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Author Topic: Questions About Oriental Orthodox Anthropology  (Read 604 times) Average Rating: 0
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Justin Kissel
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« on: May 08, 2014, 11:40:34 AM »

I have a few questions about how Oriental Orthodox theologians have viewed certain anthropological concepts/ideas..
 
1) How often is tripartite language used (body, soul, spirit)? Is the spirit considered an aspect or part of the soul? How does the spirit differ in its role or function compared to the soul.

2) Was the whole person (including the body) made 'in the image,' or only the soul/spirit? If the body was made in the image originally, but had that image damaged at the fall, can the image be restored or repaired during an earthly life, or can that only happen with transfigured bodies in the resurrection? Or is this a process or case of progressing towards a goal, rather than an either/or thing?

3) While not denying that death is the result of sin, there are certain Eastern Orthodox theologians who say that death was also a gift and good thing, in that it puts a check on the potential for wickedness and reminds us of our need for God. What do the Oriental Orthodox think of this?

4) Regarding the redemptive work of Christ, to who or what was a ransom paid?

5) Eastern Orthodox theologians make a sharp distinction between image and likeness. However, I have read that this is not nearly so clear, if present at all, in Hebrew. How do Oriental Orthodox theologians approach this? Are there any differences among those who were perhaps not so reliant on (or did not do most of their work in) Greek?

6) Is our eternal status fixed upon death, or is there possibility for change. For examples... can suffering be relieved if we are condemned? is there any concept or purging or cleansing? and can someone repent in the afterlife after having at first been condemned?

7) Do animals and plants have souls, and if so what are the differences when compared with humans?
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« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2014, 01:10:28 PM »

While I can't promise anything definitive, let me get back to this after having done a bit of homework.  I think I might ask for some clarifications before hazarding an answer. 
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« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2014, 07:34:06 PM »

I have a few questions about how Oriental Orthodox theologians have viewed certain anthropological concepts/ideas..
 
1) How often is tripartite language used (body, soul, spirit)? Is the spirit considered an aspect or part of the soul? How does the spirit differ in its role or function compared to the soul.

2) Was the whole person (including the body) made 'in the image,' or only the soul/spirit? If the body was made in the image originally, but had that image damaged at the fall, can the image be restored or repaired during an earthly life, or can that only happen with transfigured bodies in the resurrection? Or is this a process or case of progressing towards a goal, rather than an either/or thing?

3) While not denying that death is the result of sin, there are certain Eastern Orthodox theologians who say that death was also a gift and good thing, in that it puts a check on the potential for wickedness and reminds us of our need for God. What do the Oriental Orthodox think of this?

4) Regarding the redemptive work of Christ, to who or what was a ransom paid?

5) Eastern Orthodox theologians make a sharp distinction between image and likeness. However, I have read that this is not nearly so clear, if present at all, in Hebrew. How do Oriental Orthodox theologians approach this? Are there any differences among those who were perhaps not so reliant on (or did not do most of their work in) Greek?

6) Is our eternal status fixed upon death, or is there possibility for change. For examples... can suffering be relieved if we are condemned? is there any concept or purging or cleansing? and can someone repent in the afterlife after having at first been condemned?

7) Do animals and plants have souls, and if so what are the differences when compared with humans?

This would make for a good discussion.

A general rule of thumb on "OO views" of these.  If you can quote it from the pre-Chalcedonian list of fathers, then you have part of your answer, since it seems many people today will be content using those sources to answer these questions.  Presently, we OOs are still in our infancy figuring out how to offer answers based on our own identity, rather than rely on extra-OO sources (usually these days, we've been quite reliant on EO sources).

Furthermore, we have varying traditions that explain things possibly in different ways, although we might be saying the same thing.  Sometimes I can get surprising "differing" traditions in Ethiopian or Armenian perspectives.  Syriac and Alexandrian traditions also have their richly recorded traditions.

Coptic priest and theologian, Fr. Tadros Malaty does have a series of books where he likes to quote MOSTLY from Alexandrian fathers to give a "Coptic" view, like St. Dionysius the Great, Origen (his favorite), St. Clement of Alexandria, Pope St. Theophilus, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril the Great, and maybe a little bit of St. Severus here and Cappapodian fathers there.

We have yet to really delve deeply into writings of those post-Chalcedonian fathers that truly help in forming a distinct "OO identity" of things.  We pretty much skimmed through them through various scholars that did the work for us  Tongue to at least affirm some necessary beliefs and controversies in their continuity.
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« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2014, 10:17:37 PM »

Thanks to Mina's excellent introduction, I can begin taking a stab (more like poking with a spoon) at this...

1) How often is tripartite language used (body, soul, spirit)?

I would not say it is rare at all, but I don't know how often is "often" to you.  Certainly it is used in just about every Liturgy. 

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Is the spirit considered an aspect or part of the soul? How does the spirit differ in its role or function compared to the soul.

Pass for now.  Tongue

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2) Was the whole person (including the body) made 'in the image,' or only the soul/spirit? If the body was made in the image originally, but had that image damaged at the fall, can the image be restored or repaired during an earthly life, or can that only happen with transfigured bodies in the resurrection? Or is this a process or case of progressing towards a goal, rather than an either/or thing?

I'm not sure how to answer this.  Scripture says that "man" was created in God's image and likeness, and not merely one or the other "part" of him.  While we believe that physical death (separation of soul and body) does not suddenly make the human person not a human person, I'm not sure we would say that only the soul was created in the image of God because God brought both soul and body into existence out of nothing at once: man comes into existence as a unity, and death, which effects the separation of the two, is what is unnatural.   

Do EO theologians identify only a part of man as being created in the image and likeness, and not the whole?  Perhaps ours do too and I am missing something, but at the moment I don't think so.  I don't remember any significant difference in our views from my recollection of my classes.   

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3) While not denying that death is the result of sin, there are certain Eastern Orthodox theologians who say that death was also a gift and good thing, in that it puts a check on the potential for wickedness and reminds us of our need for God. What do the Oriental Orthodox think of this?

I've taught this, FWIW.  Tongue

I don't know that I've described it as a "gift", however, or even a "good thing", but rather as a mercy. 

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4) Regarding the redemptive work of Christ, to who or what was a ransom paid?

What are the options? 

Quote
5) Eastern Orthodox theologians make a sharp distinction between image and likeness. However, I have read that this is not nearly so clear, if present at all, in Hebrew. How do Oriental Orthodox theologians approach this? Are there any differences among those who were perhaps not so reliant on (or did not do most of their work in) Greek?

I can't say for sure.  I'm fairly sure that we don't make the sharp distinction made by various EO theologians because Syriac, IIRC, is like Hebrew in this respect.  But it's not like the distinction is unknown. 

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6) Is our eternal status fixed upon death, or is there possibility for change. For examples... can suffering be relieved if we are condemned? is there any concept or purging or cleansing? and can someone repent in the afterlife after having at first been condemned?

In general, it is fixed.  The possibility for change is there, but not by the active effort of the person, but rather by his passive receiving of the mercy of God poured forth in response to the prayers of the Church and individual members thereof. 

Quote
7) Do animals and plants have souls, and if so what are the differences when compared with humans?

The difference is the image and likeness of God. 
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« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2014, 03:15:59 PM »

A general rule of thumb on "OO views" of these.  If you can quote it from the pre-Chalcedonian list of fathers, then you have part of your answer, since it seems many people today will be content using those sources to answer these questions.  Presently, we OOs are still in our infancy figuring out how to offer answers based on our own identity, rather than rely on extra-OO sources (usually these days, we've been quite reliant on EO sources).

Furthermore, we have varying traditions that explain things possibly in different ways, although we might be saying the same thing.  Sometimes I can get surprising "differing" traditions in Ethiopian or Armenian perspectives.  Syriac and Alexandrian traditions also have their richly recorded traditions.

Coptic priest and theologian, Fr. Tadros Malaty does have a series of books where he likes to quote MOSTLY from Alexandrian fathers to give a "Coptic" view, like St. Dionysius the Great, Origen (his favorite), St. Clement of Alexandria, Pope St. Theophilus, St. Athanasius, St. Cyril the Great, and maybe a little bit of St. Severus here and Cappapodian fathers there.

We have yet to really delve deeply into writings of those post-Chalcedonian fathers that truly help in forming a distinct "OO identity" of things.  We pretty much skimmed through them through various scholars that did the work for us  Tongue to at least affirm some necessary beliefs and controversies in their continuity.

This is interesting, is there a concerted effort at working through this, or is it still in the stage where it's just someone here and there who takes an interest and works on it (perhaps? as a labor of love)? Would it be correct to assume that the Oriental Orthodox are more open to diversity in theology (if not dogma) than the Eastern Orthodox or Catholics? I have wondered about that, but the Oriental Orthodox have also seemed more conservative in some things, so I thought maybe I was misunderstanding.

What do you think the obstacles have been, and perhaps still are? Diversity of languages (and difficult ones at that), operating under difficult circumstances (Muslim, etc.), trained theologians who have time to devote to such things rather than ministering to a flock, just general interest in such things, or...?

Also, what do Oriental Orthodox make of theologians and saints of the Eastern Orthodox or Catholics who are post-division, but who nonetheless still seem to have much to offer (especially if, in cases like that of St. Maximos the Confessor, the theology is largely grounded in earlier fathers)? Is it like how the Eastern Orthodox view post-schism Catholic theologians/saints with a wary eye, or more accepting, or less, or...?
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« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2014, 03:44:42 PM »

1) How often is tripartite language used (body, soul, spirit)?

I would not say it is rare at all, but I don't know how often is "often" to you.  Certainly it is used in just about every Liturgy.  

I don't know that I would say that mentioning it is rare in Eastern Orthodoxy, but I don't think most people really think about, for example, what the difference is or roles are of the spirit and soul. Having said that, while it's not rare to mention body/soul/spirit, I would think that the bulk of mentions focuses on body/soul. I'm not sure if that's just for the sake of simplicity, or it's easier to teach and remember, or what.

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2) Was the whole person (including the body) made 'in the image,' or only the soul/spirit? If the body was made in the image originally, but had that image damaged at the fall, can the image be restored or repaired during an earthly life, or can that only happen with transfigured bodies in the resurrection? Or is this a process or case of progressing towards a goal, rather than an either/or thing?

I'm not sure how to answer this.  Scripture says that "man" was created in God's image and likeness, and not merely one or the other "part" of him.  While we believe that physical death (separation of soul and body) does not suddenly make the human person not a human person, I'm not sure we would say that only the soul was created in the image of God because God brought both soul and body into existence out of nothing at once: man comes into existence as a unity, and death, which effects the separation of the two, is what is unnatural.    

Do EO theologians identify only a part of man as being created in the image and likeness, and not the whole?  Perhaps ours do too and I am missing something, but at the moment I don't think so.  I don't remember any significant difference in our views from my recollection of my classes.

If I recall correctly there may be some disagreement, with some saying that only the soul(/spirit) is made in the image, while others (including St. Gregory Palamas) believed they both were. However, I may be overstating that, and some may just have been silent on the matter, without outright rejecting the idea that the body was made in the image. I did a bit of searching before this post, and couldn't find what I was looking for, but I will keep an eye out in the future. There is also the complication of prelapsarian and post-last-judgment factors, such that while the image and likeness of God as it relates to our soul may have been tarnished/lost in one sense as it relates to the soul, it may have been lost in another sense as it relates to the body (if it was indeed made in the image), such that when we lost the bodies we had in paradise we entered a state or context (fallen earthly life) in which this original state could not be recovered, and perhaps will only be recovered (and improved upon) after the final judgment, when we receive our earthly bodies, but transfigured and glorified. If this is the case, then we would not be able to recover as much by God's grace in this life of the image/likeness as it relates to the body as we can recover as related to the soul.

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3) While not denying that death is the result of sin, there are certain Eastern Orthodox theologians who say that death was also a gift and good thing, in that it puts a check on the potential for wickedness and reminds us of our need for God. What do the Oriental Orthodox think of this?

I've taught this, FWIW.  Tongue

I don't know that I've described it as a "gift", however, or even a "good thing", but rather as a mercy.  

I wonder if I spoke in too exaggerated a manner here...  angel

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4) Regarding the redemptive work of Christ, to who or what was a ransom paid?

What are the options?  

I don't think this would be exhaustive, but: 1) The Devil, 2) Death, 3) Sin, 4) God, 5) Fallenness, 6) Salvation/Redemption

Quote
Quote
7) Do animals and plants have souls, and if so what are the differences when compared with humans?

The difference is the image and likeness of God.  

I assume you mean that humans are made in the image and likeness, while animals and plants are not, but is there possibly any discussion about whether animals or plants have souls, and if so what that means? Or more generally, what is a soul? or are Oriental Orthodox more likely to follow someone like St. John Chrysostom and smack someone upside the head for even asking such a question?  angel
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« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2014, 11:47:23 PM »

This is interesting, is there a concerted effort at working through this, or is it still in the stage where it's just someone here and there who takes an interest and works on it (perhaps? as a labor of love)? Would it be correct to assume that the Oriental Orthodox are more open to diversity in theology (if not dogma) than the Eastern Orthodox or Catholics? I have wondered about that, but the Oriental Orthodox have also seemed more conservative in some things, so I thought maybe I was misunderstanding.

At the moment, and I'm speaking for the Coptic Church here, our Church members are most likely to focus on pre-Chalcedonian figures to answer these questions.  Every once in a while, we might even have a writing from St. Severus, but usually his letters that are available for translation to us ends up just quoting from pre-Chalcedonian fathers anyway.  Perhaps, one can say St. Severus is one of the very first Church fathers who quotes long passages from earlier church fathers to answer various questions, as opposed to giving his own opinion on things.

I think though, if you are able to read very old archaic Arabic, you'll be able to read some of the writings of our medieval Coptic theologians, like Abba Boulos al Bushi, the sons of Al-Assal, Abba Severus of Al-Ashmumein, and maybe some more later bishops and priests' writings (ever since Coptic started dying down basically).  The problem is the more contemporary the Arabic writings, the more "incomplete" and truly in "Western captivity" it was.  So for those who have a hard time with archaic Arabic, the more recent Arabic carried sad theological consequences.

For our conservative stance, this probably comes from the canons of the sons of Al-Assal, among other notable Coptic theologians:

http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/cdm/ref/collection/cce/id/1456

There was a translation of them somewhere in coptichymns.net, but that site is down, and all the stuff in there should be moved to lacopts.org sometime soon.  If I find the canon collection, I'll share them with you.  They are a very interesting set of canons, and indeed we see them practiced a lot today.  It has been told that Safi ibn al Assal first heard a lot of them from a Nestorian bishop.  It's very possible that many of our canons we may adopt from other churches as well.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are Byzantine canons against any cleric that goes swimming for instance.  That is strictly followed by our church!

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What do you think the obstacles have been, and perhaps still are? Diversity of languages (and difficult ones at that), operating under difficult circumstances (Muslim, etc.), trained theologians who have time to devote to such things rather than ministering to a flock, just general interest in such things, or...?

Ever since the 10th century, the Coptic/Greek languages started to die down.  Coptic Christians have become more Arab speaking, and the first Coptic pope ever to "Arabacize" the Church was Pope Gabriel, I or II, I forget which one, I think II more likely because it was after him we had quite a "renaissance" of Copto-Arabic theologians.  But what is unique is that they were also scholastic in nature due to the Islamic culture (which is also scholastic in nature until today).  I find it also interesting that it is around this very same time Moses Maimonides also developed his systemic "scholastic" Jewish theology as well for the Judeao-Arabic tradition.  But in any case, these fathers, while known, are not necessarily highly read.  I know one friend of mine, excellent Arabic reader, and would have a very difficult time reading and understanding these writings.

We also had some periods of persecution and mass conversion because of extremely high Jizya taxes, and corruption increased in the church.  So the Church seemed to be on survival mode for quite some time, more than a theological mode.  This left a huge gap until much later when we were exposed to missionaries.  This is where Western captivity started creeping in.

But here we are...we survived.  So we're in a period of reassessment and renaissance, and this all started by the newly canonized St. Habib Girgis.

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Also, what do Oriental Orthodox make of theologians and saints of the Eastern Orthodox or Catholics who are post-division, but who nonetheless still seem to have much to offer (especially if, in cases like that of St. Maximos the Confessor, the theology is largely grounded in earlier fathers)? Is it like how the Eastern Orthodox view post-schism Catholic theologians/saints with a wary eye, or more accepting, or less, or...?

Some of their writings have crept in.  One in particular I can think of is Bishop John of Damascus.  His writings became available in Arabic, and it seems we used him as a source, but with a wary mind understanding he is Chalcedonian.  But from what I can gather, St. John Chrysostom (pre-Chalcedonian) was actually very popularly translated as well, and he was very influential in the Coptic Church during these times as well.  I can't think of any other EO sources, but if there are any, it's probably canonical in nature, as I mentioned before.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2014, 11:49:44 PM by minasoliman » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2014, 07:06:48 PM »

Thanks for the info! I thought I had said that when I intitially read it, but apparently I hadn't. I came back into the thread again though to post something I had read today, as it relates to anthropology, and also to who the ransom might have been paid, and it's by someone I assume both Oriental and Eastern Orthodox look to.

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This wonderful thing is to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. But what says the apostle? But we preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness, but to us that are saved Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. In the dead body is life. Here is redemption; here is light. Here the Lord comes to death, and discourses with him, and bids him bring the souls out of hell and death, and give them back to Him. Behold then, death, troubled at these things, goes in to his ministers, and gathers together all his powers; and the prince of wickedness produces the bond-deeds, and says, “See, these obeyed my words; see how men worshipped us.” But God, who is a just judge, displays His justice here also, and says to him, “Adam obeyed thee, and thou didst take possession of all the hearts of him. Humanity obeyed thee. What is My body doing here? This is without sin. That body of the first Adam was under obligation to thee, and thou hast a right to keep the bond-deeds of it; but to Me all bear witness that I never sinned. I owe thee nothing, and all bear witness that I am the Son of God.

Above the heavens came a voice and bore witness upon the earth, This is My beloved Son; hear Him. John witnesses, Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world; and the scripture again, Who did no sin, neither was guile found in Him; and, The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me. And thou thyself, O Satan, bearest witness to Me, saying, I know Thee, who Thou art, the Son of God; and again, What have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth? art Thou come to torment us before the time? There are three that bear witness to Me— He that is above the heavens sends forth a voice; they that are on earth; and thou thyself. Therefore I purchase the body that was sold to thee through the first Adam; I cancel thy bonds . I paid the debts of Adam, when I was crucified and descended into hell; and I command thee, O hell and darkness and death, bring out the imprisoned souls of Adam.” Thus the evil powers, stricken with terror, give back the imprisoned Adam.

But when you hear that at that time the Lord delivered the souls from hell and darkness, and went down to hell, and did a glorious work, do not imagine that these things are so very far from your own soul. Man is capable of admitting and receiving the evil one. Death keeps fast hold of the souls of Adam, and the thoughts of the soul lie imprisoned in the darkness. When you hear of sepulchres, do not think only of visible ones; your own heart is a sepulchre and a tomb. When the prince of wickedness and his angels burrow there , and make paths and thoroughfares there, on which the powers of Satan walk into your mind and thoughts, are you not a hell, a tomb, a sepulchre, a dead man towards God? There it was that Satan coined reprobate silver. In this soul he sowed seeds of bitterness. It is leavened with old leaven; a fountain of mire springs there. Well, then, the Lord comes into souls that seek after Him, into the deep of the heart-hell, and there lays His command upon death, saying, “Bring out the imprisoned souls that are seeking after Me, which thou detainest by force.” So He breaks through the heavy stones that lie on the soul, opens the sepulchres, raises up the man that is dead indeed, brings out of the dark jail the imprisoned soul.

-- Pseudo-Macarius, Fifty Spiritual Homilies, 11.10-11
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« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2014, 12:18:01 AM »

Thank you for that passage. I find it very very interesting.

I want to make a confession to you.  I have very close friends who I had discussions with this issue on.  And until now, I'm still divided in thought on this issue.  I almost want to be adamant and stubborn in this opinion, but I withhold final opinion on this issue because it's still quite strange. The idea of the ransom at first glance I thought reprehensible and I would reject it as if lumped with the juridical view.  Then after reading a bit of St. Athanasius, I throught maybe there was something juridical after all. I remember getting into debates with this issue, angry at the prejudice that exists concerning the fight against juridical views as of it was a Western heresy.

But I have close friends who are telling me "I'm reading into something that's not intended."  So there should be some more research out that could set the record straight for me and maybe I could stand corrected.

And this is reflected presently in the Coptic Church. There are two camps in this issue of soteriology. I guess you can compare this to say Vladimir Moss vs. Fr. John Romanides. Very similar. You will have staunch defenders of juridical and you will have staunch rejecters of juridical.  No one denies the ontological view.  And those who do hold the juridical view while they tended to be associated with those who rejected deification, this is not necessarily the case now.  Many I know who do defend the juridical view are also staunch defenders of theosis.  It comes to the surprise of many that even the famous Coptic mystic and theologian monk Abouna Matta al Maskeen had very similar juridical views as been demonstrated by Pseudo-Macarius here.  So it's something I continue to grapple with, although the quote you gave seems to sorta confirm my thoughts on this.

I have contemplated on the ransom idea for some time and I came up with something. The term "ransom" or "debt" has been given different meanings at times.  It could be a mouse trap for the devil, or a free loving unneeded sacrifice offered to the Father (as opposed to appeasement to an angry God), or fulfillment of the Mosaic law as well as the law of natural death, making both obsolete in their power and keeping with the Divine Consistency.  All have been given the term "ransom" or "debt" I feel, and all equally applicable if you carefully define it appropriately without incurring some sort of necessity or weakness in God.  But that has been my personal take on it thus far.
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Vain existence can never exist, for "unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain." (Psalm 127)

If the faith is unchanged and rock solid, then the gates of Hades never prevailed in the end.
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