Introduction to Dogmatics

By Len Mier

In this first essay I will be discussing the ways in which we can know God as summarized from Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ Lectures in Christian Dogmatics. The goal is to address the understanding of knowledge of God and that of knowing God.

To start, what is knowledge, or how do we know? What we are talking about is how we have knowledge about something. A simple example is when we see an object we have never seen before, we identify, through our senses, that it has a specific shape and physical characteristics. We start a process of matching it to images of things familiar to us, so that through a process of saying what the object is or is not, we reach a conclusion saying that we have knowledge of what that physical object is.

This is fairly easy to do for objects that are perceivable or inanimate, and is easy to gain knowledge through use of our senses. But is this the same as saying we know these things? The problem comes when an object we want to know or gain knowledge of does not have a physical manifestation. How can we have knowledge of these things or can we know them?

When we talk about knowledge of God we talking about the ability to ascribe to Him relatable, identifiable attributes. Or through a process of negation, saying what He is not. We can say God is all good, all powerful, and all loving. But is this the same as saying we know God? Identifying attributes can describe Him, but do we know Him in the same way we know an object or another person? Is knowing and recognizing what a chair is the same as knowing God?

Many theologians go into great depth on how we know God. The primary idea in knowing God is that it is done freely. We are free to know or reject God. God does not force this knowledge on us. This freedom is based in love and in the community of believers. As Metropolitan Zizioulas tells us, this love is the communion, or relationship, created by the community of the Church and its members. This love is not the emotion that is so popularly talked about in modern society, but is that mutual relationship or bond between members of a community. Knowing someone is also identifying with that person, if we lose our identification with that person we lose knowing them.

How can we identify with something we have not seen? We can say that although we have only seen Christ in the eyes of our faith we can still use Him to gain knowledge of God. Maximos the Confessor tells us that Christ is the Logos of God, and that it is through this Logos we can come to know God.
It is the personal relationship of love, the Father has with His son, which we can start to have knowledge of God. Only in this most intimate relationship, of the Son identifying himself with the Father, can we then start to know God. It is this loving relationship that makes the Father truly known to us. The Gospel of Matthew gives some insight to this relationship:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27)

It is in this relationship of the Father and Son that the knowing of God is revealed to us. Knowing God cannot be gained in isolation but only through engagement with the Son. Knowing the Son cannot be done in isolation but only in engaging our neighbor. It is in this experience of engaging the Son do we gain knowledge. How does the Son reveal this to us? He revealed it by charging us to follow his example, do unto others as I have done for you.

For knowing to be real, it has to be based on our experience. Knowing becomes real when we freely start to imitate that person we want to know. We have to identify, or take on, Jesus’ identity. In taking on this identity, God and his Son should become real to us. Jesus freely revealed the personal relationship of
God as our Father. Jesus imitated the Father by doing his will. When we imitate Jesus in word and action we place ourselves in a relationship with Him and by extension in a relationship with the Father.

In summary we can say we have gone beyond having knowledge of God to knowing God when the following happens in our lives. We freely accept God’s love. We build up this bond of love with Him through imitating the actions of Jesus – His love being expressed in the community of believers and society. This knowing of God becomes truly real by our actions becoming the same as actions of Jesus. The revelation of the Father’s love for us, manifested in our actions and interactions, makes real for us God and thereby we can truly know Him.


Universal Call to Holiness

As many can tell if they have regularly read this article, this comes as a “stream of conscious” article. The call, in my estimation, is diverse and multidimensional. I really don’t think that this call to holiness can be simplified into just one approach.

I do think that the call is a call to becoming an authentic human being – a human being that is focused on becoming all that God has created him to be. This is, in my estimation, the “goal” of life – to become all that God has created us to be. When we strive to become all that God has created us to be, we find the true meaning and purpose of our life.

We are here to complete God’s creation. We need to be who we are in order for God’s creation to be complete. When we are no longer needed to fulfill this need, we pass on to the next realm of existence.

Since life is eternal, this life on earth is only a part of an eternal progression that is designed to help us grow in a greater likeness of Jesus, the Christ.

I truly do think that one of the unfortunate things that has arisen in Western Christianity is the thought and idea, as I see it played out in Western Theology, that this life on earth is all that there is to life and that we either make it or break it during this lifetime. There seems to be an attitude that the way you live during this brief period on earth either results in reward or punishment. This, in my estimation, eliminates the possibility of an eternity of possible growth as human beings. The reason this thinking has come into existence, I firmly believe, is that if people have the thought that they have other lifetimes to grow in their likeness of Christ, they will make no efforts during this life time to become more like Christ. I reject this estimation of humankind. I refuse to sell humans short.

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170827

While I realize that this might been a challenging article, I continue it because it is my hope and prayer that the people who read my Bulletin might be as well-informed as possible. I also truly believe that my readers can gain benefit from such information.

There is truly value in the early lists of books that the Fathers quote. If patristic citations tell us nothing about canonicity in the strict sense, but only that a book was thought worthy of respect, the lists are more helpful. The formation of a list implies acceptance of a book, so listed as a particular type of book , and, since the lists of New Testament (NT) books are at time coupled with lists of Old Testament (OT) books, acceptance as Scripture. We must always remember that the early Christians help the OT books as sacred and inspired by God. We must also remember that the OT was translated into Greek, the language of the NT.

Past discussions of the Canon have sometimes neglected to consider that a list may represent no more than the author’s own judgment or the custom of his local church. The fact that lists do not agree from area to area weakens their witness to universal Church practice.

What is thought to be our earliest list, the Muratorian Fragment, considered representative of Roman usage in the late 2nd century, does not include 1-2 Peter, James and one Johannine epistle; but it does include Wisdom (and OT book considered as a NT book) and the Apocalypse of Peter, about which, it admits, there was certain controversy. Some authors have questioned the usual dating of this fragment and suggested that it belongs in the 4th century. This would mean that an incomplete canon perdured at Rome
even later than formerly thought. Origen’s list in the 3rd century raises doubt about 2 Peter and two epistles attributed to John. In the early 4th century, we have two Eastern canons from Eusebius and Cyril of Jerusalem and two slightly later Latin canons and these do not agree.

Eusebius explicitly distinguishes between recognized , disputed and spurious books. He lists epistles by James and Jude as disputed yet states that they have been regularly used in many churches, thereby testifying that his list does not represent universal usage.

Learning Our Faith From the Greek Fathers of the Church — 20170827

Gregory closes his fourth oration by analyzing the actual titles of the Son. While the being of God “cannot be expressed in words,” Gregory does believe it is possible to “sketch Him by His attributes, and so obtain a certain faint and feeble and partial idea concerning Him. Gregory’s catalogue of 15 divine names and attributes includes the following:

1 He Who Is, and God. Both are “the special names of His essence.
2 Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Within the Godhead itself, “the proper name of the unoriginate is ‘Father,” and that of the unoriginately begotten is ‘Son’, and that of the unbegottenly proceeding or going forth is ‘the Holy Spirit.’ More particularly, the Son is called “Son because He is identical with the Father in essence; and not only for this reason, but also because He is of Him.
3 Only Begotten. When the son is called Only Begotten, both His uniqueness as “the only Son” and “the manner of His Sonship” are in view. This is an incorporeal, eternal and timeless generation, one “not shared by bodies”
4 Word. The Son is called Word in relationship “to the Father as word to mind; not only on account of his passionless generation, but also because of the union, and of his declaratory function.” In a manner of speaking, the Son is the definition or “demonstration of the Father’s nature, as everything that is begotten is a silent word of Him that begot it.”
5 Wisdom. The Son is “the knowledge of things divine and human. For how is it possible that He who made all things should be ignorant of the reasons of what He has made?

I would only present the first five of Gregory’s 15 in this issue of the Bulletin since I would invite you to take time and “think about” each of these five. Each, I know, presents a challenge since they represent the mystery that is our God. All Three Sacred Persons have existed for all eternity. They exist separately but only comprise one Godhead. There is truly a dynamic relationship between the three of them. They each have a specific “role” or “function” to perform and each compliments and completes the other. When did Gregory live? In the fourth century – born in 329 CE. Think about this!

The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170827


St. Paul gives us his doctrine of the “two laws” at work in the life of man.

For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members…. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death…. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 7:14-8:17).

Every human being is confronted with these two possibilities of human existence. Either a person chooses life by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit – the “abundant” and “eternal life” given by God in creation and salvation through Jesus Christ – or the person chooses death. The whole pathos of human existence consists in this choice, whether a person is aware of it or not. Christian spiritual life depends on the conscious choice of the “way of life.” To “choose life” and to walk in the “way of life” is the way that man shows himself to be in the image and unto the likeness of God.

For by the hands of the Father, that is by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not merely a part of man, was made in the likeness of God… for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul, receiving the Spirit of the Father and the fleshly nature which was also molded after the image of God…the man becomes spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and unto the likeness of God.

Ask yourself, do I realize that I have been made in the image and unto the likeness of God?
If you don’t, why don’t you?
Think about it!

Reflections on the Scripture Readings for this Weekend — 20170820

The first reading assigned for the 11th weekend after Pentecost is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:2-12). In the portion of his letter that we proclaim, Paul is asserting his right as Christ’s legitimate Apostle. Paul was being criticized for not using the rights of his apostolate. Some were concluding that his non-use of such rights was proof that he was not really an apostle. Paul lists, besides his freedom in matters of food and drink, two other apostolic rights that he freely renounced – marriage and support from the churches.

Paul defends himself against the Corinthians. He doesn’t let the attacks of others stop him from professing Jesus Christ. An important point.

Our second reading is a parable that Jesus uses to respond to Peter’s question: “Lord, when my brother wrongs me, how often must I forgive him? Seven times?” Jesus’ response to Peter is summed up with these words: “My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way (that you treat others) unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Probably the corner stone of all of Jesus’ teaching is summarized in these words: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This means that we must always judge our interactions with an understanding of how we treat others and, if they don’t treat us in the way we expect, we forgive them. Why? Because they don’t know what they are doing, according to Jesus. We are called to live in accord with our values and our beliefs and not base out actions on the actions of others.

We are called to embrace the Way of Jesus because we understand that it makes us truly the children of God. If we base the way we treat others on the way that they treat us, we are no better that them. We always treat others as we think God, in the Person of Jesus, would treat others. Again, this helps us grow as children of God. If we treat others as they treat us, we don’t grow as children of God.

This, I know, goes against the way our modern society lives. Too many people base their behaviors on the behaviors of others instead of on the basic values by which they have freely chosen to live.

A part of salvation is learning how to live by our beliefs. If we truly believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light, then we must freely chose to live in accord with His teachings and His way of living. We must choose to be children of God.


I know that if you have been following this article you have come to realize that the “call to holiness” is many different things. First and foremost, however, the call to holiness is a call to a deeper union with God. Christian teaching tells us that there is a “possibility”, a “potentiality” of a “union” of man with God, of a direct “vision” of Him, of a “participation” in Him, through grace. For this to happen, however, humans must “cooperate” with God. Like all true relationships, there must be a mutual desire for real union.

Now we do know through the revelation make to humankind by Jesus, the Son of God, that God is always open for a real union with humans. So God Himself is never the real obstacle to deeper union. It is always humans who pose a barrier to greater union by their lack of trust and limited faith.

I do believe that it is difficult for Western Christians to develop real faith because of the approach we are schooled in to always seek real data – proof – for the things that we say we believe. As I always say to others, if I have proof about something I don’t have or need faith. I have faith when I believe in something that I cannot prove. Although Western Christians have tried to suggest that they can advance “proof” for God, these proofs are al-ways circular arguments and really don’t prove anything. And again, if I can prove God’s existence, why do I have to have faith? This approach only means that I have faith in my own ability to prove something and not faith in what I prove.

So the call to holiness is a call to have absolute faith in the existence of God and the relationship that He desires to have with humans.

The Divine Liturgy and Our Worship of God — 20170820

I believe that for the Church, for the world, for mankind there is no more important, more urgent question to be asked that what is accomplished in the eucharist. In reality this question is mot natural to faith, which lives by the thirst for entry into the wisdom of truth, by the thirst for the logical (i.e., reasonable) service of God that manifests and is rooted in the divine wisdom. It is truly the question of the ultimate meaning and purpose of all that is real, of the sacramental ascent to where “God will be all in all,” and thus it is the question that, through faith, was constantly radiating as a mysterious burning in the hearts of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. But that is exactly why it is so important to liberate this urgent question, to cleanse it of everything that obscures, diminishes and distorts it, and this means, first of all, those “questions” and “answers” who depravity lies in the fact that instead of explaining the earthly through the heavenly, they reduce the heavenly and

the other-worldly to the earthly, to this own “human, only human,” impoverished and feeble “categories.”
Indeed, with the summons “Let us stand aright. Let us stand in awe. Let us be attentive to offer the holy oblation in peace,” (the beginning of the Anaphora) we actually do enter into the “chief” part of the Divine Liturgy. But it is chief in relation to its other parts, and not in isolation and separation from them. It is chief because in it the entire liturgy finds its fulfillment, everything that it witnesses to, that it manifests, to which it leads and ascends. It begins that sacrament of anaphora (The deliberate repetition of a words or phrases – in this instance the repetition of words of Jesus), that would be impossible without the sacrament of the gathering, the sacrament of offering and the sacrament of unity, but in which – and precisely because it is the fulfillment of the entire liturgy – we are given the understanding of the sacrament that surpasses all comprehension but, nevertheless, manifests all and explains all. It is precisely this “relation,” the wholeness and unity of the eucharistic celebration, that we are reminded of, that we turn our spiritual attention to when the clergy summons us to “stand aright,” to “stand straight” or even to “be good.”

The Divine Liturgy, which is the work of the Church (i.e., people and clergy working together), truly is more than just the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
More to follow!

The Spirituality of the Christian East — 20170820


Man, according to the scriptures, is created “in the image of God”. To be like God, through the gift of God, is the essence of man’s being and life. In the scriptures it says that God breathed into man, the “Breath [or Spirit] of life”. This teaching has given rise to the understanding in the Eastern Church that man cannot be truly human, truly himself, without the Spirit of God. Thus St. Irenaeus (3rd century) said in his well-known saying, that “man if body, soul and Holy Spirit.” This means that for man to fulfill himself as created in the image and unto the likeness of God – that is, to be like Christ Who is the perfect, divine, and uncreated Image of God – man must be the temple of God’s Spirit. (An aside. This is why the Eastern Church always talks about humans being a three-part composite: body, soul and Spirit. It was only in the west where humans were defined as body and soul. This is also why I believe that Freud came up with his tri-part division of the mind: Id, Ego and Superego).

If man is not the temple of God’s Spirit, then the only alternative is that he is the temple of the evil spirit. There is no middle way. Man is either in an unending process of life and growth in union with God by the Holy Spirit, or else he is an unending process of decomposition and death by returning to the dust of nothingness out of which he was formed, by the destructive power of the devil. This is how the Eastern Church’s spiritual tradition interprets the “two ways” of the Mosaic law: “I call heaven and earth to witness… that I have set before you life and death… therefore choose life that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord, obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for that means life to you” (Dt 30:19-20).

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the New Testament — 20170820

In discussing the formation of the New Testament (NT), one has to search the writings of the Fathers of the Church. Tradition, which is conveyed by the writings of the Fathers, gives us the context in which the NT was formed. Indeed, patristic citations and lists of books are the two main criteria for judgment of the canon. Yet neither criterion is totally satisfactory. For instance, when Clement of Rome, or Ignatius, or Polycarp cited a book that ultimately was recognized as canonical, just what authority was he giving to this book, since we do not know that the concept of either a NT or a canon was yet formulated? Past discussions simply assumed that these early Fathers had a concept of canonical and non-canonical. And, indeed, even later when there was a concept of a NT, we find strange phenomena in patristic citations. Origen cited 2 Peter at least six times. Yet in his canonical list, he doubted whether 2 Peter should be included. In other words, even a 3rd century, patristic citation of a book ultimately accepted as canonical does not mean that the Father thought it canonical. On the other hand, absence of a citation of a NT book (e.g., during the 2nd century) does not necessarily mean that the Fathers did not know the book or did not consider it of value. There would be little occasion to cite some of the shorter NT works like Philemon and 2-3 John.

We know from history that some apocryphal gospels, epistles and acts received acceptance for a certain period. Such sub-apostolic writings as 1-2 Clement, Didache, Hermas and Barnabas, continued to be considered as Scripture even into the 4th and 5th centuries. Codex Alexandrinus had 1-2 Clement. One can discern why such work were highly valued. Many of them bore names of disciples of the apostles (e.g., Barnabas was a friend of Paul; Clement was thought to be the Clement mentioned in Philemon 4:3 and a successor of Peter at Rome. Moreover, very early sub-apostolic works like 1 Clement and Didache, may well have been written before a NT work like 2 Peter. The real difficulty is not why such works were thought of as canonical, but why the Church did not finally accept them as canonical.

Hopefully my readers are beginning to see that a fundamentalistic approach to the NT is not really possible.