Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Fathers and Romans 7:14-25

I am reading some of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Romans right now. The volume editor is Gerald Bray, a professor of Anglican studies in Birmingham, AL. His personal theological views are more Western and Anglican, it seems, though he does a fine job presenting the various Fathers and writers of the early Church. This one section on Romans 7:14-25 is very interesting to me. Here is his own editorial commentary on the section:
Overview: In Romans 7:15 and the following verses Paul describes the plight of persons who know that they are sinners but who cannot escape from the sins they commit. Most of the Fathers believed that here Paul was adopting the persona of an unregenerate man, not describing his own struggles as a Christian. As far as they were concerned, becoming a Christian would deliver a person from the kind of dilemma the apostle is outlining here. Romans 7:22 would appear to create a difficulty for those who believe that Paul was describing an unregenerate person, but some of the Fathers resolved it by saying that the inmost self was the rational intellect. As far as they were concerned, any rational person would automatically take delight in the law of God because it is supremely rational. The difficulty comes in trying to move from theory to practice. The dilemma of unregenerate persons is insoluble apart from the grace of God given to us in Christ. This sets us free from the law of sin and death and allows us to serve the law of God as right reason dictates [pgs. 189-190].

The editor cannot help but plug his own theological views, as I suppose is normal. For me, as a former-Lutheran, I recognize the presupposition that the editor is running with. The Lutheran belief in the bondage of the will relies heavily on the point of view the editor espouses in contradiction to most of the Fathers. In fact, the Lutheran Confessions even misquote the Scripture in Formula of Concord, SD:17, adding to St. Paul's words "For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man," the words which is regenerate by the Holy Ghost. This is not in Romans 7 (which the Triglot mis-references as Romans 18:23 ??), but it reveals the viewpoint of Reformation-era theology and interpretation of Scripture. (It might be interesting to see if FC III could still be held together without this passage.)

Given that, it is of no small importance that the Orthodox Church has always maintained a different interpretation of Romans 7:14ff. This difference of interpretation causes huge stumbling blocks in the area of Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue and theological discussions. The Orthodox Church maintains the teaching of the majority of the Fathers, identifying it as the consensus of the Church. The Lutherans, in their confessions, hold to a view identified with St. Augustine, and in FC SD III:86 specifically reject Ss. John Chrysostom and Basil the Great when they teach the Orthodox view.

This was a huge discovery for me in coming to the Orthodox Church. I read it in Scripture, then checked my findings with various Orthodox people of a theological mind and found my suspicions confirmed: St. Paul is describing one under the law, not under grace.

But what about those Fathers who cite Romans 7:14ff to describe the Christian's struggle with actual sins? While grace frees us from the law, when we choose to serve sin - whose domination has been bound by the Strong Man - we are loosing sin's cords and making ourselves its slave again. That is, when we flee from Grace by our willful actions we are throwing ourselves back into the arms of death and sin. Only repentance can return us to God. This application of the passage is a secondary use of Romans 7:14ff, not the primary description St. Paul is giving in Romans. His primary purpose is to describe how it is for the man who has not yet been illumined, which then allows him to show how things are different for a man after his illumination (Romans 8).

1 comment:

עִמָּנוּאֵל said...