Posts Tagged eastern orthodox tradition
“It seems to me, and I am personally convinced, that the Church must never speak from a position of strength…It ought not to be one of the forces influencing this or that state. The Church ought to be, if you will, just as powerless as God himself, which does not coerce but which calls and unveils the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them. As soon as the Church begins to exercise power, it loses its most profound characteristic which is divine love [i.e.] the understanding of those it is called to save and not to smash…”
– Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
Saint Diadochos of Photiki (c. AD 400 – c. 486). “On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination. One Hundred Texts”, No. 31. From Philokalia, Vol. 1. One of the earliest written references to the “Jesus Prayer”; “the remembrance of the glorious and holy name of the Lord Jesus…“
“When our intellect begins to perceive the grace of the Holy Spirit, then Satan, too, importunes the soul with a sense of deceptive sweetness in the quiet times of the night, when we fall into a light kind of sleep. If the intellect at that time cleaves fervently to the remembrance of the glorious and holy name of the Lord Jesus and uses it as a weapon against Satan’s deception, he gives up this trick and for the future will attack the soul directly and personally. As a result the intellect clearly discerns the deception of the evil one and advances even further in the art of discrimination.”
Christos Yannaras (1935 – ) was Professor of Philosophy at Pantion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens. His books include Freedom of Morality and Person and Eros. His essay first appeared in French in Contacts, No. 179 (1997), pp. 202-206.
“I dream of an ecumenism which will begin with a confession of sins on the part of each Church. If we begin with this confession of our historic sins, perhaps we can manage to give ourselves to each other in the end. We are full of faults, full of weaknesses which distort our human nature. But Saint Paul says that from our weakness can be born a life which will triumph over death. I dream of an ecumenism that begins with the voluntary acceptance of that weakness.” ~ Christos Yannaras
“There is a story told from 18th century France of an old man who used to go for a long time each day into Church. His friends asked him: “What are you doing all the time in Church?” “I’m praying”, he said. And they answered: “You must have a great many things to ask God, if you take such a long time praying?” With indignation he responded: “I’m not asking God for anything!” “Well”, they said, “what are you doing all that time in Church?”
And he replied: “I just sit and look at God and God sits and looks at me”.
That is one of the best definitions that I know of prayer. And it sums up the Jesus Prayer in particular; it is a way of sitting and looking at God!
Let us now consider a little the inner meaning of the Jesus Prayer. In the Sermon of the Mount Christ says: “When you pray do not use vain repetitions”. Don’t heap up empty phrases as the heathen do thinking that they will be heard because of their many words. Does then the Jesus Prayer come under Christ’s rebuke? Certainly it is a repetition, but it is not a vain repetition if it is said with faith and with love. Within the Jesus Prayer every word has weight, every word has meaning. It is not verbosity, but the Jesus Prayer is on the contrary, a precise and eloquent confession of faith.
Let us explore then a little of the meaning of the Jesus Prayer. In that very attractive 19th century Russian text; attractive, but also in some ways misleading: The Tales of a Pilgrim. It is said, that the Jesus Prayer contains the whole of the Gospel; all embracing. In what way? First, the Jesus Prayer contains the two poles, the two moments of Christian experience. And these two moments are: adoration and penitence, or glory and forgiveness. There is in the Jesus Prayer a circular movement, a double movement of assent and return. First we ascend to God in adoration “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” and then we return to ourselves in penitence “have Mercy on me the sinner”.
Now, the gulf, the abyss between the divine glory and our human brokenness is bridged in the Jesus Prayer by two words “Jesus” and “Mercy”. In this connection we need to recall the literal meaning of the name Jesus. It means: Salvation! As the angel says before the birth of Christ (Matt 1:21): “You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sin”.
First of all then, the gulf between glory and sin is bridged by Jesus, who is salvation. Then the other bridge building word in the Jesus Prayer is the word “Mercy”, Eleos in Greek. What does the word “Mercy” mean to you? For me it means love in action, love poured out to heal, to reconcile, to renew. Sometime people say to me that the Jesus Prayer is a rather gloomy prayer. I don’t experience it in that way. I see it as a prayer full of light and hope, because it speaks of Salvation and of Mercy.” ~ From a lecture delivered in 1997
“Flee from self-love, the mother of malice, which is an irrational love for the body. For from it are born the three chief sinful passions: gluttony, avarice, and vainglory, which take their causes from bodily needs, and from them all the tribe of the passions is born. This why we must always oppose self-love and fight against it. Whoever rejects self-love will easily conquer all the other passions with the help of God: anger, despondency, rancor, and the others. But whoever is retained by self-love will even unwillingly be conquered by the above-named passions.”
– Saint Maximus the Confessor
“Concepts create idols; only wonder grasps anything.” ~ Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses
“We know that the Atonement works; but how it works is not as clear.”
Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins (cf., 1 Cor. 15:3). In this way he fulfilled the old covenant sacrificial system, reconciled us to God, and changed our lives forever.
That is the doctrine of the Atonement. Its reality is not in dispute. However, many Christians struggle to understand this doctrine. We know that the Atonement works; but how it works is not as clear. Over the centuries many different theories have been suggested to explain how the Atonement works.
Many contemporary Western Latin Christians (Roman Catholics and Protestants) are unaware that there are other theories of the nature of Jesus Christ’s atonement. Most are only familiar with their own Roman Catholic Satisfaction Theory of atonement or the related Protestant Penal Substitution Theory. My guess is that few Catholics or Protestants are aware that both of their respective atonement theories are relatively new innovations theologically and neither reflects the theology of the ancient Christian church. Consequently, even fewer Western Christians are likely familiar with the predominant atonement view held by those in the Eastern Orthodox Church, which is commonly called The Recapitulation Theory, which does reflect ancient Christian tradition dating back to the late 2nd century.
First, a very general chronological overview of the four major Christian atonement theories
- Moral Influence Theory (2nd century)
- “Christus Victor”/Ransom/Recapitulation Theory (late 2nd century)
- These are different, but generally considered together as the “Patristic” or “Classical” understandings of the early Church Fathers
- Satisfaction Theory (11th century)
- Developed by Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109).
- Penal Substitution Theory (16th century)
- A variation of Anselm’s satisfaction theory developed by the Protestant Reformers, especially John Calvin (1509-1564), and is often treated together with the satisfaction theory
“…the classical or patristic view, … can be variously interpreted as the Ransom or Recapitulation view, under the general heading of ‘Christus Victor’.”
Throughout the centuries, Christians have used different metaphors and given differing explanations of Christ’s atonement to express how the atonement might work. The four most well-known theories are briefly described below:
The earliest explanation for how the atonement works is often called by contemporary scholarship the Moral Influence Theory. According to this view the core of Christianity is positive moral change, and the purpose of everything Jesus did was to lead humans toward that moral change. He is understood to have accomplished this through a combination of his teachings, personal example, his founding of the ekklesia (Church), and the inspiring power of his crucifixion and resurrection. This view was taught by the Church Fathers in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD along with what is called the classical or patristic view, which can be variously interpreted as the Ransom or Recapitulation view, under the general heading of “Christus Victor”. Peter Abelard (1079-1142) re-popularized The Moral Influence Theory in the Medieval period partially in reaction against Anselm’s Satisfaction theory (below). It remains the most popular view of atonement among theologically liberal Protestant Christians.
Chronologically, the second theory, the “Christus Victor”/Ransom/RecapitulationTheory, was first clearly articulated by Irenaeus (early 2nd century – c. AD 202), Bishop of modern-day Lyon, France. Gustav Aulén, in his 1931 book Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, gives us a description of “Christus Victor” as, “the work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.”
“Christus Victor” and “Ransom” differ slightly from each other: in the Ransom metaphor Jesus liberates mankind from slavery to sin and Satan and thus death by giving his own life as a ransom sacrifice (cf., Matthew 20:28). Victory over Satan consists of exchanging the life of the perfect man (Jesus), for the lives of the imperfect (mankind). The “Christus Victor” theory, on the other hand, does not see Jesus as a ransom, but rather as defeating Satan in a spiritual battle and thus freeing enslaved mankind by defeating the captor (Satan).
“Anselm used the analogy of Medieval Feudal society to illustrate his theory.”
The Recapitulation Theory is another variation of the “Christus Victor” model and also dates to the very early Church. In the recapitulation view of the atonement, Christ is seen as the new Adam who succeeds where Adam failed. Christ undoes the wrong that Adam did and, because of his union with humanity, leads humankind on to union with God and eternal life. This theory is found throughout the writings of the early Church Fathers. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–373), the hero of the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, wrote the classic treatise On The Incarnation of the Logos in AD 318 which explains the overall Recapitulation view very well.
The “Christus Victor” Theory and its variants dominated Christian theology for a thousand years until Anselm of Canterbury moved the Latin West toward the “Satisfaction” theory in the 11th century.
The third atonement theory, the Satisfaction Theory, was developed by the 11th century theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). According to this theory, mankind owes a debt not to Satan, but to the sovereign God himself. Anselm used the analogy of Medieval Feudal society to illustrate his theory. A sovereign may well be able to forgive an insult or an injury in his private capacity, but because he is a sovereign, he cannot if the state has been dishonored. Anselm argued that the insult given to God is so great that only a perfect sacrifice could satisfy, and that Jesus, being both God and man, was this perfect sacrifice. Therefore, the doctrine would be that Jesus gave himself as a “ransom for many”, to God the Father himself.
The next atonement theory, which was a development by the Reformers (including Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Melanchthon) is based on Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory. It is the widely held Protestant Penal Substitution Theory which, instead of considering sin as an affront to God’s honor, sees sin as the breaking of God’s moral law. Placing a particular emphasis on Romans 6:23 (‘the wages of sin is death’), Penal Substitution sees sinful man as being subject to God’s wrath with the essence of Jesus’ saving work being his substitution in the sinner’s place, bearing the curse in the place of man (cf., Galatians 3:13).
“The Penal Substitution Theory sees Christ’s suffering and death as the price for man’s sin.”
The Penal Substitution Theory sees Christ’s suffering and death as the price for man’s sin. In many ways, the model for Penal Substitutionary Atonement is a courtroom. Due to his sin, man needed to be made right with a perfect and just God. Therefore, Christ came to suffer and pay the price in our place, i.e., He substituted Himself for us. Now, in the courtroom of God, those who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior are judged innocent. They have a forensic righteousness imputed upon them.
Clearly, Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Latin Christianity have significantly different theories of atonement as part of their respective soteriologies (doctrines of salvation). The contemporary Orthodox Recapitulation Theory agrees with Western Satisfaction and Penal Substitution theories in so far as God needed to deal with man’s sin. Man was separated from God as a result of the fall and, left to his own devices, was incapable of returning to God. However, the Orthodox see God’s model of dealing with man’s sin as a hospital rather than a courtroom. This stands in sharp contrast to the forensic, legalistic models of Roman Catholic Satisfaction and Protestant Penal Substitution.
Instead of viewing the atonement as Christ paying the price for sin in order to satisfy a wrathful God, Recapitulation teaches that Christ became human to heal mankind by perfectly uniting the human nature to the Divine Nature in His person. Through the Incarnation, Christ took on human nature, becoming the Second Adam, and entered into every stage of humanity, from infancy to adulthood, uniting it to God. He then suffered death to enter Hades and destroy it. After three days, He resurrected and completed His task by destroying death.
By entering each of these stages and remaining perfectly obedient to the Father, Christ recapitulated every aspect of human nature. He said “Yes” where Adam said “No” and healed what Adam’s actions had damaged. This enables all of those who are willing to say yes to God to be perfectly united with the Holy Trinity through Christ’s person, the Logos, the Son. In addition, by destroying death, Christ reversed the consequence of the fall. Now, all can be resurrected. Those who choose to live their life in Christ can be perfectly united to the Holy Trinity, receiving the full love of God’s grace. However, those who reject Christ and choose to live their lives chasing after their passions will perceive the love of God as torment, as hell.