21 October 2008

This may be a stupid question...

...since I don't sleep well when my wife is away (she's visiting her father in New Mexico; he's ill).

Once upon a time, years ago, I was in discussions to write the Preus dogmatics volume on justification. (By that time, my thinking had become far more eastern than western.) As I considered the connection between justification and the sacraments, I saw a problem.

1. Forgiveness of sins, and justification, are imputational, not imparted, according to Lutherans and other protestants. That is, they consist essentially in the reckoning of our sins to Christ, and the reckoning of his righteousness to us--not in the sharing of the divine energies. Hence the strong Lutheran emphasis on the extra nos (outside us) aspect of salvation.*

2. The sacraments of baptism and the eucharist are explicitly said to be for the forgiveness of sins.

3. The sacraments are said to be "visible words"--that is, they show what the Gospel says.

4. Why, then, would it not be more fitting for those who hold #1 above to baptise by pouring water next to the person being baptised--i.e. avoiding contact with the body? Why would it not be more fitting for the eucharist, if offered, not to be consumed but viewed with faith?**

* Protestants grant some sort of mystical union between Christ and the believer, but they teach this mystical union as a consequence of imputation, an effect of forgiveness and neither the cause nor the essence of forgiveness. Rome recognizes the need for an imparting, but lest the Creator/creature distinction be destroyed, what is imparted (grace) is not God's energies (which for them are identical to God's essence) but rather a created substance or habit.

** Certain streams of evangelicalism are being consistent to the Reformational emphasis on imputation when they abandon water baptism altogether; likewise, when the last remnants of what was once communion consist in a little side table with little glasses of grape juice and a cracker, for those who wish it to serve themselves after the benediction has been pronounced (within a generation it will disappear entirely), this is consistent with an imputational view of grace and forgiveness.

Once again, forgive me if I'm missing something obvious; I am tired. But I'd be interested in others' thoughts on this issue.


Chris Jones said...

Not a stupid question.

The answer is that it would be more "fitting," in the sense of being more logically consistent with Protestants' stated views on imputation. But there is enough of a vestigial sense of tradition among some Protestants that they are unwilling to throw overboard the Church's settled liturgical practice for the sake of such "consistency." And that liturgical practice can, if we allow it to do so, teach us again the orthodox faith that we have attempted to abandon.

Perhaps the best example of this is among the Anglicans. Archbishop Cranmer, the principal author of the Book of Common Prayer, was thoroughly Reformed, even Zwinglian, in his theological views. But the liturgy which he crafted respected the structure and, in large measure, the content of the traditional orthodox liturgy of the West. As such, it unmistakably taught a view of the sacraments and of the mystical union quite different from what Cranmer and his fellow Reformers articulated in their writings. It was this eminently traditional liturgy which enabled the Catholic Revival in the Anglican Church to occur.

The English Reformers, like the Lutheran Reformers, steadfastly taught imputation; but the English liturgy taught that the Eucharist is given so that we should be filled with [His] grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with Him, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him. This, and similar language elsewhere in the liturgy, allowed the re-emergence of a more traditional, more orthodox understanding of grace. When I was raised as an Anglican, I was never taught imputation.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Thanks, Chris. Do you think the problem with protestants and the faith is of such a nature that teaching, put into practice, would fix it?

Here's a thought experiment: Lutherans (for example) wake up tomorrow and all agree to do the historic liturgy (say, as represented by the common service of the late 1800's). They all agree that episcopal polity is to be preferred, and elect men they call bishops. Grape juice and shot glasses are gone; lay absolution is laid to rest; and in general, anything you think needs fixing is fixed.

Yet the resulting bodies remain out of communion with either Rome or the East.

Has the problem been fixed? If so, why? If not, why not?

Rev. Benjamin Harju said...

Fr. Gregory,

Regarding your original post, what you are leaving out is the part of the Reformation that rebuffed Rome's erring traditions with the clear words of Scripture. For Justification to shift from mere objectivity to dogmatic subjectivity (I am actually justified, rather than there being a justification out there for me), the Word must be applied to the individual. Pouring water next to someone may seem consistent with imputational reasoning, but it does not agree with the Scripture's method of imputing. Likewise in the Lord's Supper, the Body and Blood must be received in faith in order to receive the forgiveness of sins. Or to put it more succinctly, God commands the application of a sacrament to an individual in a particular way. I think Lutherans try to begin there.

As it is stated in the Small Catechism, where there is forgiveness of sins, there also is life and salvation. Likewise, according to the Lutheran Symbols and other dogmatic works, what is first imputed through justification *begins* to take form through what is dogmatically known as sanctification. I have always understood these two to be separated only by explanation, and never in actual time itself.

This method of distinction (and maybe even separation) serves to prevent someone from claiming he is righteous in himself, and therefore capable of earning or cooperating via one's own merits toward salvation.

So, I guess I'm saying that I think this issue should be seen in connection with the Western understanding of saving merit.

If you are missing anything here, it may be 1) the Scripture's clear demonstration or command to use the sacraments in a particular way, and 2) the Western concept of merit in relation to salvation.

npmccallum said...

Fr. Benjamin,

First of all, Orthodox don't move justification into the realm of subjectivity. Attend an Orthodox baptism and you'll here this (at the end of the Ablution): "You are justified; you are illumined. You are baptized; you are illuminated; you are anointed with the Holy Myrrh, you are hallowed; you are washed clean, in the Name of Father, and of Son, and of Holy Spirit. Amen." Not much subjective there. The important distinction here is that the goal of the mysteries in the Orthodox faith is not the accomplishment of a legal transaction, but union with Christ. Union with Christ is Pauline thesis to the core. You said, "God commands the application of a sacrament to an individual in a particular way." Is this not Judaism? God commands something to be done a certain way, and if we do it the way he commanded, then we are saved. Is this not "works righteousness"? What of the many martyrs who died without baptism? Though they were baptized in their own blood, they didn't do it according to the "particular way."

Further, you seem to suggest the method of "saving merit" as a way out of this predicament. Isn't this the terminology that got Luther *into* is conflict with the Roman church? Where is "saving merit" the "clear words of scripture" where union with Christ is not the thesis?

Please help me understand where you are coming from, because I'm just not seeing how your argument is actually beneficial to your position.

Rev. Benjamin Harju said...


I phrased my response to Fr. Hogg, as one who is familiar with the intricacies of Lutheran systematic thought. "Subjective Justification" is a Lutheran dogmatic term to refer to one's actually becoming justified through faith. "Objective Justification" refers, in Lutheran dogmatics, to the righteousness obtained by Christ alone, apart from, before, and outside of anyone's reception of justification by faith. So, I never said the Orthodox move justification into the realm of subjectivity. I was merely speaking with Fr. Hogg in a language that he is more fluent in than I. In fact, nothing I said has anything to do with Eastern Orthodoxy. I was only speaking to Lutheran theology on its own terms.

npmccallum wrote:
You said, "God commands the application of a sacrament to an individual in a particular way." Is this not Judaism?

This is the Lutheran method that was adopted in response to Rome. The Roman church denied the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood to the laity in both kinds, forbidding the Cup and allowing only the Bread. The Lutherans responded by pointing to the clear words of Scripture, where both Bread and Cup are included in the command to eat and drink. The Lutheran defense against Rome's heretical innovations (heretical because they made any deviance from their customs a sin) was to cling to the clear words of Scripture in the administration of the sacraments. So, in regard to Fr. Hogg's comment about merely pouring water next to someone and simply imputing baptism, this is part of what he has left out. Lutheran theology is not simply about imputation, but about reforming Rome's erring doctrine and practice by the rule of Scripture. If this seems a bit Jewish or legalistic to you, I'm sorry. We feel it is much better than just inventing new rules and making them matters of conscience or salvation, which is what the Roman popes were doing. As so many Orthodox have said to me about Orthodox theology, this is a matter of reading us in our proper context.

As for the rest of what you wrote, I'm afraid I don't understand what you're asking. After reading through what I've said, if you still think there's some aspect of how I'm representing Lutheran theology that fails to connect with Fr. Hogg's thoughts and questions, then please let me know. The notion of merit is ingrained in Western theological thought, whether you agree with it or not. In Lutheran thought (I won't speak for other Protestants) justification's imputational nature prevents the one who is justified from ever being in a state in which he can produce his own righteousness, and thus make himself worthy of salvation. The point is that the imputation of righteousness is not so much a governing principle for doctrine and practice as it is a safeguard against meriting salvation for yourself - either in part or in whole.

You sound like you have a bone to pick with Lutheranism, based on your comments, or that you expect Lutheran theology to explain why it isn't Eastern Orthodox theology. I, for my part, was only interested in helping Fr. Hogg to see that Lutheran imputational theology is but a progeny of the Western concern with merits, and therefore is not the governing principle it would need to be in order to breakdown into a no-contact baptism or a help yourself cracker and juice bar. I was also interested in reminding Fr. Hogg that confessional Lutheran theology could never go along with no-contact baptism due to the way it relies on the Scriptures (which reliance itself is shaped and colored by Lutheranism's struggles with Rome).

Perhaps a reason why certain streams of Evangelicals are behaving the way Fr. Hogg describes is because they and their ancestors reject the sacraments. In my experience when churches and their theologies lose the sacraments, then everything denigrates into the weird stuff Fr. Hogg was describing.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Pr. Harju,

Thanks for your response. I understand that other reasons compel Lutherans, among others, to continue to apply water and eat the elements; I was merely suggesting that there is a gap between the notion of imputational justification as central--even essential ("the article on which the church stands or falls"), on the one hand, and the way the sacraments work to justify and forgive. Hence my saying it would be fitting. Other protestants are being more consistent to this central protestant claim than Lutherans are, when they begin to abandon water baptism altogether and, as much as possible, to downplay the eucharist.

Forgive me for engendering a controversy between you and Nathan; with the press of grading (50 journals per week, plus papers and quizzes) I don't have as much time to devote to blogging as I'd like.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory Hogg

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Dear Nathan,

Thanks for your comments. They remind us that the proper context for any theological term (e.g. 'justification') is its liturgical use. You've given me something to meditate on...

Forgive me for engendering a conflict between you and Pr. Harju, by my not responding sooner. And pray for me, as I pray for you.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory Hogg

npmccallum said...

There is no conflict between myself and Pastor Harju. I apologize if my wording came across strong. Most of it is, admittedly, my lack of understanding the subtleties of Lutheran theology (which I studied long ago, but have since forgotten).

The scientific world has adopted the principle of hypothesis from Greek literary theory. Data is collected and the hypothesis is tested. In almost any case, the hypothesis cannot account for all the data. When this happens a secondary hypothesis is posited for the rogue data. This is typically held until a primary hypothesis is proposed that accounts for all the data. This is of course lex parsimoniae, or Occam's razor: Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate.

I say all this to try and summarize the previous point I was trying to make. Merits are the western hypothesis. Imputed righteousness as a "safeguard against meriting salvation for yourself" is a secondary thesis. The abuse and neglect of sacraments, as Fr Gregory points out, is a necessary result of this overly-complicated explanation of salvation. I believe Fr. Gregory's point (forgive me if I misunderstand him) is that, while Lutherans may maintain orthopraxis, they do not maintain Orthodoxy. Multiple doctrines are used to explain what are the clear words of scripture: That we are *actually* justified/sanctified by uniting ourselves to Christ and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at baptism/chrismation. Further, our exercising of our will in co-operation with the divine unites us to the divine energies (akin to the lux aeterna of the requiem mass or the beatific vision of Aquinas). Union with God is both the means and the goal.

I do then think it is fair to ask the question you mention: "you expect Lutheran theology to explain why it isn't Eastern Orthodox theology." Why is Lutheran theology not Orthodox theology? Why is Orthodoxy able to simply explain union with God in a way that Western theologians are not? I'm not saying this to be mean or to bash Lutheranism (I have a great fondness for Lutherans). I'm only trying to point out that there are two hypothesis on the table and one must choose between the two. I think Fr. Gregory is trying to point out that one hypothesis fits the data better than the other.

For much more from a real theologian (which I am not), you can read a large excerpt from Khomiakov's "The Church is One" here: http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/from-khomiakovs-the-church-is-one/

Rev. Benjamin Harju said...


Lutheran theology doesn't see union with God as the goal. The goal is reconciliation with God and regaining the status of righteousness that was lost in Eden. Union with God is seen more as the result of overcoming the central problem: sin. But, since Lutheran theology does not see union with God as THE goal, then the central means of receiving justification are not going to be seen as requiring unity with God in order to be effective.

Certainly union with God is in Lutheran theology, but it does not take center stage. I think this is because:

1) Lutheranism arose out of a controversy over how one receives forgiveness and righteousness - by earning it, buying it, or by faith. It did not arise out of a controversy over union with God.

2) Lutheranism, for all its claims about sola scriptura and even it's confessional claims about learning from the early Fathers, has today bound itself to a very narrow and specific tradition: the controversies of the 16th century. All Scripture and Church history is now filtered through those controversies, so that everything that has come before the Reformation is reformed to look, smell, and feel like the 16th century. I will be the first to admit that our claims to sola scriptura are somewhat bogus, only because we have taken our confessions and turned them into a new Scripture, rather than let them serve the purpose of being a confession for the time in which they were written.

(Many Lutherans who have resisted this trend have fallen into Evangelicalism or swam to Rome or Orthodoxy.)

The result leaves us with some pretty serious and foundational differences between Orthodoxy and Lutheranism:

* God's character/nature
* man's fall/central problem
* the reason for the cross
* our experience of the Church in this world (a difference over Pentecost and the Holy Spirit)

All of the differences that exist in theology, practice, and whatever else you want to throw in hinges on those four issues, I believe. If Lutherans don't make sense, it's because they believe something different about God, something different about man's purpose, something different about man's fall, something different about the cross, and something different about Pentecost. Really, it's almost like we're talking about two different religions when we compare Orthodoxy and today's Lutheranism.

Yet on the surface Orthodoxy and Lutheranism have some of the closest theological similarities, which is why so many Lutherans as of late seem to be attracted to Orthodoxy as a solution to their American problems.

This is probably more than you were asking for here, but I hope it helps. Forgive me, Fr. Hogg, for taking up so much space, and forgive me all for saying things you may already know.

npmccallum said...

Rev Harju,

Thank you for such a well though out post. I truly wish all conversations on the internet were as charitable and profitable as this one. I have learned much, thank you.

You said that the goal of salvation in Lutheranism is the righteousness of the pristine Adam. Yet, this in itself is not truly an end. Christ himself teaches that the end is not purity of heart, but that purity of heart is the means to see God. If for Lutheranism, as all post-scholastic Western thought, union with God is not the goal, then there is a fundamental question left unanswered: what is the purpose of man in the pre-adamic state? Why was Adam created? For what is he restored? This fundamental question has many peripheral questions, including the following three which I think are crucial for Lutheranism:

For what purpose has Christ united himself to our nature?

What is the meaning of the of the "clear words of scripture" which plainly explicate union with God as the goal of the righteous life?

How is one to understand the Holy Mysteries apart from union with God?

This last question is, I think, again the point of Fr. Gregory's post: the plain meaning of the sacramental life of the Church is union with God. We unite ourselves to Christ's death and resurrection in Baptism and we are united to the Body and Blood of Christ, becoming his very Body. Much of the "uniting" language for the Eucharist was removed during the excision of the epiclesis from the Mass in the West, though this language exists explicitly in every epeclesis in every modern liturgy in almost every church, including Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and others, but excepting Lutheranism. This same "uniting" language is strongly present in every baptism service that I know (I'm *really* unfamiliar with Lutheran bapsitm). Thus, again to put words in Fr. Gregory's mouth, why is what these mysteries clearly proclaim at odds with what Protestants typically believe about justification? Where is "lex orandi lex credendi"?

To go a step further than Fr. Gregory has gone, it is this fundamental question ("Can mankind be united to God?") that is the root of almost ALL heresy. Heretics have again and again, submitting themselves to pagan (particularly Platonic) thought, answered "No!" to this question, resulting in gnosticism, sebellianism, docetism, arianism, nestorianism, monophysitism, monothelitism, iconoclasm, etc. The Church has always answered "Yes!" to this question, proclaiming not only its possibility but its necessity ("What God has not assumed, God has not saved" - St. Gregory of Nyssa).

You don't need to respond if you don't want to. But if you do, I'd really like to know how Lutheranism answers the three questions I raised above (for my own education). Also, I understand that Lutheran theology has a particular sitz im leben (as does Orthodox theology). However, both Lutheranism and Orthodoxy assert that Christ has come to bring us into all Truth. So I really hope that we can talk a bit beyond 16th century Roman correctives (just as I can hopefully speak beyond the Photian schism). Again, thanks for this discussion, it has been most enjoyable.

Andrew said...

Fr Gregory,

Allow me to add some thoughts of mine to yours. If I am mistaken, please correct me.

The East's Essence/Energies distinction allows for God to be both utterly transcendent and penetratingly imminent, and it allows for a real union with God without degenerating into a substantial identification between the created and the Uncreated; i.e., pantheism. The West knows no such distinction. (That is, at least historically; more and more Protestant theologians realize the intellectual hangups that come with an Augustinian/Thomistic doctrine of God.) Because of this, God's relation to man is always extrinsic, be it through created grace (Roman Catholicism) or grace as understood as the unmerited favorable disposition of God (Lutheranism/Protestantism).

This is why the spoken, external Word of God plays such an important role in Lutheran theology. There is no, nor can there be, any real union between God and man*; man only relates to God via God's spoken Word. God speaks, and all we can do is respond in faith. God speaks his declarative Word that we are righteous because of Jesus, and all we can do is believe that Word. Even Lutheran sacramental theology hinges on this notion: the sacraments are visible signs that convey the Word of God (e.g., 'I baptize you', 'I absolve you', 'This is my blood, shed for the remission of your sins'). We are called to believe those words conveyed via the sacraments.

You can see why the sacraments become superfluous in the Lutheran system (and I think this is partly why there failed to be a united Protestant Reformation), and why most Protestants don't see the need for them.

*Lutherans who believe in some sort of mystical union are impelled to show how this is even possible given the Lutheran Reformation's (via Chemnitz) commitment to medieval scholastic definitions of God. I don't see how it is.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Note: The last comment was removed at the author's request.

Fr. Gregory