Salvation, justification, and the use of apt words 1: Evagrius

Abba Anthony the Great and Abba Paul of Thebes, desert monks
Abba Anthony the Great and Abba Paul of Thebes, desert monks

My priest brother and I are (very) slowly making our way through The Philokalia, Vol. 1, right now. As those of you who have been with me since this blog’s inception (oh so many years ago), I have a long-standing interest in Evagrius Ponticus and demonology. Evagrius is the second author in vol. 1.

The second Evagrian text in The Philokalia is ‘Texts on Discrimination in Respect of Passions and Thoughts’. Chapter 9 of this text begins:

Hatred against the demons contributes greatly to our salvation and helps our growth in holiness. But we do not of ourselves have the power to nourish this hatred into a strong plant, because the pleasure-loving spirits restrict it and encourage the soul again to indulge in its old habitual loves. But this indulgence — or rather this gangrene that is so hard to cure — the Physician of souls heals by abandoning us. For He permits us to undergo some fearful suffering night and day, and then the soul returns again to its original hatred, and learns like David to say to the Lord: ‘I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them my enemies’ (Ps. 139:22). For a man hates his enemies with perfect hatred when he sins neither in act nor in thought — which is a sign of complete dispassion. (p. 44, English trans.)

The first sentence is very un-Protestant, isn’t it?

Πάνυ τὸ μῖσος τὸ κατὰ δαιμόνων, ἣμιν πρὸς σωτηρίαν συμβάλλεται … (apologies for accents, I hate my Greek keyboard)

And, of course, we shouldn’t expect Evagrius to be Protestant. But many of a Protestant mindset will be turned off by anything contributing to our salvation except the grace of God alone. Our hatred against demons cannot, by Protestant calculations, contribute to our salvation.

As the Greek quotation above shows, Evagrius uses the Greek word σωτηρία to mean salvation — it is a simple movement from σωτηρία to salvation, isn’t it? But in what context might we refer to salvation? What is salvation here?

Well, first of all, what on earth do we mean when we say salvation? Basing my answer entirely upon anecdotes and personal conversations, it is clear that Protestants, at least, mean something called justification almost every time we say salvation.

For Anglicans who actually believe the 39 Articles of Religion, justification is our being made righteous before God — being considered righteous by God. By justification we enter into a right relationship with God:

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification. (Article XI)

Article XII is quick to point out that, although good works be the fruit of justification, they do not contribute thereto. Thus, the Evagrian statement above, that ‘Hatred against the demons contributes greatly to our salvation,’ is entirely out — with salvation being justification and justification understood in a Protestant/Anglican way.

But is σωτηρία in Evagrius the same thing as justification in the 39 Articles, or even δικαιοσύνη — that Pauline word usually Englished as justification?

I think not. This form of salvation is something else; this is what one evangelical friend referred to as ‘process justification’ once. The Evagrian salvation here is not us being rescued from the fires of Hell, or entering into a right relationship with God, or being considered holy because of Christ’s holiness and our faith — it is us being saved from the ongoing and enduring effects of the Fall.

In this case, it is our salvation from the power of the demons, with the goal of us becoming holier. This is us being saved from the presence of sin in our lives. Bishop Eddie Marsh once stated that justification is being saved from the penalty of sin; sanctification is being saved from the power of sin; and glorification is being saved from the presence of sin. All three involved being saved, so all three could be consider aspects of the ongoing salvation, σωτηρία, of the human person, through the grace of God.

When I quoted the Evagrius passage above, I went on beyond the initial sentence because it is clear that Evagrius sees Christ the Physician as taking an active role in our salvation. Our own efforts are not what truly cleanse us. We become dispassionate because of the grace of God, and God, in His grace, may choose to help us along in the path of holiness using our own efforts as the instruments of his good and gracious will.

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Audio Adrenaline, the Philokalia, and Assurance of Salvation

I am listening to some of my old CD’s to determine which ones I shall keep and which I shall pass on to the Salvation Army.  Currently, I’m chillin’ to Underdog by Audio Adrenaline, on which you will find the preferred version of the song “DC-10”.*

The song runs thus:

Do you know
Do you know
Do you know where you will go

If a DC-10 ever fell on your head and you’re
Laying in the ground all messy and dead
Or a Mack truck run over you
Or you suddenly die in your Sunday pew

Do you know where you’re gonna go

It can happen any day
It can happen anywhere
It can happen while you’re nappin’ in your easy chair
It can happen at home
It can happen at school
It can happen while you’re scattin’ like a scattin’ fool
Do you know where you’re gonna go

. . .
Straight to heaven
Or down the hole?

A 747 fell out of Heaven
Crashed through the roof of a 7-11
You’re working on a slurpee
Things get hazy
Rich for a twinkie now you’re pushing up daisies?
Do you know where you’re gonna go

This raises the question of the assurance of salvation.  Do you know where you’re gonna go?  Straight to Heaven or down the hole?

When I lived in Cyprus, I spent some time reading the Philokalia, and I found that there was often a fear of Hell amongst these Eastern ascetics, amongst men who lived lives of prayer and holiness, who truly trusted (ie. had faith) in the living Christ.

An example is Evagrios the Solitary, “Outline Teaching on Asceticism and Stillness in the Solitary Life,” who says that one must imagine Hell for fear that one shall, in fact, go there (trans. Palmer, Sherrard, Ware, 01 Philokalia, p. 36).  I believe that this fear of Hell, this belief that one may end up there despite a faith in Jesus, is the drive behind much ascetic practice.  By mortifying the flesh, by prayers, vigils, fasts, one draws nearer to God, and by this closeness escape the fires of Hell.

On the other hand, we have excessively assured Evangelicals who live by cheap grace, believing that grace will save them whether or not they sleep around, gossip, booze it up, etc.  Or those who simply believe that they will get into “heaven” because they once prayed a prayer at a Billy Graham Crusade.

The truth lies somewhere in between.  Faith produces good works.  It is the faith that saves, however.  Thus, Evagrios the Solitary need not spend his life with the image of Hell before himself for fear that this is his eternal destination.  However, the Evangelical can take a cue from Evagrios and seek to live a life of holiness.

This is the path of costly grace, the path of obedience to the One in Whom Christians claim to place their trust, their faith.  When we cast all our cares and fears upon Christ, when we start trusting in Him to save us and the world from utter ruin and destruction, then we can start living holy lives.  And then we can live with assurance.

Through faith alone do we know where we’re gonna go.  Trust in Jesus.  Obey His word.

*There is a not-preferred version on Live Bootleg.