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Home / PATRISTIC TEXTS, WORKS & TEACHINGS / TREASURY OF ORTHODOXY: Bishop Theophilos of Campania; LESSON 2 – ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE TOWER

TREASURY OF ORTHODOXY: Bishop Theophilos of Campania; LESSON 2 – ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE TOWER

LESSON 2 – ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE TOWER

Q. Holy Elder, after the events pertaining to Noah and the Flood, what was the next crucial turning point for humankind according to what our Faith asserts?

A. My beloved child, since multitudes of people came into existence and repopulated the earth, once again the same problems arose, with people turning away from God. Yet God who foresaw humanity’s predisposition towards evil intent and freely making negative and evil decisions; He sought to take preventative measures by dispersing humanity over a greater area and distance, allowing them the freedom from social pressure to refocus attention onto their spiritual vocation. The purpose of this loving pedagogical approach, was to help encourage humanity to attain a sense of balance and proportion, while help cultivate a more harmonious and sound noetic[1] mindset, away from the distraction from evil.

However, in being blessed with the bountiful gifts of the earth and the joys brought forth from this blissful state of being, together with the beauty of the natural world, once again humanity became indifferent and unreceptive to God, or His guidance.

Then Nimrod (Νεβρώδ) the Giant,[2] who was a notable elder (προεστώς) amongst humanity, pressured people to accord him divine honours, and to build a great high tower. However Eber (Heber)[3] was the only one who was not cajoled into building the Tower, and it is for this reason that he preserved his natural “Hebrew” speech,[4] and it is from him that the Hebrew race is descended.

Yet within Tradition (Scriptural and Oral) where God the bestower of gifts (θεωδόριτος) and Accomplisher of All (Περατής), chose Abraham as the forefather of all the Hebrew races, that is all his descendants are known and named “Hebrews”.[5] Nevertheless, within the Old Testament, we are told that the builders wanted to make a name for themselves by which they will be remembered for by later generations. With this in mind, the builders proceeded in constructing that very high Tower, as a place of refuge and insurance against God sending another cataclysm upon humanity like the Flood.

For through oral tradition, the Tower builders knew only too well the reasons and the events surrounding the Cataclysm, and they were still able to go and see the relics of the Ark. It is noteworthy to mention that humanity spoke one common language, and as a consequence were able to communicate with each other and effectively organise such an immense task as the construction of the Tower. Yet God, seeing that once again humanity had lost their focus and was building a Tower as an insurance against being chastised for doing evil, He thus confused the common language they spoke.

Thus each person communicated with their fellow man in different languages, causing immense confusion, whereby no one was able to comprehend the other. Through this lack of communication, the great construction project ceased, and humanity’s so-called insurance policy came to nought. Instead it created greater division because the cause of humanity’s previous unity was sinful intent and not godlike harmony or attention to the cultivation of virtue and the effort towards immortality.

Either way, the place where these things took place, was named Babylon, because it was here that the speech of humankind became confused babble, that we today refer to as the numerous languages of humanity. As a consequence of these events, those people who understood each other because they spoke the same language, banded together to form their own particular group. With this accomplished, each group departed to settle in other places, thus forming many nations which populated the earth.

Unfortunately, many of these nations drifted further into error by becoming idolaters, others sought to worship the Sun as a god, some chose to worship the Moon instead, others opted to make gods of the stars, while many other nations instead created their own gods out of the fertile whims of their own imagination like dragons, while others simply became animists or used animal images as the basis of creating new gods.

The Persians within their pre-history for example, had blindly come to believe in a good and just god who had light as his symbolic representation and physical manifestation, while contrasting him with the god of evil whose manifestation and symbol was darkness. Yet Zoroaster a great Persian philosopher, corrected this errant belief, asserting that there is only one Divine Power and Being which had no beginning, but created the Angels which belonged to two different categories, that of good and those of evil. Those that belonged to the first group were the true Angels who dwelt in truth, while those who apostatised from living true to their purpose were the angels that became demons. However Zoroaster blasphemed, in the sense that God is not the author or creator of evil, particularly given that it is not something He wants or desires.

There are of course many witnesses to this supreme truth from amongst all nations, including those who are not believers, and in their own way testify to the truths that our Christian Faith would affirm and agree with.

As for our Hellenic (Greek) forefathers, there were many wise men amongst them who “theologised” (εθεολόγησαν) in many different ways, some in a good and positive manner, while others according to a negative and evil manner. Some of them called the Skies (Heavens) a god that ruled over all things and set their boundary since it encircled our cosmos. Other wise men referred to supreme Deity which lives and dwells in all of creation, with some naming this deity Zeus, while others ascribed the name Cronous (Κρόνον), in other words “time” (Χρόνον). Other wise men claimed that this re
ality was Hades and Pluto. Then they would ascribe wives and daughters to this cosmological view, like Hera, Athena or Aphrodite, then they would attribute to these divine or cosmological beings, human characteristics or allegorically attribute these characteristics upon these beings.

Yet within this milieu, there were philosophers and poets who did come to know of a supreme Creator God, who made the universe, such as Orpheus, Archaelaus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Andisthenes, Menander, Zeno, Cleanthus, Chrysippos, Archidaemus, Poseidonius and Hermes the Thrice-Great (Τρισμέγιστος).[6] Of course much of the things that these men had said or written, were passed off by their fellow compatriots as eccentric or blasphemous murmurings that they viewed as strange, unusual, illogical or completely unacceptable. Interestingly much of those same thoughts which were condemned or not accepted, corresponded with what was written within the Pentateuch (Torah) of Moses and its theology.

It is asserted in some quarters, that the reason for this, is because the source of knowledge was the Pentateuch which God Himself authored and inspired, while Moses served as His chosen stenographer. Therefore, as the argument goes, the oldest written book in the world is the Pentateuch. As a consequence, someone amongst the philosophers may have come into contact with its teachings directly or indirectly via their own studies, or through their mentors or even through learning about the beliefs and customs of the East.

Speaking personally, I cannot verify with any certainty any of these claims. However I would cite that the Pentateuch is one of the most reliable sources of divine knowledge and wisdom that God inspired.

As for the writings of those Greek wise men, I would attribute their contemplative search for Divine Truth as a miracle, not inspired by Scripture as some would claim, but as a result of God speaking to their hearts and inscribing His Precepts upon them. Naturally, God would speak to them in a manner that they would be familiar with and could comprehend, but did not bestow the fullness of revelation, since the peoples to which these philosophers taught were not ready or receptive to what they had to teach.

Consider for example the Jews (Ιουδαίοι), who as a nation had immense difficulty in listening, accepting or manifesting what their Prophets taught them. In like manner, the Greeks often had difficulties in receiving with an open heart what their philosophers had to impart to them. In both cases, these men of inspiration were harassed, persecuted or even killed, and yet their voices were not silenced. Particularly if we consider that many of these Greek philosophers not only spoke of one eternal God without beginning or end, Creator of all things, but even began to “theologise” (spiritually contemplate) about the Holy Trinity.

For example, Hermes the Thrice-Great, towards the end of his work “Theologia” where he speaks about the Holy Spirit he says, and I quote: “This Spirit holds all things within It’s care, by animating and giving life (Ζωογονεί), sustaining and nourishing all, grounded in and coming forth from the very spring (πηγήν), the Father, who like It, is one with It, and yet is also a [distinct] hypostasis”.[7]

Yet Plutarch, Plato and many others theologised (contemplated) upon the Supreme God who is without birth, eternal (άναρχον) and without end, and that through Him all things became (came into existence). Furthermore, that all good, clean and beautiful souls desire and seek out to receive Divine Grace, while those with an evil soul seek after detrimental things and thus create their own living hell. Yet these wise men also speak of an incomprehensible (ακατάληπτον) God who makes Himself present and known through His energies which are particularly perceptible to the nous, together with His divine providence and grace allows humanity to come to know God and that He is. As you can see, these very thoughts reflect clearly our own Christian theology and should be considered as a “Protoevangelion” (First-Gospel) that prepared and paved the way for the Greeks and all those nations that follow their customs and pedagogy, to receive the Christian Faith.

Yet to conclude our answer to your pertinent question, I would like to quote the Platonic philosopher Maximus of Tyre, who said: “God the Father and Creator of all, who discerns and presides over time and all ages, who is without name and is unknown and imperceptible to our human logic or reasoning, and whose nature and personhood (φύσιν)[8] cannot be grasped or understood. Rather we are grounded and supported by the voice and name of His energies, and therefore we ascribe titles calling Him, Creator, All-Good, Merciful and so forth”.

Translated by V. M.

Dedicated to Fathers Leonidas Ioannou and Menelaos Hatzoglou, as well as their families.


[1] Noetic comes from the word nous which is a Greek word which is difficult to define within modern English, but as Dr Guy Freeland would aptly translate it as “the spiritual intellect”.

[2] Gen 10:8-13. Nimrod is an interesting character within Scripture, because within v. 8 he “began to become a giant on the earth” which seems to tie into oral traditions which refer to him taking on religious overtones as some sort of overlord who wanted people to worship or reverence him. Thus v. 8 could possibly mean that Nimrod was putting himself forward as a divinity in place of God. Yet it is worthy to note that Nimrod is also the founder of Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh in Shinar within Southern Mesopotamia (Iraq). He also seemed to have founded Nineveh, Rehoboth, Ir, Calah and Resen in Assyria within Northern Mesopotamia. It could thus be concluded according to Scripture, that the fo
under of civilisation begins with Nimrod who did not just establish one city like Cain, but numerous cities and thus spread civilisation. The world’s first cities and thus man-made “artificial” environments were founded by the world’s first murderer, Cain, and by the man who helped cause humanity’s disunity, Nimrod!

[3] Gen 10: 21, 24-25. A descendant of Noah’s son Shem, from whom the title Semite is derived, since it is asserted by the Bible that he is the forefather of all Semitic peoples including the Jews, Ethiopians and the Arabs etc. The emphasis on Eber is due to the fact that he is the forefather of Abraham, and it is from his name that his descendants become known as “Hebrews” from Abraham till the bestowal of the Mosaic Law and the settlement of Canaan, where in time they became known as Israelites or Judeans (Jews).

[4] Theophilos leaves this point unclear as to whether he means literally the Hebrew language, or whether he refers to the “natural” language of grace and prayer, which many others lost at Babel. However in view of traditional Jewish and Christian interpretations of Scripture, and this oral tradition from which Bishop Theophilos draws upon, the latter seems to be the correct understanding, since it assists the Biblical narrative; whereby Abraham is born into a family that has some perception of prayer and piety, and is searching for the true faith. According to Scripture Abraham’s father, Terah, takes his family and departs from the city of Ur with the intention of settling in Canaan. However Terah did not make it to the land of Promise, due to the fact that it was his son Abraham who would enter into the covenant with God. Thus Terah and his family settled in Haran in Northern Mesopotamia, with the hope of moving to Canaan. Yet according to oral tradition, Terah was a craftsman who manufactured devotive offerings and idols for temple and tribal worship cults. Accordingly, this was the spiritual obstacle for Terah from reaching Canaan; for when Abraham was called by God, one of Abraham’s responses to finding what he spiritually sought, was to destroy all his father’s idols in his craft shop. How he destroyed these idols and how he tried to explain away their destruction vary from an oil lamp causing fire in the shop to gusts of winds knocking down the idols onto the floor. Whether Abraham smashed them or burned them is irrelevant, the point is that it estranged him from his kin, and as St Cosmas the Aetolian cites prompted Abraham to take his wife and all those within the household who were willing to follow him and depart for Canaan. Thus separating the family into two groups, those who followed Abraham and settled in Canaan, and those who remained in Haran. Those who remained in Haran, reappear within the Scriptural narrative when Isaac (Gen 24) and Jacob (Gen 27: 41-46; 28-31) have to find brides to marry from amongst their kinsmen, that is, those Haran relatives. In Jacob’s case it was also to escape from his brother Esau’s anger, for taking Esau’s birthright blessing.

[5] Theophilos is pointing out, that the Jews are not the only people who are Hebrews, but acknowledges that Abraham is the father of many nations, and that many who were enslaved in Egypt, or adherents to the Law throughout the course of history, fell away from the faith and became separate nations or assimilated into other cultures. Like for example the Naphtali who became pagan and were assimilated into Phonecian society, or the Samaritans who kept the faith of Abraham but did not accept later traditions which the Jews adhered to. The topic is difficult because Theophilos is trying to define and identify an identity which crosses ethnic, genealogical, religious and social divides.

[6] Unfortunately, Theophilos does not give specific details, examples or even the titles of works that these men wrote, because he assumes that we are already familiar with them and their corpus of written works.

[7] We are not sure how the term “υποστατικόν” is exactly utilised by Hermes the Thrice-Great, but given the fact that Theophilos quotes this within the context of this didactic dialogue, we could assume that the term hypostasis here, is meant to mean “person”. Thus being in line with St Basil the Great and the 4th and 5th Ecumenical Councils’ use of the term “hypostasis” to mean person. This is opposed to early Alexandrian terminology, as utilised by St Cyril of Alexandria, whereby the term φύσις would be applied to mean person or identity.

[8] Again we cannot be sure that the term φύσις as used here in Maximus’ quote means nature/character, or to mean person/personhhod, thus as a compromise we put both because it is correct to say that we can never “understand”, “comprehend” or “know” God’s nature or His personhood. We could possibly experience it through the energies which emanate from Him, but we cannot “know” it.

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