Patristic Theology and Modern Science Pt 4

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There is the saying, ‘all Western thought are footnotes to Plato.’  This is a very big problem within the Western church also where some of her approaches to understanding ‘God’ follow along the same thought processes as Plato as well as Aristotle and others who followed them.  Generally speaking, evangelical and Latin theology are stuck in this framework of thought leading to conclusions not consistent with the Patristic evangelical thought. Rather, they have slipped into the same thought processes of the enemies of the ancient church. The Hebrew understanding of the ‘image of man’ was radically different to Roman and Greek thought.  It would be interesting to try and explore this a little further so we in our modern day can understand how to adopt the Christian frame of mind of the ancient church and better grasp what it was they fought so hard for.

The Greek and Roman understanding of the ‘image of man.’

The Greeks perceived the mind as the ‘spark of the divine,’  and was fundamentally immortal.  The mind was directed to the ‘spiritual’.  The spiritual was deemed to contain the realities of God that transcended the cosmos.  This resulted in a wedge between the ‘spiritual’ and ‘matter’ in much the same way that Western thought assumes a wedge between heaven and earth.  There is the tendency to believe that heaven is a place where our souls are heading to as an escape from earth from imprisonment of our human bodies.  Plato called the soul, ‘the man within a man.’ There was such a focus on spiritual matters as the answer to understanding the origins of life to the extent that all material things, including the flesh, were regarded as evil.  What the Greek mind perceived to be true took priority over what was actually true.  This is evidently so in modern theology that often plays down the significance of Jesus Christ being God who comes to us as Man.  The logical/causal/deductive processes that are the hallmarks of Pre-Christian Greek thinking were employed in hammering out the Christian doctrine of God.  The battle of the early church was to resist this framework of thought.

The Roman understanding of the soul was more pragmatic.  They were inclined to deal with reality around them and facts they were confronted with.  Their hallmarks were law, order, administration, means and ends, army, construction of cities and roads as well as their quest for power which were evident in their society.

The great divide that existed between ‘God’ and the ‘world’ made him ‘unmoved’ and disinterested in the affairs of humanity.  Reality consisted only in spiritual things and matter was not included in this realm.  The spiritual was deemed good and all matter, including our body, was considered evil.

The Hebrew understanding of the ‘image of man.’

Considering the cultic rites of the Hebrews in the Old Testament, they held a different view of the soul and body and the world (matter) around them.  They believed the world, the soul, the body were interpenetrated and sustained by the holy presence of God.  This led His people to carry out their lives in accordance with what was deemed clean by God and to refrain from what was not clean.  God declared Himself to be the Holy One among them binding them closely to Himself in covenant so that His supreme purpose for humanity might be fulfilled.  We can easily see there was an entirely different view of God than the one who was regarded by the world as infinitely exalted and transcendent.  The presence of God could be enjoyed according to the Hebrews in communion on this earth.  They were actively engaged in activity in the presence of God and did not have to escape into the spiritual realm.  Humanity was thought in terms of God’s relationship to them, creation and to each other in the midst of His faithfulness and steadfast love towards them.

Even in the Old Testament we see a foundation laid down for the value God places on His creatures in a way that was vastly different to the world around them.  Though not clearly evident in Jewish thought in the Old Testament, there is no concept of person in Greek and Roman thought.  However, we find in the Old Testament the command to love God and to love your neighbour as evidence for the foundation of persons in communion with each other and with God.

The Incarnation and the ‘image of man’.

It is the incarnation that brought about a turning point in understanding the real concept of person from the perspective God’s own self-disclosure to us.  Here we have the Son in intimacy with the Father presenting to us the truth about God as He is in Himself.  There is no one else in the whole of creation who is as close to the Father as Jesus Christ.  No one else has the inside knowledge of God and can tell us anything deeper than what Jesus Christ is now declaring to His people. Standing before them is God as Man who declares God as our Father  who wishes to have intimacy with His children. In addition to this, God becoming flesh in the very same existence of time and space as His creatures, the ways and works of God is dawned upon the mind of the church.  He participates in human relations in precisely the same way human beings do.  His purpose is to show the truth about Himself to us that is available nowhere else.

Without the Incarnation, no one could possibly have  conceived God would be this intimate with humanity.  The Pre-Christian perception of God in no way coincided with the Post-Incarnation of conception of God.  What this meant was a radical change from what was assumed prior to the Incarnation to the fact of the Risen God before them.  Even the apostles who were close to Jesus were yet to grasp who it was that was among them.  When the Spirit of Christ descended on them on the Day of Pentecost, there came an actualising and awakening within the mind of the apostles to the truth of all truth regarding all the ways and works of God.  Not only were they able to articulate this in a clear and concise way, but what they said could be verified in a meaningful way because the Object of the Truth was available for all to see.

The power of the love of God exercised in the Incarnation and the implication on the entire created order is one that must never be ignored.  All things visible and invisible, the physical and the spiritual that were held captive under the dark forces of alienation as well as the entire realm of space and time were all created out of nothing and consists and are held together in the very Person of Jesus Christ.  The dark forces that have entered into creation at the fall have been utterly defeated at the Cross bringing about reconciliation  and restoration to the entire created order.  This included that restoration and reconciliation of our minds with the mind of God in Christ.

With Christ, ALL previously held Greek ideas were overthrown and were regarded as the foolish attempt of the “flesh” to work from within their own rational mind and logically, causally and deductively work their way to the truth of God.  Instead, the way of the “Spirit” is to allow our rational mind to conform to the Object of the only Truth of God there is in all of human history which is in the witness of Jesus Christ.  At no time do we allow any theory or hypothesis to draw us aside from the Person and work of Jesus Christ in a way that will change the shape of what is fundamentally disclosed in Him.  There is always the temptation to try to use the Pre-Christian rationale of logical, causal and deductive methods to try to provide answers that are not clearly disclosed in Jesus Christ.  This is the main method employed in reaching a conclusion of universalism (and Limited Atonement according to the Calvinists and Arminianists).  We have a Pre-Christian rationale overlaid onto the gospel to argue through to the conclusion of universalism.  In doing so, everything from this conclusion brings about a vision of God not consistent with the overall ancient tradition.

The scientific field has also suffered from the tendency to investigate using the same method of ignoring the object of study and beginning with the rationale of the mind to try and work towards the object through the same logical/causal/deductive process.  The idea in the mind of the investigator is pressed onto the “object” to reach a presupposed and preconceived truth.  This caused a wedge between what was perceived in the mind of the investigator and empirical reality.  The only way the object could be understood was for the enquirer to first adopt the preconceptions and presuppositions of the investigator so that ‘his’ version of reality could be understood.  This bogged down science to a snail’s pace.

The source of all truth is not inherently in us but has its source in the One from beyond, the Word of God.  This is what we mean by the term contingency.  The truth does not reside in us. Rather the truth resides in the One in which all truth resides.  If we place our dependency on the One who is the Source for all truth, who dwells in us where our minds are interpenetrating with His mind, whose truth of all things penetrates the entire created order, then we move towards the truth that bring together theory, hypothesis and empirical reality.  Therefore we must submit to reality and enquire of it its truth that is inherent in itself and report what we see.  The questions we ask of the object must be appropriate to it so that the nature and shape of the object is not distorted.  In allowing the object to ‘speak’ to us this way, then it is reality that lays down the ground rules so that we can continue to further understand what it is it is trying to say or show us.  This is the fundamental process undertaken by Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell and Albert Einstein that led to the development of the Theory of Relativity.

To be continued . . . .