The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or opinion? Part II

A Hymn to our Lord

The sisters of Lazarus stood beside Christ and, lamenting with bitter tears, they said to Him: “O Lord, Lazarus is dead”. And though as God He knew the place of burial, yet He asked them, “where have ye laid him?” Coming to the tomb, He called Lazarus that was four days dead; and he arose and worshipped the Lord Who had raised him. (Sessional hymn after the Third Ode of the Matins Canon of Lazarus Saturday—“The Lenten Triodion”, p. 479, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press)

The Theology of Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko: Orthodox or Opinion? Part II

Although this is was originally meant only to be a continuation of a critique of Fr. Hopko’s theology focusing on Christology, I felt it necessary to bring in another modern writer in the Orthodox Church: Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon. Fr. Reardon has authored a book entitled, “The JESUS We Missed, The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ”. Since, in this book, he shares certain beliefs about our Lord with Fr. Hopko, I felt it vital to include his book in this critique.

But before I begin this we should take a moment to consider another viewpoint of Fr. Hopko in which a Coptic site (coptichymns.net/PNphpBB2-viewtopic-t-9216.html) questions a particular teaching of Fr. Hopko’s wondering if his concept is consistent with Orthodox teaching. They quote Fr. Hopko speaking of the death of the soul as follows:

Those who have been Baptized have died, raised and sealed with the life creating Spirit. They are literally raised from the dead and cannot die, and death becomes the transfiguration or the passage of everlasting life in Christ, because Christ is risen. This is important, not because we have an immortal soul; our soul is as dead as our body is, as far as the Bible is concerned. We do not teach immortality of the soul in our Church; we are not Socrates or Plato, but we follow the Bible. Death is the enemy of the body and soul, and Christ raises us up in body and soul. It is because Christ is risen that we have hope over death, not because of any ‘natural’ teaching. (www.orthodoxchristian.info/pages/afterdeath.htm)

The above is not the teaching of the Orthodox Church; if it were then our funeral service and all our prayers for the dead would be a mockery of the faith. On the other hand, the Orthodox theologian and writer, Constantine Cavarnos offers us the proper Orthodox viewpoint in his book, “Immortality of the Soul”. In another of his works, “Modern Greek Philosophers on the Human Soul”, he has a chapter on St. Nectarius of Aegina (Chapter IV) in which he presents eighteen proofs of the immortality of the soul as outlined by the saint.

So, let’s return to our main topic and take a look at one facet of the Christology of the aforementioned clergymen. In a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio (ancientfaith.com/podcasts/nameofjesus/jesus_-_the_man), Fr. Hopko speaks of our Lord as a man. The whole of his talk can be heard or the transcript read at the aforementioned site. So as not to tire my readers I will address only a few brief quotes from this talk. In speaking of our Lord as a man Fr. Hopko expresses the following:

It would be definitely the teaching of ancient Christianity and certainly Eastern Orthodoxy that in making this confession of faith and [saying] that Jesus is really a human being…if you’re a real human being, then you’re limited. You learn things as a human being, with a human brain. And this would definitely be the teaching, that, as a man, hōs anthrōpos, Jesus was not omniscient. He was not omnipresent; He was not all over the place. He could express divinity through His circumscribed—that would be a good expression of the Church Fathers—His bounded humanity. [emphasis mine]

A little later he states:

There are certain elements in Him [that is, our Lord] that are really human. If He were not really human, they wouldn’t be so. For example, Jesus didn’t know English. Jesus couldn’t speak English. Now, you could say, “Well, God could have infused in Him the knowledge of English or something.” Well, perhaps God could; perhaps He could have infused it in anybody if He wanted to. It doesn’t seem very likely, but in any case, if Jesus is really human, then He is also ignorant of many things. [emphasis mine] He does not know the [theory] of relativity. He never read Charles Darwin. He didn’t know the Baghavad Gita. Maybe He even thought the earth was flat; who knows? He was a first-century, real human being.

I shared a slightly expanded version of the above with a few highly theologically trained acquaintances of mine. I asked their appraisal and here are their comments:

This is not the Christology that I encounter in the Church Fathers and I believe because first and foremost there is not the piety that is present in the Church fathers. First of all, I know of no Church Father that speaks of our Lord’s humanity in the abstract, cut off from the divinity and not within the divine hypostasis of the Son. The one ecclesiastical figure who did so is Nestorius. Christ is the mystery of all mysteries and to explain that mystery in a logical fashion as do many liberal protestants simply takes a person away from Christ. A humble answer is that Christ is perfect man in every way, but perfect God in every way. There is no human way to understand that, for that mystery is guarded by and in the divine Person of the Son. We also believe that He did human things in a divine way and divine things in a human way, but we don’t speak about what He didn’t do and never speak about what He couldn’t do. We believe that Christ was absolutely free, free to be all over the place, but choosing to be in one place. As for not being omniscient, this is a subject the fathers do refer to and I know of no father claiming anything less than omniscience for the Lord Christ.  Yes, this is a troubling excerpt for an Orthodox Christian, although I think many heterodox, especially liberal protestants, and perhaps some Roman Catholics, would agree.

Another contact of mine replied as follows;

After speaking with a friend of mine here, who has done much work on St. John of Damascus’ theology, here is what it comes to: In a word, NESTORIANIZI (theologizes in the style of Nestorius). The human nature of Christ does not exist independently from His Divine Nature. We do not know of the “man Jesus”, only the God-man Christ. The human nature of Christ as created is not everywhere present. However, it is everywhere present on account of its unity with Divinity. St. John Damascus presents this wonderfully in His Exact Exposition on the Orthodox Faith. These are theories found among non-Orthodox – not in the writings of the Fathers.

Before going on to some excerpts from the Holy Fathers, I think it is best to first look at a few passages from Fr. Reardon’s book; they are found in “Chapter 6—Learning and Teaching”. First, however, I would like to make some comments on the title of this book: “The JESUS We Missed, The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ”.

Consider the following questions: Who missed HIM? Did St. Athanasius the Great who wrote the acclaimed work “On the Incarnation” miss HIM? Did the St. Gregory whom the Church named “The Theologian” because of his unequaled Theological Orations miss HIM? Did the classical dogmatition St. John Damascus, and St. Gregory Palamas the expounder of the Orthodox concept of deification miss HIM? Did the Orthodox Church miss HIM for two thousand years, and did Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, only now—in 2012—published a book to tell the Orthodox Church the surprising truth about the humanity of the JESUS it has missed for all this time? I believe the readers can see my point.

Now to some excerpts, on page 79 at the outset of the above mentioned chapter Fr. Reardon writes:

Among the limitations consequent to the Incarnation, it is important to consider whether they included the Word’s assumption of human ignorance. This, too, would seem to be part of the “human condition,” after all.

When Luke tells us, “Jesus increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52), the plain meaning of the statement implies that he progressed from less wise to wiser. He necessarily began with less wise, and from that he “increased.”

Now, an “increase” implies the making up of a deficiency, the overcoming of a limitation. Logically prior to learning certain things, Jesus was ignorant of them. In short, the limits of the Incarnation included Jesus’ experience of ignorance.

So, now let us ponder these questions: Did our Lord Jesus, in His human nature, have the need to grow in understanding? Did He also experience ignorance in His human nature? To answer affirmatively to these questions shows is an erroneous Christology, since it is to separate the divine and human natures in Christ. Therefore we must begin by speaking of the union of the two natures in our Lord. Archbishop Dimitri, the former Archbishop of Dallas and the South, expresses the Orthodox concept correctly when he writes: “The two natures were united in the one Person of the Saviour at the moment of conception in the womb of the Virgin”. [The Doctrine of Christ, p. 48] In order to confirm this by the teachings of the Holy Fathers let us turn to St. John of Damascus. In Book Three of his “Exact Exposition o f the Orthodox Faith” he writes:

For the very Word of God was conceived of the Virgin and made flesh, but continued to be God after this assumption of the flesh. And, simultaneously with its coming into being the flesh was straightway made divine by Him. Thus three things took place at the same time: the assuming of the flesh, its coming into being, and its being made divine by the Word. (emphasis mine) Hence, the holy Virgin is understood to be Mother of God, and is so called not only because of the nature of the Word but also because of the deification of the humanity simultaneously with which the conception and the coming into being of the flesh were wondrously brought about—the conception of the Word, that is, and the existence of the flesh in the Word Himself. [Chapter 12]

In writing of the operations of the two natures in Christ again he states:

Therefore, the divinity communicates its excellencies to the flesh while remaining with no part of the sufferings of the flesh. For the flesh did not suffer through the divinity in the same way that the divinity acted through the flesh, because the flesh served as an instrument of the divinity. So, even though from the first instant of conception there was no divisions whatsoever of either form, (emphasis mine) but all the actions of each form at all times belonged to the one Person, we nevertheless in no way confuse these things which were done inseparably. On the contrary, from the nature of the works we perceive to which form they belong. [Ibid. Chapter 15]

to be continued…

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