25 February 2008

Patristic Quote of the Day

For the law was instituted because of transgressions, as Scripture declares, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God, because by the works of the law no flesh is justified. For there was no one so far advanced in virtue, spiritual virtue, I mean, as to be able to fulfill all that had been commanded, and that blamelessly. But the grace that is by Christ justifieth, because, doing away with the condemnation of the law, it frees us by means of faith. -- St. Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 40 on St. Luke

21 comments:

orrologion said...

"...Frees us by means of faith" alone, you mean. :)

William Weedon said...

Well, now, if St. Cyril, like St. Paul, excludes the works of the law, what else is left? :)

Andrew said...

Pr Weedon,

Obviously Christopher is joking when he tacks on the controversial adjective, but I think his point must be pursued.

From the same homily of St Cyril:

"The woman who was guilty of many impurities, and deserving of blame for most disgraceful deeds, was justified, that we also may have confidence that Christ certainly will have mercy upon us, when He sees us hastening to Him, and endeavouring to escape from the pitfalls of wickedness."

St Cyril is saying here that God's mercy is contingent upon certain actions that we take; 'when He sees us hastening to Him, and endeavoring to escape from the pitfalls of wickedness.' Now I know my Lutheran theology well enough to know that the doctrine of justification isn't supposed to be abstract or theoretical; it must be preached from the pulpit in all its Lutheran glory. St Cyril's sermon wouldn't pass muster in a Lutheran pulpit. Why? Because (supposedly, according to Lutheran standards) what he gives with one hand ('But the grace that is by Christ justifieth, because, doing away with the condemnation of the law, it frees us by means of faith') he takes away with the other ('when He sees us hastening to Him, and endeavoring to escape from the pitfalls of wickedness'). By Lutheran standards, this is a confusion of Law and Gospel. If the promises of Christ are contingent upon anything in us -- our disposition, our actions, etc. -- then the Gospel is no longer pure Gospel, but has been polluted by the commands of the Law.

More St Cyril, expounding on what it means to hasten to God and escape the pitfalls of wickedness:

"Let us too stand before Him: let us shed the tears of repentance: let us anoint Him with ointment: for the tears of him that repenteth are a sweet savour to God. Call him to mind who saith, 'Awake, they who are drunken with wine: weep and howl all they who drink wine to drunkenness.' For Satan intoxicates the heart, and agitates the mind by wicked pleasure, leading men clown to the pollutions of sensuality. But while there is time, let us awake; and as most wise Paul says, 'Let us not be constantly engaged in revels and drunkenness, nor in chambering and wantonness; but rather let us work what is good: for we are not of the night, nor of darkness, but children of light and of the day. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and clothe ourselves with the works of light.' Be not troubled when thou meditatest upon the greatness of thy former sins: but rather know, that still greater is the grace that justifieth the sinner, and absolveth the wicked."

To those who walk in such a manner, the 'grace that justifieth the sinner, and absolveth the wicked' is truly a great consolation. But again, the contingency factor -- according to Lutherans -- is an affront to the very Gospel itself.

Andrew said...

Some anecdotal evidence for my point:

I was a member of a confessional Lutheran parish for four years, and week in, week out I heard sermons from a pastor who many consider to be one of the finest -- if not the finest -- homilists in the Synod. This pastor could preach the 'article upon which the Church stands or falls' like no other. And never once, not once, did I hear things like 'God will have mercy on us WHEN WE...'

He was adamant that if such things were preached from the pulpit, the pure Gospel was destroyed.

William Weedon said...

Andrew,

I would preach the sermon without change - and I think Walther would have too! I intend to include more of it in my Patristic Quotes tomorrow. I think, though, you are mishearing his "when" for "because." God forgives us when we turn to Him; He does not forgive us because we turn to Him. The cause of His mercy is always hidden in the unfathomable depths of His divine grace and love.

William Weedon said...

By the way, the sermons of not just Walther, but also Dr. Luther are replete with such language. They have to be - lest the justification of the sinner, of the wicked, becomes the justification of the sin, of wickedness.

William Weedon said...

Andrew,

Just reread the whole sermon one more time to make sure I wasn't losing my marbles. I'd say it again: I'd preach it without hesitation from any Lutheran pulpit without altering a single word of it. He simply nails what that Gospel reading is all about, and he does it simply and beautifully. I'd be willing to wager you a low-carb beer that Pr. Cwirla himself would preach it as it is, too.

Andrew said...

Pr Weedon,

Is justification contingent upon the sinner's life of repentance?

William Weedon said...

Andrew,

What odd language! Where do you find St. Cyril in this homily saying anything of the sort? Justification (speaking subjectively, though Cyril also skates close to objective justification in this homily), though, most certainly does not, cannot, will not EVER exist without repentance. They belong together. How many times does the Apology say it? The faith that justifies, that is the faith that EXISTS in penitence. No penitence, no saving faith, no justification. To argue otherwise is to think that forgiveness of sins means the freedom to continue IN sin, instead of the very power of God to set you free FROM sin.

William Weedon said...

Remember, too, how Luther deals with this in SA III, Article III:

In Christians, this repentance continues until death. For through one's entire life, repentance contents with the sin remaining in the flesh... This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person truly pure and holy.... If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present.

Andrew said...

Pr Weedon,

Let me try this again: St Cyril says that we can be confident that Christ will be merciful to us 'when He sees us hastening to Him, and endeavouring to escape from the pitfalls of wickedness'. Please help me to understand this. The issue is not whether Lutherans believe Christians must repent. I know they do. I just don't see how St Cyril's statement is not a confusion of Law and Gospel, again, according to the Lutheran paradigm. Since when is it very Lutheran to say that our confidence that Christ will have mercy on us is conditioned upon our repentance?

This is precisely why I never heard a sermon like this from Pr Cwirla. He knew that such preaching only turned the sinner back in on himself, on his perception of his repentance, as a kind of litmus test as to whether God would truly show mercy.

Perhaps you deny that St Cyril is putting forth any conditions for mercy. Fine. But if you do so, in my opinion you take away from the 'plain reading' of the text.

Again, let me restate my point if I haven't been clear enough already: St Cyril says that our confidence in Christ's mercy is tied directly to our endeavor to flee wickedness. I was under the impression that the Lutheran gospel is wholly 'extra nos'; our confidence lies solely in Christ's work FOR US, not in anything IN US. If I have misunderstood Lutheranism, then my catechesis under Pr Cwirla, my four years under his preaching, my reading of the Confessions, my reading of Lutheran theologians, and my learning from respectable and intelligent Lutheran teachers led me to believe otherwise.

As a side note, let me state that I appreciate greatly what a cordial man you are. I have followed your blog for some time now, and I've always been impressed with how you've handled your interlocutors.

Andrew said...

'He knew that such preaching only turned the sinner back in on himself, on his perception of his repentance, as a kind of litmus test as to whether God would truly show mercy.'

My apologies; I didn't really tie this together. If the sinner is turned back in on himself, the result (according to Lutherans) is despair. The true consolation of the gospel is lost.

William Weedon said...

Andrew,

First, thanks for the kind words.

Now, about your comment, I think I see what you are hearing, but I am not convinced that's what St. Cyril was saying. When he speaks of the sinner "hastening to Him and endeavoring to escape from the pitfalls of wickedness" there is no hint of laying a suggestion that Christ's mercy is conditioned by this; rather the sinner's reception of mercy is conditioned by this. The sinner flees from wickedness and runs to Christ precisely because he is assured that the Lord he is running TO is merciful. That's the whole point of Cyrill's sermon on the sinful woman, no? The "escape from the pitfalls of wickedness" IS the flight to Christ's mercy and His embrace.

It is no more a confusion of Law and Gospel than when we sing:

Today Your gate is open
*and all who enter in*
shall find a Father's welcome
And pardon for their sin.
The past will be forgotten,
A present joy be given,
A future grace be promised,
A glorious crown in heaven.
LSB 915:2

Or again:

"And whosoever cometh, I will not cast him out."
O patient love of Jesus, which drives away our doubt,
Which, though we be unworthy Of love so great and free,
Invites us very sinners *To come, dear Lord, to Thee!*
LSB 684:4

Those are just two examples, but the hymnal is replete with the sort of language that Cyril used here. It only becomes a confusion of Law and Gospel when the endeavoring to flee the snares of wickedness is made a cause of His mercy toward you - but Cyril says nothing of the sort. If you hear that, I think you're hearing what he has not said, and which the entire tenor of the sermon speaks against.

Andrew said...

Pr Weedon,

'rather the sinner's reception of mercy is conditioned by this.'

If this is true, then the sinner's receives mercy not by faith alone, but by faith and the fleeing of wickedness. Hence the confusion of Law and Gospel.

'The sinner flees from wickedness and runs to Christ precisely because he is assured that the Lord he is running TO is merciful.'

He is only assured of the Lord's mercy IF he is fleeing from wickedness. For Lutherans, this is a confusion of Law and Gospel.

'The "escape from the pitfalls of wickedness" IS the flight to Christ's mercy and His embrace.'

Christ justifies us in our wickedness, no? That's the whole point of the faith ALONE. Not that Christians are then free to continue in wickedness, but the fleeing from wickedness is never a condition for the reception of mercy. Faith ALONE is the only condition for the reception of mercy.

Your hymn examples do not use the same sort of language that St Cyril uses. To 'enter the gate' for Lutherans is to trust the promises of Christ, to believe the Gospel, not to flee wickedness. Yes, I know Lutherans believe we must repent. I know they believe we must flee wickedness. But these are not conditions for entering the gate. Faith ALONE is the only condition for the reception of mercy.

I can foresee us going back and forth ad nauseam, so I'll drop it and let you have the last word. But in closing, let me quote from 'the quintessential confessional Lutheran', Walther.

In his seventh lecture on the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, he talks about how easy it is for those with 'better gifts and greater knowledge' to be tempted to 'self-esteem and self-reliance', thereby cutting themselves off from the knowledge of the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. As an example, alongside Osiander (!)*, he lists St John Chrysostom, a universal teacher of the Church.

'Chrysostom, you remember, was a great scholar and an excellent orator. His original name was John, but because of his oratorical gifts he was called "the Golden-mouthed'. He seemed to have the gift to do with his audience anything he pleased. He was equally able to make them glad or sad, to exult or to wail, weep, and sob, according to his pleasure. And yet the good man, upon the whole, accomplished little (!) because he was poor in distinguishing the Law from the Gospel, *habitually* mingling the one doctrine with the other.' (emphasis mine)

And later:

'There is no doubt that in the past ages many a simple, poor presbyter of no renown, in a small rural parish, divided Law and Gospel better than Chrysostom, the great orator in the metropolis of Constantinople, better than the philosophically trained Clement of Alexandria, better than that universal scholar Origen.'

I have no doubt that St Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria, could be added to this list as well.

Pr Weedon, I know exactly why you so diligently try to see 'the article on which the Church stands or falls' in the Fathers. If it isn't in the Fathers, it calls into question the existence of the Church prior to the 16th century. But why not take 'the quintessential confessional Lutheran' Walther's view? That unknown presbyters were preaching justification by faith alone while bishops and universal teachers like St John Chrysostom were 'habitually' mingling the Law and the Gospel?

Walther's gloss of history is grossly untenable, and that's why I cannot remain a Lutheran in good conscience. I care too much about the catholic faith, the faith handed down by the Apostles. I know you do too.




*The implication being, of course, that the teaching of St John Chrysostom (and most other Fathers, excepting perhaps St Augustine) on the relationship between the Law and the Gospel aught to be added to the list of those doctrines condemned in Article III of the Formula.


Peace!

Anonymous said...

According to the Lutheran Confessions it is rank contritionism to say that God's mercy is triggered by man's repentance. Such contritionism then leads to all kinds of shenanigans, such as theatrical repentance, which our confessions also treat.

Repentance is not a sign for God's mercy to take hold of a man. Rather, repentance is a sure sign that God's mercy has already taken hold of a man.

Repentance is the victory of God!

"Have mercy on me, God, ACCORDING TO YOUR UNFAILING LOVE."

FWIW

Rev. Tom Fast

Anonymous said...

Are any of you blog-readers confident that you have fled evil sufficiently to trigger God's mercy? If so, how do you know? What is your measuring stick? Is there some kind of objective standard by which these things are measured? It's fun to write about fleeing evil to trigger God's grace on a blog, but how does it play out in your life? That's a stickier issue, isn't it?

Rev. Tom Fast

William Weedon said...

Andrew,

We can go back and forth forever indeed. I think there is a need on your part to believe that Lutheranism CANNOT be asserting what St. Cyril plainly teaches. Just for fun I tried it out on my son. Read him the section and asked for his evaluation: "That's Lutheran." I pressed on telling him that someone thought that part about fleeing evil made it less so. He was totally confused about how that could be. Me too.

About the Walther quote - I know it well, and I've always quoted it as the prime example to show that Walther didn't know his Chrysostom very well.

Tom,

Contritionism is the height of silliness. People that accuse US of faith in faith would rather put faith in contrition? The woman flees to Christ BECAUSE He is merciful and fleeing to Him and from her sin, she finds that He is indeed merciful and her justifier. May we all find it so.

William Weedon said...

One last bit of Walther, Andrew, that may or may not assist. Does this sound like a contradiction of what St. Cyril was saying?

Perhaps in no church more than ours is the blessed doctrine of reconciliation with God through Christ, God's unending love for sinners, and free grace so richly proclaimed. But there are many Christians who comfort themselves with God's grace, believing that it alone will ensure their salvation. They then proceed to live like the children of the world and unbelief, and to participate in their vanity. Each of them lives in secret service to some sin. Such unfortunate people think that because they pray, go to Church, and partake of the Lord's Supper, they are faithful Christians who, for Christ's sake, still stand in grace before God. However, God's Word states that whoever lives in such prevailing sin is shut out from the kingdom of God and Christ. God's wrath, not His grace, rests upon him. In vain does such a person believe that his faith will help him into heaven! (that's the meditation for this Saturday from *God Grant It!*)

William Weedon said...

One last bit of Walther, Andrew, that may or may not assist. Does this sound like a contradiction of what St. Cyril was saying?

Perhaps in no church more than ours is the blessed doctrine of reconciliation with God through Christ, God's unending love for sinners, and free grace so richly proclaimed. But there are many Christians who comfort themselves with God's grace, believing that it alone will ensure their salvation. They then proceed to live like the children of the world and unbelief, and to participate in their vanity. Each of them lives in secret service to some sin. Such unfortunate people think that because they pray, go to Church, and partake of the Lord's Supper, they are faithful Christians who, for Christ's sake, still stand in grace before God. However, God's Word states that whoever lives in such prevailing sin is shut out from the kingdom of God and Christ. God's wrath, not His grace, rests upon him. In vain does such a person believe that his faith will help him into heaven! (that's the meditation for this Saturday from *God Grant It!*)

William Weedon said...

Oh, and one more thought, Andrew: one doesn't need to TRY to see that article there. The entire Church has ever taught that we are saved by divine mercy alone, and not as a result of our deeds. You can find this in all the Fathers. It is indeed the article on which the Church stands or falls. A reread of Article IV of the Apology would stand you in good stead, my friend. Let us not trust in our tears and our repentance - though how could we not have both when we look over our wickedness - but let us trust in the mercy, the life, the salvation that lay in the manger, hung about the Cross, and rose in victory over hell and death!

William Weedon said...

Ok, read the last portion of the sermon containing the parts that Andrew thought problematic for Lutherans to a room of Lutheran clergy this a.m., and all agreed that it was doctrinally sound and could be preached from a Lutheran pulpit without alteration. Just wanted to make sure I wasn't losing my mind... And no smart comments.