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

A Study Of “On The Character of Men And the Virtuous Life”: Part XLVI February 28, 2012

Introduction and Part II

“God’s providence controls the universe. It is present everywhere. Providence is the sovereign Logos of God, imprinting on the unformed materiality of the world, making and fashioning all things. Matter could not have acquired an articulated structure were it not for the directing power of the Logos, who is the Image, Intellect, Wisdom and Providence of God.”[1]

The Logos, the second person of the Trinity, is said to be the force of providence because the Logos is the Form of forms, the Logos which the different logoi in the world reflect. Everything participates in the Logos, for the Logos has given everything their form: “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3 RSV). The Logos leaves it imprint on every created form, so that all things point to and demonstrate, in their own way, the work of the Logos. The form which a thing has for its nature establishes its potentiality. What a thing is by nature determines what it can and cannot do by itself.

The Logos has delineated an order to the world, creating a chain of being which reflects different natures with different potentialities. Not everything reflects God in the same way, with the same potential.  This order demonstrates one of the ways God’s providence works in the world. This order must not be seen as a deterministic order, where God forces upon each particular thing how it will work out its potential, but rather, God has provided them, through its nature, a range of potential ends. God’s providence is first established, therefore, in the complex matrix of possibilities which God has established for creation. This matrix is not a free for all; God has eliminated many possible ends by not having natures which could lead to them being created.

For those things which have been given life, that is, some level of self-determination, their potentiality provides many possible ends, ends which result, at least in part, from how they act. Providence has given them a stage on which to act. However, the world must not be seen independent from God. Providence not only is seen in creation, but in the way God continues to interact with the world, allowing the world to be lifted up by God’s grace and to transcend its own natural potential through the infinite potentiality of God. The Logos has a special providential role because it is in the incarnation of the Logos that the world is lifted up and all that is within it is given the possibility of a greater end than could be foreseen in their origin. “An innovation is made upon nature, and God is made Man.”[2] By the hypostatic union, the whole of creation is elevated.

For those things with free will, the way they interact with the grace brought into the world by the incarnation of the Logos will determine their eternal end. This providence predestines through divine foreknowledge the end of everything, but it does so in accordance with free will and not apart from it:

For the true predestination of God, which before all things were made, which by it and through it and in it were made, foresaw their making in measure and number and weight, and disposed that they would be made is truly God. For it is the willing cause and the causative will of all creatures, among which it created a rational creature to understand it, in order that it could enjoy its own highest good, that is, the contemplation of its creator. And it bestowed upon it its gift, namely that of free choice of its will, so that by using that gift well, that is by obeying dutifully and humbly the command of its creator, it would always justly and happily live. But if it used the same gift badly, that is, to abandon the highest good, namely its creator, and to cling with perverse will to corruptible goods, unhappiness would duly follow as punishment.[3]

In this way, because the Logos is the establisher of order and the bringer of grace to the world, it is understandable why our author appropriates providence to the Logos. As with all appropriations, we must not see that as denying the work and role of the Father and Spirit in the guidance of the world. The work of the Trinity is one work:

The Father does all things through the Word in the Holy Spirit. In this way is the unity of the Holy Trinity preserved, and in this way is the one God preached in the Church, who is above all and through all and in all [Eph 4.6] – above all as Father, as beginning, as source; through all, through the Word; in all, in the Holy Spirit. It is not a Trinity in name alone and in linguistic expression, but in truth and actual existence.[4]

But in the personal work of the Logos, the Logos forms the natures and, in the incarnation, raises them up according to the way the Logos has eternally decided to act in the world.

For the wisdom and sagacity of God the Father is the Lord Jesus Christ, who holds together the universals of being by the power of wisdom, and embraces their complementary parts by the sagacity of understanding, since by nature he is the fashioner and provider of all, and through himself draws into one what is divided, and abolishes war between beings, and binds everything into peaceful friendship and undivided harmony, both what is in heaven and what is on earth (Col. 1:20), as the divine Apostle says.[5]

 

 

While a Christian could write this text, it is not as if it had to be written by a Christian. The Logos was of interest to ancient philosophers, such as the Stoics. The influence of Stoicism is found in the overarching root text, so this paragraph does not have to be read in a Christian light. Nonetheless, it is not difficult to believe that Anthony could have written this text. As Samuel Rubenson points out, the Stoic-influenced ideas of the Logos, seen in many patristic writers, are a part of the Anthonite literature as well.[6] While Anthony in the letters focused on the rational application of this Logos-based theology for his monastic followers, it is clear that we want to be rational so as to be imitators of Jesus, who is rational because he is the Logos. So we have a root text which is influenced by Stoicism and yet allows for and follows a Logos theology. This is the kind of writing we would expect from Anthony; it is certainly a line of thought we see in his friend and biographer, St. Athanasius.

 


[1] On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life,” 353 (#156).

[2] St. Gregory Nazianzen, “Oration on the Holy Lights” in NPNF2(7): 356.

[3] John Scotus Eriugena, Treatise on Divine Predestination. Trans. Mary Brennan (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002), 28-9.

[4] Saint Athanasius, “Letter One to Serapion” in Works on the Spirit: Athanasius the Great and Didymus  the Blind. Trans. and intr. by Mark DelCogliano, Andrew Radde-Gallwitz and Lewis Ayres (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 97.

[5] St Maximus the Confessor, “Difficulty 41” in Maximus the Confessor. Trans. Andrew Louth (London: Routledge, 1996),161-2.

[6] See Rubenson, The Letters of Anthony, 73, 186.

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