Calvinism, as was said previously, is a very elastic term. Broadly, it is a movement that has its origins in Zurich, and refined through Geneva. Often it is seen as flowering in the Puritan and Presbyterian movements in England, though much of the Puritan mind was drawn from Zurich from Heinrich Bullinger and Peter Martyr Vermigli, among others. But Bullinger, Martyr and Calvin were largely of one mind on most issues, the Eucharist excepted. The origin of the term seems to have come from its Catholic interlocutors, most notably Thomas Stapleton, though the word generally used was Calvinian. This helps us little in defining what it is. It is one of those words like liberal or conservative, though I don’t think quite so. Here, and especially here, I will give it the meaning of those who believe in forensic justification, effected in the Christian through the decree of God without reference to any faith, or faith foreseen. This definition would certainly take in not only Calvin, but also Martyr and Bullinger, and as well Melanchthon (though Luther is problematic, but not for the reasons the new Finnish interpretation of Luther teaches).
Let us lay aside this for a moment, and turn to the teachings of fathers on the subject of salvation. We find in Irenaeus already the teaching that the Son of God assumed our flesh in order to make us divine (AH IV.38.4-5). This is most famously in St. Athanasius, “God became a man so that man might become God.” Irenaeus also informs us that the Word of God is that image of God after which Adam was fashioned (AH III.22.3). St. Athanasius picks this up in De Incarnatione when he speaks of Christ being the original model from which our portrait is painted. Thus it is that He must come again, so that the Image of God can be rectified. These strands are found in all the writers of the Greek tradition: Damascene, Maximus, the Cappadocians. Central to all of this is that the Incarnation has healed us, bringing us what we lost through the corruption of death that we inherited from Adam, and the guilt we have incurred for our own sins. For the Orthodox, death comes as a result of Adam’s primordial failure, his primordial or original sin. For the Orthodox, original sin pertains only to Adam’s transgression, and is not something that his descendants inherit from him. What we get from Adam is corruption and death, which lead us to sin, and separate us from God, in that we live in death. The fall has removed from us the ability to see what we ourselves are, and the “inner essence of created things.” This phrase recurs often in Orthodox monastic writing, and gives the background to St. Maximus’s “virtues are natural things.” The historian of ideas, F. Edward Cranz would have termed this the “pervasive self” (his work focused on Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Augustine, St. Anselm, Nicholas Cusanus, and Luther). In this regard we are left with the unhappy translation of St. Maximus that virtues are natural things, for St. Maximus would not have known what we mean by that term. What St. Maximus had in mind (and this is true in all the writers of the ancient world) was not some independently, self-subsisting res or pragmata respectively (the Latin and Greek terms we translate “things”), but particulars whose true meanings reside within all rational souls. Thus the soul is bound to creation not merely by dint of its being like the cosmos, created; but because man is both a microcasm and a mediator of ultimate reality, one of the significances to St. Maximus’s statement about the One Logos being the many logoi.
With all this in mind we must now turn to the notion of what it is that Christ’s Incarnation accomplished. First, as we can see in St. Irenaeus and St. Athanasius, the Incarnation was not a reaction to the Fall, nor was it merely part of a plan by which God effected his greater glory, a subset of the larger doctrine of predestination (which from the quotes from Calvin’s Institutes from the day’s earlier post it most clearly is), but was how God had ordered the world from the beginning in order that we His creatures would have communion with Him. As created, our natures possessed their inner essences, founded upon the realities of the energies peri theou – – around God (to use St. Maximus’s terms). These are determinative of what human nature is, and as such they are not liable to disintegration, alteration, mutation, or even annihilation. Were this the case, then sin is certainly greater than the Divine act (and I think St. Paul has something to say somewhere about that). What corruption does is turn us away from life. It does not bring guilt, for that comes from our own sins, which it is inevitable that we all do. Death has made us misuse our virtues and turn them into wrongly ordered or disordered passions. A simple illustration will have to suffice, but one that is very apropos to our discussion: the virtue of self-preservation, to protect our life, can be carried to the extreme of cowardice, in which case the vice makes us turn to our own wrong desires as ends in themselves, into a dialectic not of a choice among goods, but into a choice against the Divine order.
The proper ends of our lives we always have within us, but they must be refined through the proper disciplining of the body, which is more than neglect or a straightening of the will (that fighter who does more than shadow-boxing). Thus the virtues are natural realities, present in us, and in all God’s creation, and in the Divine Logos himself. Christ comes to turn us back from death, and into the light of the knowledge of God, shining in the face of Jesus Christ. In this way one should read II Corinthians 3 and 4. Salvation is being transfigured. The word St. Paul uses in 3.18 is the same as was used by the Evangelists in describing the transfiguration, it is a metamorphosis, and effected by the Spirit. We begin at baptism to have our minds renewed, so that we can see what is that good and perfect will of God. We as fallen have within us our personal mode of willing, the gnomic will, which misuses our natural will by choosing things which are not properly part of our created nature: i.e., we choose things for the ends that are death, and not life. We only come to see things what they are by askesis. This is how St. Maximus elaborates on the virtues being natural by saying that we need askesis so we can develop into what we were created for (the predestinations of God). Christ, as the Divine Logos, had no gnomic will; His personal mode of willing was that of the Son of God. He saw always what the proper and good ends for which all things were created; we don’t. Only by partaking of the Divine life of Christ through the sacramental and ascetic life found in His body, the Church, can we obtain to the true Image again, can we come to that true Light and true Life: “in Thy Light we see light.” The eradication of the gnomic will is only found in that which is true life. When modern secularists speak about sex being natural they are speaking about nothing other than our disordered understanding of it, and not as it exists within the properly ordered world of the renewed creation. Thus there is no imputed righteousness, a category distinct from that righteousness present in us at creation, but which has been marred and soiled by corruption. When we come to Christ we come to what we were truly created to be, but never came to because of Adam’s transgression and our own willing to death. Righteousness is thus never extrinsic to us; we were created for the end of life in God, to partake in the Love of God that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have shared in before the world was. This love is even now present in all, but for those outside of Christ, they have misused it as a personal end in and of itself, as opposed to an end within the life in Christ.
Asceticism is not merely some self-abnegating flagellation of what we are, but a refining of ourselves, by the grace of Christ eradicating our ‘old man’. We can then see all things as they properly are, and how properly to be used: we no longer think of food as mere delight of the palate, but as a means to enjoy God’s kingdom. This is why Schmemann wrote in For the Life of the World, that all the world as a sacrament, a gift from God to us. Choices are not merely “shall I have the 12 oz. ribeye, or the 16 oz. T-bone” (oh wait, it is our Lady’s fast), “between the tofu burger and the shrimp?” It is realizing that God has given us all good things to enjoy, but knowing that nothing exists as a bare end merely to extend my existence.