“Yesterday, the eighteenth of the month, which was holy Mid-Pentecost, the patriarch sent me a message, saying,: ‘What church do you belong to? Constantinople? Rome? Antioch? Alexandria? Jerusalem? Look here, all of them are united together with the provinces subject to them. If, therefore, you belong to the catholic church, be united, lest perhaps you devise a strange path by your way of life and you suffer what you don’t expect…’Listen, then,’ they said. ‘The master and the patriarch have decided, following an instruction from the pope of Rome, that you will be anathematised if you do not obey, and that you will be sentenced to the death they have determined.'”
The Letter of Maxmus to Anastasius, His Disciple (CPG 7701)
About a year ago, his Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah addressed the meeting of the ACNA at which he delineated a number of things that must be jettisoned were real ecumenical dialogue to occur between the Orthodox and this newest iteration of Anglicanism. Among the eschewed was what his Beatitude called “the heresy of Calvinism.” That very weekend, while attending a reception for my nephew John and his new bride Becca, her father, a minster of the Reformed Episcopal Church, and a friend of mine from some years back (more than twenty: we had attended seminary together, we both served as clergy in the PCA parish in Allentown, PA), accosted me wanting to know what was heretical about Calvinism. The following post(s) is my reply.
This, like any essay on some historical ism, immediately demands an explanation of what exactly that ism entails. The matter becomes more urgent when certain people wish to rearrange categories at one time more-or-less settled, and with these disputes I shall have little to say. By “these” I mean the suppliants of the erstwhile Bishop Thomas Durham (aka N. T. Wright) and his putative new readings of Paul, and the tentacles of such readings that have ensnared contemporary Reformed circles under the sobriquet of Federal Vision. To be just, federal vision predates N. T. Durham’s musings by decades, many tracing it back to the disquiet surrounding Norm Shepherd at Westminster Seminary in the early 80s. I remember at the time thinking Shepherd’s stance odd, and later in the decade, having fallen in with a circle sympathetic to Shepherd (the aforementioned PCA parish in Allentown) due to some sacramental and ecclesiological affectations on my part, I found Shepherd more to my newly acquired taste. It is all now too easy to see such readings’ incoherence and inconsistency, both with the Westminster Standards, and with Calvin (though I do not equate the two), and like the Finns with Luther, all seemingly suffering from a case of ‘deification envy’. Thus for them, claims to be “Calvinist” at best must come with the obscene caveat “Calvinism better-informed.” All the arguments about Federal Vision and its accouterments I shall leave to one side, for they do not concern the basic Orthodox critiques: perhaps they are of great weight, but not to the basic problems as the Orthodox see them, for they concern matters “after the fact”. That is, they don’t address the questions of predestination, satisfaction theories of the atonement, and human union with Christ based upon human nature’s redemption through union with the Incarnate Logos. Thus, whether one wishes to sail on R. C. Sproul’s end of the Reformed boat, or on Jim Jordan’s, it is all of apiece for the Orthodox.
“At the same time, in spite of these laudable efforts, [Paul Jacobs and Richard Muller] it is difficult to avoid the impresison that at a crucial level Calvin has failed to integrate his doctrine of election thoroughly with the broader trinitarian theology of revelation, redemption, and human response that we are highlighting here. For example, in Comm. John 17:9, Calvin asserts that Christ ‘commends to the Father only those whom the Father himself willingly loves.’ Here, as at many other points, the will of the Father is understood as something omniously arbitrary, rather than as being intrinsically and perichoretically related to the divine manifestation of grace in the Son. Examples could be multiplied. It appears that in spite of the helpful trinitarian direction Calvin has taken in formulating his undersanding of the divine-human relationship, at the point of the doctrine of election his normal emphasis on the thorough perichoresis of Father, Son and Spirit in the divine operations has been effectively and inexplicably suspended.”
Philip Walker Butin, Revelation, Redemption and Response: Calvin’s Trinitarian Understanding of the Divine-Human Relationship, Oxford, 1995, 168, ednt. 6.
“It may be taken as further evidence of his committment to the perichoresis of the trinitarian hypostaseis in God’s economic work that Calvin consistently qualifies the statement that ‘God is the proper object of faith’ with the immediate affirmation that access to God is only through Christ (1159 Institutes II.6.2,4; cf. III.2.6), which appears to turn the relationship around, asserting that the Father offers Christ to us ‘as the goal of our faith’). However, as we have suggested earlier, Calvin is not entirely consistent in focusing faith on God’s benevolence as expressed in Christ. His commitment to the doctrine of the ‘double decree’ (cf. 1559 Institutes III.21.1ff.) leads to the a priori exclusion of the reprobate from this Christological access to God by faith. This results at certain points in severe tension between his otherwise trinitarian paradigm of revelation, redemption, and human response and his doctrine of election. For example, in the1159 Institutes III.2.9-12, he appears to theologically justify the concept of the ‘double decree’ by making a deliberate exception to his normally characteristic insistence that the work of the Son and the Spirit be held together in the exonomy of redemption. Thus-in the attempt to explain why some who appear to believe are not ultimately saved (vf. Hebrews 6:4-6)-he can speak of a ‘lower working of the Spirit…in the reprobate.’ This stirs in them a sense that God is merciful toward them and allows them to ‘recognize his grace,’ but apparently operates apart from the effectual grace that God offers in the Son, and hence does not lead to saving faith (1559 Institutes III.2.11). It seems that Calvin never faced the omnious theological implicaitons of this move for a doctrine of the Trinity that otherwise wants to hold that God’s immanent trinitarian relations are consistently reflected in the ad extra activity of the hypostaseis. In addition, at this point he seems inexplicably to suspend his otherwise rigorous insistence on the thoroughgoing perichoresis for the doctrine of the divine decrees. Rather, he applies that paradigm only to the issue of the elect believer’s assurance of election, while the operation of election itself is apparently excempted from the consistency with God’s otherwise trinitarian nature, and left to an inscrutable divine will.”
Ibid., 189., ednt. 81.
Since there seems to be widespread misunderstanding regarding the heresy of Nestorianism and what Nestorius actually taught, I’ve decided to post some notes illustrating and explicating Nestorius’ teaching. I have used McGuckin’s, Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy. I’ve numbered selections for ease of reference. There are a number of things to notice in the notes. Notice the problem of mixture. This was a significant issue all by itself in antiquity since for Platonists as well as Aristotle, matter was not intrinsically extensional as the modern conception has it. A mixture was a meeting of powers. Notice also that Nestorius takes the will to be almost exclusively hypostatic rather than natural so that there is only one will in “Christ.” Terms like “Christ” also do not refer to the eternal Logos exclusively but the end result of the union. There is also an apparent confusion between person and nature as manifested in Nestorius’ language concerning the eternal hypostasis of the Logos,where hypostasis seems to do double duty to refer to the divine essence as well as the divine person. A person then seems to be an instance of a kind. It is entirely unclear where or what the divine person of the Logos is. Also notice the extrinsic relation he posits between the two instantated essences or “hypostases” where one uses the other in an instrumental way such that the union transcends nature and is one of “grace.” Christ was then the chief moral examplar. It isn’t hard to see why the Pelagians cuddled up to the Nestorians. On the other end, the instruemtnalization of Christ’s humanity with the union as one of “grace” as superior to nature maps onto Augustine’s Christology. Some overlap into semiotics is also important as well as the preceding history of medical science in the notion of prosopon as a “sign” of a nature or a somewhat metaphysically thined out energy.
1. “To be fully human, on the other hand, demands that one must be ready to attribute to Christ the fully panoply of human characteristics, excepting sin which is not a ‘humanising’ characteristic or even a defining human attribute in any case. He must have a human mind, a human soul with human feelings choices and limitations, both mental and physical, involving him in a range of testing situations (the temptations of the Lord) which proved and refined his virtue as a man, and which involved him inexorably in all the suffering consequent on being human. Nestorius was unswerving on the point that this demanded that the approach of Apollinaris represented a dead-end…here it will suffice to remark that Apollinaris had found no place for a human limited consciousness in Christ, or for a human soul which could be considered as the seat of genuine human choices. Apollinaris’ logic demanded that these things must be sacrificed in the interests of the unity of the person of Christ, if one were to accept the infinite mind of the Logos inhabited his human frame. Nestorius took the earlier Christological heresy of Docetism as an extreme form of the same tendency in Apollinaris to acknowledge merely the appearance of fleshly limitations in the divine Christ who was really unlimited.
For Nestorius it was this tendency to absorb or evaporate away the human reality in the face of the divine that was the chief deficiency of Apollinaris’ heresy, and like Gregory Nazienzen before him he attacked such presuppositions on soteirological grounds, for a theory of incarnation that wiped away the human reality in the advent of the deity constituted not only a failure of revelation theology but an inability to value the extraordinary role which the Christian Gospel gave to human experience in its conception of God’s redeeming work. Nestorius taught that such ‘absorption theory’ in Christology was sub-christian or mythological, inevitably involving its proponents in concepts of incarnation based upon Krasis or mixture. He was ever on the look out for the ‘mixture’ or ‘confusion’ of divine and human spheres of reality in Christological discourse, and regarded this as the most serious deficiency of Cyril’s work. He regarded all sense of ‘mixture’ as inevitably connoting change, and even the annihilation, of the individual elements that were so mixed.”
John Anthony McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, SVS, 2004, 130-131.
“If Adam had been created upright (rectus ) and without defects (sine ullo uitio ), how could he possibly lack the gift of final perseverance? Augustine responds by saying that Adam was not lacking in this respect, but that he lost that gift when he fell from the state of grace in which God has created him. Moreover, the real difficulty arises as the logical consequence of the first statement, viz. : if Adam was perfect, how could he, in fact, lose his perfection, and sin against God?
“Analogously [to the angels], the first man, had he so willed could have remained in his original state of uprightness (rectitude) and bliss (beatitudo) without any defects or faults. Had he stood firm using his free will in accordance with God’s plan, instead of abusing the gift God had given, he too would have received, like the angels who did not rebel against God, eternal, perfect bliss and happiness of resting in God’s beneficent regard. Having freely abandoned God, Adam was condemned to be abandoned by God, together with his heirs who share in his sin.”
“Since the time of Adam’s fall and condemnation in which all men became obstricti, only Christ’s redemptive and gratuitous death is able to save those predestined, through God’s design, for salvation. This redemptive grace is great but at the same time different (magna, sed dis parem) from the gratia laeta …Mankind then requires not so much a laetior gratia as a potentior gratia, a more powerful grace than that given to Adam, namely the grace that comes only from the incarnate Son of God, Christ the Savior, through whom human beings are enabled to overcome the sinful desires of the flesh…the grace accorded to Adam was ultimately dependent on his own free will which having been perfectly created, was able to decide whether to remain in perfection and persevere in justice of abandon it. The grace accorded to Adam’s heirs through Christ, instead is more powerful (plus potest), not only because it gives man the possibility of doing good and persevering in it, but above all because it makes him desirous of that same good.”
“In Augustine’s eyes, divine grace is ‘one’, even though it operates on different levels (or regimes, temps), and is per se efficacious at any stage. Adam was left completely free in his decision for good or evil, and yet could not have desired and chosen good, nor persevered in it, except under the sovereign influence of God’s bountiful grace. On the other hand, the internal action exercised by Christ’s grace on Adam’s descendants, an action which has to be sought ‘plus loin,-et plus bas’, possesses the prodigious feature of providing fallen human nature with the capability of following righteousness in an unquestionable and unfailing manner. This does not mean that the human being remains passive before grace, but certainly, de facto, he remains a secondary co-operator, subordinate and subservient to the agency of grace…In other words, if primordial operative grace did preserve intact the human (and angelic) ability to obey or disobey the will of God, in Adam’s heirs, this ability would seem to be overshadowed from the beginning by the ‘Christic’ grace, the direct cause of mankind’s desire for good and of its perseverance in it.”
I wrote this a long time ago, before this blog existed when I was writing on Kimel’s Pontificationsblog. I get requests for it and it is easier to just post it than to send out emails over and over again. Since it was originally a blog post, I have cleaned it up a bit and made it more or less a stand alone piece.
Anglicans in Exile
As a former Anglican myself I can sympathize with the troubles of my former brethren. On the one hand they do not see any good reason to abandon the tradition as it was handed on to them. Their problem is that they seem to be forced to leave the communion, but not the tradition that they are in. It is this loyalty that keeps them in place. Certainly loyalty has its limits and there is eventually a point where someone has to jump ship. I agree with many people who have already articulated the idea that going to Rome the eternal city (because after all, there’s always Rome!) because of problems in Anglicanism seems less than justified. By the same token I would agree with them that going to Constantinople for the same reason also lacks justification on that basis alone. But still, there is the pressing reality of what is going on in ECUSA and even in England. These are something like William James’ “forced decisions.” One doesn’t have eternity (let alone the brains) to study through all of the issues completely and yet one is compelled to make some decision. You have to dosomething. If Anglicanism does recover, it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better, at least in the long run. As an Anglican I never found a move to either body justified on strictly the basis of the quackadoxy of Spong or other individuals. What one needs is a positive reason that will tip the scale in favor of one body or another. And a positive reason that also cuts against Anglicanism would be even better since it would motivate one to leave Anglicanism for some other reason other than the presence of quackadoxy. Such a reason would allay the fears that one is being disloyal.