I. The True Foundation
The South is waning, for she has not the whole Christ but a ‘distorted Christ’, to borrow some words of Prince Myshkin’s (Dostoyevsky, The Idiot, p. 476). The crumbling of Roman Catholic and Protestant Western Europe and her children across the world into post-Christian heathenism, even after any number of revivals that were thought to herald better days for the Western churches - the Great Awakenings in North America in the 18th century, the Welsh Revival of 1904-5, Billy Graham’s crusades, Vatican Councils, etc. - should awaken within all the realization that there is something amiss about how Roman Catholics and Protestants view Christ and His Church.
The Orthodox priest and theologian Father Dumitru Staniloae (1903-1993) is here a great help, for he not only bewords the true teaching about Christ and the Church, but also where the Western faiths have strayed from this truth. He says, ‘Through the Incarnation, life of obedience, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Son of God as man, the foundation of our salvation has been laid in the fulfillment of our nature, which Christ assumed. But, strictly speaking, our salvation is achieved only through Christ, who comes to dwell within us with the body He bore—a body that has risen, ascended, and been made fully spiritual, that is, has been filled with the Holy Spirit and thus has become perfectly transparent. This indwelling produces the Church. The Church, therefore, is the intended fulfillment of the saving work begun through the Incarnation. . . . In this way the sanctification and the beginning of the resurrection that are found already in Christ’s body are planted within believers and are being developed through these believers’ cooperation with Christ.
‘ . . .
‘The descent of the Holy Spirit . . . initiates the indwelling of Christ’s deified body in human beings and thereby initiates the Church as well.
‘The descent of the Holy Spirit is thus the act of transition from Christ’s saving work in His personal humanity to the extension of this work within other human beings. Through the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, Christ lays the foundation of the Church in His body, and through these events, the Church’s being exists in its potential form. However, the Son of God became man not for Himself but so that He could extend salvation from His body, as divine life within us. This divine life, extended from His body into those who believe, is the Church’ (The Church, pgs. 1-2).
‘ . . . the most complete understanding of Christ’s sacrifice is that which sees its direction both toward God and toward the human nature assumed by Christ and, through it, toward human beings’ (The Person of Jesus Christ, p. 105).
This is the true teaching. We must next look at how the Roman Catholics and Protestants in general and the South in particular have gone astray from it.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Idiot. Constance Garnett, trans. Susan Rattiner, ed. Mineola, Ny.: Dover Publications, 2003.
Staniloae, Dumitru. The Experience of God, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 3: The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior. Ioan Ionita, trans. and ed. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2011.
--. The Experience of God, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 4: The Church: Communion in the Holy Spirit. Ioan Ionita, trans. and ed. Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2012.