Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Q & A with St Anselm and a Dying Christian (with the tale of an encounter with an Orthodox priest attached)


Q Dost thou believe that the Lord Jesus died for thee?
A I believe it.

Q Dost thou thank him for his passion and death?
A I do thank him.

Q Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved except by his death?
A I believe it.

Come then, while life remaineth in thee: in his death alone place thy whole trust; in naught else place any trust; to his death commit thyself wholly, with this alone cover thyself wholly; and if the Lord thy God will to judge thee, say, ‘Lord, between thy judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; no otherwise can I contend with thee.’ And if he shall say that thou art a sinner, say thou: ‘Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and thee. ‘If he say that thou hast deserved condemnation, say: ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and thee, and his merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not.’ If he say that he is wroth with thee, say: ‘Lord, I oppose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thy wrath and me. ‘And when thou hast completed this, say again: ‘Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and me.’

Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033-1109), Opera (Migne), 1:686, 687 (the trans. is probably by A.H. Strong, in whose Systematic Theology (1886) the quote first appears in English).

Anselm (onetime Archbishop of Canterbury and arguably the first systematic theologian) is one of my "Great Theologians" (see a recent post), and also, clearly, a solafidean, i.e. one who believes we are saved by grace alone through faith alone on account of the merits of Christ alone and not by any merits or good works of our own.

-- + --

Anselm's words remind me of the time our dogmatics lecturer at sem invited an Orthodox priest to speak to our class about the Orthodox doctrine of justification [sic!]. The bearded priest, robed in his impressive black raso, delivered himself of a discourse which mightily confused justification with sanctification, going on for almost an hour about how the Christian life was about askesis (works of bodily mortification) designed to quell the passions and "fan into flame the spark of divinity that was in each one of us" (I kid you not - those were his exact words), upon which effort depended our worthiness to enter heaven. In other words the usual synergistic Pietism, but this time in Eastern garb with a neo-Platonic twist that made it look and sound exotic and enticing to a bunch of Lutheran undergraduates who hadn't yet fully digested The Hammer of God.

Finally, being unable to stomach much more of it, I put my hand up to ask a question, feigning an innocence which, I confess, I hoped would mask my true intent, which was subversive of everything the priest had said...

"And what counsel would you give, Father, to a dying Christian who had been asleep, spiritually speaking, for all his life and who was now terrified of dying unprepared for heaven?"

"I could only urge him to cast himself on the mercy of God", replied the priest, his intense back eyes revealing a note of caution, even hesitancy in his thoughts.

"Thank you Father", I responded politely, "I was hoping you would say that."

"Thank God for the 'felicitous inconsistencies' of men", I quietly thought to myself.

[Pic: Detail from St Anselm's Window, Canterbury Cathedral.]

7 comments:

Pr Mark Henderson said...

You said it, anon, you "threw it all away". Did you know, I wonder, what it was you were throwing away - the promise of grace and mercy from the Creator of the Universe and His Eternal Son? His promise to you in Holy Baptism still holds true, if only you repent and turn again to Him. May God grant it!

joel in ga said...

The difference between Anselm and Luther: where Anselm saw the Lord making hypothetical accusations against the sinner, Luther saw the Devil and one's own conscience.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

I notice our anonymous commenter, to which my first comment responded, has withdrawn his comment, which pertained to "throwing away" his Lutheran faith when he/she was 18 and later discovering the teachings of a former Lutheran come Hindu guru from New Jersey, I think (of all places!). I mention this here to provide the context for my first comment.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi Joel,
Hi Joel,

Yes, I wouldn't posit an identity between Anselm's and Luther's positions, only an "organic connection", if you will, in that there's a chain of development that leads from Augustine to Anslem to Aquinas to Luther - but of course there are significant differences as well.

The Midland Agrarian said...

This is an important post, Pastor, on a very important issue. I can almost guarantee that if you asked 25 EO theologians the same question about justification, you would get 26 different answers.
They are all over the board on this, ranging from Father Tom Hopko, who sometimes gets it right, to Roman Catholic sounding answers to almost a Buddhist answers.

There have been fairly large numbers of conversions to EO in this country. My wife is a somewhat normal Eastern Christian, but most convert and "cradle" Orthodox are worlds apart. Many converts from evangelicalism share some things in common:

1. Dissatisfaction (Quite properly) with current worship in evangelical churches

2. Teenybopper intellectualism in discovering the church fathers only through EO secondary sources,
like Gilquist and the younger Schaeffer.

3. An intensity bordering on cultishness. Many were primed for EO by "all law no gospel" in their churches. If one is going to go down the path of pietism, might as well go the whole route and grow a beard, wear Russian clothes, and eat only vegetables.

This makes your work in this and your other blog (Lutheran Catholicity) of real service to the church. Many of these people need our Lord's comfortable words "Come to me all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"
By giving them the Gospel AND the faith of the historic church, writing like yours can help bring them (an people like me) to this blessed rest.

Richard

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi Richard,

Thanks so much for your comment - it's so encouraging that someone out there actually gets what I'm trying to do. I've always considered 'Lutheran Catholicity' to be my most important blogging work, but 'Glosses' and 'What Sasse Said' get much more traffic so I feel obliged to devote more of my limited time to them.

What you write about EO on justification is true, in fact sometimes you can find all three positions in the one book! :0) For example I have a book by the Russian spiritual writer Theophan the Recluse on repentance in which he oscillates between quite a good statement on justification by grace and the usual synergism.

Generally, they don't get JBFA because their tradition of reading Romans leads them to deny the full impact of original sin - this would be why Evangelicals of the Arminian variety don't see any red flags going into EO. I'm going to post some more on this here at Glosses in the near future - I may use your comments on justification as a springboard, if you don't mind.

I keep a "weather eye" on developments in EO - it seems the "convertsi" in the OCA and the Antiochians are discovering some hard truths about how "old world" bishops operate. As Montaigne said, "in my experience two things always go together, supercelestial thoughts and subterranean conduct".

I'm familiar with the type of convert to EO you mention, although in Australia few Evangelcials seem to have converted, they tend to be either ex-Anglo Catholics or ex-Roman Catholics and perhaps a bit more grounded, although still lacking clarity on justification.

Btw, Richard (as you may know) there is a lot of "genetic material" shared between classical Lutheran theology and classical,
"39 Articles" Anglicanism. You'll find some links of interest in my right hand column, I'm sure.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Hi Jnorm,

Thanks for your comment.

Richard (Midland Agrarian) may choose to respond, but in the meantime...

There are certainly always exceptions to the general rule, but I must agree with Richard that most converts from Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy I have met and or dialogued with view the Fathers and Orthodoxy through rose-coloured glasses.

I'm certainly glad you don't feel alone or like an oddball anymore, that can't be much fun, but I wish you didn't have to go all the way to Eastern Orthodoxy to feel that way!

If you keep reading this blog, you'll hopefully see some responses to what you've written about Justification. In the meantime, you might also like to check out some of the material I've collated on that subject and others over at 'Lutheran Catholicity'.

I would welcome your continued visits to and comments on this blog.