Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More on "East and West"

“I see this going on in Orthodoxy all the time. The continuous discovery of new and improbable ‘differences’ between East and West has become virtually a cottage industry among some Orthodox Christians. Many of these alleged differences, however, seem not to have occurred to most Orthodox Christians who lived either before the Russian Revolution or outside of Paris.”
-Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

In the ongoing discussion about East and West, no one can speak with more authority than the pastor of All Saints Orthodox Church in Chicago, Father Patrick Henry Reardon (who also is a senior editor of Touchstone, and the author of several good books). In one lifetime, he has done what it has taken all three of the Hart brothers to do: he has been Roman Catholic, then Anglican and is now Orthodox. What sets him apart is the depth of his learning, since his knowledge of the entire Christian Tradition is about as exhaustive as any one man can possess. After all of his decades of scholarship, he has been able to speak in terms that all Christians can appreciate, demonstrating the reality of our common ground. Fr. Reardon has stated more than once the threefold separation between man and God that has been overcome for us in Christ, the separation by nature, by sin and by death. We are saved from our separation by nature in Christ’s Incarnation. We are saved from our separation by sin in Christ’s death, and we are saved from our separation by death in Christ’s resurrection.

I want to use this to answer the opinion of a commenter who calls himself Kolokotronis, specifically when this Kolokotronis wrote: “The West's concept of God, salvation, human nature, even sin itself, are near 180 degrees off that of the early Church, but are in many ways quite consistent with Greek pagan philosophy.” Before I do, let me say that this idea exalts Greek Paganism beyond measure. If the “Western” “concept of God” is consistent with Greek Paganism, then the pagans must have believed in a transcendent God who is Wholly Other from every created nature, dwelling in eternity, unknowable and unapproachable. Somehow, this does not fit the notion of Zeus on Mount Olympus, or of the gods who were subject to passions. It is simply another empty charge and invented excuse for maintaining and deepening division at any price.

About salvation, just how different is the “East” from the “West?” I believe that Saint Paul, unless he was capable of time travel, never read Cur Deus Homo by Saint Anselm. And, yet, he summarized the entire concept of the Jewish sacrificial system in the Law, and the Suffering Servant passage of Isaiah, with the words “Christ died for our sins, according to the scripture (i.e. in fulfillment of those scriptures about sacrifice).” – I Cor. 15 : 3. Here we look again at those three ways in which salvation is offered to us in Christ. By dying He took away the sins of the world. Can this really have no relationship to Divine Justice? Is God so immoral or a-moral? Christ overcame death, but in His cross He conquered both sin and death. Furthermore, in order for the Incarnation to save us from death and open to us the hope that we become “partakers of the divine nature,” sin must first be taken away by the Lamb of God, the “propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” In order for His resurrection to give us immortality, sin had to be removed first. In order for us be given the grace to partake of the divine nature by Theosis, we first needed this redemption from sin/ death (really one thing for us, not two).

To what degree this Kolokotronis believes that the East and the West have different concepts about what sin is, I would rather not even begin to question. It simply makes no sense. I really cannot say what Kolokotronis meant by condemning the “Western concept” of human nature, unless he is referring to a belief taught only in some Protestant circles that the Fall created something new called “sin nature,” a kind of anti-grace in the descendents of Adam. The Fall should be understood in terms of what we lost: we lack the grace to become what we were created to be. Our only hope is in Christ, His Incarnation, His cross, and His resurrection, by which grace is restored.


poetreader said...

Thank you for leading us into an interesting and valuable discussion. It seems a pity that some would use insights of this nature as clus with which to beat one another, and it seems especially sad that such a concept as theosis, as recovering the image of God, be dicorced from its ultimately unitive direction as an excuse for disunity.

It has long seemed to me that Anselm without theosis results in a mechanical and rather ungodlike God, while theosis without Anselm's insights fades off into a strange and ineffectual mystical weirdness.

Can both be true? Well, yes, both MUST be true or the wholeness of the Faith is badly compromised and our salvation placed in doubt.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

The only problem with Saint Anselm is that he wrote about only one aspect of the Incarnation. If the title had been more narrow than "Why God Became Man" the book would not seem so incomplete.(If it had been one volume in a larger work, Cur Deus Homo: Volume One: Atonement, that would have seemed better.) But, to object to the content and then make it a point of division, is criminal.

On the subject of balance, it is clear that "Western" Christians need a better understanding of Theosis than is normally found among them. But, the "Eastern" Christians need a better understanding of the Atonement than what has become fashionable in the last two centuries.

It reminds me of the alleged tension between word and sacrament (which is a decidedly "Western" problem). Clearly, there is no real tension between God's word and the sacraments He has instituted in His Church; but there is a perceived tension created by theological confusion. As a result the Protestants reduce the sacraments to two, and almost never pay even those any attention. The equal and opposite reaction to this is the short, empty homilies created by the Catholic effort (in many cases) to distance themselves from the Protestant error, and to reduce the importance of preaching.

In both of these examples (Word and Sacrament, Theosis and Atonement) the Anglican Via Media, when correctly understood as a road between unfortunate extremes, is our gift to the other two branches of God's Holy Catholic Church.

The Lemonts said...

A post I really enjoyed reading and can totally say Amin to. My journey into Eastern Orthodoxy has been bumpy. Partly because I have been told sooooo often not to judge the faith of the Orthodox while all the while hearing how Western Christians may or may not even be Christians (this sometimes exends to those "liberal" Antiochians). For all the research and studying I have done on my own it seems apparent that Orthodox Anglicanism is the best expression of Orthodox Christianity, it embraces both East and West vs. Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism. Now where do I find a spiritual father? Are there still Anglican Bishops left that guard the faith once and for all delivered?

Fr. Robert Hart said...


I am sorry to hear that you have fallen into that kind of Orthodox croud. I assure you that they are not all like that. In fact, if you're in Chicago look up All Saints and Fr. Reardon

The reason we have this blogsite is because many of the churches of the offical Canterbury Communion have rejected orthodox Anglicanism, and everything truly Christian. Real Anglicanism has been forced to survive by accepting a sort of Athanasian style exile, ignoring the heretical bishops and going with the orthodox ones. That is what the idea of Continuing Anglicanism is about.

To answer your question we would need to know where you reside, that is, town and state if in the U.S., or town, province or whatever applies if in another country.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Excuse me. I meant "crowd."

Anonymous said...


The Augustian view of "total depravity" from conception is the view of human naute that the East objects too. After all, it was the dominant view in the medieval Latin West. Its still valid theology in the Roman Communion and an Article of Faith for Reformed theology. Anyhow, in the West, one almost never hears or reads the Eastern anthropolical view (Mascall may be an exception).

As for Anselm, the problem from the traditional Eastern view is that his writing fail to indicate in any way that he is addressing only one aspect of Atonement, but rather that he explicating the full theory. Indeed, no one in the west since St. Vincent of Lerins and St. John Cassian left any writings suggesting any knowledge the theretofore universal "Christus Victor" theology of Atonement. C.B. Moss has an excellent discussion of this in his Anglican Catholic classic: The Christian Faith.