"The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God." -St Irenaeus of Lyon

Friday Forum: The Dangers of Ecumenical Tweeting

I have attracted a lot of new followers on Twitter lately who also are the type of people who read my thoughts here.  Because I have an interactive Friday Forum feature on the blog, I thought I would ask if people had any questions they wanted to see me attempt.  Within a few hours, I had a list of questions that rather shocked me as a random question.  Yet it is cool to be able to interact with people on Twitter.

One question from a new follower sort of hit me square between the eyes.  The question is Is grace created or uncreated? Incidentally, this question is often employed in theological dialogues to assert differences between Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology.  It’s a question that invites accusations that you don’t understand your side of the argument nor do you understand the perspective of the other side.

Yet I am not an apologist, I don’t try to offer official Orthodox teaching on anything, I do not regard myself as an “Orthodox” blogger… but one of the other questions about the status of Superfund funding required research time that I just do not have at the moment.

So, official disclaimer up front: In no way, shape or form am I trying to represent the mind of the Orthodox Church on this topic.  I will offer exclusively my thoughts from my own observations that have been undoubtedly shaped by authors I have read and my own experience.  People who have a better handle on the official sources on this question are welcome to offer their perspectives in the comments.  I invite correction.

When we talk about aspects of being created or uncreated, we have to look at first that only the Creator can be uncreated.  Yet, we know God by all sorts of names.  God is Love, He is Truth, God is Mercy.  To assert something like Love is created is to assert that something absolutely synonymous with God is created.  Therefore, it seems off from a Christian understanding to assert that Love is created.  Now, we certainly have cases where love may be unseen, even seeming absent.  Yet, I consider the task of Christians to manifest the Love of God, rather than to create the Love of God.  When we manifest (literally display or show) something of God, we reveal what is already there.

With Grace, I think it exists on even footing as Love.  Consider this benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”  I daresay my liturgical friends know it, especially if “And also with you” or “And with your spirit” pops into your head almost reflexively.  This particular benediction is taken directly from the end of 2nd Corinthians, and we see it a lot in liturgical prayer.  It is a great blessing and connects us with three things God desires to share with us: grace, love, and communion.

All three of these things invite us to participate in the life of Christ.  And in reality, it seems that liturgical practices exist to help us make a one-to-one connection of all of these things with Christ, particularly as we consider the nature of communion.  When we manifest God’s love or God’s grace to another, we seek to manifest Christ.  Thinking about love and grace help us to understand how imperfectly we manage this task.  Indeed, I could up the ante a bit and say when we manifest God’s truth to another, we seek to manifest Christ.  Yet so often manifesting truth seemingly requires an avoidance of manifesting love and grace.  Similarly, manifesting love and grace often comes at the expense of manifesting truth.  To avoid this seemingly inevitable dichotomy, I think we must consider becoming communities of the Cross.

So when we pray that God fills us with His Love, with His Truth, and with His Grace, it seems to be an entreaty that Christ comes to fill us.  This idea that Christ filling us with His grace is about filling us with Himself rooted itself rather significantly in reflecting on the Angelus, a prayer that specifically recalls the Incarnation as recorded in Luke 1, and in praying this litany (incidentally, its source is the Vespers of our Lady of Walsingham)

Eternal Father, through your angel you made known your salvation to Mary.  Full of confidence, we earnestly pray. // Lord fill us with your grace.

By consent of your handmaid and the power of the Holy Spirit, your Word came to dwell among us.  Open our hearts to receive Christ as Mary the Virgin received him. // Lord fill us with your grace.

You look with compassion on the lowly and fill the starving with good things.  Encourage the downhearted, help those in need and comfort those near to death. // Lord fill us with your grace.

You called Mary to be mother in the house of Jesus and Joseph.  Through her prayers help all mothers make their homes places of love and holiness. // Lord fill us with your grace.

Mary was your faithful handmaid who treasured your words in her heart.  Through her intercession let us become devoted disciples of Jesus your Son. // Lord fill us with your grace.

From this vantage point of Grace being Christ Himself, it makes sense to regard Mary as being “full of Grace.”  I cannot imagine the idea of being literally pregnant with the Grace of God, but any time I stop to consider the idea of the uncontainable God dwelling in the virginal womb of Mary, I get goosebumps.

I think all too often, the idea of grace gets passed off as a question of “Who is God’s favorite?” and lumped together with the various gifts and talents that He gives us.  Such thinking seems to strip God of His Grace and place it elsewhere on a level equivalent with “blessings.”


6 responses

  1. Tara Seguin

    YES! When I saw this question on Twitter my immediate response was very eloquent, indeed. “Um, Grace….IS.”

    17 September 2010 at 1:08 pm

    • Thanks Tara for the encouragement. And yes, Grace IS just as Love IS just as Truth IS and just as GOD IS.

      17 September 2010 at 1:11 pm

  2. This is a great post. One thing that I’d point out is something that you alluded to towards the end. Frequently one word denotes two different things.

    Because of this we can say both “Yes, Love is uncreated,” and “Yes, love is created.”

    God is Love, but most human love is called so by analogy with Divine Love.

    17 September 2010 at 1:28 pm

    • Well, if our human use of the word “love” is poor, then I think our human use of the word “grace” is rather pathetic. Additionally, it’s more common, to speak of someone being “gracious” rather than employing “grace” as a noun or a verb. To be “gracious” is generally to be merciful or polite. To “grace” someone is generally employed in the context of “to grace someone with your presence” which is generally a haughty way of saying you showed up. To give someone “grace” is often to give someone the benefit of the doubt or to show mercy.

      I know the fancy Orthodox theological writing that exists on a lot of these subjects concerns the questions of God’s essence and God’s energies. However, I lack the theological fortitude to dive into the distinctions re: love and mercy without a very well-seasoned guide.

      17 September 2010 at 2:02 pm

      • I don’t know. I think that “I love spaghetti” might be worse theologically than “I grace you with my presence.” 🙂

        Not sure if you’ve read it yet, but I highly recommend Palamas’ Triads. Difficult for this westerner to follow, but quite beautiful.

        Personally, I’d love* to see a book that attempted to synthesize Palamas and Aquinas.

        * See what I did there?

        17 September 2010 at 2:22 pm

  3. Palamas is quite tricky, even amongst the East. He is a saint (like many) that you simply have to sit with and let him teach you. Yet the few things I have read from him absolutely cut me to the heart and require a different way of reading, paying attention to the organ in my chest more so than the organ in my head. Theophan the Recluse is another who can speak straight to the heart.

    But I hear your point about spaghetti (on both counts for well-done spaghetti is quite yummy). Incidentally, I have made concerted efforts to be more cautious about my use of the word love.

    And I *think* the people trying to synthesize Palamas and Aquinas are on the Orthodox-Catholic Theological Dialogue that’s meeting next week 🙂

    17 September 2010 at 2:29 pm

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