from: "The Mind of the Orthodox Church"

The Difference between Papism and Orthodoxy (soteriology and the legal system of salvation refuted)

   I should like us to see the difference between Law and legalism, to analyze the difference between Orthodoxy and Papism. This is because in the Latin ?Church?more legalism is experienced in both theology and life.


   We should start with the distinction between organism and organization. We say that the Church is not an organization, but the Divine-human Organism. The organism is a living body, which means that it has life primarily. It can also be characterized by definite laws, but in the end it is life itself that comes first. The composition of an organization becomes a basis for a legal process.That is to say, the legal composition comes first. We can see this difference between Orthodoxy and Papism. As has been pointed out characteristically, ?for the westerners, God's relationship with man and the world could only be ethical and not one of grace and life. The sacraments, and especially the Divine Eucharist, Baptism and ordination become juridical means for salvation. The Church is reduced to a legal institution supplying salvation and created grace.In the establishment of the Church the legal institution comes before the sacramental composition. In Orthodoxy, on the contrary, the sacramental composition of the Church precedes, and the Church is protected and expressed through the Canonical institutions? (Archimandrite George Kapsanis: Orthodox Tradition and Papism, Holy Mountain, 1979, P. 12).


   In the West, and especially in the Latin ?Church? there is a pronounced legalistic spirit in all the expressions. But what is terrible is that this legalistic spirit is fortified theologically as well, or I can add further that it is expressed by an erroneous theological position.


   In what follows we shall look at this theological fortification of the legalistic spirit and its consequences for the spiritual life in Anselm of Canterbury's teaching about propitiation of divine justice, which is also a teaching of the Latin ?Church? (See broader analysis in Protopriest John Romanides: ?The ancestral sin, Pournara, 2nded., Thessaloniki 1970, p.87f.).


   According to Anselm, God in His essence is love and justice. The sin which Adam committed, as well as every sin of man is an offense against God's justice.God's justice is offended by the committing of sin and, consequently, the demand for punishment is a necessity of the divine nature. From the way this is put, it seems that 'God is subject to some laws of necessity. Therefore he requires the satisfaction and propitiation of His justice, which came about through the incarnation of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and His sacrifice on the Cross. Thus the purpose of the incarnation of the Word and His sacrifice on the Cross was the propitiation of divine justice, which was offended by man's sin.


   This view is not valid from the orthodox point of view and can be characterized as heretical. In the holy Fathers we can find elements which refute this teaching of Anselm's. Some patristic views will be given.


   God's justice and love a not His essence, but His energies. God is not love and justice in His essence and His nature, but in His energies, which are uncreated and are called essential or natural energies. We add further that God ?is free of any necessity and any self-interest?. It is sinful to ascribe to God the characteristic features of fallen man, such as that God is angry and vengeful and therefore He must be propitiated and appeased. Such an attitude wants to make it appear that it is God Who needs curing and not man. But this is sacrilegious. The sinful man who is characterized by egoism and arrogance is offended. We cannot say that God is offended. St. John Chrysostom says characteristically: ?It is not He who is at enmity, but we; for /God is never at enmity?. We cannot say that God is man's enemy, but that man by the sin which he has committed, has become an enemy of /god. Consequently, sin is not an offense of God, Who must be cured, but our own illness, and therefore we have need of a cure.


       In any case, according to the holy Fathers no one can harm God. St. John Chrysostom points out: ?No one will be able either to injure God with insults or make him shine more brightly by praise, but He always remains in His appropriate glory, neither increase by praise nor decreased by blasphemy?. Sin injures man and because of it our whole existence is ill. Nor do we add anything to God by doxology, but we ourselves are sanctified and share in His glory. Thus though Christ's incarnation and His sacrifice on the cross we have the restoration of man to his former glory and not a propitiation of God.


   To be sure, there are expressions and terms in Holy Scripture which can be mistaken for propitiation or divine justice. One such term is 'reconciliation'.But if the sentences containing this word are interpreted in an orthodox and patristic way, we will discover that there is no meaning that God is reconciled by man, but that man is reconciled by God. The difference is very great and significant. Chrysostom observes: ?Be reconciled to God. And he does not tell us to reconciled God to yourselves, for He is not the one at enmity, but we are; for God is never at enmity?.


   Thus by His sacrifice on the cross Christ did not propitiate his Father, but He cured the ailing nature of man. And this is said not solely about the sacrifice on the cross, but about the whole work of the divine Economy. The fact that He did not propitiate His Father, as is maintained by those in the West, is seen clearly in one remarkable passage in St. Gregory the Theologian. In his time there was discussion about the question, to whom Christ offered His blood, to the devil of to the Father. And St. Gregory answered that it is impious for us to maintain that God shed His blood and offered it as a ransom to the devil in order to release us from his domination. It is an ?insult? for us to maintain that the devil received the blood of Christ. But neither did God need to receive the blood of His Only-begotten Son, and therefore the Father did not need to be appeased by the blood of Christ. And St. Gregory asks: ? On what principle did the Blood of His Only begotten Son delight the Father, Who would not even receive Isaac, when he was being offered by his father, but changed the sacrifice, putting a ram in the place of the human victim??. It is blasphemous for us to maintain that God the Father would be pleased to have the blood of His only begotten Son. What is unthinkable even on he human level is much more unthinkable for God. And then St. Gregory says that the Father neither asked nor needed the blood of His only begotten Son. But Christ offered it in order to cure man and to sanctify him.


   At this point it must be made clear that there are some who maintain that even from the orthodox point of view we can speak of the satisfaction of divine justice, because we also find such expressions in some holy Fathers.Characteristically he mentions St. Nektarios, who speaks of the satisfaction of divine justice. In a book of his he is concerned with how Christ saved the human race. He writes: ?Being perfect man, having taken on the sin of the world, and offering himself as a propitiatory sacrifice to His God and Father,for the life and salvation of the world?. And in another place he says that Christ's incarnation was necessary and essential ?because it had been proven that man of himself could nether satisfy divine righteousness nor be freed from the slavery of sin and the death which had entered through sin? (St. Nektarios: Orthodox Holy Catechism, ed. Rigopoulos, Thessaloniki1972, P.71-72 (in Greek)


   Similar expressions which exist in several works of the Fathers should be interpreted within the whole teaching of the saints concerned and not piecemeal. Viewing and analyzing the patristic passages piecemeal ends in heretical deviations. They should also be studied for the point of view of the so-called cataphatic theology. Specifically, with regard to St. Nektarios, we should say that it does seem that there is a verbal influence from the teaching of Anselm, but there is an enormous difference.

   In the teaching of the Latins the theory about propitiation of divine justice has direct consequences in the spiritual life, because the whole ascetic effort is to cure God and not man, to satisfy God's justice, while in the teaching of St. Nektarios one can see the purpose of orthodox ascetic practice, which aims at man's cure. When one reads the letters which St. Nektarios sent to the nuns of the Holy Trinity of Aegina, he realizes that the saint is an organic part of the whole neptic tradition of the Church, because he speaks about the illness of the nous, its cure, noetic prayer, purification of the heart, etc. This while it can be seen that there is a verbal influence, nevertheless this is clearly different from the ascetic teaching of the Latins.

   This difference will be seen more in what follows, where we shall look at the extensions of the theory of propitiation of God's justice in life. As we have observed, this teaching does not remain theoretical, but it extends to all aspects of the spiritual life.


   The Latins' whole effort is towards justifying themselves, appeasing God, and not towards their own cure. As has been observed, ? a palpable example of the legalistic view of salvation is the way in which the sacrament of Repentance is practiced by the Roman Catholics. Repentance and confession proceed like a lawsuit. The one being confessed tells his sins, separated from and unknown to the confessor (in the well-known wooden enclosure), and receives his penances and forgiveness. That is to say, there is no personal pastoral relationship and ecclesiastical communion, but a legal and impersonal relationship. The legal absolution of the sinner dominates, and not his forgiveness, return and restoration to the paternal home (the Church) and the paternal embrace? (George Kapsanis: Orthodox Tradition... op.cit. p.12f). Likewise all the asceticism in the Latin tradition is aimed at man's being justified through satisfying God.There is a strong legalistic spirit. The penances, vows, journeys to the various shrines are a part of the atmosphere of man's absolution and the appeasement of God. Even the forgiveness of sins in the Latin tradition has a legalistic character.


   In descriptions of men's daily life during the Middle Ages we see this whole legalistic view of the forgiveness of sins. The Clergy advised the people to travel to different shrines. In Rome among the objects which were worthy of being visited and seen by the pilgrims was the so-called "Holy Shroud", on which was imprinted the face of Christ when, according to the tradition, they wiped Christ's sweat on His way to Golgotha.It was enough for the pilgrim just to see the Shroud in order too earn twelve thousand years of forgiveness of their sins (for the inhabitants of Rome it was only three-thousand years)?. Likewise, in a fourteenth century poem which had the title?the way of the Cross? is said that instead of going to Jerusalem and to Sinai, one can go to Rome.For if the various chapels in Rome were visited, they would receive forgiveness or their sins. In the same way, if people ascended the twenty-nine steps leading to the chapel in which the Apostle Paul celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the first time, they would receive forgiveness of their sins for many years. In this poem is said: "If you go there often, you will receive seven hundred years' forgiveness" (Marjory Rowley: Daily life in the Middle Ages, ed. Papadima, Athens, 1988, p. 119 (in Greek).Participation in the crusades also had the meaning of forgiveness of sins,among other aims.


   It is true that one can also observe such phenomena in the lay traditions of orthodox laymen. Even so, it must be recognized that there is an enormous difference. The legalistic tendency of the Latins stems from their theory about the appeasement of divine justice, from their theology about the ancestral sin and the guilt of which men inherit. And not only does it stem from such erroneous positions, but it is a part of the whole climate of legalism which prevails in the Latin Church. While in orthodoxy the admitted existence of some deviations has no bearing on he dogmatic truth of the Church, it does not stem from erroneous theological positions, but is due, on the one hand, to erroneous personal deviations, and on the other hand, to the immature condition of the Christian and his being influenced by other traditions. In the orthodox teaching we say that some belong to the state of the slave, others to the state of the hireling and others to the state of the son. In general, it must be pointed out that sin in the orthodox teaching is darkening of the nous, while repentance and forgiveness of sins are illumination of the nous. Sin is regarded as an illness of the soul. Sin is not placed in a legal framework, but a medical one.


   In conclusion we can say that our relationship with God should not be regarded as juridical, legal, but as personal, ecclesiastical. The legalistic view is alien to the orthodox mind. When we think that God has been offended by the sin which we commit and that we must therefore do everything to appease Him, when our relationship with God is put on a business basis, then we are living in the legalistic spirit. (p 168 -175)



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