Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky
NEW CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY
original was published in Russian: ALEV-V Publishing House,
We have understood that the dogmas of the “Trinity” and “two natures”, which alienate Christ of people, are evenly not good, but evil. Apostle John, Apostle Paul and Jesus himself repeatedly accentuated that the Savior is one in being with us, and each of us has a possibility to become same as Christ.
But the theoretical possibility is not yet practical.
One important thing is an obstacle for us to certain of one in being of people
with Christ: as the Orthodox and
It is impossible to disregard these arguments, though we see here one more contradiction of the position of the major Churches and the Holy Scripture.
The Churches do not cast doubt on the righteousness of saint people, furthermore of holy creatures, aren’t they? And let us remember Apostle Paul’s words: “Wherefore, holy brethern, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” (Hebr. 3:1). And that form of the address is used by Paul in all his epistles. So, Apostle Paul considered all true Christians as holy, but the major Churches do not agree with him...
About the “Immaculate Conception” we shall speak in the next chapter, and for the time being, let us look: can each of us be equal to Christ not only by the origin, but also by righteousness? What is righteousness and what does it mean for a human? So, what is a sin? Was Paul mistaken, calling all Christians as holy, or not?
Let us note that it is a very important question of the practical aspect of the moral imperative, and we shall not loose time if we examine it quite minutely.
The semblance of contradictions in the Old and New Testaments always was one of the main problems of mutual understanding of Judaism and Christianity. In the beginning of our era, the orthodox Jews accused Christians of the denying of Mosaic Law. In the Middle Ages, the victorious Church’s officials made anti-Semitism a state policy because of that contradictions...
Globally, in the theological aspect, Jesus of Nazareth fully based his activity on the Old Testament’s concept of Messiah, so there could be no fundamental contradictions. As regards minor contradictions, there are many of them even in the Gospels and the Epistles (as we have seen in Chapter 2).
But in the moral aspect, actually, it may seem that Christianity and Mosaic Law, firstly Decalogue (Ex. 20:2-17), are absolutely incompatible teachings.
Let us look: icons and the Second Commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is heaven above, or what is in the earth beneath...” (Ex. 20:4). The fact, that the Christian Church used the great power of art in its aims, is not a reason to close eyes at the egregious contradiction between icons and the prohibition of the Second Commandment to picture anything.
The Fourth Commandment: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). Orthodoxes in contemporary Israel “keep it holy” to the extent that even the command to switch the light or an oven on is given by a computer, since it is a sin even to turn a switch. But in the Christian world, thank God, there are no such absurdities, and the beginning of that was put by Christ, who said to Pharisees: “The Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matt. 12:8).
Let us not be carried away by an enumeration of apparent contradictions. The main “strangeness” is that Christ, postulating that he had come not to break, but to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17; Luke 16:17 etc.), actually did not accept many demands of Mosaic Law. He set his disciples free of fasts (Matt. 9:14), did not make them wash their hands (Matt. 15:2), did not esteem the mother very much (Matt. 12:47) etc.
And in the Sermon on the Mount, he revised many moral demands of the Law (Matt., chapters 5-7).
It is doubtless that Jesus, as the Messiah, had the right for the abolition or changing of any Commandment (“All things are delivered unto me of my Father” – Matt. 11:27). And, by Apostle Paul, Jesus’ sorrows on the cross expiated our “Old Testament’s” sins.
And, nevertheless, it is not understandable in a quite “common” aspect, why Jesus in his earthly life clashed with Pharisees on such “trifles” as obeying of the Sabbath. May be, because of an “unsociable” character? It does not look like that. According to Mosaic Law, the execution was proper for doing something on the Sabbath, so it was not a trifle, and nobody would have broken it for no particular reason.
The situation is much more deep, and it lies in the moral, not in psychological aspect.
Let us note one more “discrepancy”. Christ was the connoisseur of the Old Testament and quoted almost literally Psalms and Prophets. But when he was asked about “the great commandment in the law”, he interpreted the Decalogue quite freely:
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
Actually the First Commandment sounds as: “I am the Lord thy God... Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:2-3), and the second (as a matter of fact, it is the tenth and the last): “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s” (Ex. 20:17).
Quoting by Lev. 19:18 is not quite correct, because it is said there: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, and the words about “thy people” considerably constrict the context. That is why in Matt. 22:37-40 we see an inexact quotation of the Old Testament. How to explain it?
Very simply: this “inexact quotation” is no quotation, but a well thought-out and deep interpretation of the Old Testament by Jesus Christ.
What is “to love your neighbour as yourself”? Here the essence of the Christian teaching is expressed briefly: do not do to another one that you do not wish for yourself. “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).
And the interpretation of the First Commandment – to love God – means not only to believe in him, but also to fulfill his testaments not nominally, but sincerely.
Christ was to understand that a number of threats,
which God, from lips of Moses and prophets, casts on people of
Meanwhile, of course, it is impossible without the latter ones, but it is well known that the main reason for a crime is a wish to commit it, and the fear of a punishment keeps from a crime far not always. For example, criminals in the Middle Ages were broken on wheels or boiled, but there were no less crimes than in our relatively humanistic time...
And if you love God really and understand that you have broken God’s testament – that is, actually, a punishment, which may be much more terrible than a penalty or a prison.
It is unserious to frighten a contemporary man with remorse – too many different people speculate on it, up to parents, who reprimand a child for eaten bonbons. The main and, as we shall understand soon, the only real punishment is the deprivation of piece and of the hope for happiness.
The non-acceptance of the Christian system of value and the braking of God’s and Christ’s testaments bring to that. And if some people are satisfied by nervous and impatient life without any hope for happiness in future, that is because they have no alternative since their childhood.
And this relates to the question of the striking of roots by Christianity in minds and hearts of people. Not as a set of dogmas, but as a moral system, which is clear for everyone.
And other Mosaic Commandments?
Some commandments directly follow from two enumerated in Matt. 22:37-40 (for example, “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal”, and some... Are some commandments necessary, Christ considered, since they are out of common sense and are only an obstacle for the perception of God and of the predestination of the humanity?
For example, the Sabbath. Christ “repealed” it, appealing to common sense.
“And they asked him, saying, Is it a lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (Matt. 12:10-12).
And if that is so, then the homage of icons – the violation of the Second commandment – is not a sin, because it harms nobody and, to the contrary, is useful for many people. If a human at the primary stage of the understanding of Christianity needs looking at images firstly – there is nothing terrible in it. Each of us preferred books with pictures in childhood, and many people “read” exclusively fashion magazines...
In each case, a contemporary human understands that God is not an old man with a white beard, who sits on a cloud, and Jesus Christ is not an emaciated brunet. But the “art conventionality” has the right for existence, including the painting as an integral part of art.
Now, when we have understood much in the moral part of the teaching of Christ, let us speak on a very actual theme: what is a sin?
This word is used by everyone, in place and not in olace – so what is this?
It is understandable and logical, that in the Old Testament sin is understood as a violation of Mosaic Law, and not only of one of ten Holy Commandments, but also of some hundreds of obligatory regulations.
But the problem was that the Law because of the excessive detailed elaboration became antiquated even in the epoch of Christ. Thus, multiple announcements of Jesus that he came to fulfill the Law, not to break it (Matt. 5:17; Luke 16:17 etc.), meant the simplification and “modernization” of the Law in accordance with common sense. At that the “modernization” turned out to be so successful that the Law in the interpretation of Christ has existed by nowadays much longer than the Old Testament’s law – since Moses by the beginning of the Christian era.
We have already understood, what the moral law of Jesus Christ was. And sin is a transgression of the Law (1 John, 3:4). Accordingly, Jesus understood a sin exclusively as the absence of love to God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and the absence of love to “thy neighbour as thyself”.
And that is all. Brief and to the point.
“For this, Thou shalt not
commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt
not covet; and if there be any commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this
saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh
no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the
fulfilling of the law” (
So Apostle Paul said about that. Also brief and to the point.
Thus, every complication of the concept of sin is an attempt to return to the antiquated Old Testament’s law and to the understanding of God not as an object of love, but as of a revengeful despot.
But, unfortunately, the medieval Church followed exactly that way, and something like a new Law began to form, but it was elaborated not by Christ or Moses, but by many generations of “Fathers of the Church”. And the dogma of the “Trinity” gave to the Church – the “keeper” of the Holy Spirit – the right to determine itself, what is a sin, and to forgive it not at all free of charge.
So, it turned out that in the Middle Ages the complication and flexibility of the concept of sin became a mighty instrument of the church-state power.
And in our time all major Churches interpret sin
extremely widely and ambiguously, in spite of that they (moreover not they but
Let look at least at the “official” list of sins. There are “seven deadly sins”, “venial sins”, “material sins”, “formal sins”...
That is only a general classification, and the concrete definition takes many pages. For example, Bishop Ignatius (Brjanchaninov), among hundreds of possible sins, named “the switching back and forth to avoid burdens and hardships”, “the darkening and plumping of the mind and the heart”, “the eating in secret”, “the non-keeping of senses, firstly of sense of touch, that is an impudence, which destroys many virtues”, “the wishing to receive presents”, “the looking for the labourless salvation”, “the slowing in thoughts of anger and vengeance”, “the cutting of the hope for God”...
Someone except specialists can scarcely understand all that. But that is “good” for the purposes of the obtaining of power! The major Churches know even since the Middle Ages that it is necessary to keep believers in constant fear: “But what if I forgot to pray this morning?.. If I’ve confused the words of the Psalm 115?.. Can I eat eggs in the Lent?.. And drink the milk?.. And today I looked at the photo of a model and felt tempting thoughts, what will be with me now?..”. And so on.
Is it a normal life? And all that happens because we try to understand medieval scholastic (even unfair) formations instead of the clear and common-understandable concept of sin by Jesus Christ.
Let us look at “seven deadly sins” as an example. According to the teaching of the “Fathers of Church”, those are vainglory (or pride), covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth.
A question arises immediately: where is it said about deceptions, thefts and murders? In Decalogue? So, are “seven deadly sins” and Ten Commandments separate? That is a very strange and unjustified situation.
Let us go on. Christ said: “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39). And if I did not turn to him the other cheek and hit him back, how is this sin called? There is nothing about that in Decalogue, so it is one of “seven deadly sins”, for example, anger? And if I was not angry with him, only applied the results of many years of karate training? Is it a sin or I can wipe my feet by a prostrate enemy and go away with the sense of fulfilled duty?
And what to consider as lust? And as covetousness? And as gluttony? And as pride? And as envy? And is fair competition included into the latter concept or not?
According to Christ, each of those concepts is ambiguous and may be called a sin only since it makes problems, pain, inconveniences etc. for neighbors. And all other words (including “seven deadly sins”) are nothing more than fine words.
But, as it is well-known, the less people understand, the more easy it is to control them for the major Churches (and for a great number of sects), especially by establishing of the “complex of a sinful creature” in people.
Actually, to some extent we all are vainglorious, envious, covetous, lustful, gluttonous, angry... I wanted to go on and say, – slothful, – began to think over the possibility of the parallel presence of anger and sloth in one human, but understood in time that I should fall into the trap, which was created for us by the medieval scholastics.
In actual fact, everything is much more simple. To love God and people and to act in compliance with this love – that is the righteousness, and the opposite is a sin. Christ taught so, and the concept of sin may be understandable for us only from this point of view. And the understanding of sin is the first step on the way of refusing of it.
I may be asked a “provocative” question: what to do with self-defense? Of course, it is possible to declare after Christ: “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”, but if the things head so, will the esteemed author turn the other cheek or will nevertheless hit back?
This question is actually complicated and much more general than a specific behavior in a specific situation. It may be formulated so: what to do if “the life forces to commit a sin”? And these cases take place at every step.
Let us remember an episode in point from the Gospel according to Luke.
When a certain ruler asked Christ, what to do to “inherit eternal life”, Jesus reminded him of the necessity of obeying of the Law, and as an additional condition cited the following:
“Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he (the ruler – S.Z.) heard this, he was very sorrowful: he was very rich.
And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he
said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter
And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved?
And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:22-27).
In the same way this episode is described in Matt. 19:16-26.
It is understandable that it is necessary to interpret all said about the richness firstly in the spiritual aspect. If you elevate money to worship, then you nolens-volens begin to serve “social” evil with all inevitable consequences.
Christ did not say in vain:
“Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought of your life, what ye shall eat, and or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body as a raiment?..
Therefore take no thought, saying, What
shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these
things do the Gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knoweth
that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye
But let us not forget that now we are investigating the question of practical, not theoretical, aspects of the moral imperative.
And the earthly life dictates its laws, which are cruel and homely enough. Firstly, each of us has to think of meal and clothes. Secondly, the nowadays’ reality let neither give beggars all that we have, nor turn the other cheek when we are beaten.
Of course, it is possible to do that in theory, but it may become the last act in the life in practice. And Christ certainly did not want our death of hunger or beating – that would have been no less contradiction with his teaching.
But then who can be saved, i.e. can live absolutely righteously? Nobody? Does it mean that Apostle Paul, calling all Christians as holy, was mistaken?
The major Churches propose a “next-world” variant of solving of this problem: if you have committed a sin, expiate that sin by good acts, and after your death (and then at the “Last Judgement”) your sins and good acts will be counted and it will become clear, who is righteous and who is not.
We have already understood that the “Last Judgement” does not correlate with the teaching of Christ about the infinite expiation of our sins (the “main paradox of Christianity”) and solved that problem on the basis of the interpretation of heaven and hell symbolically – as the whole set of consequences of good and evil, firstly in this life.
But even if we look aside of the concepts of heaven and hell, then we see that by the expiation of sins in this life the major Churches stand on the similar position: if you’ve sinned “on a trifle”, pray for a week, If you’ve sinned more seriously, pray for a month. If you’ve sinned very seriously, make a pilgrimage...
All that seems to be logical. Moreover, this approach may be useful in the case that a human sincerely considers his act to be a sin and does his best to expiate it and to commit it nevermore.
I accentuate – sincerely. But then the reading of prayers (as every other “penance”) will have firstly a symbolical character.
But for someone symbols are important, and for someone are not. And if a practical and experienced contemporary human would like to compare his good acts with sins and to decide self-dependently if he can consider himself as righteous or sinful?
Then it turns out that the canonical approach of the major Churches to the expiation of sins is more harmful than useful. Let us explain, why.
At this approach, a contemporary human would certainly like to imagine something like a “scale of good and evil acts”. The help to neighbors, the upbringing of children, the donations to a temple, the charity etc. will be the “plus”. And the intrigues, the false denunciations, the crimes will be the “minus”...
And let us try to think together with this man, who is “armed” with such a scale and who tries to reach a “positive balance”:
– “Yesterday I shouted at my wife undeservedly (beat my child, was drunk etc.). But today I’ve helped my neighbor to repair his car (gave a charity to a beggar etc.), so it seems that I’ve expiated the yesterday’s sins”...
Is it normal? But the next step of reasoning may be openly absurd:
– Today I’ve helped my neighbor to repair his car. So haven’t I deserved the right to shout at my wife tomorrow? Or at the same neighbour? The day after tomorrow we shall make it up with him, I shall help him to repair his car, and everything will be normal...”
Unfortunately, many people not only reason (at least subconsciously) but live in this way.
It turns out that the life of such a “respectable” human becomes hell without any “Last Judgement”. And the “average statistical balance by the scale of good and evil acts” says that everything is all right.
We have spoken only about “common” situations. The “scale of good and evil acts” may have much more terrible consequences.
“I’d murder that accursed hag and rob her, with no qualms of conscience, I can assure you... But just look here: on the one hand there’s a stupid, senseless, evil and sickly old woman of no use to anybody, quite the reverse in fact: she doesn’t know what she lives for and may die tomorrow. On the other hand, we have young and fresh forces stunted for lack of support; they run into thousands, and they’re on all sides! A hundred, a thousand good deeds and enterprises could be initiated and advanced on the money to be wasted in a monastery! Hundreds and perhaps thousands of existences could be directed along the right road, dozens of families could be saved from poverty, decay, ruin, vice, and lock hospitals – and all that on her money! Murder her and take her money away; so as to devote yourself with its help to serving all mankind and common weal. Don’t you think a petty and insignificant crime can be erased by thousands of good works, or that one life can be made up for by thousands rescued from corruption and decay? A single live in exchange for a hundred – it’s simple arithmetic!”
Raskolnikov heard that conversation in a tavern and came to the final decision to kill the stupid old woman-usurer. We know that it resulted nothing good – the whole novel “Crime and punishment” (we have quoted it in the translation by Julius Katzer) is devoted to that. And the conclusion of Fyodor Dostoyevsky has the single meaning: no arithmetic can expiate a murder.
So let us not speak about the capability of people to compare good and evil acts – we shall come to an absurd in each case.
But even if we, after the major Churches, consider that God or Christ are capable to compare millions of different sins and good acts, this position will nevertheless lead to catastrophic consequences.
The point is that the primitive way of expiation of sins by good acts (so called “continuous penance”) may be apprehended as a permission to sin as much as one likes. Just do not forget to visit a church, to confess, to pray, to give charity to beggars, and everything will be all right.
But then it is possible to kill two old women-usurers, or three, or a hundred, and not only old women...
Unfortunately, the major Churches by their canonical understanding of the expiation (“you’ve sinned – read “Our Father” five times”) themselves bring a contemporary human to the wish to engage in such “arithmetic”.
But we have to say: the orientation firstly on the expiation of sins by good acts gives people the moral right to commit sins.
It is not the main thing – to expiate a sin. The main thing is a sincere wish to commit it never again. Then, having even committed a sin forcedly, a human will not repeat it voluntarily.
That is why the teaching of Christ is aimed at the absence of the wish to commit sins. The accent on the love to people and God is from here. And how many good acts must be committed to “surpass” sins – that is, actually, arithmetic, not love.
And concerning the canonical position of the major Churches...
Yes, it is more simple for a priest to say to a human: “You’ve sinned – read “Our Father” five times”, than to strive for his sincere penance.
Yes, not every priest is capable for the deep psychological opening of the Christian worldview.
Yes, there are few priests and many repentants.
But to make an illusion of the expiation of sins by a formal reading of some prays by a human – that is, really, incorrect and harmful. If a priest does not have enough time for a deep and thoughtful talk with every repentant, it is better to delay the confession and to replace it by a public sermon.
This is still not customary in the major Churches.
It turns out that only the sincere penance may give the real expiation of sins (in actual fact, the sincere penance if equal to the acceptance of the Christian system of value). Christ said that he “did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to rependance” (Matt. 9:13).
But that is very, very difficult. Of course, that is possible in theory. The Churches’ canons also allow that. It is often met in films and books. But in the life...
I was always interested in people like Churchill, Khrushchev, Marshal Zhukov, General Eisenhower and others. Is such a man able near the end of the earthly life, on a pension, repent of at least some of his sins, which he had to commit many times in his large-scale state career? For example, to write the completely truthful memoirs? If even not about himself, then with an objective analysis of his life among contemporaries?
I am more and more sure that he is not able, and not since that was prohibited to him. Reading memoirs like General Sudoplatov’s, who was the chief wrecker of Stalin’s-Beria’s State security, we can understand: if people like Sudoplatov had considered some of their numerous crimes as sins, they would have become mad of horror even before they were retired.
The successful social career disaccustoms people to
tell truth and to repent of their sins, and we must not wait it from them also
in the age of pension. They forgot long ago, how it is done, and the problems
The same is with their opinions of friends and colleagues – the corporative solidarity turns out to be stronger than truth even in the face of death. Of course, there are exclusions, but a few. The sincere penance can not be the destiny of insincere people.
Generally in that cases the moral imperative is powerless in the face of evil, to which a human served all his life.
But, fortunately, General Sudoplatov, on whose conscience there are hundreds, or even thousands lives, is a rare instance. The overwhelming majority of people have another problem. They would be glad to repent sincerely, but even can not remember what to repent of – their sins come to home scandals and minor intrigues in business.
What can they do? Remember all trifles? It is possible to come to absurdity, like the phrase at a confession: “Today my chief made a reproof for me thrice, and I looked at him with the irritation and did not feel the Christian love to him”.
But this is, however an absurdity from the point of view of common sense, actually a sin from the point of view of Christianity!
And if a human, God forbid, perished tragically and suddenly, having no time to be confessed even by himself! Does it turn out that he has no chance for the salvation?
Let us not be carried away by a great number of situations, which are created by cruel and unpredictable life. When a woman, who was caught in adultery and was to be stoned, was brought to Jesus, he said: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). As it is well known, there were no sinless people.
“We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that
they are all under sin; As it is written, There is
none righteous, no, not one” (
So, who can save, i.e. can consider himself as that true Christian, to whom Apostle Paul addressed as to “holy brothers”? Nobody? We have just seen that the Apostle said: “There is none righteous”.
Is there an insoluble contradiction?
We shall have to repeat the last words of the quoted talk of Christ with a ruler:
“And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
Let us try to understand what Christ had in view, when he said that phrase, which caused in the Middle Ages a number of theologian disputes about the “grace of God”.
This concept is usually understood as the possibility of the forgiving of our sins by God, though the concept of grace has many meanings in the Bible – that is the force, which acts in a human (1 Cor. 15:10), and the Gospel’s sermon (John 1:16), and the gift of God to people (Rom. 3:24), and many other different contexts and meanings.
It is no wonder that just the universal concept of the grace of God, to which it was possible to draw a number of references to the Holy Scripture, was chosen by Augustine in the beginning of the 5th century to make a basis for his position that nothing depended upon the internal will of a human, since the latter was inclined to sin since the birth. According to Augustine, since the grace of God has condescended to a human, then it is no importance how sinful he was: in each case, he will be saved and will enter heaven. God decided so, and we are not to try to understand the motivation of his acts.
Let me remind how Augustine had a dispute on this with Pelagius. The latter acknowledged free will of people and considered that a human is righteous at the moment of his birth. Augustine defended his teaching about the “original sin”, after which a human can not be righteous and can hope only for the grace of God.
Augustine’s teaching about the grace is tightly connected with his teaching about the absolute predestination. The point is that the question arises inevitably: if a human is given the grace, then why has faith and is saved not everyone? Augustine’s answer was the following: God predestinated some people to good, and some – to evil.
Speaking in our terms, Augustine denied the freedom of will at the moral level.
Thus, the grace and freedom of will turned out to be connected tightly in theology, and all following philosophers were inclined to Augustine’s or to Pelagius’ point of view. For example, the first one was adhered by Thomas Aquinas, the second – by Duns Scotus.
Lutheranism and Calvinism, however strange, look at the correlation of the grace and freedom of will quite according to Augustine. Calvin completely denied freedom of will and related it exclusively to the unknown “Divine Providence”. Luther approached to that more “gently” and considered that only sincere faith gives the possibility to obtain the grace.
However, even in the times of the Reformation, faith had so many meanings, that the teachings of Luther and Calvin were interpreted by some of their contemporaries as the permission to sin as much as they wished.
For example, so called “Libertins-Spirituals” considered: “Since God saves or condemns by his caprice, so it is unnecessary to pay any attention to him. It is better to try to arrange the most pleasant life in this absurd world with the same freedom as God permits for himself”, – Calvin himself wrote about their position.
However, Calvin did not only write, but he also acted. It was scarcely ethic that he committed the leader of “Libertins” Quentin Tierie to the French Catholic court – actually, Calvin had provoked the appearance of that sect himself by his teaching on the grace. But, however that may be, Quentin Tierie was faggoted. As it is well known, the execution of the scientist and anti-Trinitarian Michel Servetus is also on Calvin’s conscience.
Not everything was as “progressive” in the Reformation as it may seem, and it is no wonder why neither Luther nor Calvin refused of the main medieval dogmas of the “Trinity” and “two natures”: the society was not yet ready for that in the 16th century.
But now we are speaking about the grace of God. For the time being we could make a quite absurd conclusion of the teachings of Augustine and Calvin: we can sin or not sin, repent or not repent, confess or not confess, there is the hope only for the unpredictable forgiveness of our sins by God.
But the absence of the freedom of will in people directly follows from that. Solving the question of the Theodicy, we have already examined this situation and seen: at this approach, God becomes the direct culprit of evil, which is committed in the world, and a human inevitably becomes a cheap “human material” of some highest mechanism.
In connection with that, of course, we can not accept the point of view of Augustine.
The Russian Orthodox Church marked out two kinds of the grace of God: “forestalling” (general and unpredictable, according to Augustine) and “special” (justifying a specific human by his deeds). “The grace acts in the freedom and the freedom acts in the grace: they are mutually related” (Bishop Feofan Prokopovich).
So, the Orthodox Church considers that we have some kind of choice (to sin or not to sin). Consequently, we have a potential ability to get the “special” grace, i.e. to understand that we have sinned, and to expiate the sin by the penance, good acts etc. But the “forestalling” grace also has an influence upon us, i.e. if there is no such kind of the grace, we can be saved by no penance or good acts.
Thus, we see only a little bit “softened” form of Augustine’s predestination.
Let us try to determine the possibility of the forgiveness of our sins by God more evenly than the official Orthodoxy does that.
I propose not to deepen into logical schemes, but to give a determination of the grace of God according to the moral imperative and the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
However paradoxically, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the Catholic and Orthodox theologians, having been carried away by the general problems of the correlation between freedom of will and the grace of God, forgot about Christ’s teaching, which is understandable to all.
And will a human, who accepted that teaching sincerely, commit sins?
If he even will, then only forcedly and, as the saying goes, if the worst comes to worst. It is impossible to predict all that cases – a Christian lives among people, and not each of them shares his views.
And if a young and strong man is walking in a street and sees, for example, a gang of teenagers, who are outraging a woman, – is it possible that he, being “armed” by the Christian teaching, will pass and will not protect that woman? And if bandits attack the man himself – must he sit on his hands and submit to his destiny? I doubt whether.
Thus, while there is “social” evil, there are sins, which even a Christian can not avoid committing. That “forced” sins do not contradict to the moral imperative and can not be considered as sins.
So, the grace of God may be determined as the moral imperative, which was given to us by God, and our righteousness – as the sincere devotion to the moral imperative and acting in conformity with it in all situations.
Turning from theory to practice, we can say: the Christian system of value of good and love, which expresses the moral imperative mostly full and understandable to all, must be accepted unconditionally in the spiritual aspect, but in practice it may be applied by every Christian not as a firm standard, but in conformity with the specific situation.
That is why we can formulate the practical aspect of the Christian moral system in the following way: if there is the least possibility to commit good and avoid evil, it is necessary to use it.
And as deep Christianity strikes root in every human, as wider that human perceives the limits of this possibility.
Thus, give beggars all that you can give at the current moment, but know a reasonable limit, which is based on your financial scope, otherwise tomorrow you will have nothing to give them. And if tomorrow you have more money, give them more.
And if you are beaten on one cheek, turn the other, while you do not understand that there is no more possibility to do that (and, accordingly, to “disarm” morally the enemy by that).
I would like to remember a phrase of Lev Tolstoy. Once, when he flapped a mosquito on his forehead, some interlocutor blamed him that he propagated the non-resistance against evil by force, but killed a mosquito... Tolstoy answered: “It is impossible to live in such small details”...
In the light of all said, it is possible to answer the “provocative” question if I should turn the other cheek (i.e. if I should keep the position of the non-resistance against evil by force at any “force” conflict).
If there is the least possibility, I shall do everything to avoid a “force” conflict. Moreover, if there is a chance to keep the life and human dignity, I shall turn the other cheek, i.e. shall not commit anything in return.
But if there is no such chance, I shall have to beat in return. And even if I know that it is a sin, there are situations when not to beat is a worse sin. To protect a woman or a child: is that a sin? And so on, it is impossible to enumerate all possible cases, and here we can follow only common sense.
The main thing is that the probability of violence and “social” evil descends appreciably in general. To avoid it completely and to live without any conflict – neither Apostle Paul nor Jesus Christ nor anybody else managed to do that.
But the more people accept the Christian teaching, the lower this probability will be.
And the time of the coming of the
Sergey Zagraevsky © 2004