|"Crucifixion" (1617) a statue by Juan Martínez Montañés|
First off I would like to praise Mr. Fields' post. I have been poking at Lutherans here and there on this topic for some time, hoping someone would give an intelligent reply. Usually what I get are responses from Lutherans whose theology has become conflated with Calvinism, or more often Lutherans who do not know their own Confessions or the doctrinal stance of their own Synod. Eventually someone capable of representing something like the Lutheranism I learned while in seminary was bound to come along. Thank you, Mr. Fields, for actually bringing a higher-grade Lutheranism to the table.
He writes about my post and the comments,
The argument seems to be as follows: it is ridiculous for God to charge us with a debt, then kill someone else (His Son) and so declare us not-guilty, since our guilt was somehow “transmitted” to another. This is not true justice, but really an affront to justice, for justice demands that goodness be rewarded, and evil punished. If those who do good are punished, and those who do evil saved, even though the evil have in no way become less evil, there is in no true sense “justice” being carried out here, but a miscarriage of justice. Furthermore, the fact that this miscarriage is carried out by the “judge” himself, that is, God, does not make it any less unjust. Rather, it only renders God Himself unjust, which is blasphemy.What Mr. Fields has argued in his summary is that somehow I object to the notion of a sacrifice for sins (offered to benefit sinners), that I find God to be unjust to command such an offering by Christ on the cross, or I am somehow complaining about an issue of justice. That's nonsensical, but there you have it.
I am afraid Mr. Fields, like the commentators in my original post, has not grasped the substance of the article. The substance can be summed up as follows:
- The atonement made by Christ does not does change God so He will accept sinners, but instead is the means by which sinners are changed so as to be able to return to God.
- Christ's atonement does not involve Christ Himself suffering punishment that God otherwise would have inflicted upon us for our sins. It does involve offering His righteousness to God and to us.
- Justification in Christ is moral transformation first and foremost (i.e. renewal), akin to Sanctification.
- The Lutheran Confessions (which Mr. Fields says are the minimum that must be believed) limit Justification to the forensic category, and forbid from It the category of renewal or Sanctification in any way (which renewal and Sanctification are the source of good works, not to be confused with good works themselves). See specifically FC SD III:39ff.
- The LCMS (I am not concerned about other Lutheran groups so much) has enshrined these views in its dogmatic texts, and requires adherence to these views as a condition of ordination and continuation in pastoral ministry.
There is no denial of Christ's atonement in Orthodoxy. Jesus Christ dies for our sins. He makes an offering of Himself to His Father to save us from our sins. He bears our sins in His body upon the tree of the cross. (But as He died for our sins, He rises for our Justification.) In fact this Offering is central in the life of the Church on a weekly - if not daily - basis in the Eucharist. Many Orthodox priests or laymen do not know how to give a satisfactory answer to Lutherans about this topic (and vice-versa). But I digress...
Regarding Criticism of the Orthodox Catholic Faith
The Claim - The Fathers Espouse the Lutheran Doctrine
Herein lies the true contention between our Eastern Orthodox brothers and us: what they believe needs to be completed within ourselves, we believe to have been completed in Christ as the recapitulation of Mankind, i.e, the New Adam. They believe that Christ has begun and made possible what we believe He has finished, and it is for this reason that we find it entirely fitting that Paul always speaks of the consummation of our salvation as already having been accomplished. Christ is already “all in all”; we have already “died with Him”, &c. This is not something soon to come, nor is it something dependent on our action. Christ has done it, and all of us in Him.And further on Mr. Fields writes (emphasis his own):
What follows is a series of quotations from the Fathers (quoted by Chemnitz) concerning the nature of justification. By quoting these passages from the Fathers, Chemnitz shows two things: first, that the Lutheran doctrine was espoused by the Fathers, and second, that that which the Fathers said is to be assumed as included in the Lutheran doctrine.And again Mr. Fields writes:
However, one must note how all these Fathers seem to view our deification, our justification, our sanctification, our glorification, our being “honored”, &c., as having already been completed, done in the past, that is, done in Christ already. For the Fathers, all of these things are accomplished, for, as Jesus says, “It is finished.” It is this concept which defines the Lutheran doctrine of justification, that is, the completed nature of it, and also the doctrine of a “Forensic Justification”, for that which God has declared cannot be changed. In Christ’s death, God has already condemned sin. In His resurrection, He has forgiven mankind and raised it in Christ. The judgment is already given; man is forgiven and sanctified. We who are in time must “wait” for the Old Adam to die off, that we might procure the fullness of our verdict, but in God, who is beyond all time, the declaration is firm and eternal.He cites the following Fathers of the Church in support of the above view: St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Basil the Great, and Tertullian.
The point made is that the Fathers assert that salvation entire is accomplished complete in Christ and given to us. Therefore the Fathers agree with the Lutheran claim that nothing more needs be done but wait for the consummation, and they are not in agreement with the Orthodox who say our salvation yet needs to be completed within ourselves.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons
Mr. Fields quotes "Against Heresies" book III, chapter 18, paragraph 7 (though he does not cite it - tsk tsk). St. Irenaeus sums up his point in that paragraph with the following words, "God recapitulated in Himself the ancient formation of man, that He might kill sin, deprive death of its power, and vivify man; and therefore His works are true." In this portion of his monumental work St. Irenaeus is defending the reality and purpose of the Incarnation against those that would deny that Christ really and truly became man. Hence the focus on that topic. It's good to place things in context. In the following quote that I am supplying St. Irenaeus is defending the role of human freedom against the Gnostic notion of predetermined natures.
On this account, too, did the Lord assert that the kingdom of heaven was the portion of “the violent;” and He says, “The violent take it by force;” that is, those who by strength and earnest striving are on the watch to snatch it away on the moment. On this account also Paul the Apostle says to the Corinthians, “Know ye not, that they who run in a racecourse, do all indeed run, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. Every one also who engages in the contest is temperate in all things: now these men [do it] that they may obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. But I so run, not as uncertainty; I fight, not as one beating the air; but I make my body livid, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when preaching to others, I may myself be rendered a castaway.” This able wrestler, therefore, exhorts us to the struggle for immortality, that we may be crowned, and may deem the crown precious, namely, that which is acquired by our struggle, but which does not encircle us of its own accord (sed non ultro coalitam).If St. Irenaeus has stated that our attainment of the kingdom and its immortality is complete because of our union with Christ who accomplished everything for us, then why does he say we must struggle for immortality, that the crown of immortality is acquired by our struggle and not without our struggle? I highly suggest the entirety of this chapter which precedes this paragraph (linked above), where St. Irenaeus places the keeping of the commandments under the power of our free will, and faith in the Gospel likewise under the power of our free will. Having such free will (and thus accountability) in regards to obedience and faith, man is required to use it in both capacities in his struggle to acquire the crown of immortality, and it will not come apart from our efforts.
When, therefore, did we bear the image of him who is of the earth? Doubtless it was when those actions spoken of as “works of the flesh” used to be wrought in us. And then, again, when [do we bear] the image of the heavenly? Doubtless when he says, “Ye have been washed,” believing in the name of the Lord, and receiving His Spirit. Now we have washed away, not the substance of our body, nor the image of our [primary] formation, but the former vain conversation. In these members, therefore, in which we were going to destruction by working the works of corruption, in these very members are we made alive by working the works of the Spirit.
Here it is affirmed what God does, namely washing away our sins (i.e. justification) in Baptism, and what is our part, namely working the works of the Spirit, by which works we are made alive. How can that be, though, if God has done everything in Christ, and our union with Him means we are already made alive? Thus St. Irenaeus.
St. Basil the Great
Mr. Fields quotes St. Basil in defense of the Lutheran position (which position is allegedly in agreement with the Fathers but stands against Orthodoxy). Once again I do not wish to take anything away from the words of St. Basil, but I prefer to add context. Consider the following from St. Basil:
The dispensation of our God and Saviour concerning man is a recall from the fall and a return from the alienation caused by disobedience to close communion with God. This is the reason for the sojourn of Christ in the flesh, the pattern life described in the Gospels, the sufferings, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection; so that the man who is being saved through imitation of Christ receives that old adoption. For perfection of life the imitation of Christ is necessary, not only in the example of gentleness, lowliness, and long suffering set us in His life, but also of His actual death. So Paul, the imitator of Christ, says, “being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” How then are we made in the likeness of His death? In that we were buried with Him by baptism. What then is the manner of the burial? And what is the advantage resulting from the imitation? First of all, it is necessary that the continuity of the old life be cut. And this is impossible unless a man be born again, according to the Lord’s word; for the regeneration, as indeed the name shews, is a beginning of a second life. So before beginning the second, it is necessary to put an end to the first. For just as in the case of runners who turn and take the second course, a kind of halt and pause intervenes between the movements in the opposite direction, so also in making a change in lives it seemed necessary for death to come as mediator between the two, ending all that goes before, and beginning all that comes after. How then do we achieve the descent into hell? By imitating, through baptism, the burial of Christ. For the bodies of the baptized are, as it were, buried in the water. Baptism then symbolically signifies the putting off of the works of the flesh; as the apostle says, ye were “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; buried with him in baptism.”This paragraph opens with a recounting of the nature of salvation in order to provide context for what St. Basil has to say about Baptism. This is important, because the issue he wrangles with is not the nature of salvation, but the relationship of water to Baptism. Accepting what he has to say about salvation we are invited to peer closer at Baptism.
And there is, as it were, a cleansing of the soul from the filth that has grown on it from the carnal mind, as it is written, “Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” On this account we do not, as is the fashion of the Jews, wash ourselves at each defilement, but own the baptism of salvation to be one. For there the death on behalf of the world is one, and one the resurrection of the dead, whereof baptism is a type. For this cause the Lord, who is the Dispenser of our life, gave us the covenant of baptism, containing a type of life and death, for the water fulfils the image of death, and the Spirit gives us the earnest of life. Hence it follows that the answer to our question why the water was associated with the Spirit is clear: the reason is because in baptism two ends were proposed; on the one hand, the destroying of the body of sin, that it may never bear fruit unto death; on the other hand, our living unto the Spirit, and having our fruit in holiness; the water receiving the body as in a tomb figures death, while the Spirit pours in the quickening power, renewing our souls from the deadness of sin unto their original life. This then is what it is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, the being made dead being effected in the water, while our life is wrought in us through the Spirit. In three immersions, then, and with three invocations, the great mystery of baptism is performed, to the end that the type of death may be fully figured, and that by the tradition of the divine knowledge the baptized may have their souls enlightened. It follows that if there is any grace in the water, it is not of the nature of the water, but of the presence of the Spirit. For baptism is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God.” So in training us for the life that follows on the resurrection the Lord sets out all the manner of life required by the Gospel, laying down for us the law of gentleness, of endurance of wrong, of freedom from the defilement that comes of the love of pleasure, and from covetousness, to the end that we may of set purpose win beforehand and achieve all that the life to come of its inherent nature possesses. If therefore any one in attempting a definition were to describe the gospel as a forecast of the life that follows on the resurrection, he would not seem to me to go beyond what is meet and right. Let us now return to our main topic.
He says "the man who is being saved through imitation of Christ receives that old adoption." He notes that our imitation of Christ is not limited just to imitating His way of life through keeping the Gospel commandments, but also includes imitating His death and resurrection through being baptized. Baptism imitates Christ's death through the destruction of the body of sin in our submersion, and it simultaneously imitates Christ's resurrection by giving us the Spirit who enlightens and enlivens the soul, restoring it to its original life which was lost by Adam.
The goal of imitation is perfection of life. To this end is the imitation of death, and the earnest (meaning the sign that promises what is to come later) of the life of the resurrection to come, viz. the gift of the Holy Spirit who vivifies our souls.
St. Basil also indicates that the purpose of the Gospel's directives ordering our behavior is "to the end that we may of set purpose win beforehand and achieve all that the life to come of its inherent nature possesses." Through the keeping of the commandments we that have been made alive in the Spirit struggle to achieve all that belongs to the resurrection to come - which is the meaning of St. Paul's statement in Philippians 2, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
In short St. Basil says we are being saved through imitation of Christ - both by receiving what Christ has done and bestows, and in what we achieve in the Spirit by means of our action. Such is the context he provides for understanding Baptism in water.
Mr. Fields has indicated that Justification means we have everything now, so we only wait for the consummation, that our action is out of place, since Christ has finished everything for us. St. Basil has come to a different conclusion - one that is the teaching of the Orthodox Church. There is what we have in earnest as first-fruits, there is what we achieve in the Spirit, and then there is the perfection and complete fulfillment of these things to come at the Second Coming. Mr. Fields accepts the earnest and the coming perfection, but objects to our achieving beforehand all that belongs to the coming resurrection as part of our salvation.
Another reference from St. Basil:
For He Himself has bound the strong man and spoiled his goods, that is, us men, whom our enemy had abused in every evil activity, and made “vessels meet for the Master’s use” us who have been perfected for every work through the making ready of that part of us which is in our own control. Thus we have had our approach to the Father through Him, being translated from “the power of darkness to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” We must not, however, regard the œconomy through the Son as a compulsory and subordinate ministration resulting from the low estate of a slave, but rather the voluntary solicitude working effectually for His own creation in goodness and in pity, according to the will of God the Father. For we shall be consistent with true religion if in all that was and is from time to time perfected by Him, we both bear witness to the perfection of His power, and in no case put it asunder from the Father’s will. For instance, whenever the Lord is called the Way, we are carried on to a higher meaning, and not to that which is derived from the vulgar sense of the word. We understand by Way that advance to perfection which is made stage by stage, and in regular order, through the works of righteousness and “the illumination of knowledge;” ever longing after what is before, and reaching forth unto those things which remain, until we shall have reached the blessed end, the knowledge of God, which the Lord through Himself bestows on them that have trusted in Him. For our Lord is an essentially good Way, where erring and straying are unknown, to that which is essentially good, to the Father. For “no one,” He says, “cometh to the Father but through me.” Such is our way up to God “through the Son.”Here St. Basil defends the dignity of the Son's work. As he makes the defense he describes what the Son has done for us, and he focuses on the proper use of words in dispute.
Have we been perfected? St. Basil says yes. In what way? By making ready the part that is in our own control. Is perfection still to be obtained? St. Basil says yes again. In what way? Stage by stage through our works of righteousness and illumination of knowledge. What is the goal, the blessed end? Knowledge of God bestowed by Christ on those that have trusted in Him. Here we see not only that perfection is obtained stage by stage, but that faith is counted by working toward this perfection.
Another reference from St. Basil:
So we ought always to adore His loving kindness, and not to repine, remembering those great and famous words of the great athlete Job, when he had seen ten children at one table, in one short moment, crushed to death, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away.” As the Lord thought good so it came to pass. Let us adopt those marvellous words. At the hands of the righteous Judge, they who show like good deeds shall receive a like reward. We have not lost the lad; we have restored him to the Lender. His life is not destroyed; it is changed for the better. He whom we love is not hidden in the ground; he is received into heaven. Let us wait a little while, and we shall be once more with him. The time of our separation is not long, for in this life we are all like travellers on a journey, hastening on to the same shelter. While one has reached his rest another arrives, another hurries on, but one and the same end awaits them all. He has outstripped us on the way, but we shall all travel the same road, and the same hostelry awaits us all. God only grant that we through goodness may be likened to his purity, to the end that for the sake of our guilelessness of life we may attain the rest which is granted to them that are children in Christ.The letter is one of comfort for a bereaved person. It deals with death and the Christian hope. While expressing great hope that the deceased has passed into heaven, he seeks God's mercy for those left behind (including himself) "that for the sake of our guilelessness of life we may attain the rest which is granted to them that are children in Christ."
If more references from St. Basil are needed, consider Letter 235, par. 3 and Letter 269, par. 2.
St. Athanasius the Great
But do you, having your foundation sure, even Jesus Christ our Lord, and the confession of the fathers concerning the faith, avoid those who wish to say anything more or less than that, and rather aim at the profit of the brethren, that they may fear God and keep His commandments, in order that both by the teaching of the fathers, and by the keeping of the commandments, they may be able to appear well-pleasing to the Lord in the day of judgment. But I have been utterly astonished at the boldness of those who venture to speak against our beloved Basil the bishop, a true servant of God. For from such vain talk they can be convicted of not loving even the confession of the fathers.
This quote demonstrates that there is concern about the coming judgment - specifically that there is a need to keep the teaching of the Fathers and keep God's commandments if we are to be pleasing to God on that Day. If St. Athanasius agrees with the Lutheran teaching, should not faith alone be enough to allay any fears of the coming judgment, as Mr. Fields claims?
Note also the high esteem St. Athanasius holds for St. Basil the Great, quoted above. The two are notable collaborators against Arianism. St. Athanasius focuses heavily on the co-divinity of Christ against the Arians. St. Basil defended the co-divinity of the Holy Spirit against those off-shoots of the Arian party, the Pneumatomachians. The respective emphases of these two defenders of Orthodoxy helps us to see where the trouble lies between Lutherans and the Orthodox Church on the issue of Justification. All that Christ has done for us as God and Man, which St. Athanasius spends so much time describing against the Arians, is the content of our salvation, and is what is to be believed in order to be saved. Lutherans and Orthodox generally agree on this (there are some areas of difference, but they are not the current issue). What Lutherans and Orthodox do NOT agree on is what this work of Christ means when it is applied to a person that comes to faith. That area is the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is over the work of the Holy Spirit that Lutherans and Orthodox disagree when it comes to Justification. We agree on what Christ has done for our Justification, but disagree on the implementation of Justification to believers by and in the Holy Spirit. We generally agree on St. Athanasius' topic, but disagree on St. Basil's topic. St. Athanasius and St. Basil agreed with each other, the Orthodox Church agrees with them both, but the Lutherans dissent from St. Basil's topic, as noted above.
St. Cyril of Alexandria
St. Cyril of Alexandria
10 The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
For the restoration to life is common to both saints and sinners, to both Greeks and Jews, as well as ourselves, for: The dead shall arise, and they that are in the tombs shall awake, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice, according to the sure promise of the Saviour. But the participation of the Holy Spirit is not thus common to all, being the more than life, as it were something beyond that which is common to all; and will be bestowed only upon those who are justified by faith in Christ: and the Divine Paul also will prove this to us, saying: Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall all sleep, but we-shall not all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For indeed all shall rise from the dead, because this is granted to all nature, through the grace of the Resurrection; and in One, that is, Christ, Who was the first and foremost to break down the dominion of death and attain eternal life, the common lot of humanity was changed and made incorruptible, even as also in one, that is, the first Adam, it was condemned to death and corruption. But there will be at that time an important difference among those who are raised, and very widely distinct will be their destiny. For those who have gone to their rest with faith in Christ, and who have received the earnest of the Spirit in the appointed time of their bodily life, will obtain the most perfect grace, and will be changed to the glory which shall be given from God. But those who have not believed the Son, and have deemed such an excellent reward of no account, shall be once more condemned by His voice, and, sharing with the rest in nothing save in the restoration to life, shall pay the penalty of such prolonged unbelief. For they shall depart down into Hades to be punished, and shall feel unavailing remorse. For, saith He, there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth.This passage seems to be in full agreement with the Lutheran view, which is why I reference it here. A Lutheran should love this passage, as should an Orthodox Christian. St. Cyril says that those who are justified by faith will be blessed with all good things, specifically the most full participation in the Spirit. He also says that those who die in faith, and who received the earnest of the Spirit (presumably in Baptism) while yet in this life, will obtain the most perfect grace in the resurrection to come. I wish to suggest that justification by faith here is the same thing as believing and receiving the earnest of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, just as the most full participation in the Spirit is the same as obtaining the most perfect grace.
24 He that loveth Me not keepeth not My words.
And so vice and virtue are separate and widely opposed to each other in quality, or how could one speak without falling into error? But both characters cannot belong to any one among us in the same relation and be fulfilled in action. For either a man is good or bad, though he may not have reached the height of iniquity or virtue. Then when the one principle is powerful within us, the other, that is the opposite, will be weak. And so if the formal principle of virtue consist in keeping His commandments, is it not most plain that in not keeping them wickedness originates? Just as to have in himself the Father and the Son, which is the origin and basis of all satisfaction of soul and glory, is in store for him that keeps His commandments, so he that keepeth them not is wholly cut off from participation in the ineffable Divine nature; which is, in effect, incapacity to enjoy any blessing. If any man then think it a good and desirable thing to partake of the Divine nature and to have God Who is the Father of the universe indwelling and abiding in the shrine of the heart by His Son, in the Spirit, let him thoroughly purge his soul, and wash away the stain of wickedness, by whatever means he can; and most of all, by all kinds of well-doing. For then will he become truly the temple of God; and He will rest and abide in him, according to the Scripture. For then it will not be with him as it was with the lawyer mentioned in the Gospels, who did not wait for grace from the Saviour, but said that he went self-called to follow Him; and, eager to seize so desirable a blessing, exclaimed, Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest: but what said Christ to him as in a parable and in riddles, The foxes have holes and the birds of the heaven have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His Head. By foxes and birds of the heaven He meant wicked and unclean devils, and the spirits of the world and of the air, which love to dwell and take up their abode in the hearts of pleasure-seekers, fulfilling their own lusts, and so cramping the miserable souls of those who receive them that God can find no place at all for rest in them. This is what He means by laying His Head.
Let us then cleanse our hearts from every defilement, for so will God dwell in us and will render us proof against all the malice of the devil, and will make us happy and blessed, and will render us partakers of His ineffable Divine nature.Here we see that performing "all kinds of well-doing" helps to wash away the stain of wickedness and to purge the soul of sin. If we wish to be the temple of God, we must draw near to God by practicing virtue. In no way could we fairly assume St. Cyril denies the power of faith or Baptism (or the Eucharist); but he enjoins us especially to practice works of virtue so that we may become temples of God. Are we not already such through Baptism? What could our works contribute to becoming the temple of God and becoming partakers of the Divine nature that Baptism has not worked?
He says following the commandments drive out the demons of the passions that occupy the place where God should be within us. The view of St. Cyril about the condition of a person after Baptism is that passions do persist in the heart, but our task is to uproot them so as to make more room for God. In this way we will become temples of God and partakers of His nature, for we will have evicted (put to death) what stands in the place that is supposed to be the abode of God. For St. Cyril you can "possess" God more and more, it seems!
8, 9, 10, 11 And He, when He is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on Me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and ye behold Me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world hath been judged.
The third reproof by the Comforter will be, as the Saviour says, the most righteous condemnation of the prince of this world. And what form this reproof takes I will explain. For the Comforter will testify to the glory of Christ, and, showing that He is truly the Lord of the Universe, will reprove the world as having wandered astray, and as having left Him Who is truly God by Nature and fallen down and worshipped him whom Nature owns not as God, that is Satan. For the judgment against him is, I think, sufficient to show that this statement is true. For he could not have been condemned and lost his power, nor have paid the penalty of his conflict with God, being delivered into chains of darkness, if he were by Nature God, Who sits unshaken on His throne of majesty and power. But now we see him so incapable to preserve his own honour, that he is even cast under the feet of those filled with the Spirit, I mean the faithful who have confessed that Christ is God. For they trample the demon under foot when he tries and struggles. When then any one sees the swarm of impure demons shuddering and cast out by the prayers of such men, and by the working power of the Holy Spirit, will he not with reason say that Satan has been condemned? For he has been condemned by his no longer being able to prevail over those who have been impressed with the seal of righteousness and sanctification by the Holy Spirit, through the faith that is in Christ. How then, tell me, have we trodden all his power under foot, according to the saying in the Psalms addressed to every man that lives in the world? By the help of the Most High thou shalt tread upon the asp and basilisk; the lion and the dragon thou shalt trample under foot. When then the Comforter from heaven enters souls that are pure, and manifests the righteousness of His mission by faith impartially bestowed, then will He show that the world is bound in its own sins, and without share in the grace that is from above, since men repulse their Redeemer; and He will also reprove the world----as causelessly accusing those who have believed----of sin, and as far as they have rightly been justified, although they gaze not on Christ as He departed unto God and wrought marvels, but honour Him by faith. It was, I think, with some such thought as this in his mind that Paul said: Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that shall condemn? For the mouth of all lawlessness is stopped, according to the word of the Psalmist, as it can lay nothing to the charge of the faithful elect, who are invested with the glory of the righteousness that proceedeth from faith. He will reprove the world as having gone astray and resting its hopes on [the devil], who has received such condemnation that he has lost all the glory of his former condition, and only deserves our contempt, and to be held of no account by those who worship God.In this passage St. Cyril describes being impressed with the seal of righteousness and sanctification by the Holy Spirit. The believer in Christ is made comparable to wax that receives the image of a seal impressed upon it. This is what our Justification is. It is our transformation by the Spirit according to the image of the Righteous One so that we are made righteous. And likewise Sanctification: it is our transformation by the Spirit so that we are made holy. Justification and Sanctification are a matter of a person being transformed through the Holy Spirit.
22, 23 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.
For He proclaimed that He would send down to us from heaven the Comforter, when He was ascended to God the Father; and this, indeed, He did, when He had gone away to the Father, and vouchsafed to shed forth the Spirit abundantly upon all who were willing to receive it. For any man could receive it, through faith, that is, and Holy Baptism; and then was fulfilled that which was spoken by the voice of the Prophet: I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh. But it was necessary that the Son should appear as co-operating with the Father in granting the Spirit; it was necessary that those who believed on Him should understand that He is the Power of the Father, That has created this whole world, and called man out of nothing into being. For God the Father, at the beginning, by His own Word, took of the dust of the ground, as is written, and fashioned the animal, that is man, and endowed him with a soul, according to His Will, and illuminated him with a share of His own Spirit; for He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, as is written. And when it came to pass that through disobedience man fell under the power of death, and lost his ancient honour, God the Father built him up and restored him to newness of life, through the Son, as at the beginning. And how did the Son restore him? By the death of His own Flesh He slew death, and brought the race of man back again into incorruption; for Christ rose again for us. In order, then, that we might learn that He it was Who at the beginning created our nature, and sealed us with the Holy Spirit, our Saviour again grants the Spirit, through the outward sign of His Breath, to the holy disciples, as being the firstfruits of renewed nature. For Moses writes concerning our creation of old, that God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life. As, then, at the beginning, man was formed and came into being, so likewise is he renewed; and as he was then formed in the Image of his Creator, so likewise now, by participation in the Spirit, is he transformed into the Likeness of his Maker. For that the Spirit impresses the Saviour's Image on the hearts of those who receive Him surely does not admit of question; for Paul plainly exhorteth those who had fallen through weakness into observance of the Law, in the words: My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you. For he says that Christ will not be formed in them save by partaking of the Holy Spirit, and living according to the law of the Gospel. Therefore, as in the firstfruits of creation, which is made regenerate into incorruption and glory and into the Image of God, Christ establishes anew His own Spirit in His disciples. For it was necessary that we should also perceive this truth, namely, that He brings down and grants the Spirit unto us. Therefore, also, He said: All things, whatsoever the Father hath, are Mine. And as the Father hath, of Himself and in Himself, His own Spirit, so also the Son hath the Spirit in Himself, because He is Consubstantial with Him, and essentially proceeded from Him, having by Nature in Himself all the attributes of His Father.Here St. Cyril explains what it means that Christ breathed the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Three things are of immediate importance for our discussion. The first is that the Spirit is given to those who believe and are baptized - therefore there is a giving of the Spirit initially in this way. Second, the very thing that above was called 'impressed with the seal of righteousness' (i.e. Justification) is here called being impressed with the image of Christ upon the heart. Christ is our righteousness, but our Justification goes beyond 'possessing' Christ and must include being transformed by Christ according to the heart or inner man.
Third, Christ is not formed in a person except by partaking of the Holy Spirit and observing the 'law of the Gospel.' Here St. Cyril wishes to show how undeniable it is that the Spirit transforms a person into the image of Christ, as he has been saying. Thus he cites St. Paul as proof, and even goes on to explain that such forming of Christ in us can only happen by the working of the Spirit (on God's part) and our living according to the Gospel law (on our part). The suggestion here is that for St. Cyril our Justification is not a single event or possession, but Justification lies on a continuum of growth, because it is about our transformation into the image of Christ. Baptism was not undone in those whom St. Paul worked to form Christ again, but to some extent the goal of Baptism was thwarted - our inner transformation into the image of Christ (i.e. Justification). The means by which this thwarting is corrected is the Spirit and our works.
19 Yet a little while and the world beholdeth Me no more; but ye behold Me: because I live, ye shall live also.
For we shall either suppose that this is what He means by Yet a little while and the world beholdeth Me no more; but ye behold Me; or else turning aside to a different point of view----especially when there is intertwined with His words the saying Because I live, ye shall live also----we reason somewhat on this wise. For after His Revival from the dead, when He had effected for our nature the return unto that whereunto it existed from the beginning, and had made man incorruptible, He ascended, as it were by way of first-fruits and in the Temple of His own Body first, unto God the Father in heaven. But after in the meanwhile accomplishing a short time, He will descend again, as we believe, and will return again unto us, in the glory of His Father with the Holy Angels, and will set up the appalling tribunal before all men, both evil and good. For all created things shall come to judgment. And rendering becoming awards, corresponding to the life each one has led, He will say to them on the left, i.e. to those that have minded the things in the world: Depart from Me ye cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; howbeit to them on the right, i.e. to the holy and good: Come ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For they shall be with Christ and shall reign with Him, and shall revel in the heavenly blessings, having been made conformable to His Resurrection, and escaped the meshes of the ancient corruption, being endued with the long and ineffable life, and living endlessly with the ever-living Lord. For that they who have practised a life dear to God and exalted, shall be with Christ without ceasing, to wit contemplating His divine and unspeakable beauty, Paul will make clear where he says: For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord; and again, to them that have chosen to mortify worldly passions: For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with Him be manifested in glory. So----for I will sum up the meaning of the Lord's saying----the lovers of the evil things in the world shall go down to Hades and be banished from the presence of Christ; howbeit there shall be with Him and dwell with Him for ever the lovers of virtue, they who have kept inviolate the earnest of the Spirit, and being with Him of a surety they shall also behold His Divine Beauty without all hindrance.The point has been raised by Mr. Fields that an eternal declaration of righteousness has already been passed on those with faith in Christ, because by faith they possess Christ and therefore possess the verdict of innocence proper to Him in the face of our judgment before God. Those with faith will be on the right hand of the Judge, because His merits are substituted for their (lack of) merits in the Day of Judgment. In fact, His merits become their merits.
St. Cyril uses different language. Those that will dwell with Christ forever are those that have practiced a virtuous life, they who have kept inviolate the earnest of the Spirit. Given all that we have read from St. Cyril, the keeping inviolate the earnest of the Spirit is not hard to understand. The Holy Spirit was given (to faith in Baptism) as the sign of promise that Christ has raised our humanity again to incorruption (promising therefore our future resurrection at Christ's Return). The Holy Spirit transforms our inner man into righteousness and holiness according to Christ's image, restoring us to humanity's original innocence. At the same time we have to live in accord with the Gospel law, so as to evict the passions from within and cultivate those virtues that belong to the life entrusted to us by the Spirit - thus growing in the likeness of Christ, which is itself a growth in justification and sanctification. In this way we can become temples of God and enter into union with the Divine nature. This is Orthodox soteriology, not Lutheran.
The Basis of Judgment
Mr. Fields and Lutheranism in general links Justification with a "not guilty" or "innocent" verdict that applies in the face of the judgment according to our works. Christ is declared righteous, and so those with faith are declared righteous because they "possess" Christ (and thus possess the merits of His righteousness as their merits). This is the basis of Lutheranism's certainty of salvation, and is central to Martin Luther's great discovery about faith. The problem, though, is that Mr. Fields has claimed that his view of Lutheran Justification is that of the Fathers. If so, then they ought to agree with him about the scope of Justification, especially its implications for the Final Judgment. We have already seen that the most significant Fathers cited by Mr. Fields come to very different conclusions about our Justification - not so much in its source (Christ) but in what it means for a person actually to be justified (the work of the Holy Spirit).
I'd like to think citing more Fathers and teachers from Mr. Fields' list is just overkill. (I am willing to do it, though, if needed, and more beyond the ones he quoted.) I make one exception: I think it is profitable to return to St. Basil for a description of the the Judgment to come.
40. Moreover by any one who carefully uses his reason it will be found that even at the moment of the expected appearance of the Lord from heaven the Holy Spirit will not, as some suppose, have no functions to discharge: on the contrary, even in the day of His revelation, in which the blessed and only potentate will judge the world in righteousness, the Holy Spirit will be present with Him. For who is so ignorant of the good things prepared by God for them that are worthy, as not to know that the crown of the righteous is the grace of the Spirit, bestowed in more abundant and perfect measure in that day, when spiritual glory shall be distributed to each in proportion as he shall have nobly played the man? For among the glories of the saints are “many mansions” in the Father’s house, that is differences of dignities: for as “star differeth from star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead.” They, then, that were sealed by the Spirit unto the day of redemption, and preserve pure and undiminished the first fruits which they received of the Spirit, are they that shall hear the words “well done thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” In like manner they which have grieved the Holy Spirit by the wickedness of their ways, or have not wrought for Him that gave to them, shall be deprived of what they have received, their grace being transferred to others; or, according to one of the evangelists, they shall even be wholly cut asunder, —the cutting asunder meaning complete separation from the Spirit. The body is not divided, part being delivered to chastisement, and part let off; for when a whole has sinned it were like the old fables, and unworthy of a righteous judge, for only the half to suffer chastisement. Nor is the soul cut in two,—that soul the whole of which possesses the sinful affection throughout, and works the wickedness in co-operation with the body. The cutting asunder, as I have observed, is the separation for aye of the soul from the Spirit. For now, although the Spirit does not suffer admixture with the unworthy, He nevertheless does seem in a manner to be present with them that have once been sealed, awaiting the salvation which follows on their conversion; but then He will be wholly cut off from the soul that has defiled His grace. For this reason “In Hell there is none that maketh confession; in death none that remembereth God,” because the succour of the Spirit is no longer present. How then is it possible to conceive that the judgment is accomplished without the Holy Spirit, wherein the word points out that He is Himself the prize of the righteous, when instead of the earnest is given that which is perfect, and the first condemnation of sinners, when they are deprived of that which they seem to have? But the greatest proof of the conjunction of the Spirit with the Father and the Son is that He is said to have the same relation to God which the spirit in us has to each of us. “For what man” it is said, “knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God.”St. Basil the Great sets forth wonderfully the Orthodox teaching on the final judgment. Let us focus on the following in particular, "In like manner they which have grieved the Holy Spirit by the wickedness of their ways, or have not wrought for Him that gave to them, shall be deprived of what they have received, their grace being transferred to others; or, according to one of the evangelists, they shall even be wholly cut asunder, —the cutting asunder meaning complete separation from the Spirit." St. Basil indicates that those that have received the earnest of the Spirit are expected to work for God if they wish to enter into glory. God is looking for works - fruits. The one who obstinately expects to be saved by faith apart from works on that Day will be in for some serious trouble.
From all of this we can see why the Orthodox say 'We have been saved, are being saved, and hope to be saved.' We have been saved: Christ's cross and resurrection, our Baptism and reception of the Spirit; we are being saved: our continual transformation in the Spirit by faith working through love; we hope to be saved: the Final Judgment according to our works. The Final Judgment is not settled already, because its basis is our works done while in this life - not the blanket ownership of Christ's works or our unworthy works. In fact it is because Christ's merits have been applied to us that we must work, because the outcome of that application is our transformation into the likeness of Christ. That's Justification, and Sanctification, and Salvation.
The Orthodox concept of salvation is thus very simple and straightforward. Salvation is being transformed from the old to the new, from the likeness of the earthly man to the likeness of the Man from heaven. The transformation-period extends from our New Birth to the General Resurrection. At the Judgment we will be assessed. What we want to avoid is being stripped of our gifts and cast out. What we want to achieve is to be accounted good stewards of the earnest of the resurrection that has been entrusted to our care. Did we put it to work according to the Master's instructions, did we squander our time, or did we bury the gift? It's that simple. But it's hard, because it requires us to die to ourselves every day and instead live for God by His Grace and Help and Mercy. This is the Faith of the Scriptures, the Fathers, the Orthodox Church.
Regarding the Lutheran Teaching Put Forward
Does Lutheranism Maintain the Integrity and Spirit of the Patristic Witness?
No. Whenever the topic of Justification arises, Lutherans run to the cross and say, "See, it's finished. We're justified and going to heaven." But the issue of becoming justified involves two things, 1) Christ overcoming the problem of our sin, death, and bondage to the devil, and 2) our reception of Christ's "solution" or "victory." The division over Justification between the Orthodox Church and Lutherans is primarily about the second part, not the first part. There are differences over the first part - which Mr. Fields points to when he makes a case for Christ suffering our punishment - but no matter how you calculate the atonement, it still amounts to Christ dying for the forgiveness of our sins and being raised for our justification. We could not be forgiven without the cross (though the Orthodox like to point out that God has always been desirous of forgiving us, and did not need to be bought off with a payment of human suffering), and we could not be justified without the resurrection.
What Mr. Fields and the Lutherans do is shift the weight of Justification from cross & resurrection to the cross. They say on the cross Christ pays the penalty for our sins, and supplies perfect righteousness to God for us. The supplying of perfect righteousness (Christ's merits) to God while taking away sins is called our Justification. The resurrection is reckoned the proof that Christ's offering is accepted, and that the cross accomplished everything. The reception of "it is finished" is through the Holy Spirit, who creates faith in a person from nothing, and through this faith gives to the believer Christ with His "it is finished" so that It is Finished for you. The consequence of the cross with its "it is finished" is that the Final Judgment is solved in our favor. The Lutherans claim this is taught by the Scriptures, but what that really means is that Luther and the other Lutheran teachers have come to these conclusions (contrary to the Fathers, I contend) and passed on their teachings to their disciples down to the present day.
The Orthodox Church, in keeping with the Scriptures as taught by the Fathers, hold the cross and resurrection in a different relationship. Christ's offering on the cross was simply the offering of a completely righteous Man to God. Yet this righteous Man is also the Son of God. His righteousness is established in the face of the absolute worst the Enemy could throw at Him, and by facing this worst He overcomes all that holds humanity in slavery. As the Lamb of God He bore our sins in His body to death on the cross, defeated Death with His Divinity, and was raised again to Life in victory over the devil. The resurrection itself is the transformation of our dead human nature into glorious, heavenly perfection in Christ. Though Christ became true Man without sin, He still bore the likeness of sinful flesh - that is, He endured the consequences that come from sin infecting humanity and creation. His resurrection finally and fully transforms the humanity of Adam into its glorious perfection. The atonement is finished on the cross, but the transformation of human nature happens in the resurrection. Justification is a transformation - death leading into resurrection. What we receive in the Holy Spirit is the beginning of our share in that transformation through union with God. The transformation continues throughout this life and comes to completion at the General Resurrection, where the works of all will be assessed in light of the gift given in the Spirit.
So there are two places where the Lutherans significantly depart from the Orthodox: whether or not God's justice requires Christ to suffer the punishment due us in order to make atonement, and whether Justification is a matter of total transformation or acquisition of merits.
Justification: Attribution, Possession, or Transformation?
Chemnitz goes on to quote perhaps another thirty passages from various Fathers. You may ask me, “That is all very interesting, but why do you speak so much about the Incarnation and union with Christ, when my question was about Forensic Justification?” The answer is that, according to Chemnitz, no one can understand the “sinner being declared righteous” unless he understands that this very same sinner is completely united to God himself and made a sharer of all His benefits, and that this “sharing” is not merely one of “give me that which is yours, that I might pretend that it is mine,” but rather it is a true union, that all that Christ has done, He has done as a man, and so man has done it, and can be judged as having done is justly by God. The “forensic justification” follows only from this understanding of the Incarnation, which is why for Chemnitz, Luther, and all of the orthodox gnesio-Lutheran theologians, there could be no justification, no atonement, without a full Incarnation (not the Nestorian incarnation proposed by the Calvinists), for if God did not truly become one with Mankind, then the sinner being declared righteous would truly be a miscarriage of justice — a lie put in God’s mouth, just as our modern Eastern brothers often say.
Now the purpose of the Incarnation was this: that God not only became a man, but rather became all mankind. Just as we were all in Adam, we are now all recapitulated and summarized in Christ, not by way of analogy but in truth, which is to say, ontologically. When He does righteousness, so we do righteousness, for we are summarized in the one Who has done it. When He dies, so mankind dies with Him, thus satisfying the declaration of God: “You shall surely die.” Yet, Christ, being God, was not contained by death, and so rose again unto immortality, so all mankind being in Him shall rise again into immortality and be participants in the divine nature, as we already are, and all these things, not by transaction or legal agreement, or by the “decree of God” but because Christ truly now is all mankind. There is only one “sanctified” man, and only one “justified” man, and that is Christ. There is only one immortal, one infinite, one sinless, &c., and we cannot be any of these things merely by attribution. Rather, we must be joined physically into the one who is; and to our everlasting happiness, this very grafting into the infinite occurred in the act of the Incarnation.Mr. Fields links the source of Lutheran justification with physical union with Christ. He denies that a Christian is righteous by attribution, but claims that being declared righteous comes from a physical union with the One who is righteous. More from Mr. Fields:
It is also wrong to say that God is “treating us forensically righteous even though we are not actually righteous,” for forensic merely means to declare righteous, which God does justly and in truth, for He declares Christ righteous, and so He is. He alone is the one who is “forensically justified.” Yet to say Christ is “forensically justified” must entail that we are actually righteous, for we are one with Christ, the righteous one, and if He is righteous, so are we, though sin clings on in the form of the Old Adam. ...
The good subdeacon goes on to say that God does not merely want to forgive us, but to bring us out of our sin and corruption. But as is clear, this God has already done. Now we only wait this brief moment of life, that the evil of corporeal death, which once was the loss of all of man’s self, now has become sanctified in Christ’s death and has been transfigured into the death of sin in us and the final liberation of Christ from the shackles of our sin.Christ is the only one forensically justified. Yes! And if Christ is actually righteous, then we that have union and communion with Him must be actually righteous in Him. (Yes! - I say as an Orthodox Christian.) But what does he mean by actually? The Lutheran Confessions, when speaking of conversion (i.e. becoming a Christian), explicitly forbid Justification from including any sense of renewal or (what I would term) actuality in us. The point of the Lutheran Confessions is that the declaration is based on Christ and not on anything in us, and they earnestly resist muddying the waters on this issue. Consider the following from the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, III:39ff (emphasis mine):
That neither renewal, sanctification, virtues nor good works are tamquam forma aut pars aut causa iustificationis, that is, our righteousness before God, nor are they to be constituted and set up as a part or cause of our righteousness, or otherwise under any pretext, title, or name whatever to be mingled in the article of justification as necessary and belonging thereto; but that the righteousness of faith consists alone in the forgiveness of sins out of pure grace, for the sake of Christ's merit alone; which blessings are offered us in the promise of the Gospel, and are received, accepted, applied, and appropriated by faith alone.And the following from the same writing, III:54 (emphasis mine):
Likewise also the disputation concerning the indwelling in us of the essential righteousness of God must be correctly explained. For although in the elect, who are justified by Christ and reconciled with God, God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who is the eternal and essential righteousness, dwells by faith (for all Christians are temples of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who also impels them to do right), yet this indwelling of God is not the righteousness of faith of which St. Paul treats and which he calls iustitiam Dei, that is, the righteousness of God, for the sake of which we are declared righteous before God; but it follows the preceding righteousness of faith, which is nothing else than the forgiveness of sins and the gracious adoption of the poor sinner, for the sake of Christ's obedience and merit alone.This second quote was written against Osiandrianism, which claimed that our righteousness from Christ does not come by His human obedience, but by communication of the "essential righteousness" of the Godhead. The Formula took the opportunity to set straight for Lutherans the role of God's indwelling when it comes to righteousness: faith receives the merits of Christ, God dwells in the Christian by faith, but indwelling is a result of righteousness, not a cause.
Note that two things are prevented in this part of the Formula. The first is pure Osiandrianism - that the righteousness bequeathed to the Christian is that of the Godhead rather than the value of Christ's obedience to the Law. The second thing prevented is that the Justification that comes by faith should involve an ontological change (or other form of change) within us that would turn us into something righteous within - even by just a little bit! Rather the Formula asserts that all such forms of inner transformation, renewal, Sanctification, etc. are a result of being found completely righteous through the giving of Christ's merit to the sinner through faith.
Now to Mr. Fields' point. If Christ is declared righteous, then we must be actually righteous? What does that mean, Mr. Fields? Righteous where it counts? Righteous in our nature, ontologically? Righteous by legal attribution? Wait - you said NO to attribution. You said, "Rather, we must be joined physically into the one who is [infinite and sinless]; and to our everlasting happiness, this very grafting into the infinite occurred in the act of the Incarnation." He then proceeds to point to the sacraments as fulfilling or playing into this reality.
It is not correct to say that we are justified "in the act of the Incarnation," because that leaves out Christ's human obedience unto death, it leaves out Christ's sacrifice for sins on the cross, and it leaves out the resurrection (Rom. 4:25). That's a dangerous word choice, especially in Lutheranism. In the Lutheran context it sounds like Osiandrianism.
In Orthodoxy the Incarnation re-establishes an ontologically righteous humanity - and I wonder if this is what Mr. Fields is aiming at. The declaration of Christ's righteousness by God, though, is based on His entire obedient life and death as True Man. The reality of His righteousness (forensic, ontological, and personal) is what the resurrection is all about. The resurrection is the righteousness that is communicated to us in the sacramental life of the Church - for righteousness is tied to life as two sides of the same coin. Or we would be happy to reverse that - the righteousness of Christ communicated to us in the sacramental life of the Church is that of the cross and resurrection.
That the Son becomes every man (or more specifically the recapitulation of all mankind) certainly happens at the Incarnation, but our personal grafting into Christ happens at our Baptism, Confirmation, and participation in the Eucharist. I link these three as one, because that is the normal method of Christian initiation and they should happen together. But for the sake of the discussion I will say our grafting "into the infinite" happens at Holy Baptism. When we are baptized our fallen human ontology dies and rises in union with Christ by the Spirit. In Baptism we undergo an ontological change by means of the Spirit. If Christ is born (incarnate) to be like us, we are reborn (baptized) to be like Him. He is Incarnate in the likeness of sinful man, we are reborn in the likeness of the crucified and resurrected Man. We must maintain the distinction (never separation) between what the Son does and what the Spirit does.
In Orthodoxy our grafting into Christ through Baptism justifies us, that is, makes our human nature partakers of Christ's crucified and resurrected human nature that He holds in personal union with His Divine nature. Our human nature becomes a righteous (i.e. justified) human nature, because it enters into union with Jesus Christ, the New Adam. In this way Justification, as it occurs in Baptism, is a matter of Christ's cross and resurrection being applied so as to affect a transformation in us, as was said before.
Mr. Fields' description of Justification seems to be close to the Orthodox mark, which is a good thing. But is it Lutheran? I have already established that Lutheranism does not allow any sort of personal renewal or transformation into Justification. The Justification from (Lutheran) Baptism works the same way. Any renewal or sanctification-like activity is treated as a result of being imputed with the merits of Christ. Even the term regeneration does not admit into Baptism's justifying activity any notion of renewal or ontological change in us. Whenever a linking of regeneration with Justification happens in Lutheranism (whether talking about Baptism or not), the term must refer to the creation or strengthening of faith. This is insisted in the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration III:18ff. And since in Lutheranism faith is the sole work of the Holy Spirit in a person, this is the limit of any transformation language in Lutheran justification. That is, in Lutheranism, the only thing that is transformed in the act of being justified in Christ through the Holy Spirit is the human will. It is transformed from an unbelieving will to a believing will. And a believing will grasps hold of Christ's merits and possesses them, and is thus justified apart from any works. Any form of personal transformation beyond that of the human will is excluded from Lutheran justification and categorized as Sanctification - the fruits of being justified by faith.
Mr. Fields' argument for Lutheran justification can be summed up as possessing righteousness, because through faith we possess Christ - who was incarnate, suffered, died, and rose again. From an Orthodox standpoint this is still less than transformation. It is not enough to simply possess Christ. One must be transformed by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Christ through union with Christ. It is not simply possessing Christ's merits that saves, but being transformed by the Holy Spirit according to the image and likeness of Christ. Justification as 'possession of Christ's righteousness' without Justification being transformation into Christ's righteousness is really just the attribution of righteousness - it isn't strong enough. From an Orthodox standpoint, the Lutherans have driven a wedge between Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit with their doctrine of justification.
In order to avoid what was for him an unbearable problem of works, Luther shifted our righteousness before God from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in which we cooperate (post-Baptism) to an all-sufficient Treasury of Merits (called Jesus Christ) which is conveyed to us through faith. In the Lutheran context Mr. Fields goes a bit afield (sorry for the pun) by suggesting righteousness is conveyed by physical communion (though I think he means only to emphasize the importance of the Incarnation for our Justification), in that physical communion involves the indwelling of God, which the Lutheran Confessions forbid to the category of Lutheran justification. But Mr. Fields' position remains irrevocably Lutheran in that he upholds the sufficiency of this Treasury of Merits for our right relationship with God now, as well as our future salvation on the Day of Judgment. The wedge is the transformation of Christ into a Treasury of Merits. Instead of the merits of Christ obtaining for us our means of transformation, the merits of Christ themselves become the object, replacing the necessity of our ongoing transformation in Justification for our eternal salvation.
A Lutheran reading this will most likely be abhorred. Lutheranism was formulated to reject salvation as transformation and cooperation. At the same time there is a strong sense of communion with God in Lutheranism, and a strong sense of identification with Christ. The beauty of Lutheranism is that it still sees salvation in terms of union with Christ. What is missing is the proper work of the Holy Spirit in its theology, His proper work having been only forced out of place rather discarded. Ideally in every Divine Service the Lutheran pastor stands at the altar and invokes God to make present the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness, life, and salvation of all present that are allowed to commune. All of Lutheran theology comes together in that sacrament - justification and sanctification; forgiveness, Christ's righteousness, our transformation in the Spirit, and the eternal destiny of the elect - all there through communion with Christ. In that moment the differences might seem slight. But still something is not right, and it gnaws from the background when it's not yelling in your face. What catholicity that is there in Lutheranism is slipping away...
The Orthodox Church offers only the Catholic Truth, which includes unbroken continuity with original Christianity, the Scriptures rightly divided throughout history by her Fathers, and a spiritual life that conforms to our eternal destiny. I wish the best for those who feel compelled to be Lutheran, but I hold out hope for more than the best that Lutheranism can give to them.
If anyone is interested in the Patristic teaching on the atonement itself - the offering of the High Priest on the Cross - I heartily recommend Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon's podcast on Ancient Faith Radio entitled, "The Love of God and the Passion of Christ."
To Mr. Fields directly I say two things:
- Thank you for taking the time to address my post in the public forum. I have greatly benefited from the exercise.
- In the future, when you make quotations (like from Chemnitz or Dr. Scaer or anyone), please PLEASE cite exactly where a reader can find that quote.
To anyone that has actually made it to the end of this very long post, give yourself a gold star. It was a long read!