Analogies: the Bank, the Law Court and the Hospital

I found this on Facebook from Fr Guy Winfrey.

What is Orthodox Christianity?

Finding a starting place is difficult, but I think the best place is to say that Orthodoxy focuses on healing the soul of man. It is not about appeasing God–because God already loves us. In our prayers we say that God is the only lover of mankind. So the problem is that man is sick and needs healing. We need healing from all our passions; we need to heal from the wounds caused by our past sins; we need healing in our minds, because we don’t even know how to think correctly—our intellects are fallen. This means that the Orthodox life is a life of struggling with the proper medicine to become truly human. It’s very much like being in physical therapy. We have a therapist (a priest) to help us struggle to recover our strength. Sometimes we do better than other times.

This is a very important foundation to have because it changes the understanding of what justification and salvation is. In Orthodoxy these are not juridical positions. The Church is not a divine travel agent created to give you a ticket to heaven. The Church is a hospital to cure sin and its effects on our souls. Remember, God loves us. The problem is that we don’t love him as we should. None of our actions are done to appease an angry God—God doesn’t need therapy to get over being mad at us. We need healing which comes from Jesus Christ through his Church.

That’s a pretty good place to start understanding why Orthodox Christianity is so very different from the forms of Christianity that may be more familiar in the US.

That may be true, but I hardly see it as the preserve of Orthodoxy. It comes down to three analogies of man’s relationship with God, someone at the end of his financial tether owing a lot of money to the bank (Christ himself uses this analogy in a parable), someone being judged in a court of law for something he has done wrong and facing justice, and finally a sick person requiring the attention of doctors and nurses for a cure or palliative treatment for an incurable illness.

The “medical” analogy can be found in all churches and Christian writings. The emphasis has differed from period to period in history. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism tended to favour the banking and juridical analogies of salvation, especially from St Augustine to St Anselm to Calvin and exponents of the “work ethic”. I suppose that any system that preaches man as being at a disadvantage in relation to God has a means of political control over populations.

As I have discovered when reading “Orthodox Blow-Out Department” and other comments on similar themes, there seems to be Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy, just as there is a gentle version of Catholicism and Anglicanism alongside Jansenist and Puritan harshness. There will always be a difference between the political and contemplative / religious aspects of Christianity as between Sufism and Wahhabism in Islam. The more mystical tendencies will move beyond the notion of salvation and saving to deification and θέōσις.

Divinisation and participation in God figure in the non-Calvinist currents of Anglican theology and spirituality, particularly in the works of Lancelot Andrewes and John Wesley among others. I recommend you the book Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in Anglican Tradition by A. M. Allchin. Allchin found the heart of this tradition in the Caroline Divines and the beginnings of the Oxford Movement as well as Methodism.

These are important aspects to rediscover in our own traditions, be they Roman Catholic, Anglican, Non-conformist or Orthodox. Above all in ourselves…

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12 Responses to Analogies: the Bank, the Law Court and the Hospital

  1. J.D. says:

    This mystical participation in God is something I find right in the Prologue of the Rule of St Benedict, albeit in a very understated and quiet Roman way:

    “Let us open our eyes to the Divine ( or “deifying” depending on the translation) light and attentively hear the divine voice, calling and exhorting us daily.”

    If we use ” deifying” it is active, as in God is shining his divine us on us and deifying us. Its subtle but it’s enough information to extrapolate something similiar to the Orthodox notion of Theosis or Deification, although truth be told I find both terms to be a bit much for me, and open to abuse. I kind of like St Benedicts subtle words, without all the bombastic hyperbole of man being somehow ” made like God” spoken of in some Orthodox circles.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Thanks for this! The Internet Archive handily has (I find) a scan of Sir David Oswald Hunter Blair’s 1907 edition with translation, which gives “deificum” and translates “deifying”. Fr. Gregory Wassen’s new St. Boniface Chaplaincy website has a handy link to a translation of the Rule (I do not immediately see, whose), which also translates “deifying”. You have me thinking I ought to try to get better acquainted with the Latin, as well!

    • Marko says:

      “Unigenitus siquidem Dei filius, suae divinitatis volens nos esse participes, nostram naturam assumpsit ut homines deos faceret factus homo.”
      “Accordingly, the only-begotten Son of God, willing to make us sharers of his divinity, assumed our nature so that, by becoming man, he might make men gods.”

      Guess who wrote this.

      • No need to guess – St Thomas Aquinas (probably). Officium corporis Christi “Sacerdos” a proper diocesan Office.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        There is also from the Offertory of the (Pian) Mass “da nobis […] ejus Divinitatis esse consortes” – though I don’t know its history.

      • Marko says:

        Yep. It’s Thomas the Sagacious (Αγχίνους in Greek).
        I was surprised the first time i read it in the Corpus Christi office precisely because i thought that west wouldn’t ever use such “hyperbole” as “man becoming god”…

      • Marko says:

        And the “Divinitatis esse consortes” is a collect for the Christmas Mass. It is found in Veronese sacramentary. It just lacks the “per huius aquae et vini mysterium”, obviously.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thank you! I see the Internet Archive has a number of scans of Charles Lett Feltoe’s 1896 CUP and Henry Austin Wilson’s 1894 Oxford Clarendon P editions of the Veronese (Leontine) and Gelasian sacramentaries respectively, but could you by any chance recommend anything online to help slow Latinists such as myself along?

      • William Tighe says:

        See also:

        The Eighth-century Gelasian Sacramentary: A Study in Tradition
        (Oxford theological monographs), by Bernard Moreton. 222 pages. (Oxford University Press, 1976)

        The Leonine sacramentary: a reassessment of its nature and purpose
        (Oxford theological monographs), by David Michael Hope. 164 pages. (Oxford University Press, 1971)

      • Marko says:

        On the left you have a couple of sacramentaries.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you for the quotation and the contextualizing! I heard Donald Allchin speak on that with reference to Hooker – perhaps he was working on this, at the time. Your summary of “three analogies of man’s relationship with God” brought to mind the attention of that deliberate Anglican, George MacDonald, to the “the last farthing” of St. Matthew 5:26 (easily traceable through the transcription of his Unspoken Sermons at Project Gutenberg). In that attention to imagery, and in others (like the “consuming fire” of Hebrews 12:29), he illuminates it as parallel to the “medical” in terms of restoration and right ordering and perfecting.

    The “wounded surgeon”, “dying nurse”, and “ruined millionaire” imagery of the fourth movement of T.S. Eliot’s ‘East Coker’ also came to mind.

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