04 - Augustine of Hippo and the Theophanies of the Logos



          In this paper I will examine Augustine’s views on the Old Testament theophanies as created signs of God’s presence, while also briefly looking at his understanding of the vision of God in general.  In order to do this I have divided the paper into two parts, the first part will provide an overview of the thought of some of the pre-Augustinian Fathers on the theophanies, while the second part will look at Augustine’s ideas and how they were similar to and different from the teachings of the Fathers who lived before him.


Part 1:  The Theophanies in the Pre-Augustinian Tradition


          Now, as I have already indicated, in order to understand the differences between Augustine’s views on the Old Testament theophanies and the views of those who preceded him, it is necessary first to show the teaching of the pre-Augustinian Fathers and ecclesiastical authors, with a special emphasis on their understanding of the theophanies as appearances of the pre-incarnate Logos.  To do this I will briefly examine the thought of several Western authors beginning with doctrinal teaching of St. Irenaeus and St. Justin Martyr, and then moving on to the views of Tertullian and Novatian, and finally looking at the theological ideas of St. Hilary and St. Ambrose.  Part of this investigation will be to show, in the limited space available, how Augustine took over and adapted the views of his predecessors on some issues, while rejecting other elements of their thought.

          The common tradition of the pre-Augustinian Fathers saw the encounters with God in the Old Testament as pre-incarnate manifestations of the Son (Logos), whose purpose was to reveal the will of God the Father as His “angel of high counsel.”  This revelation of God the Father through the Son was an economic activity of God, and as a consequence, the deepest reality of God’s nature was not seen or manifested in itself, that is, His essential nature, but rather His actions in the world were seen and were held to be a true revelation of God’s divinity. [1]  This idea that God in His nature was invisible and incomprehensible is common to all the Fathers that I will be investigating, including Augustine, but the various Fathers differ in their understanding of what aspect of God is truly revealed in the theophanies, and how this is accomplished.


The Second Century Fathers


          St. Irenaeus of Lyons is an important witness to the pre-Augustinian patristic tradition because he is in some sense a representative of both the East and the West.  This is true because he came to the West (i.e., Gaul) from Asia Minor, and so his ideas in some sense reflect the concerns of both the Eastern theological tradition and of the Western or Latin tradition.  Now in St. Irenaeus’ doctrine of the theophanies, he makes a distinction between the “greatness and glory” of God and His “love and power,” and while the former cannot be seen by man, the latter can be participated in and seen; in other words, God can be seen in His loving acts in creation and in the events of salvation history, but He cannot be seen in His greatness. [2]  As St. Irenaeus himself puts it:


          As regards His greatness, therefore, it is not possible to know God, for it is

          impossible that the Father can be measured; but as regards His love (for this it

          is which leads us to God by His Word), when we obey Him, we do always learn

          that there is so great a God, and that it is He who by Himself has established,

          and selected, and adorned, and contains all things; and among the all things,

          both ourselves and this our world. [3]


No doubt because of my fondness for St. Gregory Palamas, I cannot help but see within the theology of St. Irenaeus a precursor to the later distinction in Eastern theology between the unknowable essence of God and the communicable uncreated divine energies, for although their terminology is different, St. Irenaeus does appear to be saying something similar to Palamas, by holding that something of God’s nature is unknowable, while simultaneously asserting that something of His being is knowable.

          In the quotation from the Adversus Haereses above it is clear that for St. Irenaeus the Father is by His very nature inaccessible to man, but that His Word (Logos), who exists with the Father from all eternity, is communicable and thus can manifest Himself to humanity.  The Son as far as His nature is concerned is invisible like the Father, but in His activities He can and does become visible, in order to reveal God’s love to the world.  St. Irenaeus goes on to point out that the Son alone sees the Father, but that the Son as Word of the Father, along with the Spirit as the Father’s Wisdom, reveals the invisible God to man, and so, any of the visions of God spoken of in scripture are for St. Irenaeus appearances of the Word of God, who acts as the instrument of the Father’s will and purpose. [4]

          Thus, for St. Irenaeus, it is the Word of God who appears to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, but not in His greatness, instead He appears only in His active power, [5] and this active power is a pure gift of grace, for as he puts it:


          [M]an does not see God by his own powers; but when He pleases He is

          seen by men, by whom He wills, and when He wills, and as He wills. For God

          is powerful in all things, having been seen at that time indeed, prophetically

          through the Spirit, and seen, too, adoptively through the Son; and He shall

          also be seen paternally in the kingdom of heaven, the Spirit truly preparing

          man in the Son of God, and the Son leading him to the Father, while the

          Father, too, confers [upon him] incorruption for eternal life, which comes to

          every one from the fact of his seeing God. For as those who see the light

          are within the light, and partake of its brilliancy; even so, those who see God

          are in God, and receive of His splendour. But [His] splendour vivifies them;

          those, therefore, who see God, do receive life. And for this reason, He,

          [although] beyond comprehension, and boundless and invisible, rendered

          Himself visible, and comprehensible, and within the capacity of those who

          believe, that He might vivify those who receive and behold Him through faith.

          For as His greatness is past finding out, so also His goodness is beyond

          expression; by which having been seen, He bestows life upon those who see

          Him. It is not possible to live apart from life, and the means of life is found in

          fellowship with God; but fellowship with God is to know God, and to enjoy

          His goodness. [6]


Therefore, the vision of God is a pure gift of grace that exceeds human nature.  During the Old Testament period, and even now in the New Testament dispensation, it involves a vision of the Son alone, for He alone has visibly descended from Heaven in order to be seen by mankind.  But this vision of the Son of God in His revelation of the Father before the eschaton is only a foretaste of the vision the invisible Father that will occur at the end of time. 

          Now, in addition to the distinction between the vision of Son in this present age, and the vision of the Father in the age to come, St. Irenaeus also makes a distinction between the Old Testament theophanies, which he sees as true encounters with God, but which are encounters of a lesser quality than those given in the New Testament, for the fullness of vision is only given to Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor during the transfiguration, because it was only at that moment that Christ made good the ancient promise given to both of them that they would see God made man, and would converse with Him face to face. [7]  Therefore, the incarnation of the Word involves an even greater manifestation of the eternal Logos to man than was possible in ancient times, but that does not mean that the ancient theophanies were false or that they were created visions, because St. Irenaeus held that all of the Old Testament visions were real and immediate manifestations of the love and power of God to man in preparation for the coming of the Word incarnate.

          St. Irenaeus’ treatment of the Old Testament theophanies emphasizes the Christological nature of these events, because he holds that it is the Son who appears to the prophets of old and not the Father. It is here that St. Irenaeus highlights the paradox that God cannot be seen by man, and yet, salvation itself is the vision of God, for as he puts it, “. . . the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.” [8]  How can the paradox of God’s invisibility and visibility be reconciled?  For St. Irenaeus the answer to this paradox is clear, as far as it concerns “[God’s] greatness, and His wonderful glory, ‘no man shall see God and live,’ for the Father is incomprehensible; but in regard to His love, and kindness, and as to His infinite power, even this He grants to those who love Him, that is, to see God, which thing the prophets did also predict.” [9]  Clearly, for St. Irenaeus, God’s greatness and glory are incomprehensible, while His love and power, along with many of His other attributes, are in some manner comprehensible, and so he is able to assert that man cannot see God, and yet, at the same time man can see God, and in fact, the vision of God is salvation itself. [10]

          St. Justin Martyr, like St. Irenaeus, also focuses on the Old Testament theophanies as appearances of the pre-incarnate Logos, but he does not distinguish between God’s “greatness and glory” and His “love and power”; instead, he takes a more subordinationist position than St. Irenaeus and distinguishes between the invisible Father and the visible Son.  It should be noted that this idea is also found in St. Irenaeus, but that he emphasizes it in a different way; moreover, it is clear that all the pre-Nicene Fathers hold to some type of subordinationism in their Trinitarian theology, and so I do not want to give the false impression that St. Irenaeus’ theology is free from this problem.  But that being said, St. Justin’s concern is to distinguish between the Father and the Son, and to assert that the Son is true God, while at the same time He is a distinct person sent by the Father in order to communicate with man.

          In his Dialogue with Trypho St. Justin puts it this way, “Moses, then, the blessed and faithful servant of God, declares that He who appeared to Abraham under the oak in Mamre is God, sent with the two angels in His company to judge Sodom by Another who remains ever in the supercelestial places, invisible to all men, holding personal intercourse with none, whom we believe to be Maker and Father of all things.” [11]  St. Justin sees the Father as inaccessible and wholly other than His creation,  for He remains forever in the supercelestial places, always invisible; while the Son, who is also true God, can enter into the created world, and in this way reveal the Father’s plan of salvation.  Once again there is a focus on the economic reality of God’s revelation through His eternal Word.  The Word of God in some sense mediates the presence of the invisible Father to the created world, and in the process is seen as a His “angel” announcing the Father’s will to man.  The use of the word “angel” for the Son is common at this period in patristic literature, and is based on the scriptural accounts themselves, which speak of the “angel of the Lord,” and which refer to this entity as God.  In other words, for St. Justin, Christ can be thought of as “. . . angel and Lord and God and ultimately [as] human,” [12] but as far as it concerns the name “angel,” St. Justin uses this word in relation to Christ’s work and not in connection with His nature. [13]

          The theophanies are, for St. Justin, appearances of the Son of God, and he uses this Christological perspective in order to prove that the Father and the Son are distinct in relation to each other, while simultaneously asserting that they are both God.  In the case of the theophanies at Mamre and Sodom, Justin, rather than seeing them as a manifestation of the Triune God, sees them, like all the Fathers prior to the fourth century, as a Christological reality, and not as a Trinitarian event.  He holds that one of the three visitors is the Lord, the pre-incarnate Logos, while the other two are only angels.  In support of this contention, Justin points out to Trypho that in the narrative one of Abraham’s the three visitors “. . . is called God, [and] is distinct from Him who made all things,--numerically, I mean, not in will. For I affirm that He has never at any time done anything which He who made the world – above whom there is no other God – has not wished Him both to do and to engage Himself with.” [14]  Justin uses this biblical pericope in order to assert the full and integral reality of the Son as distinct from the Father, and while it is true that his assertion contains an element of subordinationism within it, that is not its primary purpose; instead, he is simply using that subordinationism in order to emphasize the reality of the Son as a distinct person.  Thus, it is clear that for St. Justin the focus of his exegesis is upon the God who can appear to man, that is, upon the Logos, and so, “. . . his overarching purpose is to argue for the personal distinction of the Son in the Hebrew scriptures.” [15]

          He proves that there are two who are called God by using an element of the narrative itself, which speaks of the Lord raining down “sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven” [16] onto Sodom, and then he tells Trypho that “. . . it must be admitted absolutely that some other one is called Lord by the Holy Spirit besides Him who is considered Maker of all things.” [17]  So, even though St. Justin uses subordinationist language in order to prove the Son’s distinct existence, this is only incidental to his main argument, which is focused on the reality of the Son’s existence in relation to the Father.  For both St. Justin and St. Irenaeus the primary focus of the theophanies is the distinct existence of the Son as a person, and of His ability to manifest and reveal the invisible Father.


The Third Century Fathers


          In looking at the writings of Tertullian and Novatian, two ecclesiastical authors of the third century, one can see that their concerns are still focused, like those of their immediate predecessors, on defending against Sabellian modalism by emphasizing once again the reality of the Son as a distinct person from the Father.  Tertullian is of particular interest as it concerns St. Augustine’s understanding of the Old Testament theophanies because he is the first writer to speak of the theophanies as manifestations of the divine presence of the Son through created artifacts, while Novatian emphasizes the distinction between God’s inner life and His economic manifestation to the world through the Son, and as a consequence, his views are closer to thos of St. Irenaeus.

          Tertullian was the first theologian of repute to write in the Latin language and because of this his formulations of doctrine, both in Christology and Trinitarian theology, have had a strong influence on the Western theological tradition.  Now as far as the Old Testament theophanies are concerned, Tertullian, like the authors of the second century, sees them as Christological in nature, that is, as appearances of the Son of God to the patriarchs and prophets.  For Tertullian the Son is able to become visible, because He derives His existence from the Father, and is dependent upon Him, and so, His derived existence gives Him the ability to become visible in order to truly manifest God, the invisible Father, to man.  Moreover, the eternal Logos does this both in His pre-incarnate appearances to the patriarchs and the prophets, and later, through His incarnation, He reveals the Father to His Apostles and to all of His disciples.

          Now in order to manifest His presence in the Old Testament theophanies the Son assumes creaturely existence; in other words, He takes on created bodies for a temporary period in order to become visible.  Thus, the pre-incarnate appearances of the Son of God are for Tertullian appearances in real creaturely flesh, but since they are not flesh that has been born, it follows, based on his understanding of the incarnation, that they cannot experience death and so they are not an incarnation in the fullest sense of that term. [18]  He also holds that the bodies assumed by the pre-incarnate Logos are merely temporary manifestations in preparation for the true incarnation that will come about at the fullness of time.  As I already indicated, it is important to note that Tertullian’s views on the creaturely existence of the pre-incarnate Word are similar to the views later espoused by Augustine in connection with the Old Testament theophanies, for Augustine, like his North African predecessor, held that they where temporary created effects of God meant to represent His presence to mankind.  

          The focus of Tertullian’s theology is twofold: first, he insists on the reality of the Old Testament theophanies as creaturely manifestations of the pre-incarnate Logos; and second, he emphasizes the reality of the distinction between the Father and the Son as two separate persons. Tertullian holds that the Father and the Son are distinct, because the Father is and always remains invisible, while the Son is invisible but can become visible in order to manifest God to man.  This emphasis upon the Father’s invisibility and the ability of the Son to become visible is meant to prove that Monarchian modalism is false, and that the reality of the Son as a distinct person is true.  Of course once again this leads to the problem, at least to Nicene minds, of the subordination of the Son to the Father, but Tertullian’s subordinationism is meant to serve the purpose of differentiating the Father from the Son as a distinct person.  No man can see God (i.e., the Father) and live, but there is another person who is also God, and this person (i.e, the Son) can become visible to man “. . . by reason of the dispensation of His derived existence.” [19]

          Tertullian’s main concern is to show that the Son is God, while at the same time demonstrating that He is not the Father, and Novatian shares this concern, for he is also trying to refute Sabellian modalism, but he goes about proving the distinct subsistence of the Son in a completely different way.  In his book on the Trinity, Novatian takes a position reminiscent of that advocated by St. Irenaeus, and so, rather than promoting the idea that the Son becomes visible through created effects, as Tertullian taught, his argument for the Son’s pre-incarnate visibility  “. . . arises first in his understanding of the Word’s activity in creation, and more expansively from his sense of Christ’s role in the whole economy of salvation:  first announcing God’s will to the patriarchs and prophets, and finally in being made flesh.” [20] Thus, Novatian does not hold that the eternal Logos is visible by nature, but that He has become visible by His activity in salvation history. [21]  There are elements in Novatian’s theology of divine activity which resembles, at least on the surface, the later Eastern Christian distinction between God’s unknowable essence and His communicable energies. [22]

          Novatian’s argument for the divinity of Christ, like that of those who wrote before him, involves a certain subordination of the Son to the Father, but this subordinationist tendency is meant only to affirm the distinct existence of the Son in relation to the Father, and thus it is not intended to imply that the Son is somehow less divine than the Father.  At the level of His divinity the Son is fully equal to the Father, but He is less than the Father in the economy of salvation, for it is the specific work or activity of the Son to descend from heaven in order to reveal the Father to man, and as Dr. Kloos points out, “In focusing on the theophanies, Novatian does not say that the Son appeared because He is visible in His very being; rather, his argument implies that Christ became visible because of the scope of His activity in history, especially in the incarnation.  In other words, the economy determined His visibility, not vice versa.” [23]  The Son is invisible in His nature as God, but becomes visible in His activities, [24] for as Novatian said, the Son “is of God, [and] is rightly called God, because He is the Son of God.  But, because He is subjected to the Father, and the Announcer of the Father's will, He is declared to be the Angel of Great Counsel.” [25]  Clearly, the economic subordinationism of Novatian becomes less acceptable after the Council of Nicaea, and so even though it is still present to a certain degree after that time, it is not emphasized by the Fathers of the fourth century.


The Fourth Century Fathers


          Both St. Hilary and St. Ambrose, in line with the entire pre-Nicene tradition, continue to see the theophanies of the Old Testament as pre-incarnate manifestations of the eternal Logos, but in the case of St. Hilary, he holds that the angelic mediation of the Word of God is a functional role and that it does not refer to the nature or essence of the Logos in His relationship with the Father, while in the theology of St. Ambrose, the concept of the Son as “angel” is not that important. 

          St. Hilary, while emphasizing the Christological nature of the theophanies, also focuses on them as a type of progressive revelation of God to man, for as he says, “The course of the Divine narrative is accompanied by a progressive development of doctrine.” [26]  In other words, the earlier appearances were not as clearly understood as the later ones, and this is so because the earlier theophanies are less specific than the later ones, at least as far as it concerns who it is that is speaking, but nevertheless, all of the theophanies are true manifestations of God to man.  St. Hilary’s interpretation of the theophany of God to Abraham at Mamre is fully in line with the early tradition of the Church, because he sees that visitation as an appearance of the Son to Abraham, and thus he does not see it as a Trinitarian event.

          The rejection of a Trinitarian interpretation of the text becomes clear when he emphasizes that only one of the three was actually worshipped by Abraham, as he said, “Abraham, though he sees three, worships One, and acknowledges Him as Lord.  Three were standing before him, Scripture says, but he knew well Which it was that he must worship and confess.  There was nothing in outward appearance to distinguish them, but by the eye of faith, the vision of the soul, he knew his Lord.” [27]

          St. Hilary also views the theophany at Mamre as a sacrament of the incarnation, because along with the other theophanies, it prefigures the incarnation, and functions as a continuing preparation for the appearance of the eternal Word of God in the flesh.  As he says, “It was a Man whom he saw, yet Abraham worshipped Him as Lord; he beheld, no doubt, in a mystery the coming Incarnation.” [28] Although he talks about the pre-incarnate appearances as taking place in human form, he nowhere asserts that they take place in real physical flesh, nor does he refer to them as created realities.  His understanding of signs appears to be closer to that of those who lived before him; in other words, he seems to think that they are manifestations of the reality of the thing that they signify, and this differentiates him from St. Augustine and connects him to the earlier patristical tradition.

          Finally, St. Hilary views the theophany at the burning bush as an example of the pre-incarnate Logos having two aspects to His existence, the first aspect focuses on His funcational role as the “angel” who reveals the Father’s will to man, while the second aspect of His existence concerns His nature as God.  As Dr. Kloos explains, St. Hilary sees the theophany at the burning bush as “. . . a revelation of both the Son’s role in salvation (as “angel”) and of the Son’s nature as true God, ‘I am that I am.’  Thus the burning bush narrative, as the theophany to Jacob, underscores what was learned previously from the Genesis 16-21 theophanies, that in all these events the Son is manifested to reveal both His work as savior and mediator, as well as His nature as true God.” [29]  There is an economic element present in St. Hilary’s interpretations of the theophanies, and in some ways this resembles the teachings of Novatian, but St. Hilary does do one thing differently from the earlier Fathers, he “. . . avoids subordination language and rather focuses on the Son’s activity in creation (“angel”), as well as how the theophanies can signify the Son’s incarnation.” [30]

          St. Ambrose continues to assert the Christological nature of the theophanies and insists that it is the Son who talks to Moses from the burning bush, but Ambrose does move toward Augustine’s view of the theophanies as appearances of divinity in a more general sense, but in Ambrose’s case it is at the level of the divine activity. [31]  Thus he is not rejecting the notion that the Son in some special sense is involved in the theophanies to the patriarchs and the prophets; instead, he is focusing on the unity of the divine activity, that is, the fact that the actions of one person within the Trinity of necessity involves the activity of the other two persons.  This idea is fully accepted in the Palamite tradition, because for Palamas the uncreated divine energies are the result of the enactments of the divine essence by all three of the divine hypostases. [32]

          The central concern for St. Ambrose is focused on the belief that God can be seen, but only when He wills to be seen; in other words, God cannot be seen as one sees any other natural object in the world, which is perceived whether or not the object in question wants to be seen.  God can only be seen if He wills to be seen. [33]  God can only be seen by the pure of heart, and this was true even in the case of Jesus during His earthly ministry.  If a man was not pure in heart he could only see Jesus in a fleshly way, but if he had eyes of the Spirit, then he could see Jesus as He truly is, as God. [34]

          Ambrose also begins to move toward an interpretation of the Mamre theophany as a type of the Trinity, and although he does not assert that the Father and the Holy Spirit are really present, he does hold that the other two angels in some sense represent them.  Ambrose also seems to believe that the appearances in the Old Testament involved some kind of created mediation on the part of the Logos, that is, he seems to have held that the Logos assumed a creaturely existence in the pre-incarnate appearances. [35]  He also believes that any vision of God experienced by man in this life can only be a partial vision, that is, a vision that may or may not involve created realities, but which, even at the level of the intellect, is incomplete. [36]

          By stressing the unity of activity on the part of the three divine persons within the Trinity, St. Ambrose begins to move away from the Christological understanding of the theophanies, but as I already indicated, this idea of unity at the level of energy in God is not really a problem, and it does not require seeing the Old Testament appearances of God as visions of divinity understood in general sense.  One can see in St. Ambrose a precursor to Augustine’s view of the theophanies as created artifacts, for in this area, Tertullian, Ambrose and Augustine all agree, although they still differ in how they understand these created manifestations; but Ambrose does prepare the way for Augustine’s view of the theophanies, and so Ambrose acts as a bridge between the older tradition and Augustine’s theological novelties.[37]



          With my overview of the pre-Augustinian tradition now complete it is possible to evaluate the tradition in general, in order to point out the common elements within it, while also highlighting a few of the unique teachings of particular Fathers.  Clearly, the Christological interpretation of the theophanies is common to all the Fathers prior to St. Augustine, and it is not until Ambrose that any Trinitarian interpretations are made.  There is a tendency to subordinate the Son to the Father in most cases, although this element is not as prominent in the post-Nicene Fathers of the fourth century.  The subordinationist tendency was normally connected to an economic subordination, as exemplified in the views of St. Irenaeus, Novation, and St. Hilary, but St. Hilary has lessened the impact of this element because he was fighting against those who denied that the Son is truly God.  Both Tertullian and St. Ambrose seem to believe that the theophanies involve some kind of created mediation, and it is possible, especially in the case of St. Ambrose, that their views had an effect upon the doctrine of Augustine.


Part 2:  Augustine’s views on the Old Testament Theophanies and the Vision of God


          Now that I have completed my brief historical survey of the doctrine of the Church concerning the Old Testament theophanies prior to Augustine’s time, I will move on to investigate Augustine’s own position on them and on the vision of God in general.  In order to do this I will begin by looking at Augustine’s doctrine of the theophanies as created manifestations of God, along with his denial of the Christological nature of those visions, and then will examine his doctrine of God’s invisibility to see whether his understanding of this truth is conformable to the teaching of the Fathers prior to him, and finally I will point out some of the problems inherent in his theory of signs, which of course is connected to his view of the theophanies as created artifacts.  I will also try to explain the reasons behind Augustine’s rejection of the common tradition of the Church on the theophanies, and highlight how his dismissal of the earlier tradition is connected to his rejection of the vision of God in this life.


Creation as Good


          Augustine gives his fullest treatment of the Old Testament theophanies in the first four books of his treatise De Trinitate, because it is in those books that he explains his views on God’s invisibility and gives the foundation for the relations of origin that exist between the three divine persons.  However, the focus of my paper is limited to the theophanies of God in scripture, and how St. Augustine understands them, and therefore I will not examine other questions of importance, in particular his views on the procession of the Holy Spirit.

          It is of course no secret that St. Augustine had been a Manichaean heretic and that he had held a position prior to his conversion that saw the created world as in some sense evil; and as a consequence of this, he initially believed that salvation involved the release of man from this material realm; but upon his conversion to Catholicism he recognized the goodness of the material world, and he affirmed this truth in his writings. [38]  His positive view of the world was founded upon two different but related truths:  first, the fact that God is the creator of the material world, and that all He has made is by definition good, because He Himself is good; and second, the Christian doctrine of the incarnation of God, that is, the entrance of God into the material world through the coming of the Son of God made man.  Both of these truths help to explain St. Augustine’s focus on the Old Testament theophanies as created signs of God’s presence, because for him created realities are good and can signify their cause by pointing to their creator; moreover, the apex of this created signification for St. Augustine occurs in the incarnation of the Son of God.


Denial of the Christological Nature of the Old Testament Theophanies


          Now as I showed in the first part of my paper, the early tradition of the Church had identified the Old Testament theophanies with the eternal Son of God, so for the pre-Augustinian Fathers the theophanies were pre-incarnate appearances of the Son (the eternal Logos), who was in some sense descending from heaven in order to reveal the Father to man.  The Son was seen as subordinate to the Father, because He was sent out by the Father in order to disclose the Father’s plan for creation, but this economic subordinationism did not in itself require a type of subordination at the level of divinity, although clearly this too was often held to be the case.  In fact, the Homoian heretics used the Church’s own tradition about the pre-incarnate appearances of the Logos in the Old Testament in order to support their view that the Son is not truly God, for they held that God was by definition invisible, and this being the case, it followed that the Son, since He became visible to the patriarchs and prophets, cannot be truly divine. 

          Augustine, rather than reasserting the ancient tradition of the Church on the theophanies, [39] agreed with the Homoians that God cannot become visible, and as a consequence, he asserted that the Old Testament theophanies were created signs of the presence of God, not of the person of the Son of God in particular, but of God in a general sense. [40]  By doing this Augustine was able to avoid any type of subordination of the Son to the Father, even in the economic order, and thus was able to rebut the criticisms of the Homoians.  But rejecting any notion of God’s ability to become visible, involved a clear rejection of the earlier Fathers Christological understanding of the theophanies, for as Dr. Kari Kloos points out in her study of St. Augustine’s exegesis of the Old Testament encounters with God, “He [Augustine] no longer identifies the theophanies with manifestations of the Son” and as is generally admitted, this is “. . . one of the most striking features of his exegesis.” [41]  Augustine broke with the universal tradition of the Church up to that point in order to propose an understanding of the theophanies that was truly novel.

          Augustine, in his explanations of the theophanies of God made to Adam, Cain, Abraham, and Moses, first focuses on what form of appearance these men could have been experienced in the Old Testament; in other words, whether God appeared to them in the created form of a man, or whether He was perhaps only seen in the mind of the visionary in question. [42]  As he says in reference to Cain’s vision of God “‘From Thy face I will hide myself;’ yet we are not therefore compelled to admit that he was wont to behold the face of God with his bodily eyes in any visible form, although he had heard the voice of God questioning and speaking with him of his sin.” [43]  Nevertheless, on this issue Augustine remains rather vague, neither affirming absolutely that the visions of God in the Old Testament took place only in the minds of those receiving them, nor asserting unequivocally that all of them took place through some type of sensory apprehension; even so, the idea that the visions took place only in the minds of those receiving them is foreign to the earlier tradition of the Church. [44] 

          Now it is true that the earlier Fathers, except for Tertullian, did not specify the way in which God the Son became visible, but they all agreed that He was in some sense visible to the eyes, and not simply visible in a mental sense.  The focus on the theophanies as economic manifestations of the pre-incarnate Word adds to the sense that the visions involved physical sight of some kind.  In fact, the tradition of the extra-mental visibility of the pre-incarnate Logos may be one of the reasons why Tertullian insisted on the pre-incarnate appearances involving a real assumption (without nativity) of human flesh by the Word of God, even if that created flesh was only temporarily assumed, only to be jettisoned after the vision experience came to an end.


The Theophanies as Created Artifacts


          Tertullian’s understanding of the theophanies as created manifestations of the Logos in a type of temporary flesh may have influenced Augustine’s own doctrine of the vision of God, but proving a connection between the two men’s respective doctrines is beyond the scope of this paper.  Nevertheless, Augustine’s views on the theophanies as created artifacts that only point to God, is in many ways similar to Tertullian’s doctrine of the pre-incarnate Logos’ assumption of created human flesh. [45]  In any case, for Augustine God cannot be seen directly, but can be seen only indirectly through created things; thus “In the Old Testament times, as in all periods of salvation history, neither the Son of God nor the Father could be seen; only a created mark or instrument of Their presence could be seen (e.g., the angels at Mamre, the burning bush, the pillars of fire, etc.)”; [46] moreover, even in the incarnation it is only the created human nature, which is an “. . . instrument of His presence,” [47] that can be seen, for the divinity is by definition invisible. 

          The created instrument becomes the means of our salvation, but it does not necessarily contain within itself that which transcends it; instead, it points man to that which is signified by the temporal marker allowing him to know the eternal reality by faith.  Augustine sees the temporal marker as a means to purify man from his enslavement to bodily sensation, by requiring an act of faith on his part, an act of faith in God who is signified by the sign but who transcends it at same time. [48]  Augustine’s view of signs is closer to a modern understanding of them, and shows little affinities with the more ancient understanding of them as participated manifestations of their prototypes.

          Consequently, St. Augustine sees all of the Old Testament theophanies, and even the appearances of God in the New Testament, as created artifacts that are intended to direct man’s attention to the presence of God, but he also holds that these created signs, are not a real vision of God, because it is impossible to see God in this life.  Augustine, unlike the Fathers before him, does not attempt to keep alive the paradoxical claim about being unable to see God and live, and yet, to somehow still see Him through His Son’s activities in the world; instead, in line with the Homoian heretics, Augustine claims that it is not possible to see God because He is invisible by nature, and so as Michel Barnes points out, even in the incarnation “all that could be seen was the human, Jesus of Nazareth,” because for Augustine the divinity in itself, that is, “the true existence or being of God could not be known, for it has never been available to any kind of sight, material or noetic:   [thus] the theophanies did not make God available to be seen.” [49]  All that is seen in the theophanies, and even in the incarnation, is the created artifact that is intended to point to God’s presence, even though He is really absent from the sign in His own being; in other words, the sign points to something that is not itself present within it, for it acts only as an indication of a presence that is transcendent. [50]

          Augustine holds that there can be no vision of God in this life; instead, all that can be seen is a created symbol representing Him, as Michel Rene Barnes puts is, “What is seen is not God; it is a sign or symbol of God’s presence.” [51]  It is only at the eschaton that God can be seen in any real way for Augustine, but before that event the Son “. . . is visible only as an object of faith in the incarnation.” [52] Moreover, even at the end of time the vision of God will be mediated through the created human nature of Christ, and so even in that moment man will not experience a direct vision of the divinity. [53]  Those who enter into the beatific vision will see the Son of God in the “Form of God,” the vision that they receive will be an intellectual vision mediated through the human nature of Christ; while those who are damned will only see the Son in the “Form of Man,” for they lacked faith in Christ during their temporal existence and so they cannot see beyond the human nature to the reality of which it is a marker.  But in either case it is still the man Jesus that is seen. [54]


Signs and Symbols and the Vision of God


          Augustine’s doctrine of the theophanies as created artifacts is connected to his reduction of the vision of God to an act of the intellect alone, for the created signs act only as pointers to a reality that is beyond any kind of bodily sensation.  His understanding of the beatific vision as a type of intellectual knowledge or apprehension reduces the vision of God to a conceptual and definitional reality.  Perhaps it is this reduction to a mental vision that leads him to his view of signs as mere pointers to a reality that is absent.  But whatever the cause may be, there is no way to reconcile the Palamite understanding of God’s appearances to the patriarchs and prophets in the Old Testament, with that of Augustine.  St. Gregory Palamas’ understanding of symbols is based on a metaphysics of participation, and so if the theophanies are thought of as symbolic at all, they are understood to be symbols in the ancient sense of that word, and not in the sense used by Augustine. [55]  Palamas sees the visions recorded in scripture as real manifestations of God, because they are a true participation in His very being, for “. . . if the archetype is not present in the image, the image cannot manifest it and, thus, cannot be an image.” [56] 

          Moreover, the Eastern view holds that the Old Testament theophanies (e.g., the appearance at Mamre, the burning bush, etc.), and even the New Testament theophanies (e.g., the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove, the Light of the Transfiguration, the flames of fire at Pentecost, etc.), are real manifestations of God’s uncreated energies; in other words, they are a true vision of God, and not some kind of created artifact; [57] instead, these theophanic manifestations are a gift of God’s uncreated grace which empowers the human agent to see the uncreated divinity through the uncreated divinity.  As St. Gregory Palamas writes, “. . . the man who has seen God by means not of an alien symbol but by a natural symbol, has truly seen Him in a spiritual way,” and he goes on to explain that, “I do not consider as a natural symbol of God what is only an ordinary symbol, visible and audible by the senses as such, and activated through the medium of air.  When, however, the seeing eye does not see as an ordinary eye, but as an eye opened by the power of the Spirit, it does not see God by means of an alien symbol; and it is then we can speak of sense-perception transcending the senses.” [58]

          Augustine’s theory of signs destroys the Eastern Church’s understanding of icons as that doctrine was formulated at the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea II, for that council, in the words of Ambrosias Giakalis, taught that “. . . anyone who in a vision of God (theoptia) beholds Christ after His incarnation inevitably beholds His human nature as well as His theandric hypostasis.  The visible character of the human nature of Christ belongs inseparably to the theandric hypostasis.” [59]  If taken too far I believe that Augustine’s understanding of signs could lead to a type of Nestorian Christology, because he makes too great a distinction between the sign and the thing signified. 

          Now, I am not arguing that every sign operates in the same manner, but a natural sign, as opposed to language, contains in a mysterious way the very reality that it signifies; and even at the level of language, ancient peoples saw words as creative and as mysteriously containing the reality of the thing named by the word.  That is why taking the name of God in vain was considered to be such a great crime, because in knowing and using the Lord’s name, one had a certain power over God, since He was in some way present in His name (Hashem).  Moreover, this type of signification is also important when dealing with the sacraments, and with iconic depictions of Christ and the saints that are intended for veneration, because the sacraments and the icons used in divine worship, as signs of their prototypes, each in their own way, contain the reality that they signify. [60]

          Augustine’s doctrine of signs is not compatible with the theology of icons as it has developed in the Eastern Church, and as it is exemplified in the canonical decisions of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. For the Eastern Church icons participate, in a real and living way, in the reality of their heavenly prototype, because the divine energies are present within them.  As Photius of Constantinople wrote: 


. . . from the beginning the divine and infallible proclamation of the Apostolic

and Patristic tradition is like a certain living wisdom which dominates matter

and, in accordance with its own sacred laws, works it and fashions it and produces

a representation and shape, not allowing any element of material disorder or of

human curiosity to assert itself in these, but showing and manifesting all its work,

it provides us, in a way appropriate to the representation of sacred things, with

clear and unadulterated reflection of the prototypes in the holy icons . . . For this

reason they are no longer wooden boards . . . or colors bereft of the inherent power

and grace which produces form, neither can they be so conceived nor so named;

but rather, they are holy and honourable and glorified and venerable.  For having

come to participate in the energy that comes from above, and in those holy persons,

they bear the form and the name and are dedicated, they transport the minds to

them and bring us blessings and divine favour from them.  They are not indeed

named after the material from which the icon is made or after any other property

which is incongruous and applies to their opposites.  On the contrary it is from

those in whom they participate, . . . and whom they serve, and to whom they

are dedicated, that they are very rightly known by the true devotees and receive

their name. [61]


So, the holy icons are the manifestation of the persons depicted in them, and to touch the icon is to touch the person whose image it is, because the icon is a living representation of the saint depicted; moreover, the icon contains within it the uncreated divine energies and so it truly manifests God’s presence to those who venerate it. [62]  I do not see how Augustine’s theory of signs could be reconciled to the Eastern doctrine of the holy icons and their veneration in the sacred liturgy.




          Clearly, St. Augustine has broken from some of the fundamental elements of the ante-Nicene, and even the early post-Nicene, understanding of the Old Testament theophanies, and as far as his doctrine of the theophanies as created realities is concerned, I do not think that the Eastern Churches will ever accept such an understanding of them.  I must admit that I myself am troubled by the idea.  Augustine’s heavy focus on created mediation is a problem for the East as well, because in Palamite theology, which was influenced by the thought of St. John of Damascus, the human nature of Christ was deified from the first instant of its existence in the womb of Mary. [63]  No created reality can be the cause of deification, because only the uncreated God can make man, at the level of energy, an uncreated being. [64] 

          Moreover, Augustine’s doctrine of signs, which tends to divide the sign from its prototype, has repercussions within other areas of theology, including Christology; because the incarnation, which is the ultimate sign of God’s presence among men, would no longer be a real manifestation of the uncreated God to man, but would simply point to a divine presence that remains transcendent.  In other words, when a man saw Jesus he simply saw the human nature assumed by the eternal Logos and not the person who assumed the nature in question.  This idea ultimately shatters the unity of Christ’s being and contains a Nestorian element that cannot be reconciled with the Chalcedonian definition.  Finally, I do not know if Augustine’s views on the theophanies of God as created artifacts can be reconciled with the Byzantine theological tradition, but perhaps the Eastern Christian understanding of the theophanies and the Augustinian understanding of them can coexist without being reconciled.







Giakalis, Ambrosias.  Images of the Divine:  The Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.  (New York:  E. J. Brill, 1994).
Harnack, Adolph von.  History of Dogma.   (New York: Dover Publications, 1961).  7 Volumes.
Kloos, Kari.  Preparing for the Vision of God:  Augustine’s Interpretation of the Biblical Theophany Narratives.  (Ann Arbor, MI:  UMI Dissertation Services, 2003).
Kucharek, Casimir.  The Byzantine-Slav Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. (Ontario, Canada:  Alleluia Press, 1971).
Maloney, George, S.J.  A theology of Uncreated Energies.  (Milwaukee, Wisconsin:  Marquette University Press, 1978).
Pentecost, Scott F.  Quest for the Divine Presence:  Metaphysics of Participation and the Relation of Philosophy to Theology in St. Gregory Palamas's Triads and One Hundred and Fifty Chapters.  (Ann Arbor, MI:  UMI Dissertation Services, 1999).
Philo of Alexandria.  Loeb Classic Library.  (Cambridge, Mass:  Harvard University Press, 1958).  In ten volumes (and two supplemental volumes).


Sini, Carlo.  Images of Truth:  From Sign to Symbol.  Trans. Massimo Verdicchio.  (New Jersey:  Humanities Press International, Inc., 1993).


Schaff, Philip, Editor.  Ante-Nicene Fathers.  (Peabody:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1994).  10 Volumes.


Schaff, Philip, Editor.  The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.  (Peabody:  Hendrickson Publishers, 1994).  28 Volumes.


St. Gregory Palamas.  The Triads.  Trans. Nicholas Gendle.  (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1983).


Journal Articles:


Anastos, Thomas L.  “Gregory Palamas' Radicalization of the Essence, Energies, and Hypostasis Model of God.” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 38:1-4 (1993):  page 335-349.


Barnes, Michel Rene. “The Visible Christ and the Invisible Trinity:  Mt. 5:8 in Augustine’s Trinitarian Theology of 400.”  Modern Theology 19:3 (July 2003):  pages 329-355.


Smith, James K. A.  “Between Predication and Silence:  Augustine on How (Not) to Speak of God.”  Heythrop Journal 41:1 (January 2000):  pages 66-86.


Instruction Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, issued by the Congregation for Eastern Churches (6 January 1996);


Citations from the Fathers:


St. Augustine, On the Nature of the Good.

St. Augustine, De Trinitate.

St. Hilary, De Trinitate.

St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses.

St. John of Damascus.  De Fide Orthodoxa.

St. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho.

Novatian, De Trinitate.

Tertullian, De Carne Christi.

Tertullian, Adversus Praxeas.







10 December 2004


Homepage:  The Taboric Light


[1] See Kloos, Kari.  Preparing for the Vision of God:  Augustine’s Interpretation of the Biblical Theophany Narratives.  (Ann Arbor, MI:  UMI Dissertation Publishing, 2003), 12; as Dr. Kloos points out in her study on the patristic understanding of the Old Testaments theophanies, “. . . no theologian ever makes the bold statement that the patriarchs saw the divine nature or that the Son is visible in His very nature.  As such, they all understand that the theophanies are special, enigmatic stories where the vision of God is qualified in some way.”

[2] See Kloos, 27.

[3] St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4, 20, 1.

[4] See St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4, 20, 4.

[5] See Philo of Alexandria.  “Questions and Answers on Exodus.”  Loeb Classic Library.  Cambridge, Mass:  Harvard University Press, 1958.  Supplement II, pages 89-90.  The distinction made by St. Irenaeus, between God’s greatness and His power is similar to the distinction made more than a century earlier by Philo of Alexandria.  Philo, in many of his commentaries distinguishes between God’s essence and His glory, as he puts it, “What is the meaning of the words, ‘And the glory of God came down upon Mount Sinai?’  (Scripture) clearly puts to shame those who whether through impiety or through foolishness believe that there are movements of place or of change in the Deity.  For, behold, what is said to come down is clearly not the essence of God, which is understood only as to its being, but His glory.”

[6] St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4, 20, 5.

[7] See St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4, 20, 9.

[8] St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4, 20, 7.

[9] St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 4, 20, 5.

[10] See Kloos, page 27; as Dr. Kloos puts it, “. . . God cannot be seen in se but only as God acts in love.  Furthermore, the vision of God must be granted by the divine will, and therefore it cannot be attained by one’s own powers of vision.  Thus, the vision of God is impossible for human beings, nevertheless it is made possible by God’s good will and kindness toward creation.  This distinction between the vision of God in se and by the divine good will is significant in early Church interpretation of the theophany narratives, and it will reappear as Trinitarian and theological language evolves in the dogmatic controversies of the fourth century.”

[11] St. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, Chap. 56.

[12] Kloos, 24.

[13] See Kloos, 24.

[14] St. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, Chap. 56.

[15] Kloos, 24.

[16] St. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, Chap. 56.

[17] St. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, Chap. 56.

[18] See Tertullian, De Carne Christi, 6; for Tertullian the pre-incarnate appearances of the Son took place in a true, real, and created flesh assumed temporarily in order to manifest God to man, but these temporary assumptions of flesh are not a true and full incarnation, because the flesh assumed was not born into the world, but came into being through a special act of creation.  In the following extended quotation from De Carne Christi Tertullian explains how the flesh used in the Old Testament theophanies, and in angelic visitations, is different from the flesh assumed by the incarnate Word born of the Virgin Mary:  “When, therefore, they [various Gnostic heretics] set forth the flesh of Christ after the pattern of the angels, declaring it to be not born, and yet flesh for all that, I should wish them to compare the causes, both in Christ's case and that of the angels, wherefore they came in the flesh.  Never did any angel descend for the purpose of being crucified, of tasting death, and of rising again from the dead.  Now, since there never was such a reason for angels becoming embodied, you have the cause why they assumed flesh without undergoing birth. They had not come to die, therefore they also (came not) to be born.  Christ, however, having been sent to die, had necessarily to be also born, that He might be capable of death; for nothing is in the habit of dying but that which is born.  Between nativity and mortality there is a mutual contrast.  The law which makes us die is the cause of our being born.  Now, since Christ died owing to the condition which undergoes death, but that undergoes death which is also born, the consequence was – nay, it was an antecedent necessity – that He must have been born also, by reason of the condition which undergoes birth; because He had to die in obedience to that very condition which, because it begins with birth, ends in death.  It was not fitting for Him not to be born under the pretence that it was fitting for Him to die. But the Lord Himself at that very time appeared to Abraham amongst those angels without being born, and yet in the flesh without doubt, in virtue of the before-mentioned diversity of cause.  You, however, cannot admit this, since you do not receive that Christ, who was even then rehearsing how to converse with, and liberate, and judge the human race, in the habit of a flesh which as yet was not born, because it did not yet mean to die until both its nativity and mortality were previously (by prophecy) announced.”  The difference between the fleshly appearances in the pre-incarnate theophanies of the Logos and His coming in the fullness of time for Tertullian, concerns the purpose of His coming, and not so much the nature of the flesh itself.  In other words, in the incarnation the Son of God comes in order to die, and for Him to die He must be born, if He had simply assumed flesh without being born, He would not be able to die.  Thus in Tertullian's theology there is a necessary connection between birth and death, and it is the former that makes the latter possible.

[19] Tertullian, Adversus Praxeas, 6.

[20] Kloos, 42.

[21] See Novatian, De Trinitate, Chap. 11; Novatian, responding to those who asserted that Christ’s human weaknesses proved Him to be only a man, argues that “. . . because they [i.e., the heretics] maintain one thing in Christ [i.e., His humanity] and, do not maintain another [i.e., His divinity], they see one side of Christ and do not see another, shall there be taken away from us that which they do not see for the sake of that which they do.  For they regard the weaknesses in Him as if they were a man's weaknesses, but they do not count the powers as if they were a God's powers.  They keep in mind the infirmities of the flesh, they exclude the powers of the divinity; when if this argument from the infirmities of Christ is of avail to the result of proving Him to be man from His infirmities, the argument of divinity in Him gathered from His powers avails to the result also of asserting Him to be God from His works.  . . . For there will be a risk that He should not be shown to be man from His sufferings, if He could not also be approved as God by His powers.”  Novatian is saying that Christ is known as God through His works or activities in the economic order, and it is precisely these activities that reveal and manifest the presence of the invisible God to man, both in His pre-incarnate appearances, and later in His incarnation.

[22] See Philo of Alexandria, "The Posterity and Exile of Cain," Loeb Classic Library, volume 2, page 429; Novatian’s focus on Christ activities or works as revealing God to man is similar to the views of Philo, who made a distinction between God’s essence and His accomplishments, and this is particularly evident in his commentary on Cain, where he says, “’Thou shalt behold that which is behind Me, but My Face thou shalt not see.’  This meant, that all that follows in the wake of God is within the good man’s apprehension, while He Himself alone is beyond it, that is, in the line of straight and direct approach, a mode of approach by which (had it been possible) His quality would have been made known; but brought within ken by the powers that follow and attend Him; for these make evident not His essence but His subsistence from the things which He accomplishes.”

[23] Kloos, 42.

[24] See Kloos, 42.

[25] Novatian, De Trinitate, Chap. 18.

[26] St. Hilary, De Trinitate, 4, 27.

[27] St. Hilary, De Trinitate, 4, 25.

[28] St. Hilary, De Trinitate, 4, 27; see also Kloos, 60:  Dr. Kloos gives the Latin text of the De Trinitate as follows:  “Virum enim licet conspectum, Abraham tamen Dominum adoravit, sacramentum scilicet futurae corporationis agnoscens.”

[29] Kloos, 61.

[30] Kloos, 62.

[31] See Kloos, 69.

[32] See Anastos, Thomas L.  “Gregory Palamas' Radicalization of the Essence, Energies, and Hypostasis Model of God.” The Greek Orthodox Theological Review 38:1-4 (1993):  page 335-349.  For St. Gregory Palamas God exceeds His own essence, and so He is truly hyper-theos.  It is in knowing God’s energies that one truly comes to know God, for the “. . . energies of God lead directly to knowledge of the hypostatic subjects who together are God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the hypostases who are responsible for the concrete energetic enactment of the divine essence.” (p. 341)  In other words, God’s energies or activities are not other than Himself in the unity of His being; instead, they are the enhypostatic enactments of the divine essence by the three divine prsons, and consequently the activities of God are what comes down to man allowing him to know God in a true and direct sense, for the energies of God are acts of the three divine persons in the their communal participation in the one divine essence, and so although the persons are distinct, their activities are one.

[33] See Kloos, 66.

[34] See Kloos, 66-67.  I disagree with Dr. Kloos when she equates spiritual sight with intellectual sight, because these two ideas are not of necessity identical.  In the Eastern Christian tradition to have the uncreated eyes of the Spirit allows one to see the uncreated God, for no act of intellection or bodily sensation can by itself see the invisible God, but if man is given a participation in the uncreated life of God, by receiving the uncreated deifying energy, then he can see God in God.  See also St. Gregory Palamas.  The Triads.  Trans. Nicholas Gendle.  (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1983), 69.  See also Maloney, George, S.J.  A theology of Uncreated Energies.  (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marquette University Press, 1978), 86-94.

[35] See Kloos, 69.  Ambrose holds that the vision of the Son at Mamre involves His manifestation “. . . under created form.”

[36] See Kloos, 67.  As Dr. Kloos explains, “. . . Ambrose insists that God cannot be comprehended either by mere human powers or as they are aided by grace.  God remains beyond human grasp, even if God will to be seen and known in some form.”

[37] See Kloos, 70.

[38] See Augustine, On the Nature of the Good, no. 2; in writing against his former co-religionists Augustine said, “There are those who cannot understand that every natural being, that is, every spiritual and corporeal existent, is good by nature.”

[39] See Barnes, Michel Rene. “The Visible Christ and the Invisible Trinity:  Mt. 5:8 in Augustine’s Trinitarian Theology of 400.”  Modern Theology 19:3 (July 2003):  342; as Barnes says, “The most important point to be made is this: there is a connection between Augustine’s development of a doctrine of the primacy of faith as the discipline of virtue and as the basis for knowledge about God and his development of the doctrine that the divinity of the Son is made manifest only at the end-time and that there are, properly speaking, no theophanies of the Son (or of any other Person of the Trinity).”

[40] See Augustine, De Trinitate, 2, 10, 18; because of Augustine’s doctrine of the unity of operations within the Trinity, a doctrine that is not in itself problematic for an Eastern Christian, he asserted that the theophanies are manifestations of the Trinity, and not of the Son, for as he says, “But here, where it is written, ‘And the Lord God said to Adam,’ no reason can be given why the Trinity itself should not be understood.”

[41] Kloos, 7.

[42] Augustine, De Trinitate, 2, 10, 18; Augustine is unsure of the mode or form of God’s appearance to Adam, “because it does not evidently appear even whether Adam usually saw God with the eyes of his body; especially as it is a great question what manner of eyes it was that were opened when they tasted the forbidden fruit; for before they had tasted, these eyes were closed.”  In other words, prior to the fall, Adam’s vision of God was in some way mediated through his intellect, and not his body; thus, it seems that Adam’s body was in some sense unnecessary to his full and integral existence as man in communion with God.  However, in the Palamite system man’s material nature is not superfluous, and as a consequence, it follows that man in his entirety, that is, both at the level of his body and soul, must participate in the beatific vision through the power of God’s uncreated light.

[43] Augustine, De Trinitate, 2, 10, 18.

[44] See Augustine, De Trinitate, 2, 10, 18; and chap. 11, no. 20; now, in spite of the fact that at times Augustine will say that it is not clear whether Adam (and other men as well) saw God with his bodily eyes, as when he said, “it does not evidently appear even whether Adam usually saw God with the eyes of his body,” [no. 18] Augustine does seem to believe that at least some of the visions, and probably even the majority of them, involved created artifacts that could be seen with bodily eyes, and this is clear from his examination of Abraham’s vision at Mamre, for he holds that the Trinity was “visibly intimated by the visible creature,” and this visible creature signifies the “equality of the Trinity,” because it shows “one and the same substance in three persons.” [no. 20]

[45] It should be noted that St. Ambrose also conceives of at least some of the theophanies as involving created artifacts, and so Augustine may have gotten this idea from him.

[46] Barnes, 344.

[47] Barnes, 344.

[48] See Smith, James K. A.  “Between Predication and Silence:  Augustine on How (Not) to Speak of God.”  Heythrop Journal 41:1 (January 2000):  77-78.  Augustine’s understanding of signs centers on the sign as a marker, that is, a pointer, to something that is transcendent, in other words, Augustine thinks of signs “. . . as instances of incarnation, [he] is able to understand language not as essentially violent, but rather as that which grants access to things, but at the same time leaves them in their transcendence.  Here we find the analogy with the incarnation of God in Christ:  the God-man, though present in the flesh (sphere of immanence) did not cease to be God (sphere of transcendence). The incarnation of transcendence ‘in flesh’ does not undo its transcendence; the signum does not deny the mysterium, but rather points to it.”  I cannot see how this doctrine of signs does justice to the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, for it seems to divide the natures in a way contrary to the teaching of the Church.  Now of course Augustine died before the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, and so that may explain why his theory seems to, at least in some degree, contradict the dogmatic definitions of those councils.  Moreover, as St. John Damascene points out, Christ “. . . is in truth God incarnate. For the Word Himself became flesh, having been in truth conceived of the Virgin, but coming forth as God with the assumed nature which, as soon as He was brought forth into being, was deified by Him, so that these three things took place simultaneously, the assumption of our nature, the coming into being, and the deification of the assumed nature by the Word. And thus it is that the holy Virgin is thought of and spoken of as the Mother of God, not only because of the nature of the Word, but also because of the deification of man's nature, the miracles of conception and of existence being wrought together, to wit, the conception the Word, and the existence of the flesh in the Word Himself.” [St. John Damascene, De Fide Orthodoxa, 2, 12]  Thus, Christ’s humanity is divinized from the first moment of the incarnation, and so although He truly became man, He became man as God intended man to be from the very beginning, i.e., deified.

[49] Barnes, 343.

[50] See Smith, page 75; as Dr. Smith points out in his article, for Augustine, “The Incarnation is precisely an immanent sign of transcendence – God appearing in the flesh.  Thus it is the structure of both presence and absence:  present in the flesh, and yet referring beyond, the Incarnation – as the signum exemplum – retains the structural incompleteness of the sign which is constitutive of language, for to constitute the God-man as only man is to idolize the body, failing to constitute it as a manifestation of the divine.  Divinity, while it cannot be reduced to this body, is nevertheless in-fleshed in it and thus signaling beyond itself.  This is why the God-man is mediator between divinity and humanity, finitude and infinite.  This is also why, for Augustine, all signs function as mediators:  they are precisely that which both appear and at the same time maintain that which they refer to in their transcendence.  By referring or pointing to that which is other than itself, signs make knowledge of transcendence possible.”  I don’t see how Augustine’s understanding of signs can be reconciled to the Eastern Church’s understanding of icons and signs as participated realities that form a single hypostatic relation with their prototypes, for in the East the sign and the thing signified form a single whole, and so the sign does not simply point to a transcendent reality that is in fact absent from it, but rather forms a single complexus; in other words, the sign and the thing signified are in a mystical sense, one and the same thing.  Moreover, East and West appear to have different conceptions of what the vision of God entails, for the West it is an act of intellection, while the East sees it as an experience of the uncreated light in and through God’s uncreated energies, which involves both the body and soul.  In addition, Augustine seems to be focusing far too much attention on human language and on a concept of vision that is intellectual and Platonic, and so, his system fails to grasp the Eastern perspective, which holds that the vision of God exceeds both body and soul, while including them both through the gift of God’s uncreated grace, which as a pure gift lifts both body and soul into the uncreated light of God, simultaneously transforming both into that which is seen.

[51] Barnes, 346.

[52] Barnes, 347.

[53] see Barnes, 347.  “Augustine’s judgment is that all the Persons of the Trinity can be seen only at the resolution of history – the endtime – and he describes the object(s) of this vision very specifically:  what will be seen will be either the Form of Man or the Form of God.”

[54] Barnes, 347.

[55] See Sini, Carlo.  Images of Truth:  From Sign to Symbol.  Trans. Massimo Verdicchio.  (New Jersey:  Humanities Press International, Inc., 1993), 105; in his study of signs and symbols, Carlo Sini explains that:  “The meaning of the word symbol has nothing to do here with its usual meaning whereby, for instance, scales are the symbol of justice or lion is the symbol of strength; nor are we invoking the traditional theory (entirely unsatisfactory and erroneous) according to which the symbol is a product of the spirit of man, of his creative or imaginative faculty.  With the word symbol we are referring, instead, to the original Greek meaning derived from the verb sym-ballein, which means ‘putting together,’ ‘uniting,’ ‘bringing together.’  The symbolon was originally the broken half of an object which, when brought together with its other half, could serve as sign of recognition.  The symbolon, thus, is the fragment of a whole that does not exist or no longer exists.  Because of this characteristic, the symbol turns out to be a most particular sign.  Above all, it is a sign since, as any sign it refers (the fragment refers to the object not yet broken of which it is a part, a sign), but differently from any sign.  The symbol does not refer to an ‘other,’ or to a ‘different from itself’ but still to itself, to the ‘same’ – the other to which the symbol refers is still itself.  In fact, the broken whole of the symbol refers to the same whole not yet broken.  This also goes for every one of its parts.  Each part stands for the whole unity from which it derives and represents.  Each one is there to say that it is what it is because it derives its being from that unity that contained it, that kept it together.”  See also, Adolph von Harnack,  History of Dogma, (New York: Dover Publications, 1961), 2:144; as Harnack wrote, “The symbol is the mystery and the mystery was not conceivable without a symbol,” and as he went on to say, “What we now-a-days understand by symbol is a thing which is not that which it represents; at that time symbol denoted a thing which, in some kind of way, really is what it signifies.”

[56] Pentecost, Scott F.  Quest for the Divine Presence:  Metaphysics of Participation and the Relation of Philosophy to Theology in St. Gregory Palamas’s Triads and the One Hundred and Fifty Chapters.  (Ann Arbor, MI:  UMI Dissertation Publishing, 1999), 99.

[57] Giakalis, Ambrosias.  Images of the Divine:  The Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council.  (New York:  E. J. Brill, 1994), 59.  As Ambrosias Giakalis explains, “In the Apostolic teaching of the Eastern Fathers the same Christ who was revealed in the flesh in the New Testament was at work prior to His incarnation in the Old Testament.  Before His birth from the Theotokos, Jesus Christ in His uncreated person, either as the Angel of God, or as the Angel of Great Council, or as the Lord of Glory, or Lord Sabbaoth, or Wisdom of God, is He who appears ‘in glory’ and as the image of God by nature reveals in Himself the Father-Archetype to the patriarchs and prophets.  The means then by which the prophets knew God was through Christ.  So God never becomes known without Christ.”

[58] St. Gregory Palamas.  The Triads.  Trans. Nicholas Gendle.  (Mahwah, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1983), 90.

[59] Giakalis, 134.

[60] See Giakalis, page 127.  In the case of icons there is a hypostatic relation between the icon and its prototype, which means that the icon manifests the person depicted in it, and more than this, it contains the divine energies and can bestow the illuminating, purifying, and sanctifying energies (but not the deifying energies) upon the man who venerates it.  See also Fr. Casimir Kucharek, The Byzantine-Slav Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. (Ontario, Canada: Alleluia Press, 1971), 211; the following text is taken from Fr. Kucharek’s detailed study of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and in it he explains the significance of the doctrine of icons within the Eastern Catholic tradition:

          “There is a fundamental difference between Byzantines and Westerners in the interpretation of sacred images.  The latter merely regard them as representations of one whose presence is elsewhere, in heaven.  For the Byzantine Christian, the icon is a veritable theophany, a dynamic manifestation of divine energy at work on earth.  The person represented is in some spiritual way actually present in the icon.  From this presence flow streams of grace upon the sinful world, purifying and sanctifying it.

          How [does one] explain this mysterious presence in the icon?  To define this presence would be as difficult as explaining the Shekinah or the mysterious presence of Christ amid two or three gathered together in His name (Matt. 18:20).  Yet such a presence was no less true.  The mystical teaching concerning icons stems from the master idea of all Eastern typology, the idea of the Church building as ‘Heaven on earth.’  Gregory of Nyssa was probably the first to set out the main lines of such teaching.  His doctrine was taken up and developed by others.  The author of the eighth-century Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Contemplatio, for example, expresses it boldly:  ‘The heaven wherein the Triune God lives and moves on earth is the Christian holy place, the Church.  . . .’  The presence of heaven passed easily from the Church to the icon.

          The West never understood the iconoclastic controversy.  It did not see the veneration of icons as a dogmatic matter but simply as a disciplinary matter.  The Byzantine East, on the other hand, saw clearly in the decision of the seventh general council a contribution toward a better understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation or, more precisely, the mystery of God's communication of Himself to the world and to man in particular.  That is why iconography was always such a serious science.  It was never merely an art form.  To be worthy of the task, the ancient icon painters prayed and fasted for days before taking up their brush – only then could they communicate the Divine through their image-making.  Because icons represent human forms that have been ‘regenerated into eternity,’ holy bodies of persons transformed, transfigured by grace in prayer, iconographers attempted to convey theological meanings through symbolical colors and forms.  Saints, for example, are represented facing forward so that their entire face is showing, for a spiritual man cannot be incomplete, with one eye only.  ‘A soul that has been illuminated by divine glory,’ teaches Macarius the Great, ‘becomes all light and all face. . . and has no part with that which is behind but stands altogether facing forward.’”

[61] Giakalis, 91.  Taken from Photius, Epistulae et Amphilochia, ed. Laourdas-Westerink, Leipzig 1984, vol. 2, 117-119.

[62] See the Instruction Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, issued by the Congregation for Eastern Churches (6 January 1996); as the Congregation stated in its instruction on the application of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) to the Byzantine liturgy; icons are endowed “. . . with a sacred nature and, in a certain way, with participation in the divine. For this reason, icons are direct objects of worship and are venerated as the images of the Lord, his works and the saints represented are venerated.” [no. 108]

[63] St. John of Damascus.  De Fide Orthodoxa.  3, 12.  “For the Word Himself became flesh, having been in truth conceived of the Virgin, but coming forth as God with the assumed nature which, as soon as He was brought forth into being, was deified by Him, so that these three things took place simultaneously, the assumption of our nature, the coming into being, and the deification of the assumed nature by the Word.”

[64] See St. Gregory Palamas, The Triads, 98.  Palamas describes those who have been deified by grace as “‘gods by grace’, whom the saints say are ‘unoriginate and uncreated by grace.’”  In other words, man in his essence remains a creature after being deified, but at the level of energy, he participates in the uncreated divine energies and has become uncreated by grace.