Contemporary theology

The parable of the rich and Lazarus

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus shows us a foolish misuse of material goods. It raises slightly the curtain covering certain mysteries about man's portion beyond the grave. We encounter this parable in the Gospel according to Luke:

"There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivest thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that those who wish to pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, whon would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:19-31).

The prestige and the authority of dogmas

From what we have said so far, it has become obvious that:

A. Dogmas acquire their prestige from the constancy that they display towards the initial form of existential relationship between God and the world, which is not only revealed as a noetic “knowledge”, but is realized as a communion between God, the world and mankind in Christ; also in the experience of the first Disciples and apostolic communities, and as recorded in the New Testament.

The task of the Church in the formulation of dogmas

What is the Church, and how does it act in the formulation of dogmas?

We shall speak more of the Church in the respective chapter, but as far as the dogmas are concerned, we can make note of the following:

“Church” means the communion and the community through which -and within which- the new existential relations between God, mankind and the world (as manifested and realized in the person of Christ) are revealed and realized. In other words, in the Church, the entire world, with the new Adam (Christ) at its head, acknowledges God as “Father” and is thus “saved” from alienation and deterioration. The cognizance and the revelation of God is thus an empirical reality within the body of the Church, which has the form of a paternal-filial association wherein the entire world is embodied, thus constituting the “body of Christ”.  Consequently, the Church – as the body of Christ – is, in this sense, the only proper and complete existential form of cognizance of God, through the lattice of relations that are realized within the community.

The function of the Holy Spirit in the formulation of dogmas

“Theophany” (the manifestation of God) as “Christophany” (the manifestation of Christ), which comprises the basis of the dogma, contains two basic problems. The one problem is that, one needs to cover the period of time that intervenes between the historical Christ and His (=the Apostolic) era, with the pursuant generations; these are the eras in which the dogma is formulated. So, How is it possible to bridge this time chasm?

 The second problem is that, within that same historical Theophany in Christ, there is the dimension of “already, and not yet”: in the historical Christ and the experience of the first apostles, we have God’s revelation “as an inner reflection and an enigma” and not as something seen “face to face”.  The fulfilled, “face to face” revelation is an eschatologicalreality.  Christ bears a pre-portrayal and a pre-savoring of the Kingdom, in other words, the complete and direct, personal cognizance (knowledge) of God. Until that “last day” has come,no prophet or saint has a full cognizance of God, in a stable and unchangeable form. How is it possible for this pre-savoring of paradise, this complete cognizance of God to be attained from now, with a complete certainty that the proclaimed dogma expresses this pre-portrayal, and that it formulates it faithfully and accurately?

In other words, the dogma -as a faithful portrayal of Christ who reveals God- has to be faithful in the following two dimensions:

A. The faithful portrayal of the historic Christ (= past), and

B. The faithful portrayal of the futureeschatological Christ and His Kingdom. (ref. Byzantine icons – they are not limited to historical representations, but they also portray the future situation, for example the icon of the Pentecost). This task of bridging the present (=dogma) with the past (historical Christophany) and the future (=Second Coming), is the exceptional task of the Holy Spirit in Divine Providence.

“It seemed proper to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15), is the decision reached by the Apostolic Synod.  It comprises the fixed conviction of the Church that the dogmas are of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, as is the Scripture (“every divinely inspired scripture…..”) (Timothy II, 3:16). But this requires serious attention, because it can be understood in different ways; thus:

  • The presence of the Holy Spirit and His action can be misconstrued as a kind of magical and mechanical intervention of God. This reminds us of the “divine inspiration” of the ancient Hellenes (divination, oracles etc.), where personal freedom was excluded: the authors of the Bible and the Fathers of the Councils (Synods) were thus involuntary instruments of the Spirit. This is a perception that prevailed in the West (from where it also originated), in the form of so-called Fundamentalism.
  • The presence and the effect of the Spirit can be comprehended as being the result of moral changes in man. When we say “moral changes”, we imply a broader meaning of man’s every improvement that is attributed to his own striving. (for example, catharsis from vices; acquiring virtues etc.)
  • The effect of the Holy Spirit can be perceived as being the result of a community event, in both its perpendicular and its lateral dimensions, in other words, as a result of the communion within an ecclesiastic community

 Of these possibilities, the first one must be excluded altogether. The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of freedom, and does not force man. Besides, the event of Christ, the very nature of Christophany, is such that it fully respects a person’s freedom.

The second possibility has more value and gravity and is more fitting to the prerequisites of ascetic experience, which, as we saw, must always be taken into consideration.  Without catharsis from vices, it is not possible for anyone to see God (for example, whoever hates his brother cannot see God – ref. John I). In this same spirit, saint Gregory the theologian rebutted the Eunomians, who had created an entirely different, intellectual theology that allowed anyone to “theologize”, even “after horseracing events and singing and feasting…which (theology) deemed equally a part of enjoyment”, by pointing out to them that “it is not for everyone to philosophize on God…. not for everyone”, but only “by those who have been tested and who have spent their life in theory (of God), and –prior to this- have a cleansed soul and body, or are at least  cleansing them”. However, if ascetic living is taken as an isolated and self-sufficient prerequisite, then it is suffering from two serious faults: that of individualism and moralism. In other words, we shall be in danger of believing that God reveals Himself to isolated individuals and under certain conditions of human achievement.

This is why the second possibility must necessarily be combined with the third one, which the ecclesiastic form of action of the Holy Spirit.

In order for this to be comprehended, we must first of all rid ourselves of a faulty perception that we have; i.e., that the Holy Spirit acts upon isolated persons. This perception is so widespread, that it might seem strange to refer to it as “faulty”.  Those who defend this view are overlooking a fundamental distinction between the action of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the action in the New Testament.  In the Old Testament, the Spirit is given to certain people (prophets, kings, etc.) and not the entire nation of Israel. During the Messianic era however, when the Holy Spirit is introduced in the New Testament with the arrival of the Messiah, it was expected that the Spirit would be given to the entire nation of God. This is why Luke in his narration of the Pentecost uses the phrase of the prophet Joel: “in the last days I shall pour forth from My Spirit over every flesh…..says the Lord Almighty”

As a result of this, all baptized Christians -in the New Testament- were considered as having the Holy Spirit and possessing various charismas. If we examine chapter 12 of Corinthians I, we can see how, for the apostle Paul, being a member of the Church is equivalent to possessing a certain charisma of the Spirit.  Given that the Corinthians were under the impression that some people can be more charismatic than others, Paul refutes this perception vehemently, and stresses that everyone has some sort of charisma, even those who perform a simple task such as administration etc.  Paul thus strikes back at every form of “spiritual elitism”, stressing that even if someone has adequate knowledge or faith to “move mountains”, he will be nothing, if he has no “love”.

What does “love” signify here? If we take a look at this text as a whole (chapters 11 – 14) and not as isolated verses, we can see that for Paul, “love” –therein- signifies the communion that the community of the Church creates.  Love here is not about the feelings of a certain person (good intentions etc.), but the inter-dependence of the members of the church, as one body.  “Love” means not saying that ‘I am the head and I don’t need the legs’ etc… This is what Paul was stressing here: the inter-dependence of the assorted charismas.

It is precisely for this reason, that Paul ends his Epistle by naming the Holy Spirit “community”.  In Corinthians II, 13:13, it actually appears to be an expression that existed prior to Paul in the liturgical usage of the first Churches, and one that has remained a basic element of the Divine Eucharist ever since.  Wherever the Spirit drifts, It creates a community, and destroys individualism. We must understand this thoroughly. This was how all the Fathers of the Church had also perceived the Holy Spirit. One could present a multitude of quotes from the Fathers of the first centuries, for example Gregory of Nazianzo, who especially focuses on personal “theory” (= “viewing”), hence endowing a special significance to the way he refers to the Holy Spirit.  In his 12th Address, he compares the desire for “theory” with the Spirit as follows:  On the one hand, there is the desire for theory, that is, the tendency for solitude, a catharsis of the mind and theory; but, this is not where the Spirit leads to. “The Spirit moves within (the congregation of the church), leading it and making it fruitful (the ecclesiastic community), in the desire to benefit it, that they may benefit each other, and make public the (Spirit’s) enlightenment”. This is why the “prepared” (congregated) church is –to saint Gregory- so much more superior than the experience of theory, as the skies are by comparison to a star, or a garden to a plant, or a whole body to a body member.  To the Fathers, this is the chief work of the Spirit: to lead towards the overall Church, and not towards isolated, personal experiences.

Consequently, all the charismas of the Church are necessary for the revelation of God; not just the few and far between ones. The reason for this is that no charisma can be imaginable, without its inter-dependence with the other ones.  The Church has a variety of charismas; not everyone possesses “knowledge”, not everyone has healing abilities, or the gift of speaking languages, or administrative abilities etc.. They are not all “god-seers” in the same way.  At any rate, no-one can see God on his own and independently of the other charismas. The Spirit acts as a community, and that means: within the body of the Church.

Thus, we reach the conclusion with regard to the dogmas, that the revelation of the truth always presupposes a communion and a community of the Church in order for the dogma to be a truth. What exactly does this mean?

Professor Metropolitan of Pergamus and  Chairman of the Athens Academy I. Zizioulas

The affiliation of dogmas to the Holy Scriptures

The affiliation of dogmas to the Scriptures is a hermeneutic one.  The problem posed by Western theologians, after the Reform Era, as to whether we have one or two “sources of divine revelation” as they were named, denotes the specific concern between Roman Catholics and Protestants, given that the latter had rejected the authority of the Tradition of the Church, and had introduced the principle of “sola scriptura” (=only the scripture). In Orthodox Theology, the problem was posed through the so-called “Orthodox Confessions” of the 17th century (prev.ref.). Thus, depending on the deviation of these “confessions” (Mogilas=Roman Catholicism, Cyril Loukaris=Calvinism, etc.), the answer was –and continues to be- provided by the Orthodox. The West was led into this concern for two reasons, which do not apply in Orthodoxy:

The term “dogma” and its significance

The term is derived from the (Greek) verb “dokein” (= seeming, believing) and originally, its literal meaning was “that which seems good or proper to someone”; it also pertains to belief, ideology, principle, opinion, faith, and other related meanings. (Plato’s Soph.256C: «by making use of the many dogmas and words…»).

From its original meaning of a personal opinion, the term was transposed to the field of philosophical positions; in other words, it became a knowledge belonging to a (philosophical) School. (e.g. Plutarch, Ethica 14B: “the dogmas pertaining to souls” or the Stoic philosophers’ dogmas, etc.)  The transposing over to this meaning is justified, by the fact that ancient thought demanded eclecticism in philosophy.