. Write me some time. I’ d love to catch up.

  21. Lee says:

    Photios – I found your paper – it will take me a while to read and digest it, I’m sure!
    On “everybody” – I take it that this is more than the concept of “common grace”?

    George – based on what you’ve added from Ad Thalassium, it almost seems like St. Maximus is asserting Christian perfection. Either that, or at the end of their life, those who have fought the good fight have basically entirely taken over the job of maintaining their day-to-day holiness. But I’m probably still missing some context…

  22. George says:

    Lee – you asked…

    “was St. Maximus referring to Romans 8:3? That’s the only passage I can think of which might relate – though it has God condemning sin through Christ’s death. It doesn’t seem obvious to me how to get to believers acquiring the ability to use death to condemn sin”

    I don’t think so. In context, he was referring to Titus 3:5, the bath of regeneration. Without going into the pleasure/pain/death cycle started by Adam, suffice to say that the one who has chosen a new birth, and guards it, is adopted by Grace and no longer subject to the corruption inherent to the nature we’re born with. This applies to “those who by keeping the commandments of their own free will enjoy only birth in the Spirit uphold the use of death… to condemn sin.”

    Again from Ad Thalassium 61, St. Maximus says “the baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin, which in turn mystically leads that person to divine and unending life. Such will ensue if the saints… have virtuously finished the course of this life with its many sufferings, liberating their nature within themselves from death as a condemnation of sin and, like Christ the captain of our salvation, turned death from a weapon to destroy human nature into a weapon to destroy sin.”

  23. AH says:

    “Since it is a hypostatic union, it’s a union of flesh with the Person of the Son. But by Lossky’s reasoning, that seems impossible, quite apart from our participation in the incarnate Son.”

    But, as was said, it was the Logos who communicated life to his flesh through the energies. ISTM those who use the line of reasoning proffered by Leithart (Papanikolaou in a recent article) seek to pit the person against the energies, thus dehominizing the energies and actually creating a view of the energies that has more in common with a notion of created grace. Wasnt it Dimitru Staniloae who said the Fathers regarded the Holy Spirit as the *person* who brought -into persons- the divine energies? Also if Leithart is committed to the understanding of communicability (at least as far as I understand his post) does he really mean to posit that we partake of this essence? Are the levels of communicability all equal (which was the problem Lossky was addressing)? If not how so in light of simplicity? If we do not partake of the essence qua essence then what?

  24. Benjamin,

    I can’t believe that Leithart is that dense and that unknowing concerning Neo-Nicene Trinitarianism. Of course the essence doesn’t become incarnate and the hypostasis does, who via said hypostasis communicates the divine energies to his humanity. Incomprehensibility and incommunication of the essence are standard issues during the Nicene controversy. Does anyone actually read the sources?

  25. benjamin says:

    http://www.leithart.com/archives/003355.php

    This is not related, but I thought you’d like to read it. Leithart is a very ecumenical Reformed gentlemen, author, professor, etc. You can find him in First Things form time to time. He likes Schmemann and has been reading more about Orthodoxy as of late. I’d be interested in your response.

  26. Oh and everybody, I mean every single person. Every person that has ever lived receives some benefit from Christ’s Incarnate Economy, including those that lived before Christ’s second birth from the Virgin.

    Photios

  27. Yeah. It’s called synergy. We are united to Christ’s very body and just ARE that body. A lot of these points and questions I answer in my Synergy in Christ paper.

    Photios

  28. Lee says:

    Photios,

    I can certainly appreciate and agree with what you describe as Maximus’ (and Chrysostom’s) point – it’s just that what George quoted seems to go well beyond that point:

    Then we see God using death against itself, as St. Maximus continues, Christ used death to condemn sin. Those who are baptized, “who by keeping the commandments of their own free will enjoy only birth in the Spirit uphold the use of death, a use occasioned them by scores of sufferings, to condemn sin…”
    and …he spurns death as a debt owed for sin, rather, the baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin.

    Doesn’t Maximus say here that we condemn sin? That we acquire that use? That seems like more than death putting and end to our sinning. (I assume the last fragment is also a quote, though it isn’t in quotations.)

    Who is “everybody” in your last sentence, and what is the sense you are referring to?

  29. Lee,

    No. Maximus’ point, like John Chysostom, is that death is now put to good use by God because it curbs out the quantity of evil one can do in their life. One cannot go about sinning forever, death puts a finality to that end.

    Death in and of itself is disharmony. A poling of distinctive properties and things, that are otherwise harmonious, now are in opposition. Finite — Infinite, Man — God, matter — spirit, Creator — Creation ,and so forth…the Incarnation and Death of Christ enhominizes these things to their proper order. He recapitulates in His single Hypostasis all these things together (Eph 1:10). Everybody is saved, in some sense, from total destruction (which is why things like limited atonement are false, implying that the wicked are not consubstantial with Christ’s incarnate body.)

    Photios

  30. Lee says:

    George – was St. Maximus referring to Romans 8:3? That’s the only passage I can think of which might relate – though it has God condemning sin through Christ’s death. It doesn’t seem obvious to me how to get to believers acquiring the ability to use death to condemn sin – if Romans 8:3 is indeed the basis for that thought – though perhaps I just don’t understand what use it would be to a believer to be able to condemn sin since God already did that. Unless, by “condemning sin”, St. Maximus is referring instead to something more like mortification of (Ro 8:13) – but 8:3 is talking about the action and result of the cross rather than day-to-day holiness in the life of the believer… Or am I completely missing the point of what you quoted?

    Perry – sorry about the brevity of my last comment – we were heading out the door and I felt I had to write something, no matter how brief, just so my previous comment wouldn’t be deleted…. I understand that you like to use your posts to provoke thoughtful discussion among those who frequent your blog, but your selective quotes are not always viewed in context, and what you do quote seems to definitely guide the discussion in certain directions.

    In this case, given recent other discussion threads, and given the distinct “God has nothing to do with death” feel to your quotes (along with the provocative category of Gnosticism you filed the post under), it seemed like providing the context of 2 Cor. 6:14b-15a and Romans 5 would help inform the discussion.

  31. George says:

    Death came into being by our decision, though unwittingly, and then later death was used to save us.
    Death seems like a painful and unnatural part of our existence, but is meant as an after-the-fact and temporary remedy for us, as in St. Maximus’ Ad Thallasium 61
    “…the law of death was implanted in our corporeal nature to curb the foolish mind in its desire…”
    – it was a hedge against continuing in our own total destruction.

    Then we see God using death against itself, as St. Maximus continues, Christ used death to condemn sin. Those who are baptized, “who by keeping the commandments of their own free will enjoy only birth in the Spirit uphold the use of death, a use occasioned them by scores of sufferings, to condemn sin…”
    and …he spurns death as a debt owed for sin, rather, the baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin.

    So ultimately we and He “trample down death by death”, and turn death into life.

    I think.

  32. Lee says:

    Well, it seems that sometimes people don’t, given some of the recent discussions in response to some of your other posts. And it’s not clear to me what your point is.

  33. Lee,

    Unless you have a point or an argument to make with the scriptures, I will just delete the post. I am quite aware of the context of the passages I cited and it isn’t too difficult for anyone to check them.

  34. Lee says:

    2 Cor 6:11-18

    11 O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. 13 Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.
    14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

    “ I will dwell in them
    And walk among them.
    I will be their God
    And they shall be My people.”

    17 Therefore

    “ Come out from among them
    And be separate, says the Lord.
    Do not touch what is unclean,
    And I will receive you.”
    18 “ I will be a Father to you,
    And you shall be My sons and daughters,
    Says the LORD Almighty.”

    Romans 5:12-21

    12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
    18 Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
    20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

%d bloggers like this: