Chaos and Logos

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This is an excerpt from On Christ and the Church the book of conversations in homes translated by Fr Alexis Vinogradov. pp 89-96

The universe is formed and develops along two principles: the universe evolves on the one hand according to the vision of God and on the other hand it is constantly penetrated by the elements which oppose this principle. I will formulate the notion with the following short statement: Blind is the one who does not see the harmony of the world, but equally blind is he who fails to see the disharmony of the very same world. If the harmony of the world proceeds from the highest vision of the Creator, if God sees it in the creation of the world from a point outside of time when he says that the world is extremely good (the Hebrew expression tov neod (טוב מאוד) which is hard to translate) then there is God's vision; but in the historical process there is still the clash of the polarized forces, polarized within creation itself. The fact that there are forces which contradict God's own idea is a self-evident fact. These forces are always described in the Bible symbolically through images, a pictorial language: the raging sea as an image of chaos, the dragon who becomes a personification of this sea, the snake which tempts Adam, and so forth.

On the level of the physical world, let us refer to this force resisting creation as chaos, as a current carrying the world towards death, to a state of entropy. Thus the history of creation, the genesis of the cosmos, becomes the history of conflict, the conflict between Chaos and Logos, God's wisdom which codifies his ideas of the world. Why do the dialectics of Heraclitus, the dialectics of Hegel, reveal opposition in the world? How did the Zoroastrian religion already intuit the conflict of light and darkness in the world? Because the world is bi-polar: one pole proceeds from the creative God while the other proceeds from the degenerative force in creation. Here we may ask, what is the root of the movement away from God, of this flight into nothingness? To describe this in rational terms means to make sense of it but to make sense of what is meaningless is impossible. It can only be described conditionally. Only poetry, only the fruits of artistic creativity, can provide for us a picture of this irrational drive towards nothingness; for example, the portraits of evil painted by Dostoevsky and Baudelaire show us that there is a tendency towards evil but that it is impossible to demonstrate this logically.

The flight into darkness

A more interesting attempt to explain this came from Berdiaev, who based his approach on the teaching of Schelling and Jacob Boehme. This viewpoint proposed the following: freedom as an absolute potential, as an absolute possibility to go in any direction including into the abyss of non-being, does not depend on God because it exists as a reality not established by God. This is why, when God establishes the world, this polarity remains and in some way constantly poisons creation. But Berdiaev expresses himself through mythology as does Schelling, he is clearly using a mythological language. Jacob Boehme says that this “ungrund”, this primitive, inexplicable, indescribable abyss in which the divinity exists and from which God comes forth as a personality, contains a certain mixture of evil and good. This is an intuition, a vision, a poetic interpretation, mythology, not something which can be rationally described.

The fact remains that in God's creation there are conflicting primordial powers as creative as the rest, but opposed to God and for some reason permitted by God. We can, of course, guess why, Creation is one entire whole, and in order to repel this anti-divine vector, this impulse towards darkness, creation itself must remain free. But essentially creation per se does not contain freedom. Only the one who personalizes creation is free, and this one is man. But man appears after the conflict between chaos and the logos, after the birth of organizing structures, of the basic laws of elementary particles, at the formation of life which disintegrates but which relays its baton along to its descendants. At the creation of man, life already transmits its information further without a genetic code, simply transmits it.

I very much like the words of the German poet Novalis: “Man is the Messiah of nature.” Man is introduced into nature, man's spirit is joined with flesh in order to carry within each of his cells the sea of all living things and plants. We are, after all, a microcosm; we carry everything inside us; all creatures live within us and we are called to participate in the battle between Chaos and the Logos, into illumination. But man failed to accomplish this mission; and here God begins to act himself, through man. Not only the Divine “Information”, not only the creative Logos, but the Logos who becomes incarnate in man, begins to act in the world.

“In the beginning was the Logos and the Logos was with God and the Logos became flesh”—this is what we read in John's Gospel. “Became Flesh”— what does this mean? Became a man. In Biblical language the word “flesh” means man. In a way the evolution of the world, if we can put it this way, is stimulated constantly by God; and in a particular way he stimulates it to the creation of the spiritual creature, man. And finally, when He himself enters the process of the world, assumes the evil of the world as his Cross, he pushes the world further along towards the Kingdom of God. Christ takes upon himself the suffering of the world. For the first time God involves himself in this battle, but he does so according to a divine principle. This divine principle is: constant humiliation, a kind of diminution of the divine power before the face of creation, to give it the freedom of manifesting itself, the freedom to become what it is. And man enters a world in which he is forced to do battle, to fight with temptations and with the surrounding nature in which evil rules. … He was not a priest (take note, as one writer pointed out, that the only true priest was never actually a priest), He was not someone in authority, He belonged to no specific category and his royal lineage was strictly symbolic. He didn't study in any special academies, he lived as any average person, he sank to the very pit of life, he was spat upon by the crowd, he was judged by a civil religious court and, finally, he was condemned as a blasphemer and a rebel—He took upon himself all the sufferings of the world. He made himself a participant in these sufferings. In this way two worlds became united, the divine world and the world of suffering humanity and creation. God reclaimed the world; and carrying the cross, Christ in a certain sense continues to bear in himself all the ensuing development of mankind. He ascended, and this means that he permeated all aspects of the universe. We repeat these very important words in the Creed, “and sits at the right hand of the Father.” This clause means that Christ is there where God is, and God is everywhere.

In this way the God-man becomes the flesh of the world; and the flesh of the world, the universe, becomes the flesh of the God-man. He sanctifies all things. You see, the man Jesus who walks in the desert is not an isolated phantom in the cosmos but a being who is part of the biosphere, of the noo-sphere, part of nature. Connected with it, he eats, he drinks. At the same time, inasmuch as he is united with the oneness of the universe, through him the Divine becomes involved in its creation. For this reason, the redemption becomes an act, a mystery which furthers the act of creation. There is nothing here of the notion of medieval satisfaction, of a juridical trade, substitution, game or process. There is no legal process, but there is a process of the healing of mankind which is linked with the larger vision of creation.

If God heals matter, placing within it the forces of progression, if he heals that which is dead giving it the impulse towards life, if he heals the dying life, placing within it man who carries such spiritual and immortal information—finally he redeems the history of the world and of man by entering into it Himself. This indeed is the mystery of redemption of the human race and of the whole world for the Apostle Paul gives these wonderful words: that the whole creation groans until now and suffers, waiting for the revelation of the sons of God, that is all of nature finds itself in such a sickly state of imperfection and incompleteness, groaning and anticipating this day. Although Christ appeared for mankind, since he was incarnate in this world, sooner or later His redemption will permeate the whole universe. This is confirmed by the words of Holy Scripture: John the visionary saw not only the new man reborn and resurrected, reclaimed according to God's plan—but he saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the old had passed away. Here is the whole meaning; here in a few words, is the meaning of the Redemption, but again these are all words and symbols so inadequate to convey the reality with clarity.