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Talk:Divine grace

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I've attempted to provide an outline here: what in my no doubt vain imaginings I hope would serve as a shared statement outlining and defining grace in Christian theology, that I hope can be shared at least by Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant. I'm going to leave it alone for a while, waiting for all those with theological interests to pick it apart before I do much more with it.

I've also set up on subjects that IMO ought to be touched on in a discussion of the differences between Orthodox, RC, and Protestant concepts of grace, starting with law vs. grace in the New Testament and working forward more or less historically.

I don't really know if Mormons, Unificationists, Jews, or Muslims have concepts of grace that ought to be discussed in the article, but probably under subheadings of their own.

I await your vehement disagreements. -- IHCOYC 17:27 Mar 4, 2003 (UTC)

It's actually not a bad start. I'll just say that under the "imperial churches", the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox only hold maybe around half of those doctrines in common. Many of them were innovations the Catholics made after the Great Schism, or had roots in ideas held by them before that but were not shared in the East. In particular, the idea of merit and a "treasurehouse" of grace, and distinguishing between mortal and venial sins, generally reflect Western Christianity's more legalistic way of looking at sin and grace, rather than the East's more relational way of looking at it. You probably want to mention Purgatory in there as well, although that's another Roman-only doctrine. And in general, everything needs to be couched as "This is what Christianity teaches" or "This is what XXX Christian tradition teaches" rather than stating any of this as bald fact, for wikipedia NPOV reasons. Wesley 17:48 Mar 4, 2003 (UTC)

Re: reference to imperial churches. This seems to be a topic list about concepts from the Roman Catholic Church. If so, then referring to the church with other than its normal name would seem to be a suggestion of illegitimacy. So lets use the correct name. If imperial churches is instead a more precise term, I apologize...just put it back. User:Williamv1138

By "imperial churches" I meant the churches whose roots are in the state churches of the two divisions of the Roman empire: what eventually came to be called the Roman Catholic church, heirs to the Latin-speaking church of the Western Empire; and the several Eastern Orthodox churches, which ultimately have their roots in the church of the Greek-speaking Eastern Empire. -- IHCOYC 20:16 Mar 4, 2003 (UTC)
A couple points about the so-called "imperial churches": first of all, there was only one Church from its founding on Pentecost until we began to see actual schisms, such as the Montanists, non-chalcedonians, and eventually the Great Schism between East and West. But you're talking about the church involved with the Emperor, and for most intents and purposes this would have been the Byzantine Emperor. Another point: Constantine I did not make Christianity the state religion. All he did was call off the persecutions, and summon the first ecumenical council to bring unity to the church. He didn't participate in the council or unduly affect its outcome; I'm not even aware of any serious accusations that he did. The "several" Eastern Orthodox churches for the most part remain in full communion with each other, just as they did then, beginning with the churches of Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria. You can refer to each patriarchate as a separate church, or each diocese, or each parish, but these distinctions are nothing like the distinctions between denominations. They are regional distinctions for purposes of governance. Wesley 17:22 Mar 7, 2003 (UTC)


I'm removing the following paragraph because it is expressed as pure speculation and the opinion of its author:

It should be obvious from the foregoing discussion of law and grace, of free forgiveness versus obedience to a formal code of conduct, that the relationship of Christian institutions to the surrounding social order is something that you would expect to influence doctrine on the subject. An established church must emphasize law and obedience by its nature. Part of its social function is to clothe an existing government and the social order it upholds with the mantle of holiness. This change of social role was likely to affect the way the church approached the issues of law versus grace.

I've also tried to remove uses of the first and second person ("We" and "you") to make it sound less like a sermon and more like an encyclopedia article. Wesley 17:35 Mar 7, 2003 (UTC)

Thanks. I may try to reword that paragraph. In the meantime, I have supplied a partial treatment, which I have put up under the rubric of Western Christianity, as opposed to Eastern, since it follows the narrative I know. I know much more about the Reformation period than I do about the various councils, and I'm not at all sure that grace was a major issue of contention during the period. -- IHCOYC 21:23 Mar 7, 2003 (UTC)

Regarding this sentence about the 'good parts' of the Catholic theology at the time of the Reformation: It reassured people that the rituals of the Church were actually sufficient to make atonement for their sins. Did the Catholic Church ever teach that the Church's rituals made atonement for sins? The rest of the section seems more or less right, but I wonder about this bit. My guess is that they taught Christ's death atoned for sins, but rituals were needed to appropriate the benefits of that atonement, which isn't quite the same thing. Wesley

I changed that to It reassured people that the rituals of the Church were effective to enable believers to make atonement for their sins.
The church in the pre-Tridentine period does seem to have taught, or at least winked at the suggestion, that its rituals did somehow make atonement for their sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church continues to teach that the Roman Mass is a sacrifice, though it is murky as to why further sacrifice is needed. The theory in the days immediately preceding the Reformation seems to have been that a believer was damned if he died between a mortal sin and receiving the sacrament of penance; hence the late mediæval fear of sudden death. Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars goes into a fair amount of detail on this, at least for England. I am not sure to what extent these beliefs have not been revised or at least re-interpreted in the present, though, so I did reword that bit. The idea is not so much that the rituals made atonement, as much as that they worked as advertised and conferred temporary assurance of salvation. -- IHCOYC 01:43 Mar 29, 2003 (UTC)
I went to http://www.catholic.com and found the following tract regarding the Roman Mass as a "sacrifice": http://www.catholic.com/library/Sacrifice_of_the_Mass.asp. As you'll see, it includes quotations from the Church fathers from the first century up through the sixth that refer to the Eucharist as a sacrifice; this is a very old idea in the church. In one of those quotations, John Chrysostom explains that these are not repeated sacrifices but the same sacrifice, as it is the true and whole body of Christ on each church's altar. This is no more a contradiction than it is to say that the group of believers at a local church is the Body of Christ, while the group of believers in the next town down the road is also the Body of Christ. In the Orthodox Church, I'm still learning about the Eucharist, but I do know that at least one aspect of the Eucharistic sacrifice is the believer offering up everything to God: myself, my family, my money and possessions, even up to my city, my country, my world. In the words of the Liturgy, "We offer up to you [God] what is already your own."
Coming back to the article, it may be more accurate to say that the church taught that its rituals were effective in transmitting or communicating ("communion") God's grace to the believer, than to say that the believers were making atonement, or that the rituals' atonement was something other than what Christ Himself accomplished on the Cross. Unless of course the Catholic Catechism or similar source actually uses words to that effect; haven't read it, can't say for sure whether it does or not. Wesley 05:04 Mar 31, 2003 (UTC)
I changed the reference to "atonement" in that sentence to "pardon," though I'm not sure it really makes a difference. If God would damn a sinner before a ritual, and save him afterwards, the ritual somehow made or at least conferred atonement, by definition. -- IHCOYC 15:22 Mar 31, 2003 (UTC)
Ok, maybe it's just a matter of semantics then, and we're really both talking about obtaining pardon, forgiveness or cleansing of sins. So, when someone responds to an "altar call" at a Billy Graham crusade and mouths the words of the sinner's prayer, does this person "make atonement" for their sins as well, under this definition? Wesley 16:49 Mar 31, 2003 (UTC)
Not really; if saving faith is present, the benefits of atonement are already there for the penitent. Making a public testimony of this fact by responding to an altar call, saying the sinner's prayer, or being baptized may be commendable acts of piety, conforming to the ordinances of a faith tradition, but they can only confirm what has already happened. Calvinist logic says that faith is impossible without "prevenient" grace; God's election paves the way for saving faith; the believer does not choose God, who then extends grace. Arminians differ here, but agree that a believer remains saved despite sinning because the believer (by definition) has saving faith.
At any rate, it's something different from being in a state of grace, losing the benefits of that state, and having them restored by a ceremony, which is what the ritual life of pre-Reformation Catholicism implied. Here, the atonement made by Jesus on the cross is incomplete; it does not automatically cover all of a believer's sins during his life, but must be supplemented as needed by further religious rituals and the believer's own penances and acts of contrition, without which the believer forfeits the atonement of the Cross. In this situation, it does seem to me that the believers are in fact making atonement for their sins, even if these little atonements would be meaningless without the big atonement of the Cross. -- IHCOYC 19:47 Mar 31, 2003 (UTC)
Ok, I see that any outward act wouldn't be seen as effective, only invisible mental choices (saving faith) are effective. Although I think even many Calvinist preachers would say a new Christian should both believe in their heart and confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord, would they not? (Romans 10:10 IIRC) Beyond that, this sounds like the same Calvinist/Arminian debate about whether a believer can "lose" their salvation once having gained it, the difference being that Arminians and Catholics have different rituals for "restoring" a fallen believer. Methodists would probably have an altar call for a backslidden Christian (I've seen such, can't remember now if they were Methodist or Assemblies of God), Catholics would have confession and penance. Unless Catholics call it atonement, I think it would probably not be appropriate to call it that; not sure if they do or don't, but I am sure that if they thought believers were making "little atonements" that they wouldn't hesitate to call them that. Wesley 22:19 Mar 31, 2003 (UTC)

Wesley, regarding the diminishing size of the altar: You probably already know this, but it is practically Protestant canon to eliminate an "altar" altogether - or, if there is an altar, it is forbidden for the minister to turn his back on the congregation or to speak below an audible voice. Mkmcconn \

In the Presbyterian churches, there used to be (and still is in churches close to the Scot tradition) a long table, which might stretch through the length of the aisle away from the pulpit. These tables could be a couple dozen yards long, in a large church! Those who would come to "table" literally come to The Table. This same tradition would often limit communion to 2 or 3 times per year - but, when they would have it, boy-howdy it could be a big deal, called a "communion season", that would last for up to three to six full days of exhortations. Mkmcconn \

In fact, the "invitations" and "revivals" that became such a central feature of the Great Awakenings, originated from the corruption of this communion season practice, drawing people throughout the parish, to hear the admonitions to turn from sin and cast all on the mercy of Christ. Mkmcconn 17:09 18 Jun 2003 (UTC)

You're right, most Protestant churches don't have something they call an altar, except for perhaps the Lutherans, Episcopalians and Anglicans. I was once a member of a small Free Methodist church who had purchased their building from an Episcopalian congregation; they continued to have a large altar in the center until a new pastor came in and got rid of it as part of some general reconstruction. But many protestant churches I've been in have a small table in front of the pulpit or perhaps off to the side that they place the communion elements on, often with the words "In Remembrance of Me" or something similar carved or engraved on the front, or embroidered on a cloth that covers it. Is it too much of a stretch to call that an altar? Maybe so; best to use whatever word they themselves use. I don't think it's uncommon for Lutheran or Episcopalian ministers to turn their backs to the congregation to face the altar or cross at the front while praying; worship leaders in many more evangelical or charismatic worship services will also turn their backs to the people to face the overhead projector screen while worshipping; when they do, they're just facing the same direction as everybody else. I wasn't aware of any groups that forbade this, though I'm sure there are plenty that don't.
The way these things work, little things come in here and there as people become less parsnickety about keeping them out. In Congregationalist and some other Puritan churches, it was forbidden to use any written prayers, for example - that means, even the Lord's Prayer was out: so concerned were they to guard against anything Roman. It's in a slightly different spirit, less extreme, that secret prayers spoken with back to the congregation were ruled out in Protestant churches. Mkmcconn \
Protestants placed emphasis on the responses to be returned by the people and not by the choir, every prayer was made audible, and the prayers were made shorter as an encouragement to the congregation to make them their own, spoken in a language that all can understand, with the design to return the Eucharist to its character as the Communion of the whole body of Christ and not in any part a private ceremony. It's with this idea that the celebrant was originally instructed to stand behind the table rather than stand before it, or minimally to turn toward the congregation for the Eucharistic prayer, and communion was given into the congregant's hand, in both kinds (ordinary bread and wine). These might not seem important, but they were marks of (pre-Puritan) Protestantism at one time. They signified that the congregation is the recipient of grace mediated through Christ alone. Mkmcconn \
Of course, in churches which entirely eliminate any semblance of a euchristic liturgy, the postures and manner of addressing prayers to God lose all of their symbolic significance. Turning toward the overhead doesn't count ;-) Mkmcconn 18:29 18 Jun 2003 (UTC)
Turning toward the overhead certainly counts. It's a perfect example of how an outward action could be perceived by outsiders as the leader "turning his back on the people" when in fact no such thing is intended, nor is it understood that way by the people who regularly participate in that form of worship. Wesley \
In case it's interesting, there are a great number of web pages around, which discuss the "New Liturgy" of Vatican II. Turning away from the congregation is defended as essential to a proper understanding of the mediatorial priesthood. Peruse these googled links, to see what I mean.[1] (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=Eucharistic+Prayer+Novus+Ordo+%22facing+the+people%22&btnG=Google+Search) Mkmcconn
At the risk of straying off topic, an Orthodox priest's prayers may seem "secretive" when spoken quietly, but it's not for the purpose of concealing anything. In at least some cases, there are supposed to be other prayers said out loud at the same time by a deacon; having them both pray at once gets everyone through the service more quickly, and many times you have more than one thing going on at once. So, if two are praying at once, one will pray to be heard, the other quietly. If there is no deacon present, often the priest prays that part quietly anyway. Those prayers are often printed in the service books for people to read; in some cases, a person might have to purchase a more complete service book that contains not only the "secret prayers" but many other rubrics and guidelines that the average lay person would find uninteresting. There are no hidden prayers to Satan, or Osiris, or anything else shockingly different from the prayers you hear out loud. Wesley \
As for language, Eastern Orthodoxy has historically attempted to translate everything into the local language, even while the Romans were sticking with Latin. Now in the U.S., you will find many services done primarily in Russian or Greek or what have you, usually for the sake of immigrants in the congregation. Any time you have more than one language group, the choice of language can be difficult, no matter what the denomination. I once visted an OCA parish in Chicago where the priest told me he starts with mostly Russian at the beginning of the month and moves towards mostly English at the end of the month, in an effort to accomodate his mixed congregation. We've had a number of visitors express surprise that our prayers are all in English (aside from a very few Greek or Russian words like Theotokos here and there). That's certainly an area that many Orthodox parishes in the U.S. could improve in to be more welcoming to newcomers. Oh, and the choir ideally is joined by the entire congregation, or at least represents the entire congregation. There are just too many hymns that change from week to week and season to season for the entire congregation to learn all the music; the hymns rotate with the calendar, much like the lectionary of scripture readings. Wesley 18:29 19 Jun 2003 (UTC)
Just in case it needs to be said (I say, not knowing), I don't intend any of the above to be a criticism of any kind. My point was only that, on the subject of Grace, the Protestants perceived symbolism in the Mass that they interpreted as meaning that the priest privately communed with God, excluding the congregation from direct participation. They made deliberate changes to the liturgy, designed to symbolize that the congregation, including the priest, is a full, unmediated participant in the grace of God in Christ. Regardless, your notes above on Orthodox practices are interesting, and I'm glad to have them. Mkmcconn 18:59 19 Jun 2003 (UTC)
 :-) I wrote the above thinking that I was responding to criticism, but later on reflection realized, well, what you just said. Of course you're right. In particular, what you said about language makes more sense in the context of a Latin Mass; I'm just more attuned to the current problem language presents for Orthodoxy, so I missed that point and several more along with it. I apologize for the confusion; glad you found some of the above interesting anyway. :-) Wesley 16:38 20 Jun 2003 (UTC)
That's interesting about the Presbyterian communion season. Sounds like it might be a bit like the agape feasts of the early church. Moving from "communion season" to revival doesn't sound too far fetched. I think Orthodoxy tries to use Lent and Easter as a time of repentance and revival as well, at least in its better moments. Wesley
In my parents' Methodist church, there have been a number of practices. In the sanctuary, there is a large table attached to the pulpit at one side. It is not used in Communion services, and never really has been since I have gone there. It holds a large Bible opened and on display; and usually flowers and candles. They may call the table an altar; never really asked.
There is a rail that used to be used for communion services, back when the bread was small bits of cracker, somewhere in between oyster crackers and pastel mints, and individual shot-glasses of (of course) grape juice.
This has fortunately been changed. Now communion is administered by having the ushers offer you a chunk of pita bread, which you then dunk in the grape juice. Other congregations use Italian bread. -- IHCOYC
Displaying the Bible like that is a good way to illustrate its importance. Yeast bread versus unleavened bread (like those bits of cracker) was one of the early East/West differences in the Church; I like yeast bread too. :-) Wesley

re: " it may be worth a moment to pause to consider its virtues. It built up the Church, " (under the Reformation section) -- isn't this rather POV? I mean, didn't the Reformation build up its sectarian Churches (actually, I don't know the capitalization rules here, for Church/church or God/god -- my guess would be only use capitalizations when sermonizing, which I'm not so...) ^h^h^h churches at the expense of the competing sectarian churches? Kyk 09:31, 3 Jan 2004 (UTC) I mean, wouldn't the sects on the other side say it "tore down the churches" instead of built them up? But the pause to consider seems to present fact, rather than an allegation.


re: Pelagius. The first sentence gives an opposing view by Augustine, but the rest of the paragraph seems to just outright say that Pelagius is wrong. Is this stating it as "historical" fact that Pelagius was wrong (that sounds pretty questionable to me, as I think the axiomatic grounds depend heavily on christian mythos), or is it simply stating the Augustinian view as if it were fact (which it probably was to Augustine, and perhaps is now to the dominant christian sects)? Kyk 09:36, 3 Jan 2004 (UTC) [Ie, this sounds POV to me, but I'm not educated enough to really tell.]


re: "The word was not often used by Jesus himself" I'm going to go out on (a rather stout) limb here and guess that this is an abbreviation, or euphemism, for "this word is not often attributed to Jesus in the canonical Gospels". I say this because I speculate that no matter how much foolishness we may attribute to Christianity, most of the Christians don't seriously believe that a man Jesus walked around and said only and exactly the words recorded in their favorite bible translation, moreover only and entirely in Greek!? Kyk 09:40, 3 Jan 2004 (UTC)

You are aware that Jesus spoke English, albeit with a King James accent, aren't you? AAR, that is my understanding of the passage: the Greek word charis is not attributed to Jesus, either in the canonical Gospels, nor in the parts of the Gospel of Thomas that are extant in Greek. -- Smerdis of Tlön 19:08, 3 Jan 2004 (UTC)
Ah, see, that is why I make my comments on the Talk page, and don't edit the article, because of subtleties such as his King James accent, which you more scholarly types will bear in mind... Or else so my points may hopefully be filtered into some type of unoffensive modifier, such as I believe you have applied in this case. Thank you. Kyk 21:02, 3 Jan 2004 (UTC)

I was also surprised by the "virtues of the Reformation" including building up the church. That is history, and not interpretation? JesusCantSave

Treasury of grace

The text that discussed the treasury of grace metaphor was deleted wholesale by an anon user, w/o explanation. I have restored it; without it what follows is incomprehensible. Smerdis of Tlön 11:46, 7 Oct 2004 (UTC)

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