January 20, 2024

Fr. John Romanides as a Professor of Dogmatics at Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston (4 of 8)

b) The Three Ways of Knowing God

"The main feature of Orthodox theology is the knowledge of God's energies [activities], which knowledge comes as follows:

1) Natural Way (by observing nature, which is flawed).

2) Prophetic and Direct Way.

3) Biblical Way.

According to Jewish assumptions, apart from simple belief in the existence of God (Natural way), there are two ways of knowing God.

Prophetic way. This way is the encounter of God and the Prophet, through which the Prophet sees the glory of God, his nous is illumined regarding the will and energy of God, he sees God in action (that is, the glory or presence of God), but what God is he can never know, because God is not only this energy.

Biblical way. The Prophets and others wrote the will of God (which was revealed to them) in books, and that is why we have a collection of Holy Scripture. Man without direct knowledge of God can learn about Him through the written words of the Prophets and others. It is the means by which Israel learns the will of God and His energy. Thus, the Biblical way is the indirect way of learning about God, about His will and energy ("Blessed are those who have not seen and believed"). So either you believe like the Prophets or you don't. The philosopher follows a completely different path, and he is neither a Jew nor a Christian....

In the Old Testament, God reveals His energy, we see Him in action. Nowhere, however, is there a revelation of "what God is", but only "what He does". It is a revelation of the uncreated glory of God. God acts in certain ways in history. The God of the Old Testament and the New Testament is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel, who acted generally in Israel. (He called Abraham, He revealed Himself to Moses, in the Red Sea, and in the Exodus, He gave Judges and Kings to Israel. All these indicate the activity of God in Israel).

This activity of God in the Old Testament is very clear, not an abstract concept. He is the supreme King of Israel. All the names that refer to God in the Old Testament refer to His energies [activities] and not to His essence. God reveals His glory, power, energy and will. It is impossible for man to know how God thinks. And the glory of God is unspeakable and incomprehensible. Man knows His glory only when he sees it (by revelation), but not as a knowledge, thought, or idea from reason....

We can only speak about the energies of God, not what God is. So the basic character of man's speech about God is descriptive, man speaks about God's activity in history. As long as man, when he speaks of God, refers only to His activity, it is not possible to do so without Holy Scripture (Old and New Testament), which has a descriptive character, that is, it describes what God has done in history. So, the Bible is necessary for the discussion or speech about God.

There is a radical difference between philosophical methodology and Orthodox theological methodology. Men's philosophy presupposes a kinship between the human mind and God. In Jewish thought there is a certain kinship, but it does not belong to the nature of man. It is a divine gift to man or rather "divine grace", which is uncreated. Since divine grace is uncreated, it does not belong to human nature. Divine grace is the energy or glory of God. The only way by which man can see the glory of God is through divine grace; 'in your light (that is, in your glory) we shall see light (light = glory and not essence).'

Therefore, it is methodologically impossible for the Orthodox Church to systematize its theology. There can be no philosophical methodology in Orthodox theology. The Fathers of the Church interpret Holy Scripture, without theologizing separately, and from this interpretation is found the theology of the Church. If a Father wrote a systematic work, it was a polemical one, with the purpose of fighting heretics, pagans and philosophers.

Attempts were made by many to interpret and dogmatize philosophically, but such were condemned as heretics, e.g. Origen, Arius, Eunomius, Nestorius; also Western Scholastics such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas are heretics."


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