As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Fathers on Fasting

Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works.
If you see a poor man, take pity on him!
If you see a friend enjoying honor, do not envy him.
For let not the mouth only fast,
but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands,
and all members of our bodies.
Let the hands fast by being pure from avarice.
Let the feet fast by ceasing from running to forbidden spectacles.
Let the eyes fast by being taught never to fix themselves
rudely upon handsome countenances.
For looking is the food of the eyes,
but if it be unlawful or forbidden it mars the fast
and overturns the safety of the soul;
but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting.
For it would be an instance of the highest absurdity
to abstain from meats and unlawful food because of the fast,
but with the eyes to feed on what is forbidden.
Do you eat flesh?
Do not feed on licentiousness by means of the eyes.
Let the ear fast also.
The fasting of the ear is not to receive evil speaking and calumnies.
"You shall not receive an idle report," it says.
Let also the mouth fast from foul words.
For what does it profit if we abstain from birds and fish,
and yet bite and devour our brethren?"
- St. John Chrysostom

Fasting was ordained in Paradise.
The first injunction was delivered to Adam,
‘Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.’
‘You shall not eat’ is a law of fasting and abstinence.
The general argument is rather against excess
than in support of ceremonial abstinence.
In Paradise there was no wine, no butchery of beasts, no eating of flesh.
Wine came in after the flood.
Noah became drunk because wine was new to him.
So fasting is older than drunkenness.
Esau was defiled, and made his brother’s slave, for the sake of a single meal.
It was fasting and prayer which gave Samuel to Hannah.
Fasting brought forth Samson.
Fasting begets prophets, strengthens strong men.
Fasting makes lawgivers wise, is the soul’s safeguard, the body’s trusty comrade, the armor of the champion, the training of the athlete.
- St. Basil, in his homilies on the Holy Spirit


Friday, February 23, 2007

Lenten Thoughts

Themes of Lent:
  • Israel (wandering for forty years in the desert, Deut 8:2,4),
  • Moses (who stayed on Mt Sinai for forty days and forty nights, Ex 24:18),
  • Elijah ( who walked for forty days and forty nights to Mt Horeb, 1 Kg 19:8) and
  • Christ (who fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert, Mt 4:1-2) must have exercised a predominant influence, but it is also possible that the fact was borne in mind that Christ lay forty hours in the tomb.
Now some have related the wonderful signs performed by our Saviour, and preached His eternal Godhead. And others have written of His being born in the flesh of the Virgin, and have proclaimed the festival of the holy passover, saying, 'Christ our Passover is sacrificed;' so that we, individually and collectively, and all the churches in the world may remember, as it is written, 'That Christ rose from the dead, of the seed of David, according to the Gospel.'

And let us not forget that which Paul delivered, declaring it to the Corinthians; I mean His resurrection, whereby 'He destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;' and raised us up together with Him, having loosed the bands of death, and vouchsafed a blessing instead of a curse, joy instead of grief, a feast instead of mourning, in this holy joy of Easter, which being continually in our hearts, we always rejoice, as
Paul commanded; 'We pray without ceasing; in everything we give thanks.'

So we are not remiss in giving notice of its seasons, as we have received from the Fathers. Again we write, again keeping to the apostolic traditions, we remind each other when we come together for prayer; and keeping the feast in common, with one mouth we truly give thanks to the Lord. Thus giving thanks unto Him, and being followers of the saints, 'we shall make our praise in the Lord all the day,' as the Psalmist says. So, when we rightly keep the feast, we shall be counted worthy of that joy which is in heaven.

We begin the fast of forty days on the 13th of the month Phamenoth (Mar.). After we have given ourselves to fasting in continued succession, let us begin the holy Paschal week on the 18th of the month Pharmuthi (April). Then resting on the 23rd of the same month Pharmuthi, and keeping the feast afterwards on the first of the week, on the 24th, let us add to these the seven weeks of the great Pentecost, wholly rejoicing and exulting in Christ Jesus our Lord, through Whom to the Father be glory and dominion in the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

The brethren which are with me salute you. Salute one another with a holy kiss.

- a quote from the second Festal Letter of the holy Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (died 373)

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On Lent

The Jew rejoices in sabbaths and feast days;
and a monk who is a glutton on Saturdays and Sundays.
He counts beforehand the days till Pascha,
and he prepares the food for it several days in advance.
The slave of his belly calculates
with what dishes he will celebrate the feast,
but the servant of God considers
with what spiritual gifts he may be enriched.

- St John of the Ladder

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Importance of Romans

Luther called it "purest Gospel" (as opposed to the book of James which he called an "epistle of straw"). The Epistles to the Romans has also contributed significantly to the history of Christian doctrine. Almost every influential Christian thinker has dealt with Romans. Origen, Thomas Aquinas, and Philip Melanchthon, to mention only a few, wrote noteworthy commentaries on Romans. And numerous theological notions have been derived solely or in part from Romans. Augustine acquired his idea of original sin from Romans 5, Luther gained his understanding of justification by faith alone from Romans 3-4, John Calvin obtained his doctrine of double predestination from Romans 9-11, John Wesley got his distinctive teaching on sanctification from Romans 6 and 8, and Karl Barth learned of the importance of the righteousness of God from Romans 1 and 2. In short, this epistle has exerted a powerful influence on all branches of the Christian Church, and its impact on the lives and thought of prominent Christian thinkers through the years has been second, perhaps, only to the canonical gospels. Here is some ancient commentary on Romans 5.

But it is on Romans 5 I want to speak, specifically verses 12 through the end of the chapter. My father asked me to read it and give the Orthodox perspective on it. He is coming from a traditional, Protestant and, to some extent, Roman Catholic position. We have all sinned through Adam, even if we have lived perfect lives otherwise, and all need the "New Adam," Jesus, to save us. What do the Orthodox believe about Original Sin?

To place the term Original sin in context: God created man perfect with free will and gave man a direction to follow. Man (Adam) and Woman (Eve) chose rather to disobey God by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thus changing the "perfect" mode of existence of man to the "flawed" mode of existence of man. This flawed nature and all that has come from it is a result of that Original Sin. Because we participate in humanity, we share in the sin of Adam because like him, we are human. The union of humanity with divinity in Jesus Christ (Incarnation) restored, in the Person of Christ, the mode of existence of humanity, so that those who are incorporated in him may participate in this mode of existence, be saved from sin and death, and be united to God in deification (theosis, which does NOT mean joining the Trinity). Original sin is cleansed in humans through baptism or, in the case of the Theotokos (God-bearer or Mary), the moment Christ took form within her.

However, this view differs from the Roman Catholic (Augustinian) doctrine of Original Sin in that man is not seen as inherently guilty of the sin of Adam. According to the Orthodox, we inherit the consequences of that sin, not the guilt. The difference came about because Augustine interpreted a Latin translation of Romans 5:12 as meaning that through Adam all men sinned, whereas the Orthodox reading in Greek interpret it as meaning that we all sin as part of the inheritance of flawed nature from Adam. Therefore, the Orthodox Church does not teach that we are born deserving to go to hell and Protestant doctrines such as Predeterminism that result from the Augustinian understanding of Original Sin are not a part of Orthodox belief.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Concept of Atonement in Christianity

A number of theories of the atonement have been advanced by Christians to explain how and why the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ redeem. Concerning them, their usefulness, and their role C. S. Lewis wrote:

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.[1]

Catholic view

Held by many Christians, this view holds that Jesus willingly sacrificed himself as an act of perfect obedience (the Gospels show him struggling with this in the Garden of Gethsemane), atoning for the disobedience of Adam, and thus cleansing Mankind of the stain of original sin. Jesus's sacrifice was an offering of love that pleased God more than man's sin offended God, so now all who believe in Jesus and keep his commandments may receive salvation in his name, see also Great Commission and Sermon on the Mount.

Judicial (Protestant) view

By contrast, the Catholic view off-shoot titled the judicial view was held by Martin Luther, and a major cause of the Reformation. It is held by the majority of Protestants.

This view emphasizes God as Judge. Humanity had sinned and God was therefore required, in His justice, to punish humankind. However, God sent His Son, who was sinless, to take the sin of the world on his shoulders, so that anyone who accepted the gift of Jesus's act could be freed from the consequences of his sin, without violating God's judgement.

The result is that through Christ's death, the Old Covenant passed away and all things became new in a New Covenant. The veil separating man and God was torn, and the people were free to work out their own salvation through the only true Mediator, Jesus Christ, rather than seeking salvation through rituals, rules, or an exclusive priesthood. People who hold this view generally believe that only acceptance of Christ's sacrifice is necessary for salvation, not a ritual or a sacrament. See also Antinomianism.

This view of the theological significance of Jesus's resurrection is analogous to the Jewish Day of Atonement, by which the sins of the Israelites were put onto a flawless scapegoat, who was then released into the wilderness, taking the sins of the people with him.

Christus Victor

The Christus Victor view, which is more common among Lutherans (see, e.g. G. Aulen's book Christus Victor), and Eastern Orthodox Christians, holds that Jesus was sent by God to defeat death and Satan. Because of his perfection, voluntary death, and Resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan and death, and arose victorious. Therefore humanity was no longer bound in sin, but was free to rejoin God through faith in Jesus.

In contrast to the Judicial view, the Christus Victor model emphasizes a spiritual battle between good and evil. This battle is on a cosmic scale. The Judicial view would require Christians to believe that God voluntarily punished Jesus for their sins, whereas the Christus Victor view sees humanity as formerly in the power of Satan, who was defeated by Jesus; and God, through Jesus, broke us out of Satan's power.

The Christus Victor sometimes has also been used to argue that Jesus defeated sin and death for everyone, whether or not they hear of Jesus, granting non-Christians the chance of eternal life (or a guarantee thereof, depending on the particular theology in question).

First Man view

The First Man view, held by a small minority of Christians, especially Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians, states that Jesus was a person just like the rest of humanity, but due to his remarkable faith, purity, sinlessness, and perfection, he earned eternal life, and was resurrected because Death could not hold him. They also believe that by following his teachings and example others may also ultimately earn eternal life.

The First Man view can be compared with the Old-Testament stories of Enoch and Elijah, who walked with God to such a degree of faithfulness that they were not required to die. Enoch 'was no more,' and Elijah was carried in a whirlwind. In the same way, Jesus was faithful to such a degree, that even though he was killed, his Faith earned him Eternal Life. And in the same way, if we are faithful to the same degree, we can also be free from death.

Christus Victor

Main article: Christus Victor

Ransom: Origen, Gregory of Nyssa

Scapegoating: William Tyndale (who invented the word from Hebrew and Greek manuscripts), René Girard, James Alison, Gerhard Förde see 'In Christianity' in Scapegoat

[edit] Physical Theory

Recapitulation: Irenaeus, Athanasius, Cappadocian Fathers, Eastern Orthodox Church

Edward Irving, T. F. Torrance

Moral Influence

  • Pierre Abélard (It is questionable whether Abélard himself taught this model of Atonement)

Hastings Rashdall


Divine satisfaction: Anselm of Canterbury & Salvation in Catholicism

Penalty or Punishment satisfaction: John Calvin, Calvinism, & Imputed righteousness

Vicarious Repentance, John Mcleod Campbell, R. C. Moberly



Denominational Perspectives

Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic Church does not limit itself to a single theory but several, including, but not limited to, the Ransom, Penal Substitution, Moral Influence theories and the primacy of the Incarnation. Rather, these multiple perspectives are needed to express the fullness of the Atonement.

On looking back at the various theories noticed so far, it will be seen that they are not, for the most part, mutually exclusive, but may be combined and harmonized. It may be said, indeed, that they all help to bring out different aspects of that great doctrine which cannot find adequate expression in any human theory.[5]

Rather than considering these different views as theories, it is better to consider them as expressions or representations. While theologians may at times emphasize one idea, this does not imply that the others are any less true or valuable. To consistently emphasize only one aspect of the Atonement is dangerous.

Eastern Orthodox

Eastern Orthodoxy has a substantively different soteriology; this is sometimes cited as the core difference between Eastern and Western Christianity. The Orthodox view is closely related to the Incarnation and is thus closest to the Physical redemption theory.


The almost unanimous, contemporary Protestant view is that of penal substitution. The view is so widely believed that few Protestants are aware of alternative understandings of the Atonement. In the rare instances when they encounter other Christians who profess non-substitution views, Protestants usually consider these views heretical.

However, Protestants still use the language of alternative understandings prolifically especially where they are used in the Bible. Usually this is done because, while they consider the penal substitution theory as the literal understanding, they still feel free to use other differing ideas as figurative language about the Atonement. This is true, for example, of the Christus Victor view. There are instances when Protestants confuse other views as the satisfaction view, Matthew 20.28, for example. Jesus said of himself, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

Of course, there are always exceptions. More liberal Protestants, particularly scholars, are more likely to relate with the Moral Influence view.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Lord, Save Me

Though I have sinned, O Savior,
yet I know that Thou art full of loving-kindness.
Thou dost chastise with mercy and art fervent in compassion.
Thou dost see me weeping and dost run to meet me,
like the Father calling back the prodigal.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me

Instead of freedom from possessions, O Saviour,
I have pursued a life in love with material things;
and now I wear a heavy yoke.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me

I have cared only for the outward adornment,
and neglected that which is within
the tabernacle fashioned by God.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

- from the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete

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