Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fencing Around the Mysteries

"These councils fulfilled a double task. First, they clarified and articulated the visible organization of the Church, crystallizing the position of the five great sees or Patriarchates, as they came to be known. Secondly, and more important, the councils defined once and for all the Church's teaching upon the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith - the Trinity and the Incarnation. All Christians agree in regarding these things as 'mysteries' which lie beyond human understanding and language. The bishops, when they drew up definitions at the councils, did not imagine that they had explained the mystery; they merely sought to exclude certain false ways of speaking and thinking about it. To prevent people from deviating into error and heresy, they drew a fence around the mystery; that was all." - Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church


  1. I'm liking these posts. :) I think that means I'll probably like the book too, when I get around to reading it.

    I'm curious about the "all Christians agree" statement, though. Partly just because those generalizations always bring out my inner skeptic, and partly because I'm pretty sure I've actually seen another blogger we know say specifically that these things are not a mystery and that she has no difficulty understanding them... I might be remembering wrong. I'll have to go read through old entries. :)

  2. Ha, ha...I am giggling at Sanil's comment. :)

    Well, I think I like what this guy says about fencing in the mystery although some may say we are putting God in a box. But I think I know what he is saying by trying to define what the mystery doesn't say.

    Whoa, is my comment a mystery unable to be understood? :-/

    Thanks for sharing! :)

  3. sanil,

    Bishop Ware has a great way of writing. It's informative and easy to read either all at once or in bits and pieces depending on your schedule.

    Well of course saying 'all' of any group agree on something is a broad generalization. But I think in this case he might be just trying to say that we can all (generally) agree that we cannot explain how some things work. It's not possible given our limited access to knowledge and the fact that we have human intelligences. We can't understand everything about God because if we did then He wouldn't be God. I think to claim that as a human one understands perfectly God and how the Trinity 'works' or the Incarnation smacks of arrogance at the least and overweening pride.

    Well if you're remembering incorrectly than so am I. Of course she's the only person I've ever run into who claims that. *shrug* I think that that's just another one of those things where cara and at least most of the rest of Christianity are just going to have to disagree.

  4. Susanne,

    It's not about putting God in a box though. It's more like...describing *our* limits. Like mapping a black hole! Saying, 'Okay, this is the shape that we can detect. These are the edges.' But that doesn't limit the black hole. It doesn't tell us what's in there, what happens if you go through it, etc. Maybe it's a wormhole to another dimension! (Sorry, too much scifi.) It's just telling us this is what we know. This is what we can know, and the best language to describe it without tripping ourselves up. In no way does that mean that that's all there is about God. It just accepts that we are limited.

    Orthodoxy is rather keen on apophatic theology when speaking of God - only describing Him in absolutely certain terms and avoiding that which can't be said.

    God is infinite and incomprehensible and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility - On the Orthodox Faith, St. John of Damascus

  5. Love that last quote - great!

    Also love your throwing in scifi talk to me! :-P I understand what you are saying better now...thanks!

  6. I decided to use that quote now as my status on Facebook. It needs to be spread. :)

  7. Nah, I looked it up, we both remember right. She hasn't been around for awhile, has she? :-/ I hope she's doing ok.

    Anyway. Yeah, I get that the generalization isn't actually meant to be all-inclusive, and also that it probably is true of most Christians. Just being a trouble-maker, I guess. :D

    Looking at it more seriously, though, I wonder if actually you're talking about two different things. Maybe it's not so much understanding everything about the Trinity, but understanding why it must be the way it is understood, just at a basic foundational level, which seems similar to what the councils did in determining heretical views. Doesn't do much good to speculate until/unless she comes back to fill us in, though.

  8. sanil,

    Her last post she said something about being in the middle of one of her busy times at work. So I assume that's where she's been. She did pop in the other day so we know she's still kicking!

    You? A trouble maker? Perish the thought! ;)

    It's possible that we're talking about different things. As I recall cara was talking about understanding the existence of the Trinity, not exactly everything about it.

    I'm sure she'll be back as soon her as life calms down. :)


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