The Truth is also History
The Synthesis of the Greek Fathers
The perspective of the "word"
of the most significant approaches in the reconciliation of the Greek term of
the truth with the Christian claim, that Christ is the truth, was during the
three first centuries the resort to the idea of the "word". It was probably
the Greeks Apologetics who first undertook this effort, and mainly Justin; he
had also found in the Alexandrian theology bolder representatives: Climes and
we know, the sense "word" was to Philon a means to bring into coordination
the Greek cosmology with the Old Testament (Gen. 1: The world was created
through the Word of God). Justin based on the prologue of John, transferred this
idea into Christ and thus succeeded in creating the basis, on which he could
bring closer to the Greeks the allegation that Christ is the truth. This offered
the capability to convert the Greek thought into Christianity, a capability that
all Christians owe to the Apologetics. However there was in it a danger to the
Christian Gospel. This becomes clear when one examines the question regarding
the allegation that Christ is the Truth, precisely because this is the Word into
which and through which the world was created and in which its cause and meaning
the being finds, Justin developed the sense of truth, which is similar to that
of Platonism or is rather synonymous to it. God, the Supreme Truth, is
understood as "what always remains the same facing itself and all things"[i]
and "what only through the mind"[ii]
is understood. Thus, the truth in its platonic sense is understood as something,
which rests in itself (does not move), that its relation with the world is
created in the mind and through the mind. This mind is clearly, according to
Justin, given "so as to see the very being («καθοράν»),
which is the cause of all that is perceivable"[iii].
characteristic point in this way towards the meeting of the truth lies, in the
fact that for Justin the capability to recognize God as the truth exists in the
relation (that is the ontological connection) of God and soul or mind[iv].
It is characteristically platonic, that Justin the error or lie does not link it
to any other cause, than to the presence of the perceptible things and mainly
the body. The mind exists in the same way in all humans and the relation between
the truth of God and man is stable. To release man from the influences of the
body is enough, in order to see the truth[v].
the so far mentioned it has started to become clear, that not only the dualism
between perceivable and understood, but also –and this is particularly
important- the necessary ontological relation of God and man relies in Justin on
the understanding of the truth[vi].
The stable relevance between God and man, transmitted through the mind, makes
the sense of the word, as used by Justin in a Christological meaning, as the
link between God and man, truth and mind, able to be understood. Christ, the
Word of God, becomes the very link between truth and mind and the truth of
Philosophy is no more than a part of this Word[vii].
should not overlook the similar danger of an ontological monism; of course, in
the time of Justin this was not a problem for the Church. The cause possibly
lied in that Justin did not develop a theology in the basis of such a monism and
out of it did not claim for philosophy any official place in the life of the
it was Climes of Alexandria, who introduced officially philosophy into the
and Origen, who tried to draw on the base of Greek philosophy a theological
doctrine. The use of the term word in this relation became the cause for the
aryanic dispute, which later forced the Church into a thorough examination of
Climes the understanding of the truth evolves in the same line that we
ascertained in Justin[ix].
The influence of the Greek thought appears in Climes in the way that he
conceives the idea of God-the Truth as the nature of being. This point of view
was of decisive importance for the Theology that followed so much in the East as
much in the West, as we can see till now[x].
In the extracts of Climes, which have been rescued in the works of St. Maximus
the Confessor, the "nature" has the same meaning with the "truth of things"[xi].
With this understanding of the truth as "nature", Climes concludes to
conceiving the nature of God as the "mind" (here he counts on John 4, 24)[xii].
Consequently, the "mind" is defined as "nature" and this leads to the
idea Origen developed, according to which the mind creates the "bodiness" of
contrast to Climes, Origen does not consider himself a philosopher, but a man of
the Church and representative of tradition. For this reason, he tried to draw a
system based on belief without abandoning something of what the Church taught
and confessed; and yet he was trying with this to interpret the tradition
philosophically. Whether he succeeded or not, preserving at the same time the
biblical understanding of the truth, one can decide, once he has examined two
basic positions of his teachings: the creation and the interpretation of the
represents the teaching on the creation "ex nihilo", and yet links so close
the sense of God with that of creation, that he starts talking on an eternal
creation and claims that God cannot eternally be Almighty without having an
object on which he could force his authority[xiv]. Thus God is eternally the creator and the connection
between the Word of God and the words of creation become in this way something
organic and unbreakable, something characteristic to the Greek understanding of
the truth as well[xv].
The interpretation of the Scripture includes according to Origen an
understanding of the truth, which in its core is Greek. Origen does not deny the
reality or historicity of the biblical facts; but what is definitive in the end
on the interpretation of the Bible is the meaning of these facts. Even the cross
of the Christ is just a symbol of a magnificent thing and only the simpliciores
can be satisfied with the simple fact of the Crucifixion[xvi].
The truth lies in the meaning of things; but if someone understands this truth
then things lose their importance[xvii].
It is exceptionally interesting, how Origen now marks the eschatology; but this
does not aim at a completion of history, but the eternal meaning of each fact.
viewing of things has very clear consequences, if we are to understand the
allegation of Christ, that He is the Truth. Christ is then the "self-truth"[xviii],
but this does not have its cause in his humanity: "nobody between us is that
naive to think that the substance of truth would not have existed already before
the time of its appearance in Christ"[xix].
With this of course the humanity of Christ is not rejected, but as far as the
truth is concerned, He exists just in a relation of participation into it[xx].
decisive point, in which one can judge the attitude of Origen in this delicate
problem, is precisely the question on the importance of the historical Christ on
truth. Origen interprets John 1,17 –"the truth was created through Jesus
Christ"- and tries with John 14,6 –"I am the truth"- to raise them into
a common level. So he writes: "nothing is created by itself. So this –that
is the word "created"- has to be understood like this, that it means the
truth in itself, the essential truth … , the original of truth, which lies in
the intellectual souls, this truth, whose one kind emerged through Jesus Christ
as a means, not through another means but was realized (created) through God[xxi].
Obviously Origen does not understand the verb "created" of John 1,17 as a
historical fact under the sense of incarnation, but with cosmological
representations[xxii]: The truth is imprinted directly from God and this
obviously happened in the eternal creation of the world. Because of Him the
truth exists as the nature of the very being (substantially)[xxiii]:
"Every wise man in the measure he participates in the truth, he participates
in Christ, who is the Truth"[xxiv].
Inevitable is the important ascertainment that the "wisdom" does not depend
from the fact of Christ, but inversely Christ participates in some way in wisdom.
We cannot simply say, "the truth is Christ"; then the historical Christ
seems to be the truth exactly and just because of this, because he participates
in the truth and is the Word of creation and not because he is Jesus of Nazareth.
decisive problem, which Origen and all the relevant to theology of the word
current, leave unanswered, lies on the question: how can the historical Jesus be
the truth? If the historical Jesus is the truth just for that, because he is at
the same time the Word of God and the Word of creation, this seems to suggest
that the incarnation does not realize the truth in an essential way, but just
reveals an already existing truth. This sense of revelation seems to lead into
the heart of the problem; because revelation is a unique sense and at the same
time a broad characterization, with which the created being and the uncreated
reason are connected. An objection of today's theology towards Origen should
be constituted by the fact that he undermined the historical Jesus and
furthermore, because he was occupied with the revelation[xxv].
This point is essential and this objection is completely justified, because here
seems to exist a more internal comparison between revelation and history[xxvi].
The revelation aims at the unity of the being in order to understand the meaning;
history, on the contrary, reveals the being in the form of breaches and
contrasts. When the interest on truth as a revelation, overshadows the interest
on the truth as history, then emerges inevitably, that the human mind becomes
the God of truth and the decisive link between truth and creation. So we are
here again in the question that was put in the introduction, about a composition
of the representations of the truth as a being and the truth as history.
According to the so far observations we can ascertain, that in the way the
Apologetics and Origen were engaged to the problem, such a composition cannot be
successful. So, let us turn to other currents of the thought of the Greek
Fathers in order to see how that composition is formed.
Διαλ. 3,5: "το κατά τα αυτό και ωσαύτως αεί
του αεί κατά τα αυτά ωσαύτως έχοντος. The
the place of «Θεόν»
which some people prefer, does not change anything substantial in this one
wants to show here.
Διαλ. 2, 7: «Το Θείον… μόνον νω καταληπτόν».
see the idea of the "inconceivable" of the Greek Fathers.
must mark this against the efforts to separate Justin from Neo-Platonism.
the idea of Justin on spermatic word (Apol. I, 44, 10) comes from. He
believes, that the philosophers are separated from the truth just when they
disagree with one another (as above). The difference between spermatic word
and seeds of the word, which has been ascertained by Holte, Logos
spermatikos: Christianity and Ancient Philosophie according to St.
Justin's Apologies, in: Studia hellenistique aux II et III Siecles,
Tournai, 1961, p. 45 at a kind of "de-platonism" of Justin, must be seen
in the confines of the relevance between mind and God, to which Justin seems
to attach himself. Whether the Word implants the seeds of truth, or if these
seeds belong to the human reason, the fact is that this fundamental
relevance sets possible the work of the incarnated Word.
Also see G. Kretschmar, Le developpement de la doctrine du Saint-Esprit du
Nouveau Testament a Nicee, in Verbum Caro 22, 1968, 20.
thought that the truth exists outside the Christ "partially" (also see
footnote 20), continues to play an important role in Climes of Alexandria.
See J. Danielou, the same, pp. 50 and on and 67 and on.
further down, Part II, 3.
the Confessor, Ep. Theol. And pol. (MPG, 254): "nature is the truth of
things" also see further up, footnote 13.
See Fragm. In the edition of O. Staehlin, Clemens Alexandrinus, 1909, 220.
I, 4. This is the result of a stoic influence (G. Kretschmar, as above, p.
23), but it signifies clearly the difficulties that connect to reaching God
through His "nature".
Περί αρχών, Ι, 4, 3.
About the stoic influence in Origen on this subject see J. Danielou, Origen,
Paris 1948, 258.
Comments on John, I, 9, MPG, 14, 36: The teaching about "Christ and the
crucified Christ" is the "drugged Gospel", which is destined to be
used by the simple people, whereas for the "intellectuals" the Gospel is
the one concerning the Word of God from the beginning. Also see G. Florovsky,
Origen, Eusebius and the Iconoclastic Controversy, in: Church History 19,
1950, 79-96, esp. 88.
is in fact how the Prophets of the Old Testament met the truth, exactly how
the Apostles themselves.
Κατά Κέλσου VII,
On the sense of "participation" and its place in perception, that Origen
has on the truth, see H. Crouzel, Origene et la connaissance mystique, Paris
Comments on John VI, Prol. 8.
Concerning the fact that the plan of Origen is in its core cosmological see
E. von Ivanka, Hellenisches und Christliches in fruehbysantinischen
Geistesleben, 1948, chapter I.
One can observe the way that the meaning "nature" appears again, when it
approaches the truth from a cosmological point of view, also see footnotes
13, 24, 27.
on John, I, 34.
E. de Faye, Origène, sa vie, son oeuvre, sa pensee, III, 1928, 230. Also
see H. Koch, Pronoia und Paideusis, Studien ueber Origenes und sein
Verhaeltnis zum Platonismus, Berlin 1932, 63.
remarkable effort to exceed this contrast we find in modern theology of W.
especially Offenbarrung und Geschichte, Goettingen 1961.