There is overwhelming arrogance in the church today. We believe that because of our modern systems of supposed objective scholarship we have a better understanding of who Christ and the early church are than the first Christians themselves. But it is not true. In fact, it is precisely the opposite. Imprisoned in our own enculturated ways of what does and does not count for knowledge we are blind to the particularities and nuances of how the first Christians related to God. And what is worse, we refuse to try to imagine what these might be, and what it would mean for us to live like that. This would take effort to transcend our own place and time…this would require of us a certain intellectual compassion and willingness to work with others over time and space. And to be brutally honest, this is proved out by the church’s unwillingness to both teach and follow the simplest precepts taught by Christ in the Gospels: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, etc.. In short, Christians are lost in their notions, in their self-wills, in their administration, and in their rubrics.
In the late third century Arius taught that Christ was not co-eternal with God. It was not an original thought to Arius but had been taught for decades before. On one level it made sense; how could anything not have been created by something that had preceded it? But while there is a philosophical rationalization for justifying thinking this way, the life of Christ himself – a life of pure love – reveals another reality.
So far we have seen that starting with St. John the Evangelist’s Gospel the foundation of faith is found only in the indwelling of God in a relational intimacy. It is a personal experience that is revealed to and can be shared by all. In other words, it is not exclusive. And any real talk of theology itself, both in St. John’s Gospel and thereafter, means a common revelation of a mystery which is to be lived by all or it is nothing at all. This was by no means lost on the early church; all church Fathers emphasized this element. Love is the culmination of the fullness of spiritual life in the souls of the faithful.
This was not lost on three men living in the Asia Minor province of Cappadocia in the fourth century: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory Nazianzus. These three all stressed the transformation of the Christian in Christ, so that our life is literally hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). This is an experiential union with Christ. This is not an exclusive knowledge-experience; it is at one time the antithesis and fulfilment of notional philosophy; one must die to the letter and go beyond – at the letter’s behest – to a personal abandonment. This is how God is fully known. And this is an obvious obscurity compared to a self-created intellect. But it is the way of selfless love.
Religious knowledge starts out as light when it first appears…but the more the spirit in its forward progress attains by a greater and more perfect application to the understanding of reality…it realizes that the nature of God is hidden…and consists in getting beyond our notions…which are themselves only incomprehensible shadows.
– Gregory of Nyssa