WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT GOD IS LOVE? - TOWARDS A DE-IDOLOGY OF THEOLOGY

Dionysios Skliris

The infinite God is impossible to define, but for how he was revealed to us in the event of Christ, we have an expression of the evangelist John that expresses his experience inclusively: "God is love" (1 John 4:16). It is important to remember this simple truth, because "we have loaded our theology with so much music that it is slowly sinking", to paraphrase the poet. Can we behind the weighty metaphysical terms with which we have clothed God to rediscover the simple power of His love? It would be a project of de-idolization to avoid worshiping the gravity of forms that lock us into the ultimate domineering self-aggrandizement of the creator, who replaces the living God like a vicar or caliph, in order to re-engrave through a revival the immediacy of love. In this note we will try to examine terms of the patristic and synodical orthodox tradition, freeing them from an abstract metaphysics, which, if considered as generalized, applies the same categories to God and creations, resulting in a theological form of idolatry. This project is simultaneously a dialogue with other traditions, as God's approach to the simplicity of His love means an existential reinterpretation of terms, so that they are not fossilized ideological "banners" of individual traditions, but references precisely to the universality of love. We will also see certain consequences for what the love of God means in church life.

Person and nature: The two dimensions of love
In the Orthodox tradition, God is understood through the terms essence-nature, person-existence and actions. These are terms that have been derived from Greek philosophy, but have been reinterpreted and renewed by the patristic and synodal tradition. Sometimes they are used as idols as if they are three "sections" of God or as banners as if they are a privileged access that Orthodoxy has to His truth. Can we see these same terms as an attempt to render love where God is? The key starting point is that these terms do not turn into an abstract metaphysics, which would be the same for the uncreated God and the created world, but to make the "definition" of the evangelist John clear. The basic character of God, which was revealed in Christ, is that God is love and that this love presupposes freedom. The relationship between love and freedom is not symmetrical. Love definitely presupposes freedom. There can be no love without freedom, as an unfree love is simply not love. On the contrary, freedom without love could exist. In God's relationship with the world, this love means resurrection. The core of the revelation that is, therefore, unique to Christianity is that God is love in His very existence and that this love in His relationship with the world and man means resurrection.
If we now use, with a paternal attitude, the terms of Greek philosophy to render to the extent of the possibilities of human language the God who is love, we could say the following: Love definitely means a combination of otherness and unity. If there is unity without otherness, we do not have love, but assimilation (something like this we see, e.g., in Neoplatonism, where the ideal is the extension into the One, the union, without otherness having the last word). If we have otherness without unity, then we do not have love, but independence. What is important is to attribute love - but also freedom, which is presupposed to love - to God as a whole and not to idolize some individual dimension, which is considered to be in Him. The only absolutization that deserves to be done is the absolutization of love, because this is what was revealed to us in Christ as God's way of being. It is important to attribute this character of God as love to the totality of God and not to an assumed part of Him, considered by people. What would the terms of Greek thought mean, when applied to God to show that it is love? The term person/being means otherness and the term nature/essence means unity. For the sake of accuracy, we need to add that unity is indicated not simply by the term nature/essence, but specifically by the term homoousion, which denotes the absolute sharing of the same essence by the persons and not an abstract similarity of essence, which they may have separated among them individuals or to which incidental cases of an essence may necessarily fall, as may happen in built nature.
The person and the nature are, therefore, according to paternal intuition, the two dimensions of the love that is God, without there being an ontological priority of one over the other. The ontological priority of the essence over the person can be called essentialism or essentialism and is a dominant way of thinking in Western Theology. An ontological priority of the person over the essence would lead to a personocracy, which would be nothing more than a reaction to the essentialism, again rather in the context of Western thought, as one end (personocracy) would seemingly correct the excess of another end (literalism). The fact that there is no ontological priority of one dimension over the other can be seen from the rather consistent paternal insistence that the unity of God is attributed both to the one existence of the Father, who is the one personal cause of the Son and the Spirit, as well as to the same, i.e. fact that the three persons absolutely share the same essence*.

Read more in ANTHIVOLA, issue 3

ANTIBOLA 3

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