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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

True Hope

People often assume that Christians believe much the same thing about the death and resurrection of Christ. Of course there may be differences of emphasis but it is much the same story with much the same meaning.

Actually there is some truth in that .... IF it is only the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions that are under scrutiny. Since many people in the west are only aware of these traditions and assume that this is all that there is, the witness of Orthodoxy never shows up on the radar.

So, what is this fundamental commonality between most non-Orthodox traditions and where does Orthodoxy differ? With Pascha (Easter) approaching in the Orthodox Church it is crucial that we acquaint ourselves with these issues because they touch upon the whole meaning of the gospel, its preaching and celebration.
In the "west" the Christian story goes something like this. It doesn't matter on this score whether you are a Protestant or a Roman Catholic. The story and the meaning are much the same.

In Eden humans disobeyed God and broke their relationship with Him. For this they were cast out of Paradise as a punishment and suffered death as a consequence of their sin. This fall corrupted (more - Calvin or less - the Scholastics) human nature thereafter and made reparation with God a human impossibility on account of the gravity of sin (which includes the transmissible guilt of Adam and Eve), its disabling power and God's judgement upon man's transgression. Only God Himself could put humanity back into a right relationship with Him (justification) and impart holiness (sanctification). This He did by suffering the punishment for our transgressions - death - in the sacrifice of His Son for the salvation of the world in our place, propitiating God in respect of the offence of original and subsequent actual sin. By this means Man was restored to a right relationship with Him and was accounted worthy of eternal life made available to him in and by Christ's resurrection.


Notice here that death is both a consequence and a punishment for sin; that someone must bear the punishment justly due for our transgression and that only when Christ has appeased the Father is eternal life possible. The resurrection has no saving significance beyond that which has already been achieved on the cross. The life of the redeemed at best bears the hope of fellowship with God or perhaps (for Roman Catholics) the Beatific Vision. Any transforming union with God can only be characterised by spiritual contemplation not an ontological change in our human nature.

In Orthodoxy however we have a very different account.

In Eden humans chose a demonically inspired autonomy from God and by that choice death entered the natural order and human life specifically. God in his mercy and love removed them from Paradise into this world lest this physical death be compounded by an eternal spiritual death. Now subject to suffering and death, human alienation from the divine life becomes the raw material for Satan's attempt to subvert humanity finally from God. This corrupting influence of the fear of and flight from death makes of sin an ever present reality for the children of Adam and Eve. However they remain free to choose between God and Satan and this outworking of salvation in history eventually enables a Virgin to conceive by the Holy Spirit the Saviour who is both God and Man. This incarnation which includes the whole dispensation of Christ from his birth to his resurrection unites our human nature to God and redeems it. As we repent and live ascetically for God in the power of the Holy Spirit the resurrection victory of God over the opposing powers (which led to the death of Christ), we partake of the divine life of the Trinity, the energies of God, and are transformed in an ontological union with God from one degree of glory to the next, (the ascension of our humanity). This salvation process starts in this life and is consummated in the next.


Notice how death is not a punishment from an outraged God in Eden, nor is our banishment. Everything is done out of love. There is no divine anger to placate, no debility of our will, no meaning in the death of Christ without the resurrection (but every meaning with it!). All of the life of Christ saves us and this is by the incarnation gathering everything that is ours into God where it is transformed into the divine image and likeness. Moreover the Holy Spirit is the divine personal agent of our transformation and everything is a coordinated work of the Holy and Blessed Trinity. The Ever-Virgin Mary becomes the model of what it is to be a Christian. She broke down the wall of opposition to God in her own life and womb and by her own gracious response to God. This is what it is to be saved in the Orthodox Church, to be an Easter people.

Finally let us consider the consequences of a faith lived in the first (non-Orthodox) and second (Orthodox) instance. For non-Orthodox Christians the resurrection is something of an afterthought, not in itself as such but in salvation terms. It's difficult to see how the resurrection of Christ actually saves anyone if the death alone has healed the breach between humanity and God through a vicarious (if not substitutionary) punishment. God becomes a threat to be averted in the condition of sin. Of course this is always characterised as an initiative of love but it is the wrath of God that HE HIMSELF must first avert ... which rather begs the question... "Why does God place Himself under such an exterior necessary constraint?" He literally CANNOT forgive without the shedding of blood but notice that it is not death which is addressed here but the offence of sin. In the second Orthodox account is the CAUSE of the disease (death) that first must be addressed if there to be BOTH forgiveness and an enduring change, (regeneration).

When we consider that in the first account humanity has to carry the burden of Adam and Eve's guilt as well as their actual sin it is little surprising that western culture through off this guilt ridden morbidity in the Enlightenment. However, without the saving Incarnation and Resurrection, the spiritually eviscerated remnants of Christianity in the West could offer little more than humanism with a Christian veneer. When faced with bondage to the devil and the corruption of death (the unacknowledged realities here) non-Orthodox Christians eventually either rejected God altogether as an intolerable psychological burden or settled for a truce, an uneasy peace punctuated by the occasional radiance of a religious revival in which something once lost was dimly remembered and partially recovered. for a time at least.

We are now at the end of this degenerative process in the Christian west and I doubt whether anything of the former Easter glory can be recovered. The future for all Christians in the west lies in recovering something of the grandeur and hope of the original Christian vision ... a world utterly transformed by the resurrection power of the divine love. Many have hung onto this paschal hope outside the Orthodox Church. It is now time for the Orthodox Church in the west to put her own own in order and get ready to welcome these scattered and disorientated western children of God both inside and outside the other Christian traditions.

17 comments:

orrologion said...

How does the lack of punitive motives in God square with patristic language like this:

"Thou hast taken upon Thyself the common debt of all in order to pay it back to Thy Father - pay back also, O guiltless Lord, those sins with which our freedom has indebted us. Thou hast redeemed us from the curse of the law by Thy precious blood. Deliver also those redeemed by Thy blood from harsh justice!" (St. Ephrem the Syrian, *A Spiritual Psalter* #102)

Father Gregory said...

Do our sins condemn us or does God condemn us FOR our sins? Therein lies the important distinction.

When we sin we distance ourselves from God and in consequence of this separation from life and love we experience the judgement of death and hatred .... but is it God himself who kills and destroys? Not it is not.

Hell is of our own making; but in the first place it is the horrendous Godless prison of the devil and the fallen angels.

Josephus Flavius said...

Your last paragraph is the one I have a question about...

Is it your contention then that the West cannot recover itself, but requires the open arms of the Orthodox to do so? Further, do you lump the 30,000 protestant ecclesial bodies and the Catholic Church together as "scattered and disoriented"? I ask this not as the first volley in a polemical back and forth, but for clarification of your operational resolution to the "degenerative process."

Christian said...

"God in his mercy and love removed them from Paradise into this world lest this physical death be compounded by an eternal spiritual death."

This is illogical. God could choose to suspend death as a righteous punishment for sin. That would have been more merciful... unless of course God must protect his Divine honour and allow man to choose the way of wickedness. To save anyone he would therefore need a perfect sacrifice to satisfy Divine justice... oh but wait... that is the Roman view!

It is also totally illogical because Paradise is eternal. One cannot be alive and then be dead in Paradise because all times are one. One is either alive or dead. One CANNOT die in Paradise. Hence why the daemons did not die because of their sin.

Plus Eden was on this earth, not in some other place as Scripture attests. Thus this passage is unscriptural.

"Now subject to suffering and death, human alienation from the divine life becomes the raw material for Satan's attempt to subvert humanity finally from God."

Don't you think if God did put us on earth out of mercy he would have made it a whole lot nicer and would not alow Satan to attack us?

"This corrupting influence of the fear of and flight from death makes of sin an ever present reality for the children of Adam and Eve."

What so we sould all be as good as gold if we knew we were going to live for ever? That seems totaly unreasonable and detached from that fact of life.

"Why does God place Himself under such an exterior necessary constraint?"

Because to leave an injery unpunished is unjust. God is Just and cannot go against his own nature.

"When we consider that in the first account humanity has to carry the burden of Adam and Eve's guilt as well as their actual sin"

No. Adams guilt is washed away by baptism. The EFFECTS of original sin are, however, not.

As to other matters. In the west we have justification and sanctification. One could easily call justification an "ontological change in our human nature".

Also, the Resurrection is important to the western tradtion for the following reasons:

* It shows the justice of God who exalted Christ to a life of glory, as Christ had humbled Himself unto death (Phil., ii, 8-9).
* The Resurrection completed the mystery of our salvation and redemption; by His death Christ freed us from sin, and by His Resurrection He restored to us the most important privileges lost by sin (Romans 4:25).
* By His Resurrection we acknowledge Christ as the immortal God, the efficient and exemplary cause of our own resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:21; Philippians 3:20-21), and as the model and the support of our new life of grace (Romans 6:4-6; 9-11).

Father Gregory said...

The Christian "west" could halt its decline but it would require such a wholesale revision of its faith and life as to seriously call into question its likelihood.

There are some things on which Catholicism and Protestantism remain diametrically opposed ... but atonement isn't one of them.

Father Gregory said...

Dear Christian

All you are doing is repeating the "western" view back at me without addressing the reasons for the differences. You see the sacrifice of Christ as the necessary perfect offering to satisfy divine justice. This then colours how you characterise death. You assume a natural immortality of the soul; therefore you regard the Edenic state as already imbued with immortality and so on. I presume you were being ironic about a "nicer earth" (paraphrase), if not, well, what can I say?! When you do address the patristic estimation of death you trivialise it but you make no argument.

I suppose that the biggest and most telling difference between us if your insuistence that human notions of justice are a self limiting constraint within God's character. From this much else flows of course. The thing is we don't believe that so there is no "satisfaction" to be made. There is an illness to cure but not an indictment to be read.

Finally the resurrection is about much more than our "restoration" ... it is a "new creation." Your ontological transformation is merely a result of an attitudinal change in God. Perhaps sanctification gets us closer but I would want to hear more from you on what you consider the "end of Man" to be.

Christian said...

The fundamental issue I had with your view of Eden is that it seems to be that God put us on earth to prevent us dieing eternally. But this is not born out in scripture. God created earth, a perfect earth, Eden. We sinned and this resulted in the cessation of the perfect earth. We created the bad earth - scripture says it plain and simple. We were not sent here after the fall.

My 'nicer earth' point is that God can prevent Satan attacking us, so why doesn't he? You seem to be saying that God sent us to earth to prevent our eternal death (which, by the way does not make much sense since death is an event not a process) but that on earth Satan can attack us. Why does God not prevent this.

Regarding Justice, I am not using any human notions of justice. I am merely applying reason. God is reasonable. The opposite of reason is insanity and we know that God is not insane.

I think you are dangerously belittling "an attitudinal change in God". We are talking about God WILLING something. That is the single most awesome event imaginable. Creation is the result of His Will. The universe, Heaven and Hell and even our immortal souls are only kept in existence by His Will!

'End Man' - Well, put simply, we a raised from the dead, judged and if saved attain a glorified body and there will be a new earth and the saints will see God for all eternity. Since God is the very Essence of the First Cause eternal contemplation of Him will result in perfect rest and happiness. Hence the final purpose of man shall be achieved.

Christian said...

PS: The emphasis on the passion was first seen as a major trend in the east. In pre-Constantinian Nicaea to be exact.

Raindear said...

Fr. Gregory,

I am a Roman Catholic and I would like to respond to your original post. In the first place, your description of the Catholic understanding was incomplete. As St. Augustine says in The City of God, two deaths followed upon the original sin. The primary death was the death of the soul through the loss of grace, but a secondary death also resulted, that of the body. Of most relevance is his assertion that the second death followed naturally upon the first because the death of the soul weakened the natural union between the body and soul and made a final severing possible. This concept is, of course, also present in the writings of St. Paul: "Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned."(Rom 5:12) So in the Catholic understanding, death is not really an arbitrary punishment imposed by God, but natural consequence of Adam's sin.

Nor do we hold that Christ need have suffered death in order to restore us into a proper relation with God. The teaching is, rather, that an offense was committed against the infinite God, so justice required reparation in equal measure. Because of Christ's divine nature, any suffering he endured would have infinite value. Thus, He need not have endured the horrible suffering of the Cross - even the slightest discomfort would have sufficed. However, he chose to die on the Cross to reveal the depths of His love for mankind and the value of suffering offered to God:"Behold, I make all things new."(Rev.21:5)

Grace is a free gift. We have no right to it. By his sin, Adam lost for all mankind the privilege of beginning life already participating in the life of the Holy Trinity through grace. In the sacrament of Baptism, Christ gave us a way of to enter into that Divine Life again through an act of faith.
Finally, as to the significance of the Resurrection, here is a summary from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Besides being the fundamental argument for our Christian belief, the Resurrection is important for the following reasons:

* It shows the justice of God who exalted Christ to a life of glory, as Christ had humbled Himself unto death (Phil., ii, 8-9).
* The Resurrection completed the mystery of our salvation and redemption; by His death Christ freed us from sin, and by His Resurrection He restored to us the most important privileges lost by sin (Romans 4:25).
* By His Resurrection we acknowledge Christ as the immortal God, the efficient and exemplary cause of our own resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:21; Philippians 3:20-21), and as the model and the support of our new life of grace (Romans 6:4-6; 9-11).

Father Gregory said...

Dear Christian

YOU SAID: The fundamental issue I had with your view of Eden is that it seems to be that God put us on earth to prevent us dieing eternally. But this is not born out in scripture. God created earth, a perfect earth, Eden. We sinned and this resulted in the cessation of the perfect earth. We created the bad earth - scripture says it plain and simple. We were not sent here after the fall.

MY REPLY: I have never said that Eden was not on earth, (albeit this is an aetiological myth). But earth outside Eden is not the same as earth inside Eden ... or else there would have been no point in having an angel guard the perimeter. Eden stands for something lost but still existing, here yet inaccessible until the Incarnation.

If we had remained in Eden (the perfect earth) whilst still in sin that would have been disastrous for us. A place of sorrow this earth may be but it is still a place where death releases us from temporary travail. Nonetheless even this death has now lost its sting with its overturning in the resurrection ... which also deals with sin and its "exclusion zone." Easter is our return to Eden where we may taste of the tree of life, (the Church and the Eucharist).

YOU SAID: My 'nicer earth' point is that God can prevent Satan attacking us, so why doesn't he? You seem to be saying that God sent us to earth to prevent our eternal death (which, by the way does not make much sense since death is an event not a process) but that on earth Satan can attack us. Why does God not prevent this.

MY REPLY: ... because there is no growth in the Spirit without a contention against that which remains opposed to God in our lives. God will not short circuit either our freedom or our responsibility to deal with deal with our unregenerate side by His grace.

YOU SAID: Regarding Justice, I am not using any human notions of justice. I am merely applying reason. God is reasonable. The opposite of reason is insanity and we know that God is not insane.

MY REPLY: Reason is not in contention. Its application in this particular case is. I am no fideist.

YOU SAID: I think you are dangerously belittling "an attitudinal change in God". We are talking about God WILLING something. That is the single most awesome event imaginable. Creation is the result of His Will. The universe, Heaven and Hell and even our immortal souls are only kept in existence by His Will!

MY REPLY: Ah, but the key question is what is it that He wills. What does He long for ... FOR US? Hence my question about the emd of man.

YOU SAID: 'End Man' - Well, put simply, we are raised from the dead, judged and if saved attain a glorified body and there will be a new earth and the saints will see God for all eternity. Since God is the very Essence of the First Cause eternal contemplation of Him will result in perfect rest and happiness. Hence the final purpose of man shall be achieved.

MY REPLY: "Seeing God" certainly but that does not exhaust the full biblical sense of glorification. Christian mystical theology is the necessary tool for explaining that divine-human union ... deification, not just the Beatific Vision.

Yvonne said...

I prefer the Orthodox view to the 'western' view, but I cannot accept that death is unnatural - to me (as a Pagan) it is part of the natural cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. All life dies, it is part of being physically manifest.

Your Edenic paradise cannot have been physically manifest (so I concur with your view that it was elsewhere), as death is a natural consequence of life.

It makes a lot more sense to me that the whole of the life of Jesus should be considered important, not just his death, but I don't understand why God waited for millions of years of human history before doing something to sort out the (alleged) problem.

But I must say Orthodoxy is much more joyful (and has better music) than the other lot.

Kalo Pascha!

Doorman-Priest said...

Thank you for your welcome and hospitality today. We had a blast! You nearly got another convert to Orthodoxy. I loved the Holy chaos, the deep spirituality and I thought your semon was excellent.

The miserable Lutheran thanks you.

Father Gregory said...

Thanks, it's appreciated.

Susan said...

I think both of these perspectives existed in the undivided church and are part of the patrimony of all Christians, or, at least, of Catholics and Orthodox.
Nor are elements of the view you characterize as Orthodox absent in the west. Some examples immediately leap to mind.
The Catholic mass has these words as the priest adds a drop of water to the wine in the chalice "By the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

I first read the explanation you give for the expulsion from Eden in something by CS Lewis, an Anglican. (probably in "Mere Christianity."

I have a slim book written in the first half of the 20th century entitled "Christos Victor" which deals with the theology of the atonement you expound; it is by either an Anglican or a Lutheran priest. (If I can find it I'll come back and be more specific.)

These ideas are not absent from the West. Nor, as the first poster above showed, are the ideas you characterize as Orthodox, absent from the East.

I haven't thought all of this through, but a first thought is that an account which denies some degree of captivity of the will is not in accord either with scripture nor with the observations of human nature which we can make by simple introspection. "That which I would not do, I do, and that which I would do, I do not," said St. Paul, and who has not experienced this?

Susan Peterson

Father Gregory said...

There is no absence in the west truly for these things Susan BUT latterly they have never been part of the mainstream. Aulen, Lewis Von Balthasar are welcome exceptions to the general rule.

On the will .... the key Orthodox concept is "synergy." Is there an equivalent in the non-Orthodox west? Wouldn't our doctrine be characterised as semi-Pelagian in an Augustinian context? These are some of the crucial issues that still divide us.

orrologion said...

The thing that must always be remembered when discussing the will is that the christology accepted by the Church at the 6th Ecumenical Council defines the will as a component of the nature (common to us all) rather than to the hypostasis/person. We share a single will with Jesus' human nature in the same way that He shares a single will with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

This subtle point of theology has dramatic ramifications in soteriology and all religious life when forgotten.

It should also always be remembered that for most of the first millenium of Christianity, the Church was not divded equally between East and West, but between multiplicities of local churches. Most of these churches and most of the population and wealth were in what we know refer to monolithicly as the East, and a far larger percentage of these churches had eminent, apostolic credentials; in the West there was a single apostolic foundation, Rome.

This too has dramatic ramifications to one's understanding of church life if forgotten.

Father Gregory said...

Dear Raindear

I am sorry that your post escaped my moderation but it is now published. The starting point of our diverghence is this and I quote:-

"The teaching is, rather, that an offense was committed against the infinite God, so justice required reparation in equal measure."

OFFENSE - JUSTICE - REPARATION

This is the iron logic of satisfaction ... with or without penal substitutionary atonement.

The Orthodox say that God does not hold our sins against us nor does he need to inflict Himself on account of them. It is sufficient that he dies under the burden of our sin to free us in the resurrection.

He is under no penal constraint whatsoever whether substantiated by divine holiness or natural law. He simply loves us into redemptive freedom through death destroying death and then leads us into his transfiguring Kingdom by the Spirit. The whole of the divine economy saves us, not just the death.

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