“Christic” Grace in Augustine’s Christology

February 5, 2010

“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?

Ogliari, Gratia et Certamen: The Relationship between Grace and Free Will in the Discussion of Augustine with the so-called Semi-Pelagians, Leuven, 2003.

“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.”

Ogliari, 78.

“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.”

Ogliari, 80.

“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.”

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Contra Mundum: Athanasius and the LDS on Deification

October 30, 2009

For some time, the Mormons have been availing themselves of material in the Fathers of the Church regarding theosis in order to render their own doctrines more plausible. There is no shortage of LDS blogs and websites that exclaim with glee that the LDS doctrine of exaltation is within the bounds of Christian teaching on the basis of the Orthodox cut-n-pastedoctrine of theosis. They routinely pelt Protestants as well as Catholics with patristic material maintaining that not only is their view within the corral of Christian orthodoxy, but that they alone possess the true teaching with respect to deification. They then put such claims in the service of motivating their claims of an apostasy after the apostolic age. Of course, such claims are, so far as I have seen not only false and supported by fallacious reasoning, but in many cases the use of Patristic material would make the cut and pasters over at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society blush. Here I leave an examination of these specific claims by LDS apologists for another time.

What I wish to look at here is one of the principle texts brought out by LDS apologists and its argument thatStAthanasius4 Athanasius’ doctrine of theosis is inconsistent with his doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This claim has become quite common among Mormon apologists and it is well suited to demonstrate the coherence and strength of the Orthodox position.

The specific text is a doctoral dissertation by Keith E. Norman entitled, Deification: The Context of Athanasian Soteriology. It is available in both print and electronic form. The dilemma so far as I can tell from Norman’s text is that if we are to be deified, then we cannot be created ex nihilo and vice versa. And this is so because things created ex nihilo can’t become deified since by essence, God enjoys a kind of underived existence or aseity.  Humans are therefore radically different or “wholly other”  than God, so much so that it is impossible to become what God is by essence. Something cannot both be beginingless and have a begining. Deification would entail a natural and therefore essential change in humanity which is precluded by the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Without such a change, humans can’t be deified and are left in a mutable metaphysical state apart from salvation. The implication is that the LDS can affirm theosis consistently because they reject the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Therefore LDS theology stands in superior position to the Athanasian and by extension, the Orthodox teaching on deification.

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Divine Simplicity in Aetius’ Neo-Arianism

October 1, 2009

 “4.  If God remains endlessly in ungenerated essence and the generate is endlessly generate, then the perverse doctrine of the homoousion and the homoiousion will be destroyed. And incomparability in essence is established when each of the two natures remains unceasingly in its proper rank of nature.

5. If God is ungenerated with respect to essence, what was generated was not generated by partition of essence, but he has made it to exist as a hypostasis by his power. For no pious reasoning permits the same essence to be generated and ungenerated.

6.  If the ungenerated has been generated, what prevents the genrerated from having become generated? For every nature shuns what is improper to it for what is proper to it.

7. If God is not entirely ungenerated, nothing hinders him from having generated essentially. But if he is entirely ungenerated, he was not partioned essentially in generation, but he made the generate to exist as a hypostasis by his power.

8. If the ungenerated God is entirely generative, what was generated was not generated essentially, since his entire essence is able to generate but not to be generated.  If the essence of God, having been transformed, is said to be generate, his essence is not unchangeable, since the change effected the formation of the Son. If the essence of God be unchangeableand superior to generation, relationship with the Son will be confessed to be a mere mode of address.”

10. If the generate was complete within the ungenerated,it is generate as a result of the things from which the ungenerrated generated it. This is false, for it is not possible that a generated nature be within an ungenerated essence.  For the same thing is not able both to be an not to be. For a generate thing is not able to be ungenerated, and being ungenerated could not have been a generate thing, since to say that God consists of unlike parts presents to him the height of blasphemy of hybris.

The Syntagmation

“We have seen from our discussion of syllogisms #5 and #6 that Aetius based at least part of his argument against homoousion on the expectation that his opponents would agree to the axiom of God’s essential unity or simplicity. Certainly syllogisms #7 and #8 depend on this axiom.  If God is admitted to be essentially compound, argued #7, then part of God’s essence could remin ungenerated while the other part  would be able to become generated-or, as syllogism #8b put it ‘transformed’ into that which is generated. But since God is admitted not to be compound, if he is ungenerated, he must be entirely ungenerated (#7).  On the other hand, the Christian tradiiton was unanimous in believing that he in some way caused the Son to exist as a separate entity. With partition ruled out, the only alternative left, reiterated Aetius, is that God’s essence created the Son, that ‘he made the generate to exist as a hypostasis by his power.’ (#7). Moreover, given God’s simplicity, the entire essence of God must have been involved in the creation of the son and, in that sense, to have been ‘entirely generative” (#8). The implicaiton was that God’s essence could have been generated in no sense whatsoever. Homoousion of the entirely generative one with the generated one is impossible. We see how crucial the assumption of God’s unity or simplicity was to Aetius arguments; this will become apparent once again when we consider syllogism #10.”

Thomas A. Kopecek, A History of Neo-Arianism, vol. 1, 231-232, 236.

Pattern Recognition

August 28, 2009

“Alexander was quite right in emphasizing that Arius taught the mutability of the Son, for Arius wrote in the Thalia, ‘[The Son] is not unchangeable like the Father, but he is by nature changeable like created things.’  This is so because he is by nature a created thing. Furthermore, since the Son is not  a created thing like a stone or wood but rather a reaosnable being who possesses free will, he can change his own choice. But, Arius asserted, though the Son is capable of either virtue or vice, he always in actuality has remained virtuous, felt justified in rewarding with the gift of glory even before any virtuous deeds were done :

‘Like all others, the Logos himself by nature is changeable, but by his own free will, while he wishes, he remains good. But when, however, he wills, he himself, like us, is able to change, since he is of changeable nature. For on account of this, having foreknown that he will be good, having anticipated it, he gave this glory to him which as man he later came to have from his virtue, so that by his deeds, whih God foreknew, he has made him come to be now such a one [that is, a glorious being]. ‘

“The gift of glory must surely be identified with adoption as God’s Son, an adoption which was unforuntately only mentioned in passing in the extant fragments of Arius’ Thalia, ‘The Father advanced him as Son to himself by adoption.’ Presumably Arius could claim the Son to be unchangeable, as he stated in his latter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, yet still to be changeable, because he maintained that the Son has the capability of virtue and vice. Arius appears to have been most concerned to preserve the Son as an ethical model for manwhich certainly means that his soteriology was based on the notion of reward for ethical activity, as Professors Groh and Gregg have argued. Such a soteriology was nowhere developed in Arius extant writings, but it seems implied by his adoptionist Christology. That man was at the center of Arius’ thought is substantiated by his subserving even the Son to him. He wrote, ‘For [the Son] has been made for our sake, in order that God might create us through him as through an instrument; and he would not subsist unless God willed to make us.”

Kopececk, A History of Neo-Arianism, Vol. 1, 23-24

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He’s Got Issues

July 3, 2009


As I noted above in Three Strange Days the Lutheran radio program, Issues, Etc. had a three day series of programs on Eastern Orthodoxy now about a month ago. Here I wish to go through the programs and address the arguments given by David Jay Webber and Todd Wilken.  The programs are divided up into, Orthodoxy: Strength and Weaknesses, Orthodoxy Today, and The Pelagian Controversy.

In the first broadcast that I heard, Strength and Weaknesses there is the usual attempt to tar Orthodoxy with something very much alien to it, namely the Charismatic movement. The criticism made by Webber is that Charismatics and the Orthodox go to worship for the same thing, namely the attainment of a mystical experience rather than to be slain by the law and revived by the gospel. What constitutes “mystical” or “experience is really left undefined. Consequently it is very easy to mash these two bodies together. The term “mystical” is deployed to connote an experience that is irrational or contrary to reason and that the goal is some kind of absorption into God and a loss of one’s identity. The implication is that Orthodoxy and the Charismatics are modern Schwermers and are really peddling Buddhism in Christian garb.

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Aborting Jesus

April 27, 2009

abortion_icon3“As with St. Ireneaus, there is an ecclesiological and sacramental dimension to the doctrine of Recapitulation. Baptism is an essential component of the mystery and for the spiritual life, since the believer must recapitulate that which Christ Himself fulfilled and repeated in His own Recapitulation. As was the case with Sts. Ireneaus and Athanasius, one cannot separate the divine and invisible nature and therefore one cannot separate water and the Spirit into two separate baptisms or events, as this would be a kind of sacramental Nestorianism.

Ftnt. 37 This point cannot be lingered over too long, since many Evangelical Christians make just such a separation. For the Fathers, such a separation always indicates a distorted and incorrect understanding of the Incarnation. It is on the christological basis of recapitulation that infants are baptized, since not to baptize them until they reach the ‘age of reason’ or ‘accountability’ implies that communion between God and man is impossible at this stage of life.  If this principle were pressed into the Incarnatin itself, it would mean that Christ only became God subsequently to His conception. Likewise, the Church’s condemnation of abortion is rooted in the recapitulational principle, since this stage of human life was united indivisibly and unconfusedly with God the Word.  It is therefore contradictory to maintain at one and the same time that infants cannot be baptized, and yet to argue against abortion on the basis of an abstract principle of the ‘sanctity of life’ divorced from its Christological basis.

Joseph P. Farrell, Introduction, The Disputation with Pyrrus of our Father among the Saints Maximus the Confessor, p. xvi.

Notes to an Iconoclast

April 12, 2009

Turretinfanhas taken some shots at some Catholic apologist regarding icons and John of Damascus. I don’t know this particular Catholic apologist andI am not particularly interested to know or how legitimate his particular arguments may or may not be. What I do find worth noting is Turretinfan’s arguments defending the heresy of iconoclasm by proping up the iconoclast council of Hieria(754) as somehow out manning John of Damascus. As an aside, I highly recommend Amrosios Giakalis’, Images of the Divine: The Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Revised Ed.Brill, 2005. It is a very short book and quite expensive, but it is probably one of the best pieces of secondary literature I have to date come across. It is a good one stop shopping point for reading on the subject. What follows are some of my notes.

Eucharist as the only acceptable form or figure. What is at play here is the notion of a figure. Christ uses lots of images for himself in the Gospels-Vine, lamb, Son, etc. so strictly speaking the Eucharist isn’t the only acceptable image. What is important though is the notion of a figure that the iconoclasts are using. They are averse to any created “shape” and it is precisely because they take the Eucharist to transcend shape or created form that they deem it acceptable.  Read the rest of this entry »

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