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Fallen nature un-Patristic?


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#1 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 01:41 AM

I was reading the article "The spirit of exile and the sin of man", and I was struck by the following passage:

 

‘Lo, there is not one righteous man left, no not even one.’ This scriptural proclamation has summarised human experience for centuries. All the world is mired in sin. Why is this so? Speculation has given birth to extreme varieties of explanations—some constituting major dividing blocks between Orthodoxy and other religious traditions. ‘Fallen nature’, taken as a kind of ‘changed nature’ after a ‘fall’, has long been one method of offering explanation for sin’s universal spread; yet the Fathers have resisted this explanation forcefully. The natures God creates, the human nature He has fashioned, cannot be altered by man. It is created good, in each and every person. Sin distorts the how, but not the what of human existence. But then, why its universal spread?

 

Is this really true? I always thought the notion of fallen nature was a Patristic one.



#2 Kosta

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 03:00 AM

I guess it depends on what the author means by saying, " taken as a kind of changed nature, after a fall". I know after Adam's transgression man became imperfect as did the entire creation. This is because man was the pinnacle of that creation and it filtered down to all things man had dominion over.

#3 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 04:15 AM

I can't say I know what the author means, but I'm pretty sure it's wrong to say that the Fathers don't speak of a fallen nature. I always understand that to mean that we have a tendency to sin, our bodily passions, such that we did not have before the Fall. Our first ancestors were certainly capable of sin, of disobedience, otherwise they wouldn't have sinned, but they didn't suffer from the same distorted bodily passions that we suffer from. The devil had to appeal to their pride, which is purely spiritual so that even angels can fall under it.



#4 Lakis Papas

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 08:16 AM

If "fallen nature" is "changed nature" then Adam would be another/different creature after the fall. It is of great importance that Adam retained his identity after the fall. And for this preservation of identity to happen it is necessary not to happen a change in nature.

Human fall is that man changed orientation, from being illuminated into accepting darkness. Church fathers wrote about fall with a language that makes clear that the 'image of god' in man's nature was kept after the fall, but this image was fainting and was darkened - but it was not changed.

#5 Kosta

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 09:03 AM

I think he adds his own non-existant straw man assumption into the minds of people that read the Fathers. The way I'm reading him, he is implying that many people understand fallen nature to mean a changed nature. He claims its one 'method' used to explain the spread of sin.  That is many believe the fall resulted in a profound alteration to an aspect of God's creation .  While there may very well be a difference between the terminology of fallen nature and a changed nature, we really dont know what he specifically has in mind.   Does he offer patristic citations as to what he means? And if so, do they show a difference between the understanding of fallen nature with what we think it means?

 

For example would the author disagree with your understanding? Or is he just assuming we dont know what is meant by fallen nature?



#6 Owen Jones

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 12:50 PM

I hope people will support this thread.  I was reading St. Dionysius' The Divine Names on good and evil recently in another discussion and that might be a good place to start. 



#7 Owen Jones

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 01:00 PM

For example, "But, neither are the demons evil by nature; for, if they are evil by
nature, neither are they from the Good, nor amongst things existing;
nor, in fact, did they change from good, being by nature, and always,
evil."



#8 Father David Moser

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 03:12 PM

I hope people will support this thread.  I was reading St. Dionysius' The Divine Names on good and evil recently in another discussion and that might be a good place to start. 

 

The problem I have with the original assertion is that it comes from an unnamed article by an unnamed author who passes off his own opinion on what the fathers did or did not mean - as is said above, he creates a straw man.  Its kind of hard to evaluate something with no more context and source material than is given.

 

Fr David



#9 Owen Jones

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 05:12 PM

I didn't mean support the premise behind the threat necessarily, but just address the subject matter. 



#10 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 06:30 PM

The article is available on this website. Check under studies on patristic themes.

#11 Anna Stickles

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 08:25 PM

Jonathon, 

 

The idea of fallen nature of course is Patristic and follows along the lines of what you describe in post 3.  However, there are strains of Protestant theology  that basically put forth a view of the Fall that sees our essential nature as being "totally depraved" after the fall.  This doctrine by implication puts forth a view such that nature is actually changed and no longer retains any of its natural goodness.  Protestants who believe this reject absolutely the Orthodox doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary, saying it is impossible, and they often use the very bible verse you quote in the first post as proof. 

 

This is different from the Patristic view which sees our nature as still essentially good, but which sees evil as being so deeply embedded that it appears natural, and as if it was an essential part of the soul. 

 

It seems to me the original author is making note of this difference between Orthodoxy and this particular strand of Protestant doctrine saying the Fathers have resisted the understanding put forth by these Protestants.


Edited by Anna Stickles, 03 March 2013 - 08:30 PM.


#12 Anna Stickles

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 08:33 PM

Here is a quote from Tertullian, On the Soul

 

"From then on (after the Fall) the irrational element became imbedded in the soul, developed with the soul, and, as it happened at the very beginning gave every appearance of being an essential element of the soul. .... (However) we are in danger of attributing irrationality to God ... if we say that irrationality is natural to the soul. Now the impulse to sin proceeds from the Devil and since all sin is irrational, the irrational therefore proceeds from the Devil whence comes sin." (16.1)

 

St Gregory of Palamas in his homiliy of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the temple also mentions how the devil influence is like a poison in our nature making us sick.


Edited by Anna Stickles, 03 March 2013 - 08:34 PM.


#13 Anna Stickles

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 08:43 PM

BTW for those interested the original article referred to is by Fr Steenberg on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.  A very good read for this Sunday.

 

http://www.monachos....-the-sin-of-man



#14 Anna Stickles

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Posted 03 March 2013 - 09:17 PM

One of the things to be noted in the essay is how sin is explained in both its universal aspect and its personal aspect.

 

"The enemy is at work, he has ‘stripped me and taken all my wealth’, yet it remains I who have departed far from God."

 

And he discusses how deeply embedded sin has become - not as a change of nature, but as a state of mind and desire that, because we have lived so long with it, now seems completely natural and normal. 

 

I think part of the universal nature of this sin is how culture propagates as normal ways of acting and living that are actually a result of the Fall,  and so from birth and young childhood we live in a state of blindness where sin, to one degree or another, seems perfectly normal and acceptable.  It takes God giving us prodigal son moments to really help us recognize our condition. 



 



#15 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 01:16 AM

Thanks Anna! Yes Fr Steenberg's argument makes much more sense if we assume he is attacking the Calvinist understanding of "fallen nature".



#16 Kosta

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 06:03 AM

Anna,

 

In Calvinism, do they believe baptism has any salvific grace or whether its beneficial for the remission of sins? Is there any belief in Theosis in this philosophy?

 

 

 

I find Fr, Irenei commentary on our fall imitating the prodigal son very intriguing:

 

These are not withdrawn by God, but by the person himself: ‘in my wretchedness, I have deprived myself’. These hymns disclose genuine exile—that state of departure and deprivation from God’s presence. They speak, too, of an authentic understanding of a ‘fall’: not as the loss of some perfect state or perfected condition, but the fall from a kingdom. I have run from my Father’s house, departed the Kingdom that is my own. I am condemned by my evil deeds, an outcast from the Kingdom of God by my own acts. I have ‘fallen’, not as a condition of my being, but as a state of my exiled living. I live not the life God has fashioned for me....

 

The Orthodox Church perceives man’s sinful state as this condition of exile. It is not by chance that the Sunday dedicated to the Prodigal Son, who is the chief image of our exile, also sees in the liturgical singing of Psalm 136: the great hymn of Israel’s exile in Babylon. These words, too, like those of the Prodigal in the Gospel, are meant to become our words. It is significant that they are sung after the verses of the Polyeleos at matins, itself a great and triumphant hymn of God’s mercy. This is the moment when, in many monasteries, the corona and hanging lamps are set in motion, swaying in the Church above the heads of the faithful, a visual reminder of the angelic orders joining in the hymn of God’s faithfulness. 



#17 Owen Jones

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 03:57 PM

There seem to be many images in the Church as to what ails us.  I think it's important to point out that these are images, because you cannot define the problem in purely propositional, let alone "factual" terms.  These are mysteries to us that we grapple with to find the right images to convey the truth as it is experienced.  Which ends up being a far more powerful means of representation than if we were talking about "objective facts."  In fact, the images that we used have actually been revealed to us by God Himself, finding it a more sublime way of teaching us what we need to know, than if He were to send us teachers who mimic Jack Webb.

 

Being in a state of exile is a very powerful image of how most people feel about existence, unless they are living in a state of wilfull oblivion, but that's hard work to maintain!  Slavery is another powerful image.  For me it was extremely helpful to think in terms of Christ, therefore, as our Exodus from slavery and exile.  Some obvious things are worthy of being restated in this context:  We cannot blame God for our troubles.  We can only blame ourselves.  The problem of evil is a lack of good.  One image that comes to mind is a lack of spiritual nutrition.  If the body lacks proper nutrition it whithers and dies.  So to with our spiritual food as it relates to body, mind, and soul. 

 

Does the fact that mankind universally suffers this lack, and that without a considerable amount of suffering and struggle, seems to be virtually unaware of what ails him, thereby compounding the problem, mean that God messed up when He created?  This is the underlying question it seems to me behind everything else, and until we have confidence in Creation, we go through life being confused and angry. 



#18 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 07:27 PM

OK, so in a nutshell: is our inclination to sin innate or acquired? Fr Irinei seems to be saying that we acquire an inclination to sin from our sinful environment, namely sinful human society. We do not inherit an inclination to sin through our genes; we only inherit mortality and the blameless passions. Is this basically correct?



#19 Lakis Papas

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 09:52 PM

A stone is what it is and nothing else. It is determined entirely by its nature.
 
Man has the image of God built in his nature. This means that he is not defined entirely by his nature, but he can be self-determined beyond natural restrictions. This self-definition is spiritual, but because the soul is immanent to the body,  the whole human being is influenced. This potentiality was given by God so that man might use this dynamics to surpass his natural limits. 
 
The self-determination is not just an expression of freedom and choice. It is actually an essential self-identification. Sin is part of the identity of the fallen man, as part of his self-identification. This identity while not natural, serves as second nature - it defines the "how of human existence".
 
Is this identity inheritable from generation to generation? No. This is why the Holy Mother of Christ managed to be worthy of becoming Mother of God. 


#20 Jonathan Gress

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 11:48 PM

OK, that makes sense. I suppose I just need to nail down the explanation for why sin is universal, if we are not actually born with it. The only explanation that makes sense is that since the first transgression affected our first parents, we are exposed to sin from our birth. Even if sin is not integral to our nature, it has been around since the Fall, and therefore has an effect on everyone as they grow up. Adam's sin darkened his mind, and that engendered more sin, which then affected the environment of Cain, and so on. Because sin is not innate, however, individuals can choose to resist this environment of sin, e.g. Abel.






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