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Sunday
Feb162014

Mr. Jon Xavier Comments

Here: Classical Anglicanism, Anglo-Catholicism and "Free-Will" (or the Problem of Synergism).

The problems with the article are many. But let's go straight to the Fathers. Nothing is convoluted. Augustine was considered novel in West as well as East. One should also point out that it was Augustine, not the eastern Fathers, who was philosophically trained and so theologized accordingly. Moreover,and far more serious, Augustine's views were simply a Christianized form of the Manichean heresy he followed for years.  For, as anyone can see, Gnostic, not Orthodox Christians, were the first to teach predestination as Augustine did. And all of this was made more possible because he could not read the bible in the original languages - only in Latin. As for the idea that free-will and grace are incompatible, one only needs to read eastern Fathers as well as Arminius. In both cases, grace is the driving character to the extinct humans can take no credit. An analogy would be the lifeguard and the drowning swimmer. If the current is tough and the swimmer heavy, the lifeguard will have a hard time. So the drowning person allows himself to be drawn along and paddles when he can if he can. And of course, according to predestinarians, when he makes it to shore, the man must necessarily say, "Hey, I saved myself!" Consequently, everyone applauds him, even the lifeguard. Such would be ridiculous and no rational person would accept the scenario as logical. Nonetheless, predestinarians continue to accuse free will adherents of precisely such ludicrous claims. And nothing could be more misinformed biblically, theologically, or historically. Still, the predestinarian must justify his system as if the above were true. Something that cannot be done. And thus, he imagines everyone else is as Augustine's opponent - Pelagius. Whereas, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Though he doesn't say so, it would appear Mr. Xavier is Orthodox, something I discern from both the Orthodox "talking points" style of argumentation he uses and his reference to gnostics and Orthodox in the 7th sentence of the paragraph.  This blog has indeed come to the attention of a number of Orthodox folks, as attested not only by the number of critical comments from Orthodox lodged here but also by PMs I have received from disaffected Orthodox Christians who have written to express agreement with my assessments of Orthodoxy.   Mr. Xavier's comment is the latest such critical comment, and, as always, I unbury these comments in order to deal with them in fresh blog posts.  So, here we go:

The problems with the article are many. But let's go straight to the Fathers.

This isn't the first time an Orthodox critic has been long on assertion and short on specifics.  If the errors in the article are "many", it would be very helpful to know,specifically, what each and every one of those errors are.  When a critics makes such and assertion but quickly moves on to another subject, he leaves us with the distinct impression that he really doesn't know what he's talking about.  But OK:  let's go straight to the Fathers.

Nothing is convoluted.

?

Augustine was considered novel in West as well as East.

Not exactly.  It is true that some of his Western contemporaries had issues with his predestinarianism.  Some of these Augustine apparently won over and others he did not win over.  Other contemporaries were squarely in his camp from the get-go, and as we all know his "school" was to become extremely influential in the West.  As to why his views were controversial, the quote from McGrath in the article is sufficient to explain it: 

The history of the development of the Christian doctrine of justification lends support to such a suspicion. In particular, it can be shown that thwi major distortions were introduced into the corpus of traditional belief within the eastern church at a very early stage, and were subsequently transferred to the emerging western theological tradition. These are:

1. The introduction of the non-biblical, secular Stoic concept of autoexousia or liberum arbitrium in the articulation of the human response to the divine initiative in justification.

2. The implicit equation of tsedaqa, dikaiosune and iustitia, linked with the particular association of the Latin meritum noted earlier (p.15), inevitably suggested a correlation between human moral effort and justification within the western church.

As McGrath and other scholars have pointed out, it was the later Augustine's more exegetical and less philosophical approach to theology that brought authentic apostolic (mainly Pauline) theology to bear against this Hellenistic departure from the Gospel.  It wasn't Ausgustine's theology that was "novel", but rather the free will theology McGrath describes.  Augustine's thought was the necessary corrective to it.

One should also point out that it was Augustine, not the eastern Fathers, who was philosophically trained and so theologized accordingly.

Mr. Xavier might want to recheck his facts by reading some of the biographical materials regarding the ECF and the role that Neoplatonism played in their theologizing.  This idea that Augustine was purely a philosophical theologian and the ECF were not such is yet another inaccurate assertion from the Orthodox apologete's toolbox. (Re: my comment above about "talking points.")  But such an asserton won't stand a moment's scrutiny.

Moreover,and far more serious, Augustine's views were simply a Christianized form of the Manichean heresy he followed for years.

Yet another inaccurate assertion from aforesaid toolbox.

For, as anyone can see, Gnostic, not Orthodox Christians, were the first to teach predestination as Augustine did.

Actually, that was the apostles, not the gnostics. 

And all of this was made more possible because he could not read the bible in the original languages - only in Latin.

Yet another talking point.  I have dealt with that talking point in other blog articles here at OJC, if Mr. Xavier would simply spend the time and effort to read them.

As for the idea that free-will and grace are incompatible, one only needs to read eastern Fathers as well as Arminius.

Again, if Mr. Xavier would simply take the time to do a little research he would find that neither Salter nor I have argued that free-will and grace are incompatible.  In fact, we're compatibilists, not incompatibilists. So was St. Augustine.  See here, here and here, for example.

As for the remainder of Xavier's comment, well, it's obviously a false analogy, for reasons he'll see if he reads the three OJC articles linked in the paragraph above.  His analogy also begs the question:  it assumes synergism, when synergism is the very question.  To stay within Xavier's analogy and to counter it with the biblical doctrine, the drowning swimmer is not simply obese and tired, he is drowned and dead.

Of course, because Pelagianism was condemned at an ecumenical council, Orthodox can't be Pelagians, and I've made no claim that they are.  What I do claim, however, is that regardless of the lip service they give to prevenient grace, at the end of the day they face much the same problem that the Pelagian does.

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Reader Comments (1)

As one who leans Arminian, I always find it interesting that Orthodox (such as Bishop Timothy Ware) identify with Arminians and yet completely throw out the fact that much of Arminianism is a natural flow from the Second Council of Orange (which many Orthodox casually dismiss merely because of a) Augustine's influence and b) it is a "Western" council, despite being pre-Schism).

Arminians and Calvinists disagree over several points, but they do work their theologies from an Augustinian background. I would venture to say one of the key divergences is that Calvinists are "strict Augustinians" while Arminians start from the "moderate Augustinian" Second Council of Orange.

All of this to simply say, modern representations of Eastern Orthodoxy (I would exclude the Coptics who agree a lot more than I expected with "Western" theories of atonement for example) is quite hostile to any form of predestination. Quite strange coming from a branch of Christianity that is so fond of mystery but rejects any form of at least a single predestination as being a part of the mystery of the Trinity.

P.S. I thought you might find it interesting that a Continuing Anglican "SCOBA" may be in the mix: http://philorthodox.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-apa-aca-reconciliation-working-group.html at the fourth paragraph.

February 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAn Awkward Aardvark

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