St Athanasius: The Death of Death in the Death of God

“For the Word, realizing that in no other way would the corruption of human beings be undone except, simply, by dying …” (Inc. 9). St Athanasius the Great knows this to be true, not through philosophical reflection or even biblical exegesis, but by the fact of the death of the divine Son on the cross. Given that the Son has subjected himself to the torment and humiliation of the crucifixion, this must mean that the only solution to death was nothing less than the death of God. The horror and glory of the solution implies its necessity. The death of death could only be accomplished by God taking to himself a body and enduring the death of man.

Athanasius traces the biblical narrative, beginning with the primeval myth of paradise and concluding in the passion and resurrection of the Christ—and yet not concluding, for the story continues in the life of the Church, which awaits the return of its glorified Lord. Within the narrative the doom of humanity is grounded upon God’s command to Adam: “From the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat. On the day you eat of it, you shall die by death” (Gen 2:17). Adam’s disobedience immediately provokes divine judgment. Humanity loses the grace of immortal life and plunges into wickedness. In Athanasius’s view, we are so constituted that there can be no neutral ground, no middle state of being in which we can live our lives: we are either ascending to God in love or we are descending into narcissism and nothingness. This dynamic structures the human condition. The rapid and terrible descent into evil marks human history. The Adamic curse hangs over humanity. When death entered the world, writes Athanasius, “human beings died and corruption thenceforth prevailed against them, becoming even stronger than its natural power over the whole race, the more so as it had assumed the threat of the Deity against them through the transgression of the commandment” (Inc. 5). Against the power of death, man is helpless. He cannot restore himself to eternal life nor extricate himself from his slavery to disordered desire and the fear of annihilation—hence the necessity that the Creator himself should personally enter the narrative and transform it into a narrative of salvation. The eternal Son becomes Jesus of Nazareth and offers his death as a sacrifice for all. The Word dies that death may die; the Word dies that man may live. The great Alexandrian theologian advances a construal of atonement that is simultaneously representative and substitutionary. In the Incarnation the eternal Son lives and dies and rises again, on our behalf, in our stead, for us and with us.

How can the death of God be the death of all human beings? How can it fulfill the “law of death”? For St Athanasius the answer to these questions is principally determined by the apostolic witness:

One may be convinced of these things by the theologians of the Savior himself, taking their writings, which say, “For the love of Christ constrains us, as we judge this, that if one died for all, then all died; and he died for all that that we should no longer live for ourselves but for him who died and rose” from the dead, our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5.14-15). And again, “We see Jesus who, for a little while, was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the passion of death, that by the grace of God he might taste death on behalf of all” (Heb 2.9). Then, he also points out the reason why it was necessary for none other than the God Word to be incarnate, saying, “For it was fitting that he, for whom are all things and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb 2.10). Saying this, he means that it was for none other to bring human beings out from the corruption that had occurred except the God Word who had also created them in the beginning. And that the Word himself also took to himself a body as a sacrifice for similar bodies, this they indicated saying, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of them, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil, and might deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb 2.14-15). For by the sacrifice of his own body, he both put an end to the law lying against us and renewed for us the source of life, giving hope of the resurrection. For since through human beings death had seized human beings, for this reason, again, through the incarnation of the God Word there occurred the dissolution of death and the resurrection of life, as the Christ-bearing man says, “For as death by a human being came death, by a human being has come also the resurrection of the dead; for as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” and those which follows (1 Cor 15.21-22). For now we no longer die as those condemned, but as those who will arise do we await the common resurrection of all, which God, who wrought and granted this, “in his own time will reveal” (1 Tim 6:15; Titus 1.3). This therefore is the first cause of the incarnation of the Savior. (Inc. 10)

At first glance it might seem that Athanasius understands the fulfillment of the “law of death” in forensic or juridical terms—there is a penalty that needs to be paid and God pays it for us—but after reading through the De Incarnatione a couple of times during the past month, I believe that such an interpretation is mistaken. Athanasius’s soteriological reflections are not motivated by a concern for the satisfaction of justice. The penalty prescribed by God in the garden is not assigned for the purpose of retributive, or even remedial, punishment. It symbolizes, rather, the natural consequence of human disobedience: to break fellowship with God, and to thus separate oneself from the only source of life, is to fall into natural mortality. Eternal life is not something that we possess naturally; it is something that we can only enjoy by grace in communion with our Creator.

For Athanasius, the aspects of “nature” and “grace” are both constitutive of the human being as created by God, “nature” referring to the whence of creation’s being, which is also an intrinsic orientation to nothingness, and “grace” to the reality of its establishment in being through the Word. It might seem that Athanasius lays extreme stress on humanity’s fragility, which indeed he does. But it would be a mistake to construe this as a “pessimistic” account of the human condition. Ultimately, it is a conception of the human being as an entity whose existence is radically gifted. Precisely because its whole being is gifted, humanity has no hold on being apart from that irreducibly radical gift. The reality of its being nothing apart from the gift of participation in God is humanity’s nature, or physis. That it does exist, and even shares in the life of God himself, is due to the grace, or charis, that reflects the divine philanthropy. (Khaled Anatolios, Athanasius, p. 42; also see “The Nothingness of the World“)

The plight of man is ontological and thus only an ontological solution will suffice. Athanasius, following Scripture, employs commercial, juridical, and sacrificial language by which to speak of the saving work of Christ; but the significance of this language within De Incarnatione is determined by the ontology of death and resurrection. What is needed for salvation is not the legal rescindment of the law of death, much less the propitiation of divine wrath (as suggested in some Protestant versions of the atonement). What is needed is the re-creation of human nature, and this re-creation can only occur if the Word dies in the flesh. All must indeed die—such is the divinely ordained curse of mortality. The miracle of the cross simultaneously effects this universal death and accomplishes the transfiguration of man. “And thus it happened,” writes Athanasius, “that both things occurred together in a paradoxical manner: the death of all was completed in the lordly body, and also death and corruption were destroyed by the Word in it. For there was need of death, and death on behalf of all had to take place, so that what was required by all might occur. Therefore, as I said earlier, the Word, since he was not able to die—for he was immortal—took to himself a body able to die, that he might offer it as his own on behalf of all and as himself suffering for all, through coming into it ‘he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage‘ (Heb 2.14-15)” (Inc. 20).

In my previous article “Substitutionary Atonement” I noted Athanasius’s response to the query whether human repentance would have sufficed: man repents, God forgives, God returns man to paradise. Why not? “If then there were only offence and not the consequence of corruption, repentance would have been fine,” Athanasius explains (Inc. 7). Hence the real problem is not the transgression. The real problem cannot be resolved by apology or repayment of debt. The real problem is human nature. The real problem is death. Athanasius returns to this topic near the conclusion of De Incarnatione. Why couldn’t God have simply fixed everything “by a nod only,” just as he did when he created the world ex nihilo? Athanasius replies: “Formerly, when nothing at all existed, only a nod and an act of will was needed for the creation of the universe. But when the human being had once been made, and necessity required the healing, not for things that were not, but for things that had come to be, it followed that the healer and Savior had to come among those who had already been created, to heal what existed” (Inc. 44).

St Athanasius then offers his most compelling analysis of the atonement:

Next, this must also be known, that the corruption which has occurred was not outside the body, but attached to it, and it was necessary that instead of corruption, life should cleave to it, so that as death had come to be in the body, so too life might come to be in it. If, then, death had been outside the body, life would also have had to be outside it. But if death was interwoven with the body, and dominated it as if united to is, it was necessary for life to be interwoven with the body, so that the body putting on life should cast off corruption. Otherwise, if the Word had been outside the body, and not in it, death would have been conquered by him most naturally, since death has no power against life, but nonetheless the attached corruption would have remained in the body. For this reason, the Savior rightly put on a body, in order that the body, being interwoven with life, might no longer remain as mortal in death, but, as having put on immortality, henceforth it might, when arising, remain immortal. For, once it had put on corruption, it would not have risen unless it had put on life. And, moreover, death does not appear by itself, but in the body; therefore he put on the body, that finding death in the body he might efface it. For how at all would the Lord have been shown to be Life, if not by giving life to the mortal? And just as straw is naturally destroyed by fire, if anyone keeps the fire away from the straw, the straw does not burn, but remains fully straw, straw fearful of the threat of fire, for fire naturally consume it. But if someone covers the straw with much asbestos, which is said to be fireproof, the straw no longer fears the fire, having security from the covering of asbestos. In the same way one may talk about the body and about death. If death were kept away from it by a command only, it would still be mortal and corruptible, according to the principal of bodies. But that this should not be, it put on the incorporeal Word of God, and thus no longer fears death or corruption, having life as a garment and corruption being destroyed in it. (Inc. 44)

As Athanasius understands the atonement, nothing less than the Word’s historical inhabitation of human nature would have truly provided the remedy for sin. An external word or act would have affected us only externally. It would have left untouched our mortality and decay. The cure must be worked from the inside. God must take the sickness into himself and heal it through the alchemy of incarnation. God must experience death on the cross, putting death to death. Only through the death and resurrection of the Incarnate One can humanity be raised to glorified existence. God weaves eternal life into the body of death precisely by purifying, vivifying, and transfiguring the garment of our humanity. God must become man that man might become god.

St Athanasius later returned to this theme in his Contra Arianos. Even if Christ was a creature, so his opponents asserted, God could still have undone the curse of death merely by speaking his absolution. But this would have been unfitting, Athanasius responds:

Moreover, one may see the fitting rationale of what happened in this: If he had spoken and undone the curse, merely in accordance with his capacity to do so, the power of he who thus issued the command would have been displayed but humanity would nevertheless have remained as Adam was before the transgression, receiving grace externally and not having it mingled with the body. For such was Adam when he was placed in paradise. In fact, perhaps humanity would have become worse because it had by now learned to transgress. So, this being the situation with humanity, if it were again deceived by the serpent, there would be again a need for God to command and undo the curse. The need would then become limitless, and humanity would remain none the less in slavery and liability to sin. Forever sinning, it would be forever in need of pardon and it would never be free. Being, on its own, mere flesh, it would be forever defeated by the law through the weakness of the flesh.

Yet again, if the Son was a creature, humanity would have remained none the less mortal and not united to God. It was not a creature that united creatures to God, for in that case this creature would be itself in search of one to unite it to God. Nor would a part of creation be the salvation of creation, that part itself being in need of salvation. To prevent this, God sent his own Son who becomes the Son of Man by taking created flesh, so that he may offer his own body to death on behalf of all, since all were sentenced to death but he was other than all. Henceforth, the utterance of that sentence is fulfilled, insofar as all have died through him—for “all have died” in Christ (2 Cor 5:14)—and henceforth all can be freed through him from sin and the curse that comes from it and may truly remain forever as risen from the dead and as putting on immortality and incorruptibility. For, as has been often demonstrated, when the Word put on the flesh, he brought about the complete eradication from the flesh of every bite of the serpent and the repulsion of any evil that had sprung up from the movements of the flesh and the annihilation of the death which follows upon sin. (Ar. 2.68-69)

A mere word, a mere lifting of the condemnation, would not have provided the definitive and lasting solution that was needed. At best, it would only have reset history and returned humanity to paradise, with the same vulnerabilities that Adam suffered, thus resulting in an infinite process of disobedience-punishment-forgiveness-restoration. A more radical solution was necessary. And that solution was Pascha … is Pascha.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life.

(Go to “The Life of Man is the Knowledge of the Father”)

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55 Responses to St Athanasius: The Death of Death in the Death of God

  1. Pingback: Atonement as the restoration of human nature in Athanasius (and Anselm) | A Thinking Reed

  2. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life.

    I am really looking forward to your next installment! The Paschal Tropar has always struck a note with me. It holds such a different view of death & life than what I was raised with from Protestantism. Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion & Resurrection were not presented as interrelated events in our salvation. Rather they were treated as independent historical events from a long time ago. Back then Good Friday was a day I was out of school while my mother worked; there was no worship service to commemorate the Crucifixion other than Easter Sunday where the Crucifixion was the central theme with the Resurrection hardly receiving honorable mention. We essentially stopped at the Crucifixion with the Resurrection being little more than a cheery little add-on that proved Christ really was God rather than just another Jewish martyr.

    Other denominations to which I was exposed were not so germane & Easter Sunday was all about hellfire & brimstone. I was taught that Christ suffered horribly in Hell, even being tortured by Satan & his evil minions. Furthermore I was taught that Christ deserved Crucifixion & deserved torment in Hell because he had become sin. Others backed off of the word “deserved”, but substituting “had to be”. Even then I found such thinking to be insane & unworthy of God who was supposedly omnipotent & loving.

    Pascha as understood & celebrated by Orthodoxy & the Tropar portray a view that is much more sensible for me–“trampling down death by death”–“bestowing life”. The aspect that the Orthodox call the Resurrection icon “The Harrowing of Hell” also augments this & offsets my upbringing. Christ actively destroyed death. Christ actively bestows life. Christ actively harrowed Hell, Hell did not harrow Christ!

    Thanks once again, Fr. Aiden.

    Rhonda

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  3. ephremb says:

    First off, I want to say that I think we both agree that St. Athanasius is trying to demonstrate the very comprehensive nature of the atonement, and I am impressed generally with the way you have laid it out. I agree, of course, that “the plight of man is ontological,” and requires an ontological solution.

    I have always maintained that the atonement is comprehensive, that it stretches out to cover every aspect of what needs to be redeemed in humanity and the cosmos. I look at redemption as a seamless garment, within which many threads are interwoven to form a whole. I have never been one to take the multiple aspects of the atonement and set them against each other or in competition with each other for which will sit at the right hand in the Kingdom. Rather, I have contended that they are like the facets of a gemstone, all working together to reveal the glory of so great a redemption.

    Thus it was that, in the previous article, I found myself troubled by the sentence: “Utterly absent is any notion of propitiating a wrathful deity or of satisfying the demands of justice. There is only the loving Father who unites himself to humanity through his Son and thereby accomplishes the salvation of the world.” I do not, of course, protest the loving Father uniting us through his Son, &c. It is the assertion of the utter absence of propitiation and satisfaction, the assertion that there is “only the loving Father,” with which I have difficulty. Likewise, in the quote from Fr. Stephen, “The problem of sin is not a legal issue, but an ontological issue (a matter of being and true existence). ”

    St. Athanasius, in his works, expounds upon and explains all of these things: propitiation, satisfaction of justice, repayment of the debt owed, substitution, the assumption and healing of our nature, and so on. He sums it up at the end of the first chapter, saying, “For by the sacrifice of His own body He did two things: He put an end to the law of death which barred our way; and He made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection.”

    My take on Fr. Stephen’s sentence, which I think more in line with what has been said by St. Athanasius, would be “The problem of sin is not only a legal issue, but also an ontological issue, ” rather than setting the legal and the ontological at artificial odds with each other; something St. Athanasius does not do in his text. There is no “utter absence” of these things; there is, rather, a deeper and expanded understanding.
    Coming to the present piece, I have similar concerns with the following: “At first glance it might seem that Athanasius understands the fulfillment of the “law of death” in forensic or juridical terms—there is a penalty that needs to be paid and God pays it for us—but after reading through the De Incarnatione a couple of times during the past month, I believe that such an interpretation is mistaken. Athanasius’s soteriological reflections are not motivated by a concern for the satisfaction of justice. The penalty prescribed by God in the garden is not assigned for the purpose of retributive, or even remedial, punishment…The plight of man is ontological and thus only an ontological solution will suffice. Athanasius, following Scripture, employs commercial, juridical, and sacrificial language by which to speak of the saving work of Christ; but the significance of this language within De Incarnatione is determined by the ontology of death and resurrection. What is needed for salvation is not the legal rescindment of the law of death, much less the propitiation of divine wrath (as suggested in some Protestant versions of the atonement). What is needed is the re-creation of human nature, and this re-creation can only occur if the Word dies in the flesh. All must indeed die—such is the divinely ordained curse of mortality. The miracle of the cross simultaneously effects this universal death and accomplishes the transfiguration of man.”

    My reading of De Incarnatione has never seen St. Athanasius setting his forensic or judicial terms, his commercial, juridical, and sacrificial language, or the concept of punishment itself (which does, in fact, appear in his work)over against the ontology of death and resurrection, but rather treats it all as a seamless whole, with all factors that compose salvation rolled into one massive mystery of redemption the depths of which we will never cease discovering and by which we will never cease from being amazed.

    We are fully in agreement that “A mere word, a mere lifting of the condemnation, would not have provided the definitive and lasting solution that was needed. At best, it would only have reset history and returned humanity to paradise, with the same vulnerabilities that Adam suffered, thus resulting in an infinite process of disobedience-punishment-forgiveness-restoration. A more radical solution was necessary. And that solution was Pascha … is Pascha.”

    Where we appear to differ is on those aspects of the atonement that have become controversial in the current age, particularly the forensic, juridical, substitutionary, satisfactional, propitiatory, and so on. I am sympathetic to the fact that a lot of popular fundamentalist and evangelical Protestantism has a shallow, truncated, and inadequate gospel that does not, in its dogmatics, properly take into account the ontological significance of redemption. My fear has to do with approaching the Fathers with preconceptions that essentially jettison-by-explaining-away concepts and language that they themselves hold and use in thoughtful and effective ways.

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  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Thanks, Ephrem, for your substantive comment. I think I have probably argued my interpretation as far as I can, but perhaps others would like to jump into the discussion (hint, hint). 🙂

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  5. Karen says:

    The work linked below by Evangelical author (and, I believe, pastor), Derek Flood, may be of interest for the discussion. He is a proponent of the view that the atonement is for purposes of restorative justice and he opposes Penal Substitution theory:

    http://therebelgod.com/AtonementFathersEQ.pdf

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thanks, Karen, for sharing this link with our readers. Flood’s discussion of Athanasius is quite germane to our discussion.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      After a little Google searching, I see that Flood has also written a follow-up article: The Abolishment of Retribution in the Church Fathers.

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      • ephremb says:

        Having read both of these, I still do not see Flood’s work as really germane, and here’s why: He is taking what is essentially the worst Protestant-scholastic conception of penal substitution and demonstrating that the Fathers didn’t teach that. Okay. I agree. But it is, in itself what I have argued against, to wit, artificially setting aspects of the atonement against each other in such a manner that the whole subject suffers distortion.

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      • Karen says:

        Ephremb, are you familiar with Scot McKnight’s work in A Community Called Atonement? If you are, I’m curious about what you thought of his approach in that book. (Father, not intending to exclude you and your thoughts about the same if you have any.)

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  6. ephremb says:

    Derek Flood is really coming from a different place than Fr. Aidan and I. I am sure that both of us have no problem saying that the Reformed presentation of and overemphasis on penal substitution and primarily forensic atonement models is beyond the pale. The question here, one that I have been exploring for a number of years, is whether the Orthodox have been overreacting by the substantial deemphasis (or outright denial in Khrapovitsky, Romanides, Kalomiros, et. al.) of substitution, satisfaction, and juridical aspects of the atonement in the patristic corpus.

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  7. PJ says:

    I heartily second everything you’ve said, Ephrem B. I worry that the overemphasis on satisfaction and substitution among certain sects of Protestantism has led to an underemphasis of these aspects of the atonement among Orthodox and Catholics alike.

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  8. Rhonda says:

    Ephrem & PJ:
    I know that it may certainly see that the EO & RC may be doing so, but keep in mind the past 500 years since the Protestant Reformation. From the RC perspective you have the Protestant Reformation against the RC which reacted with the Counter Reformation. Both sides tended to either overemphasize or de-emphasize parts of their teachings in reaction to the other side.

    For the EO additionally keep in mind some more things: 1) the persecution & suppression of the EO under Islam, 2) what has been called the Latin/Western Captivity, 3) Islamic influences on Protestant thought (just beginning to be researched with any depth), 4) the suppression & persecution almost to the point of extinction of the Orthodox Church under Communism & 5) the attempts by Protestants to infiltrate the formerly closed communist/historically EO countries for wholesale evangelization/conversion under the auspices of charitable assistance since the collapse of the former Soviet union. From the EO perspective, many of these authors are reacting against such things & trying to restore Orthodoxy to its former mindset & theological framework.

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  9. ephremb says:

    I do understand historical context, but my basic issue here concerns the content of the Athanasian witness on the atonement and how, in particular, to understand the juridical language in his work. I did make allusion to a question of wider scope, but I am not sure I wish to impose on Fr. Aidan’s good graces by addressing that larger topic in this venue any further than I already have, due to what is, at least in my experience, its somewhat incendiary nature. Please forgive me for leaving that gate open.

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  10. Rhonda says:

    Ephrem,
    By no means did I consider anything incendiary in nature nor was my response meant to be. All sides can forget that they have caused problems today from actions in the past of our respective groups, be they RC, EO or Protestant. Things only get incendiary when we view our respective groups as never having done anything wrong or that our respective group has no “issues”. One should remember the past & try to learn from previous mistakes, not ignore it or exaggerate what happened in the past either good or bad. Nothing happens in a vacuum as Fr. Stephen has frequently said. We humans all are products of our environments. Furthermore, our current environments are the products of older environments which are products of….you get the idea. The separation between East & West started long before the Great Schism of 1054 AD & the Protestant Reformation started long before Martin Luther’s 95 Theses were nailed on a RCC door.

    Ref Athanasius: I, too have problems understanding such things. Personally in my case it is usually the result of my Protestant upbringing with its legalistic & juridicial theology. It takes a long time to adjust…I still am & probably always will be adjusting. I don’t know how many writings, passages & words I have asked my priest explain outside of a legalistic understanding, but atonement & propitiation are just 2 of them.

    Sometimes I wonder if it may not be due to issues arising from the theological framework of the translator. For hundreds (even thousands) of years now theologians & clerics have translated the early works into various languages (definitely a good thing) & it is easy to see how their mindset creeps through (not always a good thing). Add to this little to no understanding or even a basic knowledge of the culture in which the text was originally written. This is easily seen in many of the English translations of the Holy Scriptures which can be decidedly Protestant whereas the RC & EO have translated certain things differently because they understand the early Church & its culture much better. Also, early translators assumed that the Hebrew texts would be the oldest & therefore the best to use for their translations whereas the oldest by some 700 years & least changed Scriptural texts were in the Greek.

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  11. coffeezombie says:

    ephremb,

    As best I understand it (though I am no scholar by any means), penal substitution was invented by John Calvin as a development and refinement of Anselm’s satisfaction theory. IIRC, Anselm mainly saw sin as a violation of God’s honor, and the atonement as satisfying God’s honer, while Calvin, a lawyer by training, shifted it to the legal realm. Penal substitution is a substitutionary theory of the atonement, but the two are not the same.

    Also, I recall when I first encountered St. Athanasius, in On the Incarnation and Against the Heathen, back when I was a Calvinist. One of the things that struck me about his writing was precisely, as Fr. Aidan has suggested, the lack of the penal substitutionary theory, and, instead, a much more ontological understanding of sin and salvation. I did not know the word ‘ontological’ at the time, but I knew that this understanding of salvation I was seeing was something radically different, entirely unlike what I had always known. That’s not to say that there was not a substitutionary element to St. Athanasius’ soteriology, but it is certainly not penal. Never before had I heard the “dying ye shall die” line understood as something other than punishment, retribution meted out by an angry God.

    The reason I bring this up is because I expect that, if anyone were prepared to find penal substitution in St. Athanasius, I certainly would have been that person. I may have heard that the early Church preferred ransom theories and so on, but if I understood what that meant at all, they made no sense to me. I had grown up knowing nothing but penal substitution. But I do not recall seeing that in St. Athanasius!

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  12. ephremb says:

    I do not think you were being incendiary. This is one of those topics that very easily and predictably ignites because people have very strongly entrenched positions on the subject. It generates a great deal of heat, and often, very little light. And of course it it true that none of this occurs in a vacuum.

    I see this topic as an area in which the EO tend to magnify alleged differences between East and West into nearly unbridgeable chasms, for a number of reasons, including facilitation of the evangelistic enterprise in a religious milieu that is deeply affected by superficial and inadequate understandings of soteriology. I believe that it is generally carried in a way that does violence to the ideas of the Fathers by explaining away juridical or forensic language and concepts in the texts in favour of a purely ontological exposition, rather than with an emphasis on how all of the aspects of the atonement interweave and complement each other. That is, in essence, what I was saying above.

    I do get trying to overcome a too-forensic or a too-juridical understanding of the atonement. I just have a problem with what effectively becomes a denial of the actual validity of those ideas in the consensus patrum.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I am reminded of the famous words of Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 🙂

      I certainly am not in favor of squeezing each Church Father through some sort filter, thus ending up with some kind of homogenized product. We need to look at each theologian on his own terms.

      Where I disagree with you, Ephrem, is whether St Athanasius did in fact teach some kind of forensic or legal construal of atonement. I certainly acknowledge his employment of a traditional sacrificial scheme, but in my judgment that scheme has been incorporated into, and subordinated to, his understanding of the Incarnation and cross as the re-creation of humanity. The whole idea of ransom, for example, is incidental to his argument–in other words, it functions as a metaphor that needs to be interpreted in light of Athanasius’s real concern. As I noted in my previous article, when Athanasius considers whether God could simply have rescinded the penalty, he says no–not because it would have been unjust for him to do so or because it would be unhelpful to humanity for God to let us off the hook too easily, but because it’s important for God to be true to his word. That is a non-legal, non-forensic concern. But this is all just my non-scholarly opinion.

      Good discussion. Thanks, everyone, for keeping everything civil and substantive. Keep it up.

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      • ephremb says:

        Put in those terms, Father, we are not so far apart. I suspect we are so habituated to look at aspects of the atonement as compartmentalized, competing models that we don’t necessarily see where in the argumentation we are expressing essentially the same thing from differing angles.

        Thus, I don’t particularly see a serious difference between your passage: “I certainly acknowledge his employment of a traditional sacrificial scheme, but in my judgment that scheme has been incorporated into, and subordinated to, his understanding of the Incarnation and cross as the re-creation of humanity,” and my: “My reading of De Incarnatione has never seen St. Athanasius setting his forensic or judicial terms, his commercial, juridical, and sacrificial language, or the concept of punishment itself (which does, in fact, appear in his work) over against the ontology of death and resurrection, but rather treats it all as a seamless whole, with all factors that compose salvation rolled into one massive mystery of redemption the depths of which we will never cease discovering and by which we will never cease from being amazed.”

        Except perhaps that yours in better stated. In retrospect I’d trade “ontology of death and resurrection” for “ontological transformation of the New Man”.

        But this is all my non-scholarly opinion as well.

        Thank you for your consideration, Father.

        Like

    • Check out Fr. Stephen Freeman (Glory to God for All Things):
      What’s At Stake In The Atonement
      http://glory2godforallthings.com/2007/09/21/whats-at-stake-in-the-atonement/

      Like

  13. dino says:

    ephremb& PJ,
    I have not read this whole discussion -sorry- I do, however, want to add (an admittedly very rushed comment here), that the “juridical” or “sacrificial” language employed by the Fathers (just like the anthropomorphic language in Scripture, eg: “I have hardened Pharaho’s heart”) is not to be taken dogmatically. No matter how close it might come to ‘penal substitution/ satisfaction’ it is light years away from that. ‘penal substitution/ satisfaction”can be credited as the precursor to modern anti-Theism…

    What can be taken dogmatically is the only description of what God is (rather than “has”), namely, LOVE.
    As the patristic sayings go, He is Love unchanging, love towards all equally, from the highest (The Theotokos) to the lowest (Lucifer), God cannot hate, even though we use the expression in Scripture, since his nature is not subject to any mutability. it is We who therefore need to align our being to Him (with His help and in our freedom). Not Him to be aligned to us.

    Like

    • Rhonda says:

      Well put, Dino, well put.

      Like

    • ephremb says:

      You have, in brief form, and without the poisonous vitriol, essentially restated what I would call “The Kalomiros Assertion”, a soteriological construct that I have openly opposed for many years because I believe it to be (1) only partially true, (2) a failure to allow due justice to either the language or concepts of the consensus patrum, and (3) not sustainable as the historic position of Orthodoxy as a whole in any age.

      Rather than restate my argument, I will say that you might wish to consider the other Orthodox side of the equation. A good intro is http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/books/downloads.php?book_id=311

      Like

  14. dino says:

    ephremb,
    this is a re-posting of this comment as I did not manage to get it to work, in the hope it appears this time:

    I am afraid to say that I would describe Vladimir Moss (which you provided as a ‘good intro’ in your link) as a lay Orthodox who often errs (ever so slightly sometimes) on the side of being what we call a “zealot”, just like the hardened Old calendarists on Athos who mix gold with brass. His critique, at times, of various Elders and Metropolitan’s is not a “blessed” critique (ie: springing from traditional obedience), no matter how solid it can sound to some ears. This is a recurring problem of many Orthodox in Greece actually who, in the name of discernment, err on the side of “zealotism” and critique the mistakes (or what they see as mistakes) of far more experienced persons.
    God’s unchanging love (no matter what juridical or pedagogical language was used when that was actually called for) is the one aspect that those who actually beheld God in a first hand experience all converge on. This is true of the ancients (eg. St John the Theologian, St Gregory the Theologian, St. Macarius the Egyptian, St. Isaac the Syrian, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas, St Nikodemus the Hagiorite etc…) as well as the more recent ones (St Silouan the Athonite, Elders Joseph the Hesychast, Sophrony, Porphyrios etc)

    Like

  15. dino says:

    Also, an experienced ascetic’s view of Heaven and Hell, (their formulated notions of these two states), does not spring from simply reading and reasoning, but from first hand experience of God’s Light and Man’s darkness. In other words, they know that both states are a matter of interpretation by a person’s condition:
    Heaven is thus the interpratation of God and all that exists in a God-centred state of Grace, while Hell is an interpretation of God and all that exists in a state of self-centred lack of Grace.
    The entire body of Scripture and Patristic writings is also interpreted through this vast range of opposite extremes…

    Like

  16. dino says:

    ephremb,
    yet another aspect of one’s perception of God’s “vengeance” vs God’s Love (largely lost in Vladimir Moss’s writings) is that of the effect this has on a person’s capability for deep humility and it’s close relatives (especially Faith, Hope and Love)…
    What I mean to say is that although some (not all) persons can advance in humility (the destroyer of passions as Saint John Climacus describes it) in ‘safety’ and without harm through pondering on their just condemnation, (God’s just vengeance if you like) to quote the same Saint again:
    (“He who is hastening to that tranquil harbour of humility will never cease to do all that he can and will drive himself on by words and thoughts and afterthoughts and various means, by investigations and researches, and by his whole life, by prayers and supplication, meditating and reflection, and using all imaginable means until with God’s help and by abiding in humiliations and the most despised conditions and by toils he delivers the ship of his soul from the ever-recurring storms of the sea of vainglory.”)
    Other persons advance much further through pondering on their unworthiness of such a Loving God. The more this has to do with God rather than with ‘me’ the safer…
    One who has truly known God first-hand (St Silouan is a fine example of this) and His ineffable humility and love can advance further still, this time through sheer wonderment, admiration, astonishment, awe, marveling, reverence…

    Like

  17. ephremb says:

    Likewise, Kalomiros, whose basic River-of-Fire argument you recapitulated, was an Old Calendarist zealot. I used Moss as a good intro to a viewpoint on the other side from the soteriology expressed in your comment. His ecclesiological issues are no more relevant than Kalomiros’. I notice that you do not interact with the content of what he says.

    As for the rest, no one is denying the love of God. I have consistently argued only that all aspects of the atonement in the Scriptures and the Fathers, including those that include not only juridical or forensic language but also concepts, should not be explained away but rather should be given due consideration, in their proper place; not artificially setting them against each other as competing “models” but rather respecting their place as vital threads in the seamless garment that is redemption.

    The question between Fr. Aidan and myself was the location of that proper place in the thought of the saint under consideration, and he and I obviously differ somewhat on the answer. And that’s ok. I am not particularly interested in engaging the larger soteriological debate in this context – no good will come of it, and I am not going to further abuse Fr. Aidan’s hospitality by an argument that is unlikely to be resolved.

    Like

    • dino says:

      There is so much critique of so many individuals to clarify in Moss that unfortunately I cannot interact with all the content of what he says here, please forgive my ‘blanket characterisation’ of his writings as based more on ‘reading and reasoning’ and less on direct encounter of God. This can easily be the case with Kalomiros too, regardles of his position…
      The main point I make is of course that “First-hand experience of God, His Light and His Love” is by far the most reliable arbiter of correct interpretation of Scripture and the Fathers. And this criterion has a tendency to advance further and further towards “Love” rather than “retribution” the more direct a saint’s experience of God becomes – no?

      Like

      • ephremb says:

        Your main point is well taken, and, of course, since there is now no condemnation for those in Christ, since Christ’s own are no more children of wrath, but have been redeemed from the curse (I could go on, but I doubt that it is necessary), the saint, progressing in theoria toward theosis is not experiencing “retribution” – no argument there.

        But it doesn’t at all address my main point, which is about tearing the seamless garment of redemption into various pieces, and then trashing the swatches that aren’t as pretty, rather than taking redemption as one glorious whole.

        Like

        • dino says:

          I don’t know how some present this ‘ontological’ rather than ‘forensic’ model, but, in my mind at least, there is no ” tearing the seamless garment of redemption into various pieces, and then trashing the swatches that aren’t as pretty”. In fact, the ‘ontological’ soteriological model, (when it springs from direct experience of God rather than reasonings and syllogisms of one’s mind), is indeed: redemption as one glorious whole – it simply interprets what the inexperienced might see as “wrath” etc. through a different prism – that of God’s Uncreated Light.

          Like

  18. Rhonda says:

    Ephrem;

    I am not particularly interested in engaging the larger soteriological debate in this context – no good will come of it,

    But it is the larger soteriological doctrine (debate) that is important, though…it is the very heart of the matter regards our salvation in Christ & with St. Athanasius.

    I have not yet had time to read the Moss article to comment. I hope to do so later this evening. Hubby tore his rotator cuff so I have had to pick up additional duties on the farm for awhile…probably for the summer…in addition to helping him take care of the basic necessities.

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  19. Derek Flood has been adequately answered and Ephrem is absolutely right in everything he said above. I find this practice of taking all the multiple aspects of the atonement we find in the Scriptures and the Fathers and setting them against each other or in competition with each other is just unnecessary (and with some who know better it is dishonest) when it comes to ALL the evidence, in my opinion. Avoid all extremes and hold fast to everything that is true.

    For the more than adequate response to Derek Flood, here is the link :

    http://www.ltslondon.org/documents/EQGJWChurchFathersarticle.pdf

    Like

    • Rhonda says:

      Richard,
      <blockquote.I find this practice of taking all the multiple aspects of the atonement we find in the Scriptures and the Fathers and setting them against each other or in competition with each other is just unnecessary (and with some who know better it is dishonest) when it comes to ALL the evidence, in my opinion. Avoid all extremes and hold fast to everything that is true.

      Regards the Holy Scriptures we set various passages neither against nor in competition with each other for all are regarded as true. Instead we are reconciling passages that appear to oppose each other, such as those exhibiting God’s wrath vs. God’s Love. Usually this is OT canon vs. NT canon. St. Justin Martyr in arguing against Marcionism (proposed dual gods of OT vs. NT) & reconciled the OT with the NT.

      Regards the Church Fathers there are no assumptions that all are correct or true, or even that one side is correct while the other is not, as all may be wrong on a given issue. All of the Church Fathers at some point in time wrote something in error or something that might lead to error; none have ever been viewed as “inerrent” or “perfect” in all of their writings. Despite what most Protestants think, this does not justify ignoring them in totality. Also “consensus patrum” is not based on our Western democratic ideal of “the majority opinion” as the deciding factor; otherwise we would all be Arians. St. Athanasius, who was a deacon at the 1st Ecumenical Council, & his bishop St. Alexander were pretty much the lone voices refuting the heresy at the time.

      The Orthodox mindset is vastly different from the Western mindset. The longer one is Orthodox the more one realizes this difference. The differences are nowhere more apparent that in the different “interpretation” or “understanding” of the Church Fathers & the Holy Scriptures between East & West. Admittedly some differences are merely semantic, but one should not then declare that all differences are merely semantic. Neither should one claim that semantics are unimportant.

      One last thing to keep in mind, words undergo change in meaning & understanding over time, for example the word “symbol” as it relates to the Eucharistic elements in the Literal Presence. How we understand a word today may be vastly different than the understanding of that same word when it was used by a writer over the past 2,000 years of Church history. Great care & discretion must be used when reading the ancient texts so that current understanding is neither “read into” nor the intended understanding “read out of” them as is frequently done.

      A good example of this is the idea of the sacrificial system (the Mosaic Law) being punitive in nature. Most of Judaism does not hold this view, although Jewish writers, ancient & modern, can certainly be found that promote this idea. However, the Law was never considered punitive under the Jewish “concensus patrum”. Actually it has been viewed as the means to teach mankind how to live in peace & love with each other as well as God. This was done through moral laws, social laws, food laws, & health laws (inadequately often called purity laws). As Fr. Aidan so eloquently stated their righteousness was based on the covenant faithfulness with each other as community as well as with God.

      Another aspect of the Law was the ritual sacrifices which were basically of 3 types (these are not inclusive of all of the sacrifices). The 1st was to teach that sin is costly & brings death even to the innocent, both directly & indirectly through the sacrifice of bulls, rams, heifers, lambs, goats & fowls. The 2nd was to provide a means of thankfulness & worship to God through peace offerings, drink offerings, incense offerings, & thank offerings. A 3rd type were the means by which the priests & their families were fed as well as care for the poor through tithe offerings, dough offerings, meal offerings, & wave offerings.

      By focusing almost exclusively on the sin offerings of the Mosaic Law & forgetting about the far greater number of non-sin offerings, the OT has come to be viewed from the dominant perspective of punitive sacrifice to God whose reputation demands wrath & retribution, especially through the Paschal lamb type of sacrifice equated with Christ’s Crucifixion. Even a cursory reading of the Passover lamb sacrifice in Exodus as well as its subsequent mention in Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy at no time entails a substitutionary atonement. But rather the blood of the lamb caused death to “pass over” the children of Israel. It was a covering or a protection; it was neither a substitution nor a punishment. I find it ironic that Jews hold a much less legalistic & punitive mindset of the Law than the great majority of Christians in which the idea of substitution & punishment has been “read into” the text while the covering & protection has been “read out of” it.

      Like

  20. PJ says:

    Dino,

    The religion of Israel was always concerned primarily with man’s attainment of righteousness before God, for that which is sinful cannot touch that which is holy (see: the death of Uzzah). This concern with righteousness — yea, justice — before God was carried on in the Christian faith. This continuity is more evident in the west than in the east, although I think it’s present in most of the fathers, both oriental and occidental. If we view salvation as strictly ontologically, then we are guilty of excluding a major dimension of biblical religion. We have abandoned the religion of Israel for the philosophy of Greece.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      It’s been at least two decades since I have thought much about the religion of Old Testament Israel. In seminary I read of course the basic texts then popular–Gerhard von Rad in particular comes to mind. In later years I read a bit of Brevard Childs, and more recently, N. T. Wright. It’s also important to keep in mind that practicing Jews are also skeptical of “Old Testament theology” (see, e.g., Jon Levenson, “The Concept of Biblical Theology“): they see it as Christians reading their own religious-theological concerns back into the Hebrew Bible. And it says something important that “Old Testament theology” is principally a Protestant preoccupation (one might even say, invention) rooted in the Reformation debates. Hence I am reluctant to say anything, as I abhor generalizations (except my own, of course).

      “The religion of Israel was always concerned primarily with man’s attainment of righteousness before God, for that which is sinful cannot touch that which is holy (see: the death of Uzzah).”

      Is it true that the religion of Israel was principally concerned with “man’s attainment of righteousness before God”? Let me just say that I am skeptical. The example of Uzzah is particularly inapt, as his death is not the result of his moral unrighteousness. Do we really want the story of Uzzah to determine our understanding of the holiness and wrath of God? What is the preacher supposed to do with this story?

      If I were going to offer a generalization about righteousness in the Old Testament, I would venture this tentative thesis: it’s all about covenant faithfulness–the faithfulness of YHWH to Israel and the faithfulness of Israel to YHWH.

      Like

      • Rhonda says:

        Fr. Aidan,

        It’s also important to keep in mind that practicing Jews are also skeptical of “Old Testament theology”…: they see it as Christians reading their own religious-theological concerns back into the Hebrew Bible. And it says something important that “Old Testament theology” is principally a Protestant preoccupation (one might even say, invention) rooted in the Reformation debates.

        Yes, this was my experience through 2 years as a Jewish proselyte which entailed many wonderful texts about Jewish spirituality & thought. For me it was during this time that I began to come out from under the punitive mindset of my Protestant upbringing. I never met a Jew that was scared of God’s wrath because of the Law; rather they were confident of God’s love because He had given them the Law. I think of Fr. Stephen’s recent blog article Sweet Commandments (http://glory2godforallthings.com/2013/04/14/sweet-commandments/).

        Like

    • Rhonda says:

      If we view salvation as strictly ontologically, then we are guilty of excluding a major dimension of biblical religion. We have abandoned the religion of Israel for the philosophy of Greece.

      Careful, PJ, lest we have to throw out Augustine, Aquinas & those that followed them 😉 The early Christian Fathers did not wholesale adopt Greek philosophy…they transcended Greek philosophy by moving God outside of the creation who previously had been just as entrapped by it as we mere mortals. It is thanks to them that we have the concept of freedom & person. Sadly, today freedom is too frequently summed up by “rights” & person is equated to “individual” while the responsibility of the person towards others is ignored. The individual says like Cain that I am not my brother’s keeper, while the person knows that they are.

      All we are saying is that there is another way to interpret the Holy Scriptures & the Church Fathers using an ontological understanding & without judicial understanding while yet remaining true to their intended message of God’s plan of salvation. Good spiritual lessons might be taught via Uzzah, although there are better stories from the OT canon. However, one should not center their whole theological framework on him as the prime example of God’s justice, or more properly God’s judgment; but rather on Christ as the prime example of God’s love.

      Justice & judgment are not equivalents & the distinction has been largely lost in our current understanding. When you start with God’s love, you by necessity have God’s righteousness as well as God’s justice (judgement tempered through love). But if you start with God’s righteousness-holiness-honor (i.e., God’s judgement) which must be appeased in order for Him to be just (loving), then you ultimately lose God’s love. You also lose the opportunity to truly love God in return as your motive is not to experience God’s love, but rather it is to avoid experiencing God’s wrath.

      Fr. Ted (of Fr. Ted’s Blog) just posted a few minutes ago The Purpose of Righteousness (II)(http://frted.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/the-purpose-of-righteousness-ii/):

      We don’t struggle to be righteous for the reward (or to avoid punishment). We are struggling to be righteous for righteousness’ sake. We struggle with being righteous in order to witness to being God’s children: to loving as God loves us, freely, unconstrained, expecting nothing in return…If we please God just to get rewards such as entrance into heaven, then we are nothing but mercenaries. If we please God to avoid hell, we are nothing but slaves. But if we please God in order to be His children, then we are really being like the God of love for we are acting for no reason except for love for the God of love. (italics added by me)

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      • Rhonda says:

        Sorry, I didn’t realize that everything would come up in italics. I meant that I added the parenthesis phrase “(or to avoid punishment)” as it did not appear in Fr. Ted’s original.

        Like

  21. dino says:

    PJ,
    I see your point, however, I would hasten to add that the Western understanding of Justice has taken a position very close to that of the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that of the Pharisees in some sense, a position vehemently reversed by our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Christ, we see (in that parable for instance), a love that goes beyond the Israelite notions of justice…

    Like

  22. PJ says:

    I don’t think that’s the case at all. Anyway, that’s just one parable: one data point among many.

    Like

  23. PJ says:

    “The example of Uzzah is particularly inapt, as his death is not the result of his moral unrighteousness.”

    Yes, it is. He was struck dead because that which is sinful cannot touch that which is holy. As the Lord said: “But they must not touch the holy things or they will die” (Numbers 4:15). As I said, the major “problem” of Israelite religion prior to the advent of Christ was how sinful men can stand before a righteous and holy God. The entire system of sacrifices and purification ceremonies was devoted to solving this quandary. Of course, it was useless, because the blood of bulls and the washing of hands cannot take away sin nor destroy death. Only the coming of God in the flesh, and the sacrifice of the perfect for the imperfect, can do that. Thus the apostles quickly understood that the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection did what holocausts and ablutions couldn’t: render the guilty just, the sinful holy, and the dead living.

    “What is the preacher supposed to do with this story? ”

    Everything! The story of Uzzah and the Ark can be used to illuminate any number of dogmas and practices. For instance, it helps drive home the amazing degree of intimacy we have with God in Christ. After all, before Jesus, man could not even touch the container that held the stone tablets of the Law: now, we can receive the Body and Blood of the God-Man!

    Like

    • dino says:

      PJ,
      you must have come across the Patristic saying (first appears formally in St John Chrysostom) that if all of Scripture were to be lost, that parable (of the Prodigal) would suffice for Man to correctly understand God in the rest of Scripture…
      It is more than “one data amongst many” therefore.
      When Christ rebuked his disciples James and John for saying “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” he was precisely correcting this very point.
      Our insistence on forensic justification –especially when proclaimed to others- manifests that “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of”.
      On a side note, I press the point of proclamation to others in particular, since, as Saint Isaac the Syrian repeats, “the criterion that one is approaching God and saintliness in truth is this: that all men suddenly seem just and holy and only his-self is perceived as a sinner”

      Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Sorry, PJ, but I have to disagree with you. Uzzah is not punished because he is a sinner. The text does not suggest that at all. Uzzah is killed because he happens to touch the equivalent of a live one zillion volt ungrounded wire (see, e.g., Fr Patrick Reardon’s reflections on the incident). Holiness here is something different from what we typically consider to be divine holiness. It has more to do perhaps with God’s alien otherness than his righteousness. I suppose one might interpret it, as Fr Patrick does, as an object lesson on the proper way to worship, and not worship, the all-holy, dangerous God–and perhaps this was in fact why the story was included in the canon–but I do not find such an interpretation helpful for homiletical or didactic purposes.

      Uzzah just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      The question is whether this impersonal, electric understanding of the divine energy is appropriately assimilated to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

      Like

      • PJ says:

        Aye. That “one zillion volt ungrounded wire” is the righteousness and holiness of God, which the angels praise on end: “Holy, holy, holy!” The infinite holiness of God is one of the reasons He is the Ultimate Other. Isaiah was absolutely terrified upon glimpsing the awesome holiness of the Lord. His fear and trembling are only mitigated when he is cleansed of guilt by the “live coal”: “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (6:7).

        The entire religion of Israel was built around the recognition that God’s holiness is overwhelming and deadly to those who are sinful and guilty. Thus the endless prescriptions regarding ritual cleansing, sacrifice, etc. Israelite religion evinced almost no concern about ontology. Of course, it is obvious that the fulfillment of the faith of Israel in the Word made flesh opens whole new vistas of religious understanding. The ontological deserves a place of prominence in the Christian vision of salvation. But we must also respect and maintain our forebears’ concern with righteousness and holiness before an ever-righteous and all-holy God.

        Christian salvation is at once justification, sanctification, and glorification: we are made innocent, though we be guilty; we are made holy, though we be sinners; we are made gods, though we be earthen vessels. There are forensic/juridical and ontological/existential dimensions; there are aspects that are intrinsic and aspects that are extrinsic. In Jesus Christ, we experience a change of status and a change of heart. Not only is our sentence of death commuted, but our heart of stone is swapped for a heart of flesh. We are pardoned — and then, grace upon grace, recreated: made just and immortal. Through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, we are rendered righteous, granted eternal life, and inserted into the inner-life of the Holy Trinity, who is everlasting love and beatitude. Alleluia!

        Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        “The entire religion of Israel was built around the recognition that God’s holiness is overwhelming and deadly to those who are sinful and guilty.”

        It’s not clear to me that the above is in fact the heart and soul of the religion of Israel, just as it’s not clear to me that ritual purity has anything at all to do with moral wickedness (in fact, I’m fairly sure it doesn’t). But I certainly acknowledge the decisive importance of the attribute of holiness in Israel’s experience of YHWH. Isaiah’s theophany, as you point out, is a great example of this. But I would want to argue that equally, if not more, important is the loving kindness (chesed) of God. But I’ll let the Bible scholars argue this one out.

        More to the point, though, is how the various attributes of God, including most especially holiness, get reinterpreted in the New Testament in light of the incarnation and cross of Jesus Christ. This process of reinterpretation and deeper understanding begins with the Apostles and continues in the Church Fathers. St Athanasius is an excellent example. I simply do not see in him (at least not in De Incarnatione) the consuming concern for justice (expressed in divine wrath) that you express, PJ. For Athanasius, the attributes of philanthropia and mercy seem to be absolutely decisive. God doesn’t need the cross to be merciful. Viewed in and through Christ, the entire story of salvation is a story of mercy.

        Like

  24. dino says:

    PJ,
    BTW, I think the story of Uzzah and the Ark is (at least from an Orthodox context) far more about irreverent audacity than any kind of moral unrighteousness.
    Therefore, we say that the proud yet …”pure”, pharisaic mind can not touch the ‘heart’ and enter those very depths of God’s true abode, while at the same time, the sinful yet contrite and humble mind/’Nous’ can enter that secret place almost effortlessly and there discover the Loving Father awaiting him with open arms.

    Like

  25. Karen says:

    To be very honest, I read an online article by Vladimir Moss on this subject some time ago, and he came across to me as scandalously slanderous of others. I was repulsed by this approach to trying to validate his own position. I found it rather less than convincing. When I tried to figure out who he was to get a read on where he fit in the Orthodox scheme of things (fringe or center of the consensus of Orthodox interpretation of the fathers), all I could find out (from his own bio. at his web site) was that in 1975 he joined the Moscow Patriarchate in England and was ordained a Reader there, after which in 1976 he left there to join ROCA where he was baptized!. Anybody else see a problem with this order of things? I found no positive reviews of his work by anyone, much less a Priest, Hierarch, or even Orthodox scholar whose work I knew or trusted. He seems mostly self-taught, while much of his professional life seems to have been in disciplines other than patristic scholarship. IOW, Reader Moss seems to be mostly a self-promoter in terms of his work. If anyone can show otherwise, I’m open to seeing that. Meanwhile, Dino points out the reputation and character and training of the people Reader Moss is critical of. Just because an author is formally “Orthodox”, doesn’t mean what he teaches is properly and fully so as well. Forgive my frankness here; I don’t mean to offend.

    In the gist of all his comments in this thread, I would have to say Dino speaks for me as well. I also appreciate Rhonda’s sharing the Jewish understanding of the OT which is nothing like that of the Protestant-Medieval Catholic polemics. In the discussion thread under Fr. Stephen’s post, “Sweet Commandments,” Perry Robinson points out a distinction between the Jewish/biblical understanding of “legal” justification/righteousness as taught by St. Paul and the “forensic” understanding of nature of “law” of the 16th century western theological controversies, which I think is pertinent also to this discussion.

    I’d also like to try again with my earlier question that went unanswered. Has anyone read Scot McKnight’s book A Community Called Atonement? It offers what might be a helpful approach for some to understanding the different aspects of our salvation in the Scriptures. One reviewer writes:

    “The author . . . runs through the various metaphors for atonement—recapitulation, Christus Victor, satisfaction, substitution, representation, and penal substitution—and suggests that each of these fits comfortably under the larger umbrella “identification for incorporation. . . .

    “Perhaps a few lines from the middle of the book contain the best self-described summary of the book: ‘This book is dedicated to deconstructing one-sided theories of the atonement. It is also dedicated to demonstrating that the cross is inseparable from the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost, and the ecclesial focus of the work of God. And this book is dedicated to deconstructing simplistic, individualistic theories of the atonement.”

    http://dogmadoxa.blogspot.com/2008/01/review-community-called-atonement.html

    “Identification for incorporation” is Mcknight’s phrase to encompass the fullness of what salvation in Christ really is–what he argues for as properly the “thing” that is our salvation in Christ. “Identification for incorporation” is an understanding of the whole economy of the incarnation as atonement and is based on the work of St. Athanasius in On the Incarnation. McKnight assumes penal substitution as developed from Anselm’s “satisfaction” theory is biblically based and compatible with the earlier patristic views which is problematic for me, but what I liked is that he points out that none of these metaphors in themselves comprise the “thing” that is our actual salvation, they are merely pointers to (or pictures of) various of its aspects. In this regard, I think it is a helpful movement for western theological distortions to begin to resolve through re-appropriating the patristic consensus of our salvation in Christ as an ontological process, for aspects of which there are various metaphors in the Scriptures. (Btw, Dr. McKnight is a colleague and friend of Orthodox professor and author, Dr. Brad Nassif, who has, I believe, influenced his thought,)

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you, Karen, for bringing McKnight’s book to our attention. I have not read it, but it certainly sounds promising. It’s good to see evangelicals transcending their 16th century roots and beginning to read the Scriptures in a somewhat more catholic fashion.

      Like

    • coffeezombie says:

      First of all, I’ll go ahead and answer your question: Nope, I haven’t read any McKnight. 🙂 He sounds interesting, though.

      I took a quick look at ephremb’s link, and my first thought was that this fellow may be tossing about the word “heresy” a bit too casually, especially for a layman to name a bishop in the same text! Granted, a similar argument could be levied against Kalomiros, as well, as his “River of Fire” is rather infamous for the caustic attack on what he sees as Western theological thought. Also, that’s not to say bishops cannot fall into heresy (Nestorius was the Patriarch of Constantinople!).

      Anyway, there is certainly fruitful discussion to be had on these things. Perhaps the best way to navigate this is to discard the “extremists” on either side, and try to find the more moderate voices. For example, I recall Fr. Thomas Hopko arguing against much of what Kalomiros says about the wrath of God, but he didn’t do so in a way that made me want to just stop listening.

      Anyway, it just so happens that the next chapter in the book I’m reading through (On the Human Condition, a collection of sermons by St. Basil) is his “Homily Explaining that God is Not the Cause of Evil”. Perhaps it will be interesting to re-listen to Fr. Thomas’s podcasts just after reading this homily. 😀

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      • Karen says:

        Good thoughts there about avoiding extremes. I have liked what I have heard from Fr. Tom. I have to admit, though, that there is a special place in my heart for Dr. Kalomiros, despite the fact I would want my western brethren to take some of his harsh polemics with a grain of salt. “The River of Fire” was a significant “sign” to me that my spiritual home was the Orthodox Church (explained in my comment from a few years ago here: http://glory2godforallthings.com/2009/01/15/gods-wrath/#comment-25251), and I love his work in Nostalgia for Paradise, which also resonates on many levels with me.

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      • Rhonda says:

        Hey, I’m reading that work by St. Basil as well right now! So far, it’s been good.

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  26. dino says:

    Karen
    I really feel far more comfortable with the ‘orthodoxy’ of:

    “none of these metaphors in themselves comprise the “thing” that is our actual salvation, they are merely pointers to (or pictures of) various of its aspects”

    when in keeping with the knowledge that there is something more at the very core of the truth which is a Love that we only ever truly glimpse in the Uncreated Light of God.

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  27. dino says:

    PJ,
    a little side note: although I cannot say that I actually disagree with any of this you stated:

    Christian salvation is at once justification, sanctification, and glorification: we are made innocent, though we be guilty; we are made holy, though we be sinners; we are made gods, though we be earthen vessels. There are forensic/juridical and ontological/existential dimensions; there are aspects that are intrinsic and aspects that are extrinsic. In Jesus Christ, we experience a change of status and a change of heart. Not only is our sentence of death commuted, but our heart of stone is swapped for a heart of flesh. We are pardoned — and then, grace upon grace, recreated: made just and immortal. Through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, we are rendered righteous, granted eternal life, and inserted into the inner-life of the Holy Trinity, who is everlasting love and beatitude. Alleluia!

    I want to add that “being rendered righteous” is an expression that requires discerning clarification due to its possible Pharisaic connotations. A Saint that has reached theosis will still be most aware of his unworthiness and unrighteousness or else he is not a Saint but a lucifer…
    As Saint Nilus the ascetic expounds on the Psalms: “for the Lord remembered us not in our purity but in our humility”. Or as we read on Saint Anthony (sometimes applied to St Macarius) on his soul’s final ascension to his eternal abode, – he never answered to Satan who proclaimed that he had been defeated anything other than: “not yet!”, until he “entered Heaven and the door was closed”… There is great depth in this.
    What I mean to say is that we are sanctified only as long as we are aware of our most extreme need for salvation (as Christ-centred beings -saved by Him and not ‘by us’), while we can never achieve this if we have any sense of our own righteousness (a self-centred assuredness). Even if righteousness is “freely given to us through Christ” it is a most dangerous destroyer of humility and can make us think “I am not like the rest of men!”

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  28. Connie says:

    Karen, your comment that you linked to from Father Stephen’s site was truly beautiful. I can identify with that utter poverty of love – an inability to love that actually was for me akin to insanity, and only a desperate plea to God to show me what love was would eventually lead me to be able to know the love that God has for all human beings, and to know there is no possibility of retribution in Him. I too came into the Orthodox church partly because of its emphasis on the ontological nature of the atonement. For most of my life I had been trying to understand its “legal/forensic aspect” just because all my friends and acquaintances were so “into” it, but to no avail. Now I’ve come to see that once the ontological nature of the atonement is fully accepted, verses that to some sound “legal” are actually, at least for me, ontological instead. (Hope I’m using the word “ontological” correctly!) 🙂

    One example: PJ quoted the verse, “See, this has touched your lips; your *guilt* is taken away and your sin *atoned* for.” But in most other translations it says: “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine *iniquity* is taken away, and thy sin *purged.*” To me there is nothing juridical at all about this verse. It demonstrates an overwhelmingly beautiful real-life taking away of sins. Jesus came to rescue us from our sins. Ontologically! 🙂

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    • dino says:

      Connie,
      Pj’s quote: “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” has indeed no relation to the Septuagint (which is in fact the oldest surviving version as far as I know, the Masoretic is far more recent)
      Whereas: “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged .” is indeed far closer to it!

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    • Karen says:

      Thank you, Connie! I’m sure your and my experiences could be multiplied many times over. Your comment about the reading and translation of the verse PJ supplied is so illustrative of the point Fr. Stephen Freeman frequently makes about how critical it is that we read and understand the Scriptures in the context of the fullness of the Church (which, of course, for the Orthodox, is not the Roman Catholicism of the post-Schism era, nor, of course, any Protestant tradition). It is only in reading them in that manner that they are truly the inspired word of God. I think it would be fair to say that before the Great Schism, any juridical language that was used in speaking of the economy of our salvation in Christ could still be properly understood within the context of the full ontological understanding. This was St. Augustine’s understanding.

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