Suburbs of the mind
Evaluating Presidents

God and Creaturely Freedom

At the beginning of my sabbatical a former congregant, who was a child in a church I was youth minister, called to talk philosophical topics, particularly the issue of God and human freedom.  Chapter 4 of Sergei Bulgakov's The Bride of the Lamb is on the same topic, and I rejoiced to discover similarities with Alfred North Whitehead, such as:

He acts without coercing; that is, He persuades, limiting His power to the measure of creaturely receptivity.

Or this:

Creaturely freedom . . .  encounters divine suggestions which graciously flow into it.

And this:

Creatures cannot receive their being in a purely passive manner.  They are endowed with free activity and are individually qualified in the reception of their being.


As noted in a previous post, Bulgakov completely rejected the notion of God as cause of the world, insisting that Creator is a different, better, and more accurate description.  In this chapter he thoroughly eviscerates the Western theological tradition rooted in Augustine and Aquinas for their failures in this regard.  He believes the adoption of a causal model eliminates human freedom and creates a causal monism which is a "monstrous misunderstanding, a theological temptation" and a "theological masquerade" in that the tradition generally proclaimed only predestination for the elect and tried to explain away predestination of the damned.  He credits Calvinism with being consistent and triumphing dogmatically over the Roman tradition (which persists in the masquerade) but of Calvinism he writes, "Philosophical abstraction is combined here with religious fanaticism."

Bulgakov writes, "The official doctrine of the Catholic church . . . is only a fig leaf covering the nakedness of a systematic determinism, which, when one accepts its initial premise of human passivity and impotence (referred to as the bondage of the will), leads with inexorable logic to the recognition of both types of predestination."

The Orthodox Church, because rooted in the Patristics who never developed this problem, has largely avoided it.  The deification model of the atonement has always rested on the potential goodness of humanity, not its depravity.  Indeed that model has argued that even if there had never been a Fall, that still God would have been incarnated as part of the creation as the step for humanity to be deified.  

He writes, "This absorption of grace gives to man the divine power to become not other than himself but precisely himself in his eternal aspect, since it is incumbent upon man to become a god-man in Christ's Divine-humanity by the power of the Holy Spirit, a son of God and a son of man by the will of the Father in Heaven."

Note:  I am selecting out from a dense and complicated chapter those elements that resonated with me.


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" individually qualified in the reception of their being" -- food for thought for a very long time!


Well I'm not too enamored of the Orthodox Church as an institution, I have believed for years that their theology is more helpful than western theology. The West focuses on a juridical worldview preoccupied with guilt and punishment, where grace frees one from punishment. The East has more of a dis-ease model where grace is healing. That's a generalization, but I think it helpful.

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