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Truth and Communion


The Truth is also

The Eucharistic perspective

The triadologic perspective

Negative perspective

The Christological perspective

The perspective of the "image" (icon)

Truth and Salvation -
the existential importance of the synthesis of the Greek Fathers

Truth and person

Truth and the

Truth and the Church - Ecclesiastical consequences
emerging from the synthesis of the Greek Fathers

The Eucharist as a place of the

Truth and Communion 
As seen by the Greek Fathers of the Church 
By the
Rev. Metropolitan of Pergamos Ioannis Zizioulas
Translated into English
Ioannis Pantelidis

 I. Introduction 

Christology 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 traditions.

Of 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.

By 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

This 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.

On 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 understanding[v]. 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 cosmology.

A 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.

This "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:

a) 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:

b) 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?

The 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.

In 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?

In 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.

We 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. 

[i] E.g. Sam. B 7, 28. Psalm. 119, 160. Also see Deut. 7, 9. Es. 49, 7 and others.

[ii] Psalm. 132, 11.

[iii] Psalm. 40, 12. 61, 8 and others.

[iv] Bas. A 2, 4. 3, 6. Bas. B 20, 3. Es. 38, 3. Psalm. 86, 11 and others.

[v] 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.

[vi] In 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.

[vii] This 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.

[viii] The 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")

[ix] Classical 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.

[x] The 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)

[xi] As one can say today, for example referring to the approach of the New Testament by the school of Bultmann.

[xii] 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.

[xiii] The 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.


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