In this article, we in simple terms continue reconciling Calvinist thought with the most anti-Calvinist document written by the Orthodox Church. It is my aim to show that what really separates us is not that all profound and that Calvinists have everything to gain by appreciating the traditional teachings of Christianity as formulated in Orthodoxy.
Decree 4. This is another Decree that does not separate us, though some modern Reformed may balk at some of the assertions about the angelic realm that were taken for granted centuries ago. One statement is of particular interest: “God is in no way the author of evil, nor can it at all by just reasoning be attributed to God.” Calvinists will not affirm God is the author of evil and will essentially reason if God predestines a man to damnation, that this is good because it is just. The Orthodox viewpoint is a little more philosophical. Evil is the absence of good, and because God alone is good, evil is the absence of God. So, when a demon or reprobate reject God, though God permits this evil act, God is not committing it. The demon or reprobate by their own volition reject Godliness, making an absence of God within their own hearts–thereby being the creators of their own evil.
Decree 5. “We believe that all things, whether visible or invisible, are be governed by the providence of God.” The Calvinist says, “Yes, I can affirm this!” The Decree obviously affirms what we went over in the preceding.
Decree 6. A Calvinist may speak of Adam’s sin and agree with the Decree that “hereditary sin flowed to his posterity.” The Calvinist (and Augustinian) view this as a literal guilt, a debt owed to God for wrongdoing. For the Orthodox (and majority of Roman Catholics today), the Decree states “by these fruits and this burden we do not understand [actual] sin.” The Decree asserts that merely the punishments for sin, mainly death, still exist. The Decree glosses over this, but Orthodoxy also affirms that man is fallen. This falleness does not destroy the image of God in man, but rather creates an inclination towards sinfulness that can only be overcome by the grace of God and the willingness of man to repent and turn towards that grace.
Decree 7. Calvin and the Orthodox are in full agreement, even if modern Calvinists do not affirm the virginity of the Theotokos.
Decree 8. “We believe our Lord Jesus Christ to be the only mediator, and that in giving Himself a ransom for all He has through His own Blood made a reconciliation between God and man, and that Himself having a care for His own is advocate and propitiation for our sins.” Calvinists will agree with this. The Decree explains that there is no contradiction in believing this, but believing also that those who pray for us (namely the saints) intercede for us also and thereby act as different sorts of mediators. So, to say the prayers of the saints in heaven is not efficacious for the faithful, is to the Orthodox, like saying prayer is not efficacious.
Decree 9. “We believe that no one can be saved without faith. By faith we mean the right notion that is in us concerning God and divine things, which, working by love, that is to say, by [keeping] the Divine commandments, justifies us with Christ; and without this [faith] it is impossible to please God.” Calvin would have agreed when he wrote, “We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone.” The faith that justifies is not mere intellectual assent, but a real love for God that manifests itself in good works.
Decree 10. This Decree cannot be reconciled entirely with the Calvinist view of the “invisible church.” Calvin did believe in a state Church, though he rid it of Bishops, who are (to the Orthodox) Her Biblical ecclesiological leaders. Nevertheless, the Decree essentially teaches, that Christ is the actual Head of the Church and He has an actual Body, the saints of past and the Orthodox Church that has succeeded from them through the succession of Bishops. Apostolic Succession is in fact Biblical (Acts 1:20) and mentioned by one of Saint Paul’s companions mentioned in Phil 4, Saint Clement of Rome. Hence, though we are a nation of priests as the ancient Israelites were, we are not all priests in the same way (just as the ancient Israelites were not). Just as there were ordained priests and high priests in the Old Testament, Elders (Priests) and Bishops exercise authority in the Church.
The Decree also comments on the seven sacraments of the Church. This does not square with Calvinism, though it may help some Calvinists to know that all of these sacraments are explicitly Biblical (and that there are no Biblical grounds for not having them.) Perhaps the main point of contention is whether the Eucharist is actually a sacrifice. Calvin, while affirming Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, was emphatic that the Eucharist cannot be a sacrifice. Christ was sacrificed once and for all–not repeatedly.
The Orthodox affirm this. Ode Nine in the Canon in Preparation for Holy Communion states, “For of old He became like us for our sake, and offered Himself once as a sacrifice for us to His Father and is sacrificed for ever, sanctifying us, His communicants.” In short, when the Logos became Flesh, the eternal became temporal. The sacrifice happened once in time, but the Body and Blood are eternal. Hence, when we have the Eucharist, we partake in the same sacrifice on Cavalry for we mysteriously partake of the eternal. This is why Jesus Christ said, “This is My Blood, shed for you,” the day before it was shed.
Calvinists also take issue with the statement about Bishops stating, “he binds and looses, and his sentence is approved by God.” We know the Scriptures say the same about the Apostles and in James 5 it states that confession to Elders forgives sins. Instead of working out a theology as to how Jesus Christ could forgive all sins, yet there are human agents which the Scriptures say are used also for the forgiveness of sins, I’ll be a simpleton and say, “The Scripture says it, so I believe it.” Being that the Church has always affirmed both, and the Scriptures plainly state this and not the Calvinist view specifically, this should suffice.