A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part XXXIX.

A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part XXXIX. November 24, 2011

Introduction and Part II

“The Son is in the Father, and the Spirit is in the Son, and the Father is in both. Through faith man knows all the invisible and intelligible realities. Faith involves a voluntary assent of the soul.”[1]

Having pointed out how God is working for the salvation of all, our text brings us a brief discussion of the nature of the Godhead. The way it enters our text has led some to think it is an interpolation into the text; this is quite possible, but it does not mean it was not added by the original author or editor as a way to point to the full Christian nature of the text as a whole.[2] The sentiment in this chapter does work with what we see with the rest of the text — we must be willing to learn from God, to assent to what God has to say to us. We must accept revelation through faith if we want to understand the nature of reality. The truth transcends what we can normally learn through our own devices. We must at some point or another let go of what we think we know and let God speak to us and reveal to us what we cannot know without him. Our gift of reason, which is a powerful tool, can only lead us so far – by itself, it can lead is nowhere; it needs data to use if it is to make conclusions. When revelation comes to us, if we accept it with faith, we will be able to know more about the nature of things. When revelation is from God and about the very nature of the Godhead, we are given the necessary foundation for us to know all the “invisible and intelligible realities.”

Coming to know God will lead us to an understanding of everything else. Knowing the artist who painted a particular painting will give the viewer access to the mind of the painter and to know what they intended with his work; knowing God will give us the foundation necessary to interpret his creation, to see the meaning he intended for it. To know God is to accept his revelation, the revelation found in the incarnation of Christ. This revelation tells us how much God loves us and what God is willing to do for us out of that love – the revelation is the revelation of God as love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 RSV). It is only by knowing God as love do we realize we can know God and by united to him. God has granted us access to his innermost being; through the cross, he has shown us that he has made room for us to experience and participate in the divine life. Through Christ, we are led to the heart of God and there, we are free to experience the fullness of God from within God and not separate from him. We know God through the incarnation; we know God as Trinity through the incarnation. While there are traces of the Trinity residing in the whole of creation, we would not be able to know God as Trinity save for God’s revealing of himself to us in Christ. God transcends all systematic attempts to get at him from below and so cannot be, in the final sense, an object of human science, though what he reveals of Himself in and through the Son can then be discussed and used by our reasoning ability to better understand God:

God, then, being not a subject for demonstration, cannot be the object of science. But the Son is wisdom, and knowledge, and truth, and all else that has affinity thereto. He is also susceptible of demonstration and description. And all the powers of the Spirit, becoming collectively one thing, terminate in the same point – that is, in the Son. But He is incapable of being declared, in respect of the ideas of each one of His powers. And the Son is neither simply one thing as one thing, nor many things as parts, but one thing as all things; whence also He is all things. For He is the circle of all powers rolled and united into one unity. Wherefore the Word is called the Alpha and the Omega, of whom alone the end becomes beginning, and ends against at the original beginning without any break. Wherefore also to believe in Him, and by Him, is to become a unit, being indissolubly united in Him; and to disbelieve is to be separated, disjoined, divided.[3]

God creates the pathways by which we come to him so that we can be saved. But once we get to him, we must assent to what he reveals; it can be mysterious and confusing, indeed, full of paradoxes – but it is there where we find our true test, to see how much we have let go of ourselves so that we can follow God with pure faith.  God reveals himself, but leaves it up to us for us to assent to him or not, to have fidelity to him or to return from where we came, to the prison of the self, where there is no hope or salvation. The Father is in the Son and the Spirit is in the Son, so that when we accept the revelation of God in the Son, we get the fullness of God as our reward; but if we deny the Son, if we truly say no to the Son when we understand who it is we are responding to, he will give us our wish, and there will be no salvation, no hope, no transcendence, and so no ability to see the world as it is but only the appearance of the real covered by the stain of sin.

[1] “On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 350 (#141).

[2] Thus, there is little doubt that Anthony or one of his followers could have written this chapter.

[3] St. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata in ANF2: 438.

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