Background The Eighteenth Century Theological Inheritance

As the nineteenth century began, systematic theology was dominated by three principal figures: Theophilact Gorsky, Irinej Phalkovsky, and Metropolitan Platon (1737-1812). Their individual systems were synthesized by a fourth figure, the celibate priest Yuvenaly (1767-1809), whose textbook, Christian Theology for the Aspiring Saint, was written in 1797 and published in three volumes in Moscow in 1806. Although this textbook was not especially influential in its time, it is nevertheless useful for our purposes, in that it offers a starting point for the analysis of the subsequent development of Russian academic theology.

As did Metropolitan Platon before him, Yuvenaly writes about two sources of knowledge of God: natural and revealed. "Natural epistemology" he sees as the basis of true holiness, which then points us to revelation (the "afflatus"). However, natural epistemology is not sufficient in itself, but is reliant on Holy Scripture for its veracity. After this treatment of Platon's ideas, Yuvenaly then picks up the system offered by Theophan Prokopovich (1681-1736), even to the extent of copying out entire extracts of his writings. In line with this more senior theologian, Yuvenaly considers Scripture to be the single and all-sufficient basis for theology, arguing that Scripture's authority is not to be shared or confused with Holy Tradition. He then proceeds to divide theology into the categories of "dogmatic" and "moral." "Dogmatic theology" he further subdivides into God in relation to God's Self (the divine attributes, the Trinity) and God in relation to creation (under which he includes providence and salvation, the incarnation, expiation, etc.).

Where methodology continued to change and develop throughout the nineteenth century, this organization of the material of theology remained typical of practically all dogmatic systems. Yuvenaly's textbook is entirely representative of eighteenth-century Russian theological traditions. He reproduces faithfully the most hotly disputed controversies, for example, conceptions of the Fall, expiation, and justification as developed by Prokopovich, which were so influential in the second half of the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries. In particular, Yuvenaly follows Prokopovich in considering the imago dei originally to have been an identical, mirror image. This image consisted in the sum total of the natural, primitive qualities of a human being, such as an essential nobility of the mind and infallibility of the will - something akin to the Lutheran idea. Therefore, although the accidental image of God was indeed lost in the Fall, God's essential image in human nature has remained unchanged.

Beginning with this anthropological premise, Yuvenaly then reproduces Prokopovich's "legal" conception of expiation and justification. Briefly, this "legal" model posits that the corruption of the human mind and will is so fundamental that there is no possibility of a person meriting forgiveness or achieving by their own efforts justification before God. Consequently, the human race is utterly dependent on the intercession of Christ for its salvation, for only his death on the cross could satisfy completely the righteousness of God, thus bringing about the forgiveness of sin without violating the divine sanctity. The necessary conclusion is that justification is through faith alone and not through works. Not to be confused with sanctification, justification is understood as the non-imputation of sin: that is, justification occurs when God acknowledges a person as innocent, even though their sins have not disappeared as such.1

Theophan Prokopovich and other Russian theologians of the second half of the eighteenth century such as Yuvenaly and Metropolitan Platon2 combine conceptions of the Fall and justification by faith - both somewhat Protestant in essence - with an emphasis on the sacraments of the church. Their thesis is that the sacraments are a means of sanctification and that good works are a necessary condition of salvation. This is where they differ from the Protestant emphasis, underscoring the agency of human free will in accepting God's gift of grace and in living a virtuous life.

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