Creation As Harmony And Unity

If the 'powers' of God pervade creation, then we would expect the created world itself to be constantly making him manifest and drawing us to him,-and this is a recurrent theme in the Cappadocian Fathers. A sustained example is Basil's Hexaemeron, a set of sermons on the six days of creation celebrating the variety and dynamism of a world where the Creator has 'left everywhere visible memorials of His wonders'.8

The Cappadocians use the Platonist language of their day,and the modern reader, to whom this language is alien, can easily mistake their Platonic starting point for their conclusion. They do speak in terms of a divide between the intelligible and the sensible, and even of an 'affinity' between intelligible creatures and the Godhead. But the main thrust of their thinking is the way these inequalities are evened out in the Christian doctrine of creation. After creating the intelligible world, says Gregory the Theologian, God creates the material world - to show that he can just as easily bring into existence a nature utterly alien to himself. The tangible no less than the intelligible manifests the grandeur of the creator Word and proclaims his mighty works.9 So we are left wondering whether the 'affinity' really counts for much. Gregory of Nyssa draws the logical conclusion as to the truly fundamental division: in comparison with the exalted nature of God, all created things are inferior to the same degree.10 The 'unity in universal sympathy' which Basil perceives in the world11 is more clearly defined as unity in createdness. It is for the sake of the whole creation that man the microcosm receives the divine inbreathing, so that nothing in creation should be deprived of a share in communion with God.12 This sense of solidarity in createdness has remained a leitmotif of Eastern Christian theology.

Up to this point, the sources of Christian cosmological doctrine are essentially the same for East and West. Thereafter, however, Western cosmology is dominated up to modern times by Augustine and his spiritual heirs,-many contemporary writers would see in this legacy a narrowing of the early Church's cosmic vision. In the East, by contrast, the development of that cosmic vision is only beginning at the turn of the fifth century.

The enigmatic figure of (Ps-)Dionysius the Areopagite influenced both East and West, but in rather different ways. Vladimir Lossky maintains that in the East, the tradition of (Ps-)Dionysius marks a triumph over Platonic hellenism,-whereas in the West, (Ps-)Dionysius's work became a vehicle for Neoplatonic influences.13 (Ps-)Dionysius takes up the Neoplatonist idea of the scale of being;but he turns it into a structure of theophany, revelation of God. Its purpose is to allow each creature to reflect the divine glory in its own unique way, according to its analogy with its Creator.14 (Ps-)Dionysius's cosmic vision may be too spiritualised for modern tastes;but he does envisage a structure in which vastly incommensurate elements - angelic, human, animate and inanimate - are all held together and function as a coherent whole, focused on their Creator. And it is a cosmos shot through with the radiance of divinity. God is at once totally other, totally beyond everything that is, and 'in everything by the ecstatic power inseparable from himself'.15 This is the vision that will be developed in the supreme cosmological synthesis of St Maximus the Confessor.


Maximus the Confessor remains to this day the single most important figure in Orthodox cosmological thought. Using the traditional ideas of divine 'conceptions' or 'predeterminations' and of logos in creation, he explores in unprecedented depth and detail the meaning of creation in, through and for the Word (Logos) of the Father. Maximus's doctrine of the logoi of things (their 'words', rationales, intelligible principles) can in no way be reduced to a static world of Platonic forms. The logoi of things express the creative will of God, according to which each thing comes into being at the appropriate time; but they equally express God's presence within each entity, his providence for it and its ultimate goal. The logoi of all things are united in the Logos, and through them the one Logos is wholly present in the infinite variety of creatures. Maximus breaks definitively with Origen in giving full value to both the multiplicity of things and their dynamism: movement, change and becoming are not the result of a fall but part of God's intention. Stability and rest in God is the goal of all things, not their beginning.

All things are to be brought into unity in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit: and in this process, a key role has been appointed to the human being. By being himself focused on God, man was to heal the divisions within the created order and unite it with its Creator. But man failed to be centred on God and thus became a force for division instead of unity. This is how Maximus understands the cosmic effects of the Fall: it is not the shattering of a golden age, but a failure to take creation forward to its appointed goal.

There is an amazing boldness in the paradox of distinction and unity that Maximus has bequeathed to Orthodox cosmology. There is no confusion between Creator and creature. Each created thing has its own reality, its own unique manner of reflecting God's glory; and yet he can say that 'properly speaking, God is everything'16 - since there is no being apart from God. In this vision which encompasses the whole arc of created existence, it can be seen that the process of deification is inseparable from the work of creation. Having their being in God, all things can be fulfilled only when he is all in all.

Maximus speaks of deification as 'being identical with God' - but he makes it clear that this is an identity in every respect apart from essence. It is this traditional distinction that makes it possible to express the fullness of God's immanence without lapsing into pantheism. A distinction between divine essence (what God is in himself) and divine energies or powers (God interacting with creatures) goes back through the Cappadocians and Athanasius to Clement of Alexandria and Philo,but it is only in the fourteenth century with St Gregory Palamas that it receives systematic and detailed formulation. Palamas's principal concern is not cosmology, but human experience of God. But since we are physical creatures, the two cannot be separated. If our bodily eyes can see God as light, as Palamas maintains, then the spiritual potentiality of matter is nothing short of awesome,and God is present in creation in the strongest possible sense. Like Maximus and the rest of his patristic predecessors, Palamas resolutely holds together the paradox: God is the nature of all things, and he transcends every nature. He remains wholly within himself, and dwells wholly within us.17 But Palamas illuminates the paradox by exploring the real 'distinction in unity' between the essence and the energies of God. Between the utterly transcendent Creator and creatures there is a link, and the link is God himself in action.

So Palamas gives us the conceptual framework to affirm God wholly immanent in his creation without any pantheistic confusion, but the significance of his contribution goes beyond that. To quote Lossky, Palamas's theology 'crowns a long tradition of struggle to surpass the Platonic dualism of the perceptible and intelligible, sense and intellect, matter and spirit'.18 Here the idea of unity in createdness is taken to its logical conclusion, triumphing over any notion of a 'kinship' with God enjoyed by the intelligible realm but not the material.

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