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.

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).

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