Gospel of righteousness means justification by works?

January 12, 2012

It is a pressing issue for some studying the Scriptures that on one hand we are given the message that we are not justified by our works and on the other hand that we must obey the commandments of God and do good works for which we will be judged. How are the two compatible?

The solution to this issue is found in the teaching of deification, which is the key to the gospel message. Deification means union with God which means not only connection with Him but also participating ourselves in the fullness of His life and existence. That is participating in His infinite and eternal life beyond our limited time/space existence. Once this is understood as the promise of God to man we can see why we are called to be perfect as He is perfect and holy as He is holy. That is we are called to live His righteousness which we know and do through obedience to His commandments. However, we also realise that we are unable of our own strength to achieve perfection because we are imperfect, which is why we confess ourselves as sinners. It is impossible for time/space creatures to transcend their condition with its limits and weaknesses by their own strength/energies. Thus, it is impossible to be justified by our works. Obedience to the Law in itself is incapable of saving us. Rather to transcend our condition we must be helped by God, He must give us to share in His energies that we may live as He does. That is we are saved by the grace of God, which sets us free from our limits to participate in His free eternal life. We are not saved by grace to escape from works but to participate in eternal works that transcend our own works. Why does not God just do this for us all and why must we still obey? Because to participate in the life of God means that we must both be unique persons and free. God cannot make us good only of Himself else it would deny our freedom and unique personhood and we would no longer be the ones participating nor would we be living as He lives freely. This is why we must have faith because in this we express our free will to live as God lives. Through faith we own God’s life as our life by obedience and doing His will. This means that we truly share in His life freely of our own will and living His life with Him. He is the only one who is truly free and only by sharing in His freedom, by uniting to His will through obedience, do we also become truly free.

So, deification means that we must live the righteousness of God as our own but our own good works of themselves cannot save us because we cannot transcend our state of life without the grace of God.


Freedom of being/existence and us

April 12, 2011

A number of years ago having completed a course on Philosophy of Religion being exposed to western arguments for the existence of God, I was of the opinion that even if these arguments were only true at a theoretical level and not at an ontological level it was better to believe in God who was theoretically necessary than only in a system without God and without any reason to be. However, since then my opinion has evolved to realise that God does not exist by any necessity because such a necessity must preexist, or at least coexist with God, whether it be a greater God or some logical principle and thus limit God. Here are some thoughts regarding the existence of God, freedom and our existence.

God is all existence and all life. This statement must not be understood as pantheism, our existence is truly other than his existence, but that everything about us is an image of who He is, or more specifically we are a created, ex nihilo, image as the Son is the uncreated image of God; as the Fathers say all our logoi are in the Logos. (This idea sets orthodox Christian thought apart from those who conceive God, or gods, in man’s image as “other” in human terms such as the pagan Greeks, Mormons or some Protestants tend to inadvertently do and from those who see man as God, even if only partially, yet not as truly “other” such as in Buddhism or Platonism.) There is no truly independent existence apart from God in any form, such as matter, energy or even principle, logic or space/emptiness. So nothing could be said to cause God’s existence other than himself. Thus, God is completely free from any necessity upon himself; His existence and life is truly free.

Does God’s nature necessitate his existence? This can only happen if one can say that God necessitates himself otherwise one must put God’s nature prior to himself to be effectively a prior external principle, which would contradict it being God’s nature. God necessitating himself would mean that God causes his own existence, yet because God is free then his causing of himself must also be free. Thus, one cannot say that God’s nature necessitates his existence; nature is also free and does not necessitate.

To say that God freely causes himself seems to imply that God exists before himself. This would be true if cause and effect where purely sequential but if the cause and effect are simultaneous and eternal then there is no logical contradiction. Also, this understanding of God’s existence means there must be a priority of person over essence, as only a person can be said to freely cause his own existence.

If God freely exists then one could say that God exists because he wants to exist, else it would not be free, and because he knows himself to exist; if he is ignorant of his existence then he can’t be said to cause his existence. If he knows himself then this process must eternally generate an exact living image of himself that is enhypostasised distinct from himself. Without an image there would be no knowledge and hence no knowing. The knowing is not merely conceptual but experiential and so the image is not merely an abstract but a living image; a distinct hypostasis/person. This person is properly called the Son of God as being generated and caused by and out of God, who thus is the Father, and yet is also with God, in God and is God being everything that God is. It is inconceivable to consider that God was ever without the Son, else God would not be, yet because God freely exists the Son is also freely generated. The Son is both out of God and yet in God. This seems to be a contradiction as being out and in at once would require two contradictory states and raise the questions of how can he be out of and yet not divided or in and yet not confused there being nothing to distinguish the Son from the Father other than being generated? These problems cease to exist once it is understood that there is a third person, the Spirit. The Spirit both unites and distinguishes the Son so that the Son can be understood to be both out of and in God without contradiction, division or confusion. The Spirit shows that the Son is out of God by proceeding into him, thus ‘moving’ from God, the Father, to the Son. This procession is only possible should the Son truly be out of the Father, which means having his own hypostasis because there is no possibility of being spatially outside God. Yet, the Spirit also shows that the Son is in God and united to God because he shares the same Spirit as the Father, he does not have another Spirit of his own. The Spirit must also be God, else his procession to rest in the Son could not be said to show that the Son is in God; God cannot be divided into parts and connect only in part, He is simple and is always present completely. Also, the Spirit must have a distinct hypostasis, else he could not be truly said to proceed distinctly into the Son from, or out of, the Father. Thus, one cannot conceive of the generation of the Son without the procession of the Spirit nor the procession of the Spirit without the generation of the Son. Nor can one conceive of the Father without the Son and Spirit. Nor can one consider the three without returning to the One and the ‘monarchy’ of the Father, because the Son is the image of the Father; the manifested Word of the thought of God about himself.

Does the logic expressed above necessitate God’s existence in some way? Because logic “demands” that God has a Son and Spirit and yet freely causes himself, does this not mean that the logic is external to God? Couldn’t God just be anything? Firstly, the logic we use exists only because God exists in a particular way. Thus, if God was not true or truth then there could be no logic to validate truth. If God did not know himself then we could not know ourselves, let alone anything at all about him. Because he knows himself then we have a possibility to know him, although only so far as our limited created being allows. Although God is free to exist without any logic necessitating his existence, this does not mean that God can exist in any way whatsoever. This is because God cannot deny himself, else he would cease to exist. If God was to exist in a form that couldn’t exist in and of itself, such as a banana, then he would effectively deny himself. We can quickly see that he couldn’t exist as any other created thing, material or immaterial. If God was to deny anything about himself then he would deny himself because although we can speak of many distinct energies or operations of God they cannot be divided and denied independently from each other else He would not be simple. God cannot exist of parts else it must be said that the parts existed prior to God for him to be composed of them and/or one must imply space/time to God to separate the parts from each other. Neither is God absolutely simple else he couldn’t exist because existing must be distinguishable from creating and from willing and also if God is equated to existence then we would come to a meaningless situation of saying that existence exists without there being something to exist which is no different than saying nothing exists; the something must be distinct from its act of existence to truly speak of it existing. Also, because there is distinction without division in God we can have logic and truth. If the distinct are contradictory then they could not be united without denying themselves. Nor could they be divided without denying their being of God. Thus, it is because God freely wants to be that we can have logic and truth, with all other things, and can use the logic to confirm who God is. These things don’t exist apart or above him of their own right. (Note: the logic about God and his existence is not knowing God. Knowing God is experiential not merely conceptual. Knowing God is only possible by experiencing his life from within, that is in practicing the virtues and in prayer, which only pertains to knowing his energies/operations and not his essence, which is impossible to know/experience without eternally being God.)

If we are to share in the existence and life of God, then we too must share in the freedom of this existence. Thus, our existence cannot be necessitated by external power but must be free. This freedom is expressed most clearly in our free will. We are to exist united God only if we freely want to exist united to him. If our existence is not free then it would not be the image and likeness of God’s existence and incapable of being united to him and of sharing his existence. Yet, we too must exist as God exists, that is in his energies/operations. We are not free to exist as we want to exist because this would imply that there is sustainable existence apart from God, which would imply that this existence would have its energy from a source other than God implying another god or eternally self-existing something. While we have a certain amount of energy given to us by God, of itself, because it is limited, it cannot sustain us eternally and so we must necessarily spiral into non-existence or death apart from God. We end up denying ourselves as God would deny himself if he were to exist other than he does.

Also, without the Son we could not exist because without the generation of the eternal image of God there could be no created image of God. If the image of God was only conceptual and not generated ‘out of’ God then creation could only be conceptual and not created other than God. If there was no Spirit then creation, being other than God, could have no means of coming into God; it would remain estranged from God and fall into non-existence; rather it could never exist because there can be no existence totally apart from God. We can only come to God in the Son because all knowledge/experience of God is in the Son else we would deny the Son is God, divide God, or say that God does not know/experience himself and hence deny God. Without the Spirit is it impossible to be a son of God because one cannot exist as son without the Spirit. God must be all in all for us to exist eternally and yet we do not lose our unique personal existence as both other and in God due to the reality of the tri-hypostatic/personal God.

Finally, we do not revere, bless, and praise God because of some external standard of meetness and rightness but because God is worthy and just in himself of our reverence, blessing and praise and this is correct for us because we are in his image and likeness.


The Light of the Saints

January 4, 2011

Several events within my memory stand out. As with most the big and happy highlights are all there: my wedding, my daughter’s baptism, my reception into the Orthodox Church. Some there also are bitter: sitting with my father as he died, visiting the matushka of the priest who had catechized me and chrismated me on the day after he had died. Some of the memories are of a different kind, and involve more professional and academic matters. I remember a wonderful evening in Oslo, Norway, at the home of the Rev. Dr. Roald Flemestad, now Vicar General of the Nordic Catholic Church. The evening began about 6 and ran till 3 AM. There I had the best cognac ever I have tasted- – Otard – – but as well the humane and lively company of my hosts (Fr. Roald’s wife, a PhD in Medieval French literature, had made the meal that afternoon, all the while on a conference call with her employers, IBM) and their other wonderful guests, various professors and clerics.

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Scraps II

October 30, 2010

Just some bits from two of the most well-known representatives of the Nouvelle Théologie, namely, Fr. Louis Bouyer of the Oratory, and Henri cardinal de Lubac, S.J.

Fr. Bouyer, in his The Meaning of Sacred Scripture (p. 151) writes

“before examining this singular expression [see God only “from behind.”], let us notice how, in this page in which the divine transcendence finds one of its most exacting formulas, the antropomorphisms, far from disappearing, accumulate. Read the rest of this entry »


Saint Gregory Palamas: Time Traveller Extraordinaire

August 10, 2010

“Then they asked, ‘Is it altogether necessary to speak of wills and energies on the subject of Christ?’ He answered, ‘Altogether necessary if we want to worship in truth, for no being exists without natural activity. Indeed, the holy Fathers say plainly that it is impossible for any nature at all to be or to be known apart from its essential activity. And if there is no such thing as a nature to be or to be known without its essential characteristic activity, how is it possible for Christ to be or be known as truely God and man by nature without the divine and human activities? For according to the Fathers, the lion who loses his roaring ability is no lion at all, and a dog without the power to bark is not a dog.  And any other thing which has lost something naturally constiuative of it is not any more what it was.'”

The Trial of Maximus the Confessor, 23


Could a Maverick Go East?

March 7, 2010

Over at Bill Vallicella’s ever estimable blog, Maverick Philosopher, Bill has two  posts on divine simplicity and free will. Bill does a fine job of showing why the former as understood in the Augustinian/Thomistic tradition is not compatible with libertarian free will. They in the main represent my own thinking on the matter. There are a number of things here that are interesting. First is that simplicity pars down all objects of choice to one.  This presents just as much a problem for creaturely freedom as it does for divine freedom as well as freedom for Christ’s human will.

Second, in the conversation there, it is apparent that the problem is recognized but there still remains a desire to maintain some form of simplicity and libertarian freedom. I’ve seen something like this before in the work of Thomas Morris in his exchange with William Mann some time back. Morris comes very close to in a number of ways to Maximus’ distinction between essence and energy.  I think they are right, but the Christian tradition as they are familiar with it doesn’t give the any live options to work with. Part of what motivates Christians doing philosophy of religion to maintain the Augustinian/Thomistic view in face of these objections is not so much that they think such a view is true but rather that they would be giving up traditional theological ground. But if Maximus (and the Orthodox tradition) is right, one can maintain traditional theological positions, its just that the traditional ground is wider than was previously thought pace Augustinian/Thomistic philosophical hegemony.

As for contingent knowledge, it seems that what most people who reject simplicity a la Thomas in philosophy of religion do is move God further down the metaphysical spectrum. (The same is done with the doctrine of divine timelessness a la simultaneity.) I don’t think this is the way to go. The way is not down, but up and so far “up” that we get off the spectrum entirely. If we combine the e/e distinction with the doctrine of huperousia there is another way out of the problem, or at least a plausible line of philosophical development for one.  Part of the problem is change and error. Roughly, if God’s knowledge were to change, then it seems God in fact didn’t know and was in error. Given divine perfection, this isn’t possible and not welcome either. But what if the kind of  “change” that entails substantial alteration via motion/activity is limited to things that “be?”  If God is huperousia, or as Plato remarked concerning the Good, “on the other side of being” then the kind of problematic change envisioned is in principle precluded and cannot be attributed to God. Personal activities could be true of God without implying a defect or a loss of freedom in creatures whose acts God foreknows. (This has parallels to issues in Agent Causation.) Second, the actualization of different truths across logically possible worlds would not entail accidental change in God either, since accidents inhere in substances that be.  Whatever the thing it is, it isn’t substantial and it isn’t an accident, but something else, a specific kind of potency akin to the possessing of a power that is brought to act by the agent whose power it is. Now Thomists worry that if there is something brought to act in God, then there is something antecedent to God moving in terms of actualizing the divine essence. But if what we are talking about is deity, but not the divine essence and is in turn brought about by the divine persons, then such a worry seems mistaken since the kind of actualization entails no alteration in the divine essence and no pure passive potency either.

In any case, Vallicella’s entries are worthwhile reading.


Divine Passivity and Simplicity in Eunomius

December 15, 2009

“It is interesting, however, that though the Neo-Arians made a clear distinction between God’s ungenerated essence and God’s activity (ένεργεία) as Father, Eunomius treated Jn. 14:28 as if it said, ‘The ungenerated essence who sent me is greater than I.”

Kopecek, A History of Neo-Arianism vo. 2, 320.

“From his introductory remarks it is clear that Eunomius intended to base a number of Part III’s arguments upon a refinement of the Middle Platonic theory of language Neo-Arianism had inherited. Like Albinus, Eunomius assumed that there is a ‘natural conformity of names with things’ and that ‘a name is a tool meant for teaching and differentiating the essence of each thing.’ Because it follows that a difference of names indicates a differences of essence, God who is ‘ungenerated’ and the Son who is ‘generate’ must be different in essence.’

Ibid., 321.

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