God as Embodied
Christology and Participation in Maximus the Confessor
Dr. Hans Boersma
January 30, 2023
I must begin by expressing my deep gratitude to St. Vladimir’s for making this splendid occasion available, both the Divine Liturgy celebrating the Feast of the Ecumenical Teachers: St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory Nazianzus and this outstanding lecture by Dr. Boersma, in the context of the Ecumenical dialogue of Anglicans and Orthodox. From the point of view of Anglicans this dialogue helps us find that level of sacramentality which belongs to us, but which is subject to suppression by our commitment to rationality. That is why when reading theology years ago, reading Schememann meant so much to me. Allow me to register a few thoughts about where Dr. Boersma has led us.
It is commonplace to say the Jesus embodies God, but the inference that God is Embodied raises a question. Dr. Boersma has argued for the inference in his address at the Fortieth Annual Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture. He begins with a tease: “Does God have a body?” and then he laid out the Scylla and Charybdis through which one must navigate: the deist severance of God and Creation on the one hand and the pantheist identification of God and the creation on the other. The navigational aid that Boersma offers, is the work of Maximus the Confessor and more generally of the Council of Chalcedon and the tradition of eastern fathers associated with it.
Boersma identified two key themes of Maximus, his concept of logoi in everything and his concept of divine act as participation with which he intended to make his argument. With the former he accounts for the potential of creation and with latter the capacity of the divine to be present in things and transcendent at the same time.
The way these tools should be used, to my thinking, is in reference to the hypostatic union. Incarnation according to Chalcedon is not an alteration or replacement of the physiological but the union that happens on the level of hypostasis. Anything less, risks the confusion of the two natures. What is meant by hypostasis not easy to state. Person, as it is translated, in our contemporary understanding is blurred with psychological connotations which makes it a translation of limited value. My attempt at stating it is to speak of it as the origin point of personal being, and as such the single subject of all subsequent actions. In the case of the Christ, that point is grasped by God, is God. From that point divine energy works downward into the body which responds by reaching upward to cling to God.
This intersection of the divine with the creation it unique. It can happen once only at certain time and place. The existence of logoi in all things represents the possibly of response. But each logio is a very small line of information, in need of elaboration of another logoi, and another, until it can accrue the capacity of the “Yes.” It is one of the mysteries of history that this happens in a Galilean village in what we reckon as the first century, in the interior life a young virgin woman. In this sense the conception is unique, and Spirit led like the creation and the resurrection.
In term of action God is present in the body of Jesus, but in terms of being, he is not in the body but remains outside over against the body in God’s infinity. If the former participation constitutes being embodied, we cannot object Boersma’s proposal. But it seems safer not to speak of God as embodied since this soon leads us to the rock of pantheism, which undoes sacramentality.