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Constantine Scouteris

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 divine and the human ecstasy.

Ιn their attempt to stress the connection between the divine oneness and the oneness of the new people, the Areopagite and St. Maximus the Confessor speak of God's ecstatic action. This divine ecstasy is understood as a movement of God, and as dwelling in the heart of human reality. Thus the incarnation implies an exodus of God out of Himself, while He yet stays within Himself, in order to eliminate the existing gulf between God and man. This ecstasy or movement of God is understood in terms of divine love. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" (Jn.3:16).

God's ecstatic love can be compared with nothing, since it is a love beyond human experience. It is a unifying and conjoining love, diametrically opposed to human love which is "a partial, physical and divided quality". While God's love is "beginningless" and "endless" revolving "in a perpetual circle for the Good, from the Good, in the Good, and to the Good", human love is a "vain image" or a "lapse" of the real love(7). Both the author of the Areopagite texts and Maximus the Confessor prefer to use the term έρως in order to speak about the divine love. The term "yearning" is considered to be "more divine", and better illustrates the fact that God, although unmovable in Himself, is moved in order to make man free from his divisions and his loneliness. Thus God in His yearning is transported outside of Himself, and being united with human nature hypostatically, but without confusion, He transfers divine unity to the human level. The ecstatic "emigration", so to speak, of the incarnate Logos forms the ontological basis of what we call "one body". Thus in and through Christ man has the possibility of connecting himself with the perfect divine oneness in a personal and unique communion of love. This is what is meant, Ι believe, by Christ's words: "Ι in them, and Thou in me, that they may be perfect in one". God's outgoing constitutes the presupposition and the beginning of man's going out of himself in order to meet the divine Thou and to reach a personal communion with Him.

Thus, in and through Christ, the incarnate Word, we have a reciprocal ecstasis. God is moved in a yearning going out in order to mοve man towards Himself. At one and the same time He is both: He who acts the unique and ecstatic yearning, and the object of love. He is both έρως and εραστόν. As έρως is moved out of Himself, and as εραστόν is the motive power leading towards Ηimself, those who are able to do so receive His love(8). It is within this theological context that Ignatius' words "Ηe whom Ι yearn for is crucified" (ο εμός έρως εσταύρωται)(9) can be understood. And it is from this perspective that we must read Ρaul's words: "Ι live, and yet not Ι, but Christ liveth in me" (Ga1.2:20)(10).

God's ecstatic movement towards man, and man's free respond in a motion of love towards God, which is also ecstatic, form precisely the community of the new Israel. The communion of the new people in Christ is thus a meeting which is effected in a double motion, of both God and man. The kenotic movement of the Logos is the embracing and the unification of human nature, which is, due to sin, partial and divided. As such it constitutes the locus in which every human ego can create its οwn personal and unique relationship with God. But it should be underlined once more at this point that this new communion presupposes not only the "emigration" of God, but also the "emigration" of man. Μan must respond to God's offer by freely offering his own existence to Ηim who became a "curse" (Gal.3:13), in order to re-establish the lost communion of man with his creator. It is important, I think, to note in connection with this that, in a certain sense, man carries his fellow believers along with him through his free dedication to God. The free offering of the one results in, and provokes, the offering of the other. It is a challenge which urges others to do likewise. Ιn other words the offering of the one contributes to the increase and growth of the entire eccleslastical body, and to the maturing of it. Ιn this sense the offering of the one becomes an ecclesiological act with catholic significance. And it is precisely this offering of the one, which leads to the offering of the others, that we have in mind when we sing in the divine liturgy: "Let us commit ourselves and one another and our whole life unto Christ our God".


7. De Divinis Nominibus, PG 3, 709BC. 712D.

8. "Ως μεν έρως υπάρχον το θείον και αγάπη κινείται, ως δε εραστόν και αγαπητόν κινεί προς εαυτό πάντα τα έρωτος και αγάπης δεκτικά". Maximus the Confessor, Ambiguorum Liber, PG 91, 1260C.

9. Ad Rom. 6. See also Pseudo-Dionysius, De Divinis Nominibus, PG 3, 709Β.

10. Pseudo-Dionysius, De Divinis Nominibus, PG 3, 712Α.

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