Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reading Group, 2ab

The Moral Idea of the Dogma of the Incarnation

a. The question at hand is: “What significance does faith that Jesus Christ is God have for moral life?”

b. Tolstoy notwithstanding, every enlightened Orthodox Christian acknowledges that one cannot be saved without faith in the Divinity of Christ and the Holy Trinity.

c. Certain intellectuals recognize Christ as their ideal without acknowledging Him as God.

d. But if they do not recognize Christ’s Divinity, what benefit can they actually derive from His teaching?

e. A significant part of the Gospel is therefore directly renounced by those who do not confess the Divinity of Christ.

a. Those who claim to accept Christ without accepting His Divinity make Him into a dishonest deceiver and idle dreamer.

b. Renan noticed two facets of Christ’s teaching: (1) mercy toward the repentant and, (2) stern warnings to sinners who remained in iniquity; (1) a teaching about a joyous reconciliation with God and with one’s conscience and, (2) a teaching about a cross, self-sacrifice, enduring the hatred of the world. Renan accepted the former (1) while rejecting the latter (2), creating a sentimental Christianity.

c. There are those who do not acknowledge the Divinity of Christ, while claiming that He was a perfect person. In so doing they emasculate Christianity.

  1. Why, according to Metropolitan Anthony, is it impossible to fulfill Christ’s commandments without recognizing His Divinity?
  2. Why are the only available options to accept Christ as true God or else a as a deceiver?
  3. How is it clear that Christ can be our Savior only if we believe in Him as true God?
  4. Is Metropolitan Anthony arguing for morality to dogma, or from dogma to morality?


Matthew said...

For question 1, I think the reason is because without recognizing Christ’s Divinity, it is impossible to even know what Christ’s commandments were. If one rejects the divinity of Christ, one must reject at least parts of the Gospels because the Gospels proclaim and assume Christ’s divinity. Therefore, an unbeliever will have to pick and choose what to accept and reject in the Gospel. It is likely that a person will interpret Christ’s commandments in light of their own moral ideas, formed elsewhere, which, it seems to me, is what folk like Lev Tolstoy do. I thought Metropolitan Anthony made a good point on pages 83-84 where he says that “if one begins to question [intellectuals who question the connection between Christian dogma and Christ’s commands] on individual commandments, they will renounce the majority of them.”

Also, if we do not believe in Christ as true God, then the Gospel commandments, such as the Sermon on the Mount, become something of an impossible ideal. Christ being merely an example of a perfect human being doesn’t help us in any way to become perfect. Christ’s commandments in the Gospel must then be interpreted a poetical, something to be admired as a beautiful ideal, rather than actually followed. (I think this relates to question 3). If all Christ does is offer us forgiveness of sins, without helping us to repent of sin, then it seems to me that Christianity would be worse than emasculated, it would immoral.

For question 4, I think Metropolitan Anthony is arguing that you can’t separate morality from dogma. For instance he claims on page 83 that there is an “unbroken inner unity between dogmas and virtues.” That makes me think he is closer to arguing from dogma to morality, rather than the other way around.

Becoming said...

It seems that Matthew has already summed up the majority of what I am offering here. Sounds good.

1. It is impossible to fulfill the commandments without recognizing Christ’s Divinity because a correct fulfillment of the commandments entails an inherent correct belief. [83]

2. The only available options are either to believe in Christ as true God or else as a deceiver because either who he was and what he taught, his teaching being consistent with who He is, shows Him to be true God. Those others who would uphold Christ as a perfect holy man but not the true God have to discount a majority of his teachings and then answer for why they believe that we can’t accept what Christ says at “face value.”

In the lion’s case he attributed the majority of Christ’s miracles to having been invented later in date. As well, the miracles of the apostles were considered by Lev not to be miracles at all but naturally occurring events. [85]

Met. Anthony attributes to Ernest Renan an interpretation of the Gospels where, in light of the obvious “sorrowful and comforting aspects” the sorrowful aspects are a result of followers being headstrong and denying His divinity. He says, though, that Christ’s true teachings consist of rosy sentimentalism. [86-87]

3. Christ can be our Savior only if we believe in Him as true God otherwise His moral significance hardly exceeds that of any other moral hero (ie. Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, the apostles or saints). [88]

4. I don’t see an answer to this question in “2a” or “b” but do see it in “c”.


Bosphorus said...

I have a question about the very beginning of the 1st section. Describing Tolstoy's view, Met. Anthony notes that Tolstoy treats the dogmas and the Symbol worse than insignificant for the moral life--the dogmas and the Symbol contradict the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, which expounds the teaching about Christian virtue.

My question: is the claim that the Sermon of the Mount expounds the teaching about Christian virtue Tolstoy's claim and not Met. Anthony's, or is it Met. Anthony's and not Tolstoy's, or is it the claim of both of them? The structure (at least of the English translation) does not make this completely clear, at least not to me. I reckon that it is the claim of both of them--but I am not sure. Any thoughts?

Becoming said...

I would understand the passage, "the 'Sermon on the Mount'...has expounded the teaching about Christian virtue," as a claim by the both of them. It is a true statement that they both would agree to. The difference is that Tolstoy doesn't accept its relationship with Orthodox dogmas or the Symbol of Faith as he sees the Symbol and the dogmas as morally insignificant. Tolstoy would agree that the Sermon is a high moral pursuit but detaches it relationship to dogma. Met. Anthony seems to further this when he describes Tolstoy as delegitimizing miracles but trying to uphold morals in 2c.


Bosphorus said...

Ok, good; thanks, Matthew. I just wanted to see if others understood it as I did. Part of the reason it is important is that it if Met. Anthony understands the Sermon as expounding the teaching of Christian virtue, then we have a convenient repository of Christian moral principles--the Sermon--to consider in relation to the Dogmas. It always helps to have more examples to work with and think through.