The state of things to come

The notion of truth between contemporary philosophy of language and fourth-century Eastern patristics


  • Marcello La Matina University of Macerata, Italy



truth, Bible, Patristic philosophy, late antique liturgy, Byzanitne icons


The Greek Fathers were not only authors of written texts, but also interpreters of pericopes read in the context of sacred rites. Liturgical performances included the proclamation, actualization and transposition of certain passages of Holy Scripture. A central role was played by the homily (ὁμιλία). Especially since the fourth century, the homily was a type of representation that complemented the reference of biblical statements: it functioned iconically, showing the truth value of scriptural phrases as images of things to come. According to fathers like Maximus the Confessor, truth was no longer the correspondence between language and facts (adaequatio rei et intellectus), but the relationship between shadows, icons and archetype. If one accepts such an account, the question becomes relevant: “What form would a patristic theory of truth take today if we consider ontologically relevant the very process by which truth is constructed within and through that form of life?” Some modern orthodox philosophers such as John Zizioulas, Vladimir Lossky or Christos Yannaras, argue that Christian germinal liturgies were standing in for theories (θεωρίαι) linking historical reality with truth emerging as a “person in communion” with God’s Trinitarian life. Individual hearers experienced their true ontological status as persons through the performative use of languages and the homily as icon.