11 December 2008

Understanding the "simul doctrine"

A good friend has made the claim that "Luther's simul [justus et peccator] doctrine...is [not] at home in the East." (Simul justus et peccator means "righteous and sinner simultaneously.") I offer the following points for consideration:
  • The Orthodox rejection of the medieval notions distorting the patristic understanding of sin does not necessarily negate the understanding that the man of faith is simultaneously righteous and sinner.
  • The Orthodox principle of theosis (that the Christian is in communion with and participates in God by faith) does not necessarily negate the understanding that the man of faith is simultaneously righteous and sinner.
  • The Orthodox teaching that man, by God's grace, "works out his salvation with fear and trembling" (synergy) does not necessarily negate the understanding that the man of faith is simultaneously righteous and sinner.
  • The clearest evidence for the three points above is found in the pre-communion prayers (both Byzantine and Western rites) which acknolwledge both man's unworthiness to approach God while, simultaneously, acknowledge the faithful man's participation in the Eucharist due to God's mercy. Such prayers (as well as other prayers and the teachings of the fathers on these points) are incomprehensible without a lively understanding that the man of faith is simultaneously righteous and sinner.

9 comments:

orrologion said...

A look at the Desert Fathers and other Orthodox ascetics supports your last point, too. The truly holy and saintly are the one that believe themselves to be the 'chief of sinners', not having even 'begun to repent' - even after lives filled with miracle-working and extraordinary feats. These are men that could 'trust in their works' but do not.

The difference is that they don't see this admission of sin as prelude to an external, objective and forensic declaration of righteousness.

We may be righteous and holy in ways when compared to others, but as compared to God we always 'miss the mark' and are therefore 'sinful'. This is also how the Theotokos can be perfect and yet a sinner, how she can be without sin, but still in need of a Savior. The skandalon of the Theotokos is a key into the proper understanding of how we can be both righteous and a sinner, without retreating to a mouthed 'sinfulness' that is really only the password for a blanket declaration of righteousness - which has more to do with our need for security and surety than it does with whether God loves me or whether I will be saved.

Fr. Andrew said...

ISTM that the turning point is on what "righteous" really means—is it merely a declaration of righteousness by God, i.e., imputed righteousness, or is there real righteousness in the person being saved? If the latter, then clearly the simul is a statement of Orthodox doctrine, but if the former, then we're dealing only with "unmerited favor," which has no real effect on the human person.

William Weedon said...

If God declares something it is different from a human declaration. I can say "Light!" till the cows come home and nothing will change. But when God declares "Light be!" then light IS. Similarly with His declaration of righteousness - His Word performs what He speaks.

orrologion said...

Yes, but when he said "Light be" there didn't result light and darkness (or non-light) simultaneously... simul lumina et tenebrae? (What would be Latin for non-light?)

orrologion said...

I guess more to the point would be light vs. nothing, so simul lumina et nihilo (I'm sure you Reverend Fathers can better conjugate my Latin, but you get the sense of the point I am making).

William Weedon said...

Right, and when He says: Righteous! Then righteous IS what results. Complete and whole!

The idea that should be guarded against is "total sinner/saint." That is utter nonsense. Remember the words of Luther from the Smalcald Articles: "This gift [repentance] daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person truly pure and holy."

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

ISTM the slogan is more often than not (mis)understoodto mean that God declares me righteous although in reality I am not.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

P.S. William, when you say that God declaring something to be true makes it so, how do you apply that in this case? Do you mean God cleans up the manure, or the manure is still there but God causes snow to cover it up? Do you mean He leaves us ontologically sinners, but really does change our legal status, or does something ontological happen as well?

Lvka said...

"This gift [repentance] daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins and works to make a person truly pure and holy."

... and so we meet again, William Chancellor Weedon. >:)

Do You think that this 'verse' would 'fly' in the face of L.P. Cruz's view on "what Lutheranism is all about" also ? :-\ Or will he pontifically declare us anathema from the Church and enemies of the Book of Concord? (Which seems more like a book of Discord, given the incongruencies between Luther's Two Catechisms and the other documents contained therein, ... but that's another story altogether).