10 October 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

"Even if I'm being poured out as a libation over the offering and liturgy of your faith, I am happy and rejoice with all of you. In the same way you too be happy and rejoice." (Phil. 2:17-18) What are you saying? You're dying, Paul, and you call on people to share in your pleasure? Tell me, what's going on? "I'm not dying," he says, "but ascending to a better life." Thus, just as people who receive high office invite many to share with them in their excitement, so too Paul, when approaching death invited them to share in his pleasure. For death is a rest and a release from hard work, and an exchange for one's labors, and a reward for wrestling matches, and a crown. - St. John Chrysostom, *On Saints Bernike, Prosdoke, and Domnina* par. 10

9 comments:

christopher3rd said...

"hard work... exchange for one's labors, reward"? Must surely be speaking of sanctification only - has to be. :)

William Weedon said...

Now, Christopher, when have the Lutherans ever taught that there are not rewards for good works? The only thing we stress - and that St. John Chrysostom stressed as well - is that those works never have and never could earn the gift of forgiveness, merit God's favor or earn eternal life. But certainly there are rewards - both temporal and eternal - for good works.

christopher3rd said...

But he seems to be saying there is more to this reward than temporal blessings or higher "degrees" of heaven. We are not saved without wrestling, labor, and hard work; not just that we are rewarded varying degrees of blessedness beyond simple salvation and that these degrees depend on our labor, hard work, etc.

Of course, "earning" salvation is not an Orthodox concept since we did nothing to talk Christ into His Incarnation, death, Resurrection and Ascension. There is an "appropriation" of the work of Christ that is required, however, which is built into the Christology of Maximus Confessor and an assumption of the ascetic tradition of the Church.

Of course, I was teasing with the original comment since we have been discussing the Lutheran distinction in salvation between justification and sanctification over at Yahoo Groups. This specific distinction in terminology, according to the "narrow" definition in Lutheranism, is not a part of the Orthodox tradition - nor of St. John Chrysostom, I would assert.

It is always a pleasure to dialogue with you, Pastor.

William Weedon said...

Dear Christopher,

Always a joy to chat with you as well. Indeed no one is saved without wrestling and hard work - but neither is anyone saved BY wrestling and hard work. The death to the passions of the flesh is a life and death struggle that always accompanies the "working out of salvation" but is never the cause of God's forgiveness, love, mercy or grace. As the Lutheran Symbols state so explicitly any number of times: saving faith exists only in penitence.

Pax!

Prodigal Daughter said...

I've been considering this idea myself, especially as it relates to suffering. To me it seems that if Jesus suffered and won our salvation through his suffering, there must be some value, some merit and dare I say, some joy in our own suffering when offered back to God in faith.

christopher3rd said...

Is an Olympic sprinter successful because of his innate ability or because he honed that ability through training? Could the same training regimine have made anyone a gold medalist? Could the ability alone have won the race?

If one wants to distinguish in salvation what is justification from sanctification, it leads to this logical cul-de-sac. God created and then recreated our natures making us able to train to win the race. Good works, asceticism, etc. are mandatory requirements that our salvation is dependent on. Our "training" alone could never "earn" this, but neither can this "ability" either. The distinction is a nice, clean school excercise but beside the point - as long as you already know that God loves you, and that you (in your nature) have already been raised and sit at the right hand of the Father. Luther struggled with knowing "a loving god" as an Augustianian, so perhaps that is the reason for this particular emphasis.

William Weedon said...

Christopher,

I think the analogy fails in this regard: the rigorous training of the athlete IS sanctification - or theosis, if you prefer. The training of the will that St. Maximos refers to. But justification isn't about the training of the will; it's about being born, a new birth, a new life. The new life is given in the Sacrament of Justification: Holy Baptism. Living the new life, the athletic training to "run the course" is sanctification. They can't be divided! You can't have the one without the other. But they are distinguished from each other as a person's birth is a distinct act from the person's walking the path!

Michael L. Anderson said...

One can only wonder as to how many rigorous, athletic-like reps it took, for the widow to finally throw her two mites into a box.

We are all changed from the quivering Walter Mitty-like spectators, into spiritual athletes by our Baptisms. But our individual races may differ thereafter, as God alone wills and sees fit. If so, then we also may be inclined to view the racetrack each individual runs, with a perspective which differs significantly from God's own peek.

See, we speak easily and reverently of the disciplines, and honor greatly those who practice such. However, any given desert ascetic may simply be following behavior for which he is psychologically (and neurophysiologically) fit to do. The easiest thing for him to pursue, in other words. Perhaps the true "good work" done, and the blessed exhibition of Christian athleticism, would have been to rebel against the schizoid tendencies a bit, and mingle with the people in a social vocation.

That would be losing one's life, indeed.

I mean, if you're inclined to be introverted in the first place, what's the struggle to be found in a vow of silence?

The true saint might be the chap, genetically flawed to be incorrigibly grouchy and insensitive, who moved by the Gospel ... on one day, on one occasion ... gives his seat on a crowed bus to a pregnant young lady. And thence warmed by the resulting smile and the encouragements of the Spirit, continues to do so. Oh, he might still snap at the mailman from time to time, as usual; but hasn't he given his two mites? He didn't have much to start with, but he gave his all.

I don't know. Maybe I'm aging too much to gristle and thistle, but I'm becoming increasingly less impressed by the natural recluses who hermetically seal themselves off, speak of the hard life in a cave which we all must follow to achieve eternal life, and become the objects of votive candles for ever.

The truth is, we athletes don't know the length of the track, or its breadth ... that for ourselves, much less for others. We are informed by the Lord, however, that the first will be last, and the last first. Maybe irascible and alcoholic Uncle Max may inch ahead of even St. Maximos the C., on the basis of a shorter track and fewer talents? Is that so outrageous? I mean, who really knows?

Except that surprises lie ahead, come His return.

But I'll risk it.

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

William Weedon said...

Dr. Anderson,

I love your wit and wisdom! Thanks for the salutary reminder about the crosses that are laid on us squarely in the course of our lives.