proclus and the prologue: pt 1

(cyprian, 12/31/15)

Today (December 31) is the second time we will have heard the Prologue to John’s Gospel (the first time was on Christmas morning). This coming Sunday, since we celebrate Epiphany on the traditional date, January 6, we will hear it again for the 2 Sunday after Christmas. (I’m also preaching that day, hence Pt. 1.)

I had two reactions when I realized I had to preach on the Prologue of John: one, I freeze up and don’t know what to say; two, I can’t stop talking. I’d been looking for something to hook onto, and this reading that we had this morning from Saint Proclus of Constantinople gave me something. Proclus wrote, “Christ did not become divine by advancement… Christ was always divine, but became human because of pity. This is our faith.”[1] Now, I have no idea what the, I assume, Greek word for ‘pity’ is in the original of this, but that word ‘pity’ in English has a kind of saccharine feeling to me. Maybe we could change the word to something like compassion, because it really means sympathetic sorrow for someone suffering. Hence Jesus will say later in John’s Gospel, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son…’ God wants to relieve our suffering; God wants us to be happy. As Thomas Merton wrote once, “Our own joy is heaven’s mirth.”

I’ve been reflecting a lot this year on the so-called high Christology of John, the idea of the Divine descending. We might get confused as to what that means if we think of “Christ” simply as Jesus himself descending either as a cute baby or a fully formed Palestinian Jew, who up to this point had been sitting next to his Dad reading books, waiting for his marching orders. What––who––we are talking about here is the Word, the 2nd person of the Trinity. Maybe even the word ‘son’ can be misleading. ‘Son’ here doesn’t mean a male; it means ‘offspring,’ as we say in the Creed homousias–of the same substance as the 1st person, begotten of God. For me some of the confusion clears too when we clarify the idea of what ‘person’ means, as in the 2nd person of the Trinity. We might have a tendency to think that ‘person’ implies a humanoid of some sort (I also think it’s interesting that we always picture aliens from another planet as some form of biological creature as we know them; how limited our scope and imagination are!)

What ‘person’ has come to mean to me is intentionality and involvement, in other words, relatedness. Tth-1he Word, the second person of the Trinity of energies we know as God, is not a blind impersonal force nor a cold framework set over creation, nor a haphazard throw of the dice. The Word for us is an intelligence that is involved, who has direction and purpose. There’s a word that both Teilhard and Sri Aurobindo of India used that I like very much, but they used it in two different ways: ‘involution.’ For Teilhard that meant something very complicated dealing with nervous systems and exoskeletons and self-reflexive consciousness; for Aurobindo ‘involution’ means God is involved.

In some way this is the argument of what is sometimes called the “pseudo-scientific theory” of Intelligent Design, that seems to sit somewhere between evolution and creationism. Whereas we are cautious of creationism’s literalist reading of the mythical language of Scripture––confusing iconographic language for phenomenological language––we are also cautious about evolution’s randomness of the survival of the fittest. Science for the most part wants to avoid what we call teleology––suggesting that evolution has an end or a purpose to it. This is from a marvelous book by Carter Phipps called Evolutionaries: the teleological view “is one that sees the process [of evolution] as having a particular purpose or direction––sees it going somewhere, as opposed to just randomly unfolding. For some, the idea of teleology implies not only a direction but a specific, predictable end; for others it means that the process has a clear directionality.”[2] Phipps then tells how the editors and peer reviewers of the journal Evolution were careful to eliminate any language that would suggest directionality from any of its articles as evolutionary science was trying to prove its academic legitimacy. And yet, “many of the great leaders in the field continued to publish on ideas of directionality and progress,” because they were “still captivated … by the teleological implications of evolutionary science. But in a strange sort of double life, they confined their speculations to popular books and eliminated such ‘philosophizing’ from their professional endeavors.” One physiologist remarked that “‘teleology is a mistress without whom no biologist can live, but with whom none wishes to be seen in public.’”[3]

But you see, to say that there is a direction and an intention––to say that there is an end––is also to say that there is a beginning. And somehow that is what we celebrate at Christmas, the beginning––that the Divine, in the ‘person’ of the Word, has intentionally gotten involved and remains intentionally involved. In our end is our beginning: we have hope in a telos, an end, because we believe that this is our beginning. Because of God’s involution in our matter and in our history, we believe that creation has a directionality and evolution has an intentionality, and that that our life in this world––and history itself, along with the whole of humanity––has eternal value.

And just to nod for a moment to the dire warnings of the reading from 1 John which we also heard today (and how poignant to hear that on the last day of the year!): …it is the last hour; the antichrist is coming…![4] Just as the intentionality of God makes us know God as a person, so the intentionality of whatever is anti-Christ makes of that also a person, involved and directional. Let’s pray as we end this year and begin the next that we may learn to recognize what is anti-Christ, that is to say, that we may learn to recognize anything that goes against the hope to which we are called––that in our end is our beginning; that we may learn to resist anything that mitigates against the belief that our life in this world––and history itself, along with the whole of humanity––has eternal value.


IMAGE: Involution by LonerWolf


[1] WIS I [1987] 148.

[2] Phipps, 72

[3] Phipps, 74

[4] 1 Jn 2:18-21

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