Metaphors of the Atonement

Metaphors are very important when thinking about any aspect of our salvation. People can sometimes state what they believe as doctrine very precisely without thinking about what their beliefs imply about God, the world, or themselves. Metaphors can work in a very hidden way – particularly those that are referred to as “root metaphors.” A root metaphor is the over-arching imagery that generally governs how a train of thought goes. It provides the logical or image-driven framework upon which later thought will be built.

Excellent illustrations of this are found if you look at the doctrines related to the Descent of Christ into Hades. The article by Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ Descent into Hades, which was recently referenced here, notes contrasts in how the understanding of Christ’s Descent into Hades developed in both East and West. The development, starting in the 4th or 5th centuries eventually resulted in very different understandings. But the underlying issue was not the Descent into Hades but the metaphors which came to dominate the thought of Christian teachers, East or West.

Bishop Hilarion cited a passage from Cyril of Alexandria’s Paschal Homily (7th Paschal Homily, 2) and noted:

The doctrine of the descent of Christ into Hades occupies an essential place in the works of Cyril of Alexandria. In his ‘Paschal Homilies’, he repeatedly mentions that as a consequence of the descent of Christ into Hades, the devil was left all alone, while hell was devastated: ‘For having destroyed hell and opened the impassable gates for the departed spirits, He left the devil there abandoned and lonely’.

This imagery is also found in St. John Chrysostom’s famous Catechetical Homily: “And not one dead is left in the grave.”

Bishop Hilarion contrasts this with the Descent into Hades’ development in Western Christianity:

The general conclusion can now be drawn from a comparative analysis of Eastern and Western understandings of the descent into Hades. In the first three centuries of the Christian Church, there was considerable similarity between the interpretation of this doctrine by theologians in East and West. However, already by the 4th—5th centuries, substantial differences can be identified. In the West, a juridical understanding of the doctrine prevailed [emphasis added]. It gave increasingly more weight to notions of predestination (Christ delivered from hell those who were predestined for salvation from the beginning) and original sin (salvation given by Christ was deliverance from the general original sin, not from the ‘personal’ sins of individuals). The range of those to whom the saving action of the descent into hell is extended becomes ever more narrow. First, it excludes sinners doomed to eternal torment, then those in purgatory and finally unbaptized infants. This kind of legalism was alien to the Orthodox East, where the descent into Hades continued to be perceived in the spirit in which it is expressed in the liturgical texts of Great Friday and Easter, i.e. as an event significant not only for all people, but also for the entire cosmos, for all created life.

An excellent example of the sort of development in the West which Bishop Hilarion describes is found in the work of Thomas Aquinas. Bishop Hilarion offers this observation:

Thomas Aquinas was the 13th-century theologian who brought to completion the Latin teaching on the descent of Christ into Hades. In his ‘Summa Theologiae’, he divides hell into four parts: 1) purgatory (purgatorium), where sinners experience penal suffering; 2) the hell of the patriarchs (infernum patrum), the abode of the Old Testament righteous before the coming of Christ; 3) the hell of unbaptized children (infernum puerorum); and 4) the hell of the damned (infernum damnatorum). In response to the question, exactly which was the hell that Christ descended to, Thomas Aquinas admits two possibilities: Christ descended either into all parts of hell or only to that in which the righteous were imprisoned, whom He was to deliver. In the first case, ‘for going down into the hell of the lost He wrought this effect, that by descending thither He put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory He gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in hell solely on account of original sin (pro solo peccato originali detinebantur in inferno), He shed the light of glory everlasting’. In the second case, the soul of Christ ‘descended only to the place where the righteous were detained’ (descendit solum ad locum inferni in quo justi detinebantur), but the action of His presence there was felt in some way in the other parts of hell as well.

What is of interest to me is looking at what is happening on the metaphorical level in these two treatments of Christ’s Descent into Hell. In St. Cyril’s preaching, as well as in other Fathers of the Eastern Church, the root metaphor of Christ’s Descent into Hell is literally that – Christ’s Descent into Hell. Gustav Aulen, the Swedish Lutheran theologian, would later dub this imagery the “Christus Victor” model of the atonement. It is placing Christ’s defeat of Satan and destruction of Hell as the dominant image that is pressed throughout its preaching and its use in doctrine. The East never broke the metaphor up (nor did it ever offer an analysis of Hell itself as in Aquinas’ four distinctions). A number of Eastern Fathers, indeed the majority, will labor somewhat to state that not everyone will be saved in a “happy” sense, but they have to labor to reach that conclusion because the overarching metaphor of Christ Descent into Hades can easily lead one to see Hell as empty – and if Hell is empty, then all are saved. (I personally love Cyril’s description of Satan being left “abandoned and lonely.”)

In the West, it is not the metaphor created by the Descent of Christ into Hades that controls the development of thought on the subject, but an alternative metaphor – that of the forensic, or legal world, as Bishop Hilarion noted. Thus Christ’s Descent into Hades is analyzed by reference to a metaphor outside the event and made to conform, ultimately, to that metaphor.

Thus it is today that we find the Roman Catholic Church re-examining the doctrine of limbo. My dear friend Fr. Al Kimel has posted an article on the current work of Catholic theologians on Pontifications. It is worth a read – but I would note to any reading it, that from an Orthodox perspective, what is going on is a reexamination of the legal metaphor and the possibility that some other approach might yield different results. It did in the Eastern Church – and will in the West if theologians there will let the event speak for itself.

I will add as an additional observation, that the controlling or root metaphor in the West was not simply drawn from the legal world itself. Rather, an analysis of the Adamic fall and the use of some of St. Paul’s imagery with that fall, come to be the dominant metaphor. Original sin therefore plays a role in the West that it never did in the East. It is worth noting that the thinking and doctrine concerning salvation which followed or were driven by that metaphor come to see the Descent into Hell as problematic. Rome treated the problem by subjecting it to scholastic analysis. For much of the Protestant tradition, the Descent becomes so problematic that it is virtually forgotten. Anglican Prayerbooks (even in 1928) offered optional versions of the Apostles’ Creed in which you could say, “He descended into Hell,” or “He went into the place of departed spirits.” At the most, the Descent into Hell was limited to a freeing of the “righteous.” The alternative metaphor of original sin and juridical salvation gave little or no room for a salvation from Hell from within Hell itself. For a large number of modern Evangelicals, it is no exaggeration to say that there is no awareness at all that Christ ever descended into Hell (Hades, etc.). The metaphor which dominates their thoughts on salvation gives no room nor necessity for such a descent. This absence is similar to the absence of sacramental understanding in which Baptism and Eucharist play a role in salvation. They are reduced to memorials or ordinances because the controlling metaphor in modern Protestant thought has no room nor necessity for either.

The ending of Chrysostom’s Catechetical Sermon is a fitting end to these thoughts:

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

Amen.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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145 responses to “Metaphors of the Atonement”

  1. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    Victor

    Thank you. The Theopaschite formula states: “Unus ex Trinitate passus est” (meaning “One of the Trinity suffered in the flesh”) and if we hold to the confession that the Divine and Human attributes of the Son are incapable of ontological separation, further confess that in line with Scripture, he bore the sins of the world and then factor in the ‘coinherent perichoresis’ in the internal relations of the Trinity – then my area of interest remains with the relationship of sin to the Trinity.

    I quite like this pastoral directon from Father Stephen Freeman:

    “the musings of some saints, should not be taken as foundations for dogmatic speculation. The topic fascinates people, and we often want to know much more than we do, but there is a kind of knowing that is harmful and a kind of knowing that is salvific. Speculation, to a large extent, especially in certain matters, is about as useful as gossip – and likely harmful. Even the knowledge of doctrine, when he only has an intellectual character, has not risen to the level of saving knowledge.”

    My interest is Soteriological rather than speculative and I ask the forgiveness of anyone who has been reading this stream of correspondence and has gained the impression that this is mere specualtie conjecture.

  2. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Dear Father, bless! I’m not a philosopher and can’t comment with precision either. I have thought a lot about the issue of what God’s holiness means vis-a-vis the Incarnation and our salvation from sin. The best I can come up with is that God’s holiness describes the complete, whole and perfect nature of God’s Love, as wholly incorruptible by sin (and thus wholly Other than the Creation, which does not have this intrinsic completeness in itself). Doubtless, there is more to it than that. God is described in Scripture as righteous and also as love. The kind of righteousness that God has is expressed most fully in His condescension and mercy. I do think formal discussions of this nature can keep in abstraction what can only be ultimately truly known by a surrender to the Presence of the Only One Who is our healing.

    I think when we start splitting hairs about whether sin as missing the mark is best understood as a kind of spiritual sickness or whether sin is willful rebellion, etc., and which aspect does the Atonement address (obviously, all of it!), what we are really concerned about is what is OUR responsibility vis-a-vis our sin. I think the Orthodox answer is that of course we are responsible for our personal sin (we must address it when God brings it to our attention), but we inherited death and corruption and are not responsible to heal ourselves–that can only come from God. Our responsibility is to get up and go to the doctor (responding to the Holy Spirit and participating in the Church). It is the doctor’s responsibility to heal us. Christ heals us in every aspect of our being whether sins, iniquities/transgressions, or infirmities, and how He does that is a great mystery, but a mystery as familiar (or strange) to us as that of His completely selfless love.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    Karen, very well said and “spot on” as they say.

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    Jerry,
    John Meyendorff’s Christ in Eastern Christian Thought has some very good and authoritative material on the Theopaschite formula (it’s the first place I personally studied it). Part of the difficulty in this is the very nature of the Church’s dogmatic statements. Generally, they seek to state what the boundaries of speech are in a matter, and to say the most essential things, but generally refrain from saying much more. To find those things, one tends to have to go to the fathers’ writings who spoke most.

    Very important in this matter is the Person (hypostasis) of Christ. The Person of Christ is the same Person as the 2nd Person of the Trinity (the Logos). Christ has two natures (in the words of Chalcedon), but only one and the same Person. This requires that we contemplate the distinction of Person and Nature. A worthwhile meditation. But it is Christ’s Person, who unites the 2 natures and, in that, there is a sharing, the “communicatio idiomatum.”

    The crux of the matter was the Church’s desire to confess that the sufferings of Christ were indeed the sufferings of God and not merely the sufferings of a human nature from which God somehow separated Himself. In Orthodoxy, it is important to say that it is God who has taken these things upon Himself. The mystery of how the impassible God actually suffered for us, is the point of the Theopaschite formula.

    From the point of view of the heart, I would suggest the writings of the Elder Sophrony or perhaps his disciple, Archimandrite Zacharias – his book The Enlargement of the Heart – is a very good read and quite rich in material that has bearing on this – particularly in the sense of the sufferings of Christ.

    There is a false problem created in some evangelical thought which seeks to make Christ be somehow separated from God as a consequence of the penal substitutionary atonement doctrine. It is an approach that forgets all that the Church has classically said in Trinitarian and Christological statements.

    Look at Fr. Zacharias’ work and maybe Meyendorff if you have a chance. You’ll probably like them.

  5. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    “The mystery of how the impassible God actually suffered for us, is the point of the Theopaschite formula.”

    Yes. This is the true heart of the matter.

    “There is a false problem created in some evangelical thought which seeks to make Christ be somehow separated from God as a consequence of the penal substitutionary atonement doctrine. It is an approach that forgets all that the Church has classically said in Trinitarian and Christological statements.”

    Agreed, which is why your work is so important to Christianity in general. The implied separation of Christ from God suggests a sundering of his threandric hypostasis which I have ruled out. Your contributions have been great – I have learnt a huge amount and I was very pleased you brought the Theopaschite formula to my attention.

  6. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    “The best I can come up with is that God’s holiness describes the complete, whole and perfect nature of God’s Love, as wholly incorruptible by sin (and thus wholly Other than the Creation, which does not have this intrinsic completeness in itself). Doubtless, there is more to it than that. God is described in Scripture as righteous and also as love. The kind of righteousness that God has is expressed most fully in His condescension and mercy. I do think formal discussions of this nature can keep in abstraction what can only be ultimately truly known by a surrender to the Presence of the Only One Who is our healing.”

    Revelation – specifically, “God’s holiness describes the complete, whole and perfect nature of God’s Love, as wholly incorruptible by sin”.

    Can I say that?

  7. Robert Avatar
    Robert

    “Revelation – specifically, “God’s holiness describes the complete, whole and perfect nature of God’s Love, as wholly incorruptible by sin”. Can I say that?”

    I would think so, but what exactly do you mean to say?

    It appears to me, from an Orthodox perspective, that we must keep the Energy/Essence distinction in mind when speaking about these matters.

  8. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    Robert

    In dealing with the Energy/Essence Distinction I take a Super-Essential view. I find Gregory Palamas to be a very subtle thinker and I draw your attention to the following statement:

    “Part of the difficulty in this is the very nature of the Church’s dogmatic statements. Generally, they seek to state what the boundaries of speech are in a matter, and to say the most essential things, but generally refrain from saying much more. To find those things, one tends to have to go to the fathers’ writings who spoke most.” – Father Stephen Freeman

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    Jerry, yes.

    This is one of the benefits of Orthodoxy generally seeing sin as an existential or ontological problems rather than legal stain, impurity, etc. God can take our sin upon Himself without loss of Who He Is – indeed it only testifies to His great love. Others see this taking on as somehow tainting God and insulting His righteousness. This is a failure to understand love.

  10. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    “God can take our sin upon Himself without loss of Who He Is” – Father Stephen Freeman

    Brilliant. A brilliant statment. It is incredible how you and Karen have formed a spontaneous duet of increasing Revelation – building on each other.

    1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

  11. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    “This is one of the benefits of Orthodoxy generally seeing sin as an existential or ontological problems rather than legal stain, impurity, etc.” – Father Stephen Freeman

    I am interested in the Ontological and Existential ‘aspects’ of the Juridicial language used by Paul – Calvinism breaks down because of certain ‘a priori’ assumptions about the nature of ‘total depravity’ in dealing the Juridicial language used by Paul and inevitably leads to the use of a legal phraseology in dealing with Hamartiology which negates Paul’s original intentions – I am more Pelagian and/or Arminian.

  12. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Given the topic it is fitting that today we celebrate the memory of
    Sainted Anastasias I the Sinaite.

    I have posted an article.

    Mary

  13. Micah Avatar
    Micah

    1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. –Jerry

    Jerry, this well supports Father Stephen’s earlier statement that: “we are creatures of communion not consumption”.

    Inasmuch as we live in conformity with the consubstantial Trinity (through Divine condescension) we allow Him to build His Holy Temple in us and through us (cf. Psalm 118:22–23).

  14. Robert Avatar
    Robert

    Sorry Jerry I don’t understand your response to my comment.

  15. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    Robert

    I distinguish between ‘real distinction’ and ‘real separation’ in dealing with Energies and Essence – I am more interested in distinction rather than separation in dealing with these categories.

    Colossians 1:29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energies, which work so powerfully in me.

    I find the word ‘His’ very interesting as we are not dealing energetic progression as theophany or epiphany but as root identification.

  16. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    In as much as we live in conformity with the consubstantial Trinity (through Divine condescension) we allow Him to build His Holy Temple in us and through us (cf. Psalm 118:22–23) – Micah.

    Man, you must be burning, what a brilliant insight – this website appears to trigger spontaneous Revelation on contact.

  17. Mary Lanser Avatar

    The idea, Jerry, that the ennergies are not absolutely distinct from the essence?

    M.

  18. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    Mary

    It depends how you understand Platonic Progression and how the Fathers reworked Platonic categories – the approach that Gregory Palamas appears to have adopted on the matter of Energies and Essence is summed up in this statemetn by Paul:

    1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

    It was Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou who suggested using Kataphatic means to understand Palamite theology, but with an Apophatic slant – I can only assume he was referring to 1 Corinthians 13:12.

  19. Robert Avatar
    Robert

    Jerry, sorry you lost me as I don’t see how this distinction you hold relates this thread.

    But that is OK. I am not the sharpest tool in the shed. 😀

  20. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    Robert

    How about this?

    Philippians 2:15 So that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.

    You shine like a Star and I find that so utterly beautiful that everything else is just words on a page.

  21. Robert Avatar
    Robert

    Well thank you. Now you make me blush. :;

  22. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Dear Jerry,

    Agreed, though we have the words of knowledge and understanding and wisdom to guide.

    From the Triads:

    “Thus if the light of Thabor is a symbol, it is either a natural or a nonnatural one. If the latter, then it either has its own existence or is just a phantom without subsistence. But if it is merely an insubstantial phantom, then Christ never really was, is or will be such as He appeared on Thabor. Yet Denys the Areopagite, Gregory the Theologian and all others who await his coming from heaven with glory, affim clearly that Christ will be for all eternity as He then appeared…This light then is not just a phantome without subsistence…Basil the Great testifies to the same truth: “His divine power appeared as it were as the light through a screen of glass, that is to say, through the flesh of the Lord, which has assumed from us, the power which enlightens those who have purified the eyes of the heart.”

    The divine and human nature are true union.

  23. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    Mary

    I seem to be surrounded by words – Teleosis, Theosis, Unification, Glorification, Deification when the subject of Union comes up and I have decided that I can no longer understand what any of these words really mean…

    I am interested that through the Incarnation the Son of God became the Son of Man and that at the Ascension – which was a Bodily Ascension – the Son of Man, as the Son of God took our [renewed] Humanity into Heaven, into the Perichoresis of the Trinity….

    John 1:14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

  24. Seraphim Avatar
    Seraphim

    Father Stephen,

    In an earlier comment you said “This is one of the benefits of Orthodoxy generally seeing sin as an existential or ontological problems rather than legal stain, impurity.”

    Can you explain to me simply why it must be viewed as an ontological problem RATHER THAN a legal stain, rather than both?

    That’s what I, for my part, don’t understand. To me the fact of sin being an ontological problem implies that it is a legal stain (to suggest otherwise is the Lutheran doctrine of forensic justification), and to suggest that it is a legal stain implies that it is an ontological problem (I can’t think of a heresy off the top of my head that denied that).

  25. Micah Avatar
    Micah

    Jerry,

    When we say that Christ ascended into the heavens we really mean much more than just a physical ascension. Indeed, He fills the entire universe (cf. Ephesians 4:9–11).

    The 4th chapter of Ephesians is an unparalleled exegetical account of how Christ’s divine and human nature is perfectly manifest in our midst.

    The “problem” of the non-linearity of time and space is utterly unraveled in the glory of Christ’s body (cf. Ephesians 4: 14–16). Fr. Hainsworth has a very good teaching on this available on AFR.

    Glory to God for all things!

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    Seraphim, I see the legal stain as often part of the forensic justification – although the “stain” part can certainly be seen as stronger and in the ontological or existential category. I would perhaps take the “legal” of the “stain” and be more comfortable.

  27. Seraphim Avatar
    Seraphim

    Father, I understand your discomfort with the forensic misunderstanding of justification, but I don’t see the legal metaphor as bound to it – you’re conflating Lutheran and Catholic theology. I was raised Lutheran, and when I was received into the Catholic Church (in the Roman rite), I found that that doctrine (which I had never liked anyway) was quite forcefully and strongly rejected – theosis was emphasized in RCIA as being the principle doctrine that Luther rejected, and forensic justification was the principle heresy that distinguishes Lutheranism from Catholicism. Yet Roman Catholic soteriology remains very engrained in the legal metaphor, especially with practices such as indulgences – when I was a Roman Catholic, I was forced to separate the legal metaphor from the heresy of imputed grace.

    In short, I don’t understand how you can confuse Lutheran and Catholic theology. Given my own personal history as well as the fact that we live in America surrounded by both of them, the difference seems pretty obvious to me – and much more stark than the difference between Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology (something I believe I can say with some confidence, being now Orthodox in communion with Rome rather than a Western-rite Catholic).

    Christos voskhrese!

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    Seraphim,
    I agree that the forensic metaphor has a strong place within RC theology (or at least various versions of it). I do not mean to conflate Lutheran and Catholic theology. The argument at the Reformation was, in a sense, an argument between lawyers. No one disagreed about the forensic metaphor, but about how it worked. I think both were wrong. I also suspect that the RCIA you described treats Luther somewhat inaccurately. I mean no disrespect. It is also, from an Orthodox perspective, quite incorrect to describe the Eastern Rite as “Orthodox in communion with Rome.” That would presume many historical facts never occurred, that a Latinization of Byzantine Catholicism has not taken place and would be, in many serious ways, dismissive of Eastern Orthodoxy and the integrity of its life. The phronema of Eastern Orthodoxy and Byzantine Catholicism are not the same – if they were – then Byzantine Catholics would sever communion with Rome or the Orthodox would embrace Rome. It’s not mere technicalities or small things that separate Orthodoxy and Rome. Patriarch Bartholomew said a few years ago that the difference between the two was “ontological” (which may have overstated things – but certainly underlined the depth of the difference). It’s not mere historical animus at work. There is a reality that is Orthodoxy that many on the outside refuse to understand – or to listen to the Orthodox when they try to describe it.

    I think that the conversation among theologians has greatly advanced a common understanding viz. theosis (including among many protestants). Things are not frozen. Rome is not where it was when Luther created his schism, nor are Lutherans at that same place. There are many dynamics at work everywhere. It is good to listen to one another – but being careful not to presume that we comprehend one another. We need to approach one another in fear and wonder – for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

  29. pastorsonya Avatar
    pastorsonya

    “We need to approach one another in fear and wonder – for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

    Amen!!

  30. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    “When we say that Christ ascended into the heavens we really mean much more than just a physical ascension. Indeed, He fills the entire universe (cf. Ephesians 4:9–11).”

    Micah,

    That is Huge! Man, you are opening my mind. This is really exciting.

    Ephesians 4:10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

    The interesting thing about ‘Meta-Phor’, is it literally means to see things in a ‘Different Light’ – we are seeing Hevaenly and Spiriutal Realities, they remain Realities, we are simpy seeing them for the first time from a different perspective.

  31. Micah Avatar
    Micah

    Thanks Jerry.

    When God reveals Himself to man face-to-face the metaphors rightly become, at best, secondary.

    But by taking on Himself all that is to be human, God turned our weaknesses into strengths. It is His word that is the life of the Church (cf. Acts 9:5) and the hypostasis of our communion. We do not so much believe in concepts as in The Person (cf. Ezekiel 1:25–28).

    We do certainly need to “watch our metaphors” as Father Stephen says!

  32. Robert Avatar
    Robert

    Fr. Stephen,

    The desire and need for unity, the need we have of understanding and to love one another is not diminished or qualified the least bit while I note that I experience most attempts at ecumenism to be quite offensive. Invariably the Eastern Orthodox tradition is dismissed as essentially the same as this, that or the other (fill in the name). You put it quite well,

    “It is also, from an Orthodox perspective, quite incorrect to describe the Eastern Rite as “Orthodox in communion with Rome.” That would presume many historical facts never occurred, that a Latinization of Byzantine Catholicism has not taken place and would be, in many serious ways, dismissive of Eastern Orthodoxy and the integrity of its life. The phronema of Eastern Orthodoxy and Byzantine Catholicism are not the same – if they were – then Byzantine Catholics would sever communion with Rome or the Orthodox would embrace Rome. It’s not mere technicalities or small things that separate Orthodoxy and Rome.”

    I would say that those differences that do separate us, these and our insistence on maintaining them, are what offends those who are ecumenically minded. I don’t fault them for desiring unity, it is a noble goal. However, differences must be respected. Any efforts must start with true respect. Respect comes from considering one another in “fear and wonder”. Any other approach is but another incarnation of the Inquisition. Be of one mind and heart cannot be forced.

  33. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    “But by taking on Himself all that is to be human, God turned our weaknesses into strengths. It is His word that is the life of the Church (cf. Acts 9:5) and the hypostasis of our communion. We do not so much believe in concepts as in The Person (cf. Ezekiel 1:25–28).” – Micah

    Micah,

    I really like these series of statements and I have been reflecting on them:

    “But by taking on Himself all that is to be human, God turned our weaknesses into strengths.”

    This is a great ‘Incarnational’ treatment of 2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

    “It is His word that is the life of the Church (cf. Acts 9:5) and the hypostasis of our communion.”

    I really like this treatment of his Word.

    1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

    “We do not so much believe in concepts as in The Person (cf. Ezekiel 1:25–28)”.

    It was Father Stephen in one of his Pastoral Directions who observed that “Propositions are diminshed truth”.

    1 john 1:3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

    I really like the Pastoral and Spirital Directions that Father Stephen Freeman comes up with – they make me ‘buzz’ for hours.

  34. Micah Avatar
    Micah

    Seraphim,

    God’s immeasurable grace gives man something greater than himself to strive for. What would he do with salt that has lost it’s tang?

    1. The Church in Rome rightly wishes to defend human life and the anthropological character — Bishop Hilarion’s European alliance is solid.

    2. Rome seeks communion with the Eastern Church — there are no theological hurdles to be overcome — we shouldn’t underestimate the dynamics in this. The metaphor of infallibility wears thin.

    “We seek not conquest” says St Gregory of Nazianzen, “but the return of our brethren, whose separation from us is tearing us apart”.

  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    Micah,
    It may be a bit premature to say that there are no theological hurdles to be overcome.

  36. Micah Avatar
    Micah

    I should have been clearer Father, my apologies. In Eastern Orthodoxy Rome sees only clear and living waters…

  37. Seraphim Avatar
    Seraphim

    Micah,

    “In Eastern Orthodoxy Rome sees only clear and living waters.” That is correct. Pope John Paul II’s “Orientale Lumen” was the most beautiful exposition of Eastern Orthodoxy I have ever read, and Pope Benedict XVI sometimes (as in a certain passage in “The Nature and Mission of Theology”) reads like an Orthodox polemicist, specifically criticizing the West. (He attacked the West for a neo-Thomist trend which isolates the words of institution as the only necessary for a valid Mass to be said, thus opening the doors for the liturgical apostasy witnessed by the post-Vatican II church – a trend which Ratzinger rightly said was unthinkable in the East.)

    On the other hand, I do not mind the truth of papal infallibility. The pope is only infallible because he is the symbol of unity of the whole college of bishops – he does not speak alone. Infallibility is actually a restriction on what he can say rather than a power – it is simply another way of stating that the Holy Spirit prevents the Church from officially teaching error.

    I do think it might be a theological hurdle, however – one which dissipates when we realize that it is grounded in the collegial nature of the Church. I do not think there are any other theological hurdles – the Council of Florence pretty strongly taught the Eastern position on the Filioque, for instance, clarifying that the Western use of the term does not change what we in the East already believed.

    Father:

    “That would presume many historical facts never occurred, that a Latinization of Byzantine Catholicism has not taken place and would be, in many serious ways, dismissive of Eastern Orthodoxy and the integrity of its life. The phronema of Eastern Orthodoxy and Byzantine Catholicism are not the same – if they were – then Byzantine Catholics would sever communion with Rome or the Orthodox would embrace Rome.”

    My original point was that to equate Catholicism with “the West” and Orthodoxy with “the East” is to be dismissive of Byzantine Catholicism and the integrity of its life. I am aware of the unfortunate Latinizations that have occurred in the Eastern Church in communion with Rome; I deplore and reject them, as did Vatican II. I do believe that if the Orthodox correctly understood Catholicism, they would embrace communion with Rome – every Orthodox complaint against Rome I have ever read was grounded either in a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching (which I have a pretty good grasp of, practicing the Faith in the Latin rite for about five or six years) or in a Protestantization inconsistent with Eastern liturgical practice (as when some Orthodox have denied Mary’s sinlessness – the Orthodox objection was not with her sinlessness but with the non-synodical proclamation of the dogma).

    There does seem to be an ontological difference between either Orthodoxy or Tridentine Catholicism and the “spirit of Vatican II” Catholicism plaguing the Western Church – but they still have the seven mysteries, however much they trample on the dignity of them. I feel at home in either the East or the authentic West, because they provide the same spiritual environment – scholasticism is fortunately not as permeated within Tridentine Catholic liturgy as it is within Western theology. I strongly believe that the words of Patriarch Bartholomew cannot be correctly applied to the authentic Catholic tradition.

    Let me make one more point that may help you understand why I like the legal metaphor. A Chinese statesman, Lou Tseng-Tsiang, was a Confucian foreign minister for Sun Yat-Sen. As foreign minister to the European powers, he came to realize that the spiritual authority of the Pope (portrayed in monarchical or “legal” fashion) incarnated the Confucian ideal of spiritual authority, which by governing hearts is the perfect archetype of the political authority which governs bodies. Thus, for him, the Catholic “legal” model became the model of which (in Platonic fashion) civil law is an imperfect image. Lou Tseng-Tsiang converted to Christianity and ended his life as a Benedictine monk. (I highly recommend his spiritual biography, “The Ways of Confucius and of Christ”, by Dom Pierre-Celestin Lou Tseng-Tsiang; I think I left one copy on Amazon.com). The (civil) law is a metaphor of the realm of grace, not vice-versa. And Robert’s remark about the etymology of “meta-phor” is also useful – our secular or civil notion of the law is radically transformed and elevated by viewing the economy of grace.

    Father, you said that we should not presume to know that we comprehend each other. Let me know if I have misunderstood what you have said. I have, of course, also tried to be as clear as possible – I do think that mutual understood in fear and wonder is possible, despite the unfortunate ecclesial separation present.

  38. Micah Avatar
    Micah

    Seraphim,

    “The pope is only infallible because he is the symbol of unity of the whole college of bishops – he does not speak alone.”

    In the East such terms could never be properly pried from true context in the consubstantial Trinity (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 3:13–15).

    It seems plausible that in the West, the lack of visible unity (with the bishops in the East) would make such a metaphor likely, even necessary — but it masks that which is clear — like the procession of the Holy Spirit — with that which is not.

    We need to be conscious that full communion between East and West is the hypostasis of Church but we cannot say that it is canonical — yet!

  39. Robert Avatar
    Robert

    ‘Round and ’round we go…..Look Ma! no hands! 😀

  40. Micah Avatar
    Micah

    Jerry,

    The Ineffable has no need of the metaphoric.

    Christ is Risen!

  41. Damaris Avatar
    Damaris

    Seraphim — Thank you for your clarity and your charity.

  42. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    Micah

    I really like the thought of the ineffable as “utterable effulgence” where the only way it can be communicated is to shine.

    Matthew 17:2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

    I am also interested in all the places our [renewed] Humanity has gone with Christ:

    Romans 6:5-10

    5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

    8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

    “….was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell” – fropm The Apostles Creed.

    I note your comentary on the point that the ineffable needs no metaphor…..in his Light, we see Light (cf. Psalm 36:9).

  43. Jerry Cornelius Avatar
    Jerry Cornelius

    Sorry, I meant “Unutterable Effulgence”…Apologies.

  44. Micah Avatar
    Micah

    Thanks Jerry, indeed, He is risen!

  45. fatherstephen Avatar

    Our comments here have long drifted away from the topic of the post. I have maintained an unofficial observation that when comments exceed 100 they tend to less and less germane and useful. It tempts the blog site to degenerate into a forum, which it is not. Many thanks for the many thoughts. I have closed further comments on this article.


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