How Good Is Your Will? Part Two of The Ontological Model


Suppose I give you a bicycle for the convenience of travel. Suppose, however, that the bicycle is broken: flat tires, missing spokes, a chain that slips frequently. Nevertheless, you figure out a way to make it go. The ride is bumpy and you often have to stop and fix the chain. You fear that one day the wheels will just come apart as the spokes yield to the weight. Nevertheless, in fits and starts, you bumble along the road. This, I suggest, is an apt model for the human will.

The will is not absent, but it’s broken. It’s more broken in some people than others.

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God– through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom 7:15-25)

St. Paul’s famous lament, “The good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice…” is a heartbreaking echo of every human heart. It is particularly frustrating in a culture that elevates the power of the will above all things in its strange perversion of liberty. We have a will, and it plays a role in our life. However, it is not the primary defining aspect of our humanity. Man as a moral agent is frequently little more than a fiction.

I have been writing about problems in the legal/forensic model of salvation. Juridical images have a place (primarily within preaching). They can easily become moralistic, describing the human condition as being largely about correct choices and the consequences for the bad ones. Indeed, in the legal/forensic model, moral agency is pretty much the only aspect of humanity that matters. Morality is about decisions. There are rules, warnings and consequences. We are then free to choose and suffer accordingly.

I will observe, parenthetically, that this same judicial model has come to govern almost every aspect of modern culture, particularly in liberal democracies of the capitalist world. For in those societies, there are winners and losers. It is quite comforting for those who have succeeded to assume that the failure of others is the result of their wrong choices. Indeed, the consequences of those choices, it is often thought, serve as a good lesson for all. America defines itself as a nation of moral agents, often presuming that it is the most moral of all nations.

However, the landscape of the nation points to one of the flaws of the juridical approach. There is, and always has been, an intractable portion of the population who fail to succeed. If you do historical studies you will find that the problem has existed in America since its earliest colonial days and has never disappeared.1 Successive political regimes have described the phenomenon in a variety of ways, but none have ever managed to make it disappear. Christ’s observation, “The poor you have with you always,” remains unchallenged. This intractable poverty is more than economic: it represents a failure of moral agency. Anyone who works with the poorest segment of society has to admit that there are some people who can never seem to manage their lives in a manner that avoids trouble and failure. Their own frustration is heart-breaking.

Moral agency generally divides people into winners and losers with the winners feeling somehow justified in their choices and decisions. But what if the will is like a broken bicycle? What if, in the lottery of life, the winners simply inherited a less-broken bicycle and only travel on well-paved, well-maintained roads? What if circumstances fail to reveal the brokenness of some while magnifying that of others? What if none of us is completely responsible for anything?

The ontological approach (I apologize again for the term) does not see human beings primarily as moral agents. First, we are beings. We have a will, but it is broken. The doctrine of the Church, as articulated in the 5th Council and its surrounding theology, describes our human nature as having a will (the natural will), but also notes that the natural will is impaired in its application through the mode of willing known as the gnomic will. The intricacies of this understanding do not have to be completely understood. If you want to try, then read St. Maximus the Confessor. He is the great Doctor of that Council.

The subtleties of this understanding go a long way towards describing the true frustration of the human predicament. St. Paul articulated it with his groaning, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The brokenness of the will is a problem of being, not a failure of moral agency.

Certain versions of Protestantism recognize the brokenness of the will, but remain committed to moral agency as the primary lens for understanding our relationship with God. For them, man is thoroughly corrupt, incapable of truly willing the good. That some seem to succeed while others fail is attributed to the sovereign will of God. Some are chosen, some are not. It has been a very compatible theology for the landscape of modern capitalist democracies. The Elect do well – “God shed His grace on thee.”

The ministry of Christ seems to have gone past the question of moral agency. Those who championed their choices (Pharisees) did not fare so well in their interactions with Christ. However, He seemed particularly drawn to those who occupied the broken layers of humanity marked by poverty, disease and bad choices. A woman taken in the act of adultery finds compassion. A woman living out-of-wedlock, having failed five times in marriage is engaged forthrightly and finds salvation. Christ seems to look past the moral brokenness and into the very heart of their existence. He answers with mercy even the failure of religious belief, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”

We are not autonomous moral agents running around shaping our lives and world by our choices. Our choices, having been exalted by modern philosophical theories, have reached an apex of absurdity. Justice Kennedy gave voice to the delusional view of modern moral agency:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life…

Human beings are first and foremost human beings. Our very existence is a gift from God. Existence itself is good and is intended to become even better moving towards true eternal being in union with God. We are human beings who have a will (broken and dysfunctional). But we ourselves are not a will. Modernity tends to think of human beings as a will that has a body. Of course, many human beings (infants for one) either have an impaired will or are not able to manifest the will as choice and decision. These odd creatures are a bother to moralists. They are flies in the ointment that are generally relegated to some less-than-fully-human status. It is not surprising that in the secular version of the juridical world, such people are easily put to death as non-persons.

 Our existence is always contingent – it is a gift from God and only continues because it participates in His existence. Sin moves us away from that participation and thus towards non-existence. The primary category of sin is death, or non-being. This death manifests itself in us in many ways, including those that are described as “moral.” It is of note that the Tradition describes us as being in “bondage to sin and death.” This is the primary image of Pascha (Passover), and thus of our salvation. God sends Moses into Egypt to lead His people out of bondage. He does not go there primarily to improve their role as moral agents. Christ enters our world in order to lead us out of bondage to sin and death. The healing of our will is, over time, part of the fulfillment of that Exodus.

How good is your will? It’s of use from time to time, but also seems to be pretty dysfunctional at other times. It is not the core of your being. God Himself is the core of our existence. The traditional focus of the Christian life is growth in union with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Christianity is not a moral improvement society. There are many to be saved who will seem like the worst moral failures among us. In His compassion, Jesus loved them greatly. They have suffered much, often at their own hands.

The excellence of moral agents, like the wealth of the successful American, is not a matter for boasting. Everything is a gift. We have earned nothing. The gifts of God are given to us for the purpose of giving Him thanks and to share with those who have less. The excellence of a moral agent is measured in deeds of compassion and self-offering, not in the fastidious adherence to a code of conduct that is often little more than middle-class conformity.

God give us grace!



Footnotes for this article

  1. An excellent review of this history can be found in Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash.

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.



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149 responses to “How Good Is Your Will? Part Two of The Ontological Model”

  1. Onesimus Avatar

    One aspect of Scripture that screams ontology to me (esp. when taken in the whole scope of Scripture in this vein) is 1 Cor 13:1-13.

    As a Protestant I was adamant about “faith alone.” Now I say by Love alone. The issue is that Love is not understood in modernity as it was revealed in Christ and taught by the Apostolic faith.

    1 Cor 13:8-13 are clear about what is at the core of our lives in Christ – when all other things are stripped away.

    …as for prophecies, the will come to an end; as for tongues, the will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when what is complete comes, then waht is incomplete will be done away with…For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part, but then, I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. But now, faith, hope and love remain.

    …but the greatest of these is love.”

    I will continue to post NT Scriptures along this theme.

  2. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley


    You can be ‘up front’ with me.

    However, if I said the Bible taught so-and-so, I’d make sure I knew where it taught that so-and-so.

    To me this is not an unreasonable or difficult request.

    In fact, I’m surprised that the request appears so difficult.

    These last two threads are replete with the Scriptures teach this and that and this and this.

    I understand the model. All I want to know is where it teaches all this.

    When I studied and taught hermeneutics, which is a broad study–like ontology, there were always Biblical examples.

    Blessings and thanks.

  3. Onesimus Avatar


    It’s not difficult…

    I’ve begun listing some NT Scriptures but they are in moderation.

    One simply has to know what to look for and must understand what LOVE actually is.

  4. Onesimus Avatar

    Regarding our modern notions of Love – too often this is expressed as simply “good disposition” towards another or acceptance of them “as is.”

    But Love is defined by death to self for uniting to the other. Love Himself defined what kind of Love we must participate in by His incarnation and self-sacrifice. He then commanded the same from us.

    A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another.

    This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.…

    anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.…

    From Him, the whole body, betting fitted and knit together, as every joint supplies and according to the participation of each part, grown and builds itself in Love.

    Be imitators of God….Walk in Love, even as Christ also love you and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God, a sweet-smelling frangrance.

    Therefore, if there is any exhortation in Christ, any consolation of love, any communion of the Spirit, any tender mercies and compassion, make my joy complete by being like minded, having the same Love, being of one accord and of one mind. (Phil 2 1:11)

    ….more to come.

  5. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley



    I really, really look forward to your sharing.

    Initially, it seems folks were more interested in explaining/defending ontology.

    Sorry to jump the gum. I actually thought you were making an excuse, honestly.

  6. Onesimus Avatar

    …i struggle so that their hearts may be comforted and for them to be united in Love, obtaining the treasure that is the full assurance and understanding, so that they may know the mystery of God the Father and of Christ. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

    Above all, walk in Love, which is the bond of perfection.

    But concerning brotherly Love, you have no need that anyone should write to you since you have learned from God how to love one another…

    …it was fitting for God, in bringing many children to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one…

    Since the children have share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared the same, so that through death he might bring to nothing the one who had the power of death, the devil and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to life-long slavery…

    Pursue peace with everyone, and also sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.

    Therefore, as Christ suffered for us in the flesh, equip yourselves with the same mind…Above all things, be commited to mutual Love ecause Love covers a multitude of sins.

    His divine power has granted us all that we need to live in Godliness, through the knowldge of Him who called us by his own glory and virtue. Through these things, he has granted to us his precious and temendous promises, so that having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust, you may become partakers of the Divine nature.

    This is how we hav come to recognize that we know Him: if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I know him,” and yet does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in such a person. But if someone keeps God’s word, God’s love has most certainly been perfected in him. This is how we know we are in Him: whoever claims to abide in Him should also live just as He lived. Brethren I am not writing a new commandment to you This is an old commandment which you have since the beginning. (See John 1 and 1 John 1 for He who was in the beginning)….Anyone who loves his brother or sister remains in the light…

    This is the message which you heard from the beginning: that we should love one another! We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren. Whoever hates his brother or sister remains in death.

    This is how we know what love is: that he laid downHis life for us. We too should lay down our lives for the brethren. This is the commandment: that wee should believe in the Name of His Son Jeus Christ, nd that we should love one another, even as He commanded. All who obey his commandments remain in Him, and He remains in them. By this, we know that he rmains in us, by the Spirit (of Love) that He has given us.

    Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows. God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is Love….No one has seen God at any time, but if we love one another, God remains in us, and his Love has reached completion in us….We know and we believed in the Love which God has for us: God is Love, and whoever remains in Love remains in God, and God remains in HIm. In this, Love has been made perfect among us, so that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because in this world, we are just as He is. Ther is no fear in Love, but perfect Love casts out feawr, because fear is connected with punishment. But the one who fears is not yet perfect in Love.

  7. Onesimus Avatar


    No problem. I have three posts in moderation.

    It will be difficult to understand and see what it is I’m saying at first by citing the Scriptures I’m citing.

    As Protestants our understanding of Love is as an attribute or “kindly” disposition or feeling of God. Orthodox understand Love as the very being of God in which we share and which our image and being is predicated on.

    The ontology of God – and therefore the ontology of humanity is perfect selfless Love. We seek to be conformed to that image.

  8. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, Onesimus.

  9. Michelle Avatar

    Off the top of my head:

    Matthew 22:36-40King James Version (KJV)

    “36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

    37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

    38 This is the first and great commandment.

    39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

    The first commandment is shorthand for marriage to God, as was described by me and Fr. Stephen.

    The second is like the first.

    To love God is to possess God’s Life as your own through union. To love your neighbor is to understand them as your Life in union. So, the ontological stuff that your life is made of is totally Other. It is God, and God as He is found in your neighbor.

  10. Onesimus Avatar

    While we wait… I might suggest reading 1 John, with an emphasis on chapters 4 and 5.

    The theme of Love and God and Christ as Love and our participation in HismLove by being like Him.

    Though extra-biblical, I found the letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch (disciple of Saint John) on his way to martyrdom to elucidate the doctrines of Love contained throughout the NT.

  11. Michelle Avatar

    Another one that refers to the stuff people are made of as being ontologically one with Christ is Matthew 25:

    “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

    37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

    41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

    44 “Then they also will answer Him,[b] saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ ”

    So, the next time you see a stranger on the street remember to look for Christ’s face, because He is literally there, being made one with them.

  12. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley


    Michelle and Onesimus.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Probably as good a place as any to start is the gospel of John. The prologue is very much in the language of ontology. In the beginning Was the Word…the Word was with God…the Word was Him was life…the life was the light of men…etc. The light shines…etc. The light enlightens everyone…

    The conversation in the 4th chapter with the Woman at the Well is quite ontological. Water welling up within you, etc.

    The 6th chapter, the discourse on His Body and Blood is utterly ontological.

    The 17th chapter… the high priestly prayer is thoroughly ontological.

    Then there’s lots in Paul 6th chapter Romans. Baptized into His death…etc. Galatians…crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, etc.

    Indeed all of the language of “in Christ” or “in Him” is ontological in character. It’s certainly not forensic in the least.

    I could go on and on throughout the whole NT…it’s everywhere. The key is learning how to see it. It comes. I do services on Wednesday evening and teach a class and was hearing confessions this afternoon. Sorry to have been delayed in get back and clearing the moderated posts. Busy day and now it’s bedtime…

  14. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks to all.

    Onesimus, if it is easy, can you provide book, chapter, and verse for the passages you shared.


  15. Michelle Avatar

    Very good comments, Onesimus. I hate how these “traffic jams” causes comments to go into moderation, but it was worth the wait! Thanks!

  16. Alex Volkov Avatar
    Alex Volkov

    Terry, I am not sure if this helps but I believe these verses say (or at least give a hint) about the process of our salvation.

    Ephesians 1:10 (NIV): to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

    1 Corinthians 15:20-23: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

    1 Corinthians 45-49: So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

    Romans 8:19-21: For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

    2 Peter 1:4: Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

  17. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Alex, thanks.

    I ,too, have a post or two in moderation.

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry, since marriage is an icon of ontological salvation I will share with you the Scriptures that led me to a better understanding of marriage. A study I might add that I have engaged in for the last 40 years beginning with what it means to be a Christian man.

    The first four chapters of Genesis
    The Book of Job
    Matthew 17, the Transfiguration
    Luke 1, especially The Theotokos visiting Elizabeth. “My soul doth magnify the Lord” is deeply ontoligical
    The Gospel of John
    Almost all of the Pauline Epistles esp.: Romans, Ephesians, 1 Cor, 2 Cor, Hebrews
    Peter’s Epistles.
    The description of Pentecost in Acts-the change in Peter, not a moral or juridical change.

    The contemplation of Mary, especially before the icon of the Nativity is also quite helpful if you can do it quietly. A sort of Scripture. I would go so far as to say that PSA is both a cause and effect of the dismissal of Mary.

    Much depends on how one reads. Now that you seem to have at least suspended your disbelief it will become easier I think. There is a certain sense in which the entire corpus of Scripture speaks of the ontology of salvation. It is difficult to answer not because of the paucity but because of the abundance.

    May God keep you and make His face shine upon you.

  19. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael B,

    Thanks for the comments and passages.

    There must be a doubt in your mind that I can think like you or that I am totally being up front.

    Why is that?


  20. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael B,

    There is a big difference between rejecting one thing and accepting and understanding something else. As you said.

    I should have said I’m anti penal substitution and pro ontological as far as I understand it.

    Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

  21. Onesimus Avatar


    John 13:34
    John 15:!2
    Matt 16:24
    Eph 4:16
    Eph 5:2 ff
    Phil 2:1 ff

    Col 2:2
    Col 3:14
    1 Thes 4:19
    Heb 2:10
    Heb 2:14
    Heb 12:14
    1 Peter 4:8
    2 Peter 1:3
    1 John 2:4ff (Entire book of 1 John)
    1 John 3:14ff
    1 John 4:7 ff

  22. Onesimus Avatar

    I’d like to refer you to following series of articles…

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry, no doubt that you are being up front. I am just cautious. I have not seen to many quick turn arounds that last. Besides “suspension of disbelief” is a live theater term. It means the audience has stopped being a spectator and entered into the experience of the play along with the actors.

    Orthodoxy is after all an experience that is one of the fundamentals of being.

    The legal approach is always that of a spectator.

  24. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley


    Thank you.

  25. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael B

    You do not know totally what I am thinking.

    You do not know my thinking process the last two years.

    And you do not know how close I already was to changing.

    You just doubt based on experience and statistics and are pinning that doubt on me. Not all walk in your personals slots.

    I probably deserve your patience and trust until I prove otherwise.


  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry, forgive me.

  27. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael B,


    I love you.

  28. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Please explain how physical things are more or less real than ontological concepts.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In short, there is a belief that “concepts” are just ideas, things in our heads and, therefore, only have reality because we think about them. That is the philosophy of Nominalism, which doesn’t begin until around 1100-1200 A.D. Contrasted with that is Realism, which holds that some things that we moderns would describe as concepts or ideas, are, in fact real and true and have an existence apart from our thinking about them. The soul would be a good example. Nominalism (the default version of thought in the modern world) has a very difficult time believing there really is such a thing as the soul.

    But God, first off, is not physical (except as Incarnate), but is more real than any created thing. Indeed, He is what the word “Real” means. Physical things have a lesser reality (utterly dependent upon God sustaining them in existence). But they come, they go, they fade away. Whatever they are, they’re less than ultimate and have only a contingent reality.

    St. Paul says, “The unseen things are eternal.” 2Cor. 4:18

    The angels are unseen (unless they show themselves). Many things that we do not name are unseen and have an “eternal” existence. There is, also, an aspect of all created things that is unseen, but which has more to do with their reality than their physical aspect. The Fathers describe this as their “logos” (not the Logos). But all created things were made through Christ. Everything that exists has a “logos” of its existence – its reason for existing, its purpose in existing, its mode of existing. The logos seems to be more fully the thing that what we encounter.

    St. Maximus the Confessor is among those who writes about the logoi (the plural). Some of the great saints seem to have had an understanding of the logoi of nature, and have spoken about it (not much). When Christ says that the rocks themselves would start to sing if the children were forced to be silent – He’s not speaking metaphorically. Creation has a “voice” that is the very heart cry of the logoi of creation. St. Paul is referencing this in Romans 8 when he speaks of the groaning of creation.

    That’s a start, and it’s a lot.

  30. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Thanks, father.

    This may seem funny, but I’m serious.

    I’m sitting in my recliner. Will I ‘know’ my chair in the next world, through its logos?


  31. Onesimus Avatar


    Take for example the denarius. Whose image is on it?

    Render unto Ceasar what is ceasars and to God what is God’s.

    Only matter God creates has a logoi or logos. What is ceasars is the way he has stamped and formed the pre-existing matter. It’s rearranged purpose is never absolute but relative. A denarius will not buy you a loaf of bread today. Inflation will change its purpose and value But the created material from which it was made always has a logos; a purpose for which it has meaning and upon which its being is predicated.

    We may combine, stack and rearrange the creation, but we do not give it a logos. It has a purpose that we give it in toto. But A chair has no Logos of its own. The wood in it does. The elements in the steel have a logos.

    The wood – as with all other creation is has its logos defined in relationship to the Logos from which it derives being.

    So, in your question, one would “know” the wood through participation in the Logos
    Himself, who is the one who defines the logoi/logos of all things. You know a things logos by relative relationship with the Logos Himself because;

    ‘For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” ( Col 1-14-17)

    There is an interesting saying in a pseudo graphic book which has Jesus saying; “split and rock and there I am. Divide a piece of wood and there you will find me.

    All things culminate in Christ and this is how they become “known.”

  32. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley


    The denarius is a great example, and certainly answers my question.

    Thanks for the example.

  33. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry, the understanding of the logoi of created things is really quite intuitive. It is innate to who we are as human beings. It is why Adam was able to name all of the animals and in many cultures the naming of a newborn child is a sacred duty. Traditional cultures of all types make a practice of passing on the wisdom.

    It is why, in reference to my post some days ago on the jade master, he was able to recognize jade, not by analyzing it’s observed properties but because he knew jade.

    It is only in our nominalized thinking that it becomes strange, distant and esoteric. Unfortunately for the same reason it is easily twisted into esoteric and occult lies.

    If you pick up a stone, any natural stone, hold it in your hand awhile and listen you can begin to hear a bit of what that stone is.

    What use we make of that needs to be guided by prayer but is part of what we mean when we say He is “everywhere present, filling all things.”.

    Our God given ability to perceive such things allows us to fulfill the command in Genesis to “dress and keep the earth”.

    Unfortunately our detour into the dark and seductive alleys of “I think, therefore I am,” has also lead to a non-sacramental desecration of much that we are commanded to bring to fullness and order by offering them up to God in thanksgiving, not simply as generic things but as what they are created to be.

    It was this Orthodox understanding of the proper order that, among other things, so attracted the natives of Alaska to the Russian Orthodox missionaries such as St. Innocent and St. Herman.

    It is, I believe, a part of what Fr. Stephen means when he says God is particular, not general. He is so particular that He is a person. Each created thing is also particular. We, created in His image and likeness, share in His personhood which can only come to fullness in our communion with Him and with each other.

  34. Onesimus Avatar

    I’m glad.

    To relate this to the big picture of ontology I offer the following;

    It is only offered in approximate terms…

    The nature (logos) of humanity does not change. Why? Because the nature of man is completed in the “prototokos” – Christ Himself…the Logos (Love) who defines being. He is the second (actually the First, Adam) We are either becoming “like Christ” and the nature meant for humanity (and fulfilled in Christ)…or we are “falling short” (amartia) or falling away from that nature. We are either participating in our nature in Christ or not.

    A will bound to its created nature will be united with God. He created our nature good and for communion with Him and likeness to His image. A “gnomic will” corrupts (literally falls apart) the body and soul and the distance between the nature which defines our being (Christ) and our self-willed actions becomes the gap within which death and sin reign. They become the wedge between us and God. The nature remains, but our “mode” of being changes and we depart from our created nature.

    Our existence is contingent on our “likeness” to the “image.” That image rests in the God-man, Jesus Christ.

    This explains why the Fathers consistently say that sin and the passions are “against nature.”

    Essentially, our current state of sin and death is “against nature.” Our will is no longer bound to our nature…we are trying to define our own nature….which is an impossibility. Our nature is dependent upon God and the nature He created us to exist in for Life.

    PUt in an analogous manner…our current nature requires us to breath and eat and drink water. That nature does not change even when we cease to do those things. We remain dependent and contigent upon sustinence. If we stop breathing, eating or drinking water….we will die. Not because our nature changed, but because we did not heed our natural needs for sustinence. Since God Himself is our life and the source of our being, and communion with Him is our sustaining “bread” – “water of life,” etc. – our inclination towards sin is not a new nature…or a change of nature…per se…but a departure from our created nature which requires communion with God.

    This is ontology. The gap between our falleness and our nature is the chasm which God bridges. Christ bridges the gap between the image and our fallen “mode” – and the Holy Spirit sanctifies us and brings us back into congruence with the image. Our likeness is sanctified to resemble the image.

    Clear as mud? This is the thing about Orthodoxy….I can talk about and understand this stuff all day long and it is essentially meaningless. My wife understands not one iota of this stuff with her mind, but she lives it far better than I. She participates with the Holy Spirit in a way I cannot seem to muster in my own life.

    Which one of us “knows” God?

  35. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael B,


    I know how I use the word ‘intuitive’.

    Please, explain further how you use the word and why it is ‘ontologically important’.


  36. Onesimus Avatar

    Terry, I have a post in moderation which may address that. It’ll be interesting to compare notes with Michael B’s response.

  37. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley


    I feel the same about my wife.


  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Terry good question. I don’t a definition other than the norm which is direct perception rather than cognition by reasoning.

    There are levels. One level is the sudden coming together several trains of thought that have been going on in the background. Another level is a simple recognition of emotional synchronicity. There are probably others.

    But the intuition I am referring to here is a knowing that comes almost unbidden from deep within about the nature of things. Connections are known. Thus it is wholly ontological.

    There are certain saints who through prayer, repentance and grace have a heightened ability in this way. St. Silouan, St Paisios, St Seraphim of Sarov for instance but there are many.

    It takes great work and asceticism to manifest it the way the saints do but it is there for all of us.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    …and I about my wife as well. We are blessed men.

  40. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    Michael B,


  41. Sunny Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I wonder whether there may be something missing in your critique of what our culture calls “success” and “failure,” “winning” and “losing.”

    If I understand correctly, you say that successful people have inherited a less broken will. Through no fault or choice of their own, they generally have been in the right places at the right times, had the right parents, etc, and generally experienced favorable circumstances in life. Likewise, unsuccessful people, through no fault or choice of their own, have had a lot of “wrong places, wrong times, wrong people” sent their way in life.

    “What if… the winners simply inherited a less-broken bicycle and only travel on well-paved, well-maintained roads? What if circumstances fail to reveal the brokenness of some while magnifying that of others? What if none of us is completely responsible for anything?”

    I do not disagree with this per se. However, one thing I don’t see in your equation is habits. I think the thing that could potentially be a problem for your framework here is that habits bypass the will altogether.

    There are some people who are successful simply by piggy-backing on the favorable circumstances life has given them. However, I think there is another type of success that comes from having good habits. I think historically habits have been a critical part of the education we receive in our families as we grow up, habits which have been forged through generations of practice and refinement. The more traditional the habit, the more ergonomic to human flourishing. Inheriting good habits are a birthright, even though the habits we all receive are not as they should be, in other words, not all of us are educated in how to live a life of what our culture would call success. Tragically, this aspect of what it means to be human is virtually gone in an age of consumerism. Education means something completely different today.

    Do you see what I am saying? I think it’s good to have your charitable view towards “the poor” who are blessed according to Christ. But I think part of ministering to the poor could be offering them a way to change the habits that potentially contribute to their poverty, inherited unwillfully or not. Yes the poor will always be with us…but that doesn’t mean poverty is a good thing or that those who wish to learn another way of living besides survival mode should be discouraged from doing so.

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am utterly in favor of actions done to help the poor. The TVA projects here in the Tennessee Valley were of tremendous value in the life of Appalachia. Many, many things can be done. But, there will still be those who slip through every web of support, every effort to change their lot in life.

    I purposely minimize the advantage of the will, and its habits, however, when it comes to salvation. As often as not, people mistake merely being civilized as being good. We fail to measure by the Kingdom of God. The results are frequently shocking from that vantage point…first, last, last, first, etc.

    I did not mean to write a commentary on how to fix culture. My eye is towards our life in Christ.

  43. Terry Finley Avatar
    Terry Finley

    If all is ontologically defined or pointed, how can a literal man live in a literal world and have a literal job and a literal wife, and have no clue what ontology is?


  44. Sunny Avatar

    That is a helpful distinction. However, elsewhere you say that 90% of living the Christian life (which is the same as saying orienting our being towards the Kingdom) is just showing up…. i.e. habit. Cannot our habits effect our salvation as much as they effect our earthly situation? I am asking honestly with no knowledge of the answer because my spiritual habits are no good. It seems like there are distinctions to be made here that I am not aware of.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Since ontology simply refers to being an existence (and thinking about things in those terms), even a literal man in a literal world is an ontological man in an ontological world. That which is “literal” is also ontological, it’s just that there’s so much more to our existence than meets the literal eye.

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The “habits of grace” are not the same thing as the habits that tend to mark our existence. More to be said. Later.

  47. George Avatar

    I have another analogy for the gnomic will I’d like to share.

    About 20 years ago I broke my left wrist quite severely. They were able to patch it together with pins, plates and wires and after a few months of physical therapy I regained almost the entire range of motion but to this day I refer to it as my gnomic wrist. It’s weaker than it should be and sometimes it just doesn’t operate the way it should. I suspect the orthopedic surgeons inadvertently crossed a couple motor neurons when they were putting the pieces back together. Most of the time it works well enough for most tasks but there are certain situations where it’s bound to fail. For example, when taking something out of the refrigerator, the most natural thing to do is open the door with my right hand and take out what I need with the left. It doesn’t take much, a certain weight or the way an object needs to be grasped and it’ll end up on the floor.

    I still have visions of a beautiful fruit salad my wife had made, placed on the top shelf of the fridge in her favorite bowl, ending up shattered on the floor. When she came to see what had happened I was down on the floor trying to figure out if anything could be salvaged. I still remember the look of sadness on her face. The entire experience can be like pathos, the shock and sadness the soul experiences when the will fails and we fall into sin.

    Over the years I’ve had to change some habits to compensate. Mainly I have to have patience and more attention when carrying out certain tasks. It also requires remembering to let my right hand help, especially with bearing weight. Using two hands is often best.

    This seems to illustrate a couple of your ideas. One is that I was lucky enough to have insurance at the time and the help of a talented surgeon and compassionate physical therapist. Without their help my arm would be obviously deformed and dysfunctional. As it is, most people don’t know my wrist was broken and still doesn’t work quite right. Another point is my wrist isn’t getting any better no matter what I do. I have to compensate for it and in particular I have to be watchful enough to let my right hand do the work when needed. Along these lines I’m wondering if you could write about synergia.

  48. H. Ian Attila Avatar
    H. Ian Attila

    Fr. Stephen,
    Question: Do you think that one could say that, legal metaphors/images can be our tutor to lead us to ontology?

    Your encounter with the man on the street reminds me of interesting passage from the beautiful book, The Life in Christ by St. Nicholas Cabasilas:

    “The Blessed Porphyrius….[t]hough he had heard thousands of words and seen many heroes and miracles he still persisted in his error and preferred falsehood to truth. But when he had been baptized, and in a mock ceremony at that, he was not only at once a Christian but joined the very choir of martyrs. Being a mime, on the stage he had ventured on this reckless deed in order to excite laughter. He mimiked the washing and baptized himself on the stage, proclaiming the Trinity. The spectators laughed at the act, but for him his act was no longer laughable nor play-acting, but a real birth and a re-creation, and the very thing that the mystery is. He went out with the soul of a martyr instead of that of a mime…” (p. 92, SVS press).

    Apparently God can even use a mock baptism to bring someone to himself.

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    God is a good God and wishes to bring all to salvation. There are many ways to begin the journey. Of that I have no doubt. My greater concern in the legal/forensic metaphors are the great damage they have done in the hands of some. That doesn’t negate their use, though the caveats surrounding are so strong, given its history of abuse, that I continue to caution about it.

    Not only do I write cautions about it – but many people have no idea whatsoever that there is any other way to think about God and Christ other than the legal language. Those who argue and whine that I’m utterly ruling it out, when they only want to say that it is “one” way of speaking, should explain why it’s the only way they ever speak. Worse, still, are the frequent consequences of great error fostered by the forensic metaphors. Those who somehow see the condemnation of sinners to an eternal hell as something that is to the glory of God are in deep delusion. They frighten me when they speak in that manner. My fear is of their hearts. I understand their thoughts – and they are indeed frightening.

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