Sunday, February 8, 2009

Who could meet our case?

Had it been a case of one trespass only, and not of a subsequent corruption, repentance would have been well enough; but when once transgression had begun men came under the power of corruption proper to their nature and were bereft of the grace which belonged to them as creatures in the Image of God. No, repentance could not meet the case. What - or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required? Who, save the Word of God Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.
-St. Athanasius, On The Incarnation

8 comments:

Edward said...

Hi Matt,

so given some of our previous discussions, I must ask how you are reading the word "corruption" here.

Personally, I am reading it to mean something like "a movement toward nothingness." Therefore, when I read this passage, I see blessed Athanasius saying when he says "the power of corruption proper to their nature" that our nature is in fact ex nihilo. And as such, bereft of the grace which brought them into life and would have sustained them indefinitely in life, they become subject to degradation, falling ever further back into nothingness. In a word, the transgression brought death. If it had only brought guilt, as Athanasius rightly points out, then as he says, "repentance would have been enough."

The rest of the image used in the passage is then one of Christ as creator. Salvation is then primarily "from corruption" and not "from divine wrath" (at least in this passage, I suppose).

As to the question of Christ's "consistency of character," I can only imagine it is his determined drive to enter into loving relationship with all, though perhaps in this context it actually refers to his desire to give life, the image of God, and incorruption.

Shalom alecha,
Ed

Matt Perkins said...

Edly, my friend, actually I was just looking for something to post so I pulled "On the Incarnation" off of my shelf and flipped to this quote which I thought was great. I did think about our discussions on depravity but I didn't try to figure out exactly what Athanasius meant here. But Ed, are you implying that we weren't primarily saved from God's wrath? Then what on earth was St. Paul talking about when he wrote, "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." Was Paul wrong about this? I'm sorry man but the fact that we're primarily saved from God's wrath seems to be about the clearest thing I see in the NT, and the OT - "But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed."

Edward said...

Hi Matt,

Well, as my cautious tone above was meant to indicate, I am not entirely sure what to make of God's wrath in relationship to salvation.

Certainly, if one means by "wrath" simply that God has handed over people to corruption (and then further degradation, cf. the "wrath of God" in Romans 1), then I suppose I shall have to admit that it is from a state caused by the wrath of God that humankind needs to be delivered. And in this sense, it is in fact from the wrath of God that humans need deliverance.

However, if you assume that wrath means a sort of smoldering sense of justice that can only be assuaged through the death of a perfect man, I'm afraid I will have to disagree with you. After all, how could it be that perfect justice could require something which is perfectly unjust? If it were merely a matter of turning aside God's sense of wrath, shouldn't the crucifixion of a perfectly righteous man have added to the heinous deeds of humanity instead of subtracted from it? Even if the God-man is willing to die in this way, I don't think it solves the problem.

No, the answer must lie in something else. But to this, I suppose I must return on some other occasion. I have a friend to meet.

Yours,
Ed

(P.S. Now you've made me want to start studying the issue of wrath in the Bible. I think maybe I will.)

Matt Perkins said...

Well man, I don't pretend to understand exactly how the atonement worked but I certainly think the view you just rejected is the one that comes most clearly from the Text and I think any other view is seriously deficient. It may not seem "reasonable" that the death of a the perfect Man, God incarnate, Jesus Christ, assuaged God's need for justice but in this case I will side with Luther and call reason a whore. I will also side with Pascal who said something like "theology is man's attempt to avoid Scripture."

Matt Perkins said...

Correction on my comment above: it was Kierkegaard and not Pascal who said, "Christian scholarship is the church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible."

Edward said...

As to the second quote, no one has any need to defend themselves against the Bible. It is sadly quite useful for both Satanic and Divine purposes. (I cite you to your Adventist friends on that one, if not to Mormons or JW's. - Oh, and if I must cite Scripture itself on the issue, please see the desert temptation of Christ.)

Anyway, as regards your prior comment, you may be right. As I think about it, both God's active wrath and sense of justice seem to be present in the Scriptures. As I said, I think it would be well for me to revisit these issues from the Scriptures themselves.

However, with regards the specifics of what I said above, I would still maintain (until it be proven otherwise), that it was not divine justice that mandated the passion of the Lord, but rather divine mercy.

As for reason being a whore and whatnot, please remember that it was Augustine and (particularly) his spiritual sons the scholastics who both were enamored with reason and who made every attempt to wed Plato and his "reason" to Christianity. Further, it was these same scholastics who came up with the "governmental" and "penal substitution" theories of the atonement (as well as such lovely things as purgatory and indulgences, if I recall correctly). And frankly, Luther, the former Augustinian monk who leans heavily on Augustine is one to talk, as his praise of individual reason is so strong that he uses his own "plain reason" to create a new, "rational" Christianity that appealed more directly to his rational faculties. When does the Lord appear to Luther, even in a vision, to give him direction or to sanctify his activities? When does he ever work a miracle? What sign can he give use to suggest that we should believe him?

The man is no Paul, he is an ivory tower academic who is obsessed with his own intellectual conclusions about the (admittedly largely true) failings of Roman Catholicism. I have some sympathy for Luther, but at the end of the day he was just another rationalist innovator in a series of rationalist innovators. His sola scriptura doctrine (another innovation) is I believe shown to be false by its fruit: a thousand different churches each with their own Christ and their own plan of salvation.

In conclusion, if reason is a whore, then she is one Martin Luther slept with often. The only difference between him and some of his other Western counterparts is that he took his Bible to bed with him. ...and look at all the fun children they've begotten...

Anyway, so that rant behind us, let me just say that I'll try to keep you posted on my thoughts on divine wrath and justice from the Scriptures. I think there was a significant sense in which I was wrong here, but I shall have to figure out just what it is... ah, if only I were a theologian...

"Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?" - Job

"If you are a theologian, then you pray truly. If you pray truly, then you are a theologian." - An Eastern Definition

Matt Perkins said...

lol, brother, that was an entertaining response to read. I especially liked "if reason is a whore, then she is one Martin Luther slept with often." I miss your humor Ed. I could be wrong too. I'll admit that since Asbury, while you've begun to swim the Bosphorus, I've found myself drawn more toward Calvin's Geneva. I felt bad about the tone of my response after I read it so I apologize. I think the atonement is probably more complicated than a simple "Penal Substitution" view although that is probably what I'm closest to. If I really wanted to go with the early church I'd probably have to believe in some sort of divine ransom to the devil... if I remember my church history right. There are things about Christus Victor I like too, but if a view of the atonement doesn't have room for Paul's clear statement in Romans than neither do I have any room for it in my theology.

Ed said...

Personally speaking, I think that the "ransom theory" is a little over-simplistic, historically. I think it may be an example of well-meaning historians just failing to strike at the heart of an issue. (As someone trained in history, I can tell you that this happens relatively often. It is very easy for the things we take for granted to color our historicism. Even the questions we ask are often loaded with small details that we fail to see as coloring our possible answers.)

In fact, really, I think that the whole question of "atonement theories" rises in late scholasticism with guys like Anselm and Abelard asserting their various ideas.

But it's not as though I wish to reject the whole notion of "atonement theories." (Actually, I think the notion is rather helpful for Christians as we try to establish what the best way to faithfully tell the story is.)

And speaking of historical coloring, I chose to look up "atonement" on precious dictionary.com and it turns out it was historically a term for harmony or reconciliation, "at-one-ment." It is interesting to see how we have moved in the English language to understand the term itself in terms of offense and legal satisfaction. "Have you atoned?" probably will not mean "have you reestablished relational unity?" in modern parlance, but rather, "have you undergone a sufficient penalty so that your debt is expunged?"

Battery dying... running away now...