The Church and the Individual
1973 (3) Dogma of Church part 3
Khrapovitsky: Moral Idea of the Main Dogmas of the Faith
The Church and the Individual
In the Holy Scripture and Tradition of the Church, it is often said that the Lord came to earth to restore man to what he was before his fall, and to restore in mankind His image, which had been darkened in it by passions. If we now say that this image was an image of the Triune Divinity, and that it is precisely such an image that Christ is restoring in mankind, through the ordering of the Church, i.e., the image of consubstantiality in plurality of persons, as it is said in the high-priestly prayer (John 17); then, perhaps, the defenders of school-book theology will reproach us for free-thinking. But we will close our mouths with one completely clear pronouncement of Holy Tradition, if they do not wish to be convinced either by the Gospel or by the words of St. Paul concerning the new man whom Christ creates from all, Greeks and Jews, who have come to believe. (Eph. 2:15).
But first, we shall clarify our thought about the consubstantiality of the Church, which is a restoration of the unity of human nature, a unity which was destroyed by sin. In God's Essence, by the concept of the single Divine Nature, theology understands the spiritual nature of Divinity, those spiritual powers and characteristics of divine life which are brought into action by the free will of the Divine Persons. The same concept is understood by the "nature of mankind" and by the "nature" of each separate individual. This separation of person and nature in us is not something incomprehensible and abstract but a truth, directly affirmed by self-observation and experience. Recognizing in oneself an independent personality, and freedom of will and action, each person understands quite clearly that this independence, this freedom, consists only in the directing of the powers and properties of the nature shared by all men, each of these in its own area of specialization, in the choice between conflicting inclination, etc. But we all understand quite clearly that every man must think according to the four laws of thought, pass through a certain sequence in the transition from any habit to its opposite; no one can walk on air,, stop breathing, etc. In short, we feel ourselves endowed with a certain nature, both physical and psychic, with a partially known psychic content. Our freedom can effect various alterations only in certain areas and even then with significant limitations (e.g., is it easy for a mother not to love her own children?). it is this psychic nature of ours, this subconscious will, common to all men and inevitably present within us, which is the human nature.
So far we have said nothing new, in comparison with the definitions accepted in contemporary theology. But if we limit ourselves to what we have just stated, then we must understand the single human nature not as an actual substance, but as a sort of abstract, general concept. Such a concept cannot provide the basis for an explanation either of redeeming grace through which, according to Scripture and Tradition, it is precisely the human nature that is sanctified, and not simply each human individual taken separately. Having lost this concept of human nature as an actual substance, the [Latin] theologians of the Middle Ages were obliged to explain ancestral sin solely by means of hereditary rights, to transfer to the Creator a concept of hereditary vengeance, which is even below the dignity of man, and place this concept at the basis of their explanation of the economy, or Divine dispensation of our salvation. Meanwhile, both these medieval theologians and, still earlier, Plato, vaguely sensed that certain general or generalized concepts exist which are not just abstract observations of the properties common to certain objects, but which exist on their own , and in reality. (The argument between the nominalists and the realists was over this very question). Among such concepts as these is the concept of a single human nature. What actual and real existence does it have? In the existence of God, this existence is as actual as the existence of each divine Person –– even more so, in fact, because we do not speak of the existence of three gods, but of one God, although we also confess the existence of the Father, the existence of the Son, and the existence of the Holy Spirit. We know that these three divine Persons live the single life of the divine nature — a nature that is holy, good, entirely just — even though They are permeated with this single life through Their personal freedom, as the Lord said, "I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love" (John 15: 10).
If people had not fallen, had not been filled with the spirit of opposition and divisiveness, if they had not thus weakened that unity of their own nature, then in their hearts also there would be revealed with the same force the life of that common Divinely-created human nature, the nature which was "very good" (Gen.1:31) and which God "made as an image of His eternal being" (Wis.2:23).
It would remain only for each separate human individual freely to comply with that well-spring of love, virtue, reasonableness and joy pulsing within him. While studying the exquisitely beautiful creation of God together with the Creator Himself, and delighting their heart with mutual love and joy, people would become more and more imbued with the consciousness of their unity, and with it would be difficult to speak of the actions and thought of Peter, Paul, and John, but one would have to speak and think simply about the actions of man. Nevertheless, this uniting of all into one would remain infinitely foreign to that pantheistic nirvana of which contemporary philosophers have become so enamoured. It is precisely this unity, this community of human thoughts, feelings, and actions that would constantly be established and built up by the free will of each separate individual and would thus safeguard the moral value of its being. This is what would distinguish it from that unity of movement of different parts of a well-ordered machine or from the unanimity of the irrational ants or bees, which are guided in their tireless toil by instinct which is blind and knows no freedom.
But our forefather interrupted this blessed life of human nature by self-loving disobedience, and his descendants ruined it more and more by new sins, so that even human self-consciousness has lost it almost completely, reaching such a degree of individualism that the distinction between "I" and "not I" has become a starting point of human thinking, while the triunity of God, in Whose image our nature is, has become an almost unfathomable mystery for the natural mind, and for philosophers rooted in their own self-love, –– even a logical absurdity.
But behold, the Redeemer restores this single life of human nature, lost by our forefather, like the one which all people would have if they had not fallen. This life is the Church founded by Him. It is like the life of our first-fashioned forefathers, but differs from it somewhat, in that now it is built not on the easily accomplished free compliance of each individual with its own unspoiled nature, but on a compliance which is now full of struggle with the old (fallen) nature, which we must crucify. However, before penetrating into the further examination of this life or, what is the same, of the dogma of the Church, let us cite the promised quotation from Holy Tradition. Here is what St Basil the Great says in the eighteenth chapter of the Ascetic Rules, describing the unanimity, humility, love and obedience of a monastic brotherhood:
"Those who live in common (i.e., monks) eradicate in themselves the sin of the forefather Adam and renew the original goodness, because people would have neither division, nor strife, nor wars if sin had not cleaved nature asunder. They are exact imitators of the Saviour and His life in the flesh. For, just as the Saviour, after composing the group of disciples, made even Himself common for the Apostles, so with these.... They (monks) rival the life of Angels, for like them, they observe the community in all strictness. In advance they seize on the goodness of the promised kingdom, in a well disposed life and communion, representing an exact imitation of the life and condition there. They clearly express in human life how many good things the Saviour's incarnation has obtained for them, because, according to the measure of their strength, they lead human nature, which has been cut up into a thousand pieces by sin, back into unity both with itself and with God. For this is the main point in the saving dispensation in the flesh –– to bring human nature into unity with itself and with the Saviour, having destroyed the evil dissection,, to renew the original unity, just as the best physician, by curative means, again binds together a body which has been broken into many parts."
As you see, in the above-cited considerations we said nothing from ourselves: St Basil the Great says, firstly: that human nature was one before the fall; secondly: that it was cut apart by the fall, or by sin; thirdly: that angels who had not fallen into the sin of self-love and disobedience preserved this unity of their nature unharmed; fourthly: that the Saviour came to restore this unity in fallen mankind; fifthly: that this restoration is expressed in the freeing of people from self-love, strife and stubbornness, and the restoration of the love of Christ and of obedience in their hearts and, sixthly: that contrary to textbook philosophical systems, divine redemption consists in the main of precisely the restoration of this newly grace-filled unity of the love and obedience of people with God, with the Saviour and with each other. Now let us continue our consideration.
(to be continued.)