A Perspective in Greek Orthodox Theology and Humanistic Medicine
Translated from the Greek by V. Rev. George D. Gregory, MA, M.Div. and revised by the author with special thanks to Dr. Niki Kantzios
By Demetrios Constantelos
IN THE ANCIENT, medieval and contemporary Greek literature, the word "prosopon" (face or person) is widely used to designate or describe various objects and things. In the voluminous and international authoritative lexicons of the Greek language, that of Lidell and Scott, that of the New Testament and early Christian Literature of Walter Bauer, the Dictionary of the Greek Language of Demetrakos, the theological dictionary of Kittell and the patrological Patristic Greek Lexicon of Lampe, the entry "prosopon" is replete with tens of interpretations and related themes occupying space ranging from three quarters of the column to ten full pages.
Therefore, our theme is both vast and complicated. In the present study, we shall examine in summary the meaning of prosopon (person) as it relates to the human being in the following units: the significance that concerns man; the primary meaning in the ancient Greek thought; the early Helenic Christian literature; the patristic theology that was adopted and remains up until today as the correct Christian-Orthodox perspective. Finally, we shall examine what the relationship of a physician with an ailing person ought to be.
The word "prosopon" is synonymous with the words individual and man, male or female. But what is man? Is he a person or a mask? Is he a biological being, at times rational and at other times, not logical and at still other times not, philantropic and most of the time misanthropic? Is his basic instinct how to a chieve power and continuously amass wealth with which to prevail upon nature and, above all, dominate his weaker fellow man? Or, is, man a spermatic logos, a spark of the Divine, a piece of the univrsal Logos, a fragmented icon of God that broke and turned away from the Creator? Is man ontologically a being, a "hypostasis," created for the realization of the urge to resemble his Creator and enter into eternal communion with Him or is he a mask playing the role of hypocrite in the cosmic theatre of history? The answer to these questions depends upon the viewpoint and perspective from which one observes the phenomenon man --the theological, biological, economic, psychological and the historical.
The dilemma of the Christian historian and theologian is how to reconcile the theological the theological teaching that man is an "image of God" that is evolving into a state of divinization with the cynical, insatiable megalomaniacal, if not bloodthirsty man as he is revealed to us by the numerous pages of human history written in blood, and, particularly, that of our century lasting up until today. We are obligated then to avoid idealizations and constantly retain before us the spectre of historical realism. I refuse to agree with the Freudian concept that wars will never cease and that human slaughter will never end because, by nature, man is bloodthirsty. I further disagree with the cynicism of many historians that interpret all things through the prism of causality. The epigrammatic poet Palladas of the 4th century, most cynically attributes everything to fortune and admonishes us not to take our lives serously, so that we may avoid experiencing pain.
Here is what he writes:
" All of life is a stage and a game; either learn to play the game, putting aside every serious thought, or endure the consequences!"(1)
Palladas wrote these verses when Christian theology was defining the dogma that God became man so that man could become divine. And we, who live in the contemporary age of space, of great conquests and achievements, of electronic computers and high technology, what do we have to say? What do we say? The question remains, "What is man?"
The opinions of theologians, biologists, physicians, historians, archaeologists, sociologists, economists and others vary and clash, in oposition to each other. All, however, agree with the leader of the chorus of Sophocles' Antigone that "of all miracles of the world, there is nothing more marvelous and great than the human being," the anthropos.(2)
But again, in what is man superior? In the area of creativity or that of destruction? The logical or the illogical? That of the spirit or of matter?
For now let us say in summary what we will analyse more fully below: namely that for the Hwlleno-Christian tradition, man is a psychosomatic union, a concentrated union of body and soul, of spirit and matter. Both constitute a "most natural bond of harmony and coexistyence... of a visible and invisible... nature... The creator of man "moulded the body from the earth" and "endowed it with the divine and life giving spirit," as St. John the Damascene proclaims.(3) These two components make man a person in imitation of the God-man, the person of Christ. But this understanding of man as a person was formed after many years of questions and spiritual quests. Let us therefore, review the main phases of its evolution.
The ancient Greeks regarded man as a "fallen god," as having fallen from the heavens because he had dared to become equal in power with the divine. That is the reason whyomer counseled, " Do not desire to imagine yourself as similar and equal in power to gods because the eternal race of the gods and the people who walk upon earth are not similar."(4)
Later the Orphic mystics deplored man who, although of divine origin, had fallen away. "If he had not imagined himself as a god, he would be the most wretched of people" thus a "blissful and blessed God shall you be instead of a mere mortal," proclaim certain tomb inscriptions.(5) They blessed the person who would succeed after death in again becoming a god.
In no historic period of ancient Hellenism was man ever regarded only as a body. On the contrary, the ancient Greeks regarded the human being, more, as an eternal spirit or a soul than a corruptible body. As we know through the writings of Thales of Militos, Heraclitos, Socrates, Plato and several other authors, the ancient Greeks regarded the souls of men as little gods or daimons (daimonia)--good spirits).
On the basis of Thales' pronouncement, Plato asks, "Is there someone who does not accept and support the position that everything is replete with gods?"(6) "gods," therefore, "daimons" and "souls" become synonymous terms.
For the "difficult" or "obscure" Heraclitos, the logos or the divine spark is the most internal content of the soul. The soul is nonexplorable and spreads to the infinite. That which distinguishes man from the rest of creation is the daimon --the soul. "Ethos to man is the daimon" says Heraclitos.(7)
Concerning the spiritual nature of man, the Socratic tradition is more definite. Is the most philosophical dialogue Theaitetos, Socrates poses the question to his student Theodoros: "What is man and what qualities and powers are appropriate to distinguish such a nature from the other beings?"(8)
Here Socrates emphasizes that man is pre-existent as a created species. That is why in the same dialogue on which he speaks of the ultimate destiny of man, he also speaks of discipline and the creation of human ethos. To this end, Socrates recommends the need for flight from the evilness of the perceptible world, the pursuit of spiritual cultivation and the elevation of man to God. Flight is to achieve the likeness of God as much as humanly possible and is a means for someone to become just as holy possessing purity of thought.(9) The significance of the human being as person, however, has gone through a gradual evolution. In Homeric language, "prosopon" means the face or the forehead. In the Iliad, Homer writes that Eleni, wife of Menelaos of Sparta, in the face amazingly resembles the immortal goddesses.(10)
In the same epic, we read that when Achilles learned of the death of Patroklos, "he took ashes with his two hands, poured them on his head and dirtied his comely face."(11)
From the Homeric era until the beginnings of the Hellenistic years, the word "prosopon" as found in the classical writers, historians and orators such as Aeschylos, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Xenophon, Demosthenes, Plato, and Aristotle does not possess an ontological significance in regard to total man.
As a rule, "prosopon" means the appearance of the face, a part of man, or even the mask that was used in theatrical presentations. Even though prosopon never ceased to indicate the face of man, in the Hellenistic period it is usewd in connection with the concept of the whole man and, indeed, the well-appreciated, the virtuous and the spiritual. Within this context. we find the word "prosopon" in Greek papyri, in the writings of Dionysios of Hallicarnassus, Plautinos, Plutarch and many others, In fact, Polybios writes that when the native Egyptians became dissatisfied with the policies of Ptyolemy Philopator (224-205 BC) they revolted, "seeking a leader and a person of authority, believing that they themselves were able to truly assist themselves."(12)
The person as an individual, irrespective of sex, is oftentimes encountered in the language of the Holy Scriptures, (old and New Testament) and the Helleno-Hebraic literature and definitely in Philo and Josephus. The Book of Deuteronomy is such an example. Here, "the Great God is not amazed by faces,nor is He disappointed in not receiving a gift." (Deuteronomy, 10:17) As a human being, the person is a synthesis of body and soul, a psycho-physical existence and a microcosm of the supernatural and natural, of trhe material and the spiritual. And although there existed philosophers who undervalued the body and regarded it as the prison of the soul, Greek philosophy in general discerned harmonious relationships between the two and mutual effects upon each other. That is the reason why the "divine" or the "high" and the "human," or even the discussion concerning the "high" and "those upon earth." according to the Hippocratic expression, so intensely occupied the attention of our progenitors.
Despite, however, of all the honors the ancient Greeks bestowed upon man, nonetheless, they were unable to define the meaning of "person" ontologically, something that, as we shall see later, was achieved by their Christian descendants. In any istance, the ancient Greeks first endowed the person with legal status and emphasized that man, as a person, has both rights and obligations. Diogenes Laertius attributes to Bion Boristhenitis the information that his father was liberated having no person but his writings on the person.(13)
And what has Christianity have to say about manas a person? It is well known that Christianity considers man as being somewhat lower thasn the spiritual beings called "angels." "What is man that you are mindful of him... you have made him a little lower than the angels and you have crowned him with glory and honor." (Psalm 8:5-6) The original Hebrew text, however, implies that God created man somewhat lower, not than the angels, but than God Himself. It is indeed possible that this verse refers to the Messiah and that it has found its realization in the incarnation of the Divine Logos, as several of the ancient Church fathers and ecclesiastical writers would have it. It is an established faith that the likeness of the Divine Logos with man elevated human nature and it as being "somewhat lower than the angels." Through the incarnation of Christ, man becomes a son of the highest and ontiologicaly an immortal person.
It is a basic teaching of Christian Orthodoxy that man is an "image of God" with the potentiality of "likeness" and participation in the glory of God. But, as we have already said, there is a relationship to the ancient religious and philosophical teachings of the Greeks, to the extent that, as a participant of divine breath, man is eternal. And this is relative to the Christian teaching. "Because man is of divine origin, then primarily as a result of this relationship, he alone of the living creatures believed in gods and attempted to found altars and statues of gods" observes Plato.
The designation of Plato that man is of divine origin, mpoira theou, portion of god was adopted and developed by Christian theology. Indeed we are a portion of God, writes Gregory the Theologian. And the heroic Maximos the Confessor confirms: "each of the spiritual and logical angels and humans... is called a piece of God and is of God." With this patristic testimony as a starting point, Michael Psellos of the 11th Century proceeds to the analysis of "how we are a spark of God," and adds the following "as the body lives and moves..." and "we possess icons and appearances of God, through which, indeed, we are spark of God."(14)Therefore, man as a "person," shall live eternally.
In reference to the original meaning of "person," no essential difference exists between the Greek philosophical quest and the Biblical witness. In both cases, the person is a face of the individual, a biological being possessing a soul. The difference between the two depends upon how we comprehend the salvation of man. But, we are compelled to observe that even in this matter, there is no unanimous agreement among the non-Christian Greeks nor among Greek Church Fathers and ecclesiastical writers of the first Christian period. The phraseology changed, but not the essence of its meaning. For example, when the the ancient Greeks recognized in the person of Jesus Christ the incarnated Logos, they sought after an unknown God, and adopted the Biblical testimony naming the human person "an icon of God" (Gen. 1:26). Prior to this, man was "entheo" (a being in whom divinity dwells). Theosis, divinization, or life in God, as the final destiny of the human person is encountered in the two phases of the Greek mind, a mind that has always tried to bridge the chasm between divinity and humanity.
The change that took place in the meaning of "person" is attributed to the Greek Fathers of the 4th Century. With Athanasios the Great and Capadocians as their protagonists, later Greek Fathers realized that neither ancient Greek philosophy, nor the Biblical witness were static and sealed teachings. Yet they utilized both to render an ontological meaning to the terminology of person. Originally, "person" was used to describe the "enternal ways of God, the existence of God as Oneself," a Person, and His revelation to the world as a "hypostasis" (Entity-Person).(15) Person and Essence as theological terms were widely used in the promulgation of the Trinitarian and Christological dogmas of the Church. Both terms were used synonymously: "...their hypostasis, their person and their particularity, we accept following the decisions of the Holy Fathers," summarizes Theidoret of Cyrus. Later, John of Damascus will add to this statement, "hypostasis, individuality, and personhood each partakes of the same essence. (16)
In order for us to achieve a better understanding of the new meaning of person, we must add that, not only some of the Greek philosophers but even Christian dualists, heretics and Orthodox of the First Century, considered the body as the prison of the soul, or more simply, its residence and retreat. The author of the beautiful letter to Diognetos sees the body as only protecting the soul. It lives in the body. "The soul resides in, the body... invisible as it is, nonetheless, it is guarded by the visible body: the body contains the soul. (17) And when death occurs, the soul is "liberated" from the body writes Hippolytus of Rome. In the Resurrection of the dead, people will appear like angels of God, incorruptible, eternal and freed of the body. "An incorruptible essence does not beget, nor is it begotten or increased... Those essences, whether they be of the angels or the souls will be liberated from the body,"(18) Elsewhere, however, as in the letter to some unnamed queen, Hippolytus reverses his previous position and wrtites that the body and soul will be resurrected together in imitation of the Resurrected Christ. "The Saviour receiving a human body, raised it, creating the commencement of the rights of the body."(19)
Those few examples suffice to indicate that in first century Christian theology there was no unanimous agreement concerning the relations between soul and body and the resurrection of the body. As is well known, a variety of views and concepts relative to the origin of the soul and its relationship to the body exists in ancient Greek literature. It becomes necessary then to return to the ancient Greeks and the early Christians to discover what they have to say about the eternity of the soul and the relationship with the body. In this way, we shall be in a position to better comprehend the originality of the Greek Christian Fathers upon our theme.
As a rule, for the ancient Greeks, the soul is not identified with the person, but it is greater than the body. As the beginning of life, the soul pre-exists and is eternal by its nature. The definition of the soul underwent many changes, and it was never canonized to the degree that we have the right to speak about a single ancient position. The appropriate way to speak is of philosophical concepts and opinions of intellectuals. When the great Aristotle declares that the soul is the initial beginning of movement and feelings, he overlooks pre-Socratic and physiocratic concepts and the Socratic religious and ideological teachings concerning the soul.
During the Homeric era and the archaic period, the soul was equated with the "breath of life
which, when separated from the body, continues to live after death "carying the appearance of a shadow." Later, the Ionian philosophers, Thales, Anaximandros, Anaxagoras, Heraclitos, and Diogenes of Appolonia perceived the soul as an element of air, as breath and spirit, that in death leaves behind the body in a state of corruption. Pindaros first taught that the soul was of divine origin, that it differs radically from ll the surrounding natural phenomena precisely because it is a creation of God and remains immortal.(20)
The Orphics, Pythagoreans, Empedocles, and Plato agree and accept the divine origin of the soul and its immortality, but as an entity in itself, separate from the body. While in the physiocratic philosophy of the Ionians, the soul is by its nature immortal because it is an element of air or spirit, in later Greek thought the soul is designated as immortal because it is of divine creation. In spite of the dualism that we find in some of the Greek philosophers and especiall the Pythagoreans, the fact remains that the greatest intellectuals of Greek antiquity emphasized the harmony between the two components of man thus avoiding extreme positions.
The difference between the ancient Greek and the Greco-Christian understanding of the person is not to be found in the teaching of the unity and harmony of the components of the human nature which became the basic dogma of the Stoics during late antiquity, but in the philosophy of the immortality of man as a person. The first indication of the difference between the two phases of Greek tradition is to be found in the Book of Acts of the New Testament.
The Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians that "God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising Him frpm the dead. (Acts 17:30-31) Upon hearing "the resurrection of the dead." some of the Greek philosophers "mocked him," yet others said, "We shall hear you again on this matter." (Acts,17:32) It is in the bodily resurrection of the entire being that we discover the difference between the Christian and non-Christian spirit.
In accordance with the Greek Patristic tradition, the body is a sign and an epiphany of a person and that ontological "person" is the totality of the human being. The theological disputes of the 4th and the 5th centuries formulated the dogma that in the person of Jesus Christ, a hypostatic and undivided union of both divinity and humanity existed. This theology contributed to a new evaluation of the meaning of person and the establishment of the boundaries of Christian anthropology.
Since the pre-existent eternal logos of God became "of the same essence as us in humanity" and His resurrection from the dead was a resurrection of the God-man, man will be resurrected as "person." In other words, ontologically as a psychosomatic being, but not with a corrupted material body as the residence of the soul, but as possessing both a visible and invisible, delicate and ethereal nature.
In the comments of Hippolytos of Rome on the Gospel of John, (John 11:1-4) he writes that when Jesus ordered Lazarus to "come out," the soul of Lazarus stirred up and separated itself from the depths without the devil objecting, nor death resisting. In joy, "it recognized its personal residence."(21)
This teaching according to which the soul shall return, and recognize its personal home, did not strike an echo in the later Fathers. In contrast, they held that as the soul and the body were simultaneously created, neither the one prior, nor the other later, thus during the resurrection, man shall appear as a person possessing unity of soul and an incorruptible bdy. "God called man to life and resurrection, not part of him, but all of him. Which, therefore, is the body and which the soul?" writes the philosopher and martyr Justin. (22)
Christology, as it was formed at the early Ecumenical Councils, perceived in the person of Jesus the catholicity of Divinity and humanity. Thus Christ by His resurrection secured the resurrection of man as well. As human nature was taken up by divinity, in this manner man too shall be resurrected psychosomatically as a person. "If the body is not resurrected, then, man is not resurrected because man is not composed of soul and body together," writes St. John Chrysostom. (23) Christology defined the nature of anthropology as well as that of eschatology. "We proclaim the union of divinity and humanity meaning one person indivisible discerning in the same both God and man... and all those characteristics that exist and are manifest" writes Theodoret of Cyrus.(24) Anthropology, then, devoid of Christology devolves into zoology!
On the basis of Christology, man, is not a static piece (moira) of God because "he is related with the Logos of God," as St. Maximos emphasizes, "but man is a dynamic portion (moira) of God" continuously in becoming and styruggling to evolve from image to likeness and to transfigure the mask into the person, ontologically securing in this way his eternal salvation.
W hen the Apostle Paul wrote, "We now see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face" (1 Corinthians 13-12) he had in mind the spiritual and empirical elevation of man and his final arrival to the area of the uncreated divine light and the energies of God. There, Creator and creature shall encounter each other face to face. (25)
In the development of Christian anthropology, we note the originality and the contribution of the Greek church fathers. Their anthropology is essentially a Christianized Greek anthropology that harmonizes and blends the teachings of the Old Testament and the Greek philosophies concerning the human being. The uncreated divine light and the energies of God, the Creator, and the creature will encounter each other face to face,(26) Their teaching consists of the mingling of the "beautiful," as it was formulated by ancient Greek thought, for the good and virtuous man who is of godly descent, and the biblical teaching, which teaches that the human being is "the image and likeness of Dod" (Gen. 1:26).
The Patristic theology concerning the human person is optimistic. Man is not considered a mask for passing theatrical plays on theuniversal stage, but a divine person that exists in time and is destined for eternity. The human body is not the temporary prison of the soul, but a temple of the Holy Spirit, which, as being corruptible dies, but which will rise without corruption.
Precisely, because man is an ontological being, an independent person, irrespective of age, the quality of the face, of the body, of his social station, his financial condition, his sex and his racial descent, Orthodox theology regards him as a "microcosm," micrography of all humanity. One reason that the Orthodox Church condemns abortions and allows the infant participation in the mystical life of baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist is because it regards the embryo or the infant itself as a person --a psychosomatic being. Both body and soul have the same beginning and contain each other. "When the body and soul have the same beginning and contain each other. "When the body and soul were created, neither of the two was created first and the other second, "according to John Damascene. (27) The Patristic anthropology combined the best philosophic elements of the ancient Greeks and, in truth, the Socratic ethical tradition and the Biblical teaching concerning man. It created a blend, a Christian humanism that is of contemporary value. In an era in which people have walked on the moon and others boast that in twenty years they will create a man from a single cell organism, but also an era when 70% of the world's human population is deprived of daily bread, the words of St. John Chrysostom possess a current meaning and renders an answerto the general question: How do you confront the sick and needy as person? Let us hear the Holy Father as he writes the following moving words, "I do not show any aversion to any person because each person is worthy of great attention as a creature of God even though he may be a simple slave. I do notconsider social class, but virtue, and I do not face the master or the servant, but the human person, for whom the heavens opened, the sun shines, the moon sets, the air fills everything, the wells bubble their water, the sea stretches out, for whom the only begotten Son of God became man. My master was slaughtered and shed his blood for man. And who am I that I should scorn a man? How will I ever be forgiven for this?" (28)
After the many years of development of Greco-Christian anthropology, we see that man is the boundary of the created and the uncreated, the visible and the invisible psychosomatic being endowed with vast possibilities and potentialities, that with God's cooperation and the proper use of his will, man can overcome space and time and enter into the sphere of the eternal presence and communion with his Creator God. All this is enough concerning the Greco-Christian meaning of person.
The theme "The Confrontation of the Sick as a Person" gives rise to the question of what does contemporary medicine have to say about the meaning of the person and how does an Orthodox theologian envision the relationships between medical science and man as person. Is it possible for us to speak of trends in medical science?
The widespread public discussion in the United States regarding the legitimacy or not of abortions, the lively concern for the improvement of the conditions of life, for the care of the disabled, of the chronically ill, and the development of the branch of gerontology have contributed to the awakening of the moral sensitivity of the public and have motivated the interest of physicians in psychosomatic therapy and medical ethics, or still better, bioethics. Many schools of medicine have added courses to their academic programs relative to the psychosomatic condition and the ethics of a person. A great deal of publicity has been given to the Medical School of the University of California which several years ago appointed Norman Cousins, a critic, a philologist, a publisher, and a humanitarian of vast experience to teach courses like "Society and Human Values," "Science, Law and Human Values," and the "Influence of the mind upon Psychosomatic Illnesses." In his book entitled, "Head First: The Biology of Hope," (29) Cousins writes that the physician must first of all recognize his patient as a person, as Hippocrates emphasized. In other words, as a centralized whole consisting of soul, body, mind, and heart, as one organism. Prior, then, to proceeding to a diagnosis, experiments and therapy, the physician must know his patient well. He must understand his fears, anxieties, emotions, uncertainties,sentiments, guilt feelings, religious reservations, prejudices, and superstitions because all these contibute to the aggravation of the illness or to the recovery of the patient. The influence of thinking positively, of faith, hope, optimism and prayer have been proven to be clinically productive.
Like the physiocratic physicians of ancient Greece, especially those of the Ionian school, so today too there are those who alignboth their medical knowledge and their philosophy to their objectives. It was Empedocles who combined empirical and natural philosophy, religious faith and medical knowledge. It is by no means a paradox that Cousins and other representatives of psychosomatic medicine constantly refer to the Hippocratic School that taught the psychosomatic wholeness of man. Although the body has specialized systems, still other functions unite all of its organs and activities in the common endeavor of life. For the physician to be able to administer proper medical help, he/she must know, not only the anatomy of the patient, but also the psychology --the whole person. Hippocrates phrased it in the following words":
"There are physicians as well as philosophers who say that it is not possible for the physician to practice medicine if he does not know what is a human being. He who would treat patients properly must, they say,learn this." (30)
And in his essay, Concerning the Nature of Man, the father of medical science adds: "Anyone who does not see a relationship between man and medicine does not need to read my essay..." (31) Hippocrates combined the correct exercise of medical science with the knowledge of the physician for his patien as a person.
However, all physicians do not agree with the definition of "person." In a noteworthy study entitled, "The Meaning of Person," H. Tristram Engelhardt examines this theme from two viewpoints. First, he differentiates between the two terms, "human life" and "human person." He interprets these terms as being distinct, and examines human nature as being of many dimensions, reminding us that there are differing viewpoints concerning the meaning of person. However, by the definition of humanistic medicine, which regards man as a psychosomatic being, faith, optimism, and hope are factors in the rehabilitation of the sick. (32)
The results of faith, the dominance of the spirit over the body and its therapy, can only be understood by an ill person who possesses a personal experience. Such an empirical experience is a type of mystical lifestyle. Mysticism is certainly a universal phenomenon, but few are those in any creed who taste of its fruits. Those who achieve it literally surrender themselves to the divine reality ti the Absolute Being in which "we move, live and exist." Plato emphasized that man achieves the highest knowledge of the Absolute Being through a lightning-like mystical experience. This lightning-like and indescribable and pure personal experience presupposes faith, not only in the existence of an Absolute Being, "Do not ask me if I was within the body when I snatched up to the third heaven and heard unspeakable words. I only know that it was a real experience" writes St.Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-5.
The absolute submission and surrender of the ill person to God, the source of life, health, order, and harmony strengthens as well the health of his own body, which the sick must await patiently. A few years go, I visited Dr. E. Resnick a professor of the Medical School of Temple University. When I informed him of my problem, the university teacher responded, "I do not know everything. Only God is omniscient. Secondly, I do not heal. I am but an agent of therapy; only God heals." The sincerity and the faith of the distinguished professor of medicine surprised but also strengthened me.
The sick person must be possessed by the feeling of certainty that the Paraclete who is "present everywhere and who fills all things," does not simply transcend us but is in full posdsession of the body and permeates it, re-establishing health to the sick cells. This is not the faith of Orthodoxy alone. Numerous indications and proofs exist attesting to the close relationships between religious faith and health. The "most philanthropic of sciences" has from antiquity been placed under the guardianship of the gods. One, however, should not always or exclusively seel bodily health as a gift from god. Greek philosophers recommended the virtuous way of life as an important and remarkable means for the health of body and soul. "Do not continuously petition the gods for health of body, but constantly pursue prudence of the soul," recommends Epictetos...(33)
Moreover, today, the sick patient must be taught that God listens, but God does not always answer unless it is to the patient's advantage. It is the obligation of medical science as it is of theology to teach thanatology and thus to prepare the ill person for his encounter with the unknown, to move on from time to eternity. The eschatological dimension of theology should be taught as medical faith as well --thjat man as a person was not created for permanence upon the earth. The tragic moments of the present life are fleeting and one should avail himself of the necessary preparation for his passing into timelessness.
The oncept that we possess about the tragedy of history and the personal existence of earthly life is attributed to the historian Thucydides and especially the Greek Tragedians. For example, in the tragedy Oedipus, the plot shows man as the leading actor endowed with spiritual abilities and freedom of will. In spite of his natural and acquired abilities, man is constantly faced with power and freedom of will. In spite of his natural and acquired abilities, man is constantly faced with powers and elements that he can neither conquer nor place under his absolute control. Therefore, when he chooses to violate the natural laws and to disregard powers in order to view himself as almighty, self-sufficient, independent and directed only by rationalism, as did Oedipus, he makes wrong decisions and subjects himself to destruction. Along with him, destruction is imposed upon those about him. Man must see history as the tragedy originating from human sin and as an unexplainable mystery, in which rationalism does not enter everywhere.
Illness, pain and death are found to be outside the absolute authority of man. Who is responsible for illness? Nature, sin, or God? How does the physician answer the question, "Why should the just and pious suffer?" We do not have answers to all the questions of life. Yet, the sincere and faithful physician who "knows him" will assist the ailing person to understand his illness as an unavoidable phenomenon of life. In answer to the question, "Who is responsible for the illness?" he must have in mind the words spoken by Christ in the case of the man blind from birth, "Neither did he sin, nor his parents, but so that in him the works of God might be revealed." (John 9:3)
Furthermore, it is not outside of the mortal responsibility of the physician to recommend repentance and the change in the lifestyle of the patient when it was apparent that the caause of the illness is the past sinful conduct of the patient, the thoughtlessness and the irresponsible manner in confucting his daily life. Repentance as an esoteric crisis, as the death of one way of life and the resurrection to another manner of living, as knowledge of self ("coming unto himself," as St. Luke writes about the Prodigal Son) effects, not only the revelation of the beauty, the sweeteness and the freedom of the spiritual life, but the therapy of healing bodily illnesses.
The sick person has need of the assurance that God is philanthropic and does not punish in revenge. Both the confessor-priest and the consulting physician must avoid joining illness wit the sins of the patient, the sins of parents and even the cirumstances that may have estranged the patient from the religious life unless the proofs are tangible. It was Christ himself who refuted the supposition that the cause of illness is always bound to sin (John 9:1): while in one instance he said, "Go and sin nomore," in another he said, aaaaaa'neither has he sinned, nor his parents..." There exist moments in which the ailing person must believe that his sickness is either curabl e or not. God allowed it for some teaching purpose.
The responsible and serious medical science must view the ill patient as being of a religious nature as the Oath of Hippocrates assesses him to be. Here there is not only the invocation of the characteristics of Divinity as they are expressed by Apollo, Asclepios. Hygeia, Panacia, but the religious and moral content that reveals the sacred understanding of man tha the science of medicine has in mind. In another Hippocratic book, the competent physician is called "wise" and "isotheos --equal to the gods." ("physician and philosopher equal to the gods") That is why when the physician enters a home, a clinic or a hospital, he approaches the patient as an image of God, a psychosomatic being that is in need of the physician's knowledge, his experience and his specialization. In the eyes of the sick, he is really "equal to God." "The physician said it!" becomes a dogma for the sick person. Again, very beautifully, the Hippocratic Oath states,
"Into whatsoever houses I enter, I will enter to help the sick, and I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman, bond or free. And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession, as well as outside of my profession in my association with people, if it be what is not to be publicized abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets."
Those who are dedicated to some religious or scientific profession or ideal become immersed in their responsibility and seek neither personal glory nor financial security nor longevity, even though, "all these shall be given unto you." Whosoever sees his life as one of service and, as one who serves before an altar, is engrossed in his work, with no ulterior motives, he becomes an offering and a living sacrifice. In encountering, then, the sick, both the priest and the physician should pray. It is impossible for the ill not to sense the spiritual assistance of the praying physician. Prayer strengthens him who prays, but also him for whom the prayer is offered. Natural immunity is strengthened with the invocation of spiritual and mental powers.
In the last analysis, what is religious faith and in what does it agree or disagree with mwdical science? "Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews, 11:1) In other words, faith is the unhesitating and unshakable conviction in the existence of things that cannot be seen through our eyes and touched by our hands. But what else is medical faith, if not an assurance of things, either physiological or pharmaceutical or of a surgical nature, that the physician hopes will take effect? --The conviction about things invisible which will, however, return the patient to physiological health as much as possible? Woe be unto the physician if he/she is without fait in his/her ow n knowledge and the means he provides for his medical intervention; but still more in the "Presence invisible and omnipresent, and Filler of all things."
The significance of the human being as person as it is understood by the exceptionally humane Greco-Christian tradition must determine the personal relationships between God and man, man and his fellow man, the physician and the patient. As the ancient Greeks would say through Menander, "happy and blissful is that person" who, even in the greatest moments of trial on earthly success and glory can with self-knowledge and humility lift himself up from the temporal and touch the world of the Divine. Faith has enormous powers and our deeply spiritual world is miraculous because it is dominated by the presence of the Creator, God himself, who permeates and raises up our being.
Even, now, for many, the question "What is Man?" remains without answer. For some, man will persist in being a "mask" playing the role of protagonist in the universal theatre of life until the curtain falls. For others, man is what he eats and what he drinks; and that is why he will continue to repeat, "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die."
For those, however, who empirically feel the cry of St. Augustine that man cannot spiritually rest unless he is in the bosom of God, the human being is a person created by God "somewhat less than the angels," a sharer of divinity (moira Theou), and having as his ultimate destiny to become in some measure the likeness of God.
1. Palladas, Epigram, 10.72. Palatine Anthology, published by K. Preisendantz (Leiden,1911).
2. Sophocles, Antigone,verse 334.
3. John of Damascus, The Correct Exposition of the Orthodox Faith.
4. Homer, The Iliad, 5,440-442.
5. Inge, William Ralph, Christian Mysticism (New York, 1899), 356.
6. Plato, Laws, 10, 899B.
7. Heraclitos, 119, published by G.S. Kirk and J.E.Rowen, The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1975), 213.
8. Plato, Theaitetos, 174-9.
9. Ibid. 176a
10. Homer, The Illiad, 3,158.
11. Ibid. 18, 23-24.
12. Polybios, The Histories, Book 5: 107,3.
13. Diogenes Laertius, 4:46 Lives.
14. Plato, Protagoras, 322a. Compare Plato's, Phaedros, 230, Gregory the Theologian, Homily 14:7. Greek Patrology, Migne, Volume 35, 865B, Maximos (The Monk) Concerning Certain Questions, Greek Patrology, Migne, Volume 91, 1080 Michael Psellos, Homilies, Number 62, Published by Paul Gautier (Leipzig, 1989), 243.
15. D.Demetrakos, Mega Lexicon tes Elenikes Glosses, Vol.7.
16. Theodore Of Cyrus, Eranistis, J.P. Migne, Greek Patrology, Vol 83, Col. 3684 John of Damascus, Fundamental Intrduction to Dogma, published by PI Bonitatios Kotter, Die Schriftey Des Johannes Von Damaskos (Berlin, 1969), 21.
17. Diogmetos, The Epistleto, 6:2,3,4,7.
18. Hippolytos of Rome, Concerning Resurrection and Incorruptibility. Library of the Greek Fathers and Ecclesiastical Writers, Vol. 8, 194.
19. Hippolytos of Rome, Pros Basilida tina epistole., Ibid., 192-193
20. Excerpts from Pindar, 129-131, published by c.M. Bowra, Pindar carmina cum Fragmentis, 2 Vols. Leipzig, 1989,119.
21. Hippolytos of Rome, Concerning Resurrection and Incorruptibility. 194
22. Justin, Concerning Resurrection, 4:29 Greek Patrology, J.P. Migne, Vol.6, 1585C.
23. St. John Chrysostom, Homily Concerning the Resurrection of the Dead, Greek Patrology, Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 50,47.
24. Theodoret of Cyrus, ERanistis 3, Greek Patrology, Migne, Vol. 83, and as it is translated by G.M.W. Lampe in his lexicon, A Patristic Greek Lexicon.
25. Maximos (The Confessor) Concerning Questions, 7. Greek Patrology, Migne, Vol.91, 1080F.
26. Panagiotis Christou, The Mystery of Man, Thessaloniki, 1983, p.23.
27. John of Damascus, The Correct Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. B-(12)26.
28. John Chrysostom, Homily on the Earthquake and the Wealthy Nobleman and the Poor Lazarus. Greek Patrology, Migne Vol. 47.2 (48,) 1029.
29. Norman Cousins, Head First: The Biology of Hope, (New York, 1989).
30. Hippocrates, Ancient Medicine, 20
31. [Pseudo] Hippocrates, Concerning Proper Treatment, 5.
32. H. Tristram Englehart, "Medicine and the Concept of Person." in The expanding Universe of Modern Medicine (Washington, 1974).
33. Epictetus, Excerpts, publication of Henricus Schenkil, (Epictiti Dissertationes) (Leipzig, 1984), 479. Iason Xenakis, Epictetus, Philosopher-Therapist (The Hague, 1969. Primarily, the first section.)