On First Principles [2]

Prologue of Origen

(1). ALL who believe and are assured that grace and truth were obtained through Jesus Christ, and who know Christ to be the truth, agreeably to His own declaration, I am the truth, derive the knowledge which incites men to a good and happy life from no other source than from the very words and teaching of Christ. And by the words of Christ we do not mean those only which He spake when He became man and tabernacled in the flesh; for before that time, Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the prophets. For without the Word of God, how could they have been able to prophesy of Christ? And were it not our purpose to confine the present treatise within the limits of all attainable brevity, it would not be difficult to show, in proof of this statement, out of the Holy Scriptures, how Moses or the prophets both spake and performed all they did through being filled with the Spirit of Christ. And therefore I think it sufficient to quote this one testimony of Paul from the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which he says: By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of the Egyptians. Moreover, that after His ascension into heaven He spake in His apostles, is shown by Paul in these words: Or do you seek a proof of Christ who speaketh in me?

(2) Since many, however, of those who profess to believe in Christ differ from each other, not only in small and trifling matters, but also on subjects of the highest importance, regarding God, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit; and not only regarding these, but also regarding others which are created existences, the powers and the holy virtues; it seems on that account necessary first of all to fix a definite limit and to lay down an unmistakable rule regarding each one of these, and then to pass to the investigation of other points. For as we ceased to seek for truth (notwithstanding the professions of many among Greeks and Barbarians to make it known) among all who claimed it for erroneous opinions, after we had come to believe that Christ was the Son of God, and were persuaded that we must learn it from Himself; so, seeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolical tradition

(3) Now it ought to be known that the holy apostles, in preaching the faith of Christ, delivered themselves with the utmost clearness on certain points which they believed to be necessary to every one, even to those who seemed somewhat dull in the investigation of divine knowledge; leaving, however, the grounds of their statements to be examined into by those who should deserve the excellent gifts of the Spirit, and who, especially by means of the Holy Spirit Himself, should obtain the gift of language, of wisdom, and of knowledge: while on other subjects they merely stated the fact that things were so, keeping silence as to the manner or origin of their existence; clearly in order that the more zealous of their successors, who should be lovers of wisdom, might have a subject of exercise on which to display the fruit of their talents, — those persons, I mean, who should prepare themselves to be fit and worthy receivers of wisdom.

(4) The particular points clearly delivered in the teaching of the apostles are as follow:–

First, That there is one God, who created and arranged all things, and who, when nothing existed, called all things into being–God from the first creation and foundation of the world–the God of all just men, of Adam, Abel, Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noe, Sere, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets; and that this God in the last days, as He had announced beforehand by His prophets, sent our Lord Jesus Christ to call in the first place Israel to Himself, and in the second place the Gentiles, after the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. This just and good God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself gave the law and the prophets, and the Gospels, being also the God of the apostles and of the Old and New Testaments.

Secondly, That Jesus Christ Himself, who came (into the world), was born of the Father before all creatures; that, after He had been the servant of the Father in the creation of all things — For by Him were all things made — He in the last times, divesting Himself (of His glory), became a man, and was incarnate although God, and while made a man remained the God which He was; that He assumed a body like to our own, differing in this respect only, that it was born of a virgin and of the Holy Spirit: that this Jesus Christ was truly born, and did truly suffer, and did not endure this death common (to man) in appearance only, but did truly die; that He did truly rise from the dead; and that after His resurrection He conversed with His disciples, and was taken up (into heaven).

Then, Thirdly, the apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honour and dignity with the Father and the Son. But in His case it is not clearly distinguished whether He is to be regarded as born or innate, or also as a Son of God or not: for these are points which have to be inquired into out of sacred Scripture according to the best of our ability, and which demand careful investigation. And that this Spirit inspired each one of the saints, whether prophets or apostles; and that there was not one Spirit in the men of the old dispensation, and another in those who were inspired at the advent of Christ, is most clearly taught throughout the Churches.

(5) After these points, also, the apostolic teaching is that the soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall, after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, being destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, if its actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this: and also, that there is to be a time of resurrection from the dead, when this body, which now is sown in corruption, shall rise in incorruption, and that which is sown in dishonour will rise in glory. This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the Church, that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition; that it has a straggle to maintain with the devil and his angels, and opposing influences, because they strive to burden it with sins; but if we live rightly and wisely, we should endeavour to shake ourselves free of a burden of that kind. From which it follows, also, that we understand ourselves not to be subject to necessity, so as to be compelled by all means, even against our will, to do either good or evil. For if we are our own masters, some influences perhaps may impel us to sin, and others help us to salvation; we are not forced, however, by any necessity either to act rightly or wrongly, which those persons think is the case who say that the courses and movements of the stars are the cause of human actions, not only of those which take place beyond the influence of the freedom of the will, but also of those which are placed within our own power. But with respect to the soul, whether it is derived from the seed by a process of traducianism, so that the reason or substance of it may be considered as placed in the seminal particles of the body themselves, or whether it has any other beginning; and this beginning, itself, whether it be by birth or not, or whether bestowed upon the body from without or no, is not distinguished with sufficient clearness in the teaching of the Church.

(6) Regarding the devil and his angels, and the opposing influences, the teaching of the Church has laid down that these beings exist indeed; but what they are, or how they exist, it has not explained with sufficient clearness. This opinion, however, is held by most, that the devil was an angel, and that, having become an apostate, he induced as many of the angels as possible to fall away with himself, and these up to the present time are called his angels.

(7) This also is a part of the Church’s teaching, that the world was made and took its beginning at a certain time, and is to be destroyed on account of its wickedness. But what existed before this world, or what will exist after it, has not become certainly known to the many, for there is no clear statement regarding it in the teaching of the Church.

(8) Then, finally, that the Scriptures were written by the Spirit of God, and have a meaning, not such only as is apparent at first sight, but also another, which escapes the notice of most. For those (words) which are written are the forms of certain mysteries, and the images of divine things. Respecting which there is one opinion throughout the whole Church, that the whole law is indeed spiritual; but that the spiritual meaning which the law conveys is not known to all, but to those only on whom the grace of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in the word of wisdom and knowledge.

The term asomaton, meaning, incorporeal, is disused and unknown, not only in many other writings, but also in our own Scriptures. And if any one should quote it to us out of the little treatise entitled The Doctrine of Peter, in which the Saviour seems to say to His disciples, I am not an incorporeal demon, I have to reply, in the first place, that that work is not included among ecclesiastical books; for we can show that it was not composed either by Peter or by any other person inspired by the Spirit of God. But even if the point were to be conceded, the word asomaton there does not convey the same meaning as is intended by Greek and Gentile authors when incorporeal nature is discussed by philosophers. For in the little treatise referred to he used the phrase “incorporeal demon” to denote that that form or outline of demoniacal body, whatever it is, does not resemble this gross and visible body of ours; but, agreeably to the intention of the author of the treatise, it must be understood to mean that He had not such a body as demons have, which is naturally fine, and thin as if formed of air (and for this reason is either considered or called by many incorporeal), but that He had a solid and palpable body. Now, according to human custom, everything which is not of that nature is called by the simple or ignorant incorporeal; as if one were to say that the air which we breathe was incorporeal, because it is not a body of such a nature as can be grasped and held, or can offer resistance to pressure.

(9) We shall inquire, however, whether the thing which Greek philosophers call asomaton, or “incorporeal,” is found in holy Scripture under another name. For it is also to be a subject of investigation how God himself is to be understood,–whether as corporeal, and formed according to some shape, or of a different nature from bodies,–a point which is not clearly indicated in our teaching. And the same inquiries have to be made regarding Christ and the Holy Spirit, as well as respecting every soul, and everything possessed of a rational nature.

(10) This also is a part of the teaching of the Church, that there are certain angels of God, and certain good influences, which are His servants in accomplishing the salvation of men. When these, however, were created, or of what nature they are, or how they exist, is not clearly stated. Regarding the sun, moon, and stars, whether they are living beings or without life, there is no distinct deliverance.

Every one, therefore, must make use of elements and foundations of this sort, according to the precept, Enlighten yourselves with the light of knowledge, if he would desire to form a connected series and body of truths agreeably to the reason of all these things, that by dear and necessary statements he may ascertain the truth regarding each individual topic, and form, as we have said, one body of doctrine, by means of illustrations and arguments,–either those which he has discovered in holy Scripture, or which he has deduced by closely tracing out the consequences and following a correct method.

  1. The reference to tradition is in the singular – the tradition is therefore to be considered one but consisting of two elements: the ecclesiastical and the apostolical teaching. The difference between the two seems to be that the apostolical teaching concerns the Gospel basics; God (the Father), through Jesus Christ (the Son of God), in the Holy Ghost (the Spirit of God), and rational creatures. Origen distinguishes between seen and unseen rather than between created and uncreated. The latter distinction becomes the main distinction for later theology following the Arian crisis. This has been one of the causes for the mistaken, but widespread, misunderstanding that Origen taught an Arian doctrine concerning the Trinity. Which he did not. To Origen Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of the same uncreated nature, whereas rational creatures were created ex nihilo – out of nothing (see Origen’s first and second and third points in his “unmistakeable rule” Prologue 4 below).

On First Principles [1]

The On First Principles offered here is the English translation by Frederick Crombie. In this translation the Latin version of Rufinus is used since Origen’s Greek is not extent. I will add some footnotes to the sections as I post them on this blog. I hope this will allow readers of Origen to better read and understand him. The sections as I post them will take into account the structure of the work identified by Fr. John Behr as originating from the inner logic of the work itself.

Prologue of Rufinus

(1) I know that very many of the brethren, induced by their thirst for a knowledge of the Scriptures, have requested some distinguished men, well versed in Greek learning, to translate Origen into Latin, and so make him accessible to Roman readers.1  Among these, when our brother and colleague had, at the earnest entreaty of Bishop Damasus, translated two of the Homilies on the Song of Songs out of Greek into Latin, he prefixed so elegant and noble a preface to that work, as to inspire every one with a most eager desire to read and study Origen, saying that the expression, The King has brought me into his chamber, was appropriate to his feelings, and declaring that while Origen in his other works surpassed all writers, he in the Song of Songs surpassed even himself.  He promises, indeed, in that very preface, that he will present the books on the Song of Songs, and numerous others of the works of Origen, in a Latin translation, to Roman readers.  But he, finding greater pleasure in compositions of his own, pursues an end that is attended with greater fame, viz., in being the author rather than the translator of works.  Accordingly we enter upon the undertaking, which was thus begun and approved of by him, although we cannot compose in a style of elegance equal to that of a man of such distinguished eloquence; and therefore I am afraid lest, through my fault, the result should follow, that that man, whom he deservedly esteems as the second teacher of knowledge and wisdom in the Church after the apostles, should, through the poverty of my language, appear far inferior to what he is. 

(2) And this consideration, which frequently recurred to my mind, kept me silent, and prevented me from yielding to the numerous entreaties of my brethren, until your influence, my very faithful brother Macarius, which is so great, rendered it impossible for my unskilfulness any longer to offer resistance.  And therefore, that I might not find you too grievous an exactor, I gave way, even contrary to my resolution; on the condition and arrangement, however, that in my translation I should follow as far as possible the rule observed by my predecessors, and especially by that distinguished man whom I have mentioned above, who, after translating into Latin more than seventy of those treatises of Origen which are styled Homilies and a considerable number also of his writings on the apostles, in which a good many stumbling-blocks are found in the original Greek, so smoothed and corrected them in his translation, that a Latin reader would meet with nothing which could appear discordant with our belief.  His example, therefore, we follow, to the best of our ability; if not with equal power of eloquence, yet at least with the same strictness of rule, taking care not to reproduce those expressions occurring in the works of Origen which are inconsistent with and opposed to each other. 

(3) The cause of these variations we have explained more freely in the Apology, which Pamphilus wrote in defense of the works of Origen, where we added a brief tract, in which we showed, I think, by unmistakeable proofs, that his books had been corrupted in numerous places by heretics and malevolent persons, and especially those books of which you now require me to undertake the translation, i.e., the books which may be entitled On First Principles (περί αρχών) or On Principalities,2 and which are indeed in other respects full of obscurities and difficulties.  For he there discusses those subjects with respect to which philosophers, after spending all their lives upon them, have been unable to discover anything.  But here our author strove, as much as in him lay, to turn to the service of religion the belief in a Creator, and the rational nature of created beings, which the latter had degraded to purposes of wickedness.  If, therefore, we have found anywhere in his writings, any statement opposed to that view, which elsewhere in his works he had himself piously laid down regarding the Trinity, we have either omitted it, as being corrupt, and not the composition of Origen, or we have brought it forward agreeably to the rule which we frequently find affirmed by himself.  If, indeed, in his desire to pass rapidly on, he has, as speaking to persons of skill and knowledge, sometimes expressed himself obscurely, we have, in order that the passage might be clearer, added what we had read more fully stated on the same subject in his other works, keeping explanation in view, but adding nothing of our own, but simply restoring to him what was his, although occurring in other portions of his writings.

(4) These remarks, therefore, by way of admonition, I have made in the preface, lest slanderous individuals perhaps should think that they had a second time discovered matter of accusation.  But let perverse and disputatious men have a care what they are about.  For we have in the meantime undertaken this heavy labour, if God should aid your prayers, not to shut the mouths of slanderers (which is impossible, although God perhaps will do it), but to afford material to those who desire to advance in the knowledge of these things.  And, verily, in the presence of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I adjure and beseech every one, who may either transcribe or read these books, by his belief in the kingdom to come, by the mystery of the resurrection from the dead, and by that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels, that, as he would not possess for an eternal inheritance that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and where their fire is not quenched and their worm dies not, he add nothing to Scripture, and take nothing away from it, and make no insertion or alteration, but that he compare his transcript with the copies from which he made it, and make the emendations and distinctions according to the letter, and not have his manuscript incorrect or indistinct, lest the difficulty of ascertaining the sense, from the indistinctness of the copy, should cause greater difficulties to the readers.


1. “It is indeed a great thing that you are asking, my friend, that I make Origen a Latin and give to Roman ears the man who in the opinion of Didymus the Seer was the second teacher of the churches after tbe Apostle.

St. Jerome of Stridon, Preface to his translation of Origen’s Homilies on Ezekiel.

2. Αρχή can be translated as either “principle” (principium) or “principality” (principatus) which means “beginning” or “source” and was used in ancient philosophy to refer to the founding axiom of a system of thought or the ultimate cause of something in an ontological sense. Rufinus does not resolve in which of these two senses he thinks the title of this work to be understood. Thereby allowing for both to be understood here. The first principles used to understand God and the world are also the first principles to understand the Holy Scriptures. Such first principles cannot be proved because they are the start, the very beginning, first principles. If they depended on anything else for their demonstration they could not possibly be first principles because they would be derived from something else (and at best they would be secondary). A system of thought can coherently be constructed from such first principles and would constitute knowledge or “a science.”

Such knowwledge is comprehended in wisdom, following Aristotle, where intuitive knowledge (first principles) and demonstrable knowledge (the science mentioned earlier that is based on first principles) are combined under one heading. This is the kind of wisdom Origen seeks to present. Wisdom, of course, is a title for Christ who is the beginning of the works of God (Proverbs 8, 22). What Origen is doing in his On First Principles is lay down the indemonstrable and axiomatic grounding and the subsequent and demonstrable implications thereof. Both are anchored in Jesus Christ – the Wisdom of God.

The uniquely graced Man

It has been a while since I wrote concerning Grace and Christology. It is about time I picked it up.


Salvation as Elevation

We have seen in my previous post that Fairbairn detects two ideas about salvation which have a direct impact on christology. It is here that Nestorius of Constantinople and Theodore of Mopsuestia appear to be birds of a feather.

Both men espouse what  I call a two-act salvation scheme: they see humanity’s natural condition as one of mortality and imperfection and view salvation as an advance to a higher, perfect state. Furthermore they see salvation not so much as an elevation to divine life but rather as  progress towards perfect human life, and this allows them to adopt a christology that distinguishes sharply between the Logos and the assumed man. What binds this two-act salvation scheme and a divisive christology together is Theodore’s and Nestorius’ concept of grace, and idea driven by the belief that God gives people those gifts (power, aid, and cooperation) that they will need in order to advance from the age of mortality to that of perfection. The relation between the assumed man and the Logos is a special case of the grace by which God interacts with people in general: God the Logos gives that man the power and co-operation he needs to be our pioneer in the march to the perfect age.

Donald Fairbairn, Grace and Christology, p. 28.

The idea that grace consists merely of help, or aid, from above allows a sharp distinction between “the assumed man” an the “Logos” because there is no necessary union between God and creature. If salvation consists first and foremost of the unification or at-one-ment a sharp distinction becomes impossible. After all, unification and division are opposites! Unifaction – or deification – does not exclude divine aid or help from above, but it begins the idea of salvation from a very different starting point with very different results. In other words the deified creature can (and does) receive help and aid from God but this help and aid do not form the essence of what salvation is. Salvation is not an elevation from a lower to a higher state – from the First to the Second Katastasis.


The two Katastases

Theodore’s theology begins by postulating two ages or katastases. The First Age is one of mutability, corruption, sin, and death. The Second Age is characterized by immutability, incorruption, perfection, and life). Salvation consists in moving from the first to the second Age. For Theodore the “new creature” – strictly speaking – belongs to the second Age and cannot exist in the first. This seems to be the point he makes in Hom. Cat. 10. 17 “It is this Church [of “new creatures”] that he [Paul] calls the body of Christ; it receives communion with him symbolically in this world [First Age] through the regeneration of baptism, but in the world to come [Second Age], that communion will be present truly and effectively.” The two ages are sharply distinguished. Baptism begins the journey to a reality not yet given. Baptism does not a new creature make! Baptism is merely the starting point for a mutable, corruptible creature which will only achieve immutability and incorruptibility – the new creation – at some point in the future.

This may seem close to how we commonly conceive of Baptism. But the appearance is deceptive. A Catholic and Orthodox theology requires that the believer who is baptized is from Baptism onward already a new creation. There is no sharp distinction between present and future. What is given truly and effectively in this age in Baptism will be concluded in the age to come. This means that the foundation of Theodoran theology (two sharply distinguished ages) conflicts with a sacramental and (therefore) Christian worldview.

The First Age and the Fall

Only in the first Age is sin a possibility. Sin requires mutability and since the second Age is characterized by immutability there can also be no sin. But can we speak of a “fall into sin” in Theodore’s scheme of the two katastases?

Sin had first to be removed, since it was the cause of death, and then death had to be nullified along with it. But if sin were not removed, we would necessarily remain in mortality, and we would sin because of our mutability; and if we sinned we would again be under punishment, and the power of death would consequently continue.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Hom. Cat. 5. 10. 

The above sounds like Theodore is saying that humanity fell from an original condition where sin is absent, to the present state and that the future age will return us to a state of sinlesness. Such a conception of salvation seems to imply a three-fold structure of salvation and would conflict fundamentally with the two katastases scheme we have seen in Theodore above. Or does it?

In this way the body would be free from death and corruption. Now this could happen if Christ first made the soul immutable and delivered it from the impulses of sin, so that by acquiring immutability we became free from sin. Indeed, the abolition of sin would effect the abolition of death, our bodies could continue indissoluble and incorruptible.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Hom. Cat. 5. 11. 

Sin and mutability, as Theodore sees it, are not so much the result of turning away from God, rather, sin is the result of an innate (natural) mutability. In other words the creature does not fall from a state of perfection to a state of mutability and sin, but is created mutable and consequently sins. This means that sin is a natural part of the creature in the First Age. Christ saves the soul from sin not by returning it to the state from which it had fallen, but by making the soul immutable. Mutability is characteristic of he First Age, and therefore, so is sin. To put it clearly: mutability and sin are a natural result of creation. Such an idea, as should be obvious, is very different from the Catholic and Orthodox view of creation, fall and salvation. Theodore’s theology can fittingly be described as a two-act salvation scheme.

Richard A. Norris and God’s Foreknowledge

An attempt has been made to reconcile the conflict we arrived at above. R. A. Norris (and if memory serves, Archpriest John Behr from Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) tells us that mortality is chronologically prior to sin, but that theologically sin is necessarily prior to mortality. God foreknew mankind would sin and created them accordingly. This means that mortality is both an inheritance from Adam as well as a consequence of  “the sin of Adam” which each earns for himself because each commits it for himself. Whether or not this presentation of things hold any theological water does not matter in our consideration of Theodore all that much. To Theodore, as we have seen, the Second Age is a higher condition and precisely not a restoration to a previous state. So even if – as seems probable to me – Norris’ suggestion concerning foreknowledge has considerable merit, it does not salvage Theodoran thought for Christianity.

To be continued.

Grace and Christology in the Early Church

It is fitting that a blog called “On First Principles” should deal with such principles. This blog has been in existence for almost a decade and I have never figured out what to do with it. But today will perhaps bring some much needed clarity. The first principle of Christian life is JESUS CHRIST. Over the past 10 years I have moved away from some of the basics my old professor at Seminary (Archpriest John Behr) taught me. One thing, however, remains. Maybe even two things.

Christian theology is an answer to the question posed by our Lord “He [Jesus] saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16, 15) The answer is to be found in the Scriptures which testify of Him (the Bible). Three creeds can be found which enshrine “The Rule of Faith” of the earliest Church that gave us the Scriptures and taught us how to read them. They are the Apostles Creed (recited multiple times per day), the Nicene Creed (recited at least weekly at the Sunday Mass), and the Athanasian Creed recited monthly in the Book of Common Prayer, but almost daily in St. John Mason Neale’s Breviary Offices).


Christological and Anthropological Grace

In a tightly argued and well researched book Donald Fairbairn has investigated the answer to our Lord’s question above. He does not so much answer the question, as investigate the answer given to it by the early Church. He does so by focusing his attention on three main figures of Church history: 1. Theodore of Mopsuestia, 2. Cyril of Alexandria, and 3. John Cassian. The result of this research is this 288 page tour de force of Christology.

In the first of seven chapters Fairbairn sets the stage for his topic. He first needs to look at grace a bit differently than we are used to. We are introduced to two kinds of grace: anhtropological and christological:nativity

By christological grace, I mean the issue of what (or whom) God gives people through the incarnation and atoning work of Christ. By anthropological grace, I mean the issue of how God leads us to receive and to retain this gift.

~ Donald Fairbairn, Grace and Christology in the Early Church, p. 13.

Anthroplogical grace, as Fairbairn says, has to do with the gift of freedom bestowed upon human beings at their creation and how this relates to the gifts of faith and perseverance that God gives in salvation. Here we enter the debates between – for example – Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants concerning synergism and monergism. In this book this aspect of grace is left to one side in order to focus on what we have called christological grace. The latter is concerned with what or whom Jesus Christ actually gives the Christian what we call salvation.

Thus there was a question of whether grace consisted of Christ’s giving the Christian power, aid, and assistance in reaching that perfect human condition, or whether God gave the believer participation in his own immortality and incorruption.

~ Fairbairn, Grace and Christology, 14.

As we shall see in a moment these two ways of looking at (christological) grace are related to what Fairbairn calls “the structure of salvation” as well as to who or what a particular author thinks Jesus Christ really is.


Cyril, Cassian, & Theodore

It is not hard to see why Fairbairn has chosen Cyril for a study on the Christology of the early Church. If you do have difficulties seeing it perhaps you ought to stop reading here and brush up on your knowledge concerning the “Nestorian Controversy.” Without a basic grasp of this conflict in the early Church much of what this book will argue is going Johncassianto go way over your head.

St. Cyril of Alexandria has been the subject of a great many studies and his importance in the christological debates of the early Church is indisputable. Whether one finds him an attractive character or whether one agrees with him or not is another matter. For Cyril’s thought on the matter of christological grace – even if he did not know the term – Fairbairn asserts that it can be argued that for Cyril “Christ is grace (p. 15).” It is also a fact that Cyril’s teaching on the person and nanture(s) of Jesus Christ are the touchstone of orthodox and catholic theology East and West. He is a doctor of the Church in both traditions primarily for his christological teaching. It is quite fitting therefore that the first axis of the book is St. Cyril of Alexandria.

The second axis of the book is St. John Cassian and Fairbairn admits this may be a bit more difficult to justify. It would seem that the great teachers of the Church in the West to turn to would be St. Augustine and perhaps especially St. Leo the Great whose Tome was read and accepted at Chalcedon as conveying Cyril’s doctrine. So, why Cassian? For three reasons: 1. Cassian is the only one in the West to have contributed a work against Nestorius during the Nestorian Controversy. He was asked to do so by St. Leo the Great. Though it would, perhaps, have been a more evident course of action for Leo to have commissioned such a polemics from St. Augustine since the much respected Bishop and doctor was still alive at the time. 2. Cassian is not an Augustine, lacking the Augustinian orginality and thus more lilely to represent what “the choir was singing rather than the soloist (p. 16).” Bringing Augustine into this study may overwhelm other voices. 3. There has been no serious engagement of Cassian’s christological work in the twentieth century and is therefore long overdue.

The third character to play a major role in this study is Theodore of Mopsuestua. Again some justification may be necessary since, after all, we are chiefly dealing with what has been called “the Nestorian Controversy” and not the “Theodoran Controversy.” Nestorius is famous for having denied that the Blessed Virgin Mary is Theotokos (Mother of God). The logic behind such denial is that God cannot be born from His creature. Nestorius is also known to have written a lengthy – if repetitive – tome in defense of himself and his doctrine. It is also against Nestorius that Cyril and Cassian address their polemic.  It would seem that Nestorius is a much more natural place to look for the christology opposed by both Cyril and Cassian.

All of this can be granted readily. Yet Nestorius is mostly repeating the doctrine taught to him by Theodore without really explaining the depth of it. That is to say Nestorius writes a lot about prosopic union but remarkably little about how this relates to grace (though he does presuppose it). To understand how Nestorian christology relates to grace in its christlogical sense one needs to consult the writings of his teacher: Theodore of Mopsuestia. The purpose of Fairbairn’s study is after all to study christological grace.


Two Structures of Salvation

The final major theme mentioned by Fairbairn in the first chapter concerns salvation. Salvation can be construed in two basic ways: 1. as an act of restoration, or 2. as an act of elevation. The first way of thinking about salvation presupposes – as it were – salvation to be a play consisting of three acts. The first act is that of the creation of humanity in a “state of grace.” The second act in this play is the fall from grace into sin and its consequences. The third act, salvation as such, is the restoration of fallen humanity into its original condition. Fairbairn summarizes:

This way of understanding salvation, then, sees the key acts or movements as creation, fall, and restoration.

Fairbairn, Grace and Christology, p. 18.

The second way to conceive of salvation is as a play consisting of two acts. The original condition of humanity is not so much perfection (state of grace) as it is a condition of imperfection demanding development and completion. Or as Fairbairn says “opportunity.” Humanity is created to attain a state of perfection – state of grace – and it will do so under the guidance of God. There is growth from imperfection to perfection so as to almost exclude any notion of a fall and restoration. Again in the words of Fairbairn:

This scheme sees the key acts as creation and elevation.

Fairbairn, Grace and Christology, p. 18.

The contrast between these two views of salvation has now become clear. These views have a direct impact on how its adherents view Jesus Christ. In other words the way a patristic era author conceives of salvation is directly related to his christology. As the study proceeds it will become clear that those authors tending toward the three act scheme of salvation tend to have a Cyrillian christology, and those who conceive of salvation as a two act play tend toward a Nestorian christology. Once the study begins to treat Cassian it will become clear that – in spite of appearances – Cassian’s soteriology is very much a three act play impacting his christology so as to be basically Cyrillian. Grace and Christology are closely related.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

On “Abstinence”

“Abstinence is the origin of fruitfulness, the blossom and beginning of the practical life.”
~ Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts.
Just like the beginning of “fruit” is a “blossom” likewise “abstinence” is the beginning of the “practical life.” It simply is not possible to practice Christianity (practical life) so long as we are full of ourselves. We must decreases so Christ can increase. We must learn to “abstain” to make room as it were for Jesus Christ in our lives.
“Against the thoughts that seek without the labour of fasting to cultivate the rational land:
Issachar has desired that which is good, resting between the inheritances. And because he saw that the resting place is good and the land is fertile, he subjected his shoulder to labour and became a farmer (Gen. 49, 14-15 LXX).”
~ Evagrius Ponticus, Talking Back, 1.1.
Abstinence does not mean cutting back on being active. To do less. It involves discipline such as fasting. Cultivating the “rational land” – receiving and providing spiritual knowledge – requires outer work. We need to gain control over our outward behavior by shedding vices and gaining virtues. This is also shown in Evagrius’ Praktikos where he begins his treatise by observations concerning monastic clothing. The same is said by St. John Cassian (perhaps even more pointedly). The “normal” clothes are taken off (shedding vices, which is the labour of abstinence) and the monastic dress is put on (gaining virtues). This does not amount to self-salvation as is clear from the fact that the new clothing is received – given – not gained.
Should the temptation (temptig thought) come up that we do not need to labour, that no effort on our part is required, we ought to block this thought’s path with the verse from Scripture concerning Issachar. The Scripture (word of God) is an effective means to stop temptations and it re-directs our attention away from the tempting thought. Our focus on the good and fertile land we can sow our seeds and grow our fruit.
Fr. Gregory Wassen

Psalmody and the Holy Rule

Steps of humility, Holy Rule, Chapter VII

For the past few days, we have heard St. Benedict tell us about the steps of humility. These are steps, which if we ascend them, lead us to “heavenly exaltation.” The latter is the eschatological goal of human life but is attainable in this life by means of humility. That is interesting. St. Benedict is saying nothing less but that humility is what leads to deification. This is the second time Benedict brings up deification. Though often not translated or even placed in a footnote Prologue 9’s “divine light” is more accurately translated as “deifying light.” In Prologue 9 there is a passivity – listening – involved which requires hard work: obedience. “For we must at all times use the good gifts He has placed in us (Prologue 6).” But here we must devote our attention to humility.

“Brothers, holy Scripture cries aloud to us …” (Holy Rule, vii, 1). The teaching on and of humility begins with holy Scripture. This is not a proto-Protestant move of Benedict. Whereas for the Reformers (including our own Anglican Reformers) Scripture always speaks to us and stays on the outside as it were (Cranmer and the Continental Reformers were committed nominalists). For Benedict Scripture is to be practiced, put on, produce an inner transformation. This is not unlike the Reformation controversy concerning justification. To the Reformers justification concerns a declaration whereas for the Catholics it concerns a transformation. John Henry Newman wrote at length about this issue in his Lectures on Justification. Benedict, being a Platonic realist (common currency in his time) views the speech of Scripture as transformative (not unlike Newman in the lectures mentioned above).

St. Benedict immediately quotes from the Gospel of St. Luke (18, 14): “for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted .“ Humility is here presented as a virtue mandated by the Gospel. In other words, the teaching to follow is, according to Benedict, to be understood as the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself mediated by the ministry of St. Benedict. The importance of humility could not be emphasized more strongly. Humility is the virtue taught by Christ Himself as the path to walk to attain to “heavenly exaltation.”

The Psalter has a key role to play here. Benedict spends no less than 11 chapters on the specifics of how Psalmody is to be performed. In fact, the recitation of the Psalms (and specifically the Psalms ! ) is so important that if a situation should occur where abbreviation of the Office is necessary it is the Responses and the Readings from Scripture that are to be shortened. Never the Psalter (Ch. XI, 12-13). Why this emphasis on the Psalter? A close reading of chapter VII will give us some important clues. As the reader will notice, perhaps aided by the footnotes in the translations of the Holy Rule, St. Benedict cites the Psalms more than 20 times in just this chapter ! Other Scriptural books are also cited but much, much less frequently. There is something peculiar about the Psalms …

Immediately after Benedict has provided the passage on humility from Luke’s Gospel he follows up with a double citation from the Psalms: 131:1 and 131: 2-3. The point being made in the Psalms is that humility implies an inner transformation. Humility is not a matter of mere outward behavior. It is an inner reality which finds expression outwardly. At the conclusion of the first step St. Benedict makes an interesting suggestion:

“In order then to keep his perverse thoughts under careful control, the profitable brother should repeat in his heart. ‘Then I shall be spotless in his sight if I keep myself in check against my sinfulness.’”

The method of “keeping control” here is that of antirhetikos (contradiction or as David Brakke translates the word “talking back” ). This method contradicts the tempting thought attacking the monk. In this case, it seems Benedict recommends that Psalm 18: 24 be used to contradict the thought which tempts the monk to “forgetfulness” (HR, VIII, 10). Here the Psalm is weaponized in the fight against sin. A major source for this practice of contradiction is Evagrius Ponticus. The latter wrote one of his longest works dedicated to precisely this practice. It is not unthinkable that Benedict was – at least – familiar with this Evagrian practice if not necessarily with his works.

Moving on in our reading of Chapter VII we find that Benedict uses the Psalms in yet another way. By means of the Psalms he tells us that God knows even our deepest thoughts and motivations (Ch. VIII, 15-18), that doing our own will is to indulge in our own corruption ( Ch. VII, 23), that God is very much aware of our inner state (whether outwardly expressed or not) (Ch. VII, 23). These verses of the Psalms (and other Scriptures passages) are to be memorized, internalized so that their “keeping them in our minds” brings about inner transformation. The Psalms are like building blocks, living building blocks, that (if Benedict’s advice is followed) will re-build our inner self. The obedience Benedict subjects us to is to break down the inner self we have constructed so that it may be rebuilt. This time not ego-centric but Christo-centric.

Something similar is going on in St. John Cassian’s Institutes. He opens his book with a prologue and immediately goes into a description of monastic dress. The point St. Benedict’s hero is making is not about monastic fashion preferences. There is no Kim Kardashian-esque obsession with what to wear. The items of the monastic dress are couched in Scripture verses and are thereby placed in a narrative which begins in the Old Testament (Elijah & Elisha), continues in the New Testament (St. John Baptist, St. Paul), and is presently represented by Cassian and the Egyptian Fathers by whom he was taught. The Scriptures cited and alluded to also serve to focus on the inner transformation of the monk. When the monk enters he takes off his old, worldly clothes and puts on the monastic dress. This indicates a break with his previous life (the old self) and the putting on of the new dress indicates an entry into a new life (a new self). Cassian uses Scripture as a tool to effect a transformation of the inner self. It comes as no surprise that Cassian too taught obedience, humility, and placed a heavy emphasis on the recitation of the Psalter. In fact, the chaotic state of Gaulic Monasticism (from Cassian’s point of view) is shown in their individualist use of the Psalms. Every monk has his own way to recite them and in so doing so shows his ignorance as to what Psalmody is even for!

Cassian is even more adamant than Benedict that Psalmody is essential to a monk’s daily practice. The correct way to recite them is given by the mediation of angels (like the Law of Moses) and thus enjoys super-human authority. Interestingly, the reading of Scripture is added by the Fathers upon their own human authority and insight. It is not essential, and it is not what the Divine Office is about to Cassian. It would seem that Benedict is a close reader of Cassian! Having arrived once again at the recitation of the Psalter it is now time to reveal why in the Office it is more important to recite the Psalms than to read Scripture. One thing should be clear by now: the Office is not about the public reading and proclamation of Scripture. The Office – at least as Cassian and Benedict see it – is about the regular recitation of the Psalms in the order and manner taught by Cassian and Benedict.

The Psalms contain all of Scripture in them. They re-tell the story of the Old Testament and they prophetically tell of Jesus Christ. In other words, the one who knows the Psalms – in real sense – knows all of Scripture (generally but not specifically so that Scripture reading is still mandated for every monk ! ). Another point is that the Psalms, in particular, seem to contain medicine against the disease of vice. The more the Psalms become the building blocks with which our minds are put together, the more Christ-like we will become. Here is the entire point! The deifying light which brings us to heavenly exaltation comes to us in a very special way via the Psalms. Their recitation is a fundamental technique to effect deification. As we absorb the Psalms we are absorbed by them. To put that differently: as we consume the words of God we are consumed by the Word. The recitation of the Psalter is the “opus dei (the work of God)” to which “nothing” is to be preferred because in this opus dei we perform the work of God (reciting the Psalter) and as we do so (and insofar as we do so) God performs His work on us (deification).

The Psalter as used in chapter VII in the Holy Rule shows what to do with the knowledge of the Psalms gained by their continuous recitation. The reason that both Cassian and Benedict attribute less value to the reading of Scripture in the Office is to be sought in the fact that the Psalms contain all of Scripture and that they are specifically designed and given by divine authority to be the basis of our prayer. The rest of Scripture is equally divine in authority but cannot generally be used in the same way the Psalms can be. For this reason, the recitation of the Psalter is the core of the Divine Office.

“Holy Scripture cries aloud to us” in and through the Psalms in particular. Psalmody is a way enable the monk in the struggle against vice and the attainment of virtue, and as we perform the “work of God” it is God who work in us. The 11 chapters to follow are therefore an essential part of “setting the fear of God always before our eyes and to utterly avoid forgetfulness.” Familiarity with the Psams at the level which is produced by their weekly recitation is where we start to be “always on our guard” (HR VII, 29) and how we “act wisely and seek after God” (HR VII, 27). The Psalms firmly place us before God and in His presence, we are transformed. Our transformation will show outwardly in our humility. Step 1 has been achieved … the other steps can be ascended in the same way.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Praktike & Commandments

CHRISTIANITY is the teaching of our Savior Christ consisting of [:]

  1. ascetical practice,
  2. the [contemplation of] nature,
  3. and theology.

Ascetical practice or praktike  entails “the fulfillment of the commandents” (Praktikos 81, KG 1.10 in Ilaria Ramelli’s translation). The first thing about Christianity is to do what God tells you to do. This is not much different from what St. Benedict recommends from the very beginning of his monastic rule: “listen” which means not simply hearing but obediently perform what one is told. The Holy Rule is contained in between two words: “listen” and “arrive” and in between these words stands the “fulfilling of God’s commandments.” All three stages or elements involve knowledge. For Evagrius the concept of knowledge is central. He connects it to salvation. As Ramelli comments: “Knowledge helps virtue, and virtue helps knowledge. This is why Evagrius states that knowledge leads to salvation, and this is also why demons oppose this process (Kephalaia Gnosica, transl. by Ilaria Ramelli, p. 13 Kindle edition).”

And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: * for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people, * for the remission of their sins.

Office of Lauds, Canticle (Lk. 1 9-10), Monastic Diurnal, p. 42.

The practical guidance provided in the Rule of Benedict is an example of what form the “commandments” can take. Now it is not merely knowing what these commandments are and performing hem though. As Evagrius warns the demons fiercely oppose the performance of these commandments. This, however, is where we meet another aspect of what praktike is for and what sort of salvific knowledge the practitioner gains.

As the demons oppose the fulfilling of the commandments they try to find a foothold within us. The myriad of footholds are all subsumed under the eight logismoi (which in St. Gregory the Great’s hands will become the 7 deadly sins) or eight “tempting thoughts.” These are the passions, or weaknesses within us that the demons can exploit in their attempt to lure us away from the commandments into sin. But in this strugle we can become aware of our weaknesses, we can diagnose them, and they can be exposed and cured! This deeper insight or knowledge of where the demons and the weakness of out nature intersect is salvific if we use this knowledge to apply God’s medicine of saving grace. We can crucify our flesh, nailing our passions to the Cross, and see our lives transformed by the power of the Cross. That is is the real work of praktike to be crucified with Jesus Christ so that we may also rise with Him.

As we continue our journey with Evagrius by means of The Praktikos we will meet this idea again and again. We will have many more opportunities to delve deeper into these teachings and how we can live them.

Fr. Gregory Wasen

The Conceptual Content of Satisfaction

Cur Deus Homo in short

To find out where the Rule and Cur Deus Homo meet we will need to look at the concept of satisfaction again. In the Cur Deus Homo we have seen that:

  1. Sin consists in not rendering to God what is due him (Cur Deus Homo, I, 11).
  2. Nothing can be added or subtracted from God’s honor in-itself (Cur Deus Homo, I, 15).
  3. This disturbance is repaired either by satisfaction or punishment (Cur Deus Homo, I, 15).
  4. It is repaired by punishment when God exacts a penalty upon the unwilling/unrepentant sinner (Cur Deus Homo, I, 14 & I, 15).
  5. It is repaired by satisfaction when the sinner willingly repays (Cur Deus Homo, I, 16).
  6. The satisfaction offered must be supereregatory (Cur Deus Homo, I, 11).

This quick refresher in Anselmian thought should enable us to recognize where the Holy Rule and the Cur Deus Homo meet and here the one fertilizes the other.

The Holy Rule in short

It should be noted that the Holy Rule is not a theological treatise. It is a monastic rule of life. We should not expect Benedict to theologize as elaborately as Anselm in Cur Deus Homo. Still we have seen that satisfaction entails the following:

  1. Satisfacere concerns the monk at fault (RB, 11, 13; 43, 12; 44, 8-9; 46, 3; 71, 8 for example).
  2. Satisfaction in one way or another occurs 17 times in the Rule (see Mansini).
  3. Offence can be given to God or fellow monastics (RB, 9, 7; 11, 3; 11, 13; 16, 2; 18, 24
  4. Satisfaction takes place in the sphere of personal relationships and must be fitting (RB 24, 1-3; 44; 43; 45; 71 etc).
  5. Satisfaction is distinct from punishment (RB 5, 19).
  6. Satisfaction must be supereregatory (the satisfaction requires more than simply resuming to do what should have been done in the first place; prostration comes to mind).

There seem to be certain points of overlap and a deeper reading into the Holy Rule and Cur Deus Homo will make its Benedictine provenance even more evident (Obedience, Honor, and Order can also be shown to derive from The Rule rather than presumed feudalism).

Four Points where Cur Deus Homo & the Holy Rule meet

There are four points where satisfaction in the Holy Rule and Cur Deus Homo actually meet:

  1. Satisfaction concerns the personal relational sphere.
  2. Satisfaction must be fitting.
  3. Satisfaction is willingly given because punishment is reserved for the unwilling. Iow satisfaction is distinct from punishment.
  4. Satisfaction must be supereregatory.

This is not to say that Anselm was immune to the society in which he lived. Far from it. But since it was a decidedly Benedictine society the feudal link is far from the only possible, and certainly not the least problematic one. Recent scholarship has called into question the very existence of “feudalism” whereas other research which does believe some form of feudalism existed places it long after Anselm’s death. The easiest way to understand Anselm’s theory of satisfaction is to approach it from the very source that Anselm himself drank from very deeply: the Holy Rule of St. Benedict.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

Satisfaction in “Cur Deus Homo?”

Bad Anselm

The very name Anselm of Canterbury leaves a bad taste in many peoples mouths today. This is because Anselm has been associated with what has been called “the satisfaction theory of the atonement. So what is this satisfaction theory? A short description from the Theopedia defines it as follows:

The Satisfaction (or Commercial) theory of the atonement was formulated by the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) in his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. ‘Why the God Man’). In his view, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Anslem believed that humans could not render to God more than what was due to him. The satisfaction due to God was greater than what all created beings are capable of doing, since they can only do what is already required of them. Therefore, God had to make satisfaction for himself. Yet if this satisfaction was going to avail for humans, it had to be made by a human. Therefore only a being that was both God and man could satisfy God and give him the honor that is due him.

The classic Anselmian formulation of the Satisfaction View needs to be distinguished from Penal Substitution. Penal Substitution states that Christ bore the penalty for sin, in place of those sinners united to him by faith. Anselm, by contrast, regarded human sin as defrauding God of the honour he is due. Christ’s death, the ultimate act of obedience, gives God great honour. As it was beyond the call of duty for Christ, it is more honour than he was obliged to give. Christ’s surplus can therefore repay our deficit. Hence Christ’s death is substitutionary in this sense: he pays the honour instead of us. But that substitution is not penal; his death pays our honour not our penalty.

The Protestant reformers shifted the focus of this satisfaction theory to concentrate not merely on divine offense but on divine justice. God’s righteousness demands punishment for human sin. God in his grace both exacts punishment and supplies the one to bear it.

This is an important difference. For Anselm, Christ obeyed where we should have obeyed; for John Calvin, he was punished where we should have been punished.


This is a good place to begin understanding, and appreciating, Anselm’s soteriology. The attentive reader will already have picked up on the similarities between satisfaction as described above and that of St. Benedict’s Rule. The distinction made above between punishment (penal substitution theory) and satisfaction theory (Anselm, but also the Rule of St. Benedict) is very important. I think it would be true to say that in Anselmian thought we are not saved from God but we are saved by the God-man: Jesus Christ. In penal substitution we are saved by God but also from God. But still satisfaction theory makes the atonement a transaction of divine financing and Anselm is responsible for this misconstruction of the atonement.

Bad Anselm!

Rectitude, essence, and reference to God

Anselm is a Platonist. To provide some context to the argument in Cur Deus Homo we need to take this into account. In Platonism things are what they are because of their “essence” or “form.” A circle is a circle because it participates in the form (essence) of “circle-ness. A human being is a human being because he participates in human-ness, etc. Ever since St. Augustine of Hippo these “essences” or “forms” have been considered to exist in the “mind of God.” All things to be what they are must therefore be oriented toward God. That is to be a circle the circle must participate in circleness which exists in the mind of God. The same is true for human beings. The proper participation and orientation Anselm calls “rectitude.” To be rectitudinous is therefore simply to be what one “ought to be.”

Now human beings, unlike circles, are able to make choice and to (in a sense) lessen their participation in human-ness and thereby and to that extent turn away from God. This is what sin is. By sin we fail to be rectitudinous. Sin results in a distortion of the created order and therefore in a lack of rectitude. This disrupts the relationship of the created world with its Creator and needs to be addressed.

Satisfaction and salvation

According to Anselm sin “consists in not rendering to God what is due him” (G. Mansini, “St. Anselm, Satisfactio, and the Rule of St. Benedict,” p. 103). Anselm explains this to Boso in Cur Deus Homo? Bk. I chapter 11 (scroll down). Sin results in the disruption of the order and beauty of the universe. This order and beauty is God’s honor and it is “external to God” because:

… it is evident that no one can honor or dishonor God as he is in himself; but someone seems to do so, to the extent that he can, when he subjects his will to the will of God or withdraws it from the will of God.

Cur Deus Homo, Bk. I, Chapter 15 (Jasper Hopkins translation).

This an important point. Previously Anselm had said that it is God’s honor which is offended and that requires either punishment or satisfaction. Here, upon being asked, Anselm further refines what this offended honor is. It appears that it is not so much that God had his divine toes stepped on and is now furious with the offender. Rather it seems to be the case that the divine order and beauty of creation has been disrupted. That the orientation toward God has been knocked out of whack and has become dis-oriented. It is this which prevents God and sinful creatures to relate as they ought. The problem is not that God has flown into a fit of murderous rage to be cooled in murdering his innocent Son on the Cross. That idea is the result of simply failing to read what Anselm is actually saying. In fact, it seems to me, most people repeating this horrible narrative have simply failed to pay close enough attention to Anselm’s argument (if they have read him at all ! ).

The disrupted order must be restored. Anselm believes that this restoration takes the form of human beings (that are saved) taking the place left open by the angels who had fallen (following Satan’s rebellion). How is this restoration to take place? Either by punishment (Curd Deus Homo?, Bk. I chapter 14) or by satisfaction (Cur Deus Homo?, Bk I, chapter 16 & 19). But simply offering God what is due to him is not enough. Satisfaction must be supereregatory: satisfaction must consist in giving back more than what is already owed. In other words: it is not enough to simply say sorry. After all, “sorry,” does nothing to restore or repair. Restoration requires “undoing” the evil that was done. This undoing is not in the power of a human being to perform and necessitates the God-man. Since man owns the problem God cannot (externally) do away with the problem (it violates God’s nature to do so). God must become  man and from the inside out and clean up the mess we had made.

Next we will take a look at the conceptual content of Anselmian “satisfaction” and how it corresponds to the concept of “satisfaction” in the Rule of Benedict.

[to be continued]

Fr. Gregory Wassen


Praktikos 1-3


The Praktikos is perhaps one of the most famous and popular works of Evagrius of Pontus. There are good reasons for this. Evagrius writes in such a way that engagement with his books can sustain steady spiritual growth over a very long time. To really “read” one of Evagrius’ works is to receive spiritual guidance from one of the Church’s most accomplished spiritual masters of all time. The failure to receive guidance from Evagrius is not usually on his part but on ours. To receive spiritual guidance for spiritual growth one needs to learn to “listen” and it is precisely this listening that is so fundamental to the Father of Western Monasticism: Benedict of Nursia. Let us, whether monastics or not, listen to Evagrius.

Praktikos 1 – 3

The online translation of Evagrius’ Praktikos by Fr. Luke Dysinger Osb translates the first three “chapters” or “sentences” as follows:

  1. CHRISTIANITY is the teaching of our Savior Christ consisting of [:] ascetical practice, the [contemplation of] nature, and theology.

  2. THE Kingdom of Heaven is apatheia (dispassion) of the soul together with true knowledge of beings.

  3. THE Kingdom of God is knowledge of the Holy Trinity, coextensive with the capacity of the nous (mind/intellect) but surpassing it in incorruptibility.

The first thing to notice is that even though Evagrius begins this book with three definitions he does not offer a definition of praktike. In other words he declines to define the primary subject – after which the book is named – of the book. This is an interesting move and should not go unnoticed. In writing a book on spiritual issues it would have made sense to allow your readers to gain some grasp of your point of view by defining how your book will treat and look at the subject. It would make sense to establish clear limits so your readers have a well defined frame of reference within which they can begin to understand the message your book is trying to get across.

Evagrius is doing the opposite. He begins his book with a definition not of praktike but of Christianity. His second chapter is also not a definition of pratike, but rather of physike followed by the third definition of theologike. Pratike will not be defined until much, much later in the book (Praktikos, 78). From the beginning Evagrius lays down that whatever praktike is, it is not a monastic spirituality. Evagrius is not merely addressing ascetic professionals or monks, Evagrius is writing for Christians. Praktike, whatever it may be, is christian spirituality pure and simple. The spiritual growth to which praktike leads: physike and theologike are also not reserved for monks only. The path to physike and theologike are open to all Christians.

Physike & Theologike

If praktike can be said to be the path to physike and theologike, then, what are they? Physike – to put it simply – is mediated knowledge of God. That is we begin to grow intimate with our Creator by means of His creation: God speaks to us in the Bible, in events in our lives, through things in our environment. We begin to perceive creation as a “letter” written by God to us who are far away from Him. God reveals Himself by thigs he has created: thus mediated knowledge of God.

Theologike is different. It too is built on the soul that has been established in praktike, but it is unmediated knowledge of God. No longer does God limit Himself to revealing Himself indirectly, either through nature, events, or even the Bible. All these are presumed, but a new thing emerges: God reveals Himself to us without using “go-betweens.” This is what in Western theology is “the beautific vision” or in Evagrian language: “essential knowledge.”

Praktike is then the way to physike and theologike. Praktike is not defined and – as we shall see – physike and theologike are not exhaustively defined either. Rather what has happened in the first three chapters is that we have been presented with a path we should travel. We have not been given precise definitions of anything, but we have been given some parameters which will enable our journey – a journey back to God with whom we have lost contact.

[to be continued]

Fr. Gregory Wassen