No Father of the Church has ever held that investigation of nature through the senses per sé renders any knowledge that exceeds the probable. To aid the seeker in achieving natural theoria in preparation for the vision of God, Clement of Alexandria recommended, among other things, (1) the testing of the mind through logical exercises and (2) the performance of experiments that show the regularities and ratios found in nature. However, Clement also said that God the Father has male and female aspects, that Christ was the mammary gland of the Father, and that reincarnation happens. We must conclude that Clement is not a Church Father in the same sense that St. John Chrystostom and the Cappadocians are.
This problem of “who is a Church Father” creeps up quite a bit. Let me simply say: Augustine is not a Church Father, but John Chrysostom is. The best way to tell the difference? Augustine teaches heresies about the Trinity, Christology, Soteriology, Hamartology, and every other -ology you can name. Show me a single heresy taught by St. John Chrysostom. You cannot. Now, I admit that there is a kind of middle ground here between Augustine and the Church Fathers in the sense that some Church Fathers made errors about theology, or at least about historical details that pertain to theology. St. Irenaeus thought there was a literal 1000 year reign that we were looking for and he taught that Jesus Christ lived past his thirties. However, St. Irenaeus is a Church Father, since he taught no errors about how Christology “works” to save us, etc. We do not uphold Irenaeus’s errors, but rather overlook them. Augustine, by contrast, is shockingly clueless about almost every category of Christian theology. Someone once retorted to me: Then why is there a thousand page book that summarizes Augustine’s teachings on every conceivable theological topic? The answer is simple: He wrote a lot; he also misunderstood a lot. Some people are also under the misconception that, because the Church has never condemned Augustine by name, that he is a Church Father. Not so. The Orthodox Church condemns what he teaches, from the filioque, to OT angelophanies, to previenient grace, to created grace, to the identity of essence and energy in the Trinity, etc.
Why not name Augustine then, in the anathemas on the Sunday of Orthodoxy? Answer: It is not the Church’s problem if you do not recognize that we are anathematizing Augustine’s teachings when we decry all Trinitarian errors or when we decry the errors of Roman Catholicism in general. It would be, in such a case, your problem. I have come to the conclusion that many people just do not like the idea that a man like Augustine, a man of such strong personal piety, could be a source of heresies. What does it mean to be pious, though? We are to think the best of all men. We do not condemn their hearts, nor do we presume to know their eternal destiny. None of this, though, makes a teacher of heresies into a Church Father!
But, back to Clement of Alexandria. Even Roman Catholics realized that Clement was not a saint in the 16th century and removed him from their roster of holy men. But Clement remains, in the minds of many, a “great ecclesiastical writer.” This turns out to mean that Clement was great thinker or great philosopher. It never ceases to amaze me how infatuated Western scholars are with the idea that the Fathers of the Church were great philosophers. Actually, judged by the standards of the academy, Clement is a better philosopher than St. Basil the Great or St. Irenaeus of Lyon, since the former had the best track record of the three for accurately summarizing and explicating the history of philosophy. Some scholars poke fun at Irenaeus and Basil for making mistakes of fact about Greek philosophy which they repeated from philosophy manuals of the day. How could we respect anyone who did not have the scholarly rigor to go back to the sources themselves instead of relying on notoriously erroneous books of florilegia? Yet we as Orthodox venerate Basil and Irenaeus as saints and holy teachers, while Clement is decidedly not viewed as a safe source for spiritual guidance. This is why Western scholars who are intoxicated with Greek metaphysics love Origen and Clement so much; they are at pains to make them both into spiritual guides and to show that the Fifth Ecumenical Council (which condemned the heretical teachings of Origen) was just an imperial power play.
Here’s the bottom line: there is no developed tradition of Orthodox science, just as there is no Orthodox politics that fits well with the political reality we see today. I can just hear the stalwarts out there clamoring for the restoration of various monarchies. Good luck with that. But neither does Orthodoxy forbid people to be scientists or politicians. Science and politics are ineluctable aspects of life in our fallen world, but the teachings about these unavoidable categories of life that we are fed from academia and from state ideologues are at best neutral from an Orthodox perspective; at worst, they are inimical to Orthodoxy, as in scientistic reductionism and in atheistic communism. So, am I in favor of “democratic liberalism” as the best fit for Orthodoxy? Show me an example of “pure” democracy, liberal or otherwise, and I will answer you. Be very careful when you equate political ideologies with God’s will as communicated to His saints in glorification. In fact, do not ever do it.
I recently read Alexei Nesteruk’s Light from the East. He wants to establish a more Orthodox-friendly science. Fine. But even he must admit that we ourselves would have to set about inventing this supposed Orthodox science, since not a trace of it exists in the Church’s history. Should the fact that two millenia of Orthodoxy has rendered no Orthodox science not give us pause? Maybe we should look for the already-established approach to rationality and sensory knowledge found in the Fathers, and not go beyond them. But where’s the fun in that? Anglicans who are eager to write checks to Orthodox jurisdictions certainly prefer us to be more open-minded toward mainstream trends in Western culture, right? But, back to Nesteruk: I do not mean to belittle his efforts. I think after reading 250 pages of his book, I took only one thing away (though it is an important point): There is not an Orthodox philosophy and there is not an Orthodox science, so we will have to be careful when and if we make one up. I agree with him to a point, but I prefer keep things going the way they are. Orthodox people can be scientists and scientists can be Orthodox.
Science does not give us any information about God per sé, except that, in an indirect and incomplete manner, we learn to participate in God by seeing, inasmuch as we are able, the harmonia of the logoi of the cosmos. But numberless monks, even illiterate ones, see this theoria physike of logoi daily, without science and without anything except basic reasoning and a lot of Jesus prayers and obedience. So, let us make a clear distinction here: logoi as the unfolding of potentialities of a being in space and time (or the aeon, in the case of angels) are not the same as logoi of created beings that are seen by saints in illumination. The former is the rationes seminales idea in Augustine, which pertains not only to cellular division, but also to plants’ and animals’ innate power to develop from embryos into fully-grown beings. Certainly these developmental logoi exist, but theology is concerned with another kind: this second kind of logoi are energies of God that have divided, are dividing, and will continue to divide undividedly to create both the cosmos as a whole and also each individual being at the appropriate time. When man’s noetic energy is healed, he is granted a vision of God’s Providence (pronoian), his cosmic “pre-thought,” which allows man to share in the knowledge of the universal effects of the Incarnation. Through the logoi in the Logos (Christ), man learns with absolute certainty that God created all things and that there is no similarity in essence between creation and the uncreated.
Why, then, does Fr. Georges Florovsky say that logoi have a created and an uncreated aspect? Something with more than one aspect has to be looked at from multiple angles to afford us a complete understanding. Such is the Incarnation, wonder of wonders. Christ is both God and man; He is not a mixture of the two. Neither are logoi a mixture of the uncreated and the created. God knows what He will do and what we will do before we do it, but there is no alphabet soup of concepts inside the essence of God. When men are glorified, they do not undergo a mixture of created and uncreated; they become united to the uncreated energies of God, seeing the logoi of created beings, which are distinct energies because beings are distinct. Do you think your own thoughts and commit your own sins? Or does your being leak other thoughts and actions into it? Since you were created by a distinct energy of God, we can say “Of course not!” Also, are you saved alone? Or did Christ save the whole cosmos by becoming Incarnate? The latter, of course. So, you were created by God through His energy. Not an emanation that automatically flowed out of Him, but by a God Who planned that all beings be more-and-more united to God through the pattern established by the logoi in Christ the Logos. This is a mere concept for us until we are granted vision of the logoi.
Why the confusion about logoi? Because most Church Fathers and modern Orthodox theologians cover the bases of salvation by telling us to be united to God through His Trinitarian energies made available through the Incarnation. The doctrine that God is Three Persons in One Essence and that He created all things through His Energies and saves all things through glorification in Christ includes the doctrine of logoi, whether it is explicitly mentioned or not.