Vladimir Lossky’s little book, In the Image and Likeness of God, discusses the fallout of isolating discrete moments of dogma:

“When the dogma of the redemption is treated in isolation from the general body of Christian teaching, there is always a risk of limiting the tradition by interpreting it exclusively in terms of the work of the Redeemer. Then theological thought develops along three lines: original sin, its reparation on the cross, and the appropriation of the saving results of the work of Christ to Christians. In these constricting perspectives of a theology dominated by the idea of redemption, the patristic sentence, ‘God made himself man that man might become God,’ seems to be strange and abnormal. The thought of union with God is forgotten because of our preoccupation solely with our own salvation; or, rather, union with God is seen only negatively, in contrast with our present wretchedness” (98-9).

Lossky continues:

“We find in the Fathers an extremely rich idea of redemption which includes victory over death, the first fruits of the general resurrection, the liberation of human nature from captivity under the devil, and not only the justification, but also the restoration of creation in Christ. Here the passion cannot be separated from the Resurrection nor the glorious body of Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, from the life of Christians here below. Even if redemption appears as the central aspect of the incarnation, i.e., of the dispensation of the Son toward the fallen world, it is but one aspect of the vaster dispensation of the Holy Trinity toward being created ex nihilo and called to reach deification freely – to reach union with God, so that ‘God may be all in all’” (102-3).

What happens when we forget the “vaster dispensation of the Holy Trinity” and so isolate the work of the Redeemer? According to Lossky, we end up with the disastrous effects of the juridical atonement tradition.

Perhaps Lossky suffers from a want of nuance regarding his reading St. Anselm. Yet I think he’s on to something here. Once we lose the wider reality of the Trinity and it’s mysterious relation to creation ex nihilo, we end up reducing dogma to crux probat omnia. The entire notion of deification appears ‘tacked on,’ or as an added supplement creating more problems than it solves.

But to begin with the life of the Trinity provides another way to engage history, creation, the Church, scripture and on down the line. Apocalyptic ‘invasion,’ for example, looks less like the actions of an interventionist God than it does recapitulation – all without loosing the radical nature of critique and surprise.

Advertisements