Monday, June 1, 2009

The Seed

Today is the feast day of St. Justin Martyr, also known by "Justin the Philosopher." Since I first encountered this man's legacy, handed down to us over more than 1,800 years, I have been fascinated by him. (I even did a brief podcast meditating on some of his thoughts back in 2007.) He is of course fascinating for having run the gamut of pagan philosophy and then finding what he called the "true philosophy," the life in Christ.

His central insight for us echoes Philippians 4:8, that we should always be meditating on whatever is good, true and beautiful. He wrote that he could see these things everywhere, in every philosophy, every religion, every person. He called what he saw the spermatikos logos, the Logos (Word) of God in seed form. Everywhere we look, there is Christ.

This is, I believe, a critical truth to keep in mind especially when engaging in evangelism. We seek not to change someone's mind or recruit them for our club, but rather to show them that they have been made according to Christ—for, if we are all made according to the image of God, and if Christ is the image of the invisible God, then He is our template. And if each of us is made according to Him, then we have a profound and driving need and often an unexpressed desire for Him. The seed needs only to be watered.

About a year ago, I scribbled out a quick poem as I was thinking about this fascinating time when St. Justin still walked this earth, when paganism was not so much being "defeated" by "Christianity" but rather fulfilled by Christ. I promptly filed it away somewhere and have forgotten about it until now. So, here's a small bit of what I mean. Forgive its poetic lackings.

The Seed

Within these wizards' staves lies some dark power
that wills our eyes to deeply, deeply look
and see there some primordial flashing flint
that even in these pagan rites there shines
the gleam of Light of Light, of God of God,
the Logos, ancient of all kings on earth
or in the sky above, that in this ground
the Seed lies firmly rooted, waiting now.

Can it be true that warlocks' cants and spells
and witchery could lead us to the Son?
How could this blackness, thick with demon night
allow some light to glimmer forth with power?
How can the prostitutes of Artemis
seduce us to a chaste and perfect fire?
Can Dionysios ferment a drink
to wash away our sins and give us life?

Let me say yes, that He Who came to us
did not arrive with fire and fury-might,
destruction bent and condemnation's name
upon His brow, to wipe this world away.
No, I shall call His name Redeemer-God,
that He Who plants the Seed before all time
can water it and tend His garden great,
for even in our deviance, He's there.

Still further, all these evil rites of man
are naught but dry attempts at worshiping
the one true God, Beginning and the End,
Who so fills all throughout His universe
that there is left not one excuse for us,
that we must see Him everywhere revealed:
His face in life, in death, in anguished birth,
in ancient prophecy and modern words.

And so Redeemer, far from finding us
in deprivation total, sees the Seed
within each man, within each culture's life
and with the water purifies,
baptizing everything throughout the world,
that cleansed of incompleteness and disease
our deaths can be transfigured into trees
that stretch to Heaven, filled with holy fruit.

So if that power is dark, it's not from taint
but merely from this glass through which we look,
for in this Fall our incompleteness mars
our vision of eternal, perfect truth;
but intuition leads us subtly forth
to Incarnation and the blessed Cross,
of old we knew that God must be a man
and sacrifice would save the fallen world.


Zac said...

Great thoughts and the poem is profound as well, and reminds me of how Christians dealt with the Merlin stories-- like where his power fell in the whole alignment of light and darkness.

I wonder, though, where this leaves heresy and error. Surely if there are seeds of the Word, we can also say that heresies and false religions can, like weeds, oppose it, deceiving man and diverting him from union with God.

I haven't read much of St. Justin, but from what I gathered when he spoke of the "seed of the Word" he specifically mentioned people like Socrates who refused to worship the gods entirely, who spurned pedastery and homosexuality in favor of a celibate life, and argued for a transcendent moral order that was good in and of itself. Do you know what specifically which aspects of Greek philosophy St. Justin makes reference to when he talks about the "seeds of the Word"? I'm interested in your thoughts on how we hold St. Justin's position in relation to the great martyrologies which seem quite adamant that the idols being worshiped were often inhabited by demons-- something obviously washed away and indeed defeated when the culture was baptized.

Also, have you had a chance to take a glimpse at Fr. Seraphim Rose's book, Christ and the Eternal Tao? Following on the spermatikos theme he introduces people to classical Chinese philosophy which had, along with its Hellenic contemporary counterparts, rejected some of the polytheism and sought out the reason behind the universe in a transcendent Unity. The book also shows the incredible insights into virtue and vice that Lao Tzu the sage wrote into the Tao Te Jing.

Fr. Andrew said...

Zac, thanks for your comments.

Heresy, of course, does lead one away from Christ, but this is only true in a full sense, I think, when it is true heresy—that is, when it is a choice away from Orthodoxy.

False religions are false, to be sure, but nothing is ever entirely false in every way. Each person is judged by God according to what they do with the light that they have received.

There are within the Church two different currents regarding falsehood. On the one hand, we have the pagans and even the heterodox who need to be evangelized, brought to the fullness of their spiritual hopes in Christ. These are those addressed by St. Justin's spermatikos logos teaching. On the other, we have those who are opposing the Church and trying to destroy it. These are those who gave us the many martyrs and whose idols are indeed being smashed by the right hand of God.

In our own time, I think Christians often take the latter approach without even considering the former. Most of us, at least here in the West, don't usually face outright persecution (despite what some spiritual wimps might think). Rather, we are surrounded by people who have some of it right, despite having much of it wrong.

I hope this makes some sense.

By the way, I am passingly familiar with Christ the Eternal Tao, though it's not by Fr. Seraphim but by his disciple Fr. Damascene Christianson.

amy said...

A beautiful and educational post; thank you!

solzemli said...

Very nice, Father.

- Andrew