St. Cyril of Alexandria on Justification as Deliverance

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I remember me and Mark had a conversation at lunch back when he was still a Calvinist, but had rejected penal substitution. I asked him “hey, what do you think justification is, if not imputed righteousness?” and he responded with a puzzled look. He went on to say something like “I donno, but it had better be connected to Christus Victor atonement somehow.” At the time this seemed absurd. After all, justification is obviously a legal term, so how could it have anything to do with being freed from the devil’s power? Right?

Of course this argument assumes that in order to be a legal term, justification has to be used to describe ascribing a legal status to an individual apart from any kind of ontological change. It also assumes that as a courtroom term, the application of the word justification is confined to the courtroom drama. However, as several Protestant scholars have recently begun to admit, justification probably means more than this. For instance, big names including Ben Witherington, N. T. Wright, Thomas Schreiner, and Peter Leithart are willing to grant that justification means more than imputed righteousness. I highly recommend Leithart (a presbyterian I think) on justification in Pro Ecclesia. He wrote an article recently called “Justification as Verdict and Deliverance” that was excellent. He affirms and argues compellingly for precisely the thing that seemed so absurd to me a year and a half ago: justification can involve deliverance from the power of sin, death, and the devil.

On that note, consider what the blessed Saint Cyril, teacher of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, said about justification:

Insofar as he is God he was not sanctified by receiving the Spirit. For he is the one, as I have said, who is doing the sanctifying. But insofar as he is human he is sanctified in accordance with the dispensation of the Incarnation. He was therefore anointed in order for him to bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. By judgment in this context he means righteous judgment. For he justified the Gentiles by condemning Satan who exercised tyrannical rule over them. And he taught us this himself, saying “Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” For he pronounced sentence for the destruction of him who exercised tyrannical rule, as I have said, over the whole earth, and with a holy judgment saved those who had been deceived.

Commentary on Isaiah, 852A commenting on 42:1-4

Notice the following:

1. Cyril does not connect justification to a change in God’s disposition toward human beings.

2. Cyril does not connect justification to merit.

3. Justification is a deliverance from bondage to the power of evil that the devil uses. Christ condemns the devil and delivers the Gentiles, vindicating them; that is justification.

So apparently Saint Cyril thought something similar to Leithart. Justification isn’t just about God’s dispositions towards us. I welcome any thoughts on how this relates to the content of the biblical data on justification, other Church Fathers, or the theological implications of this.

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23 Responses to “St. Cyril of Alexandria on Justification as Deliverance”

  1. irishanglican Says:

    For Anglicans Justification is both an Imputed righteousness or relative change. What God does for us thru faith. And also the beginning of “imparted” righteousness or real change. What God does in us by and thru His Spirit. And there is no place for the law in loco justificationis here. Simultaneously with justification, sanctification begins, and also there is a one time aspect in sanctification.Thus for the Christian justifying faith is always in the efficacy of Christ’s person & work in the atonement-death and resurrection life.
    “I have often wondered whether we might not say that the Christian doctrine of the Atonement just meant that in Christ God took the responsibility of evil upon Himself, and somehow subsumed evil under good.” ~ Letters of Principal James Denney to his Family and Friends, p. 187

  2. irishanglican Says:

    Great quote from St. Cyril of Alexandria! By the way, he is also used to support the Miaphysite (mia-one) position…a non-Chalcedonian position – Jesus was one person, both human & divine. This position is held by some Oriental Orthodox. (See my blogs)

  3. MG Says:

    Irishanglican–

    Hey, welcome to the blog; thanks for posting a comment, we appreciate it. 🙂

    You wrote:

    “Great quote from St. Cyril of Alexandria! By the way, he is also used to support the Miaphysite (mia-one) position…a non-Chalcedonian position – Jesus was one person, both human & divine. This position is held by some Oriental Orthodox. (See my blogs)”

    Thanks. The way you defined Miaphysitism sounds like Chalcedon (this doesn’t surprise me). I’ve heard it described as the idea that Christ had two natures that became a single “compound nature” that remained distinct in its parts. If this is what Miaphysitism says, then indeed it seems very similar to Chalcedon; but admittedly I don’t know exactly what they’re saying. I will take a look at your blogs, you probably know more about this specific issue than I do 🙂

    You wrote:

    “For Anglicans Justification is both an Imputed righteousness or relative change. What God does for us thru faith. And also the beginning of “imparted” righteousness or real change. What God does in us by and thru His Spirit. And there is no place for the law in loco justificationis here. Simultaneously with justification, sanctification begins, and also there is a one time aspect in sanctification.Thus for the Christian justifying faith is always in the efficacy of Christ’s person & work in the atonement-death and resurrection life.”

    Sounds interesting; seems to resemble what a lot of sophisticated Reformed folk say.

    Do you believe that faith is a virtue–a moral habit that a human being contributes to producing, with the (preceding and perfecting) help of God’s grace? Or is it inherently worthless but regarded by God as worthy because of what Christ has done? The latter, Protestant view seems utterly strange to me in light of what Scripture and the Fathers say about faith.

    What do you think the strongest biblical arguments are for imputed rigtheousness being transfer of legal standing before God?

    You wrote:

    ““I have often wondered whether we might not say that the Christian doctrine of the Atonement just meant that in Christ God took the responsibility of evil upon Himself, and somehow subsumed evil under good.” ~ Letters of Principal James Denney to his Family and Friends, p. 187”

    Interesting! Sounds like what we’re saying 🙂

  4. irishanglican Says:

    First, I am very close to Othodoxy. I have been part of an Anglican-Orthodox society for dialogue. And I personally acknowledge and follow the dogmatic definitions of the seven Occumenical Councils. But, I also see that God’s own self-disclosure produces both the authority of the Spirit speaking in the scriptues, and the the NT authority because it is the apostolic witness to the revelation of God In Christ. This is the place were many evangelicals are coming from, including those who have gone to Orthodoxy. My position on Justification would be more in the model of John Wesley’s Anglican sermons, which are both catholic & evangelical. As I stated, the Justification of the Christian is not a position of Law (loco justificationis). But, for the sinner Justification must be first, what God does “for” us through faith in Christ. This is the relative change or God’s righteousness. As at the same time, it is what God does “in” us by His Spirit. The beginning of “imparted” righteousness from God. This would indeed be an Anglican evangelical position (not a modern so-called evangelical element either), and Reformed in attitude, but it does not close off the other mysteries of God, and Orthodoxy. Least to my mind. As I said, sanctification is both a beginning, and an action continued (with human virtue involved by grace – that is gradual as it changes nature).

    But, I am very close to Orthodoxy, realizing the great mystery of both God’s transcendence and immanence in both the Church and His redemptive people.

  5. irishanglican Says:

    I am an Anglican priest (Irish born, but Anglo-Irish educated in England…and for what its worth, I hold both the D.Phil. & T.D.

  6. irishanglican Says:

    Th.D. but a poor typer..lol

  7. irishanglican Says:

    I am well into my 50’s, but by God’s grace still seeking God in Christ, and seeking to help others here also. Though myself but a sinner, but seeking the spirituality of Christ’s redemptive suffering – always the cross, but also in the power of the redemptive risen Christ! – 2 Cor. 4: 10-11

  8. irishanglican Says:

    Your guys might want to check out the essay by Jonathan Linman, in the new book: Partakers of the Divine Nature, The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions. This essay, from the Finnish school of Luther studies shows that justification is really not forensic in “preoccupation” and becomes the means for theosis, while faith works the function, and the source of this union. The Finnish school (past mainly) has brought great light I believe on both these profound subjects.

  9. MG Says:

    Irishanglican–

    You wrote:

    “First, I am very close to Othodoxy. I have been part of an Anglican-Orthodox society for dialogue.”

    Ah, that sounds interesting. Are your minutes/papers/records of dialogue available online by any chance?

    “And I personally acknowledge and follow the dogmatic definitions of the seven Occumenical Councils.”

    Do you believe that the Ecumenical Councils have intrinsic authority based on the fact that they are Church teaching, such that they cannot be revised? Are they only authoritative insofar as they seem to accurately witness to Scripture, or do they have authority distinct from that of Scripture.

    “But, I also see that God’s own self-disclosure produces both the authority of the Spirit speaking in the scriptues, and the the NT authority because it is the apostolic witness to the revelation of God In Christ. This is the place were many evangelicals are coming from, including those who have gone to Orthodoxy.”

    When you say that “God’s self-disclosure produces authority” what do you mean by this? Do you mean that the Holy Spirit speaks in believers’ hearts to authenticate the authority of the Scriptures?

    Do you think that there is any publicly-accessible, divine authority that witnesses to the authority of the biblical canon?

    “My position on Justification would be more in the model of John Wesley’s Anglican sermons, which are both catholic & evangelical.”

    Okay, that gives me a feel for what you think about justification.

    “As I stated, the Justification of the Christian is not a position of Law (loco justificationis). But, for the sinner Justification must be first, what God does “for” us through faith in Christ. This is the relative change or God’s righteousness. As at the same time, it is what God does “in” us by His Spirit. The beginning of “imparted” righteousness from God.”

    Okay I think I see what you’re saying. This sounds like a rejection of imputation as understood by the Reformers. What do you mean by “relative change” which you seem to equate with God’s righteousness?

    “This would indeed be an Anglican evangelical position (not a modern so-called evangelical element either), and Reformed in attitude, but it does not close off the other mysteries of God, and Orthodoxy. Least to my mind. As I said, sanctification is both a beginning, and an action continued (with human virtue involved by grace – that is gradual as it changes nature).”

    This sounds quite Orthodox. What kind of view of grace do you have? Obviously you don’t think its just a divine disposition; do you think it is a created effect, or a participation in God’s uncreated life?

    “But, I am very close to Orthodoxy, realizing the great mystery of both God’s transcendence and immanence in both the Church and His redemptive people.”

    Is there anything in particular that holds you back from becoming Orthodox?

  10. MG Says:

    IrishAnglican–

    You wrote:

    “I am well into my 50’s, but by God’s grace still seeking God in Christ, and seeking to help others here also. Though myself but a sinner, but seeking the spirituality of Christ’s redemptive suffering – always the cross, but also in the power of the redemptive risen Christ! – 2 Cor. 4: 10-11”

    We are mere undergraduates, unworthy of much of the traffic that our blog gets. Just recently were we actually received into the Church and we’re only beginning to learn the Orthodox way. We’re very intellectually-oriented obviously, and probably give off the impression of being overly-heady and abstract. Personally, the reason I don’t write on spirituality and my ascetic struggle very much is because I don’t think I’m worthy to do so, and I don’t have anything particularly special to report (yet).

  11. MG Says:

    IrishAnglican–

    You wrote:

    “Your guys might want to check out the essay by Jonathan Linman, in the new book: Partakers of the Divine Nature, The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions. This essay, from the Finnish school of Luther studies shows that justification is really not forensic in “preoccupation” and becomes the means for theosis, while faith works the function, and the source of this union. The Finnish school (past mainly) has brought great light I believe on both these profound subjects.”

    I read most of the essay in that book on Neo-Palamism and the essays on deification in 2 Peter 1:4, but I should probably get ahold of it again and take a look. Drew (Andrew) is our local Lutheran/Luther-expert. I wonder if he has anything to say about the Finnish school? I’ve heard it mentioned before, and it definitely intrigued me.

  12. irishanglican Says:

    First, you (plural) have a great blog, keep at it! And some of my best thought was when I was younger, now hopefully it is maturing? lol But I am still a personal sinner, always in need of God’s grace in Christ!

    I have not been active in the society in several years. Since I went to Jerusalem to teach. And I am now semi-retired, due to some old back injuries, as a Royal Marine (many years ago, Gulf War 1, etc.)

    As to God’s self-disclosure, this is not just to scripture, but to the human soul. This is the basis of the classic or better historic evangelical conversion experience. Both can be seen in Rom.8:16. And not every evangelical (so-called) has really had this mystical experience however. This is one of the problems of the so-called movement. But it is not just some “quietist” aspect. It is both active and passive at times. But also combines both our spirit with God’s, as we “work out” our own salvation in God’s grace and synergy, (Phil. 2:12-13). As evangelicals go over to Orthodoxy, they are looking and finding the Church that both oversees this, and also renews this grace. And for many, actually bestows this grace! (For many evangelicals (so-called) have never really experienced this, but only thought so in the evangelical church). But like Wesley, I could never deny or diminish this work of God’s grace! I too have had this experience of God’s grace.

    As to the Ecumenical Councils, their authority is both incarnational (the church) and scriptural. I would not put one against the other, etc. They are historic, and as the Churches..they present the Apostles doctrine (Acts 2:42). But the Scripture helps to open and understand them, as the Creeds do the same with the scripture. We need both, but now with the authority and help of the Holy Church. But I would not press your scholastic questions. This would itself be a western method. It is “spirit and truth” as our Lord said!

    As to the nature of grace, it is God’s..but we must work together in and with HIM. This is both prevenient, and also synergetic, as Christ is formed in us finally to full glory and transfiguration/theosis of God in Christ!

    As to my personal love and journey toward Orthodoxy…it is still in process, and I am not sure right now where my place may be? But in and with Christ always!

    Fr. Robert +++

  13. irishanglican Says:

    PS I would see the authority and life of the Orthodox Church more from Incarnation and the Risen Life of Christ! Their unity and spiritual power is profound in the mystic Christ and Triune love of God! And their noetic awareness is very pure in Christology and Liturgy…to God be the glory!

  14. irishanglican Says:

    And for our readers, I would suggest the fine book: The Mystery Of Christ, Life In Death…by John Behr (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press)

  15. irishanglican Says:

    It must be said and noted, that the Church was alive and well years before the NT Text was written, thus we simply cannot understand the Old or NT without both the Church and the Spirit of God. But it is the Risen Christ who is present in the Church…”spirit and truth”, who enables His apostolic men, to active and spiritual authority, but always thru the power of the cruciform – the power and spirit of a risen, yet redemptive suffering which saves men and always for the Christian, the cross is this redemptive spirituality. Thus Christ is still incarnate in His church, and alive in His members and Body. His church has power and authority, but thru His Kenosis…self-emptying, not of Christ..but of themselves like Him. Thus redemptive love in the power of the Spirit always prevails.The very heart of the Gospel. Here the Church lives the eschaton – Christ!

  16. Photios Jones Says:

    “non-Chalcedonian position – Jesus was one person, both human & divine”

    No that’s just the Chalcedonian position. The non-Chalcedonian position is that Christ has two “manifestations” that operate on different iconic levels: the human portraying on its level what the divine effects on its level. For Severus, Christ is composed of two different kinds of hypostasis a self-subsistent hypostasis (his deity) and a non-self-subsistent hypostasis (his humanity). His construal takes on very positive and dialectical terms which is quite different than the apophatic approach of the Chalcedonian position: “without confusion, without separation, etc.” For Philoxenus of Maubug, when one refers to Christ, one percieves either a human Person(hypostasis) or a divine Person, depending upon whether or not one contemplates him by ***nature*** or by ***miracle.*** This constitutes a wholesale surrender of nature, for it now lies outside of the operation of the Logos, or Rational Principle.

    Monophysitism or Mia physitism (or whatever) you want to call it is not compatible with Cyrillic Chalcedonianism.

    Photios

  17. irishanglican Says:

    Photios…Well that is the debate is it not? I would point you to the statements of the Oriental Orthodox, etc. This issue is not just cut and dry! I would at least let them speak for themselves, etc. My feeble effort comes from their ideas. I have not stated my own position which would be more Chalcedonian: “Without separation and without confusion”.

    Fr. Robert

  18. irishanglican Says:

    Photios/ Everyone concerned..etc. The book: Sanit Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy, is very good here. It is an American pub also..St. Vladimir’s Sem. Press.

  19. irishanglican Says:

    Sorry forgot, it is by Jim McGuckin

  20. MG Says:

    Irishanglican(/Fr. Robert)–

    You wrote:

    “But I would not press your scholastic questions. This would itself be a western method. It is “spirit and truth” as our Lord said!”

    My understanding is that Scholasticism has a problem according to the East because it uses the method of “dialectic of opposition”, not because it tries to carefully understand intricacies of theology. The issue isn’t using careful language and distinctions (something St. Maximus lauds highly in his Disputation with Pyrrhus, that is also implicit and explicit to varying degrees in Irenaeus, the Cappadocians, and the Councils) but making the assumption that “distinction implies opposition” and thus buying into the pagan thought-frame that Plotinus promulgated. If you would like me to expand on this, I can (though some of your comments seem to imply you are already aware of some of what I’m saying).

    I think the question of where authority comes from is very important. There is an essential difference between the Reformation and the non-Protestants on the issue of authority. Protestants deny there is public, infallible authority outside of the Bible. All interpretations and statements of doctrine are therefore open to revision (even if based on very persuasive argument). Orthodox (and to some extent Catholics), though never opposing Scripture to tradition, can claim that decisions of the Church carry divine authority, and can’t be revised by human reason.

    To relate this back to Christ, and his Church: Christ’s glorified humanity when he walked among us was infallible, and he taught mankind with the power and authority of God by the Spirit’s indwelling. Christ proclaimed a revelation and a teaching that was available for all to see–not hidden secretly away from accessibility and understanding, not without God’s witness in the Resurrection (contra Gnosticism).

    It seems you would agree with me that Christ’s glorified humanity–his body, the Church–should also be infallible. And I would assume you also agree that Christian teaching must be publicly accessible as well, just as Christ made himself available to those who sought him? I think this Orthodox view better reflects Christ himself than the Protestant view.

    You wrote:

    “I have not stated my own position which would be more Chalcedonian: “Without separation and without confusion”.”

    Isn’t the Chalcedonian position that Christ’s natures are united in one hypostasis/person, such that the two natures are joined without separation from each other and without confusion between the two?

    As for your book suggestions: I will probably check those out sometime soon. Thanks for the pointers!

  21. irishanglican Says:

    MG, You are perhaps right technically. My point was that there must be a different and more of the spiritual approach, rather than mere western scholasticism. Which is so top heavy with the letter and definitions alone. One can get lost in that.

    Yes, I would agree about the nature of the “glorified humnaity” of Christ in His apostolic body. But the infallible nature of the Church must always be in the same kenotic spirit and place of Christ incarnate.

    My quote, “without separation and without confusion” was from Bulgakov’s point of view. He I think means to press the one nature, or unity?

    And Fr. John A. McGuckin’s work on St Cyril and the Christological Controversy is very good. McGuckin is an English Orthodox writer.

  22. MG Says:

    Irishanglican(/Fr. Robert)–

    You wrote:

    ” MG, You are perhaps right technically. My point was that there must be a different and more of the spiritual approach, rather than mere western scholasticism. Which is so top heavy with the letter and definitions alone. One can get lost in that.”

    I agree that its easy to get lost in (its one of my biggest struggles), and will take your advice to heart.

    ” Yes, I would agree about the nature of the “glorified humnaity” of Christ in His apostolic body. But the infallible nature of the Church must always be in the same kenotic spirit and place of Christ incarnate.”

    I wholeheartedly agree. Christ’s members fail to live up to who they are if they do not empty themselves of their pride and submit to his gentle way.

    ” My quote, “without separation and without confusion” was from Bulgakov’s point of view. He I think means to press the one nature, or unity?”

    I will have to look into this more; I have just barely started to study Bulgakov.

    ” And Fr. John A. McGuckin’s work on St Cyril and the Christological Controversy is very good. McGuckin is an English Orthodox writer.”

    Andrew (the other blogger on here) is now reading Saint Cyril and the Christological Controversy, and I look forward to eventually getting into it; though it will be awhile, for I’ve got several other research projects I’m immersed in.

  23. irishanglican Says:

    MG, I am always working on both myself, and seeking to learn more about what I do and should believe. I am but a student of Orthodoxy, I really do value so much of their truth. Their doctrine of the Trinity is simply profound! But again, I am still learning.

    Indeed Bulgakov is very good, but who can sound out his depth? Not I that is certain. But he is a mentor, and Orthodox “theologian”!

    Got to run..

    Fr. Robert

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