Eastern Orthodoxy and The Urantia Book
This document describes Eastern Orthodox doctrine and
explores its relationship to the teachings of The Urantia Book.
The Rising Importance of Orthodoxy
Is The Urantia Book Protestant?
The Doctrinal Basis for Dialog
Christology and Trinity
Two Views of Salvation
"Theosis" in Orthodoxy and The Urantia Book
Hesychasm and Orthodox Spirituality
"Hesychia" and The Urantia Book
The Orthodox Synthesis of Mysticism and Theology
The Palamite Synthesis and Modern Secularism
Church Governance and Christian Unity
Slowly but surely, The Urantia Book is becoming more widely disseminated within Christendom. As we watch its reception by liberal Protestants, and a few Catholics, a fascinating question arises concerning its future impact on Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Drawing upon human and superhuman sources, the Urantia Papers claim to provide the true story of the life of the historic Jesus. But how do these writings square with the beliefs of the historic church, whose founders actually witnessed Jesus' life? The Eastern Church traces its bishops and its "Holy Tradition" in an unbroken line back to these earliest believers--even to the Apostles themselves who first preached at Jerusalem and Antioch. How then should Urantia Book readers regard this ancient institution, whose patriarchs still sit in Jerusalem and Antioch? Conversely, on what basis might Orthodox Christians approach this claim of a new and strange revelation of the life of Jesus? Are there points of contact between Orthodoxy and The Urantia Book, or are the two anathema to one another?
The Rising Importance of Orthodoxy
Such questions are more important now than ever. One obvious reason is the collapse of communism in the primary sphere of the Eastern Orthodox Church: Russia and Eastern Europe. After decades of repression, these countries have a significant opportunity to reconstruct their faiths.
In the U.S., Orthodox Christian communities are growing in membership, unlike many other church denominations, now that they are emerging from their old-world ethnicity. There is also a significant movement of converts from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. In 1987 the bulk of the membership of the evangelical Campus Crusade for Christ converted to Orthodoxy. Other evidence of the growing interest of Protestants is a remarkable new book documenting the conversion to Orthodoxy of eighteen former clergy from diverse Protestant backgrounds.1
Scholars and journalists are also giving more notice to Orthodoxy. Karen Armstrong's best-seller A History of God, (Knopf, 1993) gives especially sympathetic treatment to the tradition. According to an article in the Utne Reader on the current revival of Orthodoxy, Armstrong notes that Orthodoxy "is rooted in mystery and paradox, rather than legalistic do's and don'ts....Eastern Orthodoxy has a rich tradition of mystical practice that Armstrong refers to as a 'Christian Yoga'." 2
Is The Urantia Book Protestant?
When most reader-believers of The Urantia Book think of dialoguing with Christians, they often look to liberal or mainline Protestant churches. At first glance this seems quite sensible, for it certainly requires an environment free of dogmatism to be able to hear talk of a "new revelation."
Some might also argue that the Book itself is part of the stream of liberal Protestant thought, or at least most consistent with it. For example, it is generally "fideist." as is the Protestant tradition. It attacks ecclesiastsicism and criticizes ceremonialism and sacramentalism, although it does institute a new form of the Eucharist in the "sacrament of the remembrance."(U.B. p. 1942) And it appears to praise the Protestant Reformation by referring to it in several passages as a "rehabilitation" and "rejuvenation" and even a "resurrection" of the church. (See Paper 195, "After Pentecost.")
Still, there are many important elements in the Book's teachings that lend themselves to interface with Orthodoxy. Eastern Orthodox theology today has strengths where liberal Protestant thought has weaknesses. For example, there is a rising tendency in seminaries to question the divinity of Jesus, to deconstruct the transcendence of the divine, to abandon Trinitarian theology. By contrast, the staunch Orthodox adherence to the sacred traditions of historic Christianity may open doors to dialogue, for the Urantia revelation strongly affirms the historic Christian faith in the Incarnation and the Trinity.
Mystical traditions are not lacking in Protestantism and certainly not in Catholicism, but Orthodoxy contains a vast, rich, and unbroken tradition of mystical theology and practice which is of direct lineage from the early church. One evidence is the superb collection of Orthodox mystical writings known as the Philokalia, the cream of over a thousand years of experiential mysticism. 3
The Eastern church inherited the fullness of the "desert spirituality" tradition of the early church mystics and ascetics, which harkens back so vividly to the prophetic strain of Judaism. Magnificent liturgy, resplendent symbolism, mystical art, and experiential religion have always had a privileged place in Orthodox religiosity.
The Doctrinal Basis for Dialogue
One beginning place for dialogue would be Eastern Orthodox doctrine. It may amaze many Orthodox believers to discover that the doctrines of the Church "Fathers" (or,"Patristics") that required centuries to evolve are affirmed as generally correct by The Urantia Book. This strong link at the doctrinal level means to me that both Orthodox believers and adherents of The Urantia Book have much to share and much to learn from each other.
There are perhaps three key elements of Orthodox belief: the theology of the Trinity, the doctrine of the Incarnation, and the worshipful veneration of icons. The first two are strongly echoed and amplified in the teachings of The Urantia Book ; and I personally find that the devotional use of icons that pervades the Eastern churches provides a "satisfying symbolism" that can "symbolize that which is permanent in the presence of unceasing change." (See "The Nature of Cultism," U.B. p. 965-6)
The core beliefs of Orthodoxy were spelled out in the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the early centuries of Christianity, which met between A.D. 325 and 787.4 The great Patristic age of speculative mystical theology is long over, but latent in "Holy Tradition" are images, practices, and doctrines that can easily lend themselves to creative development. For example, a great revival of Russian Orthodoxy in the 19th century that was induced (at least in part) by the translation of The Philokalia into Russian quickly reached new heights of innovative theology (such as Soloviev, Bulgakov, and Berdayev) and of religious art (such as Dostoevsky). The creative theology of this period in Russia even anticipated later developments in the West such as process theology (which has a strong affinity with The Urantia Book's concept of the Supreme Being) and the re-integration of feminine images of deity in Soloviev's school of "sophiology" (which echoes important themes in The Urantia Book ). It is very possible that a world renaissance of Orthodox life and thought might have followed in the 20th century had this revival not been stamped out by Lenin and Stalin.
Christology and Trinity
But let us return to the original period of creative Orthodox theology. It seems a miracle that the theologians of the early church were able to establish philosophically the truth that Jesus was "homoousius" (one in essence) with the Father, while also fully human. We are told in The Urantia Book that without the valiant efforts of one of these Greek "Fathers" of the Church, this great and saving truth would have been lost:
Christianity owes much, very much, to the Greeks. It was a Greek, from Egypt, who so bravely stood up at Nicaea and so fearlessly challenged this assembly that it dared not so obscure the concept of the nature of Jesus that the real truth of his bestowal might have been in danger of being lost to the world. This Greek's name was Athanasius, and but for the eloquence and the logic of this believer, the persuasions of Arius would have triumphed. (U.B. p. 2070)
The historical record shows that Athanasius led the Council of Nicaea (325) to repudiate Arianism (the belief that God the Son is fundamentally inferior to God the Father) and to adopt the view that Jesus as Son was "light from light, true God of true God," that is, ontologically equal to the Father.
Amazingly, the earliest Christians arrived at a doctrine of the Trinity that also matches in key points that of The Urantia Book. Again, this was not achieved by direct revelation but through the same circuitous, evolutionary route as the dogma of the Incarnation. Several centuries of doctrinal debate were necessary because, according to The Urantia Book, Jesus' teachings to his Apostles about the true nature of the Trinity were lost.
Jesus taught his apostles the truth regarding the persons of the Paradise Trinity, but they thought he spoke figuratively and symbolically....The first Trinity of Christianity was proclaimed at Antioch and consisted of God, his Word, and his Wisdom...The Christian concept of the Trinity, which began to gain recognition near the close of the first century after Christ, was comprised of the Universal Father, the Creator Son...and the Mother Spirit....(U.B. p. 1144) [Emphasis added]
Of course, all of these concepts were finally codified in the Nicene Creed in 325.
In addition, in Constantinople in 381, the Second Council spoke more clearly of the Holy Spirit as equal to the other two Persons, and is "...worshipped together with the Father and the Son." This essential teaching of the equality of the third person of the Trinity is also affirmed and greatly expanded by The Urantia Book.5
As a side note, it is regrettable that the Wisdom or "Sophia" concept of the earliest Christian Trinitarians at Antioch (see emphasis, last quote) faded into the lost pages of early church history. This image of Sophia is in certain ways an accurate depiction of the local universe Mother Spirit concept of The Urantia Book. By the fourth century, Sophia was largely dropped in favor of the genderless Holy Spirit, or merged into the rising cult of Mary, the Theotokos ("God-bearer" or "Mother of God"). But there is great hope that she will be retrieved. As we noted previously, through the visionary theology of Vladimir Soloviev, a school of Orthodox "sophiology" arose in Russia in the nineteenth century to explore this ancient notion once again, and this revivified Sophia concept is, curiously, enjoying a renaissance both in Russia today and in the United States among eco-feminist thinkers and creation theologians. Is it possible that creative Orthodox theologians might someday revive the cultic basis for the veneration of the Mother Spirit and even the Infinite Mother Spirit?
Whatever the case may be, our key point here is that the trinitarianism of the Ecumenical Councils was, according to The Urantia Book, "spiritually" correct:
But though the Christian concept of the Trinity erred in fact, it was practically true with respect to spiritual relationships. (U.B. p. 1145)
The Church Fathers' high concept of the Trinity has been preserved intact down to this day in the Eastern Church, especially in its spiritual sense. In no place on earth is this "practically true" concept of the Trinity venerated, worshipped, meditated upon, symbolized, sensed, celebrated, chanted and sung about with as much energy and faith as in Orthodox churches worldwide. "Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!" is a constant refrain in the Orthodox liturgy of John Chrysostom, the standard liturgy throughout the Orthodox world.
The liturgy of the Eastern Church creates a cosmic theater for the adoration for the Trinity. It is my view that this exuberant tradition of worship and symbolism could continue unbroken if these churches were ever to embrace The Urantia Book ; it is at least my hope as one who was raised within this tradition. The Eastern Church has also spent the greater part of 2000 years praising God for the gift of the Incarnation, and this is a legacy that could certainly be preserved. I would suggest that such sublime notions of transcendence and immanence need only be supplemented by the new narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus in order to create a robust new religion for the 21st century.
Two Views of Salvation
Few Christians realize that there is a wide divergence between the ancient church and its successor churches in the West (both Catholic and Protestant) in the understanding of how man is saved. By the same token, few Urantia Book readers realize that the soteriology of the Eastern church is closer in spirit to The Urantia Book than that of the Western church.
The differences between East and West can be summarized as follows: The Western tradition is essentially the juridical-Augustinian view that since human will is shackled by original sin, we can be saved only by unearned acts of divine grace that are ultimately predestined. Calvinism is perhaps its most extreme form, but this Augustinian teaching--along with the closely allied doctrine of blood atonement whose roots are in Paul--has endured in all branches of Western Christianity. Mainline Protestant theologians have only recently abandoned the Augustinian premises of original sin and atonement.
The Eastern position derives from the very different teachings of St. Maximus the Confessor, the seventh century Greek theologian and mystic. Along with St. Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus is one of the systematizers of the essential early church doctrine of theosis ("deification"). Maximus' view of salvation is summarized below by the distinguished historian, Jaroslav Pelikan:
An epitome of the contrast is the formula of Maximus: 'Our salvation finally depends on our own will.' The dichotomy represented by the antithesis between Pelagianism [the rejected Latin doctrine of salvation by reliance on human will] and Augustinianism was not part of Maximus' thought. Instead, his doctrine of salvation is based on the idea of participation and of communion that excludes neither grace nor freedom, which were established once and for all in the incarnate Word and his 'two wills'.6
What is important for us here is that St. Maximus' position on salvation is remarkably close to that of Jesus in The Urantia Book. Jesus teaches that salvation is a free gift of God that is freely received. But our free will is not "fallen" or "crippled" in the Augustinian view; human will, says Jesus, is an essential factor in choosing to receive such grace: "I declare that salvation is first a matter of your personal choosing." (U.B. p. 1828) Elsewhere he says, "The transformations of grace are wrought in response to the living faith of those who are the beneficiaries."(U.B. p. 1686) Similarly, St. Maximus writes:
The Spirit does not generate a will that is not willing, but he transforms into deification a will that has the desire for salvation. 7
According to Pelikan, the continuing legacy of Maximus in the East on the problem of salvation was such that "...the antithesis between divine grace and human freedom, which dogged Western theology for many centuries, did not present a problem in that form for Eastern Christian thought."8
Thus it should come as no surprise that the Eastern church rejects as simplistic and wrongheaded the juridical implications of the atonement doctrine adhered to in the West. We know, of course, The Urantia Book takes pains to refute the atonement doctrine, calling it "a barbaric idea." (U.B. p. 60) Likewise, the early Fathers with the exception of Augustine did not emphasize the Pauline view that Jesus' death was a "ransom."
As we will see in the next section, the Eastern church sees salvation, much as The Urantia Book does, as a continuing process of "progress--growth in grace." (See U.B. p. 1682.) Certainly both teachings would consider a tragic error the simplistic evangelistic Protestant formula that salvation depends on being "born again" by virtue of the belief that "Jesus died for our sins."
"Theosis" in Orthodoxy and The Urantia Book
In the 60's and 70's, the Campus Crusade for Christ led thousands of college students into the "born again" brand of conversion experience typical of today's evangelical Christianity. A former Crusade leader, Frank Schaeffer, an Orthodox convert, contrasts the born-again experience with Orthodox theosis in his book Dancing Alone. Schaeffer was perhaps most responsible for leading the Campus Crusade for Christ into the Orthodox church.
The American Protestant also looks for a magical instantaneous "silver bullet" solution to sin. He calls this the "born again" experience. But according to Holy Tradition, just saying that one is born again is meaningless. It does not entail the necessary...use of our free will to choose God's way again and again, which the historical Church taught is the only way we can become like God, to strive to become "deified"--in other words, imitate Christ and through imitation to become God-like ourselves.9
Schaeffer's book is a sustained polemic against the narrowing of the theological horizon that is represented by modern Protestantism when contrasted with Orthodoxy.
The modern Russian theologian, Georges Florovsky, writes: "The ultimate aim and purpose of human life was defined in the Patristic tradition as theosis, divinization."10 Similarly, the Jesus of The Urantia Book also urged believers to dare to be God-like, to love with a fatherly love. Much like the central Orthodox doctrine of the progressive "deification," Jesus taught his followers to engage in a "...glorious progression, to become perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect." (U.B. p. 1604)
Like the other Fathers of the Church, Maximus saw the practice of unceasing prayer (which we will soon examine) as essential to deification. Notably, his teaching on theosis was also incorporated into the Christology he successfully defended at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 681.11
Maximus' theological achievement culminates the line of Patristic thought beginning with St. Athanasius and his forbears. Historians now point out that Athanasius' central argument to Council of Nicaea was the basis of the later doctrine of theosis; he declared that if Jesus is not both fully God and fully man, then we cannot logically share in the divine nature. His famous line about the Incarnation epitomizes the Orthodox concept of theosis: "He became man so that man might become God."
Hesychasm and Orthodox Spirituality
The Greek Fathers' teaching of theosis is not just a theological abstraction. It is actually the doctrinal expression of a rich tradition within Orthodoxy of specific worshipful practices. Arising from the experiments of the mystics of the early church, these practices are commonly known under the term "hesychasm" or "hesychia." The literal translation of the Greek word hesychia is "quies" in Latin and "stillness" in English. For the early church, hesychia provided the method of carrying out the Biblical injunction of "unceasing prayer," which St. Paul urged for all believers.
Bishop Kallistos Ware, Lecturer in Eastern Orthodox Studies at Oxford University, summarizes the practices of hesychasm:
A hesychast is one who pursues hesychia, inner stillness or silence of the heart, in particular through the use of the Jesus Prayer. This is a short invocation, constantly repeated, usually in the form, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.' Through inner attentiveness and the repetition of this prayer, sometimes accompanied by a physical technique involving the control of breathing, the hesychasts...believed that they attained a vision of divine light and so union with God.12
John Meyendorff explains the real purpose of the prayer to the hesychast:
The Jesus prayer is at the center of all hesychast spirituality. The Name of the Incarnate Word is bound up in the essential functions of being: it is present in the "heart," it is linked to the breath....The monk is called to become conscious of the actual presence of Jesus in the interior of his own being...without any images. 13 [Emphasis added]
It seems to me that the hesychastic practice of the interior consciousness of the presence of God strongly echoes Jesus in his Second Discourse on Religion in The Urantia Book:
Many of your brethren have minds which accept the theory of God while they spiritually fail to realize the presence of God....It is not so important that you should know about the fact of God as that you should increasingly grow in the ability to feel the presence of God. (U.B. p. 1733)
Hesychasm evolved directly out of the "desert" tradition of the earliest Christian anchorites of the fourth century in Egypt and Syria. The desert spirituality of these innovators is regarded by most historians to be the historic font of Christian experiential mysticism, both in the West and the East. Western mystics from Meister Eckhart to Thomas Merton drew deeply from this source.
By the sixth century, the various strands of early desert hesychasm were drawn together in a theological synthesis of its Neo-Platonic and Biblical elements. The Hellenistic influence, coming through Neo-Platonic thinkers such as Evagrius Ponticus, emphasized "mental prayer" and tended toward a Platonic dualism of body and spirit. The Biblical approach, epitomized by St. Macarius, a contemporary of Athanasius, was heart-centered and holistic.14
Hesychastic heart-spirituality was systematized in the sixth century by St. John Climacus of Sinai. Climacus essentially used Neo-Platonic categories to evoke a holistic approach to unceasing prayer. Striking a theme that became crucial in later theological developments, Climacus and his contemporaries did not pose a contrast between the body and mind or spirit as developed later in the West. They did not privilege any aspect of the human organism as being closer to the divine vision than any other. Instead, they depicted all elements of the human person as equally "fallen" in the face of God's utter transcendence, and thereby all parts--body, mind, imagination, and soul (compositely represented as "the heart")--as equally benefiting from the gifts of grace conferred upon the believer practicing hesychia.
Seen from the psychological point of view, hesychasm involves a practice of stilling the entire being, both body and mind.15 The contemporary Greek mystic and psychologist, Hierothos Vlachos, summarizes the teachings of the Fathers in this respect:
St. Gregory the Theologian regarded hesychasm as essential for attaining communion with God. "It is necessary to be still in order to have clear converse with God and gradually bring the mind back from its wanderings." With stillness a man purifies his sense and his heart. So he knows God, and this knowledge of God is his salvation.16
Vlachos quotes John Climacus from his classic work The Ladder of the Divine Ascent on the technique of stillness:
Stillness of the soul is "Accurate knowledge and management of one's thoughts....Stillness of the soul is a science of thoughts and of an inviolable mind. Brave and determined thinking is a friend of stillness. It keeps constant vigil at the doors of the heart, and kills or repels the thoughts that come."17
"Hesychia" and The Urantia Book
If it is true that such practices lead to a consciousness of the presence of God, how would Jesus as depicted in The Urantia Book regard hesychasm?
The Urantia Book reveals that Jesus used various meditation techniques in his practice of the presence of God. The Greek Alexandrian philosopher Rodan depicts Jesus as a man fully devoted to a "habit" or "technique" that he "so consistently practices....the isolation of worshipful meditation." (U.B. p.1774)
Later in the passage, we see that this possibly involves a physical and mental discipline, and it certainly involves a form of stillness:
I am deeply impressed with the custom of Jesus in going apart by himself to engage in these seasons of solitary survey of the problems of living...and to do all of this with an eye single to the glory of God--to breathe in sincerity your Master's favorite prayer, "Not my will, but yours, be done...".This worshipful practice of your Master brings that relaxation which renews the mind; that illumination which inspires the soul....The relaxation of worship, or spiritual communion as practiced by the Master, relieves tension, removes conflicts, and mightily augments the total resources of the personality.
Not unlike the hesychasts, we can see in this quote an emphasis on stillness ("relaxation which renews the mind"), breathing ("breathe in sincerity"), and inner attentiveness ("an eye single to the glory of God").
Remember also that Rodan portrays relaxation or stillness as an essential feature of worshipful communion:
From the human standpoint it is a question of combined meditation and relaxation. Meditation makes the contact of mind with spirit; relaxation determines the capacity for spiritual receptivity. (U.B. p. 1777)
We read elsewhere in the Book that worship is "effortless attention, true and ideal soul rest, a form of restful spiritual exertion." (U.B. p. 1616)
Thus, there seems to be many elements of teaching in The Urantia Book that provide a bridge to hesychastic spirituality. But much more research is needed in this area. There are important theological similarities between Orthodoxy and The Urantia Book; it is not surprising that they teach comparable techniques for practicing the presence of God.
Hesychasm is treated in more depth in my column that appears later in this issue of The Spiritual Fellowship Journal. As a final point it is important to note that the hesychasts put stress on (1) repentance and (2) observance of the Commandments, as necessary concomitants to the hesychastic practice of stillness.
The Orthodox Synthesis of Mysticism and Theology
A closer look at Orthodox mystical theology will help underline its dissimilarities with Western theology and what I believe is a corresponding theological affinity with the spirit of The Urantia Book.
The Urantia Book frequently emphasizes that theology must be experientially based. It defines theology as "...the study of the actions and reactions of the human spirit....Theology is always the study of your religion; the study of another's religion is psychology."(U.B. p. 1135)
In this same spirit, Patristic theologians from the beginning saw theology's purpose as initiating the believer into an experience of God.18 Hesychastic mysticism has continued almost unceasingly in the Eastern church, nurturing theological trends in almost every generation. Orthodox theologians from Athanasius to the present have considered as axiomatic the famous dictum of Evagrius Ponticus, who said "If you truly pray, you are a theologian, and if you are a true theologian, you will know how to pray." 19
The first great challenge to this long tradition of the infusion of mysticism and theology arose in the 14th century. It was issued by a renowned scholar in Constantinople named Balaam, who was influenced by the Renaissance humanism then blossoming in Italy.20 The full story of the fascinating disputes that followed is far too intricate to narrate here. What is important for us is that Baalam's provocations aroused the entire monastic community of the Eastern Church, now concentrated at Mt. Athos, in a passionate defense of hesychasm and the mystery of deification.
The Palamite Synthesis and Modern Secularism
It fell to Gregory Palamas, a brilliant abbot on the "Holy Mount," to articulate a response from the perspective of the Patristic tradition against the "nominalism" and "apophatism" of Balaam--who by this time had many supporters among the humanistic intelligentsia of Byzantium.
The result of his labors was the ultimate doctrinal synthesis of hesychastic mysticism with Patristic theology. Palamas showed how the most sublime notions of the unknowability of God in his essence (i.e., apophatism), were yet consistent with the doctrine of theosis and the Christ-mysticism of the hesychasts. He distinguished the unknowable essence of God from the knowable "energies" of God as manifested in his revelations to us and as experienced by the hesychastic saints; yet he provided for the paradoxical unity of God's essence and energies.
This is an oversimplifying summary of a great thinker. Suffice it to say that Palamas saved Christianity in the East from what became its fate in the West: the sundering of theology from religious experience. Corollary to this was the separation of philosophy from theology, and later of science from religion, that is now an earmark of Western thought. The splintering of the Western medieval synthesis began in the Renaissance and was completed in the Enlightenment; in the end it led to the complete secularization of the Western mind in modern times. While we all undoubtedly enjoy the fruits of science and liberal philosophy that resulted from secularism, the world has paid a heavy price indeed from the "death of God" that was its inevitable by-product. Thus, writing some time in the 1930's, the authors of The Urantia Book warned: "Twentieth-century secularism tends to affirm that man does not need God. But beware! this godless philosophy of human society will lead only to unrest, animosity, unhappiness, war, and world-wide disaster."(U.B. p. 2081)
If it were not for the Palamite synthesis, and its subsequent adoption in the Council of 1351, it is very possible that a secularizing humanism might have taken hold in Byzantium among the Hellenistic intelligentsia--just as it had in Europe. This would have eventually marginalized the unique achievements of Patristic tradition. We can speculate that the result over time might have been the substitution of the Othodox mystery of deification with a pagan humanism of self-deification. This of course, is what happened in the succeeding centuries in the West:
The victory of Palamas was the victory of Christian humanism over the pagan humanism of the Renaissance. The full measure of the controversy's significance can be grasped only in the light of what followed [in the West]. An ineluctable decision was set before the Orthodox Church in the fourteenth century: a choice between a unitary (integral) concept of man based on the Bible, affirming the immediate efficacy of redemptive grace in every sphere of human activity, or the choice of an intellectualized spiritualism claiming independence for the human intellect, or at least autonomy from all matter, and denying that any real deification was possible here below. There is no doubt the secularism of the modern age is the direct consequence of the second choice.21
Church Governance and Christian Unity
I would like to close by shifting gears and noting the contribution that might be made by the Eastern Church to the reunification of Christianity. The Urantia Book blasts Occidental Christianity for its disunity:
Christianity is seriously confronted with the doom embodied in one of its own slogans: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." The non-Christian world will hardly capitulate to a sect-divided Christendom...[the] division of Christendom presents a grave weakness....(U.B. p. 2085-6)
Protestantism now presents the world with thousands of competing "churches" to choose from. One could argue that it has sacrificed unity for the sake of avoiding the problems of diversity.
By contrast, the Orthodox church has retained much of its original doctrinal and organizational unity. Bishops make policy and pronounce doctrine by convening synods, just as they did in the early centuries of the church before the rise of the Papacy. The Orthodox church has always been characterized by an atmosphere of deliberation and a search for consensus among the bishops of the entire church, along with input from laity and clergy. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is known only as first among equals in a decentralized church order; there is no pope in Eastern Orthodoxy.
This relatively decentralized form of administration provides one model for how to achieve church unity without overmuch uniformity: the Orthodox church's conciliar style of governance is a middle way between Papism and the excesses of Protestant sectarianism. Similar models of "middle way" governance are also exemplified in older Protestant denominations, such as the Anglican and Episcopal.
In the West, Catholic tyranny begat the rebellion of Protestantism against an intolerable ecclesiastical uniformity. Tragically, this in turn shattered the unity of Western Christendom for the foreseeable future. The Eastern church has never generated tyranny or rebellion on such a scale.
Perhaps if the Eastern Church could be induced to see Jesus once again as he lived his life on earth among men--if it could behold the living Jesus as depicted in The Urantia Book --perhaps then it, the historic church of Jesus, the upholder of the sacred truths of the Incarnation and the Trinity, the preserver of integral Christian theology over two millennia, may be able to assist in leading Christendom toward its eventual re-unification as depicted in this crucial passage in The Urantia Book:
The living Jesus is the only hope of a possible unification of Christianity. The true church--the Jesus brotherhood--is invisible, spiritual, and is characterized by unity, not necessarily by uniformity. Uniformity is the earmark of the physical world of mechanistic nature. Spiritual unity is the fruit of faith union with the living Jesus. The visible church should refuse longer to handicap the progress of the invisible and spiritual brotherhood of the kingdom of God. And this brotherhood is destined to become a living organism in contrast to an institutionalized social organization. It may well utilize such social organizations, but it must not be supplanted by them. (U.B. p. 2085)
1. Coming Site Index: Why Protestant Clergy are Becoming Orthodox ed., Peter Gillquist, Conciliar Press, Ben Lomand, CA: 1992.
2. "A Western Eastern Way", Utne Reader (Nov/Dec 1994), pp. 32-3.
3. The Philokalia, originally compiled by St. Nikodemas of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth. (Three volumes in translation.) Published by London: Faber & Faber, 1984. See also Writings From the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, from Faber & Faber.
4. Orthodoxy defines the entire stream of events in the life of the early church--life, death and resurrection of Christ, the creation of liturgical practices and church governance, the adoption of the scriptural canon (settled in 387 at the Third Council of Carthage), and the seven great councils of the Church--as one unified "Holy Tradition" guided by the Holy Spirit.
5. The personality and attributes of the third person of the Paradise Trinity, the Infinite Spirit, are presented in papers 8 and 9 of The Urantia Book . The Infinite Spirit's local universe focalization is described in paper 34, "The Local Universe Mother Spirit."
It is notable that the Christology proclaimed at Nicaea was revisited in several other Ecumenical Councils in language paralleling that of The Urantia Book . The Chalcedon Council (451) affirmed Christ as "perfect in Godhead and perfect in humanity," and "is made known to us in two natures. The difference between the two natures is in no way destroyed because of the union." Further controversy arose regarding the nature of the humanity of Christ in view of this union. The sixth Ecumenical Council (681) ascribed to Christ "two natural wills." This doctrine is comparable to the teachings of The Urantia Book. (See pp. 1331 and 1510.)
6. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press) pp. 181-2.
7. Ibid., pp. 11-12.
9. Frank Schaeffer, Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in an Age of False Religions, (Boston: Holy Cross Press, 1994) p. 205.
10. Georges Florovsky, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View, pp. 114-15.
11. Against the Monothelites, Maximus argued that the two natures of Christ are not abstract ideas, but existentially real. Believers can achieve deification only if a human will or "energy" existed in its fullness in Jesus; this permits Christians to conform to the divine will by uniting themselves sacramentally and mystically to the deified human will of Christ.
12. The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, ed., John McManners, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990) p. 156.
13. Meyendorff, p. 58.
14. Macarius regarded sin as a force that breaks up the unity of the person understood as a single organism. Drawing from the holistic image of the Christ physically incarnate, Macarius emphasized the participation of the whole person in prayer--the body, mind, imagination, soul and feelings, all compositely represented as "the heart."
Christ came to reestablish the unity of the human composite; and by constantly recalling the name of Jesus the hesychast makes the grace of redemption live within him. That this grace may be truly efficacious, he must make "his spirit return into his heart," the center of the psycho-physical organism, and thus reconstitute the original harmony between the parts of the organism. (Meyendorff, p. 88.)
15. See the chapter on hesychia, pp. 311-326, in Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos, Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers, (Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1994).
16. Ibid. p. 312.
17. Ibid., p. 315.
18. "What is remarkable about early Christian thought is that both the Orthodox Fathers and the "heretics" had basically the same view of theology's purpose: to initiate the believer into a genuine gnosis, an experiential knowledge of God." Fritjof Capra & David Steindl-Rast, Belonging to the Cosmos: Explorations on the Frontier of Science and Spirituality, (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), p. 48.
19. Evagrius Ponticus., The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer, (Kalamazoo: Cictercian Publications, 1981), p. 65.
20. Balaam was born and educated in Italy, and migrated to Constantinople in 1338, gaining renown at the Imperial Court through his brilliant scholarship in numerous disciplines. Balaam was fleeing the hyper-rationalistic Thomistic environment of medieval Roman Catholicism, and saw himself as embracing instead the profound Hellenism of the East, and thereby returning to the true faith of the Fathers. Against the rationalism of Aquinas, he propounded (at the imperial academy in Constantinople) the "apophatic"(imageless) theology of Pseudo-Dionysius -- a crucial strand in the theological synthesis comprising the doctrine of deification. Dionysius taught that God was radically unknowable through any natural human faculties, fully transcendent to all understanding and knowledge.
But Balaam went even further. By now he had gained such renown that he was appointed by the Emperor to represent the Eastern Church in reunion dialogues with Pope Benedict. He therefore sought a theological basis for overcoming the differences of the contending churches.
In Dionysius [Balaam] found a metaphysical basis for the reunion of the churches: since God is unknowable, why go on disputing about the procession of the Holy Spirit? The Greeks hold that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone; the Latins defend their seventh-century addition to the Creed (the Filioque) by claiming that he proceeds also from the Son. [Balaam thought] this was sheer presumption on both sides, but especially on that of the Latins. (Meyendorff, p. 88.)
On one side Balaam attacked the over-confident rationalism of the Thomists; on the other, he assailed the overconfident mysticism of the hesachast theologians, who presumed to base the dogmas of their Trinitarian theology on experiential mysticism.
21. Meyendorff, p. 174.
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