the natural law of death

In the beginning thoughts of St. Athanasius’ The Incarnation of the Word of God, he well establishes that it was God the Father by whom all things were created and all things are sustained. He then goes on to reflect upon the nature of man in and of himself (that is, considered apart from God), and he calls this nature something peculiar, by the standards of anglophone natural theologies anyway:

…But since the will of man could turn either way, God secured this grace that He has given by making it conditional from the first upon two things – namely, law and a place. He set them in His own paradise, and laid upon them a single prohibition. If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their original innocence, then the life of paradise should be theirs, without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away the birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death, and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption.

…For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in the process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore, when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good. By nature, of course, man is mortal, since he was made from nothing; but he also bears the likeness of Him Who is, and if he preserves that likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt.

…This, then, was the plight of men. God had not only made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word. Then, turning from eternal things to things corruptible, by counsel of the devil, they had become the cause of their own corruption in death; for, as I said before, though they were by nature subject to corruption, the grace of their union with the Word made them capable of escaping the natural law, provided that they retained the beauty of innocence with which they were created. That is to say, the presence of the Word with them shielded them even from natural corruption….

[Emphases above are mine.]

St. Athanasius then goes on to describe the various maladies which persons bent on non-existence fall into: insatiable appetites, adulteries, thefts, wars, and finally what he seems to present as the epitome of non-existent grasping, “…perpetrating shameless acts with their own sex…”

[Modern sentiments would object to such a particular focus on homosex, but in the realism of St. Athanasius the image counts for what it is. Even in a modern setting when sex between a man and woman is oft contracepted, and when that intent does not “work” life then aborted, the fact is that there still remains in the act of sex between a man and a woman an image and indeed the possibility of fecundity. For persons to use the function of sex in a manner that cannot image or at all make possible the bearing of life is to, rather emphatically, embrace non-existence. But of course, the killing of life after the fact of heterosex will always take the cake when it comes to an embrace of non-existence, and we should not forget this when considering the ontological aesthetic of homosex. Nothing is more despicable and more ugly than the killing of children, and it is heterosex which provides the fuel for our culture’s insatiable desire for murdered babies. Perhaps if St. Athanasius were writing today, he would have a different sin at the end of his list.]

What an interesting thing that St. Athanasius’ use of the term natural law is connected with man’s return to his original state – a state of nothing, or non-existence.

When we consider the nature of a thing, we generally are considering it in and of itself, as an independent, autonomous form. For St. Athanasius, to consider man in and of himself would mean to consider him apart from that likeness which he should bear but can chose not to, and to consider him apart from “the presence and love of the Word.” Without the sustaining presence of the loving God who created and mercifully sustains man, man, naturally, falls back to what he is without God, nothing.

We should note here that death does not appear to be a positive or a progressive aspect of creation for St. Athanasius, as it is in so many later natural theologies (many of them now heavily influenced by Darwinist themes). By saying that it is natural for man to fall into corruption and non-existence without God St. Athanasius is not saying that this is what is supposed to happen to man or what is right and good to happen to man. He says just the opposite, that God did not and does not intend our corruption, that God intended and intends for us to be, and to be in the presence and love of the Word. Death in nature, for St. Athanasius, seems to be presented as a result of man’s sin, of his choosing that which is corruptible.

 

Very much inferred in all this is the notion that to be in the presence and love of the Word is to be free, but to chose corruption means to be instantly bound to the determinisms of death. If we choose death, we choose the patterns and cycles and cosmic consequences of death. Though I am no scholar of St. Athanasius, it seems to me that it is consistent with his line of thought to believe that the cycles of death and corruption that we witness in the universe are brought about because of man’s choosing of corruption. Only we male and female persons are the likeness and image of the Word. We men and women are the mediating microcosms of the cosmos, and the rest of the material cosmos is bound to the determinisms we introduce, or to the freedom we introduce (that being relative freedom, for only God is completely free – our freedom resting in mimetic contingency upon God). In this manner we either bless or we curse the entire cosmos in our own volitional acts to either preserve our likeness through constant contemplation of the Word (a restoration and preservation now made possible through Holy Baptism and the Mysteries) or to choose that which is corruptible.

In choosing what is corruptible, we choose a thing or things in isolation, and we then draw them and ourselves into isolation, and away from communion. Death is the taking apart of the universe, and then comes the introduction of the economies whereby some things must die in order that other things might live, briefly. In this situation we come to “know” things by their apartness.

 

Thus we have a natural law of death in which man, when left to himself, falls back into nothing, and with him the whole of the cosmos over which he mediates.

But we might also use the word nature to speak of what man properly is when he is in the state God lovingly intends for him, a position in the presence and love of the Word. In this manner of speaking, the natural law is the consideration of man in communion with God and the creation as it reflects this order. This is the older general Christian understanding of the natural law, and it is an understanding which requires an acceptance of and deference to God’s consummate revelation to man, Jesus Christ. The primary “data” of this form of natural law is man rightly restored and deified, and the consideration of the right order of creation in light of this.

Problems arise when we attempt a natural law in which we look at corruptible nature as we generally see it around us, and from this data attempt to discern things regarding God, salvation, and man’s right place in the cosmos. Such is what virtually all modern natural theologies attempt to do. Corruption then inevitably becomes deified in some fashion. Instead of looking at corrupted nature to understand man, we should look at deified man in order to understand nature. When we look from this perspective, from the vantage point of the revelation of the God-Man, nature may become for us the “second Gospel” of which some of the Fathers and Elders speak. When we follow the cosmological hierarchy which God has established, and deified man is the lens through which we view creation, all of creation is lit up with the presence and holiness of God. When man is first transfigured, all of creation is then aflame with divinity.

 

But this is not the way most philosophies and theologies would put it. Most, in various and sundry ways, start with an understanding of nature and then work toward a utilitarian understanding of man which may, in theory, lead to his salvation and/or deification, or something like that. These philosophies and theologies then tend to fall in one of three directions – toward materialism, or, toward a disdain (subtle or overt) of creation, or, toward both.

 

The man who starts with corruptible nature in order to achieve God is acting in the image of Babel. That project led to an anarchy of language which images the chaos of the waters in Genesis chapter 1, the right ordering of which would only finally occur at Pentecost. Babel images to us where it is that projects of man’s confidence to perceive his way to salvation, in and of himself, lead – isolation. In every instance in which man (individually or collectively) seeks his own way apart from God, what is he actually seeking? He seeks that God not be God over him, which is to say, man seeks to be who he is apart from God, and that is to seek to be non-existent, even if he thinks he is seeking otherwise. But God the Father, in His mercy, will never serve such a hatred.

 

Perhaps we might define hell as the place where those who desire their own non-existence are, by a benevolent God, left unsatiated.

 

 

 

 

Very much inferred in all this is the notion that to be in the presence and love of the Word is to be free, but to chose corruption means to be instantly bound to the determinisms of death. If we choose death, we choose the patterns and cycles and cosmic consequences of death. Though I am no scholar of St. Athanasius, it seems to me that it is consistent with his line of thought to believe that the cycles of death and corruption that we witness in the universe are brought about because of man’s choosing of corruption. Only we male and female persons are the likeness and image of the Word. We men and women are the mediating microcosms of the cosmos, and the rest of the material cosmos is bound to the determinisms we introduce, or to the freedom we introduce (that being relative freedom, for only God is completely free – our freedom resting in mimetic contingency upon God). In this manner we either bless or we curse the entire cosmos in our own volitional acts to either preserve our likeness through constant contemplation of the Word (a restoration and preservation now made possible through Holy Baptism and the Mysteries) or to choose that which is corruptible.

In choosing what is corruptible, we choose a thing or things in isolation, and we then draw them and ourselves into isolation, and away from communion. Death is the taking apart of the universe, and then comes the introduction of the economies whereby some things must die in order that other things might live, briefly. In this situation we come to “know” things by their apartness.

 

Thus we have a natural law of death in which man, when left to himself, falls back into nothing, and with him the whole of the cosmos over which he mediates.

But we might also use the word nature to speak of what man properly is when he is in the state God lovingly intends for him, a position in the presence and love of the Word. In this manner of speaking, the natural law is the consideration of man in communion with God and the creation as it reflects this order. This is the older general Christian understanding of the natural law, and it is an understanding which requires an acceptance of and deference to God’s consummate revelation to man, Jesus Christ. The primary “data” of this form of natural law is man rightly restored and deified, and the consideration of the right order of creation in light of this.

Problems arise when we attempt a natural law in which we look at corruptible nature as we generally see it around us, and from this data attempt to discern things regarding God, salvation, and man’s right place in the cosmos. Such is what virtually all modern natural theologies attempt to do. Corruption then inevitably becomes deified in some fashion. Instead of looking at corrupted nature to understand man, we should look at deified man in order to understand nature. When we look from this perspective, from the vantage point of the revelation of the God-Man, nature may become for us the “second Gospel” of which some of the Fathers and Elders speak. When we follow the cosmological hierarchy which God has established, and deified man is the lens through which we view creation, all of creation is lit up with the presence and holiness of God. When man is first transfigured, all of creation is then aflame with divinity.

 

But this is not the way most philosophies and theologies would put it. Most, in various and sundry ways, start with an understanding of nature and then work toward a utilitarian understanding of man which may, in theory, lead to his salvation and/or deification, or something like that. These philosophies and theologies then tend to fall in one of three directions – toward materialism, or, toward a disdain (subtle or overt) of creation, or, toward both.

 

The man who starts with corruptible nature in order to achieve God is acting in the image of Babel. That project led to an anarchy of language which images the chaos of the waters in Genesis chapter 1, the right ordering of which would only finally occur at Pentecost. Babel images to us where it is that projects of man’s confidence to perceive his way to salvation, in and of himself, lead – isolation. In every instance in which man (individually or collectively) seeks his own way apart from God, what is he actually seeking? He seeks that God not be God over him, which is to say, man seeks to be who he is apart from God, and that is to seek to be non-existent, even if he thinks he is seeking otherwise. But God the Father, in His mercy, will never serve such a hatred.

 

Perhaps we might define hell as the place where those who desire their own non-existence are, by a benevolent God, left unsatiated.

 

 

 

Very much inferred in all this is the notion that to be in the presence and love of the Word is to be free, but to chose corruption means to be instantly bound to the determinisms of death. If we choose death, we choose the patterns and cycles and cosmic consequences of death. Though I am no scholar of St. Athanasius, it seems to me that it is consistent with his line of thought to believe that the cycles of death and corruption that we witness in the universe are brought about because of man’s choosing of corruption. Only we male and female persons are the likeness and image of the Word. We men and women are the mediating microcosms of the cosmos, and the rest of the material cosmos is bound to the determinisms we introduce, or to the freedom we introduce (that being relative freedom, for only God is completely free – our freedom resting in mimetic contingency upon God). In this manner we either bless or we curse the entire cosmos in our own volitional acts to either preserve our likeness through constant contemplation of the Word (a restoration and preservation now made possible through Holy Baptism and the Mysteries) or to choose that which is corruptible.

In choosing what is corruptible, we choose a thing or things in isolation, and we then draw them and ourselves into isolation, and away from communion. Death is the taking apart of the universe, and then comes the introduction of the economies whereby some things must die in order that other things might live, briefly. In this situation we come to “know” things by their apartness.

 

Thus we have a natural law of death in which man, when left to himself, falls back into nothing, and with him the whole of the cosmos over which he mediates.

But we might also use the word nature to speak of what man properly is when he is in the state God lovingly intends for him, a position in the presence and love of the Word. In this manner of speaking, the natural law is the consideration of man in communion with God and the creation as it reflects this order. This is the older general Christian understanding of the natural law, and it is an understanding which requires an acceptance of and deference to God’s consummate revelation to man, Jesus Christ. The primary “data” of this form of natural law is man rightly restored and deified, and the consideration of the right order of creation in light of this.

Problems arise when we attempt a natural law in which we look at corruptible nature as we generally see it around us, and from this data attempt to discern things regarding God, salvation, and man’s right place in the cosmos. Such is what virtually all modern natural theologies attempt to do. Corruption then inevitably becomes deified in some fashion. Instead of looking at corrupted nature to understand man, we should look at deified man in order to understand nature. When we look from this perspective, from the vantage point of the revelation of the God-Man, nature may become for us the “second Gospel” of which some of the Fathers and Elders speak. When we follow the cosmological hierarchy which God has established, and deified man is the lens through which we view creation, all of creation is lit up with the presence and holiness of God. When man is first transfigured, all of creation is then aflame with divinity.

 

But this is not the way most philosophies and theologies would put it. Most, in various and sundry ways, start with an understanding of nature and then work toward a utilitarian understanding of man which may, in theory, lead to his salvation and/or deification, or something like that. These philosophies and theologies then tend to fall in one of three directions – toward materialism, or, toward a disdain (subtle or overt) of creation, or, toward both.

 

The man who starts with corruptible nature in order to achieve God is acting in the image of Babel. That project led to an anarchy of language which images the chaos of the waters in Genesis chapter 1, the right ordering of which would only finally occur at Pentecost. Babel images to us where it is that projects of man’s confidence to perceive his way to salvation, in and of himself, lead – isolation. In every instance in which man (individually or collectively) seeks his own way apart from God, what is he actually seeking? He seeks that God not be God over him, which is to say, man seeks to be who he is apart from God, and that is to seek to be non-existent, even if he thinks he is seeking otherwise. But God the Father, in His mercy, will never serve such a hatred.

 

Perhaps we might define hell as the place where those who desire their own non-existence are, by a benevolent God, left unsatiated.

 

 

 

 

29 Responses to the natural law of death

  1. Alex says:

    Ken,

    Since you continue referring to the Divine Liturgy, would you please explain your comments in light of the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos?

  2. Suzan says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Suzan!!

  3. It seems to me that human nature separate from the divine and unaided cannot live as God lives no matter what intentions a person may or may not have. It is impossible; we are limited by time and space. No human being apart from God, no matter how pure they may be, can save themselves or live to the fullness that Life requires, including the Virgin Mary. Life requires the grace of God. Christ on assuming humanity unites it with divinity and thus as such humanity could transcend its limits and live as God lives. So, whether Mary sinned or not is rather moot. She could not live the life as God on her own powers and so she is a sinner in this regard because she, on her own powers, would fall short of God’s perfection but she may never have intentionally sinned and lived always in the grace of God, so she may be considered pure and sinless. Chrysostom shows her limits and the hymns show her purity; both are correct without any contraction. The issue was that she was a human limited by time and space and needed divine grace to save her like anyone else. She also required the completion of Christ’s mission before she could be saved, as does all humanity.

  4. Ken,

    There is no question that the act of our Lord is a voluntary act. That is not the issue. The apthartodocetist view is that it can’t be a voluntary act unless Christ inherited a pre-fallen human nature. Rather, Christ inherited a corrupted humanity from Mary, and began to heal it at His conception and through His recapitulation of the life of Israel all the way to his death at the cross.

    Photios

  5. trvalentine says:

    [blockquote]However, it seems to me to be some sort of Christological heresy to claim that Jesus inherited a corrupted humanity from the Theotokos. He is like us in every way *except sin*.[/blockquote]

    As the Fathers’ aphorism goes, ‘that which is not assumed is not saved’.

    Unless the Divinity of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is joined to [em]every[/em] aspect of our humanity, we will be but ‘partially saved’ (if that were possible). It is absolutely essential that His Divnity be joined to the very same human nature with all its corruptions for us to be healed. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ hungered, felt pain, wept, etc. — manifesting our corruptions, even unto death.

    I don’t understand how people can embrace the idea that the Theotokos was completely sinless, how she could have been ‘healed’ of various corruptions (even to the point of being spared death!) from the moment of her conception. It should be obvious that if the Theotokos did not suffer our corruptions, her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ could not have shared in our corruptions and thus could not have healed us. It should be obvious that if the Holy Trinity could heal the Theotokos of all corruption without the Lord having conquered death by death, there is no reason for the Lord to have suffered. All of humanity could have been given relieved of corruption by divine fiat. Those who deny she suffered death, elevate her above the Lord.

    [blockquote]I believe what the Church teaches, even when I do not understand it.[/blockquote]
    The ONLY dogma the Church has established regarding her is the title ‘Theotokos’ — and that is a Christological affirmation. I believe that very thing was raised on this blog not that long ago.

    Thomas

  6. Ken Hendrickson says:

    — justinian I Says:
    > Aphthartodocetism held that the body of
    > Christ was incorruptible and that Christ’s
    > sufferings were therefore entirely
    > voluntary.

    I am not sure what distinctions need to be made to remain in the Faith, but from the Divine Liturgy:

    % …, or rather, WHEN HE SURRENDERED
    % HIMSELF FOR THE LIFE OF THE
    % WORLD, He took bread …

    This seems to be a voluntary act on the part of Jesus. Surely, the Divine Liturgy does not teach heresy.

    Ken Hendrickson

  7. St. Justinian didn’t hold to the doctrine, that is a modern myth.

    See Justinian the Great: The Emperor and Saint by Asterios Gerostergios

  8. Ken Hendrickson says:

    — Photios Jones Says:
    > The Christological heresy of
    > aphthartodocetism says that Christ
    > didn’t inherit the same human nature
    > as we did, but rather Christ inherited
    > an uncorrupted human nature.

    I affirm that Christ was like us in every way, except sin.

    What exactly do you mean by “corrupted human nature”?

    Ken Hendrickson

  9. Ken,

    You have not misunderstood me.

    The Christological heresy of apthartodocetism says that Christ didn’t inherit the same human nature as we did, but rather Christ inherited an uncorrupted human nature.

    Photios

  10. Ken Hendrickson says:

    — Perry Robinson Says:
    > do you think I would knowingly embrace
    > a Christological heresy?

    It is hard to imagine.

    > Don’t you think people inherit traits
    > that theyhad no choice concerning?

    Of course. That is obviously true.

    It is still hard for me to accept Photios Jones’ statement. I am not sure I understand what he means. What I have in mind is something like the total depravity of the Calvinists, and to ascribe that to Christ is anathema to me. (It isn’t even true for us, as the Calvinists understand it!)

    I don’t want to speak for Photios; he can speak for himself. I hope I have misunderstood him.

    As for me, I’ll stick with the prayers in the Divine Liturgy. The Theotokos is most pure, ever-virgin, immaculate, more honorable than the cherubim, etc.

    Glory to Jesus Christ!
    Glory to Him forever!
    Ken Hendrickson

  11. To inject for a moment. Ken knows me from a long time ago. Now Ken, do you think I would knowingly embrace a Christological heresy? Now think about this for a moment. Why think that natural properties are the result of an agent’s action? Don’t you think people inherit traits that theyhad no choice concerning? If so, then natural properties or properties attached to a nature such as mortality won’t necessarily imply personal fault.

  12. Not to disrupt the flow of conversation, but I was wondering if any familiar online personalities were attending this conference:

    http://www.mosestheblack.org/

  13. ochlophobist says:

    Above I wrote:

    “I have written elsewhere that it may be better to speak of Christ recapitulating our lives than us recapitulating both, though both manner of expression are useful.”

    this should read:

    “I have written elsewhere that it may be better to speak of Christ recapitulating our lives than us recapitulating Christ’s life, though both manners of expression are useful.

  14. ochlophobist says:

    Fr. Maximus,

    Good point. I did not mean to imply what I implied. Allow me to clarify.

    By bringing up the “All Holiness” title of the EP I did not mean to imply that the Theotokos is described in a manner that relates only to her role and not to her person. I was simply grasping for (another) example of the Orthodox use of descriptors of holiness that are not directly related to past actions, in order to show that there need not be an absolute literalism in the use of all such words and phrases as used in the Church. More to the point would be the fact that there are many examples of saints who are described in absolute terms of holiness when, it would seem, that these saints would have sinned at some point in their past.

    I do not believe that the Theotokos could have been a harlot. The theological necessity of her perpetual virginity aside, it would require a great degree of sanctity in order to assent in the manner she assented. Indeed, she had a greater degree of sanctity than anyone before her in order to give herself to God as Theotokos. The question, as I see it, is this: did this great degree of sanctity require that she had never sinned prior to her assent, or could it be that she did sin, though only very minimally in order to maintain the degree of sanctity required for her assent? It seems that some of the fathers teach quite clearly that she did sin, but not much, prior to her assent.

    I would be very interested to see a study of every father who addresses this issue. Generally, those persons who put forth lists of patristic quotes which seem to argue for Mary’s sinlessness find quotes that mimic the language of the Liturgy, but those fathers who did not believe in Mary’s absolute literal sinlessness held to the same phrases, liturgically. What needs to be gathered is all the instances of fathers who directly address the question, did Mary ever sin, or was she instead sinless in the manner that Christ was sinless? In my (obviously limited) reading, I have found more fathers of those directly addressing this question who answer that Mary did sin in small amount and degree than those who state that she did not sin at all.

    Obviously, the Incarnation required the cooperation of the Theotokos with the Holy Spirit. But in order for freedom to be maintained we cannot stress the operation of one over the other. In my mind, if we put too much stress on Mary’s literal historical (chronological) perfection prior to her assent, we arrive at a progressive and historicist view of salvation, in which Christ came when certain historical processes of ever increasing sanctity had been achieved. [The only way to avoid this while maintaining Mary’s absolute sinlessness would be to embrace some form of grace gymnastics, as the Catholics have done.] On the other hand, we must hold that the Theotokos had great, great sanctity, or we arrive at a position in which God’s will overrides human freedom. In my mind, her assent truly represents a “yes” on the part of all humanity because she bore the burden of corruption in the normal post-lapsarian manner (including having sinned, if only in small amounts and degrees) but at the same time was the model of humility and holiness.

    I hope in all of the above that I am completely unoriginal, and that my thoughts are in keeping with the fathers. If they are not, I very much invite correction.

    I agree that Christ in recapitulation does not transform sins into virtues. But as Christ recapitulates Israel (His 40 day fast recapitulating Israel’s 40 years in the desert, etc.) so it is He recapitulates us. I have written elsewhere that it may be better to speak of Christ recapitulating our lives than us recapitulating both, though both manner of expression are useful.

    Origen taught that all Christians recapitulate Israel, and that each point in the life of the Christian corresponds to some event in the life of Israel as we read of Israel in the scriptures. He was off, I think, though the jist of his thought was picked up by many fathers and brought to a fuller understanding. I think that Christ recapitulates Israel, and we see in this recapitulation of Israel the manner in which Christ recapitulates everything, including us. On the road to Emmaus He provides the hermeneutic through which we read not only Israel, but all of reality, including our own lives. With the death and Resurrection of Christ, the meaning of Israel changed, and, in a certain sense, the history of Israel changed, or was transfigured, or brought to light in a manner that we know it as something we did not know before, something very much different than what we knew it as before – again, I would go so far as to entertain language of ontological difference. In any event, Christ sinlessly recapitulates events from Israel’s history which had been sinful, wrong, distorted, etc. He does the same for us. This does not mean that our past sins are transformed into virtues. It means the Christ’s virtues reorder and change the paths and patterns of which those past sins were a part and their overall power in a given life, giving one a new life, with new meaning, even new meaning for one’s past.

    We see this in the saints. Take St. Mary of Egypt. Her past sins were not good in and of themselves. But her repentance and her life hidden in the desert correspond to her past sins in a manner which gives the whole of her life a new meaning, even her sinful past. That sinful past is not good, in and of itself, but the whole of her life, including her past sins, now is an icon of the mercy of God and the power of God to deify a human life when a woman freely and fully repents and the image of her life is recapitulated. Had she never repented, her sins would have amounted to nothing but meaninglessness and isolation, but because of her repentance and God’s grace, even this part of her life becomes an image of salvation. Singularly, those past sins are not transformed into virtues, but the whole of her life is recapitulated and thus, in a sense, her history has changed.

  15. Fr. Maximus says:

    Dear Ochlophobist,

    You seem to indicate that even if Panagia had been a harlot, she would be “all-holy” purely by virtue of having borne Christ. Is that what you are trying to say?

    Also, there is a distinction between a temptation and a sin. God allows temptations for our benefit – He is often closest to us when we feel Him the least – but a sin can never be something good in and of itself. At best, the results of the sin can move us to repentence. Recapitulation does not mesn that Christ transforms commited sins into virtues. Christ took upon Himself the effects of sin, but did not commit sin itself, so there is no analogy between this and Him accepting death and transforming it into life.

  16. Here is St. Maximus on Christ’s inheriting a human nature “liable” to sins. (from On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ excerpted in a post on my blog.)

    “Ad Thalassium 42

    Q. How is it that we are said to commit sin and know it (1 Jn 1:8), while the Lord became sin but did not know it? How is it not more serious to become sin and not know it, than to commit sin and know it? For the Scripture says, For our sake God made him become sin who knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21).

    R. Having originally been corrupted from its natural design, Adam’s free choice corrupted along with it our human nature, which forfeited the grace of impassibility. Thus came sin into existence. The first sin, culpable indeed, was the fall of free choice from good into evil; the second, following upon the first was the innocent transformation of human nature from incorruption into corruption. For our forefather Adam committed two “sins” by his transgression of God’s commandment: the first “sin” was culpable, when his free choice willfully rejected the good; but the second “sin”, occasioned by the first, was innocent, since human nautre unwillingly put off its incorruption. Therefore our Lord and God, rectifying this reciprocal corruption and alteration of our human nature by taking on the whole of our nature, even had in his assumed nature the liability to passions which, in his own exercise of free choice, he adorned with incorruptibility. And it is by virtue of his assumption of this natural passibility that he became sin for our sake, though he did not know any deliberate sin because of the immutability of his free choice. [notes say that Maximus later in the Opusculum retracted any notion of Christ having a gnomic will that may be read into this passage]

    Therefore the Lord id not know “my sin”, that is, the mutability of my free choice. Neither did he assume nor become my sin. Rather, he became the “sin that I caused”; in other words, he assumed the corruption of human nature that was a consequence of the mutability of my free choice. For our sake he became a human being naturally liable to passions, and used the “sin” that I caused to destroy the “sin” that I commit. Just as in Adam, with his own act of freely choosing evil, the common glory of human nature, incorruption, was robbed-since God judged that it was not right for humanity, having abused free choice, to have an immortal nature-so too in Christ, with his own act of freely choosing the good, the common scourge of our whole nature, corruption, was taken away.

    At the resurrection of Christ, human nature was transformed into incorruption because his free choice was imutable. For God judged that it was right for man, when he did not subvert his free choice, once again to recover an immortal nature. By “man” here I mean the incarnate Logos in virtue of the fact that he united to himself, hypostatically, the flesh animated by a rational soul. For if the deviance of free choice introduced passibility, corruptibility, and mortality in Adam’s nature, it only followed that in Christ, the immutability of free choice, realized through his resurrection, introduced natural impassibility, incorruptibility, and immortality.

    …Accordingly he has driven sin, passion, corruption, and death from human nature, and the economy of Christ’s philanthropy on my behalf has become for me, once fallen through disobedience, a new mystery. For the sake of my salvation, Christ, through his own death, voluntarily made my condemnation his own, thereby granting me restoration to immortality.

    In many ways, I think, it has been shown in this brief discussion both how the Lord became sin but did not know it, and how humanity did not become sin but did commit and know sin-both the deliberate “sin” which man committed first, and the subsequent natural “sin” to which the Lord submitted himself on humanity’s account, even when he was completely free of the first kind of sin.”

  17. Lucian says:

    The corruption of our nature that Christ has inheritted from us through His Mother Mary is death. But He crushed death in Himself: “Oh, death, where is thy sting? Oh, grave, where is thy victory?”. As the Priests is singing at the very end of every Church service during this very period (from Easter to Pentecost), “Christ is risen! [Truly He is risen!] And upon us He bestowed everlasting life, let’s all fall down and worship His ressurection on the third day!”.

  18. Ken Hendrickson says:

    — Photios Jones wrote:
    > Panagia did fall. She inherited the
    > same corruption like the rest of us. In
    > fact, her passing on a corrupted humanity
    > to Christ, so in order for it to be
    > recapitulated, is the basis of our
    > redemption.

    There is much that I do not know, and much that I do not understand. However, it seems to me to be some sort of Christological heresy to claim that Jesus inherited a corrupted humanity from the Theotokos. He is like us in every way *except sin*.

    I believe what the Church teaches, even when I do not understand it.

    Glory to Jesus Christ!
    Glory to Him forever!
    Ken Hendrickson

  19. ochlophobist says:

    Miki,

    Good questions.

    No, it is not a reinterpretation simply.

    When the bread and wine become the Body and Blood, are we simply reinterpreting the bread and the wine? No. And when it becomes the Body and Blood the history of the bread and wine has changed, in part because a telos has been realized that now becomes a part of the bread and wine, even from the beginning of the bread and wine, though this did not have to be the case. Human freedom in cooperation with God’s grace brought about the realization of telos and the change in the history, as it were, of the bread and the wine.

    Likewise, when a man or woman becomes a new creation in Christ, they are not simply reinterpreted in a new manner. There is a substantial newness, some contemporary Orthodox even go so far as to speak of an ontological change, though others use phrases such as “becoming uncreated” – perhaps we need to be careful not to take any language of being too far. In any event there is a real newness, a substantial change in the life of the man or woman, which is again the realization or actualization of a telos which could either be freely accepted or freely rejected. God offers this telos to all men, but some realize this in a manner in which others do not. When one enters into communion with the eternal God, there is a real sense in which one’s past, present, and future are changed. The patterns of destruction and corruption in my former life become ways through which and from which God saves me – they come to aid my own awareness of my need for God, they give me something to repent of, and I can even be strengthened in knowing God’s mercy because I have known the turning away from sin. Speaking for myself, I have had times in my past in which I felt nothing but darkness, but now I see light when looking back on those times. One might say, “ah, but you now just reinterpret those times differently.” But I reply to this that had I not freely chosen to assent to God’s relentless mercy, those times would have been left in darkness. These past events have, in a sense, ontologically changed, because they now stand under the mercy found in those Mysteries which bear eternity.

    Our recapitulation in Christ is the straightening of our crooked paths – those paths we have already traveled, those we are on now, those we will travel. This has not to do with our remembering the former paths differently, it has to do with God re-membering those paths into straightness. The paths themselves are truly changed. To the person who is being saved in Christ, all is for his or her salvation, the entirety of the life is being transfigured. The eternal God who stands outside of time and space, and in Christ who stands at times within time and space, recreates the whole of the life, both in time and space and into eternity. We human men and women are amazing creatures, with the capacity to be fully present in this very particular time and place, and yet, in Christ, also able to be present before the eternal God in the heavenly places. And so the mystery, it is the changeless grace of the unchanging Triune God which changes and transfigures us, through these the unchanging dynamic energies of the eternal, immutable Holy Trinity whom we finite beings only ever know as newness.

  20. miki says:

    I have difficulty grasping recapitulation ‘history changes….but something of the substance of that history itself’, does that simply mean a reinterpretation? Are we initially blind and need reaffirmation of the true reality ( a king of divine perspective) or is there an actual change vis a`vis the Transfiguration. Is the substantive change ‘real’ now and affects the nature or does it work parallel to the corrupt nature.

    If all die then all natures are corrupt, does that assume the immortality of the divinized will only be revealed in the eschaton?

  21. Och,

    Your last post is awesome, and captures very the well the *liturgical* context of these things.

    Photios

  22. Ken,

    I’ve heard all the Romanist arguments for the Immaculate Conception, so they need not be rehearsed here. Look at St. John Chrysostom’s or St. Basil’s exegesis of the passages you describe. So much for some “Tradition about Mary” being passed down through the episcopate. Were they ignorant of the “apostolic deposit” on these issues? I really don’t think so. For them, only Christ is exempt from personal sinning, but even He inherited our corrupted humanity none-the-less, and recapitulated it into something that we all share in the Eschaton.

    From an Orthodox perspective she is called panagia not because of some immaculate grace that she had to stave off original sin (a non problem anyways), but that she co-operated with the Spirit of the Father in bringing about the Incarnation. Same with the New Eve type by St. Irenaeus, the parallel between Mary and Eve isn’t that they were immaculately (only Eve was) made from the beginning, but rather the parallel is that where one chose irrational movement (failing to keep the commandments), the other chose to bring about the New Life (Christ). There’s no reason whatsoever to read those types in the way that you suggest and rationalize about something that you do not know. Types that aren’t Christologically centered as referring to Christ, are not how the Fathers understand the OT texts. The texts are about Christ, not something about Mary. Any types that can be garnered from such texts about Mary, point to some truth about Christ. The Theotokos is a Christological truth that says far more about Christ then it says anything about Mary.

    That’s a very poor exegesis of Romans 5:14. The verse doesn’t imply in any way that no one other than Jesus sinned. Let’s look at what Romans 5:14 really says:

    Romans 5:14 (KJV):
    “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.”

    Death reigned over those who did not sin ***in the similitude*** of Adam. The hint is in previous verse 13: “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. ” The similitude is that God’s law was externally known by Adam and the Jews. The gentiles did not sin in the similitude of Adam because they did not have the Jewish feature of the law, yet they are still sinners and die. What verse 14 is talking about is that people DID die and DID sin between Adam and Moses even though they didn’t have the Covenant of the Law to make their sin very apparent. Yet Paul equally holds them accountable because they have the law written on their hearts and are without excuse (Rom 2:15). That’s the meaning of the verse, not some implication about sinless people, which is talking about the period of time between Adam and Moses. There are none righteous, not one.

    Photios

  23. ochlophobist says:

    Part of this theological problem, as it is conceived today, has to do with historicism and issues of time.

    When Mary said yes and bore Christ, within her finite and temporal body infinity and eternity was present. Mary lifted the human body above the cosmological determinisms found in the postlapsarian universe. If we look at her life and say she must have been utterly sinless before her assent, we are saying something akin to the notion that historical progress or some movement in time and space brings about the coming of God. But this is bottom up theology. When eternity breaks into postlapsarian orders, it does so on eternity’s terms. There is a sense in which Mary must have been very holy to say yes, but the perfection of the eternal Christ could not be achieved in and through history. It had to be achieved through the condescension of eternity to our time and space. When Christ comes, Mary, through her free assent, is at that point lifted out of her mere historical story. She is utterly immaculate in that moment, because the all perfect, holy, and eternal Christ is fully present in her. Her own past at that point is recapitulated into the eternal and perfect order of Christ, just as should happen with all of us sinners. When my life is recapitulated in Christ, my past sins are transformed from mere uglyness and blemish to a means God has used for my own healing – in other words, when a human person is recapitulated, the meaning of their own history changes (and not simply the interpretation of that history, but something of the substance of that history itself – if history can be said to have a substance). Thus whatever very minor sins the Theotokos might have committed prior to Christ do not matter when considering her role as God-Bearer. She is utterly immaculate as the Mother of God, because she bears the all perfect and all holy eternal one in the only manner one can bear this – perfectly, with holiness, and eternally – she is always His mother.

  24. ochlophobist says:

    The above strikes me as a fine example of the phenomenon of applying Evangelical Protestant interpretive methods to Orthodox texts. The word that is usually translated “immaculate” is also used liturgically in reference to other saints. One can find in the liturgical texts many descriptions of many saints which refer to their sanctity in absolute terms. We call ++Bartholomew his All Holiness. This, of course, refers to his office, which is blessed by the All Holy Spirit.

    There are strong patristics texts which are used by some to argue that the Theotokos never sinned in any fashion, in the same manner that Christ never sinned. There are patristic texts which are quite explicit about the Theotokos not having been perfect in the manner in which Christ lived a perfect human life, and even speak of her sin. One cannot point to liturgical texts and speak of this question as a settled theological matter for Orthodox. Remember that it is ultimately Greek liturgical texts that we are talking about here, and Greek liturgical rhetoric does not easily conform to the specific interpretive needs of late modern conservative Protestant literalisms.

    Some suggest that it is only after the Immaculate Conception was dogmatized by Rome that Orthodox began to question Mary’s sinlessness. But a cursory reading of the Father’s on the subject will inform one that this is not a modern theological issue, but has been a matter of theologumenon for a long, long time.

    Can the impure contain and encompass the pure? No, but then again neither can the finite contain and encompass the infinite. God took the greatest of care, and Mary achieved a higher degree of sanctity than any before or after her, save Christ. She is immaculate in her recapitulation of Christ in herself, she is spotless as the God-bearer, she is more honorable than any angelic order. But then again, all men and women who follow Christ are raised higher than the angels. The Theotokos is the icon of a human life fully deified. One can believe all these things regarding the Theotokos, and still believe that she did, in minor respects, err. Indeed, Mary’s yes to God carries greater iconic weight when an image of repentance is born with it. She speaks for all of corrupted humanity. She has known the burden of corruption, but is still, in Christ, the perfect Ark of the New Covenent. In her we see that a human person is free to fully assent to God. We would not see this so clearly if some sort of gymnastics in the economy of grace had to occur for this to happen.

  25. Ken Hendrickson says:

    — Photius Jones wrote:
    > Panagia did fall. She inherited the
    > same corruption like the rest of us. In
    > fact, her passing on a corrupted humanity
    > to Christ, so in order for it to be
    > recapitulated, is the basis of our
    > redemption.

    I must most strongly disagree with the above.

    Mary is, as we pray in the Divine Liturgy:
    % “Ever-blessed, Immaculate,
    % more honorable than the Cherubim,
    % and beyond compare more glorious
    % than the Seraphim”.

    What does it mean to be immaculate?? What are the roots of the word? Maculate means blotched, stained, smeared, impure, besmirched. Immaculate is the opposite: having no stain nor blemish, pure, containing no flaw nor error, spotlessly clean.

    Consider also the Biblical evidence.

    Compare 2 Sam 6:9 (in context) with Luke 1:43, and see that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. Look at the Old Ark. See that it was covered with gold, purified 7 times, inside and out, indicating a perfection of purification. Consider what care God took with the Ark (Exod 16 and Exod 25) that held the manna and his word (small-w). Would not God take even greater care of the Ark of the New Covenant? Can the impure contain and encompass the Pure?

    Consider what Song 6:9 says about the Theotokos: “my dove, *my perfect one*, … *pure child*”. Compare to Luke 1:42. Consider the even stronger statement of Gabriel in Luke 1:28: “Hail Mary, *full of grace*, the Lord is with you.”

    Compare Song 6:10 with Rev 12:1. “Grows like the dawn, as beautiful as the full moon, as pure as the sun, as awesome as an army”, and “clothed with the sun, moon under her feet, on her head a crown of twelve stars”.

    Mary is the mystical vine (Song 6:11).

    See also Song 5:2. “My dove, *my perfect one*!”

    Mary is the mystical Gate through which God entered the world (Ezek 44:1-2). She is truly the Theotokos.

    Mary is the burning bush which is not consumed (Exod 3:2). The word (small-w) of God came out of the burning bush. The Word (capital-W) of God came out of Mary. Mary was not consumed.

    Mary is the mystical Budding Rod. Just like Aaron’s rod budded without being watered or planted (Num 17:1-11), Mary, being a virgin, gave birth to God the Word.

    Mary is the mystical Ladder. In Jacob’s dream, the angels of God were ascending and descending from heaven to earth (Gen 28:12). It was from Mary that God Himself descended to earth.

    Mary is the Manna Pot. See John 6:58 and Exod 16:32-22). She delivers the Bread of Life.

    Consider also Romans 5:14 “even over those who had not sinned …”. This verse directly implies that there are some people (other than Jesus) who never committed sin personally, but were still under the curse of the original sin of Adam.

    Mary, like Jesus, completely followed the law of Moses. We have an example in Luke 2:22.

    Mary is the New Eve. In the very same way that God addressed Adam in the Garden of Eden, Jesus addresses Mary from the cross. Adam in Hebrew means man. God addressed the first man by calling him what he was. Likewise, we have, “Woman, behold your son”. (John 19:26)

    Jesus and Mary were exactly like Adam and Eve *before* they sinned, and they never turned away from God.

    Mary truly is the Theotokos. She is:
    % “Ever-blessed, Immaculate,
    % more honorable than the Cherubim,
    % and beyond compare more glorious
    % than the Seraphim”.

    Mary, most pure, immaculate, ever-blessed, pray for us!

    Ken Hendrickson

  26. ochlophobist says:

    Andrew,

    Excellent question. I agree with Photios above.

    1. St. Athanasius well covers why it is that Christ had to die, even die on a cross, in order to save mankind and thus the cosmos, instead of merely incarnating and living a perfect life. His thoughts are very helpful. You are probably familiar with them.

    2. Orthodox refer to persons who undergo the process of “natural death” as falling asleep or having reposed. This is not mere pious jargon. These mannerisms mean something very important. Because of corruption we undergo death, but now that death, for the Christian, is recapitulated into the death of Christ. Our death, as our whole life, is caught up into His death. Christ had to be hungry in order that we might be filled. Christ had to be thirsty that we might drink. Christ had no place to lay His head that we might be brought up to the heavenly places and be fully in God’s presence. Christ had to be broken that we might be healed. He had to die that we might live. He had to empty Himself in a manner not comprehensible to man in order that we might be restored to existence – that is, lives lived in the presence and love of the Word. This kenotic movement of God’s energies is mimetically imaged in the life of the Christian through ascesis. And for the Christian, our falling asleep is another aspect of our taking Christ and the kenotic way of Christ upon ourselves. Yes, we die because of our corruption (both collective and individual embraces of corruption), but now that death, because of Christ, can mean, in the very manner we die, the choice to exist, instead of the result of a choice not to exist. This is exactly what the witness of the martyrs teaches us. It is also the witness of any Christian who offers his or her own death up to God and let’s go of his or her claim to his or her body with the praise of God on his or her lips and the Name of Jesus in his or her heart.

    3. Thus, as the Christian understands, we no longer die according to nature as St. Athanasius means “the natural law of death,” but we die according in the presence and love of the Word. Our bodies may suffer through the same sort of thing in either event, but that same sort of thing now means something totally different, as the suffering has been recapitulated.

    4. But while only Christians may understand the new meaning of human repose after Christ, this does not mean that only Christian deaths have that meaning. Because of Christ’s death and Resurrection, all human deaths are caught up in Christ, whether this is realized by the person who dies or not. Christ will restore life to every human body and thus the meaning of every death has been recapitulated, but it is only in some that this recapitulation is given witness to in the manner of the death. Thus, you ask, “Why did the Panagia die” but you might as well ask, “Why does anyone die” after Christ? And we answer this, per above, by saying that human death after Christ does not mean what it meant before Christ, even if the body undergoes the same suffering, and that this same suffering is allowed during this time before the eschaton in order that we might more fully and completely enter into Christ and be recapitulated in Him.

  27. Andrew,

    Panagia did fall. She inherited the same corruption like the rest of us. In fact, her passing on a corrupted humanity to Christ, so in order for it to be recapitulated, is the basis of our redemption.

    Photios

  28. Andrew says:

    Why did the Panagia die, even though she never fell? I can’t understand why this happened under the light of what you wrote.

  29. St. Anselm of Canterbury:

    “The first [part of the book] contains the objections of infidels, who despise the Christian faith because they deem it contrary to reason; and also the reply of believers; and, in fine, leaving Christ out of view (as if nothing had ever been known of him), it proves, by absolute reasons, the impossibility that any man should be saved without him. Again, in the second book, likewise, as if nothing were known of Christ, it is moreover shown by plain reasoning and fact that human nature was ordained for this purpose, viz., that every man should enjoy a happy immortality, both in body and in soul; and that it was necessary that this design for which man was made should be fulfilled; but that it could not be fulfilled unless God became man, and unless all things were to take place which we hold with regard to Christ.” [Preface, Cur Deus Homo]

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