The Greek philosophers from Ionia considered held that there were four elements or essences (ousies) in nature: earth, water, fire and air. Aristotle added ether to this foursome, which would make it the fifth (pempto) essence, pemptousia, or quintessence.
According to Aristotle, this essence exhibits many properties: it is un-generated, un-aging, incorruptible, eternal, constant and unchanging. Moreover, it is located in the high levels of the heavens (in the “very high area”) where the divinity resides.
The Greek philosophers of later antiquity (Alexander Aphrodisieus, Simplicius, and others), as well as Byzantines such as John Philoponus and many Western Europeans, interpreted, amended and enhanced Aristotle’s theory.
As a final result, the pempti ousia, the quinta essentia of the Western Europeans, came to signify the basic essence of every being, the core around which the being’s existence is structured.
The triptych Culture – Science – Religion in Pemptousia
The capability to resolve the various problems that arise in society at large, as well as the continuous process of the progress in human understanding; the science and technology that develop according to the needs and requirements of each era; the art that serves beauty; and the societal and cultural bonds that are formed for the attainment of greater cooperation constitute the dynamic axis upon which civilizations are created.
The existence of the universe, the natural phenomena and all of creation have made man seek the Creator. The movement of the human spirit towards God created the phenomenon of religions from the moment of man’s appearance on earth. Later, when man began to feel and understand deeper meanings that had to do with his make-up, his conscience, immortality, learning, charity, and the nobility of morality and wisdom, or to realize the deeper distinctions between the meaning of virtue and evil, prudence and imprudence, courage and cowardice, and justice and injustice, it was natural for human society, even in art.
The ancient Greeks, having escaped from the coercion of hunger and insecurity my means of social organization, became occupied with culture, art and letters. Within culture they realized the meaning of interior spiritual cultivation. The search for truth as an absolute existential reality was very intense in the ancient Greeks. This then is why they had fashioned an altar to “the unknown God”.
The incarnation of God the Word found fertile ground in man’s proclivity to beauty, to goodness, to truth and to the eternal. Orthodoxy has not functioned as some religion or sect. It was not the movement of the human spirit towards God but the revelation of the true God, Jesus Christ, to man. A basic precept of Orthodoxy is that of the person – the personhood of God and of man. God is a Trinity of persons – persons with a common essence but distinct and unique characteristics. Man, who is in the image of God, is distinct and unique as a person. Consequently, Orthodoxy does not marginalize man. It hopes for true unity and worldwide brotherhood for the human race and offers to provide it. It has not consumed ethnic groups; it has not clumped everyone into one mass; rather it contributes to the preservation of the particular cultural identity of every ethnic group.
Orthodoxy has engendered culture, contributed to the development of the arts, music, painting, literature, poetry, architecture, and more, within a theanthropic framework.
Orthodoxy has fostered the advancement of the sciences; it has never been at variance with science, because within the Orthodox Tradition the discernment of both created and uncreated knowledge is experienced. The scholastic theologians of the West developed a uniform methodology for approaching both the created and uncreated, whereas the Fathers of the Orthodox East followed a dual methodology. Saint Gregory Palamas especially rejected the dialectic method for understanding the divine. They accepted it, however, for the sciences and for the expression of dogmas with concepts formulated through the dialectic method itself.
- The sciences have the knowledge of substances and the function of entities as their work, whereas Orthodox theology offers man the empirical knowledge of the uncreated God, the Creator of beings and communion with the divine energies.
- The sciences are occupied with “how”; Orthodox theology with “whom” and “why”.
- The sciences offer man knowledge that is continually developing and evolving, whereas Orthodox theology offers the authentic way of existence for the human entity and his union with God, and the living experience of the uncreated Divine Grace.
The clash between science and theology happen in the West during the time of the Renaissance (14th century) and chiefly with the Enlightenment (18th century) and the evolution of the sciences, because western Christianity gradually lost its eschatological orientation, took on a worldly character in its governance, cut itself off from the Orthodox Tradition of the East, and became secularized. Armed with worldly power, therefore, it resorted to the Holy Inquisition, the hunting down of witches, the indulgences, the burning at the stake, and the various bans and interdictions, twisting the message of the Gospel of Love. At the same time, they came into conflict with many men of science, many of whom, in the meanwhile, had rejected the western ecclesiastical system because of the above excesses.
Orthodoxy is not a religious philosophy or way of thinking but revelation and life standing on the foundations of divine experience and in the transcendence of the created and the intimacy of the Uncreated. Orthodox theology is patristic and is drawn to genuine beauty; it is the theology of the One “fairer than the sons of men”; it is the theology of our fathers.
The precipitous development of the sciences and technology, especially of biotechnology and computer science, at the beginning of our third millennium has created a climate of uncertainty and divisiveness.
- We may say that the future prospects of the contemporary sciences are especially encouraging in the areas of medicine, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and others for the prevention and cure of many hitherto incurable illnesses, as well as for a more comfortable existence for mankind.
- On the other hand, however, the blind use of these technological achievements threatens our planet with ecological and biological disaster.
It is imperative that the scientists come “to themselves” and acquire an enlightened mind, in order to serve mankind rather than selfish interests.
The traditional era is now a thing of the past. The sound reason, the sciences and the politics of modernity have passed the baton to post-modernity. Post-modern man no longer moves by the commands of holiness, knowledge and wisdom but by the uncritical acceptance of the image and information, by pleasure and often by absurdity.
Post-modernity may be characterized by irrationality, fragmentation, moral diversity, a pessimistic longing for the end of history and the world, globalism and a homogenization of the way of life; however, we see that, after the “death of God” begotten by modernity, today we are living “the return of God”. Though it may be that the social norms have deteriorated, that institutions are under fire, that an undeniable degradation of the quality of life may be perceived, contemporary man, living in a multicultural and pluralistic environment, is trying desperately to find his identity.
Contemporary post-modern man does understand what man is. Through its presence in the internet world, Pemptousia, with its spirit of respect for beauty that characterizes it, wishes to contribute to the presentation of a better meaning of life for man, to the search for the ontological dimension of man, and to the awareness of the unfathomable mystery of man who is always in Christ in the process of becoming, of man who is in the image of divine beauty. And the beauty of man springs from the beauty of the Triune God. In the end, “beauty will save the world”.
The responsibility for the planning, development, management and the publication coordination of the Pemptousia web pages in all languages is that of the Institute of Research, Preservation, and Advancement of Spiritual and Cultural Traditions “Saint Maxim the Greek” www.stmaximthegreek.org.