Why the welcome, and why the fast growth? This new information about this story has only been recently uncovered in the past century. Surely it would have been amazing to scholars over just 50 years ago, whose opinions of Chinese openness to the outside world (particularly to Christianity) would have been formed by events such as the Boxer rebellion (with it a large amount of Christian martyrs) and the Chinese government's xenophobic policies. So the information of the success of Christianity in China in the 7th century, does present a puzzle, no matter how short lived this success may have been.
The Christian scriptures, when translated into Chinese, use the word "Tao" to express the concept of "Word," or "Logos" in the Greek. Is this the answer? Is the Logos of St. John the Apostle and the Christians, the same as the "Tao" of the Lao Tzu and the Taoists? Did the Chinese Taoists see the Christian's "Jesus", as "the fulfillment" of their religion?
It is said, that the Chinese are to the East, what the Greek are to the West. The analogy works very well for our purposes here, as it is two concepts, the Tao of the Chinese and the Logos of the Greeks (most specifically the Christian Greeks), with which we wish to compare and contrast.
According to Fr. Damascene, this book contains knowledge that Lao Tzu was able to arrive at through contemplation of himself and nature. He arrives at an awareness of the absolute, or ordering principle of the universe. Lao Tzu at once calls this ordering principle "Tao", or "The Way," at the same time saying this thing (for lack of a better word), is "nameless" *
This mysterious Tao, the "mother of the 10,000 things," Lao Tzu intuited much about. The Tao is everywhere, or omnipotent (Tao Te Ching Chapters 34 & 71); ineffable (Chapters 1, 32) unchanging and eternal (16, 25); the source of all (21, 51). He was able to intuit these things, 500 years before Christ, whom Christians refer to as "the Logos."
What then is meant by the word "Logos?" Heraclitus of Ephesus was the first to utilize this term (which up to this point was a commonly used "word"). He was a Greek philosopher who lived in the late 6th century BC, a contemporary of Lao Tzu, although a continent away. The word Logos meant (and means) "word," but had a connotation of "order," or "pattern." He began to use the word to refer to "the underlying principle" or source of all things; "the primal order."
Aristotle in On the world says: "Things which are put together are both whole and not whole, brought together and taken apart, in harmony and out of harmony; one things arise from all things, and all things, arise from one thing."
Pseudo-Plutarch puts it this way :" As a single unified thing, there exists in us both life and death, waking and sleeping, youth and old age, because the former things have changed, are now the later, and when those latter things change, they become the former."
These ideas are so congruous and complementary to Lao Tzu. What is it that they were onto; these Greeks and Chinese? What possibly could have caused Lao Tzu, and those Greek philosophers, living so far apart, to write about a concept, such as the "underlying principle" of the universe, in such parallel ways?
According to Fr. Damascene, it is due to the common heritage of all people. He points to the monotheism of all ancient people to show that mankind was simpler and more innocent, closer to God and to nature. Therefore their knowledge of God was more pure than the polytheism that later arose in many cultures.
He describes, how according to the ancient Christian faith, God had created man in a state of "pristine simplicity," and "pure awareness;" using language that is undoubtedly Christian, but is also consistent with the teachings of Lao Tzu. He describes how man lived "simply" and in union with the Tao. But man began to harbor illusion of "self-sufficiency." This led to departure from the Tao, or what Christians refer to as, "the fall." Instead of naturally living according to "the Way," man now has to face at every turn, the decision, "should I follow the way?"
Fr. Damascene states, "Of all the primordial people, save the Hebrews, the Chinese-together with their racial cousins the native North Americans -- retained the purest understanding of the One God, the Supreme Being." Earlier generations of Chinese had called it Shang Ti or "Our Lord," T'ien "Heaven" But as time went on, the Chinese, as did all people, began to feel a distance from God. Thus arose the worship of personal, although limited pantheon of gods. This was part and parcel with a gradual shift from simplicity to complexity through out the world; monotheism to polytheism.
But because of the adherence to tradition in some cultures, the "memory of a culture," men in these societies retained some knowledge of the Tao. They to some degree remembered God, and desired union with Him.
Subtle, mysterious, fathomless and penetrating
You can ride on the things that are now.
For to know what once there was, in the beginning,
This is called the essence of the Way.
The Greeks also had a "recollection" of the One God. This is evident for example in the writings of Plato, among others of the philosophers. The Apostle Paul took notice of an altar in the city of Athens, ascribed to the "unknown God." He took advantage of that to introduce to the philosophers gathered on Mars Hill, the Logos incarnate; Jesus the Christ.
St. Paul's people, the Hebrews, among all the peoples on the planet, had entered a special relationship with God. God had entered a covenant with them and had chosen them as His special people. He gave them the Law and the prophets, in order to prepare the world, through them, for an incredible event: the entrance of the Tao into creation. The uncircumscribable, took flesh and was circumscribed. The nameless one was given a name "above every name," Jesus. He that contained the whole world in his hand was contained in a virgin's womb.
Recorded first in the Prologue of the Gospel ascribed to the Apostle John, is the Christian Tradition equating the Logos, as described by the Philosophers, with the specific man, Jesus Christ. Jesus was a historical figure, occupying a certain time at a certain place. This of course, if true as the Christians believe, is an opportunity to know the Tao, the Way, the Logos by revelation. To understand more fully, that which was intuited by Lao Tzu in China and the Philosophers in Greece.
Let us look at John's Gospel for a moment and examine how the early Christians understood Jesus. Is the historical person of Jesus that he writes about, the Eternal Tao that Lao Tzu approached?
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
16 And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.
17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
18 No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (King James Version)
In his use of the word "Logos," the Hebrew reader would recognize in this as an assertion of the intimacy of this Christ, with YWHW. The Greek listeners would see that what was implied was the "Rational Mind" of Heraclitus, that "rules the universe." In the first verse St. John states that this Word was "In the beginning" (Gr. "en arche"). It implies that when the beginning, began, the Word was already there. He restates this in verse two for emphasis. The Word was pre-existent, distinct and fully deity.
In verse three, John declares that the Logos is Co-creator with "God" (or Father). He is more then just a "tool" or instrument of creation. His will, operation and power are one with the Father. Apart from the Eternal Word, existence is impossible.
The Logos is the "source of life" according to verse four, and "this life was the light of men." Life is embodied in the Word, and God's purpose and power are made available to them who partake in the life of the Logos.
There is this interesting comparison of "light and darkness" ("yin and yang"?) in verse five. Darkness will oppose the Light, but the Darkness cannot defeat it. Traditionally, darkness here is representative of evil, and ignorance. St. John the Apostle then goes on to talk about St. John the Baptist, the "witness to the Light." He "was not the Light," but bore witness to the "True Light."
"And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us." Certainly this is the crux of John's gospel. This Logos, not only exists eternally, creates and gives light (despite men's unwillingness to see), He also took "flesh" and men "beheld his glory." St. John asserts that he was one of these men. If the Logos is indeed the Tao, then what was approached by Lao Tzu (and the Philosophers and all other ancient "sages"), was now accessible by ordinary men, in ordinary ways; through the senses.
Finally St. John asserts what was to him as a Jew, an absolute truth; no one has ever seen deity. This was true as well of the concept of the Logos to the Greek philosophers. Physical eyes are simply incapable of viewing that which is beyond nature. But, "The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." Because the Logos was "with God and was God," He reveals the Father: when we see the person Jesus, we see the eternal God. This is the foundation of the 2,000-year-old Christian religion.
So to return to Lao Tzu, is this then his "Tao?" Let's examine some of the things he wrote in the Tao Te Ching:
There was something nebulous:
Standing alone, not changing
Eternally revolving without fail
Worthy to be the mother of all things.
I do not know its name.
I adore it as Tao.
If forced to give it a name,
I shall call it "breath."
Lao Tzu again, in chapter 51 of the Tao Te Ching:
Te fosters them.
Therefore all things of the universe
Worship Tao and exalt Te
Tao is worshipped and Te exalted.
Without anyone's order but of its
The Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote many years before the birth of Jesus. In a famous passage he speaks of the messiah who would come, who would be a "man of sorrows." Like wise Lao Tzu says:
Is the presence of the state.
He who takes upon himself the sins of the world
Is the King of the World.
But as it earlier has been stressed, Lao Tzu could not fully realize the Tao, as he himself underlined the "unknowability" of the way. No sage, seer, prophet, philosopher or wise man could come to a full understanding of the ineffable absolute, unless the Tao itself (Himself) engaged in Revelation.
But even without the benefit of revelation, Lao Tzu still approaches "personhood." He certainly ascribes benevolence to the Tao, and it is inconceivable that benevolence is possible without personhood. Lo Tzu says:
By the power of the Tao (Te) they are nourished, Developed, cared for,
Grown, and protected.
The Tao of Heaven makes no distinction of persons
It always helps the virtuous.
Later Taoist writers lost the sense of benevolence of the Tao. For the authors of Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu for example, the Tao, of necessity becomes a neutral force. They could not reconcile that the Tao could be One and Selfless, and still be benevolent. Certainly the neutrality and non-personhood of the Tao was in contrast to the personal, yet egoist and despotic "God" of the monotheistic Jews and Muslims.
Fr. Damascene says:
According to the Christians, God was One yet contained three persons. These persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) share the Divine Essence, as human beings share the human nature. The persons of the Godhead dwell in perfect love for each other. "God is love." 1 John 4:8
Fr. Dumitru Staniloe of Romania writes:
Indeed, Lao Tzu mysteriously opined that, "The three produced all things."Chinese philosopher and Taoist, Gi-ming Shien comments on this saying, that the "three" represent "the reconciliation of opposites," and that the "three is the principle of order. So Lao Tzu, while not fully knowing the meaning of the Triad, never the less realized it to be a creative principle.