Saturday, September 20, 2014

More on holiness

Reading a post on Fr Aidan Kimel’s Eclectic Orthodoxy blog (which is quite a find) prompted a few more thoughts concerning the schema of salvation, which I have characterized (by no means originally, but in the all-too standard way) as the three-fold movement of redemption, justification, and sanctification (i.e., being made holy, theosis, divinization, etc.). In a recent post, in light of Fr Stephen Freeman’s observation, an idea I had was moved from being vague to explicit, namely the idea that justification and sanctification cannot be neatly split apart and (most importantly) that sanctification is not optional, and is not only necessary, but inevitable for a Christian.

In his post, Fr Aidan wonders whether St Paul’s “understanding of justification is governed exclusively by the question ‘Are the works of Torah binding on the (Gentile) Church?’” Once this question was answered definitively- presumably at the proto-Council of Jerusalem, which is described in Acts 15- “justification” was no longer an issue. Fr Aidan better expresses something I have long thought and expressed both in writing and preaching with regards to the sacraments in general, foremost among which, even for Catholics and Orthodox, are Baptism and Eucharist:
Holy Baptism represents the decisive event in which the convert to Christ is initiated into the Church and the trinitarian life of God. It’s not as if one is first justified and then subsequently adopted as a child of God and made heir to the kingdom. It all happens at the same time! As the Apostle tells his congregation in Corinth: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). The Spirit breaks into our fallen world and appropriates us to the life and worship of the messianic kingdom. Only on this basis does our liturgical prayer and ascetical practices make proper sense
This also serves to highlight something to Roman Catholics that seems to require constant attention: Baptism, not ordination, is the fundamental sacrament of the Christian life. Baptism strengthened by Confirmation is even more formidable still.

Fr Aidan also posted something by Phillip Cary (who wrote the best theological commentary on the Book of Jonah I have read) concerning St Augustine's view of justification (see "St Augustine on Justification by Grace"). I am not going to try and neatly summarize what Cary has already summed up nicely. I will just note this from his article: "for Augustine justification, so far as he discusses it at all, is not a particular event but the activity of God throughout our lives. When he uses the verb justificare, Augustine is thinking of God’s role in bringing us along in our lifelong journey to Him (cf. the article on “Justice” in the encyclopedia Augustine through the Ages). This image of a journey, pilgrimage or road to God is central to his theology, and any account of justification that is true to Augustine’s thought will really just be an account of that journey, in which we grow closer to God by growing in charity, which is the righteousness (justitia) that consists in obeying the twofold law of love."

"This image of journey, pilgrimage or road to God" is not only central to St Augustine's theology, but also constitutes an important part of the Letter to the Hebrews, seventeen verses to be exact: Hebrews 3:16-Hebrews 4:13, only to be taken up again for additional 53 verses (see Hebrews 11:1-Hebrews 12:13).

I post this because it is quite a boon to me that someone else is taking up these matters concurrent with my own interest, someone who is certainly better versed in the Christian tradition than I am, but most importantly, someone with a personal and not strictly theoretical interest in these most important matters.

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