Sunday, October 03, 2004

Justification and Merit

Here is an interesting post I ran across. It is an Eastern Orthodox believer answering the question of "What is the Orthodox view on justification and how does it compare to other Christians' views?". Some of the points he makes are quite interesting...

Well, St. Paul teaches that we are justified by Faith. St. James, however, teaches that we aren't justified by Faith alone. So that's the Orthodox view.

What you have to understand is that both Rome and Protestantism fundamentally agree that salvation is by merit. I.e. they teach that there is a 'bar' of obedience and righteousness that must be acheived in order to be saved. In the fully developed Medieval system of Rome, there were two kinds of merit, Condine and Congruent. Condine merit is where God sets a lower bar of conduct within our reach, and when we meet it, He awards us credit as if we had acheived true righteousness. Congruent merit is where we do all that is within our power toward being righteous, and God makes up where we fall short. This bar can not only be met, resulting in salvation, but can be exceeded, in the case of the Saints, and their superabundant merits are then kept in a sort of 'spiritual treasury' to which the Pope holds the keys, where also abides the merit of Christ's obedience, and that of His Mother, etc., allowing him to dispense those merits in the form of forgiveness of sins. Any deficits that remain at death are made up in purgatory.

The Reformers objected, arguing instead that salvation is acquired purely through the merits of Christ. The classic Protestant view of this is that Adam was set a standard to acheive of perfect obedience, which if he had met it, would have acquired salvation for himself and all his posterity. When he failed, mankind was plunged into sin, and was thenceforth unable to meet that standard. Therefore Christ incarnate, through His active complete and total obedience to the Law, earned salvation for Himself. Rather than keeping it, however, He enacted an exchange, taking our sin upon Himself, and suffering its penalty, while His merit was imputed to those for whom He died, making them perfectly righteous, and thus meeting the standard for salvation.

Orthodoxy, on the other hand, rejects the concept of 'merit' and 'demerit' as a sufficient paradigm, and takes St. Paul's argument that no one can merit salvation by the works of the Law far more systematically. I.e. the Law is not concerned with setting a standard to be acheived for salvation. Rather, the Law is the standard of obedience which every created thing owes to God as their Creator. I.e. if you don't murder anyone, how is that any credit to you? Even if one kept the whole Law perfectly, one wouldn't earn any kind of 'salvation', one would have done only what was minimally required of him. A good example of this is the Rich Young Ruler, who kept all the commandments of his youth, and received another, supervening command from Christ in order to be 'perfect'.

St. Paul compares the Law to a pedagogue used to teach children and a master for slaves. Now, however, in the New Covenant of Christ, we have received something much greater, Adoption as Sons, Union with Christ, i.e. Theosis [[= deification = sanctification + glorification + union with God]]. Obviously, on the face of it, no one can merit Participation in the Divine Nature. Christ did not acheive it through obediently owned merit, but He is it in His Incarnate Being....

Therefore, 'justification' is associated in Orthodoxy with Baptism, with the removal of sin and the beginning of the Christian Life of Theosis. It is not the end all and be all of salvation.