Posted by: oldbelieving | May 24, 2011

Knowledge of Creation and Paradise is beyond human effort

Knowledge of Creation and Paradise is beyond human effort

St. Ambrose of Milan, Paradise, 7

(speaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil): “We should not form a hasty judgment in respect to this product of creation, if it presents to our intellect what seems to us – like the creation of serpents and certain poisonous creatures – difficult and incomprehensible. In fact, we are unable, owing to human weakness, yet to know and understand the reason for the creation of each and every object. Let us, therefore, not criticize in holy Scripture something which we cannot comprehend. There are very many things which must not be subjected to the judgment of our intellect. Rather, these should be surveyed from the lofty heights of Divine Providence and from the intentions of God Himself.

— St. Augustine, City of God, Book 12.24

For we are not to conceive of this work in a carnal fashion, as if God wrought as we commonly see artisans, who use their hands, and material furnished to them, that by their artistic skill they may fashion some material object. God’s hand is God’s power; and He, working invisibly, effects visible results. But this seems fabulous rather than true to men, who measure by customary and everyday works the power and wisdom of God, whereby He understands and produces without seeds even seeds themselves; and because they cannot understand the things which at the beginning were created, they are sceptical regarding them—as if the very things which they do know about human propagation, conceptions and births, would seem less incredible if told to those who had no experience of them; though these very things, too, are attributed by many rather to physical and natural causes than to the work of the divine mind.

— St. Barsanuphius of Optina, Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, pg. 280

this is only a hint of that wondrous beauty, incomprehensible to human thought, which was originally created. We don’t know what kind of moon there was then, what kind of sun, what kind of light . . . All of this changed after the fall.

 

pg. 468

The beautiful things of this world are only hints of that beauty with which the first-created world was filled, as Adam and Eve saw it. That beauty was destroyed by the sin of the first people . . . Thus also did the fall into sin of the first people destroy the beauty of God’s world, and there remain to us only fragments of it by which we may judge concerning the primordial beauty.

 

— St. Basil, Hexameron, 1.1

If the weakness of our intelligence does not allow us to penetrate the depth of the thoughts of the writer, yet we will be involuntarily drawn to give faith to his words by the force of his authority. Now it is Moses who composed this history . . . who disdained the pomp of royalty, and, to share the humble conditions of his compatriots, preferred to be persecuted with the people of God . . . Moses, finally, who, at the age of eighty, saw God, as far as it is possible for man to see Him . . . according to the testimony of God Himself, ‘If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make Myself known to him in a vision, and I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; . . . he is faithful in all My house, I speak with him face to face, even plainly and not in dark sayings’ (Num. 12:6-8)

— Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book 6.9

For, in fine, it is impossible that the immutable should assume firmness and consistency in the mutable. But the ruling faculty being in perpetual change, and therefore unstable, the force of habit is not maintained. For how can he who is perpetually changed by external occurrences mad accidents, ever possess habit and disposition, and in a word, grasp of scientific knowledge? Further, also, the philosophers regard the virtues as habits, dispositions, and sciences. And as knowledge (gnosis) is not born with men, but is acquired,and the acquiring of it in its elements demands application, and training, and progress; and then from incessant practice it passes into a habit; so, when perfected in the mystic habit, it abides, being infallible through love. For not only has he apprehended the first Cause, and the Cause produced by it, and is sure about them, possessing firmly firm and irrefragable and immoveable reasons; but also respecting what is good and what is evil, and respecting all production, and to speak comprehensively, respecting all about Which the Lord has spoken, he has learned, from the truth itself, the most exact truth from the foundation of the world to the end. Not preferring to the truth itself what appears plausible, or, according to Hellenic reasoning, necessary; but what has been spoken by the Lord he accepts as clear and evident, though concealed from others; and he has already received the knowledge of all things. And the oracles we possess give their utterances respecting what exists, as it is; and respecting what is future, as it shall be; and respecting what is past, as it was.

— St. Cyril of Alexandria, Against Julian the Apostate 2:27

As for the way in which he made creation happen, we do not have the means to say.  I affirm that it is beyond any way of expression known to us: how indeed could what exceeds understanding be explained?  In my opinion, the approach imagined by the supreme Being and the way that leads to an understanding of his enterprise will be always as inaccessible to our human condition as we are by nature lower than this Being himself. When Moses said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”, understand that he condenses and summarizes in some way all the details in a single word, when he describes the genesis of all creation. Then, he attempts to say somehow how this creation was put in order and how all the things created were assigned the role in life which they have.

 

— St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 28.5

But enough has been said on this point. As to what concerns us, it is not only the Peace of God which passeth all understanding and knowledge, nor only the things which God hath stored up in promise for the righteous, which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived” except in a very small degree, nor the accurate knowledge of the Creation. For even of this I would have you know that you have only a shadow when you hear the words, “I will consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars,” and the settled order therein; not as if he were considering them now, but as destined to do so hereafter

— St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, Homily on Man

The earth, created, adorned, blessed by God, did not have any deficiencies. It was overflowing with refinement. “God saw,” after the completion of the whole creation of the world, “everything that He had made: and, behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31). Now the earth is presented to our eyes in a completely different look. We do not know her condition in holy virginity; we know her in the condition of corruption and accursedness, we know her already sentenced to burning; she was created for eternity. . . . Plants were not subjected either to decay or to diseases; both decay and diseases and the weeds themselves, appeared after the alteration of the earth following the fall of man . . . According to its creation, there was on it only the splendid, only the wholesome, there was only that which was suitable for the immortal and blessed life of its inhabitants . . . The beasts and other animals lived in perfect harmony among themselves, nourishing themselves on plant life.

— St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies Book 2.18

1. Having therefore the truth itself as our rule and the testimony concerning God set clearly before us, we ought not, by running after numerous and diverse answers to questions, to cast away the firm and true knowledge of God. 2. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries. And there is no cause for wonder if this is the case with us as respects things spiritual and heavenly, and such as require to be made known to us by revelation, since many even of those things which lie at our very feet (I mean such as belong to this world, which we handle, and see, and are in close contact with) transcend our knowledge, so that even these we must leave to God. 3. If, therefore, even with respect to creation, there are some things [the knowledge of] Which belongs only to God, and others which come within the range of our own knowledge, what ground is there for complaint, if, in regard to those things which we investigate in the Scriptures (which are throughout spiritual), we are able by the grace of God to explain some of them, while we must leave others in the hands of God, and that not only in the present world, but also in that which is to come, so that God should forever teach, and man should for ever learn the things taught him by God? As the apostle has said on this point, that, when other things have been done away, then these three, “faith, hope, and charity, shall endure.” For faith, which has respect to our Master, endures unchangeably, assuring us that there is but one true God, and that we should truly love Him forever, seeing that He alone is our Father; while we hope ever to be receiving more and more from God, and to learn from Him, because He is good, and possesses boundless riches, a kingdom without end, and instruction that can never be exhausted. If, therefore, according to the rule which I have stated, we leave some questions in the hands of God, we shall both preserve our faith uninjured, and shall continue without danger; and all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances [of Scripture] there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us, praising in hymns that God who created all things. If, for instance, any one asks, “What was God doing before He made the world? “we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God Himself. For that this world was formed perfectby God, receiving a beginning in time, the Scriptures teach us; but no Scripture reveals to us what God was employed about before this event. The answer therefore to that question remains with God, and it is not proper for us to aim at bringing forward foolish, rash, and blasphemous suppositions [in reply to it]; so, as by one’s imagining that he has discovered the origin of matter, he should in reality set aside God Himself who made all things. 7. But we shall not be wrong if we affirm the same thing also concerning the substance of matter, that God produced it. For we have learned from the Scriptures that God holds the supremacy over all things. But whence or in what way He produced it, neither has Scripture anywhere declared; nor does it become us to conjecture, so as, in accordance with our own opinions, to form endless conjectures concerning God, but we should leave such knowledge in the hands of God Himself.

— St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Genesis, Homily 2:5, p. 32

He well nigh bellows at us all and says, “Is it by human beings I am taught in uttering these things? It is the one who brought being from nothing who stirred my tongue in narrating them.” Since we therefore listen to these words not as the words of Moses but as the words of the God of all things coming to us through the tongue of Moses, so, I beg you, let us heed what is said and part company with our own reasoning. Scripture, after all, says: “The thoughts of mortals are deceptive, and their thinking unreliable.” (Wisdom 9:14). Let us accept what is said with much gratitude, not overstepping the proper limit not busying ourselves with matters beyond us; this is the besetting weakness of enemies of the truth, wishing as they do to assign every matter to their own reasoning, and lacking the realization that it is beyond the capacity of human nature to plumb God’s creation.

Homily 3.10, p. 44

so Sacred Scripture speaks in that way, showing considerateness for the limitations of our hearing when it said,” God saw that the light was good,” and added, “God separated light from darkness; he called the light day and he called the darkness night,” allotting to each its own particular area and establishing limits for each right from the beginning so that they could keep to them permanently without interference. Everyone in his right mind can understand this, how from that time till this the light has not surpassed its limits, nor has darkness exceeded its due order, resulting in confusion and disruption. Really, this fact alone should suffice to oblige people obdurate in their lack of response to come to faith and obedience to the words of Sacred Scripture so as to imitate the order in the elements, respecting as they do their course uninterruptedly, and not overstep their own limitations but rather recognize the extent of their own nature. 11. Then, when he had assigned to each its own name, he linked the two together in the words, “Evening came, and morning came: one day.” He made a point of speaking of the end of the day and the end of the night as one, so as to grasp a certain order and sequence in visible things and avoid any impression of confusion.

— St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ

“The Holy Scriptures speak more truly and more clearly of the world than the world itself or the arrangement of the earthly strata; the scriptures of nature within it, being dead and voiceless, cannot express anything definite. “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Were you with God when He created the universe? “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being His counseller, hath taught Him?” And yet you geologists boast that you have understood the mind of the Lord, in the arrangement of strata, and maintained it in spite of Holy Writ! You believe more in the dead letters of the earthly strata, in the soulless earth, than in the Divinely-inspired words of the great prophet Moses, who saw God.”

–Fr. John Romanides, The Ancestral Sin, p. 41-42

When philosophical systems try to explain the phenomena of things and the presence of evil in them on the basis of what is known about nature, it is absolutely natural for them to confuse the idea of the creation of mater with its fall. If we begin with philosophical and scientific observations of the material world, it is logically impossible to arrive at a distinction between the creation of the world and its fall. Quite simply, this is because the reality before our eyes presents nature as it is now, after the fall … Philosophy is unable to bridge [its] dualism between matter and reality because it is impossible for natural man to distinguish between the wholly positive creation of the world and the fall of the world. Man cannot know this division except by revelation.

p. 48

The dualism of matter and reality is largely based on the idea that death is both a natural and phenomenal fact since matter and the material world in general are without permanent reality, something that belongs to a different dimension. In contrast to the philosophical method, through the divine revelation given to the Prophets, the special people of God learned to distinguish clearly between the world’s creation and the world’s fall, as well as between the present age, which is under the sway of the devil and death, and the future age of the resurrection and the incorruptibility of matter.

— St. Justin Martyr, Hortatory Address to the Greeks, chapter 8

Since therefore it is impossible to learn anything true concerning religion from your teachers, who by their mutual disagreement have furnished you with sufficient proof of their own ignorance, I consider it reasonable to recur to our progenitors, who both in point of time have by a great way the precedence of your teachers, and who have taught us nothing from their own private fancy, nor differed with one another, nor attempted to overturn one another’s positions, but without wrangling and contention received from God the knowledge which also they taught to us. For neither by nature nor by human conception is it possible for men to know things so great and divine, but by the gift which then descended from above upon the holy men, who had no need of rhetorical art, nor of uttering anything in a contentious or quarrelsome manner, but to present themselves pure to the energy of the Divine Spirit, in order that the divine plectrum itself, descending from heaven, and using righteous men as an instrument like a harp or lyre, might reveal to us the knowledge of things divine and heavenly. Wherefore, as if with one mouth and one tongue, they have in succession, and in harmony with one another, taught us both concerning God, and the creation of the world, and the formation of man, and concerning the immortality of the human soul, and the judgment which is to be after this life, and concerning all things which it is needful for us to know, and thus in divers times and places have afforded us the divine instruction.

Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 7.14
Plato and many others of the philosophers, since they were ignorant of the origin of all things, and of that primal period at which the world was made, said that many thousands of ages had passed since this beautiful arrangement of the world was completed; and in this they perhaps followed the Chaldeans, who, as Cicero has related in his first book respecting divination, foolishly say that they possess comprised in their memorials four hundred and seventy thousand years; in which matter, because they thought that they could not be convicted, they believed that they were at liberty to speak falsely. But we, whom the Holy Scriptures instruct to the knowledge of the truth, know the beginning and the end of the world, respecting which we will now speak in the end of our work, since we have explained respecting the beginning in the second book. Therefore let the philosophers, who enumerate thousands of ages from the beginning of the world, know that the six thousandth year is not yet completed

 

St. Maximus the Confessor, Amb. col. 1353, c. as quoted in Fr. John Meyendorff’s “Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, pg. 138

Today man in his actions is possessed by the irrational imagination of the passions, deceived by concupiscence, or pre-occupied either by the contrivances of science because of his needs, or by the desire to learn the principles of nature according to its laws. None of these compulsions existed for man originally, since he was above everything. For thus man must have been in the beginning: in no way distracted by what was beneath him or around him or near him, and desiring perfection in nothing except irresistible movement, with all the strength of love towards the One who was above him, i.e., God.

— St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Homilies 11 for Meatfast Sunday, pg. 116

One and One only, has spoken to us clearly and definitely about all that will come to pass at the end of time: the Lord Jesus Christ. Were anyone soever to say what He said about the end of the world, we would not believe him, though he were the greatest sage living. Were he to speak from his human understanding, and not from God’s proven revelation, we would not believe him. For human understanding and human logic, however great they may be, are too puny to reach to the world’s beginning and its end. Understanding is useless where vision is needed. We need a seer, who sees as clearly as the sun – to see the whole world, from its beginning to its end, and the beginning and the end themselves. There has only ever been one such: the Lord Jesus Christ.

— St. Silouan, St. Silouan the Athonite p. 90

Fr. Sophrony says of him: “For all his real humility and gentleness, the Staretz would say with unshakeable conviction and inner certainty that man cannot ‘of himself’ apprehend Divine matters, which are made known ‘only through the Holy Spirit’, and so the Holy Scriptures, too, ‘written by the Holy Spirit’ cannot be understood through scientific research which can only provide surface aspects and details, never the substance.

— Fr. Sophrony, Principles of Orthodox Asceticism, in The Orthodox Ethos, 1964, pg. 273-274

The educated man of the present day, with his developed critical approach, is incomparably less fitted for the ascetic exercise of obedience than the man of a simple turn of mind who is not seduced by intellectual curiosity. The cultured man, enamoured of his own critical intelligence, which he is accustomed to consider his principal dignity and the one solid foundation of his ‘personal’ life, has to renounce this wealth of his before becoming a novice, or it will be difficult for him to enter into the Kingdom. But how is this to be done? Is not the man into whose hands we must put our will just another human being likes ourselves – one, indeed, who many sometimes seem to us to stand lower than we do? The disciple begins to argue within himself: ‘Is this staretz an oracle, then? And how does he know God’s will? God gave us our reason and we must do our reasoning ourselves. For instance, there is no sense at all in what the staretz has just told me. It is all rubbish.’ And so on. This sort of attitude makes the novice doubtful and hesitant about his spiritual father’s every word, his every directive; and so he forgets that God’s will in this world expresses itself in the very same outward forms as serve to manifest both the natural will of man and the demoniacal will, when this last is made manifest through man. He judges by outward appearances, after the manner of the ‘reasoning’ man, and therefore does not find the path to the living faith . . . In the presence of divine truth the novice finds himself profoundly convinced of the imperfection of his own reasoning powers. This marks an important stage in his ascetic life. In mistrusting his intelligence the monk frees himself from the nightmare in which all mankind lives . . . By this renunciation of his will and judgment, for the sake of cleaving to the divine will which surpasses any human wisdom, the novice is in fact renouncing nothing else than his own egocentric will, het product of the passions, and his feeble little intelligence, and thereby showing true wisdom and superior will. In this manner the novice lightly – and imperceptibly to himself – advances to a height which men of the greatest intellectual culture cannot attain, or even apprehend. This height is purity of mind in God, as we have said earlier.

it is explained earlier that “novice” in this context refers to any Christian who turns to a spiritual father for guidance

 

— St. Symeon the New Theologian, Quoted in Kontoglou, Pege Zoes, “Fount of Life,” 1951, p. 82

He who thinks that because he has been disciplined in secular wisdom he knows everything will never succeed in beholding the mysteries of God, until he first wills to humble himself and become a “fool,” divesting himself both of his pride and of the knowledge which he has acquired. For he who does this, and follows with unhesitating faith those who are wise in things divine, and is guided by them, comes together with them to the city of the living God. And led and illumined by the Holy Spirit he sees and is taught those things which no other man can behold and learn. And then he becomes one taught by God

— Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul, chapter 1

From God you may learn about that which you hold of God; but from none else will you get this knowledge, if you get it not from God. For who is to reveal that which God has hidden? To that quarter must we resort in our inquiries whence we are most safe even in deriving our ignorance. For it is really better for us not to know a thing, because He has not revealed it to us, than to know it according to man’s wisdom, because he has been bold enough to assume it.

— St. Theophan the Recluse

“The positive teaching of the Church serves to know whether a concept is from the Truth. This is a litmus test for all teachings. Whatever agrees with it, you should accept it, whatever does not- – reject. One can do it without further deliberations” [1]. “Science goes forward fast, let it do so. But if they infer something inconsistent with the Divine Revelation, they are definitely off the right path in life, do not follow them” [2]. “Believers have the right to measure the material things with spiritual ones, when materialists get into the realm of the spiritual without a slightest scruple… We have wisdom as our partner, while theirs is foolishness. Material things can be neither the power nor the purpose. They are just the means and the field of activity of spiritual powers by the action of the spiritual beginning of all things (Creator)”

— from St Feofan Zatvornik, Nastavleniya v duhovnoi zhisni. – Pskov-Pechery Monastery of Holy Dormition: Mosc. Patriarchate Publ., 1994.  And 2. St Feofan Zatvornik, Sozertsanie I razmyshlenie. – Moscow, Pravilo very, 1998.

http://creatio.orthodoxy.ru/sbornik/sbufeev_whynot_english.html

— St. Theophilus, To Autolycus, 2.12

Of this six days’ work no man can give a worthy explanation and description of all its parts, not though he had ten thousand tongues and ten thousand mouths; nay, though he were to live ten thousand years, sojourning in this life, not even so could he utter anything worthy of these things, on account of the exceeding greatness and riches of the wisdom of God which there is in the six days’ work above narrated. Many writers indeed have imitated [the narration], and essayed to give an explanation of these things; yet, though they thence derived some suggestions, both concerning the creation of the world and the nature of man, they have emitted no slightest spark of truth.

2.18

But as to what relates to the creation of man, his own creation cannot be explained by man, though it is a succinct account of it which holy Scripture gives. For when God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,” He first intimates the dignity of man. For God having made all things by His Word, and having reckoned them all mere bye-works, reckons the creation of man to be the only work worthy of His own hands. Moreover, God is found, as if needing help, to say, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” But to no one else than to His own Word and wisdom did He say, “Let Us make.” And when He had made and blessed him, that he might increase and replenish the earth, He put all things under his dominion, and at his service; and He appointed from the first that he should find nutriment from the fruits of the earth, and from seeds, and herbs, and acorns, having at the same time appointed that the animals be of habits similar tom an’s, that they also might eat of an the seeds of the earth.

 

— Vladimir Lossky, Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pg. 104-105

Having no philosophical references, the Church always freely makes use of philosophy and the sciences for apologetic purposes, but she never has any cause to defend these relative and changing truths as she defends the unchangeable truth of her doctrines. This is why ancient or more modern cosmological theories cannot affect in any way the more fundamental truth which is revealed to the Church: “the truth of Holy Scripture is far deeper than the limits of our understanding,” as Philaret of Moscow says [Sermons and Discourses, Moscow, 1877]. In the face of the vision of the universe which the human race has gained since the period of the renaissance, in which the earth is represented as an atom lost in infinite space amid innumerable other worlds, there is no need for theology to change anything whatever in the narrative of Genesis . . .

 

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Responses

  1. OldBelieving,

    I love this blog and your compilations of sayings even more. Do you attend the Old Ritual church in Erie?

  2. glad you enjoy, thank God! i have visited there a few times, but my current location is St. Tikhon’s Seminary. in my very first post on here I explain that I used this name because I found the Old Rite Church to be inspiring, and because, well, its a sweet name!

  3. That is a wonderful place. I have visited there the last two summers. I contribute compilations and sayings to a couple of Orthodox blogs:

    classicalchristianity.com/
    http://www.orthodox-christianity.com/

    Check ’em out. I look forward to your posts.

    Christ is risen!

  4. […] […]

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