Dienstag, 29. September 2009

Sinful Knowledge

This is a topic that pretty much is quite important to me. Not few Christians - especially younger ones - nowadays seem to have a great thirst for intellectual growth in regards to the Christian faith. Of course this is a good development in the sense that Christians are having a greater interest in matters of doctrine, i.e. in orthodoxy.

But the title is negative, not positive: why? The reason lies in the simple fact that knowledge of the doctrines of the Church alone is not enough: while it is good and necessary to know the orthodox faith, obedience to it automatically becomes a requirement - this is something that not few fail to realize. There are enough who study a lot and debate a lot the issues of morality, faith and Church discipline as though they were merely theoretical ideas. But what about the number of those who actually try to live according to what they learn about Sacred Truth?

In that sense, there seems to be a problem which turns the Christian faith - which is meant to captivate the whole person - to a merely theoretical construct which is "nice to discuss", but is left in the realm of abstract ideas: it is thought of, but not lived. A person who knows the Truth, but does not live accordingly will be left without excuse. It does not suffice to "know" doctrine, one must live by it.

(James 1:) 22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. 24 For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was. 25 But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.

26 And if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man's religion is vain. 27 Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one's self unspotted from this world.

The more a person knows, the stricter are the standards, the less the excuses. One must therefore know what the reason for such religious studies ought to be: the deepening of one's living relationship with God. If one studies these things for the sake of winning debates for vainglory, then indeed such knowledge is sin, for it does not lead to God, but away from Him: it is knowledge without wisdom.

It is of course much easier to tell others how wrong they are and what they ought to do than to correct one's own lifestyle.

But in this case, the words of the Lord apply perfectly:

"Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (Matthew 7:5)

The reason and end of one's religious studies must be God,
The reason for one's preaching must be charity, not personal fame.

Obedience to God through obedience to His Church and humility help us stay on the right path: those who are vain and prideful go astray.

Donnerstag, 3. September 2009

Sola Fide and the hypostatic union

This entry will deal with the protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, sola fide, in light of the hypostatic union of Christ.

It should be clear that Catholics reject this doctrine when it is meant in exclusion of charity (which necessitates the existence of good works, a sanctified life through the grace of God). Since not all protestants necessarily understand the same concept under the words "sola fide", it should be noted that I am not arguing against "faith alone" which is only pro forma "alone", but de facto requires good works to complete our justification: in such a case, the protestant is directed towards the correct understanding of justification - as taught by the Catholic Church - but somehow still feels the need to retain the wording of Martin Luther. Anyways, the issue is about content and not semantics.

For this blog entry, I will be addressing a more common protestant understanding of justification by faith alone as outlined in "Justification: Emphasizing the Distinction Between Protestant and Roman Catholic Thought" by Corey Keiting, Proferssor Al Glenn (ST502 Systematic Theology II; Fuller Theological Seminary, Phoenix Extension; Winter Quarter 2002).

Let me quote what is presented as the protestant doctrine:

"Justification is defined as the act of God by which he imputes the righteousness of Christ to a believer and declares that person to be forgiven of all sins, thus pronouncing the person righteous in his sight (Acts 13:38-39; Romans 4:5, 24). It is a declarative and judicial act of God (Romans 8:1; Colossians 1:22), based on the righteousness of Christ, rather than an infusion of holiness into a believer or a change in their character. It changed the position of a believer and puts them into a right standing with God, but is distinct from the dispositional change of that person's heart or the actual altering of their spiritual condition."

"Justification means that God, as the universal judge, acquits us of our guilt and declares us as righteous (Romans 5:8). The very righteousness of Jesus Christ is transferred to our account and we are seen as if we had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if we had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for us (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:18-19)."

"From our human point of view, faith in the finished work of Christ is the only thing that is required for us to be declared righteous (Romans 3:28). We receive this gracious gift of God by faith alone (Romans 3:22; 4:4; Galatians 3:24-24); we do not merit it in any way by good works, reformed behaviour, or resolutions to never sin again (Galatians 2:16)."

I have not quoted the entire essay (as the copy-and-paste mode hasn't been working for a while for my blog), but I believe to have extracted the most important statements dealing with the protestant understanding of justification by faith alone.

I will now start with the examination of justification in regards to the hypostatic union of Christ:

As in my entries on Orthodoxy expounding on the necessarily theandric nature of the Church due to it being the body of Christ (who Himself had two natures: human and divine), I also see here a necessity for a connection with the dogma of the hypostatic union. As the Church as a whole is theandric, so too must the individuals who make up the Church (1 Corinthians 12:14, 19, 27) be theandric. Why was there an Incarnation?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church - in accordance to Apostolic Tradition - teaches:
460 The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature":78 "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into Communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God:79 "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God."80 "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."81

78: 2 Peter 1:4
79: St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939.
80: St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B.
81: St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57, 1-4.

This doctine is what is called theosis in the East. It is better understood under the term "deification". Justification without it is unthinkable as it would destroy the very idea behind the Incarnation.

Faith is of the spirit, works of the body. Indeed the Bible does say that we are not justified by works (Romans 11:6). What "works" are meant though? St. Paul means works without faith and grace. He condemns the notion of working out one's own salvation without being in the state of grace - as though God owed us salvation for certain works done by ourselves. One may say that this is a "rationalization" of Catholics. But no, St. Paul himself says: "with fear and trembling work out your salvation" (Philippians 2:12). Does St. Paul thus contradict himself? Nay, he teaches the very doctrine of theosis. Man - through the grace of God - is enabled to do good.

Some may object and say that no man is able to do good for the Lord said: "None is good but God alone" (Luke 18:19).

How then can one who is not good do that which is good; and by this good deed even merit salvation? This sounds like works-based salvation. And this is precisely what not few protestants (falsely) accuse Catholics of believing.

The solution to the problem is presented by St. Paul himself who teaches that Christians are indeed capable of doing what is good and that this good deed is salvific "for it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will" (Philippians 2:13).

The key is the indwelling of God in us. This is basic to the doctrine of deification and to the theandric nature of justification. So many thoughts are now running through my mind that I hope I do justice to these thoughts.

At first, one needs to realize that the very "entrance" into the Christian faith is effected through baptism which itself is both material and spiritual. In fact, all the sacraments are theandric. I cannot think of any sacrament which is confected without material cooperatives.

Second, one needs to realize that the principle behind justification is that of obedience. Justification is - as taught by the Catholic Church - initially effected through faith and completed through works, i.e. a sanctified life: it is the subjection of the total person in obedience to Christ. We Christians are therefore children of God as as are "children of obedience" (1 Peter 1:14).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
142 By his Revelation, "the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company." 1 The adequate response to this invitation is faith.
143 By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God.2 With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, "the obedience of faith".3

1: DV 2; cf. Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17; Ex 33:11; Jn 15:14-15; Bar 3:38 (Vulg.).
2: Cf. DV 5.
3: Cf. Rom 1:5; 16:26

We submit completely our intellect and will unto God. It should be clear that to will something does not necessarily lead to man doing it.

St. Paul teaches of the conflict between the spirit and the flesh (Romans 8:4, 7, 9; Galatians 4:29). Are we then to suppose that only our faith is required for us to be justified while our works are according to the flesh? St. Paul teaches "that the justification of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit (Romans 8:4).

So it is clear from Sacred Scripture that after we have subjected our intellect and will in obedience to Christ, we must subject our lifestyle, our "walk", our "works" unto Christ also. "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified (Romans 2:13).
For this very reason St. James teaches:
"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was. But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.
And if any man think himself to be religious, not bridling his tongue, but deceiving his own heart, this man's religion is in vain. Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and the widows in their tribulation: and to keep oneself unspotted form this world." (James 1:22-27)

So if one thinks himself to be religious, but lives not in accordance to God's law, then this man's religion is useless. His faith is dead (James 2:20). Why is his faith dead? Because there can be no deification of a man without the subjection of his body unto God. What is then sanctification to a man who lives an ungodly life despite his claim to faith? Surely, here exists again a divorce between the two natures: spiritual and material. But the resurrection is of the body, thus it is not only our souls that ascend to heaven, but our bodies also: just as Christ Himself ascended Body and Soul to heaven (John 3:13).

I shall now examine the problems of the protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone.

1) The doctrine of imputed righteousness suggests that we are made righteous before God "on the outside" only.
Jesus teaches: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you make clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within you are full of rapine and uncleanliness." (Matthew 23:25)
Why would God criticize an outward "imputation" of cleanliness amongst the scribes and pharisees, but use this very same method to justify men?
Furthermore, Jesus says that all evil thigs come from within (Mark 7:23), thus it would seem rather illogical for Jesus to point out the root of evil in man and give as solution an imputation of righteousness - which does not change man's real sinfulness from within. He gives a solution which does not address the root of the problem He Himself has revealed. Rather it is more plausible to believe in the infusion of grace which changes us from within to "will and to accomplish" (Philippians 2:13) that which is good, i.e. to have faith and to live according to God's will.

2) If faith alone justifies, then The Bible is wrong on a couple of occasions: Matthew 25:31-46; Psalm 62:12; Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12; (John 14:21-24).
All these passages suggest that God will judge us according to our deeds. If we therefore are already justified - and thus declared "not guilty" - by faith alone, then God must ignore our deeds.
And if indeed we are already declared righteous on account of our faith alone and thus are "freed" from the consequences of sin, then surely we should be able to sin all we want without having to fear any consequences: our works would be irrelevant. If our works are not related to our justification and thus to our salvation, then surely they will not be able to condemn us. If by faith alone we are justified, then only through apostasy may we lose justification. And as protestants do not believe in purgatory either, then one's immorality would be deemed "neutral" in the eyes of God. And then protestants say that to be a Christian is to "imitate Christ". Did Christ believe only? Or did He live perfectly? 1 Corinthians 11:1.

3) If God ignores the evil deeds of those who believe unto Christ as their Saviour, and thus render a life of sanctify unnecessary for salvation, then the Bible is wrong on at least these occasions: the above mentioned passages, Hebrews 13:17 in connection with Jude 1:11; Acts 5:1-10; 1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; Hebrews 2:2; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

4) If justification by faith alone is right, then Jesus is wrong since He teaches that "except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you." (John 6:54)

5) If faith alone justifies, then one can be in God without being good, i.e. living according to Divine Law. This contradicts the following: 1 John 3:6-10; Matthew 27:21-25

Far from me be the thought that the Holy Bible may be wrong or self-contradictory! As we can see, there is perfect harmony to be found in Catholic teaching, but problems arise with the protestant doctrine - problems as serious as to make our Lord a liar!

John 6:54 is quite remarkable - especially when understood correctly: that indeed the bread is turned to Christ's Body and the wine to His Blood - in regards to the theandric nature of the Church. Our participation in Christ's divine nature is thus not only "in spirit" - as protestants suggest - but is also physical: by partaking of the one bread, Christ Jesus, we become the one Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:17). We are the "temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 6:19).

God became man that we might become God. In Jesus Christ we have the only Mediator of Redemption: only through Him can we be redeemed of our sinfulness, only through Him can creation be restored to union with God. And so it is that man is not only a spiritual being, but also physical.

Let us remember that the doctrine of justification by faith alone and of imputed grace not only divorce the spiritual from the material - thus dissolving our being the Mystical Body of Christ as His Church - but also tempt God insofar that they suggest God "fools" Himself into thinking that one is righteous while still retaining a heart of wickedness (let us remember that sanctification is strictly divorced from the protestant idea of justification). The latter opposes Scripture since it teaches that "there shall not enter into it [the tabernacle of God with men] anything that is defiled, or that worketh abomination or maketh a lie" (Revelation 21:27). And that "the works of the flesh are before him, and there is nothing hid from his eyes" (Sirach 39:24). Would God simply ignore one's unrighteousness on account of one's faith? This seems not to be the case.

Lest we forget: any attempt to still justify "sola fide" is to argue on basis of the rejection of one's total submission to God. I personally think that Christians ought to follow the example of Christ: He harmonized in Himself human nature with the divine; thus showing us all that we are to be sanctified, to be deified, that we may be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), that we too may be good in body and in soul.

So in the end, we know that disobedience lead to the fall of Satan, and to the fallen nature of mankind; we also know that through obedience - of the total person, i.e. body and soul, thought and deed, faith and works - in and unto Christ we are restored to union with God.