Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A long post on Pastor Weedon's long post on "Progression in Sanctification"

I want to comment on a significant post by Pastor Weedon: "Progression in Sanctification". I do this with some trepidation, since Pastor Paul McCain has already decided that I have "never understood either Lutheranism's or Romanism's doctrine of justification". But I studied, taught and lived the Lutheran doctrine of simul justus et peccator for decades, and I do know that the Catholic doctrine is both simple ("we are all called to be saints") and complicated. So here goes. I'm not going to reproduce Pastor Weedon's blog entirely, just the bits I want to comment on.
I got to hear Dr. Steve Hein give a presentation on the Lutheran take on sanctification. I appreciated much of what he laid out. But I think there's more to the story.
Me too, Bill. A lot more. And it is worth sticking with the idea of "story" too. We are trying to tell the "story" of the effect of the Paschal Mystery in our lives. And as with the canonical Gospels, there is more than one way of telling this story.

Dr. Hein correctly points out that the Old Adam does not need renovation but execution. Similarly, the new self does not need progress because it possesses in Christ perfection. So far, so good.

Where DID the phrase "Old Adam" came from? The pastor who confirmed me as a kid loved that phrase, but it sure ain't scriptural. There's enough stuff for a whole blog on this, but some sources would include Shakespeare and the Book of Common Prayer--although it was there earlier than that as a German expression (and possibly even Latin too) as evidenced in Luther's Large Catechism (LC IV:65) where it is contrasted with "the New Man". It is obviously Luther's favourite anthropological theology, but did he invent it or does it have an older pedigree?

It is also hard to reconcile this anthropology completely with the traditional doctrines of Original Sin, Actual Sin, Concupiscene etc. (either the Catholic or the Lutheran takes on these doctrines). In the LG, Luther describes "The Old Man" as "that which is born in us from Adam, angry, hateful, envious, unchaste, stingy, lazy, haughty, yea, unbelieving, infected with all vices, and having by nature nothing good in it". It seems therefore that he is talking about what St Paul might have called "the Flesh" (which already raises the question about how we are telling this story, as we know that St John had a completely different take on what "flesh" was).

And THE question we must put to this anthropology (or this way of telling the story about how the Paschal Mystery impacts on us) is: When and how does the "Old Adam" die and the "New Man" come into being? When and how, in Dr Hein's vocabulary, is "the Old Adam" executed?

In LG IV:65 Luther says that the "Old Adam" is put to death in baptism, but then he goes on to say that this "must take place in us all our lives" and "a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism". So has the "Old Adam" really been put to death in baptism or not? Was baptism just a "sign" of the daily repentance that characterises the Christian life, or is it really the case, as St Paul said: "If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come" (2 Cor 5:17)?

Catholic theology is definitive that in baptism Original Sin is completely removed. Now, I have a suspicion that "The Old Adam" does not equal "Original Sin" but is somewhat more related to "concupiscence", but even that might be an unwarranted mixing or harmonising of two different "stories" about the effect of the Paschal Mystery in our lives. But I think something similar is happening when Dr Hein/Pastor Weedon says that "the new self does not need progress because it possesses in Christ perfection". This would appear to be bringing in another "story", popular among Lutheran theologians, the story of "forensic justification". Forensic justification--the teaching that although I do not possess righteousness in myself, but God judges me righteous for the sake of the righteousness of Christ (or imputes his righteousness to me) which always remains "extra nos", outside us, and therefore complete and perfect--certainly has some scriptural warrant, but can be taken to the extreme where it becomes simply a "legal fiction". However, there are other "stories" in the Lutheran kit bag too, such as the story of salvation through "mystical union" with God (see here for Pastor Weedon on that one).

So unless we were to say that the "New Man" is totally "extra nos" (which doesn't quite square with St Paul's assertion that I AM a new creation when I am "in Christ"), there surely must be some sense in which the "New Man" progresses? All life, to be real life, progresses and changes and grows--why not this "New Man"? I guess it depends on how you are telling this particular story.

Pastor Weedon goes on:
And yet the Formula of Concord can speak of "healing" of our nature: "Furthermore, human nature, which is perverted and corrupted by original sin, must and can be healed only by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. However this healing is only begun in this life. It will not be perfect until the life to come." (FC SD I:14) Now, if the Old Adam is irreformable, and the new self is perfect in Christ, wherein is there room for healing of our nature? I would propose that the human nature is thus something distinct from the old Adam (which is the corruption of the nature) and the New self (which is the perfection of the nature). This thing that is distinct is human nature in the process of being healed by God's grace - a healing that will not be perfect in this life.
As I see it, this is introducing another "story", which uses the image of sin as an "injury" against or "disease" contracted by human nature which needs to be "healed". This is quite scriptural, of course, but it seems to me that it cannot be entirely harmonised with either the "forensic justification" or "New Man/Old Man" stories (or the "mystical union" story, for that matter). Healing human nature from the "injury" of sin is quite a different image from that of daily "drowing the Old Man" in repentance. Both images are true, both have their applications, but both also have their limitations.

So we have a huge range of "stories" about the effect of the Paschal Mystery on us that need to be distinguished if we are going to talk sense. Here are some of them, in no particular order:

1) Progression in Sanctification (eg. "running the race", "working out our salvation in fear and trembling") -- I think Sanctification is a different story from Justification
3) Justification by faith
4) Forensic Righteousness
5) Mystical Union
6) Theosis (as in Eastern Theology)
7) Healing
8) Old Man/New Creation
9) Original Sin and Concupiscence
etc. etc.

Reading Pope Benedict's catechisation on St Gregory of Nyssa yesterday also helped me to realise just how strong the tradition of "progression in sanctification" is in the Church Fathers. I won't bother quoting them here--far too many references, and you can read some of them yourself in Papa Benny's address. The fact is that the notion of progression in holiness is totally ingrained in the all the centuries of the Church's teaching. It would be hard to imagine that we have been wrong about this from the very beginning.

One last comment. Pastor Weedon's "point five" says:
5. Because the Christian's life by definition is the overlap between the constitutive centers of the human race in Adam (hence, sin and death) and in Christ (hence, righteousness and life), the Christian by definition is a conflicted person. Romans 7 describes the actual experience of the person who is a Christian.
I think that Romans 7 is the strongest justification for the Lutheran doctrine of simul justus et peccator, but as Pastor Weedon says, this is precisely a (very vivid) description of a (very familiar and common) Christian EXPERIENCE. This is not St Paul in systematic dogmatic mode. It is a real cry from the heart. But systematising this experience is not the answer (a little like one may acknowledge the reality of the experience of those who claim to have received "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", but the systematised doctrines of such "Baptism" are generally invalid). I simply refuse to accept that "the Christian by definition is a conflicted person". St Paul cries out "who will save me?!" from this horrible situation--and his answer is: "God through Christ".

However you tell the story of the impact of the Paschal Mystery--forensic justification, mystical union, healing, whatever--it must include the fact that God brings resolution to this conflict in the heart of man through Christ. And while there will always be an element of the "not yet", the "now" of our salvation is and must remain the dominant reality in our Christian lives.

8 Comments:

At Thursday, September 06, 2007 11:22:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

David,

Thank you. I will think on these things. One quick comment, though. The Lutheran use of "old Adam" is really meant to be equivalent to St. Paul's "old self" - perhaps especially thinking this passage:

Eph. 4:22 to put off your old self (literally, old man) which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.

This is not spoken of as simply having happened once long ago in Baptism (as in Romans 6), but as something that the Christian goes on doing.

 
At Thursday, September 06, 2007 1:55:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Thanks for the reference. I can see "the old man" there in the text (ho palaios anthropos). But the "old man" seems to be associated with their "former--first, preceeding--way of life", ie. the kind of life the gentiles (ie. the non-baptised, verse 17) live--a kind of life which is described as "the futility of their minds" in contrast to the "spirit of your minds" in verse 23. This does suggest to me a "before and after" rather than a continual action of the present, or as if "the old man" were something that continues (or in any sense should continue) in the new way of life. The "put off"/"put on" kind of language suggests baptismal theology to me--as in the clear passage in Gal 3:27--the new white garment is given in the rite of baptism. I am also not sure what to make of the different tenses involved:

"put off" (aorist infinitive)
"be renewed" (present infinitive)
"put on" (aorist infinitive).

This suggests to me (I am no Greek scholar) that the putting off and putting on are definitive events to be done once and for all, and the renewal is the continual event (the progression in holiness, if you like).

In Romans 13:12-14, the contrast is not "put off the old man" and "put on the new man", but "put off the works of darkness" and "put on Christ". Ephesians 6:11-14 talks about "putting on the armour of God". Colosians 3, about "putting on" the virtues or graces of Christian life (as opposed to the works of darkness). Wherever these verbs occur they are in the aorist--wheras verbs relating to renewal are in the present (see also Col 3:10).

Interestingly, I was surprised when I went to confession today, and the priest behind the screen actually said: "The old man is always there"--which seems to indicate that this is a part of Catholic tradition too. Nevertheless, it doesn't get in the road of us talking about a progression in holiness.

 
At Thursday, September 06, 2007 8:54:00 pm , Blogger William Weedon said...

David,

I would think that given its context in the LC, it obviously shouldn't get in the way of Lutherans talking about progressive sanctification either! How it ends up doing so is beyond me.

By the way, my all time favorite quote from Luther on the topic is from A Defense of All Articles, and I don't think anyone could object to the truly catholic nature of his words here:

This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness;
not health, but healing;
not being, but becoming;
not rest, but exercise.
We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way;
the process is not yet finished, but it has begun;
this is not the goal, but it is road;
at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being
purified.
- Martin Luther, A Defense and Explanation of All Articles (AE 32:24)

 
At Friday, September 07, 2007 4:37:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

A friend shared this with me from a sermon of Walther's:

"In the battle of flesh and spirit, in which true Christians stand, they not only overcome sins, they carry off all kinds of precious virtues as their loot of their combat. The longer they battle, the more universal, comforting, and untiring their love becomes. Their joy becomes purer, their peace becomes firmer, their patience becomes stronger, their kindness becomes more sincere, their goodness becomes richer, their faith and faithfulness become more constant, their gentleness becomes more unconquerable and their self-control becomes more immaculate. In short, the end of the true battle of the flesh and spirit is an advance in sanctification. This resulting sanctification is as far from perfect as the victory of the spirit over the flesh is complete. Indeed, every Christian must confess, with Paul, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect" (Phil. 3:12). Nevertheless, where that battle truly exists, a fighter must be able to add truthfully, as Paul does, "I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own" (Phil. 3:12). Oh may God grant that we all become and remain true fighters against the flesh and sin. May Jesus Christ, our eternal Prince of victory, help us all for the sake of His battle with death."

Walther
God Grant It
p. 717

 
At Friday, September 07, 2007 10:52:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Two excellent quotations--neither of which I had read before--that should put to rest for all time any idea that "advance" or "progression" in sanctification is not an acceptable notion in Lutheran theology.

Perhaps what Lutherans are really wary of is:

1) suggestions of an "advance in merit"

2) suggestions that it may be possible to become perfect or without sin in this life.

Catholic tradition does include elements of both of these--with regard to the treasury of the merits of the saints and with regard to the canonisation of saints--but I think that there are evangelical interpretations of both of these which place the emphasis on the effectiveness of God's grace rather than the particular merit or lack of sin in the individual, eg. as in the following quoation from the Catechism:

1474 The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God's grace is not alone. "The life of each of God's children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person" [Indulgentiarum doctrina, 5].

 
At Friday, September 07, 2007 11:25:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

And that reminds me of yet another quote:

All the saints, therefore, are members of Christ and of the church, which is a spiritual and eternal city of God. And whoever is taken into this city is said to be received into the community of saints and to be incorporated into Christ's spiritual body and made a member of him.... This fellowship consists in this, that all the spiritual possessions of Christ and his saints are shared with and become the common property of him who receives this sacrament. Again, all sufferings and sins also become common property; and thus love engeders love in return and unites. -- Sermon on the Blessed Sacrament of the Body of Christ, Luther, 1519 (AE 35:51)

 
At Friday, September 07, 2007 11:54:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Good grief! That's astounding! That's the Catholic doctrine of the treasury of the saints (upon which the doctrine of indulgences is based) without any alteration. I notice that the date is 1519--I wonder if Luther continued to hold this position into later life?

 
At Sunday, September 09, 2007 4:50:00 am , Blogger William Weedon said...

David,

He does speak similarly a bit later. In his Sermons on John 16-20 (1528), he writes:

For to everyone who believes through the word of the Apostles, the promise is given for Christ's sake and by the power of this prayer, that he shall be one body and one loaf with all Christians; that what happens to him as a member for good or for ill, shall happen to the whole body for good or ill, and not only one or two saints, but all the prophets, martyrs, apostles, all Christians, both on earth and in heaven, shall suffer and conquer with him, shall fight for him, help, protect, and save him, and shall undertake for him such a gracious exchange that they will all bear his sufferings, want, and afflictions and he partake of their blessings, comfort, and joy.

How could a man wish for anything more blessed than to come into this fellowship or brotherhood, and be made a member of this body, which is called Christendom? For who can harm or injure a man who has this confidence, who knows that heaven and earth and all the angels and saints will cry to God when the smallest suffering befalls him?

 

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