I want to comment on a significant post by Pastor Weedon: “Progression in Sanctification”. I do this with some trepidation, since Pastor Paul McCain has already decided that I have “never understood either Lutheranism’s or Romanism’s doctrine of justification”. But I studied, taught and lived the Lutheran doctrine of simul justus et peccator for decades, and I do know that the Catholic doctrine is both simple (“we are all called to be saints”) and complicated. So here goes. I’m not going to reproduce Pastor Weedon’s blog entirely, just the bits I want to comment on.
I got to hear Dr. Steve Hein give a presentation on the Lutheran take on sanctification. I appreciated much of what he laid out. But I think there’s more to the story.
Me too, Bill. A lot more. And it is worth sticking with the idea of “story” too. We are trying to tell the “story” of the effect of the Paschal Mystery in our lives. And as with the canonical Gospels, there is more than one way of telling this story.
Dr. Hein correctly points out that the Old Adam does not need renovation but execution. Similarly, the new self does not need progress because it possesses in Christ perfection. So far, so good.
Where DID the phrase “Old Adam” came from? The pastor who confirmed me as a kid loved that phrase, but it sure ain’t scriptural. There’s enough stuff for a whole blog on this, but some sources would include Shakespeare and the Book of Common Prayer–although it was there earlier than that as a German expression (and possibly even Latin too) as evidenced in Luther’s Large Catechism (LC IV:65) where it is contrasted with “the New Man”. It is obviously Luther’s favourite anthropological theology, but did he invent it or does it have an older pedigree?
It is also hard to reconcile this anthropology completely with the traditional doctrines of Original Sin, Actual Sin, Concupiscene etc. (either the Catholic or the Lutheran takes on these doctrines). In the LG, Luther describes “The Old Man” as “that which is born in us from Adam, angry, hateful, envious, unchaste, stingy, lazy, haughty, yea, unbelieving, infected with all vices, and having by nature nothing good in it”. It seems therefore that he is talking about what St Paul might have called “the Flesh” (which already raises the question about how we are telling this story, as we know that St John had a completely different take on what “flesh” was).
And THE question we must put to this anthropology (or this way of telling the story about how the Paschal Mystery impacts on us) is: When and how does the “Old Adam” die and the “New Man” come into being? When and how, in Dr Hein’s vocabulary, is “the Old Adam” executed?
In LG IV:65 Luther says that the “Old Adam” is put to death in baptism, but then he goes on to say that this “must take place in us all our lives” and “a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism”. So has the “Old Adam” really been put to death in baptism or not? Was baptism just a “sign” of the daily repentance that characterises the Christian life, or is it really the case, as St Paul said: “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17)?
Catholic theology is definitive that in baptism Original Sin is completely removed. Now, I have a suspicion that “The Old Adam” does not equal “Original Sin” but is somewhat more related to “concupiscence”, but even that might be an unwarranted mixing or harmonising of two different “stories” about the effect of the Paschal Mystery in our lives. But I think something similar is happening when Dr Hein/Pastor Weedon says that “the new self does not need progress because it possesses in Christ perfection”. This would appear to be bringing in another “story”, popular among Lutheran theologians, the story of “forensic justification”. Forensic justification–the teaching that although I do not possess righteousness in myself, but God judges me righteous for the sake of the righteousness of Christ (or imputes his righteousness to me) which always remains “extra nos”, outside us, and therefore complete and perfect–certainly has some scriptural warrant, but can be taken to the extreme where it becomes simply a “legal fiction”. However, there are other “stories” in the Lutheran kit bag too, such as the story of salvation through “mystical union” with God (see here for Pastor Weedon on that one).
So unless we were to say that the “New Man” is totally “extra nos” (which doesn’t quite square with St Paul’s assertion that I AM a new creation when I am “in Christ”), there surely must be some sense in which the “New Man” progresses? All life, to be real life, progresses and changes and grows–why not this “New Man”? I guess it depends on how you are telling this particular story.
Pastor Weedon goes on:
And yet the Formula of Concord can speak of “healing” of our nature: “Furthermore, human nature, which is perverted and corrupted by original sin, must and can be healed only by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. However this healing is only begun in this life. It will not be perfect until the life to come.” (FC SD I:14) Now, if the Old Adam is irreformable, and the new self is perfect in Christ, wherein is there room for healing of our nature? I would propose that the human nature is thus something distinct from the old Adam (which is the corruption of the nature) and the New self (which is the perfection of the nature). This thing that is distinct is human nature in the process of being healed by God’s grace – a healing that will not be perfect in this life.
As I see it, this is introducing another “story”, which uses the image of sin as an “injury” against or “disease” contracted by human nature which needs to be “healed”. This is quite scriptural, of course, but it seems to me that it cannot be entirely harmonised with either the “forensic justification” or “New Man/Old Man” stories (or the “mystical union” story, for that matter). Healing human nature from the “injury” of sin is quite a different image from that of daily “drowing the Old Man” in repentance. Both images are true, both have their applications, but both also have their limitations.
So we have a huge range of “stories” about the effect of the Paschal Mystery on us that need to be distinguished if we are going to talk sense. Here are some of them, in no particular order:
1) Progression in Sanctification (eg. “running the race”, “working out our salvation in fear and trembling”) — I think Sanctification is a different story from Justification
3) Justification by faith
4) Forensic Righteousness
5) Mystical Union
6) Theosis (as in Eastern Theology)
8) Old Man/New Creation
9) Original Sin and Concupiscence
Reading Pope Benedict’s catechisation on St Gregory of Nyssa yesterday also helped me to realise just how strong the tradition of “progression in sanctification” is in the Church Fathers. I won’t bother quoting them here–far too many references, and you can read some of them yourself in Papa Benny’s address. The fact is that the notion of progression in holiness is totally ingrained in the all the centuries of the Church’s
teaching. It would be hard to imagine that we have been wrong about this from the very beginning.
One last comment. Pastor Weedon’s “point five” says:
5. Because the Christian’s life by definition is the overlap between the constitutive centers of the human race in Adam (hence, sin and death) and in Christ (hence, righteousness and life), the Christian by definition is a conflicted person. Romans 7 describes the actual experience of the person who is a Christian.
I think that Romans 7 is the strongest justification for the Lutheran doctrine of simul justus et peccator, but as Pastor Weedon says, this is precisely a (very vivid) description of a (very familiar and common) Christian EXPERIENCE. This is not St Paul in systematic dogmatic mode. It is a real cry from the heart. But systematising this experience is not the answer (a little like one may acknowledge the reality of the experience of those who claim to have received “Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, but the systematised doctrines of such “Baptism” are generally invalid). I simply refuse to accept that “the Christian by definition is a conflicted person”. St Paul cries out “who will save me?!” from this horrible situation–and his answer is: “God through Christ”.
However you tell the story of the impact of the Paschal Mystery–forensic justification, mystical union, healing, whatever–it must include the fact that God brings resolution to this conflict in the heart of man through Christ. And while there will always be an element of the “not yet”, the “now” of our salvation is and must remain the dominant reality in our Christian lives.