The Eternal Son: Review

Summary and Commentary

Weinandy opens his discussion of the second person of the Trinity with an analysis of some relevant moments in the Nicene creed. He draws particular attention to the innovative theological term made famous at the council: “homoousion.” This word is meant to convey that both the Father Almighty and his Son our Lord Jesus Christ are fully divine, each individually being “the one God,” while also remaining distinct from each other. This is a fundamental doctrine and mystery of Christianity, there are no easy explanations for it and it is difficult to gain an intuition for it’s coherence and logical consistency.

Weinandy points out that the names “Father” and “Son” are the correct and superior way of referring to the two persons, rather than, say, “Creator” and “Redeemer.” He notes that the creed says “for us men and for our salvation Christ came down and became incarnate,” and he thus draws attention to the fact that there is an intimate link between christology and soteriology.

Weinandy mentions that the Father is only the Father in relation to the Son and that the Son is only the Son in relation to the Father. I sympathise with the thrust of this argument, but I think that when considered at face value this particular way of articulating the theology leads to a sort of Binitarianism” because the Spirit is not mentioned and it is therefore fair to conclude that the Spirit is either subordinate to the Son and Father, or completely irrelevant. I suspect it would be more accurate to articulate the point with reference to the Spirit included, for example “The Father is only the Father in relation to the Son and the Spirit.” In the following discussion Weinandy does however bring in the spirit in as an essential factor in his outline of Trinitarian theology.

Weinandy introduces a curious theological term as a sort of complement to the filioque: Spirituque. He doesn’t develop the idea very deeply, but I think it holds promise and potential. The idea seems to be that just as the Spirit is said to proceed from the Father and the Son, perhaps it is also accurate to say that the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit. This would be an interesting area for further research, and no doubt would take into account the different senses of “procession,” especially with reference to the underlying Greek and Latin technical terminology.1

Weinandy touches on the Augustinian idea of the Spirit as the “bond of love” between Father and Son. The idea is that the Father is the subject, the Spirit is the (ditransitive) verb, and the Son is the object. Or to put it in a formula The Father loves/begets the Son and the Spirit is the act of loving/begetting. The Son also returns the love to the Father, which makes the “grammar” of the Trinity more interesting, but Weinandy does not touch deeply on this linguistic dimension in his article.

Weinandy heavily underlines the idea that the Son is referred to as “Word” because he exhaustively expresses the full truth about who the Father is. The Son is perfect the image of the Father, while individual humans are images of the Son.

Weinandy then draws attention to Aquinas’ opinion that the image of God in man is restricted to the human intellect. Weinandy disagrees: To be created in the image and likeness of God is to be created in the image and likeness of the Son. It is not merely the human intellect and soul that images God, but rather “the whole human being.” Weinandy notes how Aquinas argues that any of the three divine persons could have potentially incarnated, but that it was most fitting and “right and proper” for only the Son to incarnate. My comment on this theme would be as follows: The question of “Could the Father possibly have incarnated” is deeper than we might at first think. In one sense, God is completely unconstrained, totally and fully free from any necessity or coercion, and he can therefore do anything and nothing can prevent him from doing what he desires.2 But from another angle, God is who he is. God is pure actuality and has no potency, therefore who he actually is in this reality exhausts all possibilities and does not allow for alternatives: there are no other possibilities or potentials for who and how God is: God simply is as he is and he couldn’t be otherwise. When approaching the question of “could the Father have incarnated” from this angle, it is clear that in fact only the Son actually incarnated, and therefore it is more or less meaningless to speak of the other divine persons incarnating, actually or potentially. The fact that only the Son is incarnate is simply how it is and because God has no potential then it couldn’t be otherwise.3

When Weinandy meditates on these themes, his essential conviction seems to be that it had to be the Son who became man, because the entire Christian ordo salutis depends on it being this way. The explanation he offers is that the Son is the image of the father, and we are saved as humans by being brought into conformity with that image.

Weinandy moves on to consider the mechanisms and inner workings of the salvific work of Christ: Jesus interacts with us and saves us as man but the entire time he does this he remains as the second – divine – person of the trinity; Jesus is always the divine Son of the Father.4 So it was and is the divine person of the Son of God who offered and continues to offer the sacrifice which infallibly and efficaciously achieves universal salvation, but the divine Son does this as man. Weinandy sums up this obedience and recapitulation theology succinctly: “The Son humanly achieved humankind’s salvation.

Weinandy finishes by talking about how human beings appropriate the saving work of Jesus and become recreated in his divine image. Curiously, he doesn’t outline any ordo salutis or propose an answer to the question “what must man do to be saved?” Rather, Weinandy outlines a very christo-centric narrative account of what Christ, the Spirit and the Father have already achieved on our behalf, as well as how the Trinity incorporates us into the divine life.

Concluding comment

Most of my comments are mingled in with the summary, but I would just like to take this opportunity to raise an objection to one particular claim of Weinandy. He suggests that Christ assumed a fallen human nature. I just want to flag that my reading of St. Maximus the Confessor’s Neo-Chalcedonean Christology would seem to indicate that this is inaccurate. In brief, according to Maximus there is no ontological difference between a fallen and unfallen human nature: Both are simply one and the same human nature, however existing in different states. The difference is that a fallen nature is one that is enslaved to passions, sin, ignorance and so on, whereas an unfallen nature is exactly the same, but without suffering these negative and evil limitations. Finally, there is a divinized human nature, which is a human nature for which there is indeed an ontological distinction in that it enjoys a “communication of idioms/attributes” with the divine nature. My understanding of Maximus’s Christology is that Christ was born with an unfallen human nature, and then by his recapitulatory life of perfect sinless obedience, he managed to undergo theosis and divinize the human nature. I offer all of this without references and the disclaimer that I may be wrong in my understanding of Maximus, but look forward to investigating further in the future.

1I am here thinking particularly of “ekpouresis” and “poeinei”

2Therefore universal salvation is true. QED.

3The key thing to remember is that this is in no way a limitation on God. It is simply how God has chosen to be, and because God is pure actuality, it doesn’t make sense to speculate about God being “some other way” than he is.

4While the common sense claim “Jesus is/was a human person” is obviously orthodox, Weinandy’s reflections here point to the deeper reality that Jesus is first and foremost (and always) a divine person. He saves us through his humanity, and it is fair to say that Jesus is a human person, but he is essentially (and according to some, “only”) a divine person, not a human one.

Ethics and the Image of God: Review

Summary

In his article, Pinckaers briefly surveys the idea of the Image of God in Christian theology, with particular focus on what St. Thomas Aquinas had to say on the issue. The crucial point that Pinckaers makes is that in more traditional theology (as exemplified by St. Thomas), the idea of the Image of God is intimately wrapped up with a classical notion of Free Will. Pinckaers briefly touches on the fact that the modern, voluntarist notion of freedom which many have adopted today is fundamentally opposed to this classical understanding which is rooted in the idea that man is the image of God.

Academic Comment

In the classical understanding of the relationship between intellect and will, man is fundamentally oriented towards God in the core of his being. St. Maximus the Confessor calls this fundamental orientation the natural will, and it is this natural will of man with which the image of God is identified. The natural will is permanently fixed on God as it’s object and cannot be moved from its’ orientation towards the good. To put it loosely, the natural will always chooses the best possible option, namely, God.

However the fall wounded mankind by plunging us into a state of ignorance and introducing another will into our being which often comes into conflict with our natural orientation towards God; a will which, due to human ignorance, fluctuates and deliberates between options, assessing which options are better than others, and selecting certain options to the exclusion of others. St. Maximus refers to this will as the gnomic will, or deliberative will, because it is the human faculty whereby we deliberate between alternative courses of action and choose to follow one rather than another. This will can (and often does) make mistakes, by choosing a lesser good rather than the highest good, and this is the essence of sin.

So according to St. Maximus, fallen man has two wills; his natural will, with which he always yearns for God in everything that he does, and his deliberative will, with which he weighs up alternatives and makes a probabilistic decision in an attempt to satisfy his natural will.

Now, both popular Catholic theology and the voluntarist understanding of free will differ from this account in fundamental ways. Firstly, the voluntarist understanding of freedom simply denies that man has a natural will, and reduces the will solely to the gnomic will. In this understanding, man has to decide for himself what the best course of action is, and God merely steers his choices by imposing external commandments and laws upon him, complete with consequences of punishment for failing to observe those laws. Freedom here reduces to what Pinckaers calls freedom of indifference. Freedom is understood essentially to be a will with no external constrains imposed on it, and with such an understanding of freedom, Atheism follows.

On the other hand, while Catholic theology more or less accepts the idea of the natural and gnomic wills (while using the categories of Western scholasticism rather than Eastern theological language to express them), it differs from the classical understanding of freedom because it introduces the idea that a person will not always obey the conclusions of their gnomic will with respect to what the highest good in any given situation is. When this happens, it is called mortal sin.

According to St. Maximus, human beings are created by God in such a way that a person will always follow the best course of action that is presented to her by the deliberations of her gnomic will. The gnomic will may be mistaken in it’s conclusion as to what the best course of action is, and so when the person follows through with this mistaken judgement they would have sinned in doing so. However crucially for St. Maximus, they would not be culpable for this sin, because they were simply doing what they thought was best.

In contrast to this, Latin theology claims that it is possible for a person to ignore the promptings of both their gnomic will and their natural will and so choose a lesser good (ie, sin) with full knowledge that they are doing so. In other words, they have fully assessed the situation, know exactly and totally what the best course of action is, and then nevertheless wilfully refuse to follow that course of action. Catholic theology refers to this as mortal sin.

Eastern Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart argues in his recent book “That All Shall Be Saved” that this understanding of mortal sin is contradictory, in that if someone has “full knowledge” in a situation, they are essentially rendered totally non potest peccare (ie. totally unable to sin). He argues (in line with St Maximus) that all sin proceeds from ignorance, and to be free from ignorance (ie to possess full knowledge) would make it inevitable that a person would choose the highest good. All of this is according to exactly the same logic by which Catholic Christianity explains that the glorified saints in heaven are unable to sin.

According to this classical understanding (as articulated by Hart and St. Maximus), the essence of freedom is to be liberated from all ignorance, delusion and insanity which act as malign influences over a persons will. A person is only free when God has opened their eyes to see the truth clearly, and once this person can see the truth freely, they are irresistibly drawn to it and are rendered incapable of sin. In other words, true freedom excludes the possibility of sin, and so long as it remains possible for a person to sin, that person is not free in the classical sense.

This classical understanding would appear to contradict with popular Catholicism at a surface reading, in that modern Catholic apologetics makes heavy use of the “free will defence” when attempting to explain that Hell consists of unending and inescapable torment. According to this apologetic, the possibility of Hell is explained by the power of a human will to make the choice to freely reject God. Hart and St. Maximus would say that this is fundamentally incoherent and contradictory, because if a person chooses to dwell in Hell, it would not be a free choice; it would indeed be a choice that the person has truly made via their own agency, but it would be a choice that is enslaved to either insanity or ignorance, and is therefore not free. Either the person does not have full knowledge, in which case their choice of Hell is born of ignorance, or the person does have full knowledge, in which case their choice of Hell is an act of sheer insanity (and most likely influenced by demonic powers); In either case, the choice of Hell is not a free choice.

To conclude on a soteriological and eschatological note: according to the classical understanding of freedom, God is in the business of liberating us from the limitations of our gnomic will, such that we are rendered incapable of sin, and this is the essence of both true freedom and salvation itself. Throughout a lifetime, God slowly annihilates our gnomic will by illuminating our intellects and thereby abolishing our ignorance. In this way our choices and actions become more and more perfectly in line with our natural will, and we are rendered incapable of sin, which is in fact the highest freedom, indeed, the divine freedom of Christ himself.1 It is at this point that the image of God is fully restored to the soul and with it, a truly free will. However so long as we remain under the alien influence of the deliberations of the gnomic will, and the possibility of choosing to sin remains, we are not free. Contrary to popular opinion, the classical understanding of freedom precludes the possibility of sin and so long as sin remains a possibility for a person, that person is enslaved rather than free. Freedom is when the soul is unable to sin, and so long as the soul can sin, it is not free.

Bibliography

Servais Pinckaers, “Ethics and the Image of God,” in The Pinckaers Reader (Catholic University of America Press, 2005): 130-143.

Hart, David Bentley. That All Shall Be Saved. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2019.

1Crucial to the Christology of St. Maximus is the idea that Christ, being fully human, did not possess a gnomic will (otherwise it would have been possible for him to sin, but this is incoherent)

St Maximus the Confessor and Apokatastasis

St Maximus the confessor draws a distinction between the “wanting” of God and the “willing” of God. Importantly, this maps directly onto the “wanting” of the soul and the “willing” of the soul. This is very important for understanding how universal Salvation is compatible with the popular understanding of free will.

The Willing and Wanting of God

God wants to save everyone: According to Catholics this is indisputable and fundamental. Because God is love, how could he ever want to damn someone? However, just because God wants something doesn’t mean he wills it. Wanting is a desire, whereas willing is an active manifestation of an intention, aimed at the satisfaction of a desire.

So on the one hand, God loves us all and wants to save us all. However, we abuse our freedom, and therefore God wills to punish us. The analogy of the father and the child helps to make sense of this.

A good father never wants to punish his child. So too, God never wants to punish us. However, the father sometimes feels compelled to punish his child, so as to “teach the child a lesson”. This should be both a corrective and a retributive punishment – which is to say, the punishment should be fitting and in proportion to the crime, but the punishment should also be aimed at educating and correcting the child and encouraging him to return to the right path.

Now, all of us have sinned, and therefore even though God wants to save us all, his will is compelled by his perfection of justice to condemn all mankind to damnation in Hell (Samsara). So there’s two things happening here: there is the Apokatastasis (Universal Salvation), in which both God’s willing and God’s wanting are in perfect harmony, and then there is the Massa Damnata, in which God’s willing is out of sync with God’s wanting: In the Apokatastasis, God both wants and wills all to be saved, and so all are saved. Whereas in the Massa Damnata, God wants to save everyone, and he does not want to punish anyone, but his will is compelled by his perfect justice to punish us all.

The summary with respect to God is that God always wants to save us all, however because all of us sin, he wills to damn us all.

The Willing and Wanting of The Soul

The analysis of willing and wanting with respect to God maps directly onto the willing and wanting of the Soul.

Every soul wants and desires God, and every action that a soul undertakes is aimed at trying to move that soul towards God. However due to our limited perspective, we often make mistakes, due to lack of prayer and mindfulness of what is right and wrong in any given situation. With our will we make choices which we think will satisfy our wanting, but often we are mistaken and our choice has the opposite effect.

In this way, with our wanting, we always seek after God, but with our willing we often fall short of God and find ourselves deeper in the darkness.

Synergism and Predestination

Now, the doctrine of synergism states that there is a perfect harmony between the wanting of the soul and the wanting of God, as well as – startlingly – perfect accord between the willing of the soul and the willing of God. That is to say, the soul always wants God, and God always wants the soul.

However when the willing of the soul is not directed towards that which will truly satisfy it’s wanting, then so too the willing of God will not be in accord with that which truly satisfies his wanting. Both God and the soul always want the soul to move towards God, but sometimes the soul wills to move away from God, and whenever it does this, God accordingly wills to move away from the soul.

In this way when someone sins they have failed to act correctly and have chosen wrongly. The result is an explosion of justice from God in the form of an increase of retributive punishment. And so when we reject God, we are punished, but the key thing is that this is not the punishment of a king towards a slave; it is instead the punishment of a father towards a son.

As such, God’s justice is a merciful justice: it aims at the salvation of the sinner. But God’s justice is also a retributive justice: his punishment always fits the crime.

Lets take things to the extremes: When the soul definitively rejects God (and St Maximus firmly maintains – along with popular catholic tradition – that this is possible), God’s justice responds with definitive rejection of the soul.

According to Paul in his letter to the Romans, all of us have definitively rejected God and we all continue and persist in this rejection. And so all of us have tasted Hell. In a sense, St Augustine was right about the massa damnata: all of us will be damned forever.

But there’s a rubber band effect in play here. It is just because all of us are damned, that all of us will be saved; the punishment of Hell (Samsara) is the very means by which God educates us to be able to make the right choices. Sometimes it takes total damnation of a soul; it requires a soul to hit rock bottom, in order for that soul to finally realise the truth of his situation and repent.

So even if a soul ends up in Hell by means of it’s own mistaken willing, that soul still desires to be in heaven by it’s infallible wanting. Everlasting damnation is the educative means by which God will bring that soul back to heaven.

If a soul ends up in Hell, that soul’s wanting and willing are out of sync. They are willing the wrong things in an attempt to satisfy their wanting. Similarly with God; when a soul ends up in Hell, God does not want the soul to be in hell, but he does will that the soul be in Hell.

In summary, the willing of the soul is directed towards the satisfaction of the wanting of the soul. So too, the willing of God is directed towards the satisfaction of the wanting of God.

The implication of this is that everything God wills, ultimately has the purpose of satisfying his wanting. So if God wills that someone be everlastingly and eternally damned forever and ever, then in a most mysterious way this act of will has the purpose of satisfying God’s want to save that soul. In other words, everlasting and eternal damnation is sometimes exactly what it takes in order for the soul to ultimately get what it wants, and also for God to ultimately get what he wants.

Conclusion – God or Hell: Which is More Eternal?

St Gregory of Nyssa – who was a firm universalist – pondered these ideas, and speculated that for most souls the stay in Hell would be a temporary one, but for some souls (for example perhaps Satan and/or Judas) their damnation will be so complete that their purification will “extend into infinity”.

But he also remembered that “God is infinitely more infinite than infinity and eternally more eternal than eternity”, and so he had the wisdom to ask “What happens after forever?” and his answer was αποκαταστασις; the final and universal rest of all souls in paradise . Those who find themselves stuck in Hell forever will finally begin to repent after a forever has elapsed. For the forever of Hell cannot compare to the forever of God. Hell may very well feel like forever to a soul who is stuck there, but to God, the punishments of Hell do not last even as long as the blink of an eye.

In this way, we have both the massa damnata and the Universal Salvation shown to be compatible with each other. Everyone will be damned for all eternity, and everyone will be saved for all eternity, and the key to understanding how this can be, is St Maximus’ distinction between willing and wanting.

Footnote

Just as the Catholics are correct to insist that “God loves everyone and desires to save all without exception”, so too, the Calvinists are correct to insist that “God is just and actively wills to send sinners to Hell”: When a soul finds itself stuck in the torments of Hell, this is because God wills it, but not because he wants it.