Monday, December 02, 2013

The Difference Between East and West

In 1951 Herman Sasse wrote to pastors about the place of the cross in the Eastern Church and the Ancient Church. 
As soon as the great question is put: Cur Deus homo? [Why did God become man?] it is understood [in the Eastern church] as a question for the rationale of the incarnation rather than of the death of Christ.

Sure enough, an EO writer says --
The Incarnation did not take place for the Crucifixion; the Crucifixion took place so the Incarnation and the eternal communion of God and man could be fulfilled despite Satan, sin, and death. Explaining that there was no necessity in God the Father that required the death of His Son, St. Gregory is telling us that, from before the ages, it was the divine will for mankind to be sanctified and made immortal by communion with the humanity of the Incarnate God, but corruptibility and death came and stood in the way. 

Sasse continues:
Thus for the Ancient Church, as even today for the Eastern Church, the cross is hidden in the miracle of Christmas and in the miracle of Easter.

How is that limitation of Ancient Christianity and its theology to be explained? Certainly it must not be forgotten that the divine revelation given in Holy Scriptures is so rich that whole centuries are necessary to understand its content fully. It cannot be expected that the Church of the First Ecumenical Councils should already have solved the problems of the medieval Western World.

As to the meaning of redemption, the Greek Fathers could not get away from the idealistic conception of man.

The lack of full understanding of the greatness of sin is the reason why the Ancient Church and the Church of the East never reached a theologia crucis.

So if you wonder what's the difference between Lutherans and the Eastern church, this is it.  In EO, sin is not quite as bad, not quite as deep, not quite as corrupting, as what the Bible teaches. 

"The Law shows us our sin
and how much we need a Savior."

Not so much sin?
Then you don't need so much of a Savior, do you?
And some of the glory goes to you instead of all the glory being His.


  1. I don't see the connection between the Orthodox view of the Incarnation and the seriousness of sin. Can you make it more explicit for me?

  2. Did you read the selection from Sasse that I linked to?

  3. I did- I've read it numerous times since seminary (where I first ran into it). I still don't really get the connection between the incarnation and the seriousness of sin, though. Or how the early church understanding of the incarnation detracts from the cross? Sasse says they do, but I've never been able to see it (perhaps for obvious reasons, I don't know - like I said, I've contemplated this passage for years).

    It's one of the more curious passages by him (to me, at least), so I was just wondering if you had any insight into why he says what he says. It has always seemed a bit backwards to me. As though, if man hadn't fallen into sin, we would never have come to realize the full depth of God's love - as though darkness somehow shows us something about the light.

    Or to state the opposite: I have thought for a long time that Light reveals darkness, not the other way around.

    I've read a lot of Sasse over the years, and I find it difficult to believe that he would disagree with that statement. Which is why I've found this particular passage so perplexing. Because he seems to be saying the opposite.

  4. I am willing to TALK to you about this. I don't think it's good for you that we would engage in an online discussion about this.

    I posted this for some other people who have asked me about what EO is about and why I disagree with it.

  5. Sorry- I didn't mean to get so carried away. I was just hoping for an answer to the connection. We can talk sometime. I would usually refrain from commenting at all. It was just *that* quote that I've wondered about for so long... I didn't think! Sorry!