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…Continued from Part 1

The Dogma of Redemption (Part 2 of 7)

by St. Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky


Metropolitan AnthonyIt is not an easy task to offer a positive explanation of this dogma, especially when it is offered for readers who are theologians. It is difficult, not because its exposition requires some kind of extremely abstract dialectic, but because the consciousness of the readers or listeners who have been theologically trained, is so saturated with the juridical theory, that even its opponents such as Svetlov and Nesmelov, could not free themselves from its influence. This was demonstrated in the fact that Professor Nesmelov, while refuting the principle that God the Father received satisfaction through Christ’s sacrifice, nevertheless maintains a similar significance, that is, a satisfaction of the conscience of the redeemed humanity who, supposedly, cannot accept the idea of reconciliation with God without some real means of vengeance. Professor Svetlov practically evades altogether the question of why Christ’s sufferings are saving for us. He asserts that the primary significance for our salvation belongs not so much to Christ’s sufferings, as to His incarnation, a significance which Saint Athanasios the Great clearly set forth.11

Archimandrite Ilarion [Troitsky] develops these same ideas, but does not come to a clear answer to the given question. When Fr Svetlov was defending his dissertation, in 1892 or 1893,12 I served as a challenger, and pointed out that no conclusion was reached concerning the relationship between Christ’s sufferings and our salvation. He responded to the effect that this relationship was not subject to theological definitions, but only to the apprehension of the heart. Such respected professors as P.P. Ponomarev and Archpriest N.V. Petrov likewise do not follow through to a definite reply to this question.

The highly competent and diligent Professor Skaballanovich of the Kiev Ecclesiastical Academy, was so deeply convinced that this relationship between Christ’s sufferings and our salvation could not be apprehended by reason, that, in his 1908 lectures in dogmatic theology, which I audited in the capacity of inspector of the academy, he supported his position by a negative reference to the fathers of the Church. To be precise, he pointed out that the fathers, who had not neglected to present logical demonstrations in the elucidation of the loftiest dogmas — about the Trinity and about the theanthropic nature of Christ — nevertheless, did not attempt to explain why Christ’s sufferings are saving for us. He was quite taken aback when, in the corridor after the lecture, I expressed the converse opinion that the contemporaries of the fathers understood the redeeming grace so clearly that there was no need for an exposition of it. As an example, there is no present need to explain to village parishioners what humility, compunction and repentance are, though the intelligentsia are very needful of an explication of these virtues from which they have long been alienated. Educated Christians who, since the Middle Ages, have been bogged down in juridical religious concepts, have likewise been deprived of that direct consciousness or spiritual awareness of their unity with Christ Who co-suffers with us in our struggle for salvation. Early Christians preserved the awareness of this unity so vividly and fervently in their hearts, that the commentators on the dogmas and words of the New Testament never encountered a necessity to explain what everyone apprehended so clearly.

I became convinced, about four years ago, of how necessary and difficult it is now to provide this explanation. In a lengthy conversation with a certain affable candidate of theology, of the seminary orientation, I expressed in some detail the essence of what the reader will encounter on the following pages. I realized that my collocutor was unable to comprehend the matter, although when I discussed this topic with senior-secondary school students, who were less saturated with the juridical theory, they easily comprehended it.

One might understand this if the juridical theory had at least a vague appearance of being logical, but exposing its internal contradictions has already become a commonplace. Even Levitov,13 a recent advocate of this theory,14 refutes it himself, in his own process of “eliminating its extremes,” after which elimination, nothing remained of the theory.

We have expressed our dissatisfaction with the view according to which the crucial power of our redemption is transferred from the event of Christ’s passions to His incarnation. It is laudable, nevertheless, that the authors whose ideas follow this direction have extended the concept of Christ’s redeeming struggle to include the whole of his earthly life, as St Basil the Great expressed it in the Anaphora Prayer; but they do not express the essence of their thought. The Lord accepted our nature and became like us, but why is His holiness imputed to us? Because His incarnation makes it possible for us to imitate the Perfect Man, Who became like unto us? This is true in part of course, but the cited Orthodox scholars were not satisfied by such a sosinian [ unitarian; Arian] explanation.

In precisely what aspect of Christ’s incarnation and sufferings do we find the very cause, the very acting strength ( causa efficiens) of the fact that we are made more perfect in personal suffering? Ought we to consider Christ’s incarnation saving for us only because He manifested in the person a demonstration of perfection? This is salutary and glorious only for Him, but why for us? “In Him was human nature sanctified!” Undoubtedly so, but, as a matter of fact, it was sanctified only insomuch as it was expressed in His person; why then do we derive a sanctification and improvement from this? You see, if any compassionate king were to conceal his rank and go to live in person with the prisoners, and endure all their toils and deprivations, it would be only his own personal moral struggle15 and not that of all the prisoners. Of course, they are influenced by his example and words of admonition, but we have already determined not to reduce the mystery of redemption to the example of the holy life of the Saviour and the regenerating power of His teaching. They say, “He received us into His nature,” but by precisely what means? What thought, action or sentiment of Christ’s can we indicate as an answer to this question posed in the instrumental case? We did not find an answer to this question in the cited authors, nor did we find it in Archbishop Sergei’s16 excellent dissertation, The Orthodox Doctrine of Salvation (now in its fourth edition), although it must be noted that his theme does not raise the question.

We mention this book in view of the immense indirect service which it has rendered to the correct interpretation of the relationship between Christ’s struggle and our salvation. Resting wholly upon the fathers of the Church, whose words are copiously cited by the author, this work affirms the simple truth, lost by the scholastic theologians of the West, that our salvation consists in nothing else but our spiritual perfectionment, the subduing of lust, the gradual liberation from the passions, and communion with the Godhead. In other words, Archbishop Sergei’s dissertation completely frees the concept of our salvation from those immoral juridical conventions by which the Latins and the Protestants (although in different ways) deeply debase the very aim of Christianity, expressed in the words of the apostle: “This is the will of God, even your holiness” (1Ths.4:3).17

How deeply this deviation, which we could call “moral monism,” from the lofty principles of the Gospel has taken root in our academic consciousness, is evident from the following incident. During Archbishop Sergei’s defence of his dissertation, the late Professor Muretov amicably, but forcefully, objected to the author that salvation is far more complex than the concept of personal (subjective) holiness and communion with God, for we must add to this the concept of justification, that is, the condition of discharge from the punitive sentence laid upon Adam since, without this, even personal holiness will not attain to the heavenly kingdom. As I recall, at this point, I too entered into the discussion and asserted that in the New Testament, and particularly with St Paul, the concept of justification does not at all have such a specific significance, but it really signifies righteousness, i.e., blamelessness, passionlessness and virtue, which concept is expressed by the Greek word δικαιοσὐνη which is synonymous with αγιωσὐνη; ` αρετἠ, etc. This was corroborated by the talented and highly erudite Professor Kliuchevsky (a historian rather than a theologian) who stated that he studied many ancient Greek juridical transcripts and documents and he could state that the concept δικαιοσὐνη has, in every case, a moral significance and never a juridical sense, which is expressed in Greek by the word δίκη.18

The conversation among the four of us about the terms “righteousness” and “justification,” that is, about the ethical (moral) and juridical understandings of redemption, took our opponent (M. D. Muretov) by surprise. Subsequently I observed that there were, on our side, incomparably stronger arguments than the simple interpretation of texts within the context of this conversation. The fact is that even in the Russian version of the Bible, which bears the marks of Protestant influence ( which can be observed in almost all the words set in italics in the New Testament, i.e., the conjectures of the translators, and in the preference of the late Hebrew canon of the Old Testament, to the correct, Septuagint), the word, “justification” is forced into Apostle Paul’s mouth only seven times, while he uses “righteousness” sixty-one times. Moreover, of these seven instances, ” justification” [ Opravdanίe] is introduced erroneously three times instead of ” righteousness” [ Pravednost]19, as both the Greek and the Slavonic texts read. Not once does the Slavonic text render the word δικαιοσὐνη as “justification,” but always as “righteousness.”20 The Slavonic translators rendered as “justification” only the Greek words δικαίωσις and δικαίομα terms whose concepts are the opposite of condemnation or accusation, and which were used by the apostle in precisely this context, in contrast to these (i.e., condemnation or accusation) (for example in Rm.4:25; 5:16, 18; 8:4). To top it off, even the Slavonic translators erroneously render the Greek terms δικαίωσις and δικαίομα as “[juridical] justification” where these terms actually signify “law,” “regulation” (for example, Rm.1:32; 2:26; Hb.9:1,10; also Lk.1:6; Rev.15:4).21 From all this, it is quite evident that the Pauline term δικαιοσὐνη (“righteousness”)22 received its juridical character among our scholastic theologians,23 not from Divine Scripture, but from Lutheran theology. This theology, during the entire four hundred years of its existence, has directed all its energy toward undermining the moral spirit and the spirit of moral struggle in Christianity, seeking to replace it with a doctrine of a carefree tranquility of the heart in the Redeemer, and the complete superfluousness of moral struggle, and the struggle with evil in one’s soul and one’s life.

We have dwelt on the theses which were discussed at the conversation described above, in order to facilitate our further explanation of the dogma of redemption, for, we are led to the following conclusions from it: in order to answer the question, “Why are Christ’s sufferings and resurrection saving for us?” we must bring out the relationship of these sacred events with our longing for perfection, with our inner struggle between good and evil; we must answer the question, “How does Christ’s passion help us in this, and why are we unable to attain holiness and communion with God without it, since as is well known, this communion with God is given to us in the measure that a person has attained to passionlessness and holiness?”

Inasmuch as these subjects have been sufficiently covered in the works of Archpriest Svetlov, Archbishop Sergei and other authors, we are freed from the duty of proving (1) that the juridical teaching about redemption came to us from the Latins, and not from the holy fathers, and (2) that redemption is nothing else but the gift of grace which bestows the capacity to work out our own salvation, and that salvation is spiritual perfection through moral struggle and attainment of communion with God.

Concerning other expressions and dictums of the Holy Scripture which give an imaginary basis for juridical theory, we shall speak later, but now it is time to pass on to the main thesis of this work.

…to be continued

1st Ecumenical Council_CretanSchool