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.

Hierarchal limits: St Cyprian of Carthage

November 7, 2011

Continuing with the thoughts of the last post and that regarding the eucharist a couple of posts previously, here is a quote from St Cyprian that carries the same line of thought. A quote from St Ignatius of Antioch is included for comparison.

[A]nd they are the Church who are a people united to the priest, and the flock which adheres to its pastor. Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God’s priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the Church, which is Catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another. Wherefore, brother, if you consider God’s majesty who ordains priests, if you will for once have respect to Christ, who by His decree and word, and by His presence, both rules prelates themselves, and rules the Church by prelates;

And here is a quote from St Ignatius of Antioch saying the same thing:
“Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

In both of these we see that Christ is present in the hierarchs and that our union with Christ is ascertained by our union with the hierarchy. The Church is not apart from the hierarchs and so we are not with Christ if we are apart from the hierarchs even if you have been baptised and partakers of the eucharist; if we depart from the hierarchs then we depart from the Church. When we speak of the Church deciding something we speak of the hierarchy deciding such a thing because it is through them that Christ rules the Church and directs her. The Church is not a separate thing that makes decisions, it is Christ who makes decisions through the prelates that is the hierarchy. The hierarchs do not act as intermediaries to Christ but make him directly present to rule in the Church. They do so though in synergy and not as robots, so they can make human errors and speak heresy, if they speak of their own mind and not that of Christ. Hence, they need to be obedient to Him who rules the hierarchs by decree and word and by His presence. St Cyprian is clear here that membership of the Church is through union with the priests of the Church, that is the hierarchy and in particular the bishop. Union with the hierarchy includes and requires participation in the mysteries that they minister, through which were are united with Christ. The mysteries though are for the hierarchy not the hierarchy for the mysteries. That is the role of the hierarchy transcends the ministration of any particular mystery rather than being confined by them. That is why I use the term hierarchy to include all the mysteries with the bishop, presbyters and deacons (including all the priestly orders). The bishop is the head and completion of the hierarchy but one should not think of him isolated from the complete hierarchy including all its mysteries in various rites. Neither are hierarchic relations that unite us to Christ restricted to the Church hierarchy but they also occur in monastic relations, family relations and civil relations, although apart from the Church hierarchy these relations cannot effect union with Christ of themselves.

Why have a posted this? Because it is an important key that solves a number of problems. Firstly, it removes a problem of eucharistic ecclesiologists of the parish eucharists and not one episcopal eucharist, which arose because they hold that the hierarchy is for the mystery and so the bishop only has meaning as head of the eucharistic assembly. They argue that there was a change in theology with the growth of parishes but the hierarchal ecclesiology presented here does not have such an problem. Multiple parish eucharists are as consistent as a single episcopal eucharist. Secondly, it refutes Protestantism because there is no room for independent salvation nor private opinion contrary to the hierarchy. Thirdly, because the bishop is the head and completion of each hierarchy there is no place for a bishop of bishops. Also, the purpose of the hierarchy is to make Christ fully present in every place not one place which undermines the papal doctrine of the vicar of Christ being in one place. Yet, it requires levels of primacy as a structure to unite the priesthood with each other yet without having a single head on earth since this would deny that the hierarchy is to present one Christ in many places and that the Head is not on earth but above. Fourthly, it allows for economy and it is not purely mechanical. Fifthly, it is points to person to person relationships rather than any mechanical reception of mysteries. It maintains the focus on master/disciple relationship and in this regard also maintains the Apostolic foundation both as leaders and disciples and that such relationships are the core of our spiritual life again undermining Protestant thinking and exposing it as heresy. Sixthly, it permits one to speak of the Church in terms of the local church with its bishop, the church in terms of its regional or national presence, the church in terms of its patriarchal presence, which should be transnational/trans-regional, and the universal church since each can correspond to a synodal layer and be defined in terms of this. Universal church does not conflict with local church and even though there is no single head, that is no head of a synod of patriarchs who may call such a synod or hear appeals from a patriarchal synod, there can still be an ecumenical patriarch/pope or two with limited powers, hearing appeals instead of another patriarch and writing pastoral letters to any other local/regional/patriarchal church, to reflect the universal church. Seventhly, it allows each church to be both part and whole, including each parish within the diocese. There is no room for either divided autocephalism that ignores each being part nor for centralist papism that ignores each being whole.

Baptismal Membership

October 19, 2011

There is an opinion among, at least some, Orthodox scholars at present that the limits of the Church can be defined in terms of baptism. Within this limit it is proposed that some division can exist, such as between Roman Catholic and Orthodox, and that we can still speak of the divided parties as Church. Thus, because most Christian groups/denominations/churches perform baptism they are all in some manner in the Church as distinct from non-baptised who are outside the Church. In practice this is the reasoning supporting marriage between those who are baptised even if they are of different creed and one of the partners would nevertheless be excluded from the eucharist of the other’s church.

It is agreed that baptism is the means of entry into the Church and that the members of the Church are identified as those that have been baptised, which permits them to gather with the other members in the eucharist. However, is the act of wetting someone with water while saying a particular formula in itself what baptism is? Is the Church defined as those people who have had undergone such an act? If so then once one has undergone that act then can they cease to be members of the Church regardless of faith and morals and choice?

The Church is the body of Christ, with Christ as the head. It is not merely the collection of those having participated in a particular form of ritual or believing a particular doctrine, although these may be marks of those in the Church, that is the Church is not a collection of those having certain marks and in particular of having one mark isolated from the others, which is the implication of the opinion stated initially. Rather the Church is those who form the body of Christ, that is those who are united with Christ, who is a living person. Those united to Christ come into the life of the Trinity as sons of God having the Spirit rest upon them that is they become deified.

Baptism brings us to membership of the Church because of a number of features in baptism. Considering baptism in water. Firstly, the water must be sanctified, it is not merely any water but that upon which hovers the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the triple immersing and coming out of the water unites us with Christ and the Son of God through his death and resurrection and three day burial thus identifying us as sons of God. Thirdly, the triple immersing into the three distinct names of the Trinity each invoked with an immersion, Father, Son and Holy Spirit brings us into the life of the Trinity. This is baptism in water but this in itself is insufficient because we must be born of water and Spirit, so one also requires the anointing of Chrism blessed by a bishop to symbolise the baptism of the Spirit and thus that the Spirit rests upon the baptised and confirms that he is both a son of God and has come into the life of the Trinity with God as his Father. The correct expression of faith is also another requirement of baptism that the person believes into the name of Christ; that they freely and willingly accept Christ and participation in the life of the Trinity. And another requirement is that of the baptiser, a bishop or presbyter, because is God who gives new birth to the baptised not man thus the bishop/presbyter manifests the Father in terms of the baptism so that the baptised in generated as son by the Father and the procession of the Spirit who rests on the baptised as a son of God. The whole Trinity in various symbols is manifest in the baptism. The bishop/presbyter are also the focal points of union with Christ, that is the baptism is the means for a person to enter a relation with Christ who is present in the bishop/presbyter and also that it is Christ who sanctifies the waters for baptism. It is this relationship that identifies one as a member of the Church, and this relationship can only be established through baptism. Thus, when one speaks of membership in the Church via baptism it means not only the application of water with a formula but a relationship with a hierarchy that confers the baptism as a gift to bring the baptised into relation with the hierarchy, through whom Christ is present and so the baptised enters relationship with Christ and into the life of the Trinity. Also, if Chrism is not that from the bishop then there is no baptism in Spirit and so the person who has been immersed in water with the appropriate formula is not born again of water and Spirit and so not yet a member of the Church.

If Christ is not present in the baptiser then the baptism is not of God and it is not one that brings the baptised into a relationship with Christ nor into the life of the Trinity, so the baptism is of no effect and does not permit entry into the Church. Baptismal membership is dependant on who baptises and not only the other symbols of baptism.

So, baptism as a means of showing the limits of the Church cannot be separated from showing the limits of the Church in terms of the hierarchy, which also defines legitimate eucharistic gatherings. This later limit is based on a mutual sharing of one faith/tradition, tracing ordination to the Apostles, and mutual recognition. It is quite wrong to speak of some form of Church membership by baptism that includes those of separated hierarchies, particularly where this is due to difference in faith/tradition. One separating from the hierarchy appointed by Christ and the Apostles is no longer united with Christ and so no longer with the Church, even if they were properly baptised. That is why marriage is only to be between people of the same faith, and whether one has a form of baptism within a group of differing faith is irrelevant to this issue, the canonical test is orthodoxy not baptism. The form of baptism conducted outside the union of faith only has relevance to the economy of receiving converts.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

A Paschal Meditation

April 3, 2010

“An awesome and marvelous mystery today is coming to pass. The Incorporeal One is being held; the One, freeing Adam from the curse is bound; He Who tries the inner hearts and thoughts of man , is unjustly tried; He Who sealed the abyss is shut up in prison. He stands before Pilate, before Whom the Powers of Heaven stand with trembling. The Fashioner is smitten by the hand of the fashioned; the Judge of the living and the dead is condemned to the Cross; the Despoiler of Hades is shut up in a Tomb; O forebearing Lord, compassionately enduring all things and saving all from the curse, glory to Your.”

When You the Redeemer of all, were placed in a new tomb for us all, Hades, the respecter of none, crouhed when he saw You. The bars were broken, the gates were shattered, the graves were opened, and the dead arose. Then Adam, gratefully rejoicing, cried out to You: ‘Glory to Your Condescension, O Merciful God.’

When You, O Christ, of Your own will, submitted bodily to be closed in the tomb, being by nature of the Godhead, remaining indescribable and limitless, You closed down the chambers of death, and emptied the palaces of Hades. Then You rendered this Sabbath worthy of blessing and glory, and of Your own splendor.

When You, the Immortal Life, descended to Death, You struck Hades dead with the lightning of the Godhead; and when You raised up the dead from the abyss, all the powers of Heaven cried aloud; ‘O Life Giver Christ, our God, glory to You!’

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: