In this article, Cormac Jones uncovers a deep and important pattern. It has restructured the way I see narratives, and I can only compare the experience to the one I had when first reading The Language of Creation in 2018.

As the chief editor of this blog, I have generally avoided publishing articles even a third the length of this one, but I have decided to make an exception here due to the influence this article could have.

I hope you will find it as valuable as I have,
JP Marceau


Α. First, Let’s Talk Chiasmus
         Β. Why Chiasmus Is Ideally Fivefold
                   Χ/Ξ. Chiasmus/Ksiasmus as Cross
         Ο. Fivefold Contemplation of Scripture
Ω. About the Hexaemeron


Α. First, Let’s Talk Chiasmus

Populist writings on chiasmus have commonly, for decades on end, opened with explanations of what chiasmus is. Since I already know this article is going to be long, I might think to skip that practice and just pretend that everyone knows already. But seeing as I will need to introduce the novel concept of “ksiasmus” later, I might as well go through with the ritual, if briefly. It will after all be worthwhile, I think, to see this basic understanding grow into something else.

Chiasmus is a kind of compositional pattern that could also be described as inverse parallelism. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” — that kind of thing. If “your country” = A, and “you” = B, the pattern there would be A-B-B’-A’ (a palindrome is the same idea). Line those up in columns and draw lines connecting the matching letters, and it will look like this:

That’s the Greek letter Χ (chi), hence the name chi-asmus (or occasionally, chiasm). The inverse parallelism of chiasmus could be contracted to as few as three elements and still be coherent (A-B-A’), but could also be expanded to much greater lengths (like A-B-C-D-E-D’-C’-B’-A’, or as many as you can imagine).

Chiasmus is a really common compositional technique in ancient literature, and the writings in the Bible are no different. Matthew 7:4–5 is often cited as a plain rhetorical example:1

Or see also this super-fun parabola spun by Jesus in Matthew 13:13–18, incorporating words of Isaiah:2

As indicated in brackets, the Greek word for parable, ἡ παραβολή, is the same word geometrician Apollonius of Perga, some two hundred years before Christ, coined for the conic section we ever since have known as parabola. Sure enough, the shape of a chiasmus is parabolic. Etymologically, it lobs things next to each other, it juxtaposes; just like a symbol “lobs things together” (or something diabolic “lobs things apart”). In fact, if a Ponathan Jageau had ever started a Parabolic World website, I’d probably be writing there right now. As it is, I’m here, which is fine: To express and interpret meaning by way of chiastic structures is inherently symbolic in nature.

Take these just quoted words of Christ for example. What would you identify as the center? Just the twofold reference to eyes, at first closed, and then open? That’s possible. It is the turning point of the passage most minutely considered. And closed eyes opening is a neat symbol of the whole. But you could just as easily set apart all of verse 15 and identify it as the center — the heart of the passage — a heart which then has an interior structure which is itself chiastic after the fashion of a fractal. Now let me say this next part separately so as to highlight its importance:

Due to its concentric structure, in a chiasmus, everything is central by virtue of having a center.

Your idea of what that center is can then expand and contract symbolically to consider just the peak of the mountain or the whole mountain all together. The chiastic parabola is the same as a symbolic mountain. Meaning flows from the center and fills the whole, like the rivers of paradise feeding the world.

In fact, let’s step back and take a global view of the text. The Gospel according to Matthew on the whole is a clearly drawn chiasmus in eleven parts. There are five discourses that all end with some variation of the line “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings” (7:28; cf. 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1). They together comprise a skeleton around which is packed the meat of six narrative sections, evenly interspersed and chiastically arranged. You could plot it all out like this:

And the whole thing’s a fractal. Chiastic arrangements are found within each of these sections. You can see more on my little website here, but you’ll want to finish this article first to understand my notation.

For now consider how the Parabolas, er, the Parables on the Kingdom of Heaven in chapter 13 function as the chiastic center of a literary depiction of the story of the Christ. They include the parables of the sower,3 of the wheat and tares, of the grain of mustard seed, of the leaven hidden in meal, of the treasure hidden in the field, of the pearl of great price, and of the dragnet that takes up everything good and bad so that the good can be gathered in vessels and the bad can be thrown away. These are all symbolic images of the Incarnation of God in the world and the consequent redemption of that world from evil and death. It’s the Nativity and Theophany (A.), the Passion and Resurrection (A’.), that you will read about in the outer manifestations of the chiasmus, when the seed opens up to reveal the granular particularities of its identity. The parables themselves are the seeds the parables are about; the understanding of them is the tree that grows when wisdom takes root in the soul of the disciples. For those with hearts, ears, and eyes, let them see, hear, and comprehend.

On that note: I quote him on my website, and I’ll do so here as well, because the study of chiasmus in the Bible and in the world cannot be reduced to the banality of outward form. It must be a function of a spiritual contemplation that is rooted in the purification that occurs when one obeys the commandments. Behold the preaching of that Golden Mouth of Serbia, St. Nikolai Velimirović:

The whole world is one long parable, made up of innumerable parables. This world and all that is in it is as ephemeral as a tale that is told. But the spiritual kernel that is hidden within the layers of every parable is enduring and does not decay. Those who nourish only their eyes and ears by these parables remain spiritually hungry, for the spirit is nourished by the kernel of these parables, and they are not capable of penetrating to this kernel. An unspiritual, sensual man feeds on the green leaves of many parables, and remains always hungry and restless from this hunger. A spiritual man seeks the kernel of these manifold parables and, feeding on it, becomes satisfied and filled with peace. All things that exist are parables, for they are all, like green leaves or layers, wrapped round the hidden kernel. All that happens is the stuff of parable, for it is the clothing for the spiritual content, kernel, and nourishment.

Placed in this world, man is as though encompassed by a sea of God’s wisdom expressed in parables. But he who looks on this wisdom only with his eyes sees nothing but the vesture in which this wisdom is clothed; he looks, and sees the vesture of nature, but does not see its spirit and kernel; he listens, and hears nature, but he hears only empty voices, not understanding their meaning. The eye is not given to see nature’s kernel, nor the ear given to hear its meaning. Spirit finds spirit; meaning looks to meaning; understanding meets understanding; love senses love.

He goes on,

All spiritual truth is from the other world — the spiritual, heavenly world — and it can be perceived and grasped only with spiritual sight, hearing, and understanding. But these spiritual truths are set forth in this world under the form of things and incidents. Many have lost the sight, hearing, and understanding of spiritual truths. Many only see the form, and only listen to the outward voice, and understand only the outward content, form, and nature of things and incidents. This is bodily sight, bodily hearing, and bodily understanding. The Lord Jesus knew men’s blindness and therefore, as a most wise Teacher, led men from bodily subjects to spiritual, and from physical facts to spiritual. He therefore spoke to them in parables — in a form that was able to be grasped by their sight, hearing, and understanding.4

Β. Why Chiasmus Is Ideally Fivefold

So as I’ve said, the most basic structure of chiasmus, that which is necessary to establish its inverse parallelism, is A-B-A’ — or if you prefer, beginning, middle, and end. Zoom out to view this fractal pattern of beginning, middle, and end on a cosmic scale, and you’ll see it conforms to the Maximian triad of being, well-being, and eternal-being.5 “Those possessing perfect knowledge of divine realities say,” attests St. Maximus,

that there are three modes, inasmuch as the total principle of the whole coming into being of rational substances is seen to have mode of being, of well-being, and eternal-being; and that of being is first given to beings by essence; that of well-being is granted to them second, by their power to choose, inasmuch as they are self-moved; and that of eternal-being is lavished on them third, by grace. And the first contains potential, the second activity, and the third, rest from activity.6

Creation begins with the emanation/emergence of being in essence and ends with supernatural union to the Creator in ever-being. These are acts of God that occur beyond the boundaries of creaturely free will, before and after it from a creaturely perspective.

But in the middle of being and eternal-being, between them, there is the bestowal of well-being on those whose will joins to God’s will. In this Christian drama between the love of God and the love of man, in order to allow for the agency of man, there is again that threefold fractal pattern of beginning, middle, and end. To show you where I’m going with this, here is the narrative triad that has taken place within the mode of well-being:

First there occurs a freely willed fall from grace into the dichotomy of good and evil, birth and death, and all the pedagogical discipline consequent to birth and death by way of the Law. By the Law I mean something ideally conceived as a composite unit but in the fall experienced as disconnected into two according to the dichotomy of emanation and emergence: there’s on one hand a specially revealed law that emanates (eventually associated with the written law) and, on the other hand, an emergent natural law shared in common by all. This bifurcation of what had been united is like the genesis of a fallen mode of being, one which humans have had input in creating. Then the middle of well-being is Pascha, the Christ event, when human nature in its oneness is justified, illumined, and deified in the economy of the Godman. This achievement inaugurates what comes third within well-being: an eternal law of being which suffuses the world with the reunion of emergent natural law and emanant written law, and by which the deification of human oneness in Christ proceeds by action of the Holy Spirit to the plurality of members in the Church. If the Christ event is the planting of a seed, the era of the Church is the time of growth before the harvest. It is the time of being fruitful in the eternal virtues, multiplying them, even as Christ multiplies Himself in the saints of the Church. These three steps are the beginning, middle, and end that humanity helps bring about within well-being — that is, within the middle of the beginning, middle, and end of the entire cosmic story.

So when the B in the A-B-A’ itself expands to a-b-a’ you end up with something fivefold, something expressible as A-B-C-B’-A’. You could acknowledge this basic form as the result of the threefold chiastic minimum combined with the most basic fractal understanding, or you could see in the expansion from three to five the wedding between man and God — between God’s agency and man’s agency. That’s the cosmic story. It can be expressed in simplest terms thus:

Those are very simple terms, and it will take looking at many iterations of the pattern to get a sense of what all is contained within them as regards their typology. But just to contemplate this form for a moment, in it one could possibly see a synergy between the work of God in A-C-A’ and the work of man in B-C-B’ (insofar as Christ is both God and man, He is present in both). But of course that synergy, that theanthropic economy of Christ, is present throughout, flowing down from the Paschal event at the summit of the mountain. In fact, let’s flip that chiasmus on its side so that its parabola forms a mountain:

This symbol is probably better conceived of in the shape of an onion dome, but we’ll stick with the parabola theme here. The Pascha of Christ is the seed from above, as in the parables at the center of Matthew’s Gospel. The DNA of the extremities are contained within it. The Theophany of Christ at His baptism contains the creation event within it. In the beginning, when God created the heaven and the earth, the Spirit of God moved over the waters (Gen. 1:2); and this typology finds its seminal cause in the descent of the Spirit as a dove over the Word of God planted like a seed in the waters of the Jordan, when the voice of the Father was heard from heaven approving His Son. This revelation of the Trinity is the purpose, indeed the very identity, of the creative act. The Resurrection of Christ, moreover, contains the apocalyptic general resurrection within it. When Christ tells the thief on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), that “today” can only be understood as an eschatological day. Paradise is planted on earth as the center of God’s presence on earth. As St. Ephraim says, “The soul could not enter there of itself and for itself, but together they entered, body and soul.”7 He’s referring to Adam at the beginning, but he says it in the context of a hymn about the thief on the cross, wondering how man could re-enter paradise without a body. The implication is that the thief would enter paradise as promised, with his resurrected body. That might seem like a trip for a future day — for the “age to come” — but for Christ, the Paschal event He was experiencing historically already contained the general resurrection, such that the day of its occurrence was already present to Him; it was “today.”

This vertical reading of chiasmus importantly does not at all obliterate the linear, historical causality of beginning, middle, and end. You wouldn’t deny the latter in favor of the former anymore than you would deny the humanity of Christ for the sake of His divinity. The whole point is that He’s both — without confusion, without mutation, without division, without separation. So it is with the vertical, chiastic perspective and the horizontal, linear perspective. Although when chiastically conceived, creation and apocalypse appear to flow out of the Incarnation as their cause, that is not to deny the more simply understood story that in time the Word of God was not incarnate, and then He was. As in the prologue to the Gospel according to John, from the start the Word is with God and is God in verse 1:1, but not until after the introduction of John the Baptist as a witness to the Light in 1:6–8 does the Word “come unto His own” and “become flesh” in 1:11–14. Or as a prayer from the Resurrection service in the Octoechos says more plainly, “Fulfilling the prophecy of David, Christ revealed His majesty to the disciples in Sion, showing Himself to be the One Who, as the Word, was without flesh in the beginning, was later incarnate for our sake, was slain as a man, and arose with power as He Who loveth mankind.”8 The linear story of Christ having been not incarnate, and then incarnate, cannot be reduced to an illusion or phantom like some kind of neo-docetism.9 There may be lofty, vital truth to the fact that Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), but there is deep, essential truth to the human perspective that God was not yet hypostatically incarnate in history before the Annunciation. (Otherwise what was old man Symeon the God-receiver waiting around for? — for example.) God empties Himself in the world specifically in order to honor and preserve that linear experience, that drama of hope and fulfillment, even if wedding it to higher modes — but never obliterating it.

This point is further bolstered in a technical way by the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor. From our human point of view, we cannot conceive of being, well-being, and eternal-being as anything but linear. Recall that St. Maximus describes these stages in terms of potential, activity, and rest from activity. Eternal-being at the end of the line may contain the preceding two, but as a gift from God entirely beyond our finite nature, it cannot be contained by anything else. The activity of well-being in the middle step can’t be thought of as a chiastic center because it can by no means contain the divinity of eternal-being. To attain the final step requires specifically a cessation of the middle step’s activity. To continue St. Maximus’s quotation from above, he writes,

This means that the principle of being, which by nature possesses only the potential for actualization, cannot in any way possess this potential in its fullness without the faculty of free choice. That of well-being, on the other hand, possesses the actualization of natural potential only by inclination of the will, for it does not possess this potential in its totality separately from nature. That of eternal-being, finally, which wholly contains [circumscribes] those that precede it (that is, the potential of the one, and the activity of the other), absolutely does not exist as a natural potential within beings, nor does it at all follow by necessity from the willing of free choice. (For how is it possible for things, which by nature have a beginning and which by their motion have an end, to possess as an innate part of themselves that which exists eternally and which has neither beginning nor end?) But eternal-being is a limit, bringing a halt to nature in terms of its potential, and to free choice in terms of its activity, without in any way changing the principle according to which the one and the other exist, but establishing for all things the limit of all ages and times.10

So that which from a divine perspective might appear chiastic, with a central One distributing meaning to plural extremities, is yet from a human perspective nothing but a linear ascent: from the garden of paradise, through the Holy Sepulcher, to the New Jerusalem. If you are wondering how these two separate causalities could possibly coexist, we have the entire Bible narrative leading us into this understanding. Sense cannot be made of sacred history without both perspectives. I believe it is simply the consequence of God being God while at the same time — through love — emptying Himself out into His creation.11

But enough with saying what chiasmus isn’t (an obliteration of linear causality). Let’s get back to familiarizing ourselves with what it is.

Chiasmus is ideally fivefold. Even longer structures can usually be broken down into a beginning, an end, a pivotal center, and the two intervals to be traveled between the extremities and the mean. The reader can refer back to how I spaced Matt. 13:13–18 above  for example, to see how a longer structure such as it can yet be parsed as fivefold. Here I’ll give the generic format again, but now I’ll introduce the Greek letters I use to symbolize the different parts and expand a little on what they mean.

Since A-B-C-B’-A’ doesn’t properly convey the symbolism of the pattern, I’ve chosen Greek letters that do. Alpha (α.) and omega (ω.) are the first and last letters of the alphabet, and their use should be self-explanatory as beginning and end (cf. Rev. 1:8, 11). Chi (χ.) is handy for signaling the core of a chi-astic structure, it’s cross-shaped, and it’s the first letter of Christ (Χριστός). Concerning beta (β.), Greek letters are also numbers; α is 1, and β is 2. Beta is therefore appropriate for the second element, because it’s second, and because it entails differentiation, the motion from one to two. All of that is simple enough.

Omicron (ο.), for its part, was chosen firstly for its relationship to omega. O-micron is short-o, and o-mega is long-o. Similar to that relationship is, I think, the relationship of the eschatological experience of the Church (while on this side of the general resurrection, still in a mutable state) to the eschaton that is experienced once the body and soul are permanently reunited after death. What the Church sees now as mystery and enigma will be made clear in the age to come; it’s the micro version of what then will be mega. Fractally speaking, it is the little omega of the β-χ-ο triad within the Α-Χ-Ω triad. But also, since the Church reunites Jew and Gentile, the emanant written law and the emergent natural law, a circle such as omicron seems an apt symbol for such cosmic unity.

So there we have it, the cosmic chiasmus in symbolic form: Α-Β-Χ-Ο-Ω.

Mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla, Rome. Late 4th century.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For a quick example of how it works in Scripture, take this little gem from Matthew 5:23–24.12 There’s a chiastic aspect of the structure especially apparent here, but I’m more interested in the fivefold typological sequence.

In these two verses is the entire story of the cosmos. In the beginning (α.) God’s creation emerges into being out of non-being like a gift being brought to an altar. But (β.) with sin having entered the world, there is acrimony that works division. Thus (χ.) one is to leave the altar and “go,” even as the Word of God departs the heavens and processes into the world to save sinners. Reconciliation (ο.) is thus achieved as when the bride is betrothed to her Bridegroom in the Church. Then (ω.) one returns to the altar to complete the giving of the gift, even as creation will in the end be brought before God for judgment. This is a very concise rendition of the fivefold cosmic chiasmus that my Greek letters are meant to symbolize, a fractal pattern observable in all layers of Scripture and the world. To gaze at just these two verses is to behold all of reality.

Χ/Ξ. Chiasmus/Ksiasmus as Cross

Now, to practice contemplation of this pattern further, let us try looking at the reign of Amon of Judah in 4 Kingdoms (2 Kings) 21:19–26. I find the passage notable for how visible the fivefold pattern is, even while the text conforms to the conventions of its genre.

In verse 23 (χ.), the slaying of a king in his house by his servants is clear Christ-typology, like a parable straight from the lips of Jesus, meriting its central position. It doesn’t matter if Amon himself was not moral. Typology operates separate from morality. By moral modality Amon was bad, but by typological form he was king of Judah. Thus who the conspirators kill is specified not as Amon but as “the king”; and who were they servants of in performing this evil? They were servants of Amon, who was bad. So typology is the pattern one falls into whether one is moral or not, and for each of these types, there can be positive modes and negative modes; but the types still conform to the logoi. Logoi are permanent; modes are variable, dependent on human will.

Description of Amon’s mode of life in verses 20 through 22 (β.) is clearly a negative form of differentiation — the way of his father (in which he walks) being distinct from the way of the Lord — a fall into idolatry from oneness of purpose with God. In verse 24 (ο.), we see a return to virtue and justice in the extermination of the conspirators and the enthronement of the rightful heir. For the conspirators against the king are very much like the passions that kill the image of God in us. Those who slay the conspirators are like those who slay the passions. The rightful heir becoming king, then, is the image of God within us shining through our way of life. That heir need not be the historically righteous Josiah to fulfill the omicron-typology, but it does fit the theme of the people (plural) letting righteousness reign in their lives.

Verse 19, then, way back in the beginning (α.), not only introduces us to the existence and lifespan of the passage’s subject, but also, the mention of his mother references the body of potential from which he arose. Then as we jump from the first to the last, to verses 25 and 26 (ω.), the womb of the mother has become a sepulcher in a garden at the end of his reign. But first, the recapitulation of Amon’s acts (λόγων, in the ancient Greek text) in a book of chronicles (βιβλίῳ λόγων τῶν ἡμερῶν) alludes to the translation of our lives back to the mind of God whence they came, as in Psalm 138:15, “In Thy book shall all men be written.” Then in addition, his burial in a garden, like a return to paradise, juxtaposed with the succeeding reign of his son (born in his image) typologically indicates the death and resurrection of us all.

Both of these last two passages, from Kingdoms and, in the previous section, from Matthew, afford us views of their internal structure, but they are parts of larger structures, too. Scripture typically works as a fractal with many layers. For instance, did you notice up there the pattern of indentation I gave 4 Kingdoms 21:20–22? That’s something a little different, similar to a chiasmus, but not quite. We’ll take a closer look here:

For the first three lines Amon is following the example of his unrighteous father Manasseh, but once he goes so far as to worship (i.e., bow down to) the idols himself, we get those first two lines again without reference to his father, as he becomes solely responsible for his actions. It still fits a fivefold structure, combining the dual center, which functions as a turning point, but the correspondences on either side are listed directly parallel to each other, not inversely parallel. The form could still be seen as the description of a parabola, perhaps, but with its parts listed in a different order. It’s like a chiasmus that also respects the linearity of time, that respects that the fifth element is consequent to the fourth. This is not the only instance of this form in Scripture.

So here’s where things take on a new layer of complexity: Chiasmus may have taught us the fivefold cosmic story, but once one gets the grasp of the typological pattern of the five and their internal dynamics, it becomes possible to view the chiasmus of Genesis-Law-Christ-Church-Apocalypse also as something slightly different from a chiasmus. The same order of elements can be contemplated as a ksi-asmus.

Line up A-B-C-A’-B’ in columns, then, as in the beginning, and this time when you connect the matching English letters, a new Greek letter appears.

That’s the Greek letter ksi — yes, it’s more commonly spelled “xi” in English, but to resolve the potential for terrible confusion, I use the less common phonetic spelling. For Ξ is pronounced “ks”, like the x in Mexico, not like the χ in México. (English is so helplessly confused about these letters!) Anyway, the capital ksi (Ξ) is formed by two parallel lines around a short dash, and nicely represents the direct parallelism of an A-B-C-A’-B’ structure. (The lower case ξ is like a cursive version of the same.) Hence “ksiasmus.”

And ksiastic structures are not uncommon in Scripture. In fact, I only thought to name this form after its presence was pointed out to me in Scripture. The most obvious example to give is the description of the camps around the tabernacle when Israel wanders the desert in Numbers 2. They would camp and travel in the following formation:

As indicated, the order of the four cardinal camps in the text is determined by the order that they would set out when decamping. But placement of the verse concerning the tabernacle of the congregation, and with it the Levites, conspicuously mimics its actual placement in the center of the camp, deliberately yielding a neat ksiastic structure, with east–west and south–north lining up as direct parallels.

And despite that the form is ksiastic instead of chiastic, the contemplative fivefold pattern holds. The royal line of Judah (α.), primary heir of Israel (after elder brothers Reuben, Simeon, and Levi disgrace themselves), gets to be in the archē position toward the sunrise. Reuben the firstborn (β.), infamous for sleeping with his father’s concubine (Dan’s mother Bilhah), on account of which he lost his birthright, thereby betokens the fall of man and fits the negative typology of differentiation. As the priestly caste, the Levites (ξ.), led by Moses and Aaron, represent Christ as High Priest and Lawgiver — and the tabernacle of the congregation symbolizes the capacity of Christ’s body to be struck down and raised up again. As Judah is the primary heir of Leah, so Ephraim son of Joseph (ο.) is the primary heir of Leah’s sister Rachel, and the two brothers comprise the leadership of the future divided kingdom; Judah’s line would survive by virtue of the promise of Jerusalem, whereas Ephraim, centered in Samaria, would fall away (hence Ephraim camps toward the sunset). The tribe loses its identity by first worshiping the gods of the Gentiles and then being exiled by the Assyrians, but a Samaritan religion based partly on the Torah survived in the region. One can see in its illicit mixture of Jew and Gentile a negative typology of what is licitly fulfilled in the Church. Jesus suggests as much in his parable of the Good Samaritan, and also in His approach to the Samaritan woman at the well (St. Photini), when He inverts Samaritan typology back towards the good and indicates the way forward for the Christian community. At last, the name Dan (ω.) refers literally to judgment (cf. Gen. 30:6, 49:16). The judgment for the tribe themselves seems to be negative given their depiction in the Bible as pioneers of Israelite idolatry in the Promised Land, where they fail to conquer their allotted portion and instead, on their own initiative, take land on the northern boundary of Israel’s God-ordained limits. Thus in Numbers 2 while Reuben, for committing adultery with Bilhah, is well placed in the heat of the south, Dan son of Bilhah represents the cold judgment to descend from the north. Dan’s camp sets out last.

And the whole congregation, you may have noticed, is wondrously shaped like a cross. In size, the arms of Reuben and Dan to the south and north of the tabernacle are roughly average, whereas Ephraim to the west is well short of average, and Judah to the east well exceeds average. Israel literally marches through the desert in the form of a Christian cross.

Image by Abe Goolsby. (Source.)

As read in the Church service for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14): “The people of Israel, a sacred army drawn up in four divisions, marched in this figure before the ark of the testimony, gaining glory by their ranks formed in the sign of the Cross.”13

This imagery illuminates something about chiasmus and ksiasmus that has been present all along. It’s the same idea as the river that flows out of Eden and divides into four heads that extend down from the mountain of paradise and feed the world (Gen. 2:10). The cosmic fivefold structure is a mountain which may look parabolic when viewed from the side, but from above appears cruciform. Every time the cosmic chiasmus appears, it is telling the story of Christ on the Cross.

Castledermot North Cross, 9th c., in County Kildare, Ireland. Christ crucified in the middle is surrounded by the Twelve Apostles in four groups of three.Castledermot North Cross, 9th c., in County Kildare, Ireland. Christ crucified in the middle is surrounded by the Twelve Apostles in four groups of three.

The Cross of Christ of course leads to death, but it does not end there. The Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ comprise one Paschal motion. On that note, let’s look at the fivefold image of the Cross within the Resurrection as related in the Gospel according to John, chapter 20.

In the first verses (α.), we have a new version of the Genesis narrative. It’s “day one of the week”, “early, when it was yet dark”. Woman encounters the tomb of non-being and finds it empty. Making good on the primordial fall, she brings happy knowledge of the empty tomb to Man.

In the next stanza (β.) the image of Man is separated into two by the disciples’ different foot speeds. The faithful part of humanity (John) is selected to arrive first at our common destination, and that part sees the linen that covers the body of God. But the slower, unfaithful but repentant other part of humanity (Peter) arrives second but is the first to enter. He sees not just the linen that pertains to the body of God, but also the napkin that pertains to the head. The disciples as yet do not understand the Resurrection.

In the central passage (χ/ξ.), the resurrected Jesus, hitherto absent, makes His appearance. He is wrongfully identified as a fellow fallen human, and His identity of substance with God the Father is not recognized. This is the usual pattern of Christ’s sojourn among humans.

Next (ο.), still on the first of the week, but now “late”, the disciples are assembled together and Jesus stands in their midst. He tells them, “Peace be unto you: as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” This is not even an image of the Church; this is the Church. Christ breathes on them the Holy Spirit, allowing them typologically to enter Pentecost.

In the final verses before a brief coda (ω.), on the eighth day (i.e., the next “day one of the week”), the incredulous disciple who had not been present is blessed to experience with his flesh the reality of Christ’s Resurrection, and to reveal to all unbelievers like himself the Incarnation of God. Apocalypse is the dissolution of all unbelief.

Thus the fivefold pattern is plenty evident, but whether this sequence is to be contemplated as chiasmus or ksiasmus is entirely ambiguous. Go ahead and consider the whole; pick whether this pentad is more chiastic or ksiastic. I can’t see a preference. The omicron and omega passages each correspond equally to both alpha and beta passages, according to a parabolic chiastic order or a circular ksiastic order. Look at it this way: If you were to describe the biblical scenes carved on an Irish high cross, in what order would you describe them? Would you go clockwise or counter clockwise? Or would you start on the left, then go top and bottom, and then finish with the right? Wouldn’t you still be describing the shape of a cross whether your parallelism was inverse or direct?

Ο. Fivefold Contemplation of Scripture

If you’ve been following along with the chapter headings, you’ll notice we’ve arrived at omicron. It is time to be fruitful in our understanding. Let’s use what we’ve learned to achieve global views of whole books of Scripture.

In the beginning… relatively speaking that is, Moses wrote Genesis. Feel free to consult my outline here. The chiastic center on which the whole book pivots (Χ.) is the sacrifice of Isaac in 22:1–19. This scene is overwhelmingly Christological. Consider first and foremost that Abraham had already been promised, by the very God commanding this sacrifice, that his seed would be as the stars (15:5) — and that that promise would be fulfilled in Isaac, not Ishmael (17:19). In fulfilling his obedience to the command to sacrifice his son Isaac, we must understand that Abraham, famous for his faith, did not cease to have faith in the former promise. Thus Abraham is showing perfect readiness to believe in the Resurrection, and this is the point made also in Hebrews 11:19 and subsequent patristic commentators.

In this story, then, is a dear lesson about the love that generates world-redeeming Christian sacrifice. In which did Abraham have the greater faith, which did Abraham love more: God, or the promises God made concerning him? God; He loved God more than even the promises God was making. This is why he is the father of our faith, and all who believe in God rest in Abraham’s bosom. As for the many other details in the story which all point to the Pascha of the Christ, I’ll just let this quotation from St. Ephraim the Syrian fill the gap in my commentary:

The question that Isaac had asked about the lamb attests to the fact that there had been no ram there. The wood that was on Isaac’s shoulders proves that there had been no tree there. The mountain spit out the tree and the tree the ram, so that in the ram that hung in the tree and had become the sacrifice in the place of Abraham’s son, there might be depicted the day of Him who was to hang upon the wood like a ram and was to taste death for the sake of the whole world.14

The Sacrifice of Abraham, icon by Michael Kapeluck. (Source.)

In the spontaneous emergence/emanation of the tree and ram there is held in seminal form the creation of the cosmos, which takes us to the first section of the book (Α.). One might be surprised to see I’ve located a section break between chapters 9 and 10, since typically Genesis is broken into chapters 1–11 and 12–50. But consider the fractal nature of the form:

In such a fractal, any Β-cycle will have within it a cycle that, while following directly on the heels of the Α-cycle, itself begins with α-typology. When looking at the text, it’s natural to pick up on the α-typology at the beginning of the Β-cycle and group it in one’s mind with the Α-typology that precedes it.15 Genesis chapters 10 and 11 indeed play an alpha role relative to the second part of the book, but if we negotiate the fractal layers of the pattern, we can differentiate those chapters from the nine preceding ones that play an alpha role relative to the entire book.

But I digress; let me zoom out again. Part Α covers the creation of the world that begins with a watery deep and the Spirit hovering over, drawing order out of chaos — a scene replayed in the flood with the dove hovering over the waters. The world is created anew in the time of Noah, chiastically binding the first nine chapters into a unit.

Then we arrive at the second part, chapters 10–21 (Β.). It narrates the drawing forth of Abraham from the moribund nations of the world through the revelations emanating to him from God above, and sealed with the sign of circumcision. This is differentiation in the positive sense, as is the drawing forth of Isaac from a barren womb, typologically the same as drawing forth Abraham from spiritually barren nations.

Then after the central sacrifice already described, we enjoy a period of conjugal fertility from 21:20 through chapter 36 (Ο.) that chiastically complements the struggles of Abraham to bring forth Isaac in the beta-part. In the omicron-part, Isaac and Rebecca bear Jacob, who labors in marriage to Leah and Rachel, and from him are sired the twelve tribes of Israel — typology fulfilled in the apostolic Church. Not only do Twelve Apostles serve as the foundation of the Church (the bride of Christ), but all the varied fruitfulness of Jacob betokens the life in virtue bequeathed to us since Pentecost. As Paul would write, “All these things happened to them as types and were written for our admonition, to whom the ends of the ages have arrived” (1 Cor. 10:11). And so St. Andrew of Crete exemplifies how the Church understands the life of Jacob when he prays to his soul in the Great Canon,

By the two wives, understand action [praxis] and knowledge in contemplation [theoria]. Leah is action, for she had many children; and Rachel is knowledge, for she endured great toil. And without toil, O my soul, neither action nor contemplation will succeed.
The great Patriarch had the twelve Patriarchs as children, and so he mystically established for thee, my soul, a ladder of ascent through action, in his wisdom setting his children as steps, by which thou canst mount upwards.16

With the marital life initiated, we are then ready to face the tribulation of revelation offered us in the final chapters, 37–50, about Joseph and his brothers (Ω.). As in the Α-cycle which ends in a catastrophic flood, so the Book of Genesis on the whole ends in a catastrophic famine. Then, salvation came through Noah in the ark; now, it comes through Joseph in Egypt. Egypt — at this point in sacred history — is a type of paradise, provided by God as an oasis of plenty while the world starves. It is here that ostracized Joseph brings his brothers and father back together, recapitulating all Israel and granting them forgiveness of sins and a life of bounty typifying the age to come. It is a fitting resolution, typologically, to the expulsion of mankind from paradise at the beginning of the book.

So we’ve had our glimpse of the chiastic relationship of Genesis’s five parts, relating the return to paradise in the end to the expulsion from paradise in the beginning, as well as comparing Abraham and Sarah’s struggle with barrenness to Jacob’s fertility with his wives. But a ksiastic consideration is also entirely possible.

After the sacrifice of Isaac in chapter 22, the adult life of that patriarch is depicted as a perfect copy of his father Abraham (with the added virtue of monogamy), hearkening back to Seth being made in the image of Adam. Then the fruitfulness of Jacob fulfills that primordial command to be fruitful and multiply. The antagonism introduced through Esau, moreover, echoes the legacy of Cain before the flood.

The moral degeneracy of the nations after Babel, meanwhile, is the same kind of disordered, sterile state typified by the barrenness of Sarai — or the later famine out of which Israel was drawn (by means of the Christ-like heroics of Joseph). In the context of Genesis as a whole, it all fits the general theme of God bringing creation into being out of nothing. He continues to bring creation into being out of nothing, that is, whenever creation willfully turns in that direction.

So whether you look at it chiastically or ksiastically, that’s the main throughline for the Book of Genesis. In the context of the Pentateuch, this is the alpha-book, all about the creation of being from nothing. As a segue to Exodus, let me introduce you momentarily to the concept of a “fractal sweet spot”: a place in a structure where all the typological layers align under one type and resonate its meaning. So part Β of Genesis (ch. 10–21) has within it a fivefold cycle, the beta-section of which (ch. 15–17) has its own fivefold cycle, the beta-passage of which is 15:7–21 — and, well, see for yourself how I’ve labeled it:

In the second passage of the second section of the second part of Genesis (a “fractal sweet spot”) is a prophecy of the second book of the Pentateuch. Yes, the five books of Moses form another fractal layer:

I’ll leave that for you to contemplate on your own as I press on to a quick review of the internal structure of Exodus (see outlines here), if only to show the consistency of the pattern and how different layers of typology interact with each other.

This time the overwhelmingly Christological center is the War with Amalek at 17:8–16 (Χ/Ξ.). (See full text parsed here.) This is the first time in the Passover narrative that Israel actively participates in their deliverance. Until this time they had been pulled along passively by miracles. They still require God’s divine intervention, but now they themselves are waging the battle against the enemy. In this they resemble the way human nature conquers the enemy in the Person of Christ — not without divine intervention: in Christ’s case, hypostatic unity with divine nature. In the War with Amalek, the divine intervention occurs by means of the sign of the Cross, effected by Moses standing on top of a hill with outstretched arms, overlooking the din. In the valley below, Joshua, whose name is the same as Jesus, leads Israel in battle, like Jesus Christ descending into the fray of human misery and death and conquering all of our enemies by the sign of the Cross.17 Again, as with Genesis, the entire text circles around an image of Christ and Him crucified at its center, screaming by means of fractal typology the epiphany of the Messiah in the center of history, not just the end.

A modern icon of Moses at the War with Amalek as a prefigurement of the Cross and the victory over death — an interpretation common to Eastern Church hymnography, but not iconography. I have never seen this type of image before, but find it theologically sound as well as resonant with my own fractal chiastic perceptions of Scripture. (Source.)

The generation of Moses (Α.) fits the Genesis themes of alpha-typology, especially in the image of him as a baby in a basket over waters, like an adorable little mini-ark, or like the Spirit hovering. The literal exodus from Egypt, meanwhile (Β.), the second part of the second book of the Pentateuch, epitomizes what beta-typology is, at least in its positive sense. And in the covenant at Sinai between God and His people Israel (Ο.), we have the image of a wedding, the consummation of Moses’s commission and Israel’s exodus, the embrace of Moses in the divine cloud — as well as the establishment of the judgments of God in the law, productive of virtue. In the tabernacle of the congregation (Ω.), first in its heavenly, immaterial rendition, then its material, constructed version, we have a vivid type of the New Jerusalem, when the spiritual cosmos becomes material, and the material cosmos becomes spiritual, at the time of the general resurrection.

I’ll point out again here the fractal nature of this contemplation, how the fivefold typological pattern in Exodus is found within a single element of a broader fivefold typological pattern in the Pentateuch. All five types of the pattern are all contained within each other. Everything is central by virtue of having a center. Abraham, for example, being called out of a degenerate people and Isaac being brought forth from a barren womb are, relative to the rest of Genesis, indicative of beta-typology similar to Exodus. They are being differentiated from their origins. But relative to the rest of the Pentateuch, they signal the alpha-typology of creation from nothing. So in Exodus, Moses being floated on the waters as a baby is an alpha-image relative to the rest of the book. But as part of Exodus it relates to the beta-typology of selection and deliverance, a prefigurement actually of Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea. If that crossing itself appears to participate in alpha-typology despite being the omicron-section of the beta-part of the beta-book of the Pentateuch, well, that might be because the Pentateuch is the alpha-part of Scripture! It’s all fractal, all typological identities are relative, all types are contained within each other — but the pattern, the pattern points in one direction. And if you’re looking for scientific proof of the pattern based on deductive analysis of the types, instead of mere inductive perception, that’s just not how it’s going to work. The mystery to which the pattern points, and for which sake the pattern exists, submits itself to deductive proofs only to the detriment of those who insist that it does. Or mayhap to their transformation — as with the case of doubting Thomas — upon which one ceases demanding deductive proofs and instead proclaims that which cannot be deductively proven.

So let’s move into the New Testament. You’ve already seen, way back in the first part of the article, the chiastic ordering of the Gospel according to Matthew. The five discourses that structure the whole book are a good example of the cosmic chiasmus:

I’ve already waxed poetic about the centrality of the parables (Χ.) In sending out the disciples (Β.), there is the differentiation similar to neoplatonic procession; in laying down rules for the Church (Ο.), there is the reunification similar to neoplatonic return. The Sermon on the Mount (Α.) produces an image of human creation as it was supposed to be according to its original mode, whereas the Eschatological Sermon (Ω.) literally describes the end times, the coming of the Lord, and the manner of our judgment.

But let’s move from the first Gospel to its ksiastic counterpart in John. For I intuit that the Gospels and Acts together form a new Pentateuch, one best contemplated as a ksiasmus.

I’ll return to this in a bit, but for now, the Gospel according to John fits ksiastic omicron-typology in its conscious fashioning as a revisionist creation myth, a literal rewriting of Genesis: “In the beginning… was the Word.”

See outlines here.18 An interesting facet of the Gospel is how John sketches the fractal pattern very clearly in the first two chapters, and then again in the first five, as though gradually teaching us how to read the book. The fractal cycles correspond with Jesus’s annual trips to Jerusalem, a unique feature to John’s Gospel. Look first at chapters 1–2:

In the central passage (χ/ξ.), Jesus calls Philip who calls Nathanael, saying, “Come and see.” The Greek words here are different from what Jesus would later cry out, “Lazarus, come forth!” (11:43), but the results are typologically the same. Plus, Jesus proves himself to Nathanael by having seen him previously under a fig tree — the image of a man and a tree prefiguring the Crucifixion. Nathanael spontaneously responds, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel”, to which Jesus Himself responds with the image of angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, emphasizing the two natures of the Incarnation….

…which Incarnation is described in the first eighteen verses as a creation story (α.). Then we receive the testimony of John the Baptist (β.), who self-identifies as Isaiah’s “Voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord’”, thereby fulfilling the role of Israel to bring forth and indicate the Messiah, from whom John explicitly differentiates himself. After the call of Nathanael, we attend a literal wedding (o.), the one at which Christ performs His first miracle, the changing of water into wine. And His mother, who is present, besides being His mother also represents the Church, the bride of Christ; it is at her behest that Jesus initiates His ministry to the world: a different, much grander kind of wedding feast, which reveals the wine at Cana to have been a symbol of blood. Finally, Jesus scourges the Temple in Jerusalem (ω.), for these cycles in John tend to end in Jerusalem. It is a type of the New Jerusalem, sure, but not without the trial of judgment and the expulsion of wickedness. It is here that Jesus first indicates the Resurrection, saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Thus the fivefold cycle culminates in death and resurrection at Jerusalem already within the first two chapters.

And that’s not the end of it. Those first two chapters themselves function as the alpha-section of a new fivefold cycle, once again ending at Jerusalem (ω., below), this time with the raising of the paralytic at the pool with five porches, followed by discourses on the general resurrection and judgment.

In between, we find the conversation with Nicodemus at night (β.), about the necessity of being born a second time, “again” or “from above” — chiastically paired with the conjugal imagery of meeting the Samaritan woman at the well at noon (ο.), she who has had five husbands and a sixth man who is not her husband (and Jesus shall be the mystical seventh). The story of the Samaritan woman is even structurally bound with a further story that explicitly references the wedding at Cana. It all circles around a scene of mass baptism (χ/ξ.), where John testifies that Jesus comes from heaven above and as God the Father’s beloved Son has been made ruler over all; those who believe in the Son have everlasting life. Thus we move in this passage from baptism in a land where there is “much water” to belief unto everlasting life, a typological journey that Lazarus himself takes: from the decomposition of the tomb unto resurrection at the command of Jesus.

By placing the death and resurrection of Lazarus at the center of his Gospel (Χ.), John typologically puts Christ’s Death and Resurrection at the center, even in a linear story that ends temporally with Christ’s Death and Resurrection. For Christ’s Death and Resurrection are typologically at the center of all things. Then in the Gospel’s second part, chapter 6 through 10:39 (Β.), we encounter the differentiation of the Word from the world in which He has entered, using not a little Exodus imagery, like the crossing of the sea and the manna from heaven, and referencing also Abraham for the same purpose. In the Gospel’s fourth part, meanwhile (Ο.), the oneness of the Church receives its greatest exposition in Christ’s counsels with His disciples and His prayers to the Father, preceded by the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the washing of the disciples’ feet. Finally the Death and Resurrection of Christ at Jerusalem (Ω.) recapitulate all typology and reveal in barest form the meaning of all creation — in the beginning of which was the very Word who dies and rises again (Α.).

The Raising of Lazarus, icon from Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos, 12th c.

Traditionally the four Gospels are bound together in a single codex for liturgical use, the Evangelion. But to contemplate their literary structure as a unit, it is impossible to exclude from them the Book of Acts, indeed the second part of the Gospel according to Luke.  And whereas the Gospel according to John plays the ecclesial omicron-role, the Book of Acts in its depiction of the Church’s revelation to the world, along with all the persecution it got in return, fits the apocalyptic omega-typology of the end times.

See outlines here. Remember how Christ’s Death and Resurrection are at the center of everything? So it is with the Book of Acts. At the time of Pascha, in the days of unleavened bread, Herod kills James the son of Zebedee, the first of the Twelve Apostles to be martyred. Then he throws Peter in prison. But an angel visits Peter at night, smites him on the side, frees him from his chains, and leads him past two wards and an iron gate out into the city. The prison is an image of death, and Peter’s liberation an image of resurrection, all at the time of Pascha. He is experiencing Christ’s Death and Resurrection typologically because he is living the life of Christ in the Church. And death is despoiled — typified at the end of the passage by the gruesome death of Herod, who is struck by the Lord for his vainglory and eaten by worms.

As for what chiastically comes out of this ecclesial experience of Christ’s Pascha, we have at first (Α.) the establishment of the Church at Jerusalem, from Pentecost unto the martyrdom of Archdeacon Stephen, the alpha and omega local to this cycle.

Then (Β.), the Church goes out beyond Jerusalem starting with (α.) Archdeacon Philip beyond Jordan and ending with (ω.) the establishment of the church at Antioch, headed by Barnabas; in between are the conversions of (β.) the Jewish persecutor Saul and (ο.) the Gentile centurion Cornelius, all centered around (χ.) Peter’s healing of a paralytic at Lydda on the way to Joffa on the coast, where he raises one dead. It is marvelous to see here the beta-theme of differentiation turned on its ear as the Church goes outside its Jewish self, its center extending even to its outermost coast, distinguishing itself not from the Gentiles, but from those who would divide themselves from the Gentiles, wrongfully now that Christ has united them.

The second half of the book, meanwhile, recounts Paul’s missionary journeys and the synod over circumcision (Ο.) — whereby the faith of the Church is shown to have entirely superseded the old covenant and achieved potential unity with all peoples — and then Paul’s tribulations at Jerusalem and transfer to Rome (Ω.). The Book of Acts is about the life of the Church, and it tells the Church’s whole story from beginning to end in typological form. Jerusalem is the center of God’s revelation, and Rome is the capital of the world’s power. In Paul’s insistence to be tried at Rome (as the Roman citizen that he was) is a typological claim to the fullness of truth, to a truth that saturates all the earth and intends to be preached there.

Alas, in the last two chapters, the omega-section of the omega-part, the last days of the Church are typified as a shipwreck. The ship of the Church, that is, breaks into pieces and all are saved by clinging onto boards from the ship, shards of wood symbolizing the Cross. This is followed by a safe journey to Rome, here typologically doubling as both the earthly city and the heavenly city, where the Apostle dwells in his own hired house and is free to preach to all who come to him. And some believe, and some believe not. It only makes sense as the end of the story if you’re reading it typologically — in which case it’s not just the end of its own chiasmus; it’s the end of the cosmic chiasmus.

Ω. About the Hexaemeron

Perhaps it’s conspicuous that I haven’t yet treated the opening chapters of Genesis, that initial passage of Scripture where all patterns of the cosmos are laid out right in the beginning. Here I will get to that, but in a circuitous manner. This is the omega-chapter, where all will be revealed — oh, if only in type.

Where, in the meantime, should I start? What facet of omega-typology should I follow? Shall I try to recapitulate them all? Including recapitulation? Shall I recapitulate points I’ve made in the article? Or should I just start submitting us all to the judgment? Is it possible to achieve all these things in one go?

I ended the alpha-chapter with words of St. Nikolai Velimirović to the effect that one must not idolize the letter of Scripture, but perceive the spiritual identity of the text. In the chi-chapter I said that ksiastic structures were not uncommon in Scripture, but I didn’t give many examples. So here are two little texts neighboring each other in the Gospel according to John that relate to both of those portions of the article, while also insinuating the judgment relevant to the current omega-chapter.

Indeed, Moses wrote of Christ. The entire Pentateuch is shaped in His image, according to typological patterns that point directly to His identity. If you hear not Moses and the prophets, you risk not being persuaded even should one rise from the dead. Behold Luke 16:19–31, the story of the rich man and Lazarus:

I parse the text like this and present its form, and my instinct is to leave it at that and say, “Those with ears to hear, let them hear.” I am intimidated by the text’s infinite meaning. I must recognize, though, that the correspondences I’ve drawn are often not clear and are open to questioning. Biblical texts are always multifaceted and are subject to being understood in different patterns, even excluding the endless variety of misinterpretations. This artful structure is what I’ve settled on, recognizing it as most beautiful. But a reader might well wonder how the interior pair within the central chi-section functions, for example; how does “and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” match with “that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue”? I admit the chiastic correspondence is not obvious. But if you’ve otherwise determined that verses 23 and 24 function as the center of the passage, and you’re looking for an internal pattern within them, you might well see the fivefold sequence I’ve identified independent of chiastic or ksiastic correspondences. Centrally, the act of sending a son of Abraham down into the land of the dead is certainly the pattern of Pascha. And it’s natural for the rich man to look to the Paschal pattern for salvation, even if he has already roundly rejected it by the whole manner of his now completed life. Around the idea of that sending, then, are positioned the two lines in question, the beta-line where the rich man is differentiated from Abraham and Lazarus, and the omicron-line where it is suggested by the rich man that Lazarus traverse the distance between them with his finger dipped in water, uniting the two in comfort even if there’s a difference in degree. Thus once you relate the lines to the sequence of themes, then a correspondence becomes apparent.

The opposite can also happen. Take the alpha-section of this passage. The line “and fared sumptuously every day” is not an obvious fit with beta-typology, but it clearly aligns chiastically with Lazarus’s desire to be fed with crumbs from the rich man’s table — likewise not an obvious fit with omicron-typology. Here perhaps we can contemplate, however, the rich man faring sumptuously as the feasting on material things consonant with a fall from the grace of God, whereas alternatively Lazarus’s sorry condition characterizes a virtuous life of poverty and humility blessed by God. The rich man is differentiated from godliness in his satiety of worldly things, and Lazarus is united to godliness in beggarly virtue. It’s not an interpretation I insist upon, nor does it begin to exhaust the meaning of the text. But it is a possible understanding and one that contributes to a beautiful rendering of the passage because it resonates so well with all other surrounding layers.

For, considering the whole structure, first there’s the status quo of these two descendants of Abraham as they exist in life (α.). Then they each pass into death, their souls departing their bodies (β.). The rich man, too late, naturally yearns for a Paschal event (χ.). Consequently righteousness is established, for as Abraham explains, the experience of the two men is in accordance with their lives (ο.). Lastly it is affirmed that the manner of one’s life relative to what one is given is itself a source of judgment, impervious even to proof of resurrection (ω.).

There’s no lack of other details throughout the passage — like how Abraham and the rich man refer to each other as father and son, acknowledging their ties of bodily generation in the alpha-lines of the omicron- and omega-sections; and moreover how that generative bond is contrasted chiastically with their modal existence in judgment, there being a great gulf fixed between them (v. 26a) and the rich man being in a place of torment (v. 28c). No, there is no lack of literary details. I insist it is essential, however, to rise in one’s understanding above the letter of the text, including its formal shape, and be illumined with the spiritual meaning of what is being said. But how can I, a sinner, convey the spiritual meaning? I am ashamed in my unworthiness to have talked about this passage as much as I have. This parable utterly condemns me. Not only have I enjoyed material security my whole life, despite never providing anything to the world that it values, but also in terms of intellectual goods, I have been a rich, rich man, not at all out of any personal merit. When I hear people talking about the “meaning crisis,” I think, “Why, because there’s a superabundance of it? Yeah, it’s totally overwhelming.” But, no, that’s not what they meant. I am undone, my avarice revealed. When you have riches, it’s not always so simple to give them away. You have to live a certain way so as to be worthy of the honor of giving things to others. When vanity is involved, God can withdraw His blessing from the transaction, precluding its existence. Yet vainglory is the fount of all sin, and in the war against the passions, it’s the last enemy to go because uniquely it feeds on any and all virtue. God loves the rich, too, and for some it would not be worthwhile removing from them the shame of avarice if it means delivering them to Luciferian levels of vainglory, which can be catastrophic for all involved. Indeed it is very, very hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. With men it is impossible, but with God….

In judgment we see how we measure up against the commandments, so let’s look at the commandments. If Moses wrote of Christ, and if not even Lazarus rising from the dead can help those who hear not Moses, let us listen to Moses, in particular the Decalogue, at Exodus 20:2–17. Recently it has been a point of discussion whether the Ten Commandments comprise a narrative or not. John Vervaeke said no, Jordan Peterson said yes, and both their perspectives were recapitulated (whether they noticed it or not) by Jonathan Pageau when he talked about the Law being written on the human heart.19 Through the contemplation below, I believe, we can trace how a list of commandments descends down from the same place stories do, with their beginnings, middles, and ends. They all conform to the same pattern written in the heart, the pattern contained in Christ. I believe when you read the text this way, the question of narrative, depending on how you define the term, is either resolved, or rendered moot.

The alpha-commandment here (α.) is clear. God is above all creation, all other gods, all of heaven, earth, and seas — all of which He created. Nothing is to be worshiped before Him. The interior fivefold structure centers on the proscription of idols — which are false incarnations, preempting the true Incarnation — and concludes with the notion of judgment.

The beta-commandment (β.) advises against taking the Lord’s name in vain. “Vain” is a tricky word here in English; the Hebrew denotes desolation, the Greek emptiness. The Lord’s name is a body of expression for the God who is above all bodies. To empty it of meaning is to divide creation from its Creator — not just to differentiate (which would be proper, because they’re different), but to divide, as if creation could have independent existence. Never pronouncing Yahweh but calling Him other things, as has long been Jewish custom, does not at all unburden us from the heavy obligation to attribute creation, as a body of expression, to the Creator, and to do so meaningfully. Our words for the Lord have to be hospitable to His presence. We cannot otherwise be acquitted (or cleansed, purified), because we would then be divided from the agent of our cleansing.

That admonition is matched chiastically with (o.) the commandment to honor our parents, the only entry in the Decalogue to which a blessing is attached (naturally for omicron, a blessing of prosperity). Deliberately both father and mother are named; their union, the union from which we arise, is a symbol of heaven and earth. To honor the members of this union is to keep the natural law which intends to teach us ultimately of the relationship between creation and Creator, for that is the source of all fruitfulness and prosperity should we ever care to seek such things. And in telling us to honor our father and mother, God is very much commanding us to seek such fruitfulness, above all in virtue. For the father-mother relationship can also be seen as a prefigurement of the two great commandments given to the Church by Jesus, to love God and to love neighbor. St. Maximus describes the love of God as the antidote to the desiring aspect of our soul (epithymia) and the love of neighbor as the antidote to the incensive aspect of our soul (thymos).20 Since epithymia is feminine and thymos is masculine, that would make the love of God like the father, a perfect mate for feminine epithymia, and the love of neighbor like the mother, a perfect mate for masculine thymos. Indeed, we should keep the two great commandments; we should honor our father and mother.

As the alpha-commandment was about maintaining the uniqueness of God in worship, the omega-commandment (ω.) becomes a spectrum of ordinances relating to the plurality of neighbors in whom God empties Himself in the eschaton. And again we’re correcting the lower passions of the soul, its desiring and incensive aspects, the epithymia and thymos. It begins and ends with epithymia, desire — the word for “covet” in the ancient Greek translation is the verb form of epithymia. But before we’re prohibited from even wanting to commit adultery (ω.), we’re first told not to do it (α.). Chiastically this sin corresponds to the worship of other gods forbidden at the head of the list, which is a kind of adultery, even as idol worship in the Old Testament is commonly called fornication. And so the whole Decalogue becomes a correction of our desire, that it be for God alone, and not for any created things. That we are not even to covet falsely is a sign of the depth of revelation to come in the judgment.

Stealing (β.) and bearing false testimony against one’s neighbor (o.), meanwhile, are mixtures of the appetitive desire that frames the structure and the incensive anger that we’ll see is at its center. The two intermediate sins complement each other in the following way: while by stealing you are the active agent wrongfully taking something away from your neighbor, alternatively by bearing false witness, you are actively creating a social situation … in which something is wrongfully taken away from your neighbor. They are like the masculine and feminine version of the same sin, conceived in desire and born by violence. But the masculine act of stealing separates the sinner from the rule of law; it makes him or her an outlaw. Contrarily, the feminine act of bearing false witness brings the rule of law into union with the sin; it makes the law itself an agent of the sinful objective. Though both acts are sins against a neighbor, one dissociates from the law, while the other illicitly forges union with the law — hence their beta- and omicron-positions within this local structure.

And it all centers — (in the Septuagint, i.e., the ancient Greek translation, which to my mind yields a coherent literary structure, unlike other textual traditions) — on murder (χ.), the prototypical abuse of the soul’s incensive aspect. Just as the acts of murder by Cain and Lamech frame the center of the first act of Genesis, so here. As a chiastic center, it’s a typological reference to the Messiah’s execution. Moses, inspired by God, is telling us not to do that; or rather, he is prophetically identifying that utmost fraternal sin to which the Messiah will submit Himself.

The Messiah will die. And that is the central message of the whole Decalogue, circling as it does around the commandment to keep the sabbath holy (χ.). For the sabbath rest betokens death, prefiguring in particular Christ’s rest in the tomb on Holy Saturday. This commandment is a chiasmus in the center of a chiasmus, and at its center is a chiasmus listing all who should refrain from work on the sabbath (χ.). Those are all the beings that are mortal, that will die. Those are also all the mortal beings, that is, that will be saved from death by the Lord’s Death. As pervasive as is the death, and the Death, so is the sabbath rest to be pervasive throughout the house of those who follow God. The members of the house can be taken, moreover, as an outward manifestation of the human person: “Thou” can refer to the nous, son and daughter to reason and spirit, manservant and maidservant to the body in matter and form, ox to epithymia, ass to thymos, cattle to the senses, and “the stranger that sojourneth with thee” to all human experience, culture, and identity that you take within yourself through love. All of that will perish, but all of that is redeemed in Christ. Thus it should all observe the sabbath in anticipation of what comes after.

This is not the first time in Scripture a pentadic structure has made such symbolic use of the sabbath at its center. The sabbath’s original introduction is as the center of a pentad. Now at last we talk about the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis. This is the last bit of Scripture we’ll discuss. We end in the beginning, but in a view of the beginning that is transformed by experience of the whole.

As has been remarked by Jonathan Pageau when describing the original logo of his The Symbolic World brand,21 and echoed by Fr. Stephen De Young on the Lord of Spirits podcast22 — and touched upon also in a Kenneth Florence article on this website23 (those are just the three latest places I’ve seen it) — the six days of creation in Genesis 1 are told in two parallel layers.

The original Symbolic World logo, from the Stammheim Missal (12th c.).
By arranging the six days in a continuous circuit, the artist makes what is literarily a parallel structure look like a chiastic one.

The two-part process relates, as Fr. De Young notes, to Earth having been first described in Gen. 1:2 as “formless and void” (or “invisible and unfurnished” in the Greek). The first three days, therefore, bring order to the formlessness, and the second three days are spent furnishing the void. In greater detail: on day one (1.) are created heaven and earth, light and darkness, night and day, and on the parallel fourth day (4.) discrete lights (sun, moon, and stars) are placed in the heavens to shine on the earth and rule over night and day. On the second day (2.), a firmament which God calls heaven is created (a typos of day one’s heaven) to divide the waters below and above, and on the parallel fifth day (5.) those regions are populated with fowl above and creeping things below. On the third day (3.), God draws dry land from the waters and calls it earth (a typos of day one’s earth), from which spring forth vegetation and trees; then on the parallel sixth day (6.), the earth is populated with wild beasts and creeping things, and finally, man, the telos of creation. Thus in the first triad of days, places of potential are created in an order that descends in materiality but ascends in complexity and fertility; and in the second, parallel triad of days, active agents appropriate to those places are introduced to dwell in and rule over them, fulfilling their potential, relatively speaking.

When we look at the creation narrative of Genesis 2, meanwhile, we find familiar chiastic patterns that break the story into two parallel parts.

In the first chiasmus, we have the romance, as it were, of heaven and earth, or of Eden and earth (typologically the same pattern), consummated by the creation of Man. In the beta-bit (β.), the earth’s ability to sustain itself with its own innate mist signals an independent substance differentiated from that which comes before and is situated above. But in the omicron-bit (o.), paradise from above weds the earth with its river dividing into four and embracing it on all sides. This is both an emptying of paradise into the earth, and a raising of earth above its station by means of a superior nourishment. What changed in between those watering patterns is the creation of Man at center (χ.); his presence is the cause of the wedding, as he is a type of Christ, the second Adam, the mediator of all creation. Just as at first (α.) there was no rain (nourishment from heaven) or Man to till the ground, so in the beginning the Son of God was not incarnate — then in the middle of creation He became incarnate. Then in the end (ω.), Man’s placement in Eden to mediate life for the earth (to till the ground, chiastically closing off the unit) prefigures our heavenly calling in the eschaton, when a barrier is placed at last between us and death, represented here by what would have been a life-giving commandment had we followed it. Indeed St. Theophilus of Antioch, a second-century bishop, interpreted the repetition of Adam’s placement in paradise in 2:15 (after it was already mentioned in 2:8) as a prefigurement of Man’s postlapsarian return to paradise after the resurrection and judgment.24

So then, when one chiasmus closes, another begins, and we are told of how Woman was created as a helpmeet to Adam. This is a very difficult passage. As St. Methodius of Olympus (3rd–4th c.) concluded, after an impressive sustained allegorical reading of this text, “It is evident, then, that the statement respecting Eve and Adam is to be referred to the Church and Christ. For this is truly a great mystery and a supernatural [one], of which I, from my weakness and dullness, am unable to speak, according to its worth and greatness.”25 St. Symeon the New Theologian (10th–11th c.) adds a few cosmos-ranging interpretations of his own, as edifying as they are complex.26

As St. Methodius says, the symbolism here is that of Christ and the Church, but there are a dizzying amount of readings to the text even within that interpretation. For Adam as a son of God (cf. Luke 3:38) is a type of Christ, and can in turn be contemplated as a prototypical human being or as the Word of God Incarnate. Woman can be spoken of either as woman, or as Church — or, on account of her fleshly origin, as Man, even as Christ the second Adam is taken from the flesh of the new Eve, Mary the Mother of God … who typologically, in turn, was taken from the flesh of the first Adam. I myself am confused by this point. (St. Symeon describes this much better than I’m ever going to, but I can’t quote him because he goes on for pages and is answering questions tangential to mine.)

And then, of course, the Church is the bride taken out of the Bridegroom’s side at the time of Crucifixion, when Christ is stabbed with a lance to confirm His Death, and the Church-shaping sacraments of water and blood flow from the wound. But the man Adam can be taken to mean the Church also, as the Body of Christ to which feminine souls are joined….

Sorting through the typological meanings of man and wife in this text is like keeping track of the two entwined serpents on a caduceus staff. The perichoresis (or interpenetration) of activities between the two spouses is the whole point of the symbolism.

Here, I’ll just present the whole text of the passage in question, Genesis 2:18–25. For structural insight, notice how the formation of the animals and their presentation to Adam for naming (β.) parallels the formation of Woman and her presentation to Adam (o.), giving chiastic shape to the whole.

God’s intention to make something (α.) fits the alpha-typology. The differentiation between Adam and the animal world (β.) fits the beta-typology. Adam being put to sleep (χ.), as an image of Christ’s Death, fits the chi-typology. The union of man and wife (o.) fits the omicron-typology. And both their liberation from earthly artifice and their exemption from negative judgment — being naked and unashamed (ω.) — fit the omega-typology.

But to pull back now and see how this and the chiasmus just before it are parallel to the layered triads of the hexaemeron, consider that when God created Man male and female in chapter 1, He saw that Man and all created things leading up to Man were very good. But here in the alpha-bit at 2:18 (α.), He says it is not good for Man to be alone. Thus when God forms Adam to be Eden’s gardener in 2:4–17, this should be relatively understood as a good creation in potential. Earth was a place of potential fulfilled with the creation of Adam, maybe, but Adam himself is but a place of potential compared to the mystery of Christ and the Church that is to be fulfilled in him. Only once that mystery is prefigured, as with the creation of Woman, can creation be seen as, not only good, but very good. So as the hexaemeron builds the cosmos in two layers of potential and activity, so here in chapter 2.

And if you’re following my train of thought, you can see I’m setting up a ksiastic understanding of the two creation narratives in Genesis 1–2. The creation of places of potential such as heaven, earth, firmament, seas, and land (α.) is followed by active agents drawn from those places and differentiated from them (β.), like Abraham from the nations. Then Adam being created and placed in paradise (o.) is surely a prefigurement of man being remade in Christ and placed in the Church, a garden productive of all virtue. Then the omega-typology is fulfilled in the creation of Woman passage (ω.), a prefigurement of the New Jerusalem with the perfection of unity between Christ and His creation. Thus for a man to leave his father and mother (as in 2:24) is to depart this world in an eschatological sense; to cleave instead to his wife is to be united to the Body of Christ in an everlasting covenant. But already a prerequisite for that preordained result is the passive act of being put to sleep — an image of life’s limitation sans any and all corruption. Even in a sinless, deathless context, only by reaching the limits of his existence can Adam be brought beyond them.

And once again it happens, just as with the Decalogue  Remember when I came to the prohibition of murder, the chiastic center of the omega-section, and it led me naturally into discussing the chiastic center of the whole passage, a meditation on death by means of the sabbath? Behold, Adam is put to sleep in the chiastic center of the omega-section of the creation account, and its typology is the same as the sabbath at the center of the whole.

Here is an outline of the whole ksiasmus, featuring at center the full text of 2:1–3. Ever wonder why Scriptural language can be so quizzically repetitious? I believe that’s because it’s creating little verbal icons of a cosmic pattern.

God puts Himself to sleep, in His humanity, as Christ. The seventh day is the limitation of creaturely existence which must be attained in order to be surpassed. That is what the whole story is about.

But there’s more. Of course there’s more. There’s never just one way to read Scripture. As brilliant a mind as St. Maximus prefaces his book of Scriptural contemplations Ad Thalassium thus,

I beseech you, who are most holy — along with all those who, as likely, will read what I have written — not to take what I say as a definitive spiritual interpretation of the passages in question, for I am very far from the mind and meaning of the divine words, with respect to which I need to be taught by others. If it should happen that you — on your own or with others — are able to provide a better interpretation or perchance to learn something from the following, this is for you to determine and produce a more elevated and true understanding, the fruit of which is the heart’s fulfillment for those who long for spiritual insight into the things that puzzle and perplex them.

This is because the divine word is like water, for just as water operates in different species of plants and vegetables and in different kinds of living things — by which I mean in human beings who drink the Word Himself — the Word is manifested in them through the virtues, in proportion to their level of knowledge and ascetic practice, like burgeoning fruit produced according to the quality of virtue and knowledge in each, so that the Word becomes known to others through other qualities and characteristics. For the divine word could never be circumscribed by a single individual interpretation, nor does it suffer confinement in a single meaning, on account of its natural infinity.27

Let’s look again at the hexaemeron. Though the six days can be seen as the first two parts of a fivefold ksiastic structure as I’ve shown, the interior structure of the two sets of days is triadic not pentadic. That’s because there’s another way to understand the hexaemeron and the sabbath that will be vital to taking one’s understanding of the cosmic chiasmus and incorporating it into one’s life, to reaching the seventh day sabbath and being brought beyond it. For once you discover the fivefold structure of reality, what do you do with it? How do you participate in it? Look again at the hexaemeron, but set aside the last day to see the ksiasmus hidden in the first five.

On the first day (α.) is the creation of heaven and earth and of time itself — night and day measured by light and darkness; it’s prototypically alpha. On the second day (β.) the firmament is an agent of differentiation between the waters above and below. Skipping ahead, on the fourth day (ο.), the originality of the sun and the mutability of the moon’s reflection thereof typify the relationship of God and the Church, even as the stars symbolize Israel as the children of Abraham (cf. Gen. 15:5). On the fifth day (ω.), the separation of the birds in the sky above and the creeping things in the murky deep below prefigures the separation of the hospitable and the inhospitable at the time of judgment.

And on the central third day (ξ.) the earth emerges from the seas like a resurrection from the dead, and out from the earth is made to spring forth vegetation — ultimately the tree, the axis mundi, the wood of the Cross. The center of the world is a tree, for there is nothing in the natural world that so beautifully typifies the human being. Its roots reach deep into the earth, and its branches spread out into the heavens, mimicking the body and soul of man and how they occupy the realms of matter and spirit.

This has been the secret meaning of my ksi-typology all along  Just as Χ is appropriate for pentadic centers as the first letter of Christ, likewise is Ξ appropriate for pentadic centers as the first letter of ξύλον (xylon, pronounced ksylon), a Greek word meaning wood or tree. It’s the root of our word xylophone (which we pronounce with a z? Go home, English, you’re drunk). There’s another Greek word that means tree more specifically, δένδρον, but that doesn’t show up in the Greek translation of Genesis until the oak of Mamre in chapter 18. Before then, including the whole creation and fall narrative, the word used for tree is consistently ξύλον.28

And so what of the sixth day? For its symbol I’ve used the Greek numeral for 6, the letter stigma (ϛ.). I suggest that the correspondence between the third day and the sixth day be considered not as linear, like the parallel pairs before it, but rather as radial. If the arboreal third day is the center of a cruciform ksiastic structure, let the sixth day be a circumscription of the whole. As a highly relevant illustration of what I mean, I refer you to the earliest class of Irish high crosses, like those seen at Ahenny, Kilkieran, and Kilree.

Kilclispeen South Cross, 8th c., in Ahenny, County Tipperary, Ireland.

As seen above in the image from Kilclispeen, these crosses are often decorated with a quincunx of five bosses (the protruding knobs), and of course they have the circular ring around the whole which is normally associated with Irish crosses. That ring performs the very practical function of supporting the heavy weight of the arms, but it is very symbolically evocative. To me, in the context of cosmic contemplation based in Scripture, it evokes the image of the sixth day circumscribing the ksiasmus of five days preceding it.

And the notion of circumscription in this case is not arbitrary. We already know that on the sixth day God gave to His newly formed Man dominion over the whole of creation, “over the fish of the seas and flying creatures of heaven, and all the cattle and all the earth, and all the reptiles that creep on the earth” (1:28), and to him was given as food all the vegetation and fruit trees from day three (1:29) — and all the beasts and birds and everything that breathes air also feeds on the vegetation (1:30) because everything circles around day three. To eat something is to circumscribe it, not only materially, but ontologically. The living thing that is eaten has its being subsumed into the greater being of whatever consumes it.

But there’s another kind of circumscription at play, too — not unrelated to sensual consumption. It is specifically the activity of the senses, of which famously there are five. Have you ever considered it odd that Man, as extraordinary a creation as he is, is not given his own day on which to be made? He rather shares the sixth day with all the beasts of the field and creeping things of the earth. Isn’t he supposed to be more special than the animals? Instead, what the grouping seems to suggest is that — not only are humans of like essence with the animals according to their bodies, symmetrical to their likeness of essence with the angels according to their spirits — but also that the featured creation on the sixth day is specifically the five senses, which men and animals share alike. First you have all material creation made in a symbolic five days, then you have the five senses which circumscribe them by their powers of perception made on the sixth day.

St. Maximus regularly refers to nature as fivefold on account of how accommodating it is to the senses. He says this in many places, perhaps most straightforward at Ad Thalassium 64.13: “Nature is fivefold according to the senses.”29 But I especially like this saying from Ambiguum 21: “The sensible world is, by nature, the most elementary guide of the five senses, falling under their powers of sensation and leading them to comprehend the world they perceive.”30 Hence nature is being both passive and active; it both is submissive to the senses and in its submission actively guides them to understanding — a beautiful description of a loving relationship devised by God for our illumination. Accordingly nature may be fivefold according to the senses, but material creation is still in a sense sixfold according to fivefold nature and the sixth-day senses that both are part of nature and circumscribe nature. St. Maximus describes this relationship and further draws a parallel with the intelligible realm of the spirit in Ambiguum 10:

Manifold is the relation between intellects and what they perceive [i.e., the intelligible realm] and between the senses and what they experience [i.e., the sensible realm]. Thus the human being, consisting of both soul and sensible body, by means of its natural relationship of belonging to each division of creation, both is circumscribed and circumscribes: through being, it is circumscribed and through potency [or power], it circumscribes. So in its two parts it is divided between these things, and it draws these things through their own parts into itself in unity. For the human being is circumscribed by both the intelligible and the sensible, since it is soul and body, and it has the natural capacity of circumscribing them, because it can both think [with the intellect] and perceive through the senses.31
Kilree High Cross, 9th c., in County Kilkenny, Ireland.
Situated behind it is the Kilree Round Tower, ca. 1100.

Hence the radial correspondence that I am proposing, existing between the third day in the center of creation and the concentric sixth day filling the circumference, produces an image of all-encompassing Adam superimposed on the axial tree that feeds all of creation. It’s a man on a tree. Already in chapter 1 of Genesis, we have an image, by means of the cosmic chiasmus, of all creation as Christ on the Cross. His Body is what feeds us; His love is what circumscribes us. So here is your apocalypse, your revelation of the identity of Jesus Christ at the foundation of the world. How you respond to the cosmic chiasmus pertains to what comes after the five — I speak of the six (ϛ.), the seven (ζ.), and the eight (η.). Many biblical structures cannot be understood without knowing this transformative triad, or the octave that results when you add it to the pentad like a three-day weekend capping a five-day work week. But alas for now I can only leave you with that idea as a teaser for more to come.

Cross of the Scriptures, ca. 900, at Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, Ireland. This image is of the original Cross which has been moved indoors. A finely made replica has been put in its place and is pictured at the head of the article.


In memory of Mimi Parker

This article is currently being edited and will be reposted soon

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  1. For this arrangement, see two seminal sources on this topic: Nils Wilhelm Lund, Chiasmus in the New Testament: A Study in the Form and Function of Chiastic Structures (Hendrickson Publishers, 1992 [originally University of North Carolina Press, 1942]), p. 248, and John Breck, The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and Beyond (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1994), p. 135 — although they both reverse the word order in b’., reading “out of the eye to cast out the mote,” to expand the chiasmus one layer beyond what the Greek text allows. (They also reverse the syntax of d’., reading “out of thine own eye the beam,” thus expanding the chiasm yet another layer, but that at least has precedent in the Alexandrian textual tradition, whereas I follow the Byzantine Majority.)
  2. Cf. Lund, pp. 233–34.
  3. For one relevant interpretation, in which the parable of the sower is called “a parable about meaning-making itself,” see Jonathan Pageau, “The Entire Cosmos in the Parable of the Sower” (YouTube, February 11, 2020).
  4. Bishop Nikolai Velimirović, Homilies, Volume Two, td. by Mother Maria (Lazarica Press, 1998), pp. 211–12, 216.
  5. St. Maximus has precedent in this idea from St. Dionysius the Areopagite at The Divine Names 5.8. See Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, td. by Colm Luibheid with Paul Rorem (Paulist Press, 1987), p. 101. For more on the topic, see Lars Thunberg, Microcosm and Mediator, second edition (Open Court, 1995), pp. 368–73.
  6. St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambiguum 65, in On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, Vol. II, td. by Nicholas Constas (Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 277.
  7. St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise VIII.9, td. by Sebastian Brock (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990), p. 134.
  8. The Octoechos, Vol. IV, Tone 7, Saturday Evening Great Vespers, fifth sticheron at “Lord I Have Cried” (The St. John of Kronstadt Press, 2002), p. 4. I’ve changed the word “incorporeal” to “without flesh” to reflect more accurately the original Greek: ἄσαρκον. See
  9. Docetism was a Gnostic heresy in the time of the early Church. Its name comes from the word for “seeming” or “appearing.” It was applied to all teachings whereby Christ’s humanity was held to be in appearance only.
  10. St. Maximos, Ambiguum 65, pp. 277–79.
  11. I think another point here has to do with identifying the logoi, or pre-eternal thought-wills or intentions of God for all created things, as a subset of divine energies, whereas the Logos is a Hypostasis of the Holy Trinity beyond all knowability. Yes, the logoi are the Logos, as St. Maximus describes (in, e.g., Ambiguum 7), but that is like saying God is love (1 Jn. 4:16). Care has to be taken when we identify a Hypostasis of the Trinity with the divine energies, the latter of which belong properly to all Three of the Trinity without distinction, and which can be participated in, whereas the Persons and Essence of God cannot. I will mercifully leave this argument for some other time, however.
  12. See Lund, p. 243.
  13. Matins canon, Ode 4. The Festal Menaion, td. by Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware (St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1998), p. 146.
  14. St. Ephraim the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 20.3. In St. Ephrem the Syrian: Selected Prose Works, The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 91, td. by Edward G. Mathews, Jr. and Joseph P. Amar (The Catholic University of America Press, 1994), p. 169.
  15. As the symmetrical form of chiasmus would suggest, the same issues can arise when discerning the layers between the omega-typology at the end of an omicron-cycle and the omega-cycle that follows.
  16. The Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode 4. From The Lenten Triodion, td. by Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware (St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002), p. 391. See also St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambiguum 51, in On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, Vol. II, pp. 231–33.
  17. The Christological interpretation of the War with Amalek is common in Eastern Church hymnography, particularly at ode 1 of canons.
  18. Scholarly precedent for my model of John’s Gospel is found in Peter F. Ellis, The Genius of John: A Composition-Critical Commentary on the Fourth Gospel (The Liturgical Press, 1984). Ellis, developing the hypothesis of a 1975 dissertation by John Gerhard, S.J., identifies the Gospel as a fivefold fractal with a skinny center, exactly as I have it. The way he parses the text to fit that form, however, is far different from how I have it. The differences should be judged, like the results of inductive reasoning, along a spectrum of weak to strong — not, like the results of deductive reasoning, according to a binary of valid or invalid, right or wrong. I have perceived there is a much stronger way to parse the text of the Gospel according to John than how Ellis has presented it. That is not to say that I think he is wrong.
  19. See Jordan B Peterson, “Deeper Yet Into The Weeds | Pageau, Vervaeke | #277” (YouTube, August 8, 2022), at 1:29:47. The law being written in the heart is a Scriptural idea found (with Masoretic numbering in parentheses) at Ps. 36:32 (37:31); Is. 51:7; and Jer. 38(31):33, which is cited at Heb. 8:10 and 10:16.
  20. See St. Maximus the Confessor, The Four Hundred Chapters on Love 4.75. In Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings, td. by George C. Berthold (Paulist Press, 1985), pp. 83–84; also The Philokalia, Volume Two, td. by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (Faber and Faber, 1981), p. 110.
  21. Pageau, “The Meaning of the Symbolic World Logo” (YouTube, March 21, 2022).
  22. The Lord of Spirits podcast, “The Queen Stood at Thy Right Hand,” December 10, 2020, at 22:17 — transcript available here, at the phrase “the other trajectory through Genesis 1”. On this pattern in the hexaemeron, Fr. Stephen De Young says, “I’ll give credit to my old professor, Meredith Kline. That’s who pointed me to that. But you find it in Thomas Aquinas and even some of the Fathers, that pattern.” More recently Fr. De Young has related the pattern again on The Lord of Spirits, “Fall of Man Part 1: Garments of Skin,” July 14, 2022, at 6:45 — transcript available here, at the phrase “the pattern in Genesis 1 and 2”.
  23. Kenneth Florence, “The Meaning of Plants,” The Symbolic World website, January 29, 2022.
  24. See St. Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus 2.26. In Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2 (Hendrickson, 1994), pp. 104–05.
  25. St. Methodius of Olympus, Banquet of the Ten Virgins III.9. In Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6 (Hendrickson, 1994), p. 320.
  26. St. Symeon the New Theologian, Second Ethical Discourse 2 and 7. In On the Mystical Life, Vol. 1: The Church and the Last Things, td. by Alexander Golitzin (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), pp. 90–93, 110–13.
  27. St. Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Responses to Thalassios, td. by Fr. Maximos Constas (The Catholic University of America Press, 2018), p. 77. Emphasis added.
  28. This is my chance to complain about Matthieu Pageau’s use of the word dentrocentrism in The Language of Creation, and I’m going to take it. It’s xylocentrism. Xylocentrism.
  29. On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture, p. 498. See also Questions and Doubts 41 (Despina Denise Prassas, St. Maximos the Confessor’s ‘Questions and Doubts’: Translation and Commentary, doctoral dissertation [The Catholic University of America, 2003], p. 139); “Commentary on Psalm 59,” td. by Paul M. Blowers (in The Harp of Prophecy: Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms, ed. by Brian E. Daley, S.J. and Paul R. Kolbet [University of Notre Dame Press, 2015], p. 271); and Ambiguum 67 (On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, Vol. II, pp. 289, 291).
  30. On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 429.
  31. St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambiguum 10.26. In Maximus the Confessor, td. by Andrew Louth (Routledge, 1996), p. 124. Cf. On Difficulties in the Church Fathers, Vol. I, td. by Nicholas Constas (Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 243. I use the Louth translation over the Constas primarily for the literal rendering of περιγράφεται and περιγράφει, “is circumscribed” and “circumscribes,” for which Constas uses “is contained” and “contains.”
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