“The Patristic Tradition on the Sinlessness of Christ” by Demetrios Bathrellos

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9 Responses to “The Patristic Tradition on the Sinlessness of Christ” by Demetrios Bathrellos

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    A criticism of this article: the author names T. F. Torrance and Kallistos Ware as among those who claim that the Word assumed sinful human nature, implying that they also believe that Jesus was a sinner. As we have seen, however, both Torrance and Ware affirm the sinlessness and impeccability of Jesus.

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  2. elijahmaria says:

    I don’t see in that particular article anything that would indicate that the author is accusing any of his examples of saying that Jesus sinned. I’ve word-seached it several times and cannot find it.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Perhaps I have misunderstood him then. I suppose I inferred personal sin from the assumption of “sinful nature.”

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      • elijahmaria says:

        As I have been taught to understand it sin-nature is one that has been corrupted as consequence of ancestral sin. There is liability to sin and concupiscence. There is occlusion of the powers of the soul. There is an awareness of and susceptibility to evil. And that is basically all it is. The grace of salvation is withdrawn which allows us to become aware of evil, and allows evil to touch our lives, including death and corruption.. If you define evil as the privation of the good, then that which blocked Adam and Eve from an awareness of that privation is gone once they sin. And they must physically die to be born again in grace. Till then the powers of the soul are fully restored in Baptism, so that we may once again commune and communicate with God. If you play that backwards with the New Adam, his human nature has never known the consequences of sin. He has what Adam had, He is what Adam was at the moment of his Creation. The human nature, of the Incarnation is sustained in the good and protected from evil, as was the human nature of Adam, by grace. By the interpenetration of the human with the divine. In his kenosis, Jesus, gives his human nature room to be human, to experience the blameless passions. That kenosis is the act of will in Father Emmanuel’s thinking. This is my understanding of the various points in question. I have not tried to be all inclusive without error here but I think it is a fair expression of what I have come to know and understand….M.

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  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Thanks, Mary.

    In my series on this topic, I have noted that those on both sides of the issue typically do not define their terminology, with the conseqence that their criticisms of the side are often directed against positions that are not held.

    Note that Bathrellos assumes that “fallen human nature” and “sinful human nature” are synonymous. That is not at all clear to me. Kallistos Ware and John Meyendorff, for example, speak of the Word assuming fallen human nature, but they do not speak of the Word assuming sinful human nature.

    In the absence of clear definitions, constructive discussion is impossible. I also question whether the distinction between prelapsarian and postlapsarian human nature is helpful in describing fallen existence.

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  4. Edward says:

    I agree with you Father Aidan; the terminology is simply not clear. For instance, when Bathrellos states that “Until the 19th century, the sinlessness of Jesus was for the vast majority of Christians self-evident”, to what does the term “sinlessness” refer? Normally, when we speak of Christ’s sinlessness we refer to the fact that his earthly life was free from actual sin. But this cannot be Bathrellos’s reference, since none of the theologians he cites denies the sinlessness of Christ in this sense. Does he then mean that our Lord was free from what we Latin Christians would call the concupiscence that follows upon the inheritance of original sin? Or, that our Lord’s human nature was never lacking the perfection of sanctifying grace? If this is what he means,he should have made it clear in the article. Moreover, he should have cited the theologians he criticizes to convince his readers that they did indeed hold a contrary view. I am not well read in the theology of Torrance or Kallistos Ware, but, might it not be the case that they would consider the Incarnation as the point at which man’s fallen human nature is transformed and made perfect. This is what seems to be implied in the quotation from Tertullian:

    ‘In that case’, you will reply, ‘if it was our flesh Christ clothed himself with, Christ’s flesh was sinful’ … [The truth though is that] by clothing himself with our flesh he made it his own, and by making it his own he made it non-sinful.’

    Note the words “made it non-sinful.” Do not these words imply an instantaneous transformation at the moment of the Incarnation, i.e., God took on our fallen human nature, but, in the very act of taking it on, He perfected it and raised it up so that there was no trace of the consequences of original sin in it.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Good point, Edward. The use of the word “sinlessness” throws the article off-kilter. Even Torrance, who speaks so strongly on the fallenness of the nature Christ assumed speaks equally strongly about the Lord’s sinlessness and holiness.

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    • elijahmaria says:

      With respect to clarity of meaning: What does it mean to “take up” a fallen nature? Christ becomes Incarnate, God and Man. In that understanding he becomes human. When we humans are conceived, we become a human being. No one speaks of us as “taking up a fallen nature” as though it were a thing lying around to be picked up and donned like a cloak. Nature is not a thing as much as it is a state of being. So I wonder where that line of reasoning might take us?….M.

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  5. elijahmaria says:

    I agree with both of you on the Bathrellos article. Much more is presumed and asserted, rather than being explained and demonstrated. I think ultimately it is necessary to speak of pre- and post-lapsarian states of being with regard to human nature in that the Christ is so often presented to us from the most ancient traditions as the New Adam, and that is also a principle and strong theme in the Byzantine liturgical tradition an in the Syriac liturgical traditions as well as the Latin tradition. But to make that distinction and use it in this kind of discussion requires an unusual clarity of meaning as you both note in your remarks. I don’t have a ready-made textual solution but I do know that the discussion is necessary and this series is turning out to be one of my favorites in that it is forcing me to think through my own understandings more rigorously. I hope that my remarks above may be of some help in the sorting out of things….M.

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