Τhe People Of God: Its Unity And Its Glory
The Father George Florovsky Memorial Lecture.
Α discussion of John 17:17-24 in the light of patristic thought
The unifying energy of the Creator.
We are aware that when we speak of the creation we mean that God, freely and in love, exercises His personal capacity of producing entirely new beings. Creation ex nihilo implies that God created realities which are outside of His οwn being. But although He created realities outside Himself, and despite the fact that there is an "infinite" distance, or rather an ontological gulf (χάσμα), between the nature of God and that of created beings, God's intention was not one of producing beings which would have no participation in His glory. "Since God", explains the Damascene, "Who is good and more than good, did not find satisfaction in self-contemplation, but is His exceeding goodness wished certain things to come into existence which would enjoy His benefits and share in His goodness, He brought all things into being and created them, both what is invisible and what is visible. Yet, even man, who is a compound of the visible and the invisible"(14).
Τhus the ontological gulf between the uncreated Lord and His creatures is nullified by God's love and His immutable maintenance of all created beings. This means that despite the fact that God creates beings outside Himself there is still a strong connection between Himself and the created things. God abolishes the infinite distance between uncreated and created through His unifying and perfecting energy which permeates all. Again Ι must quote from St. John of Damascus who speaks of the "divine radiance and activity", which although it is in itself "one and simple and indivisible... is multiplied without division among the divided, and gathers and converts the divided into its οwn simplicity. For all things long after it and have their existence in it. It gives also to all things being according to their several natures, and it is itself the being of existing things, the life of living things, the reason of rational beings, the thought of thinking beings. But it is itself above mind and reason and life and essence"(15).
The primordial vocation of created beings was unity with the creator. And although the created, according to its nature, is outside God, its call and ultimate destiny was to be in union with Him and to share in His goodness. We must emphasize here that the connection between created and uncreated must be understood not only in terms of dependence, but also in terms of God's penetration of the universe, and of His holding and containing of it. The divine power creates, holds together and unites all beings. St. Gregory of Nyssa is very explicit οn this matter: "The divine power", he says, "skilful and wise, is manifested in the beings, and, pervading everything, adapts the parts to the whole, and completes the whole by the parts, and through one power holds together the universe"(16). God the creator holds all the created beings together in existence and in unity and communion with Himself. God "the source of the beauty and of every good", adds the Areopagite, "is the cause of all (ποιητικόν αίτιον), and the mover of all, and that which holds all together in the love of Its beauty... and among beings there is nothing which does not participate in the Good and the beautiful"(17). One of the characteristic properties of the uncreated power is "to pervade and to extend to every part of the nature of beings"(18).
Although the theme οf God's containing and penetrating His created beings has a philosophical background, namely stoic and neoplatonic(19), the patristic urderstanding of it goes beyond the philosophical approach. The unity is understood by the Fathers in purely Biblical and Theological terms. They did not speak of it in terms of speculation, but always and constantly within a soteriological context. Ιn fact it is the divine "emigration" and radiance of God, the trinitarian love, which calls the created beings to share the divine unity and glory..
14. Ibid., Lib. ΙΙ, PG 94, 864C-865Α.
15. Ibid., Lib. Ι, 860C
16. De anima et resurrectione, PG 46, 28Α. For a fuller discussion see D.L.Balas, Μετουσία Θεού. Μan's Participation in God's Perfections according to Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Romae 1966, pp. 115-120,
17. De divinis Nominibus, PG 3, 701C-704B.
18. Cathech. Or., ed. by J.H.Srawley, pp. 118, 10-119, 3. PG 45, 80D.
19. See J. Dupont, Gnosis. La connaissance religieuse dans les epitres de St. Ρaul, Louvain 1960, pp. 461-468, 463-466. See also D.L.Balas, op.cit., p. 117.