Re: Human origins and doctrine (was Definition of "Species")

From: Robert Schneider (
Date: Wed Feb 27 2002 - 05:44:48 EST

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    Jonathan Clarke wrote:

    > Hi Robert
    > I have seen frequent allusions by various people in many places to the
    > view of the fall, but never a clear exposition of it. Would you care to
    > enlighten me (and us)? They sound interesting.


    Hi, Jon,

        This is a topic I know little about. Unfortunately, I have not been
    able to find more than a couple of good sources of eastern Orthodox theology
    from which to respond adequately to your wish. Most histories of theology
    in my wife's and my library deal, outside of a nod to eastern Patristic
    theologians, with western theology, and our Appalachian State University
    library is very weak on eastern Christian sources.

        There is a nice summary of Orthdox theology in _The Orthodox Way_ by Bp.
    Kallistos Ware, 1979 (if you get "Research News and Opportunities" you've
    noticed his picture on the front page of the Feb., 2002, issue as a
    participant in the recent symposium at Windsor Castle on the God-World
    relationship). I'll quote a couple of passages from it that show some
    differences between Orthodox and Western notions about the fall and original

        "The Orthodox tradition, without minimizing the effects of the fall,
    does not however believe that it resulted in a 'total depravity', such as
    the Calvinists assert in their more pessimistic moments. The divine image in
    man was obscured but not obliterated. His free choice has been restricted
    in its exercise but not destroyed. Even in a fallen world man is still
    capable of generous self-sacrifice and loving compassion. Even in a fallen
    world man still retains some knowledge of God and can enter by grace into
    communion with him. There are many saints in the pages of the Old
    Testament, men and women such as Abraham and Sarah, Joseph and Moses, Elijah
    and Jeremiah; and outside the Chosen People of Israel there are figures such
    as Socrates who not only taught the truth but lived it. Yet it remains true
    that human sin -- the original sin of Adam, compounded by the personal sins
    of each succeeding generation -- has set a gulf between God and man such
    that man by his own efforts could not bridge.

        "For the Orthodox traditon, then, Adam's original sin affects the human
    race in its entirety, and in its consequences both on the physical and the
    moral level: it results not only in physical sickness and death but also in
    moral weakness and paralysis. But does it also imply an inherited *guilt*?
    Here Orthodoxy is more guarded. Original sin is not to be interpreted in
    juridical or quasi-biological terms, as if it were some physical 'taint' of
    guilt, transmitted through sexual intercourse. This picture, which normally
    passes for the Augustinian view, is unacceptable to Orthodoxy. The doctrine
    of original sin means rather that we are born into an environment where it
    is easy to do evil and hard to do good; easy to hurt others, and hard to
    heal their wounds; easy to arouse men's suspicions, and hard to win their
    trust. It means that we are each of us conditioned by the solidarity of the
    human race in its accumulated wrong-doing and wrong-thinking, and hence
    wrong-being. And to this accumulation of wrong we ourselves have added by
    our own deliberate acts of sin."

        Bp. Ware goes on to say that because of the solidarity of the human race
    "any action performed by any member of the human race, inevitably affects
    all the other members. Even though we are not, in the strict sense, *guilty*
    of the sins of others, yet we are somehow always *involved*." (p. 80-81)

        Another source to check is Lars Thunberg's extensive study of Maximus
    the Confessor (c. 580-662): _MICROCOSM AND MEDIATOR: The Theological
    Anthropolgy of Maximus the Confessor_, 2nd edn., 1995. In skimming through
    the book, one sees that in expounding on Maximus' theology, including his
    theology of the fall and its consequences, Thunberg reviews his eastern
    Patristic predecessors' views, particularly as they influenced M., so the
    book serves as a fairly comprehensive survey of eastern Patristic thinking
    on the subject.

        When my Orthodox friends have said, then, that eastern Orthodoxy does
    not have a doctrine of original sin, I gather from Bp. Ware's statements
    that they mean it does not have an Augustinian doctrine. I think the
    Irenaean tradition (also developed in Bp. Ware's book) which George Murphy
    summarized in one of his notes, remains basic to Orthodoxy's views about the
    relationship between God and humanity in a fallen world. In Orthodoxy some
    theologians distinguish between "image" and "likeness," the former connoting
    *potentiality* for life in God, the latter the *realization* of that
    potentiality. The notion that with the Incarnation and Christ's act of
    salvation we are able to move from the power of sin (the "image" tarnished
    and obscured) toward perfection (the "image" restored) and the eventual
    realization of the divine "likeness" (*theosis*), is a significant doctrine
    in Orthodoxy that is hardly apparent in western Christian thought outside of
    some interest by Anglican thinkers. I think one of the boldest statements
    in all of theology is Athanasius': "The Logos became man in order that we
    should become gods..." (_De incarnatione Verbi_, 54, quoted in Thunberg, p.

    Grace and peace,
    Bob Schneider

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