THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WESTERN THEOLOGY AND ORTHODOX THEOLOGY
In Eden humans disobeyed God and broke their relationship with Him. For this they were cast out of Paradise as a punishment and suffered death as a consequence of their sin.
This fall corrupted (more – Calvin or less – the Scholastics) human nature thereafter and made reparation with God a human impossibility on account of the gravity of sin (which includes the transmissible guilt of Adam and Eve), its disabling power and God’s judgement upon man’s transgression.
Only God Himself could put humanity back into a right relationship with Him (justification) and impart holiness (sanctification). This He did by suffering the punishment for our transgressions – death – in the sacrifice of His Son for the salvation of the world in our place, propitiating God in respect of the offence of original and subsequent actual sin. By this means Man was restored to a right relationship with Him and was accounted worthy of eternal life made available to him in and by Christ’s resurrection. (Notice here that death is both a consequence and a punishment for sin; that someone must bear the punishment justly due for our transgression and that only when Christ has appeased the Father is eternal life possible. The resurrection has no saving significance beyond that which has already been achieved on the cross. The life of the redeemed at best bears the hope of fellowship with God or perhaps [for Roman Catholics] the Beatific Vision. Any transforming union with God can only be characterised by spiritual contemplation not by an ontological change in our human nature.)
In Eden humans chose a demonically inspired autonomy from God and by that choice death entered the natural order and human life specifically. God in his mercy and love removed them from Paradise into this world lest this physical death be compounded by an eternal spiritual death. Now subject to suffering and death, human alienation from the divine life becomes the raw material for Satan’s attempt to subvert humanity finally from God. This corrupting influence of the fear of and flight from death makes of sin an ever present reality for the children of Adam and Eve.
However they remain free to choose between God and Satan and this outworking of salvation in history eventually enables a Virgin to conceive by the Holy Spirit the Saviour who is both God and Man. This incarnation which includes the whole dispensation of Christ from his birth to his resurrection unites our human nature to God and redeems it. As we
repent and live ascetically for God in the power of the Holy Spirit the resurrection victory of God over the opposing powers (which led to the death of Christ), we partake of the divine life of the Trinity, the energies of God, and are transformed in an ontological union with God from one degree of glory to the next, (the ascension of our humanity). This
salvation process starts in this life and is consummated in the next. (Notice how death is not a punishment from an outraged God in Eden, nor is our banishment. Everything is done out of love. There is no divine anger to placate, no debility of our will, no meaning in the death of Christ without the resurrection (but every meaning with it!). All of the life of Christ saves us and this is by the incarnation gathering everything that is ours into God where it is transformed into the divine image and likeness. Moreover the Holy Spirit is the divine personal agent of our transformation and everything is a coordinated work of the Holy and Blessed Trinity.)
The Consequences of Faith
Finally let us consider the consequences of a faith lived in the first (non-Orthodox) and second (Orthodox) instance.
For non-Orthodox Christians the resurrection is something of an afterthought, not in itself as such but in salvation terms. It’s difficult to see how the resurrection of Christ actually saves anyone if the death alone has healed the breach between humanity and God through a vicarious (if not substitutionary) punishment. God becomes a threat to be averted in the condition of sin. Of course this is always characterised as an initiative of love but it is the wrath of God that HE HIMSELF must first avert … which rather begs the question… “Why does God place Himself under such an exterior necessary constraint?” He literally CANNOT forgive without the shedding of blood but notice that it is not death which is addressed here but the offence of sin.
When we consider that in the first account humanity has to carry the burden of Adam and Eve’s guilt as well as their actual sin, it is little surprising that western culture threw off this guilt ridden morbidity in the Enlightenment. However, without the saving Incarnation and Resurrection, the spiritually eviscerated remnants of Christianity in the West could offer little more than humanism with a Christian veneer. When faced with bondage to the devil and the corruption of death (the unacknowledged realities here) non-Orthodox Christians eventually either rejected God altogether as an intolerable psychological burden or settled for a truce, an uneasy peace punctuated by the occasional radiance of a religious revival in which something once lost was dimly remembered and partially recovered – for a time at least. We are now at the end of this degenerative process in the Christian west and I doubt whether anything of the former Easter glory can be recovered.
In the second Orthodox account it is the CAUSE of the disease (death) that first must be addressed if there to be BOTH forgiveness AND an enduring change, (regeneration). The Ever-Virgin Mary becomes the model of what it is to be a Christian. She broke down the wall of opposition to God in her own life and womb and by her own gracious response to God. This is what it is to be saved in the Orthodox Church, to be an Easter people. The future for all Christians in the west lies in recovering something of the grandeur and hope of the original Christian vision … a world utterly transformed by the resurrection power of the divine love. Many have hung onto this paschal hope outside the Orthodox Church. It is now time for the Orthodox Church in the west to put her own house in order and get ready to welcome these scattered and disorientated western children of God both inside and outside the other Christian traditions.
Fr Gregory Hallam