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On propitiation: Romanides and C.H. Dodd vs. Leon Morris


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#1 Sacha

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 02:33 AM

In the Ancestral Sin, Fr John Romanides says the following:

"Regarding the term 'propitiation', C.H. Dodd comments that the Septuagint translation does not contain the idea of placating the divine wrath, an idea held by the pagans. St Irenaeus basically said the same thing. According to him, a theory of propitiation and satisfaction of the offended divine nature is impossible."

C.H. Dodd did manage to convince some in the western world but I have found that his influence has been largely countered by australian protestant theologian Leon Morris whose popular book "The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross" is seen as a force majeure for penal substitution (PS) advocates.

My question is: Has anyone in the Eastern Orthodox world/seminaries in last 20-30 years taken on Leon Morris' work and offered a refutation of his defense of PS? I have read all the threads I could find on PS here on Monachos and have not seen Morris brought up at all. Many in the protestant world consider his work as the final word...

Peace and Thanks to All

#2 Sacha

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 02:38 AM

http://books.google....epage&q&f=false

Above is a link to Leon Morris' book on google. On pg 149, he says the following:

"The wrath of God is often confused with that irrational passion we so frequently find in man and which was commonly ascribed to heathen deities. But this is not the only possibility. Thus Dr Maldwyn Hughes says: 'Let it be granted that anger is not an ideal word for our purpose, and that we use it only, as Augustine would say "in order that we may not keep silent." Our concern is with facts not words. The fact which we have to face is that in the nature of things there must be an eternal recoil against the unholy on the part of the all-holy God.' If we can understand the wrath of God in some such fashion as this there seems no insuperable objection to our thinking of that wrath as a reality to be reckoned with, and to seeing propitiation as the means of averting that wrath from the sinner, who, unless this can be done, finds himself in evil case.

To the men of the Old Testament the wrath of God is both very real and very serious. God is not thought of as capriciously angry (like the deities of the heathen), but because He is a moral Being, His anger is directed towards wrongdoing in any shape or form. Once roused, this anger is not easily assuaged, and dire consequences may follow. But it is only fair to add that the Old Testament consistently regards God as a God of mercy..."

Edited by Sacha, 23 November 2010 - 02:45 AM.
added text


#3 Olga

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 07:59 AM

Yet again, at risk of sounding like a broken record, I feel moved to reply that the "motivation" (ugh) behind Christ's sacrifice, as proclaimed by the Orthodox Church, can be found in its hymnography and iconography, most particularly in the Lenten Triodion, and the Stavrotheotokia/Krestabogorodichniy/Cross-Theotokia. The hymnography expresses the consensus patrum, the essence and distillation of Orthodox patristic and scriptural tradition. There is no need for anyone in the seminaries of the Orthodox world to compile a treatise on the subject as a first step - someone need only pass on a copy of the Triodion to Mr Morris. THEN, if there are further questions brought up by Mr Morris, should further discussion proceed.

Let's be practical here, folks. The wheel can be refined, but it need not be reinvented every time a heterodox scholar comes up with a theological theory.

Olga the tradesman's daughter.

#4 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 01:23 PM

Consistent with what Olga has written, at least in the Orthodox seminary I attended during the 1980s- 90s, there was no mention made of Morris or really of specific Protestant authors, except maybe Luther and Calvin in passing. Instead much more focus was placed on the Protestant or RC position on salvation in general. This after all is much more useful from an apologetic perspective- of what the seminarian faces in the real world outside of the seminary.

Otherwise- the Fathers tend to look at this issue much more from the perspective of sin & death and of how these are distortions of human nature as created by God. Resurrection then is seen as a process which already begins through the life in Christ, which God freely offers us in order to redeem and restore us.

I am not one to entirely dismiss God's wrath from this understanding. I think that in the 20thc we went too far in the direction of seeing separation from God and resurrection as being just the results of the human condition. Yes, God's wrath as the prime factor in all of this becomes extremely problematic from the Patristic perspective- basically it would result in a passionate depiction of God from which logically there could be no deliverance for humanity, no matter how much we tried to 'satisfy' Him. But on the other hand to completely leave His wrath out of the equation is also wrong, as if God does not act personally against sin according to its degree of conscious self will.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#5 Evan

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 01:45 PM

The cross has everything to do with God's wrath. God's wrath, however, is directed, at the demons. God wasn't "mad" at the Paschal lambs that were offered up by the Hebrews under the Egyptian yoke. He was "mad" at the Egyptians. In both cases, God's wrath was poured out against those who have oppressed God's people and reduced them to bondage.

At the same time, St. Paul is quite clear that all of humanity was under the wrath of God, in the sense of being incapable of the life of grace and subject to the reign of death, before Christ's salvific work. So, inasmuch as Christ really became man, perhaps it would not be inappropriate to say that He assumed the condition of being under the wrath of God. However, He was in no sense personally the object of God's wrath, being Himself sinless.

I think the important thing to insist upon is the Son's voluntary self-oblation manifests radical obedience to the Father. The Son is loved by the Father, because He lays down His life for us, doing all things in accordance with His Father's will. How could the Father be angry with such a Son?

I welcome correction. The terminology here poses a great risk of confusion, in light of distorted understandings that have surfaced over the years.

In Christ,
Evan

#6 Sacha

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 02:19 PM

Yet again, at risk of sounding like a broken record, I feel moved to reply that the "motivation" (ugh) behind Christ's sacrifice, as proclaimed by the Orthodox Church, can be found in its hymnography and iconography, most particularly in the Lenten Triodion, and the Stavrotheotokia/Krestabogorodichniy/Cross-Theotokia. The hymnography expresses the consensus patrum, the essence and distillation of Orthodox patristic and scriptural tradition. There is no need for anyone in the seminaries of the Orthodox world to compile a treatise on the subject as a first step - someone need only pass on a copy of the Triodion to Mr Morris. THEN, if there are further questions brought up by Mr Morris, should further discussion proceed.

Let's be practical here, folks. The wheel can be refined, but it need not be reinvented every time a heterodox scholar comes up with a theological theory.

Olga the tradesman's daughter.


Olga,

Please forgive me for bringing up the topic again. I know how frustrating it must be for you, and have been blessed by your answers in the past. I still struggle in my understanding, and felt it necessary to attempt to reach out once more. I figured that since Fr Romanides book was a direct response to PS advocates, that perhaps someone else in Orthodoxy had recently updated or 'improved' on his dissertation. I understand however, your point about hymnography and tradition fully. I don't think the latter and books such as The Ancestral Sin are incompatible, but rather that they could work together, with tradition given the priority.

#7 Sacha

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 02:36 PM

The cross has everything to do with God's wrath. God's wrath, however, is directed, at the demons. God wasn't "mad" at the Paschal lambs that were offered up by the Hebrews under the Egyptian yoke. He was "mad" at the Egyptians. In both cases, God's wrath was poured out against those who have oppressed God's people and reduced them to bondage

.

Yes, agree. And in the NT, Jesus Himself says in John 3:36 that

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." I think that this verse refutes those who teach that the Father was wrathful towards the Son, because the Son obeyed the Father fully! So I join you in asking how could the Father be wrathful towards Him? That poses a trinitarian imbroglio of immense proportions.

At the same time, St. Paul is quite clear that all of humanity was under the wrath of God, in the sense of being incapable of the life of grace and subject to the reign of death, before Christ's salvific work.


Romans 1:18 says "18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,..."

I believe the key question we face here is this: is the wrath impersonal or personal? In other words, does God personally get wrathful at people or is His wrath the impersonal and inevitable consequence of sin, the likes of which Paul mentions in Romans 1? Or is it both? Leon Morris goes to painstaking lengths to argue that it is indeed personal by quoting from both the OT and the NT, albeit more from the OT. For instance, he brings up the case of the Israelite who touched the ark and was stricken by God. I believe, tentatively, that language in the OT could not possibly be taken at face value, because Jesus did not call down fire on the samaritans when they refused him shelter, much to the dismay of his disciples. He actually rebuked them... So if Jesus says whoever has seen the Father has seen me, then we most likely are reading the OT wrong? But then again He did say that the wrath of God remains on unbelievers...

I welcome correction. The terminology here poses a great risk of confusion, in light of distorted understandings that have surfaced over the years.


Evan, your posts have been greatly helpful to me. Thank you so much for being willing to take a risk again on this difficult topic.

#8 Owen Jones

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 02:37 PM

I like to look at these things from a pastoral standpoint, one which is hopefully consistent with doctrine of course. Someone with a healthy fear of God's wrath against sin and sinfulness is probably in good shape. Someone who has a morbid/neurotic fear at the expense of all else is in trouble. I have also noticed a tendency among some contemporary Orthodox to go to such lengths to distinguish Orthodoxy from Protestantism that they would appear to edit out significant portions of the Bible on these subjects, e.g. the shedding of Christ's blood as a ransom for our sins, etc.

#9 Sacha

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 02:53 PM

Consistent with what Olga has written, at least in the Orthodox seminary I attended during the 1980s- 90s, there was no mention made of Morris or really of specific Protestant authors, except maybe Luther and Calvin in passing. Instead much more focus was placed on the Protestant or RC position on salvation in general. This after all is much more useful from an apologetic perspective- of what the seminarian faces in the real world outside of the seminary.


Interesting. I am pretty sure Leon Morris is the 'go to' guy when protestants run into Orthodox thought on the atonement. I have seen him quoted again and again in responses to orthodox theologians.

I am not one to entirely dismiss God's wrath from this understanding. I think that in the 20thc we went too far in the direction of seeing separation from God and resurrection as being just the results of the human condition. Yes, God's wrath as the prime factor in all of this becomes extremely problematic from the Patristic perspective- basically it would result in a passionate depiction of God from which logically there could be no deliverance for humanity, no matter how much we tried to 'satisfy' Him. But on the other hand to completely leave His wrath out of the equation is also wrong, as if God does not act personally against sin according to its degree of conscious self will.


Yes, I agree Fr Raphael, we cannot leave His wrath out of the equation completely, even if to uphold the truth of the energy of His love for humanity. It seems however, Evan and yourself are in a minority within Orthodox thought? Is it fair to say that most do not believe that God's wrath is personal?

#10 Sacha

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 02:55 PM

I have also noticed a tendency among some contemporary Orthodox to go to such lengths to distinguish Orthodoxy from Protestantism that they would appear to edit out significant portions of the Bible on these subjects, e.g. the shedding of Christ's blood as a ransom for our sins, etc.


Owen, that's what I was pointing out in my prior post to Fr Raphael. Thanks.

#11 Evan

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 03:17 PM

.

Yes, agree. And in the NT, Jesus Himself says in John 3:36 that

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." I think that this verse refutes those who teach that the Father was wrathful towards the Son, because the Son obeyed the Father fully! So I join you in asking how could the Father be wrathful towards Him? That poses a trinitarian imbroglio of immense proportions.



Romans 1:18 says "18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,..."

I believe the key question we face here is this: is the wrath impersonal or personal? In other words, does God personally get wrathful at people or is His wrath the impersonal and inevitable consequence of sin, the likes of which Paul mentions in Romans 1? Or is it both? Leon Morris goes to painstaking lengths to argue that it is indeed personal by quoting from both the OT and the NT, albeit more from the OT. For instance, he brings up the case of the Israelite who touched the ark and was stricken by God. I believe, tentatively, that language in the OT could not possibly be taken at face value, because Jesus did not call down fire on the samaritans when they refused him shelter, much to the dismay of his disciples. He actually rebuked them... So if Jesus says whoever has seen the Father has seen me, then we most likely are reading the OT wrong? But then again He did say that the wrath of God remains on unbelievers...



Evan, your posts have been greatly helpful to me. Thank you so much for being willing to take a risk again on this difficult topic.


It is my understanding that God's wrath, while it is indeed wrath, is not wrath of the kind that we often experience-- God does not hold grudges, He does not act arbitrarily, He does not "lose control." God's wrath is in no sense contrary to His love-- it is an expression of it. The love of God discerns between that which is good and that which is evil. So too are we called to hold fast to that which is good and abhor that which is evil. Owing to our sinful disposition, the fruit of the Fall, it is very, very easy for us to give way to our passions and abhor not evil itself, but merely its effects on us. Thus, we can be mad at someone who steals from us, not because stealing is an evil thing (which it is) but because we look at it as some kind of insult to us and it causes us material loss. The wrath of God is not like that. God does not "take it personally" when we sin-- He doesn't suffer an indignity because of anything we do. He hates sin because it is a departure from truth and He would have us live in truth, for our own good, because He loves us. His honor is not offended by our disobedience. The Bible nowhere speaks of God's offended honor. It everywhere speaks of His solicitude for the deliverance of His people from sin and death. God desires not the death of a sinner but that He may be converted and live.

In Christ,
Evan

#12 Sacha

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 03:54 PM

Evan, thanks for that. The distinction you make, is actually the same one Leon Morris makes, when he quotes Maldwlyn Hughes (see 2nd post).

I think we need to make another distinction: what does personal mean? I agree with you that God does not suffer indignity and does not take it 'personally' in the sense of an offended honor (more of a medieval construct), but is God's wrath levelled at the individual?

What to make for example of the Israelite struck down for touching the ark of the covenant, for example? Or when Jesus says that God's wrath remains on him who does not believe/obey Him? How do we understand that in the context of a proper understanding of God's wrath?

#13 Evan

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 06:02 PM

Sacha,

Again, subject to correction and censure if I err (Lord forgive me)...

I don't think we ought to say that God's wrath is one thing and one thing only. We learn of God's wrath burning out against particular individuals and also learn that we are by nature creatures of wrath. This cannot be understood in the same fashion. No baby, simply by being born, is subject as an indiivdual to God's disapproval. To loosely paraphrase Isaiah, he can't distinguish between good or evil yet sufficiently to come under the wrath of God in that sense. He can't harden his heart like Pharoah.

Our ancestors manifestly were on the receiving end of God's wrath. They were cursed, subject to corruption and death and lack of control over their passions, and their fallen condition was transmitted through the generations. We don't inherit their personal guilt, but we inherit that fallen condition. If we are not in Christ, we are under the reign of death still. In this sense, we are subject to the wrath of God.

However, there is more to it. When we personally sin, we have the authority of Scripture that we store up wrath against ourselves. We will be judged for what we do in the body, according to our works. If our works are evil, well... there's much to fear and tremble over in 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter, Jude and the Apocalypse. Uzzah got off "easy" by comparison. I think of him as an illustrative example of what happens when tries to "help God out" by doing things that He hasn't given us authority to do. How many heresies have been the result of "good intentions!"

I also like to think that when Christ descended into Sheol to preach the Gospel to those who died before the Incarnation, Uzzah heard it gladly. ;-)

In Christ,
Evan

#14 Sacha

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 07:35 PM

And with panache!

I really enjoyed that response, thanks much Evan. I think we're getting much closer... Yes, there are 2 dimensions to the wrath of God, I'm glad you outlined those the way you did. Reflecting longer on what you wrote, I thought this:

Perhaps, what we ought to focus on, once we have put aside the notions of God's supposed offended honor etc, is the fact that His wrath is being stored up against those who rebel against him. So yes, it is personal, but the key distinction here being that His wrath is stored up. It's probably not correct to speak of a delayed onset of the wrath, because clearly its beginning is felt in the now, on earth, as the apostle speaks of those receiving their due penalty within themselves for example in Romans 1. But there is an element of truth in speaking of the full wrath being revealed to us personally at judgment day.

And so, one can reject the following:
- The idea that God's honor/justice must be satisfied before He can forgive.
- The idea that God's desire is to punish.
- And hence the whole concept of penal substitution.

And affirm the following:
- That God loved us even while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8)
- God's desire is therefore our salvation, and not our condemnation.
- This is seen in Jesus' words, that He came to save and not to condemn.
- That God's wrath is revealed impersonally/personally in the present and at judgment.
- That we should not characterize His wrath as capricious, or driven by human passion.
- That yes, there is a substitutionary element in the atonement, but not a penal/vicarious one.
- This element has to do with Christ stepping in to rescue us from the death/wrath we would otherwise experience.

To put it in the words of NT Wright, it is precisely because He is our representative redeemer that He is our substitute.

Thoughts?

#15 Evan

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Posted 23 November 2010 - 08:49 PM

And with panache!

I really enjoyed that response, thanks much Evan. I think we're getting much closer... Yes, there are 2 dimensions to the wrath of God, I'm glad you outlined those the way you did. Reflecting longer on what you wrote, I thought this:

Perhaps, what we ought to focus on, once we have put aside the notions of God's supposed offended honor etc, is the fact that His wrath is being stored up against those who rebel against him. So yes, it is personal, but the key distinction here being that His wrath is stored up. It's probably not correct to speak of a delayed onset of the wrath, because clearly its beginning is felt in the now, on earth, as the apostle speaks of those receiving their due penalty within themselves for example in Romans 1. But there is an element of truth in speaking of the full wrath being revealed to us personally at judgment day.

And so, one can reject the following:
- The idea that God's honor/justice must be satisfied before He can forgive.
- The idea that God's desire is to punish.
- And hence the whole concept of penal substitution.

And affirm the following:
- That God loved us even while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8)
- God's desire is therefore our salvation, and not our condemnation.
- This is seen in Jesus' words, that He came to save and not to condemn.
- That God's wrath is revealed impersonally/personally in the present and at judgment.
- That we should not characterize His wrath as capricious, or driven by human passion.
- That yes, there is a substitutionary element in the atonement, but not a penal/vicarious one.
- This element has to do with Christ stepping in to rescue us from the death/wrath we would otherwise experience.

To put it in the words of NT Wright, it is precisely because He is our representative redeemer that He is our substitute.

Thoughts?


Sacha,

This seems right (and when I say "seems," I mean, allowing for the possibility that my understanding is not correct). There is a final judgment, and it is not yet, but there is a foretaste of the life to come, both for those who are perishing and those who are being saved, here and now. Thus St. Paul speaks of those who are given over to sin as receiving in themselves even now the due reward of their deeds. Of course, this is with a view to their correction while they yet have the opportunity to repent-- their ultimate fate is not set until the Last Day, when the Son of Man comes in glory with His angels.

From St. Ambrose's "De Oficiis": " “In His hand is our life and death; He rules this world by His nod. And to Him we know that we must give a reason for our actions. For there is nothing which is more of a help to a good life than to believe that He will be our judge, Whom hidden things do not escape, and unseemly things offend, and good deed delight.”

We really can delight and offend God. The Father is pleased with His Son, and He gave Himself for us. If we are crucified together with Christ, and live in Christ, we can be pleasing to God. What we can't do is imagine that He is delighted and offended in the ways we all too often are, or that we can be pleasing to God apart from Christ. If we are pleasing to the Father, it is because we abide in the Son. We are holy, because He is holy.

In Christ,
Evan

Edited by Evan, 23 November 2010 - 09:09 PM.


#16 Olga

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 04:28 AM

Olga,

Please forgive me for bringing up the topic again. I know how frustrating it must be for you, and have been blessed by your answers in the past. I still struggle in my understanding, and felt it necessary to attempt to reach out once more.


Be assured I'm not offended or "frustrated" by your search for answers, Sacha. There's no such thing as a stupid question. My "broken record" comment was a general comment directed at those who, when faced with a heterodox treatise or theory, feel that the only answer is for a seminarian or other authority to write one of their own to counter it. So many answers to the "big questions" can be found within Orthodox hymnography and iconography. Books and treatises from reputable Orthodox writers then expand on these matters.

#17 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 06:04 AM

Do any of the Western denominations, even theologically unsophisticated ones like the various Protestant evangelicals, believe that God the Father was angry at the Son? I have always had a feeling this was a straw man set up by Fr John Romanides and others, and was probably based more on Western apostates' distorted understanding of the theology they rejected for other reasons (such as the desire to live free of accountability to God's judgment), rather than the theology itself. I was formerly a Roman Catholic, and I certainly don't remember the RC church teaching this.

#18 Sacha

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 07:13 AM

Do any of the Western denominations, even theologically unsophisticated ones like the various Protestant evangelicals, believe that God the Father was angry at the Son? I have always had a feeling this was a straw man set up by Fr John Romanides and others, and was probably based more on Western apostates' distorted understanding of the theology they rejected for other reasons (such as the desire to live free of accountability to God's judgment), rather than the theology itself. I was formerly a Roman Catholic, and I certainly don't remember the RC church teaching this.


That is an excellent question/point to raise. Wikipedia, while clearly having its limitations and problems, seems to do a fair job here of defining penal substitution:

http://en.wikipedia....al_substitution

"Theologians who advocate penal substitution are keen to define the doctrine carefully, rather than, as Packer says, crudely. The primary question is, he says, not the rationality or morality of God but the remission of one's sins. He suggests that it be seen not as a mechanical explanation (how it works) but rather than kerygmatically (what it means to us). Denney contends that the atonement should not be seen (though as Packer says, Denney avoided the term "penal" in any case).What matters in Packer's view is that "Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory" Thus, John Stott critiques loveless caricatures of the cross as "a sacrifice to appease an angry God, or ... a legal transaction in which an innocent victim was made to pay the penalty for the crimes of others" as being "neither the Christianity of the bible in general nor of Paul in particular" and further that "It is doubtful if anybody has ever believed such a crude construction."

A few thoughts on this quote above from the wikipedia article: I believe that JI Packer and John Stott want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to finesse penal substitution, by use of the kerygmatic vs forensic distinction, but I find that all of their finesse does not remove the trinitarian and moral problems with the theory. Whether one understands PS in a kerygmatic sense or not, the monumental question still remains, does PS allow for the possibility that the Father was indeed angry at the Son? If it even remotely does, the problem remains intact and unaddressed. I believe that JND Kelly, Stott and Packer cannot merely wish the problem to go away, by appealing to metaphysics. That's why I believe Fr Romanides put so much energy into refuting them by brilliantly showing that death does not originate with God. But of course, I may be completely wrong.

Let's be charitable and assume for a minute that they may be correct in preferring a kerygmatic understanding of penal substitution as opposed to a mechanical/forensic understanding. In that case, I can actually see myself agreeing with Packer when he says that "Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory". But in my view, in stating things as such, Packer has let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, in that very pronouncement!

Note my emphasis above: Packer says that Christ was moved by love! The very second he states that, he has moved into our camp, in my mind, even though he would likely be wont to admit it... If the emphasis is no longer on punishment and is instead on love, then recapitulation put forth by St Irenaeus and the physical theory by St Athanasius are then the only operative models worth having. The nuance I try to make is this: Recapitulation automatically implies that Christ saved us from the ultimate penalty, without incorrectly placing our focus and attention on God's punishment, which is clearly NOT His primary goal, but rather His 'strange work' as Leon Morris puts it. God's primary 'goal', I use the term loosely, is to SAVE us and not to punish us. I have come to save men and not to destroy/condemn them said Jesus. Isn't that what we should emphasize?

Could it be that this whole debate is the product of a mistaken emphasis/focus on the part of Anselm and the reformers on the inevitable judgment of God rather than on His great love for us?



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#19 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 07:45 AM

Well, the RC Church certainly teaches that Christ's sacrifice was moved by love. Again, I believe the alleged West-East dichotomy on the Cross is a straw man, and does not fit with my knowledge of either RC or Orthodox theology. The purpose of the straw man, in my opinion, is to deny that there was any element of satisfaction of justice in the Cross, with which I strongly disagree. For example, see this quotation from St Gregory Palamas:

"The pre-eternal, uncircumscribed and almighty Word and omnipotent Son of God could clearly have saved man from mortality and servitude to the devil without Himself becoming man. He upholds all things by the word of His power and everything is subject to His divine authority. According to Job, He can do everything and nothing is impossible for Him. The strength of a created being cannot withstand the power of the Creator, and nothing is more powerful than the Almighty. But the incarnation of the Word of God was the method of deliverance most in keeping with our nature and weakness, and most appropriate for Him Who carried it out, for this method had justice on its side, and God does not act without justice. As the Psalmist and Prophet says, ‘God is righteous and loveth righteousness’ (Psalm 11.7), ‘and there is no unrighteousness in Him’ (Psalm 92.15). Man was justly abandoned by God in the beginning as he had first abandoned God. He had voluntarily approached the originator of evil, obeyed him when he treacherously advised the opposite of what God had commanded, and was justly given over to him. In this way, through the evil one’s envy and the good Lord’s just consent, death came into the world. Because of the devil’s overwhelming evil, death became twofold, for he brought about not just physical but also eternal death.

“As we had been justly handed over to the devil’s service and subjection to death, it was clearly necessary that the human race’s return to freedom and life should be accomplished by God in a just way. Not only had man been surrendered to the envious devil by divine righteousness, but the devil had rejected righteousness and become wrongly enamoured of authority, arbitrary power and, above all, tyranny. He took up arms against justice and used his might against mankind. It pleased God that the devil be overcome first by the justice against which he continuously fought, then afterwards by power, through the Resurrection and the future Judgement. Justice before power is the best order of events, and that force should come after justice is the work of a truly divine and good Lord, not of a tyrant….

“A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on High with us and to sanctify us, since we had been soiled by fellowship with the evil one. There had to be a sacrifice which both cleansed and was clean, and a purified, sinless priest… It was clearly necessary for Christ to descend to Hades, but all these things were done with justice, without which God does not act.”

Even if we allow for argument's sake that the Western denominations have focused excessively on God's justice, to the detriment of His love, I believe I am justified in pointing out that current trends in Orthodox soteriology are moving dangerously in the direction of focusing on His love, to the detriment of His justice. The Church teaches both to us, so that we shouldn't fall into despair by forgetting God's love and mercy (the message of the Prodigal Son), nor fall into complacency by forgetting His terrible wrath (the message of the Last Judgment).

#20 Evan

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Posted 24 November 2010 - 01:32 PM

Well, the RC Church certainly teaches that Christ's sacrifice was moved by love. Again, I believe the alleged West-East dichotomy on the Cross is a straw man, and does not fit with my knowledge of either RC or Orthodox theology. The purpose of the straw man, in my opinion, is to deny that there was any element of satisfaction of justice in the Cross, with which I strongly disagree. For example, see this quotation from St Gregory Palamas:

"The pre-eternal, uncircumscribed and almighty Word and omnipotent Son of God could clearly have saved man from mortality and servitude to the devil without Himself becoming man. He upholds all things by the word of His power and everything is subject to His divine authority. According to Job, He can do everything and nothing is impossible for Him. The strength of a created being cannot withstand the power of the Creator, and nothing is more powerful than the Almighty. But the incarnation of the Word of God was the method of deliverance most in keeping with our nature and weakness, and most appropriate for Him Who carried it out, for this method had justice on its side, and God does not act without justice. As the Psalmist and Prophet says, ‘God is righteous and loveth righteousness’ (Psalm 11.7), ‘and there is no unrighteousness in Him’ (Psalm 92.15). Man was justly abandoned by God in the beginning as he had first abandoned God. He had voluntarily approached the originator of evil, obeyed him when he treacherously advised the opposite of what God had commanded, and was justly given over to him. In this way, through the evil one’s envy and the good Lord’s just consent, death came into the world. Because of the devil’s overwhelming evil, death became twofold, for he brought about not just physical but also eternal death.

“As we had been justly handed over to the devil’s service and subjection to death, it was clearly necessary that the human race’s return to freedom and life should be accomplished by God in a just way. Not only had man been surrendered to the envious devil by divine righteousness, but the devil had rejected righteousness and become wrongly enamoured of authority, arbitrary power and, above all, tyranny. He took up arms against justice and used his might against mankind. It pleased God that the devil be overcome first by the justice against which he continuously fought, then afterwards by power, through the Resurrection and the future Judgement. Justice before power is the best order of events, and that force should come after justice is the work of a truly divine and good Lord, not of a tyrant….

“A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on High with us and to sanctify us, since we had been soiled by fellowship with the evil one. There had to be a sacrifice which both cleansed and was clean, and a purified, sinless priest… It was clearly necessary for Christ to descend to Hades, but all these things were done with justice, without which God does not act.”

Even if we allow for argument's sake that the Western denominations have focused excessively on God's justice, to the detriment of His love, I believe I am justified in pointing out that current trends in Orthodox soteriology are moving dangerously in the direction of focusing on His love, to the detriment of His justice. The Church teaches both to us, so that we shouldn't fall into despair by forgetting God's love and mercy (the message of the Prodigal Son), nor fall into complacency by forgetting His terrible wrath (the message of the Last Judgment).


Jonathan,

While I largely agree with the points you've raised here, particularly about the lack of emphasis upon the "seriousness" of the final judgment one finds in certain exegetes, I think that to even admit that there is something we can call God's "justice" that is separate and distinct from His "love" may set up for us a false problem. God's love and mercy is just, and His justice is loving and merciful. The love of God was expressed in His deliverance of the deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egypt, as much as His justice was, and it will be made manifest on the last day in the separation of the wheat from the chaff. God is never just at one time and loving at another. I'd daresay that if we can't conceive of the punishment of sinful acts as loving, it is our notion of love that needs to be corrected. We don't think of the martyrs who cry out for God's justice to triumph on earth as being less than loving.

"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord (Holy and True), do you not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"

Revelation 6:9-10.

I'm grateful for the citation to St. Gregory. I recently made my way through a collection of his homilies and was struck by his focus on the last judgment and an insistence upon the torments of Hell that is as strident as anything I've come across. That it may involve fire of some nature is certainly not a "Western" notion.

In Christ,
Evan




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