Dumitru Staniloae (1903-1993)
Creation as Tool for Deeper Communion with God
Only in human subjects does the world discover and fulfill its meaning. For only humans beings are conscious of a meaning to their existence and to physical and biological nature and only they are able to go beyond the repetition of the laws of nature, as those who have the capacity to raise themselves to pursue and realize other meanings through nature.
Through its contingent rationality and the meaning that humans can perceive through it, the world is at the service of this movement of raising ourselves to our ultimate meaning, or indeed, of achieving our fullness in communion with the personal God. All these things impose on us a responsibility before God and before the world itself, and it is by the exercise of this responsibility that we increase in our communion with God and with our fellow human beings as we humanize or perfect ourselves.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, “Creation: The Visible World,” Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 18-19.
The Things of the World as Gift
God gave us things as gifts not only that we might accustom our strength of will to transcend them his own sake, but for the sake of our fellow humans as well, through our acts of bestowing these gifts upon them. The love we manifest in using these things as gifts must be directed not only toward God but also toward our neighbors so that we might gain love for them, and communion with them (Matt. 10:8).
The good things of God as gifts serve as a bond of life between persons, and hence they should not come to be like screens that keep them apart. Created things can serve, therefore, either for the perfecting or for the corrupting of human beings.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, “Creation: The Visible World,” Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 26.
Effort is Required to Learn from Creation
God does not infuse into the human person ready-made the meanings and the names of what he has created. He awaits the human person’s effort to decipher them, and it was to this end that he gave the human person his inner capability and need. These meanings and the uses of them… are not given to him all at once. Only thus are spiritual growth and liberty implied in the dialogue. The meanings of things are given us objectively, just as our capacity to grasp them is also given us. But at the same time, these meanings have something of the character of a solicitation from God to which humans must expend themselves in responding. God waits for the human person to discover the infinite thoughts he has posited within things. … God waits for us to have an increasingly better and fuller understanding of the thoughts he has placed within things and of the words he has addressed to us through them.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, “Creation: The Visible World,” Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 36-37.
Created Things as the Basis for Dialogue with God
Created things are not given to us only so that each of us can carry on a private dialogue with God; they have been given so that all of us can take part in a dialogue among ourselves and collectively take part in a dialogue with God. Put another way, this dialogue is to take place among ourselves in the consciousness that created things are given us by God so as to be used as gifts among ourselves in his name, following his command, and out of his richness….
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, “Creation: The Visible World,” Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 26-27.
Natural Revelation and Supernatural Revelation
The Orthodox Church makes no separation between natural revelation and supernatural revelation. Natural revelation is known and understood fully in the light of supernatural revelation. That is why St. Maximos the Confessor does not posit an essential distinction between natural revelation and the supernatural or biblical one. …
~ The Experience of God, trans. by Ioan Ionita & Robert Barringer, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, 1994, p. 1.
Articulating the Meanings Imbued into Creation
Through created things God has given humans two gifts: first, the possibility to think and to speak, for this arises from the fact that God conceived the inner principles of things and posited them in existence, having created for them beforehand a material covering, adapted to the level of the humanity; and second, the need to conceive and express these inner principles so as to be able to make use of them in human relationships and in this way bring about that dialogue between themselves and God, which God willed to have with them, so that human beings might respond to God through their own thinking and speaking. It is precisely in this that all things find their meaning….
This is how we are to understand the words of Genesis: “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field… and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name…” (Genesis 2:19). Thus God has asked man to speak inasmuch as he urged him to put within his nature the need to discover the words that God himself communicated to man through created things.
For this reason even the words addressed to us by God through created things stimulate us to reach an understanding of them.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, “Creation: The Visible World,” Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 36.
Population and industrialization as challenges to love
As man was forced to live in ever larger groups because of excessive industrialization and the growing urban population, much more effort was necessary to bring about love among him and his fellow-beings. It was easy to live in a small familiar group. Actually we witness today the contradictory phenomenon: the larger the group in which man lives, the more estranged he feels. But this is no joy for him. And we have to do our best to discern in any man in a crowd a valuable face of God that should deserve being loved, that should need my love, a fact which makes me to leave behind the barrenness of loneliness. As a matter of fact, living permanently in a large group of people may help me know every man’s unique mystery and make myself richer by what each one of them transmits to me especially. Modern society requires increasing efforts from the Christian faith to fulfill itself and to help this society to go deeper in its humaneness.
~ 1993 interview, “Romanians and their contribution to the world,” website: http://cpcug.org/user/stefan/listro.html
Man and the Cosmos as Natural Revelation
Speaking more concretely and in accordance with our faith, the content of natural revelation is the cosmos and man who is endowed with reason, with conscience, and with freedom. But man is not only an object that can be known with this revelation; he is also one who is a subject of the knowledge of revelation. Both man and the cosmos are equally the product of a creative act of God which is above nature, and both are maintained in existence by God through an act of conservation which has a supernatural character.
~ Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, trans. by I. Ionita and R. Barringer, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, 1994, pp. 1-2.
Microcosm and Macrocosm
Some of the Fathers of the Church have said that man is a microcosm, a world which sums up in itself the larger world. St. Maximos the Confessor that the more correct way would be to consider man as a macrocosm, because he is called to comprehend the whole world within himself as one capable of comprehending it without losing himself, for he is distinct from the world. Therefore man effects a unity greater than the world exterior to himself, whereas, on the contrary, the world, as cosmos, as nature, cannot contain man fully within itself without losing him, that is, without losing in this way the most important part of reality, that part which, more than all others, gives reality its meaning.
~ Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, trans. by Ioan Ionita & Robert Barringer, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, 1994, p. 2.
Dumitru Staniloae is the greatest theologian of the modern Romanian Orthodox Church and one of the more important Christian theologians of the 20th Century. Born in an isolated agricultural village in western Romania, he was steeped in the warm Romanian peasant culture of his childhood and always sought to incorporate its core values – simple faith in God and deep kinship with the earth and all living things – in his mature thought. One of his abiding concerns was the cosmic unity of all creation in Jesus Christ. After becoming a priest he received advanced theological education in Greece, Germany and France, but his greatest love was patristics. In sixty years of teaching and writing, interrupted by his arrest and imprisonment for five years in the brutal Romanian gulag of the communists in the fifties, he almost single-handedly restored Romanian Orthodox theology, giving it a permanent orientation toward patristic spirituality, a creation-caring, Christ-centered cosmology, and the experience of the prayer of the heart. Never an “academic” thinker in the narrow sense, Fr. Staniloae was in life a witness to the wholeness and peace of the Spirit-filled life. His writings continue to bear witness to the Christian art of finding the Creator in and through the creation.
The Deification and Salvation of the World
The economy of God, that is, his plan with regard to the world, consists of the deification of the created world, something which, as a consequence of sin, implies also its salvation.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 2, “The World, Creation and Deification,” Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 1.
“World” Means Man and Nature Together
Salvation and deification have humanity directly as their aim, but not a humanity separated from nature, rather one that is ontologically united with it. For nature depends on man, or makes him whole, and man cannot reach perfection if he does not reflect nature and is not at work upon it. Thus, by “world” both nature and humanity are understood; or when the word “world” is used to indicate one of these realities, the other is always implied as well.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 2, “The World, Creation and Deification,” Holy Cross Press, Brookline, Mass., 2000, p. 1.
West and East on the Salvation of Nature and Man
Western Christianity has often had the tendency to refer salvation to man as separate from nature. Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, has never conceived them separately from one another, although lately the West too has generally abandoned the conception of man’s salvation as something separate from nature….
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 2, “The World, Creation and Deification,” Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 2.
Nature Reflects the Human Condition
The dependence of what is human on nature can be said to be a part of the nature of the human being… [The] human being cannot be conceived apart from cosmic nature. This can mean that nature too does not fulfill its purpose apart from human beings or through a human being who works against nature. Through the corruption, sterilization, and poisoning of nature, a human being makes his own existence, as well as that of his fellow human beings, impossible. Thus, nature is [or reflects] the condition not just of individual human existence, but also of human solidarity. Nature appears in a wholly clear fashion as the medium through which the human being can do good or evil to his fellows, as he himself is responsible for his own development or ruin from an ethical and spiritual point of view. Nature is interposed, fully visible, within the beneficial or the destructive dialogue that goes on among human beings, a dialogue outside of which no individual human being, nor the human community itself, can exist.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 2.
Spiritual Growth through Nature
[There is an interdependence of humanity with nature.] As a conclusion of the interdependence of men vis-a-vis nature as the gift of God, nature has to be maintained in essence, not only in its elements, but also in its natural syntheses. For it is these syntheses alone that are fertile, rather than static and sterile. They are found within an unceasing fertility and bring forth for humankind the means of existence. As gift of God, nature renews itself continually in the same propitious manner for human existence, without ever being exhausted in the movement of renewal and fertility.
Thus, when nature is maintained and made use of in conformity with itself, it proves itself a means through which man grows spiritually and brings his good intentions toward himself and his fellow men to bear fruit; but when man sterilizes, poisons and abuses nature on a monstrous scale, he hampers his own spiritual growth and that of others.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 3.
Nature as a Medium for Grace or Evil
According to our faith, each human person is a hypostasis [microcosmic summary] of the entire cosmic nature, but he is this only in solidarity with others. Cosmic nature is thus common to all human hypostases, although each one hypostasizes it and lives it personally in a way that is particular to himself and complementary to that of others….
Nature as a whole is destined for the glory in which men will share in the kingdom of heaven, and even now that glory is felt in the peace and light that radiate from the person who is a saint. The glory of Christ on Mount Tabor was spread out over nature too. Yet for the eyes and senses of the many it can remain hidden, while nature can be degraded and affected by the wickedness of the few. In its turn nature can be the medium through which the believer receives divine grace or the beneficent uncreated energies, just as it can be the medium through which influences driving him toward evil flow out upon him.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, “The World, Creation and Deification,” Holy Cross, Brookline, MA, p. 2-3.
The Connection Between God, the Human and Creation
The world is offered to the human person by God, and to God by the human person. The world is seen by God in the human person and by the human person in dependence upon God. …
God creates the world and time, and he remains in connection with the world through his will for the sake of dialogue with conscious beings whom he wishes to lead into full communion with himself.
~ The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, “Creation: The Visible World,” Holy Cross Press, Brookline, MA 2000, p. 13.
Human Meaning in Relation to the World
The entire universe bears the stamp of a personal rationality intended for the eternal existence of human persons…. It is only through an eternal participation in the infinity of this Supreme Personal reality that our being reckons it will see its own meaning fulfilled. This is how the Orthodox Christian doctrine of the deification of our being through participation in God or through grace is to be understood. In other words, Our being reckons that its own meaning and, simultaneously the meaning of the whole of reality will be fulfilled only by virtue of the fact that between our persons and supreme or divine Person, there is no place for an intermediate existence: after God, man is also, in a way, immediate, able to participate immediately in everything God possesses as a degree of the supreme existence, all the while remaining man.
~ Dumitru Staniloae, The Experience of God, trans. by Ioan Ionita & Robert Barringer, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1994, p. 11.