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inco m m unio n.

o rg

http://www.inco mmunio n.o rg/2009/06/23/i-lo ve-therefo re-i-am/

I Love, Therefore I Am
Print PDF By Metropolitan Kallistos Ware Most of the time we think we know who we are. But do we, in f act, know in the f ull and prof ound sense who we are? One text that is very important f or the Orthodox understanding of the human person is Psalm 64:6 [LXX 63:7]: “T he heart is deep.” T hat means the human person is a prof ound mystery. T here are depths or if you would like, heights within myself of which I have very little understanding. Who am I? T he answer is not at all obvious. My personhood as a human being ranges widely over space and time. And indeed it reaches out beyond space into inf inity, and beyond time into eternity. Our human personhood is created, but it transcends the created order. I am called to be a “partaker of the divine nature,” as Peter said in his second letter. I am called to share, that is to say, in the uncreated energies of the living God. Our human vocation is theosis deif ication, divinization. As St. Basil the Great says, “T he human being is a creature that is called to become God.” I am reminded of the story of the Fall at the beginning of Genesis, of the promise of the serpent, who says to Eve, “You shall be as God.” T he irony behind that story is that this was exactly the divine intention. T he humans were indeed called to divine lif e. But the Fall consisted in the f act that Adam and Eve grasped with self will that which God, in His own time and way, would have conf erred upon them as a gif t. T he limits of our personhood are very wide-ranging indeed. We should adopt a dynamic view of what it is to be a person. We shouldn’t think that our personhood is something f ixed. To be a person is to grow. To be on a journey. And this journey is a journey that has no limits, that stretches out f orever, that goes on even in heaven. Some people have an idea of heaven as a place where you do nothing in particular. But surely that is deceptive. Surely heaven means that we continue to advance by God’s mercy f rom glory to glory. Heaven is an end without end. St. Irenaeus remarks, “Even in the age to come God will always have new things to teach us, and we shall always have new things to learn.” Even in heaven, we shall never be in a position to say to God, “You are repeating Yourself . We have heard it all bef ore.” On the contrary, heaven means continuing wonder and unending discovery. To quote J.R.R. Tolkien in T he Fellowship of the Ring, “T he Road goes ever on and on.” Now there is a specif ic reason f or this mysterious and indef inable character of human personhood. And this reason is given to us by St. Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the f ourth century. “God,” says he, “is a mystery beyond all understanding.” We humans are f ormed in God’s image. T he image should reproduce the characteristics of the archetype, of the original. So if God is beyond understanding, then the human person f ormed in God’s image is likewise beyond understanding. Precisely because God is a mystery, I too am a mystery.

Now in mentioning the image, we’ve come to the most important f actor in our humanness. Who am I? As a human person, I am f ormed in the image of God. T hat is the most signif icant and basic f act about my personhood. We are God’s living icons. Each of us is a created expression of God’s inf inite and uncreated self -expression. So this means it is impossible to understand the human person apart f rom God. Humans cut of f f rom God are no longer authentically human. T hey are subhuman. If we lose our sense of the divine, we lose equally our sense of the human. And that we can see very clearly f rom the story, f or example, of Soviet communism in the 70 years which f ollowed the revolution of 1917. Soviet communism sought to establish a society where the existence of God would be denied and the worship of God would be suppressed and eliminated. At the same time, Soviet communism showed an appalling disregard f or the dignity of the human person. T hose two things go together. Whoever af f irms the human also af f irms God. Whoever denies God also denies the human person. T he human being cannot be properly understood except with ref erence to the divine. T he human being is not autonomous, not self -contained. I do not contain my meaning within myself . As a person in God’s image, I point always beyond myself to the divine realm. I remember a visit in my student years in Oxf ord f rom Archimandrite Sophrony, the disciple of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. He gave a talk on Orthodoxy, and there was a discussion af terwards. Towards the end, the chairman said, “We have time f or just one more question.” Somebody got up at the back of the audience and said, “Fr. Sophrony, please tell us what is God?” Fr. Sophrony answered very brief ly, “You tell me what is man?” God and the human person are two mysteries that are interconnected, and neither can be understood apart f rom the other. “In the image of God” means there’s a vertical ref erence in our personhood. We can only be understood in terms of our link with the divine. But then, let’s think of another point. “In the image of God” means in the image of the Trinity. As St. Gregory the T heologian says, “When I say God, I mean Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” T hat is what as Christians we mean by God. We don’t understand God as a series of abstractions. We understand God as three Persons. And that we see very clearly f rom the Creed. We begin in the Creed by saying, “I believe in One God.” And then we don’t continue by saying, “Who is an uncaused cause, who is primordial reality, who is the ground of being.” T his is the way many modern theologians speak. But in the Creed we say, “I believe in One God … the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We continue, that is to say, in specif ic personal terms. God f or us is Trinity. And if we’re in the image of God we’re in the image of the Triune God. What does that mean f or our understanding of our personhood? Let’s think f irst of the Trinity, and then of ourselves. “God is love” declares St. John in his f irst letter, and goes on to say, “T here is no f ear in love; but perf ect love casts out f ear.” In true love there is no exclusiveness, no jealousy. True love is open, not closed. God is love. T here is no f ear in love. And so God is not the love of one. God is not love in the sense of being self -love, turned in upon itself . God is not a closed unit. God is not a unit, but a union. God is love in the sense of shared love, the mutual love of three Persons in one. When the Cappadocian Fathers in the f ourth century are describing God, one of their key words is koinonia, meaning f ellowship, communion, or relationship. As St. Basil says in his work on the Holy Spirit, “T he union of the Godhead lies in the koinonia, the interrelationship, of the Persons.” So this then is what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is saying: God is shared love, not self -love. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self -giving. Now, we are to apply all this to human persons made in the image of God. “God is love,” says St. John. And that great English prophet of the eighteenth century, William Blake, says, “Man is love.” God is love, not self love but mutual love, and the same is true then of the human person. God is koinonia, relationship, communion.

So also is the human person in the Trinitarian image. God is openness, exchange, solidarity, self -giving. T he same is true of the human person when living in a Trinitarian mode according to the divine image. T here’s a very helpf ul book by a British philosopher, John Macmurray, entitled Persons in Relationship, published in 1961. Macmurray insists that relationship is constitutive of personhood. He argues that there is no true person unless there are at least two persons communicating with each other. In other words, I need you in order to be myself . All this is true because God is Trinity. From this it f ollows that the characteristic human word is not “I” but “we”. If we are all the time saying, “I, I, I,” then we are not realizing our true personhood. T hat’s expressed in the poem of Walter de la Mare, “Napoleon”:

What is the world, O soldiers? It is I: I, this incessant snow, This northern sky; Soldiers, this solitude Through which we go Is I.

Whether the historical Napoleon was actually like that or not, de la Mare’s point is surely valid. Self centeredness is in the end coldness, isolation. It is a desert. It’s no coincidence that in the Lord’s Prayer, the model of prayer that God has given us, and which teaches what we are to be, the word “us” comes f ive times, the word “our” three times, the word “we” once. But nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer do we f ind the words “me” or “mine” or “I”. In the beginning of the era of modern philosophy in the early seventeenth century, the philosopher Descartes put f orward his f amous dictum, “Cogito ergo sum” “I think theref ore I am.” And f ollowing that model, a great deal of discussion of human personhood since then has centered round the notion of self -awareness, self consciousness. But the dif f iculty of that model is that it doesn’t bring in the element of relationship. So instead of saying “Cogito ergo sum, ought we not as Christians who believe in the Trinity say, “Amo ergo sum I love theref ore I am”? And still more, ought we not to say, “Amor ergo sum” “I am loved theref ore I am”? One modern poem that I love particularly, by the English poet Kathleen Raine, has exactly as its title “Amo Ergo Sum.” Let me quote some words f rom it:

Because I love The sun pours out its rays of living gold Pours out its gold and silver on the sea. Because I love The ferns grow green, and green the grass, and green

The transparent sunlit trees. Because I love All night the river flows into my sleep, Ten thousand living things are sleeping in my arms, And sleeping wake, and flowing are at rest.

T his is the key to personhood according to the Trinitarian image. Not isolated self -awareness, but relationship in mutual love. In the words of the great Romanian theologian Fr. Dumitru Staniloae, “In so f ar as I am not loved, I am unintelligible to myself .” If , then, we think of the divine image, we should not only think of the vertical dimension of our being the image of God; we should also think of the Trinitarian implication, which means that the image has a horizontal dimension relationship with my f ellow humans. Perhaps the best def inition of the human animal is “a creature capable of mutual love af ter the image of God the Holy Trinity.” So here is the essence of our personhood: coinherence; dwelling in others. What is said by Christ in His prayer to the Father at the Last Supper is surely very signif icant f or our understanding of personhood: “T hat they all may be one, as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21). Exactly. T he mutual love of the three Divine Persons is seen as the model f or our human personhood. T his is vital f or our salvation. We are here on earth to reproduce within time the love that passes in eternity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Metropolitan Kallistos is a bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Great Britain. From 1966 until 2001, he lectured in Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. In 2007, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elevated Bishop Kallistos to Titular Metropolitan of Diokleia. He is a member of the advisory board of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His books include The Orthodox Church, The Orthodox Way and The Inner Kingdom. This text (first published in Again magazine) is adapted from a lecture he gave in August 1998 at the Eagle River Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies in Alaska. ❖ Spring 2009 issue of In Communion / IC 53