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three galloping dogs
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« on: December 02, 2009, 03:02:44 PM »

In my recent journey towards an Orthodox Christianity (both capital and minuscule 'o') I have read Lossky's Orthodox Theology and Ware's The Orthodox Church, and both quote St. Athanasius(?) as saying "God became man so that man might become god." I understand what this means for the Christian, and that it is supreme of the doctrines of the Christian faith, as there is no Christianity without the Incarnation and the reality of Christ Jesus as God the Son, but I'm just not sure about the first part of that claim; that is, that "God became man".

I understand that God's Incarnation is the essential Christian answer to how God makes man's salvation possible, in that the Christ was born so that he may die, becoming the final sacrifice for our sins, conquering death, and thus making life everlasting possible. It's a beautiful kind of theology, but when we talk about "God [becoming] man" I am hesitant to believe such a doctrine. Put simply in the form of a question, how could God, Who is completely not like anything of the world and the universe, Who is indeed transcendent of it, have become man? Isn't such a notion impossible within a monotheistic theology?

Now, I suspect that a possible answer might be in God's omnipotence and mystery, but I'm not so sure that is an adequate answer. I do not deny His omnipotence, but I do not take omnipotence to means the ability to do the incoherent (or, if you prefer, the impossible) or to make it so. To illustrate my example, we can ask ourselves a few questions, such as:
   1: Can God utterly destroy Himself; that is, can God make himself not be, in the sense that a created thing can be utterly destroyed?
   2: Can God create another God, one greater than He?
   5: Can God trklvmrtfx?
The answer to all of these is "no", by my reckoning. As an ignorant I couldn't say, and I welcome correction, but I suspect the orthodox Church would agree with that as well. This is not, of course, a limitation on God at all; it simply means that omnipotence does not mean the possibility of doing absolutely anything.

And if that is true, we come back to the original question: can God make Himself, who is eternal and completely transcendent of His creation, a man? I'm not so sure He can, but that's why I'm here- to learn from students of the Orthodox way, which I assume disagrees!

There's also another side of this question which I'd like to ask about. If God became man, and Jesus (who is God made man) ascended bodily to Heaven, then doesn't this mean that God now has an aspect of Himself which He did not have before (ie: Humanity)? If God added to Himself, doesn't this mean that God has changed?

I have other questions, but maybe I'll save them for later!

I suspect, as I always do, that I'm conceptualizing this wrong or that I've misunderstood something. Maybe I need to read Lossky again, or something else? To finish, pardon the haphazard and/or rambling nature of this post and thanks for reading anyways!
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« Reply #1 on: December 02, 2009, 03:13:38 PM »

The essence of the answer lies indeed in God's omnipotence: He is able to limit Himself voluntarily for our Salvation, for the second person of the Holy Trinity to take on flesh and become fully human without ceasing to be fully God and in full communion with the Father and the Spirit.

As to your questions, the Orthodox answer would be "I don't know."  God hasn't revealed to us whether or not He is able or inclined to do such things; however, in our unwillingness to restrict through our own words the capabilities of God we do say that He can do whatever He wills - so all things are possible for Him.

I don't know if it will be helpful, but you may want to read the work of St. Athanasios' that Lossky and Metropolitan KALISTOS refer to in their writings: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/history/ath-inc.htm
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« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2009, 03:15:45 PM »

In my recent journey towards an Orthodox Christianity (both capital and minuscule 'o') I have read Lossky's Orthodox Theology and Ware's The Orthodox Church, and both quote St. Athanasius(?) as saying "God became man so that man might become god." I understand what this means for the Christian, and that it is supreme of the doctrines of the Christian faith, as there is no Christianity without the Incarnation and the reality of Christ Jesus as God the Son, but I'm just not sure about the first part of that claim; that is, that "God became man".

I understand that God's Incarnation is the essential Christian answer to how God makes man's salvation possible, in that the Christ was born so that he may die, becoming the final sacrifice for our sins, conquering death, and thus making life everlasting possible. It's a beautiful kind of theology, but when we talk about "God [becoming] man" I am hesitant to believe such a doctrine. Put simply in the form of a question, how could God, Who is completely not like anything of the world and the universe, Who is indeed transcendent of it, have become man? Isn't such a notion impossible within a monotheistic theology?

Now, I suspect that a possible answer might be in God's omnipotence and mystery, but I'm not so sure that is an adequate answer. I do not deny His omnipotence, but I do not take omnipotence to means the ability to do the incoherent (or, if you prefer, the impossible) or to make it so. To illustrate my example, we can ask ourselves a few questions, such as:
   1: Can God utterly destroy Himself; that is, can God make himself not be, in the sense that a created thing can be utterly destroyed?
   2: Can God create another God, one greater than He?
   5: Can God trklvmrtfx?
The answer to all of these is "no", by my reckoning. As an ignorant I couldn't say, and I welcome correction, but I suspect the orthodox Church would agree with that as well. This is not, of course, a limitation on God at all; it simply means that omnipotence does not mean the possibility of doing absolutely anything.

And if that is true, we come back to the original question: can God make Himself, who is eternal and completely transcendent of His creation, a man? I'm not so sure He can, but that's why I'm here- to learn from students of the Orthodox way, which I assume disagrees!

There's also another side of this question which I'd like to ask about. If God became man, and Jesus (who is God made man) ascended bodily to Heaven, then doesn't this mean that God now has an aspect of Himself which He did not have before (ie: Humanity)? If God added to Himself, doesn't this mean that God has changed?

I have other questions, but maybe I'll save them for later!

I suspect, as I always do, that I'm conceptualizing this wrong or that I've misunderstood something. Maybe I need to read Lossky again, or something else? To finish, pardon the haphazard and/or rambling nature of this post and thanks for reading anyways!

First you should know that the oft-quoted expression of "God became man so that man may become God" is nowhere in Athanasius, nowhere in his De Incarnatione.  The quote is actually from St. Irenaeus.  Every time I read Athanasius' De Incarnatione, I would always say to myself, "here it comes" only not to find it.  The essence of the quote is found in Athanasius, but not word for word.

You ask about whether it is impossible for God to become Man.  Impossible?  No, but it was absolutely necessary.  To quote St. Gregory the Theologian, God had to become man in his entirety because "anything unassumed is unhealed."  We're not talking about a change in God's nature but an assumption, a taking on of an act of God to his very self.  God didn't destroy anything in becoming man.  We are told in Philippians that God emptied himself (kenosis) and became a servant obedient unto death, even death upon a cross.  

You are wrestling with paradox.  How can God be both man and god?  To logic and reason, it is impossible because it defies categorization, especially in an Aristotilean sense.  You ask the old question about whether God can make a rock so large and massive that even He cannot move it?  The creator is always superior to the creation.  God cannot make Himself an equal because He is unequaled because He is Uncreated!  Paradox. It'll get you every time.  That's why faith has to be in the equation.  If you're going to try and rationalize the incarnation and make it into a science project, I regret to tell you that you will be disappointed every time.
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« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2009, 04:07:36 PM »

Quote from: scamadrius
The quote is actually from St. Irenaeus.

Yes, I remember at least Lossky attributing it to Irenaeus, but I wanted to double check through the web and I got a lot of people saying it was Athanasius! Folly on my part.

Quote
You are wrestling with paradox.  How can God be both man and god?  To logic and reason, it is impossible because it defies categorization, especially in an Aristotilean sense.  You ask the old question about whether God can make a rock so large and massive that even He cannot move it?  The creator is always superior to the creation.  God cannot make Himself an equal because He is unequaled because He is Uncreated!  Paradox. It'll get you every time.  That's why faith has to be in the equation.  If you're going to try and rationalize the incarnation and make it into a science project, I regret to tell you that you will be disappointed every time.

I agree that faith is an essential component to belief, but certainly logic and reason are also essential components. They do not need to exhaust everything within Christianity, nor can they, but certainly a person should exercise reason to increase his faith and seek understanding. Monotheism, for example, is not merely opined but reasoned, isn't it? I don't seek to make the incarnation into a "science project"- I just want to learn, maybe to even accept. Honestly I'm not exactly sure what it is I'm looking for, and now that I think about it I didn't really explain that in the OP when I probably should have.

Quote from: Fr. George
I don't know if it will be helpful, but you may want to read the work of St. Athanasios' that Lossky and Metropolitan KALISTOS refer to in their writings: http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/history/ath-inc.htm

Yes, I will try to read him at some point. Thank you for the reply!
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« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2009, 05:03:12 PM »

First you should know that the oft-quoted expression of "God became man so that man may become God" is nowhere in Athanasius, nowhere in his De Incarnatione.  The quote is actually from St. Irenaeus.  Every time I read Athanasius' De Incarnatione, I would always say to myself, "here it comes" only not to find it.  The essence of the quote is found in Athanasius, but not word for word.

Section 54, 3rd sentence.  I'll copy the whole paragraph from the web (emphasis mine):

Quote
As, then, he who desires to see God Who by nature is invisible and not to be beheld, may yet perceive and know Him through His works, so too let him who does not see Christ with his understanding at least consider Him in His bodily works and test whether they be of man or God. If they be of man, then let him scoff; but if they be of God, let him not mock at things which are no fit subject for scorn, but rather let him recognize the fact and marvel that things divine have been revealed to us by such humble means, that through death deathlessness has been made known to us, and through the Incarnation of the Word the Mind whence all things proceed has been declared, and its Agent and Ordainer, the Word of God Himself. He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God. He manifested Himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father. He endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality. He Himself was unhurt by this, for He is impassable and incorruptible; but by His own impassability He kept and healed the suffering men on whose account He thus endured. In short, such and so many are the Savior's achievements that follow from His Incarnation, that to try to number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the waves. One cannot see all the waves with one's eyes, for when one tries to do so those that are following on baffle one's senses. Even so, when one wants to take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, one cannot do so, even by reckoning them up, for the things that transcend one's thought are always more than those one thinks that one has grasped.
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« Reply #5 on: December 02, 2009, 05:33:44 PM »

Monotheism, for example, is not merely opined but reasoned, isn't it?
I believe we reached that belief as a result of revelation, not necessarily by reason.
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« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2009, 06:43:14 PM »

three galloping dogs, do you believe that Jesus Christ physically suffered and died on the cross? (I am not being polemical here, just trying to work out were you're coming from.  Smiley)
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« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2009, 07:23:05 PM »

First, I'd like to introduce myself and say hello to the board.  I'll be posting some questions on convert issues and the prayer forum later.

Second- and to the matter at hand, the three questions:

Quote
1: Can God utterly destroy Himself; that is, can God make himself not be, in the sense that a created thing can be utterly destroyed?
   2: Can God create another God, one greater than He?
   5: Can God trklvmrtfx?
The answer to all of these is "no", by my reckoning. As an ignorant I couldn't say, and I welcome correction, but I suspect the orthodox Church would agree with that as well. This is not, of course, a limitation on God at all; it simply means that omnipotence does not mean the possibility of doing absolutely anything.

I will take the second question first- Can God create another God, one greater than He?  The answer is "No, but".  No, God cannot create another God, but the Father Almighty may certainly beget a Son.  Because of the essence of God existing "now and ever and unto the ages of ages" this begetting happens outside of our concept of time, and before all worlds.  This begetting brings about not "another" God but two Persons (I'm leaving out the Holy Spirit for the moment because I have only a vague shadow of the Orthodox teaching on the subject) with one Essence. 
The Son is not greater than the Father, but "Being in form of God counted it not theft to be equal to God". (philippians 2:6, translation mine)

This leads us to the first question: "Can God utterly destroy Himself; that is, can God make himself not be, in the sense that a created thing can be utterly destroyed"?  What He can do is "Empty(or void, or make himself nothing) Himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in likeness of man, and found in fashion as man, humble Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (philippians 2:7,8).  As to whether or not this death means "utter destruction", the answer I believe is no, but no created thing is utterly destroyed upon death.  Far from being "utterly destroyed" we believe that Christ went to the souls of the dead, where John the Baptist was already preparing a way, and set the faithful free.  If anything, Christianity was a rejection of the doctrine of "utter destruction" favored by certain Greek philosophers and Hellenizing Saducees; and a sound confirmation of belief in the judgment to come, the resurrection of the dead, and the afterlife.  Christ's Resurrection from the dead is the very hope our belief is based upon, the triumph of the Incarnate Word, Only Begotten of the Father, over death and utter destruction.

Truth be told, the two questions seem to really be red herrings, which need to be traced to where they diverge from Christian thought.  The first question (in the order you listed them) should have been two: "Is death utter destruction?" and "How can God die?" while the second question should have been "How can two(three) Persons exist in one God, and how can one of these Persons acknowledge another as greater?"
The answer to the first question is "No, at least not the death of the flesh."  The second and third question are very interesting, and while I have some theories it is nothing I would care to share.  The only answers I can give is "I don't know, yet I believe that God did die" and "I don't know, but I believe the Son does His Father's Will"

Question 5: "Can God trklvmrtfx?"

According to certain Charismatics, yes, most certainly.  He can blmpfcrng and prngsbghbu as well.   Roll Eyes


P.S. Just because I hate to leave the hymn unfinished:
"Wherefore, God has highly exalted him, and graced him with a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven, in earth, and under earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father".

P.P.S. The above statements are by a simple sinner with no credentials whatsoever, and if anything above does not reflect the Orthodox point of view, please, let me know.
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« Reply #8 on: December 02, 2009, 08:43:54 PM »

Quote from: LBK
three galloping dogs, do you believe that Jesus Christ physically suffered and died on the cross? (I am not being polemical here, just trying to work out were you're coming from. Smiley)

Yes.

Quote from: BoredMeeting
I believe we reached that belief as a result of revelation, not necessarily by reason.

Okay, but there are other religions with other revelations that point to polytheism or nontheism, so obviously we would use reason as well. Unless I'm mistaken and Christianity gives no room for that faculty?

Former Reformer: I'd like to note that what I aimed to do with the examples was simply to critique the meaning of God's omnipotence. So when I talk about whether God can utterly destroy Himself, I'm just using the words as they are, and not foreshadowing a conversation on the immortality of the soul. Actually, the reason I used "utter [destruction]" was to be clear that I didn't mean "death" but a complete non-existence.

But they do move into the concept of the Incarnation. We come to understand God through negation, that God is not "this" or "that", and we understand that God is transcendent yet imminent, that He is immaterial, an uncaused cause, and a select few other things. 

Quote from: FormerReformer
According to certain Charismatics, yes, most certainly.  He can blmpfcrng and prngsbghbu as well.

Lol, I see. Well, they'll have to forgive me cause I'm no so sure Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: December 02, 2009, 10:55:10 PM »

Quote from: LBK
three galloping dogs, do you believe that Jesus Christ physically suffered and died on the cross? (I am not being polemical here, just trying to work out were you're coming from. Smiley)

Yes.

Next question: Do you believe that Jesus Christ is fully God as well as fully human, fully human but not fully God, fully God but not fully human?
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« Reply #10 on: December 02, 2009, 11:11:43 PM »

Quote from: LBK
Next question: Do you believe that Jesus Christ is fully God as well as fully human, fully human but not fully God, fully God but not fully human?

We know (and I believe) that Jesus is human. I know that Christianity believes Christ is fully human and fully God, but I'm not so sure God can become man so I can't affirm that.
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« Reply #11 on: December 03, 2009, 01:06:21 AM »

Welcome to both Three Galloping Dogs and Former Reformer.   Smiley
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« Reply #12 on: December 03, 2009, 02:29:55 AM »


Quote from: BoredMeeting
I believe we reached that belief as a result of revelation, not necessarily by reason.

Okay, but there are other religions with other revelations that point to polytheism or nontheism, so obviously we would use reason as well. Unless I'm mistaken and Christianity gives no room for that faculty?

Christianity certainly does see a place for reason--however, we also recognize the limitations of that faculty. And it is exactly there that, like others, I think you are conceptualizing God's omnipotence incorrectly.

Let us assume that, whether via reason, revelation, intuition or any other route, that you have come to belief in a monotheistic God "Who is completely not like anything of the world and the universe, Who is indeed transcendent of it". If such a God is truly transcendent of all creation, then he must perforce, be transcendent over human reason which is itself a created thing. In other words, to say that transcendent omnipotence is limited to logical coherence or possibility, is itself an illogical statement.

This is why Orthodox Fathers place such an emphasis on 'apophatic' (that is 'negative') theology. We can categorically state what God is *not* because God is not anything which we conceive. But any positive statement about the transcendent Other is inherently approximate and conditional because if we can conceive it, then it is less than His transcendence. So the answer to your various conundrums is 'God is unbounded. God is unlimited'. Does that mean He *can* "create another God, one greater than He?". I don't know--the fact that you and I can conceive of that question, means that God Himself transcends the question.

With all that said, though, I'm not sure how important it is to your question about the Incarnation, so I'll put my response to that in a separate post.
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« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2009, 02:54:32 AM »

Welcome to the forums, TGD!  Smiley I'm confident that our knowledgable people here will be able to fully answer your questions based on the truth that God has revealed to us.
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« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2009, 02:59:10 AM »

And if that is true, we come back to the original question: can God make Himself, who is eternal and completely transcendent of His creation, a man? I'm not so sure He can, but that's why I'm here- to learn from students of the Orthodox way, which I assume disagrees!

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but it almost seems like you are understanding the Christian teaching that 'God became man' to mean 'God turned into a man'--that the Uncreated became Created. If so, then yes, you are approaching the question from an incorrect direction.

The actual Orthodox teaching is that the Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Logos, *without change* became man. That is the phrasing in the definitions of the Ecumenical Councils and its repeated several times every liturgy. The Uncreated did not become Created, at least not in the since that He stopped being Uncreated. The Eternal Logos was Uncreated, Infinite, and Transcendent before, during, and after the Incarnation. His Divine Nature did not alter in any way.

But at the Incarnation, His Divine Nature was joined to a Human Nature. The Divine did not become Human. But the *Person* of Jesus Christ assumed our nature. He was fully divine and fully human, but there was no transformation of one into the other:
Quote
Following the holy Fathers we teach with one voice that the Son of God and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same Person, that he is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and human body consisting, consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood; made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of his Father before the worlds according to his Godhead; but in these last days for us men and for our salvation born into the world of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God according to his manhood.  This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably united, and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Prophets of old time have spoken concerning him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ hath taught us, and as the Creed of the Fathers hath delivered to us.   - Definition of the Council of Chalcedon

I would add to this that this understanding (fully God, fully man, One Person) is absolutely essential to the Orthodox understanding of the whole point of the Incarnation. Christ did not come simply to die as a sacrifice (though that is certainly one aspect of His work). The fundamental purpose of the Incarnation was to re-unite us with God. We were created in union with the Divine. Through our sin, we separated ourselves from Him. And being finite beings, there is no way that we can, on our own, reach back to the infinite. But when we could not approach the Infinite, the Infinite could approach us. And in the Incarnation, the Word reunited God and man in His Own Person--so that when we become one with Jesus Christ through our mystical participation in his death and resurrection (baptism) and our communion of His Body and Blood, our human natures are brought back into that union with the divine we had destroyed.

As such, it is the contention of the Orthodox Fathers, that if Christ was not fully God there is *no* salvation. Because even if God were to resurrect us and grant us eternal life, we would still be separate from Him. And if Christ was not fully human then there is no salvation. Because it is only through Christ that we can be reunited to God, and if there was some aspect of humanity that He did not reunite with Himself, then that aspect has no way to be saved.
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« Reply #15 on: December 03, 2009, 06:32:56 AM »

Welcome to the forum, both of you. Interesting questions.

   1: Can God utterly destroy Himself; that is, can God make himself not be, in the sense that a created thing can be utterly destroyed?
   2: Can God create another God, one greater than He?
Former Reformer answered these quite well:

This leads us to the first question: "Can God utterly destroy Himself; that is, can God make himself not be, in the sense that a created thing can be utterly destroyed"?  What He can do is "Empty(or void, or make himself nothing) Himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in likeness of man, and found in fashion as man, humble Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:7,8).

No, God cannot create another God, but the Father Almighty may certainly beget a Son.

I'd like to add that the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Father. So God comes from God, yet the Trinity is One in essence and undivided. God cannot be separate from God; that is, there cannot be "another" God.

   5: Can God trklvmrtfx?
How do you know He can't? How do you know He hasn't? Perhaps He has, but through the limitations of language we can't understand what He's done.

There are a lot of things we do not and cannot understand about God. We can, however, accept that He is Who He is, regardless of whether we fully comprehend His Being.
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« Reply #16 on: December 03, 2009, 09:45:39 AM »

how could God, Who is completely not like anything of the world and the universe, Who is indeed transcendent of it, have become man? Isn't such a notion impossible within a monotheistic theology?
To say that it is impossible would not only be a denial of omnipotence, it is also fashioning God in our own image.
God revealed Himself to Moses in a bush which was both burning and unburnt. Two natures- fire and fuel- yet they were not commingled so that the one was not lost in the other. The fire was not extinguished and the bush remained unburnt. This is the symbol of divinity in humanity.
To say that God cannot take on humanity or that He cannot simultaneously circumscribed and uncircumscribed is placing our own limitations on God- and such a God would not be God.
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« Reply #17 on: December 03, 2009, 03:08:33 PM »

Most Patristic interpretations of the Burning Bush say that the the bush is a type of the Theotokos, who without corruption bore God the Word, and that the Voice was that of the pre-incarnate Christ, God the Son.
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« Reply #18 on: December 03, 2009, 03:19:47 PM »

Most Patristic interpretations of the Burning Bush say that the the bush is a type of the Theotokos, who without corruption bore God the Word, and that the Voice was that of the pre-incarnate Christ, God the Son.

Right, but it still maintains one principle that assists us in this discussion: that God can voluntarily be present in Creation in a manifest way without destroying creation.  What He did in the burning bush, by being present but not consuming the bush, is what He did with Panagia (being present within her without consuming her), but it also parallels what He did with His own body as Jesus the Christ - being fully God in the person of the Son in communion with the Father and the Spirit and still fully human, the creator voluntarily being in the realm of and amongst creation.
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« Reply #19 on: December 04, 2009, 10:56:54 PM »

Infinity circumscribed in a finite space.
The Incarnation is a Mandelbrot set!

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