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Following are the fragmentary and almost telegraphic notes of a course on Hellenism and Christianity given at the University of Madrid (1934-35) and of meetings which I had the pleasure of conducting in the Circle of Studies of the Foyer International des Etudiants Catholiques at the Cité Université, Paris, during the years 1937-1939. They are simply an exposition of some New Testament texts, as seen by the Greek tradition. They are, therefore, simple historical pages, nothing more. I must emphasize this.


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This study comprises some reflections with respect to certain passages of Romans. But only "with respect to," for two reasons. In the first place, we take the "With respect to" as referring to the entire New Testament. Whether or not they expressly form part of the Pauline thought contained in Romans, we shall freely recur to many passages of other Epistles or other writings of the New Testament. Secondly, we place the Epistle in the perspective of Greek theology. Hence we are not dealing with an historical exegesis of Romans, but some historical considerations of theological character. But on this point I should like to add a few words.

When one begins to deal with theological interpretations, the Church’s only concern is respect of dogma and tradition. For this reason theology in the Church has not one but many sources. Now, the logical perfection which some systems of theology have attained in the West has been responsible in large measure for the sad neglect into which this simple fact has fallen. In the Latin West to be sure the diversity of theologies is indisputable, not only with regard to isolated points and problems, but even concerning basic conceptions. Let is suffice to recall in passing the difference between St. Bonaventure and Alexander of Hales, on the one side, and St. Thomas on the other (not to speak of Duns Scotus). But this is not the only thing, nor perhaps the most important. Alongside the Latin tradition there is the enormous and splendid Greek tradition, so different in spirit and intellectual attitude from the Latin. Identity of dogma has not been an obstacle to the development of these two quite distinct courses of theology. The {402} Latins were well aware of it. Thus St. Thomas himself, speaking of the Divine Processions, pointed out the existence of diverse paths of interpretation, all perfectly legitimate, among which he would masterfully trace his own.

From the perspective of our Latin theology, many Greek concepts seem to us almost exclusively mystical or metaphorical (in the purely religious and devotional sense of the word). Such [354] occurs, as we shall see, with the concepts of goodness, love, grace, etc. But if we earnestly try to immerse ourselves in the work of the Greek Fathers, we shall quickly discover an attitude different from the Latin—but still rigorously intellectual—within which these concepts have strict metaphysical character.

Latin theology begins, in the work of St. Augustine, with the interior man and his aspirations and moral vicissitudes, especially his desire for happiness; it was in large measure his own personal life. In contrast, Greek theology considers man rather as a fragment—central, if one wishes—of creation as a whole, of the cosmos. Human concepts then take on a different nuance. Thus sin, for a Latin, is above all a maliciousness associated with the will; for a Greek, it is first and foremost a blot on creation. For the Latin, love is an aspiration of the soul, ascribed preferentially to the will; for the Greek it is, in contrast, the metaphysical basis of every activity, because essentially all being tends to perfection. For a Latin the problem of grace is subordinated to the beatific vision in glory; for a Greek happiness is the consequence of grace understood as deification. The difference, as we shall see, extends even to the very idea of God which we form for ourselves from our finite, human point of view.

Of course, these two theologies are not divorced; that would be intrinsically impossible. Moreover, historically large portions of Latin theology have been possessed of deep Hellenic inspiration; among the foremost exponents of Greek thought is Richard of St. Victor, who with reason has often been called the most original thinker of the Middle Ages. Furthermore, we are perhaps witness to the interesting paradox that certain concepts, often classified as Neoplatonic, constitute the most faithful interpretation and deposit of Aristotelian thought; while in works consecrated {403} to Aristotelianism, Platonic concepts at times seem to be substituted, either consciously or unconsciously.

Greek theology contains intellectual treasures, not just for theology, but for philosophy itself. The present state of many philosophical preoccupations reveals intuitions and concepts in Greek theology of unsuspected fecundity, which up until now have remained almost inoperative and dormant probably because their time had not yet come. It is necessary to renew them. Above all, this revival is urgent with respect to New Testament theology. Greek theology perfectly matches the progression of Biblical expressions. This is not its least value, either. A careful but [355] explicit reaction against Latin exclusivism can now be glimpsed; among contemporary writers Schmaus, Keller, and Stolz, for example, represent a brilliant advance.

Personally I shall not hide my affection for Greek theology. Without any exclusivism whatsoever, I have yielded in the following pages to this propensity. We are dealing, of course, with a mere exposition—having not the least pretense of originality—of some points of New Testament doctrine, especially that of St. Paul, such as it was viewed by the Greek tradition. Nothing more. Let the foregoing considerations serve as my excuse and as orientation for the reader.

I need not caution that the sparse and almost telegraphic character of these notes is due to their origin and initial purpose. For this same reason, textual references to the New Testament are rather sporadic, and in general left to the sagacity of the reader. Likewise, since this is merely an expository summary, I have not thought it necessary to include bibliographic citations. Any interested reader will be able to locate them immediately. {404}


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Let us begin by fixing our attention on the place where we are going to be situated. The activity of St. Paul is neither that of a founder of a group of initiates nor that of a simple, systematic theological speculator, It is rather something encompassing both terms, absorbing them in a higher unity.

St. Paul’s work is, in the first place, a living catechesis destined for the constitution of Christian communities, grouped around Christ. which gloriously and mysteriously live not only in the heavens, but also on the earth, after His Resurrection. For St. Paul, the foundation of these groupings, of these "churches" in the bosom of the "Church," does not consist only in participation in certain rites nor in a certain regimen of practical life (both of which are nothing but consequences of that foundation), but first and foremost in a radical transformation of our entire existence, the consequence, in turn, of a transformation of our entire being, of a deification through union with Christ. This union comes about through Baptism and is scaled in the Eucharist. As ritual acts they are the symbols of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection; but insofar as they are at the same time acts of Christ himself, they produce in man that which they signify. And they produce it, of course, morally, causing the faithful to have "the same attitude which Jesus Christ had" (Phlm 2:5), but in addition to have it physically and in reality. And this real union with Chris, glorified is, {406} in turn, a union with God Himself, by means of grace To every supernatural action of God in the world, to every ordering of the plan of our eternal salvation brought to fulfillment in the world, St. Paul gives the name mystery (mysterion). This word. then, does not primarily designate inscrutable truths, but rather [357] those divine actions and decisions which are inscrutable by virtue of being freely decided by God and being oriented toward the participation of the world and especially of man in the life and even the being of the Divine. Intellectual incomprehensibility is a necessary consequence, but a consequence only of that radical character of the mystery as Divine action, as a secret of His will. The signitive and efficacious internal unity between the mystery of Christ and the liturgical rites is what in a special and strict way St. Paul still called "mystery." The Latins translated this expression with the word sacramentum. In an epoch in which mystery religions inundated the Roman Empire, the primary goal of St. Paul’s activity was "to disseminate the mysteries of God and Christ," i.e. to co-operate at the transformation of the being of man through his union with Christ.

But St. Paul, in addition, writes and teaches. He writes and teaches, keeping before his eyes that special "vision", "notice", "attitude" (gnosis kai phronesis) of this effective supernaturalization of man and of the world, whose proximate root is the sacramental mystery in the sense indicated. And he expresses the content of this vision in a logos, which is the logos of the Theos; it is what the Holy Fathers preferentially called "Theologia" (Theology). It is a speaking about God, but a speaking about God from God., It is about God, ultimately, such as we are given to know directly or indirectly in Christ. And it is from God, i.e. from where God is given to us, directly or indirectly, from the internal unity between Christ and the liturgical rites, from the sacramental reality. Vis-à-vis Hellenic speculation, Pauline theology is not a simple intellectual meditation; it expresses the teachings of something which is happening, and has as its goal to immerse us ever more deeply in that which happens, by means of an {407} understanding of it, which likewise grows deeper. In St. Paul, the inspired Apostle and transmitter of a revelation, theology itself pertains to the integral reality of the supernatural order, to the depositum fidei. Since revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle, theology will be an investigation of that order.

This viewpoint of the Deifying mystery is that which we choose to orient our exposition. {408}


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For St. Paul, the whole problem of supernatural being ultimately hinges on the position of Christ in the universe. He expresses it in one word: Christ is the conjunction and sum of everything, but in a radical and precise sense, as fullness (pleroma, Eph 1:23) of each divine and created being. It is important, then, to examine the question step by step.

The being of God, in its intimate reality, is an effusive love, and its effusion shows up in three forms, which are metaphysically distinct. It overflows in His own proper life; it is projected outwardly in creating things, and it gives of itself to creation so as to associate creation with its own personal life in deification. Trinitarian procession, creation, and deification are nothing but the three metaphysically distinct modes of the effusion of divine being understood as love. Such was the mind of the Greek Fathers.

We shall examine each of these aspects of the problem separately.

In the first place, there is the being of God. The idea that God is love, agape, runs throughout the New Testament. The insistence with which this affirmation recurs in St. John (e.g. John 3:31; 10:17; 15:9; 17:23-26; l Jn 4:8) as well as in St. Paul (2 Cor 13:11; Eph 1:6; Col 1:13; etc.), and the special energy with which the verb menein, to abide, is employed ("Abide in my love"), are a good indication that we are not dealing with some vague metaphor, nor a moral attribute of God, but a metaphysical characterization of the divine being. The Greeks understood it that way unanimously, as did the Latin tradition of {410} Greek inspiration. For the New Testament and the Greek tradition agape is not a virtue of a special faculty, the will; but a metaphysical dimension of reality, which affects being by itself, prior to any specification in faculties. It only relates to the will insofar as the latter is a piece of reality. True, it does relate to the will in a preeminent sense, just as the mode of being of man is preeminent. But the tradition we are considering always tries to take agape in its primary ontological and real dimension. Hence, that to which it most closely approximates is [359] the eros of classicism. Of course—as we shall shortly see—there is a profound difference, indeed almost an opposition, between agape and eros. But this opposition always occurs within a common root; it is an opposition of direction within the same general line, viz. the structure of reality. For this reason it is preferable in translation to employ the generic term love. The Latins almost always rendered agape by charity (caritas). But this runs the risk of alluding to a simple moral virtue. The Greek Fathers unanimously employed the expression eros; so we shall use love.

Before entering into this metaphysical dimension of love, a few words about the difference between eros and agape. Eros takes the lover out of himself so as to desire something which he lacks. Upon obtaining it, he acquires the ultimate perfection of himself. Rigorously speaking, in eros the lover seeks himself. In agape, on the other hand, the lover also goes outside of himself, but is not taken out; rather he freely gives, he makes a donation of himself. This is the effusion consequent upon the plenitude of being which already is. If the lover goes outside of himself, it is not to look for something, but by the effusion of his own superabundance. Whereas in eros the lover seeks himself, in agape he goes to the loved one as such. Naturally, through this common dimension in which eros and agape involve an "outside of oneself," they are not mutually exclusive, at least in finite beings. Their dramatic unity is in fact nothing other than human love. The Latins of Hellenic inspiration distinguished the two cases with a precise vocabulary. Eros is natural love; it is the tendency which, by virtue of its own nature, inclines all being towards the acts and objects for which it is capacitated. Agape is personal love in which the lover seeks nothing; rather, upon confirming himself {411} in his proper substantive reality, the person is not inclined by nature, but rather grants through liberality (Richard of St. Victor and Alexander of Hales). Insofar as nature and person are two metaphysical dimensions of reality, love, natural as well as personal, is also something ontological and metaphysical. Therefore the verb menein, to abide, indicates that agape is something prior to the movement of the will. Charity, as a moral virtue, moves us because we are already placed in the metaphysical situation of love.

When the New Testament tells us, then, that God is love, agape, the Greeks unanimously understood the affirmation in a strictly and rigorously metaphysical sense. It supposes a certain [360] idea of being and of reality, without understanding which one might have the impression that in Patristic speculation there is nothing but mystical elevations toward an ethereal piety. Nothing could be further from the truth. If one wishes, the piety and prayer of the Greek Fathers have a strictly metaphysical meaning. This is the mistake to which I alluded in the introductory note.

In order to understand the viewpoint of the Greek Fathers, let us center our attention briefly on their idea of being. In contrast to what one might suppose, Greek philosophy itself (including Aristotle) lacks a unitary concept of being. In fact, not only is their concept of being not unitary (at bottom they did not even reach the point of formally posing the problem), neither is their idea of what reality is by virtue of its being. These are two completely different problems, but essential to every system of metaphysics. Vis-à-vis neither of them did Greek thought adopt a unitary attitude. Not with respect to the concept of being, because in spite of "analogy," even for Aristotle the idea of being remains ultimately diluted in a multiplicity of meanings; nor with respect to the idea of reality insofar as it is, because the "idea and the form" do not acquire the fullness of their meaning or of their conceptual determination. It is necessary to point this out clearly. And that lack of internal unity, both insofar as it affects the concept of being and as it touches the idea of reality as such, is essential for judging Greek metaphysics. Here only the second point interests us. What did the Greeks understand by reality? The {412} two models upon which the Greek mind was constantly fixed when treating this problem were material things and living things. For the Greeks, they were two examples, nothing more. But the examples took their revenge, the one upon the other.

A good portion of the Greeks’ ontological ideas were inspired by the mode of being of material things. Their being consists in "being there." In the first place, this is true in the sense of "being here," being truly encountered. Whence "stability" will be the salient characteristic of being, where "stability" means the abstract character of what "is." But besides being, things become, they "change." Since being is what is stable, change cannot occur except in its (being’s) properties, not in its ultimate reality (we leave aside substantial change, which is not an exception to this idea either). All movement is thus pure and simple mutation. and hence imperfection; it proceeds only from an "initial" state of the subject which "is" underneath it, and which [361] carries it to the other "final" state. "Being" is synonymous with "stability," and "stability" synonymous with "immobility."

But in Plato as well as in Aristotle there is another concept of being, inspired more by living things. In them movement is not just a simple mutation; that which there is in it of mutation is nothing but the external expansion of a more intimate movement, which consists in living. Living is not simply "being there" or changing. It is a type of movement more subtle and profound. Since Aristotle there has been the expression vita in motu. This peculiar character of a living being as movement, and not mutation, was designated by the adjective "immanent." Stability—manere—is not a simple absence of movement, but the quiescent and plenary expression of vital internal movement; moreover what there is of movement in life not only is not primarily mutation, but the very realization of manere. This is what the prefix "im" of the word "immanent" expresses. If we sever from living movement what it has of mutation, and keep the simple internal operation of living, we shall understand what Aristotle told us in respect to living things, that their being is their life, understood as an immanent operation. Aristotle therefore calls being energeia, the substantive operation in which being consists. In this {413} sense, being will be more perfect the more mobile it is, the more operative it is.

Whence the serious equivocation involved in the Aristotelian expression energeia, which was rendered as "act" by the Latins. Depending upon whether one attends to the first or second conception, the meaning of the act changes radically. In the first, "act" signifies "actuality," "is," that which is effectively is here-and-now. In the second, "act" signifies "activity", that which is effectively being. In such case being is operation. And the more perfect something is, the deeper and more fertile is its operative activity. Being, said the Pseudo-Dionysius, is ecstatic; the more it "is," the more it diffuses itself, in one sense or another. Employing a metaphor of St. Bonaventure, if we consider a vessel full of water, in the first conception being signifies the volume of water contained in it. In the second, it is the overflowing through which the source, located in the bottom of the vessel, simultaneously keeps it full and causes it to overflow. In the first case, being is an end, an act of a potentiality; in the second, a principle, the activity itself. Such is the conception of the Pseudo-Dionysius; his commentators have noted it, and I do nothing but transcribe [362] almost literally his own words. Being is, then, a type of primary and radical active operation through which things are more than realities; they are something which realizes itself.

We can specify more precisely the type of operant activity in which being consists. Living things have many properties. But each of them emerges from the "living being," and is nothing but an aspect or mode of life itself, and ultimately an effect of it. The living being does nothing but live, i.e. be through its many manifestations, properties, and acts. And each one of these properties is quite "proper" to the living thing; but in a sense radically different than that by which its physical properties are proper to a mineral. The way in which a quality is "proper" to a living being, the way in which it is the "property" of the living being, consists in this: that from it the living being withdraws into itself, and realizes itself in the property. Life is a unity, but one which is radical and originating; it is a fountain or principle of all its many facets and acts, each one of which only "is" inasmuch as it is an expression or real and complete affirmation of life’s primitive unity. {414} Being is "one," not as simple negation of division, but as an originating, unifying activity. Whence the special function of unity as an ontological character. From another point of view, being consists in unity with itself, which is greater in proportion to the perfection of the entity in question.

Let us go still deeper into this relation between a living thing and its multiple facets. The unifying activity in which the living thing consists is carried on and manifested in the development of its life. The greater or lesser richness of life leads to a richer or poorer display of perfections. The Greek Fathers here employed the usual terminology. Being, as richer or poorer unity, was called ousia; its richness or perfections were its dynameis. But let us take care to avoid a possible error. The word dynamis, "potentiality," can mean either something which, through emerging from ousia itself, is still imperfect because it requires the complement of vital acts, or it can mean the archtypical expression of the richness of a living thing, the plenitude of its vital potentiality. In the first sense, potentiality means simple virtuality, something still defective; in the second, it signifies virtuosity, a vital plenitude. The Greek Fathers stress rather this last concept, to the point [363] where, together with the Neoplatonists, it seems at times as if they hypostasize the potentialities. And then being as ousia is the unitary treasure of its own proper richness, and the potentialities simply the translation or actual expression of this unitary treasure an expression which is nothing but the external expansion of being. For this reason they called being ousia, pege, fountain, arkhe, principle. In these virtuosities the living being truly lives, and carries out its acts, its energeiai. But here the act is not so much the complement of the potentiality as the ultimate expansion and expression of the activity in which the living thing originally consists. Understood on the model of living beings, as operation, being gives to itself, in a certain way, its act. Naturally, in proportion to the finitude of being, greater will be the necessity of elements to produce its acts; in proportion to how finite a being is, its act has more of {415} complement and terminus than of activity. But conversely, in proportion as we approach the infinitude of being, the more shall we approximate to a pure activity, whose purity consists precisely in being its proper act, or rather, in subsisting as pure action, as a pure energeia.

Therefore, speaking of finite entities, all these aspects are limited and the activity of the act has a greater character of actuality than of action; virtuousity, a greater character of virtuality, and the primary unity of being, a greater character of tendency, of "pretension". Hence, in its acts, the living being "becomes" in reality that which it already was, and its being consists of an "arriving at" which is not physical or chronological, but metaphysical, and which includes even "having arrived at." But whatever there is of the positively entitative in this becoming is the activity which is self-affirming, rather than the act through which it is actualized. Hence, in the first conception a finite act is always received; in the second, an act, even if finite, is primarily executed. This significant difference arises from the ontological conception of reality. The being of things is, in the first conception, something which is there; in the second, being is always primary and radical action. The deeper we probe into the succession of problems, the more clearly we shall perceive the difference.

Both conceptions are found in Plato as well as in Aristotle. The Aristotelian energeia is action and activity and not just act. In turn, [364] the Platonic Idea is a unifying activity, and not just an outline of characteristics; it is the correlate of a definition. But often the active aspect of Aristotle remains buried beneath the actualistic; and by a singular paradox the richest part of Aristotelian thought survived only as associated with Platonism. Thus one can explain how St. John Damascene, though officially Aristotelian, finds himself identified with thinkers having deep Platonic roots just on account of having tactfully integrated this active purity of energeia into his thought. On the other hand, the so-called Aristotelians absorbed more and more of the Platonic Idea into the Aristotelian "concept." This indicates, let it be said in passing, that the study of Neoplatonism is one of the three or four most urgent tasks of the historian of ancient philosophy. But let us now proceed. {416}

To this manner of understanding being corresponds the manner of understanding causality. It is natural that when one understands being in the primitive manner of physical things, causality unfolds in the four types known since Aristotle: efficient, material, formal, and final. But historically we find that "cause" has been understood almost exclusively as efficient causality, though it may encompass the other three types: a thing produces an effect on another; that other is a substrate (material) which receives the effect as termination or complement (forma) of its capacity; and this termination is that to which it tends, as to its end, the efficiency of the cause. But let us now concentrate on the generation of living things. Then the so-called "formal causality" immediately begins to stand out, and becomes the very center of the idea of causality, so as to absorb within itself both efficient and final causality. The life of the progenitor is a unifying unity which through the plenitude of its life leads it to overflow in its dynameis, and to reproduce itself. Here the effect is, rather than a "production", a " reproduction " of the cause more or less perfect according to the type of entity and causality. If we apply this model to causality in general, we shall see in it the way in which the form of the cause is assimilated and "re-produces," in its own way, in all of its effects. In the generation of living things that which is produced is a new vital unity numerically distinct from the first; there is no monism. But what is produced is a "re-production". In the engendering the being of the progenitor is reflected and manifested. The efficiency of the generation passes to the second level; what is decisive is that type of imitation which there is in the effect relative to its causes. The model of causality in inanimate [365] beings is the collision; in living things, imitation. Efficient causality represents nothing but the mechanism of that projection; the essence of causality is always in formal projection. Therefore the son is the reproduction of the father, and in turn, the father is more or less present in the son as shining in him. This brings us to see in causality simply the presence ad extra of the cause in the effect. There are—let us say so forthwith—diverse modes of this presence and, consequently, different types of {417} causation. The way in which the father is imitated by the son is not the same as the way in which life, within the father, is integrally reflected in each one of its properties and functions. Returning now to the previous idea, let us extend it to all types of causality. The effect is not simply something received in a substratum; but, if I may be permitted the expression, the excitation, on the part of the cause, of the activity of being in that in which the effect will be produced, so that the activity of the effect will produce (and therefore reproduce) that which in one or another form was precontained in the activity of the cause. In this way the effect is always, in one or another way, the formal imitation of the cause. There are many other modes of imitation and, consequently, of the presence the cause in the effect. Let us clearly bear this in mind for the time when we speak of God and supernatural being. It will always be the case that for the Greek Fathers causality is an expansion or eccentric projection of the originary activity in which being consists. The projective and eccentric character of causality follows the estatic character of being. Whence important consequences derive for a deeper understanding of being itself.

This active internal perfection of life leads it, in fact, to expand itself, precisely on account of what it is in itself. That which we call "finality" is in no way different from the being itself of the cause; it is the cause itself insofar as it "is." This means that the being of the cause is its very entity, the reason why this entity is causal. Entity, from the terminal viewpoint of its expansion, is what we call the good. For this reason the cause is, as cause, good. And the effect is "good" precisely because when it reproduces the cause, the cause’s goodness shines forth in it. The essence of causality is goodness, said Alexander of Hales: in the cause, because it is its own internal perfection; in the causal activity because it displays the cause’s perfection; in the effect, because it reproduces the cause. Clearly, with regard to finite beings, this unity of perfection has the character of a display, of a type of tension which is [366] realized in "distension", "ex-tension," and "pre-tension." We shall not delve into the problem of this articulation. It will always be the case that the ontological heart of causality is an agathon, a bonum, and that the finite manner of carrying out {418} its activities is a tension. To it the Greeks gave the name eros, love, the tendency of being to its proper and natural perfection. Whence the internal implication between being, unity, and goodness, which is expressed in the more profound unity of the eros. The Pseudo-Dionysius called being, as goodness, an intelligible light and an inexhaustible fountain. Perhaps the idea of irradiation brings together both images. Being is light, but in the sense of active irradiation, of eros. From another point of view, that which constitutes being is its unity, and this unity is an activity directed to realizing itself, to realizing its proper form. The good is the very principle of what things have, of that in which they consist; the being of things consists in the "internal union" with what they have; and this unity is a unitary and originating activity. That which we call the unity of being, seen from outside, is nothing but the expression of this subordination of that which is possessed to the good and to the eros. In this reality of things, the Greek Fathers see rather actuality based upon activity as opposed to activity based on actuality. Whence unity and transcendental goodness are not "passions" of being, i.e. affections consequent upon it, but its proper and positive internal constitution. Being is one and good through itself, not through its separation from another, nor through its being directed to another. Moreover, as being consists in becoming, that which being is manifests its own goodness, that which being is in its intimate and radical entity; and this its "manifestory" character which we call "essence" a being has relative to the being of which it is the essence, and is what is called truth, in an ontological sense. That which we call the essence of beings, insofar as it is the mere correlate of their definition, is always something been, and in this "been" one must see its content based on the action through which it has come to be; the essence, as correlate of the definition, is the precipitate of being itself. Hence the Greek Fathers never referred to essence as the mere {419} correlate of an "essential definition;" rather they understood by essence the activity of being itself insofar as it is the root of all its (being’s) notae. If one wishes, the essence of [367] essence is "to essence." It was for them something inscrutable and which cannot be understood except in the dynameis, in the potent perfections of things, whose being (that of the dynameis) consists in manifesting the inscrutable unitary root of the essence. The dynameis are the truth, as we shall forthwith see. Unity, truth, and goodness for this reason pertain to being in itself and not by virtue of its reference to other things.

Lastly, with regard to finite entitites, it is easy to observe that all the offspring of all generations reproduce not only the abstract unity of their species, but, in a certain way, the concrete unity of their common progenitor. Hence, in virtue of being, every living being is triply unified: (1) being is above all unity with itself; being is, unquestionably, metaphysical intimacy; (2) being is, moreover, unity of the progenitor shining through it, i.e. unity of origin; (3) being is, finally, unity of all the individuals in its species and even in its generation; through its own being each entity is in community. In this articulation between intimacy, origination, and communication lies the ultimate metaphysical structure of being. Being is the being of itself, received being, and being in common. We shall not enter into this problem, which would carry us to a systematic metaphysics. Let us say parenthetically that the celebrated Neoplatonic realism of the universals shows an interesting perspective on this side which I only hint at.

In this immense metaphysical structure let us again turn our attention to the point of departure. Being was ousia, treasure, richness. But this richness thus considered is hidden in itself. The potentialities are nothing but the manifest expression of this hidden treasure, as acts are of the potentialities. Whence the truth of the entity is its potentialities, and the truth of the potentialities, their respective acts. But by saying so let us not lose sight of the foregoing considerations. All this metaphysics is activistic. The potentialities are manifestations of the essence, because they are the active plenitude of its being, and the acts are manifestations of the potentiality for the same reason; acts are nothing but the ratification of the {420} potentialities, the expansion or effusion of that in which being consists. Consequently, in potentiality as well as in acts being is present by virtue of a formal "shining through." And this is true in two ways. In the first place, potentialities and acts give understanding, they manifest what being already was; this is what the Greek called doxa. This manifestation which is patent to the eyes of all is, from the point of view of what is manifested, its [368] truth, a-letheia, revelation. And from the viewpoint of its publicity it is a proclamation of its bonum, its gloria. Whence the internal unity between truth and glory as doxa. In the second place, taking the content of the doxa in itself, being becomes the explicit picture of the perfections of the radical essence. On account of this relation it can be called the likeness of the radical essence; not a likeness in the sense of external relation, but an internal assimilation. By virtue of being an expression of the essence, it is already a likeness; and in virtue of being a likeness of the essence, it is a manifestation of it. To this likeness the Greeks gave the name eikon, image. Since it proceeds from the essence (ektypoma) it is already a likeness (homoioma), and since it allows the essence to shine through, it is a truth; it makes the essence visible (ekphantorike) and shows it to us (deiktike). Truth thus understood is not purely logical, but ontological; it is a structure of being. Eikonal being refers us back to the essence of which it is likeness, and therefore is the ultimate expression of the unity of being with itself. Let us not forget the profound difference between the Greek notion of eikon and the Latin imago. The imago is an image because it looks like what is "imaged," but the eikon looks like what is imaged because it proceeds from it. The properties of things and their effects are in this eikonal sense similitude, imago, ac derivatio, which have nothing to do with Western exemplarism.

In reality, then, being, though finite, is activity, and its acts consist only in returning to itself: episodis eis hauto, movement towards itself, Aristotle termed it.

To complete these prolegomena it will suffice to indicate that not all beings have the same entitative character nor the same ontological perfection. Let us start once again with living things. Their unity is purely natural; it is and derives from what things are in themselves. Next to living things inanimate beings are only {421} a humble degradation—in contrast to what the Latins saw in them, viz. the base onto which life adds a new perfection. But in man there is still more. The whole of my nature and my individual characteristics are not only in me, but are mine. There is in me, then, a special relation between what I am and the one I am, between what and who, between nature and person. Nature is always something one has; person is he who has. But this relation can be understood from two viewpoints, and the meaning of "have" is radically different in the two perspectives. One can see in the person the preeminent manner of realizing nature, the [369] ultimate term which completes individual substance. But one can see just the reverse, i.e. one can see in nature the way in which I realize myself as a person. Then the person is not a complement of nature, but a principle for its subsistence. The person, says St. John Damascene, seeks to have (thelei ekhein) substance with accidents and subsist by himself. Being does not primarily signify substance, but personal subsistence or lack of it. "The person," he continues, "signifies the being (to einai)." Hence the way of being constituted in reality is essential to the person, says Richard of St. Victor (inspired by St. Basil the Great). This way is what theologians since antiquity have called a "relation of origin." I am, myself and my individual humanity, that which has come to me and in which I consist in order to be able to subsist. For the Greeks and the Victorines that which formally constitutes the person is a relation of origin (St. Bonaventure repeats it textually); that which constitutes nature is something which is in a certain sense abstract and rough hewn, however individualized one may care to view it. Richard of St. Victor introduced a terminology which did not fare well, but which is marvellous nonetheless. He called nature sistence; and the person is the way of having nature; its origin, the "ex." He then employed the word existence as a unitary designation of personal being. Here "existence" does not mean the common fact of being in existence, but is a characteristic of the mode existing: personal being. The person is someone who is something through it in order to be: sistit but ex. This "ex" expresses the supreme degree of unity of being, the unity with itself in {422} personal intimacy. Here personal unity is the principle and the supreme form of unification: the mode of unifying nature and its acts in the intimacy of the person. The word "intimacy" is here taken in an etymological sense; it means what is most interior and deepest, in this case personal subsistence. In virtue of being a person, every personal being finds itself referred to someone from whom it received its nature, and furthermore to someone who can share that nature. The person is essentially, constitutively, and formally referred to God and other men. We now understand that the eros of nature takes on a new character. The effusion and expansion of personal being is not like the natural tension of eros; rather, it expands and diffuses through the personal perfection of what it already is. This is the donation, the agape which leads us to God and to all mankind.

With these preliminaries disposed of, we find ourselves in the [370] position of being able to better understand how the Greek Fathers interpreted the New Testament phrase that God is love. It is a metaphysical definition. God is supreme among beings, and his very supremacy is expressed in love. He is the most ecstatic of entities, because he is in a certain way subsistent ecstasy. But here it is necessary to once again stress what we previously said. In metaphysics, differences which apparently are only verbal can when extended lead to completely different concepts and mentalities. The different ways of conceiving being and causality lead to different conceptions of God.

From Aristotle derives the idea that God is pure act, energeia. "Pure" means that He does not have in His nature anything leading Him to manifest Himself, as occurs in finite beings; but rather He is a subsistent act. No one has an adequate intuition of God; we only have human concepts. With respect to God, our concepts are converted into analogical paths, into routes through which we attempt to reach Him intellectually. Therefore the human result, our concepts of God, will be as diverse as the roads upon which we embark. Let us now recall the two meanings of the word "act" as a designation of being. If one understands by ‘act’ actuality, we shall conceive of God as a pure and perfect actuality, i.e. as {423} an entity in which there is neither potentiality nor virtuality of any sort, whether physical or metaphysical. he is an entity whose being is not metaphysically defective. He lacks nothing in the order of being. But if we understand by "act" activity, then God will be pure and subsistent activity. Let us recall now that if we remove mutation from movement, we are left with the operation, something active. In this sense the Greek Fathers conceived of God not so much as a purely actual entity, but as an entity consisting in pure action, and hence, in perfect life. It is not just that God lacks nothing, but that He is positively the plenitude of being as action. More than existence, what there is in God is the very operation of existing. The Greeks even posed the question of whether the word Theos, God, primarily designates a nature (the Deity) or an operation. They did not hesitate to opt for the latter. That pure action is, eo ipso, a subsistent unity in the highest sense of absolute possession of itself. God is selfness itself. Whence He is a subsistent person (We shall return to this forthwith with respect to the personal Trinity). The theological perspective of the Greeks is quite different from that of the Latins. Theirs is a theology which is essentially personalistic. The first movement of [371] man to God having a metaphysical priority, and not simply de facto, is a movement of person to person.

If we wish to specify further the nature of this pure and subsistent action in which God consists, the Pseudo-Dionysius will facilitate the reply. In created beings unity is manifested in an eros which tends to realize something, its proper good. But in God that unity is pure, is its proper reality. His eros is a subsistent eros, and personal as it is, is subsistent agape. In God we are present at the pure root of being and hence in Him being cannot be understood except based on goodness. Therefore His being, which is infinite, is infinitely ecstatic; it tends to communicate itself as an infinite fountain (pege), as fontanalis plenitude. The infinity of His selfness is, eo ipso, the infinitude {424} of His personal ecstasy. Only an infinitely intimate being can be infinitely communicable. Man speaks of God by conferring upon Him many names or predicates, so as to understand this communicability better. But the way Dionysius understands these names differs from the way almost all Western thinkers use them. To the West, God, for example, has wisdom, and therefore we say that He is wise. But to the Greeks the relation is just the reverse. Potentialities or properties are nothing but the explicitude of the treasure of essence. Whence the attributes of God are His dynameis, the infinite richness of His being, and therefore the expression of what already is in His essence in a hidden way. The reasoning of Dionysius is, then, the reverse of that of Western thinkers: God is wise, and therefore we say that he has wisdom. The attributes of God are converted into the truth of His infinite essence. They express what God is already. And since one must conceive of God above all as a person, these attributes take on—as we shall see forthwith—a good measure of personal character. In finite beings the primacy of the good over being is imperfect; therefore their eros is always dynamic.

And so this is God for the Greeks: a pure personal action, unfathomable; in the purity of His act the character of His person is already expressed. In God nature is held by radical identity in the person. Seen from outside, it is manifested as infinite ecstasy, as infinite fecundity; and therefore we conceive of God as love. His metaphysical unity is His ecstasy. And in the purity of His act the [372] absolute unification of all His attributes with His being is expressed, in metaphysical intimacy.

And here, then, we have more or less reached our point of departure. God is essentially a pure action, a pure personal love. As such, He is ecstatic and effusive. The structure of this ecstasy is the effusion of love in three different planes: an internal effusion, the life of the Trinity; an external creation; and a deifying gift. This we shall see.

So as to avoid needless repetitions, I beg the reader to try to understand all concepts appearing in this exposition within the scheme above outlined.


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We only know of the existence of Divine Processions through Revelation. Reason by itself could never have surmised that the internal fecundity of Divine being leads to the production of a series of personal beings that are truly distinct. In a word, the fact that in God there are real personal processions is a revealed datum. It is likewise a datum of revelation and of reason at the same time that there are not three Gods: "For there are three that bear witness in Heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one" (I Jn 5:7). Theology can only seek to reduce revealed assumptions to a minimum so as to discover in them an internal concatenation, and to try to analogically and eminently conceive that matters can be thus, or at least that it is not impossible that they should.

And here is where Greek and Latin though make their divergence more visible. The Latins, following the route traced by St. Augustine, start from the unity of God, from the second member of the above Biblical text. Their problem then centers on conceiving the trinity of persons (first member) without in any way slighting the primary unity. The Greeks, on the other hand, follow the order of the text. They try to understand the nature of each person, and their problem centers on conceiving how these three persons are only one single thing. This difference of attitude is already implicit in their concept of being and of the person. The Latins tended to see in God first and foremost a nature which lacked nothing and which, consequently, has rationality and hence personality. The Greeks see in God, above all, a {426} person who in a certain way realizes Himself in his proper nature. The outcome is clear. The Latins will see in God a single nature which subsists in three persons; and different by virtue of their relation of origin, these persons are above all set apart from each other. The Greeks will see rather how God, upon realizing Himself as a person, "tri-personalizes" Himself, in such a way that the trinity of persons is precisely the metaphysical way of possessing an [374] identical nature; the persons do not begin by opposing themselves, but by implying each other and demanding each other in their distinction relative to each other. Whereas for the Latins each person is in the other in the sense that the three have a nature which is numerically identical, for the Greeks each person is unable to exist except by producing the other, and from the concurrence of this personal production the identical nature of a single God is assured. For the Greeks, the Trinity is the mysterious mode of being of an infinite God, one by nature. For the Latins, the Trinity is the mysterious way in which unity subsists in three persons.

The point of departure of the Greek conception was clearly seen and expressed by Richard of St. Victor. The person is formally constituted by a relation of origin with respect to his own nature. In man, a finite person, nature is something which the person has, but which is given to him. For God, His nature is not obtained; He has it through Himself. Therefore He is an infinite person. And therefore His fecundity is also infinite, because being is agape, love. That this fecundity is productive of persons is the revealed mystery. But given the revelation, reason can make out at least the congruence of the revealed data.

Let us once again recall that in this metaphysical sense love does not refer to the act of a special faculty called "will" as opposed to that of "understanding." The Greeks saw in love the very ecstasy of being, something which in radice encompasses the understanding and the will as distinct faculties; through being active they are already dynameis, the expression of the being of their own expansion. Centuries later Durando, Herveus, Natalis and others will hearken to this idea in the Franciscan school: the principle of the Divine processions is the fecundity of the being of God. That love is the principle of Trinitary life can be seen {427} in various passages of the New Testament (John 3:35; 10:17; 15:19; 17:23-26; Eph 1:6 Col 1:13, etc.). Thus, St. Maximus says, "God the Father, moved (kinetheis) by an eternal love, has proceeded to the distinction of persons." For the Greeks, then, love and movement as pure activity are the principle of Trinitary life. The Greeks start from the fact that God is the Father.

How then can this life be represented? Consider the way in which one of the most illustrious interpreters of Greek theology conceived it. To begin we take as our point of departure God, considered indistinctly, but always as a person. In Him is the [375] infinitude of Divine being, but like a hidden treasure; it is the ousia itself of God, in its metaphysical purity, as pure activity and action. Who is this person God? The unfathomable abyss of the Divinity, of whom St. John says "No man has seen God." This essence is personally subsistent, and its personal subsistence is marked by the fact that it is not received. Now from the subject its perfections are born; in them the hidden richness of the essence is expressed. Since God is pure act, these perfections do not add anything real to the essence, but rather are its proper explicitness. And hence the essence takes on a second mode of personal being. It is the same essence of the first person with respect to truth about its proper being. The first person makes Himself infinitely patent in the Son through the infinite ecstasy of His being. And consequently, He becomes the Father at the moment when the Son is engendered through His expression. We shall see why forthwith. In any case, it is clear that the Father is not the Father save because He engenders the Son (in contrast to the Latins, for whom He engenders because He is the Father). So it is that St. Bonaventure was able to call the Father generatio inchoata and the Son, generatio completa. He is the personification of the ousia and of the dynameis. And thus it is that the Son proceeds immediately from the Father. But there is more. In every "virtuosity" there are two different states possible in finite beings. I can know many things, and nevertheless not always be thinking about them. When I do think about them, Aristotle tells us that this is not an increase of a potentiality, but a simple ratification or affirmation of it. It is an operation which proceeds not toward the other, but towards itself. So, in God, the person of {428} the Son explicitly contains the richness of the Divine essence. The Son is the personification of the dynamis of the Father. The Son is the Father’s perfection "engendered," because the dynamis is, in every living being, the genetic expression of the Father’s nature. But these perfections are precisely the whole of the truth and nothing but the truth of the essence; so true, that in respect of essence they are identical with it. If I now express these perfections as acts which identically revert to the essence, making of it the expression of a "pure act," I shall have personified the energeia aspect of Divine being. This is the person of the Holy Spirit. And for this reason the Greek [376] Fathers called the Holy Spirit " Manifestor". Like every energeia, He represents a telos. One can then say that the Holy Spirit is the completio Trinitatis. Let us take any attribute of God whatever, for example Wisdom. God is wise. But this affirmation has two aspects: first, someone who is wise, viz. the Father. The Father engenders His own Wisdom, the Son. The pure actuality of this Wisdom is identical to the essence from which it begins; this is the Holy Spirit, for this reason called energeia and telos, pleroma of the Trinity. God is wise (Father) through His Wisdom (Son), through which He is always in the act of wisdom (Holy Spirit); the Holy Spirit thus proceeds from the Father through the Son. Such is the Greek outlined. Thus, for St. Gregory Nazianzen the Father is: the True (alethinos), the Son is the Truth (aletheia), the Holy Spirit is the spirit of Truth (pneuma tes alethneias). And St. Gregory of Nyssa says, "The fountain of dynamis is the Father, the dynamis of the Father is the Son, the spirit of the dynamis is the Holy Spirit." {429}

Now perhaps we can understand a bit better how these predicates, which in Latin theology are proper to the deity, are in the Greek personal denominations. And we also understand how thanks to the Trinity of persons God is constituted in the pure act of one and the same nature. Each person is distinguished from the others by the way of having the divine nature. In the Father, it is a principle; in the Son, as constituting agency; in the Holy Spirit, as autodonation in act. The nature of God is indivisibly identical in pure act of essence; this is the active sameness of love. God is pure act thanks—if I may be permitted the expression—to the Trinity of persons. Each one of the dimensions of the pure act is realized by a person, in the sense explained. This is what was called the perikhoresis or circumincession of the Divine persons. In a way none of the persons can affirm the infinite fullness of His nature save by producing the others. For Latin theology, on the other hand, the circumincession signifies that each person is truly in the [377] others through the fact of having a nature which is numerically identical with them, as we have indicated.

Within the foregoing scheme the Greeks order their interpretation of each one of the persons.

First, the Father. Greek as well as Latin theology sees His formal character in being unborn; agennetos, says the Syrian St. John Damascene. But the difference lies in the way of understanding this being unborn. For the Latins it is a merely negative characteristic; it consists in not proceeding from anything. For the Greeks it is a positive characteristic; it consists in being the principle or primary metaphysical fountain of His own richness. And this fontal character is the personal property which characterizes the Father. Let us note in passing that this expression does not have the meaning of an efficient causality which would indeed be inimicable to the simplicity of Divine being; the Father is principle and fountain, but not cause.

The differences are accentuated when we deal with the person of the Son. The Latins tried to understand the generation of the Son based on the Divine nature itself. They sought to discover in it something whose end was the transmission of nature, an end which, consequently, would rigorously deserve to be called by the name of ‘Son’, because its raison d’etre would consist {430} in having received a nature identical to that of the Father. The name ‘generation’ would be justified, then, by the final end of the procession. The Greek viewpoint is just the reverse. The Greeks start from the fact of generation, and in consequence, their end must possess a nature identical to that of the Father. The Latins try to understand that in God there is generation, and consequently, that its end is a Son. The Greeks start from the fact that in God there is generation and, consequently, a Son, and they seek to understand in what His personal character consists. The process on which the Latins fixed their attention was intellection; for the Greeks, it was the fertile expansion of the essence of a living being in His own vital perfections. Whence the different way in which the two theologies interpret revealed data. In the prologue of the Fourth Gospel we are told that the Son is the Word of the Father. The Latins saw in the Word the Verbum mentis. Since His essence consists in reproducing intentionally the nature of what is conceptualized, they relied on intellection in order to understand Divine generation; it is generation because its outcome, viz, the identity of received nature, so manifests it. For the Greeks the [378] identity of nature is the expression of generation. The Greeks never understood the Logos as the formal ratio of the Sonship. The Father produces and engenders the Son simply by the internal and ecstatic fecundity of His being. All the other denominations, including that of the Logos, presuppose that the subject is already the Son. The Son is Logos, but is not the Son by virtue of the Logos. The Son’s formal ratio is in being engendered. That which is engendered, by the mere fact of being so, is already the likeness of the nature of the Father. And the formal ratio of the new person rests squarely on the nature of the generation. What is engendered is the hidden perfection in the Father, but in a manifest form. Now we can understand more clearly what those dynameis are which are personified in the Son. They are not at all plural; they are purely and simply the very perfection of the paternal ousia made visible; the dynamis of the Divine being is a unique dynamism St. John Damascene writes, "In the Father there is not Logos, Wisdom, Power, Will, but only the Son, who is the unique dynamis of the Father." {431}

What meaning does the name "Logos" have for the Greeks? Maldonatus observed that not only is St. John the only Evangelist to call the Son "Logos," but moreover he only does so in the prologue to his Gospel. He explains this saying that it was Israelite tradition in the final centuries before Christ to call the Son "Word," and hence the text means only that the Son is the unique true Logos. Maldonatus simply summarizes the Greek tradition. For a Greek, the Logos was never a mental concept as engendered by the understanding, but the word directed to another or to oneself for communicating a truth. The logos is, above all, something which goes from person to person. It is a property more personal than natural. The appelation of this name to the Son expresses the immaterial character of Divine generation, and at the same time the Divinity of the Son. And this is so because the word is the eikon or image of what there is in the mind. Recall now the previously explained meaning of this expression; by proceeding from the ousia something is eikon and not vice versa, as if it proceeded from the ousia because it turned out to look like it. We shall return to this later. But even now it reveals to us that the Son as Logos is compared to the word proffered (logos prophorikos). On the other hand, the Logos as thought is included in the person of the Father, of whom the filial Logos is nothing but the manifestation or expression. And through being so, He (the [379] Logos) explains or expresses what the Father is. The Son is the definition of the Father, his doxa, his aletheia. For this reason St. John said, "He who has seen the Son has seen the Father," despite the fact that he told us, "No one has seen God." Seen God, as pure principio, as the Father, no. But the whole of what there is in Him is exhaustively expressed and manifested in the Son. And this is the personal ratio of Him (the Son). For this reason St. Iraneus could say, as we shall later record, that the Son is the Divine definition of God. But we leave aside, for the moment, the eikonal being of the Son.

The third person is the Holy Spirit. A few words about this name: spirit, pneuma, for the Greeks always meant breath, breeze; it is what corresponds to the Logos as proration. It indicates, then, that in the third person there is an immaterial and divine reversion from the second to the first, in the sense of a simple ratification. Holy, hagion, {432} is a moral or religious attribute. "Holy" is nothing but the divine. Applied to the third person, it indicates that the spirit comes from God and is God. The root of this denomination proceeds from the following: the Holy Spirit has as one of its proper functions that of carrying out the creation. For this reason it is called II spirit," because according to Genesis it is the very breath with which the Divine Word produces things. And one of its works is the deification of man. If the Holy Spirit deifies man it is because He (the Spirit) is God, said the Greeks. They thus interpreted the name "Holy Spirit" as Vivifier. But His personal ratio is that of verifying the manifestation of the Father through the Son. The Son is the truth of the Father, and the Holy Spirit manifests to us that the Son is the truth of the Father. From the viewpoint of vital activity, the Son is the dynamis of the Father, and the Holy Spirit expresses that this dynamis is identical in pure act to the ousia of the Father. For this reason the Greeks called it energeia.

Comparing the second and third persons with the Father, the Greeks called them eikones, "images." We have already seen what that word meant to the Greeks. Everything which proceeds from a principle, by the mere fact of doing so, is a likeness of it in which that principle shines through. For the Latins, on the other hand, what is produced is an image only if it is a likeness of the principle. Thus, for the Latins, the end of Divine generation is truly a Son because He has the same nature as the Father; on the other hand, for the Greeks He has the same nature as the Father [380] because He is the Son, Now, the Son and the Holy Spirit are images of God, but in different senses. The Son is eikon because He proceeds immediately from the Father; the Holy Spirit is so because He proceeds from the Father through the Son, and consists in manifesting the identity of the Father and Son: pneuma ek Patros di’hyiou ekporeuomenon. Such is the Greek scheme. {433}

Let us not forget that this expresses not only the nature of the Divine life, but also the structure of creation and of deification, as we shall soon see. The identity of the Divine nature, as pure act, is like a primary and radical process of autoidentification obtained by personal love at the base of the distinction of the three persons. The three persons, says St. Gregory Nazianzen, move toward the One (pros hen). The three together do but express in a complete way that God is pure act. The three persons are, in the phrase of St. Cyril, "manners of existing" (tropoi tes hyparxeos), where "manners" does not mean modes like subsistent being, but personal states or stages of Divine being, the way in which God lives personally in one nature, viz. the Father, as principle; the Son, as perfection or power; and the Holy Spirit, as actual identification. For this reason Alexander of Hales says that Divine being is not, properly speaking, universal or singular, but has [381] something of both: universal, in respect of its expansibility; individual, in respect of its complete determination. Against all tritheism, the perikhoresis, circumincession, {434} is the mode of producing or maintaining the unity of divine beings as pure act. If we now return to Richard of St. Victor’s definition of person we shall quickly understand, in our human way, what the Trinity signifies. The final ratio of the personality is in the "ex," in the relation of origin. The three modes of the "ex" are the three persons whose mutual implication assures their identical natural sistence.

But, I said, the Greek scheme is not limited to God. His personal life is extended through effusion of His being into creation and deification. Let us see how.


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The mystery of the creation has its roots in love. Throughout the Old and New Testaments the creative act is a "call": "He calls the things which are not as if they were" (Rom 4:17). In this sense the creation is a word, a logos. But this word has been pronounced through the ecstatic character of love. As the root of this word, and therefore of things themselves, love is a principle (arkhe) of everything. But this effusion in turn has no other meaning than that of disseminating itself, of giving itself. In this way, love is not just principle, but also end (telos). And it is so in an absolutely specific sense: creation is a production of the "other," but as diffusion of "itself." And hence the creation, at the same time it produces things distinct from God, maintains them in ontological unity with Him through effusion. Seen from the viewpoint of God, the effusion of love does not primarily consist in unifying something already produced by creation, but in producing the very ambit of otherness as an unum projected ad extra; so that what is existent only gleans its existence through the primary, originary, and originating unity of love. From the viewpoint of creatures, the effusion of love is an ascensional attraction toward God. Unity thus understood is nothing but the obverse of the creative act itself; they are two faces of a single love-effusion.

Let us took a bit more closely at this structure of creation as seen by the Fathers of the Greek Church.

First, an essential difference springs into view concerning love as principle of the interdivine life. In the foregoing their love communicates His identical nature to each one of the three persons. {436} Now we are dealing with something else; indeed if that were applied here it would be pantheism. The Greek Fathers staunchly fought against Gnosticism and the Neoplatonism of Plotinus. In that love of a personal character which is agape, its salient characteristic is liberality. But whereas when dealing with its proper Divine nature that liberality means simply natural autodonation, here it signifies in addition the freedom with which that Divine nature takes pleasure in producing other things, other natures. [383]

In the second place, that production itself is essentially different, though in a way emerging from the same root in which the interpersonal expansion of Divine being is anchored. Whereas in God Himself these formal processions exist through generation and aspiration, here we deal with a transcendent production; it is the position not only of others, as happens ad intra, but in addition, of other things. Against all possible forms of emanatism, the New Testament and the Greek Fathers thematically insist upon this transcendent character of the creative act as opposed to the immanent processions which produce the Divine persons.

Nevertheless, the Greek Fathers never lose sight of the radical unity of the Divine actions which are reduced (pardon the expression) to His agape, to His love. The difference stems from the fact that ad intra this agape is the divine being itself, whereas ad extra it is the imperative with which it freely seeks to produce other things. Expounding on this problem, an illustrious theologian reduced the difference to a concise formula: Trinitarian processions and creation differ in the same way that living is distinguished from commanding. Finite things proceed from the ecstatic command of love. The origin of finitude is an act of command.

Because this act, though essentially different from the Trinitary processions, is still an act of the same agape, the Greek Fathers see in the structure of the creative act the translation (if I may be permitted the expression) of the Trinitary life to the order of commanding. Latin theology has seen in the creation only the work of the Deity, a work of God’s nature, and conceived the relation between creation and the Trinity as a mere extrinsic appropriation. Greek theology is ignorant of appropriations. For it, the matter is the proper personal function of each of the {437} three persons, unknowable to be sure without revelation, but assignable on the basis of it.

The Father is always pege, arkhe, fountain and principle of all being: of the divine, in the form of paternity; and of the created, because the command from which the creation emerges out of nothing is His act. But the Son has the function of paternal logos. Hence this command, this logos, is justly in the Son; in Him the truth of what the Father is, His dynamis, His explicit perfection, is expressed. In Him likewise is the content of His command. Therefore St. Paul tells us that everything has been created through the Son and in the Son. The act of this power is the [384] energeia of the Holy Spirit; ad extra is the effective carrying out of what is expressly contained in the filial Logos through the prolation of the Father. In this way, in the transcendental act of creation, the three persons fulfill the same function in the order of causality as in the life of the Trinity. In the Trinity the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. In the creation the Holy Spirit carries out what the Father commands through the Son. These are not appropriations, but causal functions of the persons. Thus, St. John Damascene wrote, oudemia gar horme aneu pneumatos. From this operative mode of the Holy Spirit comes the denomination energia which the Greeks imposed upon it. "All entities," says St. Basil, "have a single principle, which acts through the Son and is consummated in the Holy Spirit." "The Father Himself," St. Athanasius tells us, "produces and gives all things through the Logos in the Spirit." Creation is the Trinity acting causally ad extra. Such is the Greek idea.

Hence if we consider the transcendent end of the creative act, we shall see in it this same structure as a precipitate. This is the theory of the vestigium Trinitatis. To see it, let us reconsider some ideas expounded earlier. Being is active unity or unitary action, however one wishes. As such, it is only given in God; only He "is" in this sense. Let us also recall that the Greek theologians understood efficient causality from the viewpoint of a formal "re-production." Seen from the cause, it is the cause’s projection onto the being affected. Seen from the effect, it is the resplendent presence of the cause in the effect. We can then understand that {438} for the Greek the causal act of creation has as content a progressive resplendence of God outside of Himself. For this reason the Pseudo-Dionysius compares creation to an extrinsic illumination, from the font of Divine being. And this is not pantheistic. It is essential to the theory of causality, as we saw, to admit diverse modes of formal causality, i.e. diverse modes of the presence of the cause in the effect. The presence of God in works ad extra is not pantheism. Let us return now to the creative act in itself. God the Father, through the infinite richness of His being, "decides" to be imitated ad extra. And He expresses this decision in His Logos. The decision stems from His being itself. From Him stem likewise all the multitude of perfections in which He seeks to be imitated. The express content of this perfection is in the Son. The Son is, then, in whom things formally are prior to being. They are in the Father only as the "root" of what they are going to be. [385]

In the Son they are "what they are going to be." This is the first form of exemplarism. The Son, says St. Gregory of Nyssa, is "the the Son they are "what they are going to be." This is the first form of exemplarism. The Son, says St. Gregory of Nyssa, is "the exemplar of what does not exist, the presence of what does exist, and the prescience of what is going to happen." The Holy Spirit realizes the command of the Father by making things to be, and making them what they are in the Son. Creation, then, as an absolute act of God, is a voice of God in nothingness. The logos has a subject: nothingness; and a predicate: the Divine ideas. The outcome is clear: nothingness is transformed (if I may be permitted the expression) into "someone" (subject), and the ideas are projected onto this someone making of him a "something" (predicate). In this way the ontological structure of creation is determined; the finite entity is above all a duality between that it is and what it is. But since, nonetheless, all being is one, the entity (Alexander of Aphrodesia called it ontotes) of finite being is the unification of "that it is" and "what it is." Therein lies the active power of being as operation: the effort to be what it "is." Being is maintaining oneself in oneself; it is an internal "tension," the correlate of the upward pulling, of the eros, toward God. Therefore being is action. The Greek Fathers adopted the usual terminology. The subject is the substrate (hypokeimenon); what it is is the form (morphe, eidos); and the being of a thing consists in the originating and original unity of the subject through its form, in {439} which the exemplary idea of the Divine logos shines. Finite being is an action directed toward its own exemplary form. Form thus understood is the agathon, the ontological good in which each thing constitutively consists; in it shines the thing’s ideal and divine good. Its dynameis are the expression of the plentitude of this form, as are its perfections understood as operative fecundity, and acts are expressions of these latter, as actual actions, energeiai. In the dynamis the interior goodness in which the thing consists is manifested through irradiation; the dynamis is its doxa and its aletheia. Such is the structure of finite being.

Thus it is clear how, without blurring the distinction between God and creatures, everything there is in them of positive being is owing to the presence of God in them. If, dealing with finite causality, the action of the agent is received in the patient, then dealing with the creator-actor the patient and its passivity only exist due to their presence in the agent. We are, we move, and we [386] live in Him, St. Paul will say, probably repeating a formula already current in his day.

Finitude is the tense unity in a duality. A thing is not itself except from and in a constitutive otherness; it is characteristic of finite being to be both "itself" and the "other"; it is sameness in otherness.

From this two important consequences follow.

First is the idea of the ontological hierarchy of beings according to their greater or lesser formal perfection. As this perfection is the expression of a unity, the ontological gradation coincides with the greater or lesser intimate sameness of being.

At the pinnacle is God, subsistent unity and infinite intimacy. Next come forms whose unity is displayed and grouped together in an otherness of internal characteristics; these are the angels. Finally, there is the visible universe whose structure we shall broadly sketch out.

Things possessing matter are one, like every entity, through their formal principle; but here a new dimension is introduced. In these beings form is received in a subject characterized by an internal exteriority; otherness is here exteriority; the distinction, distance. Consequently, form is extended in time and space. Here, time and space are not geometric entities, but something affecting the formal action {440} of being, making it not simply a tension but an ex-tension and a distension in an active sense: spatiality and temporality are that from which being gathers and manifests its internal unity. Time and space are thus the boundary within which the possibilities of the action in which being consists are circumscribed. For this reason there are many different ways of being in time and space; I do not wish to press this point further here. These material things are of three orders.

First, there are bodies (soma). "Soma" does not primarily mean simple matter, passive and inert, but the way in which the formal unity of being has reality in the circumscriptive and definitive limits which its "extension" imposes upon it. That which we call matter is the somatic entity. Strictly speaking one must understand matter based on soma, and not soma based on matter—an essential observation which has to be borne in mind when we treat of deification.

Next come living things whose life is a unity which is present simultaneously in all parts of the body. In contrast to the simple bodies in which their unity is exhausted in the unfolding [387] consequent upon their primary extension, in living things the unity actively presides at the constitution of the body. Life is, therefore, in a way supra-spatial; but not supra-temporal.

Finally there is man, who through his spirit absorbs and therefore transcends space and time in an originary manner, in the quiescent unity of his person. Life is an identical unity in all parts of its vital space. The person is a unity identically present in all moments of its temporal duration; it is not only supra-spatial, but also supra-temporal.

The New Testament designates the being of these categories of things precisely: the being of bodies is light (phos); the being of living things is their life (zoe); personal being is spirit (pneuma). {441} For Gnosticism, Phos, Zoe and Pneuma were emanations from God. For the New Testament, they are the formal projections ad extra of God, in the sense already explained.

God is light, life, and spirit in an eminent and principle way. Things are first and foremost in the world, and what confers upon them their mode of being purely "presential" is light; in it and through it shines Divine being (Eph 5:13). But living things find themselves present in the world not just through merely "being there;" their being is not being there, but living. In this sense life is a projection ad extra of Divine vitality. Finally there are entities which not only are there and living, but whose presentiality consists in being persons. This is what is proper to spirit. God as person is what confers this mode of being upon them through a creative projection called pneuma. Phos, zoe, and pneuma do not primarily designate three substances, but three modes of being. In fact, these three modes of being are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, each presupposes the previous one, absorbing it into a higher unity. This is an essential observation for any metaphysical system, but we shall not press the matter further.

In man the three dimensions of visible creation are manifested simultaneously: "May your spirit (pneuma), your soul (psykhe), and your body (soma) be conserved sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thes 5:23). Man has a body whose mode of vital reality is called flesh (sarx). He has a soul (psykhe) as principle of animation and life, which is in all parts of [388] the body, and which develops along with the body’s natural history. He has a spirit (pneuma) which encompasses the totality of the instants of time, but in an originary sense. Time is nothing but the unfolding of that superior transtemporal unity. For this reason the spirit is in its way eternal. It is what remains in man, and therefore is his unique true being. It is man who, among all creatures, most closely resembles God, and who is God’s favorite creature, eikon, His image. This image is the foundation of human being, its goodness and its principle. From it emerge the faculties of all orders, and with them man traces out his life in intimate unity with himself, in the depths of his person. Let us not forget this structure when speaking of grace. In the personal spirit the originary unifying character of love is manifested in an exemplary way; {442} enfolded in itself, the spirit is in eternity drawn by God. That voice in the void, which is the creative act, that "call" to being, is in the case of the spirit something special; it is not a simple call, but a "vocation." Here what is called not only "is called," but "consists in being called," in such a fashion that its being hinges upon its "divine vocation." The spirit not only has a destination, and not only has a vocation, but is formally and constitutively a vocational entity. This tending, or rather, this de-pending, is destiny: God, as destiny of the spirit, is not something extrinsic to it, but is found inscribed in the very meaning of its being. So as to preclude any false pantheistic interpretation, let it suffice to record the structure of formal causality which we have already indicated at various times.

Here we have, then, the hierarchy of beings, a hierarchy which might be termed "radical." It is the first of the two consequences derived from the idea of the finite being which we pointed out above. Creation is an irradiation ad extra of ecstatic being; but things "are" because they are maintaining themselves in their being through the attraction which they undergo on the part of the divine eros. Through it they are one. The work of love as principle of being is henopoiesis, unification.

The second consequence is the cosmic unity of creation. Being, as active unity, unifies things in themselves and is unified with God. But we added that it also unifies each thing with all others of its species. Whence the idea of the plurality of things is cosmic [389] unity. With respect to the plurality of things of the same species, we may say that in material things the internal otherness of the form is given, and also the numerical plurality of the individuals. One single form is projected onto subjects which are numerically distinct. Hence it follows that they are mutually referred to each other. They form an order, a taxis, founded on their own being. As decreed by the creator, the New Testament calls it ktisis, and its formal unity is called kosmos. {443}

Man also forms an order, a cosmos; but it is a microcosmos. The spirit, precisely on account of being the image of God, is also personal love, and as such, diffusion and effusion. But in contrast to the rest of the creatures of the world, the human spirit has the love of agape, personal love. As such, it creates about itself the originary unity of the ambit through which the "other" ends up primarily approximated to me based on me, whence it is converted into my "fellow man." If the finite spirit does not produce the "other," it produces the "fellow mankindness" of the other as such. For this reason the primary and radical form of "society" is "personal" society. The social in the commonest sense of the word is something derivative, viz. the "natural" precipitate of the "personal." Love, rather than a relation consequent upon two persons, is the originary creation of an effusive boundary within which, and only within which, the other as other can be given. This is the sense of every possible community among men, viz. a relationship not founded in life, nor referring back to it, but only based on personality itself. Living beings have eros; only persons are love in the strict sense. The brotherhood of the Gospel, therefore, is anything but a purely ethical virtue. Very often the New Testament reserves the name "cosmos" for this personal unity of all men. Through this his spiritual being man possesses a metaphysical superiority in creation; he is its lord. Whence the cosmos as a whole signifies not so much the conjunction of the creation, but the theater of human existence. From this point of view, things are presented as difficulties or facilities for the realization of the human person.. This is what quite often the New Testament still more properly calls "cosmos." It is, if one wishes, the system of possibilities which things offer through the concrete situation in which man finds himself.

But this cosmos had a beginning (arkhe) and will have an end (telos). Yet to the cosmos, as being of creation, there corresponds [390] a proper time, which the New Testament calls aion, eon; if one wishes, "age" (e.g. I Cor 2:6). But this time is not an empty, indefinite span; it is a period of time, proper to the cosmos, and hence internally {444} limited and qualified, the time during which creation is extended, and which can be translated for the duration of the centuries. This character of cosmic time permits us to speak of the "beginning of time," and as we shall see, of the "consumation of time." Let us recall, too, the idea of the "fullness of time." And just like cosmos, eon has here come to mean the conjunction of things themselves, and above all, the conjunction of things as theater of human existence; so that on occasion eon and kosmos turn out to be synonymous (I Cor 3:19, 2:6).

So finally, from the cosmic viewpoint, the mode of being of visible creation, the character of its ontological unity, is that of being at once both world and age, cosmic spatiality and temporality. In contrast to it, the mode of being of God Himself is pure immensity and eternity. He is in everything, but above everything; and He is eternal, but is above time, because what we improperly call His eternal duration is rather His complete possession of Himself, His subsistent action. Between Divine eternity and the temporal limitation of the created there is still something distinct: the other eon, the other age, proper to the other world.

Let us conclude. Once again, for the Greeks creation is a vestage of the Trinity. Things exercise their being through the causal operation of the Holy Spirit, who causes them to realize their exemplary image which is in the Son, and to unite themselves to the font of being which is in the Father, from whom they received, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, their own reality. The case of things is the same as that of the cosmos; in both instances we are dealing with the eschatalogical idea of the history of the cosmos, about which we shall speak later.


[391] {445}






Together with this creative effusion through which God produces things, He has realized a second effusion ad extra. If we wish to find a generic name to designate it, we may use "deification". Deification is not, properly speaking, creation. In creation things distinct from God are produced; in deification God gives of Himself personally to Himself. It is an effusive giving to creation. From the creatures’ point of view, it is a unification of them with the personal life of God. The cycle of Divine ecstatic love is completed in this way. In the Trinity, God lives; in creation, He produces things; in deification, he elevates them to associate them with His personal life.

Deification thus understood has two perfectly distinct aspects. In the first, God Himself makes created nature, man, the nature of His own personal being, considered metaphysically. This metaphysical unity, suprasubstantial and personal, is the reality of Christ. To this deifying effusion the name Incarnation is given. But secondly, through participation in Christ’s personal life the rest of mankind secures a participation in the personal life of God; this is sanctification. Sanctification is, consequently, a prolongation of the Incarnation. Theologians call it "accidental deification" because it does not constitute the person of man, but is limited to elevating that person to the personal life of God. De facto it is what most properly is called "deification." But the Greek Fathers themselves very often use this word as a generic expression for the deification of man, including Christ. {446}

Let us say immediately that in the mind of St. Paul no part of material creation is foreign to this process. All is in some way affected by it. And so, then, it is indeed possible to speak in a broad sense of deification as end or complement of the entire cycle of ecstatic love which is the being of God.




The first important state of deification is constituted by the [392] metaphysical gift of the Divine person itself to a human nature. Naturally, the only incarnate person is the Son. But in the Greek conception of the Trinity, the three persons call for each other; whence their personal collaboration in the Incarnation. As we shall see, for the Greeks the fact that it is the person of the Son who formally took human flesh is not something arbitrary.

St. Paul expresses the complex fact of the Incarnation of Christ in many passages. Here are some of them:

...granting us knowledge (gnorisas) of the mystery of His will—according to His own wise judgement, with the end of realizing it in the fullness of the times—so that all things may be recapitulated (anakephalaiosasthai) in Christ, those that are in Heaven and those on Earth. (Eph 1:9-10)

...who [Christ] though existing in the form (morphe) of God, did not consider being equal to God something to be clung to, but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a slave, being made like unto men. And appearing in the form of a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and death on the cross. Therefore God has exalted Him and has graced Him with a name which is above all other names. (Phil 2:6-9).

...giving thanks to the Father for having made you worthy to share the lot of the saints in light. He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Through him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. He is the image of the Invisible God, the first-born of all creatures. {447} In him everything in heaven and on earth was created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations, principalities or powers; all were created through him, and for him. He is before all else that is. In him everything continues in being. It is he who is head of the body, the church; he who is the beginning, the first-born of the dead, so that primacy may be his in everything. It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him and, by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross. (Col 1: 12-20, New American Bible Version)

From these passages, which I have literally transcribed and have purposely juxtaposed so that their exceptional theological density might better stand out, three central questions are of interest for out object. First, there is the root of the Incarnation. St. Paul responds with a capital idea: the mystery of the will of God. Secondly, in what does Christ consist? The answer is contained in [393] a single word: Christ’s plenitude, pleroma of the divine being. Finally, what is the fate of creation consequent upon the existence of Christ? Another word indicates the answer: anakephalaiosasthai, recapitulation of all in Christ.

1. First, there is the root of the Incamation: the mystery of His will. We are not referring to the motive which gave rise to the Incarnation (Adam’s sin, or the glorification of creatures), but the very purpose of the Incarnation in the heart of the Divine being. The Greek Fathers, faithful to their personalist conception, without any kind of appropriations whatever, understood this purpose in a Trinitary way—if I may be permitted the expression. The Father decides upon the gift of Divine being to man. This decision, like everything in the Father, is expressed in the person of the Son. Therefore, if God has to become man to manifest Himself to humanity or make it live in the Divine life, it follows that the person of the Son is the one to be incarnate. In the Son is the expression and definition of Divine being, as we saw. Thus St. Paul tells us that in the Son all treasures of sophia and gnosis are hidden (Col 2:3). {448} But hidden only for men. Christ is the theological truth of the Father. Finally, this which the Father seeks to communicate, and which is the Son, is realized by the Holy Spirit, who manifests to us that Christ is the person of the Son, and therefore the expression of what the being of God is which is hidden in the Father. Whence the proper Divine perikhoresis of the Incarnation becomes clear. The Holy Spirit confers a Divine personality upon a human nature. This is the supernatural conception and personification of Christ. What is made is the divine person of man, the Incarnation of the Son, and the result is the reversion of human nature to the Divine being hidden in the Father, in final and intimate love. This is the glorification of Christ. Inasmuch as this decision is hidden within the Father, the Incarnation is a mystery. The Son is the explicit and living expression of this mystery, its revelation through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Such is the root of the Incarnation to which St. Paul alludes in the passages cited.

2. Revelation of the mystery: the person of Christ. It is important to note that for the Greek Fathers the modes of Christ’s being are always interpreted as a function of this conception of [394] God as pure action and of the Trinity as a divine life through which a single nature is realized and affirmed. They always saw nature from the viewpoint of the person, and so all of their Christology is dominated by this idea.

St. Paul tells us that Christ is pleroma, plenitude of all divine being in human being. The same idea appears with different words in Hebrews (1:2-3). If one tries to analyze this fullness, the Pauline text will reveal three modes of existence in Christ.

a) His Divine Preexistence. As Son of God, "He made the ages," according to the expression in Hebrews; i.e., He is above time, He is eternal, He is God. Thus His bein g is conferred upon Him through His eternal generation, which the epistle expresses in three concepts: He is "son" (hyios), "brightness of His glory" (apaugasma), and His "image" (kharakter). In Philipians He is called morphe, form, which expressed the ontological nature {449} of kharakter, viz. the impression of being itself. We shall not press the matter further. Let us point out only that the word morphe in the technical Greek vocabulary means the intrinsic configuration, the nature of a thing, that which gives it its real essence. Hence, the Pauline text simply expresses that in His Divine preexistence the Son is not an effect of God, but identically possesses His nature. But carefully distinguish morphe from eikon. Eikon is a personal property of the Son as such. On the other hand, morphe expresses the Divine nature proper, the form or manner of being which God has by reason of His Deity, or as is immediately said, to einai isa theoi.

b) His Historical Existence. "Lastly He has spoken to us through His Son." In the letter to the Phillipians, St. Paul tells us that Christ took the "form of a slave," appearing in the figure (skhema) of a man. Here morphe has the meaning already explained: the Son of God assumed the mode of being of man; he took on human nature. Nevertheless, the word "figure" more completely specifies the meaning of the Pauline thought. "Figure" (skhema) properly signifies the way of conducting oneself, the way of being individual, in contrast to morphe, which indicates rather nature in the abstract. Thus, for example, Christ transfigured and glorified does not cease to have the same human nature as on the earth; but His figure is different. St. Paul, then, indicates that the Son took human nature, and also became a human individual like the others of His time, means, and condition. This is the expression of the character, at once human [395] and historical, of Christ. The text could be paraphrased thus: the Son took the nature of man, like that of any man. The purpose of this existence was the Incarnation through the work of the Holy Spirit.

c) His Glorious Existence. "Heir of all things." He was exalted above everything. Glory transforms the entire humanity of Christ, including His body; and this humanity receives the resplendence of glory when it returns to the Father, who is God like Him. This is what St. Paul expresses: "Seated at the {450} right hand of the Father" (Col 3:1). What in fact conferred this mode of being upon Christ was His death and resurrection.

These three dimensions of the being of Christ are nothing but three wellsprings of the being of God as ecstatic love: eternal generation, Incarnation, death and resurrection. Therefore they are not simply juxtaposed in St. Paul as if occurring in time, but are expressed as the unfolding of a unitary action, at least in respect of what refers to the Incarnation and glorification.

Let us leave glorification aside for the moment. Nor should it be necessary to belabor eternal generation, except to stress that in the mind of St. Paul, Christ has Divine nature. The important thing is to note that in the Pauline expression this nature is in a certain way the corollary of the Divine personality of Christ. This is the point most energetically affirmed by the Apostle. For St. Paul, Christ is the very Son of God. Therefore, He cannot not have the Divine nature, because the filiation of the Second Person is not an efficient production, but an immanent generation. On this point, the Greek Fathers have unwaveringly followed their personalistic road in the midst of the din of words and polemic: Christ is the Son of God, therefore he has Divine nature.

Thus the whole problem of Christology centers on His historical existence as man and as God. We are dealing with a revealed mystery; it would be useless to seek for evidence. But granting the revelation, man can try to make its meaning clearer. St. Paul expresses this plastically: "He took" (labon) human nature, "He emptied Himself" (ekenosen). These two expressions must be taken in conjunction, and together they express the character of the Incarnation.

In the first place, "He emptied Himself." This alludes to the Divine nature. To be sure, it does not mean that He ceased to be God; indeed, the very same text tells us that He did not seek to cling jealously to His "being equal to God." Rather, this passage [396] refers to Christ Communicating His divinity to a human nature. Nonetheless there is a certain removal or emptying; because in this communication the Divine nature does not intervene formally, which is what the other expression points up: {451} to take on human nature. Since in this taking-on the Divine nature is left aside (if I may be permitted the expression), its outcome cannot signify the conversion of Divine nature into human nature. The only thing which is maintained identical is the subject: the Son is who takes on the human properties and endowments. When He does so, it seems as if His natural, Divine properties are held in abeyance. One single subject, when directing itself to God, leaves human properties in abeyance; when directing itself to these latter properties, leaves in abeyance the Divine properties. Let us add, however, that this is anything but a suspension, because the taking-on and divesting has a meaning which is strictly ontological and not merely attributive. Hence, that suspension does not go beyond being a figure of speech. What the emptying formally expresses is that the Incarnation is not a mixture or emulsion of Divine and human nature, nor the production of a third nature through the confluence of the first two. That was the error of Gnosticism, Manicheism, and Monophysitism. But the taking-on is not just a simple external denomination either. That was the Adoptionist and Nestorian error. It is strictly ontological. It consists in the subject "Son of God," as son, being truly and identically the young Israelite child of Mary, and furthermore this young Israelite being really and truly the personal Son of God, without the two natures being mixed.

For the Incarnation, then, "taking" is of such a form that its subject truly and ontologically makes "its own" what there is in an individual human nature, so that one may say equally truly that the Son has the nature of God, and that He has an individual human nature. This identity of subject for two natures, which makes the formal truth of the two foregoing propositions possible, is what St. John Damascene called "communication of properties." Let us now recall a notion which at various times has come to our attention. In every personal entity its nature is that which it has, that which it is. But that which is, is always the "been" of someone, who is that which has the nature. Only in virtue of this does it make sense to speak of my acts, of my life, of {452} my individual nature. Being, we said, is unity with itself, metaphysical intimacy. But it is an active intimacy, where action, we repeat, is not the [397] operation of a faculty, but the very character of being. Now, in personal beings this unity does not consist only in its faculties, its endowments, springing (physis) from a vital unity; rather, in their "springing," that which "springs" is mine, and is not just given to me. To this being mine we give the name "metaphysical personality." This personal unity is, for the Greeks, primary. Starting from it they see in nature that in and with which a person is realized, the realization of which consists in that "being-mine" of whatever is produced in me. For this reason I am able to say that I am the one who produces my natural acts; but the reason these acts are natural is different than the reason why I am the one who produces them, in the sense of person. The acts are mine because this nature is personal, because I am my "me "; and therefore I can say "I." In the case of the Son of God, the communication of properties describes just this situation. The Son, as divine nature, cannot communicate substantively with nothing. But His personal nota—here is the mystery—is that from whom He is what there is in a singular human nature. From the viewpoint of God, the person of the Son "realizes" His divine personality in a finite and singular nature, in the sense that He remains identically as God in the subject of whom that human nature is His. Richard of St. Victor thus distinguished two dimensions in every personal being: that which it is (quod sistit, sistentia) and a relation of origin (the ex, from whence my nature comes to me). With respect to man, this origin is causal; with respect to God Himself, it is His proper "existence;" He has His nature through Himself. Now, speaking of Christ, the divine person has this individual human nature, because the Son actively "takes" it for Himself. This relation of taking is what has been called assumption. The individual nature of the young Israelite is assumed by the person of the Son, so that this person is principle of subsistence, not just for divine morphe, but also for this human morphe. In Christ, deification signifies {453} assumption. We now understand the meaning of the Pauline text. "Taking" signifies "assuming," but only personally, i.e. leaving the divine nature intact; and this suspension of the divine nature in the act of assuming the human is the "emptying Himself." The person of the Son in a way abandons realizing Himself only in divine form. The result is that whatever this concrete man, Jesus, is and does, is from God; in an ontological sense, is divine. If we introduce the term "intimacy" in the metaphysical sense so often indicated, as the expression of the ultimate subsistent sameness of [398] personal being, we could say that in Christ, His nature and His acts, though of natural human principio, are inscribed in a divine intimacy.

To preclude any misunderstanding, I must once again stress that this active character of being is not identical with the act of a will. It is something prior. Having confused these led Eutyches to consider that the person of Christ is constituted by divine will, and that, as a result, there was nothing in Christ but a single will; this was the error of Monotheletism. Rather, being as action has nothing to do with any operative faculty. For these effects, the will belongs to nature and not to the person. I will, the same as I think or I eat. And in none of the three cases am I my act of eating, or my act of thinking, or my act of willing.

To be sure, this personal assumption is not irrelevant to the two natures which come into play, at least (speaking more precisely) not to human nature. It would be an error to believe that in Christ human nature simply lies juxtaposed with the divine. The two are not fused; that was the error of Monophysitism and Gnosticism in their various forms. But neither are they incommunicado. Human nature, as a consequence of its assumption into the person of the Son, remains as if submerged by immanence in the Divine. It remains in the Divine nature. This is the perikhoresis of the two natures of Christ. Expressed in it is not the principle, but the happening of the intimate life of Christ. This does not refer only to Christ being man and in addition God, or vice versa, but that human nature, transcended and transfused {454} by the Divine, is as if metaphysically placed in it, directed and subordinated to it.

Now we can better understand the meaning of the Incarnation. The Holy Spirit gives the Son an individual human nature, in which consequently the Son realizes and reveals Himself to the Father, and upon doing so, bears this human nature of His to a life metaphysically infused in that of the natural being of the Father, united to Him through an individual agape. Such was the Incarnation as deification of a man by donation of Divine being.

Some Fathers who were oriented toward the fight against Monophysitism, such as St. John Damascene, preferred to start from this individual unity of immanence of human nature in the Divine so as to expound the mystery of the Incarnation. Christ is a man to whose individual nature the Divine nature is immanent, and who in consequence carries on a life of infused intimate and metaphysical union in God, who subsists personally in the person [399] of the Son. There is no doubt that this conception agrees better perhaps in many respects with the Greek mind. But I preferred to reach it starting from the Pauline text itself.

St. Paul makes his thought still more precise. Since the Divine nature of Christ is immanent in the human, Christ must normally present a singular aspect: all of His natural being, body and soul, must present, in a way, an aspect transfigured by the Divinity. Christ gave up the Divinity, and this renunciation was ratified in the messianic temptations described in the Gospels. He took on an historical concretion; he sought not to have just a human nature, but to have it under the normal figure of any ordinary man. Only after His death and resurrection did He take the figure which naturally corresponded to Him. And this figure of a human nature overcome by Divine nature is His glorious being. We shall immediately return to this point.

As an aside, let us emphasize the historical fecundity of this doctrine from the viewpoint of comparative religion. Man’s natural propensity to see gods in visible things has been the internal driving force of all naturalist and anthropomorphic religions. Christianity {455} vehemently attacked this idea. No one has seen God, and He is transcendent and one in His "nature." But the Incarnation gratuitously realizes what there is realizable in this natural propensity. The only way that a finite entity has of being God is to be so exclusively through the mode of its subsistence and not its nature. The failure to distinguish between nature and subsistence underlies all naturalism and anthropomorphism. A Divine person can, on the other hand, freely divinize an individual natural entity. This is a transcendent mystery, but for the New Testament was the historical reality of Christ.

3. Consequence of the Incarnation: The place of Christ in creation. According to St. Paul Christ is, relative to the Incarnation, its recapitualation. And this is true in a primary elemental sense, or compendio: in Christ Divine being and every [400] stratum of creation are found. But the recapitulation has a still deeper meaning; the mode of being of all creation in Christ is to have Him as its head. Here "head" is a concept which expresses the priority of rank and the principle of hierarchical subordination: "He is before all things." And St. Paul expresses this priority in three concepts:

a) Christ is a "beginning" of everything: "Everything was created by Him." Now we understand the exemplary meaning of this beginning. Hebrews tells us more plastically, "He created the ages," i.e. the world as such. This is the idea of creation stemming from its external wellspring.

b) He is an "end:" "All things were created for Him."

c) He is a "foundation:" "Everything takes its sustenance from Him," i.e. everything acquires its consistency in Him. {456}

This triple priority authorizes St. Paul to call Christ "the firstborn of creation," in the double sense of superior and prior to it. This priority is not, certainly, chronological, but affects the principle of temporality as such.

But in the idea of "head" St. Paul also thinks of Christ glorified. As a consequence of His death and resurrection, Christ achieves glorification. Let us recall that doxa, resplendence or brilliance, is an intrinsic quality of God. The paucity of New Testament information on this point justifies the prudence with which the problem must be treated. The Greek Fathers dedicated much attention to it, owing to their battles with the Gnostics and Manicheans, for whom the salvation of man had a physical meaning. The Fathers naturally stressed the spiritual aspect of the problem, but insisted that physical nature, in accordance with New Testament doctrine, participated in this deification. This is a revealed datum, both insofar as it touches upon Christ and as it touches upon humanity; it is the dogma of the resurrection of the body. But the fact that Christ already has a glorified body expresses that, for St. Paul, the recapitulation has an ultimately eschatological meaning. In Christ’s glorified body is the root of a glorification which will be communicated to man and to all of natural creation. Perhaps the, distinction between soma and sarx alluded to a few pages back will be of some use. Soma expresses the real and circumscriptive presence of a being distended in space. That which we call "matter" is the entity which has this mode of somatic being. In man this matter is sarx, flesh. But this is not to say that matter cannot have diverse ways of being soma; or [401] in Pauline terms, the same morphe can present various figures, skhemata. If we understand by sarx our actual body, we see that the Greek Fathers, at one with St. Paul, call our body soma sarkikon, body of flesh. But the same soma can have its somatic character determined by a transformation of matter by spirit, pneuma; the body then has another figure, which St. Paul and the Greek Fathers called soma pneumatikon, spiritual body, {457} or if one wishes, glorified body. But the New Testament left the "how" of this state to the imagination and speculation of men. In the New Testament reference is made to the transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor. He is described as resplendent; this is the idea of phos, of light as expression of the glory of God, of His doxa. As we said earlier, it would have been the normal figure of Christ’s body if man had not sinned. Through sin this figure was renounced, and the historical figure of man capable of suffering was adopted. With His resurrection and ascension the figure of His glorious being is realized. Through it He is at the head of creation, not just by way of compendium of it, nor only as its supreme perfection, but as typical and exemplary reality: through Christ, and by way of Christ, the whole of creation tends toward a future transfiguration and cries out for it.

Summarizing, then, in Christ the Son of God is made real in a human nature. This is the supreme deification of a creature. God makes a gift of His person so as to assume a finite nature in it. But He does so in order to thereby achieve the deification of all mankind by accidental communication; this is what we call sanctification.





In the Divine effusion constituting the Incarnation, God gives His own personal being to a human nature. By this means He has sought to communicate His life to human persons, and that communication leaves the stamp of Divine nature upon them; this is kharis, grace. Even at the risk of being overly insistent, let us once again recall that the Greek Fathers addressed the problem from an active viewpoint: the Divine life imprints its stamp on man, from which the supernatural life of the Christian emerges, in union with the Trinitary life of God. Whence the celebrated text of St. Paul: [402]

You did not receive a spirit of slavery leading you back into fear, but a spirit of adoption (hyiothesia) {458} through which we cry out, "Abba!" (that is, "Father!"). The Spirit himself gives witness with our spirit that we are children (tekna) of God. But if we are children, we are heirs as well: heirs of God, heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so as to be glorified with him. (Rom 8:15-17, New American Bible Version)

St. Paul presents our deification in essential parallelism with the deification of Christ. We can, then, pose the same three central questions which we posed with respect to Christ. What is the root of our deification? Christ. In what does it consist? In grace. What is the position of deification in creation? The mystical body of the Church. For reasons of method, we shall treat of the second problem first.

1. The structure of deification: grace. St. Paul has expressed it clearly: the deification of man consists in an adoptive sonship. Let Lis leave aside temporarily the word "sonship," which constitutes the very essence of the problem. Instead we shall begin with the adjective, We are dealing with a sonship which is adoptive in character. But this expression is ambiguous. In a juridical sense, it means only the conjunction of rights a person has considered as if he were a real and true son. Nevertheless, in our Divine sonship there is something more: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God, and such we are." (1 Jn 3:3). So then in our case the term "adoptive" does not primarily have a meaning except in its negative dimension; we are not sons of God, as is Christ, endowed with natural sonship, But the positive dimension of the problem has little importance because for St. Paul we are, nonetheless, sons of God. This is clearly indicated in his own expressions. For with no twisting of the words, the nuances in the cited text are significant: we have a spirit which places men in the position of sons (hyiothesia); this is the adoptive part of sonship. But men are tekna, children of God. The thought of St. Paul clearly points up {459} the problem. Whereas God has deified Christ by giving Him His own personal Divine being, He has deified all other men by communicating His life to them and imprinting the stamp of the Divine nature; this is what grace has of "being." Since this stamp [403] proceeds from God Himself, by way of impression and formal expression, it is a likeness of the Divine nature, and therefore when we receive a deified nature, we are really sons of God. The deification of man is real, but, if one wishes, accidental; it is something added to the human being, not something at all constitutive of it. This is what justifies the name kharis, grace.

St. Paul employs this term, placing it in the double perspective of the Old Testament and of the Hellenistic koine. In both cases the term "grace" involves at least four fundamental acceptations: that which is given, that which is gratuitous, that which is gracious (in the sense of grace or benevolent favor) and gratitude (in the sense of action of graces). The Old Testament associates the idea of grace with those of fidelity, truth, and life’ and introduces the metaphysics of light. St. Paul, with meanings which are a bit more personal, uses the Greek terms which translate those of the Old Testament, but insists especially on the meaning of "gratuitous gift from God," and of "being pleasing to God." For the moment we are only interested in gratuity. It is a gratuitous gift of the personal life of God. Let us add that "gratuitous" does not signify arbitrary or fortuitous, but simply not owing to the structure of created being as such. It certainly does not mean fortuitous; indeed, since grace for St. Paul transforms the whole cosmos and places it in a new eon.

The Greek Fathers understand this communication of life from the viewpoint of the Trinitary perikhoresis. The Father sent the Son, and through Him insulates the Holy Spirit into the human soul. The Holy Spirit produces the presence of the Son, who stamps man with Divine being, through which he lives in love {460} that reverts to the Father. We now understand that the stamp of the Son on the soul is an eikon, an image and a homoiosis, a likeness of God, because the characteristic and personal aspect of the Son is that of being eikon of the Father. The Trinity, then, lives in man reproducing in a participative way its own structure. St. Iraneus expresses the matter in these words: "The Father is revealed in all of this: the Holy Spirit works, the Son collaborates, and the Father approves; thus is man perfected in salvation." (Ad H. 20, 6). "The Father grants us, through His Son, the grace of regeneration in the Holy Spirit. The Son in turn leads to the Father, and the Father makes us partakers of incorruptibility." (Dem. 1,5-7). St. Athanasius repeats, "There is a grace which, coming from the Father through the Son, is fulfilled in the Holy Spirit." Since [404] eternal life consists only in participating in the life of God, it is natural that the Greek Fathers see in grace incipient glory, and in glory grace perfectly actualized. The Pauline text itself expresses this unequivocally: through grace we are already in glory (en doxei), but to this "already" there pertains a "toward," toward glory (eis doxan), (2 Cor 3:18). We shall return to this idea later.

The problem now is to pin down what this kharis, this grace, really is. The meaning of the giving of Divine life depends upon it.

One thing is clear: in some form or other, the Trinity works and hence resides in the soul of the just man. This inhabitation is the first subject of grace. Since it is the life of God, the Latins called it uncreated grace. The result is clear: man finds himself deified; he bears within himself the divine life through a gratuitous gift. Its effect is immediate. Man lives by faith (pistis) and by the personal love (agape) of a Triune God. This is the dynamis theou in us (a term also used in the Hellenistic mystery religions. The Son was the dynamis of the Father, and through {461} this dynamis which was brought to us by the Holy Spirit we immerse ourselves in the abyss of Paternity. Thus St. Cyril of Alexandria tells us graphically:

Through the participation of this Spirit...we are called gods, not just because we are transported to supernatural glory, but because we now have God who lives in and has been poured into us.

This is but an aspect of grace derived from its gratuity, and the above lines point to the other aspect of the question. This living of the Trinity in man makes him a being which is pleasing to God. It makes him be so—not just seem so; nor is it merely through an act of Divine benignity that God condescends to man. Rather, this inhabitation makes us truly be pleasing and therefore involves an interior transformation, not just in our mode of doing, but in our mode of being. What is this transformation of our being? It is what properly justifies the name of deification.

The habitation of the Trinity in man stamps him with something which transforms his being. St. Paul is explicit on this point. Using terminology which may have been current during his [405] time, he calls the reception of the Trinity "regeneration and renovation" (paligenesia, anakainosis, Tit 3:4-7). In contrast to Christ, who is God personally in the sense explained above, man is so only through "re-generation." St. Irenaeus employs the expression "become God" (Deum fieri). "God," says St. Athanasius, "became man so that man might become God." And St. Cyril of Alexandria expresses this same idea: "...so that Christ might be formed in you." And Christ is formed in us through the Holy Spirit, who clothes us with a type of Divine form (theian tina morphosin). Now we understand the meaning of the expression "form:" the inhabitation of the Trinity grants us a certain Divine conformation in our own nature. Therefore it is theiosis, theopoiesis, divinization, deification; not just because we live, but because we are like God. {462}

A common word in Hellenistic religions enabled Paul to express this idea: grace is a mystical garment (endyo, ependyo constantly appear in Paul’s writings, e.g. Gal 3:27; 2 Cor 5:2). St. Irenaeus calls it the gown of sanctity. The term, as I said, was more or less common in the initiations of the Hellenistic mysteries. To "put on the garment" was to convert oneself into something apart from things and reserved for God, something sacred (sacratus). In the New Testament this conversion has a meaning radically different from that of the Hellenistic mysteries. But nonetheless the operant (and not merely symbolic) character of the garment was included in the formal meaning of the word. Its use in the New Testament clearly shows that grace makes us be in a Divine way. This garment, in fact, was explained as light; Christ, the prologue to St. John’s Gospel tells us, is "the true light which enlightens all men." Now for the Greeks light was not just clarity. Clarity is the resplendence which radiates from light; but light itself is a special substance (triton ti, a third genus of things, Plato called it). Whence arises the idea of the vestimentum lucis, the vestment of light. And thus St. Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians is explained: "Walk like children of the light." So we now understand the theological and ontological meaning of light for the Greek Fathers and the New Testament, which are at one, on this point, with the writings of the last epoch of Judaism. Light has the particular property of making the illuminated body colored. Color, Aristotle already had said, is the luminous presence of light on things. Hence God, as light, when illuminating us stamps us with His luminous character expressed in color, like a garment. [406] This is the morphosis, the conformation about which St. Cyril spoke, and which he extracts from the very words of St. Peter: ,’made participants of the Divine nature." (theias koinonoi physeos, 2 Pt 1:4)

The idea of participation recurs throughout the New Testament. The Greek Fathers adequately expressed this idea with the word hexis, habit, which does not mean custom, but the way of having customs; a second nature, a stable reconformation of our own proper human nature. {463} Doxa, the glory which disseminates Divine being and which is in the Son, touches man and stamps him with its color. Just as color does not exist without light, so neither can this reconformation exist without the actual presence of the Trinitary life in man, or vice versa. Whence the name created grace by which theologians designated this Divine quality acquired by man. The ideas of light and color are more than simple metaphors. Since the time of Plato they have served as sensible intuition for ontology. That we saw at the beginning of this essay. The presence of light in things does not signify a transmutation of them into something else. It is only the pure presence of the luminous focus in a things, and is not formally identified with it. Recall now that we earlier emphasized how the Greek Fathers’ idea of causality is of a purely formal character. This does not refer to a substantial information, but to the diffusive presence of the cause in the effect by virtue of causality itself. The cause is the type, and the effect the copy. And we added that this formal presence can have various modes depending on the case. Here we have one. The presence of God in creatures by reason of creation is not the same as His Trinitary presence by reason of grace. But we are always dealing with a relation of type to copy, or stamp to imprint. This served the Greek Fathers in their polemic against the Gnosis. The deification of Gnosticism is a krasis, a mix of nature. Neither in Christ nor in any being is there such a thing, nor can there be. But the transcendence of God is compatible with His presence through formal causality in the sense described.

If we now consider this habitus, created grace in itself, the Greek Fathers designated it with a forceful expression. St. Athanasius called it sphragis, stamp or imprint of the Trinity, "The stamp of the Son is imprinted in such a way that he who is stamped has the form (morphe) of Christ." The participation of the soul in the Trinity leaves it stamped, which is the consequence of the Trinity’s presence. The participation of the soul is a likeness of [407] the Trinity. For the Greek Fathers every effect is—in one way or another—the image of its cause (eikon). But the image can look more or less {464} like the thing "imaged." Hence, through grace the natural eikonal being of man is perfected to the maximum degree of true likeness (homoiosis). The eikonal being of man is complete: he is the image and also the likeness of God. And through receiving this Divine nature we are truly sons of God; the deification is real. Let us now recall that the eikon is a personal property of the Son. Then we shall understand precisely the active meaning of the participation of man in the Trinity. The Holy Spirit forms the Son in the human soul; and in this imprint the likeness of the being of God is deposited, immersing us in the Father. Hence St. Cyril called the infusion of grace "formation of Christ in us." St Augustine described it graphically in his celebrated phrase: "The Christian is the other Christ."

Strictly speaking, then, grace as natural likeness of God is not what attracts the Trinity toward itself, but rather expresses that the Trinity remains in the soul of the just man, conferring upon him a second, deified nature. But, let us reiterate, in the implication between grace and Trinity each person has a proper and well defined role. It is an active and dynamic likeness, as is the being itself of God. This is not simply a question of a type of photograph in which each characteristic is in itself and for itself; rather, the likeness is a living image continually traced in the soul as a precipitate of the Trinitary life therein.

Whence it follows that grace is not a quality which does nothing except be qualifying. It is a quality of living being, and hence lives. For the Greeks, the Trinitary stamp cannot be separated from Trinitary circumincession. Indeed, St. Peter himself calls grace dynamism Now the Son, as we saw, is the dynamis, the power and express perfection of the Father as infinitely vital. And therefore grace is in itself a participated dynamis, which immerses us in the Father. One must see in the Greeks not the Trinitary inhabitation based on grace, but grace based on the Trinitary inhabitation. As in the procession of the Divine persons one reaches—so to speak—the pure act of the unique Divine nature, so also in the just man, according to the Greeks, grace is the precipitate of the Divine life, producing our complete assimilation to God through formal presence. {465} The human nature of Christ, as we saw, is immersed in the Divine nature. For us, such is not the case. But through grace there is an insertion of our entire life in God. This is what St. John [408] expressed with his metaphor of the graft. Strictly speaking, the possession of grace is a supernatural life following upon our deification. Whence grace can be greater or lesser, and the state of grace more or less perfect. The Greeks never separated grace from the supernatural life. Supernatural life consists in faith and in the love of the Father, produced in us by the seal of the Divine nature with which the Son stamped us and through the work of the Holy Spirit. The distinction between grace and virtues was exclusively the work of Latin theology.

In order to understand the position occupied by this deification in what we could term the general ontology of the Greek Fathers, the reader should refer back to the first notions expounded in these pages; he will recall that the ultimate foundation of a thing, for the Greeks, is its primary active unity, its good. From this good emerge its potentialities as explicit expression of its internal richness; and from them proceed the acts by which the unity that the thing at bottom is are affirmed and fully realized. In this unity with itself, in this intimacy, the being of each thing is realized. We saw how this structure is a created image of the being of God. Now, the action of the Trinity converts this image into a likeness from its very roots; it remakes, so to speak, the characteristics of the image from a superior point of view, enriches them, and elevates them so as to make the image a perfect likeness. In this way, through the action of the Holy Spirit, the image of the Son is insulated in intimate and ontological unity with man; this is what Medieval mysticism called the abysmal depths of the soul. Hence the radical bonum of man is converted into something especially pleasing to God. This is the last meaning of grace: the pleasing, which is the good. And, therefore, the personal form of unity which is the love of agape is converted into the unification of our being with God the Father through love. Therefore St. John could say that eternal life is in love. And in that splendid metaphysical and theological hymn {466} to love which St. Paul dedicated to the Corinthians he says, "Love never fails": it is eternity.

One arrives at the same conclusion by considering the matter from a negative standpoint, viz. sin. Just a few words on this topic must suffice so as not to unduly lengthen the essay. Sin, harmartia, is not a simple moral fault. Sin is something real; it has the reality of a privation of grace which is consequent, if one wishes, upon some malice of the will. And since grace is something entitative, so also is sin as a privation: rather than [409] malice, sin is a blemish. And as in the case of grace, the Greeks—following St. Paul—saw in sin something which in a way affects the entire universe.

In this structure the interpretation of the Greek Fathers, however varied it may be, unanimously affirms the ontological and, in a way, cosmic character of deification. Hence for them, from God’s viewpoint, the ontology which we would call rational is nothing but the ordinary ontology of God in His productions ad extra. Deification is supernatural ontology. And in fact, with no requirement whatever to do so—rather through pure liberality God has made use of it in the Incarnation. Thus it is that for the Greek Fathers there is, de facto, no more than one single ontology: the integral ontology of finite being.

Hence it is fitting to dispel the false image which the word supernatural" can conjure up. It seems to imply a superposition or stratification of two entities. This is false. The word "super," hyper, only indicates that its principle is transcendent and gratuitous. But it. does not mean that grace is a type of bath. The expression "garment" can also lead to this error. But the idea of light returns to put things in their place. Precisely through being a third type of reality its characteristic is {467} penetrability (I refer, naturally, to the Greeks’ idea). Light does not act on bodies in the same way that one piece of matter acts on another. It acts rather by transforming the body’s entire being. Now, just as in the Incarnation human nature is not simply juxtaposed to the Divine, but rather assumed by the personality of the Son remains immersed in the Divine, so analogously grace absorbs—so to speak—man as a whole in a superior and transcendent unity. Whence the serious error of confusing sanctity with moral perfection. To be sure, it is precisely because grace involves a presence of the Trinitary life and produces a supernatural life in man that its nature is essentially moral, if by "moral" one understands that a perfection is involved for which the cooperation of free will is necessary. This is in contrast to what grace was for the Gnostics, viz. a fragment of Divine substance which acts by itself, independently of any moral disposition. No, without some minimum of moral perfection there is no grace. But conversely, moral perfection could never be nor achieve grace. Grace is something which comes from a transcendent principle. Indeed, by virtue of treating of a supernatural life in agape, in love, natural life finds itself subjected to ethical imperatives which derive [410] specifically from supernatural life. This explains the possible inequality between the possession of grace and the degree of moral perfection of him who possesses it. Without a minimum of moral perfection, I said, there is no grace; but with this minimum there is, which implies only the substance of moral perfection, not its fullness. At this point the theology of pardon and atonement comes into play, but we cannot here discuss it.

If we seek to reduce this conception of deifying grace to a simple formula, we have at hand the definition of Ripalda: "Grace is a Divine being which makes man a son of God and heir to Heaven."

2. Root of deification: the sacramental mystery. In the texts cited, and in still other passages, the idea is expressed that the sanctification of man proceeds from {468} Christ. The Incarnation had no other purpose than to deify man. It is, then, a unique process: the mystery of the will of the Father encompasses in Christ all of humanity inasmuch as it is united to Him. Through this union, through this presence of Christ in men, our santification is the ultimate end of the great mysterion of the Father’s will. Hence St. Paul often calls this union simply "mystery." The Latins rendered the word mysterion by sacramentum, an expression which appears in Tertulian and whose origin is debatable to say the least. The worst aspect of this translation lies in the error to which it can give rise. One might think that it refers to the seven Sacraments of the Church. That this meaning is not excluded we shall see immediately; but the primary meaning of the word does not formally refer to these seven Sacraments. It suffices to recall the expression "Sacrament of the Church" to understand that beyond the seven Sacraments lies a more radical meaning. To begin, then, let us stay with the Greek word mysterion.

The word "sacrament" indicates to us, above all, an action. Now, this is not the primitive meaning of the word "mystery." Mystery, as such, is not an action on the part of man. On the contrary, it is a type of reality into which he who participates is introduced. Only thus does one understand the common expressions, not exclusively Christian, such as "to be initiated into the mysteries", "to be enlightened in the mysteries," etc. If we employ the idea of causality, which is essential to the problem, we must first of all point up formal causality. Mystery is something in which the initiated participates and, by participating in it, undergoes an intrinsic transmutation. The content of the mystery [411] is integrally and intimately present in each one of those initiated into it. With regard to Christianity, the content of the mystery is nothing other than our deification: the mystery is the deification itself. Yet something more must be added: the mystery is the deification itself, but in the real and true mode through which it was obtained. By Himself, God could have deified man in infinitely many different ways; but in fact He did so through the Incarnation, and specifically through that act of Christ to which the Incarnation was {469} directed, and by which He merited the deification of the rest of mankind: His redemptive sacrifice. Whence the word "mystery" signifies the participation of man in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. This presence of Christ in each of us is just the mystery in its ultimate perfection.

St. Paul called this union soma, body, and he did so for two reasons. First, because in virtue of that presence we are that in which Christ is received as principle of the life of grace; and we have already seen that soma, body, is the name applied to that material ambit in which the vital principle expands and is realized. In this sense the somatic character of the mystery arises, in a certain way, from our own somatic condition. But it is soma in a sense which is yet deeper. Deification was obtained by Christ through His passion and death; through something, therefore, which formally affects His own soma. Just as deification produces, in the Pauline expression, the death of the old man and the birth of the new, so relative to the deifying action of Christ our natural humanity discharges the same mysterious function which was discharged by Christ, viz. a type of analogical passion through which the supernatural principle of grace is born. Through our union with the somatic passion and death of Christ, this union with Him more properly receives the name of soma. As the redemptive sacrifice of Christ was the great mystery about which St. Paul speaks, His sacrificial presence in us also has a character of mystery. And this explains the Pauline expression that our soma is mystical. ‘Mystical’ does not mean metaphorical. It is a mode of reality. Let us recall that formal causality has many modes. In the suffering Christ His redemptive action had a character which we may call "historical." In the mystery of human deification the content of the redemptive action is integrally present, but in [412] respect of its mystery and likewise in the form of mystery, not in its purely historical form. For the moment let us not press too hard on the fact that what is formally present of Christ in the {470} deifying mystery is the formal integrity of the mode of His redemptive work; let it suffice that there be some participation therein. In any case this justifies the expression "mystical body" having a real meaning. Then we understand the more concrete meaning of "initiate into a mystery;" it means taking part in the, redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Through this sacrifice, which was the formal act in which the sanctification of humanity was consummated because it was the formal act by which God communicated Himself to man through grace, St. Paul calls Christ hagios, holy. For the effects of deification, holiness resides primarily and formally in the radical act of Christ which was His sacrifice to the Father. In Hebrews, as well as in the rest of the epistles, this sacrifice is presented as the supreme sacerdotal act of Christ, who offers His own life for the redemption of humanity. It was the supreme cult act. The essence of a cult is sacrifice. Therefore Christ was called "holy," and for the same reason our somatic and mystical reality has a character of cultual realization; our mystical body is holy because it is cultual. In this sense St. Paul also calls the Church a soma. But "Church" does not primarily mean (such at least was the interpretation of the Greek Fathers) a hierarchical organization, but the vital presence of Christ in each man through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. For this reason the Church is said to be holy, meaning that it consists formally in reproducing in a mystical way Christ’s supreme cultual and sacerdotal act. And consequently that act culminates in the sacrifice of the Mass. The hierarchical aspect of the Church is essential to it, but is derived from this presence of Christ, as vital principle for His sacrifice.

In the sacramental mystery thus understood, we have then the great Pauline mystery in its ultimate manifestation and concretion. Let us now recall the Trinitary life of which our deification is but a formal participation, in the sense indicated. God the Father is, in His design, in His hidden will, the radical mystery. Christ is the manifestation of this mystery, not just in the sense that with His logos He expressed it, but moreover that He realized it through His Incarnation and passion. Whence the presence of Christ in His mystical body {471} has this double dimension. Christ is present in the Church through His word and through His life, as deposit of revelation, and as true source of sacramental deification. In this [413] sense Christ is the radical sacrament, the subsistent sacrament. The Holy Spirit realizes and confirms the action of Christ by carrying out His double presence among men: He guarantees the integrity of the deposit of revelation, and He carries out in each man the redemptive work of Christ, ratifying in action the fecundity of His passion. Thus, the Church in the sense of sacrament, and the Church in the sense of deposit of revelation, are radically and essentially united. Whence arises the Church’s social and hierarchical character. But we leave for another time this second aspect of the question.

Since what we are here asking ourselves is for the proximate root of our deification, we must naturally refer to the Divine mystery in its third sense, the confirmation of the mystery of Christ in each man through the work of the Holy Spirit. How is this ratification of the redemption of each man realized? By the action of the Holy Spirit. And then the word "mystery" acquires its meaning of sacramental action, proper to the seven Sacraments. But still one must carefully distinguish in a sacrament, as action, the two aspects of causality which have appeared at every turn from the very first page of this essay. For the Greeks, the efficient aspect of causality is always subordinated to its formal aspect. The efficient has no other mission than that of serving as a vehicle for the formal irradiation of the cause in the effect. And for the Greeks the proper part of causality is found in this irradiation. Applied to the Sacraments, this signifies that the sacramental actions must be understood from the point of view of the real participation of man in the redemption of Christ, a participation which is produced in those actions. Moreover, these actions are called "Sacraments" precisely because it is in them that the Sacrament is realized; but they are not primarily and radically sacraments on account of whatever they may possess of efficient action. {472}

Let us now consider the structure of the Sacraments thus understood. They are, above all, material actions, which represent the passion and death of Christ, and which, through the work of the Holy Spirit, truly produce in man that which they signify. This is what is meant by saying that the Sacraments contain the grace which they produce. We then clearly see how it is that whatever a Sacrament possesses of action is only the vehicle for carrying out this formal reproduction. And since what they represent and reproduce is the redemptive work of Christ, it follows that the Sacraments, as the mysterious or sacramental presence of Christ, [414] are real actions of Christ.

Even at the risk of excessive repetition, let us return to the idea of the perikhoresis trinitaria, which finds its ultimate manifestation ad extra in the sacramental mystery. Through the deliberate action of Christ—it is a question of fact—there are some material elements which serve as the base and cause of the sacramental action. The Holy Spirit takes matter, and through the strictly causal (and not merely accidental) efficacy which it stamps upon the matter, infuses us with Christ, and hence leads us to the Father. This Trinitary action involves in itself the three essential elements of every sacrament.

a) The causality of material elements. Water, bread, oil, etc. are the material elements which produce the action of the Holy Spirit. One can scarcely emphasize enough that it is the real and proper causality of these material elements which produces the effect intended by the Holy Spirit. For this reason reference is often made to an analogy between the Sacraments of Christianity and certain actions of Hellenistic religions. But the difference is essential. In the first place, none of these elements has supernatural efficacy by itself, by its natural being, but only through the instrumental character which it possesses in the hands of the superior intention of the Holy Spirit. This slight difference suffices to metaphysically distinguish sacramental causality from all types of magic or theurgy. But at the same time let us stress that in their particular deformation these practices of other religions maintain something which is essential to every true {473} sacrament, viz. the causality of material elements. In the second place, this intention of the Holy Spirit is found linked to the material elements as the symbolized to the symbol. The material actions in the Sacrament symbolically signify that which they seek to produce. But herein lies the second difference with respect to every presumed pagan sacrament: the symbolism of the sacramental elements is not a natural symbol, but a supernatural symbolism expressed in the ritual formula: the mystery of the redemption of Christ. Finally, the sacraments are symbols which signify something. But let us not forget that in this symbolization the real causality of the material elements is essential to the causality. In a word, the Sacraments are efficacious symbols of that which they signify.

b) The presence of Christ. What the Holy Spirit carries out is just the perpetuation of Christ in us. After what has been said, it [415] will be unnecessary to insist that this presence signifies grace. We saw several pages ago the meaning of the implication and the union of these two terms. But here is where it is necessary to return in order to record the special way in which the Greek Fathers confronted the problem of grace. The Latins tended to see in grace an effect which flows from the redemptive work of Christ, and which through its internal quality attracts the fecundity of His sacrifice toward us. The Greek Fathers rather saw the matter from the viewpoint of formal causality. Sacramental grace is the sacramental participation of man in the redemption. Hence, the redemption does not only act like an efficient and meritorious cause which, realized in its time, is perpetuated only in its effects; but rather like something which has reality now, both in its content as well as in its purely mysterious mode. This is what is still expressed in Latin liturgy when it is said that as often as this mystery is performed (the Mass), the work of our salvation is accomplished. This does not mean that for the Sacrament and for the Sacrifice of the Mass what happened at Calvary is of no consequence. The Sacrament is but a participation in that act, and hence only through it receives its value and efficacy. But this does not mean {474} that what the Sacrament produces cannot be, in one form or another, a "re-production" of what happened at Calvary. The efficacious symbol which in the hands of the Holy Spirit produces what it signifies, reproduces, through participation, the redemptive work of Christ. A contemporary theologian has sought to go one step further. From the moment at which, through sacramental action, we participate in the redemptive work of Christ, it is undeniable that He is present in some way in each person who receives the Sacrament. Up to this point, there is nothing which is not a literal transcription of revealed dogma. But in the new conception to which I allude the nature of this way is made more precise and concrete. That which is present is the redemptive sacrifice completely and integrally. In this conception the essential point centers on distinguishing two modes of the presence of Christ’s work on earth. One is the radical and, if one wishes, historical mode, viz. the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But another which is distinct and essentially founded in the historical mode, yet no less real than it, is the mystical one, by way of formal and exemplary causality. The sacraments symbolize the real life and death of Christ, and will create in their sacramental grace the presence and reproduction of this life and [416] death, under mystical species. Whence a most interesting interpretation of Baptism and the Eucharist as sacramental rites has been derived. We shall not enter deeply into the question. The abundant documentary proof, especially from the Greek Fathers, does not decisively favor this theory. The observation has been made, and justifiably, that the Greek Fathers speak only of a participation in the redemptive work of Christ; the conclusion that this redemptive work is found present by exemplarity, fully manifested in the sacramental effect, is a conclusion which perhaps is logical, but not formally contained in the Patristic tradition of the Greeks. Nevertheless, let us add that the distance separating the two is miniscule; clearly the spirit, concepts, and expressions of the Greek Fathers tend asymptotically to this interpretation. {475}

c) Supernatural life with the Father. Through our participation in Christ’s redemptive work we participate in His sacerdotal function. And so we offer to the Father, in the form of a reproduction, the sacrifice of the Son, and united with Him we merit eternal life. The essence of supernatural life is this cultual, sacrificial dialogue of man with God through his union with Christ. This is religion in the essential sense.

Therefore, as I said at the beginning, for St. Paul Sacrament and Church are two congenital dimensions. The sacraments are what form the Church, and the Church is, if one wishes, the sacramental mystery of Christ.

Whence arises the second aspect of the Church as an hierarchical organization. The Church, in this sense, represents the visible form of deification of the universe.

3. Consequence of deification. As we have seen, through the grace sacramentally obtained we are sons of God because we possess His very nature through participation. Let us recall now, as we said at the beginning, that every finite entity, through its own nature, in virtue of its own being, has first of all a unity with [417] itself. Through grace we have a supernatural life which confers upon us a certain mode of superior intimacy, since we are anchored in eternity. In the second place, every finite entity finds itself united, again primarily, to the font of being. Through grace, we have already seen that we possess a supernatural life through faith and through love which immerses us in the Father. Finally, in virtue of its own nature, every finite entity is unified with the others of its species. With regard to inanimate beings, this unity is simply a grouping by classes. In living things we have something {476} more: unity of generation. But men have an even higher type of unification; through his own nature each man is personally directed toward others, in such a way that they are not simply "others," but fellow men. Now let us return to grace. Through being an image of Christ, each man finds himself directed toward others in Christ. This is what strictly speaking is called charitas, charity. But let us be careful to avoid the error of taking this expression in an exclusively ethical sense. For St. Paul, the decisive thing about interpersonal Christian unity is finding oneself founded and based in grace, in Christ. And this is what gives this union a character which is in a certain way metaphysical. Because the root of charity as movement of the will is charity as the metaphysical situation in which we found ourselves placed by Christ. As grace is the seal of Christ in our personal life, which finds itself socially directed towards others, it will follow that the grace of Christ constitutively involves deification of the social dimension of man. In the final analysis it is to the sum total of the faithful thus understood that St. Paul gives the name "Church." But, as we pointed out, for St. Paul himself the Church thus understood grows out of the Church as expression of the union of each believer with Christ. So we are not dealing primarily with a simple organization, but with a true vital unity, which is disseminated and organically structured by the real and mystical presence of Christ as principle and font of grace. In this same sense St. Paul understood the name kephale, head of the Church, by which he designated Christ. Christ is not just principle of life for each man, nor for all men, but rather for the human genus considered as a unity. In Christ the whole of humanity is vitally unified, just as it is found vitally contained in the first man through generation. To the concept of "head," in Pauline thought, corresponds being, not just as principle of life, but of a life which is organically unified. The vital principle is expanded, and so [418] "shapes" the diversity of its members; it "articulates" them once shaped; and "maintains" them together once articulated (Col 2:19, Eph 4:16). In these three aspects the vital principle is actualized as a unifying force. {477} To be head is thus to be principle of "being-corporeal." The whole Church is likewise in this sense a mystical body where Christ acts vitally as its head. It is, if one wishes, the visible part of the real presence of Christ on earth.

In this way, through deification, the ultimate and integral ontological unity of the human being in community with others comes about: "ut consummti sint in unum;" "Be one as the Father and I are one." This is the ontological unity of the Trinity ad extra. The Holy Spirit is the energeia of God; He therefore realizes and maintains the Church. Through the action of the Holy Spirit the Church receives the presence of Christ in its double form of repository of revelation and dispenser of sacraments; and through it Christ leads me to the Father. I will be with you, said Christ, until the end of the world. This is the social aspect of the Trinitary perikhoresis essential to deification for the New Testament. The Church constitutes the deification of human society through Christ’s real and mysterious presence. At this point the historical dimension of the Church must be interjected, just as when treating of the life of Christ. The Trinitary perikhoresis encompasses human society not only in its social structure, but in its historical and temporal development. The mystery of the will of the Father began to be carried out by the Holy Spirit in three successive stages. In the first, by way of preparation, the revelation of the design in the Son was initiated. But precisely because in that state this design was not yet revealed, the Greek Fathers saw in all of the Old Testament, in a manner of speaking, the religion of the Father. With the historical life of Christ the Holy Spirit brought to fulfillment the formal manifestation of the mystery. And after this time, with the constitution of the Church, the Holy Spirit leads me to the Father through the Son. The consummation of this work will therefore be the consummation of the ages. For St. Paul the judgement which history as a whole then merits is easily understood. He reproached the Jews for not having seen in Christ the Son of God, and therefore for not having known the Father. He will reproach the unfaithful of all times to come for not believing in the Church, i.e. in the Holy Spirit, and therefore not having believed either in the Son or the Father. For St. Paul, not believing in the Church {478} has a [419] meaning which parallels that of his doctrine about the Church: not believing in it is a type of negative perikhoresis; it is a negation of the Trinity itself in its deifying work.

This deifying unity of love is already a reality, as we have just seen. Eternal life, and therefore glory, is already a reality too. But just like the principle of this life, it is only germinal. Its confirmation and plenitude in vision, in firm possession of the Trinity, will be eternal life in glory, after death. In it the union of the human being in love with itself, with others, and with God will be sealed. And along with this will go the reversion of all creatures—especially man—to God. As we saw, St. Paul in fact insists that the exemplary causality of Christ glorified is a type and pledge of the glorification of visible creation, and of man as a whole, with his own body. This is the idea of the resurrection of the flesh. The entire cosmos is affected in some way by the Incarnation. When the Son was incarnated, this eon, this era, received its pleroma, the fullness of time. Hence the second eon, eternal life, has already begun in the cosmos. Through the coming of Christ the consummation of time will come about, as well as the exclusive imperium of the other eon, eternal life.

Let us summarize. In God, as effusive love, His ecstasy leads to the production of a personal life in which the pure act of His Nature subsists; this is the Trinity. His effusive being tends to exteriorize itself freely in two forms. First, "naturally," producing things distinct from Him; this is the creation. Later, "supernaturally," deifying His entire creation by means of a personal Incarnation in Christ and a sanctifying communication in man through grace. Through this deification, which in some way affects the whole of creation, creation returns to associate itself with God’s intimate life, but in a different way: in Christ, through a true circumincession of human nature in the Divine; in man, through an extrinsic but real presence of God; in the visible elements, through a glorious transfiguration.