All that I have said in this letter, derived strictly from the holy Fathers, will come as a surprise to many Orthodox Christians. Those who have read some of the holy Fathers will perhaps wonder why they haven’t heard it before. The answer is simple: if they have read many of the holy Fathers, they have encountered the Orthodox doctrine of Adam and the creation; but they have been interpreting the patristic texts hitherto through the eyes of modern science and philosophy, and therefore they have been blinded to the true patristic teaching.
I was very interested to read in your letter that you set forth the correct patristic teaching that “the creation of God, even the angelic nature, has always, in comparison with God, something material. Angels are incorporeal in comparison with us, biological men. But in comparison with God they are also material and bodily creatures.” This teaching, which is set forth most clearly in the ascetic Fathers such as St. Macarius the Great and St. Gregory the Sinaite, helps us to understand the third state of our body - that which first-created Adam had before his transgression. Likewise, this doctrine is essential in our understanding of the activity of spiritual beings, angels and demons, even in the present corruptible world. The great Russian Orthodox Father of the 19th century, Bishop Ignatius Bryanchaninov, devotes an entire volume of his collected works (volume 3) to this subject, and to comparing the authentic Orthodox patristic doctrine with the modern Roman Catholic doctrine, as set forth in the 19th-century Latin sources. His conclusion is that the Orthodox doctrine on these matters - on angels and demons, heaven and hell, Paradise - even though it is given to us by sacred tradition only in part, nonetheless is quite precise in that part which we can know; but the Roman-Catholic teaching is extremely indefinite and imprecise. The reason for this indefiniteness is not far to seek: from the time papacy began to abandon the patristic teaching, it gradually gave itself over to the influence of worldly knowledge and philosophy, and then of modern science. Even by the 19th century Roman Catholicism no longer had a certain teaching of its own on these subjects, but had grown accustomed to accept whatever “science” and its philosophy say.
Alas, our present-day Orthodox Christians, and not least those who have been educated in “theological academies,” have followed the Roman Catholics in this and have come to a similar state of ignorance of the patristic teaching. This is why even Orthodox priests are extremely vague about the Orthodox teaching of Adam and the first-created world, and blindly accept whatever science says about these things. Professor I.M. Andreyev - a theologian and a Doctor of Medicine and Psychology, - has expressed in print the very idea I have tried to communicate above, and which seems beyond the understanding of those who approach the holy Fathers from the wisdom of this world instead of vice versa. Professor Andreyev writes: “Christianity has always viewed the present state of matter as being the result of a fall into sin. The fall of man changed the whole nature, including the nature of matter itself, which was cursed by God.”
Professor Andreyev finds that Bergson and Poincare have glimpsed this idea in modern times - but of course it is only our Orthodox holy Fathers who have spoken clearly and authoritatively about it.
The vague teaching of Roman Catholicism - and of those Orthodox Christians who are under Western influence in this matter - on Paradise and creation has deep roots in the past of Western Europe. The Roman Catholic scholastic tradition, even at the height of its medieval glory, already taught a false doctrine of man, and one which doubtless paved the way for the later acceptance of evolutionism, first in the apostate West, and then in the minds of Orthodox Christians who are insufficiently aware of their patristic tradition and so have fallen under foreign influence. In fact the teaching of Thomas Aquinas, unlike the Orthodox patristic teaching, in its doctrine of man is quite compatible with the idea of evolution which you advocate.
Thomas Aquinas teaches that: “In the state of innocence, the human body was in itself corruptible, but it could be preserved from corruption by the soul.” Again: “It belongs to man to beget offspring, because of his naturally corrupt body.” And again: “In Paradise man would have been like an angel in his spirituality of mind, yet with an animal life in his body. Man’s body was indissoluble, not by reason of any intrinsic vigor of immortality, but by reason of a supernatural force given by God to the soul, whereby it was enabled to preserve the body from all corruption so long as it itself remained subject to God. This power of preserving the body from corruption was not natural to the soul, but the gift of grace.”
This last quote shows clearly that Thomas Aquinas does not know that man’s nature was changed after the transgression. So far is Thomas Aquinas from the true Orthodox vision of the first-created world that he understands it, as do modern “Christian evolutionists,” solely from the viewpoint of this fallen world; and thus he is forced to believe, against the testimony of Orthodox holy Fathers, that Adam naturally slept in Paradise and that he voided fecal matter, a sign of corruption: “Some say that in the state of innocence man would not have taken more than necessary food, so that there would have been nothing superfluous. This, however, is unreasonable to suppose, as implying that there would have been no fecal matter. Therefore there was need for voiding the surplus, yet so disposed by God as not to be unbefitting.”
How low is the view of those who try to understand God’s creation and Paradise when their starting point is their everyday observation of this present fallen world!
Thus, in a word: according to Orthodox doctrine, which comes from divine vision, Adam’s nature in Paradise was different from present human nature, both in body and soul, and this exalted nature was perfected by God’s grace; but according to Latin doctrine, which is based on rationalistic deductions from the present fallen creation, man is naturally corruptible and mortal, just as he is now, and his state in Paradise was a special, super- natural gift.
I have quoted all these passages from a heterodox authority, not in order to argue over details of Adam’s life in paradise, but merely to show how far one corrupts the marvelous patristic vision of Adam and the first-created world when one approaches it with the wisdom of this fallen world. Neither science nor logic can tell us a thing about Paradise; and yet many Orthodox Christians are so cowed by modern science and its rationalistic philosophy that they are actually afraid to read seriously the first chapters of Genesis, knowing that modern “wise men” find so many things there that are “dubious” or “confused” or need to be “reinterpreted,” or that one may obtain the reputation of being a “Fundamentalist” if one dares to read the text simply, “as it is written,” as all the holy Fathers read it.
The instinct of the simple Orthodox Christian is sound when he recoils from the “sophisticated” fashionable view that man is descended from an ape or any other lower creature, or even (as you say) that Adam might have had the very body of an ape. Orthodox holiness knows that creation is not as modern wise men describe it by their vain philosophy, but as God revealed it to Moses “not in riddles,” and as the holy Fathers have seen it in vision. Man’s nature is different from ape nature and has never been mixed with it. If God, for the sake of our humility, had wished to make such a mixture, the holy Fathers, who saw the very composition of visible things in divine vision, would have known it.
How long will Orthodox Christians remain in captivity to this vain Western philosophy?
Much has been said about the “Western captivity” of Orthodox theology in recent centuries; when will we realize that it is a far more drastic “Western captivity” in which every Orthodox Christian finds himself today, a helpless prisoner of the “spirit of the times,” of the dominating current of worldly philosophy which is absorbed in the very air we breathe in an apostate, God-hating society?
The sophisticated, worldly-wise laugh at those who call evolution a “heresy.” True, evolution is not strictly speaking a heresy; neither is Hinduism, strictly speaking, a heresy; but like Hinduism, (with which it is indeed related, and which had an influence on its development), evolutionism is an ideology that is profoundly foreign to the teaching of Orthodox Christianity, and it involves one in so many wrong doctrines and attitudes that it would be far better if it were simply a heresy and could thus be easily identified and combated. Evolutionism is closely bound up with the whole apostate mentality of the rotten “Western Christianity”; it is a vehicle of the whole “new Christianity” in which the devil is now striving to submerge the last true Christians. It offers an alternative explanation of creation to that of the holy Fathers; it allows an Orthodox Christian under its influence to read the Holy Scriptures and not understand them, automatically “adjusting” the text to fit in with “modern wisdom.” Our only wisdom comes from the holy Fathers, and all that contradicts it is a lie, even if it calls itself “science.”
Father Seraphim Rose.