About Providence, Divine Action and the Church


In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Friday, 7 October 2011

John Zizioulas on Maximus the Confessor on Causation

Discussing causation is a dangerous pastime, as the concept is so polyvalent. Generally, when I have been brave enough to discuss it, I’ve only looked at the concepts of primary and secondary causation, which I regard as constitutive of a unique form of the notions of efficient and instrumental causation (i.e. as primary cause, God is the efficient cause of all things; but secondary causes are instrumental andefficient causes; the problem is can any one action or event be described as having two efficient causes). But perhaps I ought to consider the idea of final causation again. Here’s a quotation from John Zizioulas:

A mighty Fortress is our Maximus...
Causes, says Maximus, are those which do not in any way owe their cause to anything else. In ancient Greek and Western thought, as in common sense, a cause is logically but also chronologically prior to its effect. In the thought of Saint Maximus, however, the further back we go in time, the further we get away from the archetype, from the cause: the Old Testament is ‘shadow’, the New Testament is ‘image’ and the ‘state of things to come’ is truth. In other words the archetype, the cause of ‘what is accomplished in the synaxis’, lies in the future. The Eucharist is the result of the Kingdom which is to come. The Kingdom which is to come, a future event (the state of things to come), being the cause of the Eucharist, gives it its true being.
John D. Zizioulas, The Eucharistic Communion and the World, edited by Luke Ben Tallon (London: T&T Clark, 2011), p. 45

Granted, Zizioulas talks about causation in the context of the Eucharist, but the theological logic here could be extended when we talk about divine and human action. Is the age to come the cause of our current age? And if so, does this mean that talk about determinism is pointless, as such talk surely presupposes the usual understanding of causation as that which is prior to an effect? In fact, does it mean that the only thing that could be said to be ‘determined’ (if we insist on using such language) is the election of God’s covenant people, who together constitute that imperfect shadow and image of the redeemed people of God in the new creation and the age to come?

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