Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Christ and Antichrist

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (I John 4:1-4)

And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. (John 8:23)

I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:46,47)

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (I Tim. 1:15)

In the science of theology, finally and ultimately, every nature belongs to one of two categories; either a nature is created or not created. Of the category not created is but one nature, alone without equal; that is God. Everything else is created, and belongs to the same category with natures sub or super to each respective created nature. God exists, and by His will creatures exist; that is all there is, and nothing more. Angels do not share the nature of God. Rather, they share our created nature. Nothing shares with God the Divine nature; God is wholly other from every created nature. Perhaps the day will come when man-made technology can detect the presence of angels, demons and even departed human spirits (and sketchy evidence is reported to exist already). Matter is organized energy, and it is likely that a kind of energy is the stuff of which created spirits are made. The point is, God alone is wholly other from everything created; God alone is of that distinct order that is not part of the creation we live in. 
Really, we cannot speak of "the supernatural" as a wholly different order except when we mean God. Used otherwise, "supernatural" is merely a relative term, such as the supernatural order of man over that of dog (or the sub-natural order of dog compared to that of man). Here too we must distinguish between details, in which the intelligence of man is supernatural to the intelligence of dog, but the nasal ability of man is sub-natural to the superior smelling ability of dog. Like dog and angel, we belong to the created order; we belong to it along with demons, and insects, and along with angels and archangels. Unlike the nature of dog, the nature of man is an image of God.         
True Christology must begin with this distinction between God and the whole of creation. This is where St. John begins his Gospel, deliberately alluding to Genesis, to the Greek translation called the Septuagint (LXX) in his opening words. That connection is obvious: "In the Beginning" (בְּרֵאשִׁית) B'Rashet(ν ρχ)  En archē. 

ν ρχ ν  λόγος   or, "In the beginning was the Word." 

Unlike the opening of Genesis, which leads with the creative works of God, John leads by telling about God as God. 

"And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God."

Only after this does he write of God's work of creation. He builds on the ancient revelation in the Hebrew text, where God's word causes the creation to come to life. Genesis says, "And God said," using the word "said" (אָמַר) as the source of power. So, John writing with fuller and richer revelation teaches us that the Word or the λόγος (Logos) is more than an utterance; the Word is a Person Who is Himself God (κα  λόγος ν πρς τν Θεόν), and goes on to reveal concerning the Word, "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light," is answered by "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." 
The Word is God (Θεόν) in the opening of John's Gospel, existing by, in and with the Father ("Begotten not made," as the Creed says). He gives life and light to the creation, and the whole creation is dependent on Him for its existence. It is made by Him; all of its order and all of its life comes by Him as a gift. He, the Word, is separate from all creation because He is God. He is supernatural to every created nature, and wholly other from the entire order of creation. 

Creatio ex nihilo
Creatio ex nihilo, or creation from nothing, is not some idea imposed on the Biblical texts. It comes from the opening of Genesis itself, declaring that the heavens and the earth were created by God. They are not part of Him, neither did He give birth to creation. That is, we have no goddess who is one with Mother Earth; rather, part of the revelation of God as Father begins with creation strictly by His will.           
Some modern English versions of the Bible connect the first two verses of Genesis along the lines of, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was..." The connection of the first two verses into one long sentence, usually by adding the word "when," can suggest Pantheism; that God is the stuff of creation, or that the universe is God, implying that "the heavens and the earth" existed before creation. The King James Version, or the old (not the New) Revised Standard Version, for example, got it just right. The opening verse is a whole and complete sentence, indeed a separate sentence from verse two. In fact, the opening of verse two with the word "and" is a literal and perfect translation of the Hebrew. That is, God made it all, "and the earth" (וְהָאָרֶץ), after He made it initially, was without form and void at that early stage of its existence (of incidental interest, science tells us that the infant earth was dark because it was not yet in the orbit of the sun). In the Biblical text we read that God then spoke to create light and life, bringing us back to the point we have seen in the Gospel of John.          
The opening words of the Bible, when translated accurately, simply and straightforwardly, provide the revelation that God created everything by His will, that He made it out of absolutely nothing (Hebrews 11:3), for nothing that belongs to creation had already existed. Both the doctrine of Creatio ex nihilo and of God as Wholly Other, are revealed in the beginning of Scripture.

Come into the world
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) 

And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. (John 8:23) 

In a simple phrase of St. John that separates the doctrine and spirit of Christ from the spirit of Antichrist, "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." As used above in a quoted passage (...every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, etc. I John 4:1-4), we may well appreciate the incarnate meaning of His human name, and the familiar reality of "flesh." But, the word "come" is loaded with meaning. No one else has ever come into the world; all the rest of us originated here. The word "come" is the operative word that speaks of Christ's Divinity as the Logos, a Person not created. For, the spirit of Antichrist denies that He is come in the flesh; that is, it denies the Incarnation of the Word by one of two means: Either the spirit of error denies that Jesus Christ is truly human in every real way; or it denies that He is God, the One Who has come into the world of His own making.  This is an essential fact of Christology, that he came into the world. We do well to consider the Greek word translated "world" in the original New Testament; it is the familiar word κόσμος (cosmos). The Logos, a Person equal to the Father Who is not part of the creation at all ("begotten not made"), but rather is God in His own true nature, entered the created order.  He took the fullness of human nature into His Divine Person.   
The First Council of Nicea (325 AD) rejected the teaching of Arius (who asserted that the Word was a creature) by recalling the revelation that Christ alone saves us from sin and death. Yes, the texts of Scripture showed clearly all of the things we have seen in the portions quoted from the Gospel of John, and several more such passages that unmistakably teach that the Logos, or the Son, is equal to and one with the Father, without beginning or end. But, in the final analysis, they recognized above every other consideration that Soteriology, the study of salvation, always centers on the Person of the Son of God.   
It is no small matter, therefore, to understand the Gospel. Unless we see Christ as Divine, and as coming into His creation by taking a second nature alien to His "begotten not made" Person as "Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance (ομοουσιον) with the Father," we may be inclined to feel a need for an additional savior, or perhaps some means of making our own atonement. If we limit His atonement we limit Him, treating Him as less than God. We can add nothing more to His salvation, nor can there be any need to do so.
The words of our own Holy Communion liturgy, which come from the Scriptures and most directly reflect the Epistle to the Hebrews, are as much a matter of Christology as they are of Soteriology: "All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world."    
These words also reflect the First Epistle of John, "And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (2:2) For, although Christ by His death as our full atonement and propitiation has met with limited reception from the fallen human race, His work is "full, perfect and sufficient" because of Who He is.        
"Who has believed our report?" said the prophet (Isaiah 53:1), and in that same Suffering Servant passage spoke of the One and the many; for "many" in that passage is not properly contrasted against the concept of all; rather the one man upon Whom the burden of sin is placed, is one contrasted against the "many." 

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all...He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53: 5,6,11)       

That is, "many" speaks of the entire human race, everyone except this Man Who takes away all sin; and this is taken up by Saint Paul: "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Romans 5:18, 19) There we see the One and the many. So, although not everyone believes, from the Divine perspective and by Divine initiative, salvation is offered to everyone in Christ. However one views the mystery of predestination, a very large subject indeed, it is very dangerous to speak of Christ's work as in any sense itself limited; for, we might then imagine that His death is not sufficient, meaning that He is not sufficient, to take away the sins of the world. (John 1: 29)       
Just as it is unnecessary, not to mention unorthodox, to try to add to the Atonement, whether by the merits of saints from some supposed "treasury," or by calling the Lord's blessed virgin mother "Co-redemptrix" (a popular idea among some contemporary Roman Catholics), and so forth, it is also error to use the term "Limited Atonement" when speaking of Christ's sacrifice. From two opposite ends these ideas limit Christ's work, and therefore treat Him as less than fully Divine. "Full, perfect and sufficient" means just that, as does "once for all." (Hebrews 10:10)   
We serve no need by solving false problems. Reconciling the full, perfect and sufficient work of Christ with the unbelief of a fallen world, is a false problem; and, it would be no solution to undervalue the meaning of the words, "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:2) For that speaks of God's generous will and infinite love, whatever men may do about it.          
Finally, the great Christological passage from Paul's Epistle to the Philippians also connects Soteriology to the whole study of Christ's Person and Incarnation, rehearsing the Gospel in the context of Christ's two natures:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, etc. (see Phil. 2:5-11)

Exorcising the spirit of Antichrist
The revelation recorded in Scripture shows only Christ as coming from outside the fallen world, coming into it by taking our nature to save us from sin and death. No one else is from above; no one else came into the world (cosmos). No one else entered the created order from some other venue. The other venue is His Divine nature that is itself separate from the created order. The mystery of the Incarnation is beyond our comprehension. But, though we can never understand it fully, we are given grace to believe what has been revealed. "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh."


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Fr. Hart, for another delightful meditiation! Once again, everything in God's opera ad extra is christocentric. So, the trinitarian character of the first verses of Genesis,with God creating all things through His Word and the Spirit hovering over the face of the waters [as opposed to the NRSV, which makes it sound as though, as Paul Meyendorf noted, God is "breaking wind"], is elucidated further by John, who directs us to Him. One is reminded also of Paul's notes about all things being created not only by and through Christ but for Him- a fact which has led some commentators, including Maximus the Confessor, to point out that not only is Christ Incarnate the model for Adam but also- a wonderful paradox- that the Incarnation is the cause of the creation of the cosmos, not visa versa. This seems to also be linked to the Hebrew dabar, and the connotation it can carry (aong others) of a plan, or more specifically the oikonomia of God, His family plan for our redemption and being fully conformed to the image of Christ, the eternal Firstborn Son.

Patrick Fodor

Jack Miller said...

Fr. Hart,

I continue to be challenged and edified by your essays. I sometimes wish we could meet, along with others, in a White Horse Inn setting. I am intrigued especially by your approach to Christ's atonement. I too agree the word "limited" has unnecessary limitations. You sum up a good approach in this section:

Whatever the mystery of predestination ultimately means, it serves no need to solve false problems. Reconciling the full, perfect and sufficient work of Christ with the unbelief of a fallen world, is a false problem; and, it would be no solution either to that problem or to the man-made doctrine of Universalism to undervalue the meaning of the words, "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:2) For that speaks of God's generous will and infinite love, whatever men may do about it.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your solid post, rooted as it is in Scripture. However, I take issue with one point. I don't see how the fifth Marian dogma (Mary as Co-redemptrix) is opposed to sufficiency of the one sacrifice of Calvary, adds anything to it or in any way limits it. I also don't see how it detracts from the divinity of Christ. Using the classical Via Media model, you place the true Catholic understanding between Limited Atonement of the Calvinists on one hand and the role of Mary in soteriology of the Roman church on the other.

The belief that Mary is the Co-redemptrix, flows from the fact that she truly is "Theotokos" as defined at the Third Ecumenical council. It is grounded in orthodox Christology: Christ is the unique source of salvation for us, and He comes to us through His mother's acceptance of God's plan, allowing Him to take her flesh. Does her decision add to His perfect sacrifice, or does it detract from His divinty? Calvary certainly could not have taken place without Mary's decision. I suspect that your objection to this would be 'It places too much importance on Mary's "fiat" and makes our salvation depend on a creature's decision'. But did the Blessed Virgin have a choice to accept what God had planned for her? Could she have said no? Can we, who have received grace in baptism, say no to God?

Mary's role as Co-redemptrix actually PRESERVES us from the error of easy Universalism and from the false Calvinist notion of 'Irrestible grace' (for the elect only of course). Mary, who was already 'full of Grace' could have declined God's will, lost grace and perished, but she did not. In as far as she accepted the plan of God for her (including the cross) at the Incarnation she is indeed Co-redemptrix, as she co-operated in the redemption of the world. She did not do this without grace however, she was already 'full of grace'.

As she is also the image of the Bride of Christ, the Church, she shows us that we are also called to co-operate with Christ's work of our salvation. We, like her, must not 'receive the grace of God in vain' but must accept and co-operate with His divine will. Thus we all take part in our own salvation, even though the power to do so comes not from us, but fully from His sacrifice.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

M. Baker:

I favor a discussion about Mary and her role in our salvation history, including everything that her life indicates about predestination. I say that because I am sure that God knew from before the creation of the world every detail. Please consider, could she really have said no? If so, what about the extraordinary grace ("highly favored" or loosely, "full of grace") mentioned by Gabriel (Luke 1:28), using the word χαριτόω (charitoō) instead of the more generally used χάρις (charis).

But, to go so far as to use the word co-Redemptrix causes many a problem. The first question, inasmuch as Christ died for "the many" - by which is meant the whole human race, other than himself, the One - what about Mary's redemption? Was she not also born "in Adam"? Who, but Christ alone, is ever called Redeemer, Savior or the one Mediator by anyone in the New Testament? The Blessed Virgin Mary had a sword pierce her soul; but only Christ could have the nails pierce His hands and feet, and the spear His side, in shedding the blood that redeems from sin and death. So, I say that we go too far if we call even the Theotokos a co-Redemptrix. For the Redeemer redeemed with His blood. No one else could have done that.

Anonymous said...

I have heard and read it said (and the painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe also portrays this) that it was Mary who stomped the serpent's head. Scripture says her seed (Jesus) will do so and so He did.

It blurs the distinction between created and uncreated beings to give Mary, the saints and even the church/Church too big a role, power and place in our devotions and in our salvation.

All power belongs to God (Psalm 62:11)
He shares His glory (Isaiah 42:8)and our worship with no one. (Numbers 6:5)

Prayer is to be directed to our Heavenly (the only Holy) Father in the Name of the Son, who is the only mediator between God and Man and the only great High Priest, The full and sufficient and last blood sacrifice...the one true sacrifice that all prior blood sacrifices foreshadowed. We priest (priest is a verb as well as a noun) to one another now, confessing our faults to one another that we may be healed, forgiving one another that we may be forgiven. But it is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who acts, heals, transforms.

Mary is not an actor in the sense that God is, with His power, she's a very blessed fellow creature who surrendered to receive the seed of The Holy Living Word (and nurtured it within her) and modeled that surrender for us. The sword of the Word must pierce our hearts also.

Jack Miller said...

St. Nikao,

Amen... well said. Your words ring the heavenly truth of the source and means of our salvation in Christ.
Thank you for your concise summation.


Fr. Wells said...

M. Baker wrote:

"I don't see how the fifth Marian dogma (Mary as Co-redemptrix) is opposed to sufficiency of the one sacrifice of Calvary, adds anything to it or in any way limits it. I also don't see how it detracts from the divinity of Christ."

Sorry, but I have to blow the whistle on
your asserton that the title "Co-redemptrix" is a fifth Marian dogma.
Some Romans are eager to give Our Lady such a title, but that has not been declared in any dogmatic form. The late JP II was under considerable pressure to make such a declaration, but he never got around to it. Mother Angelica used to ring the changes for "Co-redemptrix" but we do not seem to hear too much about it any more. But with all due respect to your private judgment on the matter, please do not call this a "dogma."

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I sometimes think that these extraordinary new "dogmas" about Mary obscure the significance she rightly has. The revelation given in the Holy Scriptures is what we need, in which her whole life is intimately connected with the Incarnation of the Word.