Skip to content

John Zizioulas on Intelligent Design?

I’m now reading what I take to be the best book written by an Orthodox theologian in the last 20 years, with the possible exception of Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite.  John Zizioulas’ Communion and Otherness is a masterpiece that is not only beautifully Eastern, but philosophically erudite and which engages meaningfully with Western theology.  Herein Zizioulas further develops, refines, and defends his relational ontology of personhood that he first put forth in Being as Communion.  Central to his new book is properly configuring the relationship between Otherness, Freedom, and Communion, all of which he takes to be ontologically primordial, and in some sense coterminous. 

Here’s a quote which spurred my thoughts in relation to the whole idea of “intelligent design”, a newish favorite idea among apologetically-minded evangelicals.

What the scientist sees today as a relational, indeterminate, ‘chaotic’ universe does not call simply for a creator God, but for a God who is so personal as to be capable of self-modification to the point of lending his very ‘mode of being’ to constitute and sustain the being of creation. (p. 32)

What Zizioulas means by “self-modification” is made explicit in the book where he, following Maximus the Confessor argues that ontologically we must distinguish between the ‘what’ of being (its logos) and the ‘how’ of being (its tropos).  Thus, Zizioulas argues that in Christ, God “modifies” his tropos, his “mode of being” in such a way as to assume humanity and all of creation in such a way for it to participate in the divine life, without thereby confusing the logos of God with the logoi of creation.  Thus, creation has true, ontological communion with God, through his “mode of being” as the incarnate Son.  Thus, there is an ontological relationship between creator and creation, but because it takes place through the tropos of God as the Son, it is not as a relationship of fusion or confusion between divinity and humanity but of communion in otherness, which is to say communion in freedom.

The point I take to be interesting about the above quote is that Zizioulas rightly notes that the dynamic and chaotic nature of the world that is noted today by science points not to the need to posit an intelligent designer, but a Redeemer who will graciously elect to bring created being into communion with an imperishable, transcendent life.  What we see in creation, as fallen is not an intelligently designed world, but a world whose very be-ing cries out for ontological liberation – from death – in the Triune life.  


  1. Shane wrote:

    Hi Halden,

    This question is related only tangentially to your post, so I understand if you choose not to respond.

    You have said previously that if you weren’t a part of the intentional community that you are presently involved in, you could end up finding yourself a Roman Catholic. Just out of curiosity, what leads you in the RC direction as opposed to Orthodoxy?

    This question comes from a fellow Protestant just beginning to explore these two traditions, seeing in them both much truth.

    Thanks and Blessings

    Friday, August 3, 2007 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Some of the big turn offs for me personally with regard to Orthodoxy are the ethnocentricsm and the exclusivism of that tradition. The hierarcicalism of the episcopal system is also a problem for me, and that also keeps me from becoming Catholic.

    I do like their emphasis on the priority of the local church over the universal, but the primacy of the bishop remains a big problem for me. Despite Zizioulas’ qualifications, I think that Orthodox ecclesiology ends up making the congregation somewhat superfluous.

    And, ultimately if I were to become Orthodox or Catholic I would have to be convinced about the centrality of Apostolic Succession. And on that point I think that Catholicism has the more convincing story.

    Friday, August 3, 2007 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  3. Many thanks for this, Halden. I agree in that this is one of the most impressive theological books I have read in a long time. Everything is crisp, clear, beautifully written and of incredible depth.

    What I found most interesting were Zizioulas’ views on St Augustine (whom he clearly doesn’t like). What did you make of his view that Augustine’s giving priority to the substance/ousia of God before the three hypostaseis is a reason for many problems in Western theology, including the rise of Atheism in Western thought?

    Monday, August 6, 2007 at 4:54 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    I think he has a vaild criticsm of Augustine on one level, there. But, I don’t think that we can identify Augustine with modernity. Augustine, like Aquinas is an ambiguous figure whose thelology bears strengths and weaknesses and was constantly in development.

    Monday, August 6, 2007 at 8:50 am | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site