And now I come to the final and most important question which is raised for Orthodox theology by the modern theory of evolution: the nature of the first-created man, and in particular the nature of the first-created man Adam. I say that this is the “most important question” raised by evolution because the doctrine of man, anthropology, touches most closely upon theology, and here perhaps, it becomes most possible to identify theologically the error of evolutionism. It is well known that Orthodoxy teaches quite differently from Roman Catholicism regarding man’s nature and Divine grace, and now I shall attempt to show that the theological view of man’s nature which is implied in the theory of evolution, and which you have explicitly set forth in your letter, is not the Orthodox view of man, but is much closer to the Roman Catholic view; and this is only a confirmation of the fact the theory of evolution, far from being taught by any Orthodox Father, is simply a product of the Western apostate mentality and even, despite the fact that it originally was a “reaction” against Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, has deep roots in the Roman Catholic scholastic tradition.
The view of human nature and the creation of Adam which you set forth in your letter is very much influenced by your opinion that Adam, in his body, was an “evolved beast.” This opinion you have obtained, not from the Holy Fathers (for you cannot find one Father who believed this, and I have already showed you that the Fathers indeed believe quite “literally” that Adam was created from the dust and not from any other creature), but from modern science. Let us then look, first of all, at the Orthodox Patristic view of the nature and value of secular, scientific knowledge, particularly in relation to revealed, theological knowledge.
This Patristic view is very well set forth by the great hesychast Father, St. Gregory Palamas, who was forced to defend Orthodox theology and spiritual experience precisely against a Western rationalist, Barlaam, who wished to reduce the spiritual experience and knowledge of hesychasm to something attainable by science and philosophy. In answering him, St. Gregory set forth general principles which are well applicable in our own day when scientists and philosophers think they can understand the mysteries of creation and man’s nature better than Orthodox theology. He writes:
The beginning of wisdom is to be sufficiently wise to distinguish and prefer to the wisdom which is low, terrestrial and vain, that which is truly useful, heavenly and spiritual, that which comes from God and conducts toward Him and which renders conformable to God those who acquire it. (Defense of the Holy Hesychasts, Triad I, 2.)
He teaches that the latter wisdom alone is good in itself, while the former is both good and evil:
The practice of the graces of different languages, the power of rhetoric, historical knowledge, the discovery of the mysteries of nature, the various methods of logic… all these things are at the same time good and evil, not only because they are manifested according to the idea of those who use them and easily take the form which is given them by the point of view of those who possess them, but also because the study of them is a good thing only to the degree that it develops in the eye of the soul a penetrating view. But it is bad for one who gives himself over to this study in order to remain in it until old age. (ibid, Triad I, 6.)
if one of the Fathers says the same thing as do those from without, the concordance is only verbal, the thought being quite different. The former, in fact, have, according to Paul, “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), while the latter express at best a human reasoning. “As the heaven is distant from the earth, so is My thought distant from your thought” saith the Lord (Is. 55:9). Besides, even if the thinking of these men were at times the same as that of Moses, Solomon, or their imitators, what would it benefit them? What man of sound spirit and belonging to the Church could from this draw the conclusion that their teaching comes from God? (Ibid, Triad I, 11.)
From secular knowledge, St. Gregory writes,
we absolutely forbid to expect any precision whatever in the knowledge of Divine things; for it is not possible to draw from it any certain teaching on the subject of God. For “God hath made it foolish.” (Ibid, Triad I, 12.)
And this knowledge can also be harmful and fight against true theology:
The power of this reason which has been made foolish and non-existent enters into battle against those who accept the traditions in simplicity of heart; it despises the writings of the Spirit, after the example of men who have treated them carelessly and have set up the creation against the Creator. (Ibid, Triad I, 15.)
There could hardly be a better account than this of what modern “Christian evolutionists” have tried to do by thinking themselves wiser than the Holy Fathers, using secular knowledge to reinterpret the teaching of the Sacred Scripture and the Holy Fathers. Who can fail to see that the rationalistic, naturalistic spirit of Barlaam is quite close to that of modern evolutionism?
But notice that St. Gregory is speaking of scientific knowledge which, on its own level, is true; it becomes false only by warring against the higher knowledge of theology. Is the theory of evolution even true scientifically?
I have already spoken in this letter of the dubious nature of the scientific evidence for evolution in general, about which I would be glad to write you in another letter. Here I must say a word specifically about the scientific evidence for human evolution, since here we already begin to touch on the realm of Orthodox theology.
You say in your letter than you are happy not to have read the writings of Teilhard de Chardin and other exponents of evolution in the West; you approach this whole question “simply.” But I am afraid this is where you have made a mistake. It is well and good to accept the writings of the Holy Scripture and the Holy Fatherssimply; that is the way they should be accepted, and that is the way I try to accept them. But why should we accept the writings of modern scientists and philosophers “simply,” merely taking their word when they tell us something is true – even if this acceptance forces us to change our theological views? On the contrary, we must be very critical when modern wise men tell us how we should interpret the Holy Scriptures. We must be critical not only with regard to their philosophy, but also with regard to the “scientific evidence” which they think supports this philosophy; for often this “scientific evidence” is itself philosophy.
This is especially true of the Jesuit scientist Teilhard de Chardin; for not only has he written the most thorough and influential philosophy and theology based on evolution, but he was also closely connected with the discovery and interpretation of almost all the fossil evidence for the “evolution of man” that was discovered in his lifetime.
And now I must ask you a very elementary scientific question: what is the evidence for the “evolution of man”? About this question too I cannot go into in detail in this letter, but I will discuss it briefly. I can write more in detail later, if you wish.
The scientific fossil evidence for the “evolution of man” consists of: Neanderthal Man (many specimens); Peking Man (several skulls); the “men” called Java, Heidelberg, Piltdown (until 20 years ago), and the recent finds in Africa: all extremely fragmentary; and a few other fragments. The total fossil evidence for the “evolution of man” could be contained in a box the size of a small coffin, and it is from widely separated parts of the earth, with no reliable indication of even relative (much less “absolute”) age, and with no indication whatever of how these different “men” were connected with each other, whether by descent or kinship.
Further, one of these “evolutionary ancestors of man,” “Piltdown Man,” was discovered 20 years ago to have been a deliberate fraud. Now it is an interesting fact that Teilhard de Chardin was one of the “discoverers” of “Piltdown Man” – a fact which you will not find in most textbooks or in biographies of him. He “discovered” the canine tooth of this fabricated creature – a tooth which had already been dyed with the intent to cause deception regarding its age when he found it! I do not have the evidence to say that Teilhard de Chardin consciously participated in the fraud; I think it more likely that he was the victim of the actual perpetrator of the fraud, and that he was so anxious to find proof for the “evolution of man” in which he already believed that he simply did not pay any attention to the anatomical difficulties which this crudely fabricated “man” presented to any objective observer. And yet in evolutionary textbooks printed before the discovery of the fraud, Piltdown Man is accepted as an evolutionary ancestor of man without question; his “skull” is even illustrated (even though only fragments of a cranium had been discovered); and it is confidently stated that “he combines human characteristics with others far retarded” (Tracy L. Storer, General Zoology, NY, 1951). This, of course, is just what is required for a “missing link” between man and ape, and that is why the Piltdown fraud was composed precisely of a mixture of human and ape bones.
Some time later this same Teilhard de Chardin participated in the discovery, and above all in the “interpretation,” of Peking Man.” Several skulls were found of this creature, and it was the best candidate that had been found until then as the “missing link” between modern man and the apes. Thanks to his “interpretation” (for by then he had established a reputation as one of the world’s leading paleontologists), “Peking Man” also entered evolutionary textbooks as an ancestor of man in utter disdain of the uncontested fact that modern human bones were found in the same deposit, and to anyone without “evolutionary” prejudices it was clear that this “Peking Ape” had been used for food by human beings (for there was a hole in the base of every skull of “Peking Man” by which the brains had been drawn out).
Teilhard de Chardin was also connected with the discovery and above all the interpretation of some of the finds of “Java Man,” which were fragmentary. In fact, everywhere he went he found “evidence” which exactly matched his expectations – namely, that man has “evolved” from ape-like creatures.
If you will examine objectively all the fossil evidence for the “evolution of man,” I believe you will find that there is no conclusive or even remotely reasonable evidence whatever for this “evolution.” The evidence is believed to be proof for human evolution because men want to believe this; they believe in a philosophy that requires that man evolved from ape-like creatures. Of all the fossil “men” only Neanderthal Man (and of course Cro-Magnon Man, who is simply modern man) seems to be genuine; and he is simply “Homo Sapiens,” no different from modern man than modern men are different from each other, a variation within one definite kind or species. Please note that the pictures of Neanderthal Man in evolutionary textbooks are the invention of artistswho have a preconceived idea of what “primitive man” must have looked like, based on evolutionary philosophy!
I have said enough, I believe, not to show that I can “disprove” the “evolution of man” (for who can prove or disprove anything with such fragmentary evidence?!), but to indicate that we must be very critical indeed of the biased interpretations of such scanty evidence. Let us leave it to our modern pagans and their philosophers to become excited with the discovery of every new skull, bone, or even a single tooth, about which newspaper headlines declare: “New Ancestor of Man Found.” This is not even the realm of vain knowledge; it is the realm of modern fables and fairy tales, of a wisdom which truly has become astonishingly foolish.
Where does the Orthodox Christian turn if he wishes to learn the true doctrine of the creation of the world and man? St. Basil tells us clearly:
Whence shall I begin my narration? Shall I refute the vanity of the heathens? Or shall I proclaim our truth? The wise men of the Greeks wrote many works about nature, but not one account among them remained unaltered and firmly established, for the later account always overthrew the preceding one. As a consequence, there is no need for us to refute their words: they avail mutually for their own undoing. (Hexæmeron I,2.)
Like St. Basil,
let us leave the accounts of outsiders to those outside, and turn back to the explanation of the Church. (Hexæmeron III,3.)
Let us, like him,
examine the structure of the world and contemplate the whole universe, beginning, not from the wisdom of the world, but from what God taught His servant when He spoke to him in person and without riddles. (Hexæmeron VI, 1.)
Now we shall see that the evolutionary view of man’s origin not only teaches us nothing in reality of man’s origin, but rather teaches a false doctrine of man, as you yourself prove when you are forced to express this doctrine in order to defend the idea of evolution.
When setting forth your view of man’s nature, based on your acceptance of the idea of evolution, you write: “Man is not naturally the image of God. Naturally he is an animal, an evolved beast, dust from the ground. He is the image of God supernaturally.” And again: “We see that by himself man is nothing, and let us not be scandalized by his natural origin.” “God’s breath of life transformed the animal to man without changing a single anatomical feature of his body, without changing a single cell. I would not be surprised of Adam’s body had been in all aspects the body of an ape.” Again: “Man is what he is, not because of his nature, which is dust from the ground, but because of the supernatural grace given to him by the breath of God.”
Now, before examining the Patristic teaching of man’s nature, I will admit that this word “nature” can be a little ambiguous, and that one can find passages where the Holy Fathers use the expression “human nature, in the way it is used in common discourse, as referring to this fallen human nature whose effects we observe every day. But there is a higher Patristic teaching of human nature, a specific doctrine of human nature, given by Divine revelation, which cannot be understood or accepted by one who believes in evolution. The evolutionary doctrine of human nature, based on a “common sense” view of fallen human nature, is the Roman Catholic, not the Orthodox, teaching.
The Orthodox doctrine of human nature is set forth most concisely in the “Spiritual Instructions” of Abba Dorotheus. This book is accepted in the Orthodox Church as the “ABC,” the basic textbook of Orthodox spirituality; it is the first spiritual reading which an Orthodox monk is given, and it remains his constant companion for the rest of his life, to be read and re-read. It is most significant that the Orthodox doctrine of human nature is set forth in the very first page of this book, because this doctrine is the foundation of the entire Orthodox spiritual life.
What is this doctrine? Abba Dorotheus writes in the very first words of his First Instruction:
In the beginning, when God created man (Gen. 2:20), He placed him in Paradise and adorned him with every virtue, giving him the commandment not to taste of the tree which was in the midst of Paradise. And thus he remained there in the enjoyment of Paradise; in prayer, in vision, in every glory and honor, having sound senses and being in the same natural condition in which he was created. For God created man according to His own image, that is, immortal, master of himself, and adorned with every virtue. But when he transgressed the commandment, eating the fruit of the tree of which God had commanded him not to taste, then he was banished from Paradise (Gen. 3), fell away from the natural condition, and fell into a condition against nature, and then he remained in sin, in love of glory, in love for the enjoyments of this age and of other passions, and he was mastered by them, for he became himself their slave through the transgression.
(The Lord Jesus Christ) accepted our very nature, the essence of our constitution, and became a new Adam in the image of God Who created the first Adam; He renewed the natural condition and made the senses again sound, as they were in the beginning.
The children of humility of wisdom are: self-reproach, not trusting one’s own mind, hatred of one’s own will; for through them a man is enabled to come to himself and return to the natural condition through purifying himself by the holy commandments of Christ. (Spiritual Instructions, ch. 1)
The same doctrine is set forth by other ascetic Fathers. Thus Abba Isaiah teaches:
In the beginning, when God created man, He placed him in Paradise, and he had then sound senses, which stood in their natural order; but when he obeyed the one who deceived him, all his senses were changed into an unnatural state, and he was then cast out from his glory. (On the Natural Law, Russian Philokalia, II, 1)
And the same Father continues:
And so, let him who desires to come into his natural condition cut off all his fleshly desires, so as to place himself in the conditionaccording to the nature of the (spiritual) mind. (Ibid., II, 2)
The Holy Fathers clearly teach that, when Adam sinned, man did not merely lose something which had been added to his nature, but rather human nature itself was changed, corrupted, at the same time that man lost God’s grace. The Divine services of the Orthodox Church also, which are a foundation of our Orthodox dogmatic teaching and spiritual life, clearly teach that the human nature which we now observe is not natural to us, but has been corrupted:
Healing human nature, which had become corrupted by the ancient transgression, without corruption a child is born anew (Menaion, Dec. 22, Matins, Theotokion of 6th Canticle of the Canon).
The Creator and Lord, desiring to save from corruption the corrupted human nature, having come to dwell in a womb cleansed by the Holy Spirit, is unutterably formed (Menaion, Jan. 23, Theotokion of the 6th Canticle of the Canon of Matin).
It can be noted in such hymns also that our whole Orthodox conception of the Incarnation of Christ and our salvation through Him is bound up with a proper understanding of human nature as it was in the beginning, to which Christ has restored us. We believe that we will one day live with Him in a world very much like the world that existed, here in this earth, before the fall of Adam, and that our nature will then be the nature of Adam – only even higher, because everything material and changeable will then be left behind, as the quote already given from St. Symeon the New Theologian clearly indicates.
And now I must show you further that even your doctrine of human nature as it is now in this fallen world, is incorrect, is not according to the teaching of the Holy Fathers. Perhaps it is a result of careless expression on your part – but I believe it is probably precisely because you have been led into error by believing the theory of evolution – that you write: “Apart from God man is from his nature nothing at all, because his nature is the dust from the ground, like the nature of the animals.” Because you believe in the philosophy of evolution, you are forced either to believe that human nature is only a low, animal nature, as you indeed express by saying that “man is not naturally the image of God”; or at best (since I think that you do not really believe this, being Orthodox), you divide human nature artificially into two parts: that which is from “nature” and that which is from God. But the true Orthodox anthropology teaches that human nature is one, it is that which we have from God; we do not have some nature “from the animals” or “from the dust” which is different from the nature with which God created us. And therefore, even the fallen, corrupted human nature which we have now is not “nothing at all,” as you say, but it still preserves in some degree the “goodness” in which God created it. Behold what Abba Dorotheus writes of this doctrine:
We have naturally the virtues given to us by God. For when God created man, He sowed virtues in him, as also He said: “Let us create man in our image and likeness.” (Gen. 2:26) It is said: “In our image,” inasmuch as God created the soul immortal and with authority over itself, and “in our likeness,” referring to virtues…. By nature God gave us virtues. But passions do not belong to us by nature, for they do not even have any substance or composition…. But the soul in its love of pleasure, having inclined away from virtues instills the passions in itself and strengthens them against itself. (Instruction XII, On the Fear of Future Torment)
Further, these God-given virtues still exercise themselves even in our fallen state. This is the extremely important Orthodox teaching of St. John Cassian, who thus refuted the error of Blessed Augustine, who indeed believed that man apart from God’s grace was “nothing at all.” St. Cassian teaches in his Thirteenth Conference:
That the human race after the fall actually did not lose the knowledge of good is affirmed by the Apostle, who says: When the gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law, these who have not the law are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts. (Rom. 2:14-16)
To the Pharisees He said that they can know the truth: “Why even of yourselves do ye not judge that which is just?” (Luke 12:57). He would not have said this if they could not have discerned what is just by their natural reason. Therefore one should not think that human nature is capable only of evil. (Thirteenth Conference, 12)
Likewise, with regard to the righteous Job, St. Cassian asks whether “he conquered the various snares of the enemy in this battle apart from his own virtue, but only with the assistance of God’s grace,” and he answers:
Job conquered him by his own power. However, the grace of God also did not abandon Job; lest the tempter burden him with temptations above his strength, it (God’s grace) allowed him to be tempted as much as the virtue of the tempted one could bear. (Conference XIII, 14)
Again, with regard to the Patriarch Abraham:
God’s righteousness wished to test the faith of Abraham, not that which the Lord had instilled in him, but that which he showed by his own freedom. (Ibid.)
Of course, the reason why Augustine (and Roman Catholicism and Protestantism after him) believed that man was nothing without grace, was because he had an incorrect conception of human nature, based on a naturalistic view of man. The Orthodox doctrine, on the other hand, of human nature as it was created in the beginning by God and is even now preserved in part in our fallen state, prevents us from falling into any such a false dualism between what is “man’s” and what is “God’s.” To be sure, everything good that man has is from God, not the least his very nature, for the Scripture says, “What has thou that thou didst not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Man has no “animal nature” as such and never did have; he has only the fully human nature which God gave him in the beginning, and which he has not entirely lost even now.
Is it necessary to quote for you the multitude of clear Patristic evidence that the “image of God,” which is to be found in the soul, refers to man’s nature and is not something added from without? Let it suffice to quote the marvelous testimony of St. Gregory the Theologian, showing how man by his constitution stands between two worlds, and is free to follow whichever side of his nature he will:
I do not understand how I became joined to the body and how, being the image of God, I became mixed with dirt…. What wisdom is revealed in me, and what a great mystery! Was it not for this that God led us into this warfare and battle with the body, that we, being a part of Divinity, [how boldly the Theologian speaks of man’s nature, so boldly that we cannot take his words absolutely literally!], and proceeding from above, might not be haughty and exalt ourselves because of our dignity, and might not disdain the Creator, but might always direct our gaze toward Him, and so that our dignity might keep within bounds the infirmity joined to us? – So that we might know that at the same time we are both immensely great and immensely low, earthly and heavenly, temporal and immortal, inheritors of light and inheritors of fire or darkness, depending upon which side we incline towards? So was our constitution established, and this, as far as I can see was in order that the earthly dust might humble us if we should imagine to exalt ourselves because of the image of God. (Homily 14, “On Love for the Poor”)
This image of God which man possesses by his nature was not completely lost even among the pagans, as St. John Cassian teaches; it has not been lost even today, when man, under the influence of modern philosophy and evolutionism, is trying to turn himself into a sub-human beast – for even now God awaits man’s conversion, awaits his awakening to the true human nature which he has within him.
And this brings me to the very important point of your interpretation of the teaching of the God-bearing Father of almost our own times, St. Seraphim of Sarov, contained in his famous “Conversation with Motovilov.”
St. Seraphim is my own patron Saint, and it was our Brotherhood of St. Herman that first published the complete text of this “Conversation” in the Russian language in which it was spoken (for the pre-revolutionary edition was incomplete), as well as other of his genuine words which had hitherto been unpublished. So you may be sure that we do not believe that he taught a false doctrine of the nature of man, one that contradicts that of other Holy Fathers. But let us examine what St. Seraphim himself says.
As you correctly quote him, St. Seraphim says:
Many explain that when it says in the Bible God breathed the breath of life into the face of Adam the first- created man was created by Him from the dust of the ground, it must mean that until then there was neither human soul nor spirit in Adam, but only the flesh created from the dust of the ground. This interpretation is wrong, for the Lord created Adam from the dust of the ground with the constitution which our dear little father, the holy Apostle Paul describes: “May your spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes. 5:23). And all these parts of our nature were created from the dust of the ground, and Adam was not created dead, but an active being like all the other animate creatures of God living on earth. The point is that if the Lord God had not breathed afterwards into his face the breath of life (that is, the grace of our Lord God the Holy Spirit…), Adam would have remained without having within him the Holy Spirit Who raises him to God-like dignity. However perfect he had been created and superior to all the other creatures of God as the crown of creation on earth, he would have been just like all the other creatures, which, though they have a body, soul and spirit, each according to its kind, yet have not the Holy Spirit within them. But when the Lord God breathed into Adam’s face the breath of life, then, according to Moses’ word, Adam became a living soul (Gen. 2:7), that is, completely and in every way like God, and, like Him, forever immortal.
This is the one Patristic quote you give which seems to support your view that man was first a beast, and then (later in time) received the image of God and became man. This is indeed what you must believe if you accept the theory of evolution, and I am glad to see that you have the courage to express clearly what all “Orthodox evolutionists” actually believe (even if in a rather confused manner) but are often afraid to express openly for fear of offending other Orthodox believers who are “naive” and in their “simplicity” refuse to believe that man in actual fact is “descended from apes” or ape-like creatures.
But here let us remember the words of St. Gregory Palamas which I have already quoted:
If one of the Fathers says the same thing as do those from without, the concordance is only verbal, the thought being quite different. The former, in fact, have, according to Paul, “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), while the latter express at best a human reasoning…. What man of sound spirit and belonging to the Church could from this conclude that their teaching comes from God? (Defense of the Holy Hesychasts, Triad I, 11)
And in fact, I must tell you that you have completely misunderstood the teaching of St. Seraphim, who is not at all teaching what the doctrine of evolution teaches. This I can show by quoting both the clear teaching of other Holy Fathers and that of St. Seraphim himself.
But first I must explain what might seem to a rationalist to be a “contradiction” between the teaching of St. Seraphim and that of other Fathers. First, we should be clear that when St. Seraphim speaks of man as being composed of “spirit and soul and body” he is not contradicting those many other Holy Fathers who speak of human nature as merely “soul and body”; he is merely making a distinction between different aspects of the soul and speaking of them separately, as many Holy Fathers also speak. Second, in saying that the “breath of life” which God breathed into the face of Adam is the grace of the Holy Spirit, he is not contradicting the very many Holy Fathers who teach that the “breath of life” is the soul, but is only giving a perhaps more profound and precise interpretation of this passage from Scripture. But is he actually making the rationalistic distinction which you make between the nature of man which existed “before” this breathing, and the grace which was communicated by it? Does Orthodox theology accept the rigid dichotomy which Roman Catholic teaching makes between “nature” and “grace,” as though man knew everything there is to know about these two great mysteries?
No; Orthodox theology does not know such a rigid dichotomy, and that is why rationalist scholars find so many “contradictions” between different Orthodox Fathers on this subject, as will be clear from a single example: Does immortality belong to the human soul by nature or by grace? Different Orthodox Fathers who are of equal authority answer differently on this question, not because they teach differently about man and thus “contradict” each other, but because they approach the question from different sides. Those who approach the question of man’s nature more from the side of the present corrupted human nature say that man’s soul is immortal by grace; while those (especially the ascetic and mystical Fathers) who begin with the view of man’s nature as it was in the beginning, view the soul rather as immortal by nature. It may even be that one and the same Father views the question now from one and now from the other side, as does St. Gregory of Nyssa when he says in one place (Answer to Eunomius, Second Book): “That which reasons, and is mortal, and is capable of thought and knowledge, is called ‘man”‘; but in another place he says: “Man did not in the course of his first production have united to the very essence of his nature the liability to passion and to death.” (On Virginity, ch. XII) Does this great Father “contradict” himself? Of course he does not. (“Answer to Eunomius, Second Book,” p. 299; “On Virginity,” ch. 12, p. 357)
What belongs to first-created Adam by nature and what by grace? Let us not make false rationalistic distinctions, but let us admit that we do not fully understand this mystery. Nature and grace both come from God. The nature of first-created Adam was so exalted that we can only faintly understand it now by our own experience of grace, which has been given to us by the Second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ; but Adam’s state was also higher than anything we can imagine even from our own experience of grace, for even his high nature was made yet more perfect by grace, and he was, as St. Seraphim says, “completely and in every way like God, and, like Him, forever immortal.”
What is absolutely clear, and what is sufficient for us to know, is that the creation of man – of his spirit and soul and body, in the Divine grace which perfected his nature – is a single act of creation, and it cannot be artificially divided up, as though one part of it came “first,” and another part “later.” God created man in grace, but neither the Holy Scriptures nor the Holy Fathers teach us that this grace came later in time than the creation of man’s nature. This teaching belongs to Medieval Latin scholasticism, as I will show below.
St. Seraphim only appears to teach this doctrine, because he speaks in terms of the simple narrative of the sacred text of Genesis. But it is clear enough, as St. Gregory Palamas says, that “the concordance is only verbal, the thought being quite different.” To be convinced of this we have only to examine how the Holy Fathers instruct us to interpret the sacred narrative of Genesis at this point.
Fortunately for us, this very question was raised and answered by the Holy Fathers. This answer is summed up for us by St. John Damascene:
From the earth (God) formed his body and by His own inbreathing gave him a rational and understanding soul, which last we say is the divine image…. The body and the soul were formed at the same time-not one before and the other afterwards, as the ravings of Origen would have it. (On The Orthodox Faith, II, 12)
Here let us be sure again that we understand that although St. John speaks of the inbreathing of God as thesoul, he does not teach a doctrine different from St. Seraphim, who speaks of this inbreathing as the grace of the Holy Spirit. St. John in fact hardly speaks of grace at all in the creation of man, for it is understood as being present in the whole process of creation, above all in the creation of the image of God, the soul, which he teaches is part of our nature. St. Gregory of Nyssa likewise speaks of the creation of man without paying special attention to what comes from “nature” and what fro “grace,” only ending his whole treatise with the words:
May we all return to that Divine grace in which God at the first created man, when He said, “Let us make man in our image and likeness.” (On the Creation of Man, 30:34, p. 427)
St. John Damascene and others who speak of the inbreathing of God as the soul view this matter from an aspect slightly different from that of St. Seraphim; but clearly the teaching of all these Fathers regarding the whole creation of man, and in particular regarding the question of whether the narrative of Genesis indicates a difference in time between the “forming” and the “inbreathing” of man – is the same. St. John Damascene speaks for all the Holy Fathers when he says that they occurred “at the same time – not one before and the other afterwards.”
In saying this, St. John Damascene was refuting in particular the Origenist heresy of the “pre-existence of souls.” But there was also a heresy opposed to this, which taught the “pre-existence” of the human body, just as it is taught by modern “Christian evolutionists.” This heresy was specifically refuted by St. Gregory of Nyssa, whom I shall now quote.
After discussing the Origenist error of the “pre-existence of soul” St. Gregory continues”
Others, on the contrary, marking the order of the creation of man as states by Moses, say that the soul is second to the body in order of time, since God first took dust from the earth and formed man, and then animated the being thus formed by His breath: and by this argument they prove that the flesh is more noble than the soul, that which was previously formed than that which was afterwards infused into it: for they say that the soul was made for the body, that the thing formed might not be without breath and motion, and that everything that is made for something else is surely less precious than that for which it is made… The doctrine of both is equally to be rejected. (On the Creation of Man, 28:1, 8, pp. 419-20)
Specifically refuting the doctrine of the “pre-existence of the body,” St. Gregory says:
Nor again are we in our doctrine to begin by making up man like a clay figure, and to say that the soul came into being for the sake of this; for surely in that case the intellectual nature would be shown to be less precious than the clay figure. But as man is one, the being consisting of soul and body, we are to suppose that the beginning of his existence is one, common to both parts, so that he should not be found to be antecedent and posterior to himself, if the bodily element were first in point of time, and the other were a later addition…. For as our nature is conceived as twofold, according to the apostolic teaching, made up of the visible man and the hidden man, of the one came first and the other supervened, the power of Him that made us will be shown to be in some way imperfect, as not being completely sufficient for the whole task at once, but dividing the work, and busying itself with each of the halves in turn. (Ibid. 29:1, 2, pp.420-21)
Do I need to point out that the “God” of “Christian evolution” is precisely this kind of God who is not “completely sufficient for the whole task at once”; and the very reason why the doctrine of evolution was invented was to account for the universe on the assumption that God either does not exist or is incapable of creating in six days or bringing the world into existence by His mere word? EVOLUTION WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN THOUGHT OF BY MEN WHO BELIEVE IN THE GOD WHOM ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS WORSHIP.
The account of the creation of man in the book of Genesis must be understood in a “God-befitting manner.” Here you have made the mistake of accepting a literal interpretation of the text precisely where the Holy Fathers do not allow this! How important it is for us to read the Holy Scriptures as the Holy Fathers instruct us, and not according to our own understanding!
It is quite clear that St. Seraphim did not understand the text of Genesis in the way in which you have interpreted it. Indeed, there are other passages in the same “Conversation with Motovilov” which reveal that St. Seraphim viewed the creation and nature of Adam in precisely the same way as the whole Patristic tradition.
Thus, immediately after the passage which you quote, and which I have reproduced above, there follow these words which you did not quote (the English translation here is not precise, and so I am translating directly from the Russian original):
Adam was created to such an extent immune to the action of every one of the elements created by God, that neither could water drown him, nor fire burn him, nor could the earth swallow him up in its abysses, nor could the air harm him by its action in any way whatsoever. Everything was subject to him…
This is precisely a description of the incorruption of Adam’s body in a creation subject to laws quite different from today’s “laws of nature” – in which as an “evolutionist” you cannot believe, since you must believe with modern philosophy that the material creation was “natural,” that is, corrupted, even before the fall of Adam!
Again, shortly after this passage, St. Seraphim says:
To Eve also the Lord God gave the same wisdom, strength, and unlimited power, and all the other good and holy qualities. And He created her not from the dust of the ground but from Adam’s rib in the Eden of delight, in the Paradise which He had planted int he midst of the earth. (“Conversation of St. Seraphim of Sarov on the Aim of the Christian Life” [original Russian version], p. 82.)
Do you believe in this creation of Eve fro Adam’s rib as an historical fact as all the Holy Fathers do? No, you cannot, because from the point of view of evolutionary philosophy it is quite absurd: why should “God” evolve Adam’s body from beasts “naturally,” and then create Eve miraculously? The “God” of evolution does not perfom such miracles!
Let us look now specifically at the Orthodox Patristic view of the body of first-created Adam, which according to the evolutionary doctrine had to be corruptible like the corruptible world from which it “evolved,” and might even have been, as you state entirely that of an ape.
The Holy Scripture explicitly teaches: “God created man incorruptible” (Wisdom 2:23).
St. Gregory the Sinaite teaches:
The body, theologians say, was created incorruptible, which is how it will arise, just as the soul was created passionless: but just as the soul had the freedom to sin, so the body had the possibility to become subject to corruption. (“Chapters on Commandments and Dogmas” 82, Russian Philokalia, vol. 5, p. 195.)
The incorruptible body will be earthly, but without moisture and coarseness, having been unutterably changed from animate to spiritual, so that it will be both of the dust and heavenly. Just as it was created in the beginning, so also will it arise, that it may be conformable to the image of the Son of Man by entire participation in deification. (Ibid. 46, p. 188.)
Notice here that the body in the future age will still be “of the dust.” When looking at the corruptible dust of this fallen world, we are humbled to think of this side of our nature; but when we think of that incorruptible dust of the first-created world out of which God made Adam, how exalted we are by the grandeur of even this, the lowest part of God’ unutterable creation!
St. Gregory the Theologian suggests, giving a symbolic interpretation of the “garments of skins” with which God clothed Adam and Eve after their transgression, that the flesh of our present human body is different from the flesh of first-created Adam:
Adam “is clothed in garments of skin” (perhaps a coarser, mortal, and antagonistic flesh). (Homily 38, “On the Nativity of the Saviour,” p. 528)
Again, St. Gregory the Sinaite says:
Man was created ncorruptible, as also he will arise; but not unchangeable, nor yet changeable, but having the power at his own desire to change or not…. Corruption is the offspring of flesh. To eat food and excrete the excess, to hold the head proudly, and to lie down to sleep – are the natural attributes of beasts and cattle, into which we also, having become like to the cattle through the transgression, fell away from the God-given food, things natural to us, and became from rational, cattle-like, and from divine, bestial. (“Chapters on Commandments and Dogmas” 8, 9, Russian Philokalia, vol. 5, p. 181.)
Concerning Adam’s state in Paradise, St. John Chrysostom teaches:
Man lived on earth like an angel; he was in the body, but he had no bodily needs; like a king, adorned with purple and a diadem and clothes in royal garb, he took delight in the dwelling of Paradise, having an abundance in everything…. Before the fall men lived in Paradise like angels; they were not inflamed with lust, were not kindled by other passions either, were not burdened with bodily needs; but being created entirely incorruptible and immortal, they did not even need the covering of clothing. (Homilies on Genesis 13:4, p. 107; 15:4, p. 123.)
St. Symeon the New Theologian likewise speaks clearly of first-created Adam in Paradise, and his final state in the future age:
If now, after we transgressed the commandment and were condemned to die, people have multiplied so much, just imagine how many of them there would have been of all who have been born from the creation of the world had not died? And what a life they would have lived, being immortal and incorrupt, strangers to sin, sorrows, and cares and serious needs?! And how, having advanced in the keeping of the commandments and in the good ordering of the dispositions of the heart, in time they would have ascended to the most perfect glory and, having been changed, would have drawn near to God, and the soul of each would have become as it were light – shining by reason of the illuminations which would have been poured out upon it from the Godhead! And this sensual and crudely material body would have become as it were immaterial and spiritual, above every organ of sense; and the joy and rejoicing with which we would then have been filled from contact one with another in truth would have been unutterable and beyond the thought of man…. There life in Paradise was not weighed down by labors and was not made difficult by misfortunes. Adam was created with a body incorruptible, even though material and not yet spiritual… Concerning our body the Apostle says: “It is sowed a natural body, it will arise” not such as the body of the first-created one was before the transgression of the commandment – that is, material, sensual, changeable, having need of sensual food – but “it will arise a spiritual body” (I Cor. 15;44), and unchangeable, such as was the body, after His Resurrection, of our Lord Jesus Christ, the second Adam, the first-born among the dead, which is incomparably more excellent than the body of the first-created Adam. (Homily 45)
From our experience of our own corruptible body it is not possible for us to understand the state of the incorruptible body of Adam, which had no natural needs as we know them, which ate of “every tree” of Paradise without excreting any excess, and which did not know sleep (until God’s direct action caused him to sleep, so that Eve might be created from his rib). And how much less are we able to understand the even more exalted state of our bodies in the future age! But we know enough from the Church’s teaching to refute those who think they can understand these mysteries by scientific knowledge and philosophy. The state of Adam and the first-created world has been placed forever beyond the knowledge of science by the barrier of Adam’s transgression, which changed the very nature of Adam and the creation, and indeed the nature of knowledge itself. Modern science knows only what it observes and what may be reasonably inferred from observation; its guesses about the earliest creation have no more and no less validity than the myths and fables of the ancient pagans. The true knowledge of Adam and the first-created world – as much as is useful for us to know – is accessible only in God’s revelation and in the Divine vision of the Saints