Pluralism, Christianity, and Separate Truths

There’s an article by Stephen Prothero at BU on the topic of religious pluralism that’s been making the rounds. This really is an important topic that we need to wrestle with especially as it relates to how societies negotiate pluralism and how open-minded Episcopalians comprehend and enact evangelism. I doubt much that I write here is new. Lee and others far more read in the topic than I will, I suspect, be able to trace what I write here to certain figures in the modern debate. I have no doubt many have been filtered to me by various teachers and texts. In any case…

In the main, I agree with what Prothero writes and the perspective that he takes. One of my early mentors who encouraged my academic investigations of Buddhism and Asian religion impressed upon me that if all religions are simply a path to the same thing that there was no reason for us to talk. That is and remains a fundamental principle of mine and is an important core around which to form an understand of pluralism as it exists in modern America.

Where Prothero doesn’t go is into the specifics of how Christians understand salvation and I think the specific nature of Christian salvation is what’s key. To say more, I have to back up a few steps, though.

Glancing over the comments at the Cafe, I think George Clifford makes a useful distinction (but I, no doubt, take it in some different directions from where he does). That is, human brains seem to be wired to expect and experience something beyond empirical materialism. There is an ultimate reality. I believe that we are biologically wired to experience glimpses of it and even to participate in it, but I do not believe that we have sufficient capacities to comprehended it in the fullness of what it is. In an effort to move towards comprehension, though, human societies use social constructs called religion.

Every human society that I know of has religion which, if we get reductionistic about it, tends to join notions of transcendence and experiences of the holy—those glimpses of ultimate reality. Within this group, I see two rough categories, one of which ties transcendence and holiness into ethics or some form of personal behavior which aligns humanity with transcendence and holiness, and those that do not. (Do note that under this means of describing things, a “secular humanist” does indeed fall into the first category; I do see that as a faith system even if it is a non-theistic or athiestic one.)

Furthermore, of the major ethically-connected religions, it seems to me that many of them describe ethical paths with remarkably similar outcomes. That is, the major faiths teach messages of compassion and love and avoiding unnecessary violence and exploitation. Framed another way, they encourage virtue and seek to restraint of vice in individuals and society. Framed broadly, this works. When we start looking at specifics like, oh say, sexual behavior, there may be sharp disagreements between different systems about what constitutes vice and virtue.

Within most religions, though, the ethical outcomes are the ancillary or secondary principles that derive from the primary principles which relate to deities or ultimate human purposes. Thus in Christianity, morality flows out of who we believe the Trinity to be. In Buddhism, morality flows out of an understanding of the human condition. I’m not at all using secondary to mean unimportant; rather I’m using it to designate the fact that there are other first principles from which these notion flow.

What complicates things is the principle of revelation. Most faith systems (whether theistic, nontheistic or atheistic) root their primary principles in the belief that there is a substantive shape/form/direction in/of ultimate reality that the reality itself has communicated or mediated to humanity in some way. In a less qualified means of expressing myself, [God/the gods/the universe itself] communicate(s) with us; our primary principles are rooted in this communication.

Interreligious dialogue is entirely necessary and proper—as regards secondary principles. We should talk with others to learn about the attainment of virtue, paths and practices that move us personally and as societies towards compassion, non-violence, and human flourishing. But we must be honest to ourselves and to our faith systems. Interreligious dialogue is genuine when first principles are not compromised.

Moving specifically to what Prothero writes, he approaches the question from a slightly different direction than I do. That is, he starts from the premise that religions agree that things are screwed up and that religions try to answer the question of how people and societies move to/don’t participate in the state of screwed-upness:

What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: Something is wrong with the world.

I think he oversimplifies this (and that’s likely related to his venue and audience rather than full-blown imprecision on his part); I think he’d agree that what he’s saying is that the world’s religions agree that the quotidian human engagement with the world is wrong. (That is, some think that there’s nothing wrong with the world, just with how humans engage it and act within it…)

I come from a different angle. I do prefer to start from the finish line: how do we connect to and participate in ultimate reality?

Prothero and I agree that Christians have a unique answer to this drawn from our first principles. He writes:

It might seem to be an admirable act of empathy to assert that Confucians and Buddhists can be saved. But this statement is confused to the core, since salvation is not something that either Confucians or Buddhists seek. Salvation is a Christian goal, and when Christians speak of it, they are speaking of being saved from sin. But Confucians and Buddhists do not believe in sin, so it makes no sense for them to try to be saved from it. And while Muslims and Jews do speak of sin of a sort, neither Islam nor Judaism describes salvation from sin as its aim. When a jailer asks the apostle Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30), he is asking not a generic human question but a specifically Christian one. So while it may seem to be an act of generosity to state that Confucians and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews can also be saved, this statement is actually an act of obfuscation.

The conventional expression of this is the belief that good people will “go to heaven” even if they’re not Christians.

The problem is that this conventional sense is a fundamental misconstrual of Christian salvation as taught by the Church. I’ve talked about this before in a Cafe article (one of my favorites, actually), a bit of which I’ll quote here:

Being a Christian isn’t about getting to heaven. Being a Christian is about participating in new life, in divine life, sharing in the very life of God. In baptism we have been—in my favorite phrase from Paul—“hid with Christ in God.”

This is both the point and the purpose of Christian salvation. It’s not about waiting around to go somewhere or existing in some state after we die; it’s about participating in the life of God both now and later. Life is the point. Opening our eyes to and taking hold of what God has done for us in creation, in incarnation, in the crucifixion and the resurrection—that’s the point. The purpose is no less clear. It’s to live that life and to share it, to help it expand to others.

It’s to live a life hid with God in Christ.

This post also attempts to encapsulate it in a concise statement. That’s how I understand how Christians comprehend ultimate reality: we are joined in the sacramental, mystical, and eschatological Body of Christ within which we participate in the life of God. When viewed from this perspective, is this something that a Buddhist desires? Or a Muslim? I can’t imagine they would…

Can I say without reservation that because of this Buddhists and Muslims cannot connect into ultimate reality? That’s harder.  This is the classic: do all religions “go to the same place”/”shoot for the same goal” question, I suppose. My sense is that most religions do have a sense that we need to engage ultimate reality but we all do a have a different sense of what this is and how we do it. Ultimately, I think our answers to this relate to how we understand the human capacity to grasp and comprehend ultimate reality. Expecting it and experiencing it are not the same as comprehending it.

My Christian first principles tell me that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that none come to the Father but through him. Or, to use the language that I’ve been using up to this point, Jesus Christ (and therefore incorporation into his sacramental, mystical, and eschatological Body) is the only means for participating within ultimate reality. I’m also told that my incorporation comes wholly through God’s grace and that the channel of this grace is normatively expressed in the sacrament of Baptism. The Tradition of the Church admits exceptions to this rule; Aquinas’s discussion on the issue shows some open doors and many Christian thinkers far better and wiser than I have wrestled with the fate of those to whom the Gospel has not been proclaimed.

One answer is that a Buddhist or Muslim may encounter ultimate reality and that the agency is Jesus Christ whether the unbeliever knows it or not, recognizes it or not. Personally, I think this leads to a road that cannot be traversed with certainty due to our human inability to comprehend the scope and nature of ultimate reality. Because here I think we run into the problem of dividing and separating that which is authentic divine revelation from what is not. Buddhists, Muslims, disagree with my grasp of first principles because of their conflict with the other believers own first principles. I think mine are right and that theirs may be a faulty human construction that miusconstrues the true nature and state of ultimate reality. Or, on the other hand, can those apparently alternate and contradictory notions be resolved a=on a plane for beyond my comprehension?

Where things become dicey, therefore, is when we start examining the line between revelation and human construction. What are the fundamental truths that [God/the gods/the universe itself] has bequeathed to us and what are human constructs built upon and around this revelation? Obviously the issue here isn’t just religions talking to one another. The proliferation of Christian denominations is intimately related to how this question is answered, into how and where we draw the lines between the divine and the human which is further blurred by the belief that God inspires humans and societies towards the fulfilling of his will and purposes.

In the clearest for-instance I can drag up, the Young Fogey and I absolutely agree that the distinction between our systems of belief rests in the principle of infallibility. The Young Fogey believes that the Church as a whole has been granted the capacity to rightly discern the fundamental divine teachings of revelation from the human constructs built upon them that may be altered. (I believe that’s a fair statement and I know he won’t hesitate to correct me if it’s inaccurate…) I have less faith in the Church as a whole. I believe that the Church as a whole is not able to infallible determine and discern the fundamental divine teachings from human constructs. I believe that the Church as a whole is on the right path and that in the great majority of things the Tradition of the Church has judged rightly,  but I do not, cannot, and will not use the word infallible to speak of the human institution of the Church. As a Body of believers we still stumble from one age to the next, sometimes correcting misapprehensions from earlier ages, sometimes creating new ones as we go. The Spirit directs us and clarifies but always through the inspirations of humans whose wiring does not have the capacity for complete comprehension due to the dual issues of material limitation and sin.

To complicate matters even more, I think that our tradition presents clear warnings against a clear and easy distinction between what is divine and what is human. Consistent wrangling on the nature of Christ and the Trinity seems to always come back to the fact there there are two distinct natures—the divine and human—which subsist in their entirety within Jesus Christ. To my unsystematic mind, this means that we recognize that there are these two different states [imprecise word, I know] but that the act of trying to separate them out from one another is fundamentally problematic.

My solution a sa an admitted unsystematic kind of guy who believes in the humani inability to fully comprehend the  divine is to throw up my hands and to retreat to ascetical theology. Thus, I say that I understand Christianity as the proper path to ultimate reality, the Triune God, as taught in the Scriptures, Tradition, and practice of the Christian faith. I really cannot say what happens to those who are not baptized, not being privy to the God’s deliberations and expressions of grace. I do know that I have been charged to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] has commanded [us]” and that part of being a Christian means doing this.

Another part means fussing around the dividing line of what is divine revelation and what is human construct, all the while knowing that I can never know if I’m really right but knowing that life in God and the formation of virtue are my truest guides through the mirk.

This is how I closed out the Cafe piece referenced above and, since it’s still where I come down on it, I’ll end this post that way too:

[The Christian purpose] to live a life hid with God in Christ.

And I’d tell you exactly what that phrase means, except that I’m not sure myself.

Oh, I have some ideas. One revolves around how much the New Testament uses the word “abide” as an activity that God does with Jesus and Jesus does with God and that we do with Jesus and therefore we can do with God and so on and so forth. Abide. Sometimes I think it means just lying in the presence of God in prayer and sometimes I think it means walking in love as Christ loved us and sometimes I think those are just two small parts of the fullness of what it really means. I’ll keep working on abiding…

Another idea has to do with our good ol’ Anglican worship. It’s how certain moments catch me and throw me—sometimes in church or sometimes days later—and give me a taste, a moment, that I can put my finger on and say, “Wow—that definitely connects to the life of God.” Worship doesn’t just fit us for the life of God but gives us moments and examples with which to see the slow yet steady spread of the lushness of God’s life and God’s will into our life that twines around the pillars of our hearts and with its soft, seeking roots cracks through calcified compassion.

In short, I’d tell you—but I think it’s got to be lived not told.

This Easter enjoy life, embrace life, share life, and live out a life hid with Christ in God.

18 thoughts on “Pluralism, Christianity, and Separate Truths

  1. John Barton

    Thank you for another wonderful post on a most timely topic. I, however, want to throw a different slant on the topic. You cite with agreement Prothero’s statement that “[s]alvation is a Christian goal, and when Christians speak of it, they are speaking of being saved from sin.” Don’t we then need to ask what is “sin”? To me, sin is separation from God, or put another way, identifying with our false self, not discovering our true self that is in union with God. Under this definition of “sin,” Christian “salvation” does not seem that different from the highest states of Buddhism or Hinduism, which seek to eliminate duality and to experience the one true Reality. From my viewpoint, mystics of the major religious traditions do seem to be following different paths to the same ultimate reality. The problem seems to be that words inevitably fail to adequately describe the ultimate realities of all religions, including Christianity. Like Aquinas’ realization after a mystical experience that all he had written was “mere straw,” in the end words get in the way of experience of these truths.

  2. Derek Olsen

    To me, sin is separation from God, or put another way, identifying with our false self, not discovering our true self that is in union with God. Under this definition of “sin,” Christian “salvation” does not seem that different from the highest states of Buddhism or Hinduism, which seek to eliminate duality and to experience the one true Reality.
    Hmm. If asked to define sin, I’d fall back on my boyhood catechesis and say that sin is our inability to love, fear, and trust God as we ought. While I think that there are some points of overlap between what we speak of as sin and what Buddhist speak of as mara or delusion, I can’t agree that they’re identical.

    To put a finer point on it, Christianity posits a fundamental duality–Creator and creation; the Uncreated Godhead and that which is crafted by it. That is the fundamental hurdle in unifying Buddhist and Christian notions of ultimate reality. There are parts of me that would love to appropriate certain parts of Buddhist philosophy and phenomenology that don’t conflict with Christian revelation but the gulf between Creator and creation is the irreconcilable stumbling-block.

    My issue with the “spiritual but not religious” crowd is that I don’t believe that spiritual experiences are inherently self-interpreting. So often modern Christians read medieval mystics and forget that the experiences they recount are grounded by daily community practices of (usually) Mass and Office. You’re right—there are parts of mystical experiences that cannot and should not be circumscribed by words and concepts. But do the experiences themselves provide what is needful concerning the nature of ultimate reality?

  3. Vicki McGrath


    You wrote: “To put a finer point on it, Christianity posits a fundamental duality–Creator and creation; the Uncreated Godhead and that which is crafted by it. ” Like John, I often talk about “Sin” as separtion from God that leads to “si” (as in acts that flow from the gap and widen it. However, the duality you are talking about seems absolutely right to me. If we say that in baptism we receive union with christ and participation in the life of God, it seems to me not to be an equation that goes both ways: we participate in God’s life, but we do not become God ourselves. Many years ago there was a phrase from Augustine that madea real impact on me – about God being a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumfrance is nowhere (paraphrased). That led to me imagining my relationship with God as a Venn diagram with a large circle with hatch marks all going one way and arrows starting from the edge of the circle all pointing outward (indicating an infinite circle) – that is God. Inside the circle is a much smaller circle overlaid over the center point, with different hatchmarks going the other way – that is me. Like most images it is limited, but it was (and remains) a clear understanding for myself about my relationship with God.

    This is a great post. Lesley Newbiggin, based on his long work in India, has a very similar approach to what you are saying: Christians can’t honestly undertake interfaith dialogue if we are not willing to be clear about what our beliefs really are and the fact that there are real differences with other faiths.

    On a completely different note – I’ve just finished a book that I would highly recommend to you – although you’ve probably already read it: +Paul Marshall’s “One, Catholic and Apostolic: Samuel Seabury and the Early Episcopal Church.” It made me very grateful to be the descendant of Connecticut and New York clergy (Geer is my maiden name and there were 3 generations of priests in the family in the 19th century, as well as some more recent). Anyway, it’s only the mercy of God that we Episcopalians didn’t end up as Unitarians in fancy dress!


  4. Christopher


    I want to push just a bit. Is it fundamental duality or fundamental paradox? I ask because the Creator became a creature. The Incarnation asks us to think about this somewhat more in line with Chalcedon in my opinion. No we are not God, but by God’s having taken creation into himself in Christ, by grace as you say, we are participant’s in God’s own life.

    I understand sin as alienation from God out of which comes alienation in one’s self, between one another, and from all of creation expressed as sins.

  5. Christopher

    Or another way of saying this is “communicatio idiomatum” which we experience visibly and surely and corporately in Holy Communion.

  6. Robb

    Can it not be said that our alienation from God is rooted in the illusory draw of temporary pleasure over and against participating in divine life? I see sin as state of being rather than as a laundry list of no-no’s. It would seem our common starting point would be a recognition of this alienation between the self and God/the gods/the True Self/the Cosmos or whatever…

    Doesn’t this common starting point lead us at least to overlapping narratives if not a common end point or trajectory as well? If alienation is the common diagnosis and awakening to the full reality of the consequences of this alienation so as to shed it is a common goal, then it does seem we have more in common than Prothero is willing to admit.

    I for one will confess to being deeply influenced by Perennial Philosophy – especially Huston Smith, who Prothero calls out by name – even though this has been an approach long out of vogue with the academy. I appreciate what Prothero offers as a corrective to the PP tendency to merely gloss over real differences, but my fear is that if you carry his idea to its logical consequence, then salvation becomes dependent on accident of birth, a twisted gift of culture rather than a divine gift of grace.

  7. Derek Olsen

    I do agree that a key component of sin is alienation from that which is ultimate and that delusion and illusion play a part in that. At the same time because incarnation and body are so important to us, I think it’s dangerous to get too abstracted away from the thoughts, words, and deeds that enable and manifest our alienation. I suppose I’m saying I have almost an Aristotleian sense of sin rather than a Platonic one in that the specifics of individual sins are what drive the definition of the category than an ideal Form of sin…

    Christopher, I don’t want to get too deep into the Christological nuts and bolts because I inevitably start using the wrong words and unwittingly spout heretical formulae without intending to. What I’m going to suggest, though, is that the duality is crucial. Going back to the Athanasian Creed, I’ll lift up these two phrases: “God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world; . . . One, not by the conversion of Godhead into the flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God.”

    Yes, it is a paradox, no question about it, but it seems to me that the duality between Creator and creation is necessary in order to grasp at the wonder and miracle of the incarnation. If non-duality holds, then the Incarnation was a quantitative change; but we hold and always have that it was a qualitative change. True?

    Robb, I see your final point and also want to agree. And that’s precisely why I raised that issue then backed away without getting into it. There are too many things that we will not understand about this topic on this side of the veil. The best ground for arguing and understanding it is, I believe, an argument from the character of God. Which is to say, Scripture continually confirms that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God is also holy and we must be holy, therefore as the Lord our God is holy. In the person of Jesus mercy and justice/judgment are both present (and we do well to keep sight of both), but the holiness of Jesus seems to cleave more to mercy than judgment. (Deo gratias!)

  8. Derek Olsen


    I haven’t encountered that book before and it would probably be a good one for me; my knowledge of the early American Episcopal Church is pitiful!

  9. Christopher


    Certainly, the distinction between Creator and creatures is vital to Christian thinking, but so as seen through the Incarnation. We are utterly dependent upon (justified) in every moment upon a God who is this way for us as revealed in the flesh in Jesus Christ. God comes to us, is mediated to us, through flesh. We dependents become more ourselves in God, not less, precisely by being met where we are, creatures, flesh.

    The problem with the word duality is that it tends to posit opposition. To build on others’ work, such as Kathryn Tanner, non-competetive duality might be more accurate. This means that precisely bread and wine can be to us as Christ’s Body and Blood without being annihilated–the classic formula of the Carolines and Orthodoxy, for example, and very close to Luther. And that we can show forth something of God’s glory without becoming less ourselves. And that is a paradox. The Creator became a creature. The creature can show forth the divine. The poets get it right when they write that Christ who came to us as one of us now comes to us as bread and wine.

    Because all flesh is meant to show forth the glory of God, I too would caution against a too quick assertion of fleeing the physical to get to God by denigrating ordinary pleasure, rather than bridling or ordering pleasure. Creaturely pleasures should never have been posited over and against vision of God, and where it has been done we tend to get seeds of Manichaeism that haunt Christian tradition like a wicked spectre. Oswald Bayer has done magnificent work on this in the Lutheran tradition regarding the enjoyment of the beauty of the particular:

    “This reading of creation as God’s address to humans, an arena of God’s justifying word and not a theater of Heilsgeschichte, has significant implications for both aesthetics and science….The believer is aesthetically permitted to ‘sense and taste for the finite,’…the senses are opened; one can enjoy and experience the world as sheer gift.”

    Ascesis and discipleship in our traditions is concerned about everyday things being potential encounters with or words to us from God and resists the swoop in God theology that tended to underly thinking on the Sacrament of the Altar when location was the main concern. It allows for the possibility of bringing together again the Books of Scripture and the Books of Creation.

    No place is this said better in my opinion, than in Luther’s comment on the first part of the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism. Revolutionary in its reorientation of the doctrine of Creation within the doctrine of Justification not as a past thing but as our every present utter dependence upon God for our existence and renewal.

  10. Christopher

    For example, and building on Derek’s early post on where he mentioned Welsh poetry, a piece I wrote from the book I’m working on:

    Burning Bush

    O Lord, open thou my lips,

    Near Richmond Parkway
    you erupt in petaled flame
    far from Horeb’s height
    and sandaled clamber.

    Stoking your strange fire
    flickers of slate and plum
    works a spell not conjured
    by Eli’s sons or Theban magi.

    On red I idle long enough
    to still my haste in notice:
    Almost despite myself my lips part
    in praise for purplish wonder.

    and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.

  11. John-Julian, OJN

    I don’t know — maybe I’ve just too far sunk in a mystical swamp, but I con’t understand this apparently universal idea of antithesis between Creator God and created humanity.

    How in the world can sin be “alienation from God”? How can a “creation” be “alienated” from his/her Creator? Every creditable mystic in history has expressed this: Julian says we have “a godly will which never consented to sin and never will”; Eckhard called it a “spark of the divine”; Even Philo called it a “divine shard”. Genesis calls it an image of God”. As the Quakers said: “There is that of God in every [one].” So how can I ever be separated from that indwelling divinity without ceasing to exist?

    I mean, the moment I am disconnected from God, I must simply cease to exist. God’s divine presence in me has nothing to do with MY choice — it is just an ontological (created) reality.

    Now, I am free either to recognize, honor, and celebrate that innate union with my Creator God, on the one hand, or I am free to blind myself, deny such a union, or act as though there were no such union — but God’s actual union with me is unaffected by my own perceptions/beliefs/actions, etc.

    I would also go so far as to say that this union between me and my Creator precedes baptism — it is an ontological reality — God has shared out God’s divine attribute of “being” with me when I was created. Baptism is the overt, clear statement of the pre-existent reality (the outwards and visible sign on the pre-existant grace). I know that’s semi-Pelagian, but, so what?

    I think the medieval church focussed on death and the afterlife. The modern church focussed on the present and service-oriented life-in-the-world. Then the Church rediscovered baptism in the mid-20th century. Now I think we need to rediscover Creation and its centrality.

    Julian says that our “essence” has always lived within God — and still does. (I try to translate this by saying that the “idea” of me has always been in the mind of God.) Then that idea was manifested in soul and body at my creation on earth. And, as Julian also said, I (and my world) continue exist because God is “maker, lover, and keeper”.

    Anyway, that means that “sin” is claiming reality for what is not real — it is choosing “nothing” before “something”. And that doesn’t change the reality, but gives the sinner a warped and twisted idea of it, which concomitantly warps and twists the sinner’s actions. And that is the state of sin.

    And that is why hell doesn’t exist because its very nature is non-existence itself — it is the denial of Reality, denial of Existence, denial of What Is. Eternity in perfect union with God is on offer: those who seriously choose to repudiate that repudiate reality and by free choice choose not to exist.

    There: that’s a lot of flags to raise at one time! Now I better find shelter from the shrapnel.

  12. Mark S.

    I would like to point out in all of this talk of what sin is or could be the Christian insistence that Love precedes Being. This makes a moral dimension to the universe possible (inevitable!)and, in fact, ensures us that creation is Good, even before creation is. What a lovely paradox! What is good, then, determines being and conditions it. Likeness to the Good determines realness–determines whether or not something IS.

    Which is why, perhaps in part, Origen suggests that sin is an act by which we consciously remove ourselves from the recollection of God–an act whereby we affirm our nothingness as an absolute value over against the Goodness of God, undermining the Goodness of God in us and thereby removing ourselves from being.

    And from reality. So that the condition of being in sin is in fact a condition characterized by profound illusion and ignorance. Our perception of ourselves and of the world becomes altered. Valuing our nothingness over the Good which gives our nothingness being, we become unable to recognize that Good, unable to experience reality, unable to be. We begin to believe that our nothingness (which, as creatures, comprises our otherness from God) is a value in itself–is in fact the sole value. We pursue it. We become the clouds without water and wandering stars of Jude’s epistle. We lose the ability to love as we should, which means the loss of the ability to put love in action–which is what, really, the good is: Love in action. We abandon the good. We become intoxicated with the blackness of darkness. We destroy ourselves.

    We cannot understand ourselves and our world without understanding Love. For that reason, because Love is the only thing God understands (!), God cannot understand us either when we do not understand Love. And not being understood by God is death.

    Anyway, my two cents, for what they’re worth!


  13. Derek Olsen

    Wow—plenty of deep reflections that will require pondering… I will say that while I will continue to maintain a duality between the Creator and the created, I’ve never suggested that they are antithetical or opposed. Indeed, I quite like the wording of the Athanasian Creed where I believe it refers to these as the Substance of the Father and the Substance of the Mother. The metaphor contains a nice non-oppositional character but quickly collapses: for the Substance of the Father can exist (though beyond Being) with the other while the other depends entirely upon the first for its Being.

    Not only are they not opposed, I’d agree with Hugh of St Victor among others that the World is a means of God’s self-revelation to us. Its patterns reveal to us the mind of the Godhead and we may yet see the imprint of the Maker’s fingers but that is not to say that the Maker’s fingers themselves are stuck in our world! (When Caelius sets to on “the music of the spheres” his work may be just as theologically prosperous as my muddle of manuscripts.)

    Specifically to one of Fr. John-Julian’s points, I am quite unable to state whether the connection with God (which I affirm) is a God-bit stuck in me or a God-given capacity to connect with a God who first loves and desires relationship with his creation (bringing in Mark’s point). My Leonine-inspired desire to not be Manichean inclines me to the second.

  14. Christopher

    Utter dependence of creatures and all of creation upon the Creator is not an antithetical duality, but a non-competetive one and a paradox because of the Incarnation. Creatio ex nihilo as Orthodox theologians point out is not merely creation out of nothing, but creation out of God’s loving will, meaning that our existence is sheer gift of Love. When we approach the world, every creature, our meals, through this lens, recognize the vulnerability of all and the immense, the world is changed. The small earthworm becomes a friend. The cyprus as fellow worshipper. The chicken breast on our plate, a sacrifice, hopefully done with dignity and care and thanksgiving.

    I think we forget that the Word and Spirit have ever been at work speaking and sustaining Creation–the Right and Left Hands of the Father, the Source of All Being uncreated and created alike to draw from the East. That this Word became flesh as one of us, Jesus Christ, in no wise means that the Word now rejects creatures that do not know him personally. On the contrary, the Word who speaks us has a human face, knows our complexity as no other. The Word who speaks us is to be listened for in each and every creature. The Spirit who sustains us not only is among but within us, giving our will that is “apt but not able” to quote Hooker the Love to be ourselves loving toward fellow creatures.

  15. Kevin Montgomery

    I don’t often post, but this did get me thinking. I would agree that there is a duality of Creator and creature, but that duality not to be confused with dualism. It would seem to me that the former allows for each to maintain its own integrity and not be collapsed into the other. The latter, on the other hand, posits the two as irreconcilable and constantly pitted against each other.

    In this duality of Creator and creature, God’s grace does allow paradoxically and mysteriously for the two to meet, whether in the Eternal Word made flesh or the People of God formed into the Body of Christ and brought to share in the eternal kingdom. Just as Christ’s divine and human natures were not mixed (according to Chalcedon), so we are not absorbed into Christ but retain our personhood while being joined to Him.

  16. Dharmashaiva

    No one has mentioned theosis. Basil the Great: “From the Holy Spirit is the likeness of God, and the highest thing to be desired, to become God.”

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