February 15, 2023

Faith and Works: An Orthodox Philokalic Perspective (3 of 6)

 ...continued from part two.

3. Roman Catholic "created grace" and Protestant "sola fide": An Orthodox Philokalic Response

As is known, Roman Catholic theology understands justification as the result of the infusion (infusio) of grace into man as a supernatural state (habitus) or attribute, since the justice of God the Father was "satisfied" through the death of the Savior on the cross (Anselm of Canterbury). Created grace raises (gratia elevans) man to the level that now allows him, as a new creation, to lovingly respond to God's grace by performing good works. The grace of justification (gratia gratum faciens) is thus understood as a created measure that is added to and exists in the believer (gratia inharens) in order to make his will to turn to God with perfectly formed faith, love and hope (fides caritate et spe formata). The works performed in this state of justification are considered meritorious (merita) and are therefore rewarded by God after death with eternal life, which, according to Roman Catholic theology, lies in the beatific vision (visio beatifica) of the divine essence and of the intra-trinitarian projections (in this regard see the most representative modern Roman Catholic Dogmatic: G. L. Müller, Katholische Dogmatik, passim).
This is a metaphysical-religious approach that is incompatible with the Judeo-biblical and patristic testimony. No wonder that they were soon to receive what we may call "arrows from home". In fact, late Scholastic theologians, such as the great Duns Scotus, will challenge this teaching by pointing out its impermissible theological implications, especially regarding divine freedom: How is it possible that a created existence (such as justifying grace or meritorious works) compels God to reward man with eternal life? In the end, nothing created is of its kind capable of evoking God's salvific response out of necessity ("Nihil creatum formaliter est a Deo acceptandum").
The countdown to Luther's revolution had begun. And nothing could symbolize this revolution more than the rejection of meritorious works and the ultimately obsessive promotion of the "soloistic" triptych: solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide. However, it is worth noting that both Western traditions (Roman Catholic and Protestant) work on a common basis: The goal is not the therapeutic change of man, but the change of God's attitude towards man. God accepts the "satisfaction" that Christ offered to His justice offended by man's sin with His death on the cross, and thus creates in the soul the created existence of justifying grace to make man sufficient for the merits of eternal life (Vatican), or He offers the believer the certainty of salvation by His grace alone and by faith alone (Protestant). In both traditions, the Cross of Christ primarily refers to His relationship with the Father, and not to the crushing of death and "he who has its power" (Heb. 2:14); and in both traditions, salvation does not follow directly from the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection, but it is mediated either by an institutional mechanism or by a judicial decision on an individual level!

Despite the highly concise and unavoidably simplistic presentation of Roman Catholic and Protestant soteriology, it becomes evident that the Orthodox doctrine of grace, works and justification is far from being identified with or similar to any of them. This erroneous view was previously even found in Orthodox dogmatic manuals. For example, the great Christos Androutsos (Dogmatics of the Orthodox Eastern Church, 251) regarded the Roman Catholic teaching on "merits" and "infused grace" and virtues as identical with the Orthodox.
But even in our days, the Russian dogmatician Oleg Davydenkov (Dogmatic Theology, Moscow 2016, Russian, 466) teaches, obviously influenced by the scholastic distinctions of grace, that man cannot use the grace that is given to him "objectively" in Baptism but also needs "outside" divine help (sic). He overlooks here that Baptism, but also in the baptismal life of the believer, where Christ himself unfolds through the mystery of Pentecost, acts in accordance with the uncreated power of the Cross, on the one hand, towards the destruction of sin, and on the other hand, the growth of the believer until he is filled "in all the fullness of God". In fact, the "illumination" of Baptism takes place in the Holy Chrismation, which in the Orthodox liturgical tradition is temporally linked to Baptism and makes the believer "active" in terms of spiritual energies (Nicholas Cabasilas). From then on, divine help is not required from "outside", but from within and, of course, is constantly renewed in those with "willing good dispositions" (Maximus the Confessor). And this since the one who through asceticism and martyrdom goes through "the stages of Christ" (Symeon the New Theologian), living the life of Christ in the mysteries and in his life! In any case, a look at Saint Diadochos or Saint Mark - among many others - would have convinced Davydenkov of the superficiality of his point of view.
Therefore, nothing is more misleading than such opinions. Even at those points where the same terminology is used in Orthodox contexts as Roman Catholics, the theological conditions and pastoral implications are diametrically opposed. And this for the following reasons, which the Philokalic literature puts forward and confirms:

a) The grace of God, and of course the energy of justification in Christ, is an uncreated essential energy of the triune God that is shared in the Church as a foretaste of the Eschaton of the incorruption of the Spirit (Saint Gregory Palamas gives special emphasis to this point; cf. B. Tsingos, Prologue to the Theological Epistemology of Saint Gregory of Palamas, Thessaloniki 2010, passim).
b) Salvation and eternal life do not lie in the vision of the divine essence in the hereafter (such a doctrine is regarded by the Fathers as blasphemous), but in the communion of the sanctifying and divine-making or at least illuminating energy of the Triune God and a prior participation in the uncreated Glory and His Kingdom already from within in the life of selfless love, which treads the threshold of death unscathed (cf. Rom. 8:35).
c) This charismatic state begins from the very beginning of the historical navigation of the Church (in statu viae) and will be completed or rather it will be perfected without end during the General Resurrection with the "redemption" of our body, hence also our true life and divine adoption will be revealed with Christ and in Christ to the glory of God the Father.
d) For these reasons, justification is understood as vivification through communion with the uncreated grace of the mystery of the Cross within the resurrected humanity of the Lord of the Church in a specific place and time (the irreplaceable importance of the local "synaxis" of the Church "in the same place" ). It ends in selfless love, which is the other facet of glorification!
e) In light of this, finally, the works of believers born again in Christ are not and cannot be worthy of reward (meritorious), since nothing that man naturally performs can "force" God to reciprocate; rather, they are healing (therapeutic), which means that they cleanse us from passions, and they protect our freedom given in Christ by grace (Mark the Ascetic; John Chrysostom, PG 57, 233 and PG 60, 515; Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, in Sources Chretiennes I, 90).
According to this, even when the Fathers teach that God honored man with free will, "in order that God might belong to him as the result of his choice, no less than to Him who had implanted the seeds of it" (Gregory the Theologian, Homily 38, 12), they emphasize that the freedom of the human will is God-given and its participation in the process of sanctification is necessary; however, they do not mean that good works are worthy of reward (meritorious) in the sense of a "rewarding" supposedly binding on God. Such a thing, moreover, would conflict with the clear assurance of Christ himself: "When you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are iunworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'" (Lk. 17:10; cf. also the Psalm: "You are my Lord, because you have no need of my good things" Ps. 15:2; Ezek. 36:22: "I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake"; and Is. 64:6) .

Part Four

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