- Kazantzakis and God
Nikos Kazantzakis was not only a celebrated poet, dramatist, and novelist but also a profound religious thinker who throughout his tortured life sought answers to questions of perennial significance. What is the human being—the anthropos? What is God? This modest but thought-provoking volume seeks to explore Kazantzakis’s view of God. According to Dombrowski, Kazantzakis held a view of God different from the traditional conception in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), all of which were influenced by certain strands of Greek philosophy, primarily the Aristotelian, whereas Kazantzakis chose the Platonic view.
The book includes eight chapters preceded by a precise introduction and followed by an appendix, notes, bibliography, and an index of names. Knowledge of Kazantzakis’s writings—including his novels, poetry, travelogues, letters, treatises, and philosophical monographs—is presupposed, as is a good background in philosophy of religion and the ongoing debates between modernists and postmodernists. Postmodernism, a movement reacting to the values emphasized in our modern Western civilization, opposes capitalism, urbanization, technology, and popular culture. Kazantzakis, considered a postmodernist here, is perceived as a deeply spiritual person who, because he rejected traditional views of God, was erroneously perceived as an atheist. Dombrowski convincingly demonstrates that Kazantzakis was not only an ascetic visionary in a constant quest and struggle but also a believer in God—a theist. The God he believed in, however, is always evolving, never static—an eternal being in constant becoming. Using the tools of contemporary process philosophy or “process theology,” Dombrowski treats Kazantzakis’s theology in relation to Bergsonian theism; in fact, he emphasizes the Bergsonian influence throughout his book, yet without denying Nietzsche’s impact on Kazantzakis.
As a philosopher of religion, Dombrowski is mostly interested in Kazantzakis’s profound preoccupation with the issue of God. Accordingly, he identifies several major problems that preoccupy Kazantzakis in his various writings, problems such as theodicy, human freedom, mysticism and mystical experience, the conflict between matter and spirit, and more. How does one reconcile belief in the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God with the evil that exists in the world? If such an omnipotent God exists, how can human beings be free?
Kazantzakis writes of the need for metousiosis (transubstantiation), saying [End Page 357] that in the conflict between body and soul—between “eating and the spiritual life”—the human being must experience a spiritual transubstantiation. I have a minor observation to make concerning this Eucharistic term as understood by the Greek Orthodox Church. Transubstantiation is totally foreign to Eastern Orthodox theology. The term is never used in the New Testament and rarely in orthodox patristic literature. The word used in Eucharistic theology is metabole, not metousiosis, which means change of the ousia (the essence). Metabole signifies change of the totality of the bread and wine elements. It is a mystery in which Christ becomes present through the epiklesis of the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist, through the metabole and communion, divinity and humanity meet. Another term used to indicate participation of the believer in God is methexis. Nevertheless, Dombrowski is correct when he argues that Kazantzakis’s Greek Orthodox roots show forth convincingly in his view of asceticism as a dynamic process leading to dematerialization and also in his conflict between apophatic and cataphatic theology. Let me add that Kazantzakis’s relationship with the Greek Orthodox Church has been treated by this reviewer in “Nikos Kazantzakis: Orthodox or Heterodox? A Greek Orthodox Appreciation” in God’s Struggler, edited by Darren Middleton and Peter Bien (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1996), pp. 37–52.
Notwithstanding the existence of major contributions to Kazantzakian studies by Peter Bien, Kimon Friar, Darren Middleton, Andreas Poulakidas, and others, Dombrowski’s monograph convincingly supplements existing studies in the areas of Kazantzakis’s thought-world, his tensions, and his ambiguities, especially his obsession with the existence or non-existence of God. I am in full agreement with Dombrowski that Kazantzakis was both an ascetic and a deeply spiritual person who believed in “God” in his own...