The Ontological Entropy of the Zizioulian Universe

“Existence is relentlessly threatened by death,” writes Met John Zizioulas. “To say that the world is created, in other words that ‘there was a time when it was not,’ does not simply mean that it could just as well not exist. It equally means that the world could at any moment cease to exist. Absolute nothingness, ‘non-being,’ which is a principle of the existence of creation, is not automatically suppressed by the fact of existence: on the contrary, it ceaselessly permeates and penetrates it. What is created is, of its very nature, mortal” (Communion and Otherness, p. 257). We are brought into the heart of Zizioulas’s understanding of the created-uncreated dialectic. As we have seen, the suggestion that existence is under constant attack by nothingness is not original to Zizioulas. St Athanasius says very much the same thing. Apart from the grace of God, the universe is driven by what we might call “ontological entropy”: it is naturally drawn toward disorder and nihility, precisely because it enjoys a derived existence and is thus dependent upon the Word’s constant preservative and providential care.

Here is the soteriological crisis of humanity—we do not contain within ourselves the power of our survival and well-being; we do not have the freedom and power to transcend our created nature. We live under the threat of returning to the “state of pre-creation” (p. 257). At the very moment of our birth, we are dying. “The whole world—by the very fact that it is created—perishes while existing and exists while perishing: its life and ours are not ‘true life'” (p. 257). Hence created existence is essentially tragic: it is determined by two mutually exclusive elements—life and death, being and nothingness.

The opposite of death is life—not created life but the uncreated life of God. Life is communion. “Even for God himself,” Zizioulas states, “life is a matter of relationship, of the communion of the persons of the Holy Trinity. This is even truer in the case of what is created, which receives its existence from someone else. The world cannot live except in relation, in communion with God. Death is the severing of that relationship and, conversely, the severing of that relationship means the loss of life. This amounts to saying that death—as the opposite of life—means the severing of relationship with God” (p. 264). Where there is communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit there is life, reality, substance, being; and where there is rupture in this communion, there is death and perdition.

Historically, humanity has sought to avoid the threat of non-being by positing an immortal soul; but this solution is excluded in advance by the created-uncreated dialectic: “Whatever gives to the created the possibility of existing in a durable, ‘natural’ way breaks the dialectical relationship between the created and the uncreated, makes the created something ‘divine’ by nature, and leads to an obligatory immortality” (p. 258). The belief in the immortality of the soul may mitigate the fear of death, but it cannot conquer death. “The only thing conquered,” Zizioulas comments, “is the preoccupation with the problem of death” (p. 258). Christian life is characterized by hostility toward death. Death is the enemy. “The created-uncreated dialectic keeps this rage alive in human consciousness, because it considers existence as a gift evoking gratitude and consent, a gift which, precisely because it is grace and freedom, cannot of itself exist eternally. The world is so created that it cannot exist by itself, but it is so loved by God that it must live” (p. 259). The Christian sensibility regarding death is thus significantly different (or at least should be) than sensibilities governed by the immortality of the soul.

Zizioulas acknowledges that belief in the immortality of the soul became part of the faith of the Church but with three qualifications: First, the Church teaches that the soul is created and thus has an absolute beginning. The notion of the preexistence of souls was rejected by the Fifth Ecumenical Council in A.D. 553. Second, the Church teaches that the human being is not constituted by the soul. Human personhood also requires the body; but the body dissolves at death. Third, the Church teaches that the Christian faith properly expresses itself in the hope of the resurrection of the body. The gospel promises the immortality of the human person, body and soul. As Zizioulas remarks, there is indeed an immortality of grace, but why limit it just to the soul? The human person is a psycho-somatic unity, and it is this unity that is promised eternal life in Jesus Christ.

But there is another reason why the immortal soul cannot ground the Christian hope—it can only offer a natural, necessary immortality. “Even the damned exist for ever on the basis of the immortality of the soul,” Zizioulas explains, “but their existence, precisely because it is natural and necessary, is a kind of ‘death'” (p. 281). (When I read this sentence I thought of Odysseus’s visit to Hades in The Odyssey. The post-mortem existence lived by the shades of the departed is a sad, dreary, unending affair, made intolerable to human conscience by the loss of self.) Hell is a place in which personal identity has been forgotten, the condition of “I do not know you” (Mt 15:12). By rejecting communion with their God, the damned have lost their personhood and are thus forgotten by God. They devolve into the condition of a thing, into absolute anonymity. This is why the Orthodox Church remembers the departed in the Divine Liturgy and memorial services for the dead. “Memory Eternal” is more than a traditional Eastern acclamation:

For a person to be held in the memory of God is equivalent to his or her existing: if God forgets us, if he says “I do not know you,” we fall into oblivion and non-existence. It is the relationship and not nature itself which endows man with hypostatic reality (we should note how ontological, i.e., hypostatic, a thing is the relationship of personhood). It is this which makes human nature a concrete reality (“enhypostasizes” it) as it does also with the very nature of God himself, whose nature would have been without existence or hypostasis without the Trinitarian relationship. It is in this sense that “souls” are commemorated in the Church as names, that is to say, as identities which are bestowed within the context of a relationship (there are no names where there is not a relationship). Names are given not on the level of nature (at our biological birth) but at Baptism, in the filial relationship (adoption) which is created in freedom. (pp. 281-282)

In the risen Son, through the prayers of his body the Church, through the prayers of the Theotokos and all the saints, the Father remembers the whole person; he remembers our name. The Father remembers by name our departed loved ones, he remembers by name our departed friends and relatives, he remembers by name every departed human being. That he does so is our salvation. Memory Eternal!

(Go to “When are Immortal Creatures Immortal?”)

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32 Responses to The Ontological Entropy of the Zizioulian Universe

  1. Superb! Thank you. I shall use & refer to this, with your permission.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Of course. You always have permission to re-blog my articles or to comment upon their on your blog.


  2. Isaac says:

    This reading certainly makes more sense of the words of Jesus that go “I never knew you” but this vision of existence and non-existence seems to support a kind of annihilationist view of eternity. It reminds me a bit of the way CS Lewis would describe the damned as almost being “former persons” or the ashes left over where a fire once burned.

    In the writings of the Anglican priest and former scientist John Polkinghorne he discusses the idea that in order for a human to be remade in the resurrection his “software” would have to be stored in God’s memory until such a time that it could be downloaded to the new hardware of a resurrected body because there is no separate immortal soul that goes on existing on its own. In doing this, Polkinghorne is rejecting the classical pagan view of the immortality of the soul (which probably most Christians in the world actually believe in) and taking on a more Hebraic view of humans as “animate bodies.” Perhaps God can reconstruct the “shape” of a former human, but not give this former human his own identity if it has been forgotten because it fell away from communion and back into non-existence. In this respect, the damned are still born at the resurrection.

    With all that speculation aside, however, it does seem that the weight of Orthodox thought and theology goes heavily against an annihilationist view of the last things, but annihilationism at least makes sense of the idea that some or many will not inherit eternal life, but rather fall back into non-existence, effectively passing beyond the memory of the living. As sad as it is to say so, we would not grieve the loss of those we loved if our memories of them were erased.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Isaac, I see you and I have read some of the same theologians. Over the years I have read several of Polkinghorne’s books. He’s on one of my favorites. And I agree with your comment on Lewis and annihilationism.

      “As sad as it is to say so, we would not grieve the loss of those we loved if our memories of them were erased.”

      And this is why I think we have to turn to St Isaac the Syrian. Perhaps Zizioulas, with Florovsky, cannot think further than the “metaphysical suicide” of the damned; but I cannot believe that the Father of Jesus would accept that as the final state of things. There is hope beyond hope–so I must believe. How can God forget when the body of Christ and all the saints remember the departed by name?


      • Karen says:

        Father, your last paragraph makes me cry. Oh, Lord, have mercy and make it so!


      • Rhonda says:

        I think we have to turn to St Isaac the Syrian.

        Just what I was thinking as I was reading Isaac’s post!


      • Isaac says:

        I had that same thought about St. Isaac representing a stark counterpoint (or at least going further). I was listening to the unspoken sermon of George MacDonald’s entitled “Justice” in which he also asserts, to put it crudely, that God ain’t giving up that easy.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Isaac, I should mention that Zizioulas does not appear to draw the annihilationist inference. For example:

      To the question: “If death is annihilation, destruction, and so on, what then happens to the man who seeks or accepts death as such?”, the answer is that this man remains eternally free to aspire after the destruction of himself and others. However, being unable to attain it, simply because of the existence of one human being–namely Christ–and above all because this one has assumed the created world in his body, the Church, he will be eternally tormented by the non-accomplishment of his freedom. (Communion and Otherness, p. 268)

      Unless I am misreading him here, Zizioulas appears to believe in the eternal conscious torment of the damned.


  3. Deb says:

    I don’t pretend to be able to understand all this, but, my Bishop advised me that my departed son probably doesn’t remember ME (when I asked how there coud be no sorrow in heaven if we think about our loved ones grieving, etc)…how does that fit in to things?


    • Rhonda says:

      Bishop…EO or RC or ?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I am curious, Deb, what authorities your bishop would invoke to support his view. I’ve glanced through two books by Orthodox writers on the topic of death–Life After Death by Met Hierotheos and The Soul After Death by Seraphim Rose–and both authors would disagree with your bishop. It does seem to me that the catholic practice of invoking the saints argues against this kind of amnesia. I hope others who are more knowledgeable of the Orthodox tradition might be able to say something more helpful and authoritative.

      Personally, I believe that specific individuals have been visited by my departed son Aaron–namely, his mother, his younger brother, and his best friend. Some of these visitations came in dreams; but my wife experienced my son’s personal presence on three occasions–twice when she was walking our dog and once during our morning prayers. I have not received any such visitations, unfortunately.

      I pray daily for Aaron. I cannot believe that he is unaware of my prayers or that he has forgotten me. He knows how much I love him, just as I know how much he loved me.


    • Deb, How do I contradict a Bishop? But I can’t imagine what he was thinking of. But I think that our grief and sorrow aren’t seen or perceived from Paradise as they are perceived from within our grief or sorrow. There are many things within my life that were great sorrows at the time, but have now been taken up into something greater – sometimes I’m even able to rejoice over those former sorrows because of the greatness of the present joy which has redeemed them. In the same manner, I think the joys of Paradise are a redeeming joy that gather up even our sorrows and hold them in the joy that is Christ’s Pascha. It is said in the Scriptures that Christ went to the Cross for the joy that was set before Him. Your son is in that joy – and sees your sorrow as you will someday. Perhaps your Bishop sought to comfort you and spoke in a manner that was later unsettling. God keep you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Deb says:

        I think that is what my Bishop was saying-that my son won’t remember sorrows in the same way-I was lamenting about all my failings as a mother and, yes, he was trying to be comforting-maybe he meant my son won’t remember me the way that I see myself right now, or in the past…


  4. PJ says:

    I’m uncomfortable with understanding man’s “soteriological crisis” in purely ontological terms. This dimension is important, and it is certainly present in Scripture and Tradition, but it is accompanied by a powerful concern for man’s guilt before a holy God. The juridical aspect is not unimportant, nor is it a novelty of medieval Catholicism or Reformational Protestantism. It is Scriptural and patristic. If we don’t understand the problem of guilt, it is because we don’t understand the holiness of God. And I suspect that we don’t understand the holiness of God. For example, how many here have raised an eyebrow at Uzzah dropping dead upon touching the Ark? Sinful man literally comes undone in the presence of the All-Holy One. Holiness is — traumatic! Overwhelming! It cannot abide that which is impure.


    • Karen says:

      PJ, herein lies both the connection and the sharp distinction between Orthodoxy and Western juridical thinking it seems to me:

      You said the “All-Holy One . . . cannot abide that which is impure.” I understand the anthropological language in the Scriptures you are following (and the Western theological language), but I believe you are using it with a kind of literalism that misses the real implications of that language, viewed through the fullness of what we know from the gospel–from Jesus Christ (Who perfectly and completely reveals the Father). The utter irony to me of the way of thinking you in this statement perfectly encapsulate is that the Gospels all describe God, the Word, the All-Holy One, in His incarnation as a human being fully entering into that which is utterly polluted by sin (i.e., this world, our human nature) and taking the full consequences of that impurity upon Himself!

      So, the spiritual reality, as I understand it, from an EO perspective is rather the complete reverse of what you have said–the impure cannot abide that which is All-Holy!” That is, it cannot thrive in and survive the experience of the holiness of God. (Case in point: we crucified the Lord of Glory. Praise God, death could not hold Him.) In fact, sin or impurity is, existentially/ontologically, by definition, a falling away from participation in God’s holiness. In much of Western theology, the Word was incarnate to take the punishment a “holy” God is supposed to have needed to demonstrate and vent upon sin, and thus to “satisfy,” in the sense of appeasing and thus “upholding” God’s “honor”). In the gospel according to Orthodoxy, rather Christ took on our human nature and endured its subjection to sin’s corruption in order to purify it and thus transfigure it by His own Divine life, that it might be able abide in, participate in, and commune in that which is All-Holy through Him as it was created to do.

      I trust you don’t misunderstand me–I’m not suggesting God is indifferent to our sin and the wounds/harm we inflict on ourselves and others (far from it), but I think what I have said gets down to the real ontological truth of things, whereas what you have said, following Western tradition, if I am understanding it correctly (and certainly the way Protestants tend to understand it) actually distorts our understanding of God’s motivation in the Incarnation, and of the meaning of the Cross.

      It seems to me Rhonda’s comment, too, regarding the distinction between Anselm’s feudal concept of honor vs. the holiness/love of God as revealed in Scripture and understood within EO tradition was really on target.


    • PJ, what do you mean by guilt? Do you mean an emotion? The advantage of staying within a proper ontological understanding is that you talk about real things and not otherwise. It is also absurd to say that Holiness cannot abide… Holiness may melt something away, or burn it up in its appearing, etc. But there is no “cannot abide.” What is sin? Sin is not something – sin is nothing. You speak about evil as though it were something, that it had some existence that would trouble the Holy God. This becomes a kind of ontological nonsense. Think about what these terms actually mean and distinguish between metaphorical language and actual realities. It’s there that the ontological understanding reveals problems.


  5. Rhonda says:

    I’m going to respond with several comments. Yes, you are right that this mindset can be either found directly several of the Church Fathers; it can also be “read into” several of the Church Fathers. However, in the Eastern Greek Empire with its flourishing economy, multiple patriarchates & theological schools, this attitude never became to dominate EO thought, unlike it did in the West especially after Augustine who was highly influenced by Stoicism, Manichaeism & Neo-Platonism. The Western Latin Empire by this time was rapidly declining due to a variety of factors (economic, governmental, invasion/wars) & both East & West were already beginning to lose touch with each other. While Augustine may not have been solely responsible for the “novelty” of the juridical mindset originally he did set up the dots to be connected by others.

    Of perhaps even greater moment for the history of Christian theology was the fact that the thought of St. Augustine was radically influenced, largely through Victorinus Afer, by Platonic doctrines. The authority accorded to his teaching throughout the Middle Ages did much to secure for many Platonic notions a permanent place in Latin Christianity. Henceforward the Platonic Forms were regularly reinterpreted as the creative thoughts of God, as they had been by pagan Platonists from shortly before the beginning of the Christian era. (Platonism, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev., p. 1309)

    Original sin & its incurred guilt:

    The precise formulation of the doctrine was reserved to the W(est). Here Tertullian, St. Cyprian, & St. Ambrose taught the solidarity of the whole human race with Adam not only in the consequences of his sin but in the sin itself, which is transmitted through natural generation, & the so-called ‘Ambrosiaster’ found its scriptural proof in Rom. 5:12, translating ἐφʼ ᾧ by in quo & referring it to Adam, ‘in whom all have sinned’. In this he was followed by St. Augustine, who in his ‘Quaestiones ad Simplicianum’ (396–7) & other pre-Pelagian writings taught that Adam’s guilt is transmitted to his descendants by concupiscence, thus making of humanity a massa damnata & much enfeebling, though not destroying, the freedom of the will. (Original Sin, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev., p. 1203)

    Augustine’s On The Trinity & the Filioque:

    The central theme is that there is nothing irrational in the notion of being one & three, since being, knowing, & willing are all constitutive of human personality. There are, however, difficulties in using this analogy to understand the relationship of Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, one God yet distinct in their mutual relations. An ascending series of triads culminates in the unity of thought, speech, & will, & in the interpenetration of knowing & loving. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is the bond of love between the Father & the Son. Jn. 20:22 suggests that the coming forth of the Spirit is from the Father through the Son, & to join the Son with the Father averts an Arianizing understanding of the Trinity as an unequal Triad. Augustine’s speculation, later taken as formal theology, laid the foundation for the Filioque. (St. Augustine of Hippo, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev., p. 130)


  6. Rhonda says:

    The juridical aspect is not unimportant…If we don’t understand the problem of guilt, it is because we don’t understand the holiness of God. & I suspect that we don’t understand the holiness of God.

    Yes, there is a lot of misunderstanding of the holiness of God here!
    God’s honor is not the same thing as God’s holiness. Guilt assumes that we have somehow offended God’s honor (not His holiness) & that He is now angry. So angry in fact that He demands that His honor be restored before He either can love or will love us once again. Frankly, an angry God that either cannot or will not love until He has exacted His punishment(s) makes me very uncomfortable & it is the primary reason I left Protestantism became EO.

    God’s holiness is nothing other than God’s love; God’s love is nothing other than God’s holiness. No one, not even the worst of sinners, can make God less holy nor lessen His love, for God is Love (1 John 4:8, 16), or else God would not be God. Honor that can be offended &/or appeased has nothing to do with holiness or love; therefore, it also has nothing to do with God who is Love & Holy. To say that one has offended God’s honor is tantamount to saying they have offended God’s pride. Man cannot offend God’s pride because God is too holy & too loving to have pride which is a vice/passion. Man cannot damage God’s reputation because again God is God (Holy, Love) & His reputation is beyond reproach.


  7. Rhonda says:

    Love suffers long & is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Co 13:4–8)

    This type of love which we are called to have, was exemplified by Christ through His Incarnation, Crucifixion & Resurrection. Christ was not a substitutionary/penal atoning sacrifice to appease an angry God who just would not let bygones be bygones & let mankind back into His good graces. Christ told us not to resist an evil person but rather turn the other cheek when slapped, go 2 miles when forced to go 1, give our cloak in addition to our tunic thus leaving us almost naked, & especially to forgive 70 times 7 which means always & completely. So are we in essence, if the juridicial guilt/punishment mindset is valid, called to be more loving & forgiving than God whose “honor” was so easily & thoroughly offended after only 1 offense that He damned all of mankind? God forbid!

    Sinful man literally comes undone in the presence of the All-Holy One. Holiness is — traumatic! Overwhelming! It cannot abide that which is impure.

    Consider this from St. Augustine:

    Against this, in a vast body of anti-Pelagian writings, Augustine argued that without grace there could be no faith, no act of good will; the catastrophic consequences of Adam’s fall have made humanity corrupt & selfish, locked into a sinful social tradition: therefore the grace needed is more than external instruction & example & has to be the love of God poured into the passive heart by which humanity is enabled to do right because it is then enjoyable. Nevertheless, though Baptism is the sacrament of remission of sins both actual & ‘original’ (i.e. corporately transmitted from Adam), no believer attains perfection, being tied down by the body’s desires. (St. Augustine of Hippo, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev., p. 130)

    So…since “no believer attains perfection (in essence remains impure)” I guess we’re all going to literally come undone in the presence of the All-Holy One. Now, I’m uncomfortable 😦


  8. coffeezombie says:

    “By rejecting communion with their God, the damned have lost their personhood and are thus forgotten by God. They devolve into the condition of a thing, into absolute anonymity.”

    This bit right here sprung off a number of thoughts in my head. Unfortunately, having only half-finished my first cup of coffee, my ADD has not yet been reigned in, so they flew off in all directions like a flock of startled birds. Of those I’ve been able to catch, there was:

    The “hacktivist” group, Anonymous, who have (rather ironically, in my opinion) adopted the Guy Fawkes mask as their symbol, thus establishing their anonymity in “meatspace.” For them, anonymity is a cloak, protecting the individual members and, really, the group as a whole. Because of their decentralized structure, it has been nearly impossible for law enforcement to target any “head,” since even the heads are anonymous, known only by their online handles. But…then again, they have handles, which are essentially names, just not their legal names. So they are not truly anonymous.

    But then move back and look at the origins of Anonymous in the internet forum, 4chan. There, especially in the infamous /b/, there are no usernames; posters truly are anonymous. When Obi-Wan said of Mos Eisley, “you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy,” he could just as easily have been speaking of /b/. On such a board, the effects of death and corruption on humanity are laid out about as plain as you can get. A part of me wonders if such a place is not truly a preview of Hell.

    Then, there is the video game Bioshock. In it, the player stumbles upon a ruined, underwater city. This city was founded away from any government to be a sort of Objectivist paradise. Parallels to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged abound, but, while the book was Rand’s pro-Objectivist propaganda, the city shows us a world crushed by its uber-individualism. The majority of the inhabitants are barely even human anymore. Again, it seems to me, a picture of Hell.

    In accordance with this idea of Hell, I recall a story where there were two monks in the desert. I believe one was the superior for the other. The second monk was lazy, however, not saying prayers, eschewing labors, etc. Eventually, he died, and his superior prayed and prayed for his soul. One day, this monk was granted a vision of his fellow monk, who thanked him for his prayers. He said, “In Hades, we all stand back to back, so no one can see another’s face. But when you pray for us, we begin to turn.”

    I do wonder if this understanding of personhood, and of Hell as a loss of personhood, might not somewhat speak to many of us in the modern world today. Many, many people, it seems, are depressed, lonely, and so on, and I wonder how much it has to do with a lack of relationships. Not that we are physically isolated (though there are those who shut themselves into their homes, whose only outlet is the Internet, and there is a sense of physical isolation when you don’t even know your neighbors’ names, as is all too common), but, even when surrounded by other people, we lack deep relationships with them. Elvis reportedly said once that he felt “lonesome in the middle of a crowd.”

    Finally, it is interesting to me that both individualism and collectivism have the same ultimate end: the destruction of the person.

    Anyway, sorry for my rambling. Time for another cup of coffee.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you for these thoughts on anonymity. And all this after only one cup of coffee! I usually need two cups before my brain even wakes up. 🙂

      Perhaps damnation begins with our seeking anonymity in separation from others, which I suppose is a way to exercise domination. Nothing is more terrifying than the anonymous terrorist. But does it end with us becoming even anonymous to ourselves? Do we forget our names?


  9. Lasseter says:

    I once had a disagreement with a member of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist parish over prayer to the Saints. She said something similar to the counsel you received from your Bishop, Deb: she didn’t think the departed souls in Heaven were aware of our troubles. How could they be? She imagined Heaven was a place of joy. She virtually (and unwittingly, of course) quoted an Orthodox funerary prayer in describing it.

    Morgan Guyton recently wrote a post on his blog discussing Anselm of Canterbury and the use of medieval notion’s of a lord’s honor to understand God’s righteousness and how He has to deal with sin. Your comments remind me of it, Rhonda. Mr. Guyton was not please with how the Western world has run with it in the centuries after Anselm. You’ll find in the comments there also some links I left to an essay by Panayiotis Nellas that had some interesting insights into how St. Nicholas Cabasilas answered such questions as Anselm’s cur Deus homo?

    I recall that in the comments on the previous post in this blog the discussion turned a bit to evolution, and something just mentioned here touches on thoughts I had in reading the prior set of comments. I think that a good many of the most staunchly anti-evolution and pro-six-day Creation Christians hold to the notion that sin (and guilt) is transmitted genetically. Some seem to hold this view tacitly, but some of the more sophisticated apologists in those camps are well aware that that is foundational to their convictions. That is, we all must be descended from this one couple who lived a few thousand years ago, because we need to have a genetic connection to them in order to have inherited their “sin natures.”


  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I’d like to step in here and direct the conversation away from the question of juridical atonement and back to Zizioulas and his view that death is the soteriological problem. Let’s explore why this may, or may not, be the case. Why is death so decisive? Here’s another quote from Zizioulas to get the ball rolling:

    “It is regrettable that theology and the Church do not seem to realize that the real problem of the human being is mortality, not sin as such. As long as there is mortality, sin will remain uncontrollable, and ethics will disguise evil by transferring it from one vice to another” (Communion and Otherness, p. 88, n. 205).


    • Karen says:

      Following a bit on my comment to PJ, saying that “sin, by definition, is a falling away from God’s holiness” is not saying anything essentially different, it seems to me, than that “death is a falling away from God’s life.” They are different aspects of the same ontological “thing.” Saying which came first, sin or death, depends upon which part of the story of mankind’s fall we are talking about. In the Genesis narrative, sin came first. Ever since then, according to apostolic teaching regarding the first and second Adam, death comes first and it is through the fear of death we remain enslaved to sin (Hebrews 2:15). If we consider sin and death as essentially the same ontological “thing” in two of its different aspects, does that shed any light on this question? In terms of humanity taken as a whole, human experience is that there is a dynamic by which death results in sin and sin gives birth to death. It’s kind of like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg!

      If it is by “fear of death” we remain in bondage to sin, it is easy to see why the Resurrection (Christ, in his incorruptible Life, our Pascha) is the center of all things and the foundation of our faith.


  11. Isaac says:

    I kept thinking these passages from Zizoulas reminded me of something I have heard before and then it came to me that Peter Kreeft has talked about the fragility of personhood in relation to his talks on the Lord of the Rings. I found a brief part of the talk on youtube. There are echoes here of what Zizoulas is getting at:

    It was quite a shock to me the first time it was pointed out that the line goes “the sting of death is sin” rather than the other way around because I was trained to think of death as a punishment for sin, not sin as the inevitable consequence of living in the shadow of death. All of our grasping seems to be a reaction against death. We feel everything slipping away and so we horde and use force and try to dominate others in a desperate attempt to hold on to a fleeting existence.


    • Isaac says:

      Here is the complete talk. It runs about 18 minutes. If you want to delete the youtube link Fr. Aidan I think this will do. I actually didn’t know a youtube link puts the actual video in a post.

      [audio src="" /]


  12. Fr Aidan. I have to confess that I envy the title of this article and wish I had used it sometime. It sings! “Ontological entropy,” this says almost everything about sin that I could imagine. Of course, at age 59 my ontology is winding down considerably every day…


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you! I confess (bless me, Father, for I have sinned) I was quite proud of this title when it came to me. For a few moments I actually thought that I was the first person to think up the phrase “ontological entropy.” And then I did a Google search and discovered (alas!) that others had used it in other contexts. But I at least I thought of the phrase before Met John. 🙂


  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Fr Ted just published the following citation over at his blog:

    St. Athanasius’s account of why creation requires salvation: instability and decay are natural to the created order precisely because it is created out of nothing. It must be understood that this in no way disparages the material world – it is simply a realistic description of the state in which all material creatures find themselves. But it means that creation has to transcend itself in order to survive. And this movement is possible only through man – precisely because he is ‘also an animal’ by nature, but in addition has the drive to be free of the laws of nature because he is a person in the image of God. (Elizabeth Theokritoff in THE CAMBRIDGE CAMPION TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, p 71)


  14. Pingback: Mind, The Ontological Powerhouse | Through these Eyes

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