Friday, February 17, 2012
6:10 AM | Posted by Jnorm | | Edit Post
Why Did God Become Man? The Unconditionality of the Divine Incarnation by Panagiotes Nellas (†1986)
"4. The View of the Mystery of the Incarnation in Relation to
the Fall, and Its Significance.
Man’s temporal Fall, however, created two other impediments,
which in a tragically real way obstruct the outpouring of the Spirit and the full realization of salvation (or completion, recapitulation,
deification, or whatever we may call it). And these real impediments,
which exist within time, need to be dealt with in a way which is
equally real and temporal.
This is why the Son of Man comes
as a giant to run the course of our... nature and through
suffering to make His way to death, and to bind the strong
man and plunder his goods... and lead the erring sheep
back to the heavenly land,
as St. John of Damascus writes poetically.13
And, as the Divine Cabasilas says,
This is what happens, then. God makes His own the
struggle on behalf of men, for He is man. Man, being pure
from all sin, overcomes sin, for he is God (513B).
Thus we arrive at the postlapsarian, historical view of the mystery of the Divine Incarnation, and the postlapsarian application of
the passage of Cabasilas which we quoted at the beginning of the
theological section of our study.
We shall not concern ourselves in detail here with this postlapsarian view of the mystery of the Divine Incarnation—not because it does not bear on our subject, but for the sole reason that
space is limited.
For it is a truth just as fundamental as that previously stated that
man, broken, degraded, and enslaved to sin, the Devil, and death on
account of the Fall is in need of redemption. And he cannot achieve
redemption on his own. Man was obliged to “retrieve his defeat,”
Cabasilas says. But he was unable to win the battle.
Indeed, no human wisdom, strength, virtue, or righteousness
could overcome death, a boundary which, by historical standards, is
fundamental and decisive. On the other hand, God, Who could have destroyed sin, the
Devil, and death by a single thought did not do so, because that
would have been unjust; it was man, and not God, who had been
defeated, and man had to retrieve the situation.
It is at this point that Cabasilas sums up the second aspect of
the mystery of the Incarnation, that “God makes His own the struggle
on behalf of men, for He is man,” and its corollary: “Man, being pure
from all sin, overcomes sin, for he is God.”
Cabasilas dwells at length on this postlapsarian aspect of the
mystery, and in my book Ἡ περὶ δικαιώσεως τοῦ ἀνθρώπου
διδασκαλία τοῦ Καβάσιλα [Cabasilas’ teaching on the justification of man] I expounded it in detail.
It would truly be a grave spiritual, pastoral, and also theological
error to ascribe a secondary importance to the reality of sin and the
need for redemption. From this standpoint, we would not have had
the right to treat the subject as we do here if we had not previously written an entire book on the Sin-Redemption dimension. Yet it
would be an equally grave error to limit salvation, that is, deification,
to redemption alone.
In the first case, Christianity would be transformed into an unrealistic mysticism; in the second, it would be degraded to a legalistic ethical system.
As a true theologian of the Catholic Church, Cabasilas took into
account both of these truths; and, in contrast to Anselm, who restricted Christianity and man to the Fall-Redemption polarity, he
gave this polarity the attention that it merits and, at the same time,
placed it in its proper context, at the same stroke giving man his
After this crucially important observation, to which we ask the
reader to pay special attention, it is time to return to studying more
directly the problem that we posed at the outset, that of narrowing
the axis of the Divine Œconomy from Creation-Deification to FallRedemption.III. The Significance of Cabasil.
"4. Overcoming the Fear of Sin as the Central Motive of Spiritual Life. Christ, the Beginning, Middle, and End of Spiritual
BUT Cabasilas’ correct answer to “Cur Deus homo?” also brings
the liberation of man from evil and sin. No matter how terrifying
evil may be, since it, and not Christ, is merely an episode and an
event, it proves, in the final analysis, insignificant. The understanding of man—of salvation, spiritual life, and so forth—is disjoined
from evil and joined to Christ.
Ascesis, charity, etc. are not the “good works” that will counterbalance our sins before God’s justice and in that way offer Him satisfaction.
God is not a “sadistic father” who takes satisfaction in torturing
his children. Ascesis is a vigorous struggle against evil. And man can
throw himself into this struggle much more easily, with hope and
joy, if his aim is to develop the seeds of godlikeness that he has within him, a longing for all the elements of his being to be united with
Christ, and not simply fear of sin.
The real sin, for Cabasilas, is for man to remain outside Christ,
to consider that he is sufficient on his own, i.e., autonomy. Adam’s
greatest sin, the sin that engendered all of the others, was that he
wanted to live with the life of his nature, to exist independently of
God. This led him to death.
Cabasilas is unambiguous on this point. If man is not alive with
the life of Christ, he is dead, even if he is a fine and good person socially or religiously, even if he formally observes the prescriptions
of the law. On the axis of Fall-Redemption, justice and law are
dominant. On the axis of Creation-Deification, sin consists in making oneself autonomous, in self-sufficiency. And this, according to
the ascetic Fathers, was the greatest danger lurking even for the redeemed. The dominant figure on this axis is Christ.
Therefore, the ethos of Orthodox believers is not legalistic, but
theocentric. Any virtue in man has value to the extent that it is a
virtue of Christ, says Cabasilas. For only what is incorporated in
Christ and, consequently, spiritual (“born from above”) is able to sur-mount the biological boundaries of corruption and death. “In this
way the Saints are blessed, because of the blessed One Who is with them”
The holiness of the saints is due to the fact that they have united
their will to the will of Christ. The wisdom of the truly wise, those
who uncover the truth by Divine inspiration, is due to their having
united their mind with the mind of Christ. “From themselves and
from human nature and effort there is nothing whatever... Rather, they
are holy because of the Holy One, righteous and wise because of the righteous and wise One Who abides with them” (613A).
For this reason, Cabasilas advises, “be merciful” not in a human
way “but as your Father is merciful.”
The faithful are called to love “in the love with which Paul ‘yearned
with the affection of Jesus Christ’” (Philippians 1:8), and to have the
love “with which the Son loved the Father,” and the peace that is not
human, but of Christ. For, as the birth is “Divine and preternatural,”
so also “the new life, its regime and philosophy, and all these things are
new and spiritual” (616A).
This Pauline Christocentricity which places Christ as the beginning, middle, and end of the world and of history is the core of Cabasilas’ work. This is the basis on which he gave a correct answer to
the question, “Cur Deus homo?,” confined the Fall-Redemption
axis to its proper bounds and revealed the true breadth of the Divine Œconomy, which begins from Creation and reaches to Deification, that extension without end of created man within the uncreated God.
As has become evident from the few examples that we have been
able to give within the scope of this study, Cabasilas placed on this
axis all the realities of faith, spiritual life, and the Church, and revealed their true nature and their extraordinary transformative dynamism."
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