In our last couple of reflections on natural science and Christian theology in the light, so to speak, in the context of the Darwinian revolution, we reflected on the relationship of God and the world, and we tried to insist on the centrality of Christ and the incarnation of God in human flesh as the Man Jesus, and specifically on the crucifixion of Christ. We did that also when we reflected on death, the issue of death. We also, in the reflection on God and the world, tried to make the point that there is this grand, strict distinction between God as uncreated, totally other, totally holy, and then everything else in all that exists, that has existence, has existence from God who in some sense doesn’t even exist, but he’s beyond even the category even of being and existence.
But everything else that we say does exist, do exist, all thing, then that would be creation; that would be what God has, in one way or another, made, fashioned, brought into being—the Bible uses different expressions—that which came to be, as it says in the Prologue of John: “Without him, the Logos”—meaning Jesus Christ—“nothing that came to be came to be,” and that he’s in all things and through all things and for all things and by all things. So you cannot think of anything without the activity of the divine Logos who is Jesus Christ, incarnate and crucified, raised and glorified. That’s the center of Christian theology, and it must always remain the center of Christian theology.
Here I just want to say again—I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again to my last breath—there’s so much even of Orthodox theology today that is not Christocentric. In some circles when you mention Christ and him crucified among Orthodox thinkers, they’ll even call you a Protestant or something, or you quote the Scripture: they’ll call you a Protestant. This is really terrible. It’s absolutely impossible. Certainly not patristic and certainly not ancient Christian. Christ was the center and Christ as given to us in witness to us in the community of faith and in the very authoritative witnesses of holy Scriptures, which are the basic authoritative witnesses of the faith of Christianity in the Christian Church. You could never go beyond the Scriptures. You can reflect on them, you can theologize about them, but you can’t transgress the Scriptures. Everything is kata tas graphas, according to Scripture.
So we are saying that God and the world has to be understood in a Christocentric way, not Christomonistic. Some people say that we should be against Christomonism. Well, that’s true if that means only Christ, just Christ alone, where God the Father is out of the picture, the Holy Spirit is out of the Scripture. And how many books in recent time there have been where people speak about the Holy Spirit without reference to Christ and where people are very Christocentric in their spirituality but hardly ever mention the Holy Spirit! I mean, I can’t resist saying that one of the striking examples in my mind of recent time was this book after Mother Teresa of Calcutta died, the book, Come, Be My Light, where it was made known that she had very great struggles with darkness and feeling abandoned and feeling empty and not having any consolations from God. It’s a book worth reading: Come, By My Light, about Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her letters. But it’s interesting that the name of the Holy Spirit is never even mentioned in the book and in none of her own letters was the Holy Spirit mentioned much. It was all centered in Christ crucified.
Christ crucified is the center, but you cannot understand and go deeply into the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion, especially in relation to creation, without bringing in God, the one, true, and living God who is Jesus’ Father, and the most-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the three distinct Persons are constantly in communion with each other. As Gregory the Theologian says, “When I think of any one of the three Persons, my mind goes to the other two immediately, and when I think of the one God, immediately shines out into the three distinct Persons.”
I’m just raising that now because the Trinitarian Godhead, the Incarnation, Christ crucified—this is Orthodox theology. This is Orthodox Christian theology. Without a very strictly Christocentric, Trinitarian theology, with a big place for the most-holy Spirit in connection with Jesus and God… because Christ, you can’t think of Christ without the Father, and you can’t think of Christ without the Holy Spirit. Of course, all this is for us and for our salvation, and this is the way God reveals himself on our planet earth. This is the ultimate, unsurpassable revelation, and therefore that is what has to be at the center of our thinking when we reflect on what all that can mean in relation to what we call natural science.
We also reflected on miracles, saying that perhaps it’s more accurate to say that a miracle is not an act breaking the laws of nature; a miracle is an act breaking the laws of fallen, corrupted nature, and therefore restoring it to what it was created by God to be from the beginning, that the world as we experience it now, and even the world that is studied by natural scientists, and certainly the world of human beings—so the so-called sciences of sociology, anthropology, psychology, those are all studies about human beings who are not in the condition in which God created them to be. None of us are in the condition that God made us to be from the beginning and that we will be in at the coming of Christ and the kingdom of God when the world and creation finally reaches the goal, the end, the telos, the destiny for which it was created ap’ arches, from the beginning.
When we speak about miracles, we have to be very careful by what we understand by wonders and miracles, and I mentioned last time the word “miracle” is not even used in the gospels. You can’t find the word “miracle” in the four gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the acts of Jesus like healing and casting out demons and walking on the water and feeding the multitudes were called dynameis; they were called powers. He showed his virtue; he showed his power. In St. John, those acts are called symeion, symeia, signs. They are signs of his divinity, signs of his messiahhood, signs that he is really the Son of God, the Healer, the Savior, the promised Messiah.
We have to try to rethink these things, and that would be the main reason I decided, maybe like a crazy person, to get into this area, to get into these reflections, especially in relation to Darwin and evolution, because I do believe that so many misunderstandings, so much confusion, so much error, so many mistakes have been made on the part of Christians and Christian theology and biblical interpretation that you can’t even have a real dialogue with the natural scientists because we Christians ourselves don’t know what the heck we’re talking about and we’re violating our own Scriptures, we’re violating our own theology, we’re violating our own witness of our own saints and prophets and apostles and holy Fathers and Mothers.
We’ve got to recover real, true, genuine Christian theology, what we would call patristic theology, in a sense, but even we’ve got to be careful with that, because the theology of the Church is certainly according to the Scriptures and according to the Fathers, but you can’t say that theology as such is biblical theology or patristic theology. Biblical theology, patristic theology, liturgical theology—they all testify simply to theologia, which according to the Fathers themselves is the knowledge of God, by experience, the knowledge of God that we will speak about how you attain to that knowledge in a later reflection. It’s got its own scientific method, so to speak, the scientific method of theology for coming to know the truths of God.
There’s a lot that needs to be rethought here, and today I would like to just spend some minutes here on the issue of nature and super-nature, which goes together with the issue of miracles, and it’s certainly connected to the relationship of God and creation, and therefore there will be repetition again. When I was in the seminary, the students used to joke—I think I said this on the radio before—they would say, “Fr. Tom is giving a talk” or “Fr. Tom is giving a retreat,” and they would say, “What is he calling it this time?” because it’s always the same. There is a sense in which every time we speak about anything, it’s always the same; it’s just a different aspect about the same thing. I don’t fear repetition myself. It may bore the listener, but I’m a follower of the old Latin teaching: Repetitio mater studiorum; repetition is the mother of learning. That saying is even a very popular one in Russian. Some Russian thinks it’s a Russian saying. It’s not; it’s a Latin saying. In Russian they say, “Povtoreniye mater’yu obucheniya”: repetition is the mother of learning.
So we’ll be repeating things here again, and I ask you just to bear with me, but hopefully today there will be something—a different aspect or a different nuance or a different view—that may prove helpful to you, and that’s the whole point: to prove helpful to you, because again, I repeat: I’m not giving you any answers about anything here. I’m trying to stir you up to study it so that you come to your own conclusions. If you are a Christian believer, I’m really trying to provoke you, challenge you, inspire you, encourage you—whatever the verb would be there—to re-read and re-read the holy Scriptures, and on the basis of that re-reading, and if you’re an Orthodox Christian also on the basis of the Orthodox saints and holy Fathers and the Church’s worship in baptism, in Eucharist, and all of the celebrations of the Liturgy, to really make sure that you’re within that Tradition when you engage modern science and when you’re not really interpreting even the Church’s teaching of the holy Fathers and the liturgy and even the Scriptures themselves according to, well, let’s say it: according to American fundamentalism, according to some type of so-called Evangelical theology, which is actually the result of polemics of the 15th-16th century, between the Latins, who were already departed from Orthodoxy, and their offspring who are called generally Protestants.
But if we speak about Orthodoxy and maybe speak even simply just about ancient Christianity, I would even say we could just say we’re basically speaking about the theological development toward, you know, the end of the first millennium of the Christian era. Things start changing there in the second millennium, because you have Scholasticism coming in and you have Aristotle and Plato recovered and all that, and there’s a kind of a loss of the living patristic tradition, and that loss even came in through the back door in Orthodoxy in later centuries when, because of Islamic conquests and other reasons, the living patristic tradition of Orthodoxy was actually lost even by us Orthodox ourselves, by our forefathers in the Orthodox Church. So there’s huge problems here, huge challenges.
But let’s talk a little bit now about nature and super-nature, and in relation to natural science: Christian theology and natural science. First of all, the term “nature”: I would say that we must from the beginning understand that that’s a very difficult term to grasp because it’s used in so many different ways, and it’s used in different ways even within Orthodox theology, and it’s used in different ways within patristic theology, and there are even different words for that word which have then come into English where the translated word in English is “nature.” What I’d like to do now is just list a few of the very different ways in which that term, “nature,” is used, generally speaking and perhaps in spiritual and biblical and theological tradition, just so we can see how complicated the matter is.
First of all, when we say “nature,” we can simply mean nature, like taking a walk in the woods, like I’m going to be out in nature this weekend; I’m going to be in trees and I’m going to be in water and I’m going to be in fresh air and I’m going to ride a horse and I’m going to go fishing and I have to watch out for the bee bites because I’m allergic to them and mosquitoes and whatever. So there is this meaning of the term “nature” which has to do with, you know, generally speaking, the non-human elements that we experience on our planet, in our world. So there are lovers of nature, people who love nature, who love trees and birds and plants and animals. That’s considered to be nature. I think that that’s basically the way the word is used when we say, in everyday language, natural science. Natural science is the study of nature.
Now, natural science would include human beings in the study because human beings can then in that sense also be considered part of nature, that there are beings, mammals, male and female, with bodies and organs and hands and feet and paws and teeth and eyes and ears and hair and whatever, that simply can be considered part of the natural world. Of course, in our time, natural scientists have come to study human beings within the context of nature understood as animals and plants and rocks and birds and time and space and all the things that make up our existence in the planet earth. Human beings are part of that.
And then there are those who would say that’s all there is; there isn’t anything beyond that. There’s no such things, for example, as angels, and there is no God. All those other things are just superstitions or they are things that human beings invented to explain things in nature that they couldn’t explain, but the more we begin to explain and understand nature, the more these things disappear until we get to the actual point where they will disappear completely, and we will understand that everything is just natural, and the things that we would even consider according to human nature would simply also be considered to be purely natural.
Now, when we move in that direction, then we can speak about human nature, not only bird nature, dog nature, or whatever, but human nature. Here enters in another way in which the term “nature” is used. “Nature” can be used—and it was used philosophically by, well, Plato and Aristotle already in Greek. The term was physe in Greek, physe, natura in Latin, which meant what a thing is. When you are categorizing beings, you categorize them according to their nature. So certain beings are called birds because they have a bird nature, some are called trees because they have a tree nature, some are called dogs because they have dog nature, and some are called humans because they have human nature. Then even some people may have held that there were pure spirits which would have bodiless nature, and then they might even speak about the nature of the gods or the nature of God. But that word simply means is what a thing is.
So when you look at something, you would say, “Well, that’s a dog; that’s an angel; that’s a human being; that’s a fish; that’s a pig,” and why would you say that? Because it appears to you as such. The phenomenon, the shining forth of that person into our ability of having cognition would say that I have to conclude that that’s a donkey, that’s a bird, and that’s a human being. Here, Aristotle was very clear where he said, “Agere sequitur esse; action follows being.” So esse in Latin would be “being”; in Greek that would be ousia. Aristotle spoke about a prime ousia and a secondary ousia: prote ousia, and then you have deftera ousia. Ousia meant simply, on general terms, speaking about whatever something is, and then that nature, whatever that thing is, would be a concrete individual.
That’s where Aristotle and Plato parted company, because—this is very superficial, folks; very, very superficial; all philosophers out there, please forgive me: this is very superficial, but I think still basically accurate—a Platonistic direction would say, “Any tree or any dog or any rabbit or any human being is simply a concrete form of an idealized form that exists as Man itself, Tree itself, Dog itself, so the ultimate Being, the real, true Being, is not the beings that we experience, but that ideal Idea, even, it’s called Idos, that transcendent form of which those that we see are simply—and you could really say very simply, because that’s what it is—expressions, just expressions of the one, true Thing.
But then Aristotle came along and said, “Well, no, that’s not true. There aren’t ideals forms. There are only things. But still you can categorize them according to their nature, but there is no form that is not in some kind of a concrete existence,” that there isn’t something that is a concrete existent. In Greek it would be hypokeimenon or later on even a hypostasis. Hypostasis became a more problematic term also.
But let’s continue with this a little bit. Bear with me. Aristotle would say there isn’t any horse in general; there are only horses, but when you see a concrete, particular horse, you know that it’s a horse because of its nature. So he would still say there’s such a thing as [equine] nature or canine nature if it’s a dog, or human nature if it’s a human being, but there isn’t any nature in general. There are concrete natures, and you know what they are through their ergoi, through their operations.
So you have the nature, the concrete existence, and the activity of that concrete, existing thing. That became very important for theology, because basically Christian theology, following the Bible and a more metaphyiscal or philosophical manner, just adopted this way of thinking. They would say: The tree I’m looking at out my window I know is a tree because it has the nature of tree, but it’s a very specific tree, the one I’m looking at happens to be a pine tree, I think, or evergreen of some sort. Right next to it is certainly a maple; that’s one of the trees I can tell—but they’re both trees. I call them both trees; that’s their nature.
Then I specifically say that particular kind of tree is a pine, and that particular kind of tree is a maple. But then I will say there is that particular maple tree that I’m looking at, and there’s that particular pine tree that I’m looking at, and that’s how I can categorize them with other ones that belong to the same, you might even say, species, if you want to get into more modern terms, especially with Darwin, Origin of Species, but there’s that concrete one.
And then if I see my neighbor walk down the road, I say: That’s a man. Why? Because he’s a human being, but it’s Joe, it’s not Judy, and it’s not Johnny. It’s Joe—concrete person. How do I know? Because he acts a certain way. So you end up with person, nature, and energy. Then that kind of language was even brought into theology. God is ultimately said by Christians to be one and the same nature and hypostasized in three divine hypostases, Persons, and you know that each of them is divine—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—because they act in a divine manner. So that’s the doctrine of the Trinity.
Then you say about Jesus Christ: I encounter Jesus Christ. He’s a very particular man. He’s got a name; his name is Jesus. He’s Mary’s Son. He lived at a certain time. He has a certain body, certain shape—that’s Jesus. Then I say: What is he? I say: He’s a human being, but then when I really encounter him, I say: You know what? He’s also God! He’s also divine. I’ve got to say both things about him. Why do I have to say both things about him? Because he acts totally humanly, but he also acts divinely, which no other mere human being could act that way.
So what I’m using are these particular terms. When I say that God is one nature in three hypostases, and when I say Jesus is one hypostasis or one Person with two natures, I’m using the term “nature” meaning what a thing actually is, or what a being actually is. The term “nature” is very much connected to the term “being”: human being has human nature, canine being has canine nature.
Very early on in ancient Christianity, big problems emerged because of language, because the problem was that in Latin the term usually used for “nature” or “being” or “essence”—what a thing is—was substantia, but substantia, etymologically, was exactly the word in Greek of hypostasis. Hypo- means sub- and -stasis means “standing,” and sub- means “under,” and -stantia means “standing.” So the problem emerged that what the Greeks were calling, using the word for “person,” the Westerners were using the same word for “nature” or for “being.” It became really problematic, and Latin didn’t have a kind of a concrete term like hypostasis except substantia, and for “person” they only had persona, which in Greek was prosopon, which was not a very metaphysically powerful word. It meant more like a mask or a presence or a face, but it didn’t have that connotation of being a concretely existing being with a very particular nature.
The point we want to say here now is that we have two understandings of “nature” that I just tried, hopefully with some being helpful to you, to realize how we use those terms. We have “nature” meaning the natural world, and the scientists would study that, and they would include human beings in it, because human beings are part of the natural world. Some scientists, many scientists, would say, “Well, there are other realities beyond nature,” and other scientists would say, “No, there’s not. There’s only nature; everything is natural, and therefore what you cannot see, measure, and categorize and understand its operation simply is non-existent. At least it’s functionally non-existent for us, because we can’t even begin to study it because we study things that are in front of us that we can see, measure, weigh, make into mathematical formulas when we see how their behavior acts, and draw many, many conclusions.” And thank God for that, because we have all the great, marvelous achievements of modern science because of that. Now, some would say there’s something in addition to that, and others would say that there’s not, which then leads us to our next point.
Some folks say that what is in addition to nature is super-natural, supra-natural stuff. There’s super-natural stuff, there’s uncanny stuff, there’s stuff that you cannot explain by natural laws. Some scientists would say, “No, that’s not true. It’s just that we can’t explain it now, but sooner or later we’ll be able to explain it. Yeah, we will: when we learn enough and see enough and understand enough, so there really isn’t anything super-natural. There’s only things in nature that we don’t yet know.”
Some scientists would say, however, and even sometimes the very materialist scientists, even like Richard Dawkins, would say, “However, in studying science, there are certain questions which are outside its realm,” like: Will we be able naturally to know how the whole thing started? And then all questions about meaning—what this means, what the purpose is, what is it about—most would admit that they’re not within the realm of natural science at all. Science cannot answer those questions. Some people would say those questions are meaningless; other people would say, “No, they exist, but they’re beyond our means of knowing them. We could maybe make some acts of faith or something”—we’ll talk about faith and reason next time—“but we can’t really know them. We can’t speak about knowing them.” And scientia, science in Latin, means “knowledge”; it’s gnosis in Greek. So the term “science” means “knowledge,” but you can only know what you can empirically experience in a physical way by your observation.
Here the question would immediately be begged: Are human beings natural in the same way that the other beings that we know are that nobody would doubt their existence?—like horses, cows, plants, birds, fish, and whatever. Are human beings different? Are they distinct? Some folks would say, “Yeah, human beings are distinct.” Why? Because we’re the only ones who can do science. Cows don’t do it. Chimpanzees don’t do it; apes don’t do it.
They would observe the reality and say, “Only human beings are aware of their own death. Only human beings can ask questions. Only human beings can really communicate on a deep level in what can be called philosophical or abstract forms.” Some people would say the very existence of morality and of philosophy, and of course even religion, means that the human being is something radically different from the rest of the beings that we know on the planet, because none of the other beings create culture and civilization. None of them produce music and poetry. The whole area of the arts would show that there is something that is peculiarly human that cannot simply be explained in a physical, material, natural way.
Some people would say, “No, no, it can. It can. It’s only an illusion. We think we’re free. We think we are transcendent to nature, but, no, we only act the way we act because our brains have evolved in a certain way, but our what we call spiritual activity isn’t any more spiritual than I don’t know what—going to the toilet. It’s the same physical, material thing, except of a different nature, whether it’s done by the brain or it’s done by the digestive system. Whatever it is, it’s still merely a natural act.”
There was one fellow in Ben Stein’s film, Expelled, who just insisted on that. He said, “I act as if I’m free and I think I’m free, but really I’m not. I’m totally programmed by nature and my body, my DNA, my hormones, my genes, my drive, my brain, my chemistry, and I’m a product of my parents, and they were a product of their parents, and we’re in some type of evolutionary process. It could go this way, it could go that way. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t pretend to be any different from anything else except that my expression of my behavior is different from that of a cow or a bird or a fish, but that expression is as much purely physical and purely material as anything, anybody else, any kind of being.”
Well, that would be the center of a very particularly important debate. Is that true or not? Am I under the illusion that I’m free and that I’m speaking and that I’m making sense and that I’m dealing with nature with a certain transcendence and a certain freedom vis-à-vis nature? Or am I simply just automatically, organically expressing what the evolutionary process has come up with when it came up with Tom Hopko, and what I’m doing here is just what I’m programmed to do materialistically or naturally? In other words, do I have choices? Could I have gone this way or could I have gone that way?
There are some people who would say, no, everything is just purely natural and you yourself can be totally naturally explained if we knew all of the data. You could say, “Well, okay, I’m a priest, right? And I blab on the radio.” “Well, that’s only because that’s how your nature was, and your experiences on the planet earth.” Then the psychologists could come in and try to explain that naturally, too. “Oh, you’re a priest because your dad was pious, and you wanted to please your dad.” Then another guy could come and say, “Oh, no, you’re a priest because you couldn’t stand your father and he was in fact impious, and you just want to stand over and rebel against your father. That’s why you became a priest.” Someone else might say, “Well, you’re a priest because you like to perform in that way and you weren’t good at anything else.” Someone else would come and say, “Oh, you’re a priest because, I don’t know, your sexuality and libido was in such a way that you like to do these kind of things or something,” so it’s connected with eros or whatever.
But, you know, you can get into that as much as you want, but one thing is for sure. Christian theology would claim no. The human being is not natural like everything else on the planet earth, but it would say, yes, there is a human nature. There is a human nature, and anyone who’s a human being acts according to human nature, but it belongs to human nature because of the way it’s constructed, even because of how its brain is—because you can’t be human unless you have a certain kind of a brain—where it allows you to be, in some sense, to use that terrible term, transcendent to the nature itself, because you can ask questions, you can raise issues, you can make debate, you can do philosophy, you can listen to music, you could pray, you could serve the Divine Liturgy. No one else does that.
Then you have choices about what you do or don’t. Then you feel guilty: did I do right, did I do wrong? So right and wrong is all in there. Then there’s the issue of telling the truth or lying. Then there’s the issue of being in delusion or being free. But all these things testify, at least in the Christian tradition, to there is something much more and much different to a human being than all the other beings that we know upon the planet earth. In other words, human nature is really different.
Then the biblical theologians would come in, and the patristics, and say: When we speak about that, we speak about being made in the image and likeness of God, that there are qualities in the human being that make us God-like, and that is to have governance, that is to have freedom, that is to have intelligence, that is to have will, and these things cannot be explained purely and simply by biological and material and physical explanations. They cannot be explained simply by DNA, hormones, and brain chemistry. I don’t know the technicalities and all that. They cannot be.
In fact, we could even say: How do I use my brain? What will I use my brain for? I can struggle with my brain. I struggle with my brain terribly. I have the most terrible dreams all the time. That’s in my brain. That’s a problem I have to deal with, but how I deal with it, I would have to say, is not simply physically or materially determined, but I would still say how I deal with it belongs to human nature because I’m a human being. So I don’t think that you can say that there’s something in humanity that is super-natural, which then leads to our discussion of supra-natural and supra-natural phenomena.
Here I would want to say, for the sake of stirring up thought and reflection: I don’t think, personally, that super-natural is a very helpful word. I really don’t. I think everything is natural except God, and God has his own nature as divine, but it has nothing to do with the nature of anything else we know. Even those of us who would affirm the existence of bodiless powers, namely, angels, we would say even angels have their own nature, and they belong to the natural sphere. The activity of powers in human life and on earth and even in animals and so on, there can be demonic powers, what the Apostle Paul would call the elemental powers of the universe, the spirits of darkness and so on. But they are natural. They are as natural as a cow or a pig. They have their own nature and they act that way, and it’s just that their nature is different. Human nature is different, so an angelic nature is different, but it is still natural in the sense that you would use “natural” as something created by God and having its own forms of being.
Now here this would be why, I think, our Eastern Orthodox theology, certainly our holy Fathers, would never… would say, yes, there is divine nature when you speak about what God is or what the being of God is. You can speak about the divine nature. But the minute you begin defining that nature of God as you believe and claim even to know by certain means—we’ll get to that later—that this is the way God is and must be, then you say God is beyond anything in nature, God is supra-nature, he is hyper-ousios in Greek, he’s supra-substantial, he’s supra-essential, he’s incomprehensible, he’s holy, he’s different. There’s no categories that we know of anywhere else of any other type of being, be it an angel or be it an ant, whatever it is, being the highest fiery seraph or the lowest seed of sand, that can even be compared to what God is and how God is.
God is God. God is different. Here I would even say we should not even use the term supra-natural for God. God has his nature, so to speak, in that second sense of the term, but it’s a nature that’s beyond any kind of nature that we can possibly even comprehend. Then we can go on and say: And in the created order, the beings who have the nature that make them most God-like are human beings, and even not angels, but human beings. Why human beings? Because we’re noetic like the angels, we have will, we have intelligence, we have freedom, we can act, we can pray, we can sing hymns, and we have powers, but we also have bodies like animals and plants and rocks, even. We have minerals in us; we have matter. We spoke about this before. The human being is a microcosm, but it’s also an icon of the unknowable, ineffable God. That’s why there’s a certain unknowability and ineffability about being a human being, because we bear in our nature things that cannot be explained simply by physical laws. They cannot be explained simply by matter. They cannot be explained.
Love, for example. How do you explain love? You can’t say it’s just an instinct or something. Well, is it? You can say we see love in higher animals. Sure we do. Thank God, because they’re more developed. Yeah, dogs could love each other, but dogs could hate each other, too, and some dogs like and some dogs don’t, but most of it with the dogs is how they are and how they’re treated by us and how they’re trained, even. But human beings, there’s some sense in which the same thing is true. We’re animals that have to be trained, we have to be educated, we have to be formed, but we have to be formed how to use our intellect, our reason, our freedom, our faculty of believing. We’re going to speak next time about faith and reason, reason and knowledge, and how that applies to this whole debate about natural science and Christian theology.
But for now I want to really stress very strongly that I believe that the category of supra-natural is not very helpful, because it gets us into the area of what is spooky, people who can bend spoons with their mind or something, which they’re probably doing by demonic powers or natural powers that they’ve learned how to harness, which we don’t know yet because we haven’t harnessed them. But a lot of stuff that we consider super-natural is not super-natural at all. It can be very uncanny, very surprising. It can even be very spiritual in some sense, because—don’t forget—spirituality belongs to human nature. Human nature is spiritual, it’s emotional, and it’s bodily. St. Paul said it: we are pnevmatikos, noetikos, logikos; in other words, spiritual, logical, mental, intellectual, rational—but we are also psychikos, emotional, psychological, psychic, and we are also somatikos, bodily; we are even sarkikos: we are carnal, fleshly.
So we have all these different powers, but they’re natural. Well, God is completely different from all of this, so I would say it’s better, if you’ve got to use a term, to say God is supra-natural rather than super-natural. He’s above everything that’s natural. He does not have the qualities of everything else that he himself has created. So I think the better categories are created and uncreated rather than super-natural and natural; just created and uncreated.
When we take the next step and think of just one thing more for today—throw it on the table here or put it out on the airwaves—I think we have to say this. We’ve said it before; we’ll say it again. God is God, without reference to the created world, in other words, what we could say, without reference to what is natural. God does not fall into any of the categories that we would define as natural in the first meaning of “natural.” He would not even fall into the categories of the second meaning of “natural” if “natural” were simply connected with essential or substantial or having to do with being, because he’s beyond all those categories. God is beyond those categories. He’s completely holy, he’s completely different, he’s not like anything else. He is totally other: totaliter aliter, they used to say in Latin, completely other.
So he doesn’t fall into any of those categories, but what we would have to say at the same time is this: that everything that is natural is what it is because of God, and is what it is not only because God is involved in it, in making it or willing it to come to be in the beginning, however the process of that coming to be may be—it may even be an evolutionary process. We can study how they came to be, how they change, how they grow, how they emerge. That’s what natural scientists try to do and try to explain, and we should honor their efforts and bless them and praise them and try to learn from them: how these things interact, how they relate, why we have the theories we do. If we study, I don’t know, an embryo, and see the stages it goes through, and then we study fossils and see the stages they go through, we try to draw some conclusions or something.
So we’re very, very happy to study the natural order, but once you get into a conviction that God is existing—and we’ll deal with that again a little bit later, about how you can come to know that as opposed to what is purely natural or purely created—but what we would have to say would be this: the natural world cannot explain itself. The minute you get from physics to metaphysics and get into the area of explanation and meaning, origin and destiny, then you’re not within the natural order any more at all.
Therefore, we would say that there’s no understanding, ultimately, of the natural order without reference to God, and therefore we would even say—and this is, I think, what the Intelligent Design people are trying to say, but perhaps rather unfortunately in their way of doing it, is to say—that God is involved in all of this process. God is there. As Elder Sophrony said in my spiritual reading this very morning; he said, “Creation is still in the process of being created, and it requires the participation of human beings to reach its ultimate destiny.” So in a sense you can say creation is a continuous process until Christ comes again in glory, and the human beings have to enter into it to direct its direction to its proper omega point. I think Teilhard de Chardin would have said the same thing; he did say the same thing, as a matter of fact.
But in any case, I think that you cannot understand, ultimately, the natural world—the trees, the fish, the plants, the men—without reference to God and to its origin and to its destiny. When you get into those issues, you’re beyond what natural science, strictly speaking, can deal with.
There’s another issue, though. Is God involved in all of these things directly? And I think the answer is yes and no. He’s involved directly not in that he is making everything to happen as he makes to happen all by himself so that nature is simply his instrument that he’s manipulating forever according to ways he wants to do it, but there’s processes that he himself has determined in creating the world the way he created it, and a hundred thousand billion galaxies and a hundred thousand billion stars, and that his Spirit, his Logos, is involved in all of this stuff at all times. So when I look out my window and see the tree, according to the Apostle Paul, I could see the tree and I could say it’s a pine and it’s a maple, but if my heart is pure and if I am really the human being in the natural way that God created me to be, I would see in that tree the divinity and the power of God, the dynamis and theotis of God. St. Paul says this in the first chapter of the letter to the Romans.
He says that if I was acting as a human being, according to nature—you see, kata physin or physe, in a dative case, by nature—I would simply, naturally know God. I would know God in all the things that exist. I would know that in him we live, move, and have our being, and that he is in us and we are in him, and I would know that. I would be absolutely certain of that.
But in order to be able to know that, other things have to come into the picture that are beyond the methodologies of natural science, in weighing and measuring and so on. Well, what is brought in? Well, what is brought in by St. Paul in the letter to the Romans is praising God and glorifying God. What is brought in by the letter of the Romans is not to follow my own will and my own mind—which is a very biblical warning: Don’t follow your own mind, your own will. Don’t make up your own reality. Be an honest person. Be pure at heart. Jesus says if you’re pure at heart, you’ll see God; you’ll see God in that tree out the window if you’re pure at heart. But when impurity comes in, licentiousness, when the will and the spirit is used in an evil and sinful way, when we listen to the powers of darkness and the serpents and the fallen evils, then we don’t see things clearly any more, and then we don’t see how God is really in everything. His hands are in everything, and we don’t see how and why he’s there at all. In fact, we can come to the fact where we think that he’s not there at all as a matter of pure fact, that he simply does not exist.
Here you could say that the human beings began with idolatries, as St. Paul says, exchanging the one, true, and living God to images of beasts and crocodiles and whatever, but then you can even evolve further and say even the idols are no gods because there’s no gods at all, neither any one, true, living God or even any god at all. God is just non-existent. God has died, as Nietzsche says: God is dead in human development. We finally got rid of God and can be totally mature, free people—that’s post-modern, Western culture. Free people create and construct their own realities on the basis of their own choices through their own freedom and think that that’s the ultimate reality, and any kind of commandment, law, or authority is considered to be a power play by some other person to crush you.
So you question all authority, you rebel all against it, you create your own world, and basically become a nihilist because nothing means anything at all, even your own activity, except the freedom simply to express it. And that’s madness. That’s just simply madness. So you can say in some sense the modern world is crazy. St. Anthony said way back in the fourth century: A day will come when people who are insane, who are crazy, who are mad, will say to people who are not insane, who are sane and not crazy and not mad and totally normal and therefore natural, they’ll say, “You’re crazy.”
But here the point we want to make is this: It is absolutely natural, according to the Scripture, for people to believe in God. It’s absolutely natural and reasonable for people to act in the way that God’s commandments give. The only reason commandments were given was because we screwed up the world. St. Paul makes that point clearly. There shouldn’t have to be any commandments, but God has to give commandments. He has to do so through Israel and even through the commandments of the Gospel because we are all screwed up. So what we can say in relation to nature is: We have messed up our nature. Putting it paradoxically, our human nature is no longer natural. We are unnatural, we are sub-natural, we are what St. Paul said in the first letter to [the] Romans: para physin, contrary to nature.
We act contrary to nature, because if we act according to nature, we not only believe in God, we would know God. We would see God everywhere. We’d have insight into everything. We would know the truth and the meaning about everything. And we would do our natural science in a way that we would just delight in what we would come to learn and how it happened and why it existed, and we would see not only what is going on, or how it’s going on and trying to explain origins of species and stuff, but we would see why it came into existence from the hand of God in the first place, why God has guided it and designed it in the way he has as he as, and what its ultimate destiny will be, its end, its telos, its etiology, as we say, what the purpose of it is, and what we can expect in the future for ourselves, and even what we can expect being mortal because we can expect to be risen from the dead and therefore restored to nature.
Here we would claim the resurrection of the dead is the restoration of human nature. It’s not taking us beyond our human nature. So when you speak about mortality, you could use it in two ways. You could say: Is it natural for human beings to die? Yeah, on one level it is, according to the way we see human beings now, and it’s a corrupted condition. But then, why do we rebel against it, or at least have until the 20th century, rebelled so violently against death? Why do we weep, why do we mourn, why do we try to make explanations? Well, the answer is, in the Christian view and in most philosophical views, most religious views, even, is because death is unnatural. It’s contrary to nature. God did not create human beings and give them a mind, intelligence, free will, and governance over the rest of creation including the angels so that they would be putrid, rotten, stinking in a grave somewhere and simply reach extinction.
According to the Christian view, God did not create human beings in such a way that their souls would go to some purely spiritual place where they’d bask forever in some purely spiritual world. No, the world is not purely spiritual. Nature is not purely spiritual. There are beings whose nature is purely material. Then there are those that are animal, those that are zoological, those that are botanological—there’s plants, there’s animals, there’s birds, there’s dogs—and there’s human beings.
But the Christian view would be: All of this was created to remain forever and that nothing would be lost under the governance of human beings in the human being synergia—key term—cooperation with God, so that those creatures whom we can call natural are meant to have communion and to partake of the divine nature, as it says in 2 Peter in the New Testament. We’re all created to be partakers or communicants of the divine nature, and that divine nature is beyond nature. It’s not even like nature. That nature, when you say divine nature, it means simply we are to be in communion with what God is. So when we say “divine nature,” we say, “But God’s nature is beyond nature.” He’s not a category of natural as we understand it, like angels, human beings, and everything else in the physical, material, animal, and plant world is.
So we have to rethink this whole relationship between nature and super-nature. Here I would just sum it up in a couple of sentences like this. There’s really nothing super-natural. Everything that exists in addition to God has its nature and has to act according to nature, and you cannot violate or transcend your nature. You can’t transcend your nature, because you always are what you’re going to be, forever. A dog will be forever a dog, and I will be forever a human being, and I can’t change that.
However, as a human being, I can destroy my own nature, and I can destroy the nature of everything else around me, too. I could pollute the Louisiana Gulf, I can destroy the trees, I can poison other people’s bodies, I can, as St. Paul says in Romans, I can act contrary to nature, and being a male I can try to act sexually with another male, which he says is contrary to nature. That’s not the way nature is; that’s not the way things are. Christians would say that’s not the way God intended them to be. So we can destroy nature. We can be contrary to nature, and that’s called sin. It’s called a misuse and abuse of reality. So human beings can sin.
But that is all within certain natural conditions of all natural beings together, and God is completely outside that. So I would say in some sense there is no super-natural at all. Everything is natural, according to its nature, and then there’s God, who’s completely different from it all, and interacts with it all, creates it all from the beginning, interacts with it all forever, and ultimately brings it to its salvation, its glorification, its sanctification, its deification, through the crucified, raised, and glorified Jesus Christ, in an ultimately perfect, absolutely natural reality, when nature will finally be natural, when Christ comes again in glory. Until Christ comes again in glory, nature is not natural. It’s not natural. It’s not the way it was created to be. It was not the way the various elements in nature were meant to interrelate. And it’s certainly not the way human beings are supposed to relate to other beings. It might not even be the way that lions were supposed to relate to antelopes. There could be something else in the purely animal world—not the human animal world, but the sub-human animal, or the other-than-human animal, natural world—that we still are mysteriously involved in and don’t see the ultimate end of.
But right now, what can we say? Well, we can say, number one, natural science can study all these things as they see them, as they weigh them, as they measure them, as they have insight into them. They can try to find out as much as they can about them. And that’s terrific. But then comes along philosophers and religious people and certainly Christians who would say: Yeah, but you’ve still got a set of whole other questions: origin, purpose, destiny, interrelation, the uniqueness of the human—all these things that come in which appear to be free will, intelligence, reason, action, morality, good/bad, right/wrong—all that comes in, too, which immediately takes you out of the realm of what we call now, normally speaking, natural science.
But even those things are within nature. They belong to beings, human beings and other beings that have their natures, and our task is to complete and fulfill and sanctify our nature, certainly not to corrupt and poison and destroy it, but certainly not to escape it either into some purely supra-natural realm, which it seems to me doesn’t even exist, because there’s God and then there’s his creation, and the creation is what we would call natural, and that’s what natural science studies, but God is not an element in that particular enterprise. And human beings are an enigmatic element, because we share everything with the natural world of the scientists, but then there are other elements in the human life that are beyond what the natural science can deal with.