Showing posts with label Eschatology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eschatology. Show all posts

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Loss of Face







O God, turn us around
And show your face
And we will be saved
Not from death
But from its sting
This madness of our own making
We see all around us
Crucifying them for teaching
Truths are reliabilities over time
Chasing false hopes
Of corpses rising from graves
And bones receiving flesh again
Of etherealities unto ages of ages
At the so-called end of time 
Of unspeakables and unfathomables 
Venting up and beyond distant galaxies
Of intellections and pneumaticities 
Merely interceding for us
Before the anointed appearance 
Certainly no skies had joined land yet
The first had to flee from his face
After the ascension
The aeons rushed 
Toward Armageddon
Toward Vindication 
The goal was festal sabbath 
No one was raised out of the dead ones
While Hades and Thanatos still held keys
To the gate of a bottomless pit 
And the lake was still a place yet to come
For those who refused to look upon your face
Over time we can rely upon the true hope of our past
That the Mount has been exalted above the plain
Death and Hell were tossed into perdition 
Their righteous dead already raised
This terra firma etherealized
The saints dwell amongst us
Turning us around 
Showing us your face
Saving us, O God




















Saturday, April 20, 2019

Even to those long dead






That the Laws of Loving-kindness called Him even to them that had been long dead.
Now the laws of love summoned Him even as far as Death and the dead themselves, so that He might summon the souls of those who were long time dead. And so because He cared for the salvation of all for ages past, and that “He might bring to naught him that hath the power of death,”* as Scripture teaches, here again he underwent the dispensation in His mingled Natures: as Man, he left His Body to the usual burial, while as God He departed from it. For He cried with a loud cry, and said to the Father: “I commend my spirit,”* and departed from the body free, in no wise waiting for death, who was lagging as it were in fear to come to Him; nay, rather, He pursued him from behind and drove him on, trodden under His feet and fleeing, and He burst the eternal gates of his dark realms, and made a road of return back again to life for the dead there bound with the bonds of death. Thus, too, His own body was raised up, and many bodies of the sleeping saints arose, and came together with Him into the holy and real City of Heaven, as rightly is said by the holy words: “Death has prevailed and swallowed men up”; and again: “The Lord God has taken away every tear from every face.”*
And the Saviour of the Universe, our Lord, the Christ of God, called Victor, is represented in the prophetic predictions as reviling death, and releasing the souls that are bound there, by whom He raises the hymn of victory, and He says these words:
“From the hand of Hades I will save them, and from death I will ransom their souls.1* O Death, where is thy victory?2 O Death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.”3
Such was the dispensation that brought Him even unto death, of which one that wishes to seek for the cause, can find not one reason but many. For firstly, the Word teaches by His death that He is Lord both of dead and living; and secondly, that He will wash away our sins, being slain, and becoming a curse for us; thirdly, that a victim of God and a great sacrifice for the whole world might be offered to Almighty God; fourthly, that thus He might work out the destruction of the deceitful powers of the dæmons by unspeakable words; and fifthly also, that shewing the hope of life with God after death to His friends and disciples not by words only by deeds as well, and affording ocular proof of His message, He might make them of good courage and more eager to preach both to Greeks and Barbarians the holy polity which He had established. And so at once He filled with His own divine power those very friends and followers, whom He had selected for Himself on account of their surpassing all, and had chosen as His apostles and disciples,4 that they might teach all races of men His message of the knowledge of God, and lay down one way of religion for all the Greeks and Barbarians; a way which announced the defeat and rout of the dæmons, and the check of polytheistic error, and the true knowledge of the one Almighty God, and which promised forgiveness of sins before committed, if men no longer continued therein, and one hope of salvation to all by the all-wise and all-good polity that He had instituted.5







* Heb. 2:14.
* Luke 23:46.
* Isa. 25:8.
1 LXX: αὐτούς..
* Hos. 13:14; 1 Cor 15:55.
2 ἡ δίκη σου.
3 “Eusebius prophetam in parte, et in parte aposlolum sequitur.”—Gaisford.
4 θιασώτας: so for “disciple” in Lucian: Fugit. 4; Themist. 33 c.
5 Everything posted above is taken from: Eusebius of Cæsarea. (1920). The Proof of the Gospel: Being the Demonstratio  Evangelica of Eusebius of Caesarea. (W. J. Sparrow-Simpson & W. K. L. Clarke, Eds., W. J. Ferrar, Trans.) (Vol. 1, Bk. IV, Ch. 12, pp. 186–187). London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Company.












Monday, March 25, 2019

Anger Without Cause: A Prophetic Motif of Destroying the Law











For those interested, I recently completed a paper on the subject of anger and murder in Matthew 5:21-22, and its relationship with the Decalogue (among other things). The title of that paper is, Anger Without Cause: A Prophetic Motif of Destroying the Law

That paper can be viewed in the link on the side bar called "Theological Essays." The direct link to the paper can be found here.












Friday, January 25, 2019

Origen on 'the patience of God'


Continuing, as my busy life permits, in a research project that I started many years ago, I stumbled across some fascinating comments by Origen of Alexandria about the so-called 'Olivet Discourse'. Commenting on Matthew chapter twenty-three, he offers a number of striking comments with regard to Jesus' prophecies about the future. Most noteworthy, however, is that many of his comments are not about our future (that is, not prophecies to be fulfilled in our future), but rather about the first century Judaean context and its fulfillment in that generation, which he calls the "literal" sense. This comports well with much of my other research on this topic. And so, without further ado, here is what Origen wanted to tell the Christian world of his day about Matthew chapter twenty-three:
'Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you build the sepulchers of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous and you say that if we had lived in the days of our fathers we would not be there allies in the blood of the prophets. Therefore, you bear witness against yourselves that you are the sons of those who killed the prophets. Fill up then the measure of your fathers. You serpents, generation of vipers, how will you escape from the judgment of Gehenna? Behold, therefore, I am sending you prophets, wise men, and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and will persecute from city to city, that all the righteous blood might come upon you that has been shed on the earth from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah the son of Barachiah whom you killed between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you that all these things will come upon this generation.'
...The blood of Christ did not satisfy them, but they further killed and crucified those 'prophets' or 'scribes' who had been sent by Christ, and scourged them in their 'synagogues', and persecuted them 'from city to city'. It was just that for all the murderous things they committed they suffer the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people, since the patience of God no longer tolerates the magnitude and multitude of their crimes.1
 ***
It must be said further on this text that the 'generation' of sinners was not punished as soon as the sin had been committed, but when a subsequent 'generation' needing to atone for the sin of its fathers against itself added, in addition, worse sins to the sins of their fathers; and so, if many generations should sin against some nation or city, the nation is punished or the city is destroyed. So then, the Jewish nation, although inflicting many evils on the prophets, was not to be punished immediately when the homicide against the prophets began but later, in the patience of God, when they added the blood of Christ over and above that of the prophets, and filled up the 'measure' of their 'fathers', then they were punished more deservingly. It was not, therefore, the sin that Cain committed when he killed his brother, or the sin of those who killed 'the prophets' which 'this generation' of Jews who lived in the time of Christ took up. It was necessary, rather, that the patience of God which was with the nation of the Jews be completed to its capacities, so that after many outpourings of the blood of the prophets and just men, Jerusalem and Judaea not having been abandoned previously, suffered this later with the blood of Christ, since God was acting magnanimously so that the 'scribes and Pharisees', with the people in agreement, might take upon themselves the blood of the prophets of Christ and, according to the Gospel, that of his wise men and scribes, whom they killed and crucified and scourged 'in their synagogues' and persecuted 'from city to city'. Consequently, when all had been cast out of Judaea, the place was desolate, emptied of all the saints, and it suffered whatever they suffered from Vespasian and Titus.2





Commenting on Jesus' questions in the beginning of Matthew chapter twenty-four (which, as I also pointed out in my series about the Olivet discourse, many Church Fathers interpreted with first century fulfillment), Origen continues:

'And Jesus went out of the temple and departed; and his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. But Jesus answered and said to them:  Do you see all these things? Truly I say to you, a stone will not be left here on a stone which is not destroyed.' 
After Christ had predicted everything that was to come on Jerusalem...
...Since Christ prophesied above of its future destruction and thus threatened its desertion in the words, 'Behold now your house is left to you deserted,' when the disciples hear this they are amazed that such a great 'building of the temple' should be reduced to nothing. ...They want, of course, to persuade him to show mercy on that place, and not do what he had threatened to do.3

***
But now let us explain the text of the Gospel. We said that the 'abomination of desolation' standing 'in the holy place' is the prince who surrounded Jerusalem with an army. And so, because such terrible things happened to those who were in Judea at that time, therefore the Lord, prophesying these future events, says to the people, 'Let those who are in Judea at that time flee to the mountains.' And the things that happened at that time were so bad that we say that the person who was 'on the roof of the house' would not have had time to descend and 'take anything from his house', and the one 'who was in the field' would not have been able to return to the city and 'take his garment.' And there was no time then for mercy, not even for the pregnant, nursing mothers, or their infants. Therefore, he says (I mean so far as the literal sense goes): 'Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing in those days'. And as if speaking to Jews who thought it not lawful on the Sabbath to be active or walk more than a Sabbath day's journey, he says: 'And pray that your flight not occur in winter or on the Sabbath,' for it was extremely difficult to seek safety by flight not only on 'the Sabbath,' but also in 'winter'. 
And it is related by those who have written a Jewish history about the things that happened at that time, that the people suffered a 'great tribulation such as had never occurred from the beginning of the world up to the time of Christ. But it was not possible that such terrible things as happened to them occur later, because they had dared to lay hands on the true Christ of God whose mystery and name David venerated and said of Saul when he was persecuting and wanting to kill him, 'I will not lift my hands against the Christ of the Lord.' But we understand the future cutting off of those days to be the shortening of those days 'because of the elect' of God who believe in Christ. And at that time when the people were experiencing great calamities and the elect in Judaea were suffering dangers, many deceivers were saying: 'Behold, here is the Christ; behold there.' Jesus, teaching his disciples to watch out for such people, said, 'If at that time someone shall say to you, behold here is the Christ; behold there, do not believe them; for false Christs and false prophets will arise and perform great sigs and portents.' And someone can mention Simon Magus who used to claim to be the great power of God, or anyone like him, who wanted 'to deceive, if possible, the elect.' 
We have spoken of these matters in anticipation, not adding in this place any exposition beyond that which is according to the letter for the sake of those who are pleased with the simple narrative in order to speak of those things that seem to be useful for them, because the Lord set forth these future events prophesying as a diviner of the truth.4














1.  Origen of Alexandria, The Commentary of Origen on the Gospel of St Matthew, Volume II; Trans. by Ronald E. Heine; [Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2018], pp. 574-575
2.  Ibid. pp. 576-577
3.  Ibid. p. 586
4.  Ibid. p. 606





Monday, October 22, 2018

Matt 23-25: The Olivet Discourse (part 5 of 5)





This is the final installation of a post long overdue. Life has been extremely busy over the last year, yet I did not forget about closing out this five-part series on the Olivet Discourse

In this post I'm going to continue where I left off, which was my promise to show the literary relationship between the last section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 25:31-46) with the first section of that same Sermon (Matt 23:1-12). 

As I also presented in the first post of this five-part series, Matthew's Sermon on the Mount is structured in a six-part chiasm as follows: 


A)  Those seated in Moses’ seat: not doing what they do 
       (23:1–12)                                                                                               

     B)  Jesus denounces those seated in Moses’ seat / 8 sections 
           (23:13, *14, 15–39)                                                                                         
     
            C) Jesus asks his disciples a question about the temple, and then promises its 
               desolation (24:1—2)

             C’) The disciples ask Jesus three questions about the temple and its desolation 
               (24:3)                                                  
     
      B’) Jesus answers all three questions about the temple and its desolation / 8 sections   
            (24:4—25:30)                                                                                                   

A’)  The Son of Man seated on his own throne: doing what they did not do 

      (25:31—46)



This chiastic literary structure shows that there is a relationship between sections A and A', B and B', C and C', focusing heavily on a central sections (sections C and C') but yet moving forward in an A-B-C-C'-B'-A' trajectory, ending with words, phrases, and concepts that mirror how the Sermon began.

With that in mind, let's dive into the first Section (Section A above), which begins the entire Sermon as follows:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. 

For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matt 23:1-12)



Matthew records Jesus' Sermon on the Mount with a direct address to "the crowds and to his disciples" about another influential group of Jewish authorities they were all familiar with, "the scribes and Pharisees."  Nothing could be more clear from the outset that Matthew records a contrast between two groups of disciples-->(1) disciples and observers of Jesus and (2) disciples and observers of respected first century Jewish authorities. In other words, Jesus is shown directing his whole Sermon with a distinction between a group addressed as "you" and a group addressed as "them", and the main difference between the two groups is whom they would choose to listen to, and trust, and follow. Would it be Jesus and his disciples, or the already-established Jewish authorities? According to Jesus, "whoever" had decided to exalt himself would ultimately be humbled, and "whoever" committed to humbling himself ended up being exalted. 

So, again, the contrast is very clear: people in first century Judea had a choice to make when listening to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Whoever followed Jesus and his disciples would be exalted, whereas those who followed the Scribes and Pharisees (who would later indulge in slandering and crucifying Jesus, and also persecute his disciples) would be humbled. 

Interestingly, Matthew begins this discourse with a unique description of the Scribes and Pharisees, worthy of remembrance. He says "they" are the ones who "sit in Moses' seat". Here, again, it is noteworthy to point out that this action of "sitting" is what begins the Sermon. It is also what Matthew highlights from the teachings of Jesus to end the Sermon. Surely that cannot be a mere coincidence if this is a thoughtful piece of literature, which it clearly is! 


Now let's dive into section A', the last section of the Sermon in Matthew's Gospel, and look at the way in which Matthew draws together these images from the beginning of the Sermon. Pay special attention to how this section begins with Jesus "sitting" on a throne in the heavens (not Moses' seat on earth, among Jewish authorities), and the repeated contrast that is highlighted between two groups of disciples---> one flock (goats) on the left side, and one flock (sheep) on the right side of Jesus. 

This closing section of the Sermon (Matthew 25:31-46) reads as follows:
And when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne, and they—all the nations—will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 
When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”


Do you see the contrast?

The scribes and Pharisees "sit" in Moses' seat, the conceptual throne of those guarding and administering Moses' Law, whereas Jesus is described as "sitting on his glorious throne". The scribes, Pharisees, and "whoever" else rejected Jesus in preference for those authorities sitting in Moses' seat are the goats on the left side of Jesus. The disciples who humbled themselves before God, following Jesus and his Apostles would be exalted. They were the sheep on the right side of God.

Is this making sense now?

All throughout this five-part series of the Sermon on the Mount I have been showing verse by verse the literary relationship between everything described therein, and at the center of the entire Sermon in a very clear sequence of promises---> promises regarding the signs preceding the end of the Old Covenant, and the signs of the end itself---> promises regarding the signs preceding Christ's coming in judgment upon Jerusalem, and the signs of Christ's coming in judgment itself.

So far, from the beginning of Matthew chapter 23, when this sermon began, there has been absolutely zero indication of two separate historical judgments. All references clearly direct the sustained reader to focus upon the soon-coming events leading up to the (now famous and cataclysmic) destruction of Jerusalem and it's precious Temple in AD70, which was the definitive end of the old covenant administration, the end of Moses' so-called "seat".

A question remains: Is Matthew 25:31-46 also about the events related to AD70? After all, the scene describes Jesus sitting on his throne, which could possibly refer to another time period other than the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem.

I think this is still primarily describing the same events, and not some so-called "end of time" scenario. Let me explain some reasons as to why I say that.

First, there is absolutely nothing whatsoever in the text itself which implies, infers, or directly states that it's an "end-of-time" event. Rather, it states (in the text itself) that this enthronement scene takes place when the Son comes in glory, which, as we have seen in this series, can only refer to the event of AD70 when the Old Covenant administration (and those sitting in "Moses' seat" within it) finally vanished away and was made completely obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).

Secondarily, the scenario describes the Son sitting on "his glorious throne", which describes a host of allusions to the absolute reign of Israel's promised Messiah. Unless we presume (erroneously) that this is describing an event in our future, at the so-called "end of the world" or "end of time", there is no reason to view this scenario as anything other than the definitive reign of Christ over all the earth, which began in the first century and was demonstrated definitively as promised in the end of the Old Covenant in AD70. 

Third of all, it is well within the boundaries of biblical symbolism to imagine this scenario of Jesus enthroned as taking place within the heavenly realm, and not on earth at all. A clue given to us is the language about gathering and separating nations before him. Such a description does not need to entail a gathering of all people from the beginning of time to the end of time, let alone at a location on earth. Indeed, in its close historical context, it is far more likely to envision this gathering of all peoples to describe all those in covenant with God who spread throughout the nations within the first century, those faithful and unfaithful witnesses who had died and descended to "the dead ones" in Hades/Sheol, awaiting vindication/judgment from the living and true God of all times and all locations on earth. In other words, this "final judgment" scene is likely describing, in it's first century Messianic context, a gathering of people, faithful and unfaithful, who had died prior to and during AD70 while the reign of the Old Covenant administration was still in place. 

Yes, I said that correctly. There is no reason to describe this gathering and separating as a description of a singular, "final judgment" of all people at the end of all time. Rather, in context, it is exponentially more likely to be describing the time of the promised end in which the New Covenant would be administered throughout the world without hindrance by those insisting upon life under the Old Covenant administration. 

As I have noted throughout my exposition of Matthew's Gospel,  Jesus was very clear about "the end" taking place in that generation. The harvest where reaping and gathering takes place is in "the end of the age," the same "end" described throughout this Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere (e.g. I Cor 10:11; Heb 9:26).

















Monday, July 9, 2018

St Maximos the Confessor & God wisely dividing the ages





The following excerpt is from a very recent translation of St Maximos the Confessor’s (ca. 580-662) Responses to Thalassios, the Libyan abbot of a monastic community, probably in Carthage, whose letter to Maximos contained a lengthy series of questions, requesting written interpretations (p. 8).

What is presented below is (at least in my own estimation) one of the most profound responses to the eschatological question, “If God in the coming ages will show his riches (Ephesians 2:7), how is it that the ends of the ages have come upon us (I Corinthians 10:11)?”

Here is the written response by St Maximos:
He who brought all visible and invisible creation into being solely through the momentum of His will, had in His good counsel determined—before all ages and even before the very genesis of created beings—an ineffably good plan for his creations. And this plan was for Him to be mingled, without change, with human nature through a true union according to hypostasis, uniting human nature, without alteration, to Himself, so that He would become man—in a manner known to Him—and at the same time make man God through union with Himself, and thus He wisely divided the ages, determining that some would be for the activity of His becoming man, and others for the activity of making man God.  
Thus, inasmuch as the actual “ends of the ages” predetermined for Him to become man “have come upon us”—since the divine purpose of the Incarnation has been fulfilled through the events themselves—the divine Apostle, having carefully examined this, and seeing that the end of the ages intended for God to become man had come about through the very Incarnation of the Word of God, says: “The ends of the ages have come upon us”—not simply “the ages” as we ordinarily understand them, but clearly those which, intended for the actualization of the mystery of embodiment, have reached their proper limit, according to the purpose of God. 
Since, then, the “end of the ages”, predetermined according to God’s purpose to become man, “has come upon us”—inasmuch as God has in truth actualized and brought to completion His own perfect Incarnation—we must henceforth await those other ages that are to come for the actualization of the mystical and ineffable divinization of human beings, in which "God will show the overflowing riches of His goodness to us,” completely and actively effecting divinization in those who are worthy. For if He Himself reached the limit of his mystical activity of becoming man,—becoming like us in every way but without sin, and having descended into the lowermost parts of the earth to where the tyranny of sin had driven man—then there will certainly also be a limit of God’s mystical activity for the divinization of man in every way (with the obvious sole exception of any identification of man with God’s essence), making man like Himself and raising him beyond all the heavens, to where the natural grandeur of grace dwells and calls fallen man through the infinity of goodness. And this is what the great Apostle mystically teaches when he says: “in the ages to come, the overflowing riches of God’s goodness will be shown to us.”1


1. St Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Responses to Thalassios 
(The Fathers of the Church, Volume 136), Translated by Fr Maximos Constas; Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2018; pp. 150-151











Sunday, July 1, 2018

Image, Likeness, and Nature








Recently I was involved in a discussion about social justice at an eastern catholic monastery. That discussion was immensely fruitful, filling in the void of many things I've considered over the years, as well as revitalizing older, more traditional considerations I had abandoned over the years in my quest for truth. One of the new considerations arising out of that discussion involved human nature, what that is exactly, and how it relates to the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherein all things, including human nature, are restored. This post is a result of such considerations.


What is human nature, and how is that "nature" restored according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? 


Human “nature” is a description of dynamic capacities. Western Christianity has emphasized that humankind is made in the image of God, describing it with a more scientific addendum called “nature,” being classified alongside the “nature” of all other animal species. This, however, is unfortunate because it appears to be almost completely disconnected from its historic usage, especially that contained within the wide stream of Eastern Christianity. 

Within the various expressions of Eastern Christian thought, it can be argued that to speak of human “nature” at all is to describe an abstraction, a potential. Unlike modern scientific categorization, human “nature” is unique precisely because its primary analog is not mammalians, or even any other creature; its primary analog is the incarnate Son of God. Human “nature” consists not only of being made as God’s image (which is technically more accurate than saying man is made “in” the image), but also after God’s likeness, the likeness of heavenly being itself (Gen 1:26; c.f. Gen 5:1,3 where the language is intentionally inverted, showing Adam “fathering a son” as his own likeness, after his image, thus implying his attempt to restore Seth to the image of God through likeness with his fathering). 

Also, to be found within the tradition of Eastern Christianity is discussion about the uniqueness of human “nature” needing to become realized, not only rationally, but holistically in all actions and contemplation through the assent of a willing subject. Human “nature” necessitates a certain capacity for the reception of God, and such capacity is not a mere auxiliary that can be lost, a kind of addendum, but rather is definitive of human “nature” itself. Unless a human being is in communion with God, actively participating in the Divine life, that person can become and remain less than fully human, even though that person remains fully the image of God throughout one’s mortal existence. Human “nature” within Eastern expressions of the faith, therefore, presuppose this image and likeness of God. In other words, there exists an understanding and dialog about all mortal humanity existing immutably as the image of God, yet with a mutable likeness of God. To the degree that human “nature” ceases to actively participate in the Divine life of God, it ceases to develop and mature in God’s likeness as well; it ceases to share in the glory that it was created to become, and therefore disqualifies itself from eternal life. For some—certainly not most, or all—this mortal life will be the best life in which they exist and image their Creator.

Contemplating such a view of human “nature” also presupposes the reality of God’s grace bestowed. Within the Roman Catholic tradition, mankind was created before “the Fall” with a donum superadditum, a gracious gift of capacity “over and added” to the human capacity left to all mankind after “the Fall”, a gracious gift that must be restored throughout one’s life in order to reach God. (The equivalent of this original “gift” from an Eastern perspective is the “likeness” described above.) Unfortunately, such distinctions are not considered to be helpful for Western conceptions of the human constitution, especially those contained within Protestant confessionalism, which rely heavily on image-bearing through forensic appropriation. However, within the stream of Eastern Christianity, human “nature” presupposes that all humanity, pre and post “fall”, have received grace, and all are favored by being made in the image and likeness of the One who made it. All are born “naturally” with the capacity to receive God, but not all choose to appropriate it through likeness with God. Therefore, to become devoid of grace is to become “unnatural,” sub-human. Human life, by design, implies a necessary motion and growth into the appropriation of the life of the Creator, who is both infinite and eternal, thereby allowing participation in life with Him without end or limitation. Human life devoid of God’s graces results in an unfortunate detachment and distancing away from participation in the Divine life, now and forever. In other words, a life devoid of Grace is a reality, and not merely a potential, for Eastern Catholic thought. And although, from an Eastern perspective, it is not preferred to describe man as losing a gift that was added to him before he fell (as in the Western Catholic trajectory of thought), the most important emphasis of such trajectories of language is to note that man, as originally created, was threatened to lose participation in the Divine life of God itself, at that time and for all eternity thereafter. The Gospel of God dotted throughout the landscape of humanity was, of course, the assurance that human “nature” could and would be restored for all eternity. It was assurance of being raised from the dead-ones in Sheol/Hades, and also the end of Death and Hades itself. How that was to occur was eventually revealed with greater clarity, albeit in “shadows” of the coming reality, through the Divine administration given to Israel, i.e. the Old Covenant.

The historical and eschatological figures known to us in Tradition as “Adam” and “Eve” (narrated symbolically in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures as “Human Life”) illustrate this much. They were not created to know (in the intimate, holistic sense of knowing) eternal death, the permanent unraveling of and distancing from the Creator into non-being. The path of knowing intended for them was rather voluntary submission to the divine will, developing into a community of harmony with their Creator, thereby ascending further up the ladder of communion with him, an ever increasing appropriation of God-likeness, a perpetual increase in sharing and maturing thorough the uncreated glory of God. Human life was designed to participate forever in this Divine light and life. Therefore, within Eastern thought, to contemplate what it means to become fully human is to contemplate motion toward God, an ascension with God, and in a mystical eschatological sense (both prior to and after the incarnation and resurrection) to anticipate eternal life through the promised life of the Son of God, thereby sharing increasingly in that glory both now and forever. 

We might, however, do better than most Western forensic notions of restoring human “nature” by considering that God identifies our nature as being fully human only when it is penetrated wholly, body and soul, by the glory of the resurrection of Jesus, our savior, who himself was “plan A”, so to speak, and not an addendum to God’s predestined plan for human glory. In other words, it is favorable to perceive that all human life from the very beginning was created with the potential for infinite maturation in likeness with God, and is called to choose that life as freely as God offers it, to make his own life subsist in that deepest reality, and in such choosing, discover the presence of, and enter into communion with his Creator, now and forever.

At this point it may be suggested that this Eastern trajectory of thought is not helpful or accurate to the “facts” of holy Scripture, for human nature is, allegedly, demonstrably “evil.” Evil, within such a presumptuous framework of language, is considered a “thing” attached to or infused with nature, permeating its essence. But from within the variety of Eastern Catholic perspectives, “evil” is not an attribute of nature, or even “natural” per se. “Evil” is the way we humans, made as God’s image and after God’s likeness, describe a product of choice, a choice relating with human life that has the capacity to participate and mature in the Divine life, both now and forever. “Evil” can also be considered sociologically as an inclination of will contrary to the Divine will, an inclination subject toward that which is not, as apposed to God, who is the very ground and source of all being itself (i.e. what “is”). The “evil” which Christians are prone to describe in their daily lives is woven throughout the narratives of holy Scriptures, and is revealed in a variety of ways through creation as well, but especially and dramatically in the Torah as transgression of participation in the Divine life. 

To speak of the world or God’s creation as being evil in an ontological sense is another byproduct of misunderstanding or misusing the language of evil “nature”. Referring to the world as evil, and not merely an evil “age” or generation, is simply mistaken. However, to describe human “nature” as “evil” is even more problematic, for it disregards the various and punctiliar stages of “Adamic” life recorded throughout the Scriptures that have clearly detached from participation in the Divine life, and instead have (unfortunately) co-opted the Scriptural participatory narrative with an overly generalized and all-pervasive “nature” that, after the Fall, could never have received God, nor can still, except by super-added grace. By this historical co-opting, “being evil” (at least, forensically) is assumed to be the truth everywhere and at all times (at least, for those who are not, theoretically, “forensically” united with God). For both Paul and Eastern Catholic Christianity, we find something very different. We find participation in the Divine life as essential to understanding the history of humanity and the gloriously cosmic restoration of human life through the promised incarnation and resurrection. 

All of creation, Paul says, has been subjected unwillingly to the corruption of humanity for whom it had been created, and such was decided by God “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20). Such “corruption”, according to Paul, indicates this created capacity of all human beings that we’ve been describing from the beginning. Corruption is as equally holistic in Paul’s thought as glorification is. Corruption, therefore, describes not only the definitive end of this mortal existence, i.e. eternal death and non-being, but also the disordered desires that accompany a mind fixated on the flesh—a mind enveloped within mortal existence in such a way that it is distanced enough from communion with eternal glory, and thereby hostile to God, and because of such cannot submit to God’s instruction and thereby please Him (Rom. 8:6-8). Nevertheless, through the promised incarnation, human “nature” has been, and continues to be, restored holistically.

One might then ask, ‘What are we to do with the statements of Paul and other Scriptures that seem to describe all of humanity fixated on the flesh?’ The answer to that question is actually quite simple: take them seriously, and interpret them within their own limited historical context. Historically, it would have been impossible and counterproductive for Paul to presume omniscience for all, especially the “nature” of all, for his letters clearly reflect a limited knowledge base, which allows for both human free will and Divine intervention. Paul seems, rather, to be interested in describing the generation in which he lived, that generation within the “last days” of the Old Covenant administration. He comments frequently about first century Israel’s antiChristian activities being thoroughly corrupt, so much so that Jesus promised to come and destroy their idolatrous temple to bring about peace for the world and allow salvation for all through such terrible judgments. That generation, according to Paul, was even worse than previous generations of Israel’s history that also had corrupted themselves and been judged by the Lord. But not all generations had become thoroughly corrupt. The Scriptures clearly teach cycles of reform. Not perfect reform, but blessed reform, to be sure; and such reform always necessitated drawing near to the Lord in his holy House, and fixating their minds on the things of God’s Spirit, drawing near to Him who worked miracles and wonders in their midst, Who secured the promise of future resurrection from the dead-ones for them. Such a hope was surely taught, but sadly faded away in numerous generations as the people increasingly fell away again and again into the bondage of fleshly corruption. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, reverses such misfortunes, primarily through his actual resurrection from the dead-ones and the subsequent outpouring of his Holy Spirit. After Pentecost, quite literally the whole world began to change. 

The Old Covenant had begun to become obsolete, and thereby was ready to vanish away, the promised “end” of which occurred in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, as well as Hades and its power over death, leaving only the New Covenant administration of eternal life in Christ. Under the New Covenant, all nations are being drawn into the hope which is ultimately contained in the resurrected life of Christ alone. Under the new Covenant, all nations are being drawn into the Body of Christ, in which absolute assurance of salvation is found, and participation in the Divine life is manifest. Outside of Christ and his Body there is no absolute assurance, only relative assurance, filled with doubts and plagued with autonomous reasoning. However confident one’s own faith or hope in “afterlife” might be, it is most assuredly subject to scrutiny apart from participation in the embodied life of Christ’s Body. For God did not pour out his Spirit in the first century in order to produce a copy of himself in paperback. Rather, it was to produce living epistles read by all men. The deposit of faith and life in Christ is contained in the pillar and ground of the truth: the Church (1 Tim 3:15). That doesn’t mean that all human beings discovered outside of the Christian Church cannot or will not ultimately be saved by Jesus and granted eternal life. What it means is that all human beings outside of the Church can only be saved by Jesus, for he alone is the first fruit of resurrection, the absolute assurance of which is received through participation in the Divine life of his Body, the Church. Most unfortunate, however, are those generations in which human beings seek the Church for absolute assurance and yet find absolute confusion and corruption. Such is, sadly, a reality as well; and such corruption will be judged by Jesus in history, leaving the many tender mercies of our God to be granted unto those outside, and not inside, such assemblies.

Much more needs to be said about that, but most importantly it must be clearly stated that the Christian Church is the pillar and foundation of God’s truth revealed to mankind. All human beings, even those outside the Church, have the capacity to receive God and become fully human in union with him. However, with that said, it’s a sad and obvious gamble to remain outside the Body of Christ (even when it seems as if every visible and accessible Christian assembly is thoroughly corrupt), for such a description entails fixation upon life in the flesh, including a false, imaginary, and misleading view away from the Divine life, which ends in death, and not toward life in the Spirit of God who raises the dead, or even the Son of God who became man and was raised and vindicated, who sits enthroned in the heavens, thereby securing life eternal for mankind. 


It is through such activity—living with hope and absolute assurance in the Divine Life—that mankind collectively learns to share in the glory of God, and ascend the ladder of Divinity. Through holiness, the light and life of God permeates the darkness of every domain, of every generation. Such was not possible prior to Pentecost, for it is at Pentecost that the light of eternal life—resurrection life—began to penetrate and illumine the pitch-blackness of Israel’s story and the gloomy shadows across the world. Prior to Pentecost there was only hope that somehow, some way, God would grant eternal life with Him. The so-called underworld of Hades, Sheol, etc. was all that was known and anticipated. However, after Pentecost there was absolute assurance of future resurrection and vindication for all who died in Christ, because God had become man, had died, and was raised from the dead-ones for them. Moreover, in AD 70, the resurrection of all the saints from Hades had been fulfilled. After AD 70 the actualization of eternal life in Christ meant that after their mortal bodies had faded away, their participation in the kingdom of God would be secured. The hope that the Christian Church teaches is not that human beings get to escape “this world” into the next, only to magically wake up on some final day along with all the dead-ones of history and finally escape the despair of mortality forever. They do escape upon death, but not this world. They escape this age, this generation, yet they continue to live in and with this world, in this kingdom of God where heaven and earth have already joined under the New Covenant, being active in its continual renewal and reform, assisting all of human life in its motion toward God as it was originally created to be. In Christ the great reversal has begun. The dynamics of human “nature”, including its image and likeness, are being restored in union with God, sharing in the glory that it was created to become, both now and forever.