The Moral Aspect of
the Dogma of the Church
by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky
Finally, when the Lord had already told His disciples all that He had received from His Father,1 He raised His eyes to heaven and offered a prayer to the Father for the fulfillment of the cause for the sake of which He came on earth. That prayer was about nothing other than the ordering on earth of the new, unique existence of the Church – an existence which to the present time is alien to mankind divided by sin, an existence which had been only prefigured by the Old Testament Church. This existence has its likeness not on earth, where there is no unity but only division, but in heaven, where the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit achieves three persons in a single Being, so that there are not three Gods, but a single God, living a single life. In precisely the same way this single new existence, the single new human being, is achieved on earth from the formerly inimical society of Jews and pagans.2 However, the aim of this new existence on earth consists not in itself, as a whole, but in its relationship to each of its component parts, i.e., to the human individual. “I will”, says the Lord, “that they also whom Thou has given to Me be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory, which Thou hast given Me . . . that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”3 Such is the ultimate goal regarding its members of the Church founded by Christ. But the intermediate goal, the immediate goal without which it is impossible to attain the ultimate goal of our existence, consists in the constant spiritual perfecting of the individual in the Church – in the sanctification of the Christian by the Truth of Christ: “for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified through the truth.”4
And so, the Church is a completely new, special and unique existence on earth and it is impossible to define it with precision with any concept taken from earthly life. If those thinkers, in the theological argument which we mentioned above, who pointed out that their definition of the Church as a society was superior to its definition as the body of Christ, thought that they were providing a true definition of the Church while their opponents offered only a comparison, then we will note that their claims are altogether unfounded. Every society on earth has so many facets which bear no resemblance at all to the life of the Church, and so few qualities in common with Her, that we could prefer the comparison to such a supposedly formal definition; so much the more a comparison authorized by the Holy Scriptures, if, as we have said, the relevant words of the Apostle are to be examined in all their fullness, without the omission of their main thought. And this main thought (“for the building of oneself up in love”) already violates the image of the body, which knows no love, and by this again points out that the concept of the Church is a concept of a unique existence which is contrary to everything earthly. We shall pause for a more detailed description of this existence. At some point afterwards, we shall point out its practical manifestations, and thus try to resolve the most abstruse of the questions in the reciprocal argument of the European denominations: where and how is one to search for the true Church?
We have seen from the words of Christ the Saviour cited above, that the Church is a likeness of the Trinitarian existence – a likeness in which many personalities become a single essence. Why is such an existence as that of the Holy Trinity novel and incomprehensible for the old man?5 Because in natural self-awareness, the personality is a self-enclosed existence in radical contradiction to any other personality. Let us now leave the language of abstract definitions, which by necessity is dry and concise, and let us examine the practical influence of this law upon our will. First of all, we see that this law of our natural existence, which is recognizable in our direct self-awareness, radically contradicts the moral law of the Gospel which demands of its followers self-denial and love of one’s neighbour. It is true that this law is not completely alien to human nature, which is inclined to love – although it is also inclined to the same extent to preserve its own “I”, in the feeling of self-love and vengefulness. And so, as long as man sympathizes with Christian law only as far as his own natural inclinations go, he will never accept the fullness of Christian love, will not become a true Christian: he will love some persons, even fervently, but he will hate others; love and self-love which are expressed in hate, will thus remain in him like two irreconcilable enemies.
But is this not an incessant contradiction in the soul of man? – our opponent asks triumphantly. Of course, we reply; natural man is an incarnate contradiction, and nowhere does the inner contradiction of his nature show itself with such force as in the feeling of natural love. Thus, for example, in sexual love, love and hatred blend into one strange, monstrous process where reproduction is often accompanied by murder. Or take the highest manifestation of natural love – maternal love in animals or natural people: even here passionate fits of tenderness towards children constantly take turns with passionate fits of mad rage against those assumed to be their enemies, and sometimes against the children themselves, if they are slow to comprehend the mother’s desires. A hen which has led her chicks out will hardly cease for a minute to maintain a threatening appearance; the cow, which is ordinarily so meek, can become more terrifying than a beast of prey when a newly-born calf is near her. We know how strongly this internal contradiction of love and hatred is increased in people from constant observations of life and from the skillful representation of them in literature (e.g. “Egyptian Nights” by Pushkin, “The Gentle One” by Dostoyevsky, “Mother” by Nekrasov, and many others). Human thought has lead her chicks out will hardly cease for a minute to maintain strengthened it. When they took the concept of individual freedom as their basis – the single concept upon which the lofty requirements of strict morals can be based – then, together with the teaching of justice, chastity and honesty, they began to preach a haughty and cold, legalistic and formal relationship with one’s neighbour. Such is the teaching of the Stoics and of Kant who altogether negated the virtue of love and proposed to replace it with a principle of respect for one’s fellow man. The moral teaching of the theologian-scholastics also revolved around concepts of formal duty, and since it was impossible for them to negate that love towards one’s neighbour which is preached by the Scriptures, they limited it with a contrived teaching about love for oneself6, and with many legalisms, also contrived – norms drawn from Roman and feudal law and introduced not only into their teaching about the relationship of people with one another, but also into their teaching about God and the Redeemer.
3.THE ABSENCE OF THIS CONCEPT IN CONTEMPORARY MORALITY AND PHILOSOPHY.
Both the latest, humanistic morality, as well as the Protestant morality of a rationalistic bent, arrive jointly at the conclusion that: in order to strengthen the principle of love, it is necessary to break away from “scholastic” concepts of the individual, of freedom of the will, of rewards, and instead of these concepts, which preserve egoism, to establish the contrary view of existence as something singular – a single divine life diffused in creatures and striving to blend once again into one blessed fullness. It follows from this, that the principle of unity and love must be the single principle of thought and of life. Thus spiritualism is replaced by pantheism – a principle which has complete priority in contemporary European philosophy and rationalistic theology. We shall mention, incidentally, that, of course, the main basis for the development of such a world view is not so much humaneness as Protestant predestinationism, which negates the significance of moral struggles (podvigs) of the will, and antinomianism of philosophical morality – in short: a decline of morality which has been concealed by the mask of humanism. But let us take only the positive side of this world view (pantheism), without penetrating into its concealed meaning. In this, the partition between individuals is demolished, the contradiction between “I” and “not I” is destroyed; there is no place for a haughty self-exaltation of the non-entity which is called man. But who does not know that in destroying freedom of the will the difference between good and evil, and all man’s moral responsibility, is destroyed, and together with this, the moral attractiveness of the moral struggle (podvig) of love and its moral obligatoriness are also destroyed? Thus for the consistent critics of such theories, such as the Apostle Paul, only one conclusion remains: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”.
And so, the contradiction between haughty, sensual egoism and the principle of love, so akin to our heart, which is a contradiction present in (fallen) human nature and life, is not resolved by the searchings of philosophical thought as long as this thought is based on some principle or other of natural life, be it the principle of the freedom of the individual or the principle of natural humanism: in the former instance a legalistic formalism is established, and in the second – pantheism. It is evident that both abstract thought and real life postulate an initial concept in which a reconciliation could be established between a free self-evaluation of the individual and the principle of self-denial and a life for others –wherein these others, this “not I’, would not be somehow the opposite of me, of my “I”; wherein the freedom of each individual could be combined with a metaphysical unity of their existence by some other means than pantheism. The Church represents just such an initial concept in those definitions which we gave Her above on the basis of God’s word. And indeed, we see that the individual who develops in the Church combines the fulness of self-denying love with a high degree of individual will. The most typical representatives of this combination are found in the categories of holy martyrs, ascetics and hierarchs of the ancient Church in general and later of the Eastern Church. In all three of these categories, though they differ to an extreme in the conditions of their lives, we find an identical harmony of these two opposite qualities, which neither natural life nor pagan or western philosophy could provide. All these three categories are giants of will with an extremely sensitive awareness of their moral responsibilities but are at the same time completely estranged not only from coarse worldly egoism, but also from even the faintest self-exaltation or any pretension at all to individual rights. The first two categories live and die wholly for the Church brotherhood and the glory of God, while the third considers his highest task in life to be the renunciation of his own will before God and the representatives of Church authority.
And so, the Christian truth about the Church7 frees man, not only in thought but also in life, from the natural contradiction between the self-consciousness of the individual and self-denying love as a principle of life. Why is it precisely this subject that must be explained? We have said that the definition of the Church must be drawn not from concepts of earthly life, but from the teaching about the Triune Being of God, as the Lord taught us in His parting8 prayer. God is one in Essence and in Life, but Trinitarian in persons. Likewise, the Church is one in essence but multiple in the persons which compose it. What is this singular essence of the Church and what is its relationship to natural man?
1) John 15:15.
2) Eph. 2:14, 15.
3) John17:24, 26.
4) John 17:19.
5) “The old man” in the sense of Col. 3:9.
6) In setting forth this false principle the citing of the words of Scripture is completely wrong. Namely, two texts are quoted as if they taught love for oneself: the Saviour’s words “love your neighbour as yourself” and the Apostle Paul’s “no one ever hated his own flesh” and so on. But neither of these citations contains any teaching of love for oneself; they merely point to the fact that people do love themselves and nurture their flesh. Life’s experience clearly tells us that insofar as a person is strengthened in love for his neighbour, to just such an extent is he liberated from love for himself.
7) (By the author) In advance we shall lay down the condition that the moral strength of the Orthodox teaching concerning the Church does not end with this indication of its general significance. In addition, the Church is an irreplaceable guide for the Christian even in the future moral struggle of his life, which is again and again in need of the truth which is given by this teaching – both in the perfecting of one’s faith and in the matter of attaining moral perfection. In order to understand this need clearly and beyond dispute, one must bear in mind one indubitable property of all moral and moral-cognitive activity of man in general and of the Christian in particular. We have in mind the law of life, which is forgotten by western theologians: that attaining Christian perfection must be considered not as a free, unimpeded development of more complex phenomena from less complex ones, but as a constant, intense struggle which is filled with sufferings.
8) i.e. St. John, Ch. 17.
Taken from Orthodox Life, Volume 23, No. 2, March-April 1973, Published by Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York.
The footnotes in the original text were divided into two sections. For clarity, we combined the two, and renumbered the second set of footnotes to continue where the first section left off.
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