Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Man's Creative Power and the Knowledge of God

By Elder Sophrony of Essex

Many-sided is the image of God in man. Man's creative power is one aspect, manifesting itself in various spheres and branches of culture - civilization, art, science, and so forth. This creative power does not rest here but continues to transcend the visible and temporal in its striving to attain to the origin of all that exists - God the Creator.

Having in the beginning made man without collaboration on the part of man, God has never since done anything with man without enlisting his co-operation. The natural world is so arranged that man is constantly faced with problems to which he must seek solutions. But in order truly to work with God in the creation of the world man must ever aspire to the utmost possible knowledge of God Himself. The continual climb towards further and further knowledge of God is also a creative act, though of an especial order.

My talks with Staretz Silouan concentrated, of course, on prayer and living according to God's will; but my previous career naturally inclined me to reflect on creative work in general, and its meaning.

In my young days, through a Russian painter who afterwards became famous, I had been attracted to the idea of pure creativity, taking the form of abstract art. This engrossed me for two or three years and led to the first theological thought to originate within my mind. Just as every artist apprehends objective reality through the forms and modes of his art, so I derived ideas for my abstract studies from life around me. I would look at a man, a house, a plant, at intricate machinery, extravagant shadowscapes on walls or ceilings, at quivering bonfire flames, and would compose them into abstract pictures, creating in my imagination visions that were not like actual reality. This was how I interpreted the teaching of my master - not to copy natural phenomena but to produce new pictorial facts. Fortunately I soon realised that it was not given to me, a human being, to create from 'nothing', in the way only God can create. I realised that everything that I created was conditioned by what was already in existence. I could not invent a new color or line that had never existed anywhere before. An abstract picture is like a string of words, beautiful and sonorous in themselves, perhaps, but never expressing a complete thought. In short, an abstract picture represented a disintegration of being, a falling into the void, a return to the non esse from which we had been called by the creative act of God. I therefore abandoned my fruitless efforts to devise something entirely new, and the problem of creative work now became closely linked in my mind with the problem of cognition of Being. The whole world, practically every visual scene, became mysterious, uncommonly beautiful, profound. Light changed, to caress and surround objects with a halo, as it were, of glory, imparting to them vibrations of life impossible for the artist to depict with the means at his disposal. I was filled then with reverent worship for the First Craftsman, the Creator of all things, and a longing to meet Him, learn from Him, know how He created.

...All of us are called to collaborate in the eternal creative act of the Father. It is proper to man to aspire to perfection, to wish to enter into the living stream of divine eternity whither the Christ-Man was the first to go.

Thus, where creative work is concerned, in his ultimate search man gradually abandons all that is relative and temporal, in order to attain undying perfection. On this earth perfection, to be sure, is never absolute. And yet we may call them perfect who speak only what is given to them by the Spirit, in imitation of Christ Who said, "I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things."

This creative work is the noblest of all work available to man. Man sets out, not passively but in a creative spirit, towards this ideal, but always remembering to avoid any tendency to create God after his own image.

From the Preface to St Silouan the Athonite.