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Archive for the ‘Fathers’ Category

The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation
Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Saturday, October 2, 2010

[Emphasis and a few comments added]

1.  Prologue. For almost forty-five years, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation has been meeting regularly to discuss some of the major pastoral and doctrinal issues that prevent our Churches from sharing a single life of faith, sacraments, and witness before the world.  Our goal has been to pave the way towards sharing fully in Eucharistic communion through recognizing and accepting each other as integral parts of the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

2. A Central Point of Disagreement.  In the course of our discussions, it has become increasingly clear to us that the most divisive element in our traditions has been a growing diversity, since the late patristic centuries, in the ways we understand the structure of the Church itself, particularly our understanding of the forms of headship that seem essential to the Church’s being at the local, regional and worldwide levels.  At the heart of our differences stands the way each of our traditions understands the proper exercise of primacy in the leadership of the Church, both within the various regions of the Christian world and within Christianity as a whole.  In order to be the Body of Christ in its fullness — to be both “Orthodox” and “Catholic” — does a local community, gathered to celebrate the Eucharist, have to be united with the other Churches that share the Apostolic faith, not only through Scripture, doctrine, and tradition, but also through common worldwide structures of authority — particularly through the practice of a universal synodality in union with the bishop of Rome?

[There is no question here of one side or the other returning to some pure, patristic, first millennium standard. It's unfair for each side to reproach the other for departing from such a mythic standard. Church history is full of both "Orthodox" and "Catholic" moments (and even a few "Protestant" ones!), and apologists for each side will use the bits that best fit their case. The problems which arose between the Churches in the second millennium arose because there was no consensus about the relationship between primacy and conciliarity in the first! There must, then, be a model of Orthodox-Catholic communion for the third millennium.]

It seems to be no exaggeration, in fact, to say that the root obstacle preventing the Orthodox and Catholic Churches from growing steadily towards sacramental and practical unity has been, and continues to be, the role that the bishop of Rome plays in the worldwide Catholic communion. While for Catholics, maintaining communion in faith and sacraments with the bishop of Rome is considered a necessary criterion for being considered Church in the full sense, for Orthodox, as well as for Protestants, it is precisely the pope’s historic claims to authority in teaching and Church life that are most at variance with the image of the Church presented to us in the New Testament and in early Christian writings.  In the carefully understated words of Pope John Paul II, “the Catholic Church’s conviction that in the ministry of the bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians, whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections” (Ut Unum Sint 88).

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Fr Patrick Reardon

Saints Peter and Paul: Both the East and the West, from the earliest centuries, have celebrated this double feast day of those two apostles, who are linked in a special way by their both being martyred in the city of Rome. Even though there seem to have been Roman Christians right from the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:10), the origins of that local church were always associated with the two great men who there shed their blood for the name of Christ. Writing to the Christians at Rome in the year 107, Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch in Syria, could say to them: “I do not give you commands, as did Peter and Paul.” With respect to the ministry and martyrdom of Peter and Paul at Rome, the evidence from the dawn of Christian history is overwhelming, nor was there any dissenting voice on this matter from any source in ancient history.
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With respect to Paul, of course, we have the Book of Acts and the Second Epistle to Timothy. With respect to Peter, we are not entirely sure when he did reach Rome, but it must have been in the early 60s. If he were at Rome in the late 50s, it is impossible to understand why he was not mentioned among that long list of Christians who are named in Romans 16.
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However, we do know quite a bit about the place, time, and circumstances of Peter’s death. The fourth century historian, Eusebius, cites testimonies from the second and early third centuries to bolster his thesis that the chief of the Apostles was crucified in Rome during Nero’s persecution (mid-60s): Tertullian in North Africa, Gaius of Rome, Dennis of Corinth. From another writer of about 200, Clement of Alexandria, we learn that Peter’s wife was also martyred and that the apostle was a witness to it. The African Tertullian speaks even more boldly of that crucifixion at Rome, “where Peter equals the Lord’s passion,” he treats the information as though it were common knowledge.
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Indeed, the early Christians seem to have been so familiar with the circumstances of Peter’s martyrdom that Clement of Rome (writing from that city) and Ignatius of Antioch (writing to that city) had not felt the need to elaborate on the place and circumstances. The story of the Apostle’s crucifixion was so widely reported among the churches that the Gospel of John, probably written at Ephesus, could simply refer to the stretching out of Peter’s hands as “signifying by what death he was to glorify God” (John 21:18f). John did not have to explain the point; everyone knew exactly how Peter had died. That this Johannine passage (“thou shalt stretch forth thy hands . . . signifying by what death he was to glorify God”) did in fact refer to Peter’s crucifixion in Rome was perfectly obvious to Tertullian. Citing that Johannine verse, he wrote: “Then was Peter ‘bound by another,’ when he was fastened to the cross” (Scorpiace 15.3). Moreover, the symbolic extension of the hands as signifying crucifixion is attested to in early Christian and even pagan writings (Pseudo-Barnabas, Justin Martyr Irenaeus, Cyprian of Carthage, Epictetus).
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The Christians at Rome, however, have never clung to this special two-fold grace in any jealous or exclusive fashion. Throughout the years they have shared this feast day of the two apostles with all other Christians, and this feast day is observed with equal solemnity throughout the Christian East. Indeed, in recent years it has become customary for Rome and Constantinople to exchange special delegations and greetings on this day, with the intention of maintaining those cordial relationships of charity that may, in God’s time and by God’s grace, bring the Christians of the East and the West back to full communion one with another.
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[From the Antiochian Archdiocese website]

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“Every Christian … Is Set Apart to Bear Prophetic Witness to the Risen Lord”
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PAPHOS, Cyprus, JUNE 4, 2010 (Zenit.org). – Here is the address Benedict XVI delivered today during an ecumenical celebration at the archeological area of the Church of Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitiss. [emphasis added]
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
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“Grace and peace to you in abundance” (1 Pet 1:2). With great joy I salute you who represent the Christian communities present in Cyprus.
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I thank His Beatitude Chrysostomos the Second for his gracious words of welcome, His Eminence Georgios, the Metropolitan of Paphos, our host, and all those who have helped to make this meeting possible. I am also pleased cordially to salute the Christians of other confessions present, including those of the Armenian, Lutheran and Anglican communities.
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It is truly an extraordinary grace for us to gather together in prayer in this Church of Agia Kiriaki Chrysopolitissa. We have just heard a reading from the Acts of the Apostles which reminds us that Cyprus was the first stage in the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul (cf. Acts 13:1-4). Set apart by the Holy Spirit, Paul, accompanied by Barnabas, a native of Cyprus, and Mark, the future evangelist, first came to Salamis, where they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues.
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Traversing the island, they reached Paphos where, close to this very place, they preached in the presence of the Roman pro-consul Sergius Paulus. Thus it was from this place that the Gospel message began to spread throughout the Empire, and the Church, grounded in the apostolic preaching, was able to take root throughout the then-known world.
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The Church in Cyprus can rightly be proud of her direct links to the preaching of Paul, Barnabas and Mark, and her communion in the apostolic faith, a communion which links her to all those Churches who preserve that same rule of faith. This is the communion, real yet imperfect, which already unites us, and which impels us to overcome our divisions and to strive for the restoration of that full visible unity which is the Lord’s will for all his followers. For, in Paul’s words, “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4-5).
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The Church’s communion in the apostolic faith is both a gift and a summons to mission. In the passage from Acts which we have heard, we see an image of the Church’s unity in prayer, and her openness to the promptings of the Spirit of mission. Like Paul and Barnabas, every Christian, by baptism, is set apart to bear prophetic witness to the Risen Lord and to his Gospel of reconciliation, mercy and peace. In this context, the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, due to meet in Rome next October, will reflect on the vital role of Christians in the region, encourage them in their witness to the Gospel, and help foster greater dialogue and cooperation between Christians throughout the region. Significantly, the labours of the Synod will be enriched by the presence of fraternal delegates from other Churches and Christian communities in the region, as a sign of our common commitment to the service of God’s word and our openness to the power of his reconciling grace.
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The unity of all Christ’s disciples is a gift to be implored from the Father in the hope that it will strengthen the witness to the Gospel in today’s world. The Lord prayed for the holiness and unity of his disciples precisely so that the world might believe (cf. Jn 17:21). Just a hundred years ago, at the Edinburgh Missionary Conference, the acute awareness that divisions between Christians were an obstacle to the spread of the Gospel gave birth to the modern ecumenical movement. Today we can be grateful to the Lord, who through his Spirit has led us, especially in these last decades, to rediscover the rich apostolic heritage shared by East and West, and in patient and sincere dialogue to find ways of drawing closer to one another, overcoming past controversies, and looking to a better future.
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The Church in Cyprus, which serves as a bridge between East and West, has contributed much to this process of reconciliation. The path leading to the goal of full communion will certainly not be without its difficulties, yet the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Cyprus are committed to advancing in the way of dialogue and fraternal cooperation. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our minds and strengthen our resolve, so that together we can bring the message of salvation to the men and women of our time, who thirst for the truth that brings authentic freedom and salvation (cf. Jn 8:32), the truth whose name is Jesus Christ!
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Dear sisters and brothers, I cannot conclude without evoking the memory of the saints who have adorned the Church in Cyprus, and in particular Saint Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis. Sanctity is the sign of the fullness of Christian life, a profound inner docility to the Holy Spirit who calls us to constant conversion and renewal as we strive to be ever more conformed to Christ our Saviour. Conversion and holiness are also the privileged means by which we open our minds and hearts to the Lord’s will for the unity of his Church. As we give thanks for this meeting and for the fraternal affection which unites us, let ask Saints Barnabas and Epiphanius, Saints Peter and Paul, and all God’s holy ones, to bless our communities, to preserve us in the faith of the Apostles, and to guide our steps along the way of unity, charity and peace.

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By Cristian Ciopron (English translation via De unione ecclesiarum)

[Our friend Michaël comments on this interesting piece: "I can't tell if the author is Catholic or Orthodox ... but what I found surprising were the extensive citations from the Venerable Bede and St Thomas regarding the light on Mount Tabor. While this might not be remarkable for a Catholic, the weaving of citations from late Western Fathers with those of Eastern saints would be very striking for an Orthodox. Even for a Catholic, the focus on the Uncreated Light would in itself be noteworthy."]

The Transfiguration of Jesus occurs in the Synoptic Gospels. It is an event narrated only by the Synoptics, as it belongs to their logic and to their line of discourse about who Jesus of Nazareth is. These Gospels narrate the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor as a sequence of events, the first of them being a visible manifestation of Christ’s identity, something which must be interpreted in conjunction with the other signs. I presume that the Gospels are speaking about a visible light, a visible reality, not about a metaphorical light, such as the light of knowledge or understanding; in fact, each synoptic author tries to convey the exact impression made by the Lord’s transfigured luminosity, and seems to indicate a visible light, something to be seen, in the proper sense of the word. I believe that the Gospels speak about a light pertaining to the domain of visibility, not to that of knowledge.

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From the March 2010 issue of The Word (magazine of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America)

The Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is very ancient, and at the same time, the last historically to be preceded by preparation with a lengthy fast. The Feast is described, in the Byzantine tradition, technically as a “third class/ Vigil rank commemoration” — and in the West as the ” Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.” Though it does not rank with Pascha, Nativity, Theophany or Pentecost, it is still very important, as it is the patronal feast of the Patriarchate of Antioch. Most Christians, however, identify Saints Peter and Paul with the city – Rome –where they were martyred, according to tradition. Why Rome? And why does the city and its bishop, and the memory of the two Apostles, matter?.

The Akathist Hymn to the Holy Apostles gives us an important clue, incorporating what we find in the Scriptures as well: Saint Peter is given the place of honor. The Hymn addresses the Head of the Church first – Christ, the Good Shepherd, who “said unto thee, O first-enthroned Peter: If thou lovest Me, feed My sheep.” The same Christ admonishes the other apostles about the suitability of the former persecutor Saul of Tarsus (quoting here Acts 9:15); Christ confirmed “thee, O preeminent Apostle Paul: He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear my name before the gentiles.” But Christ then addresses the entire college of the apostles with the universal commission of the Gospel of Matthew – to preach to all the nations.

These themes – the primacy of Peter, Paul as the last-called but Peter’s equal before God, and the collegial nature of the apostles’ approach to difficulties – is reflected in the opening of the Akathist Hymn. The Hymn recognizes the primacy of Peter, the linkage of the Church of the Circumcised and the Uncircumcised in the two apostles’ dual ministries, and the collegial obligation of all the apostles and their successors, the bishops of the Church, to spread the Gospel, at the risk of martyrdom, if necessary. The hymn’s scriptural teaching is confirmed in the theology of some of the early fathers, including Saint Irenaeus of Lyon and the Montanist theologian Tertullian. Taken together, they provide us with a proper view of a Petrine ministry, Rome, and the role of a primacy among the bishops for Orthodox Christians in the 21st century.

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On January 25, a draft document from the International Catholic-Orthodox dialogue was leaked to Chiesa, the Italian Catholic news agency. Written in 2008, the document “The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium” is entirely unofficial. I hesitate somewhat to post it, out of principle (was the document leaked by someone wishing to throw a wrench in the ecumenical works?), but I will post it, since it’s already out there, and is a fascinating read.

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Dr Peter Gilbert, of De unione ecclesiarum (one of a few blogs by an Orthodox Christian I can bear to read) has just posted the text of a lecture he recently gave to the Youngstown, Ohio chapter of the Society of St John Chrysostom. Please leave any comments you have at Dr Gilbert’s blog.

I will only reproduce here a quote of St Gregory the Theologian, which seems to sum up so well the history of theological wrangling between Greek and Latin Christianity:

Others, mutually divided, drive East and West
into confusion, and God has abandoned them to their flesh,
for which they make war, giving their name and their allegiance to others:
my god’s Paul, yours is Peter, his is Apollos.
But Christ is pierced with nails to no purpose.
For it’s not from Christ that we’re called, but from men,
we who possess his honor by hands and by blood.
So much have our eyes been clouded over by a love
of vain glory, or gain, or by bitter envy,
pining away, rejoicing in evil: these have a well-earned misery.
And the pretext is the Trinity, but the reality is faithless hate.
Each is two-faced, a wolf concealed against the sheep,
and a brass pot hiding a nasty food for the children.

[Poem 2.1.13, To the Bishops, vv. 151-163; PG 37, 1239-1240]

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From my favorite Orthodox blog, Prof. Peter Gilbert’s De Unione Ecclesiarum

I finally have some good news to report. Today I received an e-mail from the Managing Editor of the journal Communio, informing me that the Summer 2009 issue is now, at last, in print, and that they have decided to feature my article on “John Bekkos as a Reader of the Fathers” on their website. A link to the website, showing the contents of their current issue, is http://www.communio-icr.com/latest.htm; a permanent link to the article, in PDF format, is http://www.communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/gilbert36-2.pdf

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September 16, 2009

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we pause to reflect on the figure of the Eastern monk Symeon the New Theologian, whose writings exercised a noteworthy influence on the theology and spirituality of the East, in particular, regarding the experience of mystical union with God.

Symeon the New Theologian was born in 949 in Galatia, in Paphlagonia (Asia Minor), of a noble provincial family. While still young, he went to Constantinople to undertake studies and enter the emperor’s service. However, he felt little attracted to the civil career before him and, under the influence of the interior illuminations he was experiencing, he looked for a person who would direct him through his moment of doubts and perplexities, and who would help him progress on the way to union with God.

He found this spiritual guide in Symeon the Pious (Eulabes), a simple monk of the Studion monastery in Constantinople, who gave him to read the treatise “The Spiritual Law of Mark the Monk.” In this text, Symeon the New Theologian found a teaching that impressed him very much: “If you seek spiritual healing,” he read there, “be attentive to your conscience. Do all that it tells you and you will find what is useful to you.” From that moment — he himself says — he never again lay down without asking if his conscience had something for which to reproach him.

Symeon entered the Studion monastery, where, however, his mystical experiences and his extraordinary devotion toward the spiritual father caused him difficulty. He transferred to the small convent of St. Mammas, also in Constantinople, where, after three years, he became director —  the higumeno. There he pursued an intense search of spiritual union with Christ, which conferred on him great authority.

It is interesting to note that he was given there the name of “New Theologian,” notwithstanding the fact that tradition reserved the title of “Theologian” to two personalities: John the Evangelist and Gregory of Nazianzen. He suffered misunderstandings and exile, but was restored by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Sergius II.

Symeon the New Theologian spent the last phase of his life in the monastery of St. Macrina, where he wrote the greater part of his works, becoming ever more famous for his teachings and miracles. He died on March 12, 1022.

His best known disciple, Nicetas Stathos, who compiled and re-copied Symeon’s writings, prepared a posthumous edition, followed by a biography. Symeon’s work includes nine volumes, which are divided in theological, gnostic and practical chapters, three volumes of catechesis addressed to monks, two volumes of theological and ethical treatises, and a volume of hymns. Nor should we forget his numerous letters. All these works have found an important place in the Eastern monastic tradition down to our day.

Symeon focuses his reflection on the presence of the Holy Spirit in those who are baptized and on the awareness they must have of this spiritual reality. Christian life — he stresses — is intimate and personal communion with God; divine grace illumines the believer’s heart and leads him to the mystical vision of the Lord. In this line, Symeon the New Theologian insists on the fact that true knowledge of God stems from a journey of interior purification, which begins with conversion of heart, thanks to the strength of faith and love; passes through profound repentance and sincere sorrow for one’s sins; and arrives at union with Christ, source of joy and peace, invaded by the light of his presence in us. For Symeon, such an experience of divine grace is not an exceptional gift for some mystics, but the fruit of baptism in the life of every seriously committed faithful — a point on which to reflect, dear brothers and sisters!

This holy Eastern monk calls us all to attention to the spiritual life, to the hidden presence of God in us, to honesty of conscience and purification, to conversion of heart, so that the Holy Spirit will be present in us and guide us. If in fact we are justly preoccupied about taking care of our physical growth, it is even more important not to neglect our interior growth, which consists in knowledge of God, in true knowledge, not only taken from books, but interior, and in communion with God, to experience his help at all times and in every circumstance.

Basically, this is what Symeon describes when he recounts his own mystical experience. Already as a youth, before entering the monastery, while prolonging his prayer at home one night, invoking God’s help to struggle against temptations, he saw the room filled with light. When he later entered the monastery, he was given spiritual books to instruct himself, but the readings did not give him the peace he was looking for. He felt — he recounts — like a poor little bird without wings. He accepted this situation with humility, did not rebel, and then the visions of light began to multiply again. Wishing to be certain of their authenticity, Symeon asked Christ directly: “Lord, are you yourself really here?” He felt resonate in his heart an affirmative answer and was greatly consoled. “That was, Lord,” he wrote later, “the first time you judged me, prodigal son, worthy to hear your voice.” However, this revelation did not leave him totally at peace either. He even wondered if that experience should not be considered an illusion.

Finally, one day an essential event occurred for his mystical experience. He began to feel like “a poor man who loves his brothers” (ptochos philadelphos). He saw around him many enemies that wanted to set snares for him and harm him but despite this he felt in himself an intense movement of love for them. How to explain this? Obviously, such love could not come from himself, but must spring from another source. Symeon understood that it came from Christ present in him and all was clarified for him: He had the sure proof that the source of love in him was the presence of Christ and that to have in oneself a love that goes beyond one’s personal intentions indicates that the source of love is within. Thus, on one hand, we can say that, without a certain openness to love, Christ does not enter in us, but, on the other, Christ becomes the source of love and transforms us.

Dear friends, this experience is very important for us, today, to find the criteria that will indicate to us if we are really close to God, if God exists and lives in us. God’s love grows in us if we are really united to him in prayer and in listening to his word, with openness of heart. Only divine love makes us open our hearts to others and makes us sensitive to their needs, making us regard everyone as brothers and sisters and inviting us to respond with love to hatred, and with forgiveness to offense.

Reflecting on the figure of Symeon the New Theologian, we can still find a further element of his spirituality. In the path of ascetic life proposed and followed by him, the intense attention and concentration of the monk on the interior experience confers on the spiritual father of the monastery an essential importance. The young Symeon himself, as has been said, had found a spiritual director who greatly helped him and for whom he had very great esteem, so much so that, after his death, he also accorded him public veneration.

And I would like to say that this invitation continues to be valid for all — priests, consecrated persons and laypeople — and especially for young people — to take recourse to the counsels of a good spiritual father, capable of accompanying each one in profound knowledge of oneself, and leading one to union with the Lord, so that one’s life is increasingly conformed to the Gospel. We always need a guide, dialogue, to go to the Lord. We cannot do it with our reflections alone. And this is also the meaning of the ecclesiality of our faith, of finding this guide.

Thus, to conclude, we can summarize the teaching and mystical experience of Symeon the New Theologian: In his incessant search for God, even in the difficulties he met and the criticism made of him, he, in a word, allowed himself to be guided by love. He was able to live personally and to teach his monks that what is essential for every disciple of Jesus is to grow in love and so we grow in knowledge of Christ himself, to be able to say with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

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ms+224++anselm

From Fr Pat’s Pastoral Ponderings, June 28, 2009:

Saint Anselm, as we have seen, begins his reflections on soteriology—the theology of salvation—by addressing the question: What is sin? This he identifies as the affront to the honor of God. He then goes on to inquire: What is required to satisfy the offended honor of God. This move from apologetics to theology is known as St. Anselm’s “theory of satisfaction.”

In the history of the theology of salvation, few developments have been more significant than the introduction of “satisfaction” as a category of study. Few likewise, I believe, have proved more troubling.

I concede that some notion of satisfaction was always implicit when Christians thought about “being saved.” That is to say, the very concept of salvation carries with it, at least tacitly, the question, “What was required for us to be saved?”

In fact, that question was raised explicitly in the great Christological controversies of the early Church. For example, a major premise of the orthodox faith affirmed, “Whatever was not assumed was not healed.” This thesis declared that God’s Son, in the Incarnation, took on our full humanity, not selected parts of it. In other words, only the Word’s full assumption of our human nature could satisfy what was needed for human beings to be saved.

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