14 September 2010
Most Blessed President of the Board of Trustees
Very Reverend Dean,
My fellow professors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very grateful for the honor you are doing me this evening. The bestowal of
an honorary doctorate shows that in effect you are receiving me into the teaching
body of your School, into your academic family. Such a reception, I would
venture to say, brings me back to my home. The School of St Vladimir's, thanks
to Father John Meyendorff and Father Alexander Schmemann of blessed
memory, but thanks also to the theological "climate" that St Vladimir's has
represented for so many decades, has been for me a real "nursery," a point of
reference, a place that I have always experienced, even from a great distance,
as a place I belong to.
Today you are bestowing on me a great academic honor. But for about fifty years
you have been nourishing me with something of great importance: with criteria of
a theological orientation. I believe that in the consciousness of the Orthodox the
School of St Vladimir's, along with its sister School of St Serge in Paris, has
deeply marked the history of the Church. These two Schools have preserved
theology as the primary expression of the Church's experience. And they have
done so in a climate, lasting for centuries, of the "Babylonian captivity" of the
Orthodox to a scholastic mentality and to a religious attitude centered on the
individual that only served to alienate the ecclesial event.
The brief lecture that, as is customary, I shall now deliver, has the title: "The
Causal Principle of Freedom." I should like it to evoke a sense of the presence of
Father John Meyendorff and Father Alexander Schmemann.
The Trinitarian of God as the Causal Principle of Existential Freedom
With the definition “God is love,” Christian experience proposes an ontological
hermeneutic which in the signifier love (agapē) summarizes absolute existential
freedom (i.e. the being of God). In the language of the religious traditions and the
philosophical systems (as a rule) the signifier God refers to an existence free
from limitations of beginning, end, space, time, change, mutation, decay and
death. Christian ecclesial experience, however, had historically to confront the
very specific challenge which it had inherited from ancient Greek philosophical
thought: whether we can identify an a priori possibility of existential freedom —
whether the causal principle of the existential fact is freedom or necessity.
In the experience of the ancient Greeks it is only by intellection (to noein) that we
can identify being (to einai). For that reason alone humanity endowed with mind
can confirm that which exists as existent, as well as identify the mode of its
The mind is the place of the knowledge of being (to einai) and of beings (tōn
ontōn), of the modes-forms of being (the place of forms... the perception of
sensible things is the mind). And this is because all existent things exist
according to their participation in that which is intelligible, which means: they
exist in the degree in which they participate in a prehypothetical intelligible reality
defining the mode-form-logos of their existence.
A universal (xynos) logos-mind pre-exists existent things, a given rationality (with
an unexplained cause), a most divine and dispassionate energy, which exists in
or is brought into being in existent things as their essence (the specific mode of
their existence), like art is to its material and like light makes potential colors into
actual colors. Thus when one says mind, one is referring to the cause of the
world and all its order.
If God exists, then he is himself existentially bound to the intelligible logos that is
definitive of his existence, to the logos of his essence. Even God is that which his
essence defines him to be: he cannot be something other than what he is as
The word essence (ousia) is a product of the feminine of the present participle of
the verb to be (einai): the essence manifests the mode of participation in being,
the mode which makes every existent thing be what it is (a human being, a
horse, a lily, etc.). In the word mode (tropos) we summarize those characteristics
(the given logoi) which make every human being a human being, every horse a
horse, every lily a lily, and God God.
In the ancient Greek perspective the mode by which the human mind conceives
of God, the attributes which it accords to him, correspond to the reality of God,
since being is realized only by intellectual participation, only as subject to the
necessity of its rational prescriptions: Everything occurs for a reason and by
necessity.... It is necessary for there to be something divine... that which is not
moved but is the mover... infinite, dispassionate, immutable.
The fundamental starting-point of the Christian gospel is the fact of the
inhumanation of God. If this refers to a historical fact which is true, then ancient
Greek ontology is clearly overturned: if God can also exist as a human being
without ceasing to be God and without merely appearing to be a human being
but really being one, then the existence of God is demonstrated to be free from
logical prescriptions of essence or nature. God is then existentially free from
every necessity of mode of existence, and can therefore also exist by the mode
of human essence or nature (as a perfect human being) without ceasing to be
Moreover: if there exists a possibility of the freedom of being (hyparxis) from the
prescriptions-necessities of essence or nature, and if the fact of this existential
freedom is the causal principle of what exists, then there is a logical space for the
“grace” (the gift of being) which God can bestow on humanity with a view to
humanity’s sharing itself in the mode of freedom from the necessities of its
essence or nature (necessities of decay, of death — limitations which
accompany the nature of created being).
Within the perspective of ancient Greek ontology all the above possibilities are
The fact that before the Christian Church fully took root in society it became part
of the then Greek or Hellenized world of the Roman Empire and expressed itself
in the (philosophical) language of that world is quite remarkable. The earliest
texts proclaiming the Church’s message are already couched in a language that
refutes ancient Greek rationalism: a language consistent with the semantics of
the ontological theories which were to follow historically and were to constitute a
systematic hermeneutical proposition emphasizing the absolute existential
freedom of God.
From the very start of its historical life the Christian Church has referred to a
triadic God, to a triad of hypostases of the Godhead (i.e. to three specific
existences) which makes the divine being an existential reality.
Ecclesial experience has defined from the very first that the divine being “is love.”
Not that God has love, that love is a moral-qualitative characteristic of God (a
property of the way he acts), not that God first exists and since he exists he
loves. The phrase God is love reveals precisely that which the phrase God is
triadic also reveals — both phrases signify the mode which makes God be that
which he is (be God).
This mode is not omnipotence, omniscience, ingenerateness or immortality.
From the first texts recording the Church’s experience, the mode of existence
which differentiates God from every existent thing is his absolute existential
freedom, a freedom from any predetermination/necessity/rational prescription of
existence. Both the signifier love (agapē) (since we understand love only as an
active choice, not as a necessity) and the linguistic signifiers which refer to the
triad of the hypostases of God refer to this absolute existential freedom.
The linguistic signifiers which ecclesial experience has used to identify the three
hypostases of the Godhead reveal:
— the personal character of the hypostases (existences with selfconsciousness
— the existential otherness of every hypostasis (its unique, dissimilar
and unrepeatable character);
— the existential (life-giving) relation which connects each hypostasis with
the other two hypostases.
The signifiers (names) of the personal hypostases of God are, in the language of
the Church: Father, Son, Spirit — from the first moment of the Church’s historical
life and considerably before the appearance of a systematically articulated
The names of the personal hypostases of the triadic Godhead reveal existence
not as self-contained atomicity, not as a unit of existential autonomy, but as a
mode (and fact) of relation/self-transcendence/love. The names indicate that the
existence of each hypostasis of the triadic God “is realized” as a relationship of
love, that each hypostasis exists as love, that it is love.
By signifying relation and the dynamic of relation, the names of the hypostases of
the triadic God realize the possibility that one signifier should indicate both the
subjective identity (existential otherness) of each hypostasis and the common
mode of existence of the three hypostases (i.e. love).
What is signified linguistically by the name Father is the subjective identity
(existential otherness) of the causal principle of divine being, and also a mode of
existence which does not bind the hypostasis to atomic self-containedness. The
name Father indicates that the specific hypostasis of God is neither known nor
exists in itself and for itself but only as the “begetter” (gennētōr) of the Son and
the “processor” (ekporeuōn) of the Spirit. The Father hypostasizes his being
(makes it a hypostasis, a real existence) in a loving mode (agapetikōs):
“begetting” the Son and causing the Spirit to “proceed.”
This being of the Father’s is indicated not only by his godhead but also by his
fatherhood: his uncircumscribed and non-predetermined freedom to exist
because he loves, a freedom which is confirmed by the “begetting” of the Son
and the “procession” of the Spirit. Thanks to the name Father, this freedom is
signified not simply as a fact to do with the will, but as the cause of the being’s
being hypostasized (i.e. of its constituting existential hypostases). The freedom
(causal principle of the existent) is signified linguistically as the causal principle of
being because it is identified with the hypostatic self-determination of God as
Father, that is to say, as love: He exists and constitutes the cause of the
existence not because he is God, but because he wills to be the Father — to
exist as freedom of loving self-transcendence and self-offering.
The same absolute existential freedom is also indicated by the name Son: by the
sonship a hypostasis of being is signified which is not predetermined existentially
by its “nature” or “essence,” but is self-determined as freedom of relation to the
Father. The relation is loving, that is to say, free from causal existential
dependence. He wills to exist because he loves the Father: his love is signified
by the name Son as existential response to the freedom of the love of the Father,
the causal principle of existence.
The Son exists without his existence “preceding” his sonship, without its being
bound existentially to predeterminations of ontic (atomic) self-containedness.
That which he is is signified precisely by the voluntary sonship, not by the
essential (i.e. belonging to essence and therefore necessary) godhead. He is
God, because he exists as Son of the Father, because his existence corresponds
to and refers to the life-giving will of the Father: he hypostasizes the freedom of
love, its non-subordination to existential necessities.
The Son is also indicated by the name Logos (Word) of the Father: his existence
makes the Father known and the Father’s will known, which is creativecosmopoeic-
salvific of creatures. The Logos of God witnesses to the Father,
without his existence “preceding” his witness: his existential witness hypostasizes
the sonship; the sonship of the Son is the Logos of the Father, the making known
of the Father’s will. This will of the Father’s has the same “logical” space in the
language of the Church as the divine being: love as absolute existential freedom,
as a voluntary convergence of wills of the three hypostases of the Godhead.
A voluntary (loving) convergence of the three personal wills in a common will and
energy of the Godhead: this is signified in the language of the Church from the
first moment, and with the “mission” (sending) of the Spirit (the Paraclete) by the
Logos. As Logos, the Son witnesses to the Father as sending the Spirit: the
personal factor of the manifestation of God “outside” God as ontopoeic and lifebearing
Language is “stretched,” reaching the limits of expressive possibilities in order to
prove the astonishingly accurate aim of the signifiers which Christian experience
has made use of, before any shaping of a systematic ontological context, with a
view to referring to hypostases of the divine being of a single existential identity
and common (loving) mode of existence.
Personal (i.e. self-willed, self-activated, self-conscious) hypostasis should be
noted not as an atomic onticity and an existential identity existing in itself, but as
a loving relation and referential realization, that is to say, as freedom
transcending any defining autonomy.
This is exactly what the word Spirit seeks to convey: that the active hypostatic
otherness should be revealed which exists by referring “through its work” to the
being of the love of the Father, to divine love as ontopoeic and life-giving truth.
This is connected with the Spirit of the Father as the opposite number (by
linguistic logic) to the Logos of the Father: the Logos “is begotten” by the Father
and witnesses by his existence to God as the Father of love. The Spirit
“proceeds” from the Father (the causal principle of existential freedom) and
indicates by its existence the “property” of God, his identity as creative, life-giving