How heresies shaped the development of Christology up to the end of the fourth century

Below is the final version of my essay for course CF103 on Christology and Trinitarian Theology. I received solid feedback after my draft submission, but also some critical additions I needed to make before this final submission. I tried my best to address these as per the suggestions of my tutor. My thanks to my tutor Rev. Dr. Alexander Tefft for his guidance and time in extensive feedback provided. 

Katina Michael

This paper is about heresy that shaped the development of Christology up to the end of the fourth century. Heresy can be defined as a deviation away from established Orthodoxy (i.e., the right beliefs) into error. In Christology, the Person of Christ refers to the study of the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ as they coexist within the one person. Specifically, this raises the question of who Christ was? Christology is the meeting point between the human nature of Christ (the Son of Man), and the divine nature of Christ (the Son of God, the Word of God, the Divine Logos) represented together in the one person (Gk prosopon, πρόσωπον) without mixture. Departing from the truth of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is not only dangerous but destructive because it disrupts the transformative process of theosis that can be attained, since Christ died for our sins on the cross, for one truth not several relative truths. Diluting the truth or changing it in any way, has detrimental ripple effects for the ekklesia at large but also for the impact it would have on believers as their faith would be based on a moving target.

I hope to prove that heresy predominantly took the form of either denying Christ’s divinity (in extreme forms of anthropological maximalism), or denying Christ’s humanity (in extreme forms of anthropological minimalism), consequentially imbalancing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity formed by the consensus of the Early Church Fathers. Two well-defined heresies in the Arian strain (Christ is less than God) and the Apollinarian strain (Christ is less than man) will be compared as representative of other earlier heresies, for example, Ebionism and Docetism respectively. I will present evidence of how Christological debates between various points of view were refuted by the Apostolic Fathers who focused their attention on the God-man and the Incarnation in the Ecumenical Councils. This culminated in the formation of the doctrine of hypostatic union which recognised that Christ was fully divine and at the same time fully human. Of great significance is that heresies chiefly impacted upon soteriology (i.e., the religious doctrine of Salvation), and inexorably on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Early Church Fathers as a result sought to document their beliefs forming Christian doctrine in the process, and eliminating erroneous points of view in the expression of the Christian faith.

The early church struggled to express the ineffable mystery of Jesus Christ. They were forced to articulate their experiences out of necessity and not for want of philosophical interest. They had to explicitly find the words to document what they believed based on a tangible experience of Christ, as opposed to what they did not believe or which deviated from Christ’s own teachings and those of the Apostles. Thus, the Apostles communicated their eyewitness experience to their disciples through oral transmission, who then communicated it down the continuum of the Church generation after generation, which we now know as Holy Tradition. But gradually, the Church had to use written formulations based on the original preaching of the Gospel to dispel certain points of view that were deemed to be inconsistent with the deposit of faith (Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition). Enter the term “heresy” (Gk hairesis, αἵρεσις), defined as “the formal denial or doubt of any defined doctrine of the Catholic faith”(Cross, 2005: 762). In antiquity the term denoted a “choice” or “thing chosen” or following a particular “philosophical school” or “school of thought”. In this way, heresy in the early church was understood as a particular “point of view” that was deemed to be wrong because it did not accord with the basic experience of the Apostles as witnessed to in their experience of Christ. So one reason why we have texts from this period regarding the Person of Christ is to eliminate points of view that were deemed to be erroneous and inconsistent with the Apostolic preaching. And the second reason was to express to the wider Graeco-Roman pagan world, concepts and language that were in some way comprehensible toward drawing unbelievers to the faith.

When we look at the early church, particularly as we see the beginning of the reflection on the Person of Christ, there is an attempt to answer the question that Christ himself posed to his disciples in Mark 8:29: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter was able to answer categorically to Him: “You are the Christ.” Yet, when Christ asked, “Who do men say that I am?” his disciples answered: “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (Mark 8:27, 28). Even after the witness of the single most important transhistorical event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, still there were those who did not accept that Christ was God and formed their own elucidations, and others who believed in Christ’s deity but said a god would never take on a material body and suffer shamefully on a cross and die. Saint Paul and Saint John the Evangelist through their respective epistles warn the faithful to beware of the false teachers (2 Peter 2:1, 4, 12, 18) and the false prophets (1 John 4:1). The Apostles, were not only warning of a time far into the future, but in their Sitz im Leben, i.e. current context and setting. Thus, inconsistencies on who Christ was, even arose within the lifetime of the Apostles. Summing up the tendencies of these early heresies, without risking oversimplification of these sects, there are those who denied Christ’s divinity and those that denied Christ’s humanity, although it was seldom that “black and white”. Of course, unrelated to heresy, there were also those Early Church Fathers who emphasised the divine nature over and above the human nature of Christ (anthropological minimalism, e.g. the Alexandrian school of thought that emphasised the Logos-Sarx), and those who emphasised the human nature over and above the divine nature (anthropological maximalism, e.g. the Antiochian school of thought that emphasised the Logos-Anthropos) (Rausch, 2003: 153). An emphasis of one nature over the other did not equate to heresy, but extreme points of view that significantly unbalanced the symmetry in the God-man, such as Arianism and Apollinarianism that ensued into the 4th century, emphasised that Christ had only one nature, not two, i.e., one physis. Looking at these two heresies in some detail suggests that an express denial of the fullness of the truth was adopted by presbyters who lead the faithful astray.

Arianism: Denying Christ's Divinity

A major fourth century heresy was Arianism, named after a priest of Alexandria, Arius (256-336 A.D.) who was taught and mentored by Lucian of Antioch. Arianism in summary, denied the divinity of Jesus Christ. In 318 Arius wrote: “the Son is only a creature, made out of nothing, like all other created beings. He may be called God but only by an extension of language, as the first and greatest person chosen to be divine intermediary in the creation and redemption of the world” (Socrates, 2017). In his Thalia, Arius categorically stated: “there was [a time] when he (the Son) was not” (McDonald, 1975: 23). According to Arius, Christ might have sinned but did not, and was thus adopted by God because of his merits, by grace. Haldon (1966b: 41) writes that Arius believed that: “instead of being God he is a kind of demiurge who advanced in virtue and merit and thus came to be closely associated with the Father. But his nature is not of the same substance as the Father’s.” Most of the heretical sects that denied Christ’s divinity held boldly anti-Trinitarian beliefs. Haldon writes, that even the notion of the Incarnation (that the second Person of the Trinity became flesh and assumed a human nature) was reduced but to a figure of speech. In the Arian way of thinking “the logos was created and not divine”, Arius and his followers recognised Christ as Messiah but denied that he was “the natural Son of God” (Haldon 1966: 41).

It was Saint Athanasius the Great (296-373) who was the main obstacle to the rise of Arianism in the East, and one of the primary reasons why the First Council of Nicaea was convoked in 325. At this Council, Arianism was condemned (Schaff, 1894: 134) and the Nicene Creed formed, directly making emphasis of the words “begotten, not made”, making it clear that Christ was an eternal being and not created by God the Father: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (The First Council of Nicaea, 325). The specific words incorporated into the Nicene Creed was "being of one substance” (Gk homooúsios, ὁμοούσιος) rather than Arius' heretical teaching “being of a similar substance” (homoioúsios, ὁμοιούσιος). Note the crucial difference, Arius’ ὅμοιος, hómoios, "similar", rather than ὁμός, homós, "same" (Erickson, 1966: 55-57). Athanasius, and others like Saint Alexander of Alexandria, upheld that man’s deification would only be possible if Christ indeed was truly God. If Christ were only a “creature”, then he could not be worshipped (Macleod, 1998: 123), and he would be unable to redeem or unite man to God (deify) (Schaff, 1910: 644-649). Athanasius charges Arius and his followers with dualism and heathenism, the worship of two separate “Gods”- an uncreated one and a created one- accusing them of polytheism (Schaff, 1910: 648f). In the final decades of the 4th century, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, and Saint Basil the Great each played a significant role in reconciling with the many semi-Arians, swaying further theological momentum toward the Nicene Creed. In the Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381, outcomes of the Nicene Creed were reaffirmed and expanded upon. By the 7th century, Arianism had all but vanished. Apollinarianism which we will consider next, was not of the magnitude or threat to Christianity as Arianism. The numerous edicts against it very early on, meant that it dwindled as a movement by 420 A.D. It could be said that Apollinarianism was diametrically opposite to Arianism in every sense, save for the fact that it too presented that Christ had only one nature. Arianism and Semi-Arianism were much more dangerous a heresy to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, because in denying Christ’s divinity, it then followed that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was destabilised and open to ongoing attack.

Apolliniarianism: Denying Christ’s Humanity

Apollinarianism is a heretical doctrine of Apollinaris the younger (310-390), bishop of Laodicea in Syria. According to Schaff (1910: 708-710), Apollinaris was esteemed by many Alexandrian fathers, including Saint Athanasius the Great, for his virtue, classical culture, scholarly vindication, and commitment to the Nicene faith. Schaff (1910) notes, Apollinaris fundamentally took the crux of the Trinitarian debates and reapplied them to the Person of Christ. He reoriented the discussion to the “psychical and pneumatic side of the humanity of Christ” (Schaff, 1910: 709), claiming that “Christ had a human body and only a sensitive soul, but had no rational mind [nous] or free human will. His rational soul was replaced by the Divine Logos, or word of God” (Haldon, 1966a: 33). But in his zeal to declare Christ’s deity, he attributed to Christ a human body and soul, but negated a human spirit, overriding the reasoning mind of Christ with the Divine Logos. Apollinaris is thus known for his ‘Word-flesh Christology’ which claimed that God did not conjoin with man but merely with the sarx (Erickson, 1966: 58ff). He believed entirely that God and flesh had collocated into one nature (McDonald, 1975: 16) because anything different would have meant that one nature would strive to overcome the other. As Kenneth Paul Wesche (1984: 85) has explained furthermore, Apollinaris’ beginning point was the “prosopon” derived out of Christ’s essence (ousia). Thus it logically followed that one person could only have one nature, “one physis, one hypostasis, one energeia, one prosopon”. Now for Apollinaris, who believed that Christ the Son was of one essence (homouousia) with the Father, it was only logical that Christ’s humanity would give way to his divine nature. For him, the only possible way for Christ to have been sinless, for instance, was to declare that Christ was also not fully human, and that he did not possess free will (Thomsett, 2011: 38).

Apollinaris’ teachings were condemned by the Roman councils in 377 and 381 and also the Council of Constantinople in 381. In 377, Pope Damasus I declared Apollinaris a heretic. In the seventh anathema in the Council of Rome 381 Pope Damasus I wrote against Apollinaris: “We pronounce anathema against them who say that the Word of God is in the human flesh in lieu and place of the human rational and intellective soul. For, the Word of God is the Son Himself. Neither did He come in the flesh to replace, but rather to assume and preserve from sin and save the rational and intellective soul of man” (Thomsett, 2011: 38). Schaff writes critically, that “Athanasius, the two Gregories, Basil and Epiphanius combated the Apollinarian error… from behind and from the flank, than in front” (Schaff, 1910: 713). The fundamental issue with Apollinaris’ teachings was specifically to do with soteriology: if Christ had not assumed then He has not healed (Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101). In support of his beliefs, Apollinaris cited the following Scripture: “and the Word became flesh” (John 1:14) and also Philippians 2:7 and 1 Corinthians 15:47. The Early Church Fathers retorted, that Saint John’s usage of the word “sarx” (i.e. flesh) as in other parts of Holy Scripture, were used to mean the whole human nature. In placing the Apollinarian controversy historically, the heretical sect disappeared in the early fifth century. The short-lived controversy acted to shift the debate from the Trinity to Christology, resulting in the Chalcedonian symbol in 451 A.D. Relatively speaking, Apollinarianism did not last long, disappearing by the early fifth century.

The Formation of the Doctrine of Hypostatic Union

Deviations in explaining the Person of Christ, inevitably have led to declarations deemed to be heretical by the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as recorded in the Ecumenical Councils. In the case of Arianism it was in denying the divinity of Christ which then had direct consequences on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and in the case of Apollinarism it was in denying the humanity of Christ and subsequent salvation of man. Both of these heresies were representative of many early Christian heresies that surfaced just after the time of Christ unduly influencing their followers to stray away from the truth to varying degrees (see Figure 1). Importantly, these Christological debates led to the critical formation of the doctrine of hypostatic union (Gk ὑπόστασις) in the First Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Simply put, hypostatic union is the union of the two natures of Christ, divine and human, in one and the same person. One nature of Christ, is not usurped and is not absorbed by the other, for instance, the human nature overtaken by the divine nature. And yet, both natures are united symmetrically in the person of Christ. We do not have two persons, or two Sons, or two Christs, but one person who is both fully God and fully man (Tyneh, 2003: 66f). They are not divided into two prosopa (Tyra, 2013: 97). And here is where two well-known Antiocheans, Theodore of Mopsuestia, followed by his disciple Nestorius, deviated from the truth in believing in a mere prosopic union of the two natures of Jesus Christ rather than the accepted doctrine of the hypostatic union. The confusion stemmed from the fact that translations of “prosopon” and “hypostasis” in the Greek equated to “person”, despite that a more correct translation of “prosopon” is “face”. It then follows, that “prosopon” is the form in which “hypostasis” appears (Grillmeier, 1975: 431).

 

Figure 1. Christological perspectives on the two natures of Christ adapted from Tyra (2013: 99).

Caption: The doctrine of the hypostatic union is shown at centre. Deviating from this centrist view, believers then fall into heresy emphasising the one nature position, declaring to varying degrees the denial of Christ’s humanity (e.g. Arianism) or the denial of Christ’s divinity (e.g. Apollinarianism).

 

In hypostatic union is the belief in a perfect and harmonious union of “two distinct but never separate natures” (Olson, 2002: 230). There is a communicatio idiomatum (characteristics) of the one nature to the other. We can say that the God-man thirsted, hungered, suffered and died and that he was all-wise, all-powerful, all-omniscient at the very same time. It is why Saint Athanasius the Great (c. 296–373) has written that the Son of God “…became man so that we might become God” (Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34) . It is this doctrine of divinization, deification, theosis, that provides humans with divine grace (atonement) toward the possibility of everlasting life (Bartos, 1999: 174). In the second century, Saint Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. 130–202) similarly said that God "became what we are in order to make us what he is himself" (Against Heresies, Book V), and then again, “If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods” (Against Heresies, Book V). Saint Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), similarly wrote: "Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god." (Exhortation to the Greeks, 1).

As Saint John Damascene (676-c. 754) put it so eloquently: “Whatever Christ said and did, He did so as the God-man, and all His actions and deeds were theandric… “He did not execute the human humanly for He was not only man but also God; nor did He execute the divine divinely, for He was not only God but also man” (Tyneh, 2003: 67f). No matter how hard theologians have tried to provide explanation, the hypostatic union remains a great divine mystery, “transcendent to our rational categories” (Baker, 2015). Tyra (2013: 97f) concurs that this was intentional as a “paradoxical protection of the mystery against rationalising explanations that effectively destroy the mystery”. It is clear from their contributions that the Early Church Fathers, spent considerable time concerned with refuting heresy, and in so doing articulated their position. It was in the Ecumenical Councils, one by one, that declarations became established and recognised as Christian doctrine and Dogmatic theology was formed. “The hypostatic union in Christ achieved an absolute proximity and communion of man and God, at the same time becoming the model and the power for the moral unity between man and God” (Bartos, 1999: 174). This mystery is what grants man the hope of eternal life, and cannot be scrutinised through deeper levels of logical reasoning for it would otherwise not be a mystery at all. It is also the very reason, why some Christian flocks have fallen into heresy to this day; the same errors repeating themselves over and over again in various guises throughout the centuries. When individuals take matters into their own hands, and proclaim to be above the consensus patrum, they will inevitably err, taking their followers with them. It is for this reason we must cling to the doctrines formed during the Ecumenical Councils.

 

References

Baker M. (2015) T.F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy: Theology in Reconciliation, USA: WipfandStock.

Bartos E. (1999) Deification in Eastern Orthodox Theology, Milton Keyes: Paternoster Press.

Cross FL. (2005) Heresy. In: Cross FL and Livingstone EA (eds) Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Erickson MJ. (1966) The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology, New York: Baker Book House.

Grillmeier A. (1975) Christ in Christian Tradition: from the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Haldon JA. (1966a) Apollinarianism. In: Haldon JA (ed) Modern Catholic Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 33.

Haldon JA. (1966b) Arianism. In: John A. Haldon SJ (ed) Modern Catholic Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 41.

Macleod D. (1998) The Person of Christ, Nottingham: SPCK Publishing.

McDonald HD. (1975) Development and Christology. Vox Evangelica 9: 5-27.

Olson RE. (2002) The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Rausch TP. (2003) Who is Jesus?: An Introduction to Christology, Minnesota: Liturgical Press.

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. Against the Arians, 1.39, 3.34.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies (Book V). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103500.htm.

Schaff P. (1894) A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, and Practical Theology, Toronto: Funk & Wagnalls.

Schaff P. (1910) History of the Christian Church (Vol. III. Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity), 124, Michigan: Eerdmans.

Socrates. (2017) Division begins in the Church from this Controversy; and Alexander Bishop of Alexandria excommunicates Arius and his Adherents. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.ii.iv.vi.html.

The First Council of Nicaea. (325) The Nicene Creed. Nicaea.

Thomsett MC. (2011) Heresy in the Roman Catholic Church: A History, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Tyneh CS. (2003) Orthodox Christianity: Overview and Bibliography, New York: Nova Publishers.

Tyra G. (2013) A missional orthodoxy: theology and ministry in a post-Christian context, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Wesche KP. (1984) The Union of God and Man in Jesus Christ in the Thought of Gregory of Nazianzus. St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 28: 83-98.

 

Topic 10: St John's Gospel - The genesis of persona: Johannine anthropology

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

If you look at the entire New Testament what would be the main message (in terms of time)? The eschata. The last judgement. The whole history of salvation of mankind- Noah, Moses, Abraham, Christ becomes Incarnate... the last day 'come... the kingdom is prepared for you. Because when I was hungry you gave me food. These little ones... The little ones become an ultimate concern, our attitude to these little ones... To every human person'. So our whole geschichte (event, struggle, story, history) is geared towards this for the Kingdom of Heaven. Ultimate criteria is how we treat our brother- are we worthy of the Kingdom?

Christ himself equates himself with little ones "It was me". For the human being he ascribes absolute value.

This is a quality of the NT in the whole.

What about St John's Gospel? Any anthropological statements which would reflect same maximalisms in Matthew's gospel?

Absoluteness of man, god-like value, is at the very heart of Johannine writings.

Look at: 'drama of salvation'. So profound change in mankind. Salvation of the whole world. But instead we see Christ having dialogues with crowds, random conversations at this or that point of the gospel, but behind all these random personal encounters with crowds. At end== now is judgement of this world (John 12). Now the prince of this world will be cast out. We do not see any cosmic battles in this Gospel of good v evil. We don't even have exorcisms in this Gospel. In fact, Satan is absent from this gospels. How can we explain Christ here? How is prince of this world is cast out? Of course in Book of Revelation we see the cosmic battle, but not in Gospel of John.

Christ encountered the worst evil on the Cross. And by going through this he was only strengthened more. He was victorious on the cross.

In this Gospel, everything is concentrated on the human person. It is from there, that the prince of world is cast out, in the hearts of man.

Karamazov: the battlefield is the human heart.

There is a frightening moment in 14:29-30 in Gospel of John... "the ruler of this world comes and has nothing in me"... a frightening moment where universal evil will appear; and who comes at this point? Judas Iscariot and Pharisees. Human beings. They are ones who became bearers of this power. Just as those who believe in Christ, God, become bearers of truth..

The fact that John is concerned with what is happening in our heart, shows the anthropological maximalism.

Fr Sophrony describes how victory has come: Christ, justifies man in the eyes of God. If God is like this, like Christ, then I accept him. And God says, if man is like this, like Christ, I forgive him, I love him. This was a victory of faith in God.

Anthropological maximalism in style of Gospel. But we can see this in the very composition of the Gospel. E.g. Sequence. The gospel begins with pan-cosmic presentation of the logos and salvific drama. Following chapters, we read about Christ in Galilee. Beginning of manifestation of Christ to world, the universal glory through Christ's miracles (ch 3-12). Then ch 13-20 we have revelation of Christ's glory to the Christian community, to whom the glory is revealed. He notices this kind of movement from pan-universal scale to 'never' in doubt perspective of Christian community. Bultmann did not believe ch 21 was part of Gospel. "Yea Lord I love thee". The personal. Directed manifestation of God toward human person. Focused on person.

We see anthropological maximilism in composition of gospel. John is very consistent to emphasise that people/men have been given authority to become sons of God. Prologue, creed, summary of his beliefs. He felt it was important in the prologue- as many as receive him... authority to become children of God. Part of his message, of his Gospel. There is a dramatic change in us. We shall see him as he is. Fr Sophrony: Those who believe in Christ, believe in their own deification. Anthropological message is at very heart of Gospel.

Ch 1:51: Truly I say to you... see heaven and angels of God descending upon sons of man. Of course, he spoke about himself. Barmashah- human being. Semitic way of expressing Sons of Man. Christ said: "you will see much more" to Philip. Main point of conflict with Jews, is anthropology- why they wanted to kill him for blasphemy- you being man want to be God. Isn't it written in your law that you shall be Gods. Divine sonship, man becoming divine. This also crops up in the Last Supper. John tries to make most of this most intimate setting- Christ opens up his heart and speaks to his disciplines in the most intimate way. Again, there John, 'you are my friends, I no longer call you servants'... "I have made known to you from my father".... very first words of Christ, after his resurrection: 'go to my brother, I say to my father, and to your father, to my God and to your God'... witnessing this drama of salvation. How can men become children of God? John is very sensitive- very eager to put everything about what Christ said to humankind.

Reality, new things. Water into wine. New reality. Ch 3, 'we are born now of the spirit, he who believes in me has everlasting life'... this is anthropological statements about life, in human being. 

Why did John concentrate so much on anthropology? Why was it so important for him? Man is like Gods- we are given 'everything what I heard from my father'... In epistle, John, says 'God is love'. How can we measure it? John wants to show how much Christ has invested in human beings. The more you hear how much God gave us, the more you respond. And if you diminish these gifts, you diminish divine love and our own response. To show how much God loves human beings.

Indeed Christ, showed the ultimate measure of this love: 'no one has greater measure than this, that Christ laid down for his friends'...Important for John to show, that the Incarnation was the ultimate measure of love. This was the FINAL victory!

How do we become divine as sons of God?

John concentrates on 1) following Christ; 2) believing in Christ.

In ch. 6, it is stated clearly: 'what shall we do that we might work the works of God'? And John/Jesus replies: 'this is the work of God to believe in him who he has sent'. Not 10 commandments, but believe in me. This is the concept of faith. This is the heart of the gospel. Christ's incarnation is motivated. That all man who hears might believe. And in ch 7. those who believe in him, all miracles done for sake of faith. 'That you may believe.'

Jesus himself confirms this in ch 10: 'if you do not believe me, believe the works I do'.

How does faith save us? Why is faith so important for our salvation? Why believing in God is crucial?

Remember when Christ appeared, John says: 'this is the love of God which takes away the sin of the world'. Concept is strange. Not Jewish concept. What is the sin of the world? We would be unable to interpret these concepts without referring to fall of Adam.

Faith in God was very basis of Adam's existence. 

Man is free to choose for himself. He was made in image and likeness. There was no point in creating robots or machines. Man had freedom to be with God or turn away from God. How can you secure a relationship between two free beings? So in marriage you cannot control heart and mind of another person by force. You are dependent on another person, only faith. Once you lose your faith, your marriage falls apart. So same happened to Adam. God created him out of love, for immortal life. Faith was his paradise. But once this faith was taken away from him, 'is it true that God said x or y'... 'your eyes will be opened'. Serpent said to Adam, God is not what he appears to be... so faith in God was destroyed as sin comes in. So having lost faith in God, he was cast out of Paradise, so question of faith is important. Faith in God was destroyed and that is where sin comes in. Having lost this paradise, this trust in God, this faith in God, Adam was cast out of Paradise.

Why was it dangerous to eat from the tree of knowledge?

Fr Sophrony: the way of knowledge was the opposite way of faith. E.g. Gnosis is something which is not based on personal life ('tree of knowledge'). Esp impersonal knowledge gives you certain amount of information (certain power) by which you can master your life, that you can be in control of your life. That is what Adam wanted, he wanted to secure his future, not dependent on God, but wanted something sure, proven, demonstrated, manipulated (by knowledge). So trust in God and faith in God is diminished/ gone completely. So in a relationship, it is bad to spy on a person, is very dangerous, your relationship suffers tremendously.                                       

How Christ won his victory in human hearts. WIth the manifestation of God in Christ incarnate he reaches the ultimate symbol of love. The serpent has NO more arguments against God. It was the ultimate measure. Faith was the very basis of relationship between persons. And Christ, through his ministry restores the faith that Adam had in God. First Adam, second Adam.

And very concept of faith, what does it mean to believe in God? Creed? What does it mean?

Not only that God exists. 'Devils also believe and tremble'. Simply believing there is a God (Zizioulas) said this is 'information about reality'. But there is faith in God as a person. We trust in whatever he does, commands us, "pistis" has a variety of meaning. Pistevo. Conviction- I am sure about something. God is Good. Can be assurance. Asfalia- insurance. Pistosini. I can entrust in God my being. In Your hands I deliver my spirit. It is personalistic. Faith is personal relationship between two persons. 'I believe in God'. He won't let me down. For example, how we say that a person is trustworthy and can be relied upon.

So why was Faith concept so important to John?

Restoration. How sin of the world was taken away.

Concept of eternal life in John's Gospel.

Important anthropological statement. Before Christ, the theme of death was a taboo in early Israel, and to an extent in Judaism. Jewish thought is designed to be about this life, here. Torah teaches us in this life, how to reach well-being here on earth. How to build up your beliefs, your paradise. And once you die, Jewish thought was rather silent- simply reference to Sheol. So you have lived your life, blessed existence, your temple and God, and then you are shut away from this loyal God that dwells in the land and temple. 

Fr Sophrony: human spirit does not accept the idea of death. There is much more than this life. Human beings can never be satisfied.

Death is the end? No. Instinctively people try to find this source of immortality. E.g. films now popular about vampires--- why?

With Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, we can see the nothingness of this life. If man lives many years, let him remember the days of darkness for their shall be darkness. That comes with vanity. Creeps in with Jewish thought. This issue of death became a burning issue- immortality. What is point of dying? Maccabean martyrs. 'You search the scriptures for you think in them you have eternal life.' Dialogue between the Pharisaic and Sadduccees. Burning issue in Israel. Here comes Christ- those that believe in me have everlasting life. If man keeps my word he shall not see death. 

Imagine the impact on those listening to this. A shock to the Jews who built morals and ethics of man. Things were turned upside down.

Why does John love this concept of eternal life? He likes this expression because it is different to Kingdom of God. Compare the two ideas. Difference because they speak of the same reality? What is it with eternal life? Kingdom = impersonal notion. A rule of God. Theocratic state. And then see tendency in NT to personalise the Kingdom. St Luke: 'Kingdom of God is within you'. John brings the tendency to personalisation. He speaks of eternal life for each human being- my personal eternal life. 

With this concept eternal life, you value differently your life on earth. Your future is in your hands. You build it here, now, you will be in life eternal. St Gregory of Nyssa, uses quite remarkable idea, that we ourselves become our own parents, fathers or mothers. We create our personality in this world.