Genetics, Original Sin, and the Nous
If you are a protestant in the same manner that I was a protestant, you’ve likely never heard the term nous before. It is one of those curious Greek words for which no English translation can fully suffice. Sometime it is called the eye of the soul or the eye of the heart, and sometimes it is bent out of shape in order to be translated simply as mind, intellect, or heart. None of these really go far enough, or in some cases go too far. I’m not really sure that I can wholly grasp the concept, but am content for now to understand it as the faculty by which we perceive and relate to God. Very often, one will find the term untranslated in Orthodox writings.
At work, I tinker with DNA - viral DNA (and RNA) to be specific, and so it is not coincidence that as I continue reading Orthodox Psychotherapy the means by which Met. Hierotheos relates the Eastern Patristic understanding of the effects of original sin immediately call to my mind the idea of genetic disease. Again, avoiding the judicial image of sin (I mean really how can God hold us kids responsible – legally – for the sins of Mom and Pop?) what the fathers more aptly describe is likened to illness. From the Orthodox perspective, in the Fall the Nous was darkened, blinded, sickened unto death. This is what is understood as being dead in our sins.
Now, if you damage the DNA in one of your skins cells (through prolonged exposure to UV light) and the genetic damage is not repaired before the cell divides, the cell passes the error on to the new daughter cell. And the error in that daughter cell’s genome will go unchecked and could result in cancer. Every cell which that daughter cell subsequently produces will have the exact same defect, and though it will seem to be perfectly normal (in other words there is no "understanding" in the cell's natural mechanism that something is awry)….it is not. I see this darkening of the nous to be like a genetic defect in humankind. (Now don’t take me too literally here…I’m just making an analogy.)
Adam and Eve (like the original skin cell) had their very natures altered by an exposure to darkness (UV light). And this nature, they passed on to their ancestors (just like the mother cell passes on its genetic defect to the daughter cells). What you end up with is a colony of cancerous cells that continually propagate themselves.
According to the teachings of the Father’s, because of our Lord's incarnation, we are able to participate in Him through the sacrament of Holy Baptism and are thus “REBORN” and made new – without the "genetic defect"! Jesus’ work heals the nous and this is why we refer to those being Baptized (yes even infants!) as being “newly illumined” because we believe that their noetic power has been restored to them. I initially thought it strange to call my infant son: the "newly illumined Nicholas" but now I see the logic - and more importantly the beauty - of it.
However, being newly illumined does not mean that it's all a done deal! Whereas Jesus might have raised our nous from the dead, our personal sins and passions can still darken and imprison it. We must strive to maintain a healthy nous as we continue on in a world so filled with darkness. You see, the nous need not remain in such darkness – that is the good news! We are indeed, “new creatures” in Christ!
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 7:40 AM [+]