Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Christology and soteriology

When the heretic Arius tried to defend his teaching at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, that the λόγος (Logos - the Word), that is the Son of God, was a mere creature, the major reason why the Church rejected his doctrine was soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). That is, the revelation in holy Scripture concerning salvation in and through Christ was taken as the most convincing proof of all that the λόγος is God, one with the Father, "begotten not made." To the bishops there assembled, this confirmed the clear and plain meaning of Scripture beyond all doubt.

In the sixteenth century, something that Reformers had as a common task, no matter where they were, was the hard work of strengthening faith in the Christological doctrines that had been so thoroughly defended in the first four Ecumenical Councils (and consequently defended further in the last three). The need existed not because the Church in the west had forgotten any essential truth about God the Son, the Word made flesh, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Indeed, every part of that doctrine was taught faithfully and fully.

But, just as a very strong drink can become weak through dilution, without taking away any of its properties, so the Christology in the Church at that time had become diluted through doctrinal confusion about soteriology. If the various Reformers, including our own English Reformers, are to have their message summarized by solas (which solas were not new at all in their time, but old established catholic teaching), it is not without cause that one of these is Sola Christi - Christ alone. No one else saves us from sin and death.

Of course, no one disagrees with this sola. Every theologian everywhere in the Church affirms the truth that only through Christ, only in Christ and only by Christ, can anyone be saved. Nonetheless, it seemed necessary to defend that truth even when it was not directly attacked or denied. Again, this is because the whole truth of Christology has been affirmed but, in subtle ways, at the same time diluted. 

One major problem of taking a razor blade to Anglican sources, including the Thirty-Nine Articles, is that it is much easier to slice away those old writings than to learn the historical context that reveals their actual meaning. It is easier to react to Article XXV, for example, than to learn how even proper administration of the sacraments was restored by the English Reformers, including Cranmer's own radical and revolutionary idea of Frequent Communion for everybody in the Church (hence the name Holy Communion for the service; saying to all the faithful in Christ, come forward and receive). 

In fact, the old formularies kept and preserved a true balance in which the place of the Church, and the sacraments "generally necessary to salvation," as well as the life of faith lived in the Church, were clearly taught and defended. Nonetheless, some Anglicans who intended to maintain obedience and loyalty to the formularies, appear to have lost sight of the sacramental ministry of the Church. That they lost sight of it in spite of, rather than because of, the writings of early Anglicans (including Cranmer, Jewel, Hooker, Andrewes), is all too clear to well read students of English theology. 

But, on the opposite side, too many modern Anglicans accept uncritically the position of proselytizers from Rome, and teach the medieval innovations of a punitive Purgatory and the Treasury of saintly merits as if these things have Universal consensus, despite the fact that the Eastern Orthodox to this day reject them in the most clear language; or as if they were based on some sort of revelation equal to Scripture (needing Newman's theory of Doctrinal Development to make up for the lack of real authority), and as if that teaching can be consistent with the Gospel. Anglicans really have no business teaching any such system as the whole punitive Purgatory doctrine. It is "repugnant to the word of God," not because the Articles say so; but because of why they say so (that is one of those many things concerning which the Orthodox Church and Protestantism agree).

Let us consider the religious instruction that leads people to put their faith in various things rather than to repent and believe the Gospel. Do people really put their trust in the merits of saints? Someone may respond very well with the answer that their trust is really in Christ, and that saintly merits are merely a fruit of His grace, and really, thereby, trust in Christ. That is a very fine bit of reasoning indeed, and prevents the whole idea from being utter heresy and another gospel (Gal. 1:8,9). It is also a  very thick addition of unnecessary water that can, in effect, dilute the Gospel command, that God "now commandeth all men every where to repent." (Acts 17:30) And, it can cause people to put their trust in something that prevents them from truly repenting, a form of passivity St. Bede warned against in many parts of his History of the English Church and People.

I qualify what I am writing about with the word "punitive." It is reasonable to interpret Scripture in such a way as to believe in a work of God by which we are purified, cleansed by the Refiner's fire; such is a work of His grace. But, that cannot be about satisfying justice. For punishment cannot be a necessary means to treat imperfections in those of whom it is written, "but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (I Cor. 6:11) If sins have been forgiven, what need is there of punishment, even if we tease the idea with the word "temporal" to soften it? 

The whole doctrine of a punitive Purgatory, elaborately detailed as it was (and still is) by the Church of Rome, was a lucrative money maker both for the Church in Rome, and for relic salesmen. But, it had no other profit, certainly none for those who needed to know the way of salvation as God revealed it, and as the Universal Church had taught it for more than a thousand years (the real east-west consensus, that of the First Millennium).

But, the real problem, above all others, is that with salvation by Christ plus - whether it is saintly merits or anything added by anyone or anything else- the Church of Rome has fallen into the trap of a weak Christology. It is weak not through denial of the dogmas defended in Antiquity by the Universal Church. These it has held. To this day, Roman Christology is weak through dilution. The problem is so bad that the whole theory of Mary as a Co-Redemptrist or Mediatrix is taken seriously.

As I have written before:

"But, if Jesus Christ is fully God, the Word made flesh, Himself infinite and eternal, holy and separate from every created nature in his native Divine nature as one with the Father, made man by taking human nature into his eternal, infinite and holy Divine Person, then nothing can be added to the sufficiency of his 'sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.' To suggest that we have any need of a treasury of saintly merits from redeemed sinners and objects of the same mercy we have received, as if God owed a credit to sinful mankind due to alleged merits by the objects of his mercy and grace, is a frank denial of the Faith of the Church concerning Who is was that died for us and rose again."

So, it is not enough that we teach all that is true, that is to take nothing away from what God has spoken. It is equally necessary that we add nothing. "Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." (Prov. 30:6)


Fr. Wells said...

"The whole doctrine of a punitive Purgatory, elaborately detailed as it was (and still is) by the Church of Rome, was a lucrative money maker both for the Church in Rome, and for relic salesmen."

This is not anti-Roman propaganda from a pope-hating round-head. No one ever wrote more vociferously or bitterly against the Indulgence racket than the good English Catholic Geoffrey Chaucer. In the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales he eloquently describes the Pardoner, with his phoney relics, "a pillow case, which he pretended was Our Lady's veil."

Chaucer also presents a positive side to the Mediaeval Church, with the devout and faithful Parson (who is, however, suspected of Lollardy--a fore-runner of the Reformation).

On the other hand it may be a slight overstatement to say that the "doctrine" of Purgatory is still elaborately detailed. The CCC, in Para. 1030, 1031 and 1032, describes "The Final Purification, or Purgatory" quite briefly in three paragraphs, beginning with the statement, "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification...." The emphasis is on purification rather than punishment, which is barely mentioned in these paragraphs.

The old notion of "temporal punishment" still surfaces in para. 1472 as something which MAY continue in Purgatory. The whole notion is neutralized with the statement, "A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete justification of a sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain."

Modern Roman Catholic preachers such as the revered Fr Benedict Groeschel are at pains to say that "Purgatory is not a temporary hell but a preliminary heaven."

Since responsible Roman theologians have come so far, it baffles me that some Anglicans still jump through hoops to defend a discredited Penny Catechism view of the Intermediate State.

Jack Miller said...

Fr. Hart, again an excellent post. This sentence, "It is equally necessary that we add nothing", is so important yet so overlooked. The Judeaizers of the Galatian controversy were indeed Christians, in fact the epistle says they were "certain men came from James"... believers of some standing in Jerusalem who held that in addition to trusting Christ one had to be circumcised. It is arguable that some of them may have seen the risen Christ and were staunch defenders of his resurrection. Yet they were adding to the pure Gospel of Christ alone. Paul would have none of it, even confronting Peter over his hypocrisy.

This adding of a "new twist" on how one is ultimately saved is where the Anglican church has often taken too ecumenical of a view to soteriology. And it's why I am more concerned about the influence of the likes of a Tom Wright [who is orthodox in many important areas concerning the person of Christ yet weakens the doctrine of "Christ alone" in his unorthodox teachings on justification] than those who would openly deny the resurrection and teach a bland moralism.

Again, thanks for highlighting this subtle yet important distinction.

Anonymous said...

Orthodox Jews pray what is known as the "Mourner's Kaddish" for eleven months following the death of a loved one. It is a plea for purification, and has been practiced since before the Incarnation of our Lord. It was not until the Protestant Reformation that the doctrine of Purgatory was denied. That is, Purgatory was part of Christian faith from the beginning.


Fr. Wells said...

Susan: You are quite right about the "Mourners Kaddish." As far as we can know, it was a part of the Synagogue liturgy in our Lord's time and He was almost certainly accustomed to it.

And I will take your point that the concept of "purgatory" was part of trhe Christian faith from the beginning, if by "purgatory" you mean an intermediate state between our death and the eschatological Resurrection.

The issue, however, is what does that "purgatory" consist of? What happens there? Is the intermediate state a condition in which we suffer temporal penalties for unabsolved sins, or is it being at rest with Christ and possibly growing in His likeness?

The term purgatory is a Latin word which originated at an early time but is post-NT. I do not know of any Greek equivalent. It is interesting that St Thomas Aquinas listed Non-belief in Purgatory as a "error" of the Greeks. (Another crack in the marble monolith we call the "Vincentian canon).

All Christians who give it any thought believe in an Intermediate State, but there are wide differences between Roman, EO, Anglican and Protestant concepts. Our Anglican is much more akin to the EO.

Fr. Wells said...

Here is the text of the "Mourner's Kaddish," said by the bereaved in synagogue services. It bears no resemplace to Christian prayers for the dead, and does not mention purification. In fact, it does not even mention the deceased, but prays only for the glory of God, with a slight allusion to the Messiah's coming.

May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified CCong: Amen.)
in the world that He created as He willed.
May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,
and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,
swiftly and soon.
(Now say: (Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One
Blessed is He beyond any blessing and song,praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. (Now say: Amen)
May there be abundant peace from Heaven.
and life upon us and upon all Israel. (Now say:Amen)
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,upon us and upon all Israel. (Now say: Amen)

At the actual burial, this prayer is said:

In the world which will be renewed B'ʻal'ma d'hu ʻatid l'ithaddata בְּעָלְמָא דְהוּא עָתִיד לְאִתְחַדָּתָא
38 and where He will give life to the dead ulʼaḥaya metaya וּלְאַחֲיָאָה מֵתַיָא
39 and raise them to eternal life ulʼassaqa yathon l'ḥayye ʻal'ma וּלְאַסָּקָא יָתְהוֹן לְחַיֵּי עָלְמָא
40 and rebuild the city of Jerusalem ul'mivne qarta dirush'lem וּלְמִבְנֵא קַרְתָּא דִירוּשְׁלֵם
41 and complete His temple there uleshakhlala hekhlehh b'gavvah וּלְשַׁכְלָלָא הֵיכְלֵהּ בְּגַוַּהּ
42 and uproot foreign worship from the earth ulmeʻqar pulḥana nukhraʼa m'arʻa וּלְמֶעְקַר פֻּלְחָנָא נֻכְרָאָה מְאַרְעָא
43 and restore Heavenly worship to it position v'laʼatava pulḥana dishmayya l'ʼatreh וּלַאֲתָבָא פֻּלְחָנָא דִשְׁמַיָּא לְאַתְרֵהּ
44 and the Holy One, blessed is He, v'yamlikh qudsha b'rikh hu וְיַמְלִיךְ קֻדְשָׁא בְּרִיךְ הוּא
45 reign in His sovereignty splendour ...

Anonymous said...

I found this explanation of the Mourner's Kaddish on a Jewish website:

The Kaddish at the end of the service became designated as Kaddish Yatom or Mourner's Kaddish (literally, "Orphan's Kaddish"). It is customary for Kaddish Yatom to also be said before Psukei d'Zimra of shacharit. Although Kaddish contains no reference to death, it has become the prayer for mourners to say. One explanation is that it is an expression of acceptance of Divine judgment and righteousness at a time when a person may easily become bitter and reject God. Another explanation is that by sanctifying God's name in public, the mourners increase the merit of the deceased person. Kaddish is a way in which children can continue to show respect and concern for their parents even after they have died.

The idea of increasing the merit of the deceased person by sanctifying God's name in public is one that certainly may be viewed as a type of purification... such seems to be the intent if increased merit is indeed akin to increased favor in God's eyes.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Susan wrote:

That is, Purgatory was part of Christian faith from the beginning.

Susan, if you mean the Medieval "Romish doctrine of Purgatory" you are very mistaken about this. Purgatory, at least as the word is commonly used, is a Medieval man made innovation unknown to the ancient Church. You may try to prove your point if you really think you can.

Remember, your evidence must convince not only Anglicans and many various kinds of Protestants, but the entire Eastern Orthodox Church as well. For, they have never believed in a punitive Purgatory. In fact, they consider it a western heresy.

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

There is a vast difference between punitive and purgative, as I am sure you are aware. Purgatory is a Romish word. An "intermediate state of cleansing" is what I understand it to refer to, since the root of the word is to purge, or to cleanse (from sin in this case). It is not punitive because a punishment does not cleanse; a punishment is simply a chastisement.

2 Maccabees 12: 38-45 describes a sacrifice for the fallen, wherein prayers are lifted, "begging that the sin committed might be completely forgiven." Judas "urged the soldiers to keep themselves free from all sin, having seen with their own eyes the effects of the sin of those who had fallen; after this he took a collection from them individually, amounting to nearly two thousand drachmas, and sent it to Jerusalem to have a sacrifice for sin offered, an action altogether fine and noble, prompted by his belief in the resurrection. For had he not expected the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead, whereas if he had in view the splendid recompense reserved for those who make a pious end, the thought was holy and devout. Hence he had this expiatory sacrifice offered for the dead, so that they might be released from their sin." (The New Jerusalem Bible)

The soldiers prayed that sin would be forgiven. They were urged to keep themselves free from all sin. This was purgative in intent, was it not? Then a collection was taken for a sacrifice of sin to be offered, "prompted by his belief in the resurrection". This was also purgative in intent, inasmuch as it pointed to a desire to be reconciled with God through a release from sin. Note that "the thought was holy and devout". That is very important, in my opinion, for it shows an inclination of the heart to be right with God.

All of this prefigured Christ, Who had not come on the scene yet. He is our sacrificial Lamb. He cannot be bought; He paid the price for our sins with His Flesh and His Blood. The RC Church, in my opinion, uses guilt as a means to line its coffers via indulgences. This is a monumental distortion of interpretation, at least in my mind, for it denies the Truth of the Cross. What does God want from us? Our love. Where does He say that money will atone for our sins (or remove us from an intermediate state of purging)? Nowhere, as far as I know.

In Maccabees, the sin offerings had to be purchased... hence the collection of money. That was then, before Christ (Who overturned the moneychangers' tables). However, it is interesting that when people die today, mourners often FREELY donate money to various charities or churches on behalf of the memory of the deceased. It is an expression of love; of charity. I doubt if such acts are done to release the deceased from "purgatory". That would be foolish as it makes numerous false assumptions (i.e. that purgatory is a place, that God's favor for the deceased can be bought, etc).

There is only one solution for our sin and separation from God, and that is Christ. With Him, all things are possible. And so we pray for our dead not knowing for certain where they may be, and leave the rest to Him.