Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

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I. On cognizance

3. Cognizance through the Son and Logos


In order to comprehend the Fathers’ viewpoint on the problem of the cognizance of God, we must bear in mind the following, historical sequence of events:

Initially, there was a belief, which sprung from the meaning of the term “Logos” as introduced by Justinian, around the middle of the 2nd century A.D.. This belief elaborated that the human mind was an instrument intended for comprehending.  After Origen’s time however, this line of thought evolved into the form that Evagrios gave to the overall subject of gnosiology, as well as Evagrios’ subsequent influence on monks, which – according to the principles already set down by Justinian – was characterized by the cleansing of one’s mind of all perceptible things…  According to this theory, God and the human mind have something in common.  One could say that they are related ontologically, but they differ and are opposite to, anything material.   God is a spiritual being, non-material and non-corporeal, as is the human mind.  Therefore, the link between God and man - and logically, the path or the instrument for acquiring cognizance – would be the mind.

However, this doctrine contained the danger, firstly, of excluding from the cognizance of God anything that is perceived by the human senses.  This of course may seem quite natural at first; but, remember what we said in previous lessons pertaining to the incarnation: that Christology upholds that Christ is the path that leads to the cognizance of God; that God reveals Himself through Christ in a perceptible way, and that He also makes Himself accessible, to the human senses.  This is not the only problem generated by this doctrine.  The greater difficulty is that the human mind appears to be able to interpret God, and in a certain way becomes the ground which God touches upon (this being the ancient Greek perception, and mainly Plato’s).

This entire doctrine - which resulted in a heresy with Origen’s followers, who were eventually condemned by the 5th Ecumenical Synod – was duly corrected by yet another monk’s doctrine which took on the name of Makarios the Egyptian, whose doctrine introduces another element in the cognizance of God: instead of the mind being the instrument for comprehending, he introduces the heart.  The heart is now acknowledged as the cognitive instrument, and no longer the mind.  But, because this may be classified by classical psychology as being man’s cognitive instrument in which his emotions are situated, it is quite possible that we may be led to misinterpret this doctrine of Makarios.  But, it has nothing to do with emotions versus logic, but another thing altogether.  What is this other thing, which is neither emotion, nor logic?  What do we mean, when we say the term “heart”?

We have already said that, according to the Semitic perception as apparent in the Bible, where the heart is presented as being the cognitive instrument for of God, (“….a clean heart within me…”); where the heart is that which recognizes God (“……the clean in heart shall look upon God....”) and with a typical Semitic mentality that naturally permeates the Bible, the heart signifies man’s realm of obedience.   It is there, that the yes or the no is decided on.  It is the place of freedom, where man decides to concede or refuse, where he says the yes or the no to another’s request, and of course to God’s.   This perception, whereby man executes God’s will with his heart, is the Bible’s practical way to the cognizance of God.   The cognizance of God is neither a notional nor an emotional issue; to actually do what God wants is a practical and an ethical issue.  While this could have satisfied Semitic mentality, it could not satisfy Greek mentality, through which the Bible had to be interpreted.  To a Greek, knowledge had to have an ontological content.  It had to point towards an identity:  i.e., that something exists, and that I acknowledge it as existing; as an entity.  I do not recognize it merely as a moral obligation, or as something to which I reply with my yes or no; it is an entity, an identity.  The interpretation of this viewpoint of Makarios – that the heart is the cognitive instrument  – must necessarily contain ontological elements.  Elements that will lead me to the possibility of relating it to something; to say that it exists, that it actually is.  Because if it is not, then I do not recognize it.

The answer to this question can be found, as early as the time of the Fathers, in one of the great – I would say the greatest – theologians of that time, as regards the conception and the latitude with which he conceived and connected all the major problems:  Maximus the Confessor.  It is there, that all of Makarios’ doctrine is utilized, to correct Evagrios’ theory. Besides, Maximus does this to Origenism in general, and completely changes its appearance and content in a positive manner.  Not with aggressiveness, wherein we often believe that things can be changed by fighting.  It is not so.  During the Patristic period, changes were made without generating any fuss. Origen had so much authority; that is why Athanasios and the Cappadocians  - mainly Maximus - amended him radically, but without actually waging war against him.  One of the changes that Maximus made was to amend the meaning of the term “Logos”. With the help of Makarios’ doctrine, Maximus situates the cognitive instrument within the heart, but, with the following content:

To Maximus, the Logos is basically the Logos of God; in other words, it is the person of Christ. And it its through God’s Logos, that one recognizes God.  Maximus also develops the idea that the Logos has cosmological extensions; i.e., that all beings have their own logos, within the one Logos of God.  But the important thing is, that Maximus perceives this Logos of God as a person,  with whom God the Father has a loving relationship.  And here now is the way that the heart – as a seat of love – is transformed into that instrument which does not merely provide emotions as the means of recognizing God; it actually provides a personal relationship, a relationship between two parties, which Maximus named a loving relationship.  In other words, only the Logos of God can basically recognize God, because only the Logos is in an eternal loving relationship with God which actually reveals, discloses, makes known, the identity of God as that of a Father, of a person.   Subsequently, the Gospel of John says, “no-one knows the Father, except for the Son, and only through the Son can you know the Father”.  But the fact that the Son knows the Father, is an issue - according to Maximus – that has to do with the loving relationship that exists between the Father and the Son eternally, in which relationship God is related to the Father-figure and is revealed, recognized - call it what you will – by the words: “You exist as my Father”.  Within this Father-Son relationship, God is revealed and is acknowledged as veracity.   Athanasios the Great had already made similar observations when he refuted the Arians, saying that the Son was forever with the Father, and that it was impossible for the Father to have existed without His Son, because – he said – the Son is the Father’s veracity.  The Son is the Image and the Veracity of the Father.  Image and Veracity are one and the same thing.

This is a significant topic of gnosiology: that the Father also recognizes Himself, by looking at His Image, which is His Son.  You can never recognize yourself on your own.  You need a relationship - let’s say, a sort of reflective relationship, a mirror.  God’s mirror is the Son.  That is why He is called the Image of God and His veracity, as analyzed by Athanasios the Great in his speech “opposing Arians”.  This is approximately the perception that underlies Maximus the Confessor’s viewpoint.  A relationship, therefore - a personal, loving one - reveals the truth, and it makes known an entity in a way that no-one would recognize it otherwise.

God, therefore, is basically recognized through His Son, and this is why the Son is His Logos.  But not because He is the Logos in the notional sense – with the mind – which is the enormous trap that Augustine later fell into, when he incorrectly envisaged the Logos as being God’s logic, God’s intellect (i.e., God has Logos means that God has intellect).  The Greek Fathers avoided this.  It has nothing to do with the Logos of God in the intellectual sense.  We therefore abandon Origenism and Evagrianism altogether: all those doctrines, which upheld that the mind is the cognitive instrument.  The Logos is a person,  who loves and is loved, and through this loving relationship, it recognizes and ontologically relates to the other person.  Hence, God is eternally recognized; there is an eternal cognizance of God.  We do not wait for the world to be created, in order for God to become known.  He is made known through His Son, in His Son, and through the love that exists between the two of them.

We shall see what gnosiological consequences this hypothesis has, when we analyze it even more; but we will need to digress a little from the Patristic doctrines in order to interpret it.  So, these are the Patristic doctrines. Of course, when we approach the 14th century, at the time when this entire topic is discussed with Saint Gregory Palamas, we are free to once again involve the mind in gnosiology, given that Maximus’ doctrine no longer exists, and we are no longer in danger of espousing Origenism again (just as saint Gregory Palamas didn’t espouse Origenism, precisely because he didn’t pursue Maximus’ tradition).  Thus, the mind is no longer the intellectual instrument that it was for Origen and Evagrios; however, when coordinated with the heart, can it become a unified instrument.  In other words, the heart essentially acquires intellectual abilities: the heart is able to recognize, but the mind is also able to love, in order to recognize.  The mind -on its own- does not recognize.  In more technical terms, this meeting of the heart and the mind is referred to as the “descent of the mind into the heart”. It is a Gnosiology, which ultimately takes us far away from Origenism.  However, it must never be interpreted without recalling the previously mentioned elements that were introduced by Maximus:  that the supreme logos, the mind, the love of God Himself - by which God is eternally recognized - is the Son, and that we too attain cognizance of God through the Son, and only the Son, and not with exercises of the mind or the heart, (as though it were a Buddhist exercise), which make us believe that we know God.   You cannot come to know God, outside of the Christ.

And what does that mean?  It means precisely that the only true revelation, the cognizance of God, is the one that is seated in the loving relationship of the Father and the Son.  The Son is the Logos of God; He is the Only-begotten Son, in the sense that He is the one that is uniquely and eternally loved by God, who is likewise revealed through this loving relationship, in which He also recognizes Himself, through the other.

This is where the question of interpretation of all these issues, arises.  How is it possible for a loving relationship to comprise the knowledge of, or the revelation of the identity, or the relating of a being?

In our previous lesson, we examined the way in which we recognize objects. Remember, however, that we said that this method could not be applied, when attempting to recognize God, given that there are certain prerequisites for recognizing those objects, which would directly abrogate the meaning of God. We also said that there is another way, which is always directly linked to our experience. (because if there is no link to our personal experience, we are unable to interpret.  It is easy to stop at whatever the Fathers had said.  If, however, we attempt to interpret them, we need a link to that experience; it cannot be done in any other way. There can be no knowledge, without some link to experience).  And what is that experience of knowledge, which could be applied in God’s case, without encountering the problems that we observed the other time, with objects?  It is exactly that which we called a “personal relationship”.


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Greek text

Translation by A.N.

Article published in English on: 4-7-2005.

Last update: 4-8-2005.