Tuesday, March 18, 2008

St. John Chrysostom on The Epistle to the Hebrews

“And for this cause He is the Mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first Testament, they which are called might receive the promise of an eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead; otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator lives. Whereupon neither the first [testament] was dedicated without blood.” Hebrews 9:15–18

William Weedon, in view of one of my posts or comments, has asked me whether I would see Lutherans “as reading penal substitution into these words of St. John Chrysostom's homily on Hebrews 9."

The first thing to do in responding is to quote the passage in question within its slightly larger setting. Here it is, together with the material immediately preceding and following it. I have put the portion Pr. Weedon originally asked about in boldface:

[1.] It was probable that many of those who were more weakly would especially distrust the promises of Christ because He had died. Paul accordingly out of a superabundance introduced this illustration, deriving it from common custom. Of what kind is it? He says, “indeed, on this very account we ought to be of good courage.” On what account? Because testaments are established and obtain their force when those who have made them are not living, but dead. “And for this cause,” he says, “He is the Mediator of the New Testament.” A Testament is made towards the last day, [the day] of death.

[2.] “And for this cause” (he says) “He is the Mediator of the New Testament.” What is a “Mediator”? A mediator is not lord of the thing of which he is mediator, but the thing belongs to one person, and the mediator is another: as for instance, the mediator of a marriage is not the bridegroom, but one who aids him who is about to be married. So then also here: The Son became Mediator between the Father and us. The Father willed not to leave us this inheritance, but was wroth against us, and was displeased [with us] as being estranged [from Him]; He accordingly became Mediator between us and Him, and prevailed with Him.

And what then? How did He become Mediator? He brought words from [Him] and brought [them to us], conveying over what came from the Father to us, and adding His own death thereto. We had offended: we ought to have died: He died for us and made us worthy of the Testament.
By this is the Testament secure, in that henceforward it is not made for the unworthy. At the beginning indeed, He made His dispositions as a father for sons; but after we had become unworthy, there was no longer need of a testament, but of punishment.

Why then (he would say) dost thou think upon the law? For it placed us in a condition of so great sin, that we could never have been saved, if our Lord had not died for us; the law would not have had power, for it is weak.

[3.] And he established this no longer from common custom only, but also from what happened under the old [Testament], which especially influenced them. There was no one who died there: how then could that [Testament] be firm? In the same way (he says). How? For blood was there also, as there is blood here. And if it was not the blood of the Christ, do not be surprised; for it was a type. “Whereupon,” he says, “neither was the first [Testament] dedicated without blood.”

What is “was dedicated”? was confirmed, was ratified. The word “whereupon” means “for this cause.” It was needful that the symbol of the Testament should be also that of death.


The author of Hebrews has presented us with an analogy: the promise of eternal life is like a legacy left to us by a man who has made a will naming his disobedient children as beneficiaries; and Christ, as Man, is analogous to the executor of the deceased’s estate, while as God, He is analogous to the deceased testator. Hebrews is thus employing a figure of speech, a mixed metaphor.

St. John is explicit in pointing out that this is, indeed, analogical rather than literal speech [1.]: “Paul accordingly out of a superabundance introduced this illustration, deriving it from common custom.” [St. John is attributing Hebrews to St. Paul.]

St. John proceeds to explicate this illustration, using various other figures of speech to do it. In this analogy, says St. John, “testaments are established and obtain their force when those who have made them are not living, but dead. ‘And for this cause,’ he says, ‘He is the Mediator of the New Testament.’” [1.] Christ died to put our legacy into effect; nothing, so far, having been said about dying to be punished in our stead.

“A mediator,” says St. John [2.], “is not lord of the thing of which he is mediator, but the thing belongs to one person, and the mediator is another: as for instance, the mediator of a marriage is not the bridegroom, but one who aids him who is about to be married. So then also here: The Son became Mediator between the Father and us.” That is, Christ, like the ancient bridegroom's best man, is an Arranger, a Fixer-upper, which as applied to a person's last will and testament, corresponds to the Attorney who drew it up.

In the Hebrews mixed metaphor, “The Father willed not to leave us this inheritance, but was wroth against us, and was displeased [with us] as being estranged [from Him]; He [Christ] accordingly became Mediator between us and Him, and prevailed with Him.”

Again, none of this is literal! Or does anyone, more dour than the staunchest Calvinist, wish to assert literally that the Father did not will to bequeath us this new legacy of eternal life? (Or that God is thus mutable?) If so, he will have to buck all the prophets, especially Jeremiah, who in his Chapter 31:31, quoted in the previous chapter of Hebrews, proclaimed to sinners, “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” If the Father literally had not wanted to give us the inheritance of eternal life, He would obviously not have sent His Son to do just that. But the prophets make clear that this is exactly what the Father always planned to do, in due course. This is what St. Paul terms, “the mystery which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God…” (Ephesians 3:9; see also Colossians 1:26) St. John, of course, very well knows all this.

The fact that the language is not literal does not imply, by the way, that it has no meaning. On the contrary! When anyone uses metaphorical or analogical language, he does so always because it carries more freight than the literal can.

Remember that the inheritance is eternal life, immortality. The most literal meaning of the illustration of the father who has changed his mind about leaving his children anything is that we, having been made mortal by our sins, became simply incompatible with God, the Immortal One. We were incompatible with life. And even if that had not been so, God, in His love, was not about to compound the human tragedy and make it irreversible by allowing the wicked to stalk this earth immortally! But that technical-sounding stuff just doesn’t bring the matter alive like the analogy of the father making out his will, does it? It has no color, no pizzazz, no spark. Analogy gives the words a sort of double force.

St. John continues: “How did He become Mediator? He brought words from [Him] and brought [them to us], conveying over what came from the Father to us, and adding His own death thereto.” He first brought us the Gospel, for our repentance, and then died – why? – to inaugurate God’s Last Will and Testament.

“We had offended: we ought to have died: He died for us and made us worthy of the Testament. By this is the Testament secure, in that henceforward it is not made for the unworthy.” He makes us worthy, who ourselves ought to have died, by His Blood, the Fountain of Immortality. When we share it, it purges the death from us and makes us able once more to taste of blessed immortality.

“At the beginning indeed, He made His bequests as a father for sons; but after we had become unworthy, there was no longer need of a testament, but of punishment.” In this analogy, when a father sets out to write a will for his disobedient children, what he ought to write in, for their own good, is punishment rather than an inheritance. Yet Christ, in fact, provided both – still figuratively. (At the literal level, as we know, what He provided was perfect obedience, meaning obedience at all costs, on behalf of all, obviating any reason to punish.)

Next, [3.] St. John, following Hebrews, moves to another form of non-literal speech; namely, the types and symbols of the Old Testament. He calls them such, too: “For blood was there also, as there is blood here. And if it was not the blood of the Christ, do not be surprised; for it was a type. 'Whereupon,' he says, 'neither was the first [Testament] dedicated without blood.'

“What is ‘was dedicated’? was confirmed, was ratified. The word ‘whereupon’ means ‘for this cause.’ It was needful that the symbol of the Testament should be also that of death.”

In summary, the gist of what St. John is saying is that Christ died to put our inheritance into effect, since a person’s will does not come into effect until after the death of the testator. That this is a mixed metaphor is another way we can tell it is metaphor: in modern terms, Christ is not only the Lawyer and Executor of the will, but also the Testator who has passed away, thereby both implementing and sealing the will. Christ’s death, St. John wants to say, secures our legacy of eternal life rather than casting doubt upon it, since His Blood has purified us, making us worthy of such an inheritance, and since the deceased can no longer change the terms of his will.

No, just because St. John uses words such as “wroth” and “punishment” and “offended” does not mean he is teaching Penal Substitutionary Atonement . It just means that certain elements, from which among others that theory was constructed, do appear here, but in a different context (probate court rather than criminal court) and as parts of an extended, mixed metaphor.

.

4 comments:

orrologion said...

Soteriology must align with Christology and Triadology. There is only one will in the Holy Trinity. The Monothelete Controversy was about this very point and the orthodox, catholic doctrine was proclaimed to be that the will is a property of the nature, therefore Christ had 2 will and not 1. Therefore, when we are discussing how the Son mediates between the Father and we sinful humans, we must be extremely careful not to ascribe a difference in will at any point between the Father and the Son. This line is often unknowingly crossed by subscribers to the penal substitution theory, which often has the Son and the Father at cross-purposes regarding humanity. If God couldn't have anything to do with us until His Justice and Holiness were met, then that means Christ Himself, as God, couldn't have had anything to do with us - and yet He became one with us, lived among us and allowed Himself to be handled and abused and killed by us. Thus, God had no need of mollification before He could deign to be with us - Christ teaches us that God's Justice is Holy Injustice on our behalf.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Christopher, thank you for this and all your other helpful comments.

Yes, this is one more of the dozen or so reasons Pen-Sub would be unacceptable if taken literally. Can't have the Father not willing to grant us "the inheritance" and the Son willing, and "prevailing" over the Father.

Selma said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

Brokersring.com - Learn how to turn $500 into $5,000 in a month!

[url=http://www.brokersring.com/]Make Money Online[/url] - The Secret Reveled with Binary Option

Binary Options is the way to [url=http://www.brokersring.com/]make money[/url] securely online