6

It seems to me that before the Enlightenment, the predominant understanding of the structure of the universe was that the cosmos, while stratified, is unitary- that "the Heavens", which include the spheres of the stars, then of the angels, and the abode of YHWH, have substantial existence in the same way that the Earth does.

An example that this belief was commonplace is Pauls refusal, upon describing an event in which a man "went up to the third Heaven" in 2 Corinthians 12:2, to say if he went up in the body, that is physically, or in the spirit.

It also seems that after the Enlightenment, the predominant understanding of the structure of the cosmos became binary- that there is a physical realm of existence and a spiritual realm of existence, where the spiritual realm both fills and transcends the physical.

Is there historical evidence to suggest that such a transition has taken place within Christendom?

  • According to which particular Christian tradition, Andrew? – user22553 Aug 27 '16 at 1:53
  • I think you've already suggested that transition. – 3961 Aug 27 '16 at 3:56
  • 1
    @fredsbend I mean to suggest it. I am asking if there is any historical evidence from historical analysis – Andrew Aug 27 '16 at 21:10
1

It seems to me that before the Enlightenment, the predominant understanding of the structure of the universe was that the cosmos, while stratified, is unitary- that "the Heavens", which include the spheres of the stars, then of the angels, and the abode of YHWH, have substantial existence in the same way that the Earth does.

When one speaks of Christian beliefs, one must recall that the beliefs which developed in the west - particularly in the medieval period, perhaps beginning with Charlemagne - were in some cases radically different from the beliefs held by the eastern Christians that now, for the most part, form the Orthodox Church.

I don't think any of the Church Fathers had a belief that the abode of God and His angels had any kind of "substantial" existence.


John of Damascus (8th century) explained:

The heaven [sic] is the circumference of things created, both visible and invisible. For within its boundary are included and marked off both the mental faculties of angels and all the world of sense. But the Deity alone is uncircumscribed, filling all things, and surrounding all things, and hounding all things, for He is above all things, and has created all things.

For the great part the heaven is greater than the earth, but we need not investigate the essence of heaven, for it is quite beyond our knowledge.

-- An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book III

  • 2
    Very interesting. I encourage you to continue developing this answer. Do any of the other Church Fathers have anything to add? – Andrew Jun 28 '16 at 15:54
  • Andrew, I think the other Church Father who wrote extensively on man's relationship to the cosmos is Maximos the Confessor, but I am not that familiar with his writings. (Strangely, both he and John of Damascus had their hands cut off at some point to prevent them from writing further - John, by Calif Al-Wahid I sometime in the 8th century; Maximos, by a heretical Patriarch in Constantinople, sometime in the 7th). Two respected Orthodox theologians also wrote extensively on this in the 20th century: Justin Popović of Serbia, and Dumitru Stăniloae of Romania – user22553 Aug 27 '16 at 11:29
  • can you be more specific with regards to the works in which these authors discuss the matter? – Andrew Aug 27 '16 at 21:12
  • 1
    You might look at Volume II of Staniloae's "Orthodox Dogmatic Theology", which deals with Creation and the Fall. It is available in English. It also occurs to me that Seraphim Rose's "Genesis, Creation and Early Man" could be of interest. He was an American philosopher turned Orthodox monk. These are both works of Orthodox Christian authors, but Orthodox works usually deal with understanding and interpreting the Church Fathers. I'm speculating a bit on Justin Popović. He is considered one of the most gifted Orthodox theologians of the 20th century, but I don't know his works well. – user22553 Aug 27 '16 at 21:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.