I have been running this blog for a good long time and I often have to use the search function to find out how many times I have written about a subject. One I have certainly written about is the Redemption in relation with the myth (in the meaning of an allegorical image of an unknown history) of Original Sin and the idea of a Nationalsozialistische Himmelreich Arbeiterpartei together with a demons looking after hell dressed in SS uniforms taking souls to gas chambers and fiery pits for the millions of damned. Please forgive my cynical satire about a certain notion of a very sick and distorted Christianity which is certainly the delight of atheists. It is not by Godwin’s Law that I make a comparison with Nazism, because Hitler’s ideology was a caricature of a certain notion of Christianity!
I am a Christian and a priest, concerned that my faith in Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Word of the Father may continue to inspire generations of seekers and gentle folk seeking a different spiritual way to that of the clang of arms and the loud brash voices of our time. Since my fifteen years as a Roman Catholic, I struggled with the notion of vicarious atonement and the notion that the sins of humanity would be forgiven through the Son of God dying a horrible and lingering death at the hands of the Romans after having been judged for “blasphemy” by the High Priest of Judaism. Surely Christ gave more through his Incarnation and life than through his death. The theology of sacrifice is complex as we consider the covenants and sacrifices of the Old Testament. Ultimately, sacrifice is the ultimate of self giving in love, the giving of our best to God to create a more loving relationship. Some of us have risked our lives to save the life of another person. It is our duty if we find ourselves in that kind of situation. Sometimes, life ceases to be worth living under the conditions in which we find ourselves. I think of the many martyrs of history up to the score of Coptic Christians having their heads sawn off by Daesh barbarians only a few days ago. A certain journey along the Christian way takes away our fear of death, and it is something we understand or that we don’t.
The centre of a notion of Christianity that underlines authority, no salvation outside the X Church and heartless collaboration with any political regime that promises to uphold its totalitarian agenda is the notion of the Redemption and salvation we find in St Augustine, Calvinist Puritanism and Jansenism. The article Another narrative is fascinating and a scathing condemnation of Augustinian theology (in favour of what?). Only today, I republished the link to John Gielgud’s dramatisation of Dostoevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor. It rings a bell in me when I consider that much of what passes for Christianity is all about “might is right” instead of compassion and empathy, considered as signs of weakness and lack of manliness.
We are so used to Augustine’s explanation of Atonement and Redemption that we take it for granted on both the Roman Catholic and Reformed sides. It is one thing that remained unreformed in the sixteenth century. When we stop and think of it, someone we “know” to be excluded from God’s “elect” can be treated as a sub-human. The twentieth century and our own times make hay of that idea! You don’t have to treat a “sub-human” to the respect with which you would hope someone else would treat you. What is as bad is accepting the idea that we are ourselves sub-humans – and that we can have some influence on God by submitting to the right authority and “true church”.
What happens if we dismiss Augustine’s theories? The validity and credibility of Christianity will have to be based on something other that sanctifying man’s thirst for power, money and being the first. We seem to have no further to look than the Gospels to find the Beatitudes and the other teachings of Christ, the sign of contradiction.
The Eastern Orthodox narrative of θέωσις has its expressions in post-Reformation pietist spirituality and in twentieth-century Roman Catholicism. Pope John Paul II mentioned “the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers on divinization (which) passed into the tradition of all the Eastern Churches and is part of their common heritage. This can be summarized in the thought already expressed by Saint Irenaeus at the end of the second century: God passed into man so that man might pass over to God. This theology of divinization remains one of the achievements particularly dear to Eastern Christian thought“. It seems to me to be a more beautiful explanation of what God does for us through Christ than some notion of some bloodthirsty demiurge wanting to be appeased by suffering and death.
St Augustine is behind the exaggerations of both Calvinism and Jansenism in affirming that some or most human beings are predestined for damnation. The Another Narrative article is much more scathing of St Augustine than I would be, but it cannot be denied that there is a whole Manichaen side of Augustine’s teaching that is not one that reveals a loving God, but rather the Demiurge of the Gnostics, an emanation that would not be the true God. Luther and Calvin were products of their time, and God for them was the ultimate authority, a divine emperor. Original sin is seen as refusal of obedience to that authority. Then that authority is delegated to the Church and perhaps also to some of the most evil men in history.
The patristic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican (Lancelot Andrewes, John Wesley and others) notion of divinisation by grace brings joy, love and freedom. It takes away our fear of death and all the evils that go with it.
(…) there is no insulted “God,” no infinite offence, no atonement, no compensating for the disrespect to “God’s” authority, no universal guilt, no “double predestination,” no moral impotence, no infants condemned to eternal torment.
It is perhaps this aspect of Christianity in the west that has been its undoing. With a notion akin to that of the Orthodox and our Anglican divines, together with the more enlightened modern Roman Catholic theologians, there is light, beauty and love. Obviously, that is not all, since many Orthodox folk hate each other. I am sure my Orthodox readers will tell me that belief in θέωσις is only a minority belief and that most have a much more primary notion of Christian spirituality. In any case, one doesn’t become Orthodox for θέωσις any more than you become a Lutheran because you like Bach’s music! We can have both in the Churches to which we belong.
It is Lent. Some are engaging in rigorous fasting and giving up pleasures. Others are taking something up. A revision of some of our fundamental assumptions may truly be our salvation! Let us go up to Jerusalem…