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Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by John of Damascus


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#1 Guest_Monachos.net

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Posted 16 August 2002 - 01:13 AM

Dear friends,

A text that has been mentioned many times on these boards, the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by St John of Damascus, is being made available in a study version on this website. This very large project is being carried out in stages, one volume (out of the total of four) at a time; but pages are being placed online as they become available.

While the text is not yet provided in the Patristics Area, members of this discussion community can access Book I of the Exposition at the following link:

Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by St John of Damascus, Book I.

With hopes that an accessible version of this important text will be profitable for all its readers,

Monachos.net


#2 Justin

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Posted 17 August 2002 - 05:23 AM

I'll be sure to use this version the next time I go read through it Posted Image


#3 Guest_Geoffrey Wind

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Posted 08 September 2002 - 02:16 PM

About the Exact Exposition ... I have heard that monks are given this books to read when they first take their vows. Does anyone know if this is true? or is it more of a legend?

Thanks.


#4 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 13 November 2002 - 12:11 PM

Geoffrey wrote:

About the Exact Exposition ... I have heard that monks are given this books to read when they first take their vows. Does anyone know if this is true? or is it more of a legend?


Yes, this is often the case in monasteries around the world -- and especially so for beginners in the monastic life who have not had any previous 'theological education' (which is, indeed, the majority), since the Exact Exposition is as close to a compendium of Orthodox doctrine as one might find in the patristic tradition.

There is no specific 'rule' to the effect that this text must be read on entrance into the monastic life; but that is largely because there is no set 'rule' for the monastic life which is common throughout the Orthodox world. Such things are established within the tradition of a given community as part of its own heritage and spiritual leadership.

INXC, Matthew

#5 Guest_sinjin smithe

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Posted 26 September 2002 - 08:42 PM

I have a question regarding the exact exposition of the Orthodox faith published here at this website.

St John of Damascus writes:

Thus because of the unity in nature, the error of the Greeks in holding that God is many, is utterly destroyed; and again by our acceptance of the Word and the Spirit, the dogma of the Jews is overthrown. There remains of each party only what is profitable: on the one hand, from the Jewish idea we have the unity of God's nature; and on the other, of the Greek, we have the distinction in subsistences and that only.



My question here is in regards to the Jewish idea of monotheism. It says in the side notes that they idea of monotheism is overthrown as is polytheism. But thing is I thought that God is one in essence, so wouldn't Christianity still be monontheistic? I have always thought that Christianity was monotheistic. I guess in Judaism they say that God is only one, and there is no son, but is there a holy spirit? I do not know much about the Jewish tradition so please forgive my ignorance here.

#6 Guest_Richard Maybrew

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Posted 01 October 2002 - 12:06 AM

I remember many years back, learing about the distinction between "monotheism" and "henotheism". Does the distinction in this context have something to do with it?

---Richard


#7 Justin

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Posted 01 October 2002 - 03:07 AM

It is important to remember that when the Church Fathers speak against "the Jews," they are speaking against Judaism, and usually that particular strand of Judaism which survived after the 1st century. They are not speaking of "True Judaism" (ie. the faith Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and so forth held), but are speaking of the corrupted version that would not accept Messiah exactly because they did not hold to the true Judaism of their fathers. Monotheism is not what was being attacked here; as you point out, Christianity itself is monotheistic. What is being spoken against is the Jewish (=corrupt Judaic) view of God. Saint John's point here is that the Jews and Greeks each got part of it right, but both groups got it wrong in part (and continue getting it wrong so long as they stay outside orthodox Christianity)



#8 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 02 October 2002 - 09:25 AM

Dear Sinjin and others,

As a first comment: the summary notes next to each paragraph in the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, as it is presented on this web site, are written by me -- and should they cause any confusion, they should be disregarded. Of essential importance is the text itself.

As to your particular comment: the note next to the second paragraph of Chapter 7 is largely a compilation of notes on the same text from older editions of the document. As a reminder, here is the text of that paragraph itself, with a few sections highlighted in boldface:

Thus because of the unity in nature, the error of the Greeks in holding that God is many, is utterly destroyed; and again by our acceptance of the Word and the Spirit, the dogma of the Jews is overthrown. There remains of each party only what is profitable: on the one hand, from the Jewish idea we have the unity of God's nature; and on the other, of the Greek, we have the distinction in subsistences and that only. (Exact Exposition, ch. 7)


Here we see St John noting an 'overthrow' of the 'dogma of the Jews',which, in this particular instance, is in reference to the prevalent Jewish assertion (especially in the first centuries of Christian history) that God is one and one alone, and thus any notion of 'Trinity' is both blasphemous and heretical. To this sort of 'monotheism', St John of course would not subscribe. Yet he notes at the same time that there are some aspects of the Jewish belief that are 'profitable' to a Christian understanding. Namely, the unity of essence in the Trinitarian God is, indeed, one - and in this sense, something is to be gleaned from the belief. Yet inasmuch as the particular Jewish monotheism at hand believes God's oneness to prevent any aspect of Trinity, it is not supportable. Christianity is indeed monotheistic,
but it is not this sort of monotheistic.

This is what is intended to be gleaned from the side-note to the text. That note is included here, with an important clause in boldface:

By the one divine essence, polytheism is overthrown; and by the distinction of the three Persons, the Jewish misconception of monotheism is overthrown. Christianity takes from the Greeks and the Jews only that which is helpful: evidence that there are multiple Persons yet one undivided Nature.


It is specifically the misconception of monotheism as prohibitive of Trinity that is intended to be read: if 'monotheism' is taken to mean that there is no possibility for a Father, Son and Spirit together to be God (and this is precisely the manner in which the term was used against the Christians by the early Jewish apologists), then Christianity cannot be said to be monotheistic in this particular sense.

But it is St John's point that we cannot dismiss the entire concept so quickly. Christianity is, after all, decidedly monotheistic. We simply understand this term in a different manner: 'From the Jewish idea we have the unity of God's nature [... and from] the Greek, we have the distinction in subsistences and that only'.

INXC, Matthew

#9 Guest_erich von abele

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 02:20 PM

I would like to focus on the other half of this part of the text from St. John of Damascus -- 'From the Jewish idea we have the unity of God's nature [... and from] the Greek, we have the distinction in subsistences and that only' --: the "Greek" half.

Is John here referring not to Greek theology, but more specifically to Greek philosophy, insofar as its linguistic terminology provided the flexibility to articulate the Trinity into (one) ousia and (three) hypostaseis (translated as "subsistences")?

Or is John implying something a little more daring, that Christian Trinitarian theology retains some aspect of Greek polytheism and holds it in a paradoxical balance with Israelite monotheism?


#10 Owen Jones

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 03:02 PM

This is a very interesting question, ERich. All I know is that Eric Voegelin once described pre-Nicean theology as di-theistic. He went on to say that in so-called monotheism (a conceit of 18th Century German romantic scholars) there is a very supple spiritual world with a plethora of spiritual beings, good and bad, and one most high God. In "polytheism" there is always a most high God who is typically namesless or unknowable.

So the real difference is not monotheism vs. polytheism (again, a modern conceit by the sociologists of religion), but rather, what is the true nature and purpose of this most high God? And what are the virtues required of us to please Him? What are the revelatory experiences that we have as evidence? The proof of this revelation is not found in history, but in our own experience. The truth of the revelation is validated when we live our lives in accord with its precepts. When we put our faith into practice. But this is extremely difficult and most of us have to be content with simply following some of the rules and regulations. It is left up to saints to show us that it is at least possible for us all to some degree, and to constantly remind us of the truth and impart their wisdom and grace to us.

Regarding Islam, I have to resort to the same philsopher, Eric Voegelin. He came up with the distinction between compactness and differentiation to describe the change in consciousness that occurs as God reveals Himself as transcendent. Compact consciousness sees God as consubstantial with nature. A differentiation of consciousness occurs in the revelation to the philosopher that psyche and cosmos are iconic representations of Being which is beyond all things. The differentiation reaches what Voegelin calls the experiential breaking point with the Doctrine of the Trinity, because it requires faith as the assurance. Most of us cannot live in a condition of faith -- we want certitude. We desire a return to the reassurance of a compact vision of God/Man/Cosmos. As a result, there are numerous post-Christian mass movements that intentionally attempt to return to a pre-Christian, pre-philosophic consciousness that does not require man to live by faith. It lays out everything in a formula or recipe. The problem is that there is no going back to a pre-Christian, or pre-philosophic consciousness in any genuine sense. A real change has occured in the nature and structure of consciousness as a result of God's revelation. And as a practical matter, the compact pre-philosophical/pre-Christian consciousness was still essentially spiritual, whereas these modern mass movements are ideologically motivated "second realities" that actually destroy the compact experience of consubstantiality with God. Hence, all of the modern political mass movements promise innerworldly fulfillment, i.e., salvation, if you just recite the slogans, and are fanatical enough, and kill millions of innocent people as ritual sacrifices. They find their power in exploiting the natural alienation that most people feel -- not being able to physically encounter God. I'm not prepared to say that the catholic faith is unique in this sense, but the bridge is built through the eucharist. We Christians still participate in the compact experience through a physical union with God in the eucharist.

Now, we can look at it typologically and less philsophically as well, and simply compare the extrensic dogmas of these groups. Isn't Islam, for example, much like Mormonism. Some guy digs up a bunch of tablets claiming they were written by God himself. Then builds a movement around it in order to justify his own sins. People unthinkingly adhere to it because they no longer need to live by faith. They only have to believe it is true. It also allows them to participate in all kinds of sinful behavior (like polygamy) while justifying it.

Then look at Marxism and Naziism. These are erzatz religious movements that do away with faith. All one has to do is believe in the system.




#11 Guest_erich von abele

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 04:15 PM

Owen:

I'm glad you mentioned Voegelin, one of my favorite philosophers. However, my Orthodox friend who is very learned in his own faith and quite well read in philosophy in general concluded from his reading of a few of Voegelin's writings (including OH IV and Voegelin's letter to Alfred Schuetz on Christianity) that Voegelin had a "modalist" and "Sabellian" understanding of the Trinity -- i.e., that he really had not grasped what could be argued to be a further differentiation past monotheism, to triunity. I do not yet go this far, for I do not know what to make of Voegelin's consideration of the Chalcedonian Definition to be philosophically somewhat crude in its articulation of the terminology of physis, ousiai hypostaseis, etc. In other words, I am hesitant to consider Voegelin heterodox, as perhaps some Orthodox might more easily do.

I tend to agree with your comments about Islam, particularly its comparison to Mormonism.


#12 Owen Jones

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Posted 10 October 2002 - 06:19 PM

Voegelin was not advocating modalism or Sibellianism. I think he was simply pointing out that pre-Nicean Christianity generally speaking had a very diverse understanding of the persons of the Godhead. It was a very dynamic period in the development of our consciousness regarding theological matters which he thought was not all bad. He also had very positive things to say about Chalcedon. But he had, as many of us do today, personal problems with the state of institutionalized religion. He saw good and bad aspects to the codification of Christian doctrine post Empire. He saw dogma as an important protection against heretical movements, but those heretical movements are the result of some inner disorder that did not accurately render the revelatory experience. His focus was on the underlying experience, and trying to preserve that, which, he argued, cannot be done simply through dogmatic statements. We do not live dogmatically.

His essay on The Gospel and Culture is surely an indiosyncratic look at the Gospel, an attempt to analyse St. Paul's experience of the resurrected Christ, and perhaps he failed in that attempt.

But he is also focusing on certain problems caused by the more gnostic elements in the New Testament. I wish he had shown a greater knowledge of post-Nicean mystical theologians such as Maximos the Confessor. Instead he tended to focus on certain problems of Thomistic philosophy. I don't think you look to Voegelin for an Orthodox exposition of the faith. But then, that was not his purpose. His purpose was to analyse the contemporary crisis of the demono-maniacal nature of modern politics as a manifestation of mass spiritual disorder. He found that to be a constant in human history, but he also argues, I think quite persuasively, that without certain gnostic heresies that are rooted in the New Testament, i.e. a misunderstanding of the promise of the transfiguration of man and nature, you would not have had the foundation of modern political mass movements that engage in mass murder. He was fully aware of the paradoxical aspect of the promise of human transfiguration, not a skeptic about it. He believed however that such promises had to be held in check through a consideration of the entirety of Scripture and human history. He did not believe that institutional force was the answer. The Church cannot institutionalize the Holy Spirit. Mystical theology is not something that the institutional church holds the copyright to. In fact, our history shows that it is more likely to suppress it.

Finally, Orthodoxy in its wisdom agrees that certain New Testament writings are prone to error in interpretation, has gone so far as to ban certain apocalyptic passages from the lectionary because of the tendency to foment chiliasm. It's interesting to note that as the Episcopal Church's lectionary has been revised, there is a preponderance of apocalyptic, millenarian type readings.


#13 Guest_erich von abele

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 05:37 PM

Owen:

[Voegelin] also had very positive things to say about Chalcedon.

He did, but he said a couple of times that the philosophy of the Patres who contributed to the Creeds was poor philosophy -- which puts him in a position of knowing better than the Patres what the Creed appropriately means. I.e., I'm not sure it is as easy as you seem to imply to harmonize Voegelin and Orthodoxy, insofar as I don't think Voegelin draws the line that Orthodoxy does between "Son by Nature" (Christ) and "Sons by Adoption" (all other humans).

His essay on The Gospel and Culture is surely an indiosyncratic look at the Gospel, an attempt to analyse St. Paul's experience of the resurrected Christ, and perhaps he failed in that attempt.

I believe you're confusing this essay with his chapter on St. Paul in the 4th volume of Order and History (The Ecumenic Age). In The Gospel and Culture he doesn't really go into Paul, but rather explores mostly the Synoptic Gospels, especially John.

But he is also focusing on certain problems caused by the more gnostic elements in the New Testament.

Yes. Both in that essay and in Order and History IV (in the introduction, I believe) he mentions the gnostic tendencies in the Gospel of John.

I wish he had shown a greater knowledge of post-Nicean mystical theologians such as Maximos the Confessor.

His biographer, Prof. Eugene Webb, mentioned this lacuna in Voegelin's otherwise astounding grasp of history. It seems Voegelin at some point in his studies spent some time going through the (Eastern) Patristic period, and concluded it was by and large either unremarkably sound philosophically, or at times philosophically poor.

He was fully aware of the paradoxical aspect of the promise of human transfiguration, not a skeptic about it.

Yes, and his central point always was the maintenance of balance between the two poles of this eschatological tension.

Finally, Orthodoxy in its wisdom agrees that certain New Testament writings are prone to error in interpretation, has gone so far as to ban certain apocalyptic passages from the lectionary because of the tendency to foment chiliasm.

It seems Orthodoxy culturally manifests no danger of over-emphasizing the pole of a realized eschatology at the expense of the mysteriously perduring imperfection of history before the Second Coming.



#14 Owen Jones

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 05:51 PM

I'm not trying to harmonize Voegelin and Orthodoxy. That would be to misunderstand his purpose. Ellis Sandoz tries to harmonize Voegelin and Southern Baptists! Some of his German students try to harmonize him with socialism. Southern partisans try to harmonize him with the Old South. His argument about Christianity is that it represented a leap in pneumatic differentiation (The HOly Spirit was made available to all men) but with a price to be paid in noetic differentiation. He was, first, and foremost, a political scientist. He simply recognized, scientifically, that one cannot leap back to a pre-Christian consciousness, which is one of the fallacies of modernity.

The only point of yours I tend to disagree with you about is your last one. Orthodox Empires have had a pretty bad history of an immanentized and/or eminent (sp?) eschatology. For a while, the Eastern Empire toyed with a Triumverate to represent the Holy Trinity. Then you have all kinds of horrific things justified in Russia by the idea of a Third Rome. More recently, a greater Serbia. And in the U.S. I detect a kind of subculture of apocalyptism, especially among converts.

My fantasy, and it is just that, is an Orthodox theology combined with a Celtic, pre-650 ecclesiology.


#15 Owen Jones

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 06:04 PM

btw, Erich, I don't see any problem with saying that the formulators of the Chalcedonian definition could perhaps have come up with a better formula, if one wishes to judge by strict philsophical standards. Remember that all of the councils were designed to respond to certain heresies, and so they had to confront the language that the heretics were using. They weren't just sitting around saying, hey, why don't we come up with a definition of Christ's nature? I think Voegelin says that that is an inherent limitation to some of the doctrinal formulations. It's not a judgment that he knows better than the FAthers.

But he also makes a good point about incarnation. That Christ's incarnation is unique in degree but not in kind. From a philsophical standard, this is probably better than saying we are sons by adoption. But people need a homey analogy to base their faith on, not a philsophical analysis. But Voegelin is more at home, spiritually, as a spiritual son of Socrates, and that's simply a choice he made. A personal one. So let's not try to force a square peg in a round hole.

On the other hand, because of his Greek philsophical training, I think he had a better grasp of the idea of communion in Christ and a sharing in his Divinity than most contemporary Orthodox have.


#16 Guest_sinjin smithe

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 07:03 PM

Owen said:
My fantasy, and it is just that, is an Orthodox theology combined with a Celtic, pre-650 ecclesiology.

What do you say that? What exactly is a pre-650 Celtic ecclesiology?


#17 Guest_erich von abele

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 07:08 PM

Owen:

Thanks for the historical reminder of occasional Orthodox immanentizations.


#18 Owen Jones

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 07:29 PM

Sinjin (St. John???),

At the Council of Whitby in 650, the British Isles came under the authority and rubrics of Rome. Before then, it had developed as a local, indigenous form of Christian Orthodoxy that was not imperial and did not confuse the temporal with the eternal. It produced the most remarkable of saints. But the point is that it was beautiful in its simplicity, with no imperial trappings. It was renouned for promoting the highest level of learning among its monastics, which it exported to Europe, but it was also very close to the common people.

I guess it exemplifies in my mind the kind of suffering Christianity that I admire, vs. the imperial, triumphalistic Christianity that prevailed over time.

It's one of the more interesting what if's in history to imagine what might have developed if it had maintained its local identity.


#19 Guest_sinjin smithe

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 07:36 PM

Where can I read more about this? This seems very interesting to me. I would like to learn more about it.


#20 Guest_Huw Richardson

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Posted 11 October 2002 - 07:41 PM

In 650 Rome was Orthodox and the Celts were, to a large extent were being DIY sorts of folks, kind of drifting around, cut off on the edge of Europe. Whitby brought them back into unity with the Orthodox Church. Only by being in communion with the Church can a "local, indigenous form of Christian Orthodoxy" exist.





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