Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics and About God

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II. Basic principles of Patristic teaching

5. Existential Interpretation


       Bearing all the above in mind, we shall proceed to make certain observations as regards their significance, not just for us theologians who speak a ‘language’ of our own, but for every human being.  What is the meaning of this Dogma on God?  Does our existence change, if God wasn’t this or that?  And what is the meaning of all these details?

            First of all, let’s take the question of whether the essence expresses the unison of God or not. If, in other words, we were to follow Augustine’s theology, where would it lead us? ( I Am Referring to our existence in general ).  When a teenager asks “who asked me if I wanted to come into this life?”, he is elevating his freedom above his existence.  He does not take his existence as something given.  He would like to have been asked.  He wasn’t asked. Hence, he sees his existence as something restrictive to his freedom.   And indeed, there are no greater shackles, than those of existence itself.  Don’t think of this as something strange. We have become accustomed to the moral concept of freedom; we believe that we are happy if we can choose between two, three pieces and then vote (this is what we call political freedom, or , in the moral sphere we understand freedom as being the ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’).  But a bigger challenge for freedom is that I cannot say ‘no’ to my existence.  And should I wish to say ‘no’ to my existence, then I cease to exist and my freedom is also retracted.

            My freedom becomes self-annulled.  But what is this attributed to?  It is attributed to the fact that my person does not precede my essence; that my essence comes before my person.   Should you apply this to God, and create a theology in which the essence precedes the person of God, you would have – ontologically - the most un-free being of all.  God would then also be shackled by His existence.  Don’t let it surprise you that something like this would preoccupy us.  It should preoccupy us, because if God were not free to exist, then what could we expect?  Why do we seek this freedom?  Or is this perhaps an impermissible thing to do?  No, it is not impermissible. It is within the notion of freedom. That is why we express it by creating new identities (as we mentioned in a previous chapter ), which we freely choose.  And it is significant, that at the exact moment that the teenager asks “who asked me if I wanted to come into this life?”, he is going through the crisis of abandoning his given identities which are his family members, as well as his tendency to create his own identity, his own identities, that will be based on the unfettered relationships that he wants to define; these are defined by nature and given by the family.  Consequently, freedom – with regard to identity, to identifying with something and for something to exist for us - is a basic element of our having been created free by God and that we are in God’s image, therefore if God Himself isn’t free according to this aspect, then we too cannot hope or expect that we shall become - or shall be – free, hence freedom is a totally groundless thing.

            We must know whether the God in Whom we believe, and Whose images we want to be, is shackled to His existence or not; also, whether He exists because He has to exist; because He exists and cannot do otherwise. This very important subject is hidden behind the person’s priority.

       If that which makes God exist is not His essence, but the Person of the Father, then we definitely have freedom. God does not exist because He can’t do otherwise.  He exists, means: “He is”.  He is hypostasized freely.  A Person is that which hypostatizes Him.   Just as I can freely say to someone: “To me, you don’t exist”.  To us, this ability to say: “you exist” or “you don’t exist”, is paradoxical.  If you have read the “Theatre of the Absurd”, you will see in there how intense this speculation is.  You will see in there that tendency to ignore and to say that: to me, that person doesn’t exist; I ignore him.  That is the absurd (of course) yet so natural element of existence: you cannot ignore it.   To us it is absurd, because existence precedes essence, as an obligatory reality.  And the person comes after that, because it is reacting to that obligatory reality; it wants to independently create its own identities.  It ignores the objective essence and reality, but creates something absurd, because it can’t actually do it. This absurdness is the logic of Triadic Theology.  Logic is now the illogical !  Because in there, it is no longer illogical.  It is the reasoning within God’s Being.  It is because the essence does not precede, nor does it define, existence. If we think in an unorthodox way of God in this area, and we say that the essence precedes existence, then all these existential consequences appear.  And God?  Well, we must then either introduce the absurd element into God, or we ignore the personal speculation, and the speculation on freedom that the absurd element creates within us.  Of course, to a certain point this can be done, and we do, in general terms, put aside this absurd element.  But I don’t think it is possible – unless we deprive mankind of freedom altogether – to deprive it of its protest towards the phenomenon of the obligatory fact of his existence, which implies, as I said, the precedence of the essence to the person.  

            So, if God exists because the Father exists, and not because the essence exists, then we too have the hope that this absurd thing that we seek, may quite possibly be logical in reality; it may become logical.  The logic of Theology therefore, is the reversal or the denial of this absurd element.  This absolute freedom of God is expressed in the specific way of the Triadic relationship, and here we have another existential consequence, which is the continuation of the previous one.  Because for us existence is a given thing and therefore obligatory, our freedom is exercised in a double way; either by our unshackled acceptance  of our freedom, or the denial of our existence, i.e.  to not be able to deny my existence, to commit suicide, just as Dostoevsky analyzes it in his book “The Possessed”.  In this way, you will be fully proving your freedom.  It is only then that you prove your freedom fully: when you deny your existence.

       Well, for us there is the possibility to exercise freedom, at any rate there is the temptation to exercise our freedom in a negative manner, because our existence is a given thing, by someone else, hence our reaction to this existence.  In the case of God, how can God be free?  How can God exercise His freedom, if His existence is not a given thing?  He has only one way to exercise it:  affirmatively, positively.   For God, freedom is a one-way street; it is always affirmation.  God cannot say ‘no’.  What would He say ‘no’ to?   His freedom is only affirmative, and that’s why God’s freedom is expressed with His Triadic existence.   The Father’s freedom is expressed by saying ‘yes’ to the Son, the Son saying ‘yes’ to the Father.  It is the ‘yes – yes’ that Paul says was brought to us by Christ (Corinthians II, 1:19). You cannot say ‘no’ within the framework of the freedom that is not provoked by given existence, nor is it given ‘from without’ (that framework).  With God, nothing can be given ‘from without’.  Even His own self, His own existence, is not the result of His essence.  Consequently, not even His existence is obligatory.  He wouldn’t have been free otherwise.  On the other hand, if we were deprived of the ability to say ‘no’, we would cease to be free.  Seeing how existence for us is a given fact, we must have the option of being able to say ‘no’ to anything that is given to us ‘from without’.  But to God, there is no such option of choice; freedom is not exercised by God as a choice; it is exercised voluntarily, and only as Love, in its affirmative sense. Now, if you apply this to the human existence – as a fulfillment by the image of God, or as that which was revealed by Christ, or as it will be fulfilled eschatologically in the state of theosis – you will see that even then, freedom is forever a one-way street (as expounded by Saint Maximus extensively).  It is forever affirmative. Freedom is not the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’.  It is only the ‘yes’.  The relative verse in Corinthians II is very revealing. Paul says there: “Jesus Christ who is amongst you and is preached by you, did not become ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but within Him was the ‘yes’” (Corinthians II, 1:19).  God’s ‘yes’ and Christ’s ‘yes’  is now the freedom of affirmation.  It is from the Triadic dogma that this aspect of existence called ‘freedom’ springs from – or rather, is illuminated by. And how is it illuminated?  By what conclusion?  The conclusion is that there is only one way to exercise freedom to prove that you are free, and that is LOVE. The positive kind; the affirmation towards another being, other than yourself.  To freely say that “I acknowledge that this exists for me, and that it becomes a part of my existence.”

            This is how the Trinity exists.  The Father freely consents that He wants to have a Son, and He has that Son, freely.  God exercises His freedom when the Father begets the Son, also when He sends forth the Holy Spirit. And he exercises it in one form alone: as LOVE, as an affirmative action, and not a negative one. His negative freedom would have been His saying that He doesn’t exist; He would deny Himself.  But He would be saying that, only if the essence preceded - and therefore defined – His existence.

            Thus, a way of existence is created for man also, which is comprised of expressing, of exercising our freedom affirmatively, as love, and not negatively.  This is the “likeness of God”.  The image of God is fulfilled, precisely  this self-government of man, which has the ability to say ‘no’, but when it says ‘yes’, it is exercising freedom in a divine manner. This is how one also reaches those great connoisseurs of God and mankind as well, who are none other than the monks, whose existence begins and is supported by their eradication of their personal wills, and by their ‘yes’ to the other person, and their Elder.

            All the above are revelations of Triadic Theology from the aspect of experience which we spoke of in the first lessons.  You see now, that God - whom we theologians speak of dogmatically and have difficulty in making sense out of all this – to a saint, it is just a very simple experience.  He most probably won’t be able to put everything in words, the way that we do, but if you observe what I just told you, when I analyzed the existential consequences of the Triadic dogma, you will immediately see that a saint comprehends them automatically; he experiences them. 

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Greek text

Translation by A.N.

Article published in English on: 8-7-2005.

Last update: 16-11-2005.