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Fr. Hopko and the wrath of God


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#1 David Lindblom

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 02:07 AM

There is a two part (so far) teaching by Fr. Thomas Hopko concerning the wrath of God. It is found here: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko. He says some things I found to be somewhat different than what I had been taught thus far. Basically, he is saying that the wrath of God, the anger of God, the pleasure of God etc. are all very real things. While God in His essence is none of these things, in His energies or His activities in creation that are defined as wrath etc. these are very real none the less. That the experience of God by a person whether it be wrath or blessing it is truly God being wrathful or blessed. He further states that to limit this experience to the spiritual state of the person is to make that particular manifestation (like wrath) unreal. He says that that view is an example of western theology not eastern.

Now, to me, this butts up against the teaching of the Church concerning Heaven and Hell. Up till now I have been taught that all people are headed for the same place. And that it is our spiritual condition that determines what our perception of God's love is going to be, heaven or hell.

I'd like to hear others opinion on this who have been around the Orthodox block more than myself.

#2 Paul Cowan

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 04:22 AM

I've not been around as most others, but there is a very real place called heaven and another called hell. It is not just our spiritual condition that gets us to one place or another, but our choice to accept God's love or reject it. God is omnipresent. He is in heaven and hell and everywhere. Those that are tormented are no further from God than those that are blessed by His presence. Those in hell cannot accept His love by choice and are "burned" by His brilliant light.

We are not all going to the same place. As Jesus said some are on His right and some are on His left. They are both equally distanced from Him, but separated nonetheless. Don't confuse anger with righteous anger as Jesus showed in the temple. God is Love. He is not a pansy. He is strong in His love. Jesus also said no earthly father would not discipline his child. neither will God not discipline us. He is a loving Father and takes us to the wood shed when necessary to correct our poor actions or to get our attention so we pay attention. What kind of a Father would do less? For these types, you can look in our cities and see absentee fathers and how their children turn out.

Paul

#3 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 02:32 PM

Here is a comment I left over at Fr Stephen's blog:

I very much appreciate Fr Thomas’s effort to salvage the wrath of God. One of my concerns about Kalomiros’s “River of Fire” is its virtual nullification of the divine wrath, thus making it impossible for pastors to preach huge portions of the Holy Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testaments. Clearly the divine wrath poses a difficulty for us, but it is a difficulty that is posed to us by the Word of God. Fr Thomas reminds us that we should not too quickly retreat to abstraction, but rather we need to dwell in the biblical story and allow the Scriptures to teach us the meaning of the divine love and wrath. We may end with St Isaac of Syria but perhaps we should not begin with him.

I wish to offer one criticism (19:00-22:00): Fr Thomas accuses St Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent of asserting that God’s love, mercy, sadness, kindness, and wrath do not really exist in God; they are only ways of speaking of our experience of God. God as God is the “immobile, static supreme being.” Now I confess that I find Thomas Aquinas and all the scholastics difficult to comprehend; but I do know enough to know that this is a caricature of the Western tradition. For Aquinas God is pure act. He is not immobile and static being; he is the very act of existing. Heck if I know what this means, but I know it does not mean that the Christian God is the static unmoved mover of Aristotle. Eastern theologians really do need to stop caricaturing the scholastics. Either read and understand them or stop talking about them altogether.

Fr Thomas appears to believe that our language for God can be interpreted in a purely literal, univocal sort of way, that when we speak of God’s wrath, we mean precisely the same thing when we speak of the wrath of our next door neighbor; yet surely this is not the case. The scholastics were not the first Christian theologians to analyze language for God under the categories of metaphor, analogy, and anthropomorphism. I do not believe that the Palamite distinction between essence and energies so easily resolves the question “When we say that God loves us or gets angry with us, what precisely do we mean?” “What kind of language is this?” Aquinas’s discussion of these questions is one of the most important in the Christian tradition.

#4 David Lindblom

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 05:03 PM

Here is a comment I left over at Fr Stephen's blog:
I very much appreciate Fr Thomas’s effort to salvage the wrath of God. One of my concerns about Kalomiros’s “River of Fire” is its virtual nullification of the divine wrath, thus making it impossible for pastors to preach huge portions of the Holy Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testaments. Clearly the divine wrath poses a difficulty for us, but it is a difficulty that is posed to us by the Word of God. Fr Thomas reminds us that we should not too quickly retreat to abstraction, but rather we need to dwell in the biblical story and allow the Scriptures to teach us the meaning of the divine love and wrath. We may end with St Isaac of Syria but perhaps we should not begin with him.


Yeah, this is the crux of the matter for me. I came from a very conservative Protestant background where they teach that we are literally being saved from God by God. He's really our worst enemy in His wrath against sinners. I was so relieved to hear the Orthodox teach and I mean really focus on the fact that God is love. Not in the sense of making Him some kind of liberal pansy but that He is motivated by love of mankind. I read the River of Fire and rather liked it. Many circles of Protestants make God out to be little more than a monster...look at Calvinism. Fr. Hopko's talk seems to contradict much of Orthodox teaching I have come across thus far though, I must say, he does make some sense. I want to know and speak the truth on all matters so I hope I will learn the truth here on this subject. Thanks for your response.

#5 Owen

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 05:16 PM

Calvinism is nothing but theological determinism, and Orthodoxy is not deterministic.

The notion of a wrathful God--what I call the Great God Zappus--was always present in the Bible (the ancient Israelites seemed to be divided into two camps regarding His perceived nature). In the Christian West, this notion was reinforced by assumptions about our nature based on Tertullian's legalism and St. Augustine's flawed anthropology.

God does, indeed, act always out of love, but it can sometimes be tough love. Sometimes, we need a whack upside the head (i.e. a miracle) to get our attention, but His aim is not to break us but to refine us.

#6 Matthew

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 06:13 PM

Up till now I have been taught that all people are headed for the same place.


I think that the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is helpful to learn that there is a great divide between those in torment and those in paradise. It's also clear that fire is involved.

Yeah, this is the crux of the matter for me. I came from a very conservative Protestant background where they teach that we are literally being saved from God by God [in contrast] God is love.


I'm having also difficulties coming to terms with a Good and loving God, along the existence of God's wrath and anger. Fr. Thomas Hopko is saying that the wrath of God, the anger of God, the pleasure of God etc. are all very real things. I believe that this is true.

Proverbs 1:7 say that the fear of God is the beginning of all knowledge. The psalmist says that God is slow to anger and will not keep his anger forever. This implies that God has these attributes, although he will show mercy and not afflict us accordingly.

How then do I reconcile that with Saint Anthony in the Philokalia, quoted in the River of Fire, (and I'm editing for brevity) "God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and be offended are passions... God is good, dispassionate and immutable." (Chap 150) Because I believe that this is true also, and that God is love.

Are the answers to this dilemna in some of Aquinas's discussions that Alvin mentions? Although I'm hesitant to go there for answers, I'd rather hear from an Orthodox Christian.

#7 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 28 October 2009 - 10:25 PM

Matthew, I do not know how Thomas Aquinas would analyze the question of how we should understand the biblical language of God's wrath; but perhaps the reflections of a student and translator of Aquinas, Fr Herbert McCabe, might be of interest. McCabe would say that the language of wrath must be interpreted figuratively. See this short piece that I wrote last year, "Finding the God who is Love."

#8 Geoffrey Miller

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 01:57 AM

I rather enjoy Fr. Thomas' podcasts, though I do not always agree with him. I sent the following email, so hopefully I will get a response; if so, it seems some of your questions, not just mine, will be answered as well.

Dear Fr. Thomas,

Many of the things you said in part II of your series on God's wrath were very enlightening and cleared up some confusions I had about what you said in previous podcasts. However, your suggestion that St. Augustine bordered on modalism really threw me for a loop. I offer the following passage for your consideration, from this source (Chapter 4): http://www.newadvent...hers/130101.htm.

"All those Catholic expounders of the divine Scriptures, both Old and New, whom I have been able to read, who have written before me concerning the Trinity, Who is God, have purposed to teach, according to the Scriptures, thisdoctrine, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit intimate a divine unity of one and the same substance in an indivisible equality; and therefore that they are not three Gods, but one God: although the Father has begotten the Son, and so He who is the Father is not the Son; and the Son is begotten by the Father, and so He who is the Son is not the Father; and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but only the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, Himself also co-equal with the Father and the Son, and pertaining to the unity of the Trinity. Yet not that this Trinity was born of the Virgin Mary, and crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended intoheaven, but only the Son. Nor, again, that this Trinity descended in the form of a dove upon Jesus when He wasbaptized; nor that, on the day of Pentecost, after the ascension of the Lord, when there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, the same Trinity sat upon each of them with cloven tongues like as of fire, but only theHoly Spirit. Nor yet that this Trinity said from heaven, You are my Son, whether when He was baptized by John, or when the three disciples were with Him in the mount, or when the voice sounded, saying, I have both glorified it, andwill glorify it again; but that it was a word of the Father only, spoken to the Son; although the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as they are indivisible, so work indivisibly. This is also my faith, since it is the Catholic faith."

I simply cannot see any difference between the theology you offer in your talks, and the one I encounter when reading St. Augustine. Both of you appear, at least to me, to be in almost perfect agreement.

Moreover, St. Thomas and other Western figures simply do not deny that when we speak about God being wise or good, that such things are not really real; quite the contrary. In the Summa Theologica, the following articles of question 13 (source: http://www.newadvent.../summa/1013.htm) of part 1 assert 1) we can call God wise or good or angry; 2) these names express something real in God, not just metaphorical; 3) names can be applied in the literal sense, so God really truly forgives, really truly gets angry, but in a way different and more perfect and surpassing such attributes as we observe in creatures, whose forgiveness or anger is but a pale reflection of the Divine forgiveness or anger; 4) God's anger and love an wisdom are not just different names for the same thing, but are really different, really diverse, and again, really real, even though they describe the single perfection of the one and only divinity, etc...

Again, I really enjoy your talks, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these matters. I find the issues you often raise fascinating; I have never quite looked at things in the way you do, and I cannot overemphasize, your unique perspective is very refreshing to me, both intellectually and spiritually. Please father, do not think I am just out to criticize you. I am so sorry to hear about the poor treatment you have received from others, some of whom have even called you a heretic. But my inquiries with you are sincere and of good will.

Pax Christi,
Geoffrey



#9 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 02:45 AM

With respect to this thread and the topic on Orthodox understanding of hell, I think there is a certain freedom of thought for Christians to explore and apply that which works for the edification of their own souls. This is not the same as theological relativism at all, but acknowledges that salvation is a practical enterprise, not a theoretical one. And so, for example, a wise and loving father expresses wrath toward his children when they misbehave, utilizing the threat of punishment, knowing that they must fear him in order to learn the importance of doing the right thing, and then, in time, they too will acquire wisdom and understand that their father's wrath was not out of a malign hatred but only love for what was best for them. I must tell you how illuminating it was when I first read the statement -- the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom -- in its fullness, with some degree of spiritual understanding. fear is the beginning, not the end. This is my own appropriation of meaning (and power) from the verse, which is still open to further illumination for me. I don't just end there, having concluded that I have the answer to that particular puzzle and then move on to solving the next puzzle. It is a source of unlimited spiritual meditation.
And so while it is right and good to compare, say, Aquinas and an Orthodox Father on the subject of God's wrath and hell, or compare various Fathers on these topics and ask ourselves what is true, it could be that they are each true in their own way, and the truth still depends on willing and receptive ears. In the Philokalia I have run across examples of a father quoting a particular story to exemplify a spiritual principle, and then go on to say, "on the other hand, abba so and so said this..." The point being that what seems, to an unillumined mind to be a logical contradiction between two statements, is nothing more than two different ways of approach toward the same solution -- a pure and contrite heart.

We can also observe what happens when we exclude certain things because we perceive them to be in violation of some spiritual absolute that we strenuously cling to, only to find that much damage ensues. It is best that when such a case arises we simply acknowledge that we do not yet understand the meaning, being yet in a stage of spiritual infancy, rather than making some absolutely pronouncement on the subject. I kind of like the scene with the Ethiopian eunich, asking about the meaning of the Biblical passage. I am struck by what seems to me to be the spiritual simplicity and purity and naivite of the question, which is probably how we ought always to approach Scripture and Fathers, rather than thinking, what logical deduction can I make from this in order to form some absolute answer.

#10 Geoffrey Miller

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 03:26 AM

And so while it is right and good to compare, say, Aquinas and an Orthodox Father on the subject of God's wrath and hell, or compare various Fathers on these topics and ask ourselves what is true, it could be that they are each true in their own way, and the truth still depends on willing and receptive ears. In the Philokalia I have run across examples of a father quoting a particular story to exemplify a spiritual principle, and then go on to say, "on the other hand, abba so and so said this..." The point being that what seems, to an unillumined mind to be a logical contradiction between two statements, is nothing more than two different ways of approach toward the same solution -- a pure and contrite heart.

We can also observe what happens when we exclude certain things because we perceive them to be in violation of some spiritual absolute that we strenuously cling to, only to find that much damage ensues. It is best that when such a case arises we simply acknowledge that we do not yet understand the meaning, being yet in a stage of spiritual infancy, rather than making some absolutely pronouncement on the subject. I kind of like the scene with the Ethiopian eunich, asking about the meaning of the Biblical passage. I am struck by what seems to me to be the spiritual simplicity and purity and naivite of the question, which is probably how we ought always to approach Scripture and Fathers, rather than thinking, what logical deduction can I make from this in order to form some absolute answer.


Amen and Amen. I concur. What strikes me as ironic is that Fr. Hopko appears to be arguing for this position as well, but while accidentally falling into the same trap, indeed, the very same trap he is attempting to disarm, of trying to circumscribe the uncircumscibable Divinity with logic.

I honestly get the same benefit from Western and Eastern theology. Call me blind, but I have yet to come across a contradiction. I read the Fathers as if I was having a conversation and coffee with them, and in a sense, I suppose whenever I read their writings, that is exactly what I am doing. I read them for spiritual enlightenment, edification, and moral motivation or to learn how to defend my beliefs.

I do not comprehend the minutiae of theological word games. I think they are all just misunderstandings.

#11 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 01:38 PM

On the other hand, I would never say that theological differences that appear to be over the meaning of words are only just misunderstandings. Far from it.

#12 Evan

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 08:34 PM

Father Thomas Hopko has effectively led me to Orthodoxy, about which I knew nothing until a gym workout buddy of mind recommended I listen to one of his podcasts. I can't think of a single podcast of his that I didn't enjoy, save his podcast about terrorism.

What strikes me most about him is his fairness and forthrightness. He simply, intelligently, and passionately expounds the teachings of ancient Christianity. He also makes the distinctions between West and East understandable, neither glossing them over nor diametrically opposing them to one another for the sake of doing so.

I've particularly enjoyed his podcasts about the wrath of God. I've been unsatisifed with some writings from Orthodox authors that seem to deny that God "gets angry" (although it's possible I've misunderstood them). Hopko presents God's wrath in a way that affirms its reality without turning God into a kind of cruel tyrant.

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 08:55 PM

OK, I'll bite. What did he say about terrorism???

#14 Evan

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 09:24 PM

Oh, boy. I really don't want to misrepresent what he said, and it's possible that I didn't understand it correctly. Nevertheless...

He seemed to frame 9/11 in the context of God chastising us, in the same way he chastised the Jews by means of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians (well, not so much the Persians), etc. He made reference to our abortions and pornography and how we ought to reflect upon what we're doing to make Muslims hate us so much. He also said that the terrorists were not cowards (I am not sure why, and I can't say I agree).

Now, I felt (personally, I stress) that he mischaracterized the attacks on the World Trade Center as some kind of measured criticism of Western moral ills, as opposed to a hateful act that was about nothing so much as Islamic supremacy. I find it hard to believe that Mohammad Atta cared about our abortions, as opposed to the fact that we did not submit to Islam or pay the jizya, as Bin Laden requested us to do, prior to 9/11.

I suppose the answer to this is, Nebuchednezzar wasn't engaging in measured criticism either, but God permitted him to do what he did in order to humble the Jews-- regardless of how evil his own motives might have been. Perhaps He permitted Mohammad Atta to do evil for the same purpose. I tend to lean towards the idea that the lesson to be learned from 9/11 is how much we are hated simply because we are perceived as being a Christian nation, as opposed to how evil pornography and abortions are. Now, of course our nation is rife with such evils, but I just can't see the connection between the one and the other. And I think that there's something problematic about worrying about the kind of example we're setting to people who are so clearly bent on our destruction, and who will take whatever kindness we offer them as weakness.

I am also aware that this may be a disagreement that has nothing to do with ancient Christianity, but rather with contemporary politics.

Lord forgive me if I am wrong, and help me to do better the next time.

#15 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 09:43 PM

To interpret the correctness of this we would first have to come to an understanding of the pattern or paradigm found throughout the Old Testament.

i) Israel betrays through idolatry their call by God to faithfulness. This betrayal is described as a form of adultery.

ii) after refusing to repent God chastises Israel through foreign enemies. These enemies are brutal and desire only to enslave Israel. They share in none of the moral or spiritual values of Israel.

iii) God makes it clear however that once having fallen into such slavery to the foreigner that this is the time for repentance. Any attempt at escape in a human fashion without the required period of repentance will result in further oppression by the foreigner.

iv) only after this required period of repentance and humiliation will Israel find its way back home.

So does this pattern fit what is before us?

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#16 Evan

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 10:41 PM

To interpret the correctness of this we would first have to come to an understanding of the pattern or paradigm found throughout the Old Testament.

i) Israel betrays through idolatry their call by God to faithfulness. This betrayal is described as a form of adultery.

ii) after refusing to repent God chastises Israel through foreign enemies. These enemies are brutal and desire only to enslave Israel. They share in none of the moral or spiritual values of Israel.

iii) God makes it clear however that once having fallen into such slavery to the foreigner that this is the time for repentance. Any attempt at escape in a human fashion without the required period of repentance will result in further oppression by the foreigner.

iv) only after this required period of repentance and humiliation will Israel find its way back home.

So does this pattern fit what is before us?

In Christ- Fr Raphael



Father, bless:

It certainly seems to, in the Old Testament context.

But still, I must ask: Can we say that our success in resisting oppression can reveal how we should respond to it, interpret it? Hezekias certainly met with more success in warding off oppression than Joakim, precisely because he feared God. Because he was humble and righteous, God showed Him favor. Should Hezekias have submitted to humiliation and oppression?

Edited by Evan, 15 November 2009 - 11:07 PM.


#17 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 11:20 PM

I shudder to think that any of the Fathers would say something like: it was true in the Old Testament "context." I think it is more accurate to say that the hidden truth of the Old is revealed in the context of the New.

#18 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 11:27 PM

btw, apparently Fr. Hopko has interpreted 9/11 in the same theological fashion as did Jerry Falwell, who was pretty well "crucified" over it. But the issue is this: what spiritual meaning if any can be derived, beyond the obvious -- that we were cruelly attacked? And so this is a perfectly legitimate spiritual interpretation of historical events, imho. Remember how many people temporarily flocked to church afterwards? They were probably greeted by some pretty drearily innocuous sermons and quickly departed. Fr. Hopko is rather infamous for not pulling any punches. Of course, who the heck cares what an Orthodox priest says? He's not likely to get on the nightly news.

Our priest gave a sermon today somewhat along the same lines, but I really felt that it fell on deaf ears, and the reason is that it lacked sufficient tonality. It was more like a stock recitation of does and don'ts rather than a catharsis. Just condemning materialism is a pretty empty slogan. There is not much salvation in condemnation...

#19 Evan

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Posted 15 November 2009 - 11:38 PM

What I should have said, is that it seems to be consistent with the inspired accounts of God's activities (or energies, if you prefer) we are given in the Old Testament. Which activities are Christ's, in the Spirit, by Whom and in Whom the God of Israel works.

I'm just not sure that Hopko really came to terms with the cruelty of the attack. It felt like he was presenting murderers as justly indignant martyrs. It's one thing to say God permits such things for purposes of instruction, another to say that those who carry them out were motivated by just grievances about our decadence.

But again, perhaps that's just how I interpreted it. I agree that the theological point is entirely consistent with what he says about God's wrath in the podcasts that inspired this thread.

#20 Owen Jones

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 02:56 AM

Fr. Hopko is a man who feels everything very, very intensely. So you have to kind of put anything he says into that perspective.




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