Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lecture 3 Study Questions

I have to say that the forum participation this term is worse than most. That is one of the most frustrating things about distance learning: unless forum participation is required, few will bother with it.

I see it as another opportunity to clarify my understanding, so I do it whether it's required or not.

Hmph.

Desribe in detail Patristic themes concerning Christ’s saving work

Christ’s saving work is part of the salvation economy of God the Father—His plan for saving mankind. As St. Irenaeus states in Against Heresies, the intent of the Incarnation is our salvation—the re-establishment of all things and the raising up of humanity (Jurgens, Vol. 1, p. 84), and he adds, “He has fitted and arranged all things by His wisdom” (p. 88). Undoubtedly, that would include Christ’s saving work. Certainly, God foresaw what would happen given man’s free will.

Christ reveals a new way of life and reveals the truth about God, man, and human destiny. Jesus preaches a life of compassion and reminds the Jews of Israel and the Decapolis of their obligation to help others and to treat each other with charity. The message in particular is sent to the Pharisees, who have turned the compassion of God into a code of man-made laws and traditions. Jesus called them and all Jews back to the Truth. For the pagans, this would mean a single Truth and single Lawgiver and a sense of absolute, of real justice rather than just the capriciousness of lesser gods who act just as badly as the worst of mankind. God is a God of mercy and justice, and we are called to submit through our own merciful and just actions.

Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are an example that we as Christians should imitate. Jesus is the exemplar of the life to which we as Christians are called. In our life, we are to remember mercy. In our suffering of death, we are to offer all to God, and to join our suffering to that of Christ for the redemption of the world. Finally, in submitting fully t the will of God, we will be raised from death. As Rev. Mosey notes, the Fathers were concerned with helping their people live holy lives, not just with speculating on abstract theological positions that required mere intellectual assent. St. Paul entreats in 1 Cor. 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The Fathers certainly tried to encourage the same.

Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (particularly his obedience unto death) demonstrates God’s love and moves people to respond in return out of faith, hope, and love. First is the notion that God allows His Son to be a sacrifice, much like Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. God lovingly and willingly supplies the proper sacrifice to make good mankind’s redemption. Likewise, Christ lovingly, obediently, and willingly becomes the paschal sacrifice to redeem us from our fall. As the Gospel of John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Naturally, if people of good conscience see this action for what it is and recognize the extraordinary offering, they will be moved to respond by moving closer to God.

Christ’s saving work is a victory over sin, death, and Satan. Christ’s saving work is an undoing of the sins of Adam. Through Adam’s disobedience, Satan gains a foothold, and sin and death are loosed in the world. Through Christ’s obedience unto death, He defeats death and sin by justifying humanity, and He becomes a stumbling block for Satan, giving him an ever more slippery slope back into Hell. Rev. Mosey notes that Satan is sometimes “seen more as a personification standing between sin and death” (Lecture 3, p. 4). I’m not quite sure whether he means that contemporary Christians often understand Satan this way or whether some of the Fathers did. From the following statement, it implies that the Fathers held him to be a person, but that this belief is often not held anymore. Count me in with the Fathers.

Christ’s Incarnation in and of itself is salvific. Because of the Hypostatic Union, humanity and divinity are joined in one Person. There is no diminution of the divine nature, but human nature is exalted, divinized, and restored. A Patristic maxim to this point states that God became man that man might become God. Our “becoming God,” in no way suggests a change in nature from human to divine (which would mean either an adding to God—an absurdity—or becoming a distinct god—which would be pantheistic), but a participation in the divine life with God. This concept is present in the works of St. Athanasius, St. Gregory or Nyssa, and St. Cyril of Jerusalem. In the Incarnation, every human person is affected because human nature—the essence of what it means to be human—is affected (Mosey, p. 5).

Christ’s entire life is part of His saving work. While His passion, death, and resurrection are of primary focus for western Christians, His entire life, including His death and resurrection, reveals the truth about God and saves mankind. By living as a man, Christ recapitulates human life, redeeming each stage for all. In St. Irenaeus’ words, “Therefore He passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age; and at the time of becoming for them an example of piety, of righteousness, and of submission; a young man for youths, becoming and example for youths and sanctifying them for the Lord.” (Jurgens, Vol. 1, p.87) Irenaeus continues through every stage unto death. In passing through each stage, Christ dignifies each and redeems it. Finally he becomes the first born from the dead, “having the first place in all things, the originator of life, before and preceding all” (Ibid).

Two common subelements of this theme reappear throughout the Patristic writings. First, Jesus Christ is the new Adam (and the Blessed Mother, the new Eve). Through the Blessed Mother’s obedience, her Seed crushes the head of the serpent. What Adam and Eve wrought through disobedience, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary recapitulated, relived, and redeemed (Mosey, Lect. 3, p. 6). Second, because Jesus was true man and is true God, He redeemed all that He assumed. As Gregory Nazianzus and other Fathers would argue, what Christ did not assume, He did not repair (Ibid).

Christ’s death is expiation for our sins. As noted before, the Fathers see Adam’s and our own disobedience leading to death. Christ’s obedience to death out of love expiates or repairs the offence of Adam. This subelement seems common to many of the themes. I’m wondering why the original paschal sacrifice is not being mentioned here as it is the type of Christ’s passion and death as sin offering. Of course, we might look at the Passover lambs as being the type and Christ being the antitype since His Incarnation was preordained to serve as expiation for our sins (that is, if you look at God’s plan outside of time). The paschal lambs of early Judaism are then seen as imperfect offerings that can only be fully expressed in Christ’s paschal sacrifice. I’m probably theologizing more than is appropriate here, but it does seem that the subelements of these themes overlap a lot. By the way, I find the terms antetype and antitype to be frustratingly confusing here. One means what precedes the type, and the other what follows the type. In Greek, the distinction is probably quite clear, but since we English speakers tend to pronounce the two words identically, it can cause some confusion. Maybe figure and prefigure might be better on that account. Of course, I guess we’d then need to add postfigure.

Christ’s life and death were a freely accepted sacrifice. The theme of obedience and freedom are important here for two reasons. First, Christ demonstrates His love for us and for the Father by accepting and embracing the Father’s plan of salvation for our sake. Without the freedom to accept death, there’s really no sacrifice as a sacrifice must be offered, not forcibly taken. Second, because Christ accepts this sacrifice in His humanity, we are given an example of our own offering for sin—ourselves. He offered Himself for us. We, as Christians, should offer ourselves back to Him. If we don’t do this willingly rather than out of compulsion, it is likewise no sacrifice. Our offering must come out of love by our own free will.

I find it interesting that the eighth theme includes the discussion on suffering because it seems to me to be much more appropriate here. Christ freely offers His suffering for the redemption of mankind. We can also offer our suffering join with Christ’s to complete the redemption of mankind. Again, this is probably more theologizing than appropriate for the course material.

Christ is a mediator between God and man. Because Christ has joined divinity and humanity in the Hypostatic Union, He is the natural mediator between God and man. He divinizes human nature, and He draws us into participation with God. Having suffered as a man, Jesus knows the meaning of our suffering. We can see Christ as mediator in that He settles the dispute between God and man, but also in that He communicates God’s Truth to us as the divine Word. The Fathers also talk of our being appropriated into Christ. So in another sense, Christ is the medium through which we are sanctified, both in a physical and spiritual sense.

Describe the main points concerning Christ and his saving work in the Council of Chalcedon

Jesus Christ is one divine Person or Hypostasis of the Son of God. His having taken a physical form does not alter His divine Personhood. He is not a human person (as Arius taught) or two separate persons, divine and human (as Nestorius was purported to have taught, although he apparently denied this).

This one divine Person subsists in two natures, one divine and one human. Each
nature is perfect and lacks nothing that pertains to each particular nature. As such, the human nature has a human soul and a human body, united together in one Hypostasis, except during the time between His death and resurrection. The Hypostatic Union does not diminish the divine nature but, in contrast, raises up and restores human nature.

This Hypostatic Union is substantial and not merely accidental (by way of appearance or in a nonessential way only) or moral (through adoption, as is the case with us, or in some legalistic sense). These two natures come together in one Person, not merely as entities treated or having the mere appearance of a single person.

The natures in the Hypostatic Union do not comingle and become some new nature. They remain distinct from each other. This point addressed the claims of the Eutychian monophysites that Christ’s human nature was “dissolved like a drop of honey in the sea” or as the Apollonarists held that the divine intellect had superseded the human (“Monophysitism,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monophysitism).

Since one Person exists in two natures, what can be predicated to one nature can be predicated to the entire person of Christ. Because only one person exists, a divine Person in two natures, any activity or property attributable to either of these natures can be attributed to Christ the divine Person. For this reason, it is acceptable to refer to the Virgin Mary as Theotokos, just as it is likewise appropriate to say that God the Son suffered and died on the cross.
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