Archive for August 9th, 2007

More on the Mystery of Salvation

August 9, 2007

descent-into-hades2.jpg

I am almost always caught off guard by the number of readers an article on very simple (from an Orthodox point of view) matter of our salvation seems to generate. I forget that the treasury of doctrine that we live in is not part of the daily treasure that others know. I find tremendous comfort, particularly in everything taught by the Orthodox Church regarding our salvation. It is probably my favorite topic. This is largely because it came as an answer to questions I had that were utterly and completely unsatisfactorily dealt with elsewhere.  I have created a page on this blog with the teaching of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Austria on the topic of Christ Descent into Hades, which necessarily involves talking about our salvation within an Orthodox understanding. I cannot recommend it too highly. And it’s only a click away! I have published here but a small paragraph in which he writes briefly on the Orthodox interpretation of St. Paul’s mention of predestination. There are no accidents, but our choices do play a role in our relationship with God and others. I commend this small post and urge you to read his entire article.

In the history of Christianity an idea has repeatedly arisen that God predestines some people for salvation and others to perdition. This idea, based as it is on the literary understanding of the words of St. Paul about predestination, calling and justification [35], became the corner-stone of the theological system of the Reformation, preached with particular consistency by John Calvin [36]. Eleven centuries before Calvin, the Eastern Christian tradition in the person of John Chrysostom expressed its view of predestination and calling. ‘Why are not all saved?’ Chrysostom asks. ‘Because… not only the call [of God] but also the will of those called is the cause of their salvation. This call is not coercive or forcible. Every one was called, but not all followed the call’ [37]. Later Fathers, including Maximus and John Damascene, spoke in the same spirit. According to their teaching, it is not God who saves some while ruining others, but some people follow the call of God to salvation while others do not. It is not God who leads some from hell while leaving others behind, but some people wish while others do not wish to believe in Him.

The teaching of the Eastern Church Fathers on the descent of Christ into Hades can be summed up in the following points:

1)      the doctrine of the descent of Christ into Hades was commonly accepted and indisputable;

2)      the descent into Hades was perceived as an event of universal significance, though some authors limited the range of those saved by Christ to a particular category of the dead;

3)      the descent of Christ into Hades and His resurrection were viewed as the accomplishment of the ‘economy’ of Christ the Saviour, as the crown and outcome of the feat He performed for the salvation of people;

4)      the teaching on the victory of Christ over the devil, hell and death was finally articulated and asserted;

5)      the theme of the descent into Hades began to be viewed in its mystical dimension, as the prototype of the resurrection of the human soul.

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[35] Rom. 8:29¾30.

[36] See John Calvin, Instruction in Christian Faith, V. II, Book III (‘Concerning the pre-eternal election whereby God predestined some for salvation while others for condemnation’).

[37] 16th Discourse on the Epistle to the Romans.