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.


Deification through icons

June 15, 2011

I have come to be aware that the theology of icons may go much deeper than the painted icons that are chiefly associated with the Orthodox Church. I am beginning to see that the theology of the icon goes to the very heart of our path to salvation (that is deification or union with God) in that we are saved through participation with and in icons. What does this mean? It means that man’s union with God is effected through icons both portrayed by other things, persons and by himself.

Here is a brief overview of how I am coming to see this. Read the rest of this entry »


Life in a Windowless Monad

August 28, 2010

 

(Your Musical Accompaniment)

“These questions, however, have to be answered, from the point of view of systematic theology at least, by placing them within a much more radical framework, namely that of the fundamental question: Is the structure of the Christian Church in light of the gospel, monarchial or collegial? This question is undoubtably radical because it is asked, on the one hand, with the whole Christian people in mind and, on the other, from the point of view of what the Lord himself taught, that is, in the light of the gospel of Christ as a whole.

We may go further and say that, if the structure of the Church is conditioned by and subject to the norm of the gospel of Christ, we must base our argument less on the isolated descriptions or ideas of the Church which occur almost accidentally in the New Testament…and more on the general spirit of the words of the Lord as the origin of those images of the Church. That essentially new elemnt in the teaching of the Lord which distinguishes it from teaching contained in all the religions and ideaologies that have so far arisen in the history of man is the doctrine of the Trinity. This is the differentia specifica of Christianity.

In light of this faith in the Trinity, the Christian teaching about God’s being, the creation of the world and the cosmic mestaphysical order of the universe has always been different from that of other religions or ideaologies. It has, in a word, been trinitarian.  The idea of the Trinity is central, not only in the doctrine of the Christian Church, but also-and in the first place-in the teaching of the Lord himself. If this is so, then surely it is bound to inspire the whole task of the Christian Church to give a new structure to the created world. This brings us to the question of the relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and Christology.

At the most holy moment of his life on earth and just before he left this world, Christ prayed to his Father and at the same time expressed his most fervent desire: ‘I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.’ (John 17.20f.)

It is perhaps symptomatic that, in an attempt to stress the holiness of the ecumenical intention, these words are quoted nowaday at almost every meeting between Christians of different denominations. yet we usually think very little about these important words afterwards. The phrase ‘that they may be one’ expresses the practical and immediate aims of ecumenism better than the idea which follows, namely ‘as thou Father, art in me…’. But these words become even more meaningful perhaps if we remember that this exemplary mode of unity within the Trinity is the basic presupposition for the unity of the Church which we hope will be achieved. the importance of the whole passage is even further emphasized by the fact that Christ did not have a definite gorup of people, such as the apostles in mind when he spoke these words, but rather all those who believed in him and would believe in him throughout history.  It is this universal validity of the moral principle that is expressed here which gives it its distinctive and normative character.  This is why it must constitute the basic and first ecclesiolgy premise for all theological thinking at all times.

It is clear therefore that there must be a direct relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and ecclesiology, a relationship expressed in fact in the striking parallel that exists between the fundamental theological questions of the Church’s Trinitarian and ecclesiological teaching. If the inner interrelationships that exist in the historical development of dogma in the Church have existed since the earliest times are borne in mind, it is not difficult to recognize that the main problem confronting all theological thinking throughout the history of the Church has always been the same-the fundamental question of the relationship between unity and multiplicity.

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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


Prelude to “Heresy of Calvinism II”

August 2, 2010

The completion of HoC2 was delayed by the frivolities of a weekend wedding (and some really good homebrews – – especially the cider ales – – that the lord and lady served), and a necessary Sunday afternoon with my dear friend Guillaume (and some outstanding Canadian imports).  But, I have cleared my decks for action (I have also been distracted by Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series), and shall have the promised piece  up by late this afternoon. Nonetheless, to whet everyone’s palette, please note the following quotes (all from Calvin’s Institutes, II.17). As you read them, keep in mind the simple words of our father among the Saints, St. Maximos the Confessor: “Virtues are natural things.”

The whole of Calvin’s II.17 is but six sub-chapters, and is worth looking at, but what I shall be sailing into are pretty much these waters. Read the rest of this entry »


The Heresy of Calvinism. I

July 10, 2010

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Free Will and Virtue in Athanasius

February 9, 2010

“‘Wherefore having already begun and set out in the way of virtue, let us strive the more that we may attain those things that are before. And let no one turn to the things behind, like Lot’s wife, all the more so that the Lord hath said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and turning back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven.’ And this turning back is nought else but to feel regret, and to be once more worldly-minded. But fear not to hear of virtue, nor be astonished at the name. For it is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing. That they may get knowledge, the Greeks live abroad and cross the sea, but we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue. For the Lord aforetime hath said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Wherefore virtue hath need at our hands of willingness alone, since it is in us and is formed from us. For when the soul hath its spiritual faculty in a natural state virtue is formed. And it is in a natural state when it remains as it came into existence. And when it came into existence it was fair and exceeding honest. For this cause Joshua, the son of Nun, in his exhortation said to the people, “Make straight your heart unto the Lord God of Israel,” and John, “Make your paths straight.” For rectitude of soul consists in its having its spiritual part in its natural state as created. But on the other hand, when it swerves and turns away from its natural state, that is called vice of the soul. Thus the matter is not difficult. If we abide as we have been made, we are in a state of virtue, but if we think of ignoble things we shall be accounted evil. If, therefore, this thing had to be acquired from without, it would be difficult in reality; but if it is in us, let us keep ourselves from foul thoughts. And as we have received the soul as a deposit, let us preserve it for the Lord, that He may recognize His work as being the same as He made it.”

Life of Anthony, 20.

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