The Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas is most often associated with the Christian doctrine of the person. The concept of the person holds together the two issues of communion and freedom. Zizioulas argues that if there is one person there must be many persons: the concept is intrinsically plural, relational and yet safeguards our particularity. By making a distinction between person and individual, Zizioulas contrasts the human who is related and integrated, and the human who is disengaged and isolated from all others. According to Christian doctrine, Christ is the person in whom we may all be persons. Christ comes to individuals without relation to anyone else, and brings them into communion so that they become persons, related to all others, indeed related to everything that is not themselves. This catholic being who is simultaneously one and many is coming into being in history, and at the eschaton will turn out to be truth of all humanity. In Christ, time and history move towards this reconciliation in which all creatures discover their proper unity and difference; this coming together of all things makes itself known in history in the Church and in the event of the eucharist. For Christian theology, the concept of the person relates to time and purpose and so to eschatology. His confidence in the theology of the Greek Fathers enables Zizioulas to lay out the logic of the Christian doctrine of the person with the utmost clarity, and it is this that makes his account of personhood distinctive and rewarding.
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In these lectures the celebrated Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas introduces the Christian faith. Zizioulas shows that the living Christian community is the demonstration of God’s love for the world, and its faith articulates that love. This community is the communion and the freedom of God, given to the world. The Church sets out its account of this communion and freedom in its doctrine.
In his thoroughly integrated account, Zizioulas shows that the Christian doctrine of God is intimately linked to the Church. Human being is raised to participate in the life of God and sustained by the friendship that is shared by the triune persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Within this communion man is made free, so he can willingly receive and give the love of God, and the Church is the form in which he participates in this communion.
Zizioulas not only tells us what the Church teaches, but also why, and what difference it makes to us. He lays out profound and complex ideas with the utmost simplicity to show us how Christian doctrine integrates issues of communion, freedom and personhood. These lectures also explore the relationship of the individual Christian to other Christians and to the Church, and so introduce us to a discipleship and spirituality of love. Few other thinkers have succeeded in establishing that communion and freedom are as fundamental as this. The lectures come in four parts, that discuss doctrine, God, the economy of God for man and the Church. A more profound or lucid exposition of Christian teaching would be hard to find.
Every Christian doctrine is an exemplification of the Christian doctrine of God. The Christian confession of God and that God is for us, requires an account of the generous provision of God, which is what providence is, and it requires all the other doctrines that make our talk about providence meaningful. The Christian doctrine of God tells us that we are not God, and so we are discharged from the exhausting though self-imposed duty to make ourselves divine, that is to take ourselves to be everything, and also to be able to stand outside this everything and decide whether or not to affirm it. One corollary is that we can really know other people, but we cannot know them and master them utterly, because they belong not in the first place to us, but to God, who has high ambitions for them. We are not ourselves by being ‘just-human’, without God. Thus the doctrine of God gives us the truth of man, but the truth of man cannot be extracted from this doctrine and cashed out into a theory about man. Because God mystery, by which we mean he is knowable only to extent he makes himself known, and man is the creature of God, man is a mystery too. The assessment of God is that we along with rest of the world are worth waiting for, and the Church is the demonstration that this is still the good judgment – of God. The secret of being human, is hidden with God, and only in communion with him, can we be human, together, with other humans.
Thus in the office of the Bishop we encounter at least two fundamental paradoxes which are also paradoxes of the Eucharist. One is that in him the One become Many and the Many becomes One. This is the mystery of Christology and Pneumatology, the mystery of the Church and at the same time of the Eucharist. The other paradox is that in the Bishop the local Church becomes Catholic and the Catholic becomes local. If a Church is not at the same time local and universal, she is not the body of Christ. Equally the Eucharist has to be at the same time a local and catholic event. Without the Bishop it cannot be so.
This links the question of the ecclesiological presuppositions of the Eucharist closely with another aspect of ecclesiology, namely conciliarity. The Eucharist by its very nature transcends the dilemma ‘local or universal’, because in each eucharistic celebration the Gifts are offered in the name of, and for, the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church’ which exists in the whole world. In practical terms this means that if one is a member of a certain eucharistic community (or local Church), one is ipso facto also a member of all the eucharistic communities of the world: one can communicate in any one of these communities.
It was precisely this nature of the Eucharist and its practical implications that led to emergence of the synod system in the early Church. Conciliarity is closely connected with eucharistic communion – both in its theory and its practice – and with its presuppositions. If two or more Churches are in schism, the eucharistic life (and perhaps also validity?) of all local Churches is upset. Conciliarity as an expression of the unity of the local Churches in one Church, constitutes a fundamental condition for the Eucharist. Just as the many individuals of a local Church must be united in and through the ministry of the One (the bishop, representing Christ), in the same way the many local Churches must be united into one for their Eucharist to be proper ecclesiologically. Ecclesial unity on a universal level is essential for the Eucharist.
John Zizioulas is one of the best known theologians of the contemporary Orthodox Church, a central figure in the ecumenical scene and one of the most cited theologians at work today. This volume demonstrates the unity of Zizioulas’ work by setting out the connections he makes between theology, philosophy and the Church. Its twelve contributors discuss issues of theology, ontology and anthropology in order to assess his view of the relationship of community and freedom. Offering Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant perspectives, they come to a range of conclusions about the degree to which Zizioulas brings these issues together to form a coherent theological ecclesiology, but they agree that Zizioulas presents contemporary thought with an unrivalled expression of Christian theology. This Introduction will set out theological and philosophical context of Zizioulas’ distinctive proposal.
Zizioulas’ central concern is human freedom and the relation of freedom and community. Freedom is not restricted, but enabled, by our relationships with other persons, Zizioulas argues, for the community in which God includes us is the place in which our personal identity and freedom come into being. God is intrinsically communion and free, and his communion and freedom he shares with us. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the source of the communion of the universal Church, and the promise of real freedom for the world. This communion is being actualized by God in the world in the community of the Church. The persons gathered into this communion will come to participate in the freedom of God, and through them the world will participate in this freedom too.
In our previous lecture we saw how the Christian Church through her main theological representatives in the early centuries viewed the world as God’s creation. Against Gnosticism she stressed the view that God the Father himself, through his own two hands, the Son and the Spirit, as St Irenaeus put it, created the material universe freely and out of love. Against the Platonists and pagan Greek thought in general she emphasizes that the world was created out of ‘nothing’, in the absolute sense of the word, thus ruling out any natural affinity between God and Creation and at the same time any view of the world as eternal, co-existing with the only eternal and immortal being which is God. This is another way of saying that the world is contingent, that it might not have existed at all, and that its existence is a free gift, not a necessity.
In our previous lecture we emphasized the seriousness of the situation with which humanity, indeed our planet as a whole, are faced because of the ecological problem, and tried to look briefly at history in order to see to what extent (a) Christian theology could be regarded as responsible for this ecological crisis, and (b) Christian tradition could be of help in our attempt to deal with this crisis. Our brief and inevitably generalised historical survey led us to the conclusion that Christian Church and its theology have indeed been to a large extent responsible for the emergence of the present ecological problem, but that, in spite of this, they possess resources that can be of help to humanity in this crisis. The ecological problem therefore, although being a problem of science and therefore to a large degree of ethics, education and state legislation, is also a theological problem. As it is evident that certain theological ideas have played an important role in the creation of the problem, so it must be the case too that theological ideas can influence the course of events in the reverse direction.
The subject of these lectures has to do with one of the most pressing and critical issues of our time. It is becoming increasingly evident that what has been named ‘the ecological crisis’ is perhaps the most serious problem facing the world-wide human community. Unlike other problems this one is global, concerning all humans beings regardless the part of the world or social class to which they belong. It is a problem that is not simply to do with well-being but with the very being of humanity and perhaps of creation as a whole. It is difficult to find any aspect of what we call ‘evil’ or ‘sin’ that would bear such all-embracing and devastating power as ecological evil. This way of describing the ecological problem may sound to some ears as a gross exaggeration, yet there are hardly any responsible scientists or politicians who would not agree with it. If we follow the present course of events the prediction of the apocalyptic end of life on our planet at least is not a matter for prophecy but of sheer inevitability.
Summary of John Zizioulas on the Second Ecumenical Council
(Constantinople) and Basil on the Holy Spirit
1. Basil is saying that if one professes the Spirit is not a creature, then one does not have to profess the ‘homoousios’ of the Spirit. The real and only issue behind the use of the notion of substance in theology was to safeguard the difference between created and uncreated.
2. Basil prefers to speak of the unity of God’s being in terms other than that of substance. He prefers to use Koinonia whenever reference is made to the oneness of the divinity. Anxious to stress and safeguard the distinct and ontological integral existence of each of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, Basil saw that the best way to speak of the unity of the Godhead was through the notion of koinonia rather than of substance.
3. By calling the Person a ‘mode of being’ the Cappadocians introduced a revolution into Greek ontology. For the first time in history Person (prosopon) is not secondary to being. Person is now the ultimate ontological category we can apply to God. The real existence of being or substance is found in the Person.
4. Since the Person is an ultimate ontological notion, it must be a Person – and not a substance – that is the source of divine existence. Thus the notion of ‘source’ is corrected by the notion of ‘cause’ (aitia). The cause of God’s being is the Father. The divine existence does not ‘spring’ so to say, ‘naturally’ as from impersonal substance, but is brought into existence, it is ‘caused’ by someone. It carries connotations of personal initiative and freedom. Divine being owes its being to a free person, not to impersonal substance.
5. There is a fundamental distinction between what we can say about God as he is in Himself (immanently or eternally) and what we can say about Him as He reveals Himself to us in His Oikonomia. These two ways are indicated by two doxologies. One was ‘Glory be to the Father through (dia) the Son in (en) the Holy Spirit.’ Another Basil claimed was just as ancient, was ‘Glory be to the Father with (syn) the Son, with (syn) the Holy Spirit.’
6. In justification of the second doxology, Basil points out that if we look at the Economy in order to arrive at Theologia
we begin with the Holy Spirit, then pass through the Son and finally reach the Father. The movement is reversed when we speak of God’s coming to us: the initiative starts with the Father, passes through the Son, and reaches us in the Holy Spirit. When referring to the Economy, the Spirit is a forerunner of Christ; so in the Economy, for Basil at least, the Spirit does not seem to depend on the Son.
7. This means that the through/in (dia/en) doxology can indicate either the precedence of the Son or the precedence of the Spirit in our relation to God. But if we speak of God in terms of liturgical and eucharistic experience, the three persons of the Trinity appear to be equal in honour and placed next to the other without hierarchical distinction.
8. Basil’s introduction of this with the Son and with the Spirit doxology supports his idea that the oneness of God is to be found in the koinonia of the three persons. The existence of God is revealed to us in the Liturgy as an event of communion.
9. Basil stresses the unity of divine operations ad extra, and cannot see how else one can speak of God in His own being: ‘If one truly receives the Son, the Son will bring with him on either hand the presence of his Father and that of his own Holy Spirit;
likewise he who receives the Father receives also in effect the Son and the Spirit. So ineffable and so far beyond our understanding are both the communion (Koinonia) and the distinctiveness (dianerisis) of the divine hypostases.’
10. From whatever end you begin in speaking of the Holy Trinity you end up with the co-presence and co-existence of all three Persons at once. The only thing which we can say about God on the basis of this relation is that He is three Persons and that these three Persons are clearly distinct from each other in that they exist in a different manner each. Nothing however can be said
about the way they exist – which is why we cannot say what the difference is between generation and procession. The
safest theology is that which draws not only from the Economy, but also from the vision of God as He appears in worship.
John Zizioulas The Second Ecumenical Council on the Holy Spirit in Historical and Ecumenical Perspective
1. From Nicaea to First Constantinople. The crucial issues and the new theological ideas
1. The establishment of the dialectic between ‘created’ and ‘uncreated’
Arianism did not appear as a storm out of the blue. It was connected with an issue that became crucial once the Church tried to relate the gospel to the educated and philosophically inclined Greeks of late antiquity. This issue can be summed up in the question of the relationship between God and the world. To what extent in this relationship a dialectical one? For the ancient Greeks the world and God were related to each other with some kind of ontological affinity (syggeneia). This affinity was expressed either through the mind (Nous) which is common between God – the Nous par excellence – and man, or through the Reason (logos) which came to be understood, especially by Stoicism, as the link, at once cosmic and divine, that unites God and the world. Attempts, like that of Justin, to identify Christ, the logos of the Fourth Gospel, with this Gospel of the Greeks concealed a problem which remained unnoticed as long as the issue of the relations between God and the world was not raised in the form of a dialectical relationship. For many generations after Justin the Logos (Christ) could be thought of as a projection (provole) of God always somehow connected with the existence of the world. Origen’s attempt to push the existence of the Logos back to the being of God himself did not help very much to clarify the issue, since he admitted a kind of eternal creation, thus giving rise to the question whether the Logos was not in fact to be understood in terms of an eternity related to this eternal existence of the world. This is why both the Arians, who wanted the Logos to be related to creation rather than to God’s being, and their opponents could draw inspiration and arguments from Origen himself.