Pseudo-Dionysius, Divine Names, Book I

This is very helpful for anyone trying to make sense of St Dionysius’ Divine Names. Keep the SC volume in your hand and scan across these four (count them) different English translations. Note that Luibheid/Rorem seems to diverge a lot from the other versions at about I.5. Why? I have my own ideas, but I need some help on the original Greek (I am fine with the French on the SC facing-pages…).

Into the Clarities

Here is a parallel of all of the English translations I’ve found of Book One (or “Chapter One”, if the reader prefers) of Pseudo-Dionysius’ On the Divine Names. 

The formatting here is eccentric — there are several hymns throughout Book One, and I have homogenized the formatting across translations, in part to make all translations somewhat sensitive to their hymnic character. Although the formatting here began by being authentic to the original formatting of each English text, it has entirely strayed from that in the interests of facilitating easier comparison.

I may add Suchla’s Greek text for Book One in footnotes, eventually. (I’ve tried to add a column for Suchla, but it throws the formatting off completely in WordPress.) 

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Creation and Redemption in Fr. John S. Romanides’ Ancestral Sin

©James L. Kelley 2017

In “Creation, Fall, and Salvation According to Greek Philosophy in General,” the opening chapter of Fr. John’s Ancestral Sin (pp. 41-50),[1] a Hellenistic view of creation and redemption is contrasted with the Orthodox teachings on the same. In true neopatristic fashion, Fr. John presents the two standpoints as incompatible, indeed as inimical. In his introduction to the same work, Fr. John even emphasizes that the discernment of the worldly view of the philosophers from the saving path of the Church is the same as the discrimination (Gk. diakrisis) of demonic from divine energies, which is the whole basis of the life in Christ.[2] In the “Creation, Fall, and Salvation” chapter, Fr. John points out that for the Greek philosophers, the critical distinction that explains the nature of man/God/creation is matter versus reality: since all material beings are subject to change and corruption, “reality” must reside in creation’s absolute opposite, a transcendent principle that is immutable and incorrupt (the God of the philosophers). Matter itself is either wholly evil or, at best, a negative principle of non-reality that must be canceled out or seen through by the seeker. The Greek philosophers also fail to distinguish between the creation and the fall. For them, the world is not created through divine energies, but from God’s nature or essence. This allows the philosophers (and the Gnostics along with them) to view created beings as copies of (or phantasms pointing to) ingenerate forms or archetypes. God in the philosophers’ scheme is motionless and self-satisfied; thus the deity is forever unmoved toward anything outside of His own nature, while the individual human is separated from the divine only until he reaches eudaemonia which is happiness through direct intellectual contact either with the divine nature, or with divine archetypes.[3] From the human point of view, this means that “man has the intellectual power to penetrate to the deeper meaning of phenomena and identify his mind directly with the ingenerate reality. [Thus,] he is able to save himself by his own powers.”[4]

Orthodox Fathers of the Church, on the other hand, have always distinguished between “the wholly positive creation of the world and the fall of the world.”[5] God created the world directly, freely, and without any intermediary. No preexisting matter, principle, or archetype came into play in the creation of the world; the world did not flow or emanate directly from the essence of God. Though it is a bulwark of Greek philosophy, Fr. John points to this emanation doctrine as the reason why these writers are forced (through a dialectical dilemma) into pantheism (God is the world) or theo-eudaemonism (God is eternally unmoved toward an eternally moving world).[6] The significance of the Orthodox doctrine of creation ex nihilo is illustrated by considering the related teaching on the uncreated energies of God. If what God is (His nature) is identical to His acts (His energies), then God cannot freely choose to create, nor can He truly love the world, since such a Being always acts according to Its nature, and thus cannot not create. As a result, this God’s love is unfree.

This God is not love.

Fr. John’s query seems to be: Is any love, not freely chosen, that is attributed to an unmoved deity, worth the name?


[1] Fr. John S. Romanides, The Ancestral Sin…, translated by George S. Gabriel (Redgewood, NJ: Zephyr, 2002). Orig. pub. in Greek as Ton Propatorikon Amartema… (Athens: Ek tou Typographeiou tes Apostolikes Diakonias tes Ekklesias tes Hellados, 1957).

[2] Ibid., p. 36. 

[3] Ibid., p. 47.

[4] Ibid., p. 45.

[5] Ibid., p. 42.

[6] Ibid., p. 43.


Posted in Creation, Eastern Orthodox Theology, Eastern Religions; Orthodoxy; Eastern Orthodox Theology, Gnosticism, Greeks, Hellenes, Orthodoxy, philosophy, Platonic Forms, Pseudomorphosis of Orthodoxy, Romanides, Romanity, Romeosyne, Soteriology, Western Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


©James L. Kelley 2017

According to Fr. John Romanides, the First Ecumenical Council was not a convocation of textual critics and careerist ecclesiastics who hoped to use scholarly methods or up-to-date philosophy to understand Church teachings. In other words, they did not have a World Council of Churches Consultation at Nicea. Rather, the question at Nicea concerned the Lord of Glory (Christ) seen by the saints before and after the Incarnation: Was he created or uncreated? The Arians and the Orthodox agreed that the Old Testament “Angel of the Lord” (Exodus 3.6) was Jesus Christ before He became Incarnate. Thus, they did not differ about who the Angel-Logos was and is; the question was what exactly is the origin, and thus the status and nature of the disincarnate Angel-Logos who later “became” Jesus Christ Incarnate?[1] The heretics and the Orthodox, in Fr. John’s words, “were not arguing speculatively over an abstract Second Person of the Holy Trinity whose identity and nature one allegedly deciphered by mulling over biblical passages with the help of Hellenistic philosophy and the Holy Spirit. What they were discussing was the spiritual experience of the prophets and apostles; specifically whether it is a created or uncreated logos who appears in glory to them and reveals in Himself as Image God the Father…”.[2] To put it simply, there was no such thing as speculative theology at the Ecumenical Councils; even the Arian heretics brought to the table the presupposition that correct theology is empirical. However, Augustine and those following in his train will later (unknowingly) build upon the style of speculative metaphysics combated at the Second Ecumenical Council. But, to return to Nicea…

For the Arians, the Lord of Glory was brought into existence at the beginning of the ages by God the Father; thus, for them the vision of the Lord of Glory is of an aeonic creature. The Orthodox had no need to collaborate with Arians to arrive at a correct answer to the question at hand, but rather wasted no time demonstrating to the Arians through Holy Scripture what they already knew from their own spiritual experience, that (1) the Lord of Glory has every energy that the Father has, and (2) being God’s “Angel,” He takes His being from the Father. Thus, Christ is fully God and vision of Him is not of a creation, but of the uncreated (this is where the Arians, with their created Logos as a product of the Father’s uncreated energy, go astray). Interestingly, neither Arians nor Orthodox were ever misled into thinking that the saints’ vision of the Lord of Glory gave them access to the divine essence. Also, note that the Arians understood that there is a distinction between essence and energy in God. Everyone at Nicea, it follows, believed that only God knows his own essence. Finally, both Arians and Orthodox agreed that “the Hypostases and names of God and Father in relation to the Logos and Son were not interchangeable, but rather permanent hypostatic properties and individualities and numerically distinct.”[3]

Because this notion of a shared Orthodox-Arian set of presuppositions about experience of Trinitarian revelation in Christ the Lord of Glory is so crucial to Fr. John’s presentation of Orthodoxy (and to his critique of the Augustinian West), we reproduce his listing of these from his article “Christological Teaching of St. John of Damascus”:

[The] Orthodox and Arians agreed on the following items:
a) That in God energy and will are distinct from the divine essence.
b) That God created by will and by energy and not by nature.
c) That only God knows His own essence.
d) That there is no similarity between God and the created.
e) That only God can possess by nature the divine will, power and energy.
f) That creatures may participate in the divine will, power, and energy only by grace, never by nature.[4]

To this, we could add

g) That the hypostases, hypostatic properties, and names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are permanent and non-interchangable.

What is remarkable is that Augustine disagrees with every single one of these precepts. In other words, Augustine and Western Christians use the same terminology recognized by the First Ecumenical Council by Orthodox and Arians, but they no longer understand the meaning of these Christological and Trinitarian terms. Being ignorant of the realities to which these terms point, Augustinian Christians have no inkling about what constitutes the Fall of man. Consequently, they are clueless as to what salvation in Christ could possibly be about. (In another post we will discuss the Orthodox teachings about the sickness of the noetic energy in man and the salvation of man as the purification, illumination, and glorification of the whole man in Christ.)[5]

Fr. John presents the problem in the following terms: The Nicean and post-Nicean Conciliar terminology, totally misunderstood by Augustine, was nonetheless retained by the Western Church, where it was reinterpreted as a system of knowledge accessible through human reason, but only to individuals who have “faith” in the authority of the Church. This is Augustine’s famous credo ut intelligam, which is so paradigmatic for the Christian West that it continues to define not only Roman Catholic theology (where we still today witness the corollary teachings “development of doctrine” and beatific vision), but also all Protestant theologies (which hold to either sola scriptura, salvation by “faith,” social progressivism based on God’s will evinced in nature, or some combination thereof).

So, what is the point here? Western Christianity follows Augustine in its theology, especially the Bishop of Hippo’s ideas about Christ’s theophanies as created angelophanies. Shockingly enough, Augustine did not understand that no one, not even angels, will ever know anything about the essence of God. Who knew this? Even the Arians understood this, and thus they agreed with the Orthodox and disagreed with Augustine (who of course was born too late to experience Nicea and who did not make it to the 2nd Great Council). Arius and his followers knew that no one will ever know the essence of God; they only erred in thinking that the Son of God received His being energetically from the Father. Augustine did not understand what every Orthodox saint knows by experience: that we can participate in God’s energies by means of those selfsame energies, but we cannot participate in God’s essence, which is absolutely unlike anything else and is absolutely incomparable to any created essence. This is the crux of the ongoing division between the Orthodox Church and the Western Churches, though the latter continue to believe that they follow Nicea.


[1] Fr. John S. Romanides, “Jesus Christ, the Life of the World,” Xenia Oecumenica 39 (1983), pp. 232-275, at p. 233.

[2] Ibid., p. 234.

[3] Fr. John S. Romanides, “The Christological Teaching of John of Damascus,” Ekklesiastikos Pharos 58 (1976), pp. 232-269, at p. 235.

[4] Ibid. Fr. John notes that St. Gregory Palamas “observ[ed] that Barlaam should have accepted [the distinction between divine essence and divine energies], since even Arius himself had accepted it” (Fr. John Romanides, An Outline of Orthodox Patristic Dogmatics, trans. G.D. Dragas [Rollinsford, NH: Orthodox Research Institute, 2004], p. 5).

[5] This situation has led to pervasive confusions among non-Orthodox Christians and even some Orthodox about basic questions such as “What is the purpose and meaning of religious terms such as ‘Holy Trinity,’ ‘Body of Christ,’ and ‘Two Natures and Wills of Christ’?,” “What is Unity in Christ?” and “What is the meaning of the Fall of Man?” Today we even have groups of non-Orthodox Christians who go to councils with Orthodox and do nothing but try to produce “Agreed Statements” with Christological and Trinitarian terminology adjusted to make it acceptable to all involved. This could all be dismissed with a toss of the head as a mere waste of time, were it not evidence that even the Orthodox at these convocations either do not know about glorification, or are too timid to broach the subject, being outnumbered by their counterparts from so-called “divided” Churches. But the World Council of Churches is “Christian democracy in action,” and who would admit to being anti-democratic? In one of my books I showed how the German Lutheran philosopher and irenicist G.W. Leibniz hatched a plan to cajole the hardline Protestants and hidebound Roman Catholics of his time into accepting Church union because to do otherwise would be intolerant and thus a contradiction in reason-based morals. Is the “Pan-Orthodox” council in Crete and other similar ventures an “Eastern” version of Leibniz’s and the World Council of Churches’ efforts to base Church union, not on the identity of the members of the Body of Christ’s experience of glorification, but rather on a supposedly tolerant social activism that is a great grandchild of Augustine’s credo ut intelligam and that is, in any case, a flagrant case of “men-pleasing”?

Posted in Christology, Eastern Orthodox Theology, Greeks, Hellenes, Middle Ages, Modern Orthodox Theologians, Orthodoxy, philosophy, Romanides, Romanity, Romeosyne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Augustine, Aquinas, Barlaam & Palamas: The Root of Western Theological Error

Jay Dyer gives us a rundown of the differences between Aquinas and St. Gregory Palamas…and a lot more…

Jay's Analysis

fullsizeoutput_367 St. Gregory Palamas

By: Jay Dyer

When Western theology attempts to understand and interact with Eastern Orthodox theology’s distinctions, it is generally dismissed as “Palamism” – some form of obscure, medieval Byzantine mysticism. Upon deeper reflection and the realization  the Eastern Fathers all teach a distinction between essence and energy in God, in our watered-down ecumenical morass, it has become an exercise in seeing if oil and water can be mixed. As a Roman Catholic year back I tried to do this mixing job, as well. Is there some way to reconcile the two? As a good friend once said, if the two communions have argued against one another on this issue for hundreds of years, is it really plausible that a few online bloggers can reconcile the breach?  No, it isn’t, nor is it plausible the Eastern Church desperately needs the pope, when, by the mere fact that the…

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In his 2013 article “The Image of the West in Contemporary Greek Theology,” Pantelis Kalaitzidis, director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, has launched a critique of the supposed ideological, nationalistic, and even racist underpinnings of the theologies of Fr. John Romanides and Christos Yannaras.[1] Though Kalaitzidis’s critique of Fr. John Romanides’s theology (and of details of his public life) is both alarmingly glib and blatantly misinformed, the article does have a bright spot—its critique of Yannaras’s Hellenophilism. In these pages, we will first offer a brief consideration of Yannaras’s problematic “logos”-motif; the second, more substantial part will summarize and refute Kalaitzidis’s contentions about Father John Romanides.

I have always felt that the weakest point of Yannaras’s theology was his idiosyncratic idea of a philosophico-theological principle of “logos.” Yannaras’s “logos” purportedly explains why Greeks and others in Eastern Europe were especially equipped to accept the revelation of Christ. This Hellenic “logos”-mindset has as its dialectical opposite the “ratio” mentality of the barbarian hordes that destroyed the Roman empire in the West, and which became the leaders of the Frankish Empire and then the leaders of Western European states, or so Yannaras’s metanarrative would have it.[2] In light of the foregoing, I agree with Kalaitzidis that this “logos” theme in Yannaras, despite the Greek theologian’s good intentions, cannot avoid tinges of Hellenocentrism.[3] Yannaras is indeed off-base in holding the decisive factor in Christian history to have been the Greeks’ purported relational and communal-participatory thinking, the latter supposedly having led Eastern Roman society as a whole to embrace Orthodoxy.

But Kalaitzidis does not delve deep enough to see that Yannaras’s socio-cultural and philosophico-theological “logos” idea is not simply wrong-headed; rather, Yannaras’s quasi-phyletist ideas about the Greek nation and its supposed “logos” is the wrong answer to a specific tacit question, namely, “Why did Orthodoxy continue in the Roman East even after Orthodoxy was replaced by Augustinian Roman Catholic Christianity in the former West Roman Empire?” Yannaras’s question, I contend, can be subsumed under a more fundamental query: “How are human beings saved from death and sin by being united to Christ in His Church?” Fr. John Romanides’s work is focused firmly upon the latter question, and so the Greek-American theologian avoids accepting the presuppositions behind the Western-Augustinian tradition; not avoiding the Western approach leads Yannaras and others to ineffectual railing against the Christian West. However, Father John also answers Yannaras’s question in the following way: Orthodoxy continued in the Eastern Roman Empire, not because of any Hellenic intellectual acumen or cultural predisposition, but rather because the tradition of the cure of the noetic energy through the “threefold path” was not stamped out in the Christian East, as it was in the West once it was taken over by the Franks.

Fr. John Romanides asks the question of how man is saved by Christ in the Church, and he restates with great vigor the Patristic Orthodox answer: The Church of Christ is not built upon any particular set of philosophical principles, and She is not built upon any particular type of socio-political organization; rather, the Church is made up of those whose noetic faculties are being healed, the goal being the illumination of the heart, and ultimately, glorification, which is vision of God’s uncreated energies by means of those selfsame energies.[4]

By pointing out Fr. John’s success vis-à-vis Yannaras’s theological shortcomings, I do not mean to single out Yannaras’s theology as at every point erroneous. However, it seems that Yannaras’s mistaken concept of “logos” misled him into accepting the brand of pseudo-Orthodox “personalism” and “anti-essentialism” that Kalaitzidis rightly traces back to German Romantic-derived theology and history that Yannaras imbibed at Western universities, and which is taught at most Orthodox seminaries today (evidence that the “Orthodox seminary” as it exists is problematic from the perspective of cure of the heart; that is, from the perspective of Orthodoxy).[5] In short, Yannaras is not alone among Orthodox theologians in failing to comprehend that the core of Orthodoxy is more than “socio-religious communion with all beings” per sé, and it is more than adherence to any philosophical approach (whether we call it “logos” or “faith seeking understanding”) as the “inner coherence of things.”

So, if the core of Orthodoxy is glorification, what can we say about it? As Fr. John and the Church Fathers repeat, when one is granted glorification, one does not achieve mental equilibrium or self-satisfied autonomy as in the eudaemonia imagined by pre-Christian Greeks and by the Augustinophile West. Rather, glorification is the only way for man to share in the Cross; glorification is the crucifixion of one’s selfish love and is the abolition of all concepts and dogmas, since it is what holy words and teachings therapeutically point toward. Glorification “is liberation even from the blameless passions [such as hunger, sleep, fear of death, etc.]. Thus human beings are restored to the original purpose of their creation which is to be independent of creation, dependent fully of God, co-glorified with Christ and therefore co-rulers over creation.”[6]

With these points in mind, we now turn to Kalaitzidis’s analysis of Fr. John’s theology.

Kalaitzidis makes four assertions about Fr. Romanides and his work:

(1) Fr. John Romanides’s articles and books written before 1975 are less anti-Western than those written in 1975 and after, showing that Fr. John slid into extremism in his theology in the mid-seventies;

(2) Fr. John’s post-1975 work equates “Romeosyne” with certain nations, and also exempts any of the inhabitants of these “Roman” nations from any criticism;

(3) Fr. John restricts theology (and thus glorification) to Romans only; this leads us to refute the biggest mistake Kalaitzidis makes, that

(4) It follows from points 1 through 3 that Fr. John’s theology “has promulgated…racism.”

Now, we will answer these objections one by one:

(1) Fr. John Romanides’s articles and books written before 1975 are less anti-Western than those written in 1975 and after, showing that Fr. John slid into extremism in his theology in the mid-seventies.

Kalaitzidis claims that the Fr. John Romanides who wrote between 1956 and 1965 was less anti-Western and more open to non-Orthodox theology than the later Fr. John who wrote about “Romeosyne” and the Franks. To cite Kalaitzidis’s own words, Fr. John’s pre-1975 “theological interests are wide and broad-minded, as can be seen from his involvement in the ecumenical movement, which he assessed positively, and his concern for religious freedom, and even…Islam.”[7]

First let us dispense with the idea that Fr. John was “soft on the West” in his early work by looking at one of Fr. John’s earliest articles, “Original Sin According to Saint Paul,” published in 1955, along with his doctoral dissertation, published as The Ancestral Sin in 1957.[8] In these works Fr. John contends that Western theology is, at its core, enslaved to a conception of God’s justice based upon natural law. Behind this Western legalism is a conception of man as destined either for punishment or for happiness as beatific vision of the principles in God’s essence in the next life. Either man can build up merits through works and go to eudaemonistic heaven, or he is predestined for beatitude by God. Other false doctrines follow for the legalistic West, such as the equation of the energies with the essence of God, which leads to the heresy of created graces, and the filioque, which Fr. John traces back to the West’s teaching that God as actus purus can only be moved toward Himself.[9]

But what is the source of these Western theological errors? Even as early as 1957 Fr. John named Augustine as the conduit for these heresies. Augustine’s rejection of hesychasm and embrace of neoplatonic illuminism is the historical cause for this total deviation from Orthodoxy.[10] Therefore, Kalaitzidis’s idea that Fr. John went off the deep end by starting to become unyielding toward the West after 1975 is groundless; also unfounded is Kalaitzidis’s notion that Fr. John’s opposition to the West and to Augustinian theology is “one-sided” or “ideological.”[11] Kalaitzidis approves of the measured, restrained tone of Ancestral Sin; but this book insists that Augustine is the source of all of the West’s doctrinal deviations, which Fr. John in this book condemns as in every way inimical to man’s salvation!

Another work that Kalaitzidis cites as indicative of Fr. John’s supposed early “broadmindedness” is “An Orthodox Look At the Ecumenical Movement.” Even the most cursory glance at the contents of this piece, though, shows that Fr. John’s stance toward ecumenism is the same as it was in his later life—he went into the movement knowing that the approach to “Church union” held by every non-Orthodox involved (and many Orthodox as well) was determined by the heterodox teachings of Augustine (with the possible exception of some of the Oriental Orthodox[12]), and that any success would be the result, not of democratic head-counts in WCC meetings, but in convincing the non-Orthodox that they had to rid themselves of any heresies (Augustinianism) in order to find the only true unity in Christ’s Church. Father John has the following to say in “An Orthodox Look At the Ecumenical Movement”:

Perhaps the most popular Protestant approach has been the insistence that St. Paul is the ultimate in the Christian understanding of the message of Christ, and the only Father in the ancient Church who had a real understanding of St. Paul was St. Augustine, and the only ones who understood both St. Paul and St. Augustine were the Reformers. Since the Roman Catholics also had a claim on St. Augustine, the quarrel between Catholics and Protestants resolved a great deal around him. As a spectator to this debate the Orthodox is both amused and confused. The Greek Fathers never paid any attention to St. Augustine but they did pay an enormous amount of attention to the theology of St. Paul. After listening patiently to this debate over St. Augustine and St. Paul, the Orthodox is amazed when he reads St. Augustine himself who claims that he abandoned his attempt to write an interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans because of its difficulty.[13]

Here Fr. John is bemused at how the Protestants and Roman Catholics at these interfaith meetings still knowingly follow Augustine as the number one extra-biblical authority on Holy Tradition, despite the fact that his hit-and-miss approach to Biblical interpretation proves that, far from being inspired by God to interpret the Bible, Augustine could not figure out what St. Paul was talking about and so he gave up trying.

Another article Kalaitzidis cites as an example of Father John’s early openness to the West is “A Greek Orthodox View of Ecumenism,” which originally appeared in 1964.[14] In this essay, though, Father John speaks about all of Western Christianity as having its origin in a Frankish “theological provincialism” based upon Augustine’s theology of the filioque that transformed the Papacy into a “vassal kingdom of the Frankish Empire.”[15] Father John is here calling to our attention the historical circumstances that led the Western half of the Roman Empire to become captured by a Frankish warrior elite that were truly “one-sided” and “anti-ecumenical” in declaring all who denied their heretical theology of the filioque to be heretics in 794 A.D. So this is how Fr. John—supposedly more “broadminded” in his early days—pats the non-Orthodox on the head at ecumenical gatherings? One is tempted to conclude that Kalaitzidis simply read the titles of Fr. John’s early articles without considering the texts that go along with them, and then leaped to misjudgment.

(2) Fr. John’s post-1975 work equates “Romeosyne” with certain nations, and also exempts any of the inhabitants of these “Roman” nations from any criticism.

We now move on to Kalaitzidis’s second point, though our response may answer points 3 and 4 in the process. Kalaitzidis says that

Romanides’s broadmindedness suffered a dramatic retreat after 1975, when his book Romiosyne was published. In this work, the notorious divine of Greek (Orthodox) east versus Latin (Roman Catholic) West gives way to the radical and absolute chasm between so-called Orthodox ‘Romiosyne’ Greek and Latin-speaking, on the one hand, and a heretical ‘Francosyne,’ on the other. From the appearance of Romiosyne onward, Romanides’s discourse has nothing in common with the moderate and carefully qualified prose of The Ancestral Sin and other early theological writings. Hereafter, the West is wholly demonized and proclaimed responsible for all the misfortunes of the Orthodox, both theological and historical/national.[16]

There are many separable claims made in this passage by Kalaitzidis. One is that Fr. John after 1975 suddenly decided to go from thinking of the East and West division of Christendom in theological terms to thinking of it in culturo-historical terms as well. For Kalaitzidis, this inclusion of history in the discussion of theological differences is equivalent to polarizing the Christian East and Christian West in to two opposed sides, making them political enemies that cannot sit at a table and negotiate a theological settlement. But Fr. John’s historical thesis about the Carolingian capture of Western Christendom behind the banner of Augustine and the possible conspiracy against West Romans with the Feudal Revolution is only an extension and expansion of Fr. John’s earlier approach to ecumenism, which, as we have outlined, showed Western Christians that they have no connection to true cure of the soul and body in Christ as long as they base their theology on Augustine, who himself declared his first philosophical principle and his first theological principle to be identical—the Neoplatonic “One,” which is also the essence of God. Augustine also seems to have conspired against a form of hesychasm he encountered in North Africa.[17]

So, Fr. John conceived of an “absolute chasm” between Orthodoxy and the Christian West from his earliest writings, and not, as Kalaitzidis holds, only after 1975. In fact, within three years of publishing Ancestral Sin, we already find Father John exploring the historical reality of Western elites who guide the cultural development of non-European countries according to their own twisted notions of “progress,” in the aforementioned “A Greek Orthodox View of Ecumenism.” The prototype of every instance of Westernization, Fr. John argues, is Charlemagne and the Franks’ late 8th and early 9th century establishment of the Frankish Empire and Church, based on Augustine’s theology generally and Augustine’s filioque specifically. That the Franks were scheming to get both the theological upper-hand as well as the sociopolitical upper-hand by putting forward a newfangled filioquist, Augustinian theology at councils full of Frankish warrior-bishops is hard to deny, and many Western historians admit as much without being “conspiracy theorists.” Moreover, do not some of today’s geopolitical shenanigans echo the Franks’ stratagems in the middle ages? Is Father John wrong that the Great European Powers have toyed around with the Balkans and Eastern Europe to keep the peoples there divided and thus manipulable? There is too much evidence to the contrary, as Father John has shown us. However, Kalaitzidis is not interested in taking Father John’s arguments seriously; Kalaitzidis thinks that showing Father John to be “anti-ecumenical” in outlook is sufficient to condemn him as non-Orthodox. In truth, the term “ecumenism” means many things to many people, and thus to prove that a person is an “ecumenist” without defining the latter term is a completely futile exercise (in these pages we use the term “ecumenistic” and its variants as a pejorative meaning “compromising and thus denying the truths of Orthodoxy through false unions with non-Orthodox”). Futile, that is, unless Kalaitzidis wishes to cast aspersions on a theologian whose defense of Orthodoxy in the face of the West’s Augustinian heresies offends his own pro-Western sensibilities.

Also, as I have written elsewhere, Fr. John’s thesis about the Franks taking the Western lands of the Roman Empire hostage is echoed in strands of the West’s own historiography. Think of the voluminous literature that continues to accumulate about the Coronation of Charlemagne in 800 A.D., much of which bases itself on the assumption that the Frankish king and his advisers, on the one hand, and the Pope, on the other hand, both had power-based ulterior motives in setting up (and, in the Pope’s case, possibly hijacking) the former’s crowning. Also, we should recall the in-depth studies by Duby, Bonnaissie and Poly about the “feudal revolution”; these historians speak of a power-grab that reduced non-Franks to servitude across an entire continent.[18] Is this conspiracy theory, or just a theory that clashes with Kalaitzidis’s “two branches” ecclesiology?[19]

On the other side of the coin, anyone who thinks with Kalaitzidis that Fr. John is casting all blame for the Greek people’s woes on the Franks and on Western Europeans has not payed attention to the harsh words Fr. John delivers to the Greeks in Athens and Thessaloniki in his lectures collected in Patristic Theology. Since Fr. John chides the Greeks in the audience about their gullibility and their misunderstandings every five pages or so, I pick the following quotations only because close to hand: “[Though many in Greece have become hesychasts and experienced noetic prayer,] Naturally, some [scientists], especially here in Greece, will say that [noetic prayer] is something made up by priests.”[20] Fr. John also upbraids “modern Greek theologians [who] follow their teacher Adamanios Korais and use metaphysics to [do theology].”[21] Also, “modern Greeks have some trouble recognizing [that the Fathers rejected Platonic-style teachings on the soul] because they are in such awe of Plato and Aristotle. Modern Greeks learn to admire them so much in school that the Fathers turn into performers on the stage who dance to the music of Plato and Aristotle.”[22]

Here Father John is not exempting the people of Greece, as geographical successor to the Eastern Roman Empire, from criticisms. Indeed, Father John is aware that the Eastern Roman Empire instigated intrigues similar to those always put in motion by political entities. It would be naïve beyond all measure for anyone to single out a socio-political entity as exempt from self-interestedly exploiting the “information asymmetry” between rulers and ruled. If some state or ethnos existed that could glide magically above power politics, we would be fools not to worship it instead of the Holy Trinity. Sadly, I fear many in the name of Orthodoxy worship Enlightenment ideals of man-made progress which they think are operative in their ecumenistic schemes.

Besides, if disagreeing with a heretical theological tradition is tantamount to “demonizing” it, then we Orthodox are demonizers every Sunday of Orthodoxy, when we anathematize Augustine without naming him for believing in eidola or forms in God. Incidentally, we also “demonize” Protestants and Roman Catholics so many times on the Sunday of Orthodoxy that no one present could possibly miss it, unless perhaps they are so ecumenistically-minded that they see the anathemas as an outmoded historical accretion that we must try to erase through liturgical reform! So, using Kalaitzidis’s hot-button words and phrases like “demonizing” and “disregarding the Other,” though they provoke a frisson up and down so-called theological progressives’ backs, prove absolutely nothing about Father John Romanides’s teaching. We have to dig into the works of Fr. John to find out what his purpose was in writing about Romeosyne and about the Franks. Now, we will close our piece by answering the last two items on our list of unproven points by Kalaitzidis, which are:

(3) Fr. John restricts theology (and thus glorification) to Romans only; this leads us to refute the biggest mistake Kalaitzidis makes, that

(4) It follows from points 1 through 3 that Fr. John’s theology “has promulgated…racism.”

According to Kalaitzidis, Father John’s theology features a “reductive geographical identification of all those graced with the vision of God and the uncreated light with the so-called citizens of Romanity and Romiosyne.”[23] Kalaitzidis goes on to say that

Beyond the terrain of Romiosyne—Greek or Latin—Romanides sees no possibility for such things as repentance, spiritual struggle, holiness, sanctification, or even salvation. It seems as if he delimits all these to a certain cultural domain. Therefore…in the eyes of [Romanides], holiness, the vision of God, and Orthodoxy in its pure form, is intrinsically intertwined with a certain empire; i.e., the Roman Empire and its citizens. Thus, even…the Slavs…are…openly denounced as collaborators with the Francs….[24]

A third quotation from Kalaitzidis’s piece includes the outrageous accusation that Father John taught racism. So that we can be as fair and precise as possible in our answer to this accusation, here is Kalaitzidis:

It will have to suffice to indicate here, for our present purposes, the existence of a deeper, underlying link between Romanides’s peculiar ecclesiological oligarchy (i.e., his demand for a proven and objectified vision of God as a prerequisite for doing theology, and the restriction of this possibility to ‘Romans’) and the peculiar racism and anti-Westernism that his theology has promulgated.[25]

Let us answer the racism accusation by pointing the reader’s attention to the second part of Father John’s four-part study “The Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness of Religion.” In section 17 Father John states quite clearly that racism is tied to pagan ideas of Romeosyne, which deified the Roman State and conferred a quasi-deification on those organically united to Her through blood and soil:

All humans suffer from [the darkening of the noetic energy] “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) The difference among humans is not equality or inequality of race, but whether one is being cured or not. Within this context we have a complete reversal of the above foundation of the Hellenic paganism of the Roman Empire. The great struggle between paganism and Christianity in the time of Emperor Constantine the Great (306-337) is reflected in the difference between Roman Greeks (meaning Pagans) and Roman Christians. All Pagan Romans were defending their aristocratic ancient Hellenic identity and traditions which was being torn apart by the aristocratic identity of the cure of glorification which was open to all Romans, both gentis and non-gentis, and to all non-Romans. The “Aristocracy” of Glorification is no respecter of the aristocracy of birth.[26]

Just in case the foregoing passage does not convince everyone that Father John recognized that the Romanity or Roman-ness of Orthodoxy—far from being preferential to any particular ethnos—is in fact the overturning of racism in society and especially theology, I reproduce the following statement from Father John’s 1978 article, “Critical Examination of the Applications of Theology”:

…[A]ll men regardless of nationality, race, and colour have the noetic faculty and therefore the possibility of reaching illumination by means of purification and then if God pleases they may experience glorification at its varying degrees. (…)

Such a spiritual life and theology is neither Greek, nor Russian, nor Bulgarian, nor Serbian, etc., but rather prophetic, apostolic, or simply christian.

In the light of this one may put the question, what is “Russian Spirituality,” and why is it presented as something higher than or simply different from other Orthodox spiritualities?[27]

It is fitting that we close with this quotation, since it not only defeats Kalaitzidis’s claim that Father John spread racism, but further gives the lie to Kalaitzidis’s assertion that Father John denied salvation in Christ to those not in a particular geographical region of “romanity.” As a bonus, this passage shows Kalaitzidis’s notion that Father John favored Greek and Latin Romans over Russians to be groundless. What is the Orthodox “good news” according to Father John Romanides? The barbaro-pagan notion that one man is inherently inferior to another has now been buried by the revelation in Christ and His Saints that the only difference between one man and another is whether or not his noetic energy has been healed.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.



[1] Pantelis Kalaitzidis, “The Image of the West in Contemporary Greek Theology,” 142-160 in Orthodox Constructions of the West, edited by George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013).

[2] On Yannaras’s “logos” concept, see Evaggelia Grigoropoulou, The Early Development of the Thought of Christos Yannaras, D.Phil. dissertation (University of Durham, 2008), pp. 87-89.

[3] Kalaitzidis, “The Image of the West,” p. 158.

[4] Father John S. Romanides, in Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos, Empirical Dogmatics of the Orthodox Catholic Church According to the Spoken Teaching of Father John Romanides, Volume Two, translated by Sister Pelagia Selfe (Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2013), p. 49.

[5] Ibid., pp. 158-159. Father John Romanides, though he does not refer to Yannaras by name, makes the following comment against the heresy that will or energy is opposed to or elevated above nature in God and/or man: “…[S]alvation is not a matter of doing good things by will as opposed to the necessities of nature, but rather a renewal of the natural freedom of human nature itself. (…) In His human nature Christ was not free by an act of will. He was free by His very nature” (“Highlights in the Debate over Theodore of Mopseuestias Christology and Some Suggestions For a Fresh Approach,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 5 (1959-1960), pp. 140-85, here p. 173).

[6] Father John S. Romanides, “Justice and Peace in Ecclesiological Context,” 234-249 in Come Holy Spirit—Renew the Whole Creation, edited by G. Limouris (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press), p. 235.

[7] Kalaitzidis, “The Image of the West,” p. 145.

[8] Father John S. Romanides, “Original Sin According to Saint Paul,” Saint Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 4 (1955-56), pp. 5-28; and idem, The Ancestral Sin, translated by George S. Gabriel (Ridgewood, NJ: Zephyr, 2002 [orig. pub. In Greek as Ton Propatorikon Hamertema (Athens, 1957)]).

[9] Romanides, Ancestral Sin, p. 104, footnote.

[10] See James L. Kelley, A Realism of Glory: Lectures on Christology in the Works of Protopresbyter John Romanides (Rollinsford, NH: Orthodox Research Institute, 2009).

[11] Kalaitzidis, “The Image of the West,” p. 143.

[12] See Kelley, Realism of Glory, pp. 91-93. Fr. John felt that the Oriental Orthodox were not essentially in thrall to Augustinian categories of theology, but that they were in danger of sliding into a more wholesale acceptance of Augustine the more they used Roman Catholic and Protestant historiographies to justify their strict adherence to the notion that Christ had “one ousia after the union.” Fr. John’s comment made at an interfaith conference at Aarhus, Denmark in August 1964 to Bishop Sarkissian indicates his approach and concerns: “It is easy for you to use the Latin interpretation of Chalcedon as a stick against us, but if we are to get anywhere you will have to take the Greek Chalcedonian interpretation of the place of Leo’s Tome at the Fourth Council more seriously” (Does Chalcedon Divide or Unite?: Toward Convergence in Orthodox Christology, edited by Paulos Gregorius, William H. Lazareth and Nikos A. Nissiotis [Geneva: WCC, 1981], p. 73). Cf. idem, “St. Cyril’s One Physis or Hypostasis of God the Logos Incarnate and Chalcedon,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 10 (1964-65), pp. 82-102.

[13] Fr. John Romanides, “An Orthodox Look at the Ecumenical Movement,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 10 (1964), pp. 7-14. Online version at:

[14] Father John Romanides, “A Greek Orthodox View of Ecumenism,” Orthodox Observer 535 (Nov. 1964), pp. 335, 339; 537 (Dec. 1964), pp. 370-71.

[15] Ibid., p. 335.

[16] Kalaitzidis, “The Image of the West,” p. 145.

[17] See Father John S. Romanides, “Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 6 (1961), pp. 186-285; and idem, “Notes on the Palamite Controversy and Related Topics,” II, Greek Orthodox Theological Review 9 (1963-1964), pp. 225-270.

[18] See George Duby, France in the Middle Ages: 987-1460, translated by Juliet Vale (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), especially p. 59, which comments on the frenzy of castle-building engaged in by the Franks in order to consolidate their hold over the Gallo-Roman masses in the early 11th century. Cf. Jean-Pierre Poly and Eric Bournazel, The Feudal Transformation, 900-1200, translated by Caroline Higgitt (New York and London: Holmes and Meier, 1991), pp. 24ff. Also note the following passage from Pierre Bonnassie, which describes the enserfment of millions of Gallo-Romans by the Franks as a more effective (because more indirect) form of Frankish enslavement:

The decline of the [Frankish] slave system…took the form of enfranchisement cum obsequio, motivated by economic factors. In the ninth century…manumissions had already had an effect; slaves constituted only a minority amongst the tenants of the great estates.

Several centuries later, around 1200, servitude existed but was no longer the same. An old name—servus, serf—concealed a new reality: serfdom was not…the continuation of slavery[, since] it affected a much larger number of people…” (From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe, translated by Jean Birrell [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991], pp. 315-316).

Bonnaissie’s analysis makes no sense unless we agree that the Franks, through some combination of scheming and/or taking advantage of the opportunities in their geopolitical grasp, isolated the Gallo-Romans in Europe until, by the 1200s, they knew of no Christendom save that of the Regnum Francorum. Whether you call it a conspiracy or simply a historical reality is immaterial: Those who were Romans in the West came to accept the filioque only after they were enserfed by the Franks, who, over many generations, made sure that their filioquist theology was the only option for their former Gallo-Roman servants.

[19] Kalaitzidis, “The Image of the West,” p. 143.

[20] Father John Romanides, Patristic Theology: The University Lectures of Fr. John Romanides, translated by Father Alexis Trader (The Dalles, OR: Uncut Mountain Press), p. 52.

[21] Ibid., p. 63.

[22] Ibid., p. 65.

[23] Kalaitzidis, “The Image of the West,” pp. 148-149.

[24] Ibid., 149.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Father John Romanides, “The Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness of Religion…, Part Two,” accessed 23 September, 2016,, italics added.

[27] Father John Romanides, “Critical Examination of the Applications of Theology,” 413-441 in Procès-verbaux du deuxième Congrès de théologie Orthodoxe à Athenes, 19-29 août 1976, edited by Savvas C. Agourides (Athens: Theological School of the University of Athens, 1978), p. 438.

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Theirry Jolif, “An Interview with James L. Kelley” Tropinka (2011), English version

Thierry Jolif (Maïkov): James, to the French readers who are not familiar to the work of Father J. S. Romanidès, could you, please expose the main lines of his positions?

James L. Kelley: Since all tasks and employments should begin with praise to God, I will begin with a prayer: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

There are a number of suitable jumping-off points for introducing Fr. John, but since I am addressing a French audience, I think it best to begin with Fr. John’s unique insights into the teaching of Blessed Augustine of Hippo. Fr. Patric (Ranson) was perhaps the most important Romanidesian theologian in France before his passing, and it is no accident that his translation into French of a portion of Fr. John’s Franks, Romans, Feudalism and Doctrine appeared in a collection entitled Dossier H Saint Augustin (J. Romanides, “Le Filioque,” in Dossier H Saint Augustin. L’Age d’Homme, 1988). Fr. John points out that Bl. Augustine, in his De Trinitate and in other writings, spoke of the Old Testament theophanies–the burning bush, the appearance of the Three Angels to Abraham, etc.–as created images that were delivered by angels and which beamed dogmatic concepts directly into the minds of their recipients (J. Romanides, “The Cure of the Neurobiological Sickness…,” avail. online at: This teaching was an innovation by the Bishop of Hippo, since all of the earlier Fathers taught that Moses and Abraham (and the other OT prophets and patriarchs) were visited by the uncreated energy or glory of the Holy Trinity, and not “ephemeral created symbols and concepts about [God]” (ibid.). Why is this important? 1) A central teaching of Christ’s Church from the first century to the present is that God saves, not through creatures, but through His own Trinitarian Life and Love, which transcends Augustinian concepts. 2) All non-Orthodox Christian theology follows the misunderstandings of Bl. Augustine. Because Augustine misunderstood, or was simply ignorant of, the Church’s teaching about God’s union with man through His uncreated energies, the African Bishop extended his errors into other areas of Church teaching, “double predestination” and “inherited original sin” being just a couple of the unfortunate consequences of his unparalleled infuence upon Western theology (see J. Romanides, Ancestral Sin. Zephyr, 2002; and my A Realism of Glory. Orthodox Research Institute, 2009). Fr. John also was the first to connect the anti-Orthodox theology of the 14th century Calabrian monk Barlaam to specific positions of Bl. Augustine. This means that the Orthodox Church condemned the teachings of Bl. Augustine about the Trinity and about the Old Testament theophanies when She condemned Barlaam’s identical teachings at the Palamite Councils in the 14the century.

Thierry Jolif (Maïkov): Again, for the «profanes» what could you say about the reception of his works within the Orthodox Church?

James L. Kelley: It is sad to see that so many supposedly Orthodox theologians in the English-speaking world either ignore Fr. John’s work, or attempt to dismiss it. A recent book called Orthodox Readings of Augustine included an introduction by George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou called “Augustine and the Orthodox: ‘The West’ in the East.” In this piece, the authors accuse Fr. John of misquoting Bl. Augustine, but offer no references to support their position. Also, Fr. John’s seminal work Ancestral Sin is disparaged because it “read the Augustinian material on grace and free will through the lens of the fourteenth-century Palamite distinction between God’s essance and his energies” (32). However, these “Palamite Councils” are the 14th century Constantinopolitan Church Councils that are binding on all Orthodox Christians, and which put forth that all Orthodox must agree with St. Gregory Palamas that the essence and energies of God are not to be identified, and that the whole Tradition of the Church is represented in the correct teaching about God’s energies. Given this fact, any approach to the Fathers of the Church that is not a view through this “Palamite lens” is by definition false. The authors hope to chide at Fr. John for saying that Augustine was a “poor hesychast” (ibid.). However, hesychasm is as old as the Church, and it is the foundation of the Orthodox Faith from the Church’s beginnings. The truth is, Augustine’s writings reflect an erroneous teaching about God, man, and salvation. Though the sanctity of Bl. Augustine is not in question here, his writings are indeed inadequate expresstions of the Orthodox teachings on the spiritual life. Therefore, Augustine, in this regard, is not a good hesychast! So, it is important to remember that many writing as “Orthodox” today do not have the background or the insight to distinguish what is Orthodox from what is not. This is unfortunate indeed.

Thierry Jolif (Maïkov): Fr. Romanides was very «original» when he states that the way of Christ is not a religion but the cure to the illness of religion (which he compares with the perpetual hapiness-seeking of mankind…). Could you tell us more about this point? And how Fr. Romanidès come to this statement?

James L. Kelley: Well, the Old Testament shows us that God came to man and proclaimed “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” This was truly revolutionary, since God was revealing that the other “gods” were actually demons, and that He was the only true God. The disease that causes people to believe that demons are gods is identical to all other organized forms of worship that existed other than that of the Israelites, the Church that worshipped Christ, though in an anticipatory manner. So, Fr. John used the word “religion“ in exactly the manner that he found it being used in the modern world, as an abstraction, like “politics” or “society.” Fr. John was saying that there are many religious people in the world, and they are ruled by delusions of the mind into believing that a demonic force is a god. However, Orthodoxy offers the cure of this diseased mode of life, and thus it is anti-religious! Many other implications flow from these points, but we lack the time, unfortunately…

Thierry Jolif (Maïkov): Could you explain to us very clearly how father Romanidès links the political of Charlemagne and the Franks with the failure of this cure in Occident?

James L. Kelley: Charlemagne and the Frankish court culture in general based their theology mainly on the teachings of Bl. Augustine. Since Augustine did not teach the correct therapeutic method of cure—that is, he did not teach hesychasm—the Frankish theological ediface was built upon marshy land. For instance, at the Frankish National Church Council at Frankfurt (794), Charlemagne and his bishops had the unbelievable gall to suggest that all of the Romans in the Eastern Empire were not Romans, but a bunch of heretical Greeks who abandoned the true Christian theology. For the Franks, any theology which lacked their Filioque (a theological error supported in Augustine’s De Trinitate) was by definition heretical and “un-Roman.” Fr. John forcefully argued that “Romanness,” or “Romeosyne” resides with the Church that continues the spiritual therapy of Christ and His Apostles. For him, and for me as well, this “Roman” Church is none other than the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church. Thank you for this opportunity to speak about Fr. John of Blessed Memory, and may God be praised, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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“In the Beginning Was Fluid”: An Interview with James L. Kelley. Part One. Ancient Cosmogony and Amniotic Light.

Leo Kelley and James L. Kelley, “’In the Beginning Was Fluid’: An Interview with James L. Kelley. Part One. Ancient Cosmogony and Amniotic Light.” May, 2016.

Leo Kelley: Okay, what we propose to do here is a series of short interviews with James L. Kelley, the purpose being to get into the fine grain of some of his positions on the history of religions and on the history of various ideologies. This one will look into James’ analysis of several ancient cosmologies or cosmogonies. I know that James is interested in finding a “meso-level” theme that can serve as a foundation stone upon which to build a comparative mythology. Once James told me that he wants to split the difference between Joseph Campbell and Walter Burkert; that is, he wants to look at themes that are widely present in ancient cultures, especially the Indo-European-derived ones. If viewed from the perspective of Eastern Orthodox theology, how does the Babylonian cosmos look? We will get into that in our second session, I hope. Right now, I believe, we will try to make some comments on ancient Egyptian views of cosmic origins and hopefully some basic comparisons with the Indo-Iranian material and wherever else we can end up. As a final note on the format, here’s what we plan on doing: James will transcribe what we say here, edit it, and add some footnotes. So this is somewhere between an interview and an article, or that’s the idea anyway.

Now, James, I have noticed that, over the last few years, your work has incorporated quite a number of new interpretive concepts. In conversation you often mention “amniotic light” as a master theme in the history of the West. What is this mysterious “amniotic light”?

James L. Kelley: Let’s take the example of ancient Egypt. In general, ancient accounts of creation say that earth and sky are the end result of an earlier, more primordial process, and the ancient Egyptian evidence follows this pattern. In the Pyramid Texts and in the Coffin Texts the first deity, Atum, realizes that an aspect of himself, a second god called Shu or “void,” has created a space or womb inside his body. Turning his divine power of illuminative vision toward his own suddenly androgynous midriff, Atum sees a whole cosmos of forms that Shu has revealed to him. Atum, now inspired, either sneezes or masturbates (depending on how you interpret the texts). Either way, the divine fluid that exits Atum’s body turns out to be the god Shu.

The newly-externalized Shu creates a space outside of Atum’s body. This space—an external mirror-image of the womb Shu has already made inside Atum—is totally filled by the force or presence of Shu, who remains unseen, though he makes everything else visible (and thus real) in the cosmos by allowing the sun to appear in his space (some versions identify the sun with Shu, actually). Another Egyptian text speaks of the sun as a child that opens up its eyes, and by doing so, “chase[s] away the clouds [and] repell[s] the darkness” by giving birth to his own image through what one text calls “self-developing.”[1] Here we have a parallel between Shu being born as a space opening up in (and out of!) Atum and the child on the lotus bringing into being the world of rocks, trees, and oxygenated atmosphere by being born, that is, by opening its eyes.

So, Shu makes this material world by producing Earth and Sky and then separating them. Shu has, in a sense, replicated Atum’s earlier situation, where Atum’s body floated as a mound of unformed matter surrounded by the undifferentiated, benighted waters of chaos, or Nun. The cosmos is a womb; bodies of gods form the outer barrier, and inside we have a child of light that makes things move and live and have their being by looking at them, by emitting light. Here light is parallel to the waters of Nun in many ways. Nun is disordered and undifferentiated; the “space” aspect of Shu, the relatively dry aspect, is inseparable from the illuminating property. The Egyptian texts say that the waters of Nun are devoid of light. But the cosmic space of Shu is created by a “wet” god, since Shu is the divine moisture emitted by Atum. However, what has been added is air or breath, that is, the spirit or force that pushed Shu from Atum’s body. The womb of illuminated space that is Shu is created by the drying, hardening, solidifying action of air or breath. This is how Atum revealed himself in the first place, as a mound of earth or congealed Nun. The air or vital breath of his own thought is Shu. Shu is Atum’s “son,” his seminal thought. Thus, the world we live in is one of amniotic light. We are in a womb of dried out air that allows ordered motion and development, since is allows the sun to give its light. But the “dried out air,” it must be stressed, is nothing more than a stabilized, ordered counterpart to the chaotic waters of Nun, wherein all the seeds of possible beings were mixed up and even interpenetrated each other.

In short, the space between Earth and Sky in the Egyptian cosmology exhibits two properties—fluidity and luminosity—that make the atmospheric womb an especially apt medium for transferring thought and desire. We find the same thing in the ancient Greeks: Hesiod writes that the cutting apart of the gods Heaven and Earth created a space bounded by their bodies and filled with light. The Greeks also understood that vision is a projection as much as a drinking-in. This is of course the ancient Greek conception of eidola, according to which the human eye ejaculates simulacra or pseudo-material species that make objects visible by touching them physically!

Leo Kelley: So, there is, at least in some foundational Western texts, a connection between vision, light, life, and sexual reproduction…

James L. Kelley: …and don’t forget cosmogony. The whole thing is tied together by the life-and-light bearing fluid that is the essence of the highest god’s body, which is developed into a universe, a cosmos, which is the god’s womb, a space he opened up in himself autoerotically, or autogeneratively at least.

Leo Kelley: Right, but does this connect at all to the ancient Hindu notion of the chakras and of the seminal fluid that becomes luminous and life-granting if it is—through meditation and other means—brought up the spinal column to the brain?

James L. Kelley: I want to go into the ancient Indian or Hindu cosmology and anthropology a bit later, but let me say for the moment that, yes, the whole idea of amniotic light is reflected, I believe, in each of the cultures that spring from the so-called Indo-Europeans. Now, I do not subscribe to any racist views, of course. Many people interested in Indo-European ideas and languages drift over into odd notions that the Indo-Europeans have some kind of superior religio-cultural knowledge that later led to Europeans inventing science, technology, and modern political forms! This kind of grand theorizing is anathema for academic thinkers, even if it is relatively free from so-called ethnocentrism. How much more is this “Aryan Indo-European” theorizing viewed as suspect! And any person on the street should see right through someone dividing the history of human culture into Indo-European and non-Indo-European.

However, the same academic establishment that frowns on any privileging of Indo-European culture (whatever that may be), has no problem critiquing the “West.” For example, a Norwegian scholar Vigdis Songe-Møller wrote a book called Philosophy Without Women: The birth of Sexism in Western Thought in which ancient Greek texts are examined to show that “Western” attitudes toward women can be traced back to their dual ideal of Truth/Beauty.[2] This ideal was imaged by the Greek as the physical body of a free, rational male; Songe-Møller shows that the ancient Greeks (at least some of them) desired the bodied of other Greek men because they devalued the female body as being no more than a passive receptacle. She was the vessel, the sack, wherein the mirror image of the (male) Self was fashioned. She was passive, but the male was active in giving birth, through his seminal fluid, to a copy of himself! And don’t forget that the Greeks saw menstrual blood as a kind of degenerate semen: if the woman had “cooked longer” in the womb, she would have been a boy, but she has a defective body and her semen, her life-blood, is also deficient—her repoductive fluid and her body “failed” to rise to the level of full personhood or maleness.

Anyway, this all leads to one thing: outside of reproduction-oriented union with wives, some Greek men pursued sexual union with Greek boys. The latter were on the threshold of manhood, and this pederasty was viewed as the child’s push into manhood. The point is not that a few Greeks liked men and boys more than women; the point is that this proclivity seems to have been inspired by the main religio-cultural complex that the Greeks inherited from the earlier Indo-European peoples who migrated into the Balkans before Homer wrote (Songe-Møller does not go into the pre-Greek background, incidentally). So, my question is, why is it so objectionable to identify some rough outlines of a cultural formation and call it “Indo-European,” but yet, out of the other side of our politically-correct mouths, we speak about the “West” as this obvious entity that we privilege over colonized cultures or whatever is “non-Western”?

In a way, I am doing a critique of certain aspects of the “West,” but without discounting the fact that the West’s roots in ancient India, Iran, Greece, Latium, Anatolia, etc., are reflected in the religious and cultural structures the medieval and modern “West.” Sometimes I think French thinker Rene Girard is right on the money when he complains that fat-and-sassy Westerners get rid of twinges of conscience by publishing articles and books against “ethnocentrism” [laughter].

Now, with all of this in mind, let me give a hint toward answering your question. The word for “male” in a number of Indo-European languages derives, it is thought, from the Proto-Indo-European root *wiHrós. So we have vīra in Sanskrit, wer in German and English, fer in Irish and vir in Latin. This root word for “male” is where our words virtue and virility come from. Well, it has been noted that this vir-root, which connotes not just “male” but also “growth,” “youth,” and “protuberance,” also seems to refer to the male seed, the life-liquid that ensures the immortality of the male through the production of a son who, in a sense, is the father.[3] As for the chakras, note that Homer used the word “aion” to mean something like “male seed,” but also “spinal fluid.” Other ancient Greek and Roman texts show a belief (very close to the ancient Indian anthropology) that tears, sweat, semen, and spinal fluid are all the same thing: the vital sap or fluid of life (the main analogy here was with plants, who bleed out their life in the form of sap when cut).

As in the chakra theory, the Greco-Roman view holds that this fluid should collect in the skull of the virtuous man; this may be behind Athena’s birth from the head of Zeus, but also remember that, in the Egyptian Ennead, Atum gives birth through some kind of masturbation that results in semen being sneezed out of his head. In Homer the presence of the aion or life-fluid in the body (but especially in the sacred sheath or spinal column) kept the flesh from rotting, and the crushing of the spine led inevitably to the body’s decomposition. Other ancient Greek texts refer to the aion leaving the body in the shape of a snake, which may have influenced the Orphics and the Ophites in later times. At any rate, the important connection is found in Homer’s Iliad, book 19, where the goddess Thetis causes drops of “ambrosia” and “red nectar” to drip into the dead body of Patroclus, this process causing the corpse to remain incorrupt.[5]

Perhaps there is an echo of this ambrosial drip-bath in the Nordic myth of Loki’s binding. A serpent drips “venom” onto Loki, which is shielded from his face, but when the shielding fails and the drops fall on his face, Loki supposedly writhes in pain. Perhaps we have here a later Christian shifting of the story, since the sources we have for the Loki myth are post-Christian. If we strip away the Christian influence, which may have turned Loki into more of a demonic figure who is punished by hellfire, we can surmise that Loki reflects the Indo-European theme of ambrosial seed according to which the spinal column is in some sense associated with a serpentine spirit that produces semen, this vital liquid literally giving life to the male whose flesh it enters. In other words, Loki was kept, I believe, in a state of suspended animation by having drops of life-fluid dripped into his nose, just enough to keep him in a coma until Ragnarok, when his serpent-overseer woke him up for the big show.

If we only had time, we could linger over other details: What is the significance of Patroclus being Achilles’ lover? Also, the texts about Loki mention his power—recall Athena’s birth from Zeus’s body and Tuisto’s birthing of Mannus in Teutonic myth—to give birth to other gods. What is this man-birth all about?[6] I think we have an issue here, one that it is not politically correct to criticize, but one that needs to be dealt with. I try to take a step toward doing so in my theory of Indo-European homogenesis, which is the tendency of these texts to eliminate the woman from the reproductive process. Though at first it may have been a story to buttress the power of chieftains who did not want to divide their wealth or influence, the theme, at some point, began to influence how society and the family was organized. Once we get to Europe and the Franks’ transformation of Roman society in the West, we get a version of Christendom that reflects this mannerbund attitude. What does Sparta have to do with Aachen?, one might say. [laughter] But that’s a whole different interview…

Leo Kelley: …which we will have in a week or so, I hope. For now though, let’s sum a few things up: we have male gods giving birth and we have societies like Athens and Sparta that view the ideal of love as between a male father and a younger male mirror-image. But where does the “light” piece of the “amniotic light” theme come into play? I see that there is fluid and water all over the place in these Indo-European myths, but is there an equal emphasis on light?

James L. Kelley: I have found two types of references. One refers specifically to light as the principle that allows the cosmos to exist as a system of distinct yet interrelated beings. This is like when Hesiod describes the separation of Earth and Heaven as the creation of a space where beings can truly exist instead of being buried in the Earth (literally!); the Greek poet Euripides speaks of the creation of the amniotic space as having “brought forth all things, sending into light trees, birds…and the race of mortals”.[7]

Other texts emphasize visibility, which still implies light, though the word light may not be mentioned. For instance, in the Iliad, Athena takes away the achlys or fog from the Diomedes’ eyes, thus allowing the latter to distinguish gods from mortals.[8] Hymn 82 of the Tenth Book of the Rig Veda mentions the gods’ original state, floating together in the amniotic waters before the creation of earth and heaven. Here the gods saw each other, this power of seeing divinity being itself the sign of each god’s divinity. Humans are defined in the Hymn, contrariwise, as beings who lack divine vision, who lack the “eye” that the highest god shared with the other gods he fathered. Humans stumble around in a “misty cloud,” unable to see divine realities.[9] The parallel is this: your power of seeing either penetrates the fluid of space without obstruction (as in the gods, who “beheld themselves together” in the primordial waters), or you see imperfectly, in a mist, as do mortals. In either case, the semantic field is one of embryos in amniotic fluid, embryos that may or may not see (and thus relate in an ordered manner) in the light of the highest Truth.[10] In another session we’ll talk about the earliest Greek philosophers and physicians and their almost unanimous use of embryology to explain the formation of the universe as a huge living womb in which all other beings are generated or incubated.

A few parting words on this topic of the “light” in the cosmic life-fluid: First of all, note that the Chāndogya Upanisad defines the gods as those who “neither eat nor drink. They become sated by just looking at this nectar.”[11] Secondly, note that the word most commonly used in Greek texts for nature—physis—takes its origin from “Fιδ-,” meaning “see.” The gods know everything because their vision takes in all of space and time with no gap or interruption. Thus, they see the whole interrelated system of reality, both its individual parts or beings and all possible interrelations between these parts of the whole. Men cannot do this, but heroes like Odysseus and Heracles become more godlike than most by seeing more things, by going on adventures or odysseys and thereby stockpiling wisdom.[12] In one of my books I quoted the passage in the Gnostic Apocryphon of John where Barbelo gives birth to a holy being of light by simply turning to look at the Father; here we have a later manifestation of the same primordial theme that seeing is knowing for both mortals and gods, with the difference that deities can actually give birth to a god of light through their luminous vision.[13]

Leo Kelley: Okay, now we are getting somewhere, but what is the “nectar” spoken of in the Upanishads; is this the same thing as the soma from the Vedas? If so, what does this have to do with the “amniotic light”?

James L. Kelley: The nectar in the Upanishad verse I cited is amrita, which means literally “deathless” and is another name for soma.[14] The soma or amrita was identified with the primeval waters that preceded all of creation in the Vedas and in the later texts of the Hindus. The God Indra pierces the primeval hill, releasing the cosmic deluge, which is a mixture of fire or light, and life-giving water.[15] This situation is parallel to the Egyptian cosmogony where the light-water has to become externalized: It is first in Atum’s mind or womb; the cosmos is the externalization of the internal womb, filled with light and water, air being a “neutralized” balance of light and water, some Greek thinkers speaking of space or air as a kind of mist through which light and rain flows. Anyway, Indra’s piercing of the primeval hill releases the trapped waters, which flow into rivers and which replenish the earth by falling, in an ordered, concentrated form, from the vault of the womb-like sky. Simultaneously, Indra’s triumph is the raising of the sun into the sky, so that the freed waters are impregnated and vivified with fiery virtue. One verse of the Rig Veda (I.24.7) refers to the newly-stabilized cosmos as being held up by an inverted cosmic tree (which may be the body of the god Vrtra, who is the penetrated hill), whose branches reach out to every being in space, like light rays (and also like streams of soma) to imbue all creatures with life and vigor, in the process allowing ordered interaction between all beings.

Leo Kelley: I have a list here of themes we might tackle next time. We should go into soma a little more, and also the Babylonian/Sumerian cosmology (Gilgamesh and the Marduk epic). Plus, Greek philosophy, which I know you’ve covered in your latest book…

James L. Kelley: Let’s do that. But just as a last thought to keep the big picture in mind: This amniotic light theme ends up at the center of the philosophy of Plotinus and the other neoplatonists. In the middle ages and especially the Renaissance, a mysticism of light is center-stage, though it is sometimes hard to see it because of the compartmentalized spectacles through which historians look at these periods. But, without a doubt, things are very tricky here. After all, we still do not have decent working definitions of either “gnosticism” or “kabbala,” and these are two conduits through which the West receives these esoteric traditions.

Leo Kelley: Alright, thanks for taking a minute to lay the groundwork for this exploration of “amniotic light.”

James L. Kelley: My pleasure.

[To Be Continued]


[1] “You chased away the clouds, you repelled the darkness, you illuminated the Two Lands.” (E. Chassinat, Le Temple d’Edfou, vol. 6 [Cairo 1931], p. 247; cited in The Gods of Egypt, translated by David Lorton (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), p.79). On Shu and Atum and “self-developing,” see Coffin Texts, spell 75, English translation James P. Allen, Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), p. 15-16.

[2] Vigdis Songe-Møller, Philosophy Without Women: The Birth of Sexism in Western Thought, translated by Peter Cripps (London and New York: Continuum, 2002).

[3] “In several Indo-european tongues the term for ‘male’ refers to liquid emitted, i.e. the seed (e.g. hersen, cf. herse, Sanscr : large; vár ‘water’, vrsan- ‘male’, O. Norse ver ‘water, sea’) (…) I suggest that ver meant originally the liquid or sap, seed, new growth, ‘offspring’…” (Richard Broxton Onians, Origins of European Thought About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988], p. 178, footnote). Note that “hersen” (male) is based in the I-E root ͡ker-, which is also related to “brain,” heart, horn or protuberance, grain pushing out of the earth, growth, heat, and youth (kore) (“The American Heritage Dictionary Indo-European Roots Appendix,” accessed 15 May, 2016,

[4] That “sweat…and the fluid of the joints, are one and are the stuff of strength, vigour, appears…to have been part of the earliest Greek physiology, which also assimilated with these the cerebro-spinal fluid and the seed” (Onians, Origins of European Thought, 191).

[5] Homer, Iliad, book 19, accessed 2 June, 2016,

[6] Esther Clinton, “The Trickster, Various Motifs,” 472-480 in Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature: A Handbook, edited by Jane Garry and Hasan El-Shamy (Armonk, NY and London: M.E. Sharpe, 2005), p. 478.

[7] Euripides, fr. 484, cited in James L. Kelley, Orthodoxy, History, and Esotericism: New Studies (Dewdney, B.C.: Synaxis Press, 2016), p. 143.

[8] Iliad 5.127ff; cited in M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 134.

[9] Rig Veda 10.82; English translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith, Hymns of the Rgveda, 2 volumes (Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1963), 2.498. Cf. Rig Veda 10.81.23, in which the sun-creator god Vivakarman—who has “eyes on all sides round”opens up the heavens by “seeing all” (idem, 2.497).

[10] Cf. Rig Veda 10.85; Griffith, Hymns of the Rgveda, 2.501-505.

[11] Chāndogya Upanisad 3.6.1, translated by P. Olivelle; cited in West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth, p. 157.

[12] Joel Wilcox, The Origins of Epistemology in Early Greek Thought (Lewiston, NY and Queenston, ON: Edwin Mellen, 1994), p. 131-132.

[13] Apocryphon of John 30.1ff.; translated by David Hill in Werner Foerster, Gnosis: A Selection of Gnostic Texts, edited by R. McL. Wilson, Volume 1: Patristic Evidence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 109; cited in Kelley, Orthodoxy, History, and Esotericism, p. 126.

[14] Sanskrit text of Chāndogya Upanisad 3.6.1 appears in Som Raj Gupta, The Word Speaks to the Faustian Man: A Translation and Interpretation of the Prasthānatrayī and Śaṅkara’s Bhāṣya for the Participation of Contemporary Man, Volume Four (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001) p. 217.

[15] F.B.J. Kuiper, “The Basic Concept of Vedic Religion,” 9-22 in F.B.J. Kuiper, Ancient Indian Cosmogony (New Delhi: Vikas, 1983), p. 11-12.

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