Humans as God’s Co-Creators: The Sixth Stage of Contemplation (continued), St. Peter of Damaskos, Philokalia III

In this portion of the sixth stage of contemplation, St. Peter unveils for us our potential for both wonder and demise.

The intellect, being spiritual, is capable of every spiritual perception when it purifies itself for God, according to St Gregory the Theologian.

He urges us to contemplate our human nature “with wonder, conscious that [our] intellect, being infinite, is the image of the invisible God.

We have already been told that, with a purified intellect, we can suddenly see the true nature and order of things: “the equilibrium, the proportion, the beauty, the rhythm, the union, the harmony, the usefulness, the concordance, the variety, the delightfulness, the stability, the motion, the colours, the shapes, the forms, the reversion of things to their source, permanence in the midst of corruption.”  All this is revealed to us so that our entire perception of the world and ourselves is transformed.

Everything around us engages us in a process of continued revelation. The Scriptures, for example, “speak to us of the most astonishing things” when we look beyond words and ink:

by means of words and letters-through fragments of inanimate ink-God has revealed such great mysteries to us in the Holy Scriptures

When we see all things as they truly are, we suddenly perceive the universe and ourselves as whole. We are able to realize “how, by virtue of His wisdom, opposites do not destroy one another.

Man, however, does not remain simply a discerning observer. First, when our intellect is “taken up into God,” it is capable of imitating God ’s order, harmony and complementarity without being pulled into all directions by conflicts, contradictions and uncertainty.

…we should marvel at how the intellect can preserve any thought or idea, and how an earlier thought need not be modified by later thoughts, or a later thought or a later thought injured by earlier ones. On the contrary, the mind like a treasure house tirelessly stores all thoughts.

We have the capacity to duplicate the order we now discern in God’s creation. We are able to see the thread that links together things that appear to be opposite on the surface. We now understand…

that there is nothing incidental or evil in creation, and that even what takes place against God’s will is miraculously changed by God into something good.

Even beyond imitating God, however, St. Peter sees humans as His co-creators, albeit in a minor role.  This is because, not only can we store and organize thoughts, but we can also express them:

And these thoughts, whether new or long held in store, the intellect when it wishes can express in language; yet although words are always coming from it, it is never exhausted.

Through art, we are told, we can bring to light the true nature of things that we detect beneath the surface, transforming them into song, poetry, painting, speech and myriads of daily expressions of beauty. Peter quotes St. Gregory the Theologian:

 He perceives, too, how God’s goodness and wisdom, His strength and forethought, which are concealed in created things, are brought to light by man’s artistic powers.

Peter reminds us also for our potential for demise through pride:

it is wrong to think, as some do, that the soul is an emanation from the supraessential Godhead, for this is impossible. As St John Chrysostom says, ‘In order to prevent the human intellect from thinking that it is God, God has subjected it to ignorance and forgetfulness, so that in this way it may acquire humility.’

When we readily acknowledge our ignorance, however, and contemplate in humility, our view of the creation and of ourselves is transformed and made whole.

In these few paragraphs, St. Peter shares his amazement and wonder that we are gifted with the capacity to participate in God’s creation by transforming understanding into art and intellect into prayer.


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