Let me get back to the fourth paragraph of St. Gregory Palamas’ Homily Fifty-Eight on the Saving Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior. One sentence that really grabs my attention is this:
Because the author of evil did not want to be lower than any of the angels, but to be equal in excellence to the Creator Himself, he was the first to suffer the terrible fall before anyone else.
I’ve said it several times before, but it bears repeating: the Fathers of the Church have an intimate relationship with Scripture. This relationship ought to challenge us, because (especially in my case) we are lacking this intimacy. Not only should we spend more time with the Scriptures, but the Fathers are a tool the Church gives us to help us along the way.
I say this, because when St. Gregory says the author of evil did not want to be lower than the angels, he is referring to Hebrews, which is quoting Psalm 8. In other words, he is helping us interpret these passages.
It was not under angels that he put the world to come, about which we are speaking. Someone witnesses to this somewhere with the words: What are human beings that you spare a thought for them, a child of Adam that you care for him? For a short while you have made him less than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honour, put all things under his feet. Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. — Hebrews 2:5-9
Palamas is contrasting Christ’s humility with the pride of the evil one. Whereas God has no need for anything and yet was willing to humiliate Himself by taking on flesh as a babe in a manger and by going to one of the basest forms of death the Roman world could come up with, the evil one thought he could be equal to God. Note how pride destroys — it separates us from God — and humility lifts up — it unites us to God because we become like Him.
There is another layer to this passage, however. Note how Psalm 8, as quoted by Hebrews, illustrates the source of the evil one’s pride. If the world was made to be subject to humanity and not angels, why did God make them “less than the angels?” Remember, the evil one and his minions are angels, though now fallen.
There is yet one more interesting flavor to these passages. Hebrews quotes the Greek translation of Psalm 8. If we look at the original Hebrew, the Psalm 8:5 looks like this:
Yet you have made them a little lower than God [or a god], and crowned them with glory and honor.
This speaks to the reality that we have been made in the Image and Likeness of God, but because we are created and finite, we can never be God on our own. It demonstrates that Christ’s incarnation is a restoration as well as an elevation of human nature. We were meant to be like God. We were created to participate in God.
Now, the Greek translation of the Hebrew appears to be in error, because “angel” and “God [or a god]” are two very different things. Note, however, that both the original and the translation speak the Truth. Christ did humble Himself by being a little less than the angels AND God created man a little less than Himself by granting us His Image and Likeness.
In other words, the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of working through translations. We can never have a definitive version or translation of Scripture. Psalm 8:5 is a prime example of why this is so. God cannot be contained by words. As a matter of fact, every language on earth has something to reveal to us about Him. For example, a title given to Christ is the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2). In Greek and Hebrew, this is simply a metaphor — the righteousness of God shines like the sun. In English, however, “Sun” sounds like “Son.” It demonstrates that this title is proper to Christ and that God is, indeed, one in essence and three in persons.
This means that in our quest to be intimate with Scripture, we not only have the Fathers of the Church as guides, but we have all the languages of the world and all the translations of Scripture as tools. Amen.