This is part of a book that I had been working on. Perhaps one day I will complete it, but perhaps not. While it was intended to be partly autobiographical, it was also intended to convey some of my theological thought. I didn't do much in this regard except lay a bit of groundwork.
The book was to be in the context of love letters to my wife with a symbolic system of dates. These dates have a number of meanings, but this is not apparent unless seen in the full context.
The Twenty-fourth of December in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and One
Für meine liebste Elise,
Have you had time to think about and understand what I had written about in my last letter? I hope it has sunk in a little as this letter will be more of the same. Again, these are only words, and it is difficult to convey what I really mean by them, but words are all I have to take your heart away from this fleeting world of chronos to the everlasting world of kairos.
There are a number of words used to assist in theology to describe mysteries, but that is all they do, assist. They do not actually define the mystery they are describing. There is a tendency, particularly in the West, especially with and after the development of scholasticism, to feel overconfident with these words. Such overconfidence has led some to believe that they actually understand mysteries that we can never comprehend, even in heaven. This is what has led to a great deal of heresy and even apostasy in the West.
Not that there haven’t been such problems with words in the East. But the approach in the East often allows for more acceptance of mystery. There is much that the West can learn from the East. Of course, the contrary is true as well.
This is how I had the difference between East and West explained to me. The West takes something, dissects it into the smallest parts, studies them under a microscope, and gives each part a scientifically specific label. The East puts a veil over it, incenses it, and calls it a mystery.
It is important to veil mystery and reverence it due to its holiness; however, it is also beneficial to logically use our intelligence to better understand what is under the veil. By doing this, we can better appreciate the mystery without taking anything away from it, but in fact, see how even more mysterious it really is. How could anyone even suggest that by exploring the infinite, he risks discovering it is finite?
If we actually believe that we do understand what is under the veil, we begin to feel there is no need for the veil because there is nothing mysterious to reverence beneath it. Once the veil is off, we have no hope of ever understanding the mystery because we no longer have any respect for it. The truth is that we think we have removed the veil when we have only removed the symbolic veil of respect, leaving the terrible dark veil of true mystery that is so dark that we see nothing at all. Thus, we become blind to the mystery of the Faith; blind to the mystérium Fídei.
I would like to give you a few examples of some of these useful theological words to describe some mysteries.
The first word is ὁμοούσιος (homoousios), which was translated from Greek into Latin as consubstantiálem. From this we get the English word consubstantial, which is also sometimes translated as “one in being.” The Greek homo (it means something different in Latin) and the Latin con part mean “the same,” which is something we can understand. However, the Greek ousios and Latin substantiálem part describe a mystery that can never be truly understood. It refers to the “being,” “substance,” or “essence” of something. Can we honestly say we comprehend what that really is? Anyone who says he can is either a liar, an idiot, or God Himself.
Even an iota of difference can change the concept altogether, and I’m not speaking figuratively here. The Greek letter iota (ι) is the smallest pen stroke of all the Greek letters, and it was actually added to the word homoousios to try and make a heresy seem orthodox. The resulting word was ὁμοιούσιος (homoiousios). In essence, it suggested that the Father and the Son were of similar substance, but not of equal substance because the Son is subordinate to the Father. It is true that the Son is subordinate to the Father, but the Son is also of equal substance with the Father, whatever that mysterious substance is.
Actually, the word ὁμοούσιος (homoousios) was used before the Fathers of the First Council of Nicaea used it in the Creed. It seems to have first been used by Gnostic heretics, which made some Christians feel a bit uneasy about it at the time. I don’t want to confuse you by trying to explain it to you, but it has more to do with generation, and the substance between things generated of the same substance, and even the substance between a male and female pair called a συζυγίαι (suzygiai). There is good reason why I’m not going to try and explain this to you as it would not only be trying to explain something we cannot understand, it would be trying to explain something that doesn’t exist. It’s easy to see why some would have misgivings about using this word in a different context, but understanding that different context made all the difference.
The second Greek word is Θεοτόκος (Theotokos). It is often translated into English as “Mother of God,” but it can also be translated as “God-bearer,” or “the one who gives birth to God.” It may become apparent how easily this could be taken out of the intended context to suggest that Our Lord’s divine nature originated from Our Lady. This, of course, is quite erroneous and heretical. However, the suggestion that the better term is Χριστοτόκος (Christotokos), or “Christ-bearer,” while entirely correct, could also be put in the context to suggest Our Lady was only the mother of Christ’s humanity and not His divinity that is consubstantial with the Father. Such a suggestion would imply disunity in the person of Christ, even to suggest that He is somehow two persons in one person.
Here we have two theological terms that are entirely correct given the correct perspective and context, but viewing them from a slightly different perspective and context, we have heresy. While the vast majority of the Church adopted the use of the word Theotokos, a smaller part of the Church rejected this term and used the term Christotokos. In truth, we believe the same thing, but couldn’t agree on the right word. Hence, although there has been some unitive healing, there is the Assyrian Church of the East who has been separated from the rest of Christianity since the year of Our Lord four hundred and thirty-one.
Something similar happened a little later in that same century. It was difficult to define how Christ was both human and divine without mingling, or implying confusion or alteration of, the human and divine, but still maintain complete unity of the human and divine. This is so mysterious that no matter what words or phrases we use, there will be some way to interpret it as heretical. In fact, an understanding of the definitive formula adopted by the vast majority of the Church in the year of Our Lord four hundred and fifty-one, was later condemned by the pretty much the same majority of the Church a century later. The original definitive formula wasn’t condemned, but a certain understanding of that formula was. Unfortunately, since the defining of that formula, the Oriental Orthodox Church has been separated from the rest of Christianity. However, it is generally accepted that we have actually believed the same thing all along, but just couldn’t agree on the definition.
Remember when I said in my last letter that we must be able to laugh at ourselves in taking such stuff so seriously, but it is, and must be taken as, serious? The above two examples clearly show this. Rather than condemning each other because what the other believes can be interpreted in a heretical way, it would be better to acknowledge that it can also be interpreted in a correct way. When we do this, it is easier to see how what we believe can also be interpreted in a heretical way. By looking at both perspectives correctly, we can be better assured of having a clearer understanding the Nativity of something we seem to be on the Eve of understanding, but are incapable of actually doing so.
Doesn’t this seem a lot like marriage counselling? Far too many couples give up on their marriage simply because they are too proud to even try to understand the other spouse’s perspective. This is really at the root of every problem we have: pride. After all, it all began when Lucifer said, “Non serviam,” and then taught us to do the same. Thankfully Our Lady untied this knot by saying, “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.”
I’m so glad Our Lady taught me to pray these words. If I had not, I may have lost my Faith. I may have lost you. I may have lost everything.
You are everything to me. I love you. I will serve you.
Dein Russell Jonah
P.S. Ich liebe Dich.