Logos as Pronoian: St Athanasius and Natural Science

St Athanasius in Contra Gentes spoke about the illuminated as those who view God’s forethought or “pronoian” by seeing divinity reflected in the pure human nous. In illumination, man views everything in the context of his pure, constant, unchanging union (synaptomenos) with God’s energies, the “divine and thought-perceived things” (Contra Gentes 1.2). Man does not receive scientific knowledge about material beings; rather he finds himself awe-struck (hyperekplettetai) “as he contemplates that pronoian which through the Logos extends to the cosmos” (Contra Gentes 1.2). If the illumination of the nous was a grant of scientific knowledge, then we could cite the great number of scientific discoveries by monks as evidence of the truth of Orthodoxy, but even saying this proves how absurd the whole proposition is. No, knowledge of the logoi is decidedly not knowledge of the motions of bodies in space; it is a participation in knowledge of God as a co-enacting of Trinitarian energies.

So, the illuminated are not ignorant of the rationes seminales, as Augustine called them, the paradeigmata or logoi of created beings; but this knowledge is not mere knowledge about unchanging natural laws à la Newton. One can certainly formulate a more-or-less self-consistent explanation for motion in the universe along with Newton, or below the atomic level, with string theory or other math-based models. And one can, of course, create machines (including more powerful instruments for recording information about the cosmos) based upon Newtonian and other models. This technoscience “works” (however imperfectly), but it does not go beyond the surface of reality, as Giamattista Vico averred (though Vico was addressing the the Cartesian science of his day). St Athanasius shows us that fallen man, man whose noetic energy has lost its purity, is condemned to see created beings indirectly, to see them from the outside-in, as objects of sense tied to phantasia. This is one reason monks flee to the desert. They are fleeing the proliferation of objects (whether these “objects” be people or needless artifacts that pile up around city-dwellers) and the passions that attach themselves to our thoughts about these objects, which become “possessions” in more than one sense!

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This entry was posted in analogia entis, Apostolic Fathers, Augustine, Contra Gentes, divine energies, Divine Names, Divine Providence, Early Church Fathers, Eastern Orthodox Theology, Exemplars, Giambattista Vico, logoi, Logos, Newtonian physics, Nous, Orthodoxy, paradeigmata, particle physics, patristics, phantasia, Platonic Forms, pronoian, rationes seminales, Scientific Revolution, scientism, Soteriology, St Athanasius, technoscience, threefold path, uncreated energies, Vico and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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