What Is A6ds Real Name

CIIRYisOSTUM ON THE INCONCEIVABLE IN GOD

' But that is an impertinence to say tLat He who is beyond the apprehension of even the higher Powers can be comprehended by us earthworms, or compassed and comprised by tho weak forces of our understanding !'

This protest of Chrysostom occurs at tho beginning of the third of his five discourses -n-tpl ana-mX»/-rrov (De In/'otnj'reliensibUi), which were directed against the ' ai-o/unot' who were perverting the Christian community of Antioch, and more especially against disciples of the Arian Aetios, with their doctrine bdv ol&a ¿s auros u ifos f'avroi' oToc ('I know God as He is known to Himself'). Our histories of Dogma do not generally say much, if anything, upon these sermons of Chrysostom, and their contribution to ' dogmatics' is not indeed very important. But their interest for the psychology of religion is all the greater ; and this would still remain, even if they had not contained the passages bearing upon ' Christo-logy', which begin at tho conclusion of the fourth sermon. For we have in them tho primary promptings of genuine religious feeling in its specifically numinous character, excited to a passionate intensity and directed with ull the charm and eloquence of the 'Golden-mouthed ' against the theoretical ' Aristotelian ' God of the schools. All that is non-rational in the feeling of God is here in conflict with what is rational and capable of rationalisation and threatens to break loose from it altogether.

A strange spectacle! Fordoes not the distinguishing character of Christianity consist in just this—that God is near us, that we can possess and apprehend Ilim, and that man himself is Ilia image and likeness ? And yet we find this Father of the Church battling passionately, as for something that concerned the very essence of Christianity, for the view that God is the Inconceiv able, the In-xpressible, that which gives denial to every notion. Arid this he does not do 011 speculative grounds, with the a.d of the terms and phrases of any ' bchool' of theology ; it is rather a sort of instinct in liim that guides him with astonishing assurance and accuracy to track out and collect the most wonderful texts of Scripture, so that their full weight becomes felt, as his profoundly penetrating interpretation explains and applies them.

First and chiefly he takes his stand against 'Conceiving' and 'Comprehension' in general, against the idea of to katax^jrróv, and against the ««lot Xoyitr/xoi (i. e. constructions of the understanding) which seek to delimit and circumscribe God (irtpiypiiffiiiv, vepiXap.-ftávuv). For his opponents had maintained that a conceptual knowledge of God is possible, definitive and exhaustive, by means of notions, in fact by a single notion (viz. of áyewr;o-ia, unbegottenness), in a word, that it is possible ' to know God exactly' (per ¿«pi/Jeia? tiSeVai). ' But we,' says Chrysostom, ' in opposition to this view, call Ililll tov av(Ktppa<ttov, tov attípiv¿T¡tov 9cóv, Toy íópaTOv, tov ¿Kara-Xtjtttov, tov viKwvra yxtütt^s &vvap.iv áv#pcu7rív7js, tov virtpfiaívovTa. 6vr]tí}s Siavoias ka.7ó\r¡\pivi TfW avt£iyyía.(ttov áyye'Xois, tov doáitov tots 'xepatfrip., tov ¿katavót]tov tois xepouysí/x, tov áópaTov apxaís eforxriaís Svvá¡xeaw, kcu cbrXújs iraay ry ktÍgíl.' 1 (Migne, p. 721.) ' He insults God who seeks to apprehend His essential being' (v/?pi£fl Se ó ty¡v oícríav ai tov iTípupyatáp.cvo^, 714 e), he says, and goes on to urge that God is incomprehensible even in His works—how much more in His own essential nature ;—even in His ' demeanings ' (<rvy/<aTaySáo-eis) —how much more in His own transcendent majesty ; even to the Cherubim and Seraphim—how much more to mere ' humanity '

The aKaTaXrjiTTov in this sense is for Chrysostom primarily the ' exceeding greatness' of God, which escapes our mental grasp and compass because of the wjQlvtia tú>v Xoy«r/*oiv, the over-short reach of our faculty of conception. We call it 'incomprehensibility'^ and distinguish from it the ' inapprehensibility' which springs, not from the 'exceeding greatness', but from the 'wholly otherness ' of God (8¿tepov tov diiov), from what is alien and remote in Him, from what we have called the 1 mysterium stupendum And it is instructive to see how for Chrysostom too this latter sense of aKarciArprrov passes into the former, sometimes blending with it, sometimes plainly distinguished as something beyond and

1 ' V. e call Ilim the inexpressible, the unthinkable God, the invisible, the inapprehensible ; who quells the power of human speech ar.d transcends the grasp of mortal thought; inaccessible to the angels, unbeheld of the Seraphim, unimagined of the Cherubim, invisible to rules and authorities and powers, and, in a word, to all creation.'

higher than it. We have said already that we have the experience of the ' wholly other', where we come upon something which not merely overtops our every concept, but astounds us by its absolute and utter difference from our whole nature. Chrysostom similarly contrasts the avOpwirÍ\t¡ tpvais with the Oiia <pv'Ti<; as being incommensurable with it, and therefore incapable of understanding it, and his words refer not only to the narrowness and meagreness of our understanding, but just to this Hheer difference in quality of the ' wholly other '.

This sort of apostrophe is common with him: "Av6pwn-n<; tv diüv

~o\v7rpayfioi'f~<; ; ApKU yap to. ovóp-aTa yi,\u tt/s avoi'as 5fc£ai Tr¡v v—tp{3o\S]v' uvOpii)—o<; yt) >:a'L cr—0¿09 VTráp\u)v, o~ap£ Kai at^ia, ^úproi kul áfdoi xópTov, crxta Kal xam'os Kai ^aTatón;? (712).1 And the same note sounds even more clearly in an exposition of Iiomans ix. 20, 21 (715). As little as the clay can master or cumprehend the potter because of its essential difference from him, even so little can man comprehend God. ' Or rather, far less, for man—the potter—is in the end himself but clay. But the difference between the being of God and the being of man is of such a kind that no word can express it and no thought appraise it.' His position is put more unmistakably still in the following passage :

' He dwells, says St. Paul, in an unapproachable light." Observe here the exactitude of St. Paul's expression. . . . For he says not merely in an incomprehensible, but (what conveys far more) in an altogether " unapproachable " light. We say ''inconceivable " and "incomprehensible" of something which, though it eludes conception, does not elude all inquiry and questioning. "Unapproachable", on the other hand, means something which in principle excludes the very possibility of inquiry, which is quite inaccessible by conceptual investigation. A sea info which divers may plunge, but which they cannot fathom, would represent the merely " incomprehensible " (aKar-iXyirTov). It would only represent the " unapproachable I" (Jn-poViTov) if it remained fl principio beyond search and beyond discovery.' (p. 721.) And so too in the fourth discourse (upon Ilph. iii. 8i (p. 72ü): Ti' l<rriv av((t^iiauTuv ; )it¡ Svvifnv uv ti]Ti]Oyjvai, o A púyov Sí fxi¡ hv¡á/i(vnv dpebíjvai, clAA' oiói

1 ' Dost thou, a man, presume to busy thyself with fiod ? Nay, the bare names (of mam suffice to show the extent of this fully ; man that is earth and du t.Jhsh and b'.ood, grass and the flower of gnss, shadow And smoke and vanity.'

' 1 T im. vi. 16 oíx¿>i> arr^<Jcnrov. R.Y. ' unapproachably1.

avixvcvOijvai. ('What is " unsearchable " ? To be beyond searching, that is, to be such as excludes not discovery only but also tracing.')

And this line of thought draws him imperceptibly farther. The bounds of the ' incomprehensible' are extended, and the whole numinous consciousness is set astir in it, one element in the feeling prompting to the others. The mysteriitm stupcndum passes directly over into mysterium trcrnendum and maiestas, so that we might entitle the Discourses, instead of ' De Incomprehensibili ' De Numine ae isuminoso '.

Specially noticeable in this connexion is the passage in which Chrysostom brings clearly out the psychological distinction between numinous and merely rational wonder. He cites that truly significant text from Ps. exxxix. U, which runs in the Septuagint: ' I praise Thee : for that Thou madest Thyself fearfully wondrous V and then gives a subtle analysis of the feelings there expressed.

' What does " fearfully" mean here? Many things move us to wonder in which there is nothing " fearful"—the beauty of a colonnade, for example ; the beauty of pictures, or bodily loveliness. Again, we wonder at the greatness of the sea and its measureless expanse, but terror and " fear " only seize upon us when we gaze down into its depths. So, too, here the Psalmist. When he gazes down into the immeasurable, yawning (agave's) Depth2 of the divine Wisdom, dizziness comes upon him and he recoils in terrified wonder and cries : . . . "Thy knowledge is too wonderful for me ; it is high, above my power (I am too weak for it: LXX).'" The 'dizziness' and the unique feeling of the uncanny, which we have called stupor and tremor, are here clearly noted by Chrysostom. And he rightly cites also the profoundly numinous exclamation of St. Paul (Rom. xi. 33) : 'Dizzy before the unfathomable main and gazing down into its yawning depths, he recoils precipitately and cries aloud : " O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.. .." ' (Migne, p. 705).

The passage on page 733 should he read in close connexion with this. Nowhere has the awe and even the eerie shuddering and amazement at the supernatural been more vividly and truly recaptured in feeling, and nowhere has it been portrayed with

1 'V.^OfioXoyfjerofxai (rot or* (^ojSf/jiiff f6nvfiat7To>8r}f.

1 Heading fjuBe* for the undoubtedly erroneous n-tAayor.

a more gripping and constraining power. Erperfus loquitur! This is the voice not of the Platonist or Neo-Platonist; it is the voice of antiquity itself, typified in one who had found in Paganism and Judaism and Christianity alike those primal and elemental experiences out of which all religion has arisen and without which no religion is worthy of the name, and who had made them his very own in all the force of growth—sometimes rank and violent enough which originally characterized them. Chrysostom describes thus the experience of Dan. x. 5 8, and tho state of ecstasy into which Daniel falls in his encounter Willi the Unseen : ' For just as happens when the charioteer looses hold of the reins in terror, so that the horses bolt and tho chariot overturns, ... so it befell the Prophet. His affrighted soul could not bear the sight of the Angel made manifest, could not endure the supernatural light, and was overwhelmed. It strove to break free from the bonds of the liesh as from a harness . . . and he lay there in a swoon.' Very similar is the comment on the vision of Ezekiel. Chrysostom realizes that the awe in these experiences does not find its origin in any self-depreciation of an ethical or rational sort (e. g. from an uneasy conscience or the like), but that they are the natural reactions of the creature, of tho aVCcVcia <£t;o-ews face to face with transcendent, unearthly reality, as such. ' I cite to you the case of the holy Daniel, the friend of God, who, because of his wisdom and righteousness, might well have been justly confident, just in order that no one may suppose, if 1 show even him to you weakening, collapsing, powerless, and overwhelmed before the presence of the Angel, that this befalls him because of his sins and his evil conscience, but that this example may throw a clear light on the impotence of our nature.'

Naturally the passage in Genesis xviii. 27 has not escaped him ; still less the scene in Isa. vi. 'But let us now leavo St. Paul and the prophets and ascend into Heaven to see if haply any one there knows what God's essential being is. . . . What do wo hear from tho Angels? Do they inquire and n ason meticulously among themselves about Gods nature? By no means. What do they do? They praise Him. They fall down and worship Ilim wi'h a great trembling (/¿era ttoAAt)« ryt 4>pini)i, p. 707). They turn their eyes away, and can themselves not endure the vouchsafed revelation of God.' Again: 'Tell me, \>herefore do they cover their faces and hide them with their wings? Why, but that they cannot endure the dazzling radiance and its rays that pour from the Throne ?' Nor does he ignore the loci classici of the fremcnda maiestas, viz. Ps. civ. 32 and Job ix. C sqq.: ' He looketh on the earth and it trembleth : he toucheth the hills and they smoke.' Ps. cxiv. 3: 'The sea saw and fled: Jordan was driven back.' ' Tricrci f) kt«tis craAeiierai, Se'Soixe, Tptpu.' And lie concludes his commentary upon all this with the remark: (I will conclude, for) ' thought grows weary, not from the extent of what I have spoken but from the trembling it brings. For the soul that concerns itself in these contemplations trembles and is appalled (ika/ici' Jrj Siacoia, ov t<3 ir\rj6u ¿Wa. rrj <f>pixri rC>v clpy]p.ivtav. T/K/J-ft yap Kai ¿KTreirXrjKTai rj t¡/vyj] Itt\ 7roA.11 rats ¿koj Iv&taTpißovaa Oewpiais)' (p. 725).

Chrysostom, then, is combating the arrogance and overweening presumptuousness of the human understanding and of the creature in general in imagining that any escape is possible from the incomprehensible, supreme, transcendent, and 'wholly other' nature of God. And it is because he wishes to shatter this human complacency, to overawe and overwhelm, that he portrays these aspects of the numinous. But he does not leave out the others or fail to note the paradox, that this 1 incomprehensible ' is at the same time a 'fasciiians' and an intimate and essential possession of the human soul. Blank amazement is to him at the same time enraptured adoration; speechlessness in the presence of the inapprehensible passes over—and only an understanding of the 'harmony of contrasts ' can show how—into a humble gratitude that it is so, that it is ' fearfully wonderful'. lie cites again Ps. cxxxix. 14, and interprets it thus: ' See here the nobility of this servant of God (David). " I thank Thee " (et^apio-Tw trot), he says in effect, "for that I have a Lord who is beyond comprehension." ' Tersteegen means the same when he uses the words 'A comprehended God is no God ' to express praise ; as does Goethe, in the words of the archangels' hymn in Faust:

Ihr Anblick gibt den Engeln Stärke,

Weil keiner sie ergründen mag.'

And so with Chrysostom : this ¿.KaraXij-Tov is ¿K(Ivrj panapia oicria —a favourite and recurring expression of his. And we feel that

1 ' Its (sc. the Sun's) aspect gives the angels strength because none may fathom it.' [The usual reading is u enn, ' though ', for weil, ' because Trans.]

this 'Being' is ' incomprehensible' because it is 'blessed', and ' blessed ' because it is ' incomprehensible '. In the very passion with which be battles for the unimaginable God, who makes His worshipper weak and dizzy with awe, there yet glows—un-uttered and unexpressed — an enthusiastic sense of the soul having been carried away in rapture and taken up into the being of God.

The ¿KaTaXyjTTToy involves a denial of conceptual designations, and hence come the negative attributes of deity, which Chryso-stom frequently employs, singly or in series—a negativa Ihco-logia i:i little. But this 'negative theology' does not mean that faith and feeling are dissipated and reduced to nothing ; on the contrary, it contains within it the loftiest spirit of devotion, and it is out of such ' npgative ' attributes that Clirysostom fashions the most solemn confessions and prayers. Ho thereby shows once more that feeling and experience reach far beyond conceiving, and that a conception negative in form may often become the symbol (what wo have called an 'ideogram'J for a content of meaning w hich, if absolutely unutterable, is none the less in the highest degree positive. And the example of Chrysostom at the same time shows that a ' negative theology ' can and indeed must arise, not only from tho ' infusion of Hellenistic speculation and nature mysticism ', but from purely and genuinely religious roots, namely, the experience of the numinous.

The insistence upon the 'inconceivable and incomprehensible ' in God did not cease to be a point of honour in Christian theology with Chrysostom. The forms this protest took did indeed vary : it appears as the assertion at one time that God stands above the reach of all possible predication whatever, and so is Nothingness and the ' Silent desert'; at another, that lie is liMh^ rnKJia'/ios, ufimwp.u<i; at another, that lie can indeed be made the subject of predication, but only in so far as all attributes are mere ' numina ex parte intellcclus nostri' ; or again, tho sternest form of all, it reproduces the line of thought of Job, as can be seen now and then in Luther in hia notion of the dens absconditus— the thought, namely, that God Himself is not only above every human grasp, but in antagonism to it.1

1 Compart* also Luther's Short Form of t! e Ten Commandments, the. Creed, an I the Lord's l'rayrr( 1.720): ' 1 venture to put my trust in the one God allui, the invisible and incomprthensible, who hath created Heaven and Earth and is alone above alt creatures.'

All these doctrines are preserving a heritage passionately won against the opposition of ancient errors. They do so, certainly, at the cost of a one-sided emphasis, for the meaning Christians attach to the word ' God ' is indubitably also a profoundly rational one, the basis indeed of all reason. Yet this is bound up with a still profounder meaning, which, as we have seen, is beyond and above all conception.

With the discourse of Chrysostom we mpy compare Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomtum (Migne, S. Or. 45). What stirs Chrysostom passionately as a matter of the first moment is indeed only of secondary importance in Gregory, incidental to his dogmatic inquiries. But even so he, too, can write (p. G01): d Si ns a-n-aiTOirj ttJs bdas oicrias tpfirjvdav Ttva Kal V7roypa<ftr]V Kal ¿^ytjaiv, afj.a6ds clvai tt}s TOiauV?/s croij>ias ovk aprrj<T0fie8a . . . otl ovk tern to aopicrrov Kara Trjv <jiv<nv eVivoia tlvi prjjxatwv Sia\rj<j>Orivai. lird ovv KpuTTOV ItTTi Kal vifrqXor tpov rrjs ovo/iaortK^s arjfiatrtas to qiioi numen says the Latin translator] a-tmirrj np.av ta irtrlp Xoyov tc k<h siuv mav litfiaO^Ka/itv. (' But if one asks for an interpretation or description or explanation of the divine nature W3 sha.Il not deny that in such a science as this we are unlearned. . . . For there is no way of comprehending the indefinable as it is by a scheme of words. For the Divine is too noble and too lofty to be indicated by a nr.me: and we have learned to honour by silence that which transcends reason and thought.')

But another, long before Chrysostom—the < heretic ' Marcion— writing in 3 different situation, not within but on the fringe of the Church, had experienced the inconceivable aspect of the numinous and extolled it in words of an a1 most intoxicated fervour: ' O it is a marvel beyond marvels, enravishment, power, and wonder, that one can say nought about the Gospel, and think nought about it and compare it to nothing.'

It is remarkable to see how the several moments of the numinous in experience are constantly compounded and blended afresh so as to produce quite special and peculiar types of religion. In Marcion the original moment ' tremendum ' is silenced before the consoling power of the Gospel, in fulfilment of the word ' Perfect love casts out feai'. But there remains strongly and profoundly felt the 'wholly other', the ineffable and inconceivable, in his 'strange God', and in the first words of his treatise, whose 'violent ferment' (in llarnack's phrase) reveals the element of ' fascination '.

The Rense of the ' august' lives in the ' feeling of distance ' in face of the ' strange God and in that too we detect a light thrill that is the awe of the ' tremendum' reawakened and returning in a nobler form.'

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