The uniquely graced Man

It has been a while since I wrote concerning Grace and Christology. It is about time I picked it up.


Salvation as Elevation

We have seen in my previous post that Fairbairn detects two ideas about salvation which have a direct impact on christology. It is here that Nestorius of Constantinople and Theodore of Mopsuestia appear to be birds of a feather.

Both men espouse what  I call a two-act salvation scheme: they see humanity’s natural condition as one of mortality and imperfection and view salvation as an advance to a higher, perfect state. Furthermore they see salvation not so much as an elevation to divine life but rather as  progress towards perfect human life, and this allows them to adopt a christology that distinguishes sharply between the Logos and the assumed man. What binds this two-act salvation scheme and a divisive christology together is Theodore’s and Nestorius’ concept of grace, and idea driven by the belief that God gives people those gifts (power, aid, and cooperation) that they will need in order to advance from the age of mortality to that of perfection. The relation between the assumed man and the Logos is a special case of the grace by which God interacts with people in general: God the Logos gives that man the power and co-operation he needs to be our pioneer in the march to the perfect age.

Donald Fairbairn, Grace and Christology, p. 28.

The idea that grace consists merely of help, or aid, from above allows a sharp distinction between “the assumed man” an the “Logos” because there is no necessary union between God and creature. If salvation consists first and foremost of the unification or at-one-ment a sharp distinction becomes impossible. After all, unification and division are opposites! Unifaction – or deification – does not exclude divine aid or help from above, but it begins the idea of salvation from a very different starting point with very different results. In other words the deified creature can (and does) receive help and aid from God but this help and aid do not form the essence of what salvation is. Salvation is not an elevation from a lower to a higher state – from the First to the Second Katastasis.


The two Katastases

Theodore’s theology begins by postulating two ages or katastases. The First Age is one of mutability, corruption, sin, and death. The Second Age is characterized by immutability, incorruption, perfection, and life). Salvation consists in moving from the first to the second Age. For Theodore the “new creature” – strictly speaking – belongs to the second Age and cannot exist in the first. This seems to be the point he makes in Hom. Cat. 10. 17 “It is this Church [of “new creatures”] that he [Paul] calls the body of Christ; it receives communion with him symbolically in this world [First Age] through the regeneration of baptism, but in the world to come [Second Age], that communion will be present truly and effectively.” The two ages are sharply distinguished. Baptism begins the journey to a reality not yet given. Baptism does not a new creature make! Baptism is merely the starting point for a mutable, corruptible creature which will only achieve immutability and incorruptibility – the new creation – at some point in the future.

This may seem close to how we commonly conceive of Baptism. But the appearance is deceptive. A Catholic and Orthodox theology requires that the believer who is baptized is from Baptism onward already a new creation. There is no sharp distinction between present and future. What is given truly and effectively in this age in Baptism will be concluded in the age to come. This means that the foundation of Theodoran theology (two sharply distinguished ages) conflicts with a sacramental and (therefore) Christian worldview.

The First Age and the Fall

Only in the first Age is sin a possibility. Sin requires mutability and since the second Age is characterized by immutability there can also be no sin. But can we speak of a “fall into sin” in Theodore’s scheme of the two katastases?

Sin had first to be removed, since it was the cause of death, and then death had to be nullified along with it. But if sin were not removed, we would necessarily remain in mortality, and we would sin because of our mutability; and if we sinned we would again be under punishment, and the power of death would consequently continue.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Hom. Cat. 5. 10. 

The above sounds like Theodore is saying that humanity fell from an original condition where sin is absent, to the present state and that the future age will return us to a state of sinlesness. Such a conception of salvation seems to imply a three-fold structure of salvation and would conflict fundamentally with the two katastases scheme we have seen in Theodore above. Or does it?

In this way the body would be free from death and corruption. Now this could happen if Christ first made the soul immutable and delivered it from the impulses of sin, so that by acquiring immutability we became free from sin. Indeed, the abolition of sin would effect the abolition of death, our bodies could continue indissoluble and incorruptible.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Hom. Cat. 5. 11. 

Sin and mutability, as Theodore sees it, are not so much the result of turning away from God, rather, sin is the result of an innate (natural) mutability. In other words the creature does not fall from a state of perfection to a state of mutability and sin, but is created mutable and consequently sins. This means that sin is a natural part of the creature in the First Age. Christ saves the soul from sin not by returning it to the state from which it had fallen, but by making the soul immutable. Mutability is characteristic of he First Age, and therefore, so is sin. To put it clearly: mutability and sin are a natural result of creation. Such an idea, as should be obvious, is very different from the Catholic and Orthodox view of creation, fall and salvation. Theodore’s theology can fittingly be described as a two-act salvation scheme.

Richard A. Norris and God’s Foreknowledge

An attempt has been made to reconcile the conflict we arrived at above. R. A. Norris (and if memory serves, Archpriest John Behr from Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) tells us that mortality is chronologically prior to sin, but that theologically sin is necessarily prior to mortality. God foreknew mankind would sin and created them accordingly. This means that mortality is both an inheritance from Adam as well as a consequence of  “the sin of Adam” which each earns for himself because each commits it for himself. Whether or not this presentation of things hold any theological water does not matter in our consideration of Theodore all that much. To Theodore, as we have seen, the Second Age is a higher condition and precisely not a restoration to a previous state. So even if – as seems probable to me – Norris’ suggestion concerning foreknowledge has considerable merit, it does not salvage Theodoran thought for Christianity.

To be continued.