08 November 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

"When I was sick in the flesh, the Savior was sent to me in the likeness of sinful flesh, fulfilling such a dispensation, to redeem me from slavery, from corruption, and from death. And he became to me righteousness, and sanctification, and salvation. Righteousness, by setting me free from sin through faith in him. Sanctification, in having set me free through water and the Spirit and his Word. And salvation, his blood being the ransom of the true Lamb, having given himself up on my behalf. An expiatory sacrifice for the cleansing of the world, for the reconciliation of all things in heaven as well as on earth, the mystery hidden before the ages and generations, fulfilled at the ordained time." (St. Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 3.1:2)


ConcordiaFan said...

Expiatory? Expiation offered to whom? For what? To remove what? To expiate what, and why?

I'm still trying to figure out why the notion of God's wrath is so problematic for the EO.

Have they not read the Romans 5:9 and John 3:36 and Eph. 5:6?

William Weedon said...

Some Orthodox will tell you that that wrath mentioned there should be understood as a condescension to our human language and weakness. They point out that God "changes not" and therefore the idea that God actually changes in his attitude toward you is an impossibility. This is what led, for example, St. Maximos the Great to teach that the wrath of God is simply His love experienced by those who reject that love.

I think it is possible to understand the whole wrath language (and avoid the difficulties of denying immutability - a clear biblical doctrine) with the recognition that God's wrath is precisely His holiness experienced by sinners. It terrifies and tortures them. Christ's holy sacrifice provides the way for God's holiness to draw near to us without destroying us, but destroying our sin. Our nature held in the unity of the person with the divine nature took all of human sin into itself and let it be obliterated so that in that God-Man we sinners might approach unto God and He unto us without us being destroyed. But as John 3:36 teaches, to approach the All Holy One outside of the Person of the God-Man is to be destroyed, for "the wrath of God abideth on him."

ConcordiaFan said...

Hmmm....interesting. Well, it is a good case study in any effort to make God fit into our dogmatic boxes, after a certain point. "My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thought" I think it is mighty hard to get past the very language of the orge tou theou, if my Greek still serves.

Which of course begs the question precisely whom is being propitiated by the Son of God, and to whom is the blood being offered? And why? And for what purpose?

Much to ponder.

William Weedon said...

A paper I wrote on this last spring (about which I have come to have some reservations - not sure I was fair to all the patristic data), offers this in its conclusion:

Lossky has pointed out that the problem with what Anselm did and its later results was that one metaphor was elevated above all other metaphors and made the controlling item by which the mystery of redemption could be rationally explained. Anselm could answer the question on a test: cur Deus homo? And Lutherans indeed modified his answer, but have kept the basic assumption that this is THE truth and all the other metaphors are metaphors of it. And that is the mischief.

Every metaphor breaks down somewhere. The judicial metaphor is not excluded from that. St. Gregory the Theologian probed its weaknesses in these famous words:

We must now consider a problem and a doctrine often passed over silently, which in my view, nevertheless needs deep study. The blood shed for us, the most precious and glorious blood of God, the blood of the Sacrificer and the Sacrifice – why was it shed and to whom was it offered? We were under the reign of the devil, sold to sin, after we had gained corruption on account of our sinful desire. If the price of our ransom is paid to him who has us in his power, I ask myself: Why is such a price to be paid? If it is given to the devil, it is outrageous! The brigand receives the price of redemption. Not only does he receive it from God, he receives God Himself. For his violence he demands such a disproportionate ransom that it would be more just for him to set us free without ransom. But if the price is paid to the Father, why should that be done? It is not the Father who held us as His captives. Moreover, why should the blood of His only Son be acceptable to the Father, who did not wish to accept Isaac, when Abraham offered Him his son as a burnt-offering, but replaced the human sacrifice with the sacrifice of a ram? Is it not evident that the Father accepts the sacrifice not because He demanded it or had any need for it but by His dispensation? It was necessary that man should be sanctified by the humanity of God; it was necessary that He Himself should free us, triumphing over the tyrant by His own strength, and that He should recall us to Himself by His Son who is the Mediator, who does all for the honor of the Father, to whom He is obedient in all things… Let the rest of the mystery be venerated silently. (Oratian 45:22, Lossky 102)

The last words there are the most important: Let the rest of the mystery be venerated silently. Melanchthon had the hang of it in the 1521 Loci when he started off: “The mysteries of God are to be adored rather than investigated.” Would that he had always remembered that!