seen by the Greek Fathers of the Church
Rev. Metropolitan of Pergamos Ioannis Zizioulas
Translated into English
is the only starting point for a Christian understanding of the truth.
The allegation of Christ, that he alone is the very Truth (John 14,6),
creates a basic presupposition for Christian theology. In this point the
East and the West have always agreed with one another. It is unnecessary
to mention isolated examples from the history of Christian thought in
order to substantiate this common presupposition of all the Christian
course, in no case is it easy to interpret this presupposition, that in
the Bible itself the Greek way of thinking is connected quite often to
what is usually called the Semitic or Judean way of thinking, then we
must pay attention to this particular way of thinking, that one could
call "Greek" and whose individual characteristics are distinguished
in its meeting with the Gospel.
saying this, we should not haste to extract the conclusion, as often
done by some intellectuals, that the biblical thought, especially in its
New Testament form, should be simulated to that, which one could name
"Hebrew" or Judean" way of thinking. If, to Paul, Christ is the
content of his preaching, then it conflicts to the Greek and Judean
thought as well: The Christian preaching cannot be confused neither with
the "wisdom" of the Greeks, nor with the interest of the Jews for
"signs" (1st Corinthians 1,22).7
contradiction between the Christological content of the preaching on one
hand and the Judean as well as the Greek thought on the other, is
connected directly to the problem of the truth. At a broader observation,
the basic characteristic of the Judean thought, which comes into
contrast with the Greek, is in the interest of the Jews in history. The
"signs", that the Jews -as mentioned in Paul- are looking for, are
exactly the declarations of the presence of God and his action in
history through these "signs" the truth gets its historical
verification as fidelity of God in His people. When in the Old Testament
there is word about the "emeth" of God, this means always, that the
word of God is powerful, reliable and steady[i].
The truth appears in this way equivalent to the "oath" of God, which
He is not going to break[ii] and who offers security for this reason alone[iii].
All these take place in the grid of history, which is created through
the promise of God to His people. Consequently, the very answer of this
people constitutes a part of the definition of the truth. The fidelity
towards God, the execution of His will or the fulfillment of His Law
ends in the "commitment of the truth"[iv]. To this view of the truth, the promise of God can be
considered as the final truth and coincides with the cause or the
fulfillment of history. With this meaning of definiteness, it is an
eschatological truth, which turns the human spirit towards the future.
the contrary, the Greek thought seeks the truth in a way exceeding
history. Its starting point constitutes the observation of the world and
in this point the Greek thought has placed the question concerning the
being in an organic and unbreakable connection with the mind, which
observes and senses. Since the time of the Pre-Socratic philosophers the
Greek thought is based on the fundamental relation of being and
In all the later developments and the various changes, which history
showed to it[vi],
the Greek thought has never abandoned the unity that existed between the
intellectual elements, that is the thoughtful mind and the being[vii].
Through the connection of these three elements the Greek spirit reached
that amazing understanding of the world, a term that characterizes at
the same time the harmony and the beauty. It is precisely in this
connection that the truth relies on. According to its substance, it was
of equal value to virtue and goodness[viii].
It is for this reason that the truth to Greeks was mainly a matter of
consequence of this way of thinking is that history has no place in
Greek ontology. So, either one should try to understand some historical
facts with some reason, that is to link them to an illuminating cause[ix],
or he should try to understand his very self facing them, which means to
set them aside as if they had no importance for the being[x].
To understand history or yourself facing them there are two procedures,
which under no circumstance are away one from another, as it might seem
at first glance. Neo-Platonism, which takes a position so much for
history as well as matter itself, was as connected to the Greek thought,
as to the great historians and artists of the classical period. All of
them had the same ontological presupposition that the being exists in
unity and in a closed circle, which is created through the word or the
mind. So, either both history and matter would subject to this unity or
they would both have to undergo the loss of being. History as a field of
freedom or the person -in a divine or human way- appears frequently to
evolve so "irrationally" and arbitrarily and also in contrast to the
closed ontological unity, as presented by the connection of being with
the word. Thus, it wasn't able to provide an alternative to the
approach of the truth.
"closed in itself ontology", or this monism of the Greek thought, we
believe creates the decisive point, on which the disagreement of the
Greek and biblical thought takes place in the age of the Greek Fathers
of the Church. This is the question, which in an inseparable correlation
to the problem of history and matter makes the challenge of the Greek
thought against the Bible during the occupation with the truth obvious.
This is not valid just for the time of the Greek Fathers, but even more
to the middle Ages and the Later Times, including our own time. This
problem is presented in the following way:
How can someone who is Christian support the unity of the truth in an
ontological sense, while he talks about two different beings, God and
the world? In a distinction like this are not introduced two different
kinds of existence and at the same time, as a consequence the absurdity
of two ontological areas of truth? The same question is put from a
different point of view as well:
How can a Christian have the opinion, that the truth acts in the history
and creation, while the definite character of the truth and its
uniqueness seems incompatible to change and the fall, to which subdue
history and creation?
way the New Testament understands the truth with a Christological sense,
seems to contradict to the Judean and the Greek understanding of the
truth as well, as it has been presented. By understanding Christ as the
Alpha and the Omega of history the New Testament has radically
transformed the linear Hebrew view of history, because in a particular
way the final cause of history is in Christ already here and now present.
Furthermore, when Christ, as a historical being, claims that He is the
truth, then this is a challenge to the Greek thought, because according
to Him, the destiny of man is to find the meaning of his existence in
the course of history, through it, through the changes and its polysemy.
But this to Greek thought is unacceptable.
order to remain loyal to the Christological character of the truth, we
have to support the historicity of this truth and not to despise it for
the sake of a simple "interpretation" of this history[xi].
Recent objections against such a "demystifying" confrontation of the
New Testament are completely justified[xii].
However, if we perceive this "historicity" of the truth in the sense
of a linear, Judean presentation of history, in which the future is part
of a coming reality, which hasn't come yet, then we are taken away
from the understanding of the truth as radically as from the New
Testament as well. The problem presented by the Christological character
of the truth for the Church from the beginning, can therefore be
included in the following question: How can we insist on the historicity
of the truth and in the presence of the supreme truth "hic et nunc"
at the same time? How, in order to express it in a different way, can
the truth at the same time be considered through the prism of a
permanent interpretation of being (the interest of the Greeks)[xiii],
and through the prism of the final purpose of history (interest of the
Jews) and through the prism of the historicity of Christ (allegation of
Christ) and how to preserve in all these, always at the same time, the
discernment of the existence of God in relation to the creation?
this study an effort to answer this question will be made with the help
of the thought of the Greek Fathers. We are convinced, that the question,
as well as the, by the Greek Fathers processed for their time, answer
have a great importance for our time. Moreover, the term "communion"
seems to have been a decisively helping means in the hands of the Greek
Fathers, which rendered to them possible the answer of this question and
which even to us today contains the key to our solution of this problem.
shall try, then, first to understand the efforts of the Greek Fathers,
the failure, as well as their success to reach the understanding of the
truth, something which even to a representative of the Greek thought
seems rational, without abandoning or corrupting the biblical message.
From then on we can transcend to an application of this understanding of
the truth in the justified in the Christian faith questions that is the
relation between truth and salvation. Finally, we want to try to see the
ecclesiological meaning of this approach with both the theoretical and
the practical extensions on the organization and the work of the Church.
Sam. B 7, 28. Psalm. 119, 160. Also see Deut. 7, 9. Es. 49, 7 and
Psalm. 40, 12. 61, 8 and others.
Bas. A 2, 4. 3, 6. Bas. B 20, 3. Es.
38, 3. Psalm. 86, 11 and others.
E.g. Parmenides, Αποσπάσματα,
IX, 34. Text, translation and comments of K. Riezler, ed. 2nd,
processing and epilogue of H. – Gadamer, Frankfurt/Main 1970 p.
33: «Thought and what creates thought are the same thing». Also
see Plato, Parmenides 128b. Translation and edition of H.G. Zelk,
Hamburg, 1972, p. 7. Climes of Alexandreia, Strom. VI.
these variations in the relation between being and word, also see
the remarks of M. Heidegger, Einführung in die Metaphysik,
Tuebingen 2 1958, esp. 88 and on.
can be found in the history of the Greek thought as well as in the
age of Neo-Platonism, see e.g. Plotinos, Enn. V,1, 8, and others. Also
see K. Kremer, Die neuplatonische Philosophie und ihre Wirkung
Thomas von Aquin, Leiden 1971, 79 and on. For
the fact, that here lies a remnant of the ancient Greek monism, also
see C. J. de Vogel, Philosophia I. Stundies in Greek Philosophie (Philosophical
Texts and Studies, 19), I, 1970, 397-416.
meaning if "goodness" seems synonymous to the truth and this
identity is created by the word, so as for virtue and knowledge to
coincide (e.g. in all "Menon" and the "Politeia")
Greek historiography used this method. Also see C. N. Cochrane,
Christianity and Classical Culture. A Study of Thought and Action
from Augustus to Augustine, London 1944, 457 and on.
Neo-Platonic thought expresses this position. A mentioned by his
biographer, Porphyries, Plotinos was ashamed to have a body and
denied to talk about his ancestors or to pose to a sculptor or a
painter.(Porphyrios, Life, Plot. 1)
one can say today, for example referring to the approach of the New
Testament by the school of Bultmann.
See e.g. W. Pannenberg, Grundzuegeder Christologie, Guetersloh 1964,
97. Also Die Aufnahme des philosophischen Gottesbegriffs als
dogmatisches Problem der fruehchristlicher Theologie, in:
Grundfragen systematischer Theologie: Goettingen 1971, 296-346.
connection of the truth to the "nature" of being comes in the
Christian Tradition from the Greek view of the truth. Also see T.F.
Torrance, Truth and Authority: Thesis on truth in : The Irish
theological Quarterly 39, 1972, 222. This is proven mainly through
Aristotle, whose "Metaphysic" is not taken apart between
ontology and theology, as one often claims following Jaeger, but
finds the center of its weight in the essentiality, where for
Aristotle the substance is the basis of every ontology. H.
Barreau, Aristote et l' analyse du savoir (Philosophie de tous les
temps, 81), I, 1972, 113. The
problem that was in this way created and the way with which the
Greek Fathers solved it, is discussed in Part III of this study.