Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stăniloae on three orientations of Christ's work of salvation

Christ's work of salvation is directed toward His human nature, which He fills with His divinity and liberates from the innocent passions, the sufferings, and the death resulting from the original sin. It is then directed toward us all in order that, through our participation in the divinity manifested in the power that He transmits to us through His human nature, He may liberate us, too, from sin in this life and from the innocent passions, corruptibility, and death in the life to come. Also through these, His work is directed toward God in order to glorify Him through our reconciliation with Him (Eph 2:16; 1:19-20), through our liberation from the deficiencies mentioned and through our clothing in the divine lumination (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 3: The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior, p. 88).

As Stăniloae notes, there is a triple orientation of Christ's salvific work. In the first place, Christ's work is aimed at his own human nature, which he lifts up out of the mire of sin and death and divinizes through his own divine nature's presence within it. Secondly, he liberates us and divinizes us through his own human nature. Finally, he glorifies God in all of this.

In recent times I have experienced a critical restructuring of my own theological understanding, and I have come to appreciate the centrality of the metaphor of union with Christ. It is through union with Christ that we are saved, and Christ offers himself to all that they be united with him through the given means. Stăniloae specifies that we are liberated, not through some abstract empowering of our own human nature, but through His human nature, through Christ's own humanity which is given to us. The Christian story of salvation involves exactly this -- that we be united with Christ, and in him, with the entire Holy Trinity.

Now union with Christ must take place in this way, and not through some sort of universal absorption of humanity into Christ, because human volition must play a role in salvation as well. Stăniloae notes that Human beings are not saved as some objects, but through the free acceptance of communion with Christ, and in Christ with the entire Holy Trinity (p. 86). This is why God does not zap divinity into humanity from on high. No, he takes on a human nature affected as much as ours is, and heals it and deifies it and gives it the life he intends for all to have; and then he offers it and its salvific powers and effects to all who are willing to unite with him, through faith and baptism and eucharist and scripture and prayer.

If we seek salvation and liberation, therefore, we ought to run to Christ and seek to unite ourselves with him. Only in this way will we ever be freed and delivered from what afflicts us.

Importantly, too, Stăniloae notes that Jesus' work of glorifying God is accomplished through his liberation of humanity from its slavery to sin and death. This is what glorifies the Father: not the destruction of his enemies, not the damnation of sinners, but the sincere tears of repentance and gratitude for salvation which go down the cheek of the former sinner.