April 30, 2016

Christ's Divine Strategy in Defeating the Devil (St. Gregory Palamas)

By St. Gregory Palamas

The pre-eternal, uncircumscribed and almighty Logos and omnipotent Son of God could clearly have saved man from mortality and servitude to the devil without Himself becoming man.

He upholds all things by the word of His power and everything is subject to His divine authority (cf. Heb. 1:3). According to Job, He can do everything and nothing is impossible for Him (cf. Job 42:2 LXX).

The strength of a created being cannot withstand the power of the Creator, and nothing is more powerful than the Almighty.

But the incarnation of the Logos of God was the method of deliverance most in keeping with our nature and weakness, and most appropriate for Him who carried it out, for this method had justice on its side, and God does not act without justice.

As the psalmist and prophet says, "God is righteous and loves righteousness" (Ps. 11:7), "and there is no unrighteousness in Him" (Ps. 92:15).

Man was justly abandoned by God in the beginning as he had first abandoned God. He had voluntarily approached the originator of evil, obeyed him when he treacherously advised the opposite of what God had commanded, and was justly given over to him.

In this way, through the evil one’s envy and the good Lord’s just consent, death came into the world. Because of the devil's overwhelming evil, death became twofold, for he brought about not just physical but also eternal death.

As we had been justly handed over to the devil's service and subjection to death, it was clearly necessary that the human race's return to freedom and life should be accomplished by God in a just way. Not only had man been surrendered to the envious devil by divine righteousness, but the devil had rejected righteousness and become wrongly enamored of authority, arbitrary power and, above all, tyranny. He took up arms against justice and used his might against mankind.

It pleased God that the devil be overcome first by the justice against which he continuously fought, then afterwards by power, through the resurrection and the future Judgment. Justice before power is the best order of events, and that force should come after justice is the work of a truly divine and good Lord, not of a tyrant.

Whereas he who was a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44) attacked us out of envy and hatred, the author of life acted for our sake out of His overwhelming love for mankind and His goodness.

The devil achieved his victory and man's fall unjustly and treacherously, but the Redeemer accomplished the final defeat of the originator of evil and the renewal of His creation with righteousness and wisdom.

Earlier God left undone what it was in His power to do, so that He might first do what was fitting. In this way, justice was manifested more clearly, having been favored by Him whose might is unconquerable.

Men had been taught to demonstrate righteousness in their actions now in the time of this mortal life, so that they might be strengthened to hold it fast when eternity comes.

It was also necessary for the conqueror to be conquered by that nature which he had conquered, and for the cheat to be outwitted. To this end it was necessary and indispensable that a man be made who would be sinless (cf. Job 14:4 LXX). This was, however, impossible, for as Scripture says, "No one is without sin, even if his life is one day" (Job 14:5 LXX), and, "Who can say, I have made my heart clean?" (Prov. 20:9), and, "There is none sinless, but one, that is, God" (cf. Matt. 19:17; Mark 10:18)....

So the only sinless Son and Word of the Father became the Son of man, unchanged as God, blameless as man. Who alone, as Isaiah bore witness beforehand, "did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth" (1 Pet. 2:22; Is. 53:9)....

God was not only born among men but, according to the prophets, born of a holy Virgin far above all defiled thoughts of the flesh. It was the Holy Spirit's coming upon her, not fleshly desire, that caused the Virgin to conceive, and the conception was preceded by good tidings and faith in God's indwelling, not acceptance and experience of passionate longing....

Christ clearly had to make immortal not only the human nature which existed in Him, but the human race, and to guide it towards participating in that true life which in due course procures eternal life for the body as well, just as the soul’s state of death in due course brought about the death of the body too.

That this plan for salvation should be made manifest, and that Christ’s way of life should be put before us to emulate, was highly necessary and beneficial.

At one time God appeared visibly before man and the good angels that they might imitate Him.

Later, when we had cast ourselves down and fallen away from this vision, God came down to us from on high in His surpassing love for mankind, without in any way giving up His divinity, and by living among us set Himself before us as the pattern of the way back to life....

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and love of God! In His wisdom, power and love for mankind God knew how to transform incomparably for the better the falls resulting from our self-willed waywardness.

If the Son of God had not come down from heaven we should have had no hope of going up to heaven. If He had not become incarnate, suffered in the flesh, risen and ascended for our sake, we should not have known God’s surpassing love for us.

If He had not taken flesh and endured the passion while we were still ungodly, we should not have desisted from the pride which so often lifts us up and drags us down.

Now that we have been exalted without contributing anything, we stay humble, and as we regard with understanding the greatness of God’s promise and benevolence we grow in humility, from which comes salvation....

However, those who obeyed Him had to be free of servitude to the devil. Man was led into his captivity when he experienced God's wrath, this wrath being the good God's just abandonment of man. God had to be reconciled with the human race for otherwise mankind could not be set free from servitude.

A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on high with us and to sanctify us, since we had been soiled by fellowship with the evil one.

There had to be a sacrifice which both cleansed and was clean, and a purified, sinless priest.

We needed a resurrection not just of our souls but of our bodies, and a resurrection for those to come after us.

This liberation and resurrection, and also the ascension and the everlasting heavenly order, not only had to be bestowed upon us but also confirmed.

And all this was necessary not just for those alive at the time and those to come, but also for people born since the beginning of time. In Hades there were far more of such people than there were people to be born later, and far more were to believe and be saved at once.

I think this is why Christ came at the end of the ages. He had to preach the gospel to those in Hades (cf. 1 Pet. 3:19), to reveal His great plan for salvation to them and to give them complete freedom from the demons who held them captive, as well as sanctification and promises for the future.

It was clearly necessary for Christ to descend into Hades, but all these things were done with justice, without which God does not act.

In addition to what we have mentioned, the deceiver had to be justly deceived and to lose the riches he had seized and deceitfully acquired. For evil had taken control by cunning, and the originator of evil continuously boasted of this fact.

The devil would not have ceased from boasting if he had been subdued by God's sovereign power and not pulled down from his authority by justice and wisdom....

For such reasons as these the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us, appearing on earth and living with men. He took upon Himself our human flesh, which was subject to suffering and death, even though it was completely pure, and He used it in His divine wisdom as a bait to hook the serpent, the originator of evil, through the Cross, and set free the whole human race which he had enslaved. When a tyrant falls, all those tyrannized are liberated....

As the evil one procured our twofold death by means of his single spiritual death, so the good Lord healed this twofold death of ours through His single bodily death, and through the one resurrection of His body gave us a twofold resurrection.

By means of His bodily death He destroyed him who had the power over our souls and bodies in death (cf. Heb. 2:14), and rescued us from his tyranny over them both.

The evil one clothed himself in the serpent to deceive man, but the Word of God put on man's nature to trick the trickster....

This is how the deceiver was deceived. He attacked Christ's passible and mortal flesh, and unwittingly brought the light into his dark and terrible caverns and set the Giver of Life over the souls he had tyrannized through spiritual death....

The Lord could have evaded these plots of the devil, but He did not wish to. Rather, it was His will to undergo the passion for our sake, as this was why He became the God-man.

From the "Homily for Great and Holy Saturday," in Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009).