Gregorian Study Circle Meeting

Sponsored  by Sopana Orthodox Academy and Mar Gregorios Foundation.

Sophia Centre, Kottayam

13 July 2016

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(A presentation by Fr K M George based on PMG book The Human Presence, chapter 7)

Paulos Mar Gregorios had always been a  staunch critic of the intellectual tradition of the West despite his deep appreciation for the modern European  accomplishments in philosophy, science , technology and all other disciplines. A good part of  his academic and intellectual activity took place  in a  predominantly European- American context. His speeches and writings in general assume to address a western audience or all those  in the rest of the world who are under the sway of western intellectual and spiritual heritage.   He always  made a deliberate attempt to bring out his Asian/ Indian philosophical perceptions and sensitivity as a counter point to the overarching  western intellectual heritage. Very early in his theological and philosophical reflections  his self-understanding as an Eastern  Christian firmly rooted in the liturgical, theological and spiritual tradition of his Indo-Syriac Orthodox tradition played a key role. His deep study of Eastern patristic tradition, particularly of saint Gregory of Nyssa and the Cappadocians in general equipped him to challenge the western theological heritage beginning with Saint Augustine. All his writings – philosophical, theological, historical, ethical – are marked by his unceasing search for a viable alternative to the haughtily dominant  Western tradition which, according to him, distorted the authentic Christian faith on many counts and suppressed all other  profound cultural world views .

In his treatment of the theme Mastery and Mystery he deals with the question of “the technological civilisation” which has claimed mastery over our world. He refers to  a report of  the  International Academy of the Philosophy of Science  regarding  “the basic cultural problem that   confronts our contemporaries today” namely, the  transition from the  old conception of our ancestors to the new  conception of the technological civilization. In the former  contemplative knowledge  is  the highest form of human knowledge  while in  the  latter the highest form of  knowledge is the knowledge which gives man the  greatest mastery over the forces of nature.

The report also speaks of three actors and their inter-relationship.  In the older conception  or world-view ( Weltanschauung) there are only  two actors: Man and God. But  God is  preeminent and  man is submissive to God. In the second world-view created by modern science and technology there are only two principal actors on the stage: Man and Nature,  and nature is submissive to man. The all powerful man has dethroned God. Man is now sovereign over his technical accomplishments. In other words the older religious world view is secularised. That means there is no reference whatsoever to God or a transcendent principle in human affairs. Man is supremely optimistic about his ability to control, manipulate and direct the world. Modern man who is very competent in designing and operating machines now seems to consider the whole world as a machine. There is no element of mystery in the machine he designs. He can take it apart  and reassemble  it  at will. And it is he who decides the application and purpose of the machine.

Mar Gregorios challenges these  exclusive  God – man and Man – nature binaries, and contends that there have always been more than two actors at any time  in human  history. He proposes at least three principal actors- God, man and nature. In  the continuing dialectic between Mastery and Mystery, he proposes a new   relationship  among the three  actors. Rather he  is rediscovering a primordial,  authentic and holistic    relationship that had been lost during the triumphant  march of human  technological progress geared to a “single vision”.

Our modern civilization created  a relationship of three fold rivalry between God and man, between man and nature, and between God and nature. According to one point of view the rivalry between God and nature is created by the rich and the powerful middle class in society. They advocated turning to God away from nature and material values as the spiritual calling of man. Religious leaders and theologians supported them in the name of the values of humility, patience, self-control and nonviolence. According to this view the glory of God was in inverse proportion to the glory of man.The more man abased himself, the more God was glorified. Mar Gregorios thinks that this theory was also reinforced by the doctrine of original sin that all men were sinners, and nothing but sinners. Many people with a critical mind, however, discovered that this was a means of keeping the poor in poverty and dependence while the rich and the religious authorities continued to own most of the property and liquid wealth.

Mar Gregorios says that we need to overcome these rivalries. Man need not turn his back on God in order to address himself to the nonhuman nature, and conversely turn his back on nonhuman nature to address himself to God.

This image, according to Mar Gregorios, is faulty  and misleading.

Firstly, nature, man, and God are not three isolated realities  with space-time boundaries separating them. Man is essentially part of nature. He has no existence apart from nature in which he breathes, eats, drinks, procreates, eliminates his wastes…

Secondly, God is not confined to space-time boundaries. God is the reality that sustains man and nature. God and nature are not opposite poles where man can turn to one pole only at the expense of the other.

According to Mar Gregorios the hidden possibility of the objectification of  nature lies at the root cause of the sickness of our civilisation. Nature cannot be reduced to a “nothing but…”, that is, nothing but an object given into our hands for safekeeping and good management. It is wrong to make use of any biblical verses to justify human domination and exploitation of God’s creation. Replacing the concept of domination with the concept of stewardship will not help us much since the question is far deeper than the good management of something outside ourselves.

The answer to the dilemma lies in the proper understanding of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It was  matter that Christ assumed to constitute his “historical” body……the food and water and wine that he took, the air he breathed, the earth and the sea on which he walked. The same material body was transfigured, crucified on a tree , buried in a tomb and resurrected… Matter and nature participate in the redemptive process.

Any  dichotomy between God and creation is a false one since  God includes the whole universe in his creative and redemptive process. The distinction between man and creation is that man has a special vocation as priest of creation and as mediator between the material and the spiritual realities. This doesn’t mean that man is discontinuous with creation. He is integrally connected to nature as any priest is  to the people he represents. “Christ has become part of creation, and in his created body he lifted up the creation to God, and humankind must participate in this eternal priesthood of Christ”.

                                                                                    (to be continued)