For the past few months, Fr. Kimel over at Pontifications and Michael Liccone at his blog have launched a number of posts aimed at Orthodoxy. For the most part I have ignored them since they make no significant advance in the discussion. Recently, Fr. Kimel criticized the construal of the Latin doctrine of Original Sin given by a few Orthodox theologians.
I wanted to address these series of posts later, but given the current tone and Fr. Kimel’s decision to derride Orthodox commentators with ad hominem’s and to ban specific people, I am taking the time now to address the most recent two posts.
For whatever reason, Fr. Kimel got a bird up some bodily opening to go on some critical crusade regarding Orthodoxy and Original Sin. I don’t know why because neither Daniel nor I have been very active in the last few months on his blog. Due to illness and personal duties I haven’t been active in the blogsphere hardly at all. In any case, it seems rather strange to poke the Orthodox and then complain that they proded back.
His target is John Meyendorff”s work, Byzantine Theology. Kimel asserts that Meyendorff gets the Latin doctrine wrong. The implication is that the Orthodox think that Rome says taht we inherit the personal guilt of Adam, but Rome teaches no such thing and so Orthodox critiques miss the mark.
The first thing to note is in the citation from Meyendorff that he makes clear, that from the Orthodox perspective, there is no category for guilt that is not personal. To speak of an impersonal sin is confusing, as if rocks and trees might contract it. I take Meyendorff to be signaling that the Orthodox reject the notion of inherited sin.
Now Fr. Kimel has shown that the Catholic Church now formally rejects the idea that people are condemned on the basis for this inherited sin. He argues that the Catholic Church rejects the notion of inherited guilt, though I must have missed that denial in the citations from the Catholic Catachism. And I am just curious, is the Catachism of the same formal weight as say Trent? Is the Catachism infallible such that Rome might take away the view currently found in it? In any case, I’ll give it to him for the sake of argument. In the interests of fairness though he says that Meyendorff should have known better what the current Catholic teaching is. I suppose that Meyendorff was limited to what at the time and for a long time prior was pervasive Catholic teaching and he isn’t a Catholic theologian. Of course, things would be easier to keep track of if Catholic theology stood still. The fact is that the notion of ineherited guilt was dominant and influential for a long time in Catholic thought even if never formally advocated. Misunderstanding is the price you pay for the development of doctrine I suppose.
And I don’t find the translation of “reatum” to be all that helpful. Granted that it is a legal term denoting the legal status of one convicted of a crime but this doesn’t tell me how it is possible that I can be held to be convicted of a crime when I was a zygote. This only moves the problem rather than answering it.
But so what? Rome still affirms an inherited sin, analogical or not. The crucial passages that come to my mind are not the usual ones like Rom 5:12, but rather 2 Cor 5:21. If all the Catholic Church means by an inherited sin is an inherited corruption with no personal guilt attached, then that is significant progress in repudiating past statements by her teachers. So the crucial question is this, didn’t Christ inherit it too?
From an Orthodox perspective this is perfectly admissable and taught by Maximus the Confessor. Christ inherits our corruption even though he personally commits no sin. (2 Cor 5:21 isn’t the only Scriptural witness as Heb 4:15 comes to mind indicating that Christ partook of our infirmities or rather “carnal desires.”)
It simply isn’t open to the Catholic to read this as say the Reformed do in terms of forensic imputation, being the metaphysical realists that they are. Can Fr. Kimel confess that Christ inherits our corruption and hence original sin?
No, he can’t, at least not that I can see. And this signals that on original sin there is still a significant divide-inherited guilt or no inherited guilt. To speak of an inherited sin “analogically” doesn’t do any real ecumenical work, unless it denotes only an inherited corruption. If that is true, a few questions come to mind. Why did Roman theologians ever speak of inherited guilt in the first place? Orthodox theologians weren’t reacting to nothing. Why speak of inherited sin in an analogical sense when it is easier to just say an inherited corruption? In order for there to be an analogy there has to be something in common between them. What is it that is common between personal sin and original sin?
Here I think Fr. Kimel is simply ignoring history. The fact of the matter is that behind the notion of an inherited sin and the oft spoken of inherited guilt was the Platonic notion of the Cosmic Soul never fully repudiated by Augustine, as I will show in a future post. Humans share a common Life and this common Life is corrupted and guilty per the acts of the archetypal man and so all humans share in this culpability. This is the real basis for the Augustinian view of Original Sin. This is why original sin is a sin analogous because it fits neither in the category of person or of nature because the Platonic concept which fills in the conceptual content for Rome’s theological terminology doesn’t admit of it.
So, was Christ conceived without original justice and sanctifying grace or no? If no, then this signals that the inherited sin that the rest of us inherit is still being conceived implicitly in some sense as personal, which is why Christ can’t have it. By extension, if Christ can inherit our corruption, then why can’t Mary? ( I will address Michael Liccone’s post on original justice later.)
What has Fr. Kimel done? He shut down the comments and expressed disappointment that what he offered in an ecumenical spirit was rejected by Orthodox commentators. I don’t think this is true for a number of reasons.
First, the tone of the piece doesn’t seem quite ecumenical. Fr.Kimel could have made a corrective suggestion without blasting Meyendorff, but he chose to anyhow. Not very irenic and neither were his ending comments-he just took his toys and went home. Second, describing those who disagree in sincerity as “polemicists” is hardly conducive to the kind of exchange that he desires.
Third, Fr. Kimel’s “ecumenical” approach isn’t yet ecumenical. To be ecumenical he needs to recognize the legitimacy of the other in terms of the other. Orthodoxy has to be seen to be legitimate on its own terms. It cannot be ecumenically engaged by either reducing its teachings to some other Latin expression in a dismissive fashion or arguing contrary to fact that its distinctives don’t hold the weight of the teaching authority of the Orthodox Church. These are both strategies that Fr. Kimel has employed rather routinely.
Nor is it ecumenical to dismiss Orthodox commentators as “polemicists” who are only interested in seeing Rome as heterodox. It never enters Fr. Kimel’s mind that they might have some measure of rational justification for thinking so. And yet the Orthodox are supposed to take seriously the dogmatic claim by Rome that the Orthodox are at least materially heterodox. What Fr. Kimel’s whine amounts to is the old canard that the Orthodox are just instrinisically sinful and schismatic. To even speak of the same common faith that we are to work towards presupposes the Catholic view of things, that we do in fact have a common faith. That has to be demonstrated, from the Orthodox view, rather than assumed. And this I think picks out a major difference between us. Communion for the Orthodox will depend on a demonstration and not the judgment of a singular authority.
Moreover, Fr. Kimel fails to be consistent in his analysis. On the one hand we are told that the Orthodox have no single authoritative view on original sin and grace and on the other hand we are referred to a website, of a convert no less, that supposedly refers us to the Orthodox teaching on Original Sin. Even if true, Fr. Kimel can’t have it both ways. The two claims are mutually exclusive. Moreover, as I will show in another post, Ephrem’s understanding of Original Sin runs counter to the Christology and Anthropology of Maximus the Confessor because there is no inherited sin apart from the motion of my will for Maximus. If Fr. Kimel had read my comments in the thread from Ephrem’s blog he would have seen the obvious implication.
“Ephrem replies: No, you are guilty because you are a sinner from conception because of the corruption that Adam introduced into all humanity, infecting each person, but in such a way that makes us each morally culpable, “being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil…We affirm, with the Scripture and St. Maximos, that guilt can only be assigned to persons since it is a result of the action of the gnomic will in disobedience to God.”
The implication is obvious. Either we sinned via the gnomic will prior to birth (Origen’s pre-existence of souls) and are hence “guilty” or we are “guilty” by nature via a common life or cosmic soul, which was Augustine’s view. Is this really what Fr. Kimel wishes to hold up as a model for emulation? The incompatibility between the two models here should be obvious.
The claim that the view expounded by Romanides, Meyendorff and others is driven by some”need” to distinguish itself from Rome is simplistic and silly. The Orthodox could have done that by a mere rejection of the papacy alone. Second, the views expressed by Lossky, Romanides, et al are far more pervasive in native Orthodox countries like Greece than I think Fr. Kimel knows. And Orthodoxy didn’t need to do anything to distinguish itself from Rome for Rome did that all on her own by new dogmas from the Franks out of political lust.
The “neo-patristic” revival was necessary since Rome and Protestants had inserted themselves and were squeezing out Orthodox views from the educational system in Orthodox countries. This is a fact that people forget when reading Romanides, Lossky and others. And citing David Hart is simply laughable. Are we seriously supposed to believe that people like Lossky and Co. don’t represent Orthodoxy, but David Hart, a man who labels Palamas an “idiot” is? This is simply beyond credibility. Intelligent as David Hart is, he seems more fringe to me.
Moreover, the exclusion of Byzantine Scholasticism and Sophiaology from being considered legitimate expressions for Orthodoxy is not limited to Lossky but can be found in contemporary sources. With both it is the advocation of a dialectical approach to theology which is contrary to Orthodox theological methodology. More specifically John Milbank gives clear reason in his rejection of Palamism and favoring of Sophiaology why Orthodoxy rejects the latter. Milbank argues in a recent paper that Palamism is not capable of a mythological and dialectical interpretation like Sophiaology and Gnosticism. Consequently he favors a return to morphing Christianity into a type of Gnostic mythology via models like Sophiaology. So, I am all for the rejection by Lossky and Co. of the Gnostic Sophiaology, which incidentally can be found explicitly in the Catholic apologetic pony of Solviev.
As to the church dividing status of the sin of the Theotokos, I am stunned that Fr. Kimel seems unaware that some significant Fathers like Chrysostom affirm that she did in fact sin. And regarding Fr. Kimel’s being persuaded by the line of reasoning that if Mary were graced apart from the motion of her will, she would never have died I think he misses the point. The question is not one of persuasion but of truth preservation. Is it a good argument or not? To say that if Mary died, then it must be the case that someone who is graced can die is just to engage in fist pounding, and rather ad hoc fist pounding at that. It is just to admit that Fr. Kimel is committed to his views apart from rational consideration. It is akin to the man who thought he was dead. After much work, a doctor concinves him that dead men do not bleed and then the doctor sticks him with a needle. The man exclaims, “Doctor! Dead men bleed after all!”
To state that the Catholic Church does not confess dogmatically Mary’s death and she remains ignorant on this point just proves the Orthodox point because the Fathers and the liturgy did and do affirm it. Asking if God can take Elijah to heaven why not the Theotokos seems like the rationalism and scholasticism that Fr, Kimel complained about regarding the argument from Mary’s deathlessness as a result of being graced. So much the more you say? Well, if he could have done it for Mary, so much the more easily he could have done it for everyone! We could prove many silly teachings but such rationalism.
And to even ask when Orthodoxy dogmatized this question is to measure Orthodoxy by Catholic standards. It didn’t and doesn’t need too because it is in the Fathers and the Liturgy. It’s called Tradition, not a dictionary.