Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . . by it the elders obtained a good report . . . By faith we understand that the worlds were made by the word of God, that from invisible things, visible things exist . . . without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that he is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him . . . . by faith Abel offered . . . Noah, moved with fear framed an ark . . . Abraham went out to a place he knew not . . . Sara received strength . . . Abraham offered Isaac . . . . Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau . . . Jacob blessed both of Joseph’s sons . . . . Moses esteemed the reproaches of Christ, et cetera. . . . all these being approved by the testimony of faith, received not the promises; God providing some better thing for us, that they should not be perfected without us (adapted from the Douai-Rheims version).
We were created for Heaven, for a true apprehension of God, and for a Divine life that this life cannot yet perceive. True, it has been granted to a bare few to glimpse it even in this life, but as St. Paul said, the things he saw “it is not permitted for man to utter.” This difficult saying can admit of several readings: the King James has “it is not lawful for a man to utter,” the Douai-Rheims “it is not granted to a man to utter.” The verb has the force of a man has not the sovereignty or imperium or wherewithal to express what things St. Paul saw. And this is a constant refrain among the mystical writers, especially in the western monastic tradition, that words cannot do justice to that which the soul has experienced. Indeed a great debate has raged among western thinkers whether the mystical experience is affective or intellective (cf Heiko Oberman’s The Harvest of Medieval Theology). Albeit, this has not stopped the mystics from spending immense energy in writing about it. The inexpressible nature of our end, our telos, the life in God in the Kingdom of God, however, is not simply something for the mystics, though all those who have experienced the Divine Light will be quite precise about its preconditions, and I believe these are actually summed up in Kierkegaard’s title Purity of Heart is to Will one Thing. For the saints in light, their souls sated by the good, have no will, for they have no desire – – to turn from the Good. This is not to say that they are bereft of choice in the eschaton, nor true freedom of will, for they are always presented with the infinity of goods “around God” and within the faces of the saints, a thought distilled wonderfully by Dante in his phrase (at the third level of paradiso I believe) “Here come some other souls to share our love.”
This telos, this goal of our creation, animates the Orthodox doctrine not only of creation but also of redemption. Redemption is not merely “saving us from sin,” even though it certainly involves saving us from corruption, death, the Devil, the power of the demonic, and thus of sin; but it speaks of a restoration of us back to the path of divine contemplation, through the purgative power of askesis, and at last to attain to theosis, the life in God, the life in communion with the Trinity which the Persons of the Trinity now already share by nature, but extend to us by grace. Further, grace here, as with redemption, is not merely the activity of God which grants pardon for sin and puts us into a “right relationship with God.” Grace instead is the activity of God which brought about our creation from the very beginning, so that it would be wrong to say, as does both Pelagius and Calvin, that Adam at creation was some “mere natural man” who had existence, but lived apart from grace in what later Reformed theologians would call the “covenant of works.” As St. Athanasius put it, without the constant vision of God, beholding always by the light of Christ and participating in the life of Christ, we would (and we did), begin falling back to our nature of non-existence. Creation is not some neutral thing, but is predicated upon the infinity of logoi that surround God, the rationes or patterns of the world’s blueprint. This is why, from St. Irenaeus to St. Maximus, to Fr. Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory, the world is seen as a sacrament, since it is made, as are we, after the image of Christ.
But here a distinction must be made: the inanimate creation and the brutes have no part in immortality, for the image of God that includes life in the Trinity, communion with the divine nature, has no part in either their formal cause, or their material cause, or their final cause (to use some Aristotelian lingo). Yes, they are patterned after the many divine logoi, and indeed, as St. Maximus says, the myriad logoi are the one Logos, and the one Logos are the many logoi. But the logoi exist in the Logos not as constitutive parts, for being God the Word is not composite, but exist with Him as the eternal manifestation of his energies (His love for the Father and Spirit, the glory He has with them and shares with us, what the disciples saw on Mt. Tabor). Thus all of creation speaks to us of Christ, who is the Sacrament of the Father, and they exist as well as God’s sacrament to Adam, in which he is to behold the Creator (and thus why we can love Jazz, David Fraser, and the rigors and brilliant stratagems of the game of soccer). But Adam turned from beholding Christ in them to behold the created things for what they were not, ends in themselves. Thus instead of seeing “things” as not only our soul writ large, and thus the divine image within them that should be windows to see Christ, we saw them as what they were not, ends in themselves. And so if we see food only as pleasing to the eye, and as something that makes us wise so that in ourselves we can determine good from evil (the dialectic which turns God’s means into decadent ends), we have desacralized life, and instead created what we see so baldly today: secularism. St. Maximos wrote in his 7th Ambigua wrote:
The mode of willing, like the mode of seeing, i.e., to will to walk or not, or to look right or left . . . or to see out of concupiscence or in order to understand the logoi of beings, is a mode of the use of willing and seeing and belongs only to him who uses it . . . To will to eat or not; or to will to walk or not is not a negation of the natural will, but of the mode of willing, viz., the coming to being and passing out of existence of the objects of willing.
The key is the line “to see out of concupiscence or in order to understand the logoi of beings.” here we see what concupiscence entails, that it is the opposite of seeing things for their proper ends, for seeing the proper logoi of their existence. We view things as ends in themselves, instead of seeing that things in the universe stand in relationship to the Logos, the creator.
And this brings us back to faith. Faith is not mere trust, nor is it merely acceptance of what God offers in Christ, nor is it a combination of the two. Neither is it only mental assent, nor a sure and firm confidence in the promises of God. Each of these are ways to talk about faith, but the Bible makes faith something far grander: it is the essence of everything for which I have hoped, the very confirmation of the invisible and the spiritual. While it may involve a trust in God’s promises, an acceptance of all the creed teaches, and a certitude of God’s love unto me, it far transcends each of these. Thus when St. Paul says that we are justified by faith he means that it is the efficient cause of my salvation in that faith is the nature, essence, and substance of my life in God. As such it far supersedes confidence, trust, belief, and assent: in short, it is greater than a mental volition. We can see this in Hebrews, for there not only do we have this definition of what faith is, but we see how it operates and why we can say it is efficient cause: it moves us to act virtuously in a way that wold almost make it the form of the other virtues. St. Thomas asserted that love was the form of all virtues, but I will dissent from the angelic doctor for the same reason that I would dissent from saying that faith is the form of all virtues: Christ is the form of the good, for He is, as St. Paul says in Philippians 2, the very form of God, and the Wisdom and Power of God. Thus all virtues draw their efficacy from Christ, and without them, and here I mean the theological virtues, we cannot be saved. Can he who despairs of God be saved? Can he who loves not God be saved? Can he who has no faith in God be saved? The answer to all is no. Doubts arise, love can grow cold, and the vision of our ultimate end may dim, but this is not the same as despair, nor lovelessness, nor unbelief. Further, the Bible is also pointed about the fate of those unskilled or lacking in the cardinal virtues: justice, prudence, courage, and temperance (think of what God requires, about the foolish virgins, about those who put their hand to the plow and turn back, and what would happen to St. Paul were he not to keep his body in subjection). What St. Paul says about faith as substance and evidence, we can see also in hope (we are saved in hope, and just prior to Hebrews 11 St. Paul equates faith and hope, and in Ephesians that life without Christ is life without hope) and love (I Corinthians 13, and of course, love perfects faith).
All these virtues exist in us naturally, that is, they are part of us as created, and while hindered by concupiscence, that is by us using and thinking about creation for an end in itself, they are not eradicated by the Fall. Like life itself, the virtues are God’s gifts to us at creation, instilled in us so that we might have life in Him. As Christ is the form of all the virtues we find the end of all of them in him. Thus to speak of justification (being made righteous) by faith alone detracts from all that God not only asks of us, but also gives to us in all the virtues, including faith. This is not to say that we are saved by the works of the law, even though St. Paul says that the law is just, holy, and good; for to be saved by the law is to obligate God. For Adam to look to God was to be animated in all his virtues into the life in God, to be suited by theoria/contemplation and be ensconced in the Divine life. I shall return to this matter about the contrast of faith and works in my next post, for how does St Paul specifically use faith when in Romans he contrasts it with the works of the law, and also when he speaks about being made righteous by faith.