pantheistic confusion or the purely metaphorical

I noticed with their new catalog that Eighth Day books is offering a translation of Archimandrite Placide Deseille’s Orthodox Spirituality and the Philokalia translated from the French by Anthony P. Gythiel.  Archimandrite Placide is a former Trappist monk.  My first recollection of encountering his name is in the published Journals of Thomas Merton, as Merton corresponded with Fr. Placide in the 1960’s.

The Orthodox blogger over at Logismoi recently posted Archimandrite Placide (Deseille) on Orthodoxy and Catholicism in which he provides some brief translations of the Archimandrite’s thoughts on this matter from some Greek translations of Archimandrite Placide’s work.  The writer promises to finish a complete translation of a lecture by Fr. Placide entitled ‘Roman Catholic Spirituality and Orthodox Tradition.’ Here are the brief excerpts of that lecture so far translated at Logismoi:

In spite of this, the teaching of the spiritual fathers in the West holds great interest, because it is inspired to a great degree by the Fathers of the Church. Among the main sources of ascetic teaching are included the Fathers of the desert, Saint Cassian and a little later St John Klimakos, together with Gregory the Great (the Dialogist). As for the mystical teaching of the West, this has been shaped on the basis of the teaching of St Augustine (which it is true was never fully ‘accepted’ by the Orthodox East), of Gregory the Great and even of St Cassian, as well as St Dionysios the Areopagite. This last, who, according to one tradition, is identified with the convert of the Apostle Paul and with the first bishop of Paris, can be viewed as ‘a catalyst of the great Catholic mystical tradition’ (P.G. Théry, ‘Dionysios in the Middle Ages: The Dawn of the “Dark Night”’, in Carmelite Studies, 23rd yr., Vol. II, Oct. 1938, p. 69). . . . At this time, these writers, in contrast to Thomas Aquinas, will understand Dionysios in a way that agrees to a great extent with the interpretation he has been given, within the Greek world, by Maximos the Confessor and Gregory Palamas.

Thanks to this permanent patristic impact . . . Roman Catholic spirituality remained relatively more homogenous with the ancient tradition than Scholastic theology.

In spite of this the differences are real and should not be minimised. They are not merely the inevitable reflection in the arena of spiritual life of the dogmatic disagreements that divide Catholicism from Orthodoxy.

Nevertheless, the absence in the West of a distinction between the imparticipable divine essence and the uncreated energies, energies that are an eternal radiance of this essence and the divine life that is communicated to creatures, will always leave the Orthodox with the impression that Western Christianity is continually suspended between a pantheistic confusion between God and man on the one hand, and on the other a purely metaphorical interpretation of theosis, which deprives it of its real content and demotes the spiritual life to a life of lofty ethics.

I look forward to the completion of this translation.

52 Responses to pantheistic confusion or the purely metaphorical

  1. Xjan,

    It is true that sometimes the conversation can get heated. To some extent we have to permit it, otherwise we smother discussion altogether. Even God permits sin, since to precludeits possibility at this stage would also preclude the ability to be free and to become like him.

  2. Xjan says:

    Hello, I am just a (traditional Orthodox) visitor who read the posts. The discussion is quite interesting, but the tone in some places… It reminded me the advice from my father confessor on entering the Great Lent – “it is better to eat chicken or beef than to eat your neighbor”. Where is love? Are we brethren in Christ as we piously call ourselves?


  3. Gregory,
    No problem. But for clarities sake, it wasn’t your intensity that I took issue with. It was the framing of the debate in such a way by saying that another view is nonsense. Where as in reality, really know so little about the origins of man.

    As far as this “position quickly becomes unintelligible because of X.” I’m assuming you mean modern biological and geological sciences. But then, science does advance funeral by funeral.

    It would “appear” from the fossil record and thousands of layers of sediment that the fall of man didn’t cause a world that is falling apart. But then again, we really don’t know how “old” man is. The great legacy civilizations might have (and actually do) point to Forerunners.


  4. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:


    You are not a fool, nor did I intend to imply such a thing. You are my _brother_. Remember me today at the divine liturgy. (You might also be surprised to find that I am very traditionalist, though you may not be able to recognize it from this post)

    I’ve thought about your criticisms, and I think it highlights several odd features of blogs vis-a-vis boundaries. I understood you to be saying that I was a visitor who should not presume to start up a discussion on these issues with the pitch of intensity I have (I hope I was not being “indecent” (I also did not feel at all like I was framing the discussion, instead I was making propositions such as “this position quickly becomes unintelligible because of X,” and trying to provoke a response) – my intensity may have been read differently if it was placed in the context of my body language and the loving half-smiles that attend it when dealing with those I care about, such as brethren – an unfortunate effect of disembodied speech).

    A blog, I suppose, is an odd creature, very much as if there was a party in a house nearby where everyone was invited to enter and partake of the food, but if one wanted to speak to the guests or volunteer their own food to assist with the festivity, one might find oneself suddenly trespassing and offending the palates of those who were hosting, so earning oneself their ire. There’s really no real-life analogue for that, and so I hope you’ll excuse me (and if necessary, forgive me) if I’m getting accustomed to things.


    It looks like this discussion is over, and I apologize for breaking my word to you and not responding. Forgive me.

    Abiding Peace,

  5. Andrew,

    It’s not about getting skivvies–whatever that is. I’m not going to tolerate first time “anonymous” posters making sarcatstic comments to moderators of the blog or using subversive-like tactics of ad hominem:

    quote Gregory: “To affirm that means to degenerate almost instantly into nonsense, and to turn holy Orthodoxy into something comic. If the fall of Adam were not a heuristic device, it would be a necessary foundation for physical and historical explanation – it would have superior explanatory power, and the fact that only some people with a peculiar anxiety about the text affirm this to be so.”

    To use such language as “comic,” “anxiety,” “degenerate,” “nonsense,” etc. affords Greogry to frame the discussion in a controlling way that “turns” the minds of his readers that he is dealing with “kooks.” This is not being respectful and allowing the discussion to play out fairly and mutually. That language is used immediately to isolate the other as “strange.” I’ve seen this all too many times in Academia and online and I have a 0 tolerance for it. I learned from a great man of how to read such things in people and for that I am thankful.

    People have different tolerances around here for such things. Mine are quite-ha surprise-low. Energetic Procession is not a forum, as long as I’m paying the bill to keep it up, for folks to come express their opinion in WHATEVER way they feel is necessary to get their point across.

    People need to express their ideas without basically calling or implying that other people are fools.


  6. Andrew says:


    I, for one, don’t think you’ve been indecent at all; but that’s neither here nor there. If people get their skivvies all wadded up over this, then let them.

    I too am very interested in what you have to say, and I wish that you would at least expound on what you’ve already proffered, or direct us to a blog where such things could be discussed with out people getting their feelings hurt.

  7. Gregory,

    Please learn some decency and please try to keep your sarcastic comments in check while you are here. You are displaying this behavior towards many people. Why? I decided not to address you directly as I didnt’t think you needed any more attention. But now I decided to get into this discussion, I’m gonna let you know what I think. Remember, that you are a guest here and I don’t know you from Adam (pun intended). Many of us that comment here are friends, if you wish to be my friend or if you wish to comment on my blog you need to change your attitude and tone. This is a traditionally minded blog, so coming here telling us that what we believe is non-sense or what not will surely not get much quarter from me.

    I’m not a Church tribunal so I couldn’t charge you with heresy, but your ideas sound suggestive of Origenism. That is, your thought is mapping onto those ideas. That’s not calling you a heretic. If anything, you might be heretical, but that’s different then being a heretic. Being a personal heretic and holding heretical ideas are two different things.

    If you feel like you aren’t being understood, then you need to work harder in being more clear. Three of us here recognize the Origenist Problematic in what you say, so I think you need to look at yourself and reflect on how you need to get what’s in the mind down on what’s written.


  8. Martin says:

    Abba Poemon the Ubermensch,

    I for one have been following your comments with great interest. I also am rather curious about your “book-length project” on the topic.

    If you are taking leave of this thread, please leave me your contact information via a comment on my blog at:

    Thank you

  9. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:


    Sometimes during this discussion, I’ve felt like I’ll ever be able to make myself understood here – almost every time I say something, my words get pushed through the meat grinder of heresy machines that spit me out the other side in a way that I cannot recognize myself anymore.


    please return the heresy detector you’re using, and complain to the people who gave it to you that it’s giving false reads on things. I’m not an Origenist, nor am I promoting something like Origenism. (I should return to Origenism shortly, as there is a text in Maximus’ Ambiguum 7 which relates to this topic and the various methods being employed). I found it very insulting that you couldn’t address me directly, but turned my attempt to converse on this topic into material for a theatrical address to Cyril.

    Fr. Patrick,

    Unlike Photius, your warmth remains even when you are troubled and criticized.

    The world is fallen. It was not created fallen – that’s quite literally absurd. The falleness of the world is intelligible without recourse to an original human (see Amb.7, 1081C). With regard to Origenism, I would love to illumine this whole discussion up to now with an in-depth reading of Maximus’ Amb. 7, but that’s not for this forum, for comments on a post. I feel I’ve overstayed my welcome as it is.

    Pray for me, Father.

    When I wrote that Adam is a heuristic device, I do not mean something so crass as that he is merely "a device to exhort us to live good lives." I don’t have space here to go into more detail, but you’ve persuaded me that my pet writing project urgently needs to be given the attention necessary to finish it.

  10. Photios,

    It seems worse than Origenism, for whom there is at least a fall freely chosen by God’s creatures. Gregory has no fall. Rather God creates the world in a fallen state. Thus, He is the cause of the fall, which means that the fallen world is good and is in no need of redemption. But this the same as saying that it is not fallen thus contradicting the statement that it is a fallen world from creation. Otherwise we would be saying that the consequences of disobedience come from the free choice of God in His creation, which is good. Death then is not a consequence of Adam’s sin but God’s goodness, thus making a nonsense of any heuristic value of the ‘fictional’ Adam story.

    Also, it is not anxiety about four books of the Torah but about the Gospel and about the teaching of St Paul and the Fathers. It is clear that someone forgot to tell St Paul that Adam is a heuristic device. St Paul’s use of Adam is far more profound than a device to exhort us to live good lives. It is about a real, historical condition of man caused through a free choice of the real first man. The Fall cannot be other than historical otherwise it can have no meaning. It certainly is not eternal and so is it merely abstract? But what consequence is this? Surely it would be nothing more than a concept that doesn’t even parallel something in reality. It must certainly be in time because it implies a state to fall from thus indicating change and time.

  11. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:


    Your objection is clear, thank you for stating it plainly. I hope to reply soon, and hope also to address the backlog of posts you’ve made which I haven’t responded to – I hope you won’t be offended that I’ve neglected them, nor think me arrogant for presuming to excuse myself.

    I would clarify, to start, that when I wrote “the physical conditions which we are working under seem clearly to be the conditions of the world since shortly after it was created” I did not intend by that a reference to a historical Fall, but to the establishment of constant cosmic conditions after the expansion of the singularity.

    Pax Tecum, Filius Meus

  12. Cyril,

    It sounds just like Origenism. The fall is a fall into time. Redemption is a rescue from time and into eternity. As long as we are bound to time, we are always unstable. This is NOT the gospel.


  13. Cyril says:


    There is no such thing as “the very plain and public reading of the world’s history by scientists.” Further, why are we–or at least you– so hot not to appear foolish to the Greeks? If Adam is but a heuristic, whence death and corruption? Is this ‘fall’ part of creation? You say it is something that obtains “shortly after” creation. This isn’t science. So why the one actus fidei, but not the other? The human race has a very tight and shallow gene pool: the most disparate of us (a colleague, a geneticist friendly neither to creationists nor IDers, cited Aleuts and aboriginal pygmies) are more closely related than most gorillas within their own tribes. You need to give a Fall that sits within the Tradition, otherwise to what proper end is the redemption within the Tradition? Finally, if Adam is not historical, then why do we need a new or redeemed history with Christ?

    Through your prayers,

  14. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:


    I’ll take a look at Kalormiros’ take on this issue. I’m not sure what I’m in for.


    No, the physical conditions which we are working under seem clearly to be the conditions of the world since shortly after it was created. The fallenness of the world is very real, but it cannot the result of a decision a historically-first-man made. To affirm that means to degenerate almost instantly into nonsense, and to turn holy Orthodoxy into something comic. If the fall of Adam were not a heuristic device, it would be a necessary foundation for physical and historical explanation – it would have superior explanatory power, and the fact that only some people with a peculiar anxiety about the text affirm this to be so, rather than scientists publicly recognizing the superior explanatory power (and even necessity) of such a posit, strongly suggests that something is very amiss in assertions about the historicity of Adam and a fall taking place in time, and rendering deceptive the very plain and public reading of the world’s history by scientists.


  15. Thank you anon. It is a good reminder not to get lost counting the number of angels on a pin head. But please tell me, what is funny with being peculiar, and what is funny with being a ghetto? Also, as I am sure that you are aware. one cannot make Orthodoxy into anything; it is as it is. Either one expresses an Orthodox view or one does not; which only makes one into something not Orthodoxy. So, I assume you mean one is painting a picture of Orthodoxy that is foreign to what it is.

    I agree though that this discussion may be vapid to many but to others it may not be. Also, if one wants something truly edifying then I believe that one is best reading the writings of the desert fathers in faith and obedience under the guidance of a spiritual father. These are not really the sort of things that can be discussed appropriately on a blog.

    Although having sad that, here is a quote from St Basil to finish:

    IT is right that any one beginning to narrate the formation of the world
    should begin with the good order which reigns in visible things. I am about
    to speak of the creation of heaven and earth, which was not spontaneous,
    as some have imagined, but drew its origin from God. What ear is worthy
    to hear such a tale? How earnestly the soul should prepare itself to receive
    such high lessons! How pure it should be from carnal affections, how
    unclouded by worldly disquietudes, how active and ardent in its
    researches, how eager to find in its surroundings an idea of God which may
    be worthy of Him!

    But before weighing the justice of these remarks, before examining all the
    sense contained in these few words, let us see who addresses them to us.
    Because, if the weakness of our intelligence does not allow us to penetrate
    the depth of the thoughts of the writer, yet we shall be involuntarily
    drawn to give faith to his words by the force of his authority. Now it is
    Moses who has composed this history; Moses, who, when still at the
    breast, is described as exceeding fair; Moses, whom the daughter of
    Pharaoh adopted; who received from her a royal education, and who had
    for his teachers the wise men of Egypt; Moses, who disdained the pomp
    of royalty, and, to share the humble condition of his compatriots,
    preferred to be persecuted with the people of God rather than to enjoy the
    fleeting delights of sin; Moses, who received from nature such a love of
    justice that, even before the leadership of the people of God was
    committed to him, be was impelled, by a natural horror of evil, to pursue
    malefactors even to the point of punishing them by death; Moses, who,
    banished by those whose benefactor he had been, hastened to escape from
    the tumults of Egypt and took refuge in Ethiopia, living there far from
    former pursuits, and passing forty years in the contemplation of nature;
    Moses, finally, who, at the age of eighty, saw God, as far as it is possible
    for man to see Him; or rather as it had not previously been granted to man
    to see Him, according to the testimony of God Himself, “If there be a
    prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a
    vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so,
    who is faithful in all mine house, with him will I speak mouth to mouth,
    even apparently and not in dark speeches.” It is this man, whom God
    judged worthy to behold Him, face to face, like the angels, who imparts to
    us what he has learnt from God. Let us listen then to these words of truth
    written without the help of the “enticing words of man’s wisdom” by the
    dictation of the Holy Spirit; words destined to produce not the applause
    of those who hear them, but the salvation of those who are instructed by

    “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” I stop struck
    with admiration at this thought. What shall I first say? Where shall I begin
    my story? Shall I show forth the vanity of the Gentiles? Shall I exalt the
    truth of our faith? The philosophers of Greece have made much ado to
    explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm and
    unshaken, each being overturned by its successor. It is vain to refute them;
    they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another. Those who were
    too ignorant to rise to a knowledge of a God, could not allow that an
    intelligent cause presided at the birth of the Universe; a primary error that
    involved them in sad consequences. Some had recourse to material
    principles and attributed the origin of the Universe to the elements of the
    world. Others imagined that atoms, and indivisible bodies, molecules and
    ducts, form, by their union, the nature of the visible world. Atoms
    reuniting or separating, produce births and deaths and the most durable
    bodies only owe their consistency to the strength of their mutual adhesion:
    a true spider’s web woven by these writers who give to heaven, to earth,
    and to sea so weak an origin and so little consistency! It is because they
    knew not how to say “In the beginning God created the heaven and the
    earth.” Deceived by their inherent atheism it appeared to them that
    nothing governed or ruled the universe, and that was all was given up to
    chance. To guard us against this error the writer on the creation, from the
    very first words, enlightens our understanding with the name of God; “In
    the beginning God created.” What a glorious order! He first establishes a
    beginning, so that it might not be supposed that the world never had a
    beginning. Then be adds “Created” to show that which was made was a
    very small part of the power of the Creator. In the same way that the
    potter, after having made with equal pains a great number of vessels, has
    not exhausted either his art or his talent; thus the Maker of the Universe,
    whose creative power, far from being bounded by one world, could extend
    to the infinite, needed only the impulse of His will to bring the
    immensities of the visible world into being. If then the world has a
    beginning, and if it has been created, enquire who gave it this beginning,
    and who was the Creator: or rather, in the fear that human reasonings may
    make you wander from the truth, Moses has anticipated enquiry by
    engraving in our hearts, as a seal and a safeguard, the awful name of God:
    “In the beginning God created” — It is He, beneficent Nature, Goodness
    without measure, a worthy object of love for all beings endowed with
    reason, the beauty the most to be desired, the origin of all that exists, the
    source of life, intellectual light, impenetrable wisdom, it is He who “in the
    beginning created heaven and earth.”

  16. Andrew,

    Sorry, for not answering your question. Here is another response: the Sixth Ecumenical Council in its 3rd Canon says: “… as of the fifteenth day of the month of January last past, in the last fourth Indiction, in the year six thousand one hundred and ninety, they are to be subjected to canonical deposition…” Thus their measuring of time is consistent with that calculated from the LXX being 6190 at the time of the Council, which works out to be just over 7500 today, and this is also the date seen in some official Church documents. It is interesting that not only did the Fathers acknowledge this date but used it as the official date in the Canon, which being one of the Ecumenical Canons is considered inspired by the Holy Spirit. So, yes the Fathers support the date of an historical Adam to about 7500 years ago. Sorry, I cannot provide quotes from a variety of other Fathers on the matter but the testimony of an Ecumenical Council does support that it is the universal teaching of the Fathers. I hope this helps answer your question.

  17. Andrew says:

    Fr Patrick,

    Regarding the timing of Adam’s creation, one can work it out for oneself from the Scriptures using the LXX and NT.

    I don’t really care what I can do myself, quite frankly. My question was whether the universal teaching of the Fathers supports the date of an historical Adam to 7,500 years ago.

  18. monkpatrick says:


    I am interested to know where or how you get 40-65 thousand years and not 200-250 thousand years or ten-twenty thousand years. Is there some clue to this or is it an arbitrary figure? This approach is certainly better than denying an historical Adam. However, how does one justify the very specific ages of the birth of each generation. Also, a number of those mentioned in the genealogies are there basically in name only. There seems to be nothing more significant in this, with the evidence provided, than mentioning any other name, so how can we say that only significant people were mentioned other than because they maintained an unbroken line of descent to Christ but then would this not be consistent a gap theory?

  19. This depends on whether the bible uses segmented or unsegmented geneaologies and it uses by and large the former. This means that entire generations are skipped over and only the most significant persons are recorded. This pushes back a literal Adam to about 40-65 thousand years.

  20. Andrew,

    Regarding the timing of Adam’s creation, one can work it out for oneself from the Scriptures using the LXX and NT. I worked it out, before knowing the Traditional date, and came out with exactly the same date as recognised in the Tradition of the Church. This doesn’t require any special inspiration but a bit searching and addition. The 6000 years usually thrown about is an attempt by Ussher in the 17th Century based on the extant Hebrew text and is not recognised as accurate by the Orthodox Church.

  21. Joseph Patterson says:

    Forgive me if I missed you say something about the fall but do you believe in a historic fall? My small mind is trying to understand what you are saying.

  22. Andrew says:

    I am not well read in the patristic teaching on creation. Is Blessed Fr Seraphim correct in his assessment of the universal teaching of the Fathers regarding Adam’s creation 7,500 years ago? If so, it seems like the case is closed. The God-bearing Fathers have spoken, and as Orthodox we are bound to their teaching.

    While I have not read his essay, Dr John Mark Reynolds (an Orthodox Plato scholar) offers a defense of Young Earth Creationism in this book:

    Granted, he is not a scientist or a theologian. He is a philosopher. But I wonder if his commitment to the patristic teaching influences his Young Earth Creationism.

  23. ochlophobist says:

    I have been trying to post this comment with no success, here I try again….

    Mind in the Heart has a recent post with a portion of Blessed Seraphim Rose’s response to Kalormiros, which deals with Orthodoxy and evolutionary science, etc. It is found here:

    The full text of Blessed Seraphim Rose’s response is found here (thanks to Mind in the Heart for the link):

  24. That linked article is an interesting read. I think I passed it over before because of its length. So God breathed life into one human out of many who became the Patriarch of Israel, or He made living souls out of all evolved humans at one “time”. I don’t think I’m understanding the latter right, he seems to say that becoming a living soul is done by the Holy Spirit in a type of freely chosen baptism. But the former sounds more like an individual Adam than human nature in general… Conversely, Kalormiros seems to think Cain is an actual individual person and that his age is literal. He does clear up why there seemed to be more people around for there to be wives and people who would seek Cain’s life. The way he explained it makes me more open to the possibility of that type of evolution. I like that it matches the fossil record, but how to fit it into “Adam”‘s becoming a living soul/ person or who sinned causing the fall, which apparently was retroactive, isn’t that clear to me. Still, I think he’s on to something and I just need to adjust.

  25. Gregory,

    Thank you, no offence taken.

    Yes, I am a fellow Celt, well as least half of me is.

  26. ochlophobist says:


    Thank you for your reply. I am satisfied with your responses, and I do not think I have any substantial disagreement with you. I think I may have misread you or read you into a corner of my own making.

    I do not really have an opinion on the matter of an historical Adam, though I find the methods used by both sides of the debate quite interesting.

    Fr. Stephen Freeman recommends Kalormiros on the 6 days of Creation, the text of which is here:

    In section 11, The First-Made Man, he states:
    “Adam is neither the biological nor the historical forefather of mankind, but the first-made ontologically, not only of mankind, but of all creation.”
    And what he writes seems to be in keeping with some of your thoughts, though he uses different nomenclature.

    The relationship between poetry and ontology is probably the most important intellectual question of our day.

    I would very much like to read your book when it comes out.

  27. It is my experience as a previous young earth fundamentalist that converts to Orthodoxy are more likely to go from young earth to old earth believers. However I’ve not”broadened” my mind enough yet to accept a poetic Adam, just poetic time. Time isn’t eternal, but created, however man is created, but in union with Christ, can become uncreated. A man can exist without time, but a man cannot exist without being a man.

    I find recent empirical genetic evidence points to a real Adam. There had to be a father of our humanity. Current findings indicate that Eve (x chromosome) existed 150,000 years ago, but Adam (y chromosome) 84,000 years ago. Any time science mentions years, I am skeptical, even though I’m warming, like I said, to creation taking more than 6 days. I believe the geneologies in Genesis, and find the technological advances very interesting, like Cain’s grandson being the maker of musical instruments, and others being forgers of weapons and such. This indicates rapid development, but I’ll allow that maybe “grandson” means something different to the writers. Still, I’m not ready to ditch that the named grandson was a real person. I take modern findings and try to incorporate them into Biblical accounts. I’ll go ahead and listen to the young earth people say the Grand Canyon is a result of the flood, but also listen to the old earth people describe the revealed layers of sediment. Thus if “Eve” existed so long before “Adam”, how can that fit in? I heard somewhere from a “secular” source that the genetic variance in modern people and animals, with relatively few species, points to a much larger population that got wiped out at one point (flood anyone?), and that subsequent humans came from a few survivors. Maybe this explains the x and y chromosome distance in “time”.

    The thing is that the Christians are usually not scientists, Henry Morris is an exception, but there needs to be more than him. And scientists that are given a hearing are usually not Christian so they do not take Biblical explanations into account. Thus I cannot fully trust either one to explain the sedimentary layers I view when traveling, nor the fossilized shells on some of the highest points in my area.

    I have a copy of Father Seraphim’s book on old earth creation, but have yet to read it. I think he discusses some sort of evolution, but I’m not ready to say man came from apes.

  28. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:

    Fr. Patrick,

    looking back on my comments to you, I failed miserably to make myself clear. What I wrote at the top was intended to be written in the form of a joke, but meant quite seriously to suggest that there is a warmth in your writings that suggests you are most certainly not the horrible sinner you professed to be, and that I surpass you by far in sin, not in virtue. I apologize if a tired post led to offense or bewilderment.


  29. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:

    Fr. Patrick,

    You apologize too much. I don’t think anyone on this page is worried about your sin, and if you want a competition in that arena, unfortunately I can promise you I will beat you.

    You wrote that “there are many potential converts that may be quite scandalised if the Orthodox Church did not accept a historical Adam and potentially not join on this issue. There are also converts that I know who changed to a accept a historical Adam when they became Orthodox. I don’t think that the reason of scandal, in itself, is not sufficient to reject a teaching held by the Fathers except perhaps to say that one should take care in expressing it.” These are good words for me to hear. Thank you.

    BTW, I must ask, because of your name, are you a fellow Celt?

    PS to all – I think work needs to be done on the relationship between poetry and ontology. I think that a discussion of that will illumine much of what’s going on in these texts, as the Adam story looks very much like an apocalypse in reverse, and none of us think that the poetic language of apocalypses are literal, do we? We do, however, accept at least one of them as part of the literary corpus of Revelation, so understanding the way that language is used is paramount to understanding the Adam story.

  30. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:

    “I shall reply this evening, more precisely.”

    I should not publicly declare my intentions as simple futurities when they might not be borne out, apparently.


    Delighted to hear you respond. This blog and yours are the only two I read (and now, on your suggestion, ‘Reading Notes’).

    To your first point: I agree with you, the dilemma is real. The habits of pious souls change slowly, if at all, but I think we all agree that most of us who consider ourselves faithful children of the Church’s tradition cannot feel comfortable with our habits suspended in midair – we prefer to act upon publicly demonstrable principles when the ostensive reason presents itself as publicly available. When old reasons are no longer tenable, we need to figure out where we stand, while maintaining the older practice in the midst of our searching for answers, even if it remains, for a time, somewhat opaquely grounded on the sense that it is right and good and true, rather than on publicly defensible terms.

    To your second point: regarding evidence, I would hazard to suggest you find my argument unconvincing for what is on the surface a good reason, though (a) the way you describe the principle behind why my argument did not convince points both to mediocre rhetorical elements in my articulation; (b) to describe the contexts, within which facts are rendered intelligible as such, as “ideologies” is a gun waiting to backfire, devolving inevitably into Nietzsche’s “there are no facts, only interpretations,” which is where we must go with that line once we start digging into contexts or “ideologies” the way you’ve just dug into facts (there must be another way forward, such as invariances across all perspectives serving incontrovertibly as facts, and interpretive power as a criterion for competing contexts, etc.); (c) discussion of “facts” and “evidence” turned against Christian teaching is absurd, for one cannot argue against Christianity on these terms, unless the Church dogmatically assert as positivistically and historically true certain things (like the historicity of Adam) whose truth properly falls under the investigative domain of various sciences and sub-disciplines. I don’t think that any of us think that there are no “facts” involved in Christian life and teaching (the Resurrection comes to mind), but properly speaking, these cannot be investigated by historical scholarship, for historical scholarship works with regularities, and outside of the unique instance of Christ Jesus, there’s no pattern for people entering into Eschatic Life within time. The truth of the Resurrection is not first or primarily ever believed by us because of the empirical evidence available on its behalf, but because of its power abiding in the Church by the Spirit.

    On this point, you write ““Evidence” language is quite tricky, always carries some tinge of political motivation, and many are averse to it because of how that game has played out over and over again these last few hundred years.” I couldn’t agree with you more, but it’s not a vocabulary we can shelve just because it has limitations and problems, because we’re always using it anyway, so it’s important that we be aware of it as such. Most often a singular patristic quotation (or a string of them) are taken precisely as evidence for the historicity of Adam. You determine the type of language employed not by keywords, but by the structure of its use.

    To your third point: physics is not meta-physics. Our holy faith does not contribute facts to our knowledge of the domain of the empirical. Ps. Dionysius and St. Maximus were operating on Neo-Platonic ontological and epistemological assumptions, which are logically distinct and even seperable from their religious practice, and which do not pertain to the structure of the cosmos in the sense that I was writing about it, but to its interpretation. Neo-Platonism gives the scientist nothing to work with in his or her laboratory, there is no theory that can be based on it for testable research, for it assumes transcendental forms as the basis of the stabilities of perception and language, even as anchoring and centering the differences in language and perception for the same form. Things that transcend the empirical cannot fall under the critique of empirical research, and things that do cannot escape evidence to the contrary (like unto empirical claims for a 6000 year old earth and a literal history of Adam). Neo-Platonism I find largely convincing, but you don’t need to be a Christian to be a Neo-Platonist, nor a Neo-Platonist to be a Christian. I think some kind of Nietzschean position is the only real alternative to Neo-Platonism, and the Fathers seem to be of the same mind in some of their statements.

    You write, “I hope that there is some way that a modern who does not wholly reject modern physics might also be able to affirm traditional Orthodox cosmology. I am not convinced that this cannot be done.” I don’t think such a hope is ill-founded, I think there is a way forward, and that it is the superior interpretation of what is public, illumined by our reception of the Lord’s discipline; I think Dionysius and Maximus were – are – right in their general project; I don’t think traditional Orthodox cosmology can ever be threatened by evidence, because evidence was never the foundation of the kind of cosmology we hold to. I do not think that arguing for a historical Adam is the way forward, though, but will rather take us down backroads of ghettoification and darkness that will reflect poorly on the often concurrent (but proper) conservative liturgical and ascetical practices (which I myself am in favor of and practice/seek to practice).

    In the end, because I don’t have time currently to reply to Fr. Patrick or Cyril’s posts, I should summarize: basically I think I’m arguing that Adam is a figure who originated as a heuristic device for liturgy, anthropology, and political theology (in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem’s first Temple and it’s royal cult), a figure carrying with him some very basic cosmological implications (which are themselves not matters of fact but of interpretation), with the author and reception community’s full knowledge of him as such a divinely-inspired trope and heuristic device. This geneaology is logically distinct from the Church’s reception of Adam, but the early Fathers seem to use him in precisely this way, though not with this language, and yes, they do blend the typological with the historical. How could they not? I think that the history of the way the Church has used Adam-language suffers no dimunition or adjustment by acknowledging that the figure of Adam is a type and a heuristic device (along with the whole of at least the first four chapters of Genesis), and I’ve been working on a book-length project of outlining this for some time now, precisely because it comes up so much.

    Pax Tecum,

  31. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:

    I shall reply this evening, more precisely.

  32. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:

    I have family duties that presently require my attention, but I’m delighted that you’re all so patient with my often curmudgeonly style of writing, and Fr. Patrick, I hope you’ll forgive me if I treated you, in my reply, as an instance of a type. I shall reply soon.

  33. Cyril says:


    What you inferred is quite different than what I implied. I have no need to bully you about anything, but a reliance upon the putative state of settled scholarly opinion is a foundation of sand. My reference was not to the sanctity of the saints, but to the theology which they held. Were this otherwise, and were I to rely on the seeming clever and logical, heck, I might be a David Hartite by now. Almost every generation of scholarship (and more so in the west) has had an apocalyptic “terminal generation” mania about its findings. Modern science is no exception to this. Even the most fundamental assumptions are in contradiction with one another. Why do you think physicists are in such a mad rush to work out a mathematics that will support string theory? I am not trying to justify obscurantism, but instead conservatism. Recent theories are nice and they are great to help clear out dead wood and sloppy thinking, but they aren’t the tradition, and I feel no compunction about slighting them.

    As for the unanimity of the Fathers, ‘up’ is a relative and accidental term, so your point has not the weight it may first seem. Further, is heaven not a material place? After all, I know of at least two material bodies that reside there, so how is it not material? Whose flesh and blood do we consume in the chalice if heaven is “beyond” the material?

    As for the two Adams, of course it is a matter of sequence: Adam is made after the icon of Christ. Christ is the primary, and this is why I believe in an historical first Adam, wherever and whenever he might have been. How can we escape the errors of certain Gnostics (ancient and modern) if we do not? It is the basis of our theosis and deification that the Incarnation recapitulates and fulfills what Adam was and what he lost. This was a theological point from Irenaeus to Athanasius to Maximus to ….

    I apologize for my offending tone in my last post. I was in a hurry to get to bed.

    Through your prayers,

  34. Martin,

    Rather than focus on man being created separate in nature and mortal, I think it is better to think of man as being created in the image of God through Christ. All that man is, is in the Son Who is the Image of God. We are created as sons in the Son. The difference between men and the Son is the the Son is uncreated and immaterial, pre-Incarnation, and man is created and material, which means man is in time/space, at least initially. Man is created to participate eternally as a son in the Life of God not to exist separately from God. However, I say this again, to participate in the Life of God requires freedom of will because God has such freedom. However, there is one Will in God, the Trinity, and for us to participate in God we must accept this Will as our own and we do this is by obedience. For sons, of course, this Will becomes their own will and obedience becomes one’s own choice and desired; it ceases to be that of a servant or slave. Refusal to accept the Will of God freely means that we cannot be sons and cannot participate in the Life of God freely to our joy. Man, Adam, was created in a “neutral state”, I say this for want of a better expression, in relation with God as a son. He could then advance to fulfil his calling by obedience or, through disobedience, to fall to death. Adam was able to maintain immortality if he remained in God but if he disobeyed he would die because only in God is there Life. God is not passive because He wants all men to be sons and works all things for this but He must also allow genuine freedom. All these acts of obedience etc are worked out in love, which is both obedient and yet transcends obedience.

    Another point to consider is that God can create or order things as He wills. We should not argue why we are created as a man and not a cat or that we are not equal to the Apostles in order. This is up to God. We can all participate as sons in the place that God desires. I mention this because even though we can all advance through the growth of faith and virtue, and indeed must do so because we aim to perfection, nevertheless, some are given more talents than others and greater glory, with greater responsibility. We should accept God’s choice in this and also accept that He may permit one life to be cut short to a lesser prize and another He preserves to a fuller prize. This is distinct from whether a man participates in Life or not. I don’t believe there is an absolute equality of place and rank but things are ordered so that God can show the multitude of His glory as with the angelic orders. This does not mean that God’s providence negates man’s freedom to think and act. Murder is still a real tragedy and we do have responsibility concerning the salvation of others. As I said earlier, I believe that the relation of providence to freedom is too complex for us to understand completely and we must accept God’s hand in this, while seeking to take care of our own responsibility in the matter.


    I am a sinner and fallible, easily falling into a multitude of sins knowingly and unknowingly. I was not aware of claiming any private gnosis to trump anyone in the matter of Creation; I was trying to take care to only make such assertions as are necessitated by our Faith because I am well aware of the evidence in our world that is apparently impossible to reconcile with a strictly historical reading of Genesis. Nevertheless, I believe that keeping in line with the Fathers by default, who were inspired by the same unchanging Spirit that inspired the Old Testament Scriptures, is an entirely appropriate attitude for an Orthodox Christian. I welcome any thoughts that may help to better reconcile the reading of Genesis with the material evidence that do not alter the Faith nor the Gospel. Maintaining harmony with the Fathers would also be needed, although I would understand where matters of their teaching based on the limited scientific evidence of the time may need to be adapted on this basis. Nevertheless, I believe this needs to be done with extreme caution. The position that you advocate may indeed be the Truth but from my reading of the Fathers it seems to be an innovation to an extent (I don’t see how you can say the position of a historical Adam is modern unless your meaning of modern is post Maccabees) and, as such, I think it wise to exercise caution and to respect the opinion of those that maintain a view in line with the Fathers. There may be a very good explanation that harmonises both a historical Adam and the evidence we find in the material world. I don’t know but I believe the consideration can lead to a much more profound understanding of cosmology and reinforce further the teaching of the Fathers on this matter. The important thing, I think we would agree on, is intellectual honesty and the challenge is to fit together various elements of Revelation and nature to some sense of consistency. Without some sense of consistency there can be no complaint against a historical understanding of Adam that may be inconsistent with the material evidence. I prefer to be more exact on theological truths and wait for a better explanation of material matters but others may do differently.

    I believe that many things in our Faith and Tradition can cause offence to those outside the Church. Nevertheless, we do not change them because of this, although it may be wise not to shout them from the hill tops. It depends of the issue and this can be seen in the appropriate attitude of the Church to keep Her Mysteries hidden, to an extent, from those outside the Church, so that they do not blaspheme God by understanding these things from a worldly perspective. There are many potential converts that may be quite scandalised if the Orthodox Church did not accept a historical Adam and potentially not join on this issue. There are also converts that I know who changed to a accept a historical Adam when they became Orthodox. I don’t think that the reason of scandal, in itself, is not sufficient to reject a teaching held by the Fathers except perhaps to say that one should take care in expressing it.

  35. ochlophobist says:

    correction to the above:

    in the second paragraph the line
    “when their principle reason for their arguments on the matter is a reason that I, and virtually all persons I would discuss this issue with, might accept”
    should read
    when their principle reason for their arguments on the matter is a reason that I, and virtually all persons I would discuss this issue with, might NOT accept.”

    Sorry for that. Thanks.

  36. ochlophobist says:


    Three points, if I may.

    First point: I struggle with something akin to the broad point (I think) you are attempting to make here. I have been considering the problem of contraception. The fathers who speak to this issue, so far as I can tell, are universally against the use of contraception. But it becomes apparent from the language used that the prohibition against contraception is based upon aristotelian and other ancient biologies – in which the male seed contains the whole of the human person, un actualized, and the womb acts, roughly speaking, as an incubation location for the seed of the male. Given such a biology, to contracept is very much a moral act on par with abortion. The question then arises, however, of the moral issues surrounding contraception when one comes to reject ancient biologies, and accept modern biology.

    Obviously all abortificient contraceptions are still considered a form of murder. But for non-abortificient means of contraception, the question becomes more complicated. I think that there remain profound arguments against the use of contraception, and I have attempted to list some of these on my own blog in the past. My wife and I could never in good conscience use contraception. But that said, I don’t know what it means to cut and paste quotes from the fathers on this issue, when their principle reason for their arguments on the matter is a reason that I, and virtually all persons I would discuss this issue with, might accept. Hence a complication of the sort I think you attempt to describe. What is the Church to do? Formally reject what modern biology says of the mechanics of human reproduction?

    Second Point: You state, “The evidence demonstrates that this is not about truth, because a historical affirmation of Adam does not have that behind it. It’s about willful positing of how one would like to see things.” I find this line unconvincing, in part, because word for word it could have been stated by a member of the Jesus Seminar to a person who was making the argument that the N.T. is historically reliable. “The evidence” is a body of data that is gathered in an ideological context, and is interpreted in an ideological context. We have been told for 300+ years that the evidence is against traditional Christian belief. This is a very complicated matter – do I follow the Bollandists with regard to hagiography? Do I follow 19th Century German historical-critical trajectories? Do I follow 20th Century quackacademic historicism, or the “post-modern” reaction against it? “Evidence” language is quite tricky, always carries some tinge of political motivation, and many are averse to it because of how that game has played out over and over again these last few hundred years.

    Third Point: You state “Christianity is not about the structure of the cosmos.” To say this is not simply to state that the fathers were wrong about this or that presumably minor issue. This is to say that the primary theological project of St. Dionysius and St. Maximus and other saints of first rank in influence upon the Church’s theology were essentially hunting with the wrong dog. A considerable number of both Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians in the past couple of generations have argued that Western Christianity needs to return to a cosmologo-centric theology. I have heard a number of Orthodox priests, bishops, and theologians point out that this central role of cosmology has been maintained in the Orthodox Church, though there has been the temptation in recent years to set it aside or mitigate its role as Orthodox in the West have in some ways, on occasion, attempted to conform their theology to the Western academy. But to return to my first point, the struggle is how modern persons might read ancient cosmologies – can this only be done with anachronistic affect, as a game? I hope that there is some way that a modern who does not wholly reject modern physics might also be able to affirm traditional Orthodox cosmology. I am not convinced that this cannot be done.

  37. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:


    Your bullying tactic — turning the saints into sledgehammers — may, perhaps, make you feel more comfortable, but it won’t get any of us very far when dealing with these matters. The saints are saints because they were holy, not because they had priveleged insight into the structure of the world.

    Your implied argument that holiness of life is necessary to take someone as a guide to the spiritual life, and especially to interpreting the dogmatic tradition of the Church, I agree with.

    I’m not talking about guiding your life, however, nor am I talking about the Church’s dogmas. I’m simply addressing an erroneous manner of speaking which has crept into Orthodox discourse regarding Adam. The historicity of Adam may be an opinion held by all of the fathers, but it is not a dogma of the Church, and is not an article of faith.

    To insist on the historicity of Adam, along with the fathers, is to turn this into some kind of agonistic political warfare, where we side with the fathers no matter what they think, against whatever other opinion – conceived politically as an opposing tribe – may espouse. The evidence demonstrates that this is not about truth, because a historical affirmation of Adam does not have that behind it. It’s about a willful positing of how one would like to see things.

    There are a number of other things the fathers agree on unanimously, a great many of which are not dogmas of the Church. To take another example, I might cite the unanimity with which a geocentric cosmology is espoused by them, where heaven is material and quite literally “up there,” a tradition broken only by those who platonically interpret the “up there” as a noetic realm (which I do not think does violence to the tradition of heaven “up there,” but which is most certainly not the earliest form of speaking about heaven – where do you think Jesus is presumed to go to when he ascends _up_ – Kolob?). They were wrong, unanimously wrong. This is not to fault them, because Christianity is not about the structure of the cosmos. This is apocalyptic language, and they instinctively knew how to use it. We, sick with empiricism, do not.

    The second and first Adam language does not pertain to two Adams in sequence, but is in fact a somewhat esoteric argument made from an established Jewish tradition about two different Adams, one earthly, one heavenly. This Jewish exegetical tradition is based on a certain manner of considering the Genesis text.

    Pax Tecum,

  38. Cyril says:


    When you are beatified, perhaps then we can take seriously your correction of the saints. Until such time, I cannot think of Adam as not historical. After all, if he were not, then why should the second one be?


  39. Abba Poemon the Ubermensch says:


    I am sympathetic with your concerns. I hope several brief comments can suffice for now – and perhaps keep this thread alive.

    With regard to the creation accounts and our modern scientific account of the world, don’t worry about it. Christianity is not about the structure of the world the way we think about it today. The historical sense of the Genesis texts were given in a response to other Ancient Near Eastern cosmological myths, which articulated a religious, political, ethical, and anthropological vision in the form of a myth. The Genesis text responds by doing the same. Adam does not need to be a historical figure, and if you read 2nd Temple Apocalyptic texts, you’re closer to the authorial intention behind Adam than any modern author can give you. The Fathers write about Genesis from outside of the literary culture which produced it, and were dealing with it from the foundation of a very different literary situation where Hellenism was the material to be “dealt with.” There are plenty of books on this material.

    Fr. Patrick,

    I have followed your comments on this thread and on others – particularly on the “Christology of Feminism” post – and I have to say that on ascetical, liturgical and generally practical issues I am in full agreement with you.

    Assertions to the effect that you have some private gnosis which would trump modern scientific knowledge, assertions that seem to come from a particular (and particularly modern) interpretation of certain patristic sayings, seems like anxious willfulness to me. Are you aware of the damage you cause when you say things like that?

    Others who make similar sayings had caused me great throes of doubt with regard to Orthodoxy in general, and I have seen people attend Liturgy and love it, only to be turned off during the sermon, because they knew better than the priest with regard to the history of man.

    The scriptural story of Adam does not need to be taken historically to be taken seriously, and much of its immediately apprehensible “relevance” (I hate using that word) to us today is impossible to approach if we take him as a historical figure. Look at the amazing work being done on the Garments of Glory tradition and other traditions by Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin (which relates to the Adam tradition via the recension expressed in the Peshitta, where Adam and Eve – or Zoe, if you’re a Septuagint fanatic – are given Garments of Light upon their exit from Eden, rather than Garments of Flesh) and others.


    Allegorical interpretations do not leave the text open to interpretation willy-nilly. When the apostle Paul interprets “do not muzzle the ox when he is threshing” with regard to marriage, the allegory aims to a very specific point.

    I’m sorry that I don’t have time to write about the moral issues you raise. Suffice it to say that ontology and ethics are inseparable in ancient Israelite thinking. Because each thing is brought into being by a divine command, the command for it to be thus constitutes an ethical imperative incumbent upon it to be thus, which commandment(s) the object can transgress (they are brought out of the watery chaos anyway, and given shape by the commandment). They are called forth from the nothing of watery chaos into being to “be good,” which is their integrity, their fulfilling the end to which they were brought forth, which is good in each case.

    The Reformed tradition, following certain ontological developments, would see the ontology of a thing as inherently corrupted by sin, and would see commandments as something additional to and superimposed upon the being of a thing. This is not the biblical understanding of a thing.

    When the commandments are transgressed, watery chaos ensues, the shaping intent of the Lord is undone. “You set a bound for the sea, which it shall never _transgress_,” etc. The Noah story is not indicative of a punishing God any more than the Sodom and Gomorrah story – both indicate the chaos that inevitably ensues when the commandments are transgressed, and chaos is unleashed. The language used is not always that – the language used in the Genesis texts is usually that of “wrath” and punishment, as though God were the one enforcing his own arbitrary will. You see in each case, however, that God actually seems to be trying to make room for repentance, to prevent the arrival of watery-chaos or fire-from-heaven or death-by-eating-fruit, suggesting that the language is being used in ways that we are not familiar with. In the intertestamental texts, such as in the Wisdom of Solomon, many of the themes I’ve brought forth in this article cohere, such as in 18:20-25, where the Wrath is clearly an angelic figure all to itself, and is beaten back by the Adamic Glory borne upon the high-priestly garments…


  40. Martin says:

    Fr Patrick, thank you for the additional thoughts. I appreciate your patience with this neophyte (me). I am grateful for having the opportunity to bring the issues I wrestle with to the touchstone of a fuller Orthodox experience.

    From what I understand, God created man such that man was separate by nature and mortal, yet sinless. Man could either ascend to immortality and theosis by grace or fall and separate himself from God unto death by sin. God has a passive role in this initial separation unto death. However, after this we find narratives where God appears from the literal reading to take an active role in expediting this inevitable separation. We also find man expediting this separation in various narratives where it sometimes appears commended and other times condemned.

    Please correct me if I’m mistaken.

    Is it possible that the evilness, or potentially goodness, of expediting the separation unto death has a direct correlation to theosis? I will try to explain the correlation I have in mind here. Man is given this life to repent and acquire virtue by exercising his will between evil and good. How man uses this time will affect how he will experience God in the eschaton, as light or fire. If this is the case, it seems quite tragic when someone who would have ascended further in virtue is cut off prematurely, thereby affecting how they will experience God. However, in the case where someone who would have descended further in vice is cut off prematurely, they perhaps gain a resurrection unto less torment. When we as men take a life, we do not know which case it will be, as we do not have foreknowledge of man’s future free willing. Perhaps this is where it becomes treacherous and tragic to inflict death of any sort upon others, even when it is perhaps necessary. One hesitation I have is this would seem to implicate God with “mercy killing” in cases where he cuts someone off to spare them a worse eternity. This may or may not provide an altogether convenient pretext for euthanasia on the part of man. One consideration militating against such a pretext is man’s lack of foreknowledge wherein cannot know if a premature end is truly merciful or not against the backdrop of eternity.

  41. Martin,

    Here are some more thoughts regarding your issues:

    1) the end justifying the means is only a concern where the end is changeable. The end here is God Himself and His Life. He is not changeable and there is no separate human life/existence apart from God. God is all in all.

    2) We know that God knows all and that He wants all to be saved. Yet, He must also allow man to choose and act freely. How this is best arranged is something that makes the complex chaos of the material Universe easy to fathom. We must trust God in all these things.

    3) God’s morality is our morality but how this works out in practice is also very complex. It is best to accept even difficult stories in faith; the understanding may come much, much later. Generally, each story portrays another aspect of the whole and must be seen with the whole but not as the whole. We must be slow to judge by a narrow, although correct, standard. Rather we should allow the stories to broaden and nuance our understanding of life, righteousness and sin, and remember that any particular story is not necessarily proscriptive for our behaviour.

    4) Annihilation is an option that appeals to many, however, it is not the Tradition of the Church. In a way God is in all through the logoi and in an even more profound manner after the Resurrection, so, to annihilate man would be to annihilate Himself. This He cannot do. Man remains in the love of God. It is man’s own refusal to accept this love that causes his torment. God is love.

  42. Martin says:

    A note of clarification for point #4. I wrote: “The idea that God mercifully ends a life prematurely to ensure less torment in the eschaton may bring with it a problem.” This doesn’t read as I intended. It should say: the idea that God mercifully ends a life prematurely to ensure less torment in eternity may bring with it a problem.

  43. Martin says:

    Hi Fr Patrick,

    I think I understand and agree with what you are saying. However, here are a few tentative ideas, examples, and questions.

    1) Without death man would eternally commit evil. Without death and suffering man would not attain theosis by recapitulating Christ’s death and sufferings. Therefore, God permits death and suffering as an act of mercy and salvation.

    2) God through his foreknowledge prevents man from willing himself a worse eternal outcome by either passively permitting his death or directly inflicting it. God likewise preserves man sufficient time to will himself a better eternal outcome. It seems that only God would have the prerogative to cut a man’s life short. Only God knows how a man will utilize the time he has, or otherwise would have, in this life. However, God is not obligated to directly intervene to cut a man’s life off prematurely. We see that many end this life without repenting.

    3) God through his foreknowledge protects the lineage of Christ to ensure the incarnation. This might help lend insight into how Israel was governed and regulated, along with how its enemies were dealt with.

    Some issues I see with these points are:

    1) The ends justifying the means. For example, that a better eternal outcome justifies inflicting death and suffering.

    2) Particular claims that certain events embody these principles are not easily falsifiable, if falsifiable at all. For example, since I do not have access to the foreknowledge of God, I cannot falsify a claim that someone was cut off prematurely to prevent a worse eternal outcome.

    3) There might be a double-standard of morality for man and God latent in the principles.

    4) The idea that God mercifully ends a life prematurely to ensure less torment in the eschaton may bring with it a problem. This problem would be with an eternal torment. If God knows that a man will be eternally tormented, wouldn’t it be more merciful to annihilate that man? Perhaps this idea factored into the apokatastasis which seems to be held by certain saints like St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Gregory Nazianzen.

    To apply the above principles to a more specific OT narrative, consider the account from 2 Kings 2 where the bears kill 42 children who mock Elisha. If we read this as a literal, historical account, it seems we would need to claim that all of these youths if permitted to live would have wrought for themselves a worse eternal outcome. Perhaps a case could be made for how these children threatened the lineage of Christ, but I don’t know how. This tends to be a good example of a difficult narrative. After all, if a balding monk were to kill a group of children who mocked him, we would be aghast and severely condemn that. If the monk somehow knew that these children would work for themselves a worse eternal outcome, it still seems rather suspect that we should affirm such a retaliation.

  44. Hi Martin,

    If God’s love was such that He would not permit any suffering or death to the innocent in this world then how are we to be saved? I ask this because who was it that is innocent and yet suffered and died for our salvation? Christ, God’s only Son, Whom He loves. Here God permits suffering and death of the innocent One, who deserves to live eternally and has no place with death. So, God can and does permit suffering and death in this world for our salvation. This does not go against God’s nature nor love.

    Suffering and death are seen as beneficial is this life because it is through them that we have eternal life. Saints seek to share in the suffering because Christ too suffered. We daily pick up our cross and die to the things of this world, so that we may participate in that to come. We celebrate the suffering and death of martyrs with joy because they have gained an eternal crown. However, this does not justify murder or cruelty because these things are born from hatred, which is foreign from God, who is love. It means that suffering and death are not opposed to love when in the context of life and peace in the age to come.

    God does everything He can to save our souls. We must not cease to believe this. If it seems that it is not working then we must seek the cause in ourselves not Him. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, we must not look at this life as an end in itself. Our life is in God and in the coming age, where there is and can be no evil. We must must die to the things of this world to put our treasure in heaven, otherwise we will not live in God. The trials of this life are necessary to help us to prepare for the life to come because the life to come is perfect and we must be prefect to live it. Impossible? With God all things are possible, if we have faith, that is we are freely willing to let Him be all in us. If not then He will not force us to be so because this also infringes love and denies God Himself, both in Himself and in us. Yes, there is eternal death and suffering but if not there would not be eternal life and joy. It is not God that wants any to die and suffer but our own choices because He provides everything we need for this life. If matters were otherwise then they would be so.

    Letting life continue on earth as an end in itself would lead to the perpetuation of evil, which is opposed to the life of God. Evil cannot remain forever; it must end. Evil is nothing of itself but the choices of free individuals and so to end evil is only possible by ending those who are not prefect in virtue of their own free choice and to end time.

  45. Martin says:

    Thank you Fr Patrick. That is a lot to consider.

    Perhaps I can give a theoretical example where I find some difficulty. Consider a family where the parents have done evil to the extent of those in Sodom. Now, I am provided with the means to incinerate their home, along with everyone inside, men, women and children. I am told that life is transient and that God will judge them according to love and mercy. I am also told that these people have no inherent right to live. I may be told that the children are “collateral damage” or “acceptable losses” and this must be done in the name of preventing the commission of evil. Lastly, I am told that the fate of the children is bound with the parents on account of their shared nature and familial ties. Will I be able to inflict this suffering and death upon them? No. Does this mean that my sense of life value is distorted? My desire is to permit them to live, and if someone else were to inflict this upon them, I should think my reaction ought to be one of sadness and lamentation. Perhaps there are other considerations which I am not factoring in. I understand that I am not God. I know that I fall considerably short of the love and compassion of Christ. However, it seems that even a life taken in self-defense ought to be mourned; all the more, lives not taken in self-defense. Moreover, it seems that God being omnipotent has more options than I do in terms of prevention of evil; perhaps options which do not involve suffering or death.

  46. Martin,

    The tradition in the Orthodox Church is to understand the Creation account at face value. Recently with scientific study has led to a very strong case for the world to be much older than the time frame one gets from Scripture and understandably many Orthodox have moved to accept theories such as evolution, although some people converting to Orthodoxy have moved to a more face value creation position, which is the traditional teaching of the Fathers. One thing that an Orthodox Christian must confess is that the world is created. When and how may be another matter but that it is created and not eternal is a tenant of our Faith. Cyclic universe theories are inconsistent with Orthodox teaching. Also, one needs to be very careful with the evolution of man and the understanding of the Fall. The doctrine of the Fall is important in Orthodox teaching as is also the human race coming from one man, Adam. Introducing ideas of death of humanity before the Fall or that Adam was born expecting to die before the Fall is difficult ground theologically. Also, it is important that Eve was taken from Adam and not just someone he meet as we do our partners today. This has important implications for the relationship between Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, perhaps there is a way of interpreting all this within an Orthodox understanding that, even though it uses allegory, does not divorce the stories from their historical and typological meanings. The Old Testament is grounded in history, just as Christ is grounded in history. I am interested in hearing more on this topic also.

    Regarding the Flood et al. Death in itself is not a problem in Christian thought because all people die and all will be resurrected. Sin is the issue and for this the result is eternal punishment, which is far, far worse. Early death can be a benefit to many who have no intention of repenting because it saves them from a worse death eternally because the punishment of the wicked like the reward to the holy is graded on deeds and heart each receiving as he deserves. The death of one wicked man may both save him from worse punishment and serve as a warning to others to help them repent. I think one needs to ensure that the focus is on eternity and not on this life as an end in itself nor a self-contained life separate from the coming life. It is one continuous life lived now in time and then beyond time. Also, one needs to consider what eternal life is and what it means for God to let us participate within it. It is not something like now lived imperfectly in time and space but a perfect life, if we are willing to accept it and many, many people are not. “Many are called but few are chosen.” This is not because God does not love all equally, far from it, but eternal life is His Life and it can only be lived as He lives it. He would deny Himself for it to be otherwise and we know this He cannot do. He will give us everything enable us to live it, if we can accept it. It is not something He fails to do but our own reluctance to accept it and to accept it we must do so freely and remain free because that is how He is. I believe that one must consider these things carefully in regard to the OT.

    Also, the OT is more just in the sense of eye for an eye but the NT leaves this judgement until the end because for our souls we need to learn to forgive and to love our enemies, so that we are able to live eternally. It does not do away with judgement but in the OT it was carried out on earth to a large degree so that man would understand what it is otherwise he would not believe and live in sin with no regard to judgement. Now the same judgement, but much deeper, will occur with an eternal judgement and eternal death, which Christ will judge on His return.

    Also, we must not think only on moral grounds or on intention grounds. Man cannot merit eternal life no matter how virtuous or innocent he may be; it is impossible because we cannot, as limited creation, live the perfect life of God; this is only possible by Grace. Also, mankind is united physically. This means all suffer death from Adam because we inherit it from him, regardless of our morality or age. With such a body we cannot inherit eternal life as a whole man because our body dies; we are all under this spell of death and can do nothing of our own power to remedy it. However, our physical bodies do allow us to be united to Christ and to be saved both body and soul, also bringing with us all material creation. Again this comes physically as well as spiritually, i.e. by water, Baptism, and by the Holy Spirit. Those punished in the OT were already dead, cut off from life and were unwilling to repent. In this context, what is so bad with the commands to the Israelites, with the Flood or with Sodom and Gomorrah? If there were innocents then, they will be judged suitably in the last day and extra life on earth then would be little benefit to them in itself because they would die at some time anyway. If one is old then one knows how short life is, even if lived until old age. Children are a product of their family and united with them; it is part of being human; they are also bound to death. Even if they are morally innocent they are nevertheless bound to death and they have no merit eternal life. They will be judged fairly but they, like adults, have no inherent right to life on earth. Only in Christ is there a way to break this tie to family and death. If children are innocent and God thinks this suitable for eternal life then they will receive it even if they die as children in this life.

    Everything must be seen in terms of Christ, the last day and eternal life in God and of God; Who will be all in all. As eternal life to those willing to accept Him and as hell for those not willing to do so. God is Who He is; He cannot deny Himself even in love. He has always willed all men to be saved and given them all the ability while remaining truly human and the image of God, so that they may be found in His likeness.

  47. Martin says:

    Thank you MG, that is helpful. I’ve read the excerpt on your blog, and I’ve ordered Swinburne’s book which appears to be in the second edition as of 2007. If you, or anyone else has similar books to recommend, please do so. I’ve recently finished reading Discerning the Mystery, by Andrew Louth. It was quite interesting.

    The main objection I’ve come across when it comes to allegorizing is that it leaves the text open to any interpretation. The meaning is no longer anchored to a single, fixed, objective truth. Those making this objection sometimes puts a great deal of confidence in a scientific methodology of historical-grammatical hermeneutics to disclose a single, objective meaning. Given that allegories may not be easily falsifiable by a strict historical-grammatical approach, I suppose it is understandable that it makes some uncomfortable. However, I think reading the text with the guidance of the mind of the Orthodox church as revealed in tradition, liturgy, etc, regulates to some extent the interpretations which are plausible.

  48. MG says:

    Also, keep in mind that Orthodox theologians have also tried to show that many parts of the OT are harmonious with God’s goodness when read literally (something St. Gregory of Nyssa does alongside his infrequent invocation of pure allegory). And though Swinburne’s allegorical approach is sometimes used, it is not the “official position” of Orthodoxy–it just seems to be one way of approaching the issues which is considered acceptable.

  49. MG says:


    The issue of Old Testament immorality seems to me the best reason to reject Christianity. I have always been troubled by it, and it has been the cause of much anxiety among people I know who walked away from Christianity or who considered joining.

    But since converting to Orthodoxy, I have been exposed to what I consider to be the strongest way of answering it–a solution that fits best in Orthodox theology. This answer is exposited by Richard Swinburne in his second edition of “Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy”. Swinburne invokes several considerations about the context of Old Testament texts to argue that it is legitimate to allegorize certain sections (though not all–he offers criteria for how to decide when to apply the allegorical method) to the exclusion of their historical meaning. The considerations about the OT that he brings up to legitimize his attitude towards it include:

    1. New Testament attitude (Jesus’, Paul’s) to Old Testament texts
    2. Jesus’ moral teachings
    3. Patristic interpretation of the OT problem texts
    4. The rule of faith
    5. The interpretive order of biblical books
    6. The rules of allegorical interpretation of texts
    7. Our moral intuitions and understanding from the natural world of who God is

    to which I would add:

    8. The Christological meaning of the OT
    9. Jewish interpretation of the OT problem texts

    The idea is that once we take these considerations into account, allegorizing some selections of the OT becomes acceptable as an interpretive move, and that when we think about the bigger picture, its not ad hoc. Interpreting the flood, or destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Aqueda, the slaying of the firstborn, etc. as non-literal, and having a spiritual-Christological meaning is not arbitrary or ad hoc if seen in the wider context (considerations 1-9 above). This resolves the tension between the Orthodox vision of God’s goodness and the apparently (but not actually) unedifying aspects of the OT. Similar moves can be made with scientific issues (something Swinburne also writes about), as well as the imprecatory psalms. This is very much in line with patristic teaching, particularly in places like St. Gregory of Nyssa’s “The Life of Moses” and other important texts by the Fathers.

    I will post on my blog an important excerpt where he summarizes his approach (but does not flesh out his arguments per se). If you have any further questions, (which I assume you will) please feel free to inquire, and I will do my best to answer them using Swinburne’s method. Hopefully this will be of some help…

  50. Martin says:

    Dear Energetic Procession,

    I apologize for posting an unrelated comment on this thread — I don’t know where else to post it.

    I have been wrestling with how to read the Old Testament with an Orthodox mind. More specifically, the struggle involves reconciling various narratives with history, and most importantly, the love of God as revealed in Christ.

    Allow me to offer some examples.

    1) The creation narrative in Genesis. As a Reformed Protestant I was inclined to young earth creationism. This viewpoint is at odds with what is commonly accepted in scientific and archeological circles. As an Orthodox Christian, how much flexibility do I have to read the account in a way which is compliant with evolutionary theory and long archeological time lines?

    2) The narratives of: the Noahic flood; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the conquest of Canaan; and other cataclysmic events. As a Reformed Protestant I was willing to accept a literal reading of these accounts, and ascribe to God’s “just wrath” the deaths and suffering of the men, women and children who perished. However, as an Orthodox Christian, it’s no longer so clear. I have difficulty understanding how to reconcile these narratives with the loving God described by various saints such as St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Silouan.

    3) The imprecatory Psalms. Not unlike #2, I am struggling to understand who to have in mind as the object of the imprecations. For example, am I to refer them to: the Psalmist’s enemies (not always known); my enemies; the evil noetic powers; or something else? How do I both pray these Psalms and love my enemies?

    Thank you for considering these points. Any feedback or advice is welcome.

  51. Suraj says:


    I am an Oriental Orthodox reader of your blog, I found a French webpage on Archimandrite Placide, could you or any one of your readers translate it into English for the benefit of those who do not know French.

    Suraj Iype

  52. Collator says:

    I have read this in French. Fr. Placide is an excellent writer: very firm in his Orthodoxy, while also being irenical and very clear and concise.

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