Posted on August 21st, 2013
Patrick Henry Reardon’s Christ in the Psalms is a very helpful companion to the Psalter. Yet one must be extremely careful, for Reardon, like so many converts to Eastern Orthodoxy, has overreacted against the Scriptural emphasis on forensic language for justification. The following paragraph (on Psalm 75 (LXX)/76 (Heb)) is an excellent example of such an overreaction, beguiling in its appeal to an “older and more traditional” Christianity:
Whereas later theology, particularly in the West, has been disposed to think of the Christian redemption chiefly in legal terms, favoring a rather literal interpretation of the commercial metaphors used in the Bible with respect to it (cost, purchase, price, debt, etc.), the older and more traditional texts of the Church, especially the liturgical texts, have tended to use exactly the same terms in an interpretive context of combat, defeat, and victory.
Look carefully at what he has done: “Later theology” thinks “in legal terms” about redemption, whereas “older and more traditional” thinking finds “combat, defeat, and victory” at the core.
But what is the source of this “older and more traditional” thinking? Liturgical texts. And what is the source of the “later theology” of the West? A “literal interpretation” of the Bible. (Although he blames St. Anselm later in the chapter, he repeats the refrain of this being a “literal” reading of the Scriptures.)
Thus, the “later theology” is derived in fact from Holy Scripture, and the supposed “older and more traditional” theology is from the Byzantine liturgical tradition. This is a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland thinking, where the Scriptures become “later thinking” and Greek liturgy becomes “older and more traditional.”
I find tremendous comfort in the Christus Victor aspects of our theology. And the Western liturgical tradition is filled with it. One need look only at the sequence for Easter, or the prominent place in the Good Friday liturgy of Sing, My Tongue. Or Luther’s image (from Psalm 46) of Christ the hero doing battle with the Devil in A Mighty Fortress. And certainly the language of combat and defeat is found throughout the Psalter, much of which is composed by a warrior (David).
What I find so profoundly offensive about Eastern Orthodox apologetics is the allegation that Western theology is somehow deficient by emphasizing the forensic aspects of the atonement—language that comes directly from the New Testament—when it is in fact well-balanced with language of victory and triumph. It appears to me that the Eastern theology is in fact perilously close to denying the Apostolic language regarding Christ’s work, and under the guise of tradition they give short shrift to the truly traditional language of the Apostles themselves.