Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Redemption (Fr. George Florovsky)


By Fr. George Florovsky

In the death of the Savior the powerlessness of death over Him was revealed. In the fullness of His human nature Our Lord was mortal, since even in the original and spotless human nature a "potentia mortis" was inherent. The Lord was killed and died. But death did not hold Him. "It was not possible for him to be held by it" (Acts 2:24). St. John Chrysostom commented: "He Himself permitted it. ... Death itself in holding Him had pangs as in travail, and was sore bested … and He so rose as never to die.127 He is Life Everlasting, and by the very fact of His death He destroys death. His very descent into Hell, into the realm of death, is the mighty manifestation of Life. By the descent into Hell He quickens death itself. By the Resurrection the powerlessness of death is manifested. The soul of Christ, separated in death, filled with Divine power, is again united with its body, which remained incorruptible throughout the mortal separation, in which it did not suffer any physical decomposition. In the death of the Lord it is manifest that His most pure body was not susceptible to corruption, that it was free from that mortality into which the original human nature had been involved through sin and Fall.

In the first Adam the inherent potentiality of death by disobedience was disclosed and actualized. In the second Adam the potentiality of immortality by purity and obedience was sublimated and actualized into the impossibility of death. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22). The whole fabric of human nature in Christ proved to be stable and strong. The disembodiment of the soul was not consummated into a rupture. Even in the common death of man, as St. Gregory of Nyssa pointed out, the separation of soul and body is never absolute; a certain connection is still there. In the death of Christ this connection proved to be not only a "connection of knowledge"; His soul never ceased to be the "vital power" of the body. Thus His death in all its reality, as a true separation and disembodiment, was like a sleep. "Then was man’s death shown to be but a sleep," as St. John Damascene says.128 The reality of death is not yet abolished, but its powerlessness is revealed. The Lord really and truly died. But in His death in an eminent measure the "dynamis of the resurrection" was manifest, which is latent but inherent in every death. To His death the glorious simile of the kernel of wheat can be applied to its full extent. (John 12:24). And in His death the glory of God is manifest. "I have both glorified it and will glorify again" (v.28). In the body of the Incarnate One this interim between death and resurrection is fore-shortened. "It is sown in dishonor: it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness: it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body: it is raised a spiritual body" (7 Cor. 15:43-44). In the death of the Incarnate One this mysterious growth of the seed was accomplished in three days — "triduum mortis."

"He suffered not the temple of His body to remain long dead, but just having shown it dead by the contact of death, straightway raised it on the third day, and raised with it also the sign of victory over death, that is, the incorruption and impassibility manifested in the body." In these words St. Athanasius brings forward the victorious and resurrecting character of the death of Christ.129 In this mysterious "triduum mortis," the body of Our Lord has been transfigured into a body of glory, and has been clothed in power and light. The seed matures. The Lord rises from the dead, as a Bridegroom comes forth from the chamber. This was accomplished by the power of God, as the general resurrection will, in the last day, be accomplished by the power of God. And in the Resurrection the Incarnation is completed, a victorious manifestation of Life within human nature, a grafting of immortality into the human composition.

The Resurrection of Christ was a victory, not over his death only, but over death in general. "We celebrate the death of Death, the downfall of Hell, and the beginning of a life new and everlasting."130 In His Resurrection the whole of humanity, all human nature, is co-resurrected with Christ, "the human race is clothed in incorruption."131 Co-resurrected not indeed in the sense that all are raised from the grave. Men do still die; but the hopelessness of dying is abolished. Death is rendered powerless, and to all human nature is given the power or "potentia" of resurrection. St. Paul made this quite clear: "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen… For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised" (I Cor. 15:13, 16). St. Paul meant to say that the Resurrection of Christ would become meaningless if it were not a universal accomplishment, if the whole Body were not implicitly "pre-resurrected" with the Head. And faith in Christ itself would lose any sense and become empty and vain; there would be nothing to believe in. "And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain" (v. 17). Apart from the hope of the General Resurrection, belief in Christ would be in vain and to no purpose; it would only be vainglory. "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept" (7 Cor. 15:20). And in this lies the victory of life.132 "It is true, we still die as before," says St. John Chrysostom, "but we do not remain in death; and this is not to die… The power and very reality of death is just this, that a dead man has no possibility of returning to life… But if after death he is to be quickened and moreover to be given a better life, then this is no longer death, but a falling asleep."133 The same conception is found in St. Athanasius. The "condemnation of death" is abolished. "Corruption ceasing and being put away by the grace of Resurrection, we are henceforth dissolved for a time only, according to our bodies’ mortal nature; like seeds cast into the earth, we do not perish, but sown in the earth we shall rise again, death being brought to nought by the grace of the Savior."134 This was a healing and a renewing of nature, and therefore there is here a certain compulsion; all will rise, and all will be restored to the fullness of their natural being, yet transformed. From henceforth every disembodiment is but temporary. The dark vale of Hades is abolished by the power of the life-giving Cross.

St. Gregory of Nyssa strongly emphasizes the organic interdependence between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The Resurrection is not only a consequence, but a fruit of the death on the Cross. St. Gregory stresses two points especially: the unity of the Divine Hypostasis, in which the soul and body of Christ are linked together even in their mortal separation; and the utter sinlessness of the Lord. And he proceeds: "When our nature, following its proper course, had even in Him been advanced to the separation of soul and body, He knitted together again the disconnected elements, cementing them together, as it were, with a cement of His Divine power, and recombining what was severed in a union never to be broken. And this is the Resurrection, namely the return, after they have been dissolved, of those elements that have been before linked together, into an indissoluble union through a mutual incorporation; in order that thus the primal grace which invested humanity might be recalled, and we restored to everlasting life, when the vice that had been mixed up with our kind has evaporated through our dissolution… For as the principle of death took its rise in one person and passed on in succession through the whole of human kind, in like manner the principle of the Resurrection extends from one person to the whole of humanity… For when, in that concrete humanity which He had taken to Himself, the soul after the dissolution returned to the body, then this uniting of the several portions passes, as by a new principle, in equal force upon the whole human race. This then is the mystery of God’s plan with regard to His death and His resurrection from the dead."135 In another place St. Gregory explains his meaning by the analogy of the broken reed, cloven in twain. Whoever puts the broken parts together, starting from any one end, then also, of necessity, puts together the other end, "and the whole broken reed is completely rejointed." Thus then in Christ the union of soul and body, again restored, brings to reunion "the whole human nature, divided by death into two parts," since the hope of resurrection establishes the connection between the separated parts. In Adam our nature was split or dissected into two through sin. Yet in Christ this split is healed completely. This then is the abolition of death, or rather of mortality. In other words, it is the potential and dynamic restoration of the fullness and wholeness of human existence. It is a recreation of the whole human race, a "new creation" (ή καινή κτίσις),136 a new revelation of Divine love and Divine power, the consummation of creation.

One has to distinguish most carefully between the healing of nature and the healing of the will. Nature is healed and restored with a certain compulsion, by the mighty power of God’s omnipotent and invincible grace. One may even say, by some "violence of grace." The wholeness is in a way forced upon human nature. For in Christ all human nature (the "seed of Adam") is fully and completely cured from unwholeness and mortality. This restoration will be actualized and revealed to its full extent in the General Resurrection, the resurrection of all, both of the righteous and of the wicked. No one, so far as nature is concerned, can escape Christ’s kingly rule, can alienate himself from the invincible power of the resurrection. But the will of man cannot be cured in the same invincible manner; for the whole meaning of the healing of the will is in its free conversion. The will of man must turn itself to God; there must be a free and spontaneous response of love and adoration. The will of man can be healed only in freedom, in the "mystery of freedom." Only by this spontaneous and free effort does man enter into that new and eternal life which is revealed in Christ Jesus. A spiritual regeneration can be wrought only in perfect freedom, in an obedience of love, by a self-consecration and self-dedication to God. This distinction was stressed with great insistence in the remarkable treatise by Nicolas Cabasilas on The Life in Christ. Resurrection is a "rectification of nature" (ή άνάστασις φύσεως έστιν έπανόρθωσις) and this God grants freely. But the Kingdom of Heaven, and the beatific vision, and union with Christ, presume the desire (τρυψή έστιν της θελήσεως), and therefore are available only for those who have longed for them, and loved, and desired. Immortality will be given to all, just as all can enjoy the Divine providence. It does not depend upon our will whether we shall rise after death or not, just as it is not by our will that we are born. Christ’s death and resurrection brings immortality and incorruption to all in the same manner, because all have the same nature as the Man Christ Jesus. But nobody can be compelled to desire. Thus Resurrection is a gift common to all, but blessedness will be given only to some.137 And again, the path of life is the path of renunciation, of mortification, of self-sacrifice and self-oblation. One has to die to oneself in order to live in Christ. Each one must personally and freely associate himself with Christ, the Lord, the Savior, and the Redeemer, in the confession of faith, in the choice of love, in the mystical oath of allegiance. Each one has to renounce himself, to "lose his soul" for Christ’s sake, to take up his cross, and to follow after Him. The Christian struggle is the "following" after Christ, following the path of His Passion and Cross, even unto death, but first of all, following in love. "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren… Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (7 John 3:16; 4:10). He who does not die with Christ cannot live with Him. "Unless of our own free choice we accept to die unto His passion, His life is not in us," says St. Ignatius.138 This is no mere ascetical or moral rule, not merely a discipline. This is the ontological law of spiritual existence, even the law of life itself.

Notes:

127. St. John Chrysostom, in Acta Apost. horn. VII, M.G. LX, c. 57: και αυτό ώδινε κατέχων αυτόν ό θάνατος, και τα δεινά ένέπασχεν; Chrysostom has in view the words of Acts: τάς ώδΐνας του θανάτου [Acts 2:24}; cf. Ps. 17:5-6. Strack-Billerbeck, ad Acta 11.24: "Stricke des Todes," or "Weben des Todes" [2:617-618]. Cf. in the Liturgy of St. Basil, the Prayer of Consecration: και κατελθών δια του σταυρού εις τον “Αδην, ίνα πλήρωση έαυτου τά πάντα, ^λυσε τάς όδύνας του θανάτου' και άναστάς τη τρίτη ήμερα, καΐ όδοποιήσας πάση σαρκί την εκ νεκρών άνάστασιν, καθότι ουκ fjv δυνατόν κρατεΐ-σθαι ύπό της φθοράς τον άρχηγόν της ζως, έγένετο απαρχή των κεκοιμημένων, πρωτότοκος εκ τών νεκρών, ίνα ή αυτός τά πάντα έν πάσι πρωτεύων.

128. Office for the Burial of a Priest, Stikhira idiomela by St. John of Damascus, Hapgood, p. 415.

129. St. Athanasius, De incarn. 26, M.G. XXV, c. 141; cf. St. John Chrysostom in loann. h. 85, [al. 84], 2: "By all means He shows that this is a sort of new death, for everything was in the power of the dying One and death did not come to His body until He so desired," κοινόν τόν θάνατον τούτον δντα, M.G. LIX, c. 462.

130. Easter Canon, 2nd song, 2nd Troparion, Hapgood p. 231.

131. Sunday Matins, siedalen of the 3rd tone.

132. "Christ is first-born from the dead." Col. 1:18. Born, as it were, from the grave. Resurrection is a new mysterious birth into full immortality, into a new and perpetual, i.e. "eternal," life. And death itself issues into a birth. "The first that shall rise from the dead." Acts 26:23: "The first begotten of the dead." Rev. 1:5. Cf. J. Chaine, Diet. d.l. Bible, Suppl, t.II, p. 418: "La resurrection est comparee a un enfantement de la part du scheol. Jesus est le premier parmi les hommes qui soit sorti du sein de I'Hades."

133. St. John Chrysostom, in Hebr. h. 17, 2, M.G. LXIII, c. 129.

134. St. Athanasius, De incarn. 21, M.G. XXV, c. 132.

135. St. Gregory of Nyssa, Or at. catech., c. 16, Srawley, 70-72: πάλιν προς τήν άρρηκτον Γνώσιν το διασχισθέν συναρμόσας . . . οίον άπό τινός αρχής εις πασαν άνθρωπίνην φύσιν τη δυνάμει κατά το Ισον έκ τοΟ διακριθέντος έναντι διαβαίνει. Cf. adv. Apollinarium, cap. 17, M.G. XLV, 1153, 1156: "Death is but the separation of soul and body, but He, who has united both soul and body in Himself, did not separate Himself from either.... Being simple and uncomposed, He was not divided, when body and soul were separated; on the contrary, He rather accomplishes their union, and by His own indivisibility does bring even the separated into unity, τω γαρ καθ* εαυτόν άδιαιρέτω και τό διηρημένον εις ενωσιν άγει. The Only Begotten God Himself raises the human nature united with Him, first separating the soul from the body, and then co-uniting them again, and so the common salvation of nature is achieved."

136. St. Gregory of Nyssa, adv. Apollin, c. 55, M.G. XLV, c. 1257, 1260.

137. Nicolas Cabasilas, De vita in Christo, 11.86-96, ed. Gass, Die Mystik des Nicolaus Cabasilas (1849), pp. 46-48. Gass's edition is reproduced in M.G. CL. A French translation by S. Broussaleux has been recently published by "Irenikon."

138. St. Ignatius, Magnes 5, Lightfoot p. 117-118. The language of Ignatius is molded on that of St. Paul; comp. Rom. 6:5, 8:If, 29; 2 Cor. 4:10, Phil. 3:10, 2 Tim. 2:11 (Lightfoot, ad locum.)


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