Secularism or Islamism: Two Nightmares?

The idea of an ideal world comes from the Christian idea of the salvation of the world. Al-Massih (the Messiah) has achieved the salvation of the world by his victory over Shaytan (Satan), obtained at the time of the Passion. This salvation has unhappily been rejected by one part of humanity, so in order that the world in its entirety may be saved, we must now await the manifestation of the Antichrist, Ad-Dajjal, and then the glorious Coming of Christ, who will purify the world of the Antichrist and of his supporters. (In the New Testament: Matthew 3:12; Matthew 13:36-43; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).

We can also say here that over the centuries, what we derived from Augustinism prevented Christians from announcing the true hope for the world and also from dialoguing with Muslims on the theme of the eschatological hope – for the world.

Those who reject the salvation of Al-Massih have kept the idea of the salvation of the world, or of an ideal world, but have charged themselves with the execution of the judgment of the world. The massacres perpetrated are an act of judgment, from which it is expected an ideal world will emerge, liberated or submitted, but pure and perfect. (And there is also satanic nihilism in which there is no hope at all remaining).

We find this idea in the secularism of the French Revolution where the revolutionaries massacred those that resisted them, in the illusory hope of a liberated world. We find it again in the ideal of the Soviet conquest of the world by the Socialist International.

Islamist thought also aims at massacring the unsubmitted in view of an ideal world which is “submitted” to the same logic (which would explain why global secularist movements are sometimes the first to finance these Islamic movements).

This thought is expressed in numerous hadiths of the Muslim tradition, but as it involves armed combat, these writings circulate in a rather private, non-official way: Muslim governments, conscious of the subversive charge against these traditions do not favor their exposition in the full light of day. In effect, on the basis of such a belief, the least bit of preaching or media campaign defining “the forces of Evil to combat” is capable of drawing believers into massive combat. And thus all manipulations are possible.


Francoise Breynaert is a secular oblate of the Fraternity of Our Lady of the Desert (Belgium). A doctor of theology, she has published foundational works (biblical, Christological) and also Marian and spiritual works. She has also done theological research on the salvation of non-Christians and the Good News for the deceased, and on the Coming of Christ, which the West often confounds, unhappily, with the end of the world, and finally on the exegesis of orality in connection with the Christians of the East. Her works are recognized (imprimatur, episcopal prefaces) in France and abroad. Her research has interested Islamologists who, in turn, have made her part of their studies.


The featured image shows, The Annunciation, from Mir’at al-quds (a Mirror of Holiness), Mughal India, ca. 1602-1604.

The Necessity Of Christian Tradition

For a period of about three years in my late teens and early 20’s, I was deeply involved in a charismatic house church. It was a deeply committed group of people (some of us lived in a commune together). Our services could run for hours with very intensive Bible teaching. A feature of that time and the charismatic movement was a concern for the “latest word.” By that was meant new insights, new emphases, and a very heightened sense that we were hearing moment-by-moment what God wanted to say to His people. It was exciting. It was also exhausting. It was also spiritually problematic.

I will not describe all the problems (there’s not time). For myself, I had a growing sense of questioning and unreliability. If the Church is led by the “latest word,” then its reliability depends entirely on the personalities involved in bringing such news. A survey of the charismatic, pentecostal, and evangelical movements over the past 50 years would necessarily include the many failures of key leaders and of various dangers associated with ever-changing emphases and fashions.

My questions brought about a crisis of faith. I left that movement and floundered a bit, eventually settling into the Episcopal Church in a search for greater stability (mind you, this was the early to mid-70’s). Of course, that move was something of a jump from the “frying pan into the fire.” But my instinct was correct. Christianity is not rightly built on moment-by-moment updates, or “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). The history of the primitive Church is a consistent movement away from such excitement and towards the solidity of a reliable hierarchy grounded in a received body of teaching. Its instinct was that the locus of change was within the heart of each believer rather than a constant flow of fluctuating information.

The early heresies had just the opposite instinct. “Gnosticism,” a label invented by modern historians, was never a single thing. Rather it is a collective term for scattered individual teachers who promised new insights, exciting, even “secret” information, which would grant its adherents a quick passage to a higher existence. There is evidence that these teachers (almost always existing outside the eucharistic structure of the Church) were already a problem within the time span of the New Testament. Modern liberal thought has sought to describe these teachers as “alternate Christianties,” largely in an effort to discredit the traditional Church. Over time, these groups fell into silence, particularly in that they were deeply driven by single personalities. They lacked the institutional reality required for generational survival.

My abandonment of charismatic Christianity and move towards received tradition led me, over time, to Orthodox Christianity. It was a renunciation of the “latest thing” in order to embrace the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.” It was a movement from charismatic excitement towards sacramental stability. When people are young, there can be an excitement that surrounds dating, moving from relationship to relationship, dreaming of possibilities and riding the wave of romantic energy. That is a far cry from the daily life of a stable marriage extending through the years, giving birth and nurture to generations of children. Christianity, in its traditional form, is like marriage, not dating.

The most institutionalized element of Orthodox Christianity can be found in its worship. We have documents describing, in some detail, the structure of worship from as early as the 2nd century. It is worth noting that the word “Orthodoxy” is perhaps best translated as “right glory [worship]” rather than right opinion or doctrine. What the Church teaches is primarily found embodied in its worship. An old Latin formula has it: Lex orandi, lex credendi. It means, “The law of praying is the law of believing.” It explains how it is that Orthodoxy’s primary word of evangelism is “Come and see.”

There are roots for this understanding that run deep into the heart of the Old Testament. Exodus 25 describes Moses’ meeting with God on Mt. Sinai for a period of 40 days. In that encounter he is shown a “pattern” of the heavenly tabernacle, and given detailed plans for the building of the tabernacle and all that it contained. He is repeatedly told to build things “according to the pattern.” This heavenly pattern was of great interest within the writings of both Jews and early Christians. The instinct within that interest was that the heavenly pattern served as a template for God’s dwelling place among us. This was the understanding that marked the Temple in Jerusalem, and became a hallmark of Orthodox Christian understanding of worship, including the building itself. This pattern is itself an example of holy tradition. It was given by God [handed down] to Moses (not simply evolved through Jewish practices). But if what Moses saw was a “heavenly” tabernacle, then his vision was also of eternal consequence and merit.

Orthodox Christian practice recognized this fundamental layer of tradition. St. Paul describes Christians as the “temple” of God (1 Cor. 3:16). St. John’s apocalyptic vision centers around the temple in the heavens. The construction of Orthodox Churches has intentional parallels with the Jewish Temple, as do certain aspects of our worship. We speak of the Divine Liturgy as “heaven on earth,” and describe ourselves as doing here what is being done there.

“Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

This hymn was added to the Liturgy in the 6th century but represents a thought and understanding that is far older. Perhaps more striking, and echoing the deepest level of Orthodox tradition can be found in this excerpt from the first homily of St. Macarius. He looks at the imagery of Ezekiel’s chariot vison, often understood as an image of the throne of God in the heavenly temple. St. Macarius applies it to the soul:

And this that the prophet saw, was true and certain. But the thing it signified, or shadowed forth beforehand, was a matter mysterious and divine, that very mystery which had been hid from ages and generations, but was made manifest at the appearing of Christ. For the mystery which he saw, was that of the human soul as she is hereafter to receive her Lord, and become herself the very throne of his glory. (H. 1.2)

His thought is of a piece with St. Paul’s description of Christians as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

There is a dynamic present in these images that carries the very essence of tradition as a way of life. Modern thought imagines human existence and even its “improvement” as a process of ever-increasing personal choice and freedom. It is a product of the imagination in which the individual becomes whatever they might choose to be. It is a model well-suited to a market-driven world. In many ways, the constant change and “latest revelations” in many forms of contemporary Christianity, echo that instinct, with theological insights and biblical themes arriving as marketed ideas. Like clothing fashions, such changing insights help establish a spirituality that has its own sense of “coolness.”

In the spirituality of Orthodox Tradition the point is to receive that which has already been given. There is nothing new to be revealed (as information), even though what has been made known is constantly revealed as life-creating truth within the soul itself. It is a life grounded in the Divine Life both in the temple of the Church (in praise and sacrament) and in the temple of the soul. It is ultimately within the soul that we perceive the face of God in Christ. It is in the soul that we perceive Him in the least of those around us and serve them as our service to God. It is in the soul that we offer the Eucharist (our giving of thanks for all things) in union with the earthly/heavenly Liturgy of Christ’s Body and Blood.

There is a stability in this way of life, grounded in the stability of heaven itself (which never changes). That same abiding reality has weathered the storms of 2,000 years even as its saints and martyrs join themselves together with the souls who currently labor and fight on earth. It is not a movement, nor a revival, nor a new thing. It is stubbornly ignorant of market forces. It is a sweet promise and gift.

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.


Father Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


The featured image shows, “The Koimetesis” (The Dormition of the Virgin), ca. 1315-1321. Chora church, Constantinople.

Saint Bernard: The Three Freedoms

Over eight centuries before Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated his “Four Freedoms,” a shorter and much better list of freedoms was elucidated by the young abbot of the new monastery of Clairvaux, one Bernard by name.

In his work On Grace and Free Choice (De Gratia et libero arbitrio), Saint Bernard (1090-1153) distinguished three kinds of freedom: of nature, of grace, and of glory. The first is freedom from necessity; the second, from sin; and the third, from suffering. All three concern man’s inner life, where all true freedom resides, rather than extrinsic factors. (For a timely example of what I mean by “extrinsic factors,” we might consider freedom from external compulsion to receive an unethically sourced, unnecessary, and ineffective vaccine against an illness that 99.7% of people who contract it survive.) For us moderns, like Roosevelt, the tendency is to locate freedom outside of ourselves, but that is not what Saint Bernard had in mind. Real freedom, I repeat, is an interior reality, and all three of these freedoms are interior.

The Calvinists and Lutherans, who exaggerated the effects of the Fall, denied that man’s will is free. They would have done well to read Saint Bernard, who based his argumentation solidly on Holy Scripture. So, too, do modern schools of psychological determinism deny — or at least detract from — the freedom of the will. But Saint Bernard, writing with great philosophical certitude and liberty, shows that the will by its very nature is free.

This innate freedom of the will, in addition to our intellect, is what makes us in the image and likeness of God, and the Master of Clairvaux notes that this first freedom has nothing to do with whether we are good or bad: “Freedom from necessity belongs alike to God and to every rational creature, good or bad.” This freedom, which makes our actions “voluntary,” is contrasted with that necessity of which brute beasts are possessed in all their actions. In dogs and cats, and all the rest of non-rational animals, there are no voluntary or free acts. They act by an interior compulsion to do what they do. Without having an intellect and a will, non-rational animals live exclusively on the level of the senses and the irascible and concupisciple appetites. We, too, have those faculties, but our intellect and will tower over them and make our acts human acts and therefore voluntary and free acts. As the Cistercian Doctor puts it negatively, “What is done by necessity does not derive from the will and vice versa.”

For clarity, I should note here that there are acts that men do that are not voluntary and therefore not free. These are things we have in common with the beasts, like respiration, digestion, and the myriad other activities our bodies perform every moment to keep us alive and functioning at the level of mere sentient activity. Philosophers call such acts “actus hominis” (acts of a man) as distinguished from “actus humanus” (human acts). “Human” here means rational and volitional.

The following sentence from On Grace and Free Choice may be long and need to be read two or three times, but it is very illuminating of the truth concerning man’s will being free and the consequent moral responsibility we all shoulder by virtue of our freely chosen acts:

Only the will, then, since, by reason of its innate freedom, it can be compelled by no force or necessity to dissent from itself, or to consent in any matter in spite of itself, makes a creature righteous or unrighteous, capable and deserving of happiness or of sorrow, insofar as it shall have consented to righteousness or unrighteousness. [All excerpts here are from the Cistercian Publications edition of the work, translated by Daniel O’Donolan, OSCO.]

The truth that “sin is in the will,” is an immediate conclusion from what Saint Bernard writes here. While we might be externally influenced, threatened, cajoled, directed, encouraged, etc., in our will we always remain radically free. This is an anthropological or psychological fact that follows from our very nature as it was created by God, prescinding from the Fall. It is the basis of all merit and culpability and, therefore, of the notions of reward and punishment.

Over and above this first freedom, the innate freedom of nature, are the two other freedoms (that from sin, and that from sorrow) which are not natural endowments but supernatural gifts.

Saint Bernard explains that freedom from sin is what Saint Paul described when he wrote, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). This second freedom is not innate in us, but results from grace, and stands in contrast — so the Abbot of Clairvaux notes — to that slavery to sin that the Holy Apostle describes elsewhere: “For when you were the servants of sin, you were free men to justice. [Saint Paul is ironically contrasting “slavery to sin” and “slavery to God (or justice)”. Being “free men to justice” means being “liberated” from God’s holiness or righteousness. This is a false and damning freedom.] … But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life everlasting” (Rom. 6:20, 22).

Citing Our Lord saying, “If therefore the son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36), Saint Bernard tells us:

He meant that even free choice stands in need of a liberator, but one, of course, who would set it free, not from necessity which was quite unknown to it since this pertains to the will, but rather from sin, into which it has fallen both freely and willingly, and also from the penalty of sin which it carelessly incurred and has unwillingly borne.

We ought not quickly pass over the profound thought that “even free choice stands in need of a liberator.” The words are beautiful, yes, but there is more than mere aesthetics here. Our free will, after the Fall, contracted the defect Saint Thomas calls “malice,” and needs to be saved from it, or freed. The liberator in question is, of course, that Man who knew no sin, and who always was and always remains absolutely free from sin. Citing Psalm 87:6, Saint Bernard calls Christ, “[He who] alone of all men was made free among the dead; free, that is, from sin in the midst of sinners.”

Concerning this “second freedom” — freedom from sin — the Mellifluous Doctor eloquently addresses the question of good will versus bad will in words that should encourage us:

When a person complains and says: “I wish I could have a good will, but I just can’t manage it,” this in no way argues against the freedom [from necessity, the “first freedom”] of which we have been speaking, as if the will thus suffered violence or were subject to necessity. Rather is he witnessing to the fact that he lacks that freedom which is called freedom from sin. Because, whoever wants to have a good will proves thereby that he has a will, since his desire is aimed at good only through his will. And if he finds himself unable to have a good will whereas he really wants to, then this is because he feels freedom is lacking in him, freedom namely from sin, by which it pains him that his will is oppressed, though not suppressed. Indeed it is more than likely that, since he wants to have a good will, he does, in fact, to some extent, have it. What he wants is good, and he could hardly want good otherwise than by means of good will; just as he could want evil only by a bad will. When we desire good, then our will is good; when evil, evil. In either case, there is will; and everywhere freedom; necessity yields to will. But if we are unable to do what we will, we feel that freedom itself is somehow captive to sin, or that it is unhappy, not that it is lost.

The words here rendered “oppressed, though not suppressed” are premi non perimi, and are difficult to translate, but the sense is that, though the will is in part impaired (by sin), it is not rendered powerless. Moral theologians of later ages would develop in detail the Church’s accepted moral doctrine concerning the diminishing of the freedom of the will by habitual sin, yet the notion is here in seminal form in Saint Bernard. The doctrine here explained is very consoling. If we will the good but yet sin, there is still some good in us. The remedy is grace, the major burden of Saint Bernard’s book, which is there for us if we but ask of it. For that reason and others, in the practical order, prayer is the main point of contact between God’s grace and our free will. It opens us to the remedy our will needs. Without prayer, even the sacraments will avail us but little because we lack the necessary dispositions to receive the remedies they contain.

Concerning the “third freedom,” that from suffering, or, as he also calls it, “the freedom of glory,” the Cistercian abbot is clear that it is not for this life, but the next, for “it is reserved for us in our homeland” of Heaven:

There is also a freedom from sorrow, of which the Apostle again says: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” [Rom. 8:21]. But would anyone in this mortal condition dare arrogate to himself even this kind of freedom?

He further adds that, by this third freedom,

[W]e are raised up to glory, a perfect creature in the Spirit. [And] … by it, we cast down death itself. … Finally, by the last-named, in our own more perfect submission to ourselves through victory over corruption and death — when, that is, death shall be last of all destroyed [1 Cor. 15:26] — we will pass over into the glorious freedom of the sons of God [Rom. 8:21], the freedom by which Christ will set us free, when he delivers us as a kingdom to God the Father.[Cf. 1 Cor. 15:24]”

We are living in a time when our civic freedoms seem imperiled by an emerging biometric security state, an Orwellian oligarchic kleptocracy that demands we give up our freedoms for the lying promises of safety, security, and now health. In the midst of these mendacious statist shenanigans — so obvious to those not drinking the Kool-Aid of mainstream media and Big Tech—let us more and more cherish and cling to our real freedoms which are ours by Baptism and the giving of the Holy Ghost… and which no man can take from us.


Brother André Marie is Prior of St. Benedict Center, an apostolate of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond New Hampshire. He does a weekly Internet Radio show, Reconquest, which airs on the Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel. This article appears courtesy of Catholicism.org.


The featured image shows, “The Liberation of Saint Peter,” by Juan de Valdés Leal, painted ca. 1650.

A Reflection On Mystery

Few words can be more misleading to the modern ear than the Orthodox use of the word “mystery.” It’s a fine New Testament word and is (technically) the proper name for the sacraments in Orthodoxy (though we most often say ‘sacrament’ in English). Its root meaning is that of something “hidden.” In our culture’s language, mystery is more a matter of a who-done-it or a reference to something so puzzling or beyond us that it cannot be known. It’s not unusual for the non-Orthodox to complain that when pressed really hard, the Orthodox will take refuge and say, “It’s a mystery.” So, what is the mystery in “mystery?”

There is a debate about the exact root of the word in Greek. Most agree that it has to do with silence. Indeed, one speculation is that it is onomatopoetic (a word that sounds like what it is). As such, it comes from a root which is the sound you make when your mouth is closed (“mmmm”). In St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy, directions to priests on certain prayers are that they are to be said “mystically,” meaning that the prayer should be spoken softly (sotto voce). This soft-spoken meaning also can reflect the sense of “secret.”

“Mystery” is a major term in some of St. Paul’s writings, particularly Ephesians and Colossians. There he describes the entire plan of salvation as a “mystery that has now been revealed.” He makes reference to the same thing in Romans as well (16:25). Christ Himself uses the term in Mark’s gospel, telling the disciples that it has been given to them to “know the mystery of the Kingdom of God,” while it is hidden in parables for others (4:11).

But there is more to the word than mere secret. St. Paul also speaks of the “mystery of godliness” and the “mystery of iniquity.” In those expressions the word does not describe secret information, but a hidden process at work. And this gets closer, I think, to St. Paul’s other uses as well. For him, “mystery” is not the same thing as “secret.” It is not information that is being held back. Rather, it is a reality that is not made manifest as of yet. And this is at the very heart of the Orthodox use of the word.

When St. Paul speaks of the “mystery hidden from before the ages” (1Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26) he is referencing Christ’s Pascha, the “Lamb slain from the foundation.” This is not a reference to a secret plan, but to the very hidden truth of Christ Crucified and its work in creation. I’ve always appreciated C.S. Lewis’ play on this in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He describes a “deep magic” which the witch does not know, and, on account of which she unwittingly brings about her own defeat. In the Corinthians passage St. Paul says:

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:7-8)

In the presentation of Christ crucified as mystery, we are to understand that the crucifixion itself is a manifestation in time of that which has been true from before the ages. The crucifixion is more than an event – it is a revelation of the truth of who God is. It is proper for us to say that Christianity is inherently apocalyptic – it is a revealing of that which has been hidden.

This same theme even plays out in the description of our salvation:

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:2-4)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. (Rom. 8:18-19)

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 Jn. 3:2)

Something of the same notion is found in the Old Testament as well:

Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. (Wis. 3:5-7)

It is keenly important to understand that what is hidden is not something that does not already exist: that would be a mere secret, an idea. The mystery described and referenced within the Scriptures is a reality that existed before the creation itself. It is Christ crucified. It is the treasure of our salvation:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet. 1:3-5)

It is this very “mystery” that forms the substance of the sacraments of the Church. In Baptism, we are Baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ (an eternal reality); in the Eucharist, we eat and drink the Body and Blood of the crucified Christ, slain from the foundation of the earth, and so on. The mystery of our salvation is not presented to us as something that has not yet happened. It is rather something that has not yet been revealed. Its reality is greater than the things we see at present:

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18)

This same understanding is the basis for the various forms of allegory used in reading the Scriptures. That reading is not a literary device. Rather, it is a discernment of something that is true and real and that lies beneath the surface of the words. Those who champion the “literal-historical” reading, as though it were the only firm foundation, utterly neglect the very character of our salvation. The mystery of the crucified Christ is the content of all Scripture, and is read by those who know Him.

The Orthodox answer, “It is a mystery,” is not an effort to dodge difficult questions. It is, instead, an attempt to say what is most profoundly true. Not only is Christ the mystery which has been made known, but we ourselves are a mystery, yet to be revealed. The world around us, like the Scriptures themselves, have Christ Crucified as their truth, for Christ is the Logos, according to which and through which the logos of every created thing is made. If you do not know the mystery of creation, then you do not know creation.

It is a mystery known to the trees and rocks. They groan, waiting for it to be made manifest. Occasionally, they begin to shout, to sing and to clap their hands. The song of creation is a mystery, heard by those who have ears to hear.


Father Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


The featured image shows, “The Visitation,” by Gerónimo Antonio de Ezquerra, painted ca. 1737.

“Systematic” Theology And Orthodoxy

I have heard it said, numerous times, that Orthodox Christianity “does not do” systematic theology. Having done my graduate studies in systematic theology, I occasionally bristle at the comment, particularly when those making it have never actually studied the subject. It is true that Orthodoxy does not do “systematic” theology, as such, but the statement can be quite misleading, implying that there’s no place for systematics in Orthodoxy and that studying it is a waste of time (and un-Orthodox). So, here is a small tutorial in the topic.

The assumption behind systematic theology is that the universe is actually a “uni-verse” – that is, it has a unity throughout. The laws of physics that apply in this corner of the universe are the same laws that apply everywhere else. This also means that if you find laws elsewhere that contradict the laws you understand to apply where you are, then you need to re-examine your understanding. You do not have the complete story on your present circumstance.

In science, if you come across a new species of tree, you can study it to see what makes it unique. However, you will also assume that, since it is a tree, it will share most of the characteristics of other trees. If it doesn’t, either it isn’t a tree, or our understanding of trees needs to be revised.

This consistency and stability across creation is what is meant by “system” in “systematic theology.” If, for example, I say that “God is good,” and then something comes along that would seem to contradict that, then something about the statement “God is good” needs to be revised. Or, perhaps, I am misunderstanding the contradiction. What is “systematic” in such an approach is a reasonable expectation that a statement made in one place will not be contradicted in another. So, when reading a “systematic theology,” consistency and cogency are important measurements.

When I was studying systematics, one of our seminars required us to read about a dozen different, so-called, systematic theologies, from across a very broad spectrum. I recall someone presenting a paper on the doctrine of God in the writings of the radical feminist Catholic, Rosemary Radford Ruether. When the student finished reading the paper, there was a dead, stunned silence in the room. Finally, a sheepish voice piped up, “Isn’t that the Force in Star Wars?” We broke out in laughter because it was precisely what she had articulated. It might make for interesting reading, but it certainly could not be called “Christian.”

Orthodox theology is not studied or written in the manner of Protestant systematics. Orthodox thought is largely what has been traditioned and is drawn from the Fathers and our liturgical life. Protestant theology is often more ideologically driven, departing from and dismissing major portions of tradition. They are simply not the same thing. But, having said that, Orthodox thought is not devoid of system. Thinking carefully about that is, I think, worthwhile.

The first eight centuries in the life of the Church were a time when doctrine and theology were being expressed and argued in a manner that has not been repeated since. I do not think it is correct to describe the process as a “development of doctrine.” However, there was a very careful development of vocabulary. And, in that vocabulary, we can see something of a “system” being articulated.

When the First Council of Nicaea met, the greater debate centered on the use of the word “homoousios” (“one essence” or “one being”). The word did not meet with instant acceptance because it had once been a term favored by the heretic Paul of Samosata who used it to teach a form of “modalism.” The debate raged through the remainder of the century with councils and counter-councils and imperial interference and endless rangling. The work of the Cappadocians (St. Basil the Great, his brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and his friend, St. Gregory the Theologian) succeeded in defining and refining terminology such that a consensus prevailed in the Second Ecumenical Council (Constantinople I). It gave us the Creed in its present form. What they gave us, more importantly, was a growing consensus on vocabulary.

Slowly, as the centuries moved along, the common vocabulary of dogma found expression in the public teaching of the Church. This meant that words such as, “being,” “person,” “nature,” “energy,” “will,” etc., meant the same thing whenever they were used. Thus, when speaking of “person,” or “hypostasis,” the word came to mean the same thing whether it was referring to the persons of the Holy Trinity or human persons. All of that might seem easy now, or even obvious, but it was not so when all of those conversations began.

It is surprising for some to realize that St. Athanasius, who first introduced the term “homoousios,” might have had a slightly different understanding of the term than it came to have later in the century when it was reaffirmed at the Second Council. To see that requires a much deeper and more careful study of Patristic thought than is commonly done. The development of vocabulary, for example, is the reason why St. Cyril of Alexandria is given a pass for using the term “nature” (“physis”) in a manner that would later be described by the term “person” (“hypostasis”). The refusal to accept a developing and changing vocabulary in this instance resulted in the schism with the so-called “Monophysites,” who probably would be more accurately described as “Cyril-ites.” The “system” that was found in working out common meaning for technical terms required an agreement that clearly failed in the case of that early schism. Language matters.

All of this came to my mind recently during a social media conversation regarding atonement theory. The doctrine of the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (that Jesus was punished for our sins to appease the wrath of the Father) was the topic. I have been quite critical of the theory and was being taken to task with examples of the use of “punishment” and “substitution” found, on occasion, in the writings of the Fathers. Perhaps I overstate the case when I say that I do not find it to be “Orthodox.” I will clarify.

What I find is that it is a theory expressed in terms, images, and language that seem to fall outside the vocabulary that I have generally seen to be normative in Orthodox writings (including those of the Fathers). When reading St. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, it is quite common to hear the problem of sin described in terms of “being” and “non-being,” rendered as “life” and “death.” Something of the same can be seen in St. Athanasius’ De Incarnatione. This pattern and vocabulary can be found throughout the Cappadocians, perhaps because they seem to be particularly attentive to language and consistency.

I have found a consistent vocabulary and use of imagery in the theme of life/death, being/non-being, communion/disintegration, etc., in thinking about how it is and what it means when we sin, and how it is and what it means that we are saved. It is possible to describe and think about these things in a consistent manner, such that when we speak of Christ’s incarnation, of our bondage in sin and death, His death on the Cross and His resurrection, as well as the sacraments of Baptism into His death and resurrection, and the Eucharist as communion in His Body and Blood, and so forth, a common vocabulary and understanding unite them all. For myself, this consistency has been common to my treatment of the atonement across the board.

Though it is possible to find isolated uses of penal imagery in the early Fathers, it nowhere seems to rise to the level of a common vocabulary extending throughout their work, much less becoming the basis for how we speak about asceticism, spirituality, or, the doctrine of God. Thus, when I describe it as being “not Orthodox,” I mean that it sounds “out of tune.”

The imagery of music, of a symphony, is quite apt when thinking about the whole of theology. There are many instruments in a symphony, each with varying shades of tonality and range of pitch. First, all instruments have to be “in tune,” so that what is “A-440” for one is the same for all. Second, comes the music itself. It is written in a single key (I’m sure that somebody has written a modern symphony with instruments playing in different keys – though, if it is taken far enough, we pass from music to pure noise). If you’re playing Beethoven’s 5th (which is written in C minor), and, fifteen measures into the performance the brass sections begin to play in E flat major, the result could be quite interesting, but less pleasant, and perhaps disastrous.

This, for me, is something of the effect of hearing an Orthodox priest teaching the atonement in the key of penal substitution. I feel as though Calvinists have stormed the auditorium and taken over some section of the orchestra. It can be defended by citing some place or other where such imagery was used on occasion. But the overall result is quite jarring, often creates confusion, and risks becoming a disaster. It can be done – but should you want to?

Orthodoxy has a two-thousand year history. It’s history does not begin in the mind of a systematic theologian. As such, we cannot describe it as “systematic theology.” But, if you listen carefully to the music of theology over those many centuries, certain themes sound clearly, while others seem to appear, and, just as suddenly, disappear. Music is not engineering. For me, it makes music a better analogy for theology.

I suspect that among my failings (if it be such) is a love for a symphony in a single key (with proper modulations and relative key changes). If it is possible to write and teach theology with a consistency that allows the whole thing to be seen for its unity, then I think it produces a better result. This same tendency, I think, was present in the Cappadocians, and has recurred in other major figures such as St. Maximus. It is why they sound so much alike, in general, and while none of them sound like Calvin.

But this is music, and I well appreciate that others might see this (hear this) in a different manner.


Father Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


The featured image shows, “Christ among the Doctors,” by Albrecht Dürer, painted in 1506.

Fabricating the “Essene Monks”

From The 17th Century To The Present Day

It was in the West, especially in the 18th century, and then again in the 20th century, that the commonplace notion of “Essene monks” took form. This notion is still current and is the basis of the question: is Christianity post-Essenism? Siegfried Wagner traced the origin of these debates which agitated French and German speaking countries, following the publication of books by Carme Daniel a Virgine Maria in the 1680s.

For almost a century this commonplace gave rise to heated discussions in Italy and Spain, for reasons that may escape the gaze of too lay an historian. Indeed, in the wake of the reform of the Order of Carmel (female and male) in Spain, some Carmelite Fathers wanted to demonstrate at all costs the continuity that existed between the prophet Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and the first Western Christian monks who settled there in the 12th century (and who soon formed the Carmelite Order). There is nothing to indicate that the caves of the mount had ever been inhabited by monks before them; and two millennia separate Elijah from the sons of the great Teresian reform. But no one bothered with such details. The missing link indeed had been found – the “Essene monks.”

As early as 1596, the historian Baronius, who was very close to the Roman Curia, had protested against these claims known as the Elianic succession; and then the Bollandists (Jesuits) took charge. But the Carmelites succeeded in getting the Inquisitor of Spain on their side. And soon a first decree was issued in 1639, approving four proposals which affirmed that under the Old Law, there existed a true “monachate and religious order.” A second decree confirmed the first in 1673.

When these decrees became known in Northern Europe and encountered the philosophy of the Enlightenment, the debate soon took a different turn. Indeed, the question now became – is monasticism of Christian origin? Which then turned into the question – does Christianity really have an origin of its own? In this way, the path was paved for Voltaire who took up the idea of the “brotherhood of the Essenes,” with the aim of showing Christianity’s lack of originality. Jesus, he explained, had been an Essene! After the succession of revolutions, the controversy soon resumed in France in academia, down the Voltairian line, which Ernest Renan (1823-1892) popularized with the famous formula – “Christianity is a successful Essenism.” Despite the discovery of many manuscripts during the 19th and especially the 20th century (in particular those of Qumrân), the debate has curiously hardly evolved up to our day; or up till very recently – when we began to radically question the very concept of “Essene monks.”

But cracks are appearing today among the learned but narrow defenders of the idea of “Essene monks.” Jean-Baptiste Humbert thus summarized the conclusions of a multidisciplinary conference, organized in November 2002, which brought together specialists from various (not to say divergent) fields, in these words: De Vaux’s thesis – a self-sufficient Essene complex that allegedly managed the caves and established its own cemetery – is under attack from several sides at once. The conference had the merit of underlining the coexistence of two tendencies: the ‘Old one,’ attached to the vulgate of de Vaux, or to other theories… and the ‘New ones,’ which want to move forward…”

The discoveries of Qumran could have been the occasion for a revival of the exegesis of the texts of Pliny, Philo and Josephus. That did not happen. In fact, the debate was closed before it even began. As early as 1950, when the texts of Qumran were just beginning to be deciphered, André Dupont-Sommer proclaimed the “Essene” identity of the Qumranian site. This was widely covered by the press.

However, not only was the debate closed, it was written in advance. It is indeed surprising to see the idea of the existence of a convent of “Essene monks” near the Dead Sea put forward twenty years earlier by another Frenchman, the novelist Maurice Magre. In one of his novels, a character, initiated into an esoteric secret society, says: “During my trip to the East, I went to the shore of the Dead Sea to contemplate the place where the Essenes had once lived, those wise and perfect men, in the midst of whom Jesus was instructed… Actually, not very far from the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, there is a monastery, a monastery without a chapel and whose threshold is not dominated by any cross…”

Earlier in the novel, another equally esoteric character is presented: “He had, he said, sought in Palestine and in Syria the traces of the ancient Essenes. He had therefore stayed in various monasteries, in particular in that of Baruth, built on the remains of an old maritime fortress of the Templars. There, he had rummaged in a library buried in dust and neglected by ignorant monks. He had discovered forgotten manuscripts, and learned of lost secrets.”

Then, Jean Hubaux comments: “It should not be assumed that, as early as 1929, Magre had predicted the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it should be noted that as early as 1929, maktub, it was written that on the day when ancient manuscripts would be found in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, these documents could only be Essene.”

We should also add that the ruins, described as a monastery and located on the shore of the Dead Sea, were more or less long declared as “Essene,” for the site of Qumrân was known in France, in fact, since the middle of the 19th century. The “Essene” narrative was already written in advance.

As a result of thousands of articles, or scholarly books, praised by the press, what should have remained a working hypothesis turned well-nigh into dogma, going so far as to “reconstruct” a life-like “Essene scriptorium” (in the current archaeological museum of Palestine), even though “reconstruction” is hardly the proper term for a work of the imagination, which is itself based entirely on what we know about the rooms of medieval monastic copyists. By a ripple effect, this Palestinian museum’s scriptorium has served as a reference for many authors and illustrators of the supposed life of the monks of the “monastery” of Qumrân. Who could possibly doubt the existence of copyists in the face of such a wealth of colorful details?

Thus, curiously, the modern commonplace of the “Essene monks” is the result of a motley alliance between Carmelites imbued with their own importance, the Spanish Inquisition, the Freemason Voltaire, King Frederick II, and finally a scholar who obtained a chair at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Now, given that the supposed explanation of the cave manuscripts existed years – or rather centuries – before their discovery, whoever hastened to proclaim said explanation without verification might not deserve the kudos. One former student of the manuscripts, Ernest-Marie Laperrousaz, himself a former excavator of Qumrân, alongside Father de Vaux, summed up the situation as follows: “Dupont-Sommer, a former priest, was tempted to downplay the value of Christianity by making it a pale imitation of the Essene movement.”

Such a view was facilitated by the context of traditional Western moralism, which had tended to make Jesus more of a timeless model than a son of Jewish history and nation. However, Laperrousaz explains, it was necessary to come back to this primary evidence: “Faced with the similarities between these texts and the New Testament, we just forgot that Jesus was a Jew and that the commonalities between the Gospel and Qumran were not in themselves surprising.”

This commonsense conclusion is even more enlightening when one perceives to what extent the tree constituted by the idea of an “Essene sect” was able to hide the forest of Jewish associative realities in antiquity, which obviously did not exist, and thus had disappeared neither in 68 AD, nor in any other year.

Hereunder, follows the final outline of the dossier of the “Essene monks.” Their “invention” is a phenomenon that must be followed step-by-step from the 3rd century to the present day.

It is totally impossible, from an archaeological point of view, that a religious community ever inhabited the site of the ruins of Qumran, and the manuscripts found around there have thus been misattributed.

The mistake did not come only from the undue connection made between the ruins and the manuscripts – a connection all the more arbitrary since manuscripts had been found in ten other caves, and that the placing in the cave of the manuscript jars had to be subsequent to the abandonment of the premises. What also played a role was the desire to give a historical substrate to the old legend of the Essenes, which dates back to antiquity but had already been used a lot in the 18th century in the Voltairian argument against the originality of Christianity.

Thus, for fifty years, ideological postulates were able to silence archaeological research which was going in the opposite direction, where the buildings of Qumrân, before being abandoned, formed a place of production of expensive ointments, taken from the balsam trees which, at the time, grew thick in the region and became the basis of the feminine perfumes and oils used in the Temple. Those who lived at Qumrân were rich people (which is proven by the decorative elements found on the site). But it was necessary, to accredit the legend, to say that, on the contrary, these were poor “monks,” busy copying books in a “scriptorium” – all straight out of the imagination of Western academics (but then the press had a lot to do with it, too).

One of the oldest proponents of this Essene fiction, André Paul, changed course in 2007. The expression, “bursting with dogma” is his. But the dogma was starting to crack. However, it has still not yet been understood enough that the Essene fiction in and of itself has been harmful; and it also prevents us from seeing a major reality of history, in the way that a tree can hide the forest.

The Tree That Hid The Messianist Forest – And Its Continuation In Islam

The problem has been the content or, so to speak, the dominant ideology of the unbiblical manuscripts found in the caves. In their themes and expressions, they are related to various apocalyptic and sectarian texts that have been known since antiquity, or which had been discovered for a century or two before. Now, could some of these texts, which call for taking power over the world, be pre-Christian, especially when we see links with the New Testament, for example in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs? “Essene” dogma certainly said so. As a result, this dogma prevented the entering into the subtleties of this Messianist ideology, and above all, it made this ideology disappear during the first “Jewish War,” during the destruction of the site of Qumran.

However, the messianists who wrote these writings had nothing to do with Qumran or even with the cave region. They lived everywhere, with or without strict rules. They stemmed above all from a religious state of mind inspired by biblical and then Christic revelation, and which today we would call “revolutionary.” And, of course, they had not disappeared in 70 AD. On the contrary, it is from this year, marked by the ever-shocking destruction of the Temple, that their politico-religious “ideology” would be structured, spread and influence groups far from sources originally located in the Holy Land, among very diverse peoples and cultures. This is where the link to Islam comes in.

This link is not only one of “politico-religious” ideological resemblance, by way of a certain number of avatars, as can be said of Arianism. This is a much more direct continuity, because of the action of the descendants of these early messianists – the Judeo-Nazarenes. At the time of the politico-religious project around Muhammad, those who saw themselves as saviors of the world, elected by God, were not yet the Arabs but those Judeo-Nazarenes who, recently, had undertaken to rally some of their Arab neighbors to their crazy project of conquering the world. This proto-Islam, although hidden under a formidable legendary apparatus, still forms the mainspring of Islam today.

In a way, the “Essene” fiction has helped to make the historical origins of Islam more incomprehensible than ever. One can quickly fabricate an untruth. But it takes a lot of time and effort to get out of it afterwards. A barrier to the accessibility of these origins is disappearing. Other obstacles have emerged or strengthened in the meantime. The work continues.


Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. For more information, see http://rootsofislamtruehistory.com and http://thegreatsecretofislam.com. Father Edouard-Marie also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.


The featured image shows imaginary Essenes at Qumran.

Of Latrines in Qumran: A Fake “Essene” Debate

Le Nouvel Observateur echoed the Revue de Qumran (winter 2006) in announcing the discovery of latrines at the site of Qumrân, latrines which lent credence to the Essene thesis. Supposedly, the sect of the Essenes had fixed rigorous rules concerning the places of toilet, with the recommended burial of excrement with a shovel, and that only to the northwest of the dwellings, about five hundred meters away. As discoverer Joe Zias explained, “the Bedouin of the desert have no such custom. So, we finally have proof of the Essene occupation of the site.”

Qumran settlement, viewed from the West, showing latrine area.

American and then French websites were quick to pass on this “news” by way of the two researchers, Joe Zias, an Israeli from the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, and the other American, James Tabor.

The article by Cécile Dumas which appeared in Nouvel Obs (“Qumran: les esséniens trahis par leurs latrines” [“Qumran: the Essenes Betrayed by their Latrines”]) nevertheless cautiously mentioned that the Essene “hypothesis:” “…was questioned in 2005 by two Israeli researchers, Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg. After nine years of excavation at Qumran, Magen and Peleg had asserted that there had never been an Essene monastery on the site of the old fortress, but only a pottery factory.”

A Quick Review Of The Essene Question

As early as October 2004, the journal Sciences et Avenir announced that the ten excavation campaigns carried out by Magen and Peleg were “…the most important since the time of Roland de Vaux:” “The discovery of coins, pottery and especially jewelry invalidates the thesis, according to which this site housed the famous sect of the Essenes, who lived in poverty for spiritual reasons and who would have been the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

These challenges, in fact, were not new. For years the archaeological material had spoken, although it was partially still under investigation because of its abundance. In 1992, the colloquium organized by the New York Academy of Sciences (and published in 1994) should have put an end to the assumptions that absolutely want to establish a link between the site and the texts found nearby (or, rather, not nearby, but often several kilometers away). The reliable data, in fact, proceeded in a different direction entirely:

The “Essenes of Qumran” hypothesis assumes that the inhabitants of the site were “monks” and that they wrote the texts found in eleven caves near and far. They therefore had to devote time to writing. It was thus imagined that they had a room devoted solely to this single activity. For the rest, they lived very poorly, one on top of the other (for lack of space), until they disappeared in the year 68 AD, during the first “Jewish War.”

Qumran: A reconstruction.

However, in 1992, archaeologist Pauline Donceel-Voûte demonstrated that what we took to be the remains of writing tables were nothing other than pieces of fixed dining tables or benches (also fixed and arranged along the walls); and when correctly put back together, the remains corresponded perfectly to the usual version of a dining room in the East and in other parts of the Roman Empire, particularly being on the floor, where one could enjoy the freshness of the evening.

The arguments for the Essenes, advanced by archaeologists, are based on the presence of two inkwells and on the assumption that these items were totally devoted to the copying of manuscripts. Thus, the room was called the scriptorium, as per the monks of the Middle Ages (that is to say, a thousand years later).

In fact, the only two inkwells found there (locus 30) did not even belong to the level of the remains of the first floor, where the Essene scriptorium is believed to have existed, but rather were found on the ground floor. It should be added that this supposition is really unnecessary: serious historians of antiquity know that, unlike Rome, where there were copying companies, copyists in the East were itinerant scribes who worked on the tablets they themselves carried. There is not the slightest reason to imagine a brotherhood of copyists, just because we have found a lot of manuscripts. In short, the scriptorium of the Essene monks is not history.

In fact, the site was always an economic one, linked to the harvest of balsam, a wild shrub that only grew in this region (not at all a desert at the time) and whose scented essence was of enormous value. This essence was stabilized using extracts from bitumen which was available just East of the Dead Sea. Several geographers and historians of antiquity speak of it. We also know that Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, a great consumer of perfumes, obtained possession of this region from Antony (she would hardly enjoy it, however, given the victory of Julius Caesar).

Among the archaeological materials found on the site of Qumrân are also pottery and glass. Remnants of production from both indicate on-site manufacturing, particularly costly glass, even though this manufacturing was not year-round but only during the stay of specialized, itinerant craftsmen. Such a cost was justified given the production of vials intended to contain the various perfumes – which were used less for cosmetics than for worship and burials.

Glass vials and jar; ceramic lamp and jug.

Such economic profitability is enough to explain the probable presence of soldiers, on-site, or in the surroundings – for such wealth was subject to robbery. The pottery produced on the spot was mainly for the use of the inhabitants (the rich). “Cave 4,” located under the promontory, may have served as a warehouse, well protected from hot weather; this would explain the (probable) presence of shelves.

Stepped cistern.

A complex set of open-air pipes brought water from heavy rains, or from the mountains, into the cisterns. But it only rained in certain months of the year; hence the large number of these tanks. Slightly dug into the ground rather than underground (which would have required a lot of work), they had to be covered to limit evaporation. Steps made it possible to descend to draw water, as the level fell. These accumulated amounts of water were nevertheless sufficient for pottery to be made at certain times of the year. There is no evidence to suggest that a single one of these cisterns ever served as a mikveh, that is, a place for Judaic ritual ablutions.

A reconstructed layout of Qumran, showing water containments.

Numerous lamps (which by nature are quite characteristic of an era and allow it to be dated to within 25 years) have been found among the archaeological material. The date of these lamps extends into the 2nd century AD, which is not surprising, for as long as the balsam shrubs existed, such places were economically viable, except during 68 to 70 AD, because of the “Jewish War.” Activities then resumed until 135 AD (the Second “Jewish War”), or perhaps even beyond. The idea that the site was abandoned in 68 (by the “Essene monks”) is also not history.

The cemetery adjacent must have been inaugurated after the site was abandoned (that is to say, not before 135 AD at the earliest), because its proximity to the buildings would have made their inhabitants impure. Much of our knowledge of graves dates back to the few excavations carried out in the 1950s (by de Vaux), not that there haven’t been any since – but these new excavations were carried out in an illegal context, and their results cannot therefore be officially published. The old idea that the majority of the people buried there are men remains open to question until it is confirmed by the facts (which in themselves can be explained in many ways). Very similar burial sites have been unearthed in the surrounding areas. The “cemetery of Qumran” therefore does not offer the specificity that has been invented for it, by making it the cemetery of “Essene monks.”

Sometime after 135 AD, this cemetery was used again (probably at several times). We can assume that the ruins offered an ideal place to camp for the many visitors who followed one after the other. This would explain the presence in these places of very late coins (which date up to the 6th century AD).

It is important to keep in mind all this demonstrated archaeological data, before coming to grips with the interpretative hypotheses which so want to associate the site with the manuscripts of the caves, the cemetery and certain passages (more than doubtful) of the historian of the Jewish War, namely, Flavius Josephus.

The Zias-Tabor Article

In addition to the various claims in their article, one notices that the burying of excrement is not the characteristic of a small Jewish sect. In the Bible, we read in the book of Deuteronomy: “You shall also have a place allocated outside the camp, so that you may go out there to relieve yourself, 13 and you shall have a [h]spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn and cover up your excrement… so He must not see anything indecent among you or He will turn away from you” (Deut. 23:13-14).

This prescription is therefore of general application to all the sons of Israel, with modifications (which have not been lacking). It is this prescription which evokes Book II of the Jewish War, where we read moreover that the “Essenes” do not go to the toilet on the Sabbath day. According to James Tabor, this requirement would correspond to the situation in Qumran, where the latrines are located further than the number of steps allowed on such a day. This is nothing more than the need to attribute the Messianist current, which produced the Dead Sea texts, to rabbinical rules which have nothing whatsoever to do with this Messianist current. But things get worse.

The entire passage concerning the “Essenes” exists in the Philosophoumena, and the comparison of the two texts clearly shows the mutilations that the passage underwent in transmission. In the Greek version of Josephus, everything, in fact, indicates that this constitutes an interpolation, carried out in the 3rd century, on the basis of the record of the Philosophoumena, by a pagan author linked to imperial power, who is very mocking and quite anti-Semitic. This passage, moreover, is absent from the manuscripts of the Latin Hegesippus, as well as those of the Hebrew Josippon. In fact, the very name “Essenes” is unknown there. Regarding this “name,” it is important to remember that it is that of Greek priests – those at the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, which denotes a certain sort of humor; or, at worst, a sarcastic touch. And just after the mention of what the “Essenes” do not do on Shabbat, we read that on other days they do it “wrapped in their cloak so as not to offend the sight of God.” If that is not mockery, what is it? Such derision arises throughout the reading of the passage.

The non-critical use of Josephus and the connection with the situation of latrines outside the biblical context is just not admissible. But that is not all.

Details Presented As “Evidence”

In the Dead Sea Scroll, called the Temple Scroll, we read this: “You will make a certain place for them outside the city. This is where they will go, outside northwest of town. You will make aids there, frames with pits in the middle into which the excrement will descend, and it will not be visible to anyone being away from the city of three-mile cubits [± 500 m]” (11QT 46,13)..

Let us suppose that there are indeed correspondences with the latrines discovered by Zias – but are they “proofs,” or simply a series of partial and fortuitous connections? On site, there is no trace of a deep pit or aedicule. The situation in the Northwest is not significant either – for latrines certainly could not have been eastwards, out in the emptiness. As for the approximate distance, it does not correspond to what this other manuscript indicates: “There will be a space of about two thousand cubits [± 350 m] between their camp and the location, and nothing shameful and ugly will be visible around their entire camp” (1QM 7,7 ; parall. 4Q491 frag 1 3,7).

Now, as we have seen, Deuteronomy itself prescribes a distance. There is therefore nothing in particular there. In addition, equally probable traces of other latrines have been discovered within the site of Qumran itself. What then remains in favor of the argument?

A comparison – yet one more – is still made with the deceased in the cemetery, who are supposedly overwhelmingly young men and buried there before 68 AD(!). Joe Zias wonders why they were young (which remains to be seen) – and he assumes that is because they got sick. And why were these “Essenes of Qumran” (according to the Essene hypothesis) sick? Because of the latrines and the obligation of ritual baths and purifications! Because everyone walked on contaminated soil, while complying with the laws of nature; and the water in the basins could not be replenished before the rainy season. So, after about nine months), the water was quickly polluted. The “Essenes” therefore got sick.

Of course, when the water is polluted, it can surely be noticed with the naked eye, sooner or later. However, for more than a hundred years, the supposed inhabitants of the place continued to poison themselves in this way without questioning anything, because, explains Tabor, their poor state of health “…must have been such as to nourish Essene religious enthusiasm. They must have seen their infirmities as a punishment from God, or as a lack of purity, and therefore they tried even more to purify themselves [with baths].”

Were the “Essenes of Qumran” so stupid? To this web of hypotheses, let us add this one – that the “Essene monks” actually preferred to recruit simple-minded people. The proof? Well, is there not the link – yet one more – to the activity of copying (sometimes several copies), which is attributed to them? They copied because very few of them were able to create an original work. Moreover, if certain manuscripts present work of different hands, that is because, being sick and tiring quickly, the copyists were replaced. These explanations constitute obvious “proofs.” Who would dare doubt?

Qumran: supposed “scriptorium.”

Enough. Time to put an end to this fantasy. “Essene monks” are the fabrication of hypotheses that are groundless (and often improbable). They are a construction which, alas, became the tree that hid the forest for too long, the forest of a vast Messianist current that existed and did not disappear in the year 68 AD. Quite the contrary. A question arises here: why such relentlessness in trying to demonstrate the idea of “Essene monks?”

Too often there is a gray area between the realm of scientific research and that of beliefs. Since Voltaire decreed that Jesus had gone to be trained among the “Essenes” (as he imagined them from the doctored texts of Josephus), the sect of the same name has become a belief dear in some circles. Is it a coincidence that, among 20th century scholars, those who spread this idea the most were former priests? Of course, no one takes Voltaire’s assertions seriously. However, the “Essenes” remain attractive. The idea of the existence of an important Jewish current of which the New Testament would not speak and which, for its part, ignores everything about the beginnings of Christianity. And, thus, does not all this cast doubt on the veracity of the Christian witness?

Nevertheless, the heyday of the “Essene” fiction is numbered. Sooner or later, archaeology will prevail over exegesis, where presuppositions have always played a major role.


Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. For more information, see http://rootsofislamtruehistory.com and http://thegreatsecretofislam.com. Father Edouard-Marie also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.


The featured image shows the supposed “Scriptorium (Locus 30)” at the Qumran site.

Mariano Artigas And The Debate On The Origin Of Man

1. Love Of Wisdom

“All men naturally desire to know” (Aristotle). With this striking statement, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle begins his famous work entitled, Metaphysics. Without a doubt, these few words, in all fairness, may be perfectly applied to Mariano Artigas—because his deep intellectual concerns led him to get a doctorate in philosophy, theology and physics.

This natural appetite for a thorough understanding of the whole of reality made Artigas plunge into a deep and careful investigation of a whole series of questions relating to a plurality of disciplines so varied, but intrinsically connected, as they can be—namely, cosmology, anthropology, philosophy of nature, metaphysics, theology (both natural and revealed), philosophy of science in general and epistemology in particular, as well as certain crucial points of the history of science (such as, for example, the detailed study of the Galileo case). All this plurality of theoretical knowledge converged in the spirit of Artigas into a focal point: truly knowing the ultimate foundation of reality, in such a way that our minds may be able to elaborate a thorough and comprehensive account of the totality of being, including the apprehension of the true human essence.

In this article, we will deal with one of the central themes of this ambitious and complex intellectual project of Artigas: the knowledge of man, both with regard to his biological origin and evolution, as well as relative to his authentic ontological dimension. On the spiritual level for Artigas, clarifying these questions was present in his mind from very young. Getting to know the true place that man occupies in Nature was a restlessness that very soon awoke in his soul. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger said that:

No other epoch has accumulated so great and so varied a store of knowledge concerning man as the present one. No other epoch has succeeded in presenting its knowledge of man so forcibly and so captivatingly as ours, and no other has succeeded in making this knowledge so quickly and so easily accessible. But also, no epoch is less sure of its knowledge of what man is than the present one. In no other epoch has man appeared so mysterious as in ours.

Heidegger points out with his usual acuity that never has so much been known about man as now. Indeed, multiple disciplines, such as, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, archeology, paleontology or biology, provide us with a kaleidoscope of information and knowledge about ourselves that would cause enormous astonishment and perplexity to any sage of even a century or two ago.

But, at the same time, that halo of mystery that has enveloped man, not only remains standing, but grows larger as we delve into our own knowledge. Another German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, noted the same when stating that: “We who know are strangers to ourselves” (Nietzsche). A few words that invite a suggestive reflection, and that in the case of Heidegger brought him to see humanity as “stateless in their own homeland” (Heidegger). Explaining what that homeland is and what the authentic ontological status of man in that homeland consists of is what Artigas devoted all his intellectual effort in the field of anthropology, both in its philosophical-theological, as well as its scientific, aspects.

2. What Is Man?

Towards the end of the Critique of Pure Reason Kant argues that the three most important questions humans can ask are: What can I know? What should I do? And what can I expect? The first question refers to the nature of human knowledge, to the understanding of its origin, its limits, its reliability and scope. The second refers to moral conduct consubstantial to the fact of being human; and the third to the immortality of the soul and the existence of God. The surprising thing is that the Prussian philosopher reduces these three questions to a more basic one: What is man? Making it the most important of all. It is not that Kant reduces epistemology (or gnoseology, in general), ethics and natural theology to anthropology, but he considers that by knowing well what is man we will be able to adequately approach all the other questions.

Perhaps the question, what is man? is not the most important of all (some will say that it is relative to whether God truly exists in an objective way or not). What is indisputable is that it is one of the most fundamental questions. It is also beyond doubt that the question of man is linked to that of God, since our identity (who are we?), as well as our origin (where did we come from?), and our destination (where are we going? which is the popular equivalent of Kantian, what can I expect?)—are fully engaged in the question of the existence or not of God. Artigas raises this issue explicitly when wondering if we are purely material beings who exist thanks to chance, in such a way that everything ends for us with death; or if, on the contrary, we have a spiritual dimension created by God that opens the doors to immortality and that confers a transcendent meaning to our existence (Artigas and Turbón 2008, 19).

3. Emergentism: More From Less

In the first case, the materialists have to explain what is the origin of the so-called spiritual faculties that man has: intelligence and the will (with its unique ability to love freely). According to them these would have arisen gradually throughout the evolutionary process, a position that Artigas describes as “emergentism.” For him, the spiritual elements that characterize humans (“more”) cannot come from the potentiality that matter contains (“less”), but rather represent an ontological leap; so that the difference between man and the rest of the living things is qualitative and not merely of degree, as emergentist materialism would maintain.

It is true that man is a being that has a biological basis of the same nature as that of other living beings, and that this biological dimension seems to be dynamic (evolutionism), but Artigas insists that this does not cancel out the fact that man encloses an essential novelty with respect to all other living natural entities. As for what is the same: man is an animal, but he is not just an animal.

For the emergentists, human qualities gradually emerged in prehuman hominids (perhaps some species of australopithecine such as A. africanus, A. garhi or some other still undiscovered, even some other genus of hominids not yet found). For those who maintain that God has a direct relationship with that ontological leap that gives rise to man, the question is when and in whom did it occur. For Artigas it is not possible to scientifically answer these questions. According to him the “spiritual dimensions began to exist in the human being at some point, when the necessary biological basis existed. We do not know when it was and likely we will never know” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

The answer to the question of when is related to who. In other words, what species of hominid did Adam and Eve belong to? Were the first parents of mankind the first couple of Homo sapiens? Or maybe the first pair of Homo habilis, or Homo rudolfensis?

In the first case, humanity would be around 200,000 years ago. In the second, we would be talking about two and a half million years. Fiorenzo Facchini maintains that this issue has to be elucidated by scientists and not by philosophers or theologians (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

4. Monogenism And Polygenism

A much more problematic question from the doctrinal point of view is whether the biblical Adam and Eve represent a pair of real individuals from which all humanity would come; or if it is a symbol that refers to a first population formed by several protohumans that would have appeared simultaneously from a prehuman hominid species. That is to say: is the origin of humanity monogenic or polygenic?

It does not escape anyone that this question is not at all trivial, since it has to do with the Judeo-Christian doctrine of original sin. Artigas, in his aforementioned book on the origin of man published together with biology professor Daniel Turbón, after exposing the biological advantages offered by monogenism (facilitating the restructuring of the genotype to present decisive novelties in the emergence of a new species) calls attention to a fact of great interest, and that is that “the current edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not mention the term monogenism” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

Elsewhere, after noting that: “No matter how great the scientific progress, it seems very difficult to reach clear conclusions about monogenism or polygenism relying only on science… On the other hand, although monogenism poses some difficulties to our desire to represent the origin of the human species, polygenism also poses difficulties that are hardly trivial.” (Artigas 2007), Artigas warns that, although “there are scientifically respectable possibilities to explain the monogenistic origin of modern man… polygenism has not been excluded in an absolute way” (Artigas 2007).

In fact, in such a way that some end up observing that certain “theologians have tried to show that this conciliation could exist, although it is an issue that presents difficulties” (Artigas 2007). The truth is that there are many difficulties to which Artigas alludes. Then, as Pius XII points out: “It is not seen how such an opinion [referring to the polygenist] can be reconciled with what the sources of revealed truth and the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church propose about original sin” (Pius XII 1950).

5. The Vatican And The Reception Of Darwinism

The very delicate and complex question of monogenism and polygenism leads us to deal with another of the issues to which Artigas devoted great attention in his latter years: the attitude of the Congregation of the Index towards Catholic authors who defended the compatibility between the scientific theory of biological evolution and Christian doctrine. In other words, it was about analyzing what the official position of the Vatican had been regarding this theory, since it became known in the second half of the 19th century (and, incidentally, see the position of the popes in relation to the evolution of man). This was possible after the opening of the Archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998. Investigating this matter took Artigas to Rome the following year, in order to study the Vatican archives (for a detailed analysis of this question, see Martínez 2007).

Reviewing documents for the reception of Darwinism by part of the Holy See, Artigas had the unexpected and fascinating surprise of stumbling upon the discovery of an unpublished manuscript in which Galileo’s atomistic doctrine, in his popular work Il Saggiatore, was judged. It is not necessary to emphasize the enormous historical value of material of this caliber. The translation and the study in question took a couple of years. Once this task was completed, which was finalized with the publication of the manuscript (Artigas et al. 2001) and of a work on the content and its implications (Artigas, Martínez and Shea 2003), Artigas resumed the original project, which Rafael A. Martínez had now joined.

The enormous progress of the empiriometric sciences of nature produced since their appearance in the seventeenth century, led to a confrontation between science and Christianity in the nineteenth century. Certain intellectuals of the time were interested, for purely ideological reasons, in presenting both as inevitable and irreconcilable enemies.

The tension between science and religion was accentuated in the second half of the 19th century as a result of the publication and dissemination of Darwinian ideas on the evolution of species, which had natural selection as an explanatory mechanism for change or transformation. In this age, theology was constantly attacked by those who used science as a weapon capable of discrediting religion. In this way, for some, the theory of evolution left in evidence the millennial biblical account of the creation of man by God, offering instead a naturalistic alternative that delighted the materialistic monists. In this context, it is not surprising that there were theologians who viewed the theory of evolution with suspicion and wagered on its denunciation. But there were also Christian theologians who considered plausible the elaboration of a synthesis that would wager on making this theory compatible with the anthropogenic conception included in the Genesis account.

Artigas’ studies carried out in relation to the Index Archives concluded that the Vatican authorities never pronounced an official condemnation of the scientific theory of biological evolution, although there were warnings against its supporters. That is, there was no official Vatican policy against evolutionism as such (understanding it here as a scientific theory and not as an ideological movement), nor a common pattern in the decision-making of popes and cardinals—but rather it was acted on, in accordance with the specific circumstances of each instance.

Artigas and his collaborators analyzed six specific cases. In those (of Bonomelli, Hedley and Mivart) “there was no action against these authors” (Martínez 2007). In the three cases in which the Congregation of the Index intervened (those of Caverni, Leroy and Zahm) “it did so in response to external complaints. The Holy Office did not intervene in any of the cases. It can be affirmed that the cases examined did not correspond to a policy of the Roman authorities against evolutionism” (Martínez 2007).
In short, “Evolution has never been the subject of any official condemnation by the Vatican authorities” (Artigas 2007). For Artigas, the cause of the absence of an official conviction was in the will, on the part of the Vatican, to avoid the repetition of a new Galileo case. Indeed:

The Vatican authorities were aware that there was no doctrinal decision about evolutionism, and apparently they did not have much interest in provoking it. They examined the various writings in response to specific allegations, and attempted to analyze them based on existing doctrine, without following any explicit directives on the matter. This explains why the various reports, very different in terms of length, arguments and conclusions, did not follow any uniform scheme… It is very likely that the mildness of the measures taken was the result of the desire not to compromise the authority of the Church in a field related to science. The Roman authorities did not want to be faced with a new ‘Galileo case’ (Martínez 2007).

In summary: “The Magisterium of the Church has never condemned scientific theories of evolution, and admits that these theories can be reconciled with Christianity, provided that the basic aspects of Catholic doctrine about the action of God and the human person are respected” (Artigas and Turbón 2008). And it is that “the Catholic Church has never, officially, pronounced against evolutionary theories, as long as they are not extrapolated outside the scientific field” (Artigas 1992b).

6. Popes And Evolutionism

The study of the research carried out by Artigas, regarding the reception of Darwinism by the Vatican authorities, can be complemented with the exposition he makes of the opinion of various popes on the theory of evolution.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII published the encyclical Humani generis; it includes a paragraph that has served for decades as a point of reference to support the compatibility between Christianity and evolutionism. The text in question is as follows:

For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith (Pius XII 1950).

In April 1988, the University of Munich organized in Rome an international Symposium on the Christian faith and the theory of evolution, which was attended by the then Cardinal Ratzinger and led by Robert Spaemann and Reinhard Löw, who stated that “a theory of well-formed evolution can not only be acceptable, but perfectly compatible with faith” (Artigas 1992b); to the point that “the theory of evolution, if kept within its just limits, not only does not shock faith, but, in some way, highlights its splendor” (Artigas 1992b, 97). Pope John Paul II himself affirmed there that “the debate around the explanatory model of evolution finds no obstacle in faith, as long as the discussion remains in the context of the naturalistic method and its possibilities” (Artigas 1992b).

The following year, and during a General Audience, John Paul II recalled the aforementioned words of Pius XII and made them explicit, noting that “it is possible, according to the aforementioned hypothesis, that the human body, following the order printed by the Creator in the energies of matter, has been gradually prepared in the forms of antecedent living beings” (John Paul II 1986, 1041).

A decade later, he made some especially relevant statements, noting that:

New insights lead us to think that the theory of evolution is more than a hypothesis. Indeed, it is remarkable that this theory has gradually imposed itself on the minds of researchers, due to a series of discoveries made in various disciplines of knowledge. The convergence, in no way sought or provoked, of the results of works carried out independently of each other, constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory (John Paul 1996, 4).

This does not mean the uncritical acceptance of any evolutionary proposal, but of those that do not transcend the limits of positive science and that do not make statements, rather, of a philosophical nature, that are pronounced with a clear ideological tone when making them pass as scientific conclusions. Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, had already touched on the subject in his work Creation and Sin where he affirms that:

We cannot say: creation or evolution; the correct way to pose the problem must be: creation and evolution, since both answer different questions. The history of the clay and the breath of God… does not tell us how man originated… And conversely, the theory of evolution tries to know and describe biological periods. But through this, it cannot clarify the origin of man’s “project,” his intimate origin or his own essence. We are thus faced with two questions that complement each other to the same extent and are not mutually exclusive (Ratzinger 2005).

Ratzinger considered the question of the origin of man so important that he alluded to it in his opening papal homily, stating there that: “We are not the casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each one of us is loved, each one is loved, each one is necessary” (Benedict XVI 2005).

The two issues raised by these Ratzinger texts put on the table the issue of the compatibility between the notions of creation and evolution and that of a finality in nature—in such a way that God has a plan, a project, for man, the existence of which is not the mere fruit of chance. Let’s look at both questions.

7. Compatibility Between Evolution And Creation

For Artigas, “the alleged oppositions between evolution and divine action are baseless” (Artigas and Turbón 2008). And it is that “evolution does not lead, by itself, to affirm or deny the action of God in the world. Scientists study evolution without counting on God, because they look for natural explanations. But that does not mean that they deny God. It simply means that biology is limited to what can be known through the methods of science” (Artigas and Turbón 2008). Therefore, it can be stated “that there is no alternative ‘evolution-creation,’ as if it were two alternatives from which to choose. Evolution can be admitted and, at the same time, divine creation” (Artigas 1992c). In fact, “God was able to create the universe in very different states, and this does not conflict with the possibility that later some beings emerged from others” (Artigas 1992c).

For Artigas, the conclusion is evident: “The theories of evolution have nothing with which to object to the need to admit a Creator. These theories only study the origin of some living beings from others, but it will always remain to be determined what is the ultimate cause of the existence of everything that exists; and at that level it is necessary to admit the existence of a creator God” (Artigas 1992c). So that:

According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, there is no opposition between Catholic doctrine and evolutionary theories, provided that these are valued with the necessary rigor, which means, among other things, that they are not used outside of their scientific context, such as happens when unjustified leaps are made that lead to materialistic positions, or to the denial and relativization of religious truths. However, there are not a few authors who make that leap unjustified to materialism, presenting it as justified by science (Artigas 1992c, 202).

Artigas insists on this idea in several places. Thus, in Man in the Light of Science, he points out that “according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, there is no opposition between Catholic doctrine and evolutionary theories, as long as these are valued with the necessary rigor, which implies, among other things, that they are not used outside the scientific context” (Artigas 1992b).

At this point, Artigas asks himself the key question: “Can there be, at the same time, evolutionist and Christian? ” (Artigas and Turbón 2008, 135). The answer is clear: “Today, Catholic theologians say yes, because creation and evolution are compatible; the latter is nothing but the dynamic expression of the former” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

In fact, Artigas remarks that not only the notions of evolution and creation are compatible, but the former requires it—in the sense that for something to evolve, it must first be created; in the sense that, in the first place, evolution occurs within creation and, secondly, the totality of contingent entities (and the evolutionary process) ultimately requires a necessary foundation and transcendence that creates them in a free and gratuitous act. Thus, “created causality is compatible with divine action” (Artigas and Turbón 2008). Therefore: “if it is understood what the creation and conservation in being is, it is easy to understand that the action of God is not situated on the plane of created causes; and that must be affirmed whether evolution is admitted or not” (Artigas 1992c, 195).

8. Teleology

We said before that the compatibility between creation and evolution is linked to the idea that there is a purpose in nature (teleology) which corresponds to a divine plan. This is precisely the big question. This is how Artigas recognizes it when he warns that:

The big problem, in short, is whether we are the object of a divine plan or have appeared on Earth as a simple result of blind laws and chance. But these are not conclusive extremes. For God, who is the First Cause that gives being to everything that exists, and therefore knows everything perfectly, there is no difficulty in having His plans carried out relying on natural laws of which He Himself is the author, and with intervention, which for us is random because we cannot predict it (Artigas 2007, 28).

Chance exists for us insofar as it is the ignorance of causes. On the other hand, “for God, there is no chance, because everything is subject to His power and He knows perfectly all the processes and their effects” (Artigas 2007, 42). The conclusion drawn by Artigas is that: “I see no reason to deny evolution nor to underestimate the role of chance and natural selection. It seems to me that these are aspects that must be taken into account by rigorous philosophical reflection today. However, it also seems to me that this does not authorize us to dispense with purpose in the study of nature” (Artigas 2007, 74).

According to Artigas, “there should be no problem to combine evolution and the existence of a divine plan” (Artigas and Turbón 2008); and this is so because “the same effect can be considered as contingent when compared with its immediate causes and, at the same time, being included within a divine plan that cannot fail” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

Biology and philosophy (especially metaphysics) address different ontological and epistemological planes of reality, not through juxtaposition, but by complementing each other, so that “the combination of chance and purpose, of variation and selection, together with the potentialities for self-organization, can be easily completed as the path used by God to produce the process of evolution” (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

In relation to this issue, Artigas concludes that:

Everything has its cause; but many things happen when independent causes come together. This is called chance: the concurrence of independent causal lines. Chance exists. But it only exists for us. For God, who is the First Cause on which everything always depends, there is no chance or causality. Therefore, from the existence of chance in evolution, it cannot be concluded that there is no divine plan and that the human being is not the intended result of that plan (Artigas and Turbón 2008).

To deny the existence of finality in nature, in the name of science, is to force it to say more than its methods allow to affirm, thus,

When it is asserted that the combination of necessity and chance renders recourse to a metaphysical cause superfluous, the limits of the scientific perspective are reached. To affirm the existence of a divine plan, it is necessary to take a metaphysical leap whose legitimacy cannot be justified by science. But, for the same reason, science cannot show that this leap is illegitimate either” (Artigas 1992a, 399).

This detail is very important, since, “the combination of necessity and chance is real. It may be enough to partially explain nature, showing what types of processes are involved in the functioning of nature, and how some entities can arise from others. But it cannot explain the radical foundation of nature (Artigas 1992a, 399).

9. The Harmony Between Reason And Faith

In short, Artigas wagers, arguing in detail, on the compatibility between the evolutionary vision of living nature with the metaphysical notion of creation from nothing, a fact that escapes the research methods used by science. Indeed, the empiriometric science of nature studies the transformations produced from an initial concrete physical state to another final concrete physical state. Creation ex nihilo, on the other hand, consists of a passage from absolute nonexistence (and therefore devoid of any physical characterization) to a physical state, so that it is a fact that cannot be studied by science.

As far as human beings are concerned, Artigas does not see any incompatibility between the study of their evolutionary biological development and the affirmation that their spiritual dimensions are the object of direct creation by God. The aforementioned compatibility between the theory of evolution and the Christian doctrine of the creation of man, as far as his intellectual concerns are concerned, is framed in the context of the general compatibility between the truths of faith and the truths of reason. In other words, Artigas wagers on the harmony between science, reason and faith. On the other hand, there are those who use the theory of evolution to try to scientifically prove that God is a fictitious entity and that religion, therefore, is a suprastructural discourse with no real basis.

10. The Ideological Manipulation Of The Theory Of Evolution

Artigas denounced as active and passive the manipulative use of any scientific theory to try to spread ideology by passing it off as science. The theory of evolution has been, precisely, one of the most used against religion since “Darwinism is often used in this context to affirm that Darwin has made it possible to be an atheist in an intellectually legitimate way, because Darwinism can show that it is not necessary to admit divine action to explain the order that exists in the world” (Artigas 2007, 92).

This ideological use of the theory of evolution has been repeatedly rejected by Artigas as having nothing to do with science, strictly speaking (Artigas 1992). Thus, he claims a sincere search for the truth, leaving aside all ideological prejudices. In fact, there is a manifest contradiction in those who wield science in general (and the theory of evolution in particular) as a proof of the truth of materialism, when this is, in reality, a philosophical ideology and not an empirically proven scientific theory.

With profound insight, Artigas highlights the fact that the same science that is used to seek to prove the truth of materialism and to claim to demonstrate scientifically that man is nothing more than an animal, since everything that exists would be purely material (Artigas 1992b ; 2007)—is precisely an example of the essential difference between man and animals (Artigas 2007).

11. That Mystery Named “Man”

The scientific theory of evolution is not opposed by itself to the metaphysical and theological doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, but to fixism (the belief that God created the species as we know them today). God creates for free. He does not need to create, since He is perfect. Thus, He does not benefit at all from His creation, for He is imperfectible. So why does He create? He does it to communicate His perfection and benefits to creatures (Artigas 2007). In the case of man, God makes him a participant in His spiritual life and offers him the possibility of being able to enjoy His glory; the only way to satisfy the desire for full happiness to which every man naturally aspires. Now, making use of his free will, man can accept or reject that destiny.

Artigas’s has practically dedicated an entire life to studying and searching for the wisdom that allows us to truly know how is the cosmos, man and God. A search that has led him to conclude (by virtue of those spiritual capacities that specify man: intellectuality, freedom and capacity to love, seeking only the good of the other) that “each human is a mystery” by virtue of the practically inexhaustible wealth that human interiority contains (Artigas and Turbón 2009).


Carlos Alberto Marmelada is a philosopher, professor at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, and author of various publications on evolution, cosmology, and metaphysics.

The article is courtesy of Scientia et Fides. Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.


The featured image shows, “Creation of Eve,” by Carlo Francesco Nuvolone, painted ca. 1662.

Christ And The Samaritan Woman At The Well

The relationship of man to woman is not just anything: it is particular. It is a fullness, replete with mystery. And it is something completely different for each man and each woman.

The woman is the haunting of a man: a spiritual dimension that both Dante Alighieri and Don Quixote intuited and recognized as central to their quests for being, as men. What would the immortal Christian pilgrim be without his Beatrice? And what would the famous mad knight be without his Dulcinea? How could even the world-changing phenomenon of Christ have been possible without the participation of a mere girl in the Incarnation? “Woman intervenes in history infinitely more than is generally believed or suspected,” says José Ortega y Gasset. One can see this in noir cinema: the more mysterious the woman, the more compelled the man feels. Perhaps every woman is a potential femme fatale for every man is interested in seeing (really seeing) the reality of the woman as completely different from him, facing him and challenging, him but also intriguing him at the same time. Vive la différence!

But the haunting quality is one way: a man is not a haunting for a woman. Instead, a woman carries the image of the beloved in her heart well before she meets the actual man who may match it in real life. For a woman to feel “aflame with love” after a “casual contact” with a particular man, “a secret and tacit surrender of her being to that model of a man which she has always carried within herself” has to have “preceded” the event of falling in love with him. The man simply fulfils the romantic prophecy somehow instilled in the woman long ago, once she recognizes him. The man is thus always a known quantity that the woman expects and awaits. The mystery for the woman is in the romantic process of discovery of her own feelings, and not so much in the man himself. Hence the mythic scene of mutual recognition in Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot when Nastasya Filippovna first beholds Prince Myshkin, and he first beholds her: what is revealed is different for each of them. The woman understands something new about herself, while the man dwells on the mystery of the woman.

But something else happens entirely when the man is Christ.

The Samaritan woman meets Christ at the well (John 4: 1-42)–the preordained place for Old Testament betrothals known as “Jacob’s Well” (Isaac with Rebecca, Jacob with Rachel, Moses with Tsiporah). There is thus a romantic expectation surrounding any conversation that takes place here–an understanding that something of life-altering import will occur precisely here, in this place of time-hallowed tradition allowing for sudden matchmaking.

The Samaritan woman is bold, flirtatious, and experienced: there is nothing innocent about her. She has not come to draw water with blushing dreams of a bridegroom, since she has had five husbands, And yet she will meet precisely that: the Bridegroom of all bridegrooms: and He will shake all of her assumptions, challenge all of her brash self-confidence, by meeting her (it would seem) on the only ground she is prepared to understand—the ground of acknowledged sexual maturity, sealed in marriage—a sacrament she has already violated five times.

The Samaritan woman’s arrival at the well where Christ has paused, “wearied with his journey,” must have been provocative. How or why does He say to her, “Give me to drink?” One can imagine a peremptory tone of command—a sexual note of attraction or interest—or an exhausted expression of thirst in the heat of the day, “about the sixth hour” (meaning noon or midday when the sun is at its hottest directly overhead). Perhaps all three at once.

What is fascinating about this dialogue is the length of it, focused as it is for a full twenty verses on just Jesus Christ and an anonymous woman of Samaria. There is no other conversation with a woman as long as this in any of the four Gospels. Dramatically, the exchange is unequalled because it builds on a sexual charge that explicitly includes women in Christ’s ministry to the world. Like the woman taken in adultery (John 8: 1-11), Christ forgives her—for the Samaritan woman too is guilty of adultery (Matthew 19: 9; Mark 10: 2-12; Luke 17: 18)—serial monogamy is still adultery. Of all the sins in specifically female terms of experience, adultery is surely the most common. And even though it takes two to tango, it is the female partner in crime who has always been seen as bearing the full sinful brunt for both. For if Man is fallen, Woman is fallen in a more particular way. The New Testament abounds with references to sinful temptresses who become penitent, from the Magdalene (“healed of seven devils”) to the Mary who anoints Christ’s head and washes His feet with her tears, drying them with her hair (John 12: 1-8). But only the Samaritan woman is given a voice, a personality, in the course of a complete and sustained dialogue.

In fact, the Samaritan woman never gives Christ what He requests: a simple drink of water from the well. This ironic denial is striking. After observing that the stranger accosting her is not following the social conventions, and noticing that he does not have any water jug of his own to fill in the same way as everyone else, she begins to consider the enigma in front of her with a mixture of confusion and curiosity. Who is this strange Jew who ignores that she is from Samaria (when all Jews do not normally consort with Samaritans)? And why does he speak to her in riddles about “living water?”

There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink.
(For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat).

This parenthetical proof that Christ is alone by the well confirms the intimacy of the encounter. He is alone with her, a stranger to His own tribe, and He dares to address her. She is not expecting anything like this and yet she appears calm and collected—completely equal to the situation.

Then saith the woman of Samaria unto Him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.

The defensive tone, together with her surprise, suggests that she is ready to cut the conversation short. She does not seem to like His attention.

But if her mysterious interlocutor has succeeded in throwing her off balance just by initiating the conversation, then the woman of Samaria will find herself still more flummoxed by the cryptic way He answers her questions.

Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

So, He is not thirsty, after all! Now He is turning the tables and saying that He has the best of all water to offer her, but she does not know it. The request for water has only served as a pretext for Him to draw her in—to provoke her as much as she has perhaps felt provoked by Him—to set aside not only the conventions but the situation of the well itself, in order to seduce her into seeing some higher truth. The echo of Moses giving his children manna in the desert and striking a rock to provide water is behind these words: the miraculous God-given water and food from above. The well is still the sign of the seduction scene, but Christ’s emphasis on “the gift of God” elevates them both suddenly from the earthly to the heavenly plane. Listening to Him, the woman of Samaria is increasingly seduced. She lets herself rise up alongside Him, the better to understand the strange words she is hearing. She wants to understand now: what is more, she will address Him three times now as “Sir.”

The woman saith unto Him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?
Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle.

The prompt alacrity of her response shows her to be a woman of quick wit and self-confidence. She is not afraid to confront Him with a reasonable doubt, and she is courteous with Him. Her naming of the well’s creator also attests to her piety, which she seems proud to communicate. Yet the stranger listening to her in turn is steadily unconcerned with tired conventionalities, such as clan loyalties or rote pieties. The way He will steer their conversation next is calculated to deepen the woman’s sense of mystery, and to appeal to the woman’s truer relationship to God. He will keep her hooked on His voice because He knows she is thirsty too, in her own way, for something she has only dimly intimated in the course of her chaotic life.

Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

The Johannine Gospel is especially replete with this water imagery that stands for immortality of the human soul. “He that believeth on me shall never thirst,” Christ tells his disciples—explaining how Moses gave perishable gifts, “but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven,” which He calls “the bread of life” (John 6). And on the last day of the Jews’ feast of tabernacles, Christ again proclaims, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7: 37-38). This “living water” is of the Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, which will be released upon Christ’s crucifixion and glorification after death. This is the Mystery that is in suspension, awaiting fulfilment. “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16: 7). All of this “living water” will come to clarify and heal everything dead and dying from sin in the world, at a certain God-appointed time.

But the woman of Samaria cannot know or understand what Christ’s own disciples will struggle to understand: she can only intuit “the Spirit of Truth,” the Holy Spirit, as a principle of larger and enlivening joy to come. She can only guess that the mysterious stranger means what He says, and that she can perhaps profit from this vague boon that He is promising. The way she carefully extends Him credit, without herself giving anything away, is a prodigy of psychology, so true to human life: intent on salvaging self-respect by clinging to self-interest, she shelters behind a prudence which she hopes is convincing:

The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.

She does not sound convinced: she only sounds polite. But she does not want to foolishly forfeit some benefit that seems to be in the offing, either. She also sounds firm: as if to say, all right—if you really have these goods, let’s see you hand some over—do you have any samples of your wares? She is congratulating herself on her own cleverness: there, she thinks, now I’ve called your bluff. I hadn’t come to buy this here, but I’ll give your water a fair chance, if it even exists.

The response she receives to her attempt to remain cool and self-enclosed is masterful. In one stroke, the stranger touches her one weak spot that betrays all pretense of self-control or self-sufficiency. He mentions a husband as the conventional authority for her to consult in order to condone any such purchasing transaction.

Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.

The woman is thunderstruck by the revelation that so swiftly and simply unmasks her true situation.

The woman answered and said, I have no husband.

She is suddenly aware, overwhelmed with shame, and she wonders how the stranger could have known – for He immediately says to her, with startling clairvoyance and relentless honesty:

Thou hast well said, I have no husband;
For thou hast had five husbands;
And he whom thou now hast is not thy husband; in that saidst thou truly.

Her current adulterous condition, which is not even papered over with any pretense of a sixth marriage, is what cuts her to the quick. How can this stranger have known the secrets of her whole lifetime, right up to the present moment? It is as if she is standing spiritually naked before Him: there is nowhere she can hide, and no lie she can tell anymore, either to Him or to herself. She is devastated. All she can utter is a last weak attempt at saving her self-esteem, through a jesting sort of observation that underlines the uncanniness of everything she is feeling.

The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.

And then, regaining more composure by seeking some refuge in conventionality again:

Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

By saying this, she is trying to demonstrate that she knows what the religious rules are, and that men are bound by more serious obligations that she, a weak and sinful woman, cannot be expected to observe or count for as much, seriously.

But the stranger still listening to her, watching her, and speaking to her with the utmost seriousness—He is not condemning her. He still wants to win her respect, her trust—ultimately, her love—because the only love that will save her is the love she can begin to genuinely feel for God. So, He continues to talk to her frankly, as freely and frankly as He knows she can stand, with rigor but also with tact. He sees the potential in her to change, to melt for the better, to make something honorable and true yet out of the emotional waste of her life. He resolutely keeps her whole tremulous being in view, leading her step by step to comprehend the majesty that is within her to overcome all the shame and the brokenness that she has been feeling before. But she had to be reduced to this vulnerability, for Him to be able to reach her at all, to guide her in this way; otherwise she might never have heard, never have realized, where this conversation with Him was supposed to be leading her.

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.

By this He asks her to see that righteousness and redemption and worship are more independent of place and tradition than she might think: for God is a living God, not bound to the dead letter but invoked by tongues of living fire. “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you”—this is the first great step for the woman to take, into the silence and solitude of her soul before the presence of God. Then He chastises her ignorance, gently:

Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.

God made a covenant with His chosen people in the Old Testament, and it is from these roots that the new divine dispensation will be ordered and proceed. Historic time, God’s sense of history, began with the Jews. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—Jacob’s well—all the long line of patriarchs and all their seed, who met and married at this very well—they are all silent witnesses of this very moment of their conversation, a historic and life-changing conversation for the woman listening to Him.

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him.

Now the possibility of salvation is more clearly explained: just as a change is required within this woman, to die to her old ways and to embrace something new and true, so is the path to God to be cleared away and reordered in a radically new way. Nothing can stay the way it was. God is waiting, just as much as this woman is waiting; there is a suspense, a desire, for a mutual unveiling and disclosure. But the humble creature must make the first move towards the Creator, in a way so new that it could never be written down and made into the dead letter of any law. This is a movement of love, of surrender, of vulnerability on top of vulnerability, a humility that dares not raise its eyes in the presence of God, after so many offenses and disappointments and wastage of precious time—how can the soul hope for anything? And yet it must hope against hope—take the leap of love and faith, or die – abandon itself to the Father, “in spirit and in truth,” because there is no other saving place for the suffering soul left to stand.

God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

This last emphasis on the Spirit—the Holy Spirit—is that last precious space to which the woman of Samaria knows she can retreat. Not even the Father anymore, nor even the Son speaking directly to her now—but the Spirit which is thoroughly in both, and beyond both. The woman accepts what the stranger is telling her because she wants to explain her own understanding of what ultimately matters, in what is perhaps her first and fully honest response to Him:

The woman saith unto Him, I know that the Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things.

And then, with a disarming directness that she was not until that very last moment prepared to believe, the stranger reveals Himself:

Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.

“I am he” (ani hu) is a phrase of unique power: a kind of uncloaking of divinity which brings everything dramatically to a stop. One recognizes these same words “I am he” pronounced by Christ as He is being arrested, with the immediate effect of overwhelming those who would seek to arrest Him: “As soon therefore as he said to them: I am he, they went backward and fell to the ground” (John 18. 5-6). One can surmise a similar effect is transpiring now for the woman as the Christ reveals Himself suddenly to her.

There is no gap in the narrative here, but there must surely have passed an interval for the woman of Samaria as she beholds the face of Christ—a wordless interval, a piece of eternity—a confirmation of the impossible telescoping of the infinite into the finite and back again—glimpsed and then transforming the woman forever after that glimpse.

And upon this came His disciples, and marveled that He talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? Or, Why talkest thou with her?

As with other souls touched and changed in Christ’s wake, the disciples watch the woman of Samaria move and speak in the company of their master in an entirely new way.

The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men,
Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?
Then they went out of the city, and came unto Him.

“Come and see”—more words of power, the first words Christ speaks to the disciples—a phrase that the woman of Samaria adopts now as her own, marks her as a changed woman imbued with a new confidence and joy. Something she never dreamed as being possible before has now suddenly come to pass, and she must now tell the world all about it.


Maia Stepenberg is a Professor of Humanities at Dawson College in Montreal. She is the author of Against Nihilism: Nietzsche Meets Dostoevsky and numerous research articles on Russian and Ukrainian literature. She is currently working on a comparative study of Don Quixote and La Divina Commedia. She lives with her husband and three children in Canada and Argentina.


The featured image shows, “Christus und die Samariterin am Brunnen” (Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well”), by Lorenzo Lippi, painted in 1644.

The Nature Of Good And Evil

In a world in which the action of choosing is exalted above all else, it is not surprising to hear that “evil is necessary in order to have the good.” I have seen this conversation, cast in a number of ways. It is stock-in-trade for some quasi-religious systems. I have seen it in spades in Jungian and Depth Psychology circles. No doubt, some bring this set of ideas along with them into the Orthodox faith. It is, however, a profound error.

Before looking at the nature of good and evil, it is worth seeing the problem involved when choice is inserted into the conversation. What happens in that approach is that we are no longer speaking about the nature of good and evil, indeed, both are relativized in importance. Everything quickly revolves back to the nature of choosing, and makes the actions of our will the center of the good. Thus, there is no true good or evil, only good choices and evil choices. It is a narcissistic ontology – a system of thought in which we ourselves become the center of attention.

This is where, for me, some very fundamental matters of Orthodox thought are helpful. The “Good” is a term that ultimately applies to God. God is good and the source of all goodness. Indeed, goodness has a place in the “philosophical trinity.” That trinity is truth, goodness, and beauty. These are the three properties of being. God alone has true being. Everything that exists does so because God gives it being. Creation thus has relative being. The purpose (telos) of all created things is to move from relative being towards greater likeness and union with God in the truth of His being. In theological terms, we speak of this as “eternal life.”

It is in the context of these understandings that the Fathers speak of evil. Evil is not a “thing,” nor something that has any existence or being at all. To think about evil, it is necessary to understand that all of creation (ourselves included) is in motion (kenesis). Everything moves and changes (in terms of being). The proper movement for all things is towards its end in God (its telos). This is a movement towards greater truth, beauty, and goodness. Evil, on the other hand, is a movement away from proper being, a movement away from truth, beauty, and goodness. However, it is crucial to note that this is a movement, and not a thing.

Our movement towards God (which is what is described as doing good or being good) does not in any way require a movement away from God. Indeed, it would be absurd to suggest that non-being is required in order for being to exist.

In systems such as Depth Psychology, “wholeness” is often used to describe the proper goal of life. Its notion of wholeness is a reconciliation of good and evil. Carl Jung, in his language of mythic archetypes, dubbed this figure, “Abraxas.” It puts me in mind of a Star Trek episode (original series). Captain Kirk suffers from an accident in the transporter system where his “good” side has been separated from his “evil” side. The two caricatures (we cannot call them characters) fight it out for control of the Enterprise with rather predictable results. The goal of the episode is to put him back together. The subtext of the program is that we cannot function without our evil selves, even if they must be tempered. This is a far cry from Orthodox theosis.

It is entirely understandable that people cast about for answers in the problem of good and evil. We wonder, “Does evil serve a purpose?” The mistakes we have made, or even the terrible tragedies and catastrophes across our history would seem somehow more acceptable if we could see them playing a role in some later, greater good. Our faith does not reconcile evil with good. Rather, it tells us that good overcomes evil and moves towards its end in a manner that, while not abolishing evil from the story of things, makes the story to be what evil sought to prevent.

The story of Joseph in Egypt is a primary example. His brothers’ evil action in selling him as a slave to the Egyptians is “undone” or “overcome” after a fashion. He says to them, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” Of course, the Cross is the greatest of such examples. The powers of this world meant it for one thing, but the Lord meant it for His own great goodness – the redemption of all things.

As we tend to center our world (and ourselves) in the question of our choices, we are constantly tempted to justify those we feel were wrong. By the same token, we bring an anxiety about the choices that are yet to come. The power of goodness is not within our choice. We do not create the good – it is given to us. The impossible reality that surrounds our choices is seen when we examine the limits of our existence. We cannot see the consequences of our actions (beyond the most immediate circumstances) nor can we control the myriad of other events that will interact with any choice we might make. We are simply insufficient of ourselves to create good through our choices.

This does not negate the place that choice has in our lives. However, like everything about a contingent being, it is relativized. God alone is the source of the good, and whatever participation our lives have in goodness is His gift to us. We cannot weigh or consider the good in a manner apart from God. There is no such thing as a “secular” good.

The course of our existence is a movement. That movement is impelled towards the good through our desire for God (sometimes manifest simply as a longing for beauty, truth, and goodness). We make choices within the course of that movement, but only God can direct and make of our choices the good He intends. What we know of our choices are limited, often complex, and filled with uncertainty. It is God, to whom we commend ourselves, one another, and all our lives, who gathers our choices into His own goodness, truth, and beauty, making of them what we could never do of our own selves.

In none of this, however, is evil necessary. It has no being. It is only misdirection. It is a parasite. The Scriptures say this: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have communion with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5–7)

The communion we have with one another is rooted in our communion in Christ. He is the Good, and it is our participation (communion) in Him that is our good as well. It is this communion that “cleanses” all of our choices – the relative good and the relative evil – and sets them on the path of union with God.

Learning to live as contingent creatures, someone whose existence is always only relative, is best described and encompassed as the life of thanksgiving. The Scriptures say that, “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In this, we give thanks, and commend the whole of our life to Him.


Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


The featured image shows, “St Michael Vanquishing the Devil,” by PBonifazio Veronese, painted circa 1530.