We are already behind in my Orthodoxy class, but this was a foreseen inevitability. It is one of the reasons I despise so-called course objectives, with their demonstrable and measurable outcomes: how do you measure the mind altering confrontation a student has with St. Athanasius or even with Origen, a confrontation which all-too-often must consume more than a week of class? You can’t, and thus these items are so much cant that has been imposed on us by the most illiberal flatulence of what I would say is a misuse of the social sciences. A good antidote in this regard, on the birth of the social sciences, is Hayek’s The Counter-Revolution of Science. The first part is a dense philosophical essay on the nature of scientific inquiry, its methods and it limits. In the second part Hayek is in high dudgeon laying out the career and mania of Henri comte Saint-Simon and his various attempts to skewer the liberal arts (in this he was simpatico with Napoleon and Descartes) and bolster the polytechniques. One of Saint-Simon’s students and secretaries was August Comte. I highly recommend the book if you want a glimpse at what stands behind so much modern hubris about social planning. I am not saying social science has no place, not at all, but I see it as a descriptive set of disciplines, and not at all predictive.
AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH. That felt better, now back to Origen and St. Athanasius. As I will be laying out before my students, so much of Orthodox Theology arises from problems stumbled upon by Origen, and then rectified by St. Athanasius. Origen of course was a brilliant mind, whose contributions to the Faith should not be minimized, even though he held very problematical views. The main one, as far as class is concerned is his misapplication to the Divine nature a distinction between the actual and the potential. God must be only actual, reasoned Origen, and in this way Origen defended the eternal generation of the Son from the Father. The Father was never without his Son, for in God there is no unrealized potential. But by this same token, in looking at the title of God, Pantokrator, there could never be a time when God was not All -powerful, and thus there must be something against which God’s might stood, and this was the created world, i.e., for Origen the world is eternal. Myriad problems arise from this, including his notions about what constitutes the Fall. More on this anon when the class gets to St. Maximus the Confessor.
For now I want to point out that the genius of St. Athanasius rests not so much with his defense of Trinitarianism, though indeed this was his life’s great work, but in his clear explication of what constituted creation. For St. Athanasius it cannot be admitted that there is no distinction in God in the Divine life; but that this divine life, while beyond our comprehension, beyond our ability to think on, let alone to speak of, in this demonstrates a great distinction. We must admit of the distinction, for this is how creation arises. Creation, as an act of God’s will, is an act of nature, and an act undertaken by all who partook of the Divine Nature, meaning of the Holy Trinity. We are wholly other than God, for the Divine Life is complete within the Divine Trinity who need nothing from Their creation, and indeed we can bring God nothing. As such, we see the distinction for we were created out of nothing, and our whole existence is completely contingent. We do not come from the Divine nature, but from an act of His will. We are a consequence of the will, which remains in God, intact. We do not possess, as the Stoics would have it, divine seminal words within us that link us to God. We do indeed have the logoi of our existence, and we are patterned after the very Word of God, the icon of the invisible God, but these logoi are not themselves the eternal Word or eternal words of God, but are instead patterned on them.
And it is these that show us the great graciousness of God. The whole world would collapse back into nothing were it not for the Logos of God at all times and in all place (everywhere present and filling all things), through the Divine Spirit, upholding and giving life to all. Since we are created out of nothing, were God to remove his Spirit, we would collapse back into the void. It is no wonder, and this is another whole essay, that the world in its forgetfulness of God, worships the void (it’s exhausting). Thus by grace we can attain to the life in God, but only by first the grace of creation, that we are made by the Word of God and in His image, but then in the reconciliation of the world, when the Son at lasts puts upon himself our flesh to bring us into the Divine life. This culminates creation, as we move then from having death in ourselves – - in that having been created from nothing, we without Christ must revert to this state – - to life in God. Christ said “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
In his defense then of creation, St. Athanasius was defending not only the aseity of God, but also the distinction between creation and generation. Generation was the Father naturally giving life to the Son. St. Athanasius used Origen’s thought that the Father as eternal Father, had an eternal Son, eternally begotten. Begetting was an act of nature, whether in the divine paternity, or in earthly paternity, for nature comes from nature. This was different than an artisan crafting a table or a pair of shoes, for their the artisan is employing his craft to make another whole thing. But in begetting, the Father “produces” His Son from His own substance, from His own nature. And thus the Divine life is wholly complete unto itself: the Father is logically prior to the Son, but in no sense temporally prior, for temporality is only of creation, only of time. But the Holy Trinity exists outside of time, and thus of any sort of temporal priority.
In defending the distinction between creation and generation, St. Athanasius was protecting not merely the Catholic and Apostolic doctrine of the Trinity, but was also protecting salvation, in that, as he says in On the Incarnation of the Word, that the basis of creation and redemption should be by the self-same word. As the Word of the Father, the Son knows the Father, and is thus able to reveal him to us. Why, for we are made in His image and likeness. Even though we are wholly contingent beings, products of the divine will, having been created in the Image and after the Likeness of God, we are able to have communion, now effectively perfected in the Incarnation, with the Holy Trinity. This was something the Arians could not say, for the Son, as just another creature, could never bring us to the divine life.