March 2, 2010

The Purpose of Man According to the Greek Fathers

By Rev. Dr. John Romanides

If man was created according to the image of God for the purpose of being perfected and becoming like Him, he can attain it only by spiritual exercise of the will because only through true freedom is it possible for man, in his love, to become like God. True freedom is the love that distinguishes God as free of all necessity and selfishness. "Be ye therefore perfect as your Father who is in heaven is perfect"[1] does not mean that man must become perfect as the self-loving, self-contented God of philosophy and of certain Scholastics of the West, but perfect as the God of Holy Scripture and the Greek Fathers, who is free of all necessity and selfishness. The destiny of man, as imagined by Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Ritschl, and others of the West, is self-centred eudaemonia[2] attained by supposedly identifying the mind with the reality in the essence of God.[3] This is supposed to cause a cessation of all movement of the mind and will toward any other person or thing since there is nothing more desirable for the human intellect than the divine essence. For the Greek Fathers, however, the idea of a vision of the divine essence is blasphemous. Such theories of eudaemonia simply project and elevate to a divine level the force that rules in the world, the force of necessity and self-interest called "fate" by the ancients.[4] But man was not made for the purpose of finding satisfaction of the supposedly natural, self-centered longings within himself and, thus, of becoming unmoved and dispassionate. On the contrary, he was specifically made so he can love God and his fellow man with the same love that God has for the world. Love that arises out of self-interest is alien to the nature of God just as it is alien to the original destiny of man. Before the coming of the Lord, the devil appears standing before God, accusing the righteous of selfishness. Replying to the things that God said about the faith of Job, the "devil said before the Lord, 'Does Job worship the Lord for nothing? Hast Thou not made a hedge about him, and about his household, and all his possessions round about?'"[5]


1. Mt. 5:48

2. According to Romanides, eudaemonia is the self-centered quest for happiness. F. Copleston says that the system of ethics of Aquinas is a combination of Aristotelian eudaemonism and the Christian West's teaching of the beatific vision of the divine essence (Aquinas, p. 133).

3. He is speaking of the Platonic forms or ideas.

4. Tatian maintains that demons "introduced fate" to mankind.

5. Job 1:9-10

John S. Romanides, The Ancestral Sin, Zephyr Publishing, pp. 106, 107.