Genesis: truth and metaphor
Posted 22 January 2005 - 05:35 AM
And by the way, thank you Father Raphael for your beautifully stated expression of "icon" and eucharistic perspective.
Posted 22 January 2005 - 08:48 PM
Great points! It is easy for one to be as harsh on the literalists as the non-literalists on this issue. As Janine and Mark have both hinted at, the technical details are not the focus of the issue. It's not simply about creation - it's primarily about the Creator.
Great discussion BTW!
Posted 24 January 2005 - 06:41 AM
Daniel, thanks for the critical comment on those who advocate the primacy of myth above everything else. Of course, one may agree that explanation by invoking the power of myth may itself be a myth, and nevertheless remain a mythologist in one's approach to the gospel, if that makes any sense. Your statement of the obvious, however
is a powerful reminder of the mystery that cannot be named at the heart of our existence. It reminds me also of a short, sharp refutation of relativism I once read: to those who claim that truth is relative, one need only ask, "is that true"?
Concerning truth and the Bible, however, I have a further question: by what criterion can we take some biblical narratives to be metaphorical (symbolic, allegorical, mythical etc.), and others literal? Why is it, for example, permissible for a Christian to accept that the Genesis account is not literal fact, but not that f.e. the Virgin Birth is not literal?
I ask the above in a hopefully healthy spirit of inquiry, for my own and others´growth, not to undermine the eternal verity of our faith. The way I tend to deal with dogmatic truths I cannot rationally understand, is to remind myself that (a) reason is not the summit of human being, and (b) I do not yet possess (and most likely never will) the spiritual discernment.
Posted 24 January 2005 - 05:21 PM
"Christ's Incarnate Economy affects all invisible & visible things both in the sense of accomplishing and even causing them to be, as well as in the sense of influencing them. The Recapitulation consequently effects the very design of time & history itself, since it pertains to 'the mystery which hath been hid from generation' of the 'Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.'...
This constitutes the allegorical or typological basis on which Irenaeus & other Fathers read the Old Testament...
in order for there to be a fulfillment of the Old Testament, there must be a repetition & recontextualisation of its themes in the Life of Christ, and where necessary, a reversal of them...Types are like leitmotifs in music; they are repeated, and with each repetition, recontextualised, reaching their fulfillment in Christ."
As already noted there is much else in the preface that is worth reading & considering on this topic of allegory and its deeper basis. Certainly the Holy Fathers did accept in simplicity that what they read in the Old Testament really did occur. But on a deeper level the main preoccupation of the Fathers was not that 'something occured'. For the Holy Fathers the literal truth & allegory were not opposed. Rather the significance of what really occured was only found in how it referred to Christ or the life in Christ. So in this sense all of Christian life & history is allegorical or iconic.
In our day & age we are often historical materialists who believe that the value of some event or person is found only in itself. So themeaning of history is simply that one thing leads to another ie there is cause & effect. For the Fathers however all that is finds its significance only insofar as it refers to Christ. And on the contrary whatever tries to stand outside of Christ has only the meaning of nihilism. So in this sense whatever or whoever is not being 'allegorical' is dying the deepest death possible- seperation from Christ.
This is like the modern person who looks at an icon and complains that it is not realistic whereas from within the Church we see precisely that the icon does represent what is most real & fulfilled. So the Church sees in terms of what is being fulfilled in Christ while for the world 'reality' is what stands on its own on its own terms- which the Church recognises is pure fantasy.
In Christ- Fr Raphael
Posted 24 January 2005 - 08:52 PM
Odd that the "realist" who complains about the lack of realism in an icon is really seeking a strange sort of idolatry, it seems. The post-modern type of iconoclast who only in the end is seeking nihilism, nothingness as a required goal or end in itself also misses the mark, and this sort of nihilism becomes just an idol too.
Posted 24 January 2005 - 09:03 PM
As for Christ, his life occurred in a time and place where history was already an important subject in the Greek world -- not in a pre-literate, pre-human, pre-historical period of time where no one was around to witness! Obviously there is going to be a difference, even in ontological terms, if you will, in literature from witnesses and literature about God's work before humans existed, don't you think?
Posted 24 January 2005 - 10:04 PM
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Posted 25 January 2005 - 09:44 AM
For those interested in tracing out some of the history of the 'literal' 'versus' 'allegorical' debate over reading scripture (I have put all three terms -- literal, versus, and allegorical -- in inverted commas intentionally), it is worth recognising that discussions on the theme go back very early. Origen, whose name I bring up not to re-spark the debate over his person that has proved interesting discussion here before, made heavy use of an 'allegorical' reading, as indeed did many of his venue: Athanasius, Alexander, Cyril, etc., as well as Arius, Apollinarius, etc. Others adopted a much more 'literal' reading -- one thinks of Theodore of Mopsuestia or Nestorius, but also of John of Antioch, much of John Chrysostom, and much of Basil of Caesarea, among many others. And one cannot leave off Augustine of Hippo, who went through several editions of his 'Literal Commentary on Genesis' over the course of his life (but who defines 'literal' very carefully, and not the way most today would define it!). Indeed, in the fourth and fifth century, the question over how to read scripture was part of the dispute between various 'camps' in the great theological arguments of the day - an aspect of that debate summarised in the 'Two Schools' reading of the period.
'Literal' and 'allegorical' are in some sense modern terms, at least in the manner that most today understand them. With regard to approaches to the bible, the former tends to be inspired by an overly-zealous and usually misguided vision of 'scientific fact' and history, and the latter by a desire to locate moral messages, inner meaning, and so on. But the fathers read scripture to find Christ -- a manner of exegesis that fits neither in the category of literalism nor allegory.
Posted 25 January 2005 - 04:25 PM
I wholeheartedly agree with you on the importance place of truth enquiry in the natural sciences and all spheres of human knowledge. Such was not only the teaching and pedagogic practice of such Fathers as St. Basil the Great but also such early witnesses as St. Justin Martyr. All truth is from God and no aspect of truth can fight against any other in his Wisdom.
Isaac has begun another thread on causality which has some relevance here. My favourite quote on these matters is from St. Augustine, who, on one of his better days said:-
"Even non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn."
- Saint Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1, Chapter 19
Posted 27 January 2005 - 01:32 PM
However, Sebastian Brock in his introduction to <u>St. Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns on Paradise</u> articulates a vision of Paradise that I can happily claim to kinda, sorta grasp with a measure of faith.
A literal reading of the Biblical text would leave one with the impression that Paradise is a concept which belongs only to the beginnings of creation. In the religious climate of the centuries at the turn of the Christian era, however, a much richer understanding of Paradise had grown up within Judaism, finding expression in apocalyptic works such as the First Book of Enoch (perhaps of the second century BC); in these writings Paradise is understood as representing both the primordial and the eschatological state at the end of time, for it has now also become the abode of the righteous...
By locating Paradise outside of time and space as we know them, Ephrem was deliberately going against the more literalist views of Paradise that were current in the early Christian period...St. Ephrem's understanding (which he shares above all with St. Gregory of Nyssa) would seem to be far more profound and much richer in meaning; furthermore precisely because he locates Paradise outside of geographical space, his views are left unaffected by modern advances in scientific knowledge.
Since primordial Paradise belongs outside of time and space it also serves as the eschatological Paradise, the home of the righteous and glorious after the final Resurrection.
Posted 27 January 2005 - 04:55 PM
Posted 27 January 2005 - 05:01 PM
Posted 27 January 2005 - 05:39 PM
It is so commonplace now in the west to think of death as "natural" ... an integral part of a "good" creation that the Orthodox understanding of death as a necessary but temporary adjustment in God's plan ... his real goal for his creatures being immortality by grace seems completely irreconcilable with insights from the natural sciences. According to these insights death has ALWAYS existed from the dawn of life. Notice, however, how immortality in Orthodox Christianity is something to be acquired by grace, humans being created neither mortal nor immortal. The Paradise account of Genesis reveals a certain latency toward immortality in humankind which has been spoiled by disobedience to God. Genesis is silent on death as a more widespread phenomenon amongst all life forms but Romans is not so reticent. With the coming of Christ we have new revelation from the mouth of St. Paul. Corruption and death have indeed spread from humans to all life forms yet such bondage to decay is being reversed by the new birth of the resurrection.
"For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now." (Romans 8:20-22).
We should not, therefore, become too pre-occupied with the chronology of Genesis. It is a perfectly Orthodox position to take divine teaching from Genesis without expecting it to deliver a scientific account of the creation of life and its problematic development. This, incidentally is why many Orthodox do indeed accept evolution as a credible scientific theory accounting for the development of life without feeling that somehow they have thereby sacrificed Christian insights into humankind's spiritual and moral development. Indeed evolution itself might provide some clues as to the possibilities of an emergent human species redeemed by grace. So, in the natural way of understanding things life is inconceivable without death. In the perspective of God's saving providence, however, there will be in the Last Day life without end and a renewed creation. Evolution might just be the natural process God's uses, hitching a ride as it were from the resurrection potential of repentance and union with God.
Posted 27 January 2005 - 05:48 PM
Following on what you've said, you remind me that often I've thought to myself that I see in evolution a great intelligence: as if the fashioners and upholders of life on earth in their ministry have made such great and beautiful variety! I actually think it fits, philosophically anyway, completely with the understanding of the intelligence behind all life on our planet and its constant care and ministry. I just look around and am constantly struck by the beauty, variety and creativity in all of life all the time and see it as a reflection of the intelligence and creativity that is there ministering and building - and its hand evolving - it all. Does that make sense to others out there? Also, I think Darwin's theories don't really explain well all of evolution and various 'appearances' in history of different species, adaptations, etc. on completely pragmatic scientific grounds. And there too is room, at least for me, for the hand, intelligence, and fashioning of God and His ministers.
Posted 27 January 2005 - 06:43 PM
A lot of his presentation at the time was presented within the framework of what he referred to as, "the fall of man into dialectic." A lot of this had come from a synthesis of St Maximos the Confessor & other Fathers. He would present not only the theological vision of the Fathers but also provide an indication of the cultural implications of this vision (or the results of losing this Patristic vision). I was struck by how brilliant & insightful much of this presentation was & at times prophetic in spirit- both personal & rigorously at one with the spirit of the Fathers at the same time.
In Christ- Fr Raphael
Posted 30 January 2005 - 04:44 PM
As a follow-up to your post above, it is worth remembering that to most of the early Greek Fathers especially, it was understood that the human creature is, and always was, naturally mortal. All material things are corruptible, finite and mortal. There is nothing 'naturally eternal' about the corporeal human creature. What is eternal and immortal is the divine transfiguring of this mortal and temporal life by God -- a gift given to the creature at its first formation, hers always by receipt and never by natural possession. Thus it is possible to 'lose' something which was never 'possessed' as a natural property, but which was gifted into receipt 'from the beginning'.
An interesting and involved (100+ posts) discussion was had on this and related themes not long ago, in the Souls, Immortality and Eternity thread. If you're interested to read some of the posts most directly related to this theme, there are a few by me (1, 2, 3, 4); an important one by Owen (with my response here); and another from Fr Raphael.
Posted 30 January 2005 - 05:30 PM
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