By: Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos
PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy
The problem of where the truth lies has occupied mankind down through the ages; it is a problem that is always contemporary and of its very nature leads man to seek an answer. The Philosophers, especially the ancient Greeks, posed the question: “What is the truth?” and most men have searched for it rationally. Some said that truth is an Idea, a “principle of all things”, the “prime mover unmoved” and called it God.
But this “God”, the God of the philosophers, cannot redeem. He touches only man’s rational faculty, and not man as a whole; no one can come into personal communion with him since he is not a person, but something impersonal; an universal Mind that acts blindly, or is so distant and so transcendental that he has no interest in man or in the world.
There can be no doubt that anyone with a good disposition, upon observing creation and using his human potential, can discover evidence of God’s existence. However, he will discover only the concept of God, but not God Himself, salvific truth.
Others, down through the ages, have created world idols and a multitude of deities. They established “divine” laws and rules and created systems of worship of human provenance. All these, however, are simply expressions of man himself; they do not transcend the created realm, created reality; they do not, in other words, reveal the one true God Who transcends the created world.
Again, still others believe that man is by nature God. It remains simply for him to understand “his true self”; nothing need change save his stance vis-a-vis his God-self, rejecting any thought that might differentiate him from his own divinity and recognize the existence of a God outside and beyond him.
In the final analysis, such an approach to God cannot satisfy man. It leads to an infinite loneliness which is contrary to human nature. By nature, man seeks warmth, love, communion with others and not only with himself; Without these things, he cannot exist. That is why he continuously seeks them. He is not satisfied with man-made concepts concerning God. He desires to rise above created reality, above creation and seek the meaning of life in communion with the uncreated and eternal God.
This void which is created in man who seeks saving truth is filled by the Church. The Christian does not seek man-made truth: rational truth, an idea or some cosmic Mind, called God.
He seeks truth which transcends human limits and all of creation. Moreover, he seeks God who can enter into personal communion with him, into a communion of love, i.e. he seeks God who is a Person.
For the Christian, the knowledge of God has a different significance. It is not simply an object of rational approaching or an impersonal delving into a Principle of the Universe which excludes every personal relationship. Christian knowledge of God is an event of personal communion between God and man, a communion related to man’s entire existence and not relegated simply to his rational faculty.
“Knowledge” therefore, according to the Christian concept, is not the product of rational activity, separated from love; indeed in the Holy Scriptures the term is used to express the consummation of interpersonal communion within marriage (Gen. 4,1). Such a communion does not abrogate man’s person within some sort of “cosmic” principle; rather it protects it! Through this communion mortal man transcends the condition of creatureliness, that is, his createdness, and participates in the life of the uncreated and eternal God.
Man, however, cannot realize this transcendence through his own abilities and potential, which out of necessity are limited to the realm of created reality. Man’s very nature is an insurmountable hindrance which makes his passing over or “ascent” to, and approaching God impossible. An ontological abyss, i.e. an impassable chasm related to God’s and man’s essence, separates man from God. Man cannot transcend this abyss.
But that which man cannot do, God does out of love for His creature: He “descends” or rather “condescends” i.e. He adapts to man’s condition, transcends the abyss, reveals Himself to His creature and offers him the possibility of a real communion of love and life.
Christian knowledge of truth, i.e. eternal life, is and remains the great gift of our affectionate Heavenly Father. It is not the result of our human endeavours. That which God offers us is not conditioned by our strivings. It is the fruit of God’s freedom and love. This gift is offered freely and ought to be accepted always with gratitude. No one can force the donor to offer his gifts.
Moreover, God does not violate man’s will. He lets him make his own free choice. He allows him to respond with his love to God’s love or to reject that love. Such a choice does not belong to man’s rational domain, i.e. a rational turning towards God on man’s part is not enough. Man must participate in totality. What is needed is tangible proof of man’s holistic turning toward God that includes his struggle for spiritual catharsis, the carrying out of God’s commandment. Without this basic presupposition it is impossible to find God:
“For perverse thoughts separate men from God, and when his power is tested, it convicts the foolish; because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, nor dwell in a body enslaved to sin. For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit, and will rise and depart from foolish thoughts, and will be ashamed at the approach of unrighteousness.” (Wisdom of Solomon 1,3-5).
The free exercise of the divine virtues leads man away from autonomy. It functions within the realm of God’s love. Man, through his obedience and through the carrying out of God’s commandments humbles his body and his mind, recognizing that by himself he can neither embark nor continue upon the path of the true knowledge of God. His entire life becomes a cry unto God. God then condescends and offers to man the grace of the knowledge of Himself. Man becomes a partaker in this grace, which is God’s gift, and which is called uncreated divine energy. Of course grace is not identical with God’s essence. God’ essence remains unapproachable and incomprehensible for man. Grace however, springs from God’ essence which is its source. Hence it is not created but uncreated. This is why God’s condescension signifies for man true knowledge of God, eternal life and salvation. This is the Christian concept concerning the knowledge of God.
For the faithful to reach this saving knowledge it is necessary that he “bow his head”, that he submit in love to the merciful Lord. It is for this reason that the priest-celebrant of the divine services, after the command “bow your heads unto the Lord”, prays:
O Lord our God, Who didst bow the heavens and come down for the salvation of the race of men, look upon Thy servants and upon Thine inheritance. For unto Thee, the fearful and man-befriending Judge, have Thy servants inclined their heads and bowed their necks, looking for succour not from men, but abiding Thy mercy and awaiting Thy salvation…”
With the Christian concept of truth and its “knowledge”, man’s life acquires a deeper, a true meaning and eternal destiny. It sufficeth that man consider the “knowledge” of God as the most precious treasure in his life, and that he seek it out properly. Then will God’s grace touch him and desire for God will become so great that nothing can stand between him and God or separate him from God’s love:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8, 35-39).
This is the path that the holy martyrs of our Church followed; Thus the hymn of the Church states:
“Neither tribulation, nor distress, nor famine, nor persecution, nor whip, nor anger of beasts, nor sword, nor fire, can threaten you, all-laudable Martyrs, with separation from God; for you have escaped nature in disdaining death by your yearning for Him and struggling as if in bodies foreign to you…”.