The Othe J Z- What I learned from a man named John Zizioulas

John Zizioulas is a Greek Orthodox theologian and is now the bishop of Pergamom (so says Wikipedia).  I recently read a book he wrote called Being as Communion. The entire book would be too difficult to summarize but to be honest you probably wont want to read it unless you have studied theology or philosophy.  The thing I found so intriguing is that he is basically writing theology from the standpoint of existentialist philosophy.

The existentialist asks questions like “why does life have meaning? or does it at all?” etc.   For many of them the question of freedom is a very important issue.  Namely, if humans aren’t free then perhaps attaining freedom is the real meaning of existence.  However, the fundamental problem for people like Camus, or Doestoevsky is that human beings have no choice in their birth. If we have no liberty in this most basic area, whether to exist or not, then perhaps we have no freedom at all.  Suicide obviously represents a degree of freedom, in that you can choose the moment of your death and exercise your freedom over existence by ceasing to be.  Obviously this represents a paradox.

The existentialist philosophers, however, have shown, in our day- with an intellectual honesty that makes them worthy of the name philosopher- that, humanly speaking, the person as an absolute ontological freedom remains a quest without fulfillment.  Between the being of God and that of man remains the gulf of creaturehood, and creaturehood means precisely this: the being of each human person is given to him; consequently, the human person is not able to free himself absolutely from his ‘nature’ or substance,’ from what biological laws dictate to him…for man is his existence itself: how can a man be considered absolutely free when he can not but do other than accept his existence?… The disturbing words which Dostoevsky puts in Kirilov’s mouth sound an alarm: if the only way of exercising absolute ontological freedom for a man is suicide then freedom leads to nihilism; the person is shown to be the negator of ontology

What is the solution then?  How can a person gain power over their own birth?  Zizioulas very cleverly answers this philosophical question with the words of Jesus in John 3 “you must be born from above,” born again.  He then takes John 14:6 literally claiming that Jesus is in fact the truth of being

not just because he is an epistemological principle which explains the universe, but because he is life and the universe of beings finds its meaning in its incorruptible existence in Christ, who takes up into himself (anakefaleosis) the whole of creation and history.  Being is inconceivable outside of life and because of this the ontological nature of truth resides in the idea of life… When we are told that Adam died because he fell by making himself into God- i.e. the ultimate reference point of existence- is something on the level of ontology not psychology.  Death intervenes not as the result of a punishment for an act of disobedience but as a result of the individualization of nature to which the whole cosmos is subjected.  In other words there is an intrinsic connection between death and the individualization into which we are born (which shows)… what it means to have a life, which is not the true life (zoe aletheia).  To be saved from the fall, therefore, means essentially that truth should be fully applied to existence, thereby making life something true, i.e. undying… When Christ says He is the truth and at the same time the life of the world, He introduces into truth a content carrying ontological implications.  It the truth saves the world it is because of life… Christology is founded precisely on the assertion that only the trinity can offer to created being the genuine base for personhood and hence salvation.  This means that Christ must be God in order to be savior, but it also means something more: He must be not an individual but a true person… True life, without death, is ontologically impossible for us as long as our being is ontologically determined by our creaturehood… Christ is the truth precisely because he because in Himself He shows not just being, but the persistence, the survival of being; through the resurrection, Christology shows that created existence can be so true that not even human freedom can suppress it… Truth and being are existentially identified only in Christ’s resurrection, where freedom is no longer fallen

Human beings are always looking for meaning.  I find that in Jesus life attains real significance.  John Zizioulas helped me think about this in a new way.


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