|Doxology, the Language
Professor Constantine Scouteris
For a number of years great emphasis has been placed on the issue of theology. Its nature, task, method, and language have been a matter of study, explanation, investigation, and exploration by a great number of scholars, both Orthodox and those of other Christian traditions.1
Although this can be viewed as positive from one vantage point, from another it reveals that, at the present time, theology is often in a condition of crisis and, to a certain extent, confusion. Our contemporary theologizing is quite often characterized either by a sense of self-sufficiency or artificial openness, the former manifesting itself in a mere repetition, a sort of conservative attachment to the past, the latter taking the form of a kind of modern, abstract, religious speculation. No sensitive observer will deny that in our theological scene there often exists a gulf between the so-called "academic" theological community and the ecclesiastical pastoral concerns of those responsible for the spiritual welfare of the people of God. Theological work and pastoral responsibility are very often scandalously treated as two different tasks.
It is certainly not my desire to be either skeptical or negative at such a gathering as the Third International Conference of Orthodox Theological Schools. However, it seems to me essential that reality be faced in order not to build castles in the sky. In order that our investigation be honest, clear, and constructive, it is of paramount importance to realize where we stand and what we represent.
The initial question concerning the theme for discussion should be posed as follows: What is the significance of "doxology, the language of Orthodoxy," in our modern age? What does doxology mean in our contemporary reality? The point being, do we have a clear enough vision to understand what doxological theology is in an era when our minds have been, to a great extent, obscured and our theological and ecclesiastical consciences to often secularized or confused? The question demands an answer in terms of serenity, sincerity, frankness, and clarity.
From the patristic point of view, "doxology" is the essence of Christian life. Our subject, therefore, becomes vital and essential, demanding careful consideration and full attention. We are not discussing a matter for pure contemplation, a philosophical problem. Nor are we discussing a question of dialectic, not even a simple way of theologizing. We are, rather, discussing a reality directly connected with faith, love, and communion with him, from whom "every good endowment and every perfect gift" (Jas 1.17) flow.2 When we speak of doxology, we are obliged to touch upon the heart, the very being, of Christian understanding and of Christian life itself. Indeed, when we speak of "doxology," we stand very much at the center of Orthodox theology.
Before proceeding to a discussion of the subject at hand, it would be appropriate to examine the terms "doxology," "theology," and "orthodoxy." In fact, the meaning of these three terms, in the writings of the Greek Fathers, interpenetrate one another and the terms are often used interchangeably. Doxology is "the word (ëüãïò) about glory." But glory, in the final analysis, is God himself; the "unmoved glory" (ç áêßíçôïò äüîá), in the words of Saint John Chrysostom.3
God is the absolute glory, glory and perfection itself ("áõôïäåäïîáóìÝíïò êáé áõôïôÝëåéïò"), according to Saint Epiphanios.4
In this sense, the terms doxology and theology describe the same reality. Doxology is the ëüãïò about glory (i.e. about God). Doxology and theology are, therefore, identical. This identification was fully expressed by Origen when speaking of prayer. Thus, commenting on Matthew 6.7, he exhorts Christians not to "use vain repetitions," but to theologize, i.e., to ascribe glory to Gods.5
Moreover, it is well known that this is not the only instance where Origen uses the term "theologize" to indicate the glorification of God. In several of his writings, both the terms theology and doxology are used interchangeably and as equivalents.6
From Origen on, especially in the so-called ascetical tradition, identification of theology and doxology become more self conscious and obvious. The well-known words of Evagrios constitute a summary, "If you are a theologian, you will pray in truth; and if you pray in truth, you are a theologian."7
On the other hand, the term "orthodoxy" indicates not merely right opinion or belief as opposed to heresy, but also right glorification; more accurately, right glorification encompassing right belief and a right way of expressing it. Thus, right doxology or, simply, doxology is a more comprehensive definition than right belief.
We may add in this connection that, according to Orthodox understanding, doctrinal tradition is not exclusively an intellectual system. Rather, it is inextricably bound together with liturgical action. It is within the worshiping community, and in light of the community's liturgical life that doctrine becomes "a field of vision where in all things on earth are seen in their relation to the things of heaven."8
In this respect, the lex orandi becomes the focus of the lex credendi, of the lex cognoscendi, and of the lex vivendi. Dogmas, in other words, are not abstract speculations in and of themselves. Likewise, Christian life is not moralistic and external behavior based on regulations and laws. Both doctrine and the Christian way of life are understood within the liturgical context. Within the worshiping community, doctrine becomes that action which constitutes the highest point of the Christian way. Thus, the Orthodox approach both to doctrine and the Christian life is fundamentally a liturgical one.
For an Orthodox, it is self-evident
that theology, as God's doxology, has not the characteristics of an individual,
monistic dialogue between the theologizing person and God; but, although
personhood remains its locus, it is an ecclesial offering. The theologizing
person apprehends, in his theology, the mind of the ecclesial body and
offers it to God; his own from his own, in a unique and personal way. I
believe that it is this ecclesial conscience of theology that we express
in our Liturgy when, immediately before our confession of common faith
in the triune God, the Creed, we urge: "Let us love one another that with
one mind we may confess the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."9
The one and only rock upon which theology as a doxological event can be
based is the ecclesiastical body. It is within the Church, this continued
Pentecost, that our mind, which is very often deprived of any orientation
toward God, can be reoriented toward him, and, indeed, be illuminated and
transformed into a theological mind. Moreover, it is only within ecclesial
reality that the transfiguration of the human person can be accomplished.
The Church herself is not a secular community, but "the tabernacle of God,"
which, in spite of the fact that she is here and now, transcends time and
space and belongs to the "age to come"; the point being, that the ecclesial
community is "gathered together" by the Holy Spirit. It is the "other Paraclete,"
he who maintains the ecclesial oneness, who thus secures solid ground for
a genuine theological offering. It is he who transforms, within the Church,
simple human persons into "theologians."10 It is he only "by
whom we cry out, Abba, Father" (Rom 8.15). In fact, when we speak of doxology
we mean an action of the Spirit, "for we do not know what we should pray
for as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with
groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom 8.26).
The Question of Language
Theology as doxology, prayer, and orthodoxy of necessity employs the medium of language. In fact, it is an act carried out by language. When we speak of language in this context, we do not necessarily restrict it to the narrow limits of the created and spoken word. Expressed words do, indeed, represent part of theological language, but not its totality, and certainly not its highest part. I would venture to say that expressed words correspond to a minimum of theological language, which, in its essential part, transcends words and expressions.
My intention here is not to introduce a sharp distinction between the expressed and "inexpressible" word. On the contrary, I intend to underline the fact that language, both as an expression of divine truths (ðñïöïñéêüò ëüãïò), as well as an inward, immanent event (åíäéÜèåôïò ëüãïò) is a unique reality and constitutes an essential element of theology.
The fact that there exists an inexpressible theological language has already been recognized by the well-known philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein speaks specifically of the peculiarity of religious language. In his Tractatus logicophilosophicus Wittgenstein recognizes that there are truths of religion which "cannot be put into words" (Unaussprechliches). For such truths we must remain silent. Silence here means that for religion and ethics we cannot always use "propositions" as we do for the natural sciences. From this perspective, religious language is to a great extent a distortion of language. Yet it is precisely through this distortion that religious truths become evident.11
In spite of the fact that in Wittgenstein's approach there is room to express through language what is known as mystical experience, there is still a substantial difference between his philosophy of language and its biblical, patristic understanding. Besides, by Wittgenstein's inability to explain how the mystical can be made evident, we observe that his entire system is based on an absolutely anthropocentric structure. The experience of God and the word about him are exclusively based on man and confined within the boundaries of human possibilities. In his theory of language there is absolutely no room for an experience which transcends human effort and ability; an experience such as that of Saint Paul who "was caught up to the third heaven . . . and heard inexpressible words" (2 Cor 12.2-4).
Wittgenstein can easily accept a language of faith, or even a religious language, that expresses something transcending all human learning which is carried out by language; but in his philosophy there is no place for language which is given to men as grace.12 The fundamental truth pointed out by Paul that, "the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered," remains something absolutely foreign, paradoxical, and even scandalous to human understanding.
In order to reach a better understanding of what language represents, from a biblical and patristic point of view, it is, I think, necessary to explain this issue further. According to Orthodox understanding, all processes concerning the communication of divine truths are closely interwoven. Speech, contemplation, and even com-munion with God through mystical experience constitute an indivisible unity. This unity is summarized, to a great extent, in the term "logos" (word). This term, a Greek term par excellence, is multi-sensed. As an expressed word, both oral and written, it can be viewed as a composition of words and phrases which become the means whereby men understand one another. On the theological level, the expressed word is the way of transmitting transmitable divine truths which can be transmitted by created words. For logos as inward, immanent power is understood as contemplation. Logos as contemplation about God excels logos as expression of him. Such has already been said by Plato and repeated, in one way or another, by certain of the Greek Fathers.13 The point being that although it is hard to form an adequate concept of God, it is even harder to express it. Thus, logos as contemplation has wider possibilities than logos as expression, logos as truth excels both contemplation and expression. Logos as truth is the Divine Logos, who "became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1.14).
Thus, the Greek term "logos" was adopted by Saint John the Theologian and thereafter by the entire Christian tradition to designate the Son, the second person of the one and undivided Trinity, he who alone "knows the Father" (Jn 10.15) and reveals him "to whom he wills" (Mt 11.27). The incarnation of the eternal Logos of God has, therefore, given new and unique perspective to theology. Through the self-emptying of the divine Logos the eternal truth of God was transmitted to men and expressed within the narrow limits of human language. The incarnate Logos spoke to man about God in a human way (áíèñùðßíùò). He did so using words, images, parables, and concepts, in order that men might be able to speak of God in a way worthy of Him (èåïðñåðþò).14
Origen comments that the Son of God is called Logos because that which is rational, and indeed, endowed with reason, is revealed in his person. He is called Logos because it is he who has transformed our life, one devoid of reason (ðáí Üëïãïí çìþí), into a new reality and made us truly rational (êáôÜ áëÞèåéáí ëïãéêïýò). Thus, "whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10.31). In other words, through his incarnation the Divine Logos gives us the possibility to be partakers of himself. As such, partaking of the life of the divine Logos constitutes restoration of our original reasonable life. Through participation in the life of the Logos man's life assimilates into the life of God. In Christ man's life becomes a risen life; his mind is elevated to the level of divine rationality.15 This means that his mind is delivered from every dissolution and disorientation. Moreover, as far as he is a partaker of Christ, his theological language is not merely a human word, but takes on all the strength of the divine Word.16
I should at this point, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, make clear that theology as an ecclesial function, in its doxological dimension, is not the exclusive province of a certain elite enclave of specialists. On the contrary, it is an open diakonia, a reality of catholic significance. Even though theology is not limited to a certain minority of intellectuals, however, it is as yet not one of the easiest things to do. Saint Gregory of Nyssa refers to theology as a mountain which is not easy to reach.17 Saint Gregory the Theologian pays more attention to the preparation and presuppositions of theology. I would like to address only one of these points. In order to answer the question, "How can one theologize?" Saint Gregory speaks of, among other things, inner calmness (ó÷ïëÞ) and spiritual silence.18 Silence, as a necessary method leading to theology, was also explicitly stressed by Saint Antony, the desert teacher. "In silence," he says in his Texts of Saintly Life, "you use your mind, and in using your mind you speak inwardly in yourself; for in silence mind gives birth to word. And a grateful word offered to God is salvation to man."19
We must admit that in our theological environment we do not often refer to silence. Our theological education overemphasizes the significance of the spoken or written word. Public speaking and homiletics have become basic theological courses in our faculties. Stressed by the mentality of the societies in which we live, we continue to pay less attention to what Saint Gregory calls ó÷ïëÞ, inward calmness and silence. I would say that our theological education suffers from, what I would call, a "Demosthenic" syndrome or a "Demosthenic" complex.
According to a certain biographical
tradition, Demosthenes, the greatest Athenian orator, as a young student
of rhetoric tried to overcome his stammering and thus obtain fluent speech.
He often went to the seaside where by facing the sea and placing a few
stones in his mouth, he practiced the art of speaking. Thus, Demosthenes
forced himself to become a rhetor. Athenian society, not unlike our modern
societies, could only accept "successful" people. I have a feeling that
we, too, train and force our students to become "successful" preachers,
orators, and teachers of theology. Certainly, this is good from one point
of view, but do we really prepare them to appreciate silence? Do we clear
for them the way which leads to inner quietness and calm? In the Gerontikon
we read that, "It was said of Abba Agathon that for three years he lived
with a stone in his mouth until he had learn-ed to keep silence."20
Demosthenes and Agathon used the same method to attain diametrically different
achievements. What, in fact, differentiates Demosthenes from Agathon is
the aim of their askesis. The former intended to become an orator; the
latter had in view and earnestly desired, to learn to keep silence.
Glory and Glorification.
When we speak of silence, we do not suppose a pathetic, individualistic, and static condition, a kind of distortion of human personality. Silence is not a kind of consequence of anthropophobia. Rather, it is manifested in a deeply interior and spiritual quality. It is an existential, creative power, a healing and redirection of the whole man toward divine life. Silence is a profoundly Christian attitude, directly related to the divine kenosis. If we carefully study biblical data related to the highest point of the abasement of the Logos, his passion and cross, we realize that Christ confronted his passion in absolute obedience and silence. In response to the question of the high priest: "Do you answer nothing? . . . Jesus kept silence and answered nothing" (Mt 14.60-61 and 26.62-63). Likewise, to the question of Pilate: "Do you answer nothing? . . . Jesus still answered nothing" (Mk 15.4-5). Concerning his sacrifice on the cross, the pro-phecy of Isaiah certainly offers the most striking summary: "he was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth" (53.7).
I emphasize the issue of silence because silence, not so much as a refusal to speak, but, primarily, as an attitude and as inward behavior, is connected both to the glory of the incarnate Logos as well as to the possibility given to us to ascribe glory to God. In this respect we are confronted with the fundamental Christian paradox: silence, as an expression of the extreme self-emptying of the Word, and silence, as his glory, being bound together. It is precisely this paradox which is considered by the Jews a "scandal" and a "stumbling-block" (1 Cor 1.23). For the Jews, the idea itself of the Lord of glory silent and crucified was not only unthinkable, but utter blasphemy. Moreover, according to the wisdom of the Greeks, the idea of a God humiliated, suffering in silence, and unable to succeed in showing his power, was far beyond any imagining, a real foolishness. However, that which is scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, is, in the final count, "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1.24).
The fact to be clearly and definitely stressed is that the untreated and eternal glory of God, his power and wisdom, appeared to us through the abasement of God the Logos. This is what Saint John has clearly shown in his Gospel: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (1.14). Glory has been transmitted to human reality because God, in his unique and ecstatic movement, has entered within the limitations of human poverty. He freely condescended to the human level in order that "we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Cor 3.18).
In the final analysis, the fact that the eternal glory of God appeared on the scene of human history, through the extreme humility of God the Logos, constitutes, yet, the greatest paradox. For Greek society or our modern societies, which strive after progress and suc-cess and the acquisition of human glory and power, this is an indisputable contradiction; an open distortion of any law of this world. We as Christians often lack the inner capacity to understand that this contradiction and antinomy lead to truth and the "glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8.21). Our sight is not clear enough to see things as they really are rather than as they appear.
As a point of reminder, regarding this connection, Orthodox iconography personifies but one icon of Christ entitled "the King of Glory." This unique icon is not an image of the Son of God in royalty and dominion, but rather, an icon of Christ exhausted and suffering. In his silent form as a servant, in extreme humility, lack-ing "beauty" and "form" (Is 53.2), in his mystery of the cross, the enhypostasized wisdom, glory, and power of God the Father revealed to us his glory, his divinity.
That which has been mentioned above, concerning silence and humility, is immediately applicable to the subject of doxology. Dox-ology is not vain verbalizing or triumphal words; it is, rather, the language of those who have denied themselves and lost their lives (Mt 16.24-25). Doxology is indeed the language of those who have learned to keep silent. Thus, doxology is immediately connected with the life in Christ. It is the consequence of the life in Christ. In fact, doxology is the language of the saints and of all those who follow in the path of humility and obedience. To believe that there exists the possibility of putting forward a language of doxology without holiness is like believing that it is possible to put forward theology without God.
One has to be certain that, when
speaking of "doxology as the language of Orthodoxy," Orthodox theologians,
in fact, testify to their deep desire and existential agony to maintain
and deepen the ethos, spirit and attitude of Orthodoxy. This, indeed, is
our challenge and mission.