Mother Hubbard's Cupboard

A look into the mind of one of the most random, crazy people in all the land.

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Location: East Peoria, Illinois, United States

A Lutheran seminarian eagerly awaiting the return of Our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, March 30, 2007

On the Eve of Brother Tagge's Chrismation....A Pause

Scripture of the Day: Galatians 2:16

Icon of the Day: St. Michael the Archangel

I'm writing this post from my friend Michael's apartment in Chicago (and on his laptop). Therefore my normal resources are out of touch. Tomorrow (well, at 8:30 AM today) he will be Chrismated into the Orthodox Church. I have mixed feelings on the issue. I sympathize with him tremendously when it comes to being indignant at the annihilation of the traditions of the church catholic from our synod and the general lack of interest by the laity in the work that the Holy Spirit has done throughout the church's existence. I also sympathize with him concerning doctrinal points that until recently I didn't think could fit within the confines of the Lutheran Confessions (thankfully I was wrong!). However, I regret that he is going to a church that prides itself on its identity and what it perceives as pure white as snow dogma handed down from the Apostles. True, they have authentic apostolic succession, but to me it seems like they are going the direction of the Jews at the time of Christ...worried more about their identity than anything else.

A point of doctrine that I was unaware of until recently was that according to Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff, the Orthodox believe that a theology that has man as sinner and saint simultaneously is incompatible with the ancient church.....but is it? Or is it a thin veil to cover over the problem that the limited view of sin on man's will and nature is incompatible with what is observed in the world....even in Christian nations? To me the whole crux of this issue is sin and the fallen nature of man. Too high a view of man after the fall, and we only need a little help to clean us off and pick us up from falling down and going boom. Too low a view of man after the fall indicates that we are brought back to life, picked up and carried to the nearest house, and pampered while simultaneously having the guy who helped us take over at our job and deal with our problems. I cannot personally accept the Orthodox concept of man as having an inherently free (albeit narrowed and limited) will. Scripture never speaks of this, but does say quite the opposite. "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin" Romans 7:14. "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like" (Galatians 5:19-21a). If indeed that passage is talking about not a choice we make, but our condition before we are joined to Christ, then why would it be followed with this passage, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful-nature with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24).

Simultaneously with this emphasis away from the evil of man and the limitations of his will ("But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life"-Romans 7:25) there is an emphasis away from legalistic and forensic language. Why is this? I am not totally against the idea that God renews the relationship between us, and makes it better than before, but with regards to our being made righteous before Him it is faith alone in the sacrifice of Christ. That is the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. "God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day" Psalm 7:11. "However, to the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteous" Romans 4:5. Indeed it is commonly asserted that the Subtitutionary Atonement Model is a view of Anselm and not to be found in Eastern Orthodoxy....indeed that is false. "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" 1 Peter 1:18-19.

It would be argued that the fathers never spoke of this...and again incorrect, for St. John Chrysostom's Homily #8 on the "Church and Repentance" says thus: "God is a great lover of man. He did not hesitate to surrender His Son as prey in order to spare His servant. He surrendered His only-begotten to purchase hard-hearted servants. He paid the blood of His Son as the price. O the philanthropy of the Master! And do not tell me again, “I sinned a lot; how can I be saved?” You cannot save yourself, but your Master can, and to such a great degree as to obliterate your sins. Pay attention very carefully to the discourse. He wipes out the sins so completely that not a single trace of them remains." St. Chrysostom speaks of a price of blood...a price from the sin offerings that much if not all of the Old Testament sacrifices were set up to show.

To wit, this is not what I intended to write so much about. I merely wished to state what I view as problems with the Eastern Orthodox positions on key Scriptural and Christian truths. If Orthodoxy is the "fullness of the Gospel" as many attest to (I admit they have understandings that may be synergistic to the West), why would the full pronouncement of the Gospel for the forgiveness of sins be fully expressed only on the day of Easter? Pay attention to all of the pomp and celebration of the Easter speaks of us being covered in the blood of the lamb for forgiveness of sins. Dr. Eugene Smith chronicled his transition from the Eastern Orthodoxy Church to the Lutheran Church (here) and brought up the questions he was posed by a Lutheran Vicar while he was still a priest. 1. Is God a liar? 2. Do you believe you are forgiven from the cross? 3. What's your problem? 1 and 2 were easy (no and yes respectively)...but he was caught off-guard by question 3. What indeed is our problem? If we are forgiven from the cross and God became fully man and suffered for then do we become deified by what we do (even with grace) when Christ clearly did it all for us? What is our problem with connecting to that grace-filled act on the cross? It is this that Orthodoxy cannot deliver for seeks to connect and experience God through prayer and yet it is everyday that I experience God within me....when I'm at prayer or not.

Regardless of what side of the divide you fall on...make Christ your God and be subservient to Him and His cross.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son +, and to the Holy Spirit.


Blogger Tony said...

Hey man, just thought I'd post a comment that had nothing to do with your actual post. Just to stay in touch. Hehe.

5:43 AM  
Blogger cheryl said...

Hi Chris,

My experience with E. Orthodoxy, is that there is no (what we might consider real), consensus on the issue of salvation, be it faith, works, freewill ect, in E. Orthodoxy. You have some that appear almost Pelagian, and others agreeing with Lutheranism, saying that we are justified by faith alone. Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism both, are much more adept to answering questions regarding the exact nature of these things. I don't think this is absent from E. Orthodoxy (I'm thinking here if St. Maximus the Confessor), but by and large, as a whole, I don't think this is something that they have really worked through to the level Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism has.

(As an interesting sidenote, me thinks I read somewhere, that the previous Pope had said himself that we are at the same time saint and sinner. I'll have to look that up, and see if I can trace it to a reputable source (so don't hold me to it, just thought it was interesting)).

Regarding Anselm, and Penal Substitution, I think that although theologically speaking, Penal Substitution, is a legitimate offspring of Anselm's theory, I'm not sure that Anselm's theory was itself Penal in nature. I'm not sure he would say that Christ took our punishment as a satisfaction, but that by His satisfaction, He avoided punishment. Similar to if a person commits a crime, they can either pay the fine (and thus restore honor to the court/or the person whom they offended) or they can go to jail. (Jail being the actual punishment, and the payment of the fine, the alternative to the punishment). I don't know how this would square with Scripture though. To my knowledge Penal Substitution really found it's own voice, not in Anselm per se, but in Thomas Aquinas. But you'd have to ask Matt Petersen about that, I'm just going on what others have told me, and my own cursory reading of Aquinas. He may tell you something different.

Good to talk to you.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous krystalice said...

hey sahhhhhhheren...since you're never online....i guess i'll bug you here....graduation is may 13th (sunday) should stop by chambanaaaaaa ;)

12:15 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Christ is risen!

Greetings in the joy of the Lord's resurrection! Chris, first of all I have to say that I'm sorry that I missed you when you were here in Chicago, and that, once again, some contact by phone is much overdue. I don't know if I'll be able to deliver this week... I'm busy with application for St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary. But anyway, I think of you often and pray for you often, and I hope that this communion in thought, prayer and memory can be incarnate once again in person.

I'd like to offer a few reflections on your post, based on my scattered late-night thoughts, which, for some reason, seem to be the most blog-prone.

I want to address a few thoughts about the contention that Orthodoxy does not conceive of man as sinner and saint simultaneously. I am not familiar with this idea in the writings of Fr Meyendorff, but I think I have a few thoughts that may provide some fruitful context. Firstly, I'd like to point out that Meyendorff may not be representing a conclusion universally accepted among Orthodox-- while he and the other deans of St. Vladimir's Seminary have produced brilliant work, they have been prone at times to express rather more personal opinions than conciliar agreements. My very first thought about this idea, of sinner and saint as incompatible, is that it is both radically at odds with the self-evaluations of our greatest saints, and yet it is also curiously necessary to safeguard their ascetic struggles. Let me explain what I mean. No saint who has been glorified by the Orthodox Church would ever have made the claim to be sinless. To the contrary, it is in the holiest, most radiant of saints that we also find the sharpest expression of self-condemnation and awareness of sinfulness. Any real saint will simply call himself "first and greatest among sinners" and actually have come to believe that. And so there you have it, straight from the horse's mouth: Orthodox saints clearly call themselves sinners, even when they are visibly pure and shining beacons of perfection to the world. So Father Meyendorff's statement is radically incorrect, from that perspective-- the perspective of the personal ascetic struggle. And yet in another sense, his statement is both true and necessary, especially for our time. For while these saints clearly condemn themselves and are intensely aware of their condition of sinfulness, saying things identical to what you have quoted to us from Psalm 51 "I was brought forth in sin etc" and Romans, "I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin," yet their lives demonstrate a new and radical possibility of sanctity far beyond what we fainthearted modern Americans can conceive of as possible. It is definitively the teaching of Orthodoxy that it is possible, by the redemptive power of God's grace, for a sinner to be so utterly transformed on earth as to be utterly freed from the temptations of the flesh and to achieve a state of passionlessness, or "apatheia" as it is referred to in the ascetic literature. In other words, a human on earth may be so enraptured by the love of God, so utterly caught up in the beauty of Jesus Christ, that the deceptive enticements of the world utterly pale in comparison and no longer hold any sway. In fact, they become utterly repulsive, abhorrent, and conducive to a physical rejection even by the body. That is, the saint is purified of evil desires and acquires a state of inner peace, no longer falling to the passions. This sounds impossible, even heretical to Lutheran ears, and yet the Orthodox Church humbly professes this to be true out of awe from its experience of men who have surpassed us by light years in holiness, who have repeatedly shared this experience for our benefit (saints usually hate to let others see their sanctity, as St Paul for instance deferring his own mystical experiences via his expression "I know a man who was caught up to the third heaven..."). Not only that, but passionlessness is not even the end of the road as far as the journey of repentance into God's love goes, but is only a launching pad for further travels "from glory to glory." It is important to note that freedom from the passions, that is, from committing or being swayed by new sins, is still not freedom from the condition of sinfulness, which is the continued presence of temptations and spiritual attacks, the possibility of falling, and the suffering of frailty and death, the consequences of our separation from God, which is not fully restored until resurrection. This, incidentally, is the position which Mary occupies according to our teaching-- passionless, free from personal sins or falls, and yet still in need of salvation because of the state of sinfulness in which she participates with all humanity.

I believe that perhaps Meyendorff is attempting here to safeguard the church's experience of the reality and possibility of sanctity from being cheapened by concessions to our sinful indolence, which would prefer to write off the possibility of true sanctity in exchange for a sullied alloy of passions and falls coexisting with repentance and holiness. There is a paradox at work here: Orthodoxy above all insists that we must become perfect as our Father is perfect, and do this here on earth as our Lord commanded, insisting that this thing can indeed be achieved. And yet its ascetic experience of this command must insist upon an antinomial truth in order to achieve it: we are most sinless when we come to understand ourselves most completely as sinners, and come to rely on God's grace with every fiber of our being for every need of our life, attributing everything 100% to his grace and nothing to ourselves-- for by ourselves, we are everything you mentioned: conceived in iniquity, sinful and disobedient from birth, slaves to sin, dead. Yet in dying to ourselves by believing these things to the core of our being, grace opens up and fills us to overflowing, to the point that sin must be driven out and cannot survive because of the overabundance of the divine life coming to dwell in us. And by affirming the real possibility of a saint, and of the sinner being utterly annihilated, we bear witness not to the achievement of human will but rather to the radical power of God's total victory over sin by Jesus on the cross and in the resurrection, now actualized and made complete in a redeemed person.

The Orthodox have by no means cheapened the understanding of the fall or reduced the gravity of sinfulness, as I believe you understand us to have done. I believe you are referring to our doctrines when you say "Too high a view of man after the fall, and we only need a little help to clean us off and pick us up from falling down and going boom." Your familiarity with our Orthodox theology must come to include our ascetical life, because in Orthodoxy ALL theology must be lived out and practically applied, and the ascetic life is the application of all of our teachings. It is here that we come face to face with the reality of sin and its iron grip upon our souls. The Orthodox Church calls all Christians to a struggle far more ferocious, far more enduring, and far more liberating than any other faith. This is precisely because we find ourselves so radically in bondage to sin that nothing else besides a lifetime of grace-enabled struggle can undo our habitual programming towards evil and bring us to an awareness of our total dependence upon God-- that is, our ability to ask for his grace with 100% of our being and desire nothing else. And if we are to have any courage for this struggle, it must be maintained that the crown is worth racing for, and is indeed something that can be "won," a gift that God does in fact grant. But at the same time it is made crystal clear that we can do NOTHING without God and that it is "Christ in me" and not myself who fights and gains this victory. The sacraments would be unnecessary were this struggle not laid before us. Christ has indeed and does indeed do all for us. And precisely because of that, he clearly and repeatedly commands us to do the same for him,
that we give all we have and are to him, loving him with all our strength, all our heart, and all our mind. Having freed us from our slavery to sin he now commands us to use all our being to labor for God, as we were created to do from the beginning. Do you see? Christ is doing all the work, and we are working as well-- this is not only compatible, but beautiful, isn't it? Christ did all for us, so that we might do all for him. So we must struggle, but not because it frees us, but rather, because we are freed to struggle, and this pleases God, according to his command that we love him with our whole heart and all our strength. This is what a saint is doing.

I don't mean to belabor the point, and I hope I'm not obscuring it. But when you discard your theoretical discussions and theological controversies and simply look at how people are living, it is clear that Orthodoxy has the gravest view of sin because it has the strongest call to repentance-- the Orthodox Church most fully LIVES as if sin is an all-embracing reality, and most fervently desires to escape the imprisonment of this reality, as soon as possible. Because of this, it is the Orthodox who most clearly succeed at becoming sanctified, and who can most definitively chart the path trodden by the experience of visibly deified men and women. We are adamant that sin is radically incarcerating, to the point that our holiest saints, freed from passions, still call themselves the worst of sinners. And we are also adamant that God has really and truly offered the resurrected life to us, so that real transformation is possible here and now, and we ought to seek it with every shred and sinew of our strength and desire. No church can possess the fullness of the Gospel unless it possesses those men and women who have incarnated the Gospel into the world through their bodies, having become everything Jesus promised-- and his promise was that we would do greater things than he. These things the Orthodox saints do to this day, raising the dead, healing by a word, stopping time, reading thoughts and hearts, shining with the uncreated light of God. This is because the Orthodox Church offers to all its people the means of transfiguration and the experience of real saints who have received it. We ought to accept no other theology, no other doctrine, and no other spirituality except that one which has been proven to bear the grace of God by the fruit of holiness. And for all the good things Confessional Lutheranism professes to believe, it does not and cannot live out the Gospel in this way because it does not truly believe in the possibility of real sanctity on earth, nor does it even possess priests experienced in administering the sacrament of confession, much less the heights of passionlessness and the direct vision of God in the Uncreated Light. I don't intend these comments to be incendiary. I simply want to pose this question: how much holiness does your heart thirst for? And does your confession promise a draught that could slake such a God-given thirst? I have found no well deep enough save Orthodoxy.

Glory to Jesus Christ, the living water welling up to eternal life.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Forgive my verbosity. I think your questions and criticisms are insightful and important, and because of that I don't want to let them go unaddressed-- I haven't dealt with any of the remarks about legal language, atonement, blood sacrifice, etc, nor continued our worthy conversation from a prior post about grace, the fall, free will, and atonement. To spare you more of my own ramblings, I'd like to refer you to a more concise and eloquent Orthodox voice, which says most of the things I'd like to express. He takes up the biblical themes you've mentioned of blood sacrifice and illustrates the Orthodox understanding of these (which are NOT ignored nor glossed over. sacrificial atonement images are crucial.) There are three articles I'd specifically refer you to at this site:

1) Creation and Fall
2) The Atonement
3) Blood Sacrifices and Forgiveness in Orthodoxy

I believe you will see that you are misunderstanding our teachings about the cross and sacrifice, and that we are not afraid of the cross nor the lamb who was slain, nor the blood. We emphatically do insist upon the sacrificial character of the atonement in fulfillment of the Old Testament types of Christ, and yet this is emphatically NOT the story that Anselm tells-- we do not profess the God who must kill, who must have blood before He can forgive. We profess the God who dies to meet us where we are at, in death and hades, so that by making our death his, his life becomes ours, his broken body a bridge that spans from death to the living God, and he offers us his blood as a "transfusion" to restore life within us. I dare call Orthodox atonement the sacrificial theology of the blood transfusion. But you'll see what I mean. And I promised not to talk too much-- so I'll cut my hypocrisy short and trust your curiosity.

12:06 AM  
Blogger alex said...

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4:21 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

At the risk of growing tiresome, I sincerely and humbly beg anyone who has participated (as silent reader or active contributer) in our discussions of grace and free will, the fall, and salvation to read an article I just discovered which helps to elucidate the differences in approach and worldview that are binding our dialogues to fruitless quibbling. It is the article called "Faith Works and Synergy, A Look at St. John Cassian's View" at the excellent website

Please go straight there, if my rambling digressions that follow are likely to dissuade or exhaust you so that you don't go to read the really good stuff there. I really think that a slow and thoughtful reading of the articles I've mentioned on that site will brightly illumine the discussion we've been having, and the reasons why it has been difficult to get anywhere.

And now back to my rambling.

The framework, orientation, and thought process is so radically different between Western Christianity in general and Orthodoxy that it is almost impossible not to misunderstand one another by forcing the other's thought into shapes and categories alien to it. I believe the crux of the matter is the difference between Orthodoxy, with its ultimate value placed on the establishment of an eternal communion of persons between God and man that is inter-penetrating and love-relationship-based (what we might call the marriage or nuptial orientation of salvation) and Western Christianity with its extreme attention to the categories of transgression of divine order, with its consequent punishments or deprivations, and how this disruption is re-harmonized by the redirection of the negative consequences in order that they might be cancelled (what we might call the legal or juridical orientation of salvation). I believe both of these are legitimate approaches to theology with scriptural support and patristic reflection to justify them, as long as they are used within proper limits.

However, there is an important difference that sunders the Orthodox from the Western approach: the Orthodox mind, without denying the truth and necessity of the more juridical metaphors, views them as auxiliary, provisional, and secondary metaphors intended to refer the utterly lost and blinded human soul back to the primary issue of relationship and communion by demonstrating the brokenness of the relationship and the human incapability of its restoration. The juridical metaphor is a kind of provisional emphasis intended to bring the lost to realize they are lost and to begin searching for the guide, who later makes them capable of real love. The provisional rather than ultimate nature of the law is clearly demonstrated by the fact that it was not given to man from the beginning, but only became available through Moses hundreds of years after the fall-- as a mirror. Nor does the law endure once Christ frees man from it, because in the restoration of a loving relationship the law becomes totally unnecessary, as love always desires the things that draw one closer to the beloved, and this is the sum of the law and prophets-- that we love. What I'm getting at here is that the account of salvation typically presented by Western theology seems inadequate and secondary to Orthodox ears, dealing only with categories, conditions, external rulings and proclamations. To summarize our salvation in terms of the escape from the punishment and the freedom from the guilt of the law is only a very small part of the story, and leaves the inner condition of man's heart unchanged, as well as failing to explain how a real, interpenetrating, nuptial union with God is accomplished, or how men come again into perfect communion with each other and all the rest of creation. Yet since the juridical aspect of salvation can be neatly arranged and categorized into formulas and logical necessities, and since the Western mind has come to reflect almost exclusively on this dimension of salvation, the Orthodox talk of salvation sounds weak and flabby, loose, and insufficiently rigorous, at best. At worst, it sounds outright heretical. This is because our Western sensibilities (and I include myself in this, as I have struggled long and hard to make any sense of this) are trying to force the relational/unitive/nuptial mysteries of salvation into the laws and formulas of juridcal declaration.

But it is precisely the nuptial aspect of our salvation where these categories are transcended and rendered useless, for "perfect love casts out fear," being wholly enraptured by the infinite depths of beauty and voluntary self-offering, the exchange of the gift of self. And the juridical is concerned not with the exchange of gifts, but the avoidance of punishment, which is a category entirely alien to mature loving relationship, and is only necessary in the childish stage of immaturity. Do you see how in a sense God intends and promises to grow us beyond the concern for the juridical to bring us to the nuptial, but that he employs the juridical first to make us capable of the nuptial?

It is like a Father who would like his son to know how to love and share with another person, but must lead him first through stages of discipline to teach him what love is NOT, so that later the son will love others freely, not out of fear of punishment, but having come to know how desirable the other is and wishing to give freely. For this reason, it would seem to the West that Orthodoxy neglects the juridical aspect of salvation, and, as this is so critical to Western reflection, that we miss the whole drift of salvation. Yet this is not the case. It is rather that for us the juridical is entirely subsumed in the more ultimate concern for loving communion and the free and mutual giving of self between man and God, as beautifully and sacramentally anticipated and reflected in the marriage of human persons. It seems to us, in fact, that the West is in danger of missing the whole drift of salvation, for by focusing predominantly on forensic categories of guilt and remission, law, punishment, satisfaction and substitution, imputation and cancellation, the more ultimate reality of God as the sum of all desire and the loving bridegroom of the Church is easily obscured or entirely neglected. And it can lead to an experience of God that is entirely extrinsic, external, and static-- something happening around me and without me rather than inside me, fulfilling me dynamically, exciting desire and self-offering. Salvation can remain an internal world of ideas and abstract states divorced from their lived experience. This experience is only avaiable through the progressively deepening union with God in the ascetic life leading to sanctification and ultimately to deification.

It is for these reasons that we find Anselmian satisfaction theory so distasteful-- because the picture it paints of God is distasteful at best: the affronted despot who must avenge his honor by the exacting of blood and suffering. In fact, this is an utter regression to the demon-gods of paganism, yet even worse than the paganism of the Canaanites whose child sacrifices God denounced as wretched abominations, for in this case, it is God himself whose bloodthirst must spill the lifeblood of his own divine Son to be appeased. What could be more abhorrent than discovering that violent, destructive, cannibalistic and child-murdering passions are inherent in the nature of God? Who could desire a nuptial union, and an intimate communion, with such a psychopath? This could only be a shotgun wedding, for such a God cannot be loved. And all this from the same God who supposedly does not even "desire the death of the sinner" and who commands us to forgive without thought to the repayment of debts or the magnitude of the offenses? Humans can forgive without repayment. Is God less compassionate than man? The anselmian atonement is completely incompatible with Christus Victor, the triumph of God over the enemies of man who hold him in bondage-- it is the revelation of God himself as the enemy, the one incapable of love without violence and unable to forgive (even as humans can) without receiving back everything that was lost. It is the bizarre "victory" of Christ over the wrath of the father-- a schizophrenic God at civil war in two persons, with the fortunate result that the compassionate, self-sacrificing Christ is victorious over the vengeful, death-demanding Father. It does not complement Christus Victor, it obliterates it. This is surely heresy, and this is the direction to which juridical theology can eventually tend if it is unchecked and unbalanced by a more complete vision of the atonement, of salvation and of man's ultimate destiny in union with God, the bridegroom.

But I digress far into the territory of polemics, and that was not my intent. Forgive me if my words offend. My intent is to suggest that we imagine for a moment that perhaps there is another vantage that we could gain, from which the alleged opposition between faith and works, grace and free will, etc, is simply dissolved into a lived experience of communion with God which far transcends our ability to express in discursive thought, categorical expressions, and reductive formulas-- as important as these may be as our best attempt to communicate that experience with one another. It is the safeguarding of this vantage point, the vantage of the vision of God by grace beyond human nature and capacity, which is the chief characteristic of Orthodoxy, and for this reason our theology necessarily attracts a certain character of paradox, enigma, and frustrating contradiction or seemingly indistinct ambiguity, for God, like any person, is not known or understood in thought but only in love.

If you still have not read the articles I alluded to, take a long break, and then come back and read them slowly, imagining a new vantage which will show how everything fits together, if we can let go for a moment of the story we are used to telling ourselves. Please read them. The author is more generous and more lucid than I am, if you will look past the occasional grammatical mistakes.

Christ is risen!


12:49 AM  
Blogger Chris said...


I would be delighted to read those articles. I do confess that I am at a loss to describe some things from Orthodoxy and to paint a straw man as such is not my intention. It is a very different world (as I believe you have shown me) between the scholastic theology of the Orthodox which says as Bishop Ware put it, mankind was viewed higher before the fall and lower afterward, and the monastic view which says that the more you recognize how sinful you are and how incarcerated you are to sin, the more sinless you are.

As a Lutheran who must contend with the massively liberal and anti-traditional ELCA when talking to non-Lutherans, I understand the sometimes frustrating and (even within Confessional circles)contradictory opinions that are touted as fact. Within the context of the fall of man, I am fully on board with the monastic view. This morning in our Bible Study we talked about Justification and your mother brought up an Orthodox person who recognized at the end of his life that he was more of a sinner than when he started (I think that's what she said, or something like it), referring to the fact that he recognized how much more sin he had as he got older.

In actuality that is the Lutheran view, and I have properly chided myself for my heretical insinuation that man is utterly evil and corrupt and that the image of God was lost. Man's image was not lost and mankind is "inherently good," but our "inherited evil and sin" is so deeply ingrained into us that we are evil from birth, hating God, dead in spirit, and loving our sins. This was Luther's point in his "Bondage of the Will," wherein he states that man's will is not free but bound by sin and the power of the devil as master. That is why in Christ they have no real power over us anymore.

With regard to our salvation....both sides are misunderstanding each other. From what I have gathered (and I haven't read the articles yet you sugested...I only JUST found out you responded :-D), Orthodoxy teaches that man is able to work with God to achieve deification and that faith is what allows for this. Man's will is unable to do anything spiritually good save by God's grace.

Lutheranism teaches that man is sinful from conception, is spiritually dead (unable to do anything good) though not necessarily unable to do good on earth (for there are moral atheists and other non-Christians), and that the justification and initial "choice" is not made for the Christian. The explanation for this is that this "rebirth" is similar to our earthly birth wherein we have nothing to do with it. That justifies and saves us particularly through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. After our initial justification which is active by faith and repentence, both a gift from God, we respond by continuing in our sanctification, which is similar to the deification process you described.

Our sanctification which must always follow our justification is synergistic (or more properly defined as monergistic synergy). Francis Piper in Volume III of "Christian Dogmatics" states concerning sanctification that, "God, who creates faith, also produces sanctification by His infinite power....But in this work of sanctification the Christian also plays a part...However - and let this be clearly understood - the working of God and the working of the new man are not co-ordinate, 'as when two horses draw a wagon,' but the activity of the new man is always and fully subordinated to God's activity; it always takes place dependenter a Deo. In other words: it is the Holy Ghost who produces the activity of the new man; the new man remains the organ of the Holy Ghost."

The difference would only exist between us if it were taught that you must be fully deified in this life to enter heaven, which I doubt very much you are saying. I am aware of what you are saying concerning miraculous activity of saints on earth who have been fully deified. I am also aware that you are asking me sometimes for Lutheran saints as you understand the term saint. I again would urge you to explore the Russian Lutherans whom are having the most fruitful dialogue concerning things such as icons and the Seventh Ecumenical Council. There are stories of Lutherans who surprised the Orthodox by their knowledge of things not yet revealed to them.

In all things we are in much agreement and while I agree that your churches and liturgy are amazing and draw one in, I must still decline to join Orthodoxy, though I still have respect and love for it as one who at one point have seen the grass being greener on the other side of the fence.

It is late and I tire. I will continue this tomorrow good sir :-).



Would you be so kind though as to find me for my own well-being an in-depth and systematic review of Luther's work by an Orthodox theologian who goes beyond simply lumping him with Calvin because of his view on predestination or jab at him because of his early views on James?

1:35 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...


late night greetings once again! I'm glad to see that you've found my posts, and that despite their excesses in both length and zeal, you've responded to them thoughtfully and cordially. I really think we are beginning to have some fruitful discussion and I for my part congratulate the tone that is being discovered, as well as the humble admission that we probably have not been fully understanding one another. For my part, I've definitely been learning a great deal, and I admit both my insufficient acquaintance with the actual writings of Luther and the early Lutherans, as well as my much more extensive acquaintance with the Orthodox tradition-- which of course lends a certain imbalance to my treatment of these topics. But I'm pleased to find out that our points of agreement are more encompassing than I had thought, and I'm also pleased that we are discovering the fundamental thoughts which underly our points of departure-- fundamentals that can easily be obscured or entirely overlooked in a polemical exchange of proof-texts and impassioned argument. So anyway, I just wanted to say that I'm happy we're having this exchange, and I hope that we continue in the direction that is becoming clear, by noting not only our differences but our fundamental points of departure which necessarily lead to differing conclusions, terminologies, and emphases. I think it is easy to see how challenging this is to do, for two reasons: 1) our intense familiarity with our own tradition can make it difficult to find enough distance to see the bigger picture of the tradition for ourselves, much less describe it to someone else i.e. it's hard to see the forest for the trees 2) it is terribly easy, because of lack of acquaintance with a different tradition, to misunderstand it by applying the framework and tools of our own tradition to it, and finding them handling it clumsily, to dismiss it as misshapen, when only another set of tools is necessary for it's use.

with all that in mind, I want to clarify a few things you said in your last post, and respond to a few of your suggestions.

first, a minor note to clarify that there is no such thing as scholasticism in Orthodoxy, and that Bishop Ware is examining a scholastic and Western teaching from an Orthodox point of view-- in brief, saying that the West tends to view man as perfect before the fall, then greatly diminished and distorted afterwards, and finally restored to the original perfection in Christ. The Orthodox view is a bit more dynamic, that man in the beginning is created by God in His perfect image but is given the task to guard that image and to develop it into a more perfect and ever-deepening relationship of communion with God-- so man is created not static, but to grow more fully into his created identity and ultimately to be united to God completely, without confusion of persons, in deification. In the view of the Orthodox, the Incarnation is therefore not only necessary in light of sin and the fall, but is the eternal desire of God in order that the gap between created and uncreated natures may be overcome in the person of Christ, so that all things may be united in him (Eph 1:4-6, and 1:9-10). After the fall, man's fulfillment of his image in a real relationship of communion with God (what we refer to as the "likeness" of God) is lost, but the image (the potential for this union by virtue of God making us as persons created for his love) is retained. Man finds himself in a state of bondage to sin, death, and the devil, his spiritual powers diminished and his free will severely inhibited, so that it is impossible for him to be united to God or desire this on his own. But we would say that the will is never so severely destroyed or enchained as not to have an inclination of what it ought to do (a conscience) or the ability to recognize its liberator and be united to Christ and his saving work of love. In union with Christ, by grace our original powers are gradually restored so that we can pick up where we left off in Eden, moving deeper again into God's communion, though now with greater difficulty because of the lingering effects of fallenness in the world, which are finally overcome in the resurrection and last judgment. Hmm... that was less a minor note than I had hoped, but I hope that adds some clarity to what you said. The monastic/ascetic position of sin that we have been discussing would fall into this bigger picture as the mid-portion, in which we begin to acquire real communion with God, but also come more and more deeply to recognize our total dependence upon his grace, as well as just how radical our separation from him by sin was, and how our communion remains an imperfect foretaste of a greater glory awaiting us in the resurrected body, freed finally from sin and all of its effects of corruption.

second, I'd like to post for you the story of Abba Sisoes, which I think is the story my Mom is referring to, of the "monk more sinful at the end of his life." And it isn't so much trying to attest that the man had BECOME more sinful by the end of his life by piling up sin upon sin, but rather that he had become intensely more aware of the infinite depths of God and his own infinitesimal paucity as a worthless sinner in comparison. In this light, repentance has no end, because there is no limit to the road of return into God-- it just keeps going, and the further you get, the more you realize how far away you were to begin with, and how much further you could go. Does this make sense? You see how a man is simultaneously being made perfect, and yet also being made conscious of his total reliance of God and his inability to make any real offering, and is beginning to understand the gravity of his actions that separated him from God. OK, without further prelude, here is the story. When it refers to Abba Anthony, it means St. Anthony the Great, the first great desert monastic, and the father of all monks and hermits:

Repentance in the wisdom of the Desert fathers:

When Abba Sisoes was about to die, and the fathers were sitting with him, they saw that his face was shining like the sun. He said unto them, "Behold, Abba Anthony has come." After a little while he said again, "Behold, the company of prophets has come," and his face shone twice as bright. Suddenly, he became as one speaking with someone else, and the fathers sitting there asked him, "Show us with whom you are speaking, father."

Immediately, Abba Sisoes said to them, "Behold, the angels came to take me away and I asked them to leave me so that I might tarry here a little longer and repent." And the old men said unto him, "You have no need to repent, father." And Abba Sisoes said to the fathers, "I do not know in my soul if I have rightly begun to repent," and they all realized that the old man was perfect.

Then, suddenly, his face beamed like the sun and all who sat there were afraid and he said to them, "Look! Look! Behold, the Lord has come and he says, 'Bring unto me the chosen vessel which is in the desert,'" and he at once delivered up his spirit and became like lightning and the whole place was filled with a sweet fragrance.

from "The Paradise of the Holy Fathers, vol II," translated by E. A. Wallis Budge, (Seattle, Washington: St. Nectarios Press, 1984)

I want to briefly sketch out a few points that I may be dwelling on in a future post, in response to your nice summary of Lutheran teaching. It is difficult to approach and articulate what we might call the Orthodox view of "justification" because this is a very specialized term in Lutheran and Western theology in general. It is worth remembering that since Augustine and Pelagius, the debate over grace and works is primarily a Western problematic that the Orthodox have chiefly observed from the sidelines, retaining the harmony of both in the ascetic life. This problematic of grace and works was especially vectored in the West by the abuses of the Roman Catholics and the consequent repudiation of these abuses in the Reformation, which produced a theology that was dialectically related to the Roman teachings-- heavily emphasizing the opposite tendencies of the legalistic and merit-based system of the Romans with a teaching radically emphasizing the primacy of faith and grace (though, from Orthodox perspective, retaining an equally legal concern in theology with the emphasis upon the law as the main oppressor from which we must be saved as fallen men). I say all that as a caution to remind us that the Lutheran position developed out of a particular historical moment in response to a particular abuse and we should not be surprised if that particular concern is mostly absent from Orthodox theology, because the Orthodox Church was by and large internally free from the abuse which the Western church had arrived at. If we do attempt to sketch what might adequately be called an Orthodox vision of justification, I think it will bear these features: 1) justification does not concern only our status before the law, though this is involved, but the eradication of every barrier that separates us from God. From our vantage, the chief obstacles to our union with God are not his laws and our inability to live up to them, but more fundamentally, our bondage to sin, death, and the devil. 2) The central act of justification in the believer's life is baptism, which UNITES us to Christ the source of life and the victor over these enemies by the cross and the resurrection. We thus participate in his victory, and all of our sins are also wiped clean. This is real justification, but it is experienced as a kind of pledge, a participation to an extent in a reality yet to be fully realized. The New Testament speaks on various occasions about this kind of thing. 3) Even after baptism, in our embodied experience we have not yet fully realized our union with God, and we continue to fall prey to sin and require ongoing renewal. We have already begun to participate in the new life of Christ, but it is not yet fully ours. For this reason, justification is not instantaneous or singular, but is a dynamic and ongoing experience of the faithful lived out in the community of the Church. 4) since if we love Christ, we will do his commandments, and love of Christ and God is the goal and content of justification, it is impossible for us to neatly separate two distinct movements of salvation, one of justification and the other of sanctification, but rather these are simultaneously, dynamically, and mysteriously accomplished in us through the grace God supplies us to work for him in love. 5) the key difference, I believe, is what happens to the idea of justification when you make love of God a part of it. It cannot remain only a declaration of our righteousness by God, for God cannot simply declare, create, or force our love. Instead, it must become a lived part of our experience, an ongoing response to his ongoing gift of grace. And love transforms all things-- so that we are not justified by works, of course, but when we love God, we desire to work for him, so that we are no longer in a game of merit and credit but rather of the exchange of gifts. And it is ultimately the gift of love that God will ask us to present him at the judgment. Without love, both faith and works, baptism, and all other things will all be meaningless. But in love, all things become valuable offerings, reflecting our desire for God. This love for God necessitates struggle to develop and preserve openness to God and his gift.

So you can see a little bit here how when we say "justification" we aren't trying to answer the same question, and so we provide a different set of reflections. I think it is safe to say, without intending negative criticism, that the Orthodox concept encompasses a broader consideration of salvation while the Lutheran concept is quite specialized and narrow, with one particular focus in mind: the question of righteousness in relation to the law, with a certain Augustinian character (because the issue of original guilt must also be dealt with in justification, which is not a necessary part of the story in Orthodox theology).

Let me start to wrap this up. You are right when you say we would be in disagreement if the Orthodox Church taught that we must be fully deified on earth to enter heaven. We are definitely not saying that, and in fact it is our teaching that deification can only be fully accomplished after resurrection and the acquiring of our perfect bodies. So, in other words, full deification on earth never happens, but it does begin and can go quite far. But as far as qualification for heaven-- that, I believe, is that we have acquired love for God and our neighbors, as we will be spending an awfully long time with them.

You've piqued my curiosity by mentioning these Russian Lutherans, and I'd very gladly learn more about them if you could link me to a place I could do it.

As for your postscript, I think you are after a very specialized kind of scholarship, and I'm not sure that such a work has been undertaken-- a kind of point-by-point analysis of Lutheran thought by qualified Orthodox theologians. I apologize for unhelpful and propagandistic treatments of it. As far as lumping Luther with Calvin, you must remember that to Orthodox eyes the Roman Catholic Church and the churches of the Reformers seem to be only two sides of the same coin, which long ago departed from our economy, and so seeing so many common tendencies, assumptions, and points of departure (many of which are the inheritance from Saint Augustine), some of these distinctions seem superficial to us. But I do believe that in dialogue it is critical that each distinctive vantage be given respectful and adequate treatment. The closest thing I've found, from which I learned a great deal, is a site outlining the joint statements issued from ongoing Lutheran-Orthodox dialogues. I hesitate to provide you with any more reading, especially if you haven't gotten around to the articles I mentioned, but even so, here is the best I can do to answer your request:

I also found this paper fairly helpful:

Alright, with that, I'd better say good night before I have to say good morning again.

Christ is risen!

~Christopher McG

11:29 PM  

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