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…Continued from Part 4

The Dogma of Redemption (Part 5 of 7)

by St. Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky


Metropolitan Anthony“The Son of God took on our nature,” said the apostles and the fathers of the Church. And the contemporary theologians who protest against the juridical theory of redemption say the same thing. They wish, however, to express something more profound with these words, but have not yet managed to elucidate their thoughts. But before this profound idea can be expressed, it is necessary to elucidate what nature is.

In the explanation of the dogma of the Trinity and the Theanthropos (God-man), in our courses on dogmatics, we find it quite correctly explained that the person or hypostasis is an individual principle of which there are three in the Holy Trinity, but one in the God-man, and the nature or φὐσις is the sum of the properties of a given nature, be it divine, angelic or human. There is one such nature in the Trinity, but in the God-man (Theanthropos) there are two. By nature, especially human nature, we have become accustomed to understand only the abstraction and summation of properties present in each person individually and, consequently, comprising a single general abstract idea, and only that.31

Divine revelation and our Church dogmatics teach otherwise. The nature of the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity is one, and we do not say that we have three gods, but one God; He has one will, one thought, one blessedness. From this, it is evident that essence or nature is not an abstraction made by our minds of common qualities of different objects or persons, but a certain real essence (being), a real will, a real force, acting in separate persons.32 An objector will reply: “Very well, but all this is so only in the most sublime Divine essence (nature); we know of triunity only in Him, but relative to finite beings, from people to animals, plants and stone, is not the commonly held opinion correct, which views nature as an abstract understanding which contains in itself all the properties of being common to each species? Would you seek to assert that humans have one common will, and that John, Peter and Paul, though they are three distinct persons, are yet only one man?”

St Gregory of Nyssa answers this question in the affirmative. I have more than once quoted from his epistle to Avavilos, “That There Are Not Three Gods.” In this epistle St Gregory replies to Avavilos that the expression, “three men” is incorrect because man is one, though there exist separate human persons. But the reader may ask, “What is there in common among them if they hate and cannot even tolerate one another?”

The answer is found in the very question itself. God did not create man for hatred and self-love, and the consciousness of the sharp separateness from each other, which exists in each of us, is an abnormal consciousness, born of sin. People free themselves from it according to the measure that they free themselves from self-love, and then the self-loving, self-assertive “I” pales in their consciousness, and is replaced by another, being filled with love and compassion — the consciousness of “we.” Thus it is with a mother in relation to children, in the union of a husband and wife who are of one mind and spirit, in Apostle Paul who was in the pains of spiritual birthgiving; and it was always manifest in the heart of Christ the Saviour, wherein lies the power of His co-suffering experience of our infirmities, about which Paul wrote to the Hebrews (4:15).

Nevertheless, for all our human separateness, we cannot but notice in ourselves the manifestations of the collective common human will; a will which is not of me, but in me, which I renounce only partially, and even then only with difficulty and struggle. This will is given to me from without and yet, at the same time, it is mine. This is, above all, what the common human nature is. In this we must place, first of all, our conscience, which was given to us, and which almost no one can resist completely; then, our direct involvement and compassion with our neighbours, our parental and filial affections, and much else. Among these attributes are also found evil ones, desires seemingly imposed upon us from without: self-love, vindictiveness, lusts, and so on. This is a manifestation of our fallen nature, against which it is possible and necessary to struggle. And so the nature of all people is one: it is an impersonal but powerful will which every human person is compelled to take into account, no matter in what direction the personal free will is turned: toward good or toward evil. It is to this, also, that we must ascribe that law of being, that people can be born on earth in no other way than by a union of a father and a mother.

But again, someone will respond to me, “I see that my natural will resembles that of others, but I do not see any real oneness; I am not conscious of a real oneness of my will with others and, sometimes, compassion for others is replaced in me by malevolence, whereas I often feel compassion toward animals and birds, which are of a different nature.”

Yes, unfortunately, this is so now, but from the beginning it was not so, it will not be so in the future life, and even now it is not so in the case of people who live according to God’s will. You cannot conceive that you have one soul in common with others, but read in the book of Acts: “The multitude of them that believed had one heart and soul” (4:32). And here is another view of life drawn from nature by St Basil the Great. Describing the complete unanimity and victory over self-love of monks contemporary with him, St Basil continues:

These men restore the primal goodness in eclipsing the sin of our forefather Adam; for there would be no divisions, no strife, no war among men, if sin had not made cleavages in their nature; they are perfect imitators of Christ and His manner of life in the flesh. For just as the Saviour in forming the company of the Apostles made common all things and Himself as well, so do they…they emulate the life of the angels, like them observing the principle of community through their exactness….These men have seized in advance the good things of the promised Kingdom, evidencing by their virtuous life and community and exact imitation of that Kingdom’s mode of life and state….They have clearly demonstrated to mankind how many blessings were bestowed on it by the Saviour’s incarnation, because in the measure of their strength they gather the (one) human nature, which had been torn and cleaved into thousands of pieces, once more to itself and to God. And this is foremost in the Saviour’s incarnate ekonomy: to gather human nature to itself and to Himself and, having abolished this evil cleavage, to restore the original unity, as the best of physicians binds up a body that has been broken in many places, using healing potions ( Ascetical Statutes, c.18)

It seems, therefore, that I have said nothing other than what St Basil has written in these lines. The reader can see that we have drawn his attention, not to any fancies or artificial conclusions of our own, but to the Tradition of the Church, to a doctrine forgotten (in this aspect at least) by our theological school which, from its inception in the 17th century, has drawn not so much on Church sources as upon Latin and Lutheran ones. If the reader wishes to see the authority of St Basil’s words in the words of Christ and the apostles, this is not difficult to fulfil. Concerning that union in the future life of all the saved, not in the same sense of mere unanimity, but in the sense of a real and essential oneness, similar to the unity of the Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, one may read the words of One of the Persons of the Holy Trinity:

Holy Father, keep in Thine own name those whom Thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are….Neither do I pray for these alone, but also for those who shall believe on me through their words: that they all may be one, as Thou Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us…I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one (Jn.17:11-23).

Apostle Paul directly confirms the words of St Gregory that man must be one, though there are many human persons. He says that Christ “abolished in His flesh the enmity…that He, from the two [Jews and Gentiles] might create in Himself one new person, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by means of His cross, having thereby slain the enmity” (Eph.2:15-16).

The body of Christ referred to here, is the Church, whose head is Christ. Sometimes the Church of the regenerate is simply called “Christ” (for He is its Head and its Life) and the children of the Church are called His members (1Cor.12:12-13; Eph.4:13-16). The Lord Himself also teaches of a new Being, in which He will be, and already is, united with the faithful, like a tree which is one and the same plant in all of its branches (Jn.15:1-9). And so the unity of human nature, broken by the sin of Adam and his descendants, is to be gradually reestablished through Christ and His redeeming love with such strength that in the future life this oneness will be expressed more strongly than the present multiplicity of human persons, and Christ, united with us into one Being, shall be called the new Man, the One Church, He being (in particular) its Head.

It would appear that we have cleared the way for a feasible understanding of the essential, objective side of the mystery of redemption. The salvation which Christ brought to mankind consists not only of the conscious assimilation of Christ’s principal truths and His love, but also in the fact that by means of His co-suffering love, Christ obliterates the partition which sin has set up between people, reestablishes the original oneness of nature and obtains direct access into the spiritual bosom of human nature, so that the man who has submitted himself to this action of Christ, not only in his thoughts but in his very character, finds new dispositions, new feelings and longings, not created by himself, but received from Christ Who has united Himself to him. It now depends upon the free will whether these are called to life or rejected. The influence of the compassionate love of a mother, a friend, a spiritual shepherd, consists (even though in the weakest degree) in the same penetration into the very nature ( φὐσις), the very soul of man. One who is wavering between good and evil, and hears the admonitions of a wise but disinterested speaker, correlates these true thoughts which he has assimilated with his corrupted nature, but the wavering son of a mother who co-suffers with him, or of a grieving and loving spiritual father, discovers in his own soul, new, good inclinations which call him to himself and endeavour to dislodge the contrary dispositions which he has acquired through a life of sinfulness. The struggle within him begins without his own volition, and his own will determines the direction the struggle will take, and which side it will go toward. The direct entry of Christ’s nature and His good volition into our nature is called grace, which is invisibly poured into us in the various inner states and events of our life, and with special power in the Holy Mystery, when this is worthily received, that is, when our personal, conscious will freely submits itself to that mysterious flow of grace-filled inclinations which Christ plants in our souls by the special means of Communion which He has established. Let us recall the words of the apostle: “Nevertheless I live, yet I live no more, but Christ lives in me,” and many other similar sayings of his.33 Such is the explanation of the fact of the moral regeneration of people through the co-suffering love of Christ, imparted directly to those who seek it, or sometimes indirectly through Christ’s “co-workers” who share in His co-suffering love. The subjective feeling of co-suffering love becomes an objective power which re-establishes the oneness of human nature that had been broken by sin, and which is transmitted from one human soul to another.

…continued here

Sealed Sheep