Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Protestant thoughts on EO spirituality

Not arguing for ultimate truth or falsity in this review.  I am helping an EO guy give the fairest contrast between EO and classic Protestantism. I truly wish him in the best.

In classic Western Christian theological thought, the nature of God is generally understood as absolute, transcendent and indivisible (that is, not divided into parts). This is the doctrine called “divine simplicity” or “divine unity”

Mostly yes.  However, ALL Christian traditions believe in divine simplicity.  Gregory Palamas is very firm on this point.  What the East rejects is the view of divine simplicity that identifies essence with attribute in a 1:1 correspondence.  Interestingly enough, 19th century American Reformed theologians rejected this view of divine simplicity. The author quotes William Craig as saying God has no real relations within himself.  This needs upacking.  The West (rightly or wrongly) says God has no ontological distinctions within himself (meaning an essential separation between attribute A and attribute B and essence C.   The West very firmly holds to logical and rational distinctions between the essence/attributes.

Following this theological premise, Western theologians in the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed traditions have concluded that since God is radically transcendent, God’s relations with humans – in order to protect God’s transcendence and indivisibility – can (then) only be experienced through created entities or means (through intermediaries like angels, an image, or a symbol, which signifies God but are not God). 

What about God's covenantal relations?  It's a thought.

According to the classic Western view, therefore, even “grace” itself – God’s action within the soul – is a “created” effect of God – (and) is not God working in the soul directly.

This is an excellent criticism of Roman Catholicism.  I'm not sure, however, why this sentence, assuming it is a fair representation of Protestantism, necessitates God's grace as created.   God's action within the soul, if that is indeed what grace is, is God himself, and so eternal.  Now the effect in the soul is created, but that's not a particularly controversial statement.

the Western Christian spiritual tradition affirms that there are (then) essentially only two ways to know God:

What Luther and the Reformed are saying is what Romans 10 is saying, "We don't ascend to God to know God.  God descends to us in his Word."  This is what Luther meant by denying the theology of glory.

The seat of the Image of God is not thought to be in the reasoning or intellective faculty of the human being, but rather in the “Nous”, sometimes translated incorrectly as “Mind”, but in the East understood as “heart.” This is not necessarily the physical “heart” but at the center of man’s being.

I like this statement.  If nous means heart, then this anthropology isn't that different from Reformed sources.  I understand that the EO will say that God's energies interact with the nous.  I know the Reformed do not take that view.  Fair enough.  I have reasons for not holding to the energies, but that's not the point of the post.

Carrying this line of thinking forward to its logical conclusion, the West has rejected as an authentic experience of God the Uncreated Light or Vision of God (theoria) of our hesychast, contemplative tradition in Eastern Christianity.

We reject hesychasm, but not the experiencing of the divine light.  Too many credible Western theologians and pastors have experienced the divine light for us to deny that it is real.  

I find that in Western Christianity because of the approaches we have been discussing, there tends to be a dichotomy between the realm of God and the realm of man. It tends to set-up, as Father Stephen Freeman puts it, a “two-storey universe”: God and the spiritual realm “up there, and us down here”.

It hinges upon how God promised to meet man.  We understand that God meets man covenantally through his Word.   We also see the covenant as the bridge between the two realms (though I fully agree with Allen's critique of Roman Catholicism).

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