The grace of God is so overly abundant to us that Christians have always tended toward one of two extremes in their experience of it. On the one hand, they emphasize the unboundedness of God’s grace and disregard limitations and corrections on their experience. On the other, they emphasize the preciousness of God’s grace such that we must limit and correct our experiences so as rightly to receive it. For some we do not chain the whirlwind. For others we do not trample gold under muddy feet. Some Christians primarily seek experience. Some primarily seek rule-keeping. Both lack balance.
The soul-sickness called modernism runs deep in us. We have become creatures of mind and reason, and we have lost our hearts. Some, reacting to this desiccation of the human soul, have shredded their hearts by giving themselves over to mere feeling and impulse. So we categorize and pigeonhole one another. Or we manipulate and control through a distortion of desire. But the deepest part of the human person is mystery, a deep core that God alone knows. At the center of this mystery lies an image and a freedom. The image bears the immense weight of the divine, the freedom carries a design for creation and love.
We often approach the task of discerning God’s will quite dialectically: either this, or that. If we have free will–as I believe we do–we use that will to take one or another course, each of which is in opposition to the other. Some in fact predicate the concept of free will precisely on this dialectic of opposition. For about five years now, I have come to see that free will is not necessitated on such a dialectic, and comments from my priest yesterday gave me an opportunity to think through this less philosophically and more pragmatically.
I have been having a friendly discussion (not a debate, thank God) on whether or not the Orthodox teaching on theosis is just another way of talking about the Roman Catholic dogma of purgatory. It is sometimes attributed to “Byzantine”/Eastern Rite Catholics that differences on these things are a question of semantics. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The problem here is that there are at least two radically fundamental differences with which to begin discussing this topic: the nature of God and, concomitantly, the nature of salvation. Apart from some understanding on what’s at stake with these differences one cannot really begin to address whether or not St Mark of Ephesus’ answer to the Florentine prelates does or does not address whether Orthodox believe in purgatory as Roman Catholics believe in purgatory. Of course, individual persons and scholars will nuance this or that aspect of these concepts, but in general the differences play out along these general lines.
While I do not believe that Faith and Reason are opposites, it is the case that Faith is a mystery to Reason. The moment we attempt to analyze faith we lose it, as though attempting to hold still in our peripheral vision that glint of light which flashes and is gone. Despite this, I’m going to attempt the foolish and distinguish between two experiences of faith. So while it seems to me that faith is a unity, and that in distinguishing between different “kinds” of faith, we do so heuristically, nonetheless, in thinking about how we exercise our faith, it seems that there are broadly speaking two ways in which we can do so. Each one challenges us in particular ways.
Do most arguments against the existence of God result from deductive and definitional syllogisms? Do most arguments for the existence of God result from inductive and experiential probable strength? (Madman Mundt: I’ll show you the life of the mind!)
I was just reacquainted with this article by Christos Yannaras on Perry’s blog, and recommend it to you: The Distinction Between Essence and Energies and its Importance for Theology.
Yannaras was one of three influential authors I read in 02 and 03 as I began my initial exploration into the Orthodox Church. I started with, not surprisingly, Zizioulas’ Being and Communion, continued with Panayiotis Nellas’ Deification in Christ, and rounded out with Yannaras’ The Freedom of Morality. This trifecta gave me the conceptual framework to engage Orthodoxy on its own terms instead of trying to “translate” it into Protestant categories (and thus distort it). Once I was able to investigate Orthodoxy within its own framework, it’s internal coherence became obvious and many things that would otherwise have been “problems” for me just wafted away.
Given my personal context, academic and religious upbringing and experience, I think it was probably necessary that my introduction to Orthodox thought be in an almost exclusively intellectual vein. However, knowing what I now know, if I were to devise a “program” of introduction for myself (this is idiosyncratic and not for everyone), I think I would have focused far more exclusively on the lives of the desert fathers and saints, on practicing various prayers, and only later, perhaps about now, get into the head stuff.
But God’s providence is over all. One can’t go back and undo the past.