Creation and Evolution

18c_russiaThe crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ is the proper beginning point for all Christian theology. Christ’s Pascha should be the source for all Christian reflection. It is clear that the disciples themselves did not understand the Scriptures nor Christ Himself until after the resurrection (Luke 24:45). We cannot approach Pascha as a midpoint in a historical narrative. It is the beginning. That which came before is only understood by reading backwards from Pascha (even though Pascha was before all things – Rev. 13:8). Everything subsequent to Christ’s resurrection is also understood only in the light of Pascha. Pascha is the meaning of all things. I offer this brief reminder of the true nature of theology as I continue my reflections on evolution and creation.

As I noted in the previous article, the age of the universe presses the question about the nature of the Biblical creation narrative in Genesis. Advocates for a 6,000 year-old earth based in a strict literalism find themselves having to resort to notions of a universe created in a manner to only “appear” old. A single, flawed reading of Scripture is preferred to the reliability of simple observation. With such caprice as dogma, Christianity would be embracing a literalist tyranny. Nothing in the world is reliable, only a narrow reading of the text. This narrow reading is a product of a false use of the notion of history

How did history come to triumph over all things? The answer is not far removed from Genesis and Adam.

The early chapters of Genesis were treated in a variety of ways by the early fathers. They by no means held universally to a literal interpretation. The Old Testament mentions Adam but once (other than a geneology) outside the book of Genesis. Adam as the progenitor of sin is nowhere an idea of importance (or even an idea) within the Old Testament. St. Paul raises Adam to a new level of consideration, recognizing in him a type of Christ, “the Second Adam.” But St. Paul’s Adam is arguably much like St. Paul’s Abraham (in Galatians), a story whose primary usefulness is the making of a theological point.

Nevertheless, St. Paul’s lead eventually becomes the pathway for history’s ascendancy. For while it is true that man’s breaking communion with God is the source of death, this is reduced to mere historical fact in the doctrine of Original Sin. For here Adam, as the first historical man, becomes infinitely guilty and deserving of punishment, and pays his juridical debt forward to all generations. This historical understanding of the fall, with inherited guilt, locks the Fall within historical necessity. It is among numerous reasons that Original Sin, as classically stated in the West, has not found a lasting place within Orthodox tradition.

Written into a diminished doctrine of the atonement, Adam as the historical source of the fall becomes a theological necessity. He also becomes an easy target for the enemies of the Christian faith. For even if the resurrection is beyond the reach of unbelief, a 6,000 year-old Adam is child’s play for those who would reduce the need for Christ’s redemption to the ridicule of a few ancient bones and Carbon-14 dating.

Some would reduce this historical danger by pushing Adam back in time. How long? And in what way? C.S. Lewis, wonderful Christian thinker, but still a man of his Western heritage, offers an account of an older Adam, merged with an evolutionary tale:

For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past…. We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods…. They wanted some corner in this universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, the question is of no consequence. (C.S. Lewis, Problem of Pain, 68-71)

This requirement to salvage some literal Adam somewhere, somehow, is not shared by the universal opinion of the fathers. Indeed, the treatment of the early chapters of Genesis is “all over the map,” sometimes even within the writings of a single father. The primary fathers of the East (if I may use such a term), Basil, the two Gregories, etc., are quite free with both historical and ahistorical treatments of Adam. Bouteneff, citing both Behr and Balthasar, notes that Gregory does not envisage a historic pre-fallen immortal state.

[Gregory] alludes twice in the Catechetical Oration to the fact that Moses is speaking through a story, or an allegory. The implication of this is that God’s addition of mortality is a part of his creation of humanity from the beginning, in foreknowledge of the ongoing fall. However, Gregory does not care to make this plain here. Nor does he ever develop a portraiture of an idealized pre-fallen Adam or Eve who would not have been subject to death and all that it entails for human life (Bouteneff, 164).

There is even an on-again-off-again treatment of paradise as a non-material existence. St. Basil uses the very interesting phrase: “In your righteous judgment, you, O God, sent him [man] forth from paradise into this world…”

St. Basil is far removed from the later Western account of Adam as the progenitor of sin. He wrote: “Evil has no other origin than our voluntary falls. . . . Each of us is the first author of his own vice; . . . you are the master of your actions” (In Hex. 2.5).

Bouteneff writes:

So strong was his sense of human free choice that Basil did not even consider an action sinful unless it was done consciously and voluntarily. He thus has no interest in blaming Adam for our sin, because freedom—a part of the divine image itself—trumps all determinism (138).

This does not deny humanity’s complicity in death. Rather, it is similar to Dostoevsky’s words: “Each man is guilty of the sins of the whole world.”

But does this mean that God created a world that has held death from the beginning? It would not be strange to say so, since Pascha was before the beginning. St. Paul states that creation was made “subject to futility” in view of man (but not with man as the cause). Creation is clearly “subject to futility” by God’s action.

What is damaged in such an account is the apparent integrity of a time line. But it has never been part of the Christian gospel that history is a closed system. That the faith redeems history is one thing, but it is not subject to it. Pascha triumphs over all things.

Adam’s breaking of communion with God brings death. Death as the “last enemy,” however, is not revealed until Christ’s resurrection. For though human beings have always died, death was by no means seen as the central point of the Old Testament faith. Indeed, death and life-after-death were handled in a variety of manners before Christ.

Just as Christ’s resurrection reveals life to the world, so His life also reveals death as the enemy. It is only in light of Christ’s death and resurrection that the story of Adam becomes interesting and universal in its meaning. Christ’s resurrection liberates the early chapters of Genesis from possible obscurity as Jewish creation myth into the most profound account of the crisis of human existence.

Death is a fact of our existence, thus the Fall is a fact of that existence. But the significance of our death is only made known to us in Christ. I personally remain skeptical of the efforts to describe the historical character of the Fall, even as I remain utterly aware of its reality in my life. Biological death, well known throughout our existence, is not yet the “fullness” of death revealed in Christ/Adam. We do not know death until Christ.


There is a conflict between Christian believing and certain versions of evolutionary theory. Biology itself holds no contradictions for the Christian faith. However, meta-theories of biology are often grounded in ideologies that have no place within science. As theories of meaning, they are more “religious” than scientific in nature.

Biology can describe change, but the meaning of change, the purpose of change remains beyond its scope. Creation as the unfolding of “random chance” is the best that can be offered without reference to God (even if some chances are more likely than others). But this brings us to the same question that is confronted daily by believers (and others). God’s work remains opaque, we cannot see behind its results and watch the process of divine action. But the results are often so startling that randomness would seem absurd. And this applies profoundly to the unfolding of our universe.

Believers need not argue about the absurdity of a universe that some think to be random. For the resurrection is that one moment that shatters the silence of God and the opacity of His work. It is the voice of God explaining Himself (John 1:18).

We rightly hear in the language of “survival of the fittest” nothing more than the 19th century Christian heresy of Progress. Progress is a mere ideology, a secularized version of Christian eschatology. The 20th century endured the catastrophe of various brave new worlds. Progress, as an idea, belongs in the dustbin of history. History and evolution do not carry within them their own meaning. If a comet takes out human existence tomorrow, then all of the “progress” of the human race will have been a moot point. “Progress” begs the question: “progressing towards what?”

But there is a movement (kinesis) within creation and it is revealed in Christ/Adam. The created Adam, the significance of whose story is made known in Christ, is created as image and likeness of God. The fathers note that this creation is only fulfilled in Christ Himself, the Second Adam. For the first Adam does not become what he was made to be. Only the Second Adam is able to say on the Cross, “It is finished,” for man in the likeness of God is only revealed in the suffering and self-emptying of the Cross – the death-that-becomes-life.

Just as Christ’s resurrection reveals the meaning of Adam, so the resurrection reveals the meaning and purpose of creation itself. The resurrection alone offers transcendence and eternity to a universe of seeming chance and randomness. The movement of Creation is towards Christ’s Pascha, though we do not call that movement “evolution” nor imagine it unfolding through biology. But we do not imagine that the unfolding of the universe has nothing to do with the resurrection, for Creation shares a destiny with man:

…the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Rom 8:19-21 NKJ)

This is indeed the glory of God!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


349 responses to “Creation and Evolution”

  1. Peter Avatar

    Father, what can you tell us about that incredible icon?

  2. Dino Avatar

    You make the beautiful connection of how the movement from futility to meaning, the deliverance “from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” is one and the same thing as what we sing on Easter night “Christ God has brought us from death unto life, and from earth unto heaven”, and that this is so from the beginning. I found this post is perhaps more useful to me than the entire book of Bouteneff…

  3. guy Avatar


    i found this incredibly obscure. i take you to be saying that Adam is a myth and never existed in history, nor was there any point in history before which there was no death, but we shouldn’t be so certain of evolution either. i’m guessing i’ve misunderstood you (or have i?).

  4. Dean Avatar

    Thank you father Stephen for this marvelous post. It distills and elucidates much for me that was confusing in the comments. I must be especially careful in selecting what I read since an eye affliction severely limits my reading time. Your line, “Christ’s resurrection liberates the early chapters of Genesis from possible obscurity as Jewish creation myth into the most profound account of the crisis of human existence,” was itself very helpful in showing how these first few chapters of the Bible must be viewed through the lens of Christ’s Pascha.

  5. Peter Avatar

    Jay, thank you. That’s very helpful.

  6. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Very good points to ponder, Father. Thank you.

  7. Greg Avatar

    Once again, extraordinary post. It is very difficult to break away from the linear narrative of American fundamentalism if you have had any exposure to religion during formative years in America, but break away we must. I have had a few occasions to suggest Fr. Behr’s Mystery of Christ as the first and only introduction to Orthodoxy *or* Christianity in general. I often have thought it should be the basic catechetical text for converts from the protestant world.

  8. Robert Avatar

    I can highly recommend Conor Cunningham’s “Darwin’s Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists Both Get It Wrong”

    It’s a good read, not overly technical and makes a solid case for creation and evolution. From the publisher:

    “According to British scholar Conor Cunningham, the debate today between religion and evolution has been hijacked by extremists: on one side stand fundamentalist believers who reject evolution outright; on the opposing side are fundamentalist atheists who claim that Darwin’s theory rules out the possibility of God. Both sides are dead wrong, argues Cunningham, who is at once a Christian and a firm believer in the theory of evolution. In Darwin’s Pious Idea Cunningham puts forth a trenchant, compelling case for both creation and evolution, drawing skillfully on an array of philosophical, theological, historical, and scientific sources to buttress his argument”

  9. Paula Avatar

    Wow. Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

  10. Christina Avatar

    Father, thank you for these lovely discussions of Creation and evolution. Although I refuse to make any claims about Creation outside what is stated in the Creed (anything more is, IMHO, unimportant detail)I’ve greatly enjoyed your discussion of the topic. It is lovely to have my suspicion that I need not choose between two equally scientifically ridiculous options confirmed. Truly, nothing in this world makes sense if it is not viewed through the lens of the Resurrection. To Christ be the Dominion and the Glory!

    I do have one remaining question about Creation though. Why couldn’t God put 25 hours in the day so that I can get my homework done *and* spend ample time pondering these topics? 🙂

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    No. You have misunderstood. For one, some of your categories create problems. Myth versus history. I’m saying that the nature of the Genesis account is not historical, in the sense of “this happened, then this happened…etc.” If it were, then it would read quite differently. Instead it is a literary account that can only be understood in the light of Christ’s resurrection – which helps us read the story of Adam in a way that reveals the nature of the human Fall from communion with God and how it relates to Christ’s Pascha.

    What relationship it has to a historical event remains unknown to us, and will remain unknown to us. We can speculate however we want to. As for evolution, we can say that things change and are always changing, and clearly life on our planet is vastly different than it was say, 65 million years ago, etc. But as to interpretive theories, these remain outside the realm of science since they have to do with meaning and the like.

    And I’ve noted that the treatment of Genesis that I’ve suggested is not at all uncommon in the fathers. It begins to be “historicized” or seen as important as history only with the development of the Western notion of Original Sin.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    Greg, I agree. I also recommend his recent book, Becoming Human. I will be reviewing it on the blog very shortly.

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is also a bit of a stretching exercise for Christians nurtured in a historicized version of theology to allow themselves to wonder a bit at how one of the fathers, such as the Cappadocians, could have thought and theologized about Adam, without blushing, even if they did not necessarily give it a historical position. It is the “necessity” of historical construction that is extremely problematic and by no means endemic to the Christian faith. Christ’s resurrection is indeed historical, the one truly historical necessity. But the remaining bulk of the faith has a variety of aspects to it, and is not a pure historical construct.

    Modern conservative Christians are used to having defend the faith against the skeptical attacks of liberals, and therefore suspect any questioning of the history of something as a liberal attack. But such conservatives and liberals both stand on the same ground (history). The ground for Christians is Christ’s Pascha. The other is a red herring.

  14. James Avatar

    Christina, I think there are two likely answers. One, we are drowning ourselves in stuff and input, and that 24 hours is plenty for a well lived day. Two, by the mercy of God “the evils of the day are sufficient there of” (sermon on the mount) and he has limited us to no more than 24 hours of evil a day. I personally think that I can screwup a day a lot faster than 24 hours. Maby if the day was only an hour long I might manage one good day pleasing to the lord before my death.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    I have this blue policeman’s call box that is useful for certain time-related issues.

  16. Jeremiah Avatar

    It’s been a while since I read it, but John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One” was a very intriguing read. In it, he reprimands both young-earth and old-earth creationists for missing the point of Gen 1: that it is a cosmic temple inauguration ceremony.

    In one place, he writes, “The seven days are not given as the period of time over which the material cosmos came into existence, but the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple.” He discusses (and one can see this also in the writings of the early church fathers) that in ancient near-eastern thought, something was noted to exist because it had function; in other words, God made things that they might have purpose.

    Also, he mentions that a deity would reside (aka rest) in its temple after it is built. The resting has nothing to do with relaxing, but rather the deity condescending and being present among us.

    While I favor the interpretation in which everything hinges on Pascha as Fr Stephen mentions here, Mr. Walton’s book is still interesting for those who enjoy understanding the first chapter of Genesis through the lens of the ancient semitic people.

  17. Dr. Ben Marston Avatar
    Dr. Ben Marston

    Father Stephen,
    I clipped this excerpt about scientific education in Russia. “In the realm of Orthodox education in Russia, a significant development has been the publication of the high school textbook General Biology by Dr. Sergei Y. Vert’yanov. Written with the help of Russian scientists from a number of disciplines, this work presents scientific evidence for the Scriptural Patristic understanding of the creation, history, and age of the world. The second edition (2006) was carefully reviewed and edited by the late Dr. Y. P. Altukhov, a world-renowned population geneticist whose seminal research into the limits of genetic change led him to the inescapable conclusion that the neo-Darwinian paradigm is founded on an impossible premise. An Orthodox believer nearing the end of his life, Dr. Altukhov was more than happy to assist Dr Vert’yanov in producing a book of high scientific standards which would help free the minds of young students from the shackles of Darwinism. Having labored long, over the book with a concilium of fellow scientists from Moscow State University (MGU), Dr. Altukhov stated only a few days before his repose: “Everything was written correctly. The book was blessed by Patriarch Alexy II, published by the Patriarchal Publishing House of the Holy Trinity- St. Sergius Lavra, and- in an act equally inconceivable in the former Soviet Union and in contemporary America- approved by the Russian Ministry of Education as a supplemental textbook for public schools.” p. 71 Fr. Seraphim Rose Genesis, Creation and Early Man, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2011.
    Scientists and Hierarchs in Russia are not taking your particular slant on Scripture, or on Science, apparently.
    The Word Incarnated Himself in Human flesh and history because of the historic aberration that had come to man, through Adam, also in history. Any problems in soteriology related to the historicity of Adam, are not due to its historicity, but because the interpeters have mis-read the Fathers, and have not discerned science from pseudo-science. There is a huge amount of pseudo-science surrounding origins, because the human heart wants to avoid God. The Modernity project has been hard at work there as well.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    This is not a well-informed report on the mind of the Russian Church. I am well within the mainstream of Orthodox patristic thought. You have offered only the same worn out assertions about science and a Westernized take on Adam but haven’t said anything substantial on the topic.

  19. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    An excellent article, Fr. Stephen. I will likely need to re-read it a few times to understand it better.

    One thing that strikes me in all of this – and I think you were suggesting this – is that we can see “sin of Adam” is all of the extremist debates about that very topic.

    Do we worship human science? Human accounts of history? (To do so is just another form of worshiping ourselves.) Do we worship the Bible? (With all due respect to sacred Scripture, this too would be an error – to worship the gift rather than the Giver of the gift.)

    These errors all reflect our fallen nature – that we want to worship something other than God.

    Our puny brains cannot begin to fathom God and the power of His creative and unending love. Yet, in Pascha, He has revealed to us, on our own limited level, its reality. To Him be glory.

  20. Jesse Avatar

    of course the Fathers saw non-literal meaning in Genesis. But is there a single Father who actually rejected the literal meaning of Genesis? Several Fathers quite emphatically insist that we MUST accept the literal, historical truth of Genesis. Adam is celebrated as a Saint in our Church – he is undoubtedly an historical figure. And the idea that Genesis as history is only important once Original Sin comes in is strange too. Fr. Irenei Steenberg writes in his Children in Paradise: Adam and Eve as “Infants” in Irenaeus of Lyons, Journal of Early Christian Studies – Volume 12, Number 1, Spring 2004, pp. 1-22 about St. Irenaeus’ strong emphasis on the literal meaning of Genesis. He argues that for the Father, no typological meaning is possible for Adam without him being a true, historical figure. Also, St. Theophilus of Antioch, also in the second century, clearly reads Genesis as history – and even goes over in detail the Old Testament genealogies and timelines.

  21. Jesse Avatar

    and the idea that God created a mature earth is not a flawed reading of Scripture, but rather a Patristic one. For example:

    “Let the earth bring forth herbs.” And in the briefest moment of time the earth, beginning with germination in order that it might keep the laws of the Creator, passing through every form of increase, immediately brought the shoots to perfection. The meadows were deep with the abundant grass; the fertile plains, rippling with standing crops, presented the picture of a swelling sea with its moving heads of grain. And every herb and every kind of vegetable and whatever shrubs and legumes there were, rose from the earth at that time in all profusion…. “And the fruit tree,” He said, “that bears fruit containing seed of its own kind and of its own likeness on the earth. At this saying all the dense woods appeared; all the trees shot up, those which are wont to rise to the greatest height, the firs, cedars, cypresses, and pines; likewise, all the shrubs were immediately thick with leaf and bushy; and the so-called garland plants – the rose bushes, myrtles, and laurels-all came into existence in a moment f time, although they were not previously upon the earth, each with its own peculiar nature.” – St. Basil, Hexameron 5:5-6

  22. Jesse Avatar

    Dr. Bouteneff is simply wrong about St. Gregory of Nyssa:

    “But in that form of life, of which God Himself was the Creator, it is reasonable to believe that there was neither age nor infancy nor any of the sufferings arising from our present various infirmities, nor any kind of bodily affliction whatever. It is reasonable, I say, to believe that God was the Creator of none of these things, but that man was a thing divine before his humanity got within reach of the assault of evil; that then, however, with the inroad of evil, all these afflictions also broke in upon him . . . Just so our nature, becoming passional, had to encounter all the necessary results of a life of passion: but when it shall have started back to that state of passionless blessedness, it will no longer encounter the inevitable results of evil tendencies. Seeing, then, that all the infusions of the life of the brute into our nature were not in us before our humanity descended through the touch of evil into passions, most certainly, when we abandon those passions, we shall abandon all their visible results. No one, therefore, will be justified in seeking in that other life for the consequences in us of any passion. Just as if a man, who, clad in a ragged tunic, has divested himself of the garb, feels no more its disgrace upon him, so we too, when we have cast off that dead unsightly tunic made from the skins of brutes and put upon us (for I take the “coats of skins” to mean that conformation belonging to a brute nature with which we were clothed when we became familiar with passionate indulgence), shall, along with the casting off of that tunic, fling from us all the belongings that were round us of that skin of a brute; and such accretions are sexual intercourse, conception, parturition, impurities, suckling, feeding, evacuation, gradual growth to full size, prime of life, old age, disease, and death. If that skin is no longer round us, how can its resulting consequences be left behind within us? It is folly, then, when we are to expect a different state of things in the life to come, to object to the doctrine of the Resurrection on the ground of something that has nothing to do with it.” — On the Soul and Resurrection

    “This reasoning and intelligent creature, man, at once the work and the likeness of the Divine and Imperishable Mind (for so in the Creation it is written of him that “God made man in His image”), this creature, I say, did not in the course of his first production have united to the very essence of his nature the liability to passion and to death.” — On Virginity 12

    Dr. Bouteneff’s book provides great sources, but his commentary is often terrible and plainly contradicts the sources he provides.

  23. Robert Avatar


    I would think that we have to read St Basil carefully and in context about this subject. We should not read his homilies as we do science; it certainly wasn’t written as a commentary on, or in response to, evolution.

  24. davidp Avatar

    Thank you for the article. I like what Metro Hiertheos Vlachos wrote about looking at this from a hesychastic approach when St Gregory Palamas wrote about the Prodigal Son Interpreted Hesychastically. (One can apply it way back to Adam´s time and to our time)

    Blessings, david

  25. fatherstephen Avatar

    I noted that the fathers are “all over the map” on the early chapters of Genesis, sometimes even within the writings of a single father. There was in the writings of the Cappadocians, something of an effort both to salvage what they loved of Origen, who was too far removed from the literal, as well as moving back somewhat towards the literal – St. Basil does this particularly.

    I don’t think any father rejects the literal – there would have been no need. Not rejecting it and insisting on it as a theological necessity are very different things.

    I fully agree that sin and death are historical and that those clearly have to be displayed in a historic Adam, indeed in every historic Adam.

    And Genesis is the definitive story of Adam.

    But what that looks like in mere history is but a guess. To say more than that, I think, creates a process of mental gymnastics similar to the fundamentalist 6000 year-old earth, no matter how far back we push the story.

    I think the modern debate with various versions of ideological evolution has skewed our use of the fathers.

    There is much here, particularly within the use and nature of types, that is hard to digest. I more than understand how wrong and disconcerting it will seem to some.

  26. Nathan Avatar

    Thank you for the post, Father. I converted to Orthodoxy, but my wife did not. She and her family view a literal six day creation and young earth as paramount to the Christian faith: to cast doubt on this is akin to saying Christianity is not true.

    I have many friends who rejected Christianity because they were taught the same thing growing up, and then they went away to college, discovered the scientific data on evolution and an old earth, and did exactly what they’d always been told they should do by their own Christian family and friends.

    I went through a similar trial, and had it not been for the Church Fathers and Orthodox, I’m not sure I would have come out of that trial as a Christian myself.

    We have children, and I worry that as they grow up and are “indoctrinated” into the young earth creationist position, they’ll one day also face the same trial and fall away. I’ve so far avoided this topic, because it’s a tricky one to talk about. I was wondering if you might have any advice on how I could talk to those I love about this? I don’t want to rock the boat, but neither do I want to watch my children grow up with a foundation grounded in anything other than Pascha.

    This has been on my mind for years and is a constant struggle for me.

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you Nathan. I indeed think that there are positions that push people into atheism or agnosticism – and that are not necessary positions. And what I have offered here is not an effort to compromise with liberals, etc. Rather, I am working to understand the implications of true allegory (or some such word) within the Orthodox faith.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    Are you offering this as simply a quote from Nyssa or as representative of the full scope of what he has said and meant? Isolated quotes frankly can be misleading or misunderstood. Again, I noted that we can find within a number of the fathers contradictions on the matter. You have not pulled any of the contradictory quotes and sought to give an account of the full thought of Nyssa, etc.

    As such, I have far more confidence in the peer reviewed material of Dr. Bouteneff.

    Are you saying that the fathers teach the necessity of a 6000 year-old earth (or man)? If not, why not. That position has plenty of voices within the patristic writings as well.

    Of course some of the fathers think the “days” of creation could be longer than 24 hours, with some insisting on 24 hours (Ambrose). What do you do with contradictions between the fathers? Are some more important than others? What do you do when they contradict themselves? How do you pick one thing over the other?

    State positively what you are wanting to say and not just cherry pick my article apart. Give a fuller account for what you’re trying to say.

  29. Maximus Avatar


    Jesse raises a question that I have been curious about how to frame an answer. Forgive me, as this is somewhat tangential to the post at hand, though I think addresses the same core issue.

    Jesse relates the “necessary” historicity of Adam to the fact that our Forefather is a saint in our Church. I was recently wondering about something similar in regards to St. Nilus, who is thought to be a sanitized (indeed, “sainted”) version of Evagrius, who, in his historical personage, was condemned as a heretic. Likewise, the historical personage of St. Dionysius, at least as known through his writings, is also contested.

    The fact that we have saints who may not be literal persons is another instance of the way the mind of the Church shows how unequipped our modern, literal minds are for understanding the mind of the Church. Could you speak to how we should properly understand a saint who may not have been a discrete, literal human being?

  30. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Fr. Stephen,

    From this discussion (and many others), I have been learning about Orthodoxy. I’d like to ask you to check my understanding on a couple of points, as it relates to this discussion:

    (1) The teachings of the Church fathers help make up the Tradition of the Church. We look to them for wisdom, with faith that God teaches us through them. Wisdom is not the same as “answers” (as in known “fact” and no longer in the realm of mystery).

    Thus, in the current discussion, we would look to the teachings of the fathers (Tradition) to deepen our understanding of creation, the fall and redemption. We would not selectively quote them to try to “answer” questions about the precise manner by which God created (evolution or not) or the historicity of Adam and Eve as individuals. We learn meaning from their teachings and are not meant to learn history or science from them. The history and science we learn in the world is then understood in the context of this wisdom. True wisdom, as given to us by God, is never threatened by human knowledge – it will always exceed it in depth and scope.

    (2) The dangers of “imagination” may enter into play here. If, in trying to reconcile what I do not understand, I begin to “imagine” how God might have created the world (differing scenarios of evolution or direct creation), I run the risk of creating God in my own image. I begin to look at my own imaginings as though they were “true”, rather than opening myself to what God might reveal of the divine Mystery.

    My imaginings or ideas will never come close to encompassing divine Truth. And so I am called to humility and awe at what exceeds my understanding.

    (Please correct me if I am misunderstanding, sinner that I am.)

  31. guy Avatar


    After a couple re-reads, i’m still as lost as the first read. It doesn’t appear to me that you’ve stated anything clearly.

    By “myth,” i mean to refer to written or oral accounts alleging that certain events occurred when, in fact, they did not occur. In contrast, “history,” i take it, is a written or oral account recording events that, in fact, did occur. A third category i might just call “fiction” (though there would be many subcategories based on purpose) where a story is told, but no claim is made that the events in the story ever actually occurred. (i suppose that this allows for overlap between these categories; of note, an overlap between history and fiction, where fictitious elements are added to history for some purpose.)

    i understand you like to pick on the meaning of words. But *given* that that’s what i mean when i use these terms, it appears to me that you are saying either (1) that the Adam story is a myth or (2) the Adam story is fiction.

    There are two more possibilities, of course: (3) the Adam story is history or (4) the Adam story is in the overlap category of history and fiction. But i read you to be dismissing (3) and to be agnostic toward (4).

    Have i misunderstood, and if so, how?

  32. fatherstephen Avatar

    Essentially, I would agree, but would state it rather differently – and the difference is important. It is the “mind” of the fathers we seek to acquire. This is a purified and illumined heart that more clearly sees God and the true nature of things. The writings of the “fathers” run the gamut but have, at their core, a common “mind.” This is not at all the same thing as a uniform agreement. But they see and know something that we want to see and know and what they see and know transforms.

    This is in contrast to a mere rational approach in which I mine the fathers for information to be compared with my information and for it to be worked out or reconciled as best I can. That does not require anything of me different than any scholarly field requires of someone else.

    Frequently, very pious people seek to appropriate the writings of the fathers, but have not appropriated their inner life. To some extent this is true of us all.

    But the mind of the fathers (phronema in Greek) allows us not only to ask “What did they say,” but “What do they say.”

    An interesting passage someone brought to my attention is from St. Augustine:

    Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

    Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

    If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

    Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books.

    For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” ~Augustine, Imperfect Notes about the Book of Genesis

    Translation by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Volume 41, Newman Press, 1982.

    It is quite likely that what Augustine had in mind were some of the more elaborate allegorical treatments of Genesis (this stands for this…etc.) But the passage is still good advice for those today whose literalism takes them in an equally absurd direction. Augustine himself rejected a contention that the Egyptians had “tracked the path of the stars for over 100,000 years” as a rather fantastic claim, particularly in light of the Scriptures’ teaching of a 6000 year old earth.

    But his science was wrong, and the Egyptian science perhaps right. But if Augustine continued to reason as he was, he would say something different today about the science of a 14 billion year old universe.

    I do not like schemes, sometimes used, that want to say the fathers are right about some things (faith and morals) but not necessarily others (science, history). I don’t like bifurcating and categorizing things. Someone who can be wrong about anything can be wrong about anything. The kind of “authority” that some seek to make of either the fathers or the Scriptures is, to my mind, more Protestant than Orthodox.

    God is our authority and it is only in union with Him that we truly know anything. Again, this establishing of various kinds and forms of external authorities becomes a way to short-circuit the true nature of the spiritual life.

    So you can quote the fathers about something. Do you love your enemies? We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies (St. Silouan). So when someone wants to quote and argue from a darkened mind and heart, it is of no use, for me or for them.

    I want what the fathers have, nothing less.

  33. Jesse Avatar

    Father Stephen, I am saying that it is Dr. Bouteneff who is cherry-picking. He claims that St. Gregory believed in no pre-fallen immortal state, and yet St. Gregory himself clearly states that he did. Fr. Seraphim and Fr. Damascene hit on these passages in Genesis, Creation, and Early Man. Dr. Peter is even contradicting another book from his own Seminary. In “From Glory to Glory” we find St. Gregory quoted as saying:

    “But the element of passion was introduced later on, after he was created, and in the following way.  Man was, as we have said, the image and likeness of the power that rules all creation; and this likeness to the ruler of all things also extended to man’s power of self-determination:  man could choose whatever pleased him and was not enslaved to any external necessity.  But man was led astray by deception and deliberately drew upon himself that catastrophe which all mortals now share.  Man himself invented evil: he did not find it in God.  Nor did God make death; it was man himself who, as it were, was the creator of all that is evil.  …  the first man…deliberately instituted by himself things that were against nature; in rejecting virtue by his own free choice he fashioned the temptation to evil.  For sin does not exist in nature apart from free will; it is not a substance in its own right.  All of God’s creatures are good …   So man fell into the mud of sin, and lost his likeness to the eternal Godhead.  And in its stead he has, by his sin, clothed himself in an image that is of clay and mortal; and this is the image we earnestly counsel him to remove and wash away in the purifying waters of the Christian life.” — pp. 112-114

    As for the length of the days of Creation, I really don’t see it as a very important issue – but rather what happened during those days is the important question. Nevertheless, the Church does have a consistent teaching that these days are 24 hours each. The Byzantine Creation Era calendar places the creation of the world at 5509 BC. I do not believe that the Fathers contradict on this issue. I have yet to see a single Father who believed the the days were longer than 24 hours. Origen and St. Augustine wrote that they were in fact one single instant, but I’m unaware of any saying the days were longer than 24 hours. Sure, they use the days as the grounding for allegorical meanings, but that does not constitute a negation of the literal length of the days. I have seen various websites pull together quotes to try to demonstrate that the Fathers interpreted the days as longer periods, but they are all cherry-picked and ignore passages from those same Fathers in which they speak of the days as days.

  34. Jesse Avatar

    St. Anastasius of Sinai, following St. Basil closely, gives a good, concise statement of the Patristic method of interpretation of Genesis:

    “Mystical meaning is dependent upon literal
    We do not seek, however, to annul the literal meaning. Rather, we seek the meaning that the Holy Spirit, in its great goodness and love for humanity, mystically encrypted within the literal. Toward this end we will examine the text first in its bodily or physical sense.” — Hexaemeron 1.5.2, p. 19

  35. Jesse Avatar

    “mystical meaning is dependent upon literal” is not part of St. Anastasius’ quote … that should have been removed – my mistake

  36. leonard nugent Avatar
    leonard nugent

    Jesse’s quote of Gregory of Nyssa is how I’ve have always understood Adam in the garden.

  37. Jesse Avatar

    In On the Making of Man chapter 17, St. Gregory also writes that our redemption is a return to our ancient, lost state, which he calls “angelic.” Surely he did not believe we are returning to a state of corruption and death, as that would not even constitute a return since we are *now* in a state of corruption and death.

  38. fatherstephen Avatar

    Which is more reliable? The witness of Scripture and the fathers concerning Christ’s resurrection, or the earth as a roughly 7500 year old event? Or are they equally reliable? Why do you think this?

    I’ll turn to some of your other points – as well as some related things after you post an answer.

  39. Jesse Avatar

    Well, again, I don’t think the age of the earth is a very important question, so I don’t quite understand why you’re asking this.

  40. Joseph Avatar

    Just opened my eyes to a major question I was having for the past couple of months. Very interesting and a big thank you!

  41. Robert Avatar

    Father you stated it well earlier,

    “What do you do with contradictions between the fathers? Are some more important than others? What do you do when they contradict themselves? How do you pick one thing over the other?”

    This speaks to the nature of the authority of the Church Fathers. And this is something I wish to point out in response to Mary Benton (and Jesse also) – not all of the Fathers and Mothers teachings are considered equally authoritative and useful. Some are considered mere personal opinion, others only useful for a particular historical application (i.e. without universal significance). This must be considered carefully.

    And we must be aware of anachronistically forcing modern issues and assumptions into their writings.

    Would their teachings on Genesis be any different had they been written by them in the 21st century?

  42. Robert Avatar


    “Would their teachings on Genesis be any different had they been written by them in the 21st century?”

    We can’t really answer that question without speculation, can we? Hence we must (attempt) to understand them as they are – written not in the 21st century, but in their own theological, political, social and cultural context.

  43. Jesse Avatar

    Robert, you ask a good question “Would their teachings on Genesis be any different had they been written by them in the 21st century?”

    we have 21st century Saints and elders, inspired by the same Holy Spirit. we could ask how their understanding of Genesis compares to the ancient Fathers.

  44. Robert Avatar


    Indeed it is no different: we are left with the same conundrum – not all a saint, modern or ancient, teaches is considered inspired by the Holy Spirit. And the same questions, raised by Fr Stephen as to the nature of the authority of the Fathers, apply.

    This is not to speak of the difficulty as to the identification of who those modern living saints may be.

    Which, to me, highlights the wisdom in refraining from centralizing the genesis issues.

    The BIG ISSUE is creation vs. an infinite self-existing universe (which coincidentally is what I think is the underlying theme of St Basil commentary on Genesis).

  45. fatherstephen Avatar

    I ask, one, because this is a conversation and I’m interested in your answer. Second, because I’m curious how you see the nature of truth within the Scriptural and patristic witness. Are there levels? Or is there only one standard of reliability? If there is more than one level of reliability, how is it determined?

    If the age question doesn’t seem to be important, does that mean that those witnesses that provide the basis for the 7500 year old creation are not reliable? I’ve much more to say, but I would really like to hear your thoughts on this. I’ve not had a conversation before with an Orthodox believer who held to a young earth. I’m interested.

  46. Dino Avatar

    sorry for the waffling but my instant reaction to this debate is that we are forgetting the experience of the beholders of God.
    The personal, first-hand experience of the resurrection through encountering Christ in the Uncreated Light informs what the Saints say about Adam prior to the Fall, more than anything- far more than Genesis. It cannot be otherwise; and this is no different to saying that Pascha is the exegetical key to all Scripture, because one lives that “unending day”, only in that Paschal Light, which all of a sudden opens a new interpretation of all beings, of time and space, of Scripture and Man, of Man’s (Adam’s) potential, and of God’s intent for him from the start.
    This is far stronger a witness than that of Scripture and the Fathers, even though it is not an experience “out on a limb” but is cross verified by Scripture and the Fathers – notably one’s spiritual Father. The one side verifies the other; however only the first-hand experience makes any real personal sense (for the beholder of God’s Grace) of Scripture and Fathers.
    So death predating Man’s fall, as well as freedom from death existing through grace for Adam -is not an issue for such a person. Having seen things both according to nature and according to grace he comprehends this.
    He has, however, seen the resurrection, and he understands that for Adam in Grace this life was a first-hand experience that freed him completely from death, made him eternal according to grace.

    I think we all know here and should remember that there is consensus in the Orthodox Church that Adam’s freedom from death was NOT according to nature, it was only according to grace. This is a most important point.
    Nature therefore before and after Adam was susceptible to death according to nature… But in Adam and through his capacity as the head of all creation, (called to become what Christ -the second Adam- showed us), there could have been no death according to graceeven for all of creation.
    In Eden, one could certainly argue that Man had this experience topically. The Saints have had similar experiences that lasted for a as long as they lasted. They became the lens through which they understood Genesis and everything…

  47. leonard nugent Avatar
    leonard nugent

    Robert you asked when the Fathers disagree “How do you pick one thing over the other?” That is something I’ve always wondered myself. I suppose you ask someone who knows the answer.

  48. leonard nugent Avatar
    leonard nugent

    Dino, you said I think we all know here and should remember that there is consensus in the Orthodox Church that Adam’s freedom from death was NOT according to nature, it was only according to grace. This is a most important point….. This to me seems exactly right. Adam truly was full of grace unlike that son of his, Cain!

  49. Jesse Avatar

    just a quick note before I run off to Vespers … we have to be careful when we speak of nature – what do we mean? if we use “nature” to mean strictly Adam’s body and soul, then yes, he is mortal by nature for only God has life in and of Himself, but “nature” can also be used to include mode of existence. In this sense Adam was naturally immortal because his natural state is to be sustained in life by God’s grace. Lossky writes about the inseparability of nature and grace ins his Mystical Theology of the Eastern Curch, pp. 101 and 126. Thus Adam’s incorrupt state in Paradise is Patristically considered “according to nature” and he fell “against nature.” For now I will provide one quote to this effect, from Abba Dorotheos:

    “In the beginning when God created man he set him in paradise (as the divine holy scriptures says), adorned with every virtue, and gave him a command not to eat of the tree in the middle of paradise. He was provided for in paradise, in prayer and contemplation in the midst of honor and glory; healthy in emotions and sense perceptions, and perfect in his nature as he was created. For, to the likeness of God did God make man, that is, immortal, having then the power to act freely, and adorned with all the virtues. When he disobeyed the command ate of the tree that God commanded him not to eat of, he was thrown out of paradise and fell from a state in accord with his nature to state contrary to nature, i.e. a prey to sin, to ambition, to a love of the pleasures of this life and the other passions; and he was mastered by them, and became a slave to them through his transgression. Then little by little evil increased and death reigned.” — Discourses and Sayings (Cistercian Publications), pg. 77

  50. Kimberly Avatar


    Thank you so much for posting about this – I think I may need to read it a few more times to take it all in. When you talk about ideas being a product of Western heritage, does that mean it is a problematic way to think about things? My priest is a fan of a lot of what C.S. Lewis has to say, and I think would like the Lewis quote that you provided on the topic.

    My priest has also said that while belief in Adam as a historical person is not necessary to be an Orthodox Christian, there is no reason for an Orthodox Christian not to believe it to be so. Would you agree?

    This topic has come up frequently for me because my husband is an atheist, and I try to talk to him about these topics while not being entirely sure that I know what Orthodox Christians are supposed to believe. After reading, I’m still not sure. Was there an Adam, the first created, or are we supposed to read Adam as all of us? We all contribute to the Fall, but was there a single, instigating Fall that is the reason for death? Are humans responsible for the fall and corruption of the rest of the world – animals, cataclysmic events, etc.?

    Your post may have addressed these issues, perhaps when discussing the problems of viewing time as a line, but I don’t want to draw conclusions about what you mean and be wrong.

  51. PJ Avatar

    There are cities that have been continuously inhabited for more than 6,000 years.

  52. Kimberly Avatar

    While talking about things that are difficult to intersect with modern thought, there is another question that often comes up in our household – what is a soul? I tend to talk about it as what allows us to relate to God – as we perceive/experience/communicate/come to know. But I don’t think that is solely what it is? I attribute a lot to my soul that I also attribute to my brain, and I’m not sure how much of that is correct. And from my husband’s perspective, if the brain can do everything the soul supposedly does, then the very concept of a soul doesn’t make sense.

  53. fatherstephen Avatar

    I agree with your priest. Adam as a historical person is not a requirement of the Church’s faith, but the faith certainly does not preclude it.

    I will try to answer the rest, but it is both difficult to express and harder to understand.

    I see Pascha as primary, but Pascha is an event both historical and transcendent – the marriage of earth and heaven – the timeless with time – etc. And wherever Pascha is present it is present in the same manner. Thus, when I think of something being a type of Pascha, I do not think of it merely as reminding us of some later event – but that Pascha indwells it and in-forms it. It gives it something of a Paschal shape.

    Also, I think of Pascha (being transcendent) as truly Real, in a way in which creation is not. Creation is moving toward such a reality (the glorious liberty of the Sons of God). Thus, I do not put any event on a par with Pascha. There is nothing equivalent. But other things participate in it – everything participates in it to some degree.

    As to Adam. I think we cannot know anything about the historical matter of the first human being. The account we have in Genesis is not a historical account, it is a literary account. I do not mean by that to say that it is merely fictional. But it is a literary account (poetic if you will) that reveals far more than a merely historical/scientific account would. For example, we have God speaking and defining who man is. We hear the inner dialog of the Trinity. That is literary. Even if it is relayed later to Moses, it is still God’s literary relaying of the event. Sometimes literary accounts are required in order to reveal the inner reality of something. This account gives us a version that allows us to connect it with Pascha – it “rhymes” with Pascha, you might say. Pascha reveals its meaning – and the Paschal shape of the version allows us to see that this is so without thinking that a commentator (St. Paul for example) is just saying something off the top of his head.

    But our anxiety over the merely historical is mistaken. We think “historical is real and if he says we can’t know what happened historically then we can’t know what really happened.” But this makes the merely historical to be the measure of the truth, rather than Pascha. History would be the judge of Christ (who would not really be the truth, or only truth so far as history judges). But Christ Himself is the Truth as His Pascha is true.

    The fathers (St. Maximus in the East and St. Ambrose in the West) say that the Old Testament is “shadow,” the New Testament is “icon”, and the eschaton (which would mean the fullness of Pascha) is the Truth itself. What we have in the story of Adam, I would say, is the shadow of Christ’s Pascha, and the shadow even of the historical Adam (whatever we may understand by that – one or many). We may understand the shadow because we have the icon and see in it the Truth.

    What we have, however, are the Scriptures and it is in them that we see Christ (if we dwell in Him). What God has given us is the story of Genesis which, in the light of Pascha, reveals the true nature of man, of his sin and his predicament. None of that seemed at all clear from the Genesis story until Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ reveals Adam. No one – absolutely no one – was looking for the “Second Adam.”

    What is difficult in all this is our deeply engrained habit of historical thinking – very linear and chronological. But the Scriptures, particularly Christ and His Pascha are constantly blowing that up. “Before Abraham was I am.” Some like to think of this as, “Before Abraham was I was.” And the difference is important.

    All of this, an exercise in the “mystical” reading of the Scriptures (and of history), is not a literary technique, but a learning spiritually of how to discern the Kingdom of God.

    This, to me, is the emptiness of literalism, whether in its Protestant form, or in an Orthodox form. Truth is diminished into a single layer, the resurrection becomes the equivalent of any story on the front page (or back page) of the newspaper. And it can be known like anything else that is investigated, etc.

    But this is clearly contrary to the witness of the gospels, particularly with regard to the resurrection. Adding up the witness of the fathers for literalism is, to me, a reduction of the fathers. They just become old Protestants with beards.

    They spoke wisdom to the wise and like children to the childish. But we have to grow up a bit in our present mission to the world. We cannot speak of 7000 year-old creations and expect anything other than to become marginal. We will cease to speak to the very people we were sent to evangelize, cowering in our own anxieties and needs to preserve an intellectualized castle of nonsense.

    I hope Guy will read this and see if it helps any with his questions. I can write more specifically to them if he needs me to.

  54. Dino Avatar

    I am glad you brought up that great quote which seems to emphasise the topical character I was describing.
    The issue of ‘according to nature’ is slightly confusing, it is far clearer in Greek.
    You have already explained it well, but I would clarify it again further, It is thus:
    there are three degrees of grace (what St Dorotheos is alluding to):
    1) lower than nature (παρά φύση)
    (what we see as natural to fallen man, yet theologically we call this unnatural in the knowledge of man’s original purpose)
    2) according to nature (κατά φύση)
    (theologically termed natural)
    3) above nature (ὑπέρ φύση)

    However, we use this same terminology when we say man was created “immortal not according to nature but according to grace” (“ἀθάνατος ὄχι κατά φύση, ἀλλά κατά χάρη”). Here we do not talk of natural, subnatural or supernatural states, but of createdness/nature as opposed to its transformed mode of being through God’s Grace. Of course the 3rd state (super natural) corresponds to this too…

  55. meshell2001 Avatar

    Is the the “Adam” mentioned in the genealogy of Christ (Luke 3:38) the same historically real individual whom I have inherited corruption/death from? Because I was under the impression I inherited death; i.e., I inherited death from my parents, and they inherited it from my grandparents, and my grandparents inherited it from my great-grandparents, etc, until we reach the first set of parents at the end of my own genealogy.

  56. Jesse Avatar

    Dino – great post!

    Fr. Stephen, I am going to attempt to reduce my internet usage for at least the next week or so, although I will still be using email. I would be pleased to converse with you further via email if you so desire — email hidden; JavaScript is required

  57. fatherstephen Avatar

    I answered why. I think you’re avoiding an obvious question based on what you have quoted. Or do you only quote to contradict but not to assert. If it’s not important then you obviously don’t think that a literal reading is important. Or is it only selectively important and only when it seems convenient? What criterion are you using to say something is important or not?

  58. fatherstephen Avatar

    Meshell. I have no idea.

  59. meshell2001 Avatar

    Lol! Oh well I guess. Thanks for your honesty though 🙂

  60. meshell2001 Avatar

    I always thought of Adam and Eve as my very (very, very) distant relatives, thus making Jesus one of my distant relatives too, according to the genealogy found in Luke. This may be just a silly sentiment, but I’m kind of sad to know this may not be true.

  61. Dino Avatar

    Christ is far more than just that meshell2001

  62. Dean Avatar

    Isn’t even greater to know that Christ is IN you every time you partake of the Eucharist (He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me,and I in him) Jn. 6:56. This is a union far closer than any blood relative.

  63. guy Avatar


    i appreciate the mention in the comment. So i take from the comment that you don’t think Genesis is merely fiction. i take from your chiding of literalists (on the basis of what i can only see as capitulation to a kind of scientism) that you don’t think it’s history.

    i take it then you think Genesis is some mixture of fiction and history, but you don’t know what degree of history is included in that mixture. That seems fine to me. i guess it’s just that some of the suggestions in comments so far (no historical person and no historical fall) seem to express that the amount of history in the mixture is so small that i’m not sure i see any important difference in just saying there’s no history in the mixture at all–only fiction.

    But you said this:

    “But our anxiety over the merely historical is mistaken. We think “historical is real and if he says we can’t know what happened historically then we can’t know what really happened.” But this makes the merely historical to be the measure of the truth, rather than Pascha.”

    (1) You’ve said ever since i’ve started reading your blog that the resurrection is the criterion of truth or that it’s not on a par with other events. To this day, i really have no idea what you mean by this. Are you saying that the resurrection bears certain features, and for any proposition, that proposition is true only in virtue of cohering with those features? If so, what are those features and how is coherence to them determined? And if so, are you, thus, critiquing the more common correspondence theory of truth–that for any proposition, that proposition is true only in virtue of its correspondence to some fact in the world which it resembles?

    (2) My anxiety over the historical is not as you characterize i don’t think. i’m not concerned about the history because i think history measures the truth. i’m concerned about the history for a number of reasons which i’ve told you before. (a) If none of these accounts are based in history, why not just Christologically allegorize and spiritualize about any old story at all? It seems like the differences between these stories and others become either arbitrary or just a matter of divine fiat. (b) Further, if none of these accounts are based in history, then none of them really tell me that God works and redeems in history. Why think He’s working and redeeming history now? i’m in history. i’m historical. My life is occurring in history. If the historical doesn’t matter, then neither do i so far as i can tell. And if whether the historicity of the events really doesn’t matter, then i don’t see why i need to think the resurrection was historical. [Now we’re into Protestant territory for sure (of the Barthian variety, who, i believe, argued that the resurrection was far too important and transcendent to have occurred in history).] (c) Given that these accounts are literary in nature (as you point out), if there are literary connections between the resurrection and these accounts, then giving up on history altogether in some seems to unravel the rest; that seems clear whether or not there are “levels” to revelation.

    (3) i could understand if you were saying “How historical these are or aren’t really doesn’t matter when it comes to theosis. So we’re majoring in minors.” i could also understand if you were saying, “Whether these are historical isn’t as important as the theological/philosophical truths expressed in literary form.” But i’ve never heard you say either as clearly as that, and sometimes you seem to deny that you’re saying either of those.

  64. fatherstephen Avatar

    You’re so much more organized than I am in your thoughts! I will use your questions as something of an outline and work seriously on an answer. I’ll try not to be evasive (it’s not my intent), it’s just that sometimes the categories actually create answers that are not what I’m trying to say. I’ll get on with it. Snow is falling heavily outside. Not much else going on. Think I’ll be blogging a bit. Doesn’t blogging sound like something that requires snow?

  65. meshell2001 Avatar

    Thank you Dino, and Dean. Union with Christ is indeed the greatest gift of all.

    I personally am still not sure what I believe concerning the historicity of Adam. If we are not all related through Adam, then that is how God intended it, thus it is good for it to be so. But to be honest I lean more towards his actually being real, and being the father of us all. I thought this was one of the reasons why he was mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, to show us that Jesus is indeed one of us (human), because he shares with us our common ancestral father. But like I said, Im not sure what’s true.

  66. guy Avatar


    🙂 You’re endearing. i hope you never take any of my picking/questioning as caustic or unfriendly. i won’t lie, i do get frustrated from not understanding. But i really do find your general pastoral demeanor (especially apparent on the radio) disarming and welcoming.

    i had a professor say in class once (though i think he was quoting someone else) that the difference between Western analytic philosophy and continental philosophy is the difference between being clear and being profound. Perhaps my aim is clarity (i’ve only been trained in the Western analytic approach) and your aim has been profundity.

    And cold weather does motivate me to get on the computer! Our snow here in OKC just stopped last week.

  67. Robert Avatar


    Fr Andrew Louth in Discerning the Mystery does a good and much needed job chipping away at the false binary of history/fiction (literal/allegorical, science/theology, and so forth). It’s a must read for anyone interested in this topic. I love the subtitle, it alone should give one pause – “An Essay on the Nature of Theology.”

    He addresses the nature and methodology of theological truth vs. scientific truth. How does the Enlightenment condition our approach to truth?

  68. Brian Avatar


    I would be grateful if you would include answers to these thoughts in your reply to Guy.

    “As I noted in the previous article, the age of the universe presses the question about the nature of the Biblical creation narrative in Genesis.”

    With respect, this is something of a caricature – one that can be applied to the Fundamentalist Literalists, but not to the Genesis narrative itself. The narrative, even if read as ‘historical’ narrative, doesn’t demand it all. On the contrary, the narrative does not speak of time as we know it, for there can be no time as we know it without the relative movements of objects in space. How much ‘time’ (though we cannot speak of time) passed during the ‘days’ of creation? It is impossible to say and even more impossible to measure. A ‘young earth’ understanding is not at all necessary to the narrative unless we choose to read it as Fundamentalists. Thus I fail to understand why you keep returning to the idea of a 7,000 year old universe as though an ‘historical’ reading demands it.

    “For while it is true that man’s breaking communion with God is the source of death, this is reduced to mere historical fact in the doctrine of Original Sin. For here Adam, as the first historical man, becomes infinitely guilty and deserving of punishment, and pays his juridical debt forward to all generations. This historical understanding of the fall, with inherited guilt, locks the Fall within historical necessity. It is among numerous reasons that Original Sin, as classically stated in the West, has not found a lasting place within Orthodox tradition.”

    This, too – if I may be so bold – is a caricature. It is an accurate description of much of Western Christianity’s understanding. But the concept of inherited guilt (a thoroughly un-Orthodox idea) does not follow necessarily from an ‘historical’ reading. And I would qualify that the very word ‘historical’ is not an apt word to use when one speaks of the timeless nature of union with God although I don’t know what word WOULD be appropriate.

    What follows is my own (admittedly limited) understanding. I share it here not to proclaim any dogmatic statement to which I cling, but to ask you sincerely to answer as though it were in the form of a question.

    “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female…?”

    It is here “at the beginning” that God created all things good. The Scriptures, the Fathers, and indeed the whole of the Orthodox Christian Tradition insist on the essential goodness of all creation regardless of how they read the creation story. Yet when our Lord was called “Good teacher” by an inquirer He replied, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God.” Thus, when creation is said to be good it is apparent that this goodness is grounded in the fact that it was created in union with God who freely gives His life to all things in accordance with the capacity He has given each creature to receive it. The goodness of God’s creation is in its inherent created capacity to be interpenetrated by God’s own life-giving energies, a capacity revealed in concrete fashion by the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ.

    A creation in union with its Creator (that is, a creation full of Grace) is what St. Maximos clearly had in mind when he wrote that, “Grace irradiates nature with a supra-natural light, raising it above its natural limits.” This description is not a denial of nature (and thus not a denial of science). It is a description of nature that is in union with the eternal life of its Creator, not subject to natural limits, and thus not a subject of scientific inquiry by means of the tools of science. Was there not a ‘time’ (although in the eternal realm we cannot actually speak of time) ‘when’ (again a poor word) this was the case with man and thus with the creation subject to his dominion? Otherwise, how can it be asserted that “it is true that man’s breaking communion with God is the source of death”?

    Nature (be it human, animal, botanical…) when subjected to itself is subject to decay, corruption, or whatever similar word we might use to describe death. This is the nature that is the subject of natural scientific inquiry. It has its own laws that apply in their own way to the world as we experience it now, the world governed (so to speak) by “the law of sin and death,” to use the words of the Apostle.

    But again, “at the beginning” the Scriptures illumined by Christ’s Pascha declare that it was not so. Nor will it be so at the end when God is again “all in all.” And while it is not necessary to understand the Genesis narrative of the beginning or the visions of the end in a literal sense, can they not nevertheless be said to very real spiritual (and even in a sense physical descriptions [for God created matter] – glimpses, so to speak, expressed in language we can understand – of a past and a future (but again, the linear language of past/future are inadequate) that are the only way our natural minds can even begin to grasp the glory of personal union with the Blessed Trinity – a union prior to the corruption of death that came through sin and also a more complete union wherein God and man are fully united in the Person of Christ, death is abolished, and life reigns – not only among men, but also in the entire creation that subjected to his dominion and thus “was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.”?

    One of the primary questions, therefore, is the question of the origin of death. The Genesis account agrees with the Apostle (“Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men…” [Even the Apostle finds himself stuck with linear language]. It agrees with the Fathers (regardless of how we read them). It agrees with the Liturgy of St. Basil and the whole liturgical tradition. Indeed, it agrees with the entirety of the Tradition. It even agrees with our own experience – which is to say that we know experientially that were born into the corruption of death, a corruption we personally did not initially choose and one in which even infants who bear no responsibility for sin die. Moreover, it is a condition of ours that is so repugnant to our good God that He Himself is come in the flesh to abolish it for us and for all the creation He loves.

    Finally, there is another aspect of this question that relates directly to the Apostle’s words that “as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin.” While willful sin is never private or ‘individual’ (in the sense that it affects only the sinner), it is always personal (in the sense that it is the choice of a human person). ‘Humanity’ only exists in human persons (Mary, Sally, George). You said this yourself only recently. Thus, the nature of a person participates in the sin of the person because a person does not exist apart from his nature. But only persons can sin. Only persons can love God or refuse to love. How is it, then, possible for a non-specific, impersonal, generalized ‘humanity’ to fall away from union with God and subject all mankind to the condition of death? Only persons are capable of refusing to love the Persons of God. Only a person whose human nature once freely shared the eternal life of God by his personal communion in the divine Persons could bring about the subjection of his nature to the corruption of death by choosing (albeit in the ignorance of an ‘innocent’ state) to sever himself from that communion and thereby sin against the One who is his life. How, then, can it not be that a person, a person in a position to father the entire race of man in his own corrupted likeness, after his corrupted image (Genesis 5:3), is cause of death (and therefore the propensity toward sin) being transmitted to all human nature? It is not at all necessary that this be interpreted as his “being infinitely guilty and deserving of punishment, and pays his juridical debt forward to all generations.”

    And is it not also true that this applies in the reverse, so to speak (although Pascha is rightly said to be first) – that righteousness is also personal, which is to say that the Word is incarnate personally. He shares in our humanity as a divine Person, and His Pascha is personal – as in… “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous.”and “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

    Thus, I agree wholeheartedly that all ‘begins’ not with the creation narrative, but with Pascha – and that Pashca illumines all else. But why would we then find it necessary to disregard as irrelevant the very things that His Pascha illuminates? I don’t hear you saying that they are untrue – only that they are “problematic.” Is it merely to defend against ignorant ideas about a 7,000 year old universe put forth by supposedly ‘Biblical’ Fundamentalists?

    Forgive my boldness, but though I have tried to pay close attention the answers to these questions have thus far not been satisfactory.

  69. fatherstephen Avatar


    Fiction, History, Myth -definitions

    I would mean by fiction something that is made up whole cloth, like “Once upon a time,” or things politicians say.

    History is a record of events. It is not the same thing as the events themselves, but is a record, told from some point of view, about something that happened.

    Myth (from the Greek mythos=story) is a story that often has profound meaning beyond itself. Such a story has the power to shape lives and nations. Such a story can reveal depths of reality that cannot be reached in other ways. It can have layers, some fictional, some historical. Homer’s Iliad is clearly mythic. The gods talking and acting, etc., but there is also obviously some amount of history (a war with Troy). It is also mythic in that the notion of the heroic (cf. Achilles) profoundly shaped and reflected a whole culture.

    The Canon of Scripture contains history, myth (in the nuanced sense above), poetry, letters, apocalyptic writings, and gospels (its own category).

    Examples: history – the book of Kings. Judges seems to have both history and possible some mythic elements. It’s hard to sort out.

    Fiction: Book of Jonah may be fiction. Again, hard to tell, but it lacks a number of key markers for historical works. It’s references outside itself for one. Instead, it seems more like a parable, a rabbinical tale, with a moral purpose.

    Myth: The early chapters of Genesis have a mythic quality. They are clearly poetic (the refrain: “evening and morning” and “it was good” etc.). They have very large transcendent characters Adam (whose name means “man” etc.). God makes him with his own hands. He walks with him in the cool of the garden. This is unlike anything anywhere else in the Scriptures. Unlike anything “historical.” Of course, it is set in Paradise, also a setting somehow “outside of this world.” In the Garden, there is a snake. It has legs. It talks. I for one think talking snakes is rather mythic.

    But it is our myth – our story – a story so profoundly accurate about the nature of human existence and our relationship with God (in the light of Christ) it is raised to a level well above fiction. It is primal – maybe even the primal myth, if reading through Christ (and only then).

    I have the highest possible regard for myth – especially true myths. They reveal things to us. They tell us what could not be know otherwise. We could perhaps distill the “lessons” of the first few chapters of Genesis:

    1.God created everything out of nothing
    2. Everything God created was good.
    3. God created man in his own image.

    But I suspect that any such propositional list, no matter how exhaustive, would fail to carry the weight of the story itself. And the story itself has this incredible power, the ability to continually renew itself and reveal things that we did not see at an earlier point. Propositions cannot do this. I think that myth in this sense, is divinely inspired. Deeply so. I believe in the story of Adam and Eve and the Garden.

    The Resurrection as the Criterion of Truth

    Ok. I frequently try to make it clear that by true and real I mean having the character (even the very life) of God. God alone is real and true. This means that true and real refer to the eternal, unchanging, self-existing. Things that are temporal, changing, contingent are only relatively true, relatively real. So I tend to reserve those words.

    History, what “happens” is the unfolding of events, actions, etc., in time within creation. But such events, actions, etc., are not self-existing. They do not define themselves nor have meaning in themselves. They are relative. They relate to God, to His eternal purpose, to His will, to His energies, etc. This aspect of what unfolds in history is not always apparent or manifest. Many things look one way, but are another. The crucifixion looks like defeat, but is victory (one easy example).

    The resurrection (I prefer to say Pascha and mean by that the whole crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ) is that sole event (historical) in which both its outer and inner reality are manifest. It is the life, purpose, will, energies, etc. of God breaking forth in space and time. It actually changes space and time. Pascha thus becomes the one eternal event in history. It is the one true thing, eternal, unchangeable, etc. in all of space time.

    History is headed somewhere. It is not just static (“what happened”) but is also iconic. There Is a reality that underlies all things (and I mean to connect this with Reality). And so Patriarch Bartholomew says “the whole world is a sacrament.” So, to the question, “What really happened?” It is not enough to describe what we all history, but to discern something more.

    And, more than this, sometimes fiction has this same Reality behind and within it, so that it bears what is true. Myth, certainly has this aspect.

    With all that in mind, I strongly resist the temptation to take a purely self-contained secularist view of history, fiction and myth.

    I do not mean to Christologically “allegorize.” You assume that there are historical events that are what is real, and the allegory is just talk about the events. And so the Scriptures are considered true only as historical record. But they are true because whatever their relationship is to events they have a relationship (iconic) with the truth which is Christ’s Pascha. If there is a correspondence then it is correspondence with Pascha that constitutes the truth of anything.

    Historical events matter (you and I matter). But we only matter in relationship to Christ. The truth of our existence is found in the resurrection.

    All this is true because of the nature of the resurrection. It is not just a fact, an event that takes its place among other events – something which is wonderful because it is now history. Rather it is wonderful because history has now become eternal and divine. History becomes God.

    And that history-become-God now promises to transform all history (including me and you).

    These are the consequences of the resurrection. Particularly if someone truly understands and believes in the resurrection. And especially if they do not believe in a reductionist resurrection. “It’s wonderful because it happened!” No, “happening” is now wonderful because it participates in the resurrection.

    We’re used to a two-storey universe – where we think only the first floor is real and everything else is an idea. I’m saying something quite different. Ideas are nothing in comparison to this.

    The fathers said (7th Council) that icons do with color what Scripture does with words. I would say it is also correct to say that Scripture does with words what icons do with color. “Icons make present what they represent.” The truth of an icon is not the wood or the paint, but the person. This doesn’t mean that the wood and the paint are unimportant, only that arranged properly they become iconic and that this is their purpose. This is the purpose of creation as well. But even greater than that – for the Icon (image, Adam) is to become what it represents. Glorious wonder.

  70. fatherstephen Avatar

    As you can see my answer to Guy is long. I’ll return to your questions in the morning. I was pushing on the narrow reading of Genesis (the 7000 year old account) to emphasize that such a flat, literal reading is simply more than problematic. It becomes wrong. And if it is wrong, it does not mean that we discount Genesis, only that what is wrong is the reading. I wanted to see if there was a crack in the door that was being shut through which we might see something better.

    Nothing in the Genesis account should be considered irrelevant. Absolutely not.

  71. Dino Avatar

    I very much appreciate your clarity in this last comment to Guy, I am grateful for the effort you put in, thank you very much!

  72. […] (Fr. Stephen Freeman) So, I guess, Ken Ham & Co. are saying “Who you gonna believe, waffler: da Scofield Bible’s marginal notes or your lyin’ eyes?” […]

  73. guy Avatar


    i do understand you a lot better now.

    (1) It appears to me now that we’ve just talked passed each other in many cases.

    You seem to use “true” and “real” much like some medievals (and even some moderns like Descartes) whereas i have not used the terms this way. But what strikes me is that your use of these terms does not seem to be doing or trying to do the same work or function as the more contemporary use of “true” and “real.” Based on this, i don’t understand your objection to the contemporary use of “true” and “real.”

    Why not just say that these concepts are not univocal? There are type-1 and type-2 senses of “real” and “true.” In other words, it seems like this is a mere quibble over words. It seems like the criticism reduces to “stop using those utterances to make those references.”

    For instance, suppose i weren’t using the terms “real” and “true.” Suppose when i referred to events that actually occur or states of affairs that obtain, i used a different word–“flerb.” And suppose when i referred to whether propositions accurately resemble some fact in the world to which they correspond, i used a different word–“gerkin.” And so you say, “Look–the Genesis account is true and real.” And i say, “Well, of course the Genesis account is revealed in light of Pascha, but what i’m asking now is whether the account as described is flerb. If it alleges to be flerb yet is not, doesn’t it follow that it’s not gerkin?”

    If that were the case, would your criticisms even arise? If so, i don’t see why. Seems to me i can acknowledge that Pascha is true in real in your Type-1 sense, and still use “true” and “real” in the Type-2 sense as well. i’m not seeing any incompatibility between the concepts.

    i take from things you say that perhaps you’re concerned about the motivations for the Type-2 senses. But the type-2 senses are quite useful when concerning ourselves with things like lying, falsehoods, or mistakes. Everyday and practically every minutes of my life i need to be able to discern whether events actually occurred and whether propositions accurately resemble bits of the world to which they correspond. And i have all the same concerns i shared before about type-2 “true” and “real” when it comes to accounts of events in the Scriptures (and i take it from your response that at least one or two of those concerns are not illegitimate).

    (2) This is somewhat tangential–regarding your “talking snakes are mythic comment.” Given that you’ve defined myth the way you have, my question is unfounded. But i want to ask it anyway because i suspect some underlying motivation. If i’m wrong about that motivation, then just say so and that’ll be that.

    It seems odd to me to say something like “When i read about a talking snake, i knew i was reading a myth,” and then to read (say) a priest talking about the real presence in the Eucharist yet *not* be motivated to say “must be myth.” Now, again, granted the way you defined myth, you could easily say they’re both myth. My ‘itch’ has to do with what motivates you to judge “myth” when you read about a talking snake. My suspicion is the very thing we’ve been talking about–“Well that can’t possibly have actually happened, so it’s fictitious, which entails this is at best a mix of history and fiction, which entails it’s a myth.” Is this right? Do you judge it to be myth just because it’s fantastic or hard to accept at face value?

  74. fatherstephen Avatar

    Have you ever read Swinburne? He makes my hair hurt, but his logic would thrill you. 🙂

    “Mythic.” Yes, I included some sense of “fictional” in my comment, though it is clearly mythic in the sense that I’ve defined. Our adversary has been there since the beginning. He is cunning and crafty, and the snake captures something of it much better than a literal description of an angel (perhaps) or an inner dialog – and absolutely myth in the most profound sense considering the prophetic pronouncement concerning the snake and the woman!

    What you are suggesting however, with regard to meanings – is to formally agree to a two-storey conversation. For even normal conversation, “Such as saying that’s not true,” carries the depth of meaning I’ve been suggesting. I will quickly plead guilty to occasionally being inconsistent, for I’m a secular, two-storey man, as are we all in the modern world. But I’m struggling to teach my tongue to speak the language of the heart. What I am trying to do is, by grace, drag us all towards an awareness of the nature of the truth.

    The statement “that’s not entirely true,” captures something of my concern. To push and force me to say of something “that never happened or that’s just fiction” is like saying “that’s just a symbol.” Symbols, for example, are never “just.” Symbols make something present. “That’s just a symbol” would require me to subscribe to Nominalism and become a pure secularist.

    I would never say that what has happened that is recorded in the Scriptures doesn’t matter (much of it does), but this begs the question of what the Scriptures are for. “These are they which testify of me,” Christ says. And it doesn’t matter to me exactly which genre of writing I put “these” in. They still testify, and it is that testimony that I seek.

    I mentioned Jonah as a possible candidate for the fiction category. And it is one of my favorite books and utterly essential in Christ and His Pascha. We read the entire(!) book on Holy Saturday in the Church. No other book in the OT, excepting the Psalms, receives such an honor! It is the only book that even obliquely refers and reveals the three-day resurrection of Christ!

    But things are important and true in reference to Pascha. This book is important and true. But I am clueless whether it happened. And my skepticism is not about the big fish swallowing him. It’s fantastic, but that doesn’t matter to me. It’s the internal “evidence” in the book that makes it unlike any other book of the prophets. It’s a neat tale, from beginning to end. None of the other prophetic books is like it. You could read it out loud to a child, with a good translation.

    It is not about what he says (prophecy). It is about what he does. It’s like the parable of the Good Samaritan. The book says, “God is kind to the evil and the ungrateful.” And Jonah doesn’t like it.

    Someone will ask, “But Jonah is on our calendar of feasts.” Yes. Honor him. Ask his prayers. But quit trying to reduce the world to flat literal and secular.

    Back to the snake. Actually, I have almost no liberal bones in my body – as to “hard to accept.” It’s simply honesty on my part. Not that I’m so virtuous. Lewis understood these things. He was a literary man (as was Tolkien). Some things just “feel” different. There are historical things that read one way, and mythic things that read another. And after a lifetime of reading, it’s not always hard to tell the difference. And since I find not necessity as a believer to force my mind to say something it doesn’t believe, I can call a myth a myth, or history a history. Again, it’s just a matter of honesty.

    I find that people damage their souls by creating hoops and loops and jumps for their brains because they’re afraid that if they ever say out loud what they’re secretly thinking, their faith will fall flat and disappear in a puff of smoke. And every hoop and leap darkens the mind.

    I have sinned for so long and so profoundly that my soul has been greatly darkened. I cannot afford to add to it by quibbling and hedging my bets and the like. Learning to speak the truth (in its fullest sense) is the same as being saved.

  75. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you for your kindness. It was late at night. It is stated in a less than traditional manner. They were the only words I could find.

  76. Dino Avatar

    your comment brought to my mind that ‘reason’ will always find the experience that God’s grace bestows endlessly debatable; its inherent lack of sufficiently ‘reasonable’ explanation in words -no matter how experientially verifiable it happens to be for the person who undergoes this experience- is the reason. Talking of the truth of Adam’s experience is very much part of this category.
    Let me use an very different example: For instance, what is true and what is not true in the following words of a practitioner of the Jesus prayer (this is a real example of a very very very true common realisation confered through grace to those that grace has purified and is starting to illuminate) :

    I have never met a single bad person apart from myself in my entire life!, everyone is a saint and I am the only sinner on this earth, (usually uttered by someone that everyone would see as completely sin-free…)

    Am I to concentrate on the secular ‘truth’, that this is not so? Am I to accept as truth what the person is uttering? If I myself am that person I cannot possibly say this is not true since it is the truest thing I have ever experienced! It is certainly very confusing on paper…

    Is Adam’s experience of immortaily in Eden not such an experience?

  77. Karen Avatar

    Great conversations. I love this line–it made me LOL.

    I would mean by fiction something that is made up whole cloth, like “Once upon a time,” or things politicians say.

    Also, Father, as someone trying to stop jumping through all kinds of hoops that lead only to the false self, I really resonate with you where you say:

    Learning to speak the truth (in its fullest sense) is the same as being saved.

  78. EPG Avatar

    “History is a record of events. It is not the same thing as the events themselves, but is a record, told from some point of view, about something that happened.”

    This is somewhat tangential, but your comments about history, myth and fiction are (to my way of thinking)right on.

    I was a history major as an undergraduate. My school considered history one of the humanities — and emphasized the narrative qualities of history. As a result, I am always a little put out when colleges, universities, or other schools list history among the social sciences. In my mind, that implies an objectivity that does not exist, and a relationship to actual events that is impossible.

    Thanks again.

  79. Geri Avatar

    “Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet.”-St. Porphyrios. Ultimately, we are trying to understand with our heads those things which may only be understood in our nous. The poetry of the Church helps us, I think, by providing a way to “see” the invisible Realities. Our minds want to “know” things that may only be apprehended by the soul. What is more, it seems that the purpose of trying to understand all of these infinite things with our finite minds is, in some sense, to find out whether we can trust that God is real and that we can rely on Him. Is He there? I liken our task to learning how to float. The only way to float within the Cosmic River of Light–this universe we inhabit–is to be able to relax, breathe in His Life, and let the invisible realities hold us up. Then, we can look up and see the Beauty. Otherwise, in our ceaseless flailing, we are dragged down into the abyss and drown. Can we trust that Adam is “real” may really be a quest to know if God is real. The poetry of the Church is so sublime that I have sometimes thought that at its core, the entire Cosmos must be some Divine Poem. My mind cannot comprehend what my nous is beginning to enjoy: “Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden hath been opened for all. Prepare, O Ephratha, for the tree of life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin; for her womb did appear as a spiritual paradise in which is planted the divine Plant, whereof eating we shall live and not die as did Adam. Christ shall be born, raising the image that fell of old.[8]”

  80. Steve Lewis Avatar
    Steve Lewis

    I think that in order to do science, science has to assume some amount of regularity. I think it is uncharitable for those who do not do science to ask those who do to stop doing science. That is essentially what one is doing when one critiques the assumptions of Uniformitarianism and Gradualism.

    Now there may be exceptions to Uniformitarianism and Gradualism, but even then science has to assume there is some higher order it hasn’t found yet in the scientific process.

    I think the Fathers would say that God is a God of order and not of chaos.

  81. Yannis Avatar

    I have tried to avoid entering this conversation, but I could no longer hold my metaphorical tongue; please forgive my foolishness.

    Did linear, historical time even exist before the fall?
    Only, if it did not, then questions such as “Is the Earth 6 thousand or 6 billion years old?” or “Were the days of creation 24-hours long?” do not even make sense.
    Science seems to associate the nature of time with that of entropy, and the latter seems to be awfully akin to the Law of Corruption that the world was made subject to through our ancestral disobedience.

    Also, I was taught as a child (in Greece) the following scheme:
    Adam fell from the seventh day to the sixth. Christ’s proclamation on the Cross of “It is finished” refers to his re-creation of Man bringing the sixth day to a close, and entering into his Sabbatical rest in the grave. He then pushed on to the new, endless, eighth day through the Resurrection.

  82. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yannis et al
    There are reasons, quite important, I think, that things are as they are – that all things do not appear quite as clearly as they are. The things that are unseen, are seen by faith, they require that the nous be purified and illumined, which always means our cooperation with God. In this, all things become personal (in the theological sense of the word). However the world as seen “objectively” does not rely quite so much (if at all) on our cooperation. It just is. Were the Kingdom of God to appear in such a manner and behave in such a manner, we would be forced into God and the Divine Life, which is a contradiction. We would experience this as torture.

    This is one of the difficulties with various forms of fundamentalism. It is a desire to couch the faith in terms that are objective and able to be forced on others – to be so convincing that no one could deny them. So we look for Noah’s Ark, postulate about where the Garden was located, etc. If we could just “prove” it – i.e. make it so clear that no one could deny it.

    But this is, in fact, no matter how well-intentioned, a demonic desire, born of envy. “See! See now! Now you’ll no longer deny it!” This is the voice of a darkened heart (darkened by envy). God changes hearts. He never forces them.

  83. Brian McDonald Avatar
    Brian McDonald


    I found your reflection here both profound and (to quote an early responder) “obscure”; however rummaging through the Internet I came across something that brought clarity: theologian Ian Barbour’s distinction between “Natural Theology” and “A Theology of Nature.” Barbour explains that Natural theology today starts with science while a Theology of Nature “starts from a religious tradition based on religious experience and historical revelation,” and “holds that some traditional doctrines need to be reformulated in the light of current science” (Barbour. When Science Meets Religion, p. 31. Qtd in George Tsakiridis, “Knowing God through the Patristic Fathers: Basil and Ambrose on the Hexameron” [Internet])

    Using Barbour’s distinction, it seems to me your post represents a “Theology of Nature” approach to the question of evolution. You begin with the Paschal revelation, which totally rearranges any prior understanding we’ve had of God, human nature, human destiny, or life and death itself. That seems to me a much better starting point than the other way around in which a hybrid of natural theology and biblical literalism makes futile (and unintentionally dishonest) attempts to disprove current (but ever-changing) scientific hypothesis in order to arrive at “proof” for the Christian God. This approach takes our eyes off Christ and weakens our faith by making it appear to hinge on the outcome of dubious debates over scientific data and biblical interpretation. The Theology of Nature approach strengthens our faith by keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the Risen Lord, the true source and center of that faith. If Christ be risen who cares whether or not the world was created in six literal days. If Christ be not risen, who would bother to care?

    “But in fact, Christ is risen from the dead; the first fruits of them that sleep (1 Cor. 15:20). It is the credible witness of the apostles and martyrs, handed down to us and lived out in the Tradition of the Church along with the Holy Spirit speaking in our hearts that makes us proclaim, “Jesus is Lord.” No amount of biblical literalism and pseudo science can lead us to that proclamation and no evolutionary theory can lead us away from it.

  84. guy Avatar


    “What you are suggesting however, with regard to meanings – is to formally agree to a two-storey conversation.”

    Welllllll, there you go with the one-story/two-story thing again. Every time i think i understand it, i don’t.

    *IF* i understand that metaphor, then i guess i don’t see how you’ve said anything incompatible with a two-story view. i get that you’re saying the metaphysical furniture of the universe is not as contemporary people think it is–whether religious or not. They tend to think that the world operates as it does, and then if they’re religious, they posit additional entities or operations, and if they’re not religious, they don’t.

    If that’s what you mean, then i don’t understand the house-level metaphors–that is, i don’t understand in what sense the religious positing is analogous to an “upstairs.” (10 years ago, i pored through everything Francis Schaeffer ever wrote. i know he was fond of this metaphor, but i didn’t understand the point of it then either. It didn’t seem to serve any function i could see in relation to the rest of his comments and arguments.)

    And if that’s what you mean, i don’t see how you’ve said anything qualitatively different from or incompatible with a two-story view. i don’t take you to be saying that atoms *don’t* behave the way the scientist says they do in the particle accelerator. (Am i wrong?) i hear you saying there are additional truths–theological truths–to be posited about the atoms’ behavior. –that the behavior presupposes God’s providentially sustaining the world, that understanding atoms is only important inasmuch as it helps us to know God, that facts like this are meaningless without Pascha, etc. Is this not just a two-story view? It doesn’t sound any different to me than the religious talk i grew up with.

    For instance, you say:
    “I do not mean to Christologically “allegorize.” You assume that there are historical events that are what is real, and the allegory is just talk about the events. And so the Scriptures are considered true only as historical record.”

    But i don’t assume that the Scriptures are only true in virtue of their correspondence to historical events. i’m not affirming that all truths are historical truths. There are mathematical truths, moral truths, scientific truths, philosophical truths, theological truths, etc. So you might say, “But this story teaches us something about Christ, and what it teaches is true.” Okay, fine. The story can be understood to make a Christological claim, and that claim is true. i have no objection to that. But in addition to that, we can still inquire whether certain historical claims made in the story are true in the sense of whether the events described actually occurred as described.

    Perhaps what you’re saying is that *no* historical claims are being made by any of the stories, but claims of a different nature are being made–moral claims or theological claims. And those claims are true. Alright. i still understand just fine (though, as i said, i have concerns about view). But, again, i don’t see how you’ve said anything incompatible with my ordinary concepts of “true” and “real.” And i don’t see how you’d be saying anything qualitatively different from the religious people you say hold to a two-story view.

    i suspect the punchline is hidden somewhere in this quote…:
    “To push and force me to say of something “that never happened or that’s just fiction” is like saying “that’s just a symbol.” Symbols, for example, are never “just.” Symbols make something present. “That’s just a symbol” would require me to subscribe to Nominalism and become a pure secularist.”

    …but i still don’t see how you mean something different from a two-story view. (And for the record, i do ethics and not metaphysics, so i only have a cartoon understanding of the difference between nominalism and realism.) “Make present”? Make the meaning present to us? So, help us to understand? Okay, again no objection. Perhaps you mean something more robustly metaphysical. Symbols “make present” in the sense of conjuring the literal presence of the thing symbolized. Okay. But again, how is this different than positing additional entities/operations in the world as other religious people do? –the only difference being the operation posited, but not the manner/method of your positing?

    i don’t understand you’re objection to “symbol” being a reduction. If there are two features–(a) the feature of being historical and (b) the feature of being a symbol, and i ask you whether X has feature (a) and (b), and you respond “Not (a), but (b),” then X has fewer features than it could’ve had. Hence, a reduction (compared to what may have been expected). i don’t see why you’re objecting to it though. Unless all you mean is that X’s having (b) is a much bigger deal than is expected. “Symbols are really important.” Of course, they are. i don’t mean to deny that at all.

    i understand your basic argument to be:

    1. If the conventionally understood terms “true” and “real” presuppose a worldview i don’t hold, then i can’t use those terms in a non-self-defeating way.
    2. The conventionally understood terms “true” and “real” *do* presuppose a worldview i don’t hold.
    3. Therefore, i can’t use those terms in a non-self-defeating way.

    That’s certainly a valid argument. But i don’t yet see any reason to think that “2.” is true.

    (i read a touch of Swinburne as an undergrad, but not since. i only recently found out he’s Orthodox.)


  85. guy Avatar

    So, weird, i’m getting comments sent to my email that don’t show up on the blog.

  86. Kimberly Avatar

    Thank you so much for your reply to my comment, Father, and the thoughtful replies to everyone else. I’ve been reading every one, and it really is helping to clear up a lot of my confusion. As a Catholic, I was taught that the story of Adam was allegorical, but he was rarely referred to beyond that. As an Orthodox Christian, Adam seems to be referenced so frequently that I felt like his importance must require him to be historical. I love your example of the significance of Jonah, and the reality that can be seen in fiction.

    When you spoke of Jonah, you also mentioned that while fictional, we should still honor him and ask his prayers. I’ve actually been reluctant to consider the name Adam for future children because of my uncertainty about his place in history, and wanting my children to have a “real” saint to intercede for them. I can only make sense of what you said about Jonah if I think that saints don’t actually respond to those who seek their intercession, and that it is the act of praying that is beneficial. Or maybe since saints are icons of God, we’re really praying to God, so their historicity is unimportant? Are either of these correct, or is there something else that I am missing?

    (I would also love for you to answer my questions on the soul, although I understand that this comments section is already way too complicated to start bringing in an irrelevant topic. But I couldn’t find an email for you, and I didn’t know where else to ask.)

  87. guy Avatar


    i’m honestly not trying to be thick, but i really didn’t follow most of what you said. Where did experience come in? And what do you mean by “Adam’s experience”?

    Regarding your quote, i think meaning is not determined merely by words but also by context and intent. Given the interpretations i’m immediately inclined to when reading the quote, it doesn’t strike me as obviously false at all.

  88. fatherstephen Avatar

    Guy Hmmm (I think I’m going to make your last name to be “Hmmm”) 🙂

    Let’s try a different image. Let’s use dimensions. If you lived and only perceived the world in two dimensions, and you encountered a square, someone who perceived three dimensions would say, “Yes, but it’s really a cube.” You wouldn’t know what they were talking about. And you’d say, “But is the square real or not?”

    In the example of the symbol, the symbol doesn’t point to something that isn’t there, but participates and makes present that which is. So, we could say that in a world of two dimensions, a square could be a symbol of a cube (if the cube were present). If the cube is not present, then the square is not a symbol of a cube, just merely a square.

    In the same manner, I am saying that not “religious” language, but the reality of the Kingdom of God is like another dimension, of which what we see is a symbol. It doesn’t reduce the reality of what we see to say this, but it says that what we see is a “reduction” of the Reality.

    Christ in the synagogue at Nazareth says, “Today the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Cube is seen as a square by everyone around Him, and they wonder why He’s claiming to be a Cube. But He explains, “The lame walk, the blind receive their sight, etc.” This is the function, if you will, the property of the Kingdom of God. The Cube is truly there and we can tell it because of what it is doing. Everywhere Jesus walks, the Kingdom of God is inherently being manifest. It cannot be otherwise, for He is the Kingdom of God (God reigning).

    Jesus in Nazareth, however, spoke in two-dimensional language. He could have said, “I am the Only-Begotten Son of the Eternal Father, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, God from God, Light from Light, etc.” But He is kind and only says, “Today the Scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing.”

    Those who followed Him found that He was telling them the truth even though they didn’t understand it as yet. “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your Name!” And Peter’s shadow healed the lame, etc. Following Christ they were birthed into the fullness of three dimensions that changed the two-dimensions around them.

    In this way Fr. A. Schmemann says that the sacraments do not make things to be what they are not, but reveals things to be what they truly are!

    This is not a “two-storey” explanation, because the cube and the square participate in one another. The square is not a reference to a cube that is somewhere else (“like a cube”). But the cube is present, even if what I perceive is a square.

    Shaeffer uses the imagery but means something completely different, by the way. He was thoroughly 2-storey like all good Reform folks.

    To announce the coming of the Kingdom of God (which is the content of the gospel), is to do what Christ did.


  89. fatherstephen Avatar

    When it comes to prayers, I pray and leave the mechanism to God. Jonah intercedes for us as does Adam. I think it would be possible to encounter the person of Jonah (or Adam), but I put that in the hands of God to explain to me later what I don’t understand now.

  90. fatherstephen Avatar

    guy, on the email stuff. I deleted a comment from someone that posted. It might have therefore gone out to subscribers but not appeared on the site. It’s also possible that what is in your email is a symbol for something else.

  91. Brian McDonald Avatar
    Brian McDonald

    Sorry for taking up so much of the comment space here, but I’d oversimplified things a bit in my previous post because I didn’t want the main outlines to be obscured and lost in a thicket of professorial qualifications and quibbles; however my conscience is pricking me to do another post in which I recognize some of those quibbles

    First in my post, I presupposed the most simple-minded and fundamentalist forms of creationism. That’s because it’s probably the most widespread. However, there are much more sophisticated “old earth” variants of creationism that are fully prepared to admit the great age of the earth as well as some form of derivation of later species from earlier (while denying the Darwinian mechanism for it.) I think the Bill Nye types like to concentrate on the most fundamentalist kind because they provide the best handle for attacking Christianity, but Christians at least should recognize there are more thoughtful forms of creationism and make this fact as public as possible to the world at large so that potential believers won’t get the wrong impression that all Christian creationists are literalists.

    Secondly, I think it’s important to recognize there is a pathos driving many who hold the young earth position that ought to be respected and perhaps shared by everyone. Only the young earth creationist position seems to have a solution, however simplistic, to the painful question, “why is there suffering and death”? Their answer is that a perfect and harmonious natural world was upset by the fall of man. For those of us who don’t believe this, isn’t it rather disturbing that innocent and prefallen nature was “red in tooth and claw” though God called it good? It appears that prominent fathers and seem to accept that with equanimity. Anyone who has read Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation,” can pretty much agree with John Zizioulas when he asserts the following:
    Athanasios the Great wrote in his work “On Incarnation” that Creation has “nil” and “death” within its nature. Therefore, “death”, in the sense of “elimination of Creation” is something that is embedded in Creation. When we say “creation” we definitely imply something mortal, as nothing immortal can be created.

    Something very much like that emerges from reading St. Basil’s first homily on The Hexameron. Nevertheless something in the gut finds the pain and death of innocent creatures disturbing. It certainly bothered C.S. Lewis, who devoted a whole chapter to it in The Problem of Pain, to which Father alludes in his original post. I would love to find something that might throw more light on this. Father?

    Speaking of Lewis, I think it’s important to note that Father Stephen’s citation may unintentionally give the impression that Lewis’s suggestions about paradisiacal man was a view he positively endorsed. But in fact Lewis introduces the section Fr. Stephen quotes by calling his speculation “a ‘myth’ in the Socratic sense, a not unlikely tale.” As I recall, all he’s trying to do is engage the reader in a thought experiment. I think he’s saying, “This may not be the right answer, but it demonstrates that there might be a rationally satisfying answer to those for whom this is a concern.” But Lewis did not hang his hat on any particular understanding of the relation between evolution and biblical truth and perhaps he and Fr. Stephen are more in agreement than would seem.

    By the way, J.I. Packer once wrote in reference to the Genesis narrative that “Matters of fact do not always need to be presented in matter-of-fact language.” I do think that the Fall must be regarded as fact and “historical” however symbolic and “mythological” the dark mirror through which we view that fact. But as I think you’re saying, father, we would never have discovered our falleness except (paradoxically and by contrast) for the revelation of true human life that came through the Incarnation, life, and resurrection of the Son of God. That was the event that revealed to use the meaning of the Genesis stories, however we are to take them.

  92. Dino Avatar

    sorry for being unclear. I’ll briefly try and address your comment in hope of clarifying. You said you think meaning is not determined “merely by words” but also by context and intent. But if, as we are doing here, we want to understand what St Pau conveyed “merely by words” on ‘death as consequence’, or the Father’s ‘mere words’ on Adam’s earlier immortality according to Grace, we need context ourselves. “Adam’s experience” of immortality according to Grace, prior to the fall has to become our own experience of immortality according to Grace. We won’t understand without this context. The disciples experience of immortality according to Grace far surpassed Adam’s and it is what infomred their understanding of Adam – is it not?
    This is why first-hand expeirence is always so crucial in Orthodoxy, it makes the whole talk of Pascha make sense. It’s the difference between giving a thirsty man a drawing of water and a drink of water.

  93. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thanks. Not quibbles – good points. First, every Christian must be a Creationist. God created everything that exists and sustains it in its existence (the latter is not unimportant). And, I agree that I’m probably not at all far removed from Lewis – I expect that a conversation might have yielded so much commonality. I did my senior thesis in seminary on Owen Barfield’s Doctrine of God (one of the hardest papers I ever wrote. To this day I barely understand it when I read it, and I wrote it!) Barfield had some very, very sophisticated takes on the nature of myth, to which Lewis and Tolkien both subscribed. Tolkien once said, “Since God is mythopoetic, we must become mythopathic.” Tolkien saw his writing as creating “myth.” And criticized Lewis for the mere allegory in the Narnia books, since he thought Lewis could and should do better.

    I heartily recommend some of the material on all of this to those interested in the topic. Lewis and Tolkien were Realists (not Nominalists). It made Tolkien a devout Roman Catholic and Lewis a “High Anglican” (not an Anglo-Catholic) despite his childhood prejudices that would have been quite Low Church.

  94. Dino Avatar

    Brian McDonald,
    what you say here:

    Only the young earth creationist position seems to have a solution, however simplistic, to the painful question, “why is there suffering and death”? Their answer is that a perfect and harmonious natural world was upset by the fall of man. For those of us who don’t believe this, isn’t it rather disturbing that innocent and prefallen nature was “red in tooth and claw” though God called it good?

    is not so.
    The Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world. The creation of free beings contains within it the risk that the son will become a prodigal; the first Angel, Satan; the Forefather unto life a forefather unto death, it contains in other words the Cross from the very start.

    What you reference later:

    Anyone who has read Athanasius’s “On the Incarnation,” can pretty much agree with John Zizioulas when he asserts the following:
    Athanasios the Great wrote in his work “On Incarnation” that Creation has “nil” and “death” within its nature. Therefore, “death”, in the sense of “elimination of Creation” is something that is embedded in Creation. When we say “creation” we definitely imply something mortal, as nothing immortal can be created.

    shows this very thing.

    The “prominent fathers that seem to accept a perfect and harmonious natural world that was upset by the fall of man with equanimity.” are speaking through their experience of Grace of Adam’s expereience of Grace, this is what I was tryig to convey to Guy too…
    When St Gerasimos of Jordan or the Prophet Daniel lived in perfect harmony with the lions, they also saw a perfect and harmonious natural world was upset by the fall of man, no?

  95. fatherstephen Avatar

    I had one further thought. The Fall is certainly historical (I actually said that in the article) inasmuch as we historical creatures are clearly fallen. Some of the fathers, some of the time, have us “falling” into history. It certainly would be the case that Eden (without death) is not at all like the historical world we know. There are those who therefore want to posit a huge discontinuity in the universe. It is arguable but unprovable one way or another. I tend to prefer continuity and “solve” the theological problem some other way.

    As to the existential matters of the young creationists – I don’t think they take death and suffering any more seriously than I do. Indeed, I frequently think they do not recognize the absolutely imminent danger posed by death at every step – particularly the ongoing death of no communion with God.

  96. Dean Avatar

    I certainly didn’t recognize that imminent spiritual danger. Not when I had swimming in my head (heart?) ditties such as…”Clean before my Lord I stand and in me not one blemish does he see.” Makes me shudder now as an Orthodox that I once believed that!

  97. Dino Avatar

    Another way to think of ‘Adam’s experience’ as the very thing that the Fathers are concerned with is to ruminate on Saint Silouan’s “Adam’s Lament”. We clearly see that for the one who has had experience of God in great Grace and has then fallen back down to the default position of createdness (as did Adam & Silouan) it all makes a different kind of sense…

  98. leonard nugent Avatar
    leonard nugent

    Romans 5 seems to give credence to the idea that Adam was an historical person. In fact the redemption seems to hinge on the actions of 2 men, both historical.

    15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

  99. Dino Avatar

    It does indeed. At the same time, a Saint who has the experience Elder Sophrony calls the hypostatic prayer of Gethsemane – repentance for all – will say that he himself is the cause of the fall of everyone’s sin and death, the Adam, the only sinner. St Paul does not make the exchange of Adam unto himself in that particular passage though.

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