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Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification: An Orthodox Perspective

Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification: An Orthodox Perspective

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Lucian Turcescu
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Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 38:1, Winter 2001


Introduction In this essay I have limited my reflections mostly to Lutheran-Orthodox issues, because significant progress has been achieved in the dialogue between these two denominations, particularly with regard to their two fundamental soteriological images, justification and deification, respectively. I will also try to see how the Joint Declaration1 can further help Lutherans and Orthodox to advance toward a fuller communion.

Lutherans and Orthodox on Justification and Deification In recent decades an issue widely debated between Lutherans and Orthodox has been that of the meaning of justification and deification as the core soteriological images in the two denominations. Justification, as the theme of the N.A.A.E. conference confirms it, has also been the main topic discussed between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, almost since they resumed the dialogue. Regarding justification, recent scholarship has stressed the widespread degree of doctrinal pluralism and uncertainty relating to the doctrine on the eve of the Reformation; the general issues that related to the doctrine of justification were the subject of continuing discussion within late-medieval Catholicism.2 Nevertheless, as the Joint Declaration clarifies, a message of justification is already present in the Bible. After reference to texts relevant for the doctrine ofjustification in the Hebrew Scriptures (8) and the Gospels (9), the Joint Declaration indicates that the most important text is Paul's Letter to the Romans. Rom. 3:23-25 in particular states that justification of sinful human beings is effected by God's grace through faith. This is also the text that came into prominence during the Reformation period. Contemporary biblical scholarship acknowledges that Paul's most frequently
'Quotations from the Joint Declaration are taken from the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church, Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000); paragraphs are noted by number in parentheses. 2 Alister E. McGrath, "Justification," in Hans J. Hillerbrand, ed in chief; The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, vol. 2 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 360-368.


Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Joint Declaration on Justification


used image to refer to the salvation in Christ, "justification" (dikaiosune), is drawn from Paul's Jewish background and denotes a societal or judicial relationship, either ethical or forensic (that is, related to law courts; see Dt 25:1). Therighteousor upright person (dikaios) came to refer usually to one who stood acquitted or vindicated before a judge's tribunal (Ex. 23:7; 1 Kgs. 8:32). Jews also tried to achieve the status of "righteousness" or "uprightness" in the sight of Yahweh the Judge by observing the rules and regulations of the Mosaic law (see Ps. 7:9-12). When Paul says that Christ has "justified" humans, he means that Christ has brought it about that they now stand before God's tribunal acquitted or innocent. The characteristically Pauline contribution to the notion of justification is his affirmation of the gratuitous and unmerited character of this justification of all humanity in Rom. 3:20-26.3 What I want to illustrate by using the latest biblical insights into the notion of justification is that this notion had a forensic character even for the ancient Hebrews. This holds true despite attempts by some Orthodox and even Lutheran theologians to dismiss the forensic and extrinsic characters of this notion and to attribute them only to medieval and Reformation developments.4 For example, in critiquing Luther's view of justification, Orthodox theologian Georges Florovsky wrote: "For Luther 'to justify' meant to declare onerighteousor just, not 'to make'righteousor just—it is an appeal to an extrinsic justice which in reality is a spiritual fiction."5 Lutheran theologian Paul Hinlicky has noted that "justification" has been "maligned as a 'law-court metaphor' that traps theological thought in legalism," but he emphasizes that this "law-court metaphor comesfromIsrael's prophets" themselves.6 As it has been noted time and again in recent scholarship, Orthodox have tended to emphasize the notion of deification or divinization (theosis), as the choice image expressing salvation, at the expense of that of justification. Deification is a doctrine based on 2 Pet. 1:4: "Thus [Jesus] has given us . . . his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escapefromthe corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature'9 (emphasis mine). Building on this text, Orthodox regard deification, that is, human participation in the divine nature, as made possible by the incarnation of the second divine person and as the result of the Holy Spirit's activity in humans. Vladimir
3 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, "Pauline Theology/' in Raymond E. Brown et al., eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (London: G. Chapman, 1990), p. 1397. Biblical quotations throughout this essay are taken from The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised Standard Version (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). 4 Chrestos Androutsos (1869-1937), Symbohke ex epopseos Orthodoxem, 2nd ed (Athens, 1930); I had access to a Romanian translation titled Simbolica, tr. Iustin Moisescu (Craiova: Editura Centrului Mitropolitan al Olteniei, 1955), p. 201. Valerie A. Karras, "Beyond Justification: An Orthodox Perspective," in Michael Root and William G. Rusch, eds., The Joint Declaration on Justification: Its Ecumenical Implications (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, forthcoming in 2002); Aden Ross, "Justification and Sanctification: A Conversation between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 1 (1994), pp. 87-109; Gerhard O. Forde, Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Ufe (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), pp. 8,41-43. 3 Georges Florovsky, The Byzantine Ascetic and Spiritual Fathers (Vadez: Buescherveitreisbanstah, 1987), p. 30. 6 Paul R. Hinlicky, "Theological Anthropology: Toward Integrating Theosis and Justification by Faith," J£.S 34 (Winter, 1997): 49.


Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Lossky wrote: "The Son has become like us by the incarnation; we become like Him by deification, by partaking of the divinity in the Holy Spirit."7 Orthodox theologian and bishop, Máximos Aghiorgoussis, correctly explained this difference in emphasis between Lutherans and Orthodox by stating that, when Paul distinguished in Rom. 8:28-30 among predestination, calling, justification, and glorification, these are all stages in one process, that of salvation. "In other words," he continued, "justification is not a separate act of God but the negative aspect of salvation in Christ, which is freedomfromsin, death, and the devil; whereas sanctification is the positive aspect of God's saving act, that of spiritual growth in new life in Christ communicated by God's Holy Spirit."8 Although I would not use the qualifications "negative" and "positive" that Bishop Aghiorgoussis used, I concur with him that justification and sanctification are part of the same process of salvation. The concept ofjustification "is central to Pauline and Augustinian theology and virtually dominates the Western theological tradition."9 The East and West developed different perspectives on salvation due to their confrontation with different historical circumstances. 'The East experienced the rise of Byzantium, but the West knew the trauma of the fidi of Rome in thefifthcentury,"10 when Augustine developed his soteriologe The West had thus to ask the question about the justice of God in histoiy more so than the East has had to do. Also, Alisier McGiath is probably correct in his statement that Orthodox theology's lack of interest in "justification" is due to the fact that the Eastern Church never developed the interest in Roman law that led to the Western commitment to justification as the fundamental soteriological metaphor.11 Even if Patriarch Cyril Lucaris of Constantinople (1572-1638) used the concept of justification in his works, that merely illustrates, according to McGrath, his unusual relationship with the Reformed church of his day, rather than any inherent trends within Orthodox theology itself. Regardless of the explanation for the Orthodox overlooking of justification, by the twenty-first century I think it is the Orthodox churches' turn and responsibility to ask the question about God's justice in histoiy and to try to account for their behavior in the fece of persecution. The last centuiy was the century of both right-wing and left-wing totalitarianism, and the Eastern Orthodox churches were confronted with serious persecution and attempts at extermination by the communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Modern society is increasingly demanding an account of all Christian denominations' behavior vis-à-vis totalitarianism, as Christians claim to be beacons of morality. So, perhaps Orthodox churches will start to
7 Vladimir Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God, ed J. H. Erickson (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974), p. 109. *Maximos Aghiorgoussis, "Orthodox Soteriology," in John Meyendorff and Robert Tobias, eds. and intra, Salvation m Christ: A Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1992), pp. 48-49. 9 Hinlicky, 'Theological Anthropology/' p. 48. 10 Ibid,p.45. 11 Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Doctrine of Justification, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998 [orig. in 2 vols., 1986]), p. 4. Christos Yaimaras, The Freedom of Morality, tr. Elizabeth Briere, Contemporary Greek Theologians 3 (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984), pp. 151-153.

Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Joint Declaration on Justification


reflect on what God9 s justice in history has meant for them and how this can be applied to individual justification. In my view, justification and deification are complementary, and one cannot fully understand the process of salvation in Christ by ignoring either of them. As one who was declared and made righteous by God cannot remain righteous without personal effort to grow in sanctification, I think that justification is not the end of the process of salvation but its beginning. The Joint Declaration is a step forward in clarifying the notion of justification in a sense satisfactory to both Lutherans and Roman Catholics. As such, it can be used by Orthodox as well, since the Orthodox understanding of the relationship between faith and works in the process of salvation is similar in marry regards to the Catholic understanding as expressed in the Joint Declaration, although the terminology is not always the same. As Hinlicky noted, the two images answer two different questions and are not to be confiised with one another. The doctrine of deification does not answer "the Western question: Where in history is the justice of God?" Instead, Hinlicky sees deification as answering such questions as: "Why has God created life?... What is the purpose or goal of existence? . . . Why has God entered into human existence? Why has Christ condescended to communion with us?"12 In my view, Hinlicky has overlooked the fact that Orthodox ignore Paul's insistence on justification by faith as reconciliation with God and the first step toward salvation. In general, there is a tendency among polite Lutherans to consider that Orthodox do have a solution to salvation that is better than the Lutheran solution and to which not only Lutherans but other denominations too would eventually have to arrive. In fact, Orthodox do not account properly for the process of reconciliation; instead, they jump rather quickly to the second part of the process of salvation, deification. The author of another recent article, "Justification and Sanctification: A Conversation between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy,"13 former Lutheran Aden Ross, decried the passivity of many Lutherans with regard to their spiritual Uves and proposed ways to overcome it. Ross thought he had found an explanation for passivity in the Lutheran division between justification and sanctification, and, along with Gerhard O. Forde, attributed this division to the forensic meaning of the notion of justification. The solution he proposed to overcome the division was for Lutherans to embrace the Eastern Orthodox principle of deification. Meanwhile, the new "Finnish school" under the mentorship of Tuomo Mannermaa has provided a radically new interpretation of Luther and of the relationship between Lutheranism and Orthodoxy. Mannermaa insists that the idea of "theosif can be found at the core of the theology of Martin Luther, although not in later Lutheranism. As he demonstrated in a recent essay, "The Lutheran understanding of the indwelling of Christ implies a real participation in God and is analogous to the Orthodox doctrine of participation in God, or theosis."14 According to Mannermaa,
Hinlicky, 'Theological Anthropology," p. 51. Ross, "Justification and Sanctification," pp. 87-109. 4 Tuomo Mannermaa, "Justification and Theosis in Lutheran-Orthodox Perspective," in Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, eds., Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther (Grand Rapids, MI,
13 12


Journal of Ecumenical Studies

unlike modern Protestant thought, which has been dominated by Kantian categories, "classic Lutheranism [was not only] âmiliar with the notion of God's essential indwelling in the believer (inhabitatio Dei)? but it also clearly rejected "any notion that God . . . does not 'dwell' in the Christian and that only [God's] 'gifts' are present in the believer."15 However, unlike Luther himself, the Formula of Concord distinguishes between "justification by faith" and "indwelling" of the believer by God in a way that makes justification sound forensic and indwelling a mere consequence of it Mannermaa argued that Luther did not separate the person of Christ from his work: "Christ is, in this unity of person and work, really present in the faith of the Christian {in ipsa fide Christus adesf)."16 Mannermaa chose to translate literally Luther's words, "in ipsa fide Christus adesf (in feith itself Christ is really present), and "played [this] off against [what he perceived as] a purely forensic concept of justification, in which the Christus pro nobis (Christ for us) is separated from the Christus in nobis (Christ within us)."17 Mannermaa wrote about Luther's notion of justification:
According to the Reformer, justifying faith does not merely signify a reception of the forgiveness imputed to a human being for the sake of the merit of Christ, which is the aspect emphasized by the Formula of Concord. Being a real sharing (participation) in Christ, "faith" stands also for participation in the institution of "blessing, righteousness and life" that has taken place in Christ. Christ himself is life, righteousness, and blessing, because God is all of this "by nature and in substance" (naturaliter et substantialiter). Therefore, justifying faith means participation in God in Christ's person.

Thus, Mannermaa concluded that, in fact, what Luther (though not later Lutheranism) said about justification by faith implies a participation in God similar to that expressed by the Orthodox notion of deification. This is a major step forward in the direction of a rapprochement between Lutherans and Orthodox and is the result of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland's dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church, as Mannermaa himself confessed at the beginning of his article just quoted. Next, I propose to show that justification and deification are part of a two-step process of salvation, with justification covering thefirststep, while deification is the last step.

and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), p. 25. "Mannermaa, "Justification and Theosis? p. 27. "ibid, p. 28. l7 "ftTeface: The Finnish Breakthrough in Luther Research," in Braaten and Jenson, Union with Christ, p. viii. "Mannermaa, "Justification and Theosis? p. 32; emphasis in original.

Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Joint Declaration on Justification


A Two-Step Process of Salvation In the Gospel according to John, Jesus spoke of two steps toward the full restoration of the broken relationship between humans and God. In their M e n state, humansfindthemselves in bondage to sin, and Jesus calls humans slaves or servants at this point; then, humans become Jesus'friends;last, they are said to be adopted by God the "Father" as children. There is thus a progression from a state of bondage, ignorance, and fear that characterizes the master-slave relationship to the state of discipleship that characterizes thefriendshipstate to that of filial knowledge and love that characterizes the parent-child relationship. The passagefrombondage to friendship occurs because of reconciliation, as an enemy cannot become one's friend unless the two have been reconciled. The passagefromfriendshipto adoption occurs by divine initiative and human cooperation. These two steps in the salvation process are attested by some scriptural texts. Before the resurrection, Christ addressed his disciples in this way: "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called youfriends,because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (Ja 15:15; emphasis mine). Jesus thus referred to the bondage in which humans find themselves before becoming hisfriends.The adoption of humans as children of God is present in a post-resurrection text in which Jesus told Mary Magdalene to "go to my brothers and say to them, ∫ am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'" (Jn. 20:17b; emphasis mine). When humans have the same "Father" as Jesus, they have been adopted by God and are Jesus' brothers and sisters. Paul himself, in explaining the notion of justification, alluded to the steps just mentioned: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set youfreefromthe law of sin and of death For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fell tack into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption" (Rom. 8:2, 14-15; emphasis mine). Paul is therefore aware of the two-step process of salvation that Jesus expressed, and he tried to correlate it with his own justification terminology. He perhaps wanted to hint that his understanding ofjustification could befittedinto the process expressed by Jesus. The theology of the progression from bondage to adoption was also a favored theme used to describe salvation in the patristic period, as recent scholarship has 19 demonstrated. Origen, for example, had a very elaborate theology of salvation expressed in the language of the two-step process. Yet, to exemplify this patristic view, I would like to turn to Gregory of Nyssa. Speaking of our adoption as children of God, Gregory of Nyssa stated that he was aware that divine Scripture uses the word "son" in two ways: In one sense, this appellation is derived "from nature" (ek

19 Peter Widdicombe, The Fatherhood of God from Origen to Athanasius, rev. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000); and Ludan Turcescu, "Blessed Are the Peacemakers, for They Will Be Called Sons of God': Does Gregory of Nyssa Have a Theology of Adoption?" in Hubertus R. Drobner and Albert Viciano, eds., Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Beatitudes: An English Translation with Supporting Commentaries and Studies (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000), pp. 397-406.


Journal of Ecumenical Studies

phuseos); in other senses, it is "adventitious and artificial" (episkeuasten kai epikte20 ton) or the "result of choice" (ek proaireseos). For the first meaning he exemplified with the phrases "sons of humans" and "sons of rams," and for the second meaning he exemplified with "sons of power" and "children of God." We can choose to change from children of darkness to children of light by "casting off the 21 works of darkness [and] by decent life." In other words, it is through moral effort that we can attain a superior state. Nonetheless, since the status of "children of God" is the supreme state that we can reach, it is not only through our own efforts that we can achieve this. It is the Son of God proper who helps us in this by joining us to 22 him by spiritual generation. Thus, it is Christ who bestows upon us the adoption 23 (huiothesia) as children of God. Elsewhere, Gregory called humans "disinherited sons," and, in exposing what Christ has done for humans, he showed his awareness of the first step of the salvation process as outlined above: "this is what the 'mediator' between the Father and the disinherited sons means, he who has reconciled through himself the enemies with God, through his true and unique divinity."24 Also, in commenting on Rom. 8:16, Gregory wrote that "it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God." He said that the meaning of this verse is that the Holy Spirit comes to be "in the mind of the faithful" (tei dianoia ton piston\ because in other passages the Apostle Paul used "spirit" (pneuma) for "mind" (nous). Nonetheless, an important statement follows, shedding greater light on the meaning of adoption: "when [the mind] receives the communion of the [Holy] Spirit the recipients attain the dignity of adoption."25 The latter statement gives a more complete picture of what Gregory meant by adoption: The Holy Spirit, too (not only the Son), contributes to our adoption as children of God. Adoption means being made a child of God, a brother or sister of Jesus, sharing the same love of God that the Son has for his Father, possessing filial knowledge and other such characteristics. As such, adoption can be seen as participation in the divine nature; although created, humans become participants in the inner life of God by God's grace (2 Pet 1:4). The Greek patristic tradition and Orthodox theology have referred to human participation in the divine nature as deification (theosis), and that has become the fundamental metaphor expressing salvation in the Orthodox Church. The passagefrombondage to sin tofriendshipwith God necessitates a reconciliation between humans and God. One cannot become afriendwith a former enemy unless the two have been reconciled. It is at this point that I see justification taking place, that is, the declaration by God of the sinful human person as arighteousperson because of the faith a human has in Jesus and his work of redemption donefreelyon behalf of all humanity. Yet,
20 Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium …–, 1,116; ET. mNicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (hereafter NMJr.) 2.5:148. 21 Ibid, III, 1, m,NJWF. 2.5:143. 22 Ibid, –…, 1,123: "dia tes pneumatikes genneseos." 23 Jbid.,NJ>MF. 2.5:149. "Deperfectione, Gregorii Nysseni Opera 8,1, p. 205,14-21. 25 Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomuim m, 5, y,NJPMF. 2.5:191.

Soteriological Issues in the 1999 Joint Declaration on Justification


after justification occurs, a person has to grow in love and progress spiritually toward a fuller union with God, which will eventually lead to participation of the creature in the uncreated nature. While Lutheranism and, to some degree, Catholicism have emphasized justification as the articulis stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (the article by which the church stands or Ms), Orthodoxy has been preoccupied with the last stage of the process, deification. In my view, justification and deification are complementary, and one cannot fully understand salvation in Christ without taking both into account It is time for Orthodox to examine justification in greater depth, and the major breakthrough in Catholic-Lutheran relations represented by the Joint Declaration should be such an opportunity for Orthodox.

The Joint Declaration and the Lutheran-Orthodox Ecumenical Dialogue The idea of the believers' full involvement in their faith, expressed by paragraph 21, is very similar to the Orthodox notion of synergy. Nevertheless, because of the phrase that according to Lutherans "a person can only receive (mere passive) justification;' paragraph 21 was found problematic by the Catholic partner who wrote: on the Lutheran side, there is the affirmation, in No. 21, of a full personal involvement in faith ("believers are fully involved personally in their faith")· A clarification would, however, be necessary as to the compatibility of this involvement with the reception mere passive of justification, in order to determine more exactly the degree of consensus with the Catholic doctrine.26 Unfortunately, the Annex to the Joint Declaration does not clarify this, but I take it that, as long as one is fully involved in one's faith, the justification is received not only passively, but Lutherans are concerned also to assert and preserve the priority of God's initiative and grace in the process of salvation. Paragraph 21 should perhaps be corrected in a future edition to explain more satisfactorily the phrase "mere passive." It is unfortunate that the Joint Declaration does not import more fully some of the achievements of the dialogue between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Russian Orthodox Church and more specifically some of Mannermaa's interpretations of Luther. Paragraph 21 came close to sounding like Mannermaa, but it did not get there, because, unlike Luther, the Joint Declaration still keeps justification and sanctification apart. Mannermaa spoke of what faith means according to Luther: "[I]n feith the human being really participates by faith in the person of Christ and in the divine life and the victory that is in it And,fromLuther's
26 Doctrinal Congregation and Unity Council, 'Official Catholic Response to Joint Declaration," Origins 28 (July 16,1998): 131, para. 3.


Journal of Ecumenical Studies

point of view, faith is a victory precisely because it unites the believer with the person of Christ, who is in himself the victory."27 Paragraphs 22-24 clarify quite well what Lutherans and Catholics mean by justification as forgiveness of sins and making righteous. They show that, despite different emphases, Lutherans and Catholics are able to agree on the meaning ofjustification. The different emphases are reflected in the act that Lutherans are concerned to show that justification is by faith and grace, not by human cooperation, whereas Catholics are concerned with the result ofjustification: sanctification. Those different emphases were the source of the mutual misunderstandings and condemnations in the sixteenth century. Like the previous three articles, paragraphs 25-27, in presenting the understanding of justification by faith and through grace, add explanations that would really be welcomed by the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue, because they seem to converge with the results of this dialogue. While paragraph 25 again emphasizes that justification is by faith in the saving action of God and through the grace of the Holy Spirit, it adds, "Such a faith is active in love, and thus the Christian cannot and should not remain without works." Paragraph 26 takes these clarifications one step further by saying, "In the doctrine of "justification by faith alone,' a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one's way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. . . . Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith." At this point, the new Finnish interpretation of Luther seems really to have come into play, by making clear that by faith the believers participate in the divine life and that in faith Christ is present in the believers. Conclusions In this essay, having presented a summary of the two core soteriological images for Lutherans and Orthodox, I have suggested that it is time for Orthodox to take justification more seriously, in the same way in which Lutherans have taken deification seriously. Also, I introduced a two-step scheme of salvation that is present in Jesus' and Paul's discourses, as well as in some church Fathers: the passage from bondage to friendship with God to adoption of humans as God's children. I argued that the passage from bondage to friendship can be made through reconciliation or, to use Paul's terminology, through justification. This first step in the process of salvation seems to be not only ignored but sometimes even disdained by contemporary Orthodox theologians when they dismiss justification as a forensic notion. In doing so, Orthodox theologians overlook the biblical origin of the notion of justification. I conclude the essay by looking at possible issues from the Joint Declaration that could be used successfully by contemporary Orthodox theology to enhance its understanding of the process of salvation.


Maimermaa, "Justification and Theosis,*9 p. 32; emphasis in original.

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