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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Kallistos Ware on Salvation

While not as far-reaching as John Michael Talbot’s, Kallistos Ware’s beard is still magnificent

One of the things that sometimes drives me crazy is when an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic writer says, ‘Protestants believe x, but we believe y,’ — I find myself believing y, not x. (This was a frequent occurrance in Clark Carlton book The Faith: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church.) Or when non-evangelicals say, ‘Evangelicals think x,’ but I certainly don’t think x, despite being raised in the evangelical wing of Anglicanism and having strong ties with IVCF/IFES and the Wee Frees in Scotland.

On those grounds, I should probably, then, delete my post on why I’m not Orthodox. But the discussion in the comments was too good, so I really don’t want to. But if you’ve read that one, take note that the position discussed there is not official Orthodoxy — maybe not even majority Orthodoxy. What follows, however, I have no doubt closely adheres to official Orthodoxy.

Because if you want to get to know official Orthodoxy, I know of no better guide than Kallistos Ware, who presents the teachings of his church in a clear, readable, accessible and often affordable way. In the midst of the conversations arising from that post, I was looking for Ware’s book on the Jesus Prayer (which I found), when a book came up in the university library catalogue, How Are We Saved? The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition.

It’s a nice, little book, and if you can get your hands on a copy, I recommend it.

Kallistos begins by talking about being asked by strangers on public transit, ‘Are you saved?’ His polite answer that probably leaves the inquirers nonplussed is, ‘I trust that by God’s mercy and grace I am being saved.’

My friend’s dad is a priest who wears a black shirt with dog collar when on duty — even when involved in music ministry at, say, Alliance churches. He has been asked by low evangelical ministers, ‘Are you saved?’ His answer is less diplomatic than Kallistos:

‘Damned if I’m not.’

Which should be enough to shame a brother or sister who’s trying to evangelise someone who’s visiting and involved in ministry because of that person’s dressed.

Anyway.

I like Kallistos’ answer. It holds onto the same faith in God’s grace as the standard Protestant response, but admits the frailty of the human who responds to the question.

The book has a new little section every two pages, with a main point bolded along the way. So here are the bolded points for your reading pleasure:

  • While the Lord’s victory is certainly an accomplished fact, my personal participation in that victory is as yet far from complete.
  • I am on a journey, and that journey has not yet reached its conclusion.
  • Sin is failure to achieve the purpose for which one is created.
  • Sin is failure to be one’s own real self.
  • Beyond our individual acts of sin, we are each aware of being involved in a profound and all-embracing state of sinfulness.
  • For a writer such as St. Athanasius of Alexandria (d. 373), the fall is not an isolated event but a gradual and progressive development.
  • Because of the fall we often feel ourselves trapped in a situation in which all our choices lead to evil, in which we end up doing what we know to be wrong even though we genuinely desire to do what is right.
  • By virtue of the fall, on the moral level we each have an inherited inclination towards what is sinful; we are born into a world in which it is easy for us to do evil and hard for us to do good.
  • According to Gregory of Nyssa … Adam’s transgression is something for which we must each of us ask forgiveness.
  • The saints are required to offer repentance not only on their own behalf but also on behalf of their neighbour, for without active love they cannot be made perfect. … In this way the whole universe is held together in unity, and through God’s providence we are each of us assisted by one another.
  • Without being personally guilty of Adam’s sinful act, we are involved in it and even in some measure responsible for it, by virtue of the fact that we all belong to a single human family.
  • While Orthodox agree that we all suffer by virtue of the fall from a weakening of the will, we would not say with Luther or Calvin that our nature had undergone a radical depravity or total corruption.
  • In our fallen state the human will is sick but it is not dead; and, although more difficult, it is still possible for humans to choose the good.
  • Believing as it does that even in their sinful and fallen state human beings still possess the power of free choice, the Orthodox Church sees salvation in terms of synergeia or ‘cooperation’ between divine grace and human freedom. [Ware also notes: What God does is incomparably more important than what we humans do; yet our voluntary participation in God’s saving action is altogether indispensable.]
  • Even though we affirms that ‘Human free will is an essentiall condition’, in no way does this signify that salvation can be ‘earned’ or ‘deserved.’
  • We should consider that the work of our salvation is totally and entirely an act of divine grace, and yet in that act of divine grace we humans remain totally and entirely free.
  • At every point our human cooperation is itself the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • We are saved by faith, and not by works; but faith signifies an act of receptiveness on our part, our willingness to accept what God is doing, and so our salvation comes to pass only with our voluntary consent.
  • Salvation is Christ the Savior.
  • We are saved through the total work of Christ, not just by one particular event in his life.
  • Salvation according to [the Irenaean] model is realized above all through indwelling — ‘Christ in us’ rather than ‘Christ for us’, although obviously both formulae possess validity.
  • He takes into Himself what is ours and in exchange He gives us what is His own, so that we become by grace what God is by nature, being made sons in the Son.
  • Only if Christ is truly human as we are, can we humans share in what he has done for us as God.
  • To be saved is to share with all the fullness of human nature in the power, joy and glory of God.
  • Orthodoxy links sanctification and justification together, just as St. Paul does in 1 Cor. 6:11
  • The determining element in our humanity is the fact that we are created in the image of God, and that means in the image of the Holy Trinity.

There is more, but this was getting long. Those are the ones that address the issues that I talked about in that other post. If only more people who bear the name Orthodox actively believed and represented that view! I agree with almost everything Ware says in the book, although I think imputation and satisfaction are not incompatible with the more common Orthodox trends of thought, along with the judiciary aspects; which is good, since I read about some of it in the Bible.

Anyway, worth a read. In his irenic manner, although he tackles St Augustine on several occasions, he even gives us an Augustine quote to demonstrate the Orthodox position on one occasion. Kallistos Ware is the most likely of Orthodox writers to convert me (if the grace of the Spirit so chooses).