Posts Tagged Western Latin Tradition
Atonement Theory 1
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Atonement Theory (series) on July 13, 2014
“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
Atonement Theory 2
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Atonement Theory (series) on July 12, 2014
“…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).
Atonement Theory 4
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Atonement Theory (series) on July 10, 2014
“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.
Atonement Theory 5
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Atonement Theory (series) on July 9, 2014
“… the Recapitulation model places great importance on the teaching that Christ is both fully man and fully God.”
Because of its focus on unification between God and man in the person of Christ, the Recapitulation model places great importance on the teaching that Christ is both fully man and fully God. If Christ did not have both natures, He would have been incapable of uniting humanity to divinity, which was the entire purpose of the Incarnation. As Saint Gregory of Nazianzus said in the 4th century, “That which is not assumed is not healed, but that which is united to God is saved.” The doctrine of the dual nature of Christ was a major topic of the third Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in AD 431. During this council, the Church answered the Nestorian heresy and affirmed Christ’s humanity and divinity and upheld the title of Theotokos (Mother of God) for Mary. By giving Mary this title, the Church reinforced the teaching of the dual nature of Christ. If Mary is the Mother of God, then, by necessity, Christ truly is God. Additionally, since Mary is both human and Christ’s mother, Christ is also fully human.
The Greek word “hilasmos” is translated as both propitiation and expiation. In contrast to other forms of Christianity, the Orthodox tend to use the word “expiation” when describing what was accomplished in Christ’s sacrificial act. According to the Greek-English Lexicon (BDAG) “The unique feature relative to Gr-Rom. usage [of hilasterion] is the initiative taken by God to effect removal of impediments to a relationship with God’s self.” This gives “hilasmos” the meaning of “God’s initiative to remove all barriers and impediments between man and God”.
Thus, in the Orthodox understanding of “hilasmos”, Christ did not die to appease an angry and vindictive Father, or to avert the wrath of God, which is the sense in which the word “propitiation” is commonly used in Western Latin theology. Rather, the Orthodox use the word “expiation”, in order to convey the sense that Christ died to change people and remove impediments and barriers to God so that they might become divine, that is to say, that they may become “partakers of the divine nature” of God in his energies or operations. (cf. 2 Pet. 1:4)
Contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer 3
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Contemplative Prayer (series) on June 11, 2014
“a higher state still” ~ John Cassian, ca. AD 400
In this discussion over the next few posts, I will quote recognized Church Fathers from the early centuries of the Church in order to introduce the Primitive Christian Prayer tradition to a mostly Protestant audience. The reason for this is simple: it’s a prayer tradition that we Protestants do not have and never had; it had virtually disappeared from the institutional Roman Catholic Church by the time of the Protestant Reformation.
To the modern Roman Catholic and Protestant believer, prayer is usually broken down into five basic types: Blessing and Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Thanksgiving, and Praise (cf. Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church).
John Cassian (c. 350 – c.435) was a Christian mystic who spent 15 years in the Egyptian Desert with the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th century. Highly educated, he was equally comfortable writing in either Greek or Latin. He tells us that Primitive Christian Prayer went well past the types we recognize today:
“The various kinds of prayer [cf. 1 Tim. 2:1; petition, prayer (i.e., praise), intercessions, thanksgiving] are followed by a higher state still… it is the contemplation of God alone, an immeasurable fire of love. The soul settles in it and sinks into its depths” (Conferences, IX, 18).
Contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer 5
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Contemplative Prayer (series) on June 9, 2014
“then he will see the mind appear similar to sapphire or to the color of the sky.” Evagrius Ponticus, 4th century
This state of a quieted soul, what Evagrius calls a state of “dispassion” [apatheia] is very difficult to achieve. Dispassion was difficult enough in the isolation of the 4th century Egyptian desert (it took years of practice to achieve) and it is infinitely more difficult for us in the modern world. First of all, unlike the people of Evagrius’s time, we are culturally conditioned to respect and use only our rational intellect, which is not the part of us that ascends to the Lord in prayer (see the note on the “nous”, below). Second, we are also the most over stimulated people in history; if not with the endless chatter of our own self-centered desires and judgments, then certainly with the distractions of the modern world trying to capture our attention moment by moment with dazzling technology.
Again, in “On Prayer”, Evagrius tells us: “The state of prayer is one of dispassion [apatheia], which by virtue of the most intense love [agape] transports to the noetic realm the spirit [nous] that longs for wisdom. He who wishes to pray truly must not only control his incensive power [“thumos”- irascible faculty, anger] and his desire [epithumia], but must also free himself from every impassioned thought.” If we wish to reach that state beyond normal prayer, that “higher state” described by John Cassian, Evagrius advises us that, “If one wishes to see the state (katastasis) of the mind (nous) [referring to the state of contemplation, pure prayer, “gnosis”], let him deprive himself of all representations (noemata), and then he will see the mind appear similar to sapphire or to the color of the sky. But to do that without being passionless (apatheia) is impossible, for one must have the assistance of God who breathes into him the kindred light.”
This is ancient foundational Primitive Christian Prayer to which the early church aspired and practiced. This is praying like Jesus and Paul prayed.
*The nous is the “image of God” present in the consciousness of every human. It is the highest faculty of the human soul. The notion of man being created in the “image of God” is a constant throughout Christian theology and spirituality deriving from the creation story of Genesis 1. Note that the idea of “nous” has been totally lost to the Western world, where it has been completely subsumed by our obsession with the “rational intellect” since the Reformation and Enlightenment.
Contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer 7
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Contemplative Prayer (series) on June 7, 2014
“This disposition is accompanied by interior tears, then by a sort of fullness, eager for silence.” ~ Diadochus of Photike, 5th century
We now turn back to John Cassian (ca. AD 400), who tells us how to pray like the Desert Fathers and Mothers:
“We have to take particular care to follow the Gospel precept that bids us go into our inner room and shut the door to pray to our Father.
This is how to do it.
We are praying in our inner room when we withdraw our heart completely from the clamor of our thoughts and preoccupations, and in a kind of secret dialogue, as between intimate friends, we lay bare our desires before the Lord.
We are praying with our door shut when, without opening our mouth, we call on the One who takes no account of words but considers the heart.
We are praying in secret when we speak to God with the heart alone and with concentration of the soul, and make known our state of mind to him alone, in such a way that even the enemy powers themselves cannot guess their nature. Such is the reason for the deep silence that it behooves us to keep in prayer…” (Conferences, IX)
Diadochus of Photike from the 5th century (AD 400’s) is one of the principal spiritual authorities of the Orthodox East. He was one of the first to mention the use of the famous “Jesus Prayer”, which remains one of the primary mystic tools of the Orthodox contemplative tradition of hesychasm (silence, quietude) to this day. Diadochus describes the presence of the Holy Spirit in contemplative prayer and the need for silence:
“When the Holy Spirit acts in the soul he sings psalms and prays with complete relaxation and sweetness in the secret places of the heart. This disposition is accompanied by interior tears, then by a sort of fullness, eager for silence.” Gnostic Chapters, 73
The tricky thing about contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer is that if you think you’re doing it right, you clearly aren’t! By thinking you’re doing it right, by making that judgment, you have made prayer into a dualistic contest, a worthiness exercise. That makes you guilty of “philautia” (φιλαυτία), self-centeredness, the root of all of the deadly sins and the greatest hindrance to pure prayer, at least according to Evagrius Ponticus!
Contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer 8
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Contemplative Prayer (series) on June 6, 2014
“Always breathe Christ” ~ Anthony the Great, 4th century
In the ancient Eastern Orthodox contemplative tradition of “hesychasm” (silence, stillness, quietude), invoking the name of Jesus Christ has been used as a means of focusing the mind on God and eliminating outside thoughts, images, and other distractions from pure presence. Invoking the name of Jesus also acknowledges that God is personal; He only manifests as Persons in Trinity, in an endless “circle dance” (perichoresis) of co-inherent divine love (agape). This invocation of Christ has been combined with breathing as a “psycho-somatic” (involving both “psuche” (soul) and “soma” (body)) aid in centering the spirit (nous) in the heart for its ascent to God.
Athanasius of Alexandria (295 – 356), besides being the hero of the first Ecumenical Council of the Church at Nicaea in AD 325, also wrote “The Life of Anthony”, about the greatest and most celebrated of the first monks. In it, Athanasius quotes Anthony (whom he personally knew) as follows:
“[Anthony] called his two companions… and said to them, ‘Always breathe Christ’.”
Pseudo-Macarius echoes the same idea in about AD 400 with this elegant sentiment from his “Coptic Cycle of Sayings”:
“The Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, is linked to the Word from all eternity. Therefore when a person’s intellect and breathing utter the name of the Incarnate Word – Jesus – they are united with the Holy Spirit, and the person breathes and thinks in the Spirit.
The intellect [nous], strengthened by the invocation, finds its connection with the heart again, and this, or rather the presence in it, becomes conscious. Intellect and heart together form that heart-spirit in which a person collects, opens, unifies, harmonizes, and enlarges himself infinitely. It properly constitutes the ‘place of God’.”
Anthony and Macarius were joined in this same sentiment more than 200 years later by 7th century mystic master John Climacus. John wrote the “The Ladder of Divine Ascent”; 30 short tracts, or steps, of spiritual instruction for his monks. In Step 27 of “The Ladder” he wrote:
“Let your calling to mind of Jesus be continually combined with your breathing and you will know the meaning of silence.”
Contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer 9
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Contemplative Prayer (series) on June 5, 2014
“It should therefore be given the Jesus Prayer…” ~ Diadochus of Photike, 5th century
The tradition of invoking the name of Jesus in contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer was so common that by the 5th century that it was assuming a standard form, the “Jesus Prayer”. Diadochus of Photike tells us that:
“The spirit, when we close all its outlets by our concentration on God, demands of us expressly some task that may satisfy its need for activity. It should therefore be given the Jesus Prayer as the only occupation that answers fully to its purpose. It is, in fact, written that ‘No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit’… Those who meditate on this holy and glorious Name continually in the depths of their heart can see also the light of their own spirit. For if it is entertained with great care by the mind, the Name with intense emotion destroys all the impurities that cover the surface of the soul.”
The “Jesus Prayer” remains a principal spiritual tool of the Eastern Orthodox contemplative tradition of “hesychasm” to this day. In its full form, it is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a (the) sinner”. It is used also in various shortened forms, sometimes shortened down to “Lord have mercy”, or “Kyrie eleison” in Greek. In its psycho-somatic form, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” is prayed (“breathed”) into the body on the inhale; and “have mercy on me, a sinner” is exhaled (just like our sin is expelled through His grace and mercy). It’s easier to do in Greek than it is in English!
I would be unfaithful to the Eastern contemplative tradition if I did not add a stern warning, born of centuries of experience. Contemplation, or theoria, should not be undertaken except under the guidance of an experienced spiritual Father, or guide. Even then, visions, dreams, and emotions are looked on with great suspicion in the Eastern tradition. Without a keen and well developed discernment of spirits, Satan and his minions can easily wreak havoc in a novice and do great physical and spiritual harm.
Contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer 10
Posted by Dallas Wolf in Contemplative Prayer (series) on June 4, 2014
“pray without ceasing” ~ Paul, ca. AD 55
In what is probably the earliest authentic letter we have from the Apostle Paul, he urges his nascent Christ community in Thessalonica to “pray without ceasing”. The Primitive Christian ekklesia took that charge very seriously. Contemplative prayer became ingrained in the lives of many of the early saints, providing a constant subtle presence or leitmotif; a divine music infused throughout their entire being, creating the themes, rhythm, tempo, melody, tone, and mood of a sanctified life.
The institutional church, especially after becoming part of the Imperial infrastructure of the Roman Empire beginning in AD 313, naturally began to become more concerned with that which concerns empire; power, prestige, and possessions. As a result, the concept of prayer began to get “dumbed down” to a level that the institutional church could define and control. Hence, we have the five basic kinds of prayer we are familiar with today; Blessing and Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Thanksgiving, and Praise. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these types of prayer; Jesus and Paul used all of them. These prayers are good, powerful, and edify the body of Christ. My point is that they constitute a very small subset of the much larger contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer tradition. As evidence, I again cite John Cassian (ca. AD 400) who tells us, “The various kinds of prayer [petition, promise, intercession, pure praise] are followed by a higher state still… it is the contemplation of God alone, an immeasurable fire of love.” It is to this “higher state” of prayer that all Christians are called to aspire.
Many serious God-seekers, repulsed by the questionable antics and priorities of the early institutional Imperial Church, started fleeing to the isolation of deserts of Syria, Palestine and Egypt in the AD 300’s. There they were free to continue to practice and develop their contemplative Primitive Christian prayer tradition; praying in the tradition of Jesus and Paul. These were the famed Desert Fathers and Mothers. This was the beginning of monasticism. Contemplative prayer pretty much remained isolated to the monks and nuns of the sketes and monasteries from that point on; somewhat removed from the institutional “church” structure, or, as I refer to it in its current incarnation, “Jesus, Inc.”.