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Greek East vs. Roman West views of salvation?


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#1 Paul Rittman

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 12:09 PM

I was reading in a history textbook recently (a world civilizations text for a freshman history class--Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, concise edition, page 332) the following. I had never come across this before and was wondering what folks here had to say about it:

 

Greek Orthodox theology held that Jesus became human, less to atone for humanity's sins (as emphasized in Roman Catholicism) and more to facilitate theosis (a transformation of humans into divine beings). This was truly a distinct message from that which prevailed in the Roman Catholicism of the west.

 

I honestly had never come across an idea like this before, if I am understanding this text correctly. Can anyone here shed some light on this? Is this accurate? If not accurate, what about the above would have to be changed?

 

I am not trying to start a debate between various doctrinal positions here---I came to this forum to get a Greek Orthodox view.

 

BTW--I do have the Antenicene, Nicene, and Postnicene Fathers editions published by Hendrickson, so if there are passages from the Church Fathers that shed some light on this, feel free to give me a reference or two. :)


Edited by Paul Rittman, 26 April 2015 - 12:11 PM.


#2 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 02:34 PM

The text quoted is pretty much what I have always understood about salvation: the purpose of life is theosis. A very close parallel is what Met Hilarion (Alfeyev) says about redemption in his online catechism.



#3 Phoebe K.

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 03:01 PM

The distinction in the understanding of why Christ was incarnate is considerably more complicated than the book you read suggests.  The fathers hold that even without the fall Christ would have become incarnate, the difference being that because of the fall he first needed to restore us to the sinlessness of our creation then to guide us to theosis rather than just bringing us to the forfillment of the the image and likeness of God.

 

Through his incarnation and baptism Christ drove the demons from our nature and the fundamental aspects of creation, as many of the hymns of the feasts of the Anouceation, Nativity and Theophony indicate.  Through his life, passion, death and resection Christ not only showed us how it is possible to overcome the passions (which are the sickness in our nature resulting from the fall and sin in our lives), but also did what was not possible for us to do, the Hymns of Holy Week and Pascha make this clear.

 

This is the early understanding of things, mostly this view was held by the entire church prior to thine of St Algustine of Hippo, the exception being Pelagus who was condemned as a heretic for his views.  It was in response to Pelagus and from his own experiences St Algustine wrote, these writings planting the seeds of the latter developments by Anselm of Canterbury, who took quite a bit from the Norman feudal system.  The Anselm writings in the Soma Theologica have influences all latter texts in the west.

 

The concept of Atonement is present in the Fathers both eastern and western, and is evident in the hymnolgy of the Church, it is less well known in the east but in Baptisms and Confessions along with the hours offices do make it clear.  The West has a undercurrent of Theoses, mostly seen in the lives of saints but not as enforsised as in the Eastern Church.  Mostly it is a matter of enforces which varies between the father pre schisam, post 1054 however the are more fundamental differences developing, but even now it is still mostly within the realm of enphosis.

 

I hope this helps, it has been a while since I studied systematic Theology.



#4 Paul Rittman

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 03:09 PM

Very interesting replies.

 

perhaps I can clarify--I think anyone who has read I Cor 15 would agree (if I am understanding theosis properly) that this is the the future of a believer. So I think it would be wrong to say that western Christians don't believe in some type of process like this.

 

Perhaps what I'm responding to is an implication in that text that western and eastern Chrisitans would hold to one or the other (atonement or theosis), exclusively.


Edited by Paul Rittman, 26 April 2015 - 03:09 PM.


#5 Phoebe K.

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 03:30 PM

There has never been as exclusive understanding, that is a big oversimplification, both have always contained both views but have enforsised different ones.  After all Orthodox Liturgy owes a lot to the atonement Liturgy of the first temple as well as to the concept of Passover.

 

The Medeval and latter western view specially in the Roman Church relegated the Theosis to post death, while the Eastern Church has always maintained it is possible in life.

 

Part of the Problem is the writer of the quote you made dose not understand the full depth of the theology both East and West let alone in the early hisory of the Church so made the situation far more simple than it is.



#6 Paul Rittman

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 03:34 PM

Part of the Problem is the writer of the quote you made dose not understand the full depth of the theology both East and West let alone in the early hisory of the Church so made the situation far more simple than it is.

 

I gather that. This is a history text that is not written with a very sympathetic view towards Christianity--hence the emphasis on the division (i.e., argumentative Christians or theists). Without an element of exclusivity (which I referred to earlier), then the force of that book's quotation really falls apart in my opinion.



#7 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 03:50 PM

If the text 'is a history text that is not written with a very sympathetic view towards Christianity', why bother with it? Better to read something such as Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Michael Pomazansky.



#8 Lakis Papas

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 04:52 PM

What orthodoxy is

by Protopresbyter George Metallinos,
Professor Emeritus, School of Theology, University of Athens

https://thoughtsintr...t-orthodoxy-is/

Based on Patristic writings.

Edited by Lakis Papas, 26 April 2015 - 04:55 PM.


#9 Owen Jones

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 05:35 PM

While the comments have merit, I think the simple statement as quoted is fine.  Athanasias said that God became man so the men could become God.  Is that the only statement that ever needs to be made about God and man?  Of course not.  But it sums things up nicely.  I think of it this way:  Christ's Atonement for the sins of mankind is not what salvation is, but it's what makes salvation possible.



#10 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 06:07 PM

Indeed. I am thinking that the difference between the 'Roman west' stance and the Orthodox position is reflected in the differing approaches to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, the Orthodox position laying more stress on the latter even though the way to the Resurrection was by the Cross. This difference is seen in the services of Holy Week and in icons of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.



#11 Lakis Papas

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Posted 26 April 2015 - 07:34 PM

St Gregory Palamas rejected western theology and the Church adopted Palamistic arguments.

#12 Kosta

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Posted 27 April 2015 - 06:22 AM

Theosis; the divinization of man is certainly emphasized moreso in the east. I dont think the latins reject it, but protestants never heard of it. Calvinism believes once saved always saved, so any lifelong (even everlasting)process of being made perfect or deified doesnt fit with such theories.

Owen correctly points to St Athanasius who said God became man so man may become God. Paul the apostle taught; Christ who was rich became poor, so through his poverty we may become rich.(2 Cor 8.9). Peter taught that Christ has given us the power to partake of the divine nature (2Pet 1.3-5)

Edited by Kosta, 27 April 2015 - 06:24 AM.


#13 Jim McQuiggin

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Posted 27 April 2015 - 02:28 PM

Theosis; the divinization of man is certainly emphasized moreso in the east. I dont think the latins reject it, but protestants never heard of it. Calvinism believes once saved always saved, so any lifelong (even everlasting)process of being made perfect or deified doesnt fit with such theories.

Owen correctly points to St Athanasius who said God became man so man may become God. Paul the apostle taught; Christ who was rich became poor, so through his poverty we may become rich.(2 Cor 8.9). Peter taught that Christ has given us the power to partake of the divine nature (2Pet 1.3-5)

Kosta, you have made the common and unfortunate mistake of equating Protestantism with Calvinism. One of John Wesley's key doctrines was that of "Entire Sanctification", also known as "Christian Perfection" and some other terms. You might find his "Plain account of Christian Perfection" an interesting read. When I began investigating Orthodoxy I found myself very much at home with the concept of theosis/divinization - and very happy to find that Orthodoxy provides the means to work towards it in way that my experience had been lacking. Very sadly, while that teaching still appears in doctrinal statements of belief in denominations with Methodist roots, it is poorly taught, if at all, any more.

 

I state this not to argue, of course, but to support the position of others who have already pointed out that the differences in the the understanding of salvation between East and West are in a large degree a matter of emphasis.



#14 Father David Moser

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Posted 27 April 2015 - 03:27 PM

One of John Wesley's key doctrines was that of "Entire Sanctification", also known as "Christian Perfection" and some other terms..... When I began investigating Orthodoxy I found myself very much at home with the concept of theosis/divinization - and very happy to find that Orthodoxy provides the means to work towards it in way that my experience had been lacking. Very sadly, while that teaching still appears in doctrinal statements of belief in denominations with Methodist roots, it is poorly taught, if at all, any more.

 

While the idea of sanctification exists in many Protestant confessions, as you point out, it is not central to our salvation as it is in Orthodoxy.  It's been a long time since I swam in the Protestant pool, however, as I recall, justification and sanctification are two different processes.  Salvation is equated with justification while sanctification is sort of an "add on" for those who were already saved.  Justification is considered the necessary and sufficient condition for salvation (which is  then extended to the Calvinist's "once saved always saved" doctrine).  Sanctification follows on justification, but is neither necessary nor sufficient for salvation.  Justification is the "cake" as it were and sanctification is simply "icing" for those who want it. (Admittedly my primary experience was from a Calvinist denomination so I am not well versed on the intricacies of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition).

 

By contrast in Orthodoxy justification and sanctification cannot be separated - justification by itself is necessary but not sufficient for salvation, sanctification is a necessary element.  It is not possible, in Orthodoxy to equate sanctification with theosis - because theosis also encompasses justification as well.  Theosis is not the "result" of salvation - it is salvation.  One who is not perfected is not saved.  So the difference here goes right to the root of the essence of salvation. 

 

Fr David



#15 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 27 April 2015 - 04:07 PM

Fr David wrote: 'One who is not perfected is not saved.' Lest anyone misunderstand, this, it, as I am sure Fr David would acknowledge, does not mean that we must be perfect to be saved. It is not possible to be perfect – only Christ is perfect. We are called to journey along the path towards perfection, which is theosis, but, like the Holy Fathers (notably Abba Sisoes), consider that we have not even made a beginning. As someone said, our salvation is ‘a work in progress’. We sin and get up, sin and get up again, always walking towards God,



#16 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 May 2015 - 12:46 PM

Yet, paradoxically, we are told to be perfect, as the Father in Heaven is perfect.  There is a lot of discussion in past Monachos dialogue about the true meaning of perfection.



#17 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 06 May 2015 - 02:08 PM

This is a case where we need to look at the Greek and see what it really means. I'm no Greek scholar but I have read that the word used - Ἔσεσθε - means 'shall be', not just 'be'. It implies the process mentioned in post #15.

 

PS Found where I read this:

 

http://www.ststefano...ook-perfection/


Edited by Reader Andreas, 06 May 2015 - 02:11 PM.


#18 Kosta

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Posted 07 May 2015 - 04:44 AM

I think Andreas is on the right path. We can never be perfected like God because God is infinite. But we can continually improve for eternity. If we strive to be perfect like God, we theoretically continue in divinization forever.

#19 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 07 May 2015 - 11:38 AM

I think Andreas is on the right path.

 

Oh, if only!



#20 Iustin C.

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Posted 13 May 2015 - 01:47 AM

Calvinism believes once saved always saved, so any lifelong (even everlasting)process of being made perfect or deified doesnt fit with such theories.

 

This is not entirely correct. Calvinists, while they hold to eternal security, do have the doctrine of Sanctification. In fact, the Puritans developed it quite a bit. It certainly doesn't look like Orthodox theosis, but just because Calvinists hold to eternal security doesn't mean the idea of a lifelong process is necessarily excluded. 






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