Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sweet Talking Our Way Eastward?

In today's sermon we were given a soft spoken appeal to move towards a more Eastern Church view of sin. Most pewsitters were probably convinced by the rector's appeal that the sweet innocent babies we baptize are not necessarily sinners by birth, but when he used John Calvin's name as the cause for the Western Church's current view of sin, I had to question the thesis of the sermon. I knew that Calvin did not invent the concept of original sin, nor did he have anything to do with the separation of the Eastern and Western Churches. In summary, the impression I got was that Calvinism is bad and judgemental, and the Eastern Church is good and loving. I am no expert on the Eastern Church, but I don't think one escapes the concept of our sinful nature by looking eastward. Unfortunately, the sermon did not go into much detail, and by gently bashing Calvinism, many pewsitters would quietly nod and move on.

By avoiding a scholarly discussion of the histories involved, we missed out on so much. We missed the story of Augustine versus Pelagius. We also missed the Council of Carthage to Investigate Pelagianism in 418 and its famous first 8 canons:
Canon 1 “If any man says that Adam, the first man, was created mortal, so that whether he sinned or not he would have died, not as the wages of sin, but through the necessity of nature, let him be anathema.”

Canon 2 “If any man says that new-born children need not be baptized, or that they should indeed be baptized for the remission of sins, but that they have in them no original sin inherited from Adam which must be washed away in the bath of regeneration, so that in their ease the formula of baptism ‘for the remission of sins’ must not be taken literally, but figuratively, let him be anathema; because, according to Romans 5:12, the sin of Adam (in quo omnes peccaverunt) has passed upon all.”

Canon 3.1 “If any man says that in the kingdom of heaven or elsewhere there is a certain middle place, where children who die unbaptized live in bliss (beate vivant), whereas without baptism they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, that is, into eternal life, let him be anathema.” [The authenticity of this canon has been brought into question, though there is some reason to believe that it was part of the original canon listing. In some manuscripts Canon 3.2, listed below, is listed here.]

Canon 3.2 “If any man says that the grace of God, by which man is justified through Jesus Christ, is only effectual for the forgiveness of sins already committed, but is of no avail for avoiding sin in the future, let him be anathema.”

Canon 4 “If any man says that this grace only helps not to sin, in so far that by it we obtain a better insight into the Divine commands, and learn what we should desire and avoid, but does not also give the power gladly to do and to fulfill what we have seen to be good, let him be anathema.”

Canon 5 “If any man says that the grace of justification was given us in order that we might the more easily fulfill that which we are bound to do by the power of free will, so that we could, even without grace, only not so easily, fulfill the Divine commands, let him be anathema.”

Canon 6 “If any man understands the words of the Apostle: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,’ to mean that we must acknowledge ourselves to be sinners only out of humility, not because we are really such, let him be anathema.”

Canon 7 “If any man says that the saints pronounce the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our trespasses,’ not for themselves, because for them this petition is unnecessary, but for others, and that therefore it is, ‘forgive us,’ not ‘me,’ let him be anathema.”

Canon 8 “If any man says that the saints only pronounce these words, ‘forgive us our trespasses,’ out of humility, not in their literal meaning, let him be anathema.”

All that anathema stuff is so Western and judgemental.

In the end, Pelagius somehow sweet talked himself out of trouble and moved on.

Augustine is quoted as saying: “it was not heresy, that was there acquitted, but the man who denied the heresy.”

Some of Pelagius' ideas linger still as they contain a basic appeal. After all, my sweet precious baby can't possibly be a sinful creature, can it?


  1. Oh, and I forgot to say anything about how we were told that the 1979 BCP moved us in the direction of the Eastern Church. That sounds like a job for the Prayer Book Society.

  2. Articles of Religion:
    IX. Of Original or Birth-Sin.
    Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek, p¢vnæa sapk¢s, (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh), is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized; yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.
    The sermon you describe seems to rest upon pretty crude stereotypes of "Calvinism" and "Eastern" Christianity, along with an appeal to ignorance when it comes to foundational Ecumenical AND Anglican teaching on sin.

    Did he mention the Monks of Mt. Athos, who fill not allow women on their peninsula so as to avoid temptation of the flesh? Them guys is Eastern to the max, and I think their monastaries preexist Calvin.

    Did he mention that Eastern theosis is not an affirmation of our present nature, but a necessary displacement of it by the divine?

    Yes, Eastern and Western theological vocabulary can present formidable differences. But both espouse a Creed with "one baptism for the remission of sins."

  3. Tim,

    Thanks for stopping by. Clearly, the sermon did not present a favorable picture of Calvinism and the lack of detail in describing Eastern Christianity is troubling especially if unwitting pewsitters don't bother to check other resources.

    Since the Articles of Religion have been relegated to the fine print in the back of the prayer book and are now considered to be "Historical Documents," and history is to be ignored or revised, is it any wonder that we no longer hear how "but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam?"

    And no, we did not go into "theosis" or the monks of Mt. Athos. Pity.

  4. The references to Calvin are pretty off the wall, at least in the context of "looking East." Where a lot of us part ways with Calvin is his leap from the necessity of Grace as springboard to Salvation, to the idea that we humans, are so evil and corrupt that nothing we do, i.e. asking for salvation or seeking God's mercy, can help us. That is, we are either part of the "Elect" or not. God has chosen us and sent the Holy Spirit to draw us to him or He has not. God's sovereignty determines who is saved and who is damned.

    My problem with Calvinism, is it lets us humans off the hook regarding our own sins. At Judgment, we need only say, "It's not my fault that You didn't choose me. That smacks of an arbitrariness of God which conflicts with about a zillion other scriptures, not the least of which is The Great Commission.

    Stay warm, and


  5. Anonymous5:39 PM

    I am reminded that G. K. Chesterton once said that the only Biblical principle which could be proven by observation was original sin.