#profile-container h2.sidebar-title {display:none;}

Chapter V -- 7

Let us now turn to the broader spiritual issues. We have seen St John of Damascus’ description of the condition of man in Paradise before the Fall. As we have noted, St John emphasizes the spiritual aspect of man’s comportment in Paradise: as a spiritual creature related to the angels, man had as his task in Paradise to be nourished without care by the contemplation of God himself, having cast all his care on the Lord, hymning as another angel the glory of God unceasingly and continually.

But Adam and Eve fell.

What were the consequences of this Fall?

As St Diadochos says in one of the passages quoted above:

We are in the image (kat’ eikona) of God in the spiritual (noere) movement of the soul, for the body is just as the house of the soul. Therefore, since through the transgression of Adam not only the lines of the stamp (charakteras) of the soul were sullied, but our body also became subject to corruption…

The kat’ eikona in its essence is something that man did not lose. Adam fell but the essential ‘spiritual (noera) movement of the soul’ remained. Man remains in the image of God. However, because of the Fall, ‘not only the lines of the character of the soul were sullied, but also our body fell into corruption’. The falling of the body into corruption is manifested by the fact that our body is subject not only to death but also to illness and decay. Adam did not have these things. When the Word of God became man, he was not subject to these things. Moreover, St Diadochos says, ‘the lines of the stamp (charakteras) of the soul were sullied’. What this means is that although each man born of woman is in the image of God, that image is ‘sullied’: each man is born an imperfect image of God his Creator. This position is midway between a doctrine that man is born intrinsically good, and a doctrine that man without Grace is intrinsically depraved: man is born in the image of God; that image is ‘sullied’ in its lines by the sin of Adam and Eve.

What can be done?

St Diadochos continues, ‘…[O]n account of this the Holy Word of God became flesh, as God granting us salvific water towards rebirth by means of his own Baptism.’ Adam fell, and the Word of God, in his inexpressible compassion for man, took on man’s flesh.

This doctrine is expressed variously: St Athanasios of Alexandria (c.296–373), echoing Clement of Alexandria, expresses it this way: ‘He [the Word of God] became man so that we might be made gods.’[1] The Word of God became flesh—incarnated, became man—so that man, fallen man, man the lines of whose soul in the image of God were sullied by the Fall of Adam—might be made a god: might attain again to the condition of Adam, might surpass the condition of Adam. This has never been seen in the Greek Patristic tradition of the Orthodox Church merely as a matter of the condition of the virtuous man after death—although it is consummated after death and after the General Resurrection—but as something that begins even in this life. This is the Orthodox doctrine of divinization (theosis). But as the Greek Fathers state, and as we have seen St John of Damascus himself emphasize, this is a divinization (theosis) by participation in the divine illumination, not by attainment to identity with or equality to the divine essence. For that is impossible for man: it is a temptation.

Now, as we have already discussed, this divinization (theosis) is attainment to the properties of God. These properties are called virtues. We have seen St Macrina describe these virtues as being reflected in a man the way a perfect image of the sun is reflected in a small piece of glass. And, as we have already seen, these virtues are transmitted to the soul by the Holy Spirit. Now, following the terminology of St Makarios in the Spiritual Homilies, St Diadochos will clarify this. But before we discuss this further, let us first turn to another Father.

St Maximos the Confessor in the Ambigua (Peri Diaphoron Aporion), 3, commenting on a passage of St Gregory the Theologian, says this on the matter of divinization (theosis):

For the phrase [of St Gregory the Theologian] ‘so that I become God in the same degree that he became man’ is not for me to say [on account of my weakness] … but for you [i.e. the recipient of St Maximos’ commentary] who are known in the perfect restitution of nature from Grace alone, and who are going to attain to such great power according to this restitution, as much as he who is God by nature being made flesh partook of our weakness, there being measured again in return, as he himself knows, in his own emptying (kenosis) the divinization (theosis) by Grace of those who are being saved, of those who are wholly like to God (theoeidos) and who have become able to contain all of God and only him. For this is the perfecting towards which those hasten who believe that this promise will truly be.[2]

We here see the nature of the doctrine expressed with such succinctness by St Athanasios, that the Word of God became flesh so that man might be made a god. This is the emptying (kenosis) that St Maximos is speaking of: the condescension of the Word of God in becoming man, a man like us in all things but sin.[3] But to the degree that the Word of God emptied himself, ‘taking the form of a slave’[4]—that is, becoming man—, to precisely that same degree, man has been enabled by Grace to attain to divinization (theosis): to become ‘wholly like God (theoeidos)’ and to contain ‘all of God and only him’. This is divinization (theosis).

This containing of God is accomplished first in Baptism, when we receive the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who thenceforth dwells in the depths of our mind (nous). It is this Holy Spirit that makes us able to confess the Lordship of Christ, who makes us able to cry out ‘Abba, Father’ to God the Father.

However, that is the beginning of divinization (theosis). The culmination of ‘the divinization (theosis) by Grace of those who are being saved’ is ‘to contain all of God and only him’. Now, as we have said, the fullness of divinization (theosis) is attained after death in Heaven, and after the General Resurrection. However, it is attainable in part in this life too. St Diadochos calls this the kath’ homoiosin.

Now we can see what St Diadochos intends us to understand when he says this:

Holy Grace, by means of the Baptism of regeneration, procures for us two good things, of which the one infinitely surpasses the other. But the first is granted directly: for it renews us in the very water and brightens all the lines of the soul, that is to say the kat’ eikona, washing off from us every wrinkle of sin. The second waits so that it might work together with us, which very thing is the kath’ homoiosin.

(As we saw, St Diadochos begins by asserting that the lines of the stamp of the soul, the image of God, were sullied by the sin of Adam.)

Grace works with man in a twofold manner. First, immediately in Baptism, the man is renewed in the water and the ‘lines of the soul’ are restored to the condition of Adam before the Fall. This is the kat’ eikona. Moreover, the man is washed clean of his every sin. This is the condition of the baptized Orthodox Christian. The next stage is the attainment to divinization (theosis). Here, St Diadochos does not use the term divinization (theosis), but the terms kath’ homoiosin or even dispassion (apatheia). What he is describing is the way in which divinization (theosis) is attained.

We must draw on St Mark the Ascetic to make the matter clear:[5] In Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit integrally into our soul. We cannot lose it. Unless we deny the Lord Jesus Christ. However, the Holy Spirit is mysterious. It withdraws. Waiting for us ourselves to make our own choices and our own efforts towards God or away from him. Recall that we have seen in St John of Damascus that the human will is free and that a man can choose to do good, with the assistance of God, or to do evil, God permitting this on account of his respect for man’s freedom of will. ‘For that which is by violence is not virtue.’ St Mark is somewhat clearer: God is hidden in his commandments, and he is encountered by us spiritually to the extent that we keep his commandments. Hence, after Baptism, the proper movement of the Christian is a free choice to submit himself to the Lord, to love the Lord, to seek after the kath’ homoiosin—and this by keeping the commandments of the Lord: it is this keeping of the commandments which constitutes the subjection of our freedom to Christ that we have seen St Diadochos speak of in Chapter 4 of the Gnostic Chapters, quoted above. This is the heart of the spiritual road of the Philokalia: the keeping of the commandments of Jesus Christ. There is both no other way, and no easier way, to become like God, to attain to divinization (theosis), to attain to the virtues, than by keeping the commandments of Jesus Christ. It is both extremely simple—for babes and not for wise men, this doctrine—and extremely difficult: we encounter the Lord in the keeping of his commandments.

There is a danger that we will rewrite the commandments of Christ to suit our passions. This is a danger even among spiritual men just as it is among passionate men. The commandments are not those that suit our fancy, or our imagination of ourselves as important spiritual aristocrats, but those which we find in the New Testament. As Jesus Christ himself says:

Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens, but he who does the will of my Father who is in the Heavens. Many will say to me in that day: ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name and do many great works in your name?’ And then I will confess to them that I never knew you: depart from me those who work lawlessness. Therefore whoever hears these very words and does them, I will compare him to a prudent man who built his house on the rock…[6]

Concerning why keeping the commandments is the way we encounter God, Jesus himself explains when he himself says:

If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come towards him and we will make a dwelling with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine, but of the Father who sent me.[7]

Hence, the primary movement from the kat’ eikona whose restoration is received immediately in Baptism to the kath’ homoiosin which is the fullness of the restoration of the image, the fullness of divinization (theosis), is the keeping of the commandments of Jesus Christ.

Now we shall see that the way of spirituality of the Philokalia that we are studying in this work transposes the keeping of the commandments from the realm of the actions of the man to the realm of the thoughts of the man—and this not because the man is indifferent to his actions but because, on the one hand, the man has already attained to virtue in his actions, in his conscious practices, and is seeking a greater perfection, and because, on the other hand, as St Hesychios emphatically teaches in On Sobriety, if one keeps the commandments in thought, then it is a trivial matter to keep them in practice, in action. Hence it is by keeping the commandments first in action and then in thought that we encounter Christ: this is the doctrine of St Mark the Ascetic; this is the road of the Philokalia.

One might ask, however: but if this is the road of the Philokalia, why have you said nothing about the Jesus Prayer? Isn’t the Jesus Prayer the Orthodox mantra that makes you divine without sweat? No. The Jesus Prayer is inserted into an Orthodox tradition of asceticism oriented to the attainment of the kath’ homoiosin, of divinization (theosis), in the manner just described, and it cannot be divorced from its context as part of a historical tradition of asceticism. We do not really discuss the Jesus Prayer until Volume III: Volume II, concerned with the ascetical system of Evagrius Pontikos, is dedicated not to the Jesus Prayer but to the keeping of the commandments, first in action but then, especially, in thought.

Let us see how St Diadochos continues his discussion of the attainment to the kath’ homoiosin. He says that when the man has begun to taste the presence of the Holy Spirit in much perception (polle aisthesis), then he knows that the Holy Spirit has begun to paint the likeness over the image. St Diadochos’ metaphor is this: the kat’ eikona is the sketch of God that has been restored to its proper proportions in the man in Baptism. The kath’ homoiosin is the full-colour portrait of God, divinization (theosis), which the man seeks to attain after Baptism by the grace of God. When the man begins to perceive spiritually and consciously, St Diadochos is saying, the activity in himself of the Holy Spirit, then he knows that the Holy Spirit is beginning to apply the colours that a portrait painter applies to turn a sketch into a portrait—to turn the kat’ eikona into the kath’ homoiosin.

Now, in the tradition of the Philokalia, there is a precision to be made: what St Diadochos is referring to occurs at a very high stage of natural contemplation. Before that, according to the ascetical analysis of Evagrius Pontikos which underlies the Philokalia, there is an earlier stage. This is the ‘practical life’, in which the ascetic seeks to conquer the moral passions. This is the battle with the passions. This is precisely the battle to keep the commandments first in one’s actions and then in one’s thoughts.

The reader may recall Chapter 25 of the Gnostic, quoted above, where Evagrius Pontikos says that the young and those who are combated by the passions should be kept away from books on gnosis because there is no discharge in the day of battle. What is meant is this: After Baptism, yes, the kat’ eikona has been restored, and we have been renewed and washed clean of sin. However, that does not mean that our passions have left, nor that we cannot be tempted. Hence, we must begin to keep the commandments—in our actions, surely, but, in the case of the ascetic following the tradition being discussed, also or even chiefly in thought. This is the battle to which Evagrius is referring in the passage cited. And Evagrius is saying that when one is fighting this battle, one should not meddle with the higher spiritual stages of natural contemplation and Theology. Now this battle of the passions, this battle to keep the commandments first in practice and then in thought, has an end: the attainment to the virtues and the emptying of the passions: this is dispassion (apatheia) in the specific sense that Evagrius Pontikos himself gives to the term, a sense that we will study in Volume II.

In the tradition of the Philokalia, the passage from the kat’ eikona to the kath’ homoiosin is analysed, according to the model of Evagrius, into three stages, the first of which is the struggle against the passions and for the virtues, and for the attainment to Evagrian dispassion (apatheia). This is the keeping of the commandments, first in action and then, especially, in thought. This stage is called praktike, the practical life. The Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai is much concerned with this stage for the monk living in the cœnobium, the monastery of many living together under a common abbot and spiritual father.

After this stage come two other stages, which Evagrius calls natural contemplation and Theology, or the contemplation of God. St Diadochos, when he discusses the spiritual perception (noera aisthesis) of the Holy Spirit is discussing the higher stages of natural contemplation. He is taking for granted—for he himself had read Evagrius—the practical life, the struggle against the passions. And he is saying that when in the higher stages of natural contemplation the Holy Spirit begins to be perceived spiritually in its actions in the man, then the kath’ homoiosin is beginning to be painted by the Holy Spirit over the kat’ eikona. The man is beginning to approach the ‘perfect restitution of nature from Grace alone’, to use the language of St Maximos.

Now St Diadochos’ point is this: the spiritual perception (noera aisthesis) of the operation of the Holy Spirit in the man is not enough for the kath’ homoiosin to be painted in its fullness over the kat’ eikona. The ascetic’s spiritual perception (noera aisthesis) of the operations of the Holy Spirit in himself, to which he has attained by grace by his keeping of the commandments of Jesus Christ, is not sufficient for divinization (theosis). Something else is required. What?

It is illumination (photismos). Here we encounter in a text written c.450 the Orthodox doctrine of the vision of the Uncreated Light. This is the illumination (photismos) to which St Diadochos is referring. And he makes a very interesting remark: it is only by this illumination (photismos) that the man attains to that final virtue which puts the finishing touch on the portrait of God, on the kath’ homoiosin, on divinization (theosis): divine love. This illumination (photismos), in the terminology of Homily 7 of St Makarios, is higher than spiritual perception (noera aisthesis), although both are matters of grace and not of specific ascetical practices: it is by keeping the commandments, first in action and then in thought, that we encounter Christ and that the Holy Spirit which was given to us in Baptism is manifested to us in conscious fullness.

But it must be understood that what is in issue is not a sensible experience, as the word ‘perception (aisthesis)’ might lead one to assert, but a matter of the higher spiritual faculties of the human soul, what we have described as the human soul’s capacity for intuitive cognition. In this the doctrine of the Philokalia is similar to that of St Augustine, who asserted the existence in man of a higher faculty of intuitive cognition which he called the intelligence, intellect or superior reason.

Hence, in the doctrine of St Diadochos, illumination (photismos) by the Divine Light, the Holy Spirit, is the consummation of the attainment to Diadochan dispassion (apatheia), of the attainment to the kath’ homoiosin, of the attainment of divinization (theosis). This illumination (photismos) constitutes the attainment to unitive prayer to God, which Evagrius Pontikos himself calls Theology. St Hesychios speaks in very similar terms of this illumination in On Sobriety.

The naked doctrine of St Athanasios that the Word became flesh so that we might be made gods is analysed into a path of asceticism by the ascetical authors in question, all of whom are represented in the Philokalia. It is with this path of asceticism that we are concerned.

previous | Table of Contents | next

[1] Discourse on the Incarnation of the Word, par. 54 (5): Migne 25, col. 192B.

[2] Migne 91 col. 1040C–D.

[3] Cf. Heb. 4, 15.

[4] Phil. 2, 7.

[5] See Volume III for a fuller discussion.

[6] Math. 7, 21–4.

[7] John 14, 23–4.


Post a Comment

<< Home