Truth and the End of All Things

christ-the-conqueror-of-hell1This is a reposting for the sake of our present conversation…

In the Gospel record of Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, we are told that Christ said He had come to bear witness to the Truth. Pilate, in what he must have thought was a clever response, says, “And what is Truth?” We know from elsewhere in the Gospel that Christ explained, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” It is a statement that is easily tossed about – to settle an argument by saying that Christ is the Truth – but Pilate’s question still remains: “What is Truth?”

Christ’s statement that He Himself is the Truth is a description of the nature of Truth, as well as its content. In saying this, we must accept that Christ’s claim is that Truth is not at all the sort of thing we generally consider when we ask for “the truth.” It is not a syllogism, nor a philosophical formula, or even a precisely stated account of history. It is not truth as yielded by carefully sifted evidence. If Christ is the Truth, then Truth must be understood as Person and not as concept. To acknowledge Christ as the Truth is both to acknowledge that we have been mistaken about the nature of truth itself, as well as to accept that Christ Himself is both content and character of the Truth.

In saying that Christ is the Truth, and that the Truth is thus understood as Person, is not to say that Truth is a category – or merely an event within history. For the Christ who reveals Himself as Truth, also reveals Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Rev. 1:8). He is both the “Lamb slain from the Foundation of the Earth” (Rev. 12:8) and “He Who is, and was, and is to come” (Rev. 1:8).

In speaking of the Truth with regard to others, St. Paul offers this same eschatological understanding:

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts (1 Cor. 4:5).

Both St. Ambrose (in the West) and St. Maximos (in the East) maintained that the Old Testament was shadow; the New Testament, icon; and the age to come, the Truth. This is to say that the meaning of all things is found in the End of all things. The Old Testament (in Christian terms) receives its meaning from what it points towards and which lies hidden within it as though it were a shadow. The New Testament makes the Truth known, but in the form of Icon, an Image in which we see more clearly. But we do not yet see as we shall see.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

This understanding does not negate the knowledge we have of the world in which we live. But it sets parameters on that knowledge and reveals its temporary and relative character. When we describe the world with the knowledge of science, we describe as best we can what we see and understand according to a certain model. This is not the same thing as saying we know the Truth of things. There is, even in the created order, an opacity that does not immediately yield to us the full mystery of the things we see and know. In the words of St. Paul:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known (1 Cor. 13:12).

There is no conflict between what we know and what we shall know. Conflict only arises when we claim to know what we do not know. We cannot assume certain fixed principles from which we may deduce the Truth of things – for such principles and deduction cannot pierce the veil that lies over all we see nor the cloud that darkens our heart. We do not therefore reject knowledge that has not reached its fullness – but we do not call the knowledge we have the “fullness of the Truth.” That fullness awaits us.

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:9-10).

On the level of our daily lives, this understanding asks us not to look to the past for our meaning: we are not defined by our history but by our end. To know what we are, it is necessary to know what we shall be. Christ is, for us, both the icon of the Truth and the Truth of which He is the icon. To answer the question of what we shall be, the truth will only be found in Christ – who is both the revelation of God – but also the revelation of what it is to be human: fully God and fully man, He is our definition.

Indeed, He is the Truth of all things.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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49 responses to “Truth and the End of All Things”

  1. dino Avatar

    Wow! Thanks Guy for leading Father to this re-posting. I think that for those of us who were struck by it then, we can safely say we see even more in it now!

  2. Kev Avatar

    Father, is this not why there is no magisterium in the Orthodox church? Even the “consensus of the fathers”, what ever that may be, is not magisterial or “official”. We always know in part until the perfect comes. And we know much that is beyond words.

    Even the dogma of the Church, though we accept it, is only the best attempt we can make at saying the ineffable. And it only became necessary because of tragedy. Because some tried to teach a truth that was not “The Truth” and brought confusion.

  3. Dominic Albanese Avatar
    Dominic Albanese

    O Father Steven if it were that simple. With the lies that spring up everywhere, this guy says he knows better than the Church knows, and we are left to sort the truth like a ball in a tennis match. My faith is firm I know there are lots of things I do not know and will not know till Christ makes time no longer important. It troubles me the latest moral outrages and decet apparant in all sides of goverment and in lots of supposed religon. My Matuska just told me to stop looking at the news and look for the peace beyond understanding. I try but just driving takes it toll with the bumper sticker war and the crazyes all over. O well I keep up on Glory to God and file every blog it comforts me when I am distracted or uneasy, keep up the good work.

  4. Kev Avatar

    Father Stephen, I received this note from my spiritual father today in regard to my questions about Adam being a real person and I hope you don’t mind if I post it here. It is most helpful:

    You are correct.

    The Western Analytical Philosophical Diagnotstic. Is it black or white, in or out, saved or damned, hard or soft.

    The poor analysis goes like this. A) If Adam and Eve are real, then it is just a story about them, and not about me. And someone may come up with Scientific Proof to show that Adam & Eve are not real and then our faith is Wrong/erranat (not Right, again is it “A or B” mentality and the need for absolute acurate historicity )

    B) If Adam & Eve are “Types”, then there is great implied meaning aplicable to all, and we can look for “Deeper Meaning”. (Translation = then I can make up what I want the story to imply) And I am free from having to prove historicity.

    More Orthodox view.
    The Very Hebrew notion.

    A) Historicty is not neccesarily needed. (key words that drive the western mind set crazy because of the western mind set need to solve a mystery)

    B) It is OK to dwell in the unknown and still be secure. (mystery/sacrament) In fact, this is the only way to have Faith.

    C) Scientific Proof does not change God, The Kingdom of Heaven, nor our actual Human condition. (although Scientific Proof would like to, as it is a god in itself trying to compete for souls)

    So, a good clear Orthodox Christian understanding can easily say the words, “I believe Adam & Eve are actual, concrete people. But not “neccesarily” so. The mistake would be to extend this understanding into ” There is absolutely no actual Adam & Eve, and there never was.”

    Didactically , it is much easyer to teach and nurture children and adults with concrete examples. If you relegate A&E to just a “Nice Story”, then we loose the Didactic advantage and with it the revelation of God to all His people.

    So, are A&E real? Yes!
    Is there more meaning? Yes !
    If Science proved A&E as not real does it change my faith? No
    Are children and adults allowed to mature incrimentaly? Yes
    Does Maturation mean “not believing in A&E” ? No
    Is Historicity needed for the revelation of God to be true and secure? Not Neccesarily so.

    Hope this helps.

    Orthodox get traped in this all the time. It is all around us in our culture and mind set, as an unspoken false presuposition. It is A or B. Are you “Saved”? etc.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Very good.

    When my children were young, we didn’t discuss theories of meaning, etc. We certainly spoke about Adam and Eve and they certainly assumed a kind of “literal.” When they began to deal with science questions, we had to go deeper.

    I would (and did) avoid treating this as clearly as I have in the relatively recent times for the reasons of not causing scandal to those who rest in a kind of literalism. I’ve decided to push this a bit, for the sake of those who are struggling with faith, but are stuck with finding it impossible to believe in Adam and Eve as literal characters. I am not interested in supporting the atheist versions of materialism, but I am interested in showing believers deeper levels of understanding that will take them beyond troublesome places.

    The lack of proper eschatology (for one) and broader understanding in the various ways the fathers have used Scripture, leaves most people assuming that the two options represented by fundamentalist protestants and liberal protestants as the only choice. As in regard to almost everything, Orthodox can show a more excellent way, and a greater fullness.

    Pray for your spiritual father. May God continue to bless him.

  6. dino Avatar

    Dominic Albanese,
    what your Matuska said is the only way. Feet planted on earth, Head and Heart probing the heavens… You reminded me of a lovely image used by the fathers I will explain in a minute…
    Back to the living in the secular world problem for a second:
    If I read the news and this fills me with thoughts and anxieties, this is certainly not the News’ problem!, it is mine. If someone speaks secularly so that my heart grows cold or anxious just listening, this is not his problem, but my heart’s. We must think that way, and it is the truth.
    There is no other way to purify ourselves, to love others and the world (-eschatologically -as it is meant to be and as it will be), while also remaining detached.
    Remember the famous saying beloved of monks (it is applicable in all walks) ‘be one with all, and remain detached from all…
    The article above is key in this. It is knowing that the centre, the single point of all reference is Christ. Our love towards others contains detachment because we know that all radii of the circle only meet at that central single point we are singularly focused on – Christ. We are the radii, but one can only get close to a his neighbouring radii somewhat -that’s all – unless, he decides to plunge to the centre -where all meet.

  7. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Well, i admit it: It does drive my Western mind crazy. But as honest as i can be, i just don’t know and can’t even vaguely imagine how to think otherwise at this point. This is why this is so hard. Not because i’m really that worried about cut-out characters on childhood Sunday school flannel graphs being historical people. This clearly gets at something much deeper.

    It drives my Western mind crazy because i feel as though the power of God is being doubted. Why can’t Adam and Eve be real? Why can’t there have been a Noah and a worldwide flood? Are these things beyond God’s capabilities? When people deny these things, it seems to me there is often an air of “it’s silly to even think such things *could* happen.” This seems like a dangerous attitude to me. And i guess sometimes when Christians talk as though at the end of the day we should defer to the materialist’s worldview and basically accept whatever scientists say, it seems to me we’ve more or less given up faith in the power of God (especially His power to demonstrate that our “wisdom” is, in fact, foolishness).

    It drives my Western mind crazy because i still can’t quite see how this is a clear “third way.” It still sounds as though there’s some concession here to the materialist’s worldview. “Well, okay, Mr. Scientist, you’re basically right about everything about the material world. But so what, i only aim to deal in allegories anyway and not make any claims about what happens in the real world–i’ll leave the job of figuring out ‘what actually happened’ to you.” i can see from the comments that this is not what is being claimed. i’m just saying that at this point i still can’t see clearly how what is being said is distinct from this–especially when these bold comments are for the sake of those “who are stuck by finding it impossible to believe Adam and Eve are literal.” This notion is frustrating because at the end of the day even on a philosophical level, i just don’t find the materialist’s approach or methodology convincing as though he’s found the be-all/end-all standard of “proof.”

    And again, it drives my Western mind crazy because i can’t see the difference between the events in Christ’s life and certain other biblical stories such that one of them needs historicity and the other doesn’t. If we don’t need historicity in the case of any OT story, then why do we need historicity in the case of the resurrection?

    i know i’m new at this whole thing. And, again, i certainly don’t mean for any of my comments to be contentious. i just feel “stuck” as well. i don’t feel stuck finding it impossible *not* to think of Adam and Eve (or Noah or David or Elijah or whoever) as literal characters (although i still do think of them that way). Rather i feel stuck not being able to see why historicity doesn’t matter.

    i’d certainly appreciate whatever more insight you can share. But i’ll also keep reading all you’ve already said.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    God can do anything. The root of our faith is Pascha, in the light of which, everything is possible. Thus, there is no question whether any of these things “can” be true. Of course they can. But “can” is not the same thing as “is,” etc. There is indeed an engagement with the modern study of history, which using various techniques raises questions about some things. But this is the world and the people to whom we preach. The proclamation of the gospel has always borne such things in mind.
    There is no need for an “all or nothing” mentality about these things – particularly in light of the variety of manners in which these things have been treated in the Tradition. It is the modern work of the West that insists only on a historicized view of everything. Thus, this is a third way.
    We could insist on everything that is “possible” being “true,” but why? Historicity is interesting, and sometimes important. But utterly necessary? Then we make the historicity of Adam as important as the historicity of the resurrection. I think that is a false choice.
    The evidence for a 4 billion year-old earth (for example) is rather strong. Do we go with the “young creation” group because it is “possible”? We create stumbling blocks to the faith that are unnecessary (and, I think, red herrings).

  9. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Guy, it is not that Adam is not real and without historicity it is just that his reality and historicity are not limited to the material and are not time bound into a linear, lockstep existence. Just as philosophical naturalism corrupts science it corrupts our understanding of the story of humanity (history). The introduction of logical positivism and the myth of progress into the study of history in the late 19th century deadened history and stripped it of humanity, imagination and creativity. Another instance of the logical mind and the material assuming an wrongful dominance in us.

    Henry Adams was an American historian who combined the best of historical method with a living heart. As the great grandson and grandson of Presidents and son of a great American diplomat, he had a unique understanding.

    I recommend two books: “The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma” and “Mont Saint Michele and Charges”. On one level the latter book is a masterful social history of Europe using the two cathedrals as iconic symbols, it is also the second volumn of Adams’ history of his family that he began with the much more literal “The Education of Henry Adams.”.

    Adams invented the genre of social history, the art of telling history by the lives people lived rather than the great events alone. Although his seven volumn History of the United States under Adams and Jefferson began the genre it is tough to get through because he was still under the sway of the “scientific” theory of history of the German positivist school.

    The last half of the 19th century was the demonic flowering of an anti human agenda that produced the horrors we’ve seen in the 20th that we tend to accept because they came along with greater material comfort.

    Orthodoxy is a mode of life and experience rooted in the truly human/divine hypostasis. Despite the demonic attempts to destroy us, the Church is still living and is the only antidote.

    It is a stretch. That stretch does not have to be made all at once–it can’t. Go as far as you can then step back and have a cup of tea.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Arg spell check Mont Saint Michele and Chartes. Nasty technology.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Interestingly, the question, “Is it real,” on the lips of a modern person, means, “Is it material?” If it’s not, then it’s fantasy, or something other than real. Hmmm

  12. LI Avatar

    If Fr. Stephen allows me throw my sixpence in the conversation, for the sake of those stumbling upon science – to my knowledge there are a mitochondrial Eve and a Y-chromosomal Adam both determined via scientifically accepted methods (that is, not by reading the Bible 🙂 ). I believe the study started out trying to prove that the modern people come frome different ancestors and then the researchers ended up throwing their hands in the air and admitting all human beings presently walking the Earth come from only one man and only one woman.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Yup that is my understanding as well.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The single couple origin of the human species as a fact means little. What still matters is whether that is put into a materialistic matrix some other spawn of modernity and or an Orthodox matrix. Each one will come to startlingly different conclusions using the same “facts”.

    How we think, what we believe and why is always more important than facts.

  15. Dinoship Avatar

    This was what I had heard too, however, no matter how nice it is to revel in such ‘agreements’, we look elsewhere for our true ‘revelling’… since we put not our trust in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation…

  16. Dino Avatar

    Sorry for the name variations due to using different browsers, I’ll try to rectify.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes but only because all those alive at present share a common ancestor – not that the common ancestor was the beginning of the human race. All Western Europeans are related to Charlemagne – but maybe not to Jean l’Doe down the street from him who did not father any children. etc.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is important as an Orthodox believer to be able to say, “I am Adam.” Not “I am Adam’s offspring,” or “I am like Adam.” I am Adam. This aspect of Genesis is lost on those who take a materialistic interpretation.

    The Genesis story is the story of Adam that is also the story of every man – and that’s much more interesting and important than the story of one material man.

  19. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    i really need to read up on a teleological theory of truth, and re-read your last two responses on the other post before i say anything substantive, but i wanted to give a quick response for the time being to see what you thought:

    You wrote:
    Interestingly, the question, “Is it real,” on the lips of a modern person, means, “Is it material?” If it’s not, then it’s fantasy, or something other than real.

    i suppose that’s true of some, but i don’t feel that my own current struggle relates to this. i believe that Moses and Elijah literally manifested themselves and conversed with a transfigured Christ. i believe this was real. If someone were to ask me, “Did this really happen?”, i would say “yes.” But was it “material”? Moses and Elijah weren’t, were they?

    Or when angels appeared–to Mary, to the apostles, to Joshua, or the visitors to Abram–i believe these really happened. But angels aren’t material, are they?

    i suppose i take materiality to count in the case of Adam just because the text describes him as a human and i take humans to be material creatures (though not solely). But not because i take materiality to be a test of what’s real.

    (Although, i will say, i think we both mean to use “materiality” here in a sense any modern physicalist would accept. They would reject the existence of anything that doesn’t have physical properties. i’m open to the idea that what constitutes “immaterial” entities is just another species of the same genus as the “material” or “physical.” In that sense, were the angels wholly immaterial? i don’t know.)

    You wrote:
    “But utterly necessary? Then we make the historicity of Adam as important as the historicity of the resurrection. I think that is a false choice.”

    This is what i’m asking “why” about. So why is it that historicity is utterly necessary in the case of the resurrection? i agree that it is. But i’m trying to understand a reason why it is necessary such that the reason would obviously not apply to OT stories.

    You wrote:
    “The evidence for a 4 billion year-old earth (for example) is rather strong.”

    What evidence? The evidence provided to us by the materialists? i don’t find that evidence strong. Not because i’m a better scientist or have competing scientific data or a competing theory per se. But because the science used to interpret that data is founded on presuppositions i find suspect.

    But even if that weren’t true, why accept that evidence as dictating what i should, then, believe about the OT text? –as though the testimony of materialist science should inform me of what the text can or can’t mean? Why not just as soon believe the text over and against the testimony of materialist scientists?

    The point of those questions is that i still don’t see how you’re truly *outside* the debate, advocating a third way. If you reject the historicity of OT accounts because of materialist science, then haven’t you, in fact, plainly taken a side? How is that different than the Protestant liberals who simply take the materialist’s side and then claim only to deal in fables and allegories?

    And yeah, i guess i’m still at a loss for understanding “real” without historicity. i’m historical. i’m typing at my keyboard right now. There is sequence. i type one letter, then the next. This is happening. How are these things not necessary conditions for my being “real”?

    Again, i know i ask a lot of questions–i really am trying to figure this out. i find this deeply challenging.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    I can’t respond at length, but there are differences within the text that require different levels of history. Adam and Eve, for example, carry generic names. They play a generic role. They are written as archetypal figures in an archetypal story. The story does not read as a piece of history. That’s point one.
    I totally agree about the historical character of the Transfiguration .

    As for the 4 billion year old earth, I find the scientific account as compelling as the cell phone I’m typing on and for the same reasons. It works. The present state of physics, and cosmology, though quite fluid, need not be utterly materialistic. But it’s cogency, its repeat ability, its submission to review, and both cosmology and physics are very lively fields — all those things are quite compelling. I like my cell phone.

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    A further thought on the character of A and E in the OT. They are never mentioned again in the OT . Had St Paul not written theologically about Adam in a handful of chapters, the story would almost have been obscure. Has it never seemed strange that the OT writers never mention the Fall ? It’s not treated at all like Passover or the Exile, not even remotely. So, I think it is simply wrong to say that the text presents them as historical. Only by the thinnest sort of thread can that be said. The Genesis account is actually not at all like the clearly historical accounts. Not to mention the obvious problems such as Seth’s wife, etc
    BTW, a Jewish childhood friend of mine used to say, “of course there is evolution. Gentiles had to come from somewhere.” 🙂

  22. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    The difference in OT stories you point out is very good, clear food for thought–i do need to think more about this.

    About the scientific account, i suppose the confirmation theory process on which all science rests, plus the fact that science experiences major paradigm shifts and thus revisions every few centuries (i find Thomas Kuhn quite compelling), and plus the fact that science doesn’t operate in a vacuum but as a social institution (thus lending to developing its own traditions and dogmas) all lead me to a great deal of hesitancy about any of its “proofs” and “demonstrations.” Especially in light of the major shifts in physics in the past century, i tend to think that today’s “cold hard scientific fact” will be tomorrow’s embarrassing epicycles and phlogiston.

    Does science “work”? Aristotelian science “worked”–until it didn’t. Newtonian science “worked”–until it didn’t. Then Einstein’s brand of determinism “worked”–until it didn’t. Now we’ve entered the era of quantum mechanics. Why put more stock in our era than our scientific predecessors put in theirs? Assuming we must’ve figured it out by now sounds dangerously close to hubris to me.

    Suppose a hundred or two hundred years from now, academic scientific consensus shifts to the view that the earth and all life formed on it came about in a matter of a few seconds and rejects our era’s view that it took billions of years. Should people of that era view our current views as foolish and backwards and take for granted that their scientists have it right? Did Newtonian era folk or Einstein think any differently of the Medievals? Why should i think that my own scientific era will be immune from such judgment by people hundreds of years from now? It’s a cycle i don’t see good reason to be part of, and i certainly don’t see why it ought to play any role in my theology.

    About the teleological theory of truth–i can’t find anything on first cursory perusal. Do you have a link or an author you can point to?

  23. PJ Avatar

    “Had St Paul not written theologically about Adam in a handful of chapters, the story would almost have been obscure.”

    1 Chronicles 1:1-27 is the genealogy of Abraham. The first name? Adam.

    Luke obviously draws upon this genealogy in his own genealogy (3:23-38), which begins (or, rather, ends) with the first man, Adam.

    Jude names Enoch as the “seventh from Adam.”

    And the Book of Wisdom, while not using the name Adam, speaks of the “first-formed father of the world” and his fall from grace, a tragedy which was semi-salvaged by the work of Wisdom (10:1-2).

    That said, you’re right, Adam is barely named in the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament, he is only mentioned a few times. The same goes for the fall. Yet it seems to me that all Scripture, from a Christian perspective, presupposes both.

    Like any modern person with a shred of intelligence, I recognize the cogency of evolutionary theory. And I’m not without misgivings about a plain reading of man’s creation and fall, as presented in Genesis. Nonetheless, I don’t understand why the Church wouldn’t have recognized the mythopoetic nature of Genesis 1 – 3 from the beginning, if it is so obvious.

    Ultimately, it seems to me that we’re going to have to allow a range of perspectives on this matter, even within the orthodox camp. I don’t think the lack of a historical Adam and Eve somehow “disproves” Christianity, though it problematizes the matter of the reliability of the “sensus fidelium,” but neither do I think we should dismiss as narrow-minded literalists those who want to take seriously the ancient and venerable tradition of “real” first parents, just like so many church fathers. This is an area that calls for dialogue and Christian charity. And perhaps a certain degree of uncertainty.

  24. Mary Lanser Avatar

    PJ: Could you explain how, in your thinking, a range of perspectives problematizes the reliability of the sensus fidelium?

  25. Kev Avatar

    The cogency of evolution???? If you are talking about the theory of science it is a long ways from being completed and it looks a lot like it will have to be abandoned as we learn more about the intelligent complexity of life and the lack of evidence in the fossil record,etc. But that is the history of science. A theory is proposed and abandoned and a better one is taken up. Science, real science, is NEVER sure. It is a method of discovery about the material world. It has helped give us technology like your cell phone, Fr. Stephen, but it is not sure knowledge about reality. Faith is sure knowledge about reality.

    If you are talking about the popular notion of evolution, and I am sure you are, then you should realize that any cogency is only superficial. It is nothing more than a metaphysical narrative pushed upon and deceiving our modern world. If you give it any credence it is only because you do not really know science. You only know the popular notion of it. It is what you were taught in school. The science that gave us your cell phone and the “science” that give us the popular notion of evolution are not the same thing. Same word, different meaning. One is a method the other is a philosophy.

    I think that you will not have much credibility with the “guys” of this world until you clearly acknowledge this. I recommend a video available on the web called ” The Magicians Twin” for a better presentation of what I am so poorly trying to say.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ I am both modern and I like to think I have more than a shred of intelligence and I very much doubt the cogency of evolutionary theory.

    Since premise on which it is built is without merit the logic with which it selects and evaluates evidence is without merit. It was conceived and dedicated to the proposition that the Christian paradigm and experience could and should be replaced.

    Sorry, I don’t find that cogent at all.

  27. PJ Avatar

    That’s not what I was referring to, Mary. I meant the fact that the faithful have, until very recently, taken for granted the historicity of Adam and Eve. By and large. The appropriation of mythological texts for moral and mystical purposes was well known to the ancients. Yet I don’t know of any strong evidence for a common Christian reading of Genesis 1 – 3 in a manner similar to, say, Iamblichus’ allegorical interpretations of pagan mythology. How could the faithful — or, at least, the vast majority of the faithful — have been so badly deceived? This, more than anything else, is the most troubling aspect of this issue to my mind. Now, it doesn’t necessarily and by itself speak to the veracity of either view. I admit that much freely. But we can’t simply gloss over the discontinuity.

  28. PJ Avatar


    Fair enough. I’m not a scientist, so I must rely on what the scientists say. And most of them — though certainly not all — think that it is cogent. But cogency does not necessarily mean correctness. There are many things which appear clever but are ultimately false.

    Anyway, we’re probably roughly in the same corner on this matter. I won’t say that evolutionary theory, as now understood, is wrong. I simply prefer to cling to the traditional interpretation of Scripture. But I can understand the “other side” of the argument, even if in the end I can’t agree with it.

    Oh: Adam and Eve are also mentioned in Tobit. How can we forget Tobit!?

  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    I don’t know anything about the popular theory of evolution. I know some science from school and later reading and I have regular conversations with genuine scientists (I live in Oak Ridge, home of one of the National Labs and have for the past 25 years). But the science of microbiology uses an evolutionary model for understanding the nature of DNA change, mutation, etc. There’s a lot in the mechanism(s) involved that continues to be refined. But the model is clearly cogent – it accurate predicts and accounts for results. That’s the meaning of cogency.
    Popular theory of anything is probably useless – including popular theories of the Bible – which is what creation from Clay(Dirt) to Homo Sapiens would represent. God, of course, could do it, but then would have given us all those misleading DNA near replicas of previous primates (and present). That we share so much DNA with other animals would also be deeply misleading.
    Apart from a misreading of the text – which I think you are suggesting – I would see no reason for thinking of homo sapiens having come about in such a way.
    Why would fundamentalist Protestants be so wrong about almost everything in the Bible but right about this? I’ve seen their world, and I have no desire to live in it.
    But my writing here is about the faith, the Tradition, Scripture, Orthodox theology, and reflecting on our culture and lives from that perspective. I cannot debate scientific evolutionary theory, and, so far, haven’t had anyone on the site who was qualified to do so.
    I would also be careful not to impugn my intelligence. I’m a priest, but still enough of a sinner to resent it. You also might be wrong.

  30. fatherstephen Avatar

    Teleology – cf Plato and Aristotle. I found if you google teleology that Wikipedia brings up a short intro and it’s got links. I studied theology under an Aristotelean. We were drilled in teleology (though A and Plato differ on specifics). Most of the early fathers were Platonists in the larger sense of the word. They corrected Plato to accommodate the specifics of the Christian faith, but their world view – indeed THE world view at the time was Platonistic. I still find it largely helpful. There’s really only about three things you can be: Platonist, Aristotelian, or Nominalist.

    Science does change. I love Kuhn as well. The consensus does shift – but it is quite rare to see a shift that is Copernican or Eisteinian in scope – though such things are quite likely in the future.

    You have to admit that the trajectory is not very much in the direction of instantaneous creation – if it comes in my lifetime – then I’ll be surprised and have to change what I think about some things.

    But the Post-Modern move (you just made one) that suggests that because we had to revise Ptolemy et al, therefore maybe the entirety of modern science is wrong and will have to move to a more medieval vision, is theoretically true, but not “cogent.” Spock would say that it’s only .00000002 percent likely.

    I have a responsibility as a serious theologian – it’s what I do for a living, vocation and hobby. It’s the purpose of my life. I write at this point in time in history, and I have to take a scientific consensus about some fundamentals quite seriously – because I’m not writing in a theoretical backwater, or for the faculty of Bob Jones University.

    In presenting the gospel, if I say, “Jesus Christ rose again from the dead,” but if you can prove that there never could have been a boat that contained 2 of every living species, then you can also doubt the resurrection of Christ, because I have a book, that has accounts about those two events, of course the accounts are about 1500 years apart (maybe we don’t know), written by different people and for different reasons, and some of those who believed in Christ’s resurrection didn’t think that the Ark story was literal, but, nonetheless, if you don’t believe in the Ark, then you don’t need to believe in Christ’s resurrection….. You get my drift.

    Instead, I write in an epoch in history in which the development of science and historical theory has raised reasonable and serious doubts about the historical character of Noah’s flood (which is oddly true some patristic writers as well). If, within the realm of Orthodox, truly Orthodox thought and theology, I can in fact teach people to read the Scripture in a manner that helps them embrace Christ’s Pascha, incorporate in a Patristic manner the story of Noah’s Ark, while dismissing their worries of historical/literal issues of a certain character of OT story, then I think I’m doing the same thing as St. Justin Martyr and all the apologists for the faith who have ever lived.

    In fact, I think we should all be doing something like that.

    It makes missionary efforts to those suffering from Protestant fundamentalist misgivings difficult. They will suspect that I’m really just a liberal in disguise and that I’m trying to gut the Orthodox faith and offer some ersatz compromised version so that I will be liked and respected by liberals.

    But, I am only interested in what I will have to defend before the “dread judgment seat of Christ.” I understand the misgivings some have – and mind you – I’ve not tried to start that battle. But the nature of the Biblical text – particularly the OT and its iconic nature – is quite important, I think, for Orthodox theology and not just Orthodox apologetics. But in our very contentious and suspicious world, it’s hard to make a case for this stuff and not be suspected of something.

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I would say that blanket acceptance of the DNA evidence you mention is still based on a linear model which I do not buy. The similarity could as easily be due to a jazz music theory: that is to say God came up with a theme which underlies all of the music of creation than then continues to do riffs on it. Variations on a theme. Similarity does not mean causation or linear progression.

    More than that until they abandon the philosphical naturalism and discipline the haters of Christianity instead of lionizing them and rewarding them–I ain’t buyin’. I have read more hatred of Christianity in the pages of Scientific American than I have almost anywhere else. I used to love that magazine.

    There is far more to be gained from a truly scientific exploration of creation with a through sacramental understanding of creation that from intitially and with malice leaving God out, which I continue to repeat was the philosophical basis for Darwin and others of his time.

    The history of the fruits of evolutionary theory in the living human spehere is to repleat with fraud, hate, destruction and malice for me to trust it at all.

    DNA is real, there is coherence in DNA patterns that can be identified and traced. When that is put in a matrix of traditional Christian thought, we might have something.

  32. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sensus fidelium? Your RC Church does not teach A and E as literal in its sensus fidelium, unless I’m uninformed on that matter (I’m often uninformed about RC things).

    I would in fact argue that most of what people cite as a “literal” use of Adam, is in fact a mythopoetic use. But sense the issue being addressed in such writings was not the character of the biblical story, but something else for which the story was employed, you can’t actually create a sensus fidelium in the matter. Bouteneff’s book alone is evidence that there is no such sensus in the fathers.

    I’ve always given room for a variety of readings – in the sense that if someone wants to believe in a direct creation, in a single Adam and Eve, etc., they’re free to. But I don’t think they are free to suggest that such is the Orthodox faith, or that someone who doesn’t hold this is less than Orthodox. Also I think it is vitally important to recognize the iconic nature of Scripture, and how and why it is possible to read it in an allegorical manner. I think this is important for a right understanding of Mystery and Sacrament. I think the literal reading is essentially secularist (there’s my gripe). It is secularist in that it holds to a form of knowledge that is contrary to the allegorical reading of the world and contrary to the mystical nature of reality.

    There are certainly men among the fathers who read the story in a fairly flat, historical manner. But those are not the fathers who can take me where I need to go. There are reasons that I prefer the Cappadocians over Lactantius et al.

    Enough for a Sunday. I’ll be back tomorrow.

    I agree about Christian charity. But those who read the blog will have to simply be charitable to my use of icon/allegory/metaphor/etc when reading many OT stories. I’m not the one who keeps raising all the objections.

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would agree with that. I’ve been aware of plenty of hate in both directions. I grew up in a fundamentalist Protestant city (home of Bob Jones). I’ve heard the Christian side of the hate all my life – and I found living in the proximity of those Christians reason enough to want to be an atheist – or at least to be sympathetic with many atheists. I don’t believe in their God. And I’m not interested in putting them in charge of anything, including science.

    But there is much to be said for Christian sacramental thought on these things. I suspect, that like most things, we will watch from the sidelines, meditate and think about these things. Sometimes it yields great insight.

    There seems to be enough linearity about the world to make me more comfortable with shared DNA than with the jazz theory (though I really like the image). I think the shared DNA, means that God’s still playing the music – and I like that.

    I’ve always thought that if there is an “evolutionary” or “developmental” reality to creation, it has to be of a “directed” sort, much as I also believe that the whole of the universe is an icon of Pascha. It is unfolding and revealing God. He sustains our very existence at every moment, since, as St. Athanasius said, by nature we are nothing. But sheer naturalism – not even nature is natural in that sense. Everything is sacrament and symbol.

  34. Kev Avatar

    I did not impugn your intelligence, god forbid. I merely pointed out that you believe what you have been taught in school. Which was not science but scientism. The same malady that your science friends are caught up in.

    Faith is more sure than science. Science does not explain reality. Faith explains everything.

    In the scripture is a story about a place called paradise. I believe it still exists. I know it still exits because my families patron saint, St. Euphrosynos the cook, used to go there. One time he brought back some apples. Science can not explain this, of coarse, but that does not bother me. I can not be cramped in by science I chose to be freed from science by this kind of knowledge. I am free to believe many things that science can not explain. In a one story universe such things exist. I do not wish to enter in to a discussion about whether this place called paradise is literal, mythic, spiritual, or metaphorical. I KNOW that it is there. And this has nothing what so ever to do with protestantism.

    These are all things you already know. Words get in the way when brothers try to speak some times don’t they? Please forgive my ignorance.

  35. Lynne Avatar

    Did you mean to say, “I’m not interested in putting them in charge of anything, including science.”?

  36. PJ Avatar


    Yes, the Catholic Church teaches that we must believe that Adam and Eve were two real, living, breathing human beings. However, there is some freedom when it comes to how exactly the infamous couple came about (did God one day instill awareness of Himself into two higher apes? did he create out of dust? etc.).

    Pius XII wrote: “The teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God”. However: “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own.”

    The Catechism is not quite so dogmatic. It simply says that Genesis 1 – 3 uses “figurative language” to describe a real “primeval event.” I think it’s an appropriate phrase.

    But by “sensus fidelium,” I was, as I indicated, referring to the belief of the whole body of catholic Christians throughout history, most of whom seemed to believe that Adam and Eve were truly their great-great-great-etc-grandparents.

    “There are reasons that I prefer the Cappadocians over Lactantius et al.”

    So do I. Does anyone like Lactantius? (Actually, some of his poems are alright.)

    But did any of the Cappadocians believe that Adam and Eve were any less historical than Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus or, perhaps more to the point, Jesus Christ? If anything, I’d say Adam and Eve are *MORE HISTORICAL* than Alexander and Augustus — though less than Jesus. If that makes sense.

    My reading leads me to believe that if you confronted, say, St. Basil with the notion that Adam and Eve are literary figures rather than genuine human persons like you or I, he would be rather surprised and taken aback. Perhaps even frightened.

    BUT. BUT. I’m not an expert on the matter. Far from it. Others more educated than I have come to different conclusions. I’m more than happy to be pointed in a direction that will help me see otherwise. Perhaps I have badly misread him. (I’ve been badly misread by others, and I’m no St. Basil!)

    Thanks for reminding me about the Bouteneff book, though. I’ve been meaning to buy it for a while. I’ll order it.

    I certainly don’t mean to provoke a battle of any sort. I know that this sort of thing can incite anathemas and inquisitions elsewhere, but I think we’re familiar enough to rest assured with one another’s orthodoxy and charity. At least, I hope so. If anything, these matters are best fleshed out in an environment like this, which is committed to truth in love.

    Enjoy your Sunday.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Oh Father I agree with you about the type of folks you grew up with. They are no more Christian than the atheists. But you, forgive seem to be lapsing into a bit of a false dichotomy yourself.

    If one takes a look at the world of particle physics, particularly the quarks, the acknowledged building blocks of all matter one finds a world that is far from linear not only semi-material. 12 quarks in groupings of three combine in all sorts of ways. It is not impossible to see the Word of God and the combinations making logoi going on.

    Information theory simply finds it impossible for DNA to have as much information in it without positing a greater intelligence who put it there.

    BTW it doesn’t have to be jazz. Think of Tolkien’s account of creation in The Silmarillion and remember the ease with which Mozart built entire compositions from simple themes. At least in the movie. It is the heart of all music.

    A linear theory has great difficulty accounting for the incredible diversity. I mean do we really need 10000 spieces of spiders? It seems far more likely that God so enjoys creating that He simply keeps singing. A bit like the beat in the Divine Liturgy you mentioned recently.

    The Native American drums, the combination of the human heart beat and the cosmic heart beat of the Creator.

    There is such joy, such variety and so many multi-dimensional connections: no theory that relies on linearity will ever come close to the truth.

    Add to that the seeming inability for many modern scientists to comprehend the social and human ramifications of their work or even care and my small shred of intelligence balks at what they purport to do and makes me think we need to take a very long view indeed.

    PJ, you have too big a heart for God to simply cede the field to “experts”. We don’t need ex-Perts. We need Perts.

  38. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    You wrote:
    “But the Post-Modern move (you just made one) that suggests that because we had to revise Ptolemy et al, therefore maybe the entirety of modern science is wrong and will have to move to a more medieval vision, is theoretically true, but not “cogent.” Spock would say that it’s only .00000002 percent likely.”

    This is not the move i intended to make. i take this argument to be something like the following crude formal argument:

    1. If scientific consensus changes, then previous scientific consensuses were wrong.
    2. There is currently a scientific consensus.
    3. Current scientific consensus will change.
    4. Therefore, (eventually) our current scientific consensus will be wrong.

    Again, that’s not the move i’m making. i’m talking more about the limits of scientific epistemology. Yes, science changes. Confirmation theory in the nature of the case suggests that it should. Could we currently be right about things? Sure. i don’t deny this. What i do deny though is that science is the kind of thing that warrants the epistemic confidence people place in it–a degree of confidence as though it is unchanging and certain, and our current scientific consensus is the end of all scientific change, so we clearly have *the* tools to work with in all our other conclusions about anything.

    i can’t possibly know that, and i believe i have good reason to doubt it. Because of this, i don’t think it’s a good idea to use the scientific consensus of any age as any sort of archimedian or axiomatic principle in my philosophy or theology. Rather, in the nature of the case, philosophical axioms are what determine scientific method, interpretations, and even consensus; not the other way around. My issue here is a sort of cart-before-the-horse one or a which-field-ought-to be-epistemically-prior sort of issue.

    About Spock’s judgment of the likelihood of modern science being wrong–how can we possibly know what that number is? Or put another way, how are we in a position qualitatively different from others in previous scientific eras such that our estimation of that likelihood is more reliable than theirs would’ve been?

    About teleology–i thought you were referring to a specific theory of truth. i’m somewhat familiar with Aristotle’s view of how the universe was built (though not as versed as you). But i never had read anything specifically applying teleology to a theory of truth. i couldn’t find anything specifically explicating what that would mean. i take it the crude idea is something like: “A proposition P is true when it is oriented-toward or it fulfills some end E.” Is that a start? What is the end? And why is historicity irrelevant to a proposition’s orientation toward that end?

    You wrote:
    ” I think the literal reading is essentially secularist (there’s my gripe). It is secularist in that it holds to a form of knowledge that is contrary to the allegorical reading of the world and contrary to the mystical nature of reality.”

    Now this is what i need unpacked. This seems really good, i’m just not sure what is meant. (Reading this is a similar experience for me to reading about 60% of the sentences in Schmemman’s “For the Life of the World.” Something big is there, i know it, but i just don’t get it.)

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    guy. We are one, but not a cosmic egg type of one. We are one in Christ; inter-connected with each and every one and thing. He is the Alpha and Omega thus as we recognize more of our oneness, particularly in living sacrament, the closer we come to the beginning an the end. We are always beginning and always seeking the end in love who is Jesus Christ: the divine/human hypoststis that both gives and is the fulfillment of our life and truth.

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    Well, the typical fund. direct creation, has no place or understanding for the logos of created things, or even for God’s role in the continued sustaining of the universe (other than just “letting” it exist). It’s mechanical, in a way, just as secularism is often mechanical. I think that quantum mechanics makes many secularists nervous, to a degree.

    No science will actually take into account the role of the logoi of created things. First, it’s not observable by science, though it can be known spiritually (and that’s not how science is done). We would have to bring in a mystical father of extraordinary depth to ask the relationship between DNA and the logos of something (and I think there are some who could answer that question). But science will never operate in such a manner.

    I would say that we’re at a fairly sophisticated level of science at present, at least on the molecular level. We’ve a long way to go on the subatomic level. But even when we’ve exhausted all we could ever know by a form of science, the true logoi of created things would not be known.

    We could ask a question about the soul – Orthodoxy seems to reject “ensoulment” i.e. the soul being added to our humanity, ad extra. Rather, it prefers that the soul comes into existence precisely as our materiality comes into existence. But we’re not told much at all about it, and I’ve read even less. And it’s not a question that science can know.

    I often think that the edge of scientific knowledge only brings us to an edge, and beyond the edge are all manner of unanswered questions. Those questions are often the most interesting. It’s as if we add everything up, there is still something left over, unaccounted for. There is something about being a human – something we call soul – that is more than the sum total of the materialistic stuff – and isn’t even just the neuro stuff. Same with the universe. There is even something like that about the biological process.

    Scientific theory should not drive our theology – and I haven’t suggested any such thing. I find the direct creation theory, however, not to be “theologically” driven, but “ideologically” driven. An ideology that also drives a theory of Bible interpretation.

    The fathers said, “Icons do with color what the Scripture does with words.” I think it is fair and accurate to say that the Scripture has to be read iconically – which is not quite the same thing as literally – though not utterly devoid of such a connection.

  41. fatherstephen Avatar

    I believe St. Euphrosynus visited paradise and brought back apples. I do not doubt it. I don’t think he visited any place on this planet that you and I could just drop by and visit. There’s a reason he’s a saint. But E’s visit to paradise is exactly the kind of thing that blows a certain kind of literalism out of the water. Literal and real are two very different words.

    Also, I do not think it is accurate to suggest that my professors or my science friends are actually guilty of scientism. They’re not theologians. Mostly they are secularists are are about 90 someodd percent of the Christians in the US (especially the fundamentalist protestants).

    If paradise is “on” this planet, then it is a spiritually nuanced meaning of “on.”

  42. Dino Avatar

    I sometimes think there is a futility in the pursuit of the ‘How’, of Creation (including Adam and Eve). It is as if the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is at work so that depending on who you want to see it, the data works towards that end.
    As previously mentioned for instance, Francis Collins’ (theisitic evolutionist and DNA expert) position {his position is that the fact we share so much DNA with other animals (even down to our ‘junk DNA’ -pointing to common ancestry), would be deeply misleading, if placed there by a God who then demands we believe there is no common ancestry.}, is not the only way of explaining the data.
    Many are happy with seeing absolutely no necessity of a common ancestor (so what if we share 99.99% of DNA?) or evolutionary process in those DNA ‘linear progressions’. They see that inescapable unity coming from what does not even occur to the first ones.
    I very much like the jazz theory too, there’s no escaping those scales and chords but a great deal of possibilities there…
    Theologically, I believe the logoi and the Logos are an aspect that touches on Creation far more than ‘how so and so used to read Genesis’.
    Especially considering that image of the sphere (all of us, the entirety of creation in fact) made out of innumerable radii, all with one centre (Christ the Cosmic and Divine Logos). This does point to the mystical nature of all creation…

  43. fatherstephen Avatar

    I will gladly continue conversation on the mystical nature of creation, etc. I’ve had enough conversation about evolution, and literal interpretation of the creation in Genesis. I’ve said pretty much all that I have to say. Much more is too wearying. f

    I’ll post again early this week, I think, and the conversation can move along.

    God keep all of you. Forgive my lack of clarity or weakness of expression.

  44. PJ Avatar

    John Paul II spoke of the “three forms of man”: original, historical, and eschatological. This has some relevance to the conversation at hand. A brief but succinct overview of the “anthropological triptych”:

  45. PJ Avatar

    “If paradise is “on” this planet, then it is a spiritually nuanced meaning of “on.””

    Can’t argue with this.

  46. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen! I appreciate your efforts to respond to all comments. I also appreciate your moving along as you mention in your comment here above. Perhaps Alice Linsley’s blog Just Genesis would be of help to others. Forgive me if it is already cited here in comments. God bless all you do!

  47. Lou. Avatar

    St. Euphrosynus has much in common with Brother Lawrence — their humility more than their kitchen experience.

  48. guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for taking on so many questions! You’ve given me more than enough to read, re-read, and discuss with my priest to gain more insight.

  49. Peyton Avatar

    Guy, may I comment on your first point: “If scientific consensus changes, then previous scientific consensuses were wrong.”

    I am by and large a “flat earth” fundamentalist. I know well Newtonian physics, have some grasp on Einstein’s work, am fascinated by strings (last year’s agreement?) and quarks, but they have no direct application to my everyday life. I have a globe, I can see the curvature of the Earth’s shadow on the partially-eclipsed Moon, I can see the planets’ complex movement against the “fixed” stars, view in awe the pictures from deep space on “Astronomy Picture Of the Day”. But when I want to deal with my world, I unfold a (flat) map, I drive 55 mph to my destination, deal with the hills and valleys, straights and curves, blissfully ignoring gravitational variations, relativistic effects, and the like. Yes, gravitational lenses are amazing, but I only have to deal with gravity — and that indirectly. Practically, Consensus Shmensus!

    It is truly wonderful that Father God reveals these things to “the wise and understanding”, but

    In that same hour [Jesus] rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.” (Luke 10:21)

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for this site! Oh, to be a babe.


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