If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy (part IV of IV)

07 Oct
Ukranian Lutherans use a  revised version of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  Pic from here.  Read more here.

Ukranian Lutherans use a revised version of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Pic from here. Read more here.

Part I

Part II

Part III

There is much that Eastern Orthodox persons say that seems to make a lot of sense to me.  For example, when a priest and monk named Father Patrick says “the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world regardless of the choice of Adam because He must take as His own that existence that is really dead in itself”, it naturally appeals to me at one level (for without faith in God, we do not have the “life that is truly life”, that is, eternal life, but only a life which is a shadow of that which God intends for us) but on another level causes me to ask the kinds of questions that I have been asking, questions like: “Why would Adam and Eve not have had and grown in eternal life had they not sinned? – not by “nature”, but by grace?”

What I think lies behind my questions from the last post  – the one dealing with how man is able to choose to grow in fear, love, and trust in God – is the Augustinian/Lutheran view that Adam and Eve fell before they actually ate the fruit, and this fall was absolutely disastrous for both their free will and mankind.  In fact, we see that this infection that results in evil action is passed on to all of their ancestors, resembling Adam and Eve as regard their “image”:  In Adam we have all been one / One huge rebellious man / We all have fled that evening voice / That sought us as we ran”.  If this makes you want to run at some level, please take the time to see this post about this article from Pastor Weedon and the discussion that follows – one must not attribute to the Lutherans the Calvinist idea that God imputes Adam’s sin to us, for we are all responsible for our actions that do not derive from full fear, love, and trust in God (man’s ignorance God is in fact a culpable ignorance – but as Paul reminds us, it is to precisely such as these that He is merciful)

In any case, one might think that this could be amenable to EO sensibilities – after all, according to their way of thinking, just as God is several persons sharing a common essence, “man” likewise is best thought of as several persons who share a common essence.  Since the essence of man and God is analogous in this fashion, it seems to make sense to me that due to the infection of sin in our first parents, our actions will reveal that what was true of the head is certainly the case for other human persons as well!   As one man put it: “inasmuch as human nature is indeed unique and unbreakable, the imparting of sin from the first-born to the entire human race descended from him is rendered explicable”.  As Cyril of Alexandria said: Explicitly, as from the root, the sickness proceeded to the rest of the tree, Adam being the root who had suffered corruption* and “For the whole nature of man became guilty in the person of him who was first formed; but now it is wholly justified again in Christ.” (Homily 42 on St. Luke)

Another point I need to clarify. If I understand my EO brothers correctly, human nature is already being made incorruptible via the incarnate Logos (could this be connected with the “pistis” in Acts 17:31 perhaps?)  Therefore, let me ask another question:  since we are now living on the other side of the incarnation where Christ actually has united himself with human nature are we now capable of doing even more than Adam and Eve while on earth – perhaps reaching a state of not being able to sin?  If so, this would seem to be highly problematic!

At the same time, it is one thing to talk about this as being a theoretical possibility that seems to be a logical deduction of the “system” and the actually reality on the ground – especially as this reality is held in check with Scriptures like those in I John 1 (in order to be EO, must one believe that Mary would not have been able to take this statement as her own?)  If the Eastern Orthodox will allow this Scripture to stand in its simple meaning – i.e. that all of us Christians will sin until the end** – it does not seem unreasonable to me that they might also be open to seeing what Lutherans, standing on Augustine’s shoulders in particular, see:  namely, that we sin in all our good works….

In sum, I hope for some progress in understanding one another’s respective viewpoints here, because I think that we can both see, as I mentioned in my last series on free will, that there exists a kind of theology that seems to want to talk primarily in terms of man’s virtues and nature apart from Christ (even if their official prayers and liturgies are usually better).

Here I repeat what I said near the end of that series: “But is this not to side with the fall, and to let philosophy trump theology?  Can fallen man do anything that is good?  Imperfectly to be sure – and judging by people’s external actions there are definitely some persons I would prefer to have as neighbors vs. other ones!  But perhaps we ask: can some actions by some fallen men be more pure than others?  Do some have a better standing with God because of their particular actions and/or the habits they have developed?  Well, maybe the real question we need to ask here is this: why do we want to know these things?  To what end?  It seems that it should be enough to say that God is the source of all goodness and fallen man is the one responsible for all evil.  Even if God were to do a perfectly good work in fallen human being, he, when made conscious of this fact, would take credit for it and be proud of himself – or at the very least, take credit for actively choosing by their own free will to not reject God’s work in them.  In sum, the glory must remain Gods!”

On the other hand, when it comes to the defining matter being able to stand justified before Him, why not simply confess that all is by grace and “what do we have that we have not received”?  That way He gets all the glory for our regeneration and we get all the blame for our degeneration?… (lack of faith, fear and love of God)”

It seems fitting to me to close this series with the some of the words of St. Paul that follow the passage that has been contested among us in the book of Romans (that is, 5:12):

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And to that, I know we will all say “Amen”!  Lutherans would also be very keen to connect the importance of oral proclamation (Romans 10:13-17) with this passage.  Isaiah 55: 10 and 11 is one of our favorite passages here:

           “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
            And do not return there without watering the earth
            And making it bear and sprout,
            And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

            So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
            It will not return to Me empty,
            Without accomplishing what I desire,
            And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

I hope to some degree this series has been helpful to you.  Please feel free to keep it in mind and to comment at any time in the future.

Blessings in Christ,



* Again, I am aware that when I see the word “corruption” I am perhaps reading it with my own set of presuppositions intact.  Perhaps most (all?) Eastern Orthodox persons will insist that this quote from Cyril of Alexandria that I think fits with our view really does not?  Here are some things that the EO apologist Perry Robinson said to me in a conversation many years ago (in response to my views and questions – the statements are not necessarily in the chronological order he made them):

“Sin is the personal employment of a nature against the proper end and goodness of that nature. That is sin is dialectical-it opposes person to nature. Sin is in the use, not in the nature. This is why sin can’t be inherited while the disorder within the nature that it causes can. This is corruption ….  I do not know how sin can be an accident of human nature since sin is personal and not natural. Sin is a way a person wills. Sin is in the use, not in the essence. Here you seem to be confusing corruption with sin. [elsewhere he said: “…. Part of what you need to do is to explain how corruption isn’t the same thing as sin”]  Man could only be “spiritually dead” if he lost the imago dei, which I deny. Humans are spiritually lost. I also deny that divine sacramental efficacy is limited to Word and Sacrament because Christ gathers together all of creation into himself in the Incarnation and fills all things. Sacraments aren’t tools or “means.” If they were, the humanity of Christ would be too, which is a denial of the Hypostatic union. The union is personal, not instrumental. Consequently I am not a big fan of sacramental Nestorianism or Eutychianism ….Is sin natural or personal?  Are natures and persons the same? If sin is natural, then it will not be possible to make sense out of passages like Heb 4:15, which indicate that Jesus took on our corrupt nature for it would imply that Jesus was a sinner”.

I note that we do not say nature and persons are the same, we do not believe sin is now the essence of human nature, and we do not insist that the loss of original righteousness (no desire for true spiritual things) is synonymous with the complete loss of the image of God – something that we also do not insist occurred.  Rather, it is true that in fallen man this image is lost… but he still has some residue of his origin within him.   Therefore, in Luke 3, Adam is called “the son of God” and in Psalm 82:6 Jesus says ”You are gods, all of you, sons of the Most High.”  Man’s “relation” to God was that he was specifically created to be something different than the rest of creation.

As for the points about Nestorianism, here is something I said a few weeks back on another post directed towards persons of the more Reformed persuasion: “You agree that Christ is 100% God and 100% man?  Good.  Now, what does this mean?  Is the flesh of Christ life-giving in and of itself – not just some pipe through which divine operations flow – because it is united to the divine nature in the personal union?   And does this mean that the whole Christ – 100% God and 100% man – dwells within you – really and truly?  When Jesus says “I am the vine, ye are the branches”  does this mean that we are just some pipe through which divine operations flow, or are we truly united with God?”

** Here we also think of Romans 7: It is a real infection that Paul deals with and that actually is a driver of his actions, of whom he alone is responsible.  At the same time, the man he knows he really is – the “new man” – does not agree with these actions. Sin controls him to a degree, but ultimately does not have authority over him.


Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “If all theology is Christology, how wide the divide? A reflection on Lutheranism and Eastern Orthodoxy (part IV of IV)

  1. D. Stall

    August 29, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    It would help if you distinguish between the image and likeness of God. The image of God in mankind was not “lost” but the likeness was. In other words, the God-likeness, godliness, Christ-likeness, holiness – aka “communion” with God, the ability to “stand” in His presence, the living communion with the Source of Life itself, hence enters death into the world. The likeness was “lost” because Adam and Eve turned their desire and will away from God and thereby “broke” communion with Him, like an unfaithful adulterous spouse breaks, destroys a marriage and its essential “trust” (“faith”). Our first parents thereby pulled out their plug that was connected to the source of Life by which they received life, something like killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
    See Hosea, Parable of the 12 Virgins, and the EO Bridegroom Service (which won’t penetrate the heart, only head, unless you “attend”, which is where “mystical” things happen to human being) –

  2. D. Stall

    August 29, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    12 disciples, 10 (not 12) virgins – my bad


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