By John Meyendorff
From International Review of Mission, 1985, No 294
Since you have learned to hear, Slavic people, Hear the Word, for it came from God, The Word nourishing human souls, The Word strengthening heart and mind....
The theology of the divine Logos in its relation to the many logoi of creation, the "seeds" that provide a divine basis for everything that exists by the will of God, is the model most frequently used by the fathers to express the relationship between God and creation. The fact that this theology is already that of John's prologue to his Gospel and that it was familiar to the intellectual worldview of Greek philosophy as well, made it a convenient means of communication between the church and the world: this communication, however, had also to express the absolute uniqueness of the God of the Bible, the personal Creator and the personal Saviour of the world.
No philosophy, except for Christianity, has ever identified the Logos as the very person of God, whose relation to creatures is to be defined in terms of his will for them to exist not only outside of himself, but in a sense in himself also, as objects in whose existence he is personally involved. God indeed is not only the Creator of the world, but he also "so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that those who believe in him may have everlasting life.
Therefore, the Word of God, which created the universe, is not simply a prime mover or an abstract cause. Things were created not only by him, but in him (Col. 1:16). He was before they came into existence, and their existence possess spiritual roots in him. This is how the great Maximus the Confessor visualizes not only the unique transcendent Logos of God, but also the logoi of individual creatures, who depend on him and pre-exist in him: We believe that the logos of the angels preceeded their creation; (we believe) that the logos of each essence and of each power which constitute the world above, the logos of men, the logos of all that to which God gave being--and it is impossible to enumerate all things-- is unspeakable and incomprehensible in its infinite transcendence, being greater than any creature and any created distinction and difference; but this same Logos is manifested and multiplied in a way suitable to the Good, in all the beings who come from him according to the analogy of each, and recapitulates all things in himself (Chapters on Love, III, 25, P. G., 91:1024 BC).
This is not simply the revival of a platonic "world of ideas," but also--as we have noted before--a rewording of the several chapters of the Old Testament "Wisdom literature," which we also find in Ephesians 3: "the mystery which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things; ... the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he realized in Christ Jesus our Lord" (9-1I).
What this tells us is that, in the divine Logos, the world has a meaning, a purpose and a design that existed before creation itself.
But this is not a naive and rosy picture of creation. Death, sin, chaos, disintegration are also there. There is no way of reaching back to God, to the original roots of creation, to a restoration of the meaning of things, without acknowledging the tragedy of death. Actually, Christians can have an even fuller understanding of the tragedy of death, of the existential anguish, of the various "dead ends" of the present state of the world, than the secular existentialists. The secular existentialists describe what is, but Christians know what should be, and therefore are even better aware of Ihe chaotic, bloody, and indeed illogical tragedy of the world's present condition.
According to the same Maximus the Confessor, the world was created not as a fixed and stable reality, but as movement. The very word nature is defined by him, as movement, or, more precisely, as "the logos of its essential activity" (Amb., 1057 B). This movement was beneficial, creative and, therefore, "natural" as long as it followed its logos of being. The French translate literally: raison d'être. This raison d'être was, of course, the divine Logos himself. Today, however, man in his actions is possessed by the irrational imagination of the passions, deceived by concupiscence, or preoccupied either by the contrivances of sciences because of his needs, or by the desire to learn the principles of nature according to its laws. None of these compulsions existed for man originally, since he was above everything. For thus man must have been at the beginning: in no way distracted by what was beneath him or around him or near him, and desiring perfection in nothing except irresistible movement, with all the strength of love towards the one who was above him, i.e., God (Amb. 1353 C).
Is this an appeal by St Maximus to stoic apathy, to indifference to the world? Certainly not, for two reasons:
1) The ultimate goal --life in the Logos-- is not fixity, nor passive contemplation: it is movement, personal relationship, encounter in love and, therefore, an eternal translation from joy to joy, from glory to glory. The kingdom of God is not static immobility but joy, creativity and love.
2) What is to be rejected is a utilitarian pre-occupation with the world, based on the desire to use the world as a tool for survival. In Maximus, as in the entire mainstream of eastern patristic tradition, mortality (not "inherited guilt") is the great consequence of Adam's sin. The misery of the present world resides in its corruptibility, and hence the constant signs of insecurity, under which humanity exists: the world as a whole, and each one of us individually, is engaged (how unsuccessfully) in a struggle for survival, which consists partly in finding means of prolonging our life, and partly in discovering other means that would neutralize or liquidate those who (so we believe) threaten our existence. Mortality is thus the real cause of our sinful situation. Self-defence, self-affirmation --at the expense of others-- is that which determines the existence of our present illogical world. So when Maximus calls us to abandon our pre-occupation with science, with concupiscence, with greed, it is because he wants to free us from our utilitarian dependence upon that which should not be our real tools of survival. He is certainly for a free, conscious and creative control of the universe by man, who bears the Creator's image and therefore a co-responsibility for creation, but against our enslavement by the world.
His description of human beings in the fallen world presents the picture of a harmony destroyed. Originally God the Logos created all things in harmony. There was, for instance, harmony between:
Things created and the uncreated God;
Things intelligible and things tangible;
Heaven and earth;
Paradise and universe;
Male and female.
These natural dualities were to be pceserved in harmony, but were in fact transformed into tension, contradiction and incompatibility. The fall was a disruption of creation, a tum of its "logical" nature towards tragic illogicality, which in turn leads to corruption and death.
It is in the light of this disruption of the original meaning and order of things, that Maximus, together with the entire patristic tradition, envisions the great event of Ihe incarnation: "The Logos became flesh." This means that the very model of creation, the origin and criterion of harmony and order, has assumed that which had fallen into disorder and disharmony. And so between God and the creatures, between things intelligible and tangible, between heaven and earth, between paradise and universe, between male and female, there is harmony again, but only in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos.
It is not possible for us here to devetop further a theology of the incarnation, but I wish to emphasize only one point, which is directly related to our theme, "Christ as Logos:
In the incamation of the Logos, God did not only speak; he did not only forgive: He loved and shared every human experience, excluding only sin, but including death and ultimate suffering. In the beginning "without him was not anything made that was made." And now, in his second and new creation, he left nothing that had been created, outside of himself, not even death, as fallen man's condition, which now --if we betieve in Christ-- can become for us "a blessed repose" and nof anymore a tragedy.
The problem, of course, with the modern "death of God" theologians is that their slogan means something different to what was meant by Cyril of Alexandria, Their concern is to humanize God, and then to conclude that "he manifests himself to us in and through secular events.(3) This is in fact exactly the opposite of what the "Death of God" on Golgotha really means: the Logos dies on the cross, so that death may be destroyed. After Golgotha, death ceases to be a "secular event." It becomes a sacrament, a transformation of the prosaic, physical disintegration of tissues, into a paschal event leading to freedom and resurrection. The Logos, by assuming humanity, has given us the power to transcend secular events. They still happen, of course, but we have access to God outside of them, and therefore we are free from them.
We still have a mission to the secular world, of course-a mission to those who do not see the Logos either in creation or in his incarnation. But the dynamism, the power, the meaning of our mission can be discovered only in our independence from and power to transcend secular events.
"God became man," Athanasius said, not to disappear as God, but "so that man may become God." The Christian gospel, the "good news" consists in that, and only in that.
The theology of the word of God, as Logos, especially in the light of the incarnation, has major practical implications in terms of the Christian mission and the life of the Christian church. If the Logos is the Creator, the meaning and the model of the entire creation, his body, the church, necessarily assumes a co-responsibility, one can also say of co-creativity, in the world as a whole. This is indeed the essential expression of the church's catholicity, its involvement in the wholeness of creation, because the Creator himself is its head.
First of all, Christian responsibility is a responsibility to all people. In a sermon at St Mary the Virgin, in Oxford, C. S. Lewis once said: It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most interesting person you tatk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or another of these destinations. If is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
Christian responsibility is not limited to "spiritual matters," or to the concept of "right belief" understood, as a set of concepts perceived by intelligence alone. The word of God is not communicated only in human words: it is a communication of life itself. This is why the Catholic Church throughout the ages has known how to "spread the word" through the holiness of its members, through poetry, through images, through music, i.e., by manifesting the harmony, the order, the truth of God's creation.
May I submit at this point that it is a recovery of this sense of harmony and beauty that is needed more than anything today for the Christian message to be heard again by our contemporaries. And this recovery is possible only on the basis of a renewed perception of the Logos, as both Creator and Redeemer.
Christians never commit a greater spiritual crime than when they accept the dualism of grace and nature, the sacred and the secular, when they concede that there is an autonomous natural sphere that can possess its own beauty (different from the "religious" one), its own harmony (created by God, but somehow independent of Christ). It is time that we start affirming and proclaiming that God is the creator of beauty, and that nothing created can be legitimately "secularised." (As Dostoyevsky said, this beauty, created by God, will ultimately save the world.) We all know, for example, how --throughout the centuries-- the church made use of matter, of music and of images in manifesting the presence of the kingdom of God in the liturgy. How, through the rites of sanctification and blessing, it has asserted its claim to universality, encompassing the entire cosmic reality. Indeed, nothing of the "old creation" can be left outside of the "new"'! This does not mean, however, that any cultural form contributes to a manifestation of "new creation." or that any style of art is as able as the Romanesque, the Gothic, or the Byzantine, to reflect the mystery of the incarnation. The drama of a secularised culture, which excludes the logos of creation and builds its forms upon the reaction and intuitions of "autonomous" humankind, has gone very deep in our world today. A process of selection, of purification and redemption, similar to the one that confronted the fathers of the church when they faced the gigantic task of converting the Greco-Roman world to Christ, faces us again today. Of course, our task is much more difticult, because the world we face is a post-Christian world: it pretends to know the Christian norms and to reject them deliberately. Christianity has tragically lost its novelty: it smells a reactionary past. A simple return to ancient liturgy, to ancient art, to ancient music is therefore both insufficient in itself and may lead to further compromising the ever-new, creative nature of the Christian faith.
Personally, I think that antiquarian conservatism, a "return" to the past, is often better than bad improvisations. But, clearly, if Maximus the Confessor was right in defining the "logos of being" as a movement, one should recognize that Christian mission requires new forms, new ways of including the whole of today's humanity, of today's world into its realm. But these new forms cannot simply be imported as such from the fallen world, uncritically; they must be adapted to the unchanging content of the Christian gospel and manifest this content in a way that would be consistent with the holy tradition of the one catholic tradition. So, authentic Christian creativity requires this effort of selection, of discernment, as well as boldness in accepting new things.
In their own days, Saints Cyril and Methodius were eminent witnesses of such creativity, not only because --as so many missionaries before and after them-- they were able, culturally and linguistically, to identify with a social group that needed to hear the gospel, but because they were able to be both traditional and innovative, both faithful and critical. As Orthodox Byzantines, they opposed, as an obvious "innovation," the interpolation of the common creed with the unfortunate Filioque clause, but they were respectful of the venerable Church of Rome (which helped them against the Germans) and translated not only the Byzantine liturgy, but also the Latin rite into Slavic. The authentic "catholicity" and dynamism of their ministry should remain as our model even today. To emulate that model is the best way of commemorating the 1100th anniversary of St Methodius' death.
*John Meyendorf is professor of Patristics, dean of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, New York, and editor of St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly.
1. The Lectionary started with the Gospel of John because John's prologue is the reading assigned for the Liturgy of the Paschal night --the beginning of the liturgical year. An English translation of the Proglas by R. Jacobson appeared in St Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1963, pp. 17.18.
2. Metropolitan Ignatius of Lattakieh, "Behold, I Make AII Things New," St Vladimir's Quarterly, Vol. 12, No.3-4, 1968, p. 113.
3. Harvey Cox, The Secular City, New York, 1966, p. 263.