Tag Archives: The Freedom of Morality

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The words of this post title, spoken by Christ, have always caused some confusion for me. If He didn’t come to abolish the law, then why don’t we still follow it? If not even the smallest character would pass away, where is it now? And what did He mean that he came to fulfill it? Well, I think I finally understand it.

The Jewish Law was the result of sin. It is a manifestation of, and a witness to, our sinful nature. What I mean is that if human nature had never fallen, there never would have been any need for the Law. It was a way for man to attempt to reunite with God by following certain prescription of behavior. Even if someone were to follow the Law exactly for the whole of their life however, this would not get rid of sin, there would still be an existential chasm between man and God (which, again, was proven by the existence of the Law).

When Christ came however, when the incarnate Word was united with carnal flesh, when the divine Trinitarian nature was united to our fallen human nature, Christ made it possible for man to once again return to the state of human nature before the fall. Christ did not abolish the Law by his incarnation because sin still exists and we have not been healed automatically. “Natural” human nature still exists with a large chasm between it and God. However, Christ fulfilled the law by making it possible to achieve the “end result” of it, communion with God. The coming of Christ was like the laying down of a bridge between our nature and God’s.

So no, Christ didn’t abolish the Law because we still possess sinful natures,  instead he fulfilled it by making it possible for our nature to be cured of the sickness of sin.

I probably didn’t do a very good job of explaining, so I now quote Christos Yannaras in The Freedom of Morality:

Christ alone is the end of the Law (Rom 10:4) and freedom from the Law (Rom 8:2), precisely because He did away with the precondition for its existence when, in His theanthropic flesh, He destroyed the “middle wall of partition” (Eph 2:14), the existential distance between man and God. Thus the Law is not annulled but “fulfilled,” in the sense that it finds it fullness in love (Rom 13:10). The Law continues to manifest and affirm sin, but now the acknowledgment of sin is not proof of condemnation and death, not a “curse,” but a measure of acceptance of God’s love: the Law reveals God’s “frenzied eros” for man.

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The Freedom of Morality

The Freedom of MoralityI am reading a new, and so far very interesting, book called “The Freedom of Morality” by the Greek lay theologian Christos Yannaras. In it, the author lays out the Orthodox understanding of morality as the evaluation of man’s striving to become complete by fulfilling his potential as an image of God. Though I have only read the forward and the first chapter so far, this somewhat philosophically dense book like it will be very beneficial to me in acquiring a true Orthodox mindset. I hope to share here quotes from the book and my own thoughts that they raise, as well as hopefully pique the interest of you, the reader, to explore this area of theology which is intrinsically important to an understand of Orthodox theology and the salvation which we are offered.

Both the forward and in the first chapter it is made clear that the author is very hesitant to use word the “ethics.” This is because ‘ethics,’ as it is commonly understood, refers to a system of objective rules, laws or guidelines which determine how a person ought or ought not to act. Orthodox morality on the other hand is the expression of person’s free will and the relationship of that with the proper thusness of the person.

From the forward:

In the book’s title, The Freedom of Morality, the Greek word translated as “morality” is ithos, a term signifying “ethics,” but also meaning “ethos,” distinctive character, the “thusness” or the “Ah!’ of a person or thing. When using ithos, the author has in view both these senses. Morality, “theics” is nothing more or less than the expression of the person’s proper “ethos.” It is not to obey external rules but to become as person that which one truly is. By the same token, sin is not the transgression of some impersonal law, but “missing the mark,” the failure to become oneself.

It is this understanding of morality and sin that sets the Christian East and West apart in their theology. Where in the West, and exemplified in the lists of “mortal” and “venial” sins of the Roman Catholic Church, human behaviour has been relegated to a list of “do and do nots,” Orthodoxy in the East has retained a view of human beings as persons, rather than individuals, who share a common nature but who, by virtue of our freedom, have a certain distinctiveness which is apart from their nature.

The person is the hypostasis of the human essence or nature. He sums up in his existence the universality of human nature, but at the same time surpasses it, because his mode of existence is freedom and distinctiveness. This mode of existence which is personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man, making man a partaker in being. It is not as nature that man constitutes an image of God: it is not because he has natural attributes in common with God, or analogous to His. Man constitutes an image of God as an ontological hypostatsis free from space, time and necessity.

It will be fun to see how Yannaras further develops this line of thinking, and fun to acquaint myself with this ancient and Orthodox understanding of morality.