Sunday, October 03, 2004

Justification and Merit

Here is an interesting post I ran across. It is an Eastern Orthodox believer answering the question of "What is the Orthodox view on justification and how does it compare to other Christians' views?". Some of the points he makes are quite interesting...

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Well, St. Paul teaches that we are justified by Faith. St. James, however, teaches that we aren't justified by Faith alone. So that's the Orthodox view.

What you have to understand is that both Rome and Protestantism fundamentally agree that salvation is by merit. I.e. they teach that there is a 'bar' of obedience and righteousness that must be acheived in order to be saved. In the fully developed Medieval system of Rome, there were two kinds of merit, Condine and Congruent. Condine merit is where God sets a lower bar of conduct within our reach, and when we meet it, He awards us credit as if we had acheived true righteousness. Congruent merit is where we do all that is within our power toward being righteous, and God makes up where we fall short. This bar can not only be met, resulting in salvation, but can be exceeded, in the case of the Saints, and their superabundant merits are then kept in a sort of 'spiritual treasury' to which the Pope holds the keys, where also abides the merit of Christ's obedience, and that of His Mother, etc., allowing him to dispense those merits in the form of forgiveness of sins. Any deficits that remain at death are made up in purgatory.

The Reformers objected, arguing instead that salvation is acquired purely through the merits of Christ. The classic Protestant view of this is that Adam was set a standard to acheive of perfect obedience, which if he had met it, would have acquired salvation for himself and all his posterity. When he failed, mankind was plunged into sin, and was thenceforth unable to meet that standard. Therefore Christ incarnate, through His active complete and total obedience to the Law, earned salvation for Himself. Rather than keeping it, however, He enacted an exchange, taking our sin upon Himself, and suffering its penalty, while His merit was imputed to those for whom He died, making them perfectly righteous, and thus meeting the standard for salvation.

Orthodoxy, on the other hand, rejects the concept of 'merit' and 'demerit' as a sufficient paradigm, and takes St. Paul's argument that no one can merit salvation by the works of the Law far more systematically. I.e. the Law is not concerned with setting a standard to be acheived for salvation. Rather, the Law is the standard of obedience which every created thing owes to God as their Creator. I.e. if you don't murder anyone, how is that any credit to you? Even if one kept the whole Law perfectly, one wouldn't earn any kind of 'salvation', one would have done only what was minimally required of him. A good example of this is the Rich Young Ruler, who kept all the commandments of his youth, and received another, supervening command from Christ in order to be 'perfect'.

St. Paul compares the Law to a pedagogue used to teach children and a master for slaves. Now, however, in the New Covenant of Christ, we have received something much greater, Adoption as Sons, Union with Christ, i.e. Theosis [[= deification = sanctification + glorification + union with God]]. Obviously, on the face of it, no one can merit Participation in the Divine Nature. Christ did not acheive it through obediently owned merit, but He is it in His Incarnate Being....

Therefore, 'justification' is associated in Orthodoxy with Baptism, with the removal of sin and the beginning of the Christian Life of Theosis. It is not the end all and be all of salvation.

8 Comments:

Blogger incognito said...

Nah, don't really like these ideas much.

3/10/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

I can't really see why you'd say that, surely the insight about Protestants holding to the potentiality of merited salvation is quite interesting?
Especially of interest to me is the fact that he's a history-of-theology geek not a NT-scholarship geek, so when he lists as traditional Orthodox beliefs many of the ideas that modern scholarship has only cottoned on to in the last 30 years, it's quite impressive.

3/10/04  
Blogger Matt said...

The more I hear about Orthodox (capital O) theology, the more attractive it seems. It's like they managed to not make the mistakes the Catholic Church did, while not throwing the baby out with the bathwater like the Protestants.

However, I don't know a lot about them, so probably they only win by default ;). However, they generally seem pretty switched on.

Anyway, this stuff makes a lot of sense, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks salvation is not just an event or a state of being.

3/10/04  
Blogger Jim said...

If only the orthodox church had a good underground hardcore and heavy rock scene...

I might be tempted to join.

4/10/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

The more I hear about Orthodox (capital O) theology, the more attractive it seems. It's like they managed to not make the mistakes the Catholic Church did, while not throwing the baby out with the bathwater like the Protestants. There have been a huge number of recent Protestant converts to Orthodoxy (especially academics) who have thought the same thing.
The three introduction books on Orthodoxy you want to read, if possible, are:
The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way, both by Timothy/Kallistos Ware.
And Byzantine Theology by John Meyendorff.
Most libraries will have them.

If only the orthodox church had a good underground hardcore and heavy rock scene... When are you going to learn that rock music is evil? ~grin~

I have to say that my signle biggest criticism of the Orthodox Church is their failure to incorporate modern worship. The problem is their typical attititude that if it's not a millennia old or more then it shouldn't be done...

4/10/04  
Blogger incognito said...

I slightly misunderstood before - I was refering largely to the views it seems to be against, and missed that Orthodoxy rejected those views. However, the Orthodox view is not clearly presented here.


Yes, protestantism has a 'congruent' method of earning salvation. I don't like the ideas of either 'Condine' or 'Congruent' - because both are based on something like an accounting system. Our salvation becomes whittled down to the sum of an equation.

I don't believe God's acceptance of us can be 'earned' - because I don't think it's something to be earned even if we could do everything perfectly. Grace is not based on conditions, otherwise it wouldn't be grace.

Yet, it's true that by obeying God's laws we are 'saved' in the sense that if everyone followed them our society would indeed be saved from much evil.

"Congruent merit is where we do all that is within our power toward being righteous, and God makes up where we fall short. This bar can not only be met, resulting in salvation, but can be exceeded, in the case of the Saints, and their superabundant merits are then kept in a sort of 'spiritual treasury' to which the Pope holds the keys, where also abides the merit of Christ's obedience, and that of His Mother, etc., allowing him to dispense those merits in the form of forgiveness of sins." I don't really like this - it seems like theological hand-waving to confuse something that is quite simple... God's acceptance of us is gracious, it is not 'fair' nor can it be 'earned' like credit. There is not use in trying to boil it down to something like a formula because it's a totally different thing. So, the phrase 'allowing him to despense those merits in the form of forgiveness of sins' is IMHO completely missing the point. God can forgive because He is kind, He accepts us because He is gracious - He doesn't need anything to happen in order to forgive us... He accepts and forgives us if He wants to - simple as that.

I believe those who ask and seek earnestly for that acceptance will be given it - if they repent. This word means to 'change one's mind' - which I see as setting upon God as ruler of one's heart... being devoted to Him.

'When he failed, mankind was plunged into sin, and was thenceforth unable to meet that standard. Therefore Christ incarnate, through His active complete and total obedience to the Law, earned salvation for Himself. Rather than keeping it, however, He enacted an exchange, taking our sin upon Himself, and suffering its penalty, while His merit was imputed to those for whom He died, making them perfectly righteous, and thus meeting the standard for salvation.'This is nothing but a buttered-up version of imputation of sin and imputation of righteousness. This, in my humble opinion, completely thwarts the concept of grace and the true love, praise-worthiness, and power of God.

'Orthodoxy, on the other hand, rejects the concept of 'merit' and 'demerit' as a sufficient paradigm, and takes St. Paul's argument that no one can merit salvation by the works of the Law far more systematically. I.e. the Law is not concerned with setting a standard to be acheived for salvation. Rather, the Law is the standard of obedience which every created thing owes to God as their Creator. I.e. if you don't murder anyone, how is that any credit to you? Even if one kept the whole Law perfectly, one wouldn't earn any kind of 'salvation', one would have done only what was minimally required of him.'

I agree with this.

'Now, however, in the New Covenant of Christ, we have received something much greater, Adoption as Sons, Union with Christ, i.e. Theosis [[= deification = sanctification + glorification + union with God]]. Obviously, on the face of it, no one can merit Participation in the Divine Nature. Christ did not acheive it through obediently owned merit, but He is it in His Incarnate Being....' This doesn't explain much. We know this, but it doesn't explain in what way all this is true. Perhaps you could expand on this Andrew? The last statement particularly sounds very 'this is a nice flowery statement that everyone can agree with but no-one really understands'.


'Therefore, 'justification' is associated in Orthodoxy with Baptism'

That seems like a pretty random conclusion to draw.

'Well, St. Paul teaches that we are justified by Faith. St. James, however, teaches that we aren't justified by Faith alone. So that's the Orthodox view.' I believe 'faith' is much bigger than mere intellectual assent. It is true, heartfelt devotion that naturally leads to actions that flow from it. Devotion is dead without actions - it is obvious. So, I believe Paul and James are quite in agreement, because Paul obviously had true devotion that leads to action in mind. Cleraly then, I believe we are 'saved by grace, because of devotion to GOd'. Being devoted to Him is simply how we enter into that grace (you could call that an action, but it's more repenting of the heart - that just results in action).

So, to say, 'we aren't justified by faith (devotion) alone' is a bit silly. First, we are justified (accepted to God) by His grace, not by our devotion. But, I believe it is only by having devotion to Him that we come into that grace - and devotion alone. If we are part of God's family, He accepts us, but if we choose to not be part of His family - we have effectivly rejected Him so I think His acceptance of us is largely inconsequential. It's like the prodigal son - when He was in the father's house, he was accepted. But when He left, how could the father protect and care for Him? What good is it to say that the father accepts the son if the son does not return? Becoming devoted to God (repentance) is IMHO like returning to His house. I believe one is 'saved' when one is in the House of God, belonging to Him and enjoying the benefits of His care - just like the prodigal son was 'saved' from his horrible life when He returned.

Yes. So. Please clarify what the Orthodox view IS, as here it seems you have just given what it is NOT, with an insufficient description of what it is.

4/10/04  
Blogger Kelly said...

Does it not seem that the view he presents as Orthodox is actually the view most protestants hold, and that what he describes as protestantism is not quite acurate???

Or have been an orthodox all along and just not realised it???

Or is it that I was brought up Catholic and have somehow combined my theologies??


Or is it just that that's plain just what the bible says (IMHO)?

4/10/04  
Blogger Scott said...

I didn't think Protestantism held justification up as the be all and end all of salvation. I've also read protestant writers say that to be baptised into Christ is synonymous with justification. Conclusion: it's easy to attack a straw-man or a stereotype.

5/10/04  

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