Natural Consequences (8): The Fathers on Merciful Justice

by

Are God’s justice and mercy inherently opposed to each other?  The Fathers suggest that punishment, which is a manifestation of justice in response to evil, is motivated by mercy.

3. Marcion, therefore, himself, by dividing God into two, maintaining one to be good and the other judicial, does in fact, on both sides, put an end to deity. For he that is the judicial one, if he be not good, is not God, because he from whom goodness is absent is no God at all; and again, he who is good, if he has no judicial power, suffers the same [loss] as the former, by being deprived of his character of deity. And how can they call the Father of all wise, if they do not assign to Him a judicial faculty? For if He is wise, He is also one who tests [others]; but the judicial power belongs to him who tests, and justice follows the judicial faculty, that it may reach a just conclusion; justice calls forth judgment, and judgment, when it is executed with justice, will pass on to wisdom. Therefore the Father will excel in wisdom all human and angelic wisdom, because He is Lord, and Judge, and the Just One, and Ruler over all. For He is good, and merciful, and patient, and saves whom He ought: nor does goodness desert Him in the exercise of justice, nor is His wisdom lessened; for He saves those whom He should save, and judges those worthy of judgment. Neither does He show Himself unmercifully just; for His goodness, no doubt, goes on before, and takes precedency.

St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.XXV.iii

For tell me, if thou hast a servant, and he, after suffering much evil at the hands of his fellow-servants, takes no account of any one of the rest, but is only anxious not to provoke his master; is he not able by this alone to do away thine anger? But what, if his offenses against thee are no manner of care to him, while on those against his fellow-servants he is full of thought; wilt thou not lay on him the heavier punishment? So also God doeth: when we neglect His wrath, He brings it upon us more heavily; but when we regard it, more gently. Yea, rather, He lays it on us no more at all. He wills that we should exact vengeance of ourselves for our offences, and thenceforth He doth not exact it Himself. For this is why He at all threatens punishment; that by fear He may destroy contempt; and when the threat alone is sufficient to cause fear in us, He doth not suffer us to undergo the actual trial.

St. John Chrysostom , Homily on 1 Cor. 3:1–3

A man who is just and wise is like God because he never chastises a man in revenge for wickedness, but only in order to correct him, or that others be afraid.

–St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 73

48 The word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day.
They will be self-condemned therefore, He says, who refuse to hear Him and do not accept the saving faith. For He that came to illumine, came not in order to judge, but to save. He therefore that disobeys and thereby subjects himself to the greatest miseries, let him blame himself as justly punished.” For I am not the cause thereof, Who desire to save those that are going to fall into judgment, and Who came for this end. For he that makes a law punishing the disobedient, makes it not for the sake of punishing them that transgress it, but in order that they that hear may take heed of it and be safe. I therefore, having come to save, charge you to believe, and not to despise My words; inasmuch as the present is a time of salvation, not of judgment. For in the day of judgment, the word that called you to salvation will bring the penalties of disobedience upon you. And of what nature was the word that I spake?”

–St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 10:48-50

This was the first thing that [Adam] learnt [after the fall]—his own shame; and he hid himself from God.  Yet here too he makes a gain, namely death, and the cutting off of sin, in order that evil may not be immortal.  Thus his punishment is changed into a mercy; for it is in mercy, I am persuaded, that God inflicts punishment.

XIII.  And having been first chastened by many means (because his sins were many, whose root of evil sprang up through divers causes and at sundry times), by word, by law, by prophets, by benefits, by threats, by plagues, by waters, by fires, by wars, by victories, by defeats, by signs in heaven and signs in the air and in the earth and in the sea, by unexpected changes of men, of cities, of nations (the object of which was the destruction of wickedness)…

–St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration XXXVIII, XII

How can it be that justice and mercy are not in conflict, as St. Gregory the Theologian and the other saints above seem to say?  It looks like being just is the opposite of being merciful.  On the one hand, it seems like the more justice we exercise, (in punishment, for instance) the less mercy we are offering.  And thus it seems that in God it is true that justice and mercy are in conflict.  Mercy, after all, consists in kindness of action that has remedy and help as its goal, not withholding help based on an offending party’s guilt.  Isn’t that the opposite of justice? This apparent conflict between justice and mercy would only be actual if justice is retributive (by retribution I mean, roughly speaking, the idea that it is inherently good to harm those that have done wrong, and to harm them in proportion to the wrong they do).  If justice consisted in retribution, such that it was morally necessary to harm people that have done wrong just because its right to inflict harm in response to evil, this seems like it would be in conflict with the idea of having help and healing as a goal that motivates one’s response to evil.  But this retributive view of justice might not be true.  There are many possible understandings of the motivation for punishment, and not all of them are based on retribution.

The Fathers’ doctrine of divine punishment is informed by several other beliefs.  First is their denial of the dialectic of opposition–the idea that distinction implies opposition.  Second is the patristic doctrine of the divine energies–that there are multiple, really distinct divine activities or states of being.  The divine activity of “love”, for instance, is distinct from the divine activity of “immortality”.  It follows from the doctrine of energies and the denial of the dialectic of opposition in God, that no type of divine action has intrinsic conflict or discord with any other type of divine action.  Whatever motivates punishment (justice), therefore, can’t be in conflict with whatever motivates help (mercy).

Punishment can be imposed for at least three purposes that don’t conflict with mercy: (1) character-reformation (punishment as correction), (2) preventing a dangerous person or group from harming others (punishment as prevention), (3) deterring people from future wrongdoing (punishment as deterrence).  In Chyrsostom, St. Isaac, and St. Cyril we see the idea of puishment being a means to deterrence.  St. Isaac and St. Gregory see that punishment can be corrective.  And in St. Gregory there is also the teaching that punishment can be a means for stopping evil.  In all of these Fathers we observe a denial of conflict between justice/judgment and mercy/kindness/”goodness”.  All of them make universalized statements about punishment, and these statements seem to imply that no punishment is retributive. Though mercy and justice are different in God, they are not capable of conflicting.  It is false that the more just God is towards someone, the less merciful He is towards that person.  This is because justice is fundamentally harmony, not balance.  If a thing is in a state of justice, it is “put to rights, constituted in moral harmony”, not “paid back, given its due”.  Consequently, the enactment of justice is restorative, not retributive.  To bring justice means to put things to rights, to restore things to their proper places–not to pay back others with harm just for the sake of the harm others have inflicted on you.  In other words, punishment has as an ultimate goal the maintenance of health and goodness in the created order, and it helps to save and restore humanity.

One possible counterexample to the claim that justice and mercy never conflict is the fact that the duration of the punishment of hell is eternal.  This seems to imply that the punishments of hell are not motivated by mercy.  But this assumes that hell is punishment in the normal sense of the decision of will that leads to introducing an active infliction of harm.  On the contrary, the Fathers see hell as a punishment in a different sense.  It is not deciding to introduce the infliction of harm, but is rather the harm that comes about as a natural consequence of what God is already doing and as a natural consequence of God’s presence.  This is, I have argued, how St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Isaac the Syrian viewed eschatological punishment–the deprivation of blessing based on the personal decision to reject the grace and life that has entered human nature in Christ’s incarnation and death and resurrection.  In future posts I will argue that St. Irenaeus, St. Maximus, and other major Fathers held the same view.  What begins to emerge from these various quotations is a picture of patristic harmony on the subject of divine justice and punishment–a vision of a just God who is loving to all and whose justice and mercy never divide in Christ.

Advertisements

11 Responses to “Natural Consequences (8): The Fathers on Merciful Justice”

  1. Athanasios Boeker Says:

    MG,

    You had asked me on Weedon’s blog to give you the source for the following:

    ” A judge justly punishes one who is guilty of wrong doing; and if he does not do punish him he is himself a wrongdoer. In punishing him the judge is not the cause either of the wrongdoing or of the vengence taken against the wrongdoer, the cause being the wrongdoer’s freely chosen actions. Thus too God, Who saw what was going to happen as if it had already happened, judged it as if it had taken place; and if it was evil. that was the cause of its being punished. It was God who created man, so of course He created him in goodness; but man did evil of his own free choice, and is himself the cause of the vengence that overtakes him.”-St. John Damascene, Dialogue against the Manichaeans, 37. Translated in Jurgens, op. cit., vol. III, p. 348.

  2. Athanasios Boeker Says:

    It would seem that punishment in this life is for what you said: “(1) character-reformation (punishment as correction), (2) preventing a dangerous person or group from harming others (punishment as prevention), (3) deterring people from future wrongdoing (punishment as deterrence).”

    But in the life to come for Just Retribution:

    “But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God: WHO WILL RENDER TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and Honor and immortality, eternal life But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.” Romans 2

    “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 2 Thess. 1:2-9

    St. John Chrysostom commentary on Romans: For now what takes place is for correction; but then for vengeance. And this also St. Paul showed, when he said, “We are chastened now, that we should not be condemned with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:32.)…. But then the punishment from God shall be manifest, when the Judge, sitting upon the fearful tribunal, shall command some to be dragged to the furnaces, and some to the outer darkness, and some to other inexorable and intolerable punishments.

    St. Polycarp: The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Ch. XI: “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but thou art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly.”

    St. Justin Martyr: First Apology 12: “No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire. On the contrary, he would take every means to control himself and to adorn himself in virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments.”

    St. Cyprian: To Demetrian 24: “An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life.”

    St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Lecture 18:10: “We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. …Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past.”

    St. Gregory of Nazianzus: -Oration on the Holy Lights, Ch. XXXVI: “I know a cleansing fire which Christ came to hurl upon the earth and He Himself is called fire in words anagogically applied….I know also a fire that is not cleansing but avenging, that fire either of Sodom, which mixed with a storm of brimstone, He pours down on all sinners, or that which is prepared for the devil and his angels, or that which proceeds from the face of the Lord and burns up all His enemies all around. And still there is a fire more fearsome than these, that with which the sleepless worm is associated, and which is never extinguished but belongs eternally to the wicked.”… its is better to be punished and cleansed now than to be sent to the torment to come, when it will be time for punishing only, and not for cleansing.”

    St. Jerome in the 4th century addresses the modern psychological view of hell: Jurgens, Vol. 2, Commentary on Ephesians, pg. 193: “There are many who say there are no future punishments for sins nor any torments extrinsically applied, but that sin itself and the consciousness of guilt serve as punishment, while the worm in the heart does not die, and a fire is kindled in the mind, much like a fever…These arguments and fraudulent fancies are but inane and empty words having the semblance of a certain eloquence of speech but serving only to delude sinners; and if they give them credence they only add to the burden of eternal punishment which they will carry with them.”

    St. Basil the Great: Jurgens, pg. 21, On Psalm 28, No. 6: “The voice of the Lord divides the flame of fire. I believe that the fire prepared in punishment for the devil and his angels is divided by the voice of the Lord. Thus, since there are two capacities in fire, one of burning and the other of illuminating, the fierce and punitive property of the fire may await those who deserve to burn…”

    St. John of Damascus, Exact Exposition, Ibid. Bk. 2:29: “Also one must bear in mind that God’s original wish was that all should be saved and come to His Kingdom 1 Timothy 2:4. For it was not for punishment that He formed us but to share in His goodness, inasmuch as He is a good God. But inasmuch as He is a just God, His will is that sinners should suffer punishment.”

    And finally, a quote from the Synodikon of Orthodoxy which is to be read on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (but is usually shortened to just the section on iconography in most parishes…)
    Synodikon of Orthodoxy: “Those who prefer the folly of the so-called wisdom of the profane philosophers and follow their teachers and accept the migrations of human souls or that they are destroyed like the souls of the animals and return to nothingness and on account of this deny the resurrection, judgment, and final retribution of the acts of their lives, anathema.”

  3. MG Says:

    Athanasios–

    Thanks for the citation on that quote from St. John.

    I’ll try and address the Scriptures you bring up first, and then the Fathers a little while later today.

    Here is my response from Weedon’s blog about Romans 2:

    In what sense does God render according to deeds? Does he do so by inflicting retribution (as defined in my comment above)? Or does he repay all in the eschaton by filling heaven and earth with his restoring/transforming/putting-to-rights justice/righteousness in Christ, which affects different people differently, based on their character (either it is blessing, or results in a state of suffering)? In either case, God is actively doing the rendering, and it is according to deeds. So it seems the second way of understanding Paul is at least permissible.

    In this context in Romans 2, it is worth considering the fact that human beings are the ones that treasure up for themselves wrath. Many Jews thought they were storing up merit as a personal quality or status. But Paul tells them their actions actually make them store up something else *within them*—wrath. They are the ones doing the exchanging of “the riches of God’s kindness” for “treasures of wrath” implying that the treasures of wrath are something within them as a personal quality or status.

    The difference between saved and damned, then, seems to be located in the agent’s reception or rejection of divine empowerment. Wrath does not describe a divine disposition towards humans. Rather, it seems wrath is a description of a destiny, for it is contrasted with eternal life, which is a destiny and an eschatological character-state. So it seems wrath here is a state or experience, based on how one either properly receives (eternal life) or improperly rejects (wrath) God’s empowering presence/grace (the divine energies). (See Stephen Travis’ Christ and the Judgment of God, 2nd edition for more exegesis, from whom I owe much of the above argument)

    And concerning the text from 2 Thessalonians, I wrote the following:

    The description of the judgment that is given here is noteworthy for three reasons. First, it is described as fire. Second, it is described as taking place “from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power”. Third, the verses you cite are followed by these:

    …when he comes to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus. (2 Thess 1:10-12)

    This is interesting because in the ancient world, any reference to light is implicitly a reference to fire (they had no electricity, of course). So when it says that the damned will experience eternal destruction at the face of the glory of the Lord, the glory (light) is a reference back to the fire of Christ’s coming. The same thing is being talked about throughout, whether it is called “fire” or “glory”. Consequently, this verse is not talking about seperation away from God’s face, but punishment at God’s face when He appears on earth.

    In the subsequent verses I quoted above, this same glory fills the saints. Like the damned, they experience the face of the glory of the Lord when He comes. Because God’s glory is light, and light is fire, the saints are being filled with divine fire. It is the same fire—the uncreated glory of God—that burns the reprobate that glorifies the saints.

    This is supported by the fact that the destruction described is everlasting, which means that it is tied to God’s eternal power. Furthermore, Paul prays that God will fulfill by his power every action the Thessalonians undertake, with the intent of making them worthy of Christ’s glorification in them. Paul prays that they would be receptive to divine power, having faith (accepting God’s grace/glory/power in the Gospel) instead of disobeying/not knowing God (rejecting God’s grace/glory/power in the Gospel). So the difference between saved and damned here does not seem to be located in a different kind of divine disposition or action toward them, but rather in whether or not the human person acts to receive (by the virtue of faith) or reject (by the vice of unbelief) God’s glory.

    So it looks like the text at least *could* be talking about the glorification of creation at the second coming of Christ resulting in either suffering or blessedness for different people. In fact the text is probably talking about the fact that the damned cannot stand the divine glory because they have not been constituted worthy by a choice to receive as a gift the glory and power of Christ.

    I don’t see anything in either of these two biblical texts that necessitates a retributive understanding of eschatological punishment. Sure, there is punishment. Yes, God pays us back. But what does punishment mean in these texts? And what does God’s “repaying” consist in? We can give these ideas a retributive interpretation, or we can give them a Christological interpretation, based in the eschatological effects of the glory and immortality of the resurrection on the common humanity of blessed and damned. On exegetical grounds alone (as I’ve argued above), I think it is plausible to understand these texts as talking about the Christological idea of eternal punishment. So I’d be interested in exegetical arguments that show that God is inflicting retribution here.

  4. Athanasios Boeker Says:

    I agree with alot of what you have said. For the record I personally do not believe that God changes His attitude toward people anymore than you do. But I think we need to try and see, as I believe you are trying to do, how Scripture and in particular the Church Fathers are using terms like repaying, retribution ect.. One can only deny this terminology for so long before he realizes that it is everywhere in the Church Fathers.

    The main problem I have had with many of my fellow Orthodox, and I am really not trying to be unfair, is that when dealing with Protestants they seem to refuse to deal with the Scriptural and Patristic concepts themselves. They just asert that these texts do not mean what they say. When a fellow Orthodox apologist makes blanket statements such as, “God is not wrathful” or “God is not just, He is loving.” The Protestant scratches his head and says, “What in the world are you talking about? When I read Scripture and the Fathers I see God’s wrath and justice all over the place.” I believe this approach really harms our attempt to communicate The Faith.

    My understanding of the patristic use of just retribution can be summed up in the saying, “You reap what you sow” and that God is fair (just) in letting you.

  5. MG Says:

    Athanasios–

    You wrote:

    “I agree with alot of what you have said. For the record I personally do not believe that God changes His attitude toward people anymore than you do. But I think we need to try and see, as I believe you are trying to do, how Scripture and in particular the Church Fathers are using terms like repaying, retribution ect.. One can only deny this terminology for so long before he realizes that it is everywhere in the Church Fathers.”

    So you agree that God does not change from being merciful towards people to being just towards people in the eschaton? If so, how do you explain the fact that He inflicts retribution? It seems like if God doesn’t cease to be merciful in his will toward the damned, He cannot inflict retributive punishment on them.

    I don’t deny the terminology is in the Fathers. I interpret it according to statements in the Fathers that seem intended to explain or qualify the meaning of the terminology. And I interpret it in the larger context of Christology, eschatology, Trinitarian theology, and theodicy in the Fathers.

    You wrote:

    “The main problem I have had with many of my fellow Orthodox, and I am really not trying to be unfair, is that when dealing with Protestants they seem to refuse to deal with the Scriptural and Patristic concepts themselves. They just asert that these texts do not mean what they say. When a fellow Orthodox apologist makes blanket statements such as, “God is not wrathful” or “God is not just, He is loving.” The Protestant scratches his head and says, “What in the world are you talking about? When I read Scripture and the Fathers I see God’s wrath and justice all over the place.” I believe this approach really harms our attempt to communicate The Faith.”

    Granted that people who say “God is not wrathful” or “God is not just, He is loving” are not thereby necessarily clarifying all the issues. But some Fathers do speak this way (St. Isaac being an example). Now we know that St. Isaac doesn’t *really* mean that God is unjust. He means that God doesn’t abide by human standards about vindictive enactments of justice or the need for repayment. We know this by reading other passages in St. Isaac. When you take his statements about why God punishes alongside his denial of God’s justice, then you have a complete picture of a just and loving God. Similarly I think that it is okay for Orthodox to say that God is not wrathful as long as they explain *what they mean* according to the sense of the Fathers (not that God does not punish sin, but that his punishment is not motivated by emotional perturbation, is geared towards salvation, etc.).

    I think that a Christologically-informed understanding of eschatological punishment (and the larger topic of God’s justice) is a helpful corrective to what I perceive as the excesses of both Kalimoros’ River of Fire and Moss’s response. Its true that Kalimoros does not deal with all of the issues in his text. That’s why, as someone who agrees with some of what Kalimoros says, I try to deal directly with what the words of Scripture and the Fathers say when they appear to conflict with the ideas of merciful justice and of natural consequences. Kalimoros’ view by itself leaves many things unexplained, and has to be supplemented by the insights of Fathers such as Maximus and Cyril about the relationship between Christology, resurrection, and judgment. Moss, on the other hand, seems (on my read) to overreact to the problems in Kalimoros. He concludes that because the Fathers and Scripture speak of an active infliction of judgment (using words like “repay” “punish” “retribution”) in this world and the eschaton, that this language of judgment picks out the particular theory of justice as “retribution”. I think that some Fathers (usually the less-important ones, not central to the formalization of Christology and Trinitarian theology in the councils) believed in retributive justice, others are unclear about the issue, but that the consensus of the Fathers (especially the important ones) is that God’s justice is not retributive.

    You wrote:

    “My understanding of the patristic use of just retribution can be summed up in the saying, “You reap what you sow” and that God is fair (just) in letting you.”

    I agree with your words, but am not sure we *mean* the same thing when we say them. The language of reaping and sowing in Galatians is most plausibly interpreted as a way of talking about the divinely energized/permitted natural consequences of human sin. When we sow to the flesh (sin) we reap corruption (vice) from our flesh (inherited corruption). So saying that we reap what we sow doesn’t clarify whether or not one views the reaping retributively or in terms of natural consequences. Do you think the damned reap eternal death from God’s will to inflict retribution, or from God’s will to put humanity and the cosmos to rights in Christ?

    To say that “God is fair (just) in letting you” reap what you sow could mean different things. It is possible for “fair (just)” to mean that it accords with God’s demand for compensation and his will to inflict harm on those that do wrong, just because they are guilty. But it seems like it could mean that God sees it as a fitting or natural consequence of your actions, in line with the causal order and structure of the world, and the necessary tie between sin and death/corruption. God judges those who reject Him as unworthy (non-receptive to grace, and consequently unvirtuous) because they are unworthy; so his judgment is just. But this doesn’t entail that He wills to inflict harm on the guilty just because they are guilty. God’s fairness could also consist in the fact that He has willed to put things to rights, not withholding help and blessing; and consequently, any permission by God of sin or damnation is not a result of God lacking the will to put things to rights.

    What do you specifically mean when you say “My understanding of the patristic use of just retribution can be summed up in the saying, “You reap what you sow” and that God is fair (just) in letting you.”?

    Looks like I can’t get to the patristic quotes tonight. I’ll try for tomorrow.

  6. Athanasios Boeker Says:

    You have given me alot to try and respond to. I will try to answer a little at a time. First you asked, ” How do you explain the fact that He inflicts retribution? It seems like if God doesn’t cease to be merciful in his will toward the damned, He cannot inflict retributive punishment on them.” I would not make this false dichotomy. It is because “God is Love,” that He wills that sin be punished. He does not change His Divine disposition. As Archbishop Theophan of Poltava writes: “In essence the wrath of God is one of the manifestations of the love of God, but of the love of God in its relation to the moral evil in the heart of rational creatures in general and in the heart of man in particular.”

  7. Athanasios Boeker Says:

    MG,

    When you say, “So saying that we reap what we sow doesn’t clarify whether or not one views the reaping retributively or in terms of natural consequences.” I have to ask you what you mean by “natural consequences.” Because it seems to me that the only things God does not have providential control over is the workings of the wills of men and angels. Are you suggesting that the foreordained “consequences of sin,” that is “the form they take,” are not controlled by God but rather some other force called nature (or chance)? The truth, I believe, is that all things, accept what I mentioned above, occur according to God’s pre-eternal counsel, according to His will.

    Now what I mean by “You reap what you sow and God is fair (Just) in letting you” is this:

    After God has done all that was possible to save a man, but the man remains of his own set purpose blind and uncured (unrepentant), or rather incurable, HE IS HANDED OVER BY GOD TO UTTER DESTRUCTION. God’s original wish was that all should be saved and come to His Kingdom. For it was not for punishment that He formed us but to share in His goodness, inasmuch as He is a good God. But inasmuch as He is a just God, His will is that sinners should suffer punishment. ( The Good/Just distiction that is made with regard to God is NOT an humanly change of attitude or difference in disposition but a both/and distiction. He is both at the same time), The first then is called God’s antecedent will and pleasure, and springs from Himself, while the second is called God’s consequent will and PERMISSION, and has its origin in us (we are the cause). And the latter is two-fold; one part dealing with matters of guidance and training, and having in view our salvation, but the other ( The one I am referring to as retributive) being hopeless and leading to our being handed over utter punishment,

    So I interpret Retribution in the parlance of the fathers as meaning deserved consequences of sin. Retribution= Deserved consequences of sin. And this includes the unrepentant sinners experience of God’s Love as punishment, wrath and hell. Patristic and proper definitions, I believe, and very real experieces of God. So even if you told a person perishing in a burning building that they were experiencing the fire of love, the theological finepoint would not lessen the heat or pain. And these are the experiences that God has consequently allowed them to experience. and the form they take are within His providential control.

  8. Athanasios Boeker Says:

    There is another sense in which we can understand Just Retribution that is not a passion of a vengeful pagan deity. Please allow me to quote C.S. Lewis who, although not Orthodox, had a great respect for the Church Fathers.

    ” But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks into our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. A bad man, happy, is a man without the least inkling that his actions do not ‘answer’, that they are not in accord with the laws of the universe.

    A perception of this truth lies at the back of the universal human feeling that bad men ought to suffer. There is no use in turning up our noses at this feeling, as if it were wholly base. On its mildest level it appeals to everyone’s sense of justice. Once when my brother and I, as very small boys, were drawing pictures at the same table, I jerked his elbow and caused him to make an irrelevant line across the middle of his work; the matter was amicably settled by my allowing him to draw a line of equal length across mine. That is, I was ‘put in my place’, made to see my negligence from the other end. On a sterner level the same idea appears as ‘retributive punishment’, or ‘giving a man what he deserves’. Some enlightened people would like to banish all conceptions of retribution or desert from their theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself. They do not see that by so doing they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it? And if I do deserve it, you are admitting the claims of ‘retribution’. And what can be more outrageous than to catch me and submit me to a disagreeable process of moral improvement without my consent, unless (once more) I deserve it? On yet a third level we get vindictive passion- the thirst for revenge. This, of course, is evil and expressly forbidden to Christians. But it has perhaps appeared…that the ugliest things in human nature are perversions of good or innocent things. The good thing of which vindictive passion is the perversion comes out with startling clarity in Hobbes’s definition of Revengefulness, ‘desire by doing hurt to another to make him condemn some fact of his own’. Revenge loses sight of the end in the means, but is not wholly bad- it wants the evil of the bad man to be to him what it is to everyone else…

    When our ancestors referred to pains and sorrows as God’s ‘vengeance’ upon sin they were not necessarily attributing evil passions to God; they may have been recognizing the good element in the idea of retribution. Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion… No doubt Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument…it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.”

    C.S. Lewis- The Problem of Pain Chapter 6 Human Pain

  9. MG Says:

    Athanasios–

    I haven’t responded to you because I am cooking up a post about punishment in John of Damascus. It should be done sometime before Wednesday of this week. Just wanted to say your comments have not gone unnoticed; instead, I realized that I needed to address many of them in one big reply that didn’t seem to belong in a comment box.

  10. MG Says:

    Athanasios–

    I now have a new post up here:

    http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/natural-consequences-9-the-definition-of-natural-consequences-and-st-john-of-damascus/

    I’d like for you to take a look at it and comment.

  11. Patristics Carnival XXXI | The Church of Jesus Christ Says:

    […] Mystagogy reflects on the Patristic response to the Virgin Birth as well as engaging Basil on the environmental crisis while an Irish Catholic quotes something about biblical theology. MG looks at the Fathers on merciful justice. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: