Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Juridical and liturgical

In comments one reader made mention of an online article by my friend, who is also a friend of both of my brothers, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Pastor of All Saints Antiochene Orthodox Church in Chicago. He is also a Senior Editor of Touchstone, and so Fr. Reardon and I have been on a joint venture for several years. Referring us to an essay entitled Expiation, blood and atonement, the reader alleged that Fr. Reardon's argument in that essay contradicted my position on Atonement.

Let me disappoint the reader, in case he is looking for a fight to watch. I mostly agree with Fr. Reardon's point. The idea of Christ's Atonement as placating the anger of God, to a degree that separates (in anyone's mind) the Trinity into three Gods with independent wills, with the Father as the bad cop and the Son as the good cop (and who knows where the Holy Spirit fits in?), would certainly be more in keeping with pagan polytheism than with Christianity. The main point that Fr. Reardon has made is that God the Father is the One who paid the terrible price in the suffering of His beloved Son.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. (Rom. 8:32,33)

The offering up of Christ to take away the sins of the world was, from the beginning, the will of the entire Trinity.

With that major agreement in mind, I am left questioning a couple of items. First of all, I must ask, who out there is preaching the angry god version of Christianity? I have heard converts to the Orthodox Church talk about how they were saved from the "Western" idea that God took "pleasure" in the suffering of His Son, because He was so irate that somebody just had to die. I must ask, how did they train their minds to remember something that has never existed?

Who, among all the "Western" theologians (Wyatt Earp? Jessie James? Who?) has ever taught this pagan gospel? Certainly not Augustine, nor Anselm nor even the much vilified Calvin, ever taught such a notion. How is it "Western" theology? To his credit, however, Fr. Reardon never even uses that word, western. But, he does say that somebody has been teaching this, and I cannot think of anyone in the west who fits the wild bill (sorry- I couldn't resist).

My other item, in this case a disagreement, is with the distinction between juridical and liturgical. Fr. Reardon summarizes his position with the words, "The Cross was the supreme altar, and Good Friday was preeminently the Day of the Atonement. The removal of sins was not accomplished by a juridical act, but a liturgical act performed in great love."

The word juridical, like the word forensic, suggests to some a court of law that is separated from the world of worship and devotion. In our own society such a court is secular, as different from a church as anything can be. Therefore, it is easy for modern people to assume that the difference between juridical and liturgical has always existed, and that it is a proper and true separation. This is why some modern writers make too clean and absolute a break between religious sacrifice and satisfaction. What does justice have to do with it?

This is where the word "wrath" is relevant. Human anger is distorted through sin, and always an emotion, a passion that the Impassible God cannot have. But, which is the metaphor? What we attribute to God or what we see in man? Which is the image, even if a distorted image because of sin, and which is the archetype? God made man in His own image and likeness, and so even anger has its pure reality. God is love, and the reality we call anger is an eternal, unchanging attribute of Divine Nature that is revealed in Scripture to be hatred for evil and sin.

Applied to the human race and our greatest need, that anger is mostly remedial in nature, God's love and compassion causing His great and costly expression of love to free us. But, it is uncompromising, in that God is righteous and holy. How can He justify the ungodly without compromising His own righteous character? Can God wink at sin, and merely overlook it? If He did, would that help to transform us into the image of His Son, or would it harden us in our sinfulness?

The answer, again from the Epistle of St. Paul to Church in Rome, was the cross.

To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Rom. 3:26)

By the cross God is both just and the justifier of the saints, by which I mean (in accord with Holy Scripture), all who believe in Jesus. This brings us back to the problem with erecting an absolute wall between a juridical act and a liturgical offering. The Law is not Roman, and it is not Greek. The Law is not pagan, and it is not secular. The Law is the Law of God.

The term "Hebrew Law" was used in the same body of comments that referred us to Fr. Reardon's essay. That is correct if by the word "Hebrew" we mean revealed. The Law, when the time arrived to make it known fully, came by a prophet named Moses, and it is called the Torah. The Torah is comprehensive, or exhaustive. It is the Law for religion, including sacrifices of blood at the altar. It is the Law also that governs all of life, including not only the moral laws that all Christians recognize as universally binding to this day, but even details of civil and criminal law.

Even the building codes for a house are found in that Law ("When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence." Deut. 22:8). It is the Law that forbade slavery (Deut. 23:15,16), but also told the priests exactly how to offer sacrifices, whether of blood or incense.

In short, the Law that exists in the Biblical context of the prophets is the Torah. The judges, when disputes and matters of justice arose, were the priests, the sons of Aaron. The Law taught how to judge disputes between men, and also how to offer the bloody sacrifices of atonement so that the people could be forgiven (Lev. 17:11). The entire language of sacrifice and of justice is the language of the Suffering Servant passage (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). If anything is a sure and certain doctrine of the New Testament (and much is), it is that the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah is Jesus Christ, the One Who prolonged His days after being made a sacrifice for sin.

Therefore, because of the Hebrew context of the Gospel as it was foretold in the Law and the Prophets, no clear or absolute distinction can be made between a juridical act and a liturgical offering.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

"First of all, I must ask, who out there is preaching the angry god version of Christianity? I have heard converts to the Orthodox Church talk about how they were saved from the "Western" idea that God took "pleasure" in the suffering of His Son, because He was so irate that somebody just had to die."

I confess right away that I have not read Fr Reardon's essay, so I cannot speak to it. But the issue is all too familiar, in internet blogs and elsewhere.

John R. W. Stott, in his important book "The Cross of Christ" deals masterfully with the issue of propitiation versus expiation as the translation of the hilaskomai family of words. Those who reject "propitiation" as a sadistic Father taking pleasure in the death of His Son are very far from the Biblical idea. Stott writes:

"Who makes the propitiaation? In a pagan context, it is always human beings who seek to avert the divine anger... [But from a Christian perspective] The initiative has been taken by God Himself."

It is easy to see how EO might flounder on this point, since its view of the Trinity emphasizes the distinction of the Persons (remember the committee of three, sitting around the circular table). But Western theology, emphasizing the unity of God, has no problem in grasping the full partnership of Father and Son in achieving atonement for lost sinners.
"We are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood." (Romans 3:25). Bluntly: man did not propitiate God; God Himself provided the means of propitiation.

I have known some fairly uncouth Evangelicals, but NEVER have I heard them preach the straw-man Fr Hart alludes to.

It is notable that the EO criticism of "western" atonement theology is so strangely identical with the criticism from liberal Protestant voices (think John Spong), which had its origins in Socinianism. The penetration of EO theology by liberal Protestantism is a topic someone needs to look into.
LKW

Fr. Yousuf said...

Dear Father Wells,

After your description of Orthodox Trinitarian theology and sacrilegious take on St. Andrei Rublev's icon of the epiphany to Abraham, you are on thin ice to take anyone to task for caricatures. My turn: I don't know any Orthodoxy which even sounds like that.

I did a little online review after reading this. Fact is, there is a very strong and sustained debate on the Atonement, that is going on whether or not we Orthodox take part in it. Take for example this article,
http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/news/2007/20070423wright.cfm?doc=205
written by one who is, like Stott, an Evangelical still in the C of E. Much here is a strong defense of Penal Atonement. It acknowledges the existence of the caricatures of the doctrine with out whinging about it, and expresses as much exasperation in some of the would be defenders of Penal Atonement as in its deniers, because, of course, not every version of the Penal Atonement is the same (that is so important!). And consider how this (very Western) defender of Anselm, Luther and Calvin manages to use the word “Western”.

I found this from John MacArthur:
http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/90-285_Redeemed-from-the-Curse-of-the-Law?q=atonement

and this from Ray Comfort:
http://www.livingwaters.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=81&Itemid=229&lang=en

I realize they are rather different, but both are alien to the Tradition. I am convinced that they are actually harmful. I think it is true that some of their main sins are of omission. Alas, these are not inadvertent, but deliberate and on principle. Together with the outright errors, these omissions are of such gravity as to vitiate what truths remain, and also to open their versions of the Atonement to severe criticism, including of the sort which Fr. Pat attempts.

In an abortive attempt to comment on an earlier thread, I acknowledged and bewailed the way in which modern American Orthodox can use the word “Western” or even “Anselmian” as a short hand for garden variety “American Evangelicalism”. This is unfair, and at times grossly untrue. And yet … For all that someone like Comfort has diverged from even magisterial Protestantism, let alone earlier Western writers, and for all that his (Comfort's) atonement is quite a far cry from Anselm's, it is hard to imagine how one gets historically from St. Irenaeus to Comfort without going through Augustine, Anselm, Luther and Calvin. He may be a distortion of the Western tradition, but he is a Western distortion. Parenthetically, in my Roman youth I recall a line we sung in a rather beautiful version of the Stations of the Cross which spoke of the Father, after the Death of our Lord, as “Now from wrath to mercy bending”.

I think you're on to something in your last paragraph, though you have it the wrong way round and I wouldn't point to Spong, whose open, published disdain for Orthodoxy far exceeds even your own. The light bulb went on for me when reading a catalog of offers from, I think, Notre Dame which included a book about the Eucharist which hearkened to Greek Patristics etc. to relativize Transubstantiation. Now you Anglicans don't like to use the word Transubstantiation, and often, neither do we. But guess how much what the book was promoting resembles either Orthodox or Continuing Anglican Eucharistic practice? Compare also the Mrs Jefferts-Schori's sermon about the collective nature of salvation where she called individual salvation a heresy. This sort couldn't be less interested in the Greek Fathers or Orthodoxy, except when it is useful to undermine their own tradition.
Fr Yousuf Rassam

Anonymous said...

I wrote:
"Those who reject "propitiation" as a sadistic Father taking pleasure in the death of His Son are very far from the Biblical idea."

Pardon a poorly thought out sentence.

I should have written, "ANY who UNDERSTAND propitiation as a sadistic Father taking pleasure in the death of His Son WOULD BE very far from the Biblical idea."

LKW

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Hart,

To continue your 'Wild' West conceit, we may ask whether Big Chief Bear (traditionally thought to be assisted by Big Chief Trail-of-Oil)seems at the least incautiously conducive to serious dodginess when he asks (as one official translation has it), "Why must He at the same time be true God?" to answer "So that by the power of His Divinity He might bear as a man the burden of God's wrath [...]." (I mean, of course, Baer/Ursinus and Olevian(us), Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 17.) No explicit 'Institutes' 'quasi' nuance, here.

The 'committee' was, of course, of angels 'convened' to address Sts. Abraham and Lot and, e.g., the goings on in Sodom - among other serious berith matters: how rigorously and formally they have ever been treated as necessarily or certainly Trinitophanic (if that's a word), I would be interested to learn.

Semi-Hookerian

Anonymous said...

"Therefore, it is easy for modern people to assume that the difference between juridical and liturgical has always existed, and that it is a proper and true separation."

It should be remembered that classical Protestant theology consistently interpreted the Saviour's penal substitutionary death in terms of His PRIESTLY office. So if the EO's have discovered a "liturgical" dimension to Christ's work, they are simply catching up.
LKW

Anonymous said...

Fr Youssef: The icon itself is sacrilegious, in that it promotes a tritheistic view of thre Trinity. And I do seem to recall that Nicaea II prohibited images of the Father.

I am not committed to the defense of EVERY presentation of penal subsitution. I would definitely reject the Arminian spin, in which the work of Christ is sufficient for all but effective for none, being merely an exercise of governmental authority. Herman Melville showed the cruelty of such a notion in his haunting novel "Billy Budd."

My point remains: those who deny that Christ took our place, suffered our penalty, paid our debt, made our satisfaction are at the fringe of Christianity. The Gospel is not negotiable.

LKW

Ron said...

I suspect that the root of the "the 'Western' idea that God took 'pleasure' in the suffering of His Son" comes from a certain reading Isaiah 53:10: "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him."

"Who, among all the "Western" theologians (Wyatt Earp? Jessie James? Who?) has ever taught this pagan gospel?" Matthew Henry, for one, appears to: "It pleased the Lord to do this. He determined to do it; it was the result of an eternal counsel; and he delighted in it, as it was an effectual method for the salvation of man and the securing and advancing of the honour of God." http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc4.Is.liv.html

Calvin is more reserved, "Why, then, was the Lord pleased that he should suffer? Because he stood in our room, and in no other way than by his death could the justice of God be satisfied." http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom16.vi.i.html Elsewhere, Calvin says in his commentary on Romans 4:25, "for expiation depended on the eternal goodwill of God, who purposed to be in this way pacified." http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.viii.xi.html. That word "goodwill" is translated "pleasure" in another translation of Calvin's commentaries. (http://books.google.com/books?id=NeUFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA123&vq=123).

However, the word "pleasure" is understood differently nowadays than it is in theological sense. Herein lies the problem, and the reason I said that Henry "appears" to teach that "'pagan' gospel." Today, "pleasure" means "gratification," even "sensual gratification," or "frivolous amusement," or "a source of delight or joy" (M-W). Defined this way, it makes God sounds like a sadist. Words like "delight" and "satisfaction" contribute to this image. A routine Google search for Isaiah 53:10 will reveal scores of blog posts and sermons that describe God's pleasure in this popular sense.

In his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" - (You asked, "who out there is preaching the angry god version of Christianity?" Anyone who refers to that title but does not preach the content) - Jonathan Edwards provides the correct definition of "pleasure" for this context: "By "the mere pleasure of God," I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God's mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment." http://tinyurl.com/Sinners-in-the-Hands

In short, I think that "it pleased the LORD" properly refers to divine sovereignty and will for our salvation. But Henry, whose commentaries are a go-to resource for many preachers, represents at least one source for a misunderstanding of "pleasure" (Again, not that Henry taught this, but it is easy to grasp how he has been misunderstood.) Calvin offers little to correct the error, and Edwards' memorable sermon title only exacerbates the problem. If this misunderstanding is as widespread as I believe it is, then the idea that God took delightful gratification in the death of his Son, is effectively the Gospel (albeit another gospel) as understood by many in the English-speaking world, including those who have taken refuge in EO Church, where, as zealous converts, they become "self-loathing Westerners," at least for a time.

Fr. Yousuf said...

Dear Semi-hookerian,

Theophanies in the Old Testament are seen as Theophanies of the Logos. It is the Logos Who is manifested to Moses,Isaiah and Ezekiel, and to Daniel as the Ancient of Days. Since Christ is the image of the invisible God, and he who has seen Christ have seen the Father, images of God the Father are a deviation, especially those which depict the Trinity by use of an Older Man with Jesus and the dove from the baptism in the Jordan. It is thought that to Portray "The Ancient of Days", the a white haired Man from the visions of Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah might be permissable as images of the Logos that typified the Incarnation beforehand, but many prefer to avoid such depictions, because the danger that they would be seen as icons of God the Father is always present.

The appearance to Abraham as a Theophany of the Logos, and the addition of two angels typified beforehand the revelation of the Trinity, (read in a KJV the account with Abraham's switching from singular to plural address). The Icon does not show the Trinity itself, because that can not be done, but portrays a manifestation of the doctrine of the Trinity, as do icons of the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan.

So I understand, though I hope to soon read Fr Gabriel Bunge's new book on this and come to a deeper understanding.

I recall from The Stripping of the Altars that the reformers in England had particular hostility to images of the Trinity as three men, (how such images came in amongst Westerners who emphasize the unity of God, I know not), this hostility is one of the few redeeming features of the English Bildensturm.

Fr Yousuf Rassam

Unknown said...

Who, among all the "Western" theologians (Wyatt Earp? Jessie James? Who?) has ever taught this pagan gospel? Certainly not Augustine, nor Anselm nor even the much vilified Calvin, ever taught such a notion. How is it "Western" theology? To his credit, however, Fr. Reardon never even uses that word, western. But, he does say that somebody has been teaching this, and I cannot think of anyone in the west who fits the wild bill (sorry- I couldn't resist).

Look up the teachings of just about any Baptist church that is not part of the Southern Baptist Convention, and most specially the King James Only sect, and you'll find that teaching alive and well.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Ron:

Even today we say that this or that official serves at the President's pleasure. When I quote Isaiah 53, I generally modernize it on purpose, to say, "It was the will of the Lord to bruise him," and "the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."

Whatever some backwoods preacher may do, or maybe some Televangelist, the western tradition has never taught that God the Father enjoyed, took pleasure in (according to the most modern usage of "pleasure"), the suffering of His Son. Western theology is represented by Augustine, Anselm, and other big names. It is not represented by Preacher Billy-Bob the Snake-Handler.

Fr. Wells

I don't think anyone sees Tritheism in the icon, or it would have been banned long ago. The story in Genesis is about three angels who spoke and acted as one while speaking for God; and the Church has interpreted their actions as representatives of the Lord. The icon is not an icon of the Trinity, but of the angels who acted as representatives of God, and in so doing (as some have read the text) pointed to the Trinity.

If anyone treats the icon as a direct icon of the Trinity, they are mistaken, and would do themselves a favor by not hanging it up or looking at it.

Jack Miller said...

My point remains: those who deny that Christ took our place, suffered our penalty, paid our debt, made our satisfaction are at the fringe of Christianity. The Gospel is not negotiable.

LKW


Amen, Fr. Wells, amen.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Yousuf Rassam,

Thank you for your detailed answer!

It confirms the impression that I had - that while one of the angels might specifically be an Epiphany of the Logos/Son/Christ-Who-Comes-in-the-fullness-of-time, neither of the other two represented or 'presented' either Father or Holy Spirit but rather as you said it, "typified beforehand the revelation of the Trinity".

I had never encountered any exegesis of the angels as the distinct Persons, and did not expect to, but I have not read so many of the Fathers, yet.

And I now hope someday to read Father Gabriel Bunge's book (of which I had not heard before).

Semi-Hookerian

Anonymous said...

The theophany described in Genesis 18 of the three "men" whom Abraham hospitably entertained was sometimes interpreted by the Fathers as the pre-incarnate Logos and two angels, and sometimes as the three persons of the godhead. If an iconographer had the former in mind, he would hardly show the three as equal and of similar appearance.

One has only to type "Icon Trinity"" into Google and what comes up, but the 15th century invention of Andrey Rublev, with an extensive discussion of how the three figures are identical and enclosed in a circle, with the heavenly color of blue predominating. The discussion goes on to distinguish an OT Trinity from the NT Trinity. It's getting worse by the minute.

"The Icon does not show the Trinity itself, because that can not be done, but portrays a manifestation of the doctrine of the Trinity, as do icons of the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan.

This sort of sophistry is, well, sophistical. Icons of Our Lord's Baptism do not show three identical figures.

It is notable that such an icon is quite late in its appearance, Is this really what the 7th Council intended to legitimize? So much for the unchanging faith of EO.

Fr Hart, your suggestion that anyone who sees this icon as tritheistic should not look at it makes me wonder. Would you tell Martin Luther that if he didnt like Indulgences, he shouldnt buy one?
LKW

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr Hart, your suggestion that anyone who sees this icon as tritheistic should not look at it makes me wonder. Would you tell Martin Luther that if he didnt like Indulgences, he shouldn't buy one?

I am saying the icon cannot be an attempt to picture the Trinity (no matter what Google thinks), because the story from which it comes is about angels. And, if someone in his own devotions thinks he sees a picture of the Trinity, it is not healthy. Personally, I have never liked the icon, if only because it looks so repulsively feminine.

Drawings of the Trinity would violate the second commandment. We may make an image of the human nature of the Son, and to say otherwise is to deny the Incarnation. But, we can't make an image of the Father and the Holy Spirit (or even of the Divine Nature of the Logos), except indirect images God granted in the Theophany (the Lord's baptism), images of a vision rather than an attempt to draw (or write an icon of) the Divine Nature.

Anonymous said...

Hebrews 1:6: And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

Rev 12:4: And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.

Was the serpent in the garden of Eden Satan, one of the many angels (1/3rd) that fell from heaven? If so, were angels created before Adam and Eve? If they were, did their fall from grace preceed that of Adam and Eve? Were they judged by God? If He judged them, was the Incarnation part of the creation plan prior to human sin?

Thanks for any answer you may provide.

Susan

Anonymous said...

It's not a matter of "what Googgle thinks" about this Icon. It is a matter of what the original Iconographer had in mind and what it teaches to those who make use of it. Google is a fine research tool, but incapable of independent thought.

The Tridentine Missal contains pictures of the Trinity showing the Father as a very old man with a beard, the Son as a crucified man in front of him, and the Holy Spirit as some kind of bird flying around. Both of these depictions are objectionable and violate the second commandment.
LKW

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Both of these depictions are objectionable and violate the second commandment.

I agree entirely. But, up until now I thought of the icon as a written picture of three angels, and that that they merely proclaimed the Trinity. But, being who I am, I thought of the Biblical story represented, since the Bible is what has informed me all these decades. Now, I want an answer to a new question: What is that icon about?

Whether by Michelangelo or Albretch Durer, the picture of the Trinity as Zeus, Jesus and a Dove, has always offended me. I can be equally offended by the icon.

Anonymous said...

Both of these depictions are objectionable and violate the second commandment.

Fr Wells,

The second commandment forbids any graven image, which the dictionary tells me is an object of worship carved from wood or stone as in an idol. Rublev's icon is not carved or graven. The commandment goes on to forbid any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. It says, "Thou shall not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD they God am a jealous God..."

Impatient for Moses to come down from the mountain, Aaron ordered the Israelites to remove their golden earrings so that a golden calf could be formed using a "graving tool" after he had made it a molten calf. An altar was built before it... the calf was worshiped and sacrificed to... this clearly violated the second commandment.

The second commandment forbids worship of any thing but God, Who is a jealous God. A painted image such as Rublev's icon is a reminder of a Biblical account. The icon does not violate the second commandment because it was not meant to be worshiped. Icons were painted to teach stories visually because at that time in history most people could not read.

Susan

welshmann said...

Fr. Hart:

I hope this question doesn't prove that I have entirely missed the point of this post and others, but can you recommend authors/books that give an thorough, traditional exposition of the Atonement from a traditional Protestant/Reformed Catholic perspective? It would also be great if the same text accurately set forth and contrasted the Roman/Eastern views of the Atonement as well. I know your own brother (David?) has done this from an Orthodox perspective; are there any good authors from about 100 years ago, before modern liberal controversies, that you would recommend?

Thanks as always for your ministry.

welshmann

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr. Reardon sent me this via email:

Dear Father Bob

With respect to your question “I must ask, who out there is preaching the angry god version of Christianity?”—Actually, quite a number of Evangelicals seem to be preaching this view. For instance, I believe this is a common view at Moody Bible Institute, where I lecture from time to time.

You contend, “Certainly not Augustine, nor Anselm nor even the much vilified Calvin, ever taught such a notion. ”

Of course not.

On the whole, indeed, I decline to draw a strong a contrast between East and West in matters of soteriology.

In my Touchstone lecture on soteriology, for example, I contrasted the views of Augustine and Anselm, precisely to demonstrate divergent interpretive lines without reference to an East/West difference.

I believe this lecture was recorded on Ancient Faith Radio.

A blessed Christmas,

Pat

charles said...

Dear Fr. Hart and Wells,

I wish I got to this earlier. Your writing is a needed defense of Augustine and, therefore, Western Christianity. I truly hope it features in the coming Layman's Guide. It appears the Orthodox are guilty of many charges they accuse the West. Rather than harmonize, or draw a middle path, they too quickly polarize questions like preventing grace and our reading of Augustine by calling Protestants 'calvinists', in addition to other 'strawmen'arguments, et al..

I appreciate your balanced view on the subject of forensic vs. filial (or, law vs. grace; decree. vs. work; even hearing vs. touching?). My favorite quote, "Therefore, because of the Hebrew context of the Gospel as it was foretold in the Law and the Prophets, no clear or absolute distinction can be made between a juridical act and a liturgical offering".

The separation of God's love vs. anger is reminiscent of modern dispensationalism. Perhaps EO converts bring more into Orthodoxy than they readily admit? Fr. Well's defense of propitiation is also a breath of fresh air: "Bluntly: man did not propitiate God; God Himself provided the means of propitiation."

Indeed, the dislike of Godly anger and satisfaction conspicuously resonates with mid-20th century liberal complaint against 'sin'. However, how appreciate the wonder of grace if not for God's immutable justice? When one is diminished, it stands to reason so is the other? I agree with Fr. Wells distillation John Spong and Socinianism, "The penetration of EO theology by liberal Protestantism is a topic someone needs to look into.". Surely, EO is guilty of many the same errors it charges so-called Protestants.

cont'd

charles said...

cont'd
But even more frustrating is the historical inaccuracy at play when EO conveniently fails to clarify early protestantism from neo-evangelicism. It's a massive display of ignorance, if not pure contempt, to lump Anglicans together with nominal protestants like charismatic fundamentalists and other disordered, revivalistic sects that spring from completely opposite ecclesiastical intents, the latter decisively antagonistic to an ordered ministry and public worship, i.e., neo-anabaptist errors.

Also, if this expose is indeed included in the Layman's Guide, please paraphrase Ron's thoughtful inputr to the Reformation's definition of "pleasure". Over the Christmas weekend the verse, "behold, my only begotten Son, with whom I am well-pleased" popped into my mind numerous times. In this context, "pleasure" is better understood as God exercising His own (infinitely perfect) counsel, sovereignty, election, and appointment. This verse is a eucharistic moment where the Father chooses to unveil the glorified Son to the apostles as Very God of Very God? Nonetheless, Ron said, "By "the mere pleasure of God," I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God's mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment."

cont'd

charles said...

cont'd
I also enjoyed the related discussion on images, and I am not surprise it surfaced given the strong overlap between soteriological and worship matters in the Reformation. We must ask, 'how is man justified?' Your treatnment of icons seems to resonate with the Carolingian reception of the 7th ecumenical council, etc.. Of late, I've been the opinion that Anglicanism takes a decisively Western, if not Northern Catholic, stand with the Councils of Orange and Frankfurt on certain controverted points.

This has been shared on FB, and I hope many take opportunity to read your piece. Look forward to Articles 17, 25-26 which will bring us back to many of the same points mentioned above. Great stuff & Merry Christmastide, Fr. Hart and Fr. Wells!

Charles

Ron said...

Charles wrote: Ron said, "By "the mere pleasure of God," I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God's mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment."

Actually, the definition was written by Jonathan Edwards. It can be found in his famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." But thank you anyway for the kind remark.

Anonymous said...

Patristics cited does not the mind of the Fathers make - there are good reasons to view "classical protestantism" as problematic. I quote here David Hart:

"Followers of Calvin have been particularly concerned to defend God’s sovereignty. Do you think that tradition presents a particular problem for Christian thinking today?

Yes -- and not only today. I quite explicitly admit in my writing that I think the traditional Calvinist understanding of divine sovereignty to be deeply defective, and destructively so. One cannot, as with Luther, trace out a direct genealogy from late medieval voluntarism to the Calvinist understanding of divine freedom; nevertheless, the way in which Calvin himself describes divine sovereignty is profoundly modern: it frequently seems to require an element of pure arbitrariness, of pure spontaneity, and this alone separates it from more traditional (and I would say more coherent) understandings of freedom, whether divine or human.

This idea of a God who can be called omnipotent only if his will is the direct efficient cause of every aspect of created reality immediately makes all the inept cavils of the village atheist seem profound: one still should not ask if God could create a stone he could not lift, perhaps, but one might legitimately ask if a God of infinite voluntaristic sovereignty and power could create a creature free to resist the divine will. The question is no cruder than the conception of God it is meant to mock, and the paradox thus produced merely reflects the deficiencies of that conception.

Frankly, any understanding of divine sovereignty so unsubtle that it requires the theologian to assert (as Calvin did) that God foreordained the fall of humanity so that his glory might be revealed in the predestined damnation of the derelict is obviously problematic, and probably far more blasphemous than anything represented by the heresies that the ancient ecumenical councils confronted."

Indeed, The Doors of the Sea can be read as an extended rebuttal of Calvinism.

In any case, it helps to at least understand something about a communion before attacking it. The amount of misstatement, supposition and inaccuracy in this and related threads is more than uncharitable. It is unChristian.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

In any case, it helps to at least understand something about a communion before attacking it.

What, precisely, has been "attacked?" Did you actually read my respectful response to Fr. Reardon's essay?

On the subject of Double Predestination, I agree with my brother and always have. That aspect of Calvin's Institutes is the weakest part of his life work (but, it is not really different from Thomism or from Dominican theology). That does not mean the usual code word "Calvinism" is invoked accurately. More often than not, it is invoked inaccurately and used to attack either the whole western tradition, or to attack Protestantism in general, as if Calvinism were the leading or largest brand.

These defects, by the way, do not appear in Fr. Reardon's essay, and that is because he knows better.