31 July 2006

How Christ Saves

Excerpt from "Passions & Theosis in St Maximos the Confessor" (a paper written for a D.Min. class)

The salvation of mankind results from Christ (in His hypostatic union of passible human nature within the divine nature) exercising his free choice by not succumbing to the “liability to passions.” He became sin because He was capable of transgressing God’s commandment, truly suffered temptation, and experienced all the urges of corrupted human passions. “For it was in human passibility that the power of sin and death, the tyranny of sin connected with pleasure, and the oppression associated with pain, all began.”[1] Yet He who became sin knew, or committed, no sin because He willfully and freely chose to restrain the passions, resist temptation and refrain from transgression. In Christ, this restraint of passions is redemptive, as is forthrightly manifest when He suffered, was crucified and died. This one event, above all others, is the poignant recapitulation of Christ’s willed free choice in order to restore human nature. Yet the Lord’s Passion is “not a penalty exacted for that principle of pleasure, like other human beings, but rather a death specifically directed against that principle.”[2] For this reason, Christ “erase[s] the just finality which human nature encounters in death, since his own end did not have, as the cause of its existence, the illicit pleasure on account of which he came and which he subjected to his righteous punishment.”[3] Christ’s passion, then, is a true offering not to pay for the debt incurred by Adam’s willful sin, but to free mankind from passions. In a liturgical context, St. Maximos offers this summary:

By it [Christ’s incarnation] he freed human nature which had been enslaved by corruption, betrayed through its own fault to death because of sin, tyrannically dominated by the devil. He redeemed all its debt as if he were liable even thought he was not liable but sinless, and brought us back again to the original grace of his kingdom by giving himself as a ransom for us. And in exchange for our destructive passions he gives us his life-giving Passion as a salutary cure which saves the whole world.[4]

St Maximos argues, then, that by His willful free choice Christ overcomes the consequences of Adam’s sin; that is, the “liability to passions” which is imbedded in with the passible human nature. In doing so, Christ, in His person, restores human nature so that it might be what it was created to be—a nature capable of being deified.

For having given our human nature impassibility through his Passion, remission through his toils, and eternal life through his death, he restored that nature again, renewing the habitudes of human nature by his own deprivations in the flesh and granting to human nature through his own incarnation the supernatural grace of deification.[5]

In another place, St. Maximos declares that, by assuming passibility wits its “liability to passion,” Christ was able to renew our nature; “or better yet, he created our nature anew, and returned it to its primordial dignity of incorruptibility through his holy flesh.”[6] This results in the gift of deification “which he could not possibly have failed to bestow since he was himself God incarnate, indwelling the flesh in the same manner that the soul indwells the body, that is, thoroughly interpenetrating it in a union without confusion.”[7]

[1] Paul M. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken, trans., On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: St Maximus the Confessor (Crestwood NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), 134. (From Ad Thalassium 42)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] George C. Berthold, Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), 198. (From Mystagogia 8)

[5] Blowers, 135. (From Ad Thalassium 61)

[6] Blowers, 83. (From Ambiguum 42)

[7] Ibid.

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