Mother Hubbard's Cupboard

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

My Photo
Location: East Peoria, Illinois, United States

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

Monday, February 18, 2008

Born to Hell....Called in Christ

Old Testament: Job 13:13-28
New Testament: The Holy Gospel According to St. John 6:22-40
Psalms: Morning - 119:73-80
Evening - 121; 6

This entry is not made to be a treatise on Predestination and Free Will. This is simply to put an idea out into the public sphere for discussion. As I know there are Lutherans, Calvinists, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic who may perchance happen to read this blog, this could be a good place to throw around commentary on my idea (or perhaps understanding).

First of all...because of some debate which eventually involved Dr. James White on You Tube (it was very brief...I will post my responses to him here soon), I have become increasingly interested in the discussion of how the change John Calvin did to the person of Christ (denying the Communicatio Idiomatum - specifically that the divine nature of Christ can communicate divine attributes to the human nature of Christ) and how this affects both the sacraments and the paradox between predestination and free will.

My understanding thus far is that God does indeed have just wrath towards the sin of mankind, yet He also loves us because we are creations in His image and we were supposed to be His children. The Father sends Christ, who calls ALL men to repentence and salvation through His incarnation, perfect life, death, and resurrection. Both send the Spirit who makes the call and atonement of Christ effectual in those whom He calls. God calls through means (preaching of the Gospel, Absolution, Baptism, and the Eucharist) and in this manner He "elects" those who are given these means. Those who are not brought to faith do not do so, not because God genuinely desires that they be saved, but because He does not force them to love Him. The salvation of the person who faith is made in does not choose Christ (though I know that McG has brought up that St. Gregory of Nyssa mentions in a catechetical writing that our rebirth in Christ is the choice we DO get, if McG or Fr. Weedon if he is familiar with it [or anyone else for that matter] could elucidate and provide their thoughts, it would be helpful). point is this: God earnestly desires all to be saved. God earnestly gives grace to all so that all may come to Christ who are called by the Spirit through the means of grace. Those who are saved are saved purely out of God's grace (including the psychological experience of "choice-making" we experience), while those who are condemned are condemned because they rejected the call/election. This involves what the Orthodox Study Bible calls a paradox of God's sovereignty with man's will (Romans 9:19-21f). Once we become Christians, our will becomes free because in the person of Christ...the human nature is total including the flesh, soul, and will....following the Cappadocian Fathers ("what is not assumed is not redeemed").

Alright...I just want to toss that out there for some thoughts....from a Lutheran standpoint are there any improvements with how I could say it? From a Calvinist I missing something that Calvin might actually teach concerning the nature of the atonement or the person and work of Christ? From the Orthodox/Roman Catholic perspective....comments?


Anonymous McG said...


I'm currently working on a paper on St. Gregory of Nyssa's treatment of evil in his Great Catechism. Conveniently enough, there are relevant passages on the subject at hand, and also conveniently enough, I'm extremely receptive to distraction from the writing of that paper, which just won't end itself.

Anyway, I doubt I can really do justice to the Orthodox position on the mystery of free will and election in salvation without writing a treatise, and I am also becoming more aware of my doubtful qualifications to make such an attempt. Nevertheless, here goes.

The bottom line of Orthodox teaching is that the cooperation of man's free will is necessary for him to accept the gift of salvation by his consent. However, that free will itself is both created by a generous gift of grace and is also restored from a bondage to evil by grace. God and man must co-elect man's salvation, but God makes man able to elect salvation, though he does not go so far as to elect it for him without man's free consent, but rather elects those who consent.

Salvation and the adoption to sonship are a pure gift of grace which occur only because this is the divine will (to offer man to be united with Him through the Incarnation of His Son). However, this grace does not annihilate, oppose, or supercede man's freedom. Grace is the context of man's freedom, and man's person is structured by God so that it can desire and be able to work together with grace. And that grace, for the Orthodox, is not a benevolent perfecting force but the real gift of God himself. Man is constituted so that he will be able to have God dwell within him and so that his will can be united with God's will in a complete communion. This is how we understand St. Paul's paradoxical injunction to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to do for his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:12-13) God does not accomplish the work of salvation without man's contribution, though it be merely the assent to allow God to work in us. One other thing to note about this passage is that the Greek translated "at work" and "to do" are both forms of the word "energeia," which to an Orthodox Christian suggests the essence/energies distinction in theology and indicates that God's "work" in us is accomplished by our participation in his divine energies through real union with Him... that is, we would interpret this passage within the framework of the whole soteriology of deification in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

However, this basic account, which is common to all the Eastern fathers, is also much more highly nuanced than it appears at first glance. The Orthodox Fathers are uniform in their affirmation of the freedom of the will. However, the story is complicated by the fall, and we should not assume that our fallen experience of the will is what the fathers are referring to. In other words, the patristic concept of will is not identical with our experience of it as the arbitrary decision between two options. I believe there is actually more than one word in Greek that is used in these discussions.

In any case, the natural (original, unfallen) will does not carry the meaning of deliberation between good and evil. St. Maximus Confessor (the champion of Orthodoxy against the monothelite heresy) teaches that the need to deliberate between good and evil is a result of the fall, and this particular trait is called the gnomic will-- a trait which our Lord Jesus Christ did not possess. The natural will, on the other hand, carries a sense of desire for the development of inherent potential towards perfection, and of a tendency of motion towards the good. To illustrate this, you can imagine how a sapling tends towards the light that sustains it, and how it reaches out from its beginning height to the full extension of its natural potential as a grown tree. The tree is created to long for and to be able to receive light, and to attain full stature, and the will is the energy of movement towards them. This describes the unfallen will in part. I'm afraid I don't know enough about it to elaborate much further, but the point is that the Orthodox teaching about free will involves a distinction of types of will, and that their position vis-a-vis the fall affects their expression. I believe, though this is something of an educated hunch at this point, that we might say that our freedom to recognize, desire, and respond to God's offer of salvation (grace) is not an unqualified and inherent trait of the will after the fall, but is a trait restored precisely because Christ took up and restored our will in his work of salvation, and that in light of this work, which is transfused through all time by grace, it remains within our power to choose the good which God now offers us and calls us to. I need to do more research on this point, so take this with a big scoop of salt as I may be wrong. But if I'm not wrong, perhaps the easing of your misgivings about our doctrine of man's necessary assent to salvation lies somewhere within this account of how God restores man's will by grace to its natural state from some state of subjection to evil. It is not without grace that man accepts salvation, but neither is it the nature of grace to omit, supplant, or oppose freedom. Rather, grace desires and restores freedom. Grace makes us free, and freedom receives grace. It is a double-motion.

As Orthodox we unequivocally reject the idea that grace completely replaces the movement of the human will, or, as you said, that man's psychological experience of choice-making is itself really only the act of God's grace, a sort of modalistic illusion which is really a pure operation of grace on behalf of man-- if indeed this is what you meant. The human will moves with grace and in grace, and could not do so but for grace, but it is still a free movement which contributes a human component, and not merely the passive contribution of a movable nature for God to tug about. Without this human component and movement, there is simply no way to avoid the Calvinistic blasphemy that God has willed some to be saved and not others, no matter how ardently you assert that those condemned are only condemned because they rejected God. For how can the damned be to blame if ultimately God alone makes the will move to salvation, and he has left theirs unmoved, while their natural will remains in bondage to sin? Freedom and grace are made for each other, or, rather, freedom is made for grace, which is uncreated. It is a symbiotic relationship.

As far as I can tell, our understanding of the will is nearly identical when you say "God earnestly gives grace to all so that all may come to Christ who are called by the Spirit through the means of grace." The "all may come" implies a movement on man's part which God enables but does not enact. You are only a baby step away from the Orthodox teaching, 95% there, since you say God only condemns those who reject the call. But at the last minute you veer off back into Calvinism when you absolutely rule out the human will as the contact point of God's grace and the means of man's appropriation of God's salvation by grace, saying instead that man only has the psychological feeling of making a choice, but really this is grace choosing for him. What this matter ultimately boils down to is that Luther and the reformers understood grace and human freedom as two mutually opposed principles, following Augustine, while the patristic and conciliar tradition of Christianity (excluding St. Augustine, who is a departure from that tradition in this instance and others) is unanimous in understanding grace and free will as complementary, making the choice together. This is the crux of the matter. Does grace heal and free man to be himself, and by being himself to be joined with God, or does grace replace man with God? In the latter case, double-predestination is inevitable, no matter how deeply veiled it may be within theological language.

God does not permit the human free will that he created in the beginning to be irrevocably lost to the point that he discards it in his plan of salvation. If God must forego human free will in order to save, then our nature is not restored by Christ as the New Adam but replaced with a new and alien nature. The will is inseparable from human nature, as the Church clearly proclaimed in the 6th ecumenical council by condemning monothelitism. What is the point of Christ's assumption and healing of the will if it is bypassed in salvation? What is there left to will after salvation? Is not salvation the very thing which the will was created to desire from the beginning, even before the fall? It is impossible to uphold St. Maximus' theology of Christ's human and divine will, which was vindicated at the Sixth Council, and then to completely erase the human will in the only realm it really matters for man, which is to receive God's salvation. This is only monothelitism in a different garb-- human will is not saved by Christ for man's salvation but annihilated and dissolved into the divine will. You simply cannot erase or replace human will without erasing the human, even if the erasing is the first step of supposedly restoring his freedom. It is still brainwashing even if it is for man's own good.

All the Orthodox teaching amounts to is the admission that through God's grace, which you already admitted he extends to all, man can once again recognize and desire God's goodness as he was created to, and can open the door to this goodness which already stands knocking. There is no danger here of man claiming that works saved him. There is only the good news for the soul fallen into prostitution that the beloved is at the door of the brothel, and she can recognize his face again. Remembering her forgotten former life because he reminds her of it in his goodness, she can still consent to return and be his wife. There is nothing here to credit to the prostitute, no question of merit, but only the question of the possibility of gratitude.

It is not a legitimate Christian paradox to say, in an absolute sense, that God alone wills the saving of the saved but man alone wills the damnation of the damned. In that case, only the damned are really human, while the rest have been reprogrammed by God. This is not paradox but parody. You cannot have it both ways-- if there is a human element that can fail to respond to God's call, there has to be a human element that can also accomplish that response without ceasing to be human. However, the calling, the hearing, and the faculty of will and its functional state are all purely gratuitous gifts of grace, and thus in this limited sense, salvation belongs entirely to the will of God, since he alone chose to offer it to man and to make it intelligible and desirable. The true Christian paradox is the union of the divine and human will in Christ, and in our salvation by the Holy Spirit who incorporates us into Christ's body. It is only Augustinian overreaction to a 1500-years-dead heresy that prevents you from embracing the historical teaching of the Church, since you already practically profess the freedom of the will but merely fear to say it fully, expressing its negative aspect, that the damned are damned by their own will in rejecting grace. Shall we forsake the tradition of the Church merely for the sake of the heretic Pelagius? He does not deserve the honor. You say Christ healed the will, so let it be healed. A healed will can be of no use except to receive the gift of salvation, for there is absolutely nothing else in the universe worthy of man's will, as we so regrettably discovered in Eden.

As far as election, our basic teaching is that God foreknows who will respond to his gift of salvation freely, and to all who will do so, he extends his election and predestines them in Christ. Election to sonship is a complete gift of grace (for sonship was not something within man's power to determine, since union with God completely transcends man's nature) yet at the same time election is based on God's foreknowledge of human use of freedom. The Orthodox Study Bible puts it like this in the note on Rom 9:14-16: "God is not a capricious tyrant, but His will is unquestionable. For the basis of salvation is God's mercy and compassion, not human free will or faith or works. Though man must freely accept God's grace and righteousness, God knows who will do this." These are the elect: the ones God knows will freely accept his grace. This teaching should also surely be fleshed out further, but it is a topic which I have not studied enough to do so.

Hopefully this all provides some sense of nuance that was lacking in the discussion of the Orthodox teaching. If I haven't actually captured the full teaching, it is my intention at least to suggest that there is more depth to the Orthodox understanding of will than has yet been exhausted. Forgive my extremely prosaic longevity. I had no intention of writing this much, nor I imagine, did you of reading this much. I have St. Gregory's quotes but I'll save those for another post if you're still interested.

Glory to God for all things,

Christopher McG

9:31 PM  
Blogger Chris said...


It is an interesting thing. I was perusing the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord. This passage caught my eye from Article II paragraph 8 on Free Will:

"We also reject the following formulas IF THEY ARE USED WITHOUT EXPLANATION (emphasis mine): that man's will before, in, and after conversion resists the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit is given to those who resist him. From the foregoing exposition it is clear that when the Holy Spirit's activity produces no change at all for good in the intellect, will, and heart, when man in no way believes the promise and is not prepared by God for grace, but wholly resists the Word, conversion does not and cannot take place. For conversion is that kind of change through the Holy Spirit's activity in the intellect, will, and heart of man whereby man through such working of the Holy Spirit is able to accept the offered grace. All who stubbornly and perseveringly reesist the Holy Spirit's activities and impulses, which take place through the Word, do not receive the Holy Spirit but grieve and lose him."

I thought that the concept of "man through such working of the Holy Spirit is able to accept the offered grace," was interesting. It actually seems that we might have been initially talking at cross-points here. Unless I am mistaken we are perhaps 99% in agreement (the 1% being maybe how the doctrine is worded in confessional documents). Hence...we aren't monothelitists :-). The only reason I would recomment proceeding cautiously with language is because of our issue in the West with the Pelagians...a heresy that is always hearkened to by Calvinists when the Lutheran position is even mentioned.

The problem should of course be to distance such a view from Arminius's "prevenient grace" which is that grace that prepares us to receive Christ and seems to work apart from us and once again, apart from means (because I believe most Protestants actually share Calvin's Christology I think). However, there is still the issue of "Divine monergism" with regard to salvation that I was pretty sure Lutherans were....perhaps I am reading the above selection of the Formula out of some context...but that our will is not replaced by God's or violently subverted in conversion is a good thing.

I wish I could find the passage in Pieper, but alas, I don't have the books from Trinity anymore, and I can't find the quote again online. The context was that in our view, God reaches into the mass of fallen humanity to save all, but He does not force us to enter into His hand. The Calvinist view however is that God reached into the mass of fallen humanity and forced a few to enter into His hand thus showing His glory. Pieper begins by saying that the latter is quite terrible and horrible to believe.

Of course, there are other problems with the Calvinist model...even reaching into the nature of God. Calvin liked here:

1. God is omnipotent.
2. God desires all to be saved.
3. God wills some to Heaven and some to Hell.

It seems there's a contradiction in there according to "pure reason." God is apparently both random in His choosing since He is not a respector of persons...yet God is just and therefore ordered and non-random. Problems aplenty!

8:52 PM  
Anonymous McG said...


in the course of my theological fumblings with you the other night (and I'm certain that on at least a few of my points I dropped the ball for the Orthodox) I think I've accidentally recovered the key to the whole problem of our discussion, and this changes everything. Much of what I've said does bear witness to the thrust of Orthodox teaching, but one critical fulcrum is only just being moved into place, upon which the balance of the whole matter rests. Human anthropology (including the operation of human will) cannot be considered outside of Christology, because man is created in the image of Christ and human nature is fulfilled and perfected in His person-- and this person is the God-man, in whom human and divine nature are wed, for the purpose of effecting our union with God.

If Christology is the determining factor of anthropology, then the question of human free will can only be answered with reference to the ascended Christ, and the operation of His human will both in the economy of our salvation and in eternity. By extension this applies to election and predestination. To see how man's will works, we must see how Christ's will works, both in His time on earth and in the eschaton, in relation to his human nature, His divine nature, and His divine hypostasis. The Church has bindingly and dogmatically concluded the questions about Christ's will in the Sixth Ecumenical Council, proclaiming that Christ has both a divine and a human will. The set of theological conclusions leading to and deriving from this proclamation are thus sanctioned by the Church, and so if we wish to attain the Church's understanding of the human will our study must begin with the conceptions of person, nature, and will that guided that council. (I might note that the same applies to the Athanasian/Cappadocian Trinitarian theology affirmed at Constaninople in 381).

The theological champion of the Sixth Council is St. Maximus Confessor, who synthesized the Church's teaching before him into a powerful theology wholeheartedly embraced by the Council. Since this is an Ecumenical Council and predates the schism, his theology can properly be called the inheritance of both East and West, though for whatever reason it was never fully appropriated in the West until this past century (kind of like icons and the Seventh Council), since when St. Maximus has been the hot item, for reasons evident as soon as one glimpses his magnificent cosmic vision of salvation. The theology of the Confessor is astonishingly profound and totally transcends the discussion we have been having at every juncture. I sketched out a few hints of this in my last post, but I'm now learning more about this theology, and I can say with certainty that it yields the definitive Orthodox answer to human will and predestination, and that it is captivating in beauty.

I've found a book that deals exactly with this topic, called Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor by Joseph P. Farrell. (interstingly, there are also a few connections made with Calvin's christological errors that should interest you). I'm going to make my way through the whole thing as soon as possible, but I have already read the appendix chapter in it which presents the conclusions as they apply to our discussion on election. The appendix is called "A Neo-Patristic Synthesis: Augustinism, Predestination and Free Will, and St. Maximus." Besides articulating the Orthodox patristic insight on this question, it also exposes the hidden structures of thought in Eastern and Western theology that underlie virtually every major theological difference between East and West-- meaning it shows us both our assumptions, finally making real dialogue possible. This is the kind of thing I keep trying to make clear-- there are invisible, fundamental, and radically different first assumptions in Eastern theology that make it incoherent and inaccessible until they are properly understood, and this book represents a major effort to contribute the real possibility of communication between modern scholars of these two traditions. I will be sending you the appendix that I've mentioned as soon as I am able-- I'd just order the whole book for you, but it's out of print and used copies start at $27... good thing there are 5 copies in the library here :) I believe the possibility for both of us to answer questions that have been gnawing away at us is found within these pages. It's too early for me to try to summarize it, but there's a trail here that's headed the right direction. I've gotta thank you for guiding me to it through your hard thinking on the issue, which pushed me to think harder about it than I ever could have without you. :)

Glory to God for all things,

~Christopher McG

7:16 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home