To be clear, we do not agree on this issue. My point here is not to pretend we do, but rather to point out that I do not think the disagreement is what most Lutherans think it is. We Orthodox do not have a problem with the Lutheran understanding that we cannot "work our way to heaven," nor do we have a problem with the Lutheran understanding that the human person, bound as we are in our mortal flesh, is inevitably prone to sin. The disagreement is in large part based upon how one categorizes person and nature, and how the will relates to those two philosophical categories. Since I am at best a hack philosopher, I also welcome correction on any points of philosophy I raise here.
For the Orthodox, the issue of the human will and its relation to the human nature revolves around the questions of Who is God and who are we. God, we would say, is eternal, He is life itself. Put another way, there is no life without God, for there is no existence without God. Thus, God's nature is eternal, life-giving, and good. We are, by contrast, naturally dependent on God for our existence. Any life we have, whether mortal (i.e., subject to death) or eternal is from Him. "For in him we live and move and have our being." Our nature as created is good, even "very good" (see Genesis 1:31), but cannot subsist in and of itself without God sustaining it. This brings up a second distinction in Orthodox theology -- essence and energies. We can never communicate with God in His essence. In this sense, "essence" is roughly synonymous with "nature." We can never be as God in our essence/nature, for we are created and not by nature eternal. But we can communicate with God's energies, and in that communion we can have eternal life through Him. This is the state of Adam and Eve before the Fall -- they were in communion with God's divine and life-giving energies. Note: they were not naturally immortal, because they were not divine. Rather, they were creatures with the ability to live eternally through communion with God. What Adam and Eve lost in the fall was this communion, not the ontological properties of the nature itself.
|The Holy Fathers of the Sixth Ecumenical Council|
So with that as a very simple and rudimentary background, I'll turn to the human will. Most Lutherans are familiar with the heresies of Nestorianism and Monophysitism. The former was the heresy that the human and divine natures of Christ are disunited from one another. The latter was the heresy that Christ only had one nature -- a human/divine nature. Less familiar, in my experience at least, is the heresy of Monothelitism. Monothelitism is a middle ground between these two heresies, and it held that Christ had two distinct natures that communicated with one another, but only one will, which was a divine/human will. The Monothelites held that because Christ was one divine person, He had only one will, and His human will was essentially subsumed by His divine will. The 6th Ecumenical Council at Constantinople rejected this heresy, holding that the human will pertains not to the person, but the nature. The Council stated it thusly:
"Following the five holy Ecumenical Councils and the holy and approved Fathers, with one voice defining that our Lord Jesus Christ must be confessed to be very God and very man, one of the holy and consubstantial and life-giving Trinity, perfect in Deity and perfect in humanity, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and human body subsisting; consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood; in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; begotten of his Father before all ages according to his Godhead, but in these last days for us men and for our salvation made man of the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, strictly and properly the Mother of God according to the flesh; one and the same Christ our Lord the only-begotten Son of two natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, inseparably indivisibly to be recognized, the peculiarities of neither nature being lost by the union but rather the proprieties of each nature being preserved, concurring in one Person and in one subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons but one and the same only-begotten Son of God, the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, according as the Prophets of old have taught us and as our Lord Jesus Christ himself hath instructed us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers hath delivered to us; defining all this we likewise declare that in him are two natural wills and two natural operations indivisibly, inconvertibly, inseparably, inconfusedly, according to the teaching of the holy Fathers. And these two natural wills are not contrary the one to the other (God forbid!) as the impious heretics assert, but his human will follows and that not as resisting and reluctant, but rather as subject to his divine and omnipotent will. For it was right that the flesh should be moved but subject to the divine will, according to the most wise Athanasius. For as his flesh is called and is the flesh of God the Word, so also the natural will of his flesh is called and is the proper will of God the Word, as he himself says: 'I came down from heaven, not that I might do mine own will but the will of the Father which sent me!' where he calls his own will the will of his flesh, inasmuch as his flesh was also his own. For as his most holy and immaculate animated flesh was not destroyed because it was deified but continued in its own state and nature (ὄρῳ τε καὶ λόγῳ), so also his human will, although deified, was not suppressed, but was rather preserved according to the saying of Gregory Theologus: 'His will [i.e., the Saviour’s] is not contrary to God but altogether deified.'
We glorify two natural operations indivisibly, immutably, inconfusedly, inseparably in the same our Lord Jesus Christ our true God, that is to say a divine operation and a human operation, according to the divine preacher Leo, who most distinctly asserts as follows: “For each form (μορφὴ) does in communion with the other what pertains properly to it, the Word, namely, doing that which pertains to the Word, and the flesh that which pertains to the flesh.”
(emphasis mine, parenthetical Greek in original).
If this is true -- if the will is natural and not personal -- this leaves us in a bit of a quandary when examining the Lutheran position that the will itself is bound. Lutherans typically hold that the nature in man is not destroyed, but totally corrupted such that it is unable to will and do the good. If this is understood as a corruption by virtue of the broken communion with the divine energies, I believe we Orthodox would agree to a point. But if this corruption is natural -- if the nature itself is marred and ontologically changed such that it has lost the natural will as it was created and cannot be used by a human person to either will or do the good -- then we have a Christological problem. St. Gregory the Theologian wrote "what is not assumed is not healed." Therefore, Christ either assumed a human nature that was ontologically corrupted and could not be used to do anything but sin, or Christ assumed a different nature than Lutherans holding to this view would say we as human persons share, such that our nature is not actually healed. I should note here that some Lutherans who are friends of mine do not go as far as to say the will itself is corrupted in an ontological sense. I should also note that the Formula of Concord seems to reject that view as well, holding that the nature itself is not sin (but, in my opinion, being quite unclear on that point when read in context). But that is the problem we see and that is the view we reject, to the extent any Lutherans or anyone else holds to it (and it is my experience that many Christians do). To the extent the will is seen as existentially corrupted, we would say there is an irreconcilable Christological problem.
|St. Maximus the Confessor|
As should be obvious, we maintain a sharp division between person and nature. Because of this, we would say that natures do not sin, people do. Which is to say, we cannot attribute our sinfulness to the nature, which is and remains good, but rather the nature is "sinful" only insofar as it is bound up in a specific person who uses it to sin. There is no unhyposticized nature. There is no such thing as a nature that is disconnected from a person. It is my observation that when some Lutherans discuss the bondage of the will, they often use words like "our will" or "my will," and the possessive indicates that this is a conflation of person and nature. No one has a nature that belongs to them, except inasmuch as that nature is hyposticized -- bound to their person. As one example, I have heard it said frequently among Lutherans that "our will is bound to sin unless and until Christ converts us, after which our will is free to will and do the good." My reading of the Book of Concord would agree with this view as being representative of Lutheran theology. But in this sense, if we are to reconcile the Orthodox and Lutheran views, it must be that the use of the will is what is at issue, not the natural will itself. If that is not the case, we would reject the Lutheran view because if it is true, the regenerate man has a different nature than the unregenerate man, and we have a category error. If the regenerate man has a different nature than the unregenerate man, one of them is no longer truly human ("nature" means the essential properties of being for any given thing, in this case, humans).
We would say, by way of contrast, that the natural will remains free, but we as persons are bound, imprisoned, obscured, blinded, etc. We are so bound because we are disconnected from the divine energies of God, not because our nature is ontologically changed. We see the contrary claim as a confusion of person and nature. A frequently used Lutheran liturgical confession says "I confess that I am by nature sinful and unclean." We reject this out of hand. But what we would agree with is that if, when one says "my nature" that is understood to mean the human nature as I possess it in my person, then that nature is inevitably used by me (as a person) to sin.
How Christ rectifies this situation is perhaps another distinction between Orthodox and Lutheran beliefs. We would say that Christ assumed our human nature, and in His person, He reunited that nature with the divine and life-giving energies (which subsist in His person because He is a divine person and He eternally has a divine nature). In this sense, Christ did not assume a "glorified" nature, but rather He glorified the same nature you and I share in His divine person. Glorification in this sense is not primarily forensic, as if Christ assumed a nature that is without sin in order that He might meet the demands of the Law, while we have a "sinful nature" that cannot possibly meet the demands of the Law. This, again, would mean that Christ assumed a nature that was not fully human (or, alternatively, that we are not fully human). Rather, we would say the nature itself is not sinful, but Christ, in His Person, did not put it to use to sin as we do. He assumed our nature, albeit without sin. We, then, are able to put the will to good use through union with Christ. In that union, we are able now to both will and do the good. This is, in a sense, similar to Lutheran theology which holds in the Formula of Concord that "before conversion" we cannot cooperate with God, but "after conversion" we can and must cooperate with God, albeit in weakness. The primary difference being that we see this as being part of the ongoing and never-ending process of Theosis, whereas Lutherans would tend to sort out justification and sanctification, and keeping our cooperation in the latter category. As a side note, I was surprised to learn recently that some Lutherans deny that we can cooperate even in sanctification, which is not how I was taught when I was a Lutheran, and is certainly not how I read the Lutheran Confessions.
For the Orthodox, union with Christ is not obtained either by not sinning or by having our will (and thus our nature) ontologically changed in some sense. We obtain union with Christ by communion with Him, i.e., by communion with the divine energies of God, i.e., through the Sacraments, i.e., through the Church. God saves us by reuniting our nature to His divine energies in the person of His Son, and by uniting us as persons to His Son in the Sacramental life of the Church. Our nature remains as it was before, but illumined, having abilities and power that it lacked before. This union is ongoing -- it is a process rather than an event. But it is the union that we see as salvific, not merely the juridical status before the Law (though, we would say, that is certainly part of salvation, and an ongoing part at that). The Lutheran Confessions use the iron/fire analogy to discuss the two natures of Christ in the Formula of Concord. We would use the same analogy (and the Fathers did as well) to describe not only proper Christology, but also our union with the Godhead. Our nature (typified by iron) is not ontologically changed. But once illumined, as the analogy goes, the iron can heat, give light, burn, etc. And yet it remains iron, such that if it is removed from and therefore without illumination, it can do none of those things. It is cold, dark, lifeless. This is analogous to how the human nature is healed according to the Orthodox. Not by being changed in an existential sense, but by being illumined by the divine energies of God.
I am certain this does not do justice to the topic, and I am sure I have erred somewhere in all of this, but I do hope it offers a basic framework of understanding and perhaps a springboard for further discussion. I have also not dealt with the Orthodox understanding of synergy, which is the next logical step in this discussion. But I do hope I have given at least a simplistic understanding of what the differences are and, more to my point, what the similarities are, between the two views. Please forgive me where I have erred.