February 11, 2023

Faith and Works: An Orthodox Philokalic Perspective (2 of 6)

 ...continued from part one.

2. The Philokalic View Towards "External Justification" (Protestantism) and the Roman Catholic "Meritocracy"

This is how we can understand why the sola fide of Protestants is lacking:
Faith does not save as a general idea, emotional state, acceptance of theoretical truths or even existential conviction. I remind you that the central Protestant idea, the justification of the sinner by faith alone (this "article" "stands or falls with the Church" according to Luther!) consists in the fact that God was "satisfied" by the death of His Son, thus the sinner by his faith alone (sola gratia) recognizes externally by grace alone (sola gratia) only Christ (propter Christum or solus Christus). Attention: God recognizes, not justifies the sinner. This means that the believer still remains in sin, but is now counted by God as righteous (the famous phrase "simul justus et peccator"). It is a purely judicial action, so justification is understood as a judicial measure (justitia forensis). Justice is an attribute of Christ and is not an action or attribute existing in the believer (justitia aliena), however it somehow brings about the renewal of the believer. From there on, good works are devoid of any merit (in contrast to Roman Catholic teaching), and are only the fruit and sign of justification. The faith of justification is an absolute gift of God. However, by looking towards Christ, the believer finds the certainty of salvation. Here, in my opinion, the teaching of "merit" is replaced by the "certainty" of salvation. (For details I refer, among others, to one of the most recent relevant studies: H.M. Barth, Die Theologie Martin Luthers, G├╝tersloh 2017, 272-273).
Now according to the Philokalic testimony, which validates the prophetic apostolic identity of the ecclesiastical body, Christ saves, Who, according to the Father's good will, bestows through faith in the "by water and Spirit" birth from above the divinely uncreated purifying, justifying, sanctifying and theurgical grace in the human heart. It is about the involvement of the believer through "praxis" and "theoria" in the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ in a specific place and time, within the limits of a local ecclesiastical assembly, which through the apostolic succession and teaching, the Eucharistic communion and of therapy ends in a relationship of mystical identity with all the local Churches throughout the world.
This charismatic gift is accepted, rekindled, initiated and perfected "imperfectly" through the free observance of the commandments of Christ as a contribution to the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection of our Lord. Saint Gregory Palamas, creatively interpreting Paul, talks about the three aspects of the mystery of the Cross, which acted before the historical Cross on Golgotha, through the prophets' flight from sin, then "through the departure of sin from themselves" and finally "through the vision in God of this mystery of the Cross of divine glory", which unites man with God and shows him as His "friend" (J. Romanides, Romaioi or Romeoi Fathers of the Church, Thessaloniki 1984, 174-175).

However, justification and the life of holiness are not magically acquired, nor do they fall from the sky automatically. In Baptism, "the Cross" (Saint John Chrysostom) certainly "acts", but this does not mean that all the baptized are given new life and become temples of the Holy Spirit. There is no justification and salvation through the mechanical observance (ex opere operato) of ritual actions, nor through a judicial-type decision from God, which ensures by faith the certainty of salvation of a psychological type. This, everywhere, is understood to also apply to participation in the Eucharist. Neptic struggle is required for grace to bear fruit in perfect love. Basil the Great, with the precision of an experienced healer, explains that both the observance of the commandments and the perfect love for God and neighbor are impossible to achieve "when the intellect is in delusion" (PG 31, 920). The mystery of our salvation is "spontaneous and God-guided" (Saint John Climacus). And this is because justification, as we said, is the uncreated life-giving power of the Cross, which on the one hand cleanses and renews the image of God within us free of charge without any contribution from us, but on the other hand "accepts to work together with us", that is, expects to cooperate with us on the path towards the likeness of God (Diadochos of Photiki, The One Hundred Gnostic Chapters, 89; Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Orthodox Psychotherapy, pp. 150).
In fact, I emphatically emphasize that this situation becomes known "in a sense and with a lot of information" to the "guaranteed by theoria" believer in the life of the gifts of the Paraclete, especially in the "gift of prayer", that is, in spirit-moving prayer of the heart, "active in the higher thoughts of the heart" (Gregory of Sinai). Saint Theophylact of Ochrid interprets the relevant passages of Paul with this meaning: The Paraclete "bears witness" with the spiritual gift within the believer (not made that way) that by grace he was made a "son" of God and co-heir of Christ:
"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:16-17) and again: "because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal. 4:6).

According to the Orthodox understanding, justification is connected with the illumination of the heart (cf. the Service of Baptism in the Euchologion: "You are justified, you are illumined", which refers to Paul) and leads to glorification - theosis (2 Cor. 3:18). Symeon the New Theologian affirms that those baptized who have truly passed through the door of repentance testify that "God is light" and those "receive Him as light received". However, those who did not "have this happen" are still under the slavery of the pre-grace Law, even if they are patriarchs, bishops, priests, laymen or monks! (Sources Chr├ętiennes 113, 137ff.)
According to this, good works supposedly worthy of the Kingdom are not accepted by God, but the living works through the work of the commandments of active faith, which is constantly increasing in the life of the Lord's Body. In this way, the Orthodox Philokalic Fathers are able to interpret the countless passages of the Old and New Testaments (eg. Psalm 61:13; 1 Cor. 3:8; 2 John 8; Mt 10:42) according to which the Lord will judge people "according to their works", without however relativizing the truth of our salvation from "justified faith".
Saint Mark the Ascetic is very clear in his assurance that even the most convinced Protestant would be jealous of, but without being able to understand its depth:

"When Scripture says ‘He will reward every man according to his works’ (Mt 16:27), do not imagine that works in themselves merit either gehenna or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer." (Philokalia, vol. 1; cf. Andrew of Crete, 'On the Publican and the Pharisee', PG 97, 1265)

There are no human works worthy of the Kingdom or the gehenna of fire! Saint Mark speaks of "works of faith" and understands in this way faith and virtue in a mystical unity due to grace. Therefore, the opinion that good works can be understood in an Orthodox way as merit (merita), and in fact with the meaning given to the term by Roman Catholic theology, is rejected. Observance of the commandments is our duty, not meritorious: This restricts human freedom without being "natural" (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1; also Andrew of Crete, 'On the Publican and the Pharisee', PG 97, 1265).
Thus, all the passages of the Bible that were used even by newer Orthodox theologians as testimonies for the "meritorious" character of good works should be understood based on the interpretive key of the Philokalic testimony summarized by Saint Mark. (Cf. P. N. Trembellas, Dogmatics, volume II 305, who speaks of "relative merit" of good works in a manner reminiscent of the Roman Catholic teaching on merit. However, he rightly observes that "salvation does not cease to be provided in us grace and free..." placing the whole problem within an Orthodox context. Good works are understood as meritorious also in the most widespread Dogmatics of pre-revolutionary Russia, that of Macarius Bulgakov, Dogmatic Theology, Russian, volume II, 290).

Part Three

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