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.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Blessed Pentecost

Only-begotten of God, from the heart of the Father you sent to
Those upon earth once again other Advocate, Spirit divine,
Bringing, in tongues made of fire, of the pure, immaterial Godhead,
Sign of your nature and grace for those who are minstrels of praise.

The slow of tongue, covered in divine darkness,
Proclaimed the law written by God;
For shaking the dust from his mind's eye,
He sees the One Who Is, and is initiated
Into knowledge of the Spirit, praising with songs inspired.

The revered and august mouth spoke,
"For you my friends there will be no parting.
For I, once seated with him on my Father's lofty throne,
Will pour out the copious grace of the Spirit
To shine on those who yearn."

The firm Definition, most precise Word,
Brings calm perfection to the heart;
For, his work accomplished, Christ gladdened his friends,
With a mighty wind and tongues of fire,
Apportioning the Spirit, as he had promised.

Only the prayer of Anna, the prophetess
Of old, who brought a broken spirit
To the Might One and God of knowledge,
Broke the fetters of a childless womb
And the harsh insult of one with many children.

Inapprehensible is the Godhead;
For it revealed the unlettered to be orators,
Bridling the mouths of sophists in abundance with a word,
And raising from deep night
Unnumbered peoples by the Spirit's lightning flash.

From the unbegotten Light proceeded
The imperishable Splendor, illuminating with almighty operation,
Whose fiery sound in Sion now reveals
To the nations the consubstantial beacon
Of the Father's authority through the Son.

Monarch of monarchs, Alone from the Lone,
Word issuing from the Father who has no cause,
As Benefactor you have unerringly sent out
To the Apostles your Spirit, equal in strength,
As they sing, "Glory to your might, O Lord!"

Having by a word mixed the divine bath of rebirth
With a compounded nature,
You rain down upon me a stream from your immaculate,
Pierced side, O Word of God,
Sealing me with the fervor of the Spirit.

All things bend the knee to the Advocate,
To the Offspring of the Father, to the consubstantial Father;
For they know unerringly in three Persons
One, unapproachable, timeless Essence;
For the grace of the Spirit has caused light to shine.

As many as are worshippers of the Essence with the Triple Light,
All be consecrated to the Godhead.
For, as our Benefactor, Christ perfects supernaturally
And lights a fiery torch for our salvation,
Furnishing all grace of the Spirit.

O light-formed children of the Church,
Receive the Spirit's fire-breathing dew,
A redeeming purification of offences;
For now a law has gone out from Sion,
The torch-tongue-formed grace of the Spirit.

As he was well-pleased, of his own authority
The un-mastered Spirit comes down from the Father,
Making the Apostles wise with tongues,
Might of the Father, one in form, setting the seal
Upon the life-bearing word, which the Savior spoke.

God the Word, all-sovereign, healed the minds
Of the Apostles of sin, and made ready
An immaculate dwelling for himself,
Now the light of the Spirit dwells in them,
Equal in strength and consubstantial.

As pardon and salvation for us,
Christ, our Master, you shone from the Virgin,
That like the prophet Jonas from the belly
Of the sea beast, you might snatch from corruption
The whole fallen face of Adam.

Almighty, renew a cherished, aa right Spirit
Within us, to hold it eternally,
Who is ever united and proceeding from the Father,
Purging hateful matter, burning
Defilements and filth of minds.

For the Apostles who awaited your coming
In Sion you establish with fiery wind
A longed for dignity, O Spirit,
Knowledge of the Word begotten of the Father,
Swiftly exposing the harsh chatter of the nations' cajoleries.

Harmonious melody of instruments decreed
Reverence to the lifeless idol wrought of gold.
But the Advocate's life-bearing grace
Inspires with reverence to cry, "Only Trinity,
Equal in strength, without beginning, blessed are you!"

Fools did not recognize the voice spoken of
In prophecy, called it drunkenness wrought of wine,
When the strange sayings of the Apostles were heard.
We, the devout, inspired by God, cry out to you,
"Renewer of the universe, blessed are you!"

The seer Joel, inspired by God, thundered an oracle
Of the divine Word, who said,
"Those on whom I pour my Spirit
Will cry out together, 'Nature,
Shining-with-threefold-splendour, blessed are you!'"

The third house was blessed with grace,
To indicate that we should worship
Three Persons in singleness of authority;
But now on the one Lord of days,
Son, Father, Spirit, blessed are you!

The triple radiant type of Godhead's source
Looses the bonds and turns the flame to dew;
Youths give praise; while all created nature
Blessed the only Savior and Creator
Of all as Benefactor.

Coming to rest in appearance like-fiery-tongues,
The Spirit, cause remembrance of the mortal-saving words
Which Christ, heard-as-from-the-Father, spoke
To the Apostles. Creation, once estranged,
Now reconciled, sings of you as blessed.

As Saviour, coming of his own authority,
Light shining of itself and provider of light,
You sent to the Apostles, bringing himself
As a precious wind. While to your servants
You distribute the Spirit so earnestly prayed for.

The spirit-filled mouth of Prophets sang
Of your sojourning, high Lord, in bodily form.
And your Spirit proceeding from the Father's bosom,
You send to believers for the worship of the incarnation.

Hail, Queen, glory of virgins and mothers;
For every mouth fluent and eloquent
With oratory has not the stregth to sing your worthily;
But every mind is dizzy when it seeks to understand
Your giving birth; therefore with one accord we glorify you.

It is right to sing of the Maiden who produced life;
For she alone concealed in the vortex of her womb
The Word, who heals the ailing nature of mortals.
Now seated on the couch at the right hand
Of the Father, he has sent the grace of the Spirit.

On as many as the grace which flows from God has breathed,
Resplendent, dazzling, transformed
With a strange, most glorious transformation,
We have come to know the Essence of equal might, indivisible,
Wise, of triple radiance; and we give It glory.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Atonement and Theosis

The Typical Western Belief:
Why did Jesus even have to manifest Himself in the Incarnation? God needed a ransom so that man might be forgiven, but only He could meet his own demands. God both declares us guilty and pays our debt. Only He can satisfy His own requirements. A Savior less than God would be disqualified. Because Jesus is the God-man, He was qualified to pay the penalty charged against humanity.
In Eastern Orthodoxy this viewpoint is almost absent. They do not believe the ransom was paid to God. Here's a quote from St. Gregory of Nyssa (In Sanctum Pascha) regarding the debt Christ paid and to whom it was paid:
To whom was that blood offered that was shed for us, and why was it shed? I mean the precious and glorious blood of God, the blood of the High Priest and of the Sacrifice. We were in bondage to the devil and sold under sin, having become corrupt through our concupiscence. Now, since a ransom is paid to him who holds us in his power, I ask to whom such a price was offered and why? If to the devil it is outrageous!

But if the price is offered to the Father, I ask first of all, how? For it was not the Father who held us captive. Why then should the blood of His only begotten Son please the Father, who would not even receive Isaac when he was offered as a whole burnt offering by Abraham, but replaced the human sacrifice with a ram?

Is it not evident that the Father accepts the sacrifice not because He demanded it or because He felt any need for it, but on account of economy: because man must be sanctified by the humanity of God, and God Himself must deliver us by overcoming the tyrant through His own power, and drawing us to Himself by the mediation of the Son who effects this all for the honour of God, to whom He was obedient in everything.
Again he says:
It was Another Who ransomed us both from Death and Sin with His own blood,
Who redeemed us, and yet showed no contempt of those whom He has redeemed,
calling them though He does from deadness to life,
and healing every infirmity of their souls and bodies.
And again:
The Father accepts Christ's sacrifice without having demanded it;
The Son offers it to honour him; and the result is the defeat of the Evil One.
This is as much as we shall say of Christ; the greater portion shall be reverenced with silence.
Yet again, in the Liturgy of St. Basil, the Orthodox pray:
He lived in this world and gave us commandments for salvation.
He released us from the delusions of idolatry
and brought us to the knowledge of You, true God and Father.
He procured us for Himself as a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation.
Having purified us with water, He sanctified us with the Holy Spirit.
He gave Himself as a Ransom to death, by which we were held captive,
having been sold into slavery by sin.
He descended into the realm of death through the Cross,
that He might fill all things with Himself.
He loosed the sorrow of death and rose again from the dead on the third day,
for it was not possible that the Author of Life should be conquered by corruption.
In this way He made a way to the resurrection of the dead for all flesh.
Thus, He became the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep,
the first-born of the dead, that He might be first in all ways among all things.
Ascending into heaven, He sat at the right hand of your Majesty on High,
and He shall come again to reward each person according to his deeds.
So, instead of coming to pay a ransom to an unforgiving Father, He came to destroy death and sin. Their Easter prayer goes:
Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!
Also, it is commonly held that Christ would have come REGARDLESS of the sin of Adam and Eve. His purpose was always to join the Divine to Dust, thus making theosis (becoming God-like, not becoming God) possible. Here are a bunch of Scriptures, quotes from the Church Fathers and some more recognizable people (like C.S. Lewis) about theosis and the ransom paid by Christ:
My dear people, we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.
—St. John, I John 3:2

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . .
—C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Jesus answered: Is it not written in your Law: I said, you are gods? So the Law uses the word gods of those to whom the word of God was addressed, and scripture cannot be rejected.
- John 10:34-35

And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.
—St. Paul, I Cor. 15:28
St. Irenaeus explained this concept in Against Heresies, Book 5, in the Preface:
...the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.
St. Maximus the Confessor wrote:
A sure warrant for looking forward with hope to deification of human nature is provided by the incarnation of God, which makes man god to the same degree as God Himself became man." and "let us become the image of the one whole God, bearing nothing earthly in ourselves, so that we may consort with God and become gods, receiving from God our existence as gods." For it is clear that He who became man without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15) will divinize human nature without changing it into the divine nature, and will raise it up for His own sake to the same degree as He lowered Himself for man's sake. This is what St. Paul teaches mystically when he says, '...that in the ages to come He might display the overflowing richness of His grace' (Eph. 2:7).


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Felix Peccatum Adae

I have been rereading Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. It is definitely my favorite of his Space Trilogy and, in my estimation, one of his more theologically rich works of fiction. An earthling by the name of Ransom is taken by the eldil (a kind of cross between an angel and an alien) Malacandra, the Oyarsa of Mars, to Venus or Perelandra. On Perelandra their first man and woman are about to be tested, specifically the woman. Ransom has been sent as the emissary of Maleldil, or Jesus, while Ransom's nemesis, Weston, has been sent as a kind of possessed vessel of the Bent One or Satan, the Oyarsa of Earth (or Thulcandra) to tempt the woman.

One of the most profound parts for me came early in the debates between Ransom and Weston. Weston is attempting to persuade the Lady to sleep on the fixed land (all other land are floating islands), which is prohibited by Maleldil. Ransom briefly tells the story of Adam and Eve and all the evil that befell. Weston (or the Bent One using Weston's body) replies:
He has not told you that it was this breaking of the commandment which brought Maleldil to our world and because of which He was made man. He dare not deny it.
Ransom is hard put to find an adequate response to this. He thinks:
How if the enemy were right after all? Felix peccatum Adae. Even the Church would tell him that good came of disobedience in the end.
That phrase, which translates "Happy sin of Adam," refers to an Easter hymn, the Exultet, from the Roman Catholic liturgy. Somewhere in the middle the hymn makes this interesting statement:

Latin lyrics English translation

O certe necessarium Adae peccatum,
quod Christi morte deletum est!
O felix culpa,
quae talem ac tantum
meruit habere Redemptorem!

O truly needful sin of Adam,
which was blotted out by the death of Christ!
O happy fault,
that merited
so great a Redeemer!

I have to admit that I find that phrasing somewhat disturbing. Needful? Necessary? Happy? I get the sentiment, but I am otherwise quite put off. After reading this hymn, I was immediately reminded of a Christmas carol I first heard on the Medieval Baebes album, Salve Nos. The 14th c. carol, Adam Lay Ybounden, says, in modern English, "If the apple had not been taken, then our Lady would not have been Queen of Heaven." It ends:

Blessed be the time
That apple taken was.
Therefore we may singen
Deo gratias!

It praises God for the Original Sin. It is expressing gratitude for the advent of rebellion and death. It seems to me that both this carol and the Exultet agree with the argument of Satan/Weston. I was speaking about this with my brother-in-law and he mentioned a theological concept called Supralapsarianism. It states that God planned the Fall (lapsare) in order to facilitate the coming Redemption. It falls in line with Predestination.

Fortunately, for a world that has the Exultet, Adam Lay Ybounden and John Calvin; there are also some sane voices. I can't find a citation at the moment, but I believe St. Gregory of Nyssa, one of the most influential Church Fathers, believed the Incarnation had been planned regardless of the Fall. It took on a new meaning and purpose, but the goal of uniting the Divine to Dust was always in the mind of God. And, of course, there is Mr. Lewis himself who says, through the character of Ransom replying to the Lady:
Of course good came of it. Is Maleldil a beast that we can stop His path, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whaever you do, He will made good of it. But not that good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him. That is lost forever. The first King and first Mother of our world did the forbidden thing; and He brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good; and what they lost we have not seen.
Amen. God allows us to follow Him of our own God-given will, but His plan will not be thwarted! This idea is further reinforced later in the book as the King, the Lady, the eldil Perelandra, the eldil Malacandra and Ransom speak together of the Great Dance. In one section, they say:
All which is not itself the great Dance was made in order that He might come down into it. In the Fallen World He prepared for Himself a body and was united with the Dust and made it glorious forever. This is the end and final cause of all creating, and the sin whereby it came is called Fortunate and the world where this was enacted is the centre of worlds. Blessed be He!

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